Written by Denise L.
Over President’s Day weekend, House of Zephyrus, TOGA’s Greek temple, had the opportunity to present at PantheaCon in San Jose, CA. PantheaCon is a multifaith pagan convention centered on the idea of allowing the pagan community to share their beliefs, research, and practices with each other. This year marked PantheaCon’s 25th anniversary, and its theme was “Unity, Respect for our Diversity, and Connecting Webs to Heal the Earth.”
Being in the minority of groups billing as Hellenic/Greek, as well as being a first-time presenter, House of Zephyrus was fortunate to receive an ideal time slot on Saturday evening near the ball rooms.
The presentation was listed as “Translating Ancient Practice: A Ritual Symposium.” Traditionally, a symposium was a forum for open debate and discussion, usually over wine. House of Zephyrus brought that structure to PantheaCon, dedicating the space and discussion to Athena and Apollo during the ritual’s opening to facilitate respect, diplomacy, and creative discourse—with wine, of course.
The panel of presenters included: Alain Heiros, TOGA’s 6th circle priest lead, and head of the Greek and Egyptian traditions at TOGA; Stephanie Evgenia, 5th circle priestess dedicated to the Greek pantheon, and head of the Temple of Aphrodite and Santa Muerte traditions; Yolanda and Denise, 3rd circle devotees; and Dustin, 2nd circle seeker who grew up in Mykonos, Greece. Several other temple members also came to help and support.
A list of questions was prepared for the discussion group, whose number greatly exceeded expectations. The first question, however, ended up taking over most of the discussion time. Those familiar with TOGA may already know that the difficult questions are never off-limits, and the panel decided to start with the topic of how to approach traditions that the practicing members are not culturally or biologically related to without being disrespectful or giving the appearance of appropriation.
One of the first people to dive in was incredibly passionate about the history of Greeks as an invading and appropriating force and expressed her belief that the idea of worrying about “appropriating” Greek culture seemed like a strange one to be discussing. As an example, she brought up aspects of Athena that have root in places like Libya, and other parallel goddesses that have been absorbed into her persona, but whose stories and mythologies are not told.
At this point, the conversation could easily have devolved into a shouting match over who was right and wrong, and who was the victim or oppressor. Instead, Dustin, as the cultural and biological representative of Greek culture, stood up and thanked her for both her passion and opinion, and stressed the importance of hearing and validating different opinions even if we do not share them. Without listening and truly hearing, there can be no dialogue to move forward.
From here, the discussion continued into how (or if) to approach traditions and deities from conquered cultures, how to connect and work with spirit and deity in general, and some exposition on the “facet” or “disco ball” theory, in which each culture and individual sees a different facet of an archetypal energy in a way that they can connect with most intimately. There was also some comparison and question of whether the more historically recent dominance of Judeo-Christian monotheism, which serves as a foundation for many American and European pagans, changes the expectation of how we interact with deity on a personal level. This led into talk about the difference between public practice, such as at a church or temple, family practice in the home, personal practice both at home and in nature, and how that relates to both present and ancient times.
At the end of the symposium, during which not a single person left, the room erupted into even more conversation and discussion among seated neighbors. Many remained right up until the next presenter came in to begin setting up.
Among the House of Zephyrus presenters, there was a common sentiment:
“It’s not how we expected it would go, but we accomplished what we came to do and are really proud of how it looked. We brought deity into the space, opened a respectful dialogue with the community that continued past the symposium, shared ideas, learned things, and were able to model the Temple of Growth Advancement values of respect, communication, and growth. It’s everything we could have hoped for and more. There are definitely things we learned and would probably do differently, but especially for our first year, things went very well.”
House of Zephyrus is already excited about the possibility of presenting, next year. In addition to applying for a presentation slot, they plan to request a hospitality suite. The suite would offer the ability to host multiple events and discussions throughout the weekend. Some of the ideas being considered as possibilities are a freeform discussion of all things Greek could be discussed—which was one of the immediate pieces of feedback received from several attendees as being desired—as well as, “Aphrodite In The Bubble Bath,” where individuals can come to Aphrodite with a question… in the bubble bath.