Witches Weekly ?: Why Pagan Pride?

The Witches Weekly blog asks a question this week. This week’s asks about Pagan Pride, in part saying “Do you feel it is just a day to gloat about being pagan, or do you think the genuine purpose behind it is to show that there are strong pagans in every community?”

I wanted to answer this one, because I’m both on the board for our local one and have some mixed feelings about it. Obviously, I think overall it’s a good idea – or I wouldn’t be putting my time and energy into it. (I’ve been Programming Chair or co-Chair for the last three years, and this year picked up some additional responsibilities.)

Incidentally – if you’re local, please come. Twin Cities Pagan Pride will be October 4th and 5th at the Sabathani Community Center in Minneapolis. Much more info to come at the link, but there will be vendors, programming items, rituals, entertainment, and all sorts of other goodness.

Some background:
Our event is quite large. This year, I think we’re the only 2 day event in the US. (We discovered on doing our first one last year, that two days is actually easier on the people putting it on than one day was – plus there’s all sorts of additional opportunities and time available.) We have about 20-25 programming items planned this year (I’ll be doing a final count tomorrow as I prep the schedule.), 4 rituals, and other excellent things.

The way I see it, our Pagan Pride event serves several related functions:

  • Providing a space for people curious about Paganism to come and learn more about various paths and local community options.
  • Providing a non-threatening place for people who have family and friends who are Pagan (or who are just curious) to see a little of what we do (and for some general education.)
  • Providing a place for different parts of our local community to come together and share ideas.

We’re lucky in the Twin Cities: we have a sizeable and diverse Pagan community. We have not one, not two, but three stores focused on the Pagan community (and a few others that are more generally metaphysical.) We have a long running full moon open circle, public Sabbat rituals on a regular basis, and a wide range of classes offered. (I’m currently taking a series on herbalism, and am signed up for an astrology class in October and a runes class in early December.) There are a number of active, thoughtful groups in town, who do good things in their own religions and paths.

But at the same time, all the separate paths and groups in the area don’t always get together that often – so it’s nice to have one time a year where people can see all sorts of different kinds of approaches in one place. I think that’s good for those of us who identify as Pagan – and I think it’s a great thing for people who are interested in a Pagan religion, but aren’t quite sure where to start.

I think we generally do a really good job – people learn, they talk, they have a good time. We’re pretty pleased. So what are my mixed feelings?

1) How good a job are we doing at truly sharing the Pagan communities in our area?

This is a hard one to answer. We do a good job of showing some of the variety and range of Pagan religions. But at the same time, not every group is represented every year (we actually have enough groups in town I’m not sure every group *could* be in a single weekend – but in reality, people’s time and energy and schedules have a role.) Some groups have an long-running presence. Some groups I contact never reply and don’t participate as a group.

So, is it a true snapshot of our community? We try, but it’s obviously imperfect.

2) How welcoming are we to people who are new (and often nervous) about Paganism?

Again, we try, but we’ve also had comments over the years about people who’ve come in, gotten nervous, and gone out again. Some comments have been about people wearing ritual robes or obvious jewelry. Some have been about the topics of presentations. Some have been about other behavior.

Overall, we’ve made a decision that we’re not going to tell people what to wear – and that other than basic public behavior issues, we’re not going to tell people who to talk to, or what to do. We do encourage people to be welcoming, and we do have some plans this year to help guide newcomers to some particularly useful places (by having a list of particular workshops and events of interest to people new to Paganism), but I still feel like we could do better at this.

Part of it, though, is about volunteers. I’d love to, for example, have a simple 30-45 minute workshops running every hour or two that just talked about “What is Paganism”, gave a rundown on different kinds of paths (the various witchcraft traditions, reconstructionists, etc.) and answered simple questions. But we need an actual person who’s willing to do that, who will do it fairly and with good information, and who would be willing to cover the same material 4-6 times in a weekend. And who doesn’t have other demands on their time.

3) How we’re trying to do several things at once.

My goal with programming has been to have a little bit of everything – but as I’ve been told on our surveys, this sometimes leaves people with too many choices. This year, I’ve been fortunate enough that scheduling has mostly made it easy to have some clearly defined ‘tracks’ within programming: we have 3 adult programming rooms (plus the ritual space), and I’ve mostly managed to schedule things so that there’s one ‘brand new to this’ kind of topic, one topic for people who’ve been around for a while, and one topic that’s sort of in the middle – usually some kind of specific technique or approach or interest.

But it does sort of get away from Pagan Pride’s core mission of being focused on people unfamiliar with Paganism. Our eventual hope is to split off a day for people who’ve been Pagan for a while into its own event, and have workshops on topics of interest to people in a number of paths – for example, on things like pastoral counseling issues, group dynamics, or specific magical or ritual techniques.

4) How aware the public is, anyway:

Also a tricky one to judge. Due to weather considerations and rental costs, we’ve chosen a site with some drive-by traffic, but not much walk-by movement that’s a little off the most travelled areas. (Oddly, renting the public spaces in our site is *far* cheaper than a park permit and tents: our choices are between a much smaller event outside, with possible rain or cold, or a sizeable one with lots of choices inside, but not much walk-by traffic. I think we’ve made the right choice, but it has consequences.)

We also do our best to get announcements out to a wide range of local news organisations and event listings – but that’s not always something everyone reads or notices.

What to do:
None of this means that I think Pagan Pride should go away. But it does mean that I think there’s some things we should always keep in mind.

  • Why are we doing this?
  • What are our core audiences – who do we really want to reach, and how?
  • How good a job are we doing at that? Are there things we could do better?
  • Are we really giving a well-rounded introduction to the Pagan community locally? Can we improve that.
  • What feedback are we getting? Is it reasonable (suggestions we can do something about) or stuff that’s way out of our budget/resources/mission? How do we educate people about the realities of what we can manage in a given year?
  • Is this the best way to do this goal? Are we going about it in the most practical way?
  • What gaps are there in our local community that we can fill? Which ones are we duplicating?
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