Pagan Conferences, Gatherings and My Face on a Milk Carton

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.

Gatherings

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.

Conferences

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. 😊

Presenting

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.

The End

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.

–T /|\

Building Relationships With Our Gods in a Ten-Second Society

Ok…the title is a bit misleading. But it is derived from a conversation point in a panel from Many Gods West 2017 this year. And it does bend back to something I have heard quite a bit from people trying to work their way into a relationship with a God, Goddess, Spirit of Place, Spirit of Ancestor, etc etc. The typical question boils down to a similar cry from many of them…

How do I get a [insert God or Spirit of choice here] to work with me or talk to me? How do I connect with Them??

That’s not an easy question to answer, and at times, I have felt a bit awkward trying to provide an answer that might make sense or at least be bit coherent. Creating a relationship with one or more of the Gods (I am going to use this as a generic catch-all from this point on out – so please don’t get hung on terminology) is not a simple thing. In my opinion, it takes time; it takes effort; it takes personal sacrifice; it takes patience; it takes determination; it takes research; and it takes love. And to some degree, I would urge a little touch of caution in trying to create a relationship or connection. You never know precisely what you are going to wind up with – even after all the research and effort.

If you have read the blog, you know that I am a Priest of Crow. I am dedicated to Crow, and it took a long time for me to get to this point. Prior to Crow, there was Coyote. Coyote spent about two years putting me through a few tasks, all designed to force me to not take myself so seriously. Eventually, Coyote led me to Crow. From the beginning, my relationship with Crow has been a very slow, deliberate build between the two of us. First, we learned how to communicate between the two of us. Then, we worked on building trust for us both – a process that continues to this day. That was back in 2005-2006….I am unsure of the exact date. It took even longer before I decided to become a Priest for Crow. And there’s a long conversation about my aversion to the title of “Priest” that figures into all of that as well. But the point here is that it’s a long, complicated process. Coyote and Crow didn’t just appear in my Life and an immediate bond between us was formed. I am sure that others may have a different experience with their own Gods and the relationships that they have. But that is just not my case.

Currently, our modern-day society is fast-paced. News, information, and other things are available at near instant speeds to any individual. Through the magic of the internet, combined with the delivery platform of a digital phone, tablet, and/or computer – everything happens quickly. We can pay for our coffee and other food items from our phones, while en-route to the location we are purchasing those items from. The expectation is that our items will be ready for pickup when we get there, and we can skip the long lines to just waltz in and waltz right back out. Need information on something? Just type a descriptive word or phrase into our devices, and the information arrives at our fingertips at break-neck speed.

If all that can happen, why can I not create a relationship with one of the Gods through a simple five-minute meditation? I have already spent five minutes doing this, that should be enough, right? Well, my experience has been that it is just not that simple. In fact, in a manner of speaking, it is a lot like dating. Sure, the flirtation feels great – there is a promise of something more, but you need to come back, again and again, to continue to build on that interest. But building a relationship is about more than just making out and the hope of an eventual tryst for the night. There’s trust, bonding, building on so many other aspects of mutual interest, exploring differences and the avenues that this may open up. The same holds true for a relationship with the Gods. Spending time getting to know about your potential relationship partner will require some research. Reading Their myths, reading what other bloggers and writers may have to say, and even visiting sites that may be sacred to

The same holds true for a relationship with the Gods. Spending time getting to know about your potential relationship partner will require some research. Reading Their myths; reading what other bloggers and writers may have to say; even visiting sites that may be sacred to Them; invoking Them in your daily rituals and offerings; and even performing rituals that are sacred to Them. All of this requires research, study, gathering required materials, and practice, practice, practice. And even when it is all said and done – you might not even get a second glance. Much like trying to court favor with that attractive individual that you would like to have a relationship with; you can find all your effort was for naught. Because the Gods, just as we human beings do, have the choice of saying “no way.”

Fret not, you can still go through the same processes of devotion, adoration, and just essentially praising the Gods as you see fit. The only difference is that you may not receive reciprocation in your efforts. Sort of the same way that I adore Lzzy Hale, but she likely has no clue that I am alive.  😉

Probably the most key thing, in my opinion, is not whether you manage to create the relationship between you and your specific choice among the Gods. If you’re a hard polytheist – believing that all the Gods, Goddesses, and Spirits are distinct, unique beings – the fact that you believe is what makes your relationship with the Gods a beautiful thing. And this even goes for the monotheists that are out there. You may not have the direct-line that you were so wanting, but you do have belief. Whatever that is anchored upon is important, and a wonderful thing. No one should be able to wrestle that away from you. And who knows?? It just might be the start of something beautiful and special between you and the Gods. And it might even be a God, Goddess or Spirit you never considered.

Some Thoughts on Many Gods West 2017

So, this has been the second day of Many Gods West 2017 – the third day I have been here. The Red Lion hotel here in Olympia is rather nice and comfortable. Anyone thinking of coming to a future one – its quite a beautiful location. And if you are worried about available food outside of the hotel – everything is close by with a short 5-8 minute drive away. But all of that is just the incidentals, eh??

I am not sure what I expected when I got here. I had heard things could be a little politically charged. From all of that, I had gleaned that perhaps there could be confrontational moments. But I also know that real experience is a far better judge of what happens than just hearsay. Were there politics?  Sure. Some. Nothing significant though. Sort of the same political discussions that happen at work. But no one seemed to get their feelings hurt when a different opinion was expressed. Many of the folks listened carefully to what was said, and then added on to the point being made with a logical perspective. There was no disrespecting of anyone’s perspective. I would say that everyone was respectful of differences, and for me – the conversations were absolutely delightful! I wish I could have informative, respectful conversations like this all day, every day.

Each of the panels I made were very well done. Lots of good points made, and a lot of give and take with the audience as well. These are the kinds of panels I adore. I have several pages of notes – and lots of blog topics to write on going into the future. And yes, most of those will be on personal, devotional, polytheistic practice. Some of the topics opened my eyes to some of the work I have been doing with Crow, and one panel opened my eyes to how the relationship I have developed with Crow will change over time. As our mutual trust of one another develops and matures, so will the nature of our relationship with one another and our understand of one another. That particular panel provided me with well over a dozen perspectives and concepts to blog on, including that one. So I am super excited to start exploring how to advance my relationship with Crow – both from an intellectual perspective, as well as a physical devotional one.

So, if you have been looking to this small Pagan conference in the Pacific North West and have not decided on it yet – my personal opinion is that you should come here. You should go to the panels. You should sit in the hallways and talk to others about….well, anything. Now let’s remember – I’m an introvert trying to come out of my shell. I ran back to my room several times over the last two days…just to restock who I am. I did this numerous times at Pantheacon this year and last year.

Tomorrow morning, I will make one panel in the morning and begin my trek back to SeaTac International airport – a 90-minute drive (depending on the traffic). But as I drive north, I will be remembering this convention fondly. Crow pushed me towards this with the notion that I needed to go. And from what I have heard from the panel presenters and from the conversations I have had with others….I understand why I needed to be here. But regardless of that, I’m sincerely glad I was able to go, because I see a way forward that I never realized was there before.

I can’t say that you will find a revelation within any of the panels at Many Gods West, but if you are a polytheist – you will certainly find a lot of people to talk with who have shared similar experiences to your own. And for me, that was just half the fun!!