Creating The Culture We Need


Pantheacon 2017 had an energy and a practicality I’ve not felt in that way at that place before. It felt like awakening, like we’d discovered a sense of purpose.

We are cracking the chrysalis at last. As a world we are finally on the path to becoming what we need to. We are creating the structures that will become the base of our survival. This process is difficult, scary, and utterly necessary and I am grateful that we are at last getting to work on it. I saw and participated in rituals that had a new energy and purpose. I heard people speak with passion and offer suggestions for action that are practical in the real world, not just at Pantheacon or in some ideal future. There were discussions that might lead somewhere outside that delicious bubble we spent the weekend in. In the outer world, there was a general strike on Friday and a weekend of protesting and action. We were weirdly part of that, even as we stood between the worlds, some of us choosing not to spend money on Friday, some passing out ribbons that referenced specifics in the political world to hang from our con badges, plans being laid. The conversations swirled around next steps, and the negativity was largely transmuted into practicality instead of hatred.

The new dawn is here. I saw a film about Awen where the goddess whispered the spirit of inspiration in peoples’ ears. It could have been the motif of the weekend. We showed, with permission, a segment of the documentary Standing On Sacred Ground. The whole series shows what we will lose if we do not act, and the struggle of indigenous peoples worldwide. This particular segment showed the struggle in California to keep Shasta Dam from being raised. If this happens it will destroy the Winnimem Wintu way of life. It showed how much they have already lost, and what we all will lose if we don’t stop this from happening now. Even if it were not vitally important for our existence as humans to keep these cultural practices alive, it is simple justice that we stop taking from the First Peoples here, and fight to return what we can, not just to them, but to all of us. They are in real, concrete ways, preserving our balance and connection to the world around us. We will not survive as a species if we don’t also give our own labor, creativity, and energy to solving our collective problems and learn our own ways of connection to the land and each other, wherever we live. If enough of us understood the importance of this, we would not need to be told–we would know–and this understanding is what we must create. We who are not indigenous do not realize how we have been uprooted, and what we lost when our own indigenous ancestors lost their homes.

This was only one segment of this inspiring and important series and we showed it because it specifically applied to California, where we were gathering. I would recommend the whole series to all of us, as we all need to know about and participate in the process of re-indigenization that must occur worldwide. Our lack of connection is killing us as, unknowing, we cut the web of life from under our own feet. Like reseeding an old growth forest, it will take far more than a human lifetime to complete this process, and our future lifeways will look very different from the cultures we live today, but we must begin the task.

Here in California, water is a real problem–but it’s one we can solve. We use it without thought. We turn on the tap without thinking, waiting for it to get hot or cold, trusting that it will run forever. We shove the responsibility for conserving it off on others, or we throw up our hands in learned helplessness. We say that we need to grow the food that feeds the country, we need to supply the needs of our cities and our economies. While this is of course true, we don’t have to do it by destroying cultures thousands of years old. We don’t have to deny the tribes who were here before us recognition of their existence and their rights. The fact that we are choosing these ways to meet our needs is a failure of imagination, and an unnecessary act of violence. We have all the tools we need to solve our problems without causing the deaths of other cultures. For instance, we use water in completely inappropriate ways. Composting toilets, graywater systems, and drip irrigation are only some of the technologies available to us to change this. But that is a post in itself and this is a post about Pantheacon, a source of inspiration we can use to fuel a whole year of growth and change. If we understand the destruction we are causing and the false choices we are making, the hunger for the answers will create the path and the will to follow it.

How many other ideas will come to us out of simple connection to the earth, and the people around us? The very meaning of the word “religion” is to re-connect with the source. We don’t have to gather in a building or listen to the words of some wise person to do that. It’s as close as our next deep breath and because there are so many ways to do it, reconnection is accessible to all of us. Have you looked at the trees in your neighborhood? How about the sky? I saw the grass growing out of the cracks in the hotel deck, pulled the fresh clean air into my lungs and felt the solid concrete under my feet, holding me up. I remembered my place in this world, the work I can do with my own two hands with nothing more than that. Those same hands type these words even now as I remember the things I learned and give them form and hopefully permanence as I pass them on to you. Maybe you will find something in them and add your own ideas as well as we all work to do what is needed to heal our world and ourselves.

