PantheaCon & The Two Party System

I’ve been going to PantheaCon for many years. For about a decade it’s been held at the Doubletree Hotel in San Jose, California, a large convention hotel. It’s gladdening to see it growing to where it now attracts about 3000 people from far and near. It can be overload with workshops, presentations, and rituals going from the early morning hours to well after midnight, to say nothing of the maze of hospitality suites and accompanying revelry. For three and a half days the hotel is abuzz with energy with rituals being conducted by FoDLA, ADF, Ekklesia Antinoou, Hrafnar. Thiasos Olympikos, Feri, Reclaiming and so many other groups.


Over the years the programming has become much more diverse, there being many more reconstructionist tracks, for instance. Yet often in events supposedly for the general audience the language remains “Wicca-centric”, i.e. the God and the Goddess, the Four elements, etc. I think the tensions this generates will be around for a long time in Neopagan events, but as non-Wiccans become a larger and larger proportion of the pagan demographic this must be challenged.


Wicca, especially in its British and British-derived traditions, is a very gender essentialist religion. This is in striking contrast to polytheistic religions, where the deities themselves mirror many gender and sexuality possibilities. Gender essentialism reared its ugly head this past weekend in a Dianic ritual put on by the Amazon Tribe of CAYA Coven, which did not advertise that its ritual was only for those women who are biological females. Some transgendered women were turned away at the door. Fortunately the next day a discussion was held about this discrimination, but some of those who put on the ritual claimed that this was an issue of religious freedom. I find this a suspect defense; it seems akin to arguments raised by Islamists in defense of so-called honor killings (sic), or purdah, or of the Mormon church’s fighting same-sex marriage and interfering in electoral politics in California. Is it fair for the Dianics to claim this exclusion of some women is simply an issue of their religious freedom? I think it’s also important to note this occurred at a public event in a hotel and the description in the program schedule for the event was so vague that I thought men would be able to attend this woman centered rite. A further terrible irony is that the rite was for Lilith, who is often portrayed as transgendered or gender-variant.


A lot of leaders in the Neopaganism scene came of age and were influenced deeply by 70s feminism, by writers like Barbara Walker, Mary Daly, Riane Eisler, Merlin Stone and Marija Gimbutas. There’s much that was wonderful there, but their gender views are ones that through the way they essentialized ‘woman’ excluded many women, including many African American women to name but one example, (which has been written about cogently by bell hooks). And of course, many women don’t identify with motherhood or childbirth, which are so emphasized in these accounts of what is ‘woman’. At the same time French feminists were already developing a non-essentializing view of gender, for example, brilliant theorists like Helene Cixous and Julia Kristeva, as well as Judith Butler in the US. I can remember when Eisler’s and Gimbutas’ view of the past seemed a hopeful one, but I still had doubts, as queer people had no real place within this vision, which exploded when I started reading people like Helene Cixous, Gloria Anzaldua, Adelle Olivia Gladwell and bell hooks.


So this opens into the huge sea of gender essentialism in neopaganisms, both in Wiccan and Ceremonial Magic circles, the whole notion that magic is based on polarity, the polarity of the archetypal masculine and feminine. Such beliefs have often led to exclusion of homosexual and bisexual individuals or at least the continued marginalization thereof. I hope these are areas that will become questioned more and more in the various interlocking communities that make up the contermporary pagan world.


Gender polarity may be a valid method for some, but it’s simply inauthentic as a foundational view of magic. So much of traditional magic is based on working with language, the textual magic found everywhere from Alexandrian Egypt to the Sorceresses of Larzac (in Gaul). I myself work with the Celtic magical poetic practice known as filidecht, again no gender polarity required!


I have more to say about these issues in the future but for now some more discussion of the gender problems at this year’s PantheaCon can be found at the links below.





34 thoughts on “PantheaCon & The Two Party System

  1. Erynn

    I definitely agree that the whole gender essentialism thing has been offputting. I have never wanted to spawn, and the idealization of “Goddess” as the whole Maiden/Mother/Crone triad was deeply problematic to me on many levels. The implication was always that to be a “real” woman you had to breed. I have no issues with motherhood being considered a sacred part of life — we’re all here as a result of a mother. Yet this approach completely negates the experiences of women who cannot or do not wish to be mothers, leaving us eternally in a limbo of “maiden, maybe” unless we’re grey haired enough to be “crones.” Really, just not my style. I am not immature because I don’t want children; my choice not to have children does not make me a non-adult.

