Toronto Pagan Conference
Article ID: 10602
Age Group: Adult
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Author: Brendan Myers
Posted: March 12th. 2006
Times Viewed: 10,623
Sponsored by: Toronto Pagan Conference / Building Bridges Pub Moot
Location: Valhalla Inn, Toronto, Canada
Event Date(s): 3rd to 5th March
In many ancient Pagan cultures, the community gathering place was the centre of people’s lives. It may have been a stone circle, a temple, a chieftain’s feasting hall, or even a burial mound. But it was the location for community ritual and ceremony, as well as for trade, political debate, games and competitions, rendering justice, feasting, performing music and drama, and even for matchmaking. The gathering place was not just indispensable for survival but also for culture and prosperity and all the things that make life worth while. For contemporary Paganism, the outdoor summer festival and the winter (indoor) conference serves this purpose. We rent out temporary gathering places in hotels and campgrounds. But they are no less essential to our communities, and no less indispensable for the progress of our religion from small fringe group to fully matured religious culture.
I’ve attended about a dozen indoor Pagan conferences in the last six or seven years, and the Toronto Pagan Conference struck me as having the most integrated, relaxed, supportive and creative environment I’ve attended so far. Twenty presenters offered talks, ceremonies, lectures, and workshops on twenty-four different topics over three days. There were the standard introductory-level workshops for which there will always be a need. These were given by some knowledgeable presenters genuinely interested in giving newcomers the best possible first experience of pagan culture. There were also many advanced talks offered by those who have been a part of the community for decades. Indeed five of the presenters held doctorates in several academic disciplines, and they came to share their research findings and their speculations with the community—again in a non-patronising, accessible way.
The majority of workshop presenters were Canadians, and they are worth mentioning first as Canada’s leaders and creators are often overshadowed by those from Britain or America. Sian Reid, Shelly Rabinovich, Brian Walsh, Marija Kuncaitis, Castalia, Tamarra James, and perhaps I myself are probably the most well known of the Canadians who appeared this year. But I was very impressed by some of the lesser known speakers (I mean this without disrespect) . Victoria Anisman-Reiner, a relative newcomer to the community, spoke about essential oils in healing practices. Lucie DuFresne, recently awarded her Ph.D in Religious Studies, spoke about community building. Maryanne Pierce and Austin Lawrence, both with MA degrees in anthropology, brought their discoveries and expert opinions to the table. Andy Biggers spoke twice on Northern traditions. Michel Desjardins taught how Qabala can bring together the Pagan and the scientific world views. John Huculiak helped de-bunk some of the myths of the Romany people. There was an excellent mix of younger newcomers and experienced long-timers among the Canadian presenters, and there was no feeling of competition or division among them that I could sense.
Many of the conference presentations were digitally audio-recorded by the good people of Deo’s Shadow pod-cast. I was very impressed by their community spirit; their recordings are not only an effective historical record documenting the state of our community, but they also benefit the conference tangibly. All profits from the sale of the CD is going back to the conference.
The keynote speakers were Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, both internationally well known writers and ritual presenters. Janet has over thirty years of experience with writing and with ceremony, and Gavin collaborated with her and her late husband Stewart for several of their most recent books. Their slide show presentation on sacred places around Ireland was informative and most entertaining. Their talk on Progressive Witchcraft, also the title of their most recent book, had a lot of people nodding their heads in knowing agreement, and a few practically jumping in their seats to give voice to their excited approval. Their third presentation, a workshop on “The Group Mind”, was a practical experiment in creating a thought-form from magical energy. A circle was cast, energy was raised, and sent to Janet who shaped it into something and then passed it around the circle for each person to touch and sense on their own. Many were surprised to find that they did, in fact, see facets of the same thing: black and white stripes, blue eyes, fuzzy shapes or furry shapes, and so on. As it turns out, Janet had shaped the energy into the form of a white tiger. And nearly everyone saw it, without knowing what Janet had envisioned, or what anyone else was sensing. Some of those who attended were moved to tears by the emotional impact.
On the Saturday night there was a dinner with entertainment by Mysterion, and a performance of the Dragon Ritual Drummers. I do not know if they perform in hotels very often; but I know that they made a very good impression on all. Some of the regular hotel guests paid the door fee to join our concert.
There were three highlights of the conference which stand out in my mind as the most memorable. The first was the evening spent singing Pagan songs in the bar after the Dragon Ritual Drummers had performed. Socialising and singing is one of the ways a community shares not only a group of customs and beliefs, but also deep rooted friendship as well. Whether Celtic or Asatru, whether High Magician or Kitchen Witch, whether new or old, these divisions serve as bridges, not as barriers, in the modern-day feasting halls of the Pagan festival.
The second and third highlights were the two panel discussions expertly moderated by Helmut. The question for the first one was, What would it take to grow a Pagan community with some unity in its purposes and goals? The second asked the attendees what they would like to see happen in our festivals and meetings, as the number of them in Ontario continues to grow. These are the venues for the attendees to describe what they want from not only these conferences, but from the community in general. And the people were not shy to tell them what they wanted. Helmut’s passion and enthusiasm for community-building must be praised. And on the basis of these three highlights, I’m inclined to think that there is something like a united Pagan community in Ontario—or, at any rate, that there is the seeds of one. And these seeds are not only well planted, but are flourishing and proliferating. As if out of respect for the community and the values that the conference stood for, many people dressed up for the occasion—a little above casual, although not excessively formal. One of the presenters even wore a suit and tie on the first day.
Have I any critical comments? Yes, I have a few. The vendor’s area could have been closer to the main room where the workshops and talks took place. The workshop timetable could have been done differently. For instance, it may have started later on Sunday morning, as most people were up partying until quite late the night before. (I really sympathise with Marija, whose 9 AM Sunday morning workshop on the Baltic Ritual Year was attended by so very few people) . But overall, my complaints are very few. I have nothing but praise for Amy Taylor, Jim Findlay, Pam Fletcher, Helmut, Jason and Brenda, the conference staff. These people are leaders, in the most honourable and praiseworthy sense of the word.
In conclusion, may I say that events like these are very much what the people, the attendees just as much as the organizers, make them. We need more people to attend and support these events in Ontario, and across Canada. They are the way that a pagan movement composed of isolated small groups can come together, learn about each other and from each other, find or create common purposes and goals, and ultimately become a unified community.
Copyright: This Review: (c) Brendan Myers, 2006. Distribute freely, with the name of the Toronto Pagan Conference and my name attached.
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