Sunday, May 29, 2005

Here's that meme again

A New York Times story on the Rites of Spring Pagan festival (login required) quotes two contemporary scholars of Paganism, Helen Berger and Sabina Magliocco on, among other things, the numbers of American Pagans.

Ms. Magliocco favors the higher number [700,000] based on data like surveys, sales of books with pagan themes and attendance at festivals. She said, "Paganism is one of the fastest-growing religious movements in North America."

The article also discusses the growth of Pagan festivals, which began in hotels in the early 1970s, modeled very much on the science-fiction fan "cons" of the time, and sometimes even with "con" in their names.

I believe the first big outdoor festival was in 1980--the Pan-Pagan festival. If not, they started around then.

The outdoor revival meeting is a theme in American religious history--think of the "brush arbors" of the 19th century--but the growth of a religion through widespread festivals may indeed by something new. When a covener of ours came back from one of the first national festivals in the early 1980s with a new group of songs and chants to share, it was like seeing something sprout before your very eyes.


Blogger Al said...

What about those of us on the West Coast who have never attended a single festival?

(Actually, I've attended PantheaCon lately if that counts...)

As a West Coast pagan, I've always seen the festivals as "that East Coast thing." They certainly never were a part of the paganism that I got into when I was 18 or since...

7:54 PM  
Blogger Chas S. Clifton said...

No one is forcing you to attend, Al, but festivals in California started as early as the early 1980s. Do the names Harbin Hot Springs or Anwfn ring any bells?

Actually, some of the early NROOGD events were on the point of evolving in the festivals even earlier than that, from what I hear.

Pan-Pagan, the first national festival of which I'm aware, was held in Indiana, I think... but I did not attend. Perhaps from the perspective of a Californian, Indiana is "the East Coast."

As for hotel "cons," the Gnosticons in Minneapolis in the early 1970s were a sort of New Age/Pagan/metaphysical mixture. Pantheacon certainly carries on that legacy.


10:37 PM  
Blogger branruadh said...

Heck, Pantheacon was founded by someone who runs a festival by the name of Ancient Ways. She started it up when a bunch of the older pagans who'd long attended AW at Harbin Hot Springs said they loved the festival but were getting a bit too old to camp out. Now there is both, and they're flourishing.

10:56 PM  
Anonymous Ian Corrigan said...

The Pan-Pagan festivals may well have been the first efforts to do multi-tradition Tribe-Gathering in a camp-out setting. I *think* the Pan-Pagan events started as early as 77, 78 for sure. I was at 79 and 80, and the 1980 event was a cusp in North American Paganism. It was attended by some 500 people, agreed to be the lagest such gathering known in modern times, to that point. Attendees included many of the 'notables' in the Pagan scene - early go-getters like Selena Fox and Gwydion P, Already-classic authors such as Ray Buckland and Z Budapest. NROOGD did opening rite and taught the NE the Welcome Dance. It also drew almost everyone who would found a neopagan festival in the NE or midwest in the next year - Circle Network; Andras and Deidre of Boston, whose Rites of Spring had been a Boston park event for a couple of years; The Chameleon Club (who run Starwood); Terry the Wizard who founded the Elf-Lore Family and Lothrlorien - we all went home with that "hey kids, let's put on a show" attitude and the 'festival movement' grew geometrically.
So while PP80 wasn't the 'first' big outdoor festival (even 79 had had 300+ folks, i think)it has a special place in North American Neopagan history.

6:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe that Andras and Deirdre weren't at PP 1980. You might be thinking of later years?

8:21 PM  

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