I’ve talked a lot about how I see the short-term future for the split dynamic of group v. solo within Paganism. I’m not really trying to predict the future with these posts. Rather, I am looking to discuss some of the trends I have noticed over the past few years and draw potential conclusions. I present all of that here, as my own observations. Observations. Nothing more than that. I have noted in the previous posts that the data set that I am working with is human beings. Human beings, who can completely change perspective, actions, understandings, perceptions, and make wildly varied choices on a whim. Attempting to predict any of that is akin to predicting National Football League games and bet against the Las Vegas gambling spread. There are so many moving variables in play, that accurate forecasting of any sort of behavior can certainly be deemed as “folly” at its very best.
The direction I am about to take is on even more fraught ground. I want to discuss Pagan community and public events, especially against the backdrop of today’s COVID environment. We are now entering our third year with this virus. A virus which is not only deadly but can also have extremely acute repercussions to the health of those that survive it. It is very understandable why so many public and private Pagan gatherings have cancelled or re-scheduled during that time frame. Now, with the new Omicron variant being far easier to contract, as well as its apparent brushing aside of the protections from vaccines, boosters, and the cloth masks that we have all used for so long – well, you get the picture. Seemingly, we’re headed towards even more lockdowns, government regulations, and a rising tide of individuals headed for hospitalization, where wards are still crowded with patients from the previous wave. All that plays into where we are today.
But even before this viral outbreak, Pagan events seemed to be on shaky ground, especially the conventions. Probably the biggest convention name to pull out of yearly events was Pantheacon. I’ve been three times (three years in a row). Held over a weekend in a hotel near the San Jose airport, it was a widely attended convention. A nice cross-section of the Pagan community could be found there. Many authors and other widely known Pagans came in and gave talks (usually more than one) on so many topics. Pagan musicians would play little mini-concerts, and many Pagans and groups held very elaborate (and well attended) public rituals. The year after my last time there, Pantheacon announced that it would be their last, citing rising costs, lowered numbers of volunteers to help run the event, and burn-out by its core group of people as the primary reasons for shuttering the event. I have watched various smaller annual events in my own region pull back for similar reasons, as well as COVID. Many public rituals have cancelled or rescheduled their commitments, much to the disappointment of many Pagan-folk that were willing to attend the events under strict COVID protocols.
Many events and conferences have turned to an online format to handle their scheduling. Seemingly, this has worked well, though I can’t honestly say that I am aware of it being good or bad. I have yet to attend a single event held in this online format. So, I can’t really judge what its like. However, I know that this type of format doesn’t quench my need for the face-to-face interaction with others that I have encountered with others. I have attended a few online professional conferences, which were created to handle the same issues concerning COVID that the Pagan conferences and events have dealt with. I can honestly say, the networking side of things – one of the primary, unspoken functions of those professional conferences – is just not there. I imagine the same can be said for the online formats for Pagan conferences, rituals, and such.
What shape do Pagan functions take going into the future? This is hard to pin down. I can see many of the Pagan conferences headed to the online route. The online format can be pricey, but not nearly as pricey as running a conference that essentially takes over an entire hotel. That format seems likely to expand and be much larger going into the future. What about Pagan Pride Day events and other similar functions such as Witchstocks, Witchfests, and what not? As I noted, this is harder to pin down. Much of these “festivals” are geared around sales by various vendors. If Pagans decided to not attend these events because of COVID, that would drive down the sales of the vendors – much of whom drive the presence of such events. No attendance would essentially shutter such events. If COVID were to persist beyond where we are at now, as a collective society, I can see many of these events shuttering on a permanent basis. Let me be perfectly frank here, if our collective Pagan community stopped purchasing items from Pagan vendors – there would be far fewer Pagan vendors available. I really hate to tout the power of currency to keep a public aspect of the wider community alive – but its true. If our collective communities embrace online events in favor of other delivery methods, we are also going to need to embrace the online presence of those selling items to the Pagan community.
What about the public rituals that get held in various locations, including – but not limited to – Unitarian churches? Here, I see the potential for large, unlimited growth – particularly if the larger public rituals and events change their attendance aspects in favor of online. I think you might see small Pagan events being held at such smaller locations – with some of these events limiting the number of participants to stay within prescribed COVID limitations as set by federal organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yes, I believe that Paganism will remain far decentralized when it comes to public events. At least, that’s the tea leaves as I read them.
As I noted, this area of the Pagan community is difficult to read, simply because human beings are involved. With COVID spiraling the way that it currently is, I can feel the Pagan Community having to find new online avenues to reconnect with one another – even if we live only a few blocks or miles apart. After all, we have families and ourselves to protect with this virus spreading its havoc. I’m not sure if anyone else finds this “forced” online interaction methodology to be inadequate, but I do. I find it limiting, and it feels quite impersonal. Yes, that’s an odd statement from someone who makes his living within Information Technology. But it certainly is how I feel. I crave that face-to-face interaction. Seeing people’s smiles. Hearing the inflection in their voices. The feel of their touch as we talk, laugh, and enjoy one another’s company. To me, that’s not just the future. It’s the present as well. It’s the past. I miss the interactions at Pantheacon. The giant bear hug I got from Kristoffer Hughes when I was headed to the airport for my flight back. The handshakes and hugs I got from all the OBOD members at the last Gulf Coast Gathering, as we all got ready to leave Louisiana and head back to our respective homes. Those moments were the pinnacle of those events. I sincerely hope that we get back to all of that soon. In the meantime, we must stay safe. So, all of that can happen again.