    Word magic seems so much more deeply appealing, particularly as a queer person in a female body.

    1. Very much agreed…

      Whatever else some might say, I do like what Sharynne Nic Macha said to me one time about “women’s mysteries” and her own feminist viewpoint: she’s fought for decades to be treated as valuable apart from her ability to bear and raise children, and then to have one’s entire existence reduced to “womb and breasts” and their functionality really seems like a backward step.

      This particularly confuses me, given the lesbian separatist stance of so many Dianics…unless I’m missing something. Sure, lots of lesbians have children, but lots of others don’t, and don’t want them…?!?

      1. Erynn

        That’s precisely it — reducing me to breasts and uterus. I argued pretty strongly against it in my essay in Women’s Voices in Magic, and that’s so much of what appeals to me about the Ekklesía, as you know: I don’t get reduced to a mythologized/sacralized breeding machine.

        The specific incident that triggered the discussion I can’t really comment much on, not having been there, not having spoken to any of the organizers, and not having been at more than a few minutes of the subsequent discussion.

        I would like to note, though, Finnchuill, that I think actually the only person from the group that put on the ritual who was in attendance was the one who came in late and said “I’m sorry I couldn’t be here for this, but please come talk to me if you want to,” and then left again. I believe the various Dianics addressing the group were not from CAYA at all, though I could be wrong.

      2. It’s really astonishing to see the dance with the very complex steps that’s gone down at Anya’s blog about what a ‘woman’ is. I was thinking it would be more accurate for Amazon Tribe to say that ‘individuals with wombs’ were invited to attend the ritual, but I see apparently as long as you had one in the past it’s okay. But what if it was never fertile? The really hateful post from a Dianic bigwig is really disturbing.

    2. I just find the phrases she’s a “real woman” or he’s a “real Man’ somehow unnerving. Certainly, motherhood is a wonderful thing and I wouldn’t be here without it, but I’m glad I’ve always had inspiring women in my life who were not mothers.

      1. Erynn

        I’m with you on that. I live in a female body, but I don’t strictly identify as female. A good bit of the time I find it more of a hindrance and an annoyance than any sort of blessing. I’m way more androgynous than my huge tracts of land might suggest.

        Biology ≠ Destiny

      2. Kate LBT

        I’m a real woman.

        So is my mother and so are my sisters.

        So are my married lesbian friends, so are my single heterosexual women friends, so are my poly women friends and my women friends who just don’t care about relationships at all and so don’t see themselves in the “single/partnered” paradigm.

        So are my friends who have never bled, so is my friend who bleeds and bleeds and bleeds (and desperately want a hysterectomy because of it). She joked once that she’d give me her uterus, except it was broken.

        So is my partner, who is a cissexual woman with PCOS and a gender-flexible identity, when she’s in female mode. When he’s in male mode, though, he’s a real man. And s/he makes me laugh, cry, and melt either way.

        Real women? Are complicated.

    1. Erynn

      I think this is going to have some far-reaching effects in the community, given how I’ve been seeing reference to it and discussion of it in many places around the web in the past week. I’m very glad you all put that discussion together, and that it does seem to be continuing. I know Jason’s going to be dong some more in-depth discussion of the overarching issues of gender and sexuality in Paganism coming up over on the Wild Hunt blog.

      1. worthyadvisor

        Yes, Jason told us as much, and I’m very glad he is. We are also planning on having a similar discussion next year at Pcon, and maybe a ritual around the issue.

        Again, it’s interesting to see the discussion continuing. (To be honest, we didn’t really know the impact we had until a couple of days ago…)

      2. Erynn

        Have you had any actual dialogue with the folks from CAYA about the whole thing? I’ve seen a lot of completely off the wall stuff being said on places like E-Cauldron (I was linked to a thread there earlier this afternoon) where the conversation is going off on some really strange tangents. Of course, one expects this when folks who were completely uninvolved and at a great physical distance from the events start to weigh in and try to make it their own fight without having the first idea about what actually happened.

    2. Lina

      Sent an email to AM, hoping she got it. There are things people are asking me as I attended the rite and the ensuing events but I don’t want to speak to something I can’t. I am hoping hear from her about this at some point but if it would be better if I spoke to you, let me know.

