A Letter to My Community about PantheaCon, Long Overdue

To my beloved community:

PantheaCon is starting tomorrow (tonight, I suppose?). I’ve been sitting with what to say to you, my extended community, for a year now. Folks who follow my work might have noticed there is nothing on the PantheaCon schedule from River Devora, Strong Roots Wide Branches, nor the Priesthood of the Braided Path. Furious Revels is not on the schedule. The Temple of the Braided Path will not be present among the hospitality suites. Wise

voices

have

already

detailed

the many problems with PantheaCon, and many of the folks whom I respect most are not attending, for very good reasons. I agree with what these wise voices have already called out, clearly and repeatedly: the inadequately managed nor appropriately addressed and redressed racism, transphobia, and other institutionalized oppressions that has always been a deeply embedded part of this Con, the shadiness around the financial aspects of the running of Con, the hard-wired overwork, overwhelm, and exhaustion of the event that appears to be a feature.

I’ve been attending PantheaCon since the second convention back in 1995, when I performed in LeighAnn Hussey and Annwn’s Rock and Roll Ritual. I attended Con for several years then took a 6 year break because I couldn’t tolerate the extreme, and entirely unchecked, levels of sexual harassment, exploitation, and boundary crossing I experienced in that space. The Con made some very needed policy changes, and I returned. From the early 2000s onward, I participated every year as a ritualist, workshop leader, organizer, and performer. This year, the last year of PantheaCon, will be the first Con I haven’t attended since 2003.

PantheaCon has been an incubation chamber, an opportunity to grow my skills, serve my Blessed Powers, experiment with group ritual structures and class design, network with skilled spiritual specialists from around the world, grow my reputation, and meet many many folks, some of whom have become good friends, trusted colleagues, co-conspirators, and family to me over the years. Strong Roots Wide Branches saw its launch at PCon back in 2015. The Priesthood of the Braided Path was organized in part to bring an array of polytheist clergy and devotees together to provide a pan-polytheist Temple and sanctuary space, and had originally been put together explicitly for the PantheaCon community.

PantheaCon has always been problematic. From egregiously culturally appropriative and blatantly racist, anti-Semitic, and transphobic workshops and rituals (I have not attended a single PantheaCon where this wasn’t a major problem), to near constant racist and transphobic blow ups by community leaders and presenters (many of whom were known offenders and never should have been provided with a platform to begin with), to rampant sexual assault and boundary crossing, PantheaCon has never been a “safe” place. The business model of the Con itself has always been entirely a private for-profit enterprise ultimately run by a single person. This event has always been Glenn’s event, and she has always had final say about the shaping of the event. PantheaCon has maintained the illusion of being a community event, but ultimately has been responsive to market interests above any other factor of the organizing and running of healthy, just, and equitable community. Many of us served as free labor, paying for the privilege of teaching classes and leading rituals and performances, providing peer counseling, resources, and basically what has amounted to very needed unpaid professional grade social services to the community, lending our good names, reputations, skills, labor, and love to the Con.

For many years I have found myself on the other side of PantheaCon wretchedly sick, depleted, exhausted, financially compromised from lost wages as well as con expenses. For the past few years I didn’t even enjoy myself. But I had an overwhelming feeling of guilt and responsibility, that if I and my crew weren’t there, that my beloved community would be in greater danger. And I was correct in that assessment; since beginning the Temple of the Braided Path several years ago, my closest in and I have provided a huge amount of care and service to a very large number of people who came to us in crisis, having had very blessed and overwhelming or very terrible and inappropriate experiences and needing a safe place to land, folks to listen and care for them, providing resources, healing, and support. Sometimes this support would extend out for months, as there is not much pagan-informed care available for things ranging from managing and healing from violations occurring in pagan spaces to post-initiation aftercare. We’ve provided spiritual cleansing services (always desperately needed), unhexing and uncrossing work, a sacred and maintained place to meditate and connect with and pray to Blessed Powers, support group space, and curated and protected ritual and social space especially for queer, trans, PoC, and other historically disenfranchised folks (basically, for ourselves and our own kin as well as others who came to us with an open heart and a willingness to abide by our boundaries and protocols).

At some point I finally admitted that I have always known Con was unsafe; I’ve been exhausting myself for years trying to create a corner of safety in the midst of a known sea of danger. I have tried so hard, in partnership with others working equally hard, to build a safe harbor for you, my beloved extended community. And at some point I had to look at myself in the mirror and admit that as long as I and my solid and competent peers kept showing up, we materially contributed to the illusion that Con was a “safe” place. By coming to Con to try and mitigate harm, I contributed to giving folks the mistaken impression that Con as a whole was safe and welcoming. To those who have attended Con in even a very small measure because you knew folks like me would be there to keep you safe and take care of you if something happened, I am deeply sorry. I never thought it was a safe environment, and if I contributed to you believing that you would be safe there, I have wronged you and I apologize.

I will no longer participate in sinking ships. I will no longer lend my reputation, my experience, my connections, nor my resources to try and fix things that are broken at their very core. I stand with those who have chosen not to attend this year, and I send prayers of safety and care to those of you from historically disenfranchised communities who are choosing to attend this year.

As for myself, I am glad this will be the last year. I am looking forward to a relaxing rest of February and a healthier and better rested March and April. I look forward to seeing what beautiful new things our extended community grows in the coming years. 

Blessings and respect,

River Devora

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