Talk with any practicing Wiccan or Druid in your neighborhood, and in time you’ll learn something that has been commonly known here for decades: that this region is better known as Paganistan. Its concentration of an estimated 20,000 Pagans puts the Twin Cities in the company of San Francisco, New Orleans, New York City, and Salem, Mass., as major Pagan hubs in the United States.
And where there are numbers, there are gatherings.
The eighth annual Paganicon Midwest Conference returns March 15-18 to Minneapolis to offer Pagans from around the world an opportunity to meet, organize and learn more about the myriad indigenous or magickal traditions that they share in common.
“Here in the Twin Cities, the predominant Pagan tradition is Wicca or Witchcraft,” said Laurie Froberg, marketing chair of Twin Cities Pagan Pride, the host organization of Paganicon and umbrella organization for area Pagans.
“Some Wiccans, such as Norse Wicca and Celtic Wicca,” she said, “incorporate a belief system to ancient worlds, and some Wiccans are eclectic, following more than one form of Paganism. Besides Wicca, there are also a fair number of Druids, even some shamans in the Twin Cities area, and there are many other groups that are not as sizable, but there are too many to name. Come to Paganicon and you will learn about many of them.”
In an interview with The Edge, Froberg shared more about Paganicon and this area’s rich Pagan history.
For those who have never attended Paganicon, please give us an overview of this event.
Paganicon is a three-day conference organized by Twin Cities Pagan Pride and a host of volunteers. Its purpose is to provide an educational and social venue for Pagans, Wiccans, Heathens, Druids, and people of other folk, craft, indigenous or magickal traditions.
If you come to the conference you can attend workshops and panel discussions on a multitude of pagan-related topics from very knowledgeable speakers from all over the U.S. and Canada. You will learn something new, find sources of inspiration, and share a discussion with like-minded folks.
You also will be able to participate in many rituals that are happening throughout the weekend, including our event’s main ritual. The main ritual is composed of leaders from throughout the community, and it serves as a bonding moment for community, regardless of tradition and a way to delve into a magical and intentional mindset for the rest of the weekend. Twin Cities Pagan Pride and a handful of pagan community groups will be hosting party rooms throughout the weekend that provide a welcoming space for all our conference attendees. They are the perfect place to hang out and make new friends.
Paganicon’s 2018 theme is “Fire and Ice.” Many people come in costume for the Masquerade Ball, which is held on Saturday night, and they will use our theme to inspire them in creating costumes. There is also a Friday night concert, an art show called “The Third Offering,” a sacred gallery space. Artists from all over the U.S. will be displaying all types of visual media. The art gallery is free and open to the public. The vendor room is also free and open to the public. It’s a great place to stop by and do some shopping.
Can you give us a brief rundown of some of the featured guests and speakers coming this year?
We have three guests of honor: Diane Paxson, an author of fiction and non-fiction and an elder teacher and leader in the Heathen and Pagan community; Patty Lafaylle, author of two books and a Pagan for more than 30 years and a practicing Heathen for 20 years; and Sancista Brujo Luis, a Puerto Rican Brujo, which translates to “witch” in English, as well as a medium channeler.
We also have two special guests. Chris Shelton is an author, professional YouTuber, public speaker, and a formal cult member turned activist. He was a part of the Church of Scientology and worked at its highest level for 17 years before leaving in 2013. He has been an outspoken critic ever since. Daphie Pooyak Yeomans is a Cree storyteller and Medicine Woman from Sweetgrass Reserve in Saskatchewan, Canada.
We have two featured guests: Kari Tauring is a Nordic folk musician and storyteller, and members of the Viking Encampment, an entertainment troupe that focuses on educating audiences on Viking history, warfare, culture and crafts.
What can attendees look forward to this year in terms of entertainment?
Last year we introduced the Friday night concert, and this year S.J. Tucker will headline that concert. She is a singer songwriter who has been called “the face of neo-tribal Paganism” and “a surprise of delight.” S.J. was the Paganicon entertainer at our 2012 event and attendees enjoyed her so much that they asked her to come back every year, and this year we have fulfilled that request.
For those Edge readers who are not in the know, what is a Pagan and what are the many forms of Paganism present here in the Twin Cities?
Most sources define Pagan as anyone who is not Christian, Muslim or Jew, and some sources on the internet define Pagan as a term which refers to a variety of different religions ranging from Wicca to that of ancient Egypt and even Hinduism, among many others. The original meaning of the word “pagan” means “country-dweller,” and it comes from the Latin word “paganus.” I often use the word “Pagan” to refer to the ancient Pagan religions of Europe and the Middle East. The original Pagans were followers of an ancient religion that worshipped several gods, many of which are the subjects of today’s myths and legends, and it is those ancient religions that inspired many of today’s Pagans, who worship rituals and daily religious practices.
What does Paganicon offer the first-time visitor who knows little about Pagan religions?
Many of the workshops we offer range from very basic information to more advanced practices and theory. You can get your feet a little wet or really wet. There are a fair number of workshops that can apply to anyone, regardless of religious beliefs. We have one workshop, for instance, where you can learn the basic techniques for energetic or psychic shielding. You can learn about the foundation to plan your own event or how to get a book published. There will be endless opportunities to meet with people, Pagan and non-Pagan, to discuss, learn and engage in conversations that create an understanding of what it is we do and why.