      Thank you,

  2. Pingback: …And More PantheaCon Aftermaths… « Aedicula Antinoi: A Small Shrine of Antinous

  3. Erynn, this is precisely why I never felt called to Wicca, particularly Dianic Wicca. The whole Maiden, Mother, Crone paradigm, while not only being unhistorical, also denies the Warrior Goddess. it reinforces a biological view of existence, gender, and being that I find foul. absolutely foul.

    I’ve never wanted to breed either. I certainly and more than a uterus or a twat. I am not my gender, thank you very much. Nor is my devotional life based on what’s between my legs.

    I’m still too angry to comment on the P-Con debacle, beyond this.

    1. Erynn

      I don’t blame you. It seems so throughly anti-feminist to reduce women to this, which is exactly the same damned thing “the patriarchy” has been doing since time immemorial. I have a serious case of Do Not Want.

  4. Lina

    Here’s the issue that’s happening at Fruit of Pain and the Parenting by the Moonlight blog:

    These are people who are aligned WITH Lillith, however, the one I link to in my friends protected LJ, she calls on Lillith against CAYA and says they need to be careful. . . UGH.

    How is this dialogue? On FB, I keep saying that this isn’t dialogue and I keep getting the response of, “We can call Her all we want, it’s up to Her to respond”. Which is a crappy way to deal with things, in my opinion. And it’s also a crappy answer.

    Pagan Newswire Collective wants to interview me and a couple others about the issue, and I’m sending them to one of their people because the person who wrote that, is in the PNC.

    This is a hard issue but as I keep saying, we don’t make it easy when we start flinging g*ds all over the place.

      1. Lina

        Certainly, you aren’t the only one it seems.

        So I decided to attend and after reading the skyclad nature of the ritual figured that it was probably women only. I left it at that, but didn’t make the full assumption, however, I figured others wouldn’t be so lucky.

        I was right. There was a gentleman there who was by all intents biologically male, however, he was much more of a girl than I could ever be. I’d been running into him all con, his mannerisms and the way he carried himself and in speaking to him, he was much more femme than I could ever claim to be.

        He was turned away and I saw it. I saw the crestfallen look on his face and I saw the attitudes of others who were excluded, the transwomen in particular. I did not see any specific transwoman who turned around and walked away but I did hear from a woman whose partner has fully transitioned and she would not attend due to this bias against her partner. She went promptly to information and lodged the complaint. I don’t disagree with her.

        However, I filed in with everyone else because then in my head, it felt important for me to stand there moreso for them than for myself. I will say this, I did not voice that opinion in the middle of the rite, I did however weep hard and long at the image of one woman who invoked Lillith and spoke about the loss of her children, how they were called ugly, demons, succubi and inccubi, and I thought long and hard for all those turned away and all the times I myself had been turned away, and wept for that.

        I stayed however, and spoke to my truth and my shame that I neede to let go (which was personal to me and not to the gender issue) and I felt good about it.

        The ritual was very moving and very healing and well-put together, what was not, was the way the issue was handled. CAYA’s Amazons did as best they could and I look forward to hearing from them on the issue and can’t wait for a statement. From what I understand Joi Wolfwomyn is currently looking into the matter both with CAYA and Rabbit (of the Amazons) and there should be a statement on this matter, soon.

        The ritual worked for me, even if the lack of a copy-editor had me take a pause.

        If you have any other questions, please ask. 😀

      2. Thanks for posting the inside experience. (Deep breath about Lilith’s people, sure can relate.)

        Not only was the schedule poorly written but why such divisive policies at a public event, i.e. some women can attend but not other women? From the recent discussions I think Pantheacon needs to seriously consider such ritual.workshops need to take place in private hotel suites. And the pagan community at large really needs to reconsider definitions of ‘man’ and ‘woman’.

  5. On behalf of CAYA Coven, I would like to say that it is apparent that this is an issue that has hit a nerve for many in the Pagan community. We sincerely appreciate everyone who has taken the time to share their point of view on this, in this blog and others. As we encourage open discussion around this topic, we would like to also offer our own views on gender and ritual space, which can be found here-

    Thank you,

    1. I find the response a baby step in the right direction. I hope it will go much further. Anyway, I thank you for sharing CAYA’s pov. It’s beneficial to hear different sides, but I think this is much deeper than an editing error.

