Omicron is taking a toll on pagans, who depend on conferences for community

The pandemic has also threatened the financial viability of conferences and festivals.

Photo by Ion Fet/Unsplash/Creative Commons

(RNS) — Pagans are a decentralized community, comprising largely independent, small temples, covens and kindreds, with many people operating as solitary practitioners, without even a common doctrine to bring them together.  

What they do have is conferences. “In person events are our crossroads, agora, United Nations, Brigadoon, block party, state fair, and more. Friendships and alliances are created and deepened. Issues are explored and sacred techniques are shared,” said Ivo Dominguez Jr., an elder in the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, in a statement to Religion News Service.

Dominguez is the founder of the long-running conference Between the Worlds, normally held in Delaware in conjunction with the appearance of certain astrological configurations. After canceling their April 2020 meeting, Dominguez and his fellow organizers were hoping to gather later in January, but omicron has forced another postponement, to 2023.

As new cases have soared, cancellations and postponements have mounted, robbing pagans of the opportunity to connect with the larger religious and spiritual community of like minds.

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Dominguez believes that the community can get by without meeting for a few years, but ultimately, he said, “I think we will suffer if we continue to be physically separated.”

In 2015, Dominguez’s Between the Worlds conference shared its weekend with another mid-Atlantic pagan conference, Sacred Space, hosted by the Sacred Space Foundation. Rather than compete, the two merged.  But the 2020 lockdowns thwarted their plans and omicron dealt it a second blow in November 2021. After the final program was prepared for printing, omicron arrived.

“As we learned how contagious it is and as we watched local hospitals exceed capacity,” said Gwendolyn Reece, president of the Sacred Space Foundation, “the calculations completely changed.” The joint event is now planned for April 2023.

Other major events have had to adapt as well. The Conference on Current Pagan Studies, an annual academic-focused conference held in Claremont, California, moved its January 2022 event completely online. The Gathering Paths, a new conference hosted by the organization Between the Veils, has postponed its San Jose, California, event twice. It is now scheduled for August 2022, with a virtual event planned for the original February weekend.

A cancellation is particularly hard on small nonprofits such as the Sacred Space Foundation and the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, which rely on ticket sales and donations to survive.

Most of their help comes from volunteers. “Each time there were several hundreds of hours of work that were for naught,” said Dominguez.

Many attendees, who had to scramble to cancel plane flights, hotel rooms and other reservations, have donated ticket costs to the hosting organizations, knowing the financial burdens of running an event in the wake of lockdown, organizers said. Reece said the hotels have been generous in their cancellation policies as well.

Some upcoming winter conferences are still moving forward. ConVocation in Detroit has not announced a cancellation of its February event, but the board is watching the situation.

Some organizers say they have little choice. Paganicon, one of the largest indoor pagan conferences, held in St. Paul, Minnesota, is still planning to open its doors in mid-March, according to Becky Munson, its director of programming and treasurer of Twin Cities Pagan Pride, which puts on Paganicon.

“The pandemic has been hard on Twin Cities Pagan Pride. We need this event to go forward, or the consequences could be the end of us,” said Munson.

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Munson noted, however, that tickets to Paganicon are still being purchased, a sign, she said, of how much the community wants to gather. “People are really excited about having an event to attend. We’re doing everything in our power to lean into that excitement and deliver the best event we can. We really miss seeing everyone,” she said.

Like other Americans, pagans are looking forward to summer, hoping that warm weather will make large meetings safer — and crossing their fingers that another variant will not come knocking.

“I have no doubt that our communities will survive, thrive, and overcome,” said Dominguez. “I look forward to late night chats in hotel bars and at campground bonfires. The wheel will turn, and we’ll see each other again.”

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