It is Sunday night at Pantheacon, one of the largest gatherings of Paganfolk in the United States. I am sitting with friends and colleagues in the Pagan Scholars’ Den when I am overcome with feelings of sadness and loss. This is the last evening of the conference, and after a short respite tomorrow morning, including breakfast with Don Frew, I must return to a world that does not understand who I am. I am sure that many pagans feel this way towards the end of whatever festival they are attending. After spending time within a cultural experiment in which we are understood, honored, esteemed, and valued, it is difficult to return to a world in which we feel misunderstood, nickeled and dimed to death for the most basic commodities of life, and valued only for the work we can do the produces the money that lines other people's pockets. I myself often feel a sense of loss and displacement when I return to the collective Abnormalcy. I have heard some people refer to this as returning to the "mundane world," as if we only briefly managed to touch the enchanted and magical realm. My take on this is very much the other way around. It seems to me we live day-to-day lives in a sort of lunatic asylum, a mechanized, mechanical, soulless world in which we are all gears in the worship engine of Mammon. A world in which we move like somnambulists, shuffling one foot in front of the other through the grimy gray, seeking after a dollar or a dime, performing largely meaningless and menial tasks, and wishing that we could be seen, cherished, and part of a community.
Somewhere around the beginning of February each year, an excitement begins to seize me. It's much like that feeling of when you were child and you were going to go to Disneyland with your parents for some special occasion (If Disneyland is nowhere near you feel free to fill in with the theme park or experience of your choice). The experience of being at Pantheacon, or any large pagan gathering, including the Conference of on Current Pagan Studies, is something that recharges my psychic batteries and allows me to hold my head up high as I participate in a culture with which I often feel at odds. A few years ago I missed and Pantheacon entirely, and it saddened me. The ensuing year was a difficult one and I often felt rootless. I had to work very hard during those twelve months to remember who I am. This year it was the Conference of Current Pagan Studies, for which I have the pleasure to serve as program manager, that I could not attend. After working all year reading abstracts, sending acceptance or rejection letters, compiling the program, designing and printing the signage, and a myriad of other tasks, I woke at three in the morning the day of the conference puking my guts out. People that attended the conference told me that it went well, and that my presence was felt through the work I had done to bring that particular conference into being. I was amazed at how many thoughtful people took a moment to communicate through texts and emails to tell me that I had been missed. Although all of this went a long way to assuage my battered feelings of loss, the lived experience of being with a group of people who share my particular weltanschauung could not be replaced. Consequently, being present at Pantheacon was something that took on added importance. There is, I suppose, a sort of yearning to be with people of like mind, perhaps like spirit or soul, that is of the utmost importance.
Even though we, as contemporary pagans, often bicker, sometimes engage in infighting, or disagree concerning how many Pagan Gods can dance on the head of a tangible pin, still there is an underlying commonality, a sense of family and home, that permeates such gatherings. Most of my life I feel alone. When I am at Pantheacon and other such festivals and gatherings I know that there are others walking by my side.
This leads me to muse that there is some commonality here, a Culture of Paganisms if you will. Deliberately I leave “culture” as collective; as is my habit, I refer to Paganisms, in an effort to express the multiplicity and diversity of our peoples, including not only the Wiccans and Witches, the Druids and all the various reconstructionists, but also the mystics, and those who have not yet found or hold a fluid definition for themselves. Our Culture of Paganisms recasts us as one large family, our commonalities sometimes not so evident, but there in ephemeral underlying worldview that permeates all of our variegated varieties of belief.
Away from this Culture of Paganisms, back in the Abnormalcy of clockwork men, I find myself yearning for the people with whom I have recently sat and discussed both heady and silly subjects. I miss the smiles and hugs that happen in the halls and other between places. I crave the way in which I am rolled on the tongue and savored. Additionally, I hunger after the way in which I am in service to my people, all of the members of this Culture of Paganisms of which I am humbled and proud to be a part.
How do we sustain our connection to this culture in which we find membership and value? Every year there are emails and texts between people who spent time together at Pantheacon. I am sure that this phenomenon happens with other festivals as well. The old acquaintances and new friends attempt to hold on to those connections forged in the rarified space of the temporary coming together of the Culture of Paganisms. Does this ever prove adequate? Disembodied text is appropriate for certain communications, but, sadly, I do not think that it is a medium through which culture can be knitted together. There is something about the transaction between eye-to-eye, hand-to-heart, and mouth-to-ear that carries the soul, strengthening and sustaining our Culture of Paganisms. When together, we witness one another more honestly and sincerely then when we are hacking at each other's words in an email or a blog. Not to say that our connections in cyberspace are not significant, but it is of utmost importance that we meet each other face-to-face, engage in dialogue both speaking and listening, gaze into one another's eyes and witness one another's being-ness. This experience of witnessing one another truly binds us together and creates a common culture. It is this entering into dialogue with my peers that sustains me as I leave the blessed, uncanny reality that envelops festivals like Pantheacon and begin my journey back into a world in which I am never perceived as a truly am.