      1. As I responded to the link being shared via comment on my blog, I think it’s as full a response as we could reasonably expect short-term, but it’ll be at least two years before we see how things actually play out.

        Year 1: we may very well see Politically Correct PantheaCon of Paranoia. Year 2: If year 1 goes smoothly, but issues remain, there may be some kind of slip because well, that’s an old issue, year 1 took care of it, right?

      2. Erynn

        I think, as I’ve said in other places already, that this is just the beginning of the conversation. I understand that it’s not satisfactory as an endpoint, but I also don’t think anyone involved in the conversation believes that it is. I hope the response of both CAYA and the community at large will evolve in positive directions as the conversation continues.

      3. Erynn

        disirdaughter – I agree that we’ll probably see some steps forward and some steps back as this flows into community consciousness and community presence. Change is almost always a matter of some progress and some regression, resulting in gradual forward movement.

  6. A dear friend has written a swingeing call to action for trans Pagans who need to see themselves represented in images of the Gods and Goddesses, a blaring reminder that the Female Divine includes the trans female, the Male Divine includes the trans male, and that trans bodies are as sacred images of the Goddesses and Gods as all other bodies. Do read and signal-boost.

    On a somewhat related subject, I’ve recently been thinking about issues of full representativity of realities of trans people on one hand and gender-variant people on the other, in case anyone may be interested (these were written before all this stuff went down):

  7. bearfairie

    It’s definitely been interesting to watch how the pcon ritual debacle has sparked farther reaching debate about what is and is not appropriate/acceptable when offering public ritual space. Honestly, I support folks creating private ritual and inviting whomever they think is appropriate to be there. I certainly have participated in private rituals where the invite list was very carefully hand-selected (though generally in those cases, I personally knew each individual, and they were not chosen on account of one specific salient trait, but because they were an individual I wanted participating in my ritual space). But that is *private* ritual, not *public*. And I just am not convinced that segregated space is appropriate for public events, especially not when there is controversy around the definitions of who gets to be included in that segregated space.

    I too take major issue with polarized/deified gender magic – it’s just not my cuppa, for all the reasons you and others have already mentioned. I believe there are lots of gods, and I don’t personally find any meaningful use in dividing up my deities into respective “girl” and “boy” piles, then assuming that all the boy deities can be distilled down into the great “MAN” god and all the girl ones as the great “WOMAN”.

    I also take issue with the maiden/mother/crone construct because the divisions also hinge (to some degree) on heterosexual sexual intercourse status – the maiden is generally a “virgin”, the mother obviously is not, and the crone is no longer sexual. This theology doesn’t just reduce women down to breasts & womb status, it also reduces women down to breasts/womb in relation to a penis status.

    Back to the question of ritual offerings, certainly I can imagine a world where, for PUBLIC ritual space like PantheaCon, a ritual may be offered to the public with the request that the FOCUS of the ritual stay on some aspect of divinity or another. For example, one could imagine a participatory ritual being offered where participants celebrated and honored their menstrual cycle. And let the ritual be open to anyone who is prepared to come with an open heart, willing to stay on topic and celebrate that. Whomever decides to participate will be folks whose hearts are open to that ritual celebration. Why does this have to be gender segregated, if there is a commitment to stay on topic? And if someone (male, female, or otherwise) comes to the ritual and tries to pull the focus off-topic, they can be asked to change their behavior or leave. Ritual begins in our hearts and our spirits – when we bring our heartfelt worship and faith to the table, why should it matter what is or is not between our legs?

    And certainly it is perfectly appropriate for folks to offer more segregated space (whether that be segregated by gender, sexual orientation, or any other demographic or salient characteristic that feels the need for a more contained and protected space) in hospitality suites or private rooms.

    My $.02.

    1. Bearfairie, I very much agree with you. I think an aspect of this that will become more apparent is that Pantheacon is going through growing pains; it has become a huge and watched public event. What may be appropriate in a private space is not in the huge public sphere of scheduling, which people are paying to attend when they purchase their ticket. I too think that saying a ritual will focus on some particular aspect that may be associated with one particular identity group/construct is okay, but that is very different than exclusion of anyone.

      Very interesting point about the maiden/mother/crone.

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