I get all kinds of question from people wanting to know more about me or looking for my opinion on things. Most of this tends to be on political topics or controversial things – sort of like looking for that “gotcha” moment, except that I have no problems with my opinions on things – even when I’m in the hardcore minority. My perspective is my own, and I don’t shy away from it. This morning, I was asked if I was going to return to Pagan-oriented conventions. Its an interesting question, considering the timing. We’re just starting to come out of COVID-19 hiding, so there’s a lot of cautious nature involved. As an individual with pre-existing conditions (I’m a Type-II diabetic, I have high blood pressure issues, I continually fight issues of chronic edema associated with my bout with pneumonia a few years back), I’m probably more cautious than most when dealing with the public sector. I still carry a face mask in my pocket wherever I go. I have two face masks hanging from my gear shift in the truck. I have two bottles of hardcore hand sanitizer in the truck (and constantly use them). Sure, call me paranoid if you like, but I do prefer the idea of being alive…so I take the best precautions that I can. So, this is the background I work from when people ask about conventions and gatherings.
I enjoy conventions and gatherings, but I enjoy each for very different reasons. For me, these are two very different types of environments, thus I tend to treat each differently.
Probably the easiest of the two to describe and deal with, gatherings come in many different sizes and guises. I’ve been to quite a few over the years. My favorite amongst all of these is the OBOD Gulf Coast Gathering. I’ve been to every single one of these, and the people that run this gathering are nothing less than family to me. Seeing them every year was immensely gratifying and refreshing. The two years that were cancelled because of COVID were some of the most difficult times I’ve dealt with. Earlier this year, the gathering was held again, and it was such a relief to see my family again – as well as new people that were there for the first time. I’ve been to others over the years as well.
OBOD East Coast Gathering, which had a large cross-over with the Gulf Coast Gathering, was quite an interesting time in the woods of Pennsylvania.
Pagan Pride Days in Dallas/Fort Worth and Austin have been interesting gatherings to attend, as well as work. I think I enjoyed working in my first Pagan Pride Day more than just attending the latter ones.
Ár nDraíocht Féin’s Imbolc Retreat is another of my favorite gatherings. While I am not an ADF Druid, I was not only made welcome, but treated as family. Moving to Arkansas will make attending future events a little rough, but I can always try to find some manner to get there. I do love waking up to the remnants of the previous night’s fire, the quiet of camp, and the clear blue-sky mornings when I was there.
Austin Witchfest was an interesting gathering, the year that I attended. COVID was just getting started, but there was still quite a good gathering there. There was a touch of disappointment, as it seemed to be more of a seller’s market than anything else, but it was nice to catch up with a few people that I know when I was there.
Each of the gatherings I’ve described here had their own flavor about them. Merchandising, rituals, workshops, getting together with family, meeting new people – these gatherings were smaller in size than the two conferences I’ve attended. And that smaller size, to be honest, is a compelling reason why I am looking forward to getting back into this environment in the future.
I must admit, my experiences in this environment are limited to two such instances: Pantheacon and Many Gods West. Sadly, neither of these conferences seem to be in existence any longer. Both; however, were wonderful experiences that allowed me the opportunity to experience things from a different perspective than the gatherings. Far larger, far greater in diverse topics, these conferences provided opportunities I probably would never have gotten at gatherings. Well, for the most part. ::grin:: I’ll explain in a minute.
While Pantheacon was the first conference that I attended, Many Gods West was a different environment altogether. Held at a much smaller hotel than Pantheacon, there were far fewer panels than Pantheacon. There was some distinct emphasis on the merchandising room, and if there were rituals held, I wasn’t aware of them. The feeling was rather low-key, food was much further away, but there was ample opportunities for conversation in the event rooms and in the hallways. With a smaller level of patronage, there was less noise to shout over, which made hallway conversations into intimate and interesting times. There was a lot of exchange in thoughts, ideas, theories, and perspectives… Sadly, shortly after this particular year’s event was finished, the organizers closed the doors on their conference.
Pantheacon….was a monster event. The hotel was extremely busy during the entire three-day event. There were Pagans of all-types there. Hallway conversations were a bit more difficult to have, as the traffic throughout was thick, heavy, and always loud. Most people were trying to traverse the hallways through the hotel to get from one panel presentation to another. The timing between panels was usually around fifteen minutes, which made some of those moves to get from panel to panel into mad dashes if the two panels were on opposite ends of the hotel. A series of second-floor rooms were set aside as comfort suites utilized by various groups, where one could find snacks and drinks, as well as “off-the-track” presentations, some of which didn’t make the Pantheacon panel tracks. With the ADF and OBOD suites side-by-side, it was easy to find people I already knew that I could sit and talk with. Plus the noise factor here was much quieter.
I learned a lot from the panels that I attended. But once, I got a presentation twice. Kristoffer Hughes did a presentation that I attended at Pantheacon. Two weeks later, he provided the same presentation at OBOD Gulf Coast gathering, where he was the headline guest. He even made the comment that ‘Tommy’s going to be bored. He’s already heard this.” 😊 The reality was that I wasn’t bored, as Kristoffer altered the presentation with material I had not heard at Pantheacon. 😉
Much like Many Gods West, Pantheacon succumbed shortly after the three straight years I attended. It was a marvelous experience; one I am glad that I took the chance to partake in. I’d almost classify it as a Pagan carnival if they had offered free rides. However, the Krampus Walk almost made up for that. 😊
A few people have expressed the idea that I would be good at presenting a panel at one of the few remaining Pagan conferences. I have presented at professional conferences when I was working with the college here in Texas. In fact, I left my last ADF Imbolc Retreat in the early morning hours of Sunday (think about 4am) to drive south to Galveston to attend a professional conference from Monday to Wednesday, which included me presenting as part of a multi-college team presentation. I’ve provided presentations on SQL query writing at conferences in Tulsa and San Diego, as well. Add to that, the three years that I taught in a collegiate classroom, one would think that I am a natural at stuff like that. Not really. I get super nervous. I can be a rambling mess. And I suck at keeping time. But the real reason that I’ve never presented at a Pagan Conference or gathering comes down to one thing: I’ve never submitted anything to present. Maybe in the future…if someone talks me into it and plies me with enough whiskey… In the meantime, my best presentations tend to happen around a campfire…in the middle of the night…just talking.
This is usually where I put my final slide, which provides my sources, along with the books and websites that I recommend for further reading on the subject. In my presentations, this is the slide where everyone gets up and takes a picture of what it presents. I guess it’s a famous slide or something. Maybe its showing too much skin or something. But it always tends to be the most popular slide. I’ve always wondered if that says something about my presentation style. 😉
Regardless, I’ll be trying to find new Pagan-oriented conferences and gatherings to attend. Rest assured, I’ll be at Gulf Coast Gatherings. That gathering and those people are family…plus, its where I hope to do my Druid Grade initiation, if I ever get there. 😊Who knows, maybe I’ll see one of you at one of these gatherings or conferences. I’ll add a picture here…so you can recognize me. Or if I go missing, you can paste it on a milk carton. 😊Providing that someone would want to find me.