Pantheacon is a cauldron of ideas and energy. We all bring our own ingredients and add them to this container that we create every year. Long conversations, songs shared and ideas swirling in hallway and conference room blend to create more than the sum of the parts.

I didn’t get out much, frankly. We were running the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids hospitality room and it is still a fairly new and growing thing. Its roots are not deep, there are few of us to sink them into a fairly sterile space. We have the one room, as a result, and what we can carry in one car. A small fairly empty space can be a great opportunity, though, and it is not surprising that a lot of attention is needed as the shape of our shared inspiration is revealing itself within it. Philip Carr-Gomm was kind enough to send us enough of a donation to create some very inspiring banners that do a lot to change the space, and are light and compact. Kristoffer Hughes has been kind enough to present in our room for the last two years. We are open, as most rooms of this type are, for long hours, and in many ways the conversations and inspirations come to us. We are an ingredient and an environment within this larger cauldron and this year was no exception. If anything, we gained strength and purpose–and hands to help.

We need the fun and inspiration of Pantheacon. It may feel like play, but without fuel, the fire dies. The work will not get done. Meetings, phone calls, marches and political campaigns are hard work. So is retooling a whole world, which is what we need to do. We can’t go on as we have been. We can’t all get our food from feedlots and factory farms, we can’t all drive, one to a car, to everything we do. We can’t fill our needs with things that are used once and thrown away–but all of those things are the only lives many of us have ever known. We judge the utility and beauty of a thing by how convenient it is, and how much money we pay for it. That is a very seductive and powerful equation and if it isn’t the actual truth, or the accurate cost, we have to have more to offer the majority of the world that believes in it than what they will see as hard work and deprivation. We have to be able to show people how our lives are better for this understanding and insight, and how the work to create this culture of responsibility and hard work is also one of joy, beauty, and happiness greater than the superficial convenience and variety that has been sold to us.

We’ve settled for so little when we could have so much. We’ve left the work of politics and government to a small segment of the population and what have we gotten in return? We’ve outsourced the creation of the necessities of life to people who only measure cost in terms of money and we have air that isn’t safe to breathe, water that isn’t safe to drink, and food that makes us sick. In many places we can’t grow food in our own yards without making sure the ground is safe to plant in. When is the last time you drank from a river or a spring? Picked fruit from the trees in a wild place? Ate food from your own garden? Saw the Milky Way from your backyard? These things are true wealth and once we all had them. We can have them again. What we give up–everything we buy entombed in plastic, clothing that falls apart within a year or two, plastic dishes from the dollar store, food that cooks in five minutes in the microwave but makes us sick–is it really worth having?

Pantheacon is not perfect. I cannot live on gin and Dennys food for more than a few days. The beautiful, indomitable weeds on the patio are no substitute for even the trees in my neighborhood, let alone a forest. But after I’ve spent a few days with people who value our connection with nature and each other, I see the street trees with new eyes. My mind is full of new ideas and I feel ready to get to work. I have chickens in my back yard because of the relationships I have with other Pagans who taught me how to take care of them. My firm intention to stay on my feet, on a bicycle and on the bus grew out of my connection with the earth and in this car-centric culture I live in, is sustained by it. My willingness to be a pioneer of the new way of life we must build comes from the knowledge I have gained and the joys I have discovered in knowing how to do things in ways that take into account all the costs of the necessities of life. Really, what is a necessity? Your choices will undoubtedly be different than mine, but if we all work on our own part of the problem, we will find the answers we all need to make life comfortable, beautiful, sustainable–and just. For all beings.


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