I recently had a discussion with a great gal who is a very active and thoughtful Pagan. She wrote, concerned that would would not going to play "enough Pagan music" at the Witches' Ball, because she wanted there to be, as she said, "meaning" at this event. Now, my response to that was long-winded, so I'll digest it for and go on to what I think is more important. I replied that:
1) We play some and are always looking for more (thus the "suggestion link" on the Music page)
2) We have to be able to dance to the music we play
3) A really down and dirty back beat is the most "Pagan" thing I know of,
4) People are there to have fun, not be preached at, and that includes having to listen to "the right kind" of music
In the interests of keeping an open dialogue I left out my reason #5, which is that so much of what passes for Pagan music is sub par.
But this is the part of the dialogue that might interest people who work in community and/or know about the Witches' Ball. It has to do with how I think we find meaning and what is truly sacred.
Now, on to Meaning:
This is a huge issue for me and it always has been. I believe that we've included meaning at the Witches Ball in ways that are both powerful and unique.
We choose a theme every year that can teach our people something vital. This fits in with what I said about "sneaking in enlightenment". We spend hundreds of hours building websites for the ball that go way beyond the norm or the basic needs for this sort of thing. Why? Because the meaning matters to us.
This year, the Silk Road theme is about tolerance, the exchange of ideas and we take a look a historical period in which the parties that are fighting now,once lived in peace and relative harmony. We ask people to take a second look at cultures they/we are prejudiced against right now, as well. Rather daring, I think.
I am especially proud of the writing this year - I found most of the links in 2003 (the year we took off) and Laurel set the mood with her wonderful text. So I say, "Let those who have an ear, hear", because this site has a great deal to say.
In 2002 we choose "The Bohemians: Where the Elite Meet the Street"; a theme that spoke to the very origins of modern Pagan culture. It also addressed (and this was very deliberate) the fact that there are Doers & Artists & Thinkers and there are Posers.
Many people romanticize the Bohemians, without knowing what they really stood for or even what they did. Others (like many of the Bohemians) want the credit without doing the difficult work of art. Some want to be "Pagan Leaders" without living in right action or with integrity. We wanted to address that. We also pointed out the ways in which Bohemian culture influenced The Beats, who influenced the 60's generation who greatly influenced modern Pagan culture (for both good an ill). I believe our people learned a lot from that theme if they paid attention.
In 2001, well... the meaning was originally about the true nature of fairies and our own connection with nature, but after 9/11 it became about the fact that the Earthwise community needed something life affirming to come to. As far as I (or our contacts) could tell, no one else was offering that, not in California, at least. Individual Pagan groups went into their bunkers and they may have taken good care of their own - at least we hope they did. That's fine as far as it goes, but Solitarys and others had no place to go and no one was reaching out between Traditions and Covens and Faiths. Paranoia was rampant then. So was fear.
Some people got so far into their politics they seemed to forget that people were truly hurting. Sadly, this did little or nothing to heal the shock, grief, hurt and fear our people were feeling just then.
But the 2001 Witches' Ball was a kind of joyful, empowering interfaith experience that our people were longing for. Volunteers came out of the woodwork, people were glad to help, and over 600 people attended that year - I've never felt such a great "Pagan high" before or since. We did a lot of good for many people at a desperate time and we did it in public so people could see what we stood for. For that reason, I am prouder of this ball then of any other we have done.
As for year 2000, that was our very first ball. We meant for it to be a social event for Pagan Pride. We were coming out of the broom closet in a very obvious way and we invited the public to come dance with us and to meet us. But the cat killings in the area, the blame TV stations put on Pagans(without evidence or cause) and our subsequent meetings with Animal Control led to the formation of the Gaia's Guardian Award. This is something the raises the spirits of our attendees every year. It also garners wonderful press for the Pagan community as a whole. But best of all, it reminds us that this event, at least, is not about 'being Witchy" or showing off. Its' about doing good and giving back and taking a stand for what we believe it. We "walk the walk" at this event - I don't know of a better meaning then that.
II Contacts in the Community:
When people come to the ball, they will find that that the Humane Society has a table there. So does the Wildlife Rescue group. The Bat Conservation Society will also be in attendance, as they are winning the Award this year. The general public sees these people supporting us and knows that we work with them as neighbors and friends. I don't know of any other Pagan group in the country or abroad that can say this.
I'm very proud that these other non-profits know and accept us. The HSSV for example, does not fear us as other animal shelters do. You won't hear them going on about so called "Pagan sacrifice" at Halloween and that is a direct result of our work with them. ( In fact, the Humane Society of Silicon Valley will adopt out a black cat to any Pagan family we recommend.) These animal groups work with us, they mention us in their websites and they stand up to certain of their volunteers who are prejudiced against us. They have chosen to take a stand, and it's for tolerance. They can do this with confidence because we do the same sort of good work that they do, and for the same reasons.
III. Interfaith Work & Pagan community.
I know that you do Interfaith work on a national and international scale, so I know you'll appreciate the fact that we invite everyone to this event and that all Pagan Traditions and many other Faiths come together to work on and attend the ball. In fact, the Director of our year 2002 ball is a devoted Christian, as is her husband. These people were more then tolerant, they were friends with most of our staff. The biggest problem I had was making sure that certain Pagans outside of our immediate group did not insult them.
I am also proud of the fact that Pagan parents feel safe bringing their children to our events. This was a rare thing when we started; either Pagan groups were using drugs or alcohol or they didn't welcome children at all. But our event is for families and it's good to see kids have fun and also be inspired by what we do here. I see a lot of meaning in that, as well.
Anyway, I think all this makes the ball a "sacred" event in ways we never could have imagined.
These days, we do our best and then step back and see what the Goddess has in mind for us. She never fails to surprise me.
Well, I've gone on too long, as usual. Thank you for the chance to have this dialogue. It's made me put down on paper some things I've mulled over for many years now. After the ball, I'm going to work on an article on the sacred and the secular in our community. If you have further thoughts on this subject, I'd love to hear them.