Next weekend I will be headed, along with a thousand or two other Pagans, to PantheaCon. I have been there every single year it’s been held – with my booth in the marketplace, my kids, notes for workshops and rituals I’m doing, and every scrap of shiny, colorful clothing I own.
Among the many things I am doing this week to prepare for PantheaCon is ironing those scraps of clothing, some of them still wrinkled in the closet from last year’s post-con washing. A clothes horse I am not, but after my first foray to witchcamp in 1994 where I realized that the only colorful thing I’d packed was a red sweatshirt, I took the challenge to upgrade my wardrobe. Since then I have slowly gathered a respectable amount of ritual clothing, most of which meets my prime criterion for dressy clothes: they must feel as close to wearing pajamas as possible. Comfort trumps fashion to me, which admittedly sets me at odds with most of my Pagan brethren here in the Bay Area.
If you’re coming to the con and are worried that the clothes you’re bringing might be over the top, just remember: there is no top. In its first few years the con was not large enough to book a whole hotel and we had to share quarters with all manner of other weekend conventions. My favorite year was when both the little girl beauty pageant and the armed servicemen’s ball were there with us. The beauty pageant mothers were completely shocked and repulsed by the lot of us, which was predictable, and as I recall they even got the hotel to turn us down the next year.
The little girls went to bed early so they didn’t have to be exposed to the crazed evening wear choices some Pagans revel in. After a day of being chastised by the con organizers for scaring the little girls and their mothers with our get-ups came one particular evening scene I will always remember. Keith Hennessey, Alphonsus, Madrone, myself and a few others were hanging out in the main corridor after some spectacle performance Keith had a hand in. They were dressed to the nines, nipple piercings, corsets, makeup and all, and we were horsing around, joking about the oddity of being in a downtown San Jose hotel, when suddenly the military ball let out down the hall.
When the first couple emerged, they saw us blocking their way in the corridor and hesitated. Soon both we and they realized that they had to get by us to get home, and the fun began. Our group parted, half to one wall and half to the other, forming an impromptu Pagan gauntlet through which they had to pass. All these lovely young couples began to promenade past us, uniformed men with white gloves leading their debutante dates in formal gowns down the corridor to the lobby doors.
It was high comedy, an improv Who’s Queer Here? show, and all in good fun. The couples who had the most fun were the ones who laughed along with us at the unlikely scenario. As I recall we applauded the ones who were dressed to the hilt and had the campiest swagger walking past; the timid ones we encouraged to strut with confidence. After a few minutes they were all gone and there we were still: a strange crew in a very, very strange environment.
PantheaCon to me is part old-home week, part Learning Channel, part never-ending amateur hour, beauty pageant, and bad food festival all rolled into one. There are a few things that keep me sane during the weekend: a room of my own to retreat to, friends to laugh with, offsite food, and the onsite bar. Nothing at the hotel is very good to eat, though much of it is passable – especially if you’re really hungry. But the bar, a sunken area in the main lobby, is a thing of beauty. It’s a recovery room from bad performances, a dimly-lit place to hang with friends, and a spot from which to watch the endless stream of preening Pagan celebs saunter past.
One year I was hanging out with Macha having a bad whiskey (don’t ask them for Jameson’s) late in the evening. We were, I’m sure, having a riveting discussion about some important thealogical issue, when there was a commotion down the way. We both turned to look, and here came this chanting mob marching toward us with signs and strange costumes. Imagine my surprise to see Bowen and Lyra towards the front, shouting some ironic Discordian slogan and laughing at the nonsense they were engaged in. Yep, I thought, I raised ’em right. There go my kids actually attending a Pagan ritual, while their mother is holed up in the bar recovering from the day’s events. That’s a vignette we neglected to put in the book.
This year will be weird for me because Bowen is not coming, for the first year ever since PantheaCon began. He has his own life up in Portland now, and can’t take time off work to come down. I will really miss him – in fact, I already miss him even though the weekend isn’t here yet. He was the only kid I brought with me that very first year, when he was all of 8 or 9 years old. I was at my little music booth most of the day, while he stayed up in our room watching TV and eating all the expensive candy in the self-serve fridge. Being there on my own with Bowen was often nerve-wracking for me, but Bowen had fun. From that year on, going with me to PantheaCon was something all my kids desperately wanted to do.
Those were years of impossibly difficult situations for me, since their father expected me to watch the booth, watch the kids, and attend all the events I was part of, while he stayed home relaxing. My experience of PantheaCon is still tinged with PTSD from those years of intense exhaustion, even though as the kids have gotten older and able to help out more it has gotten far easier for me. In fact, going there with my kids is really fun now, and frankly I can’t imagine being at the con without them. I have always appreciated their presence, but now I get to be relaxed at the same time.
For all that Paganism is a place where women can be respected leaders, it is still necessary to walk the gauntlet between the harmful roles people want to put you in. There are the men who think you should do it all because hey, the Goddess did, and besides they are too resentful of your status to help. Then there are the men who see the entire female contingent at the con as their own self-serve candy fridge. And make no mistake, there are women who are just as bad, if not worse. But they’re not as fun to write about so we’ll save them for later.
Fortunately, even the vicious ones look a little ridiculous in the strange light of the Con. It is easy to see who is putting on airs, who genuinely has something to say, and who is acting like a legend in their own mind. The community is still small enough that word does get around; in that way it’s like any small town with really bad fashion sense.
I was telling a friend yesterday who will be coming to PantheaCon this year for the first time that it’s a lot like Disneyland: you really must go at least once in your life. You won’t need acid to feel like you’re tripping, though I’m sure there’s some there you could find. And provided you have one or two things that can keep you sane amidst all the crowds, you are sure to learn something, meet up with someone truly inspiring, or gain a bit of insight you wouldn’t have otherwise. In that sense, there is no preparing for the con, you just have to pack a lunch and dive right in. If you do come, stop by and say hello. I’ll be the happy one in the comfy clothes.