Every year, I have a few questions about what public events am I hoping to make. I am not much of a public figure, so I have never really thought that my presence at some event is a big thing. Maybe if I wrote a book that everyone liked or if I was giving some kind of Paganism 101 lessons, but I am really just like anyone else. So I am always bemused when I get asked this question.
This year; however, is playing out a little differently than previous years. Pantheacon was already a big “no” – and continues to be a “no” even through their announcement that this would be the last event. Paganicon has always been a “no” since their timing always bumps up against OBOD’s Gulf Coast Gathering, which I will be attending. Mystic South has gone from a hard “no” to a soft “maybe”. I am also making plans to attend the Austin WitchFest, which will be an interesting change of pace for a Druid. 🙂 All of this, I have already tossed out for reading over on Facebook before. However, there was a tag-along added to the question of what I might attend:
What would be your ideal type of Pagan conference or gathering, if you were to attend as a speaker or guest?
Well, I have attended different types and sizes of Pagan conferences and various gatherings. I have been in workshops that were heavily hands-on affairs, presentations that bordered on academic lectures, and rituals of all types. To be frankly honest, while most of those have been both fun and informative, I have learned more and enjoyed to a great degree stuff that was not on a program sheet or list. Its the discussions in the hallways or lobbies of the conference hotels that have been some of the most exciting and informative moments. Its the time around the late-night fires that have meant the most where the discussions can be free-wheeling and cover nearly any topic within the known universe. This is not meant to take away from the awesome work and blood, sweat and tears of the folks who put on the conferences and workshops. There is plenty of treasure to be had there, but its those free-wheeling conversations that have meant the most.
My idea of an ideal gathering is one where all the lessons, rituals, and workshops happen, but where organic conversation, actions, and thought takes place around the camp fire. Even with a starting topic already scripted, the conversation can carry into its own organic branching from there – and carries on for as long as the participants want it to.
Let me provide a specific example from the first Pantheacon I attended. There was a panel entitled “Morphing the Myth” which was about the perspective of mythic elements in fiction stories, science fiction/fantasy books, television shows, movies, and even song. The starting point was to describe each of these thematics in terms of how myth can grow and inspire, but eventual the conversation turned to a perspective of how to approach the Gods, as single entities, psychological archetypes, or somewhere in between? While the moderators of the presentation gently brought the topic back to the original perspective from time to time, the discussion continued to wander into other areas – developing threads of its own. These new threads brought new perspectives to my mind. I walked out of that presentation with nearly eleven pages of hand written notes. Notes that I still refer to today – nearly five years after the fact. These types of free-wheeling conversations are what I would enjoy being a part of, were I to provide a descriptive of the type of Pagan conference that I would want to attend.
While Pantheacon was a wonderful environment to attend, for me it was a bit too much. Not in terms of what was offered, but in terms of the number of people crammed into a hotel for an event. I prefer events to be a little more intimate and quite a bit smaller. I have attended professional conferences when I was employed, and I preferred the smaller events to the massively large ones. The last conference that I attended was for a national conference in San Diego. I offered one presentation on SQL code. I had over one-hundred people in the room at the time. That was a little intimidating for me. I prefer far smaller crowds, that is for sure.
An ideal Pagan event for me would be a weekend camping trip with about thirty to forty people. Just a chance to spend time under the stars with folks of a similar mind, talking about whatever topic. Typically, talks like this can turn towards one’s personal Spiritual Path, which is a super intimate subject. In a daylight setting, very few people seem willing to step forward, but when things turn dark – and the light of the fire does not readily illuminate everyone around it…. Seemingly, people feel more free to open with their own perspective within the semi-anonymous environment that a night fire provides.
Even for me, an individual that has been on his Pagan Path for a little over thirty years, those moments are powerful. People sharing such intimate perspectives of who they are, I have learned so much from moments like that.
At the Arlington, Texas Pagan Unity Day, there is a small clearing in the edge of the wooded area near the UU church where the event is held. That clearing has some rocks and wood stumps for natural seating, but the area is essentially a roundish patch of sand. The first year that I went there, this was where individuals who were providing lecture-style presentations were setup to talk. I have often wondered what an hour session of just sitting and talking might present in that same spot during the PPD event? It would be in the daylight, but if enough people were willing to discuss topics without being too intimidating, I think it might work. And really folks, someone that has been on their Pagan Path for thirty-plus years – like me – can be intimidating to folks who are new on their Path.
I completely grok how hard it is to open up to a grizzled veteran of the Pagan Paths, like myself…even though you should never be intimidated by someone like me. After all, I’m just me. if my personality is not your cup of tea, that is really just as awesome as would be if I was a long-lost brother to you. You should never be afraid to ask honest questions. Just my take on that.
Lots of folks like to sing songs and tell tales around a campfire. I am really not one of those people. I like to have discussions. So mostly, you will see me avoid the song campfires. But be forewarned…I do enjoy being the Trickster in the dark as well. ::Pointing at Crow and Coyote:: After all….
Really, my ideal Pagan conference or gathering is where the organic conversations can be had. I have enjoyed some of the most awesome conversations with people who were strangers when we sat down near one another in the hallway. Given some time, and a mutual desire to lower our personal, out-in-the-open defenses…those conversations are some of the best treasures I have from those conferences and gatherings. From my experience, that tends to happen around the evening camp fire more than anywhere else. I’m still trying to contemplate how a Pagan gathering can be concentrated around that concept…. 🙂