How did you become connected with the Pagan community?
I was a solitary pagan for many years before I came to my first Paganicon. I was so impressed with the event that I became a regular volunteer for Twin Cities Pagan Pride’s fall event, Pagan Pride Day, and the spring event, Paganicon. Those hours of volunteering led me to meet some amazing people in the Twin Cities Pagan community and create connections that have added value and purpose to my life. One common question we hear at our Twin City Pagan Pride events is, “How do I meet people and get involved in this Pagan community?” Answer: Volunteer. I am living proof of that. I had an entire marketing experience with another non-profit organization and offered my experience to help out. Now I am the marketing chair for this wonderful organization and, along with Cindy Miller, organized a local Druid group in 2015 called Northern Roots Grove.
What experience stands out for you from your past Paganicons that you have attended?
Anyone who has been to Paganicon can personally attest to its value through connections, friendships, the sharing of knowledge and information. For me, personally, in a world where we are very much the minority, stepping into a place where you are a part of a larger Pagan community, where you can feel comfortable sharing and practicing your religious beliefs with people who are of like mind, can be quite the experience. I will never forget the first large group ritual I had at my first Paganicon after being a solitary for many years. Christopher Penczak was the guest of honor that year and was leading a group of us in the ritual. The energy raised in that ritual — the feelings of love, affirmation and acceptance — created such an emotional experience that it just brought me to tears. There are so many experiences, from meeting loving, amazing guests that have graced our convention to the parties we celebrate at the end of every successful convention. I could spend an entire afternoon talking about them all.
How long has Twin Cities Pagan Pride existed and what is its primary goal?
Twin Cities Pagan Pride just celebrated its 20th annual launch at the Twin Cities Pagan Pride Day last September. Our primary goal is to foster pride and diverse Pagan identities through education, activism, charity and community. Its mission is to educate the general public about Earth-reverent faiths, promote religious tolerance for all faiths, and to provide a forum for the expression, comparison, contrast, growth and expansion of diverse spiritual and religious ideas, theories, practices, traditions and views.
We are lucky to have a wealth of marvelous volunteers who help us out each year, including the Twin Cities Pagan Pride Board of Directors, which put in a ton of unpaid time to make Paganicon a reality — and it really is a team effort.
Why is the Minnesota and the Upper Midwest a place that has a lot of Pagans?
Let me go back to Paganistan. The name Paganistan was coined by one of our elders, Steven Posch. It was a reference to the large number of Pagans who began arriving in the early 1970s for the annual witchcraft conventions that were sponsored by Llewellyn Publications. Now, Llewellyn Publications is the world’s largest independent occult publisher and they are based right here, in Woodbury.
Many more Pagans came after an occultist from Kentucky, named Lady Sheba, prophesied in 1974 that the first Pagan temple in America would be built right here in Minneapolis. Many of those Pagans who came for those reasons never left, and so here we are 44 years later. The temple was never built, but the Twin Cities metro area has earned the reputation of becoming what is now known throughout the worldwide Pagan network as Paganistan. There are estimates, and no one is certain of the exact number, that the greater Minnesota area has more than 20,000 Pagans.
One of our presenters at Paganicon this year is Murphy Pizza. She did her Ph.D. dissertation while at the University of Wisconsin on the Paganistan phenomenon, and that became a book called A Handbook of Contemporary Paganism.
I will quote her from the book for what I think is very apt for what is happening in Minnesota. She said, “In San Francisco the Pagan community has a serious hippie flavor. They make a big ritual out of jumping into the ocean during Yule. Pagans laugh about that here. In Minnesota the Pagans do potlucks.” Paganism and potlucks are very Minnesotan.
Many significant moments in neo-Pagan history happened right here in Minnesota. For example, in 1973 the first American Council of Witches was formed and the Council convened at the first Great American Witchcraft in 1974, right here in Minnesota. At that time Wicca and other neo-Paganisms were greatly misunderstood in North America. The Council created and adopted the 13 principles of Wiccan beliefs, which helped to set the record straight. These principles are taught to many students of teaching covens or secret classes, even today.
One of the greatest misconceptions among people who know nothing about Paganism is that it is synonymous with evil and Satanism. How do you respond to people who bring that up?
That brings me back to the 13 principles of Wicca that were formed back in 1974. Number 12 reads, and I will read it verbatim: “We do not accept the concept of absolute evil, nor do we worship any entity known as Satan or the devil, as defined by Christian tradition. We do not seek power through the suffering of others, nor do we accept that personal benefit can be derived only by denial to another. ” That was why that moment in Pagan history was so important, because it answered exactly what you said.
What does the existence of Pagans contribute to the overall culture of our nation?
Pagan traditions encourage individuals to create or seek their own self-meaning, understanding and purpose in life. We feel life should be celebrated joyfully without shame as long as other people are not harmed and that is very appealing to people seeking a viable alternative to mainstream faith in today’s culture. Since a vast majority of Pagan belief systems are built on European Middle Eastern culture, it serves as the link to something people often look for, a connection to their ancestral culture.
Additionally, Pagans revere Mother Earth as a sacred and Divine entity. Devotion to the Earth and to the land on which we live motivates many Pagans to become active environmentalists, actively working on programs to halt the degradation of the environment. Paganism is about recreating community in harmony with nature.