49 Degrees: Canadian Pagan Perspectives

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Gaia Gathering: The Canadian National Pagan Conference

Dominique SmithThis weekend, which is a holiday long weekend north of the 49th Parallel, Pagans from all over the vast expanse of the Canadian landscape will be meeting in Gatineau, Quebec (which is just across the river from our capital city Ottawa) to discourse on what it is to be Canadian and Pagan, exchange ideas, study workshops, exchange chants, review scholarly works in our field, and of course, socialize.  It's called the Gaia Gathering (the Canadian National Pagan Conference,) and I believe this to be the most exciting thing currently going on in the Canadian Pagan community.  I made an epic journey to the 2010 conference in Montreal to present at a couple of panels, as well as one of their first workshops, and it was a life-changing experience.  This year, I am unable to attend but I was able to interview "Winnipagan" Dominique Smith, the current Chairperson, via Facebook about this outstanding event:

Question: So from your perspective, what is Gaia Gathering all about?

Dominique: The Canadian National Pagan Conference: Gaia Gathering at its most basic is about the identity and culture of Canadian Pagans. As Canadian Pagans we have unparalleled perspectives on the world and on the Craft. Our politics, our environment, and our Canadian culture influence us Pagans in a profound way. We see the world and react to it quite differently than most other people. Gaia Gathering is a way to explore and honor our uniqueness. Gaia Gathering is also an opportunity where Pagans from across Canada can interact, learn and create with a diverse group of individuals that have peerless perspectives and experiences on issues facing Canadian Pagans. Figuring out what makes Canadian Pagans different also opens us to identify our similarities and in a country this large its important for Canadian Pagans to feel connected and not alone, especially in rural areas where access to information and other Pagans can be quite limited.

Question: Do you know who started it, and how the idea came together?

Dominque:  Gina Ellis was the spearhead of this one of kind conference and while I wasn't present during the initial brainstorming session I imagine that Gina saw a need within the Pagan community on a national scale that wasn't being fulfilled and was determined to pick up the ball. There were however, many others helping her along the way and in fact Gina will be at the conference this year on a panel all about the history of Gaia Gathering and I'm positive she'll enlighten us all.

Question:  Where and when was the first GG?

Dominique:  The first Gaia Gathering was in 2005, hosted in Edmonton, Alberta.

Question:  How did you get involved in the project?

Dominique:  I first was introduced to Gaia Gathering back in 2005 when it was hosted in Edmonton, and then when I moved to Winnipeg from Edmonton I became heavily involved in planning the 2007 Winnipeg Gaia Gathering conference.  The rest is history.

Question:  What are some of the most important elements of GG from your perspective? Why is it important?

Dominique:  All of the elements of Gaia Gathering are important. The scholar stream allows for academics and non-academics to put forward Pagan-related academic papers for peer review. There is no other venue that I know of that allows this to happen. The art and music stream allows Pagan artists a venue to promote and contribute to Canadian Pagan culture in a way that is normally inaccessible on a national scale. The art is shown directly to the people that it would influence and inspire the most. The lectures and keynote speakers allow for knowledgeable people to share specific aspects of practice, ideology, theory and history that most Pagans might not have an opportunity to explore within their own community. Panels and round-table discussions are the keystones of any community. Discussion of hot button topics that affect nearly every Canadian Pagan in Canada, allows for an opportunity to hear different points of view, perspective and experience in real time and face to face. The evening events such as the banquet, concert, film night, tours of local Pagan related shops, and pub crawls are all important networking and community development opportunities, not to mention, a lot of fun! If Gaia Gathering were missing any one of these elements, it would be devoid of an integral aspect of what it means to be a Canadian Pagan.

Question:  Tell me about some of your favourite experiences/highlights at the Conference.

Dominique:  There are so many! I couldn't count the amount of “a-ha” moments I've had during lectures and panels that influenced me to ask more questions or even completely change and challenge how I feel and see things. However, specifically, I really enjoyed the the Voodoo workshop in Montreal 2010 as well as the mercantile tour. Montreal was the first year that workshops were added to the program but it was important that the workshops were of a more advanced nature opposed to a 101 type experience. We certainly were not disappointed. In Toronto last year, Tamara James regaled a hushed crowd of eager Pagans with the history of The Wiccan Church of Canada and how it was formed; how it changed and contributed to Paganism in Canada. It's certainly information that not every Canadian Pagan is familiar with. Winnipeg 2007 was an amazing year of growth for Gaia Gathering; the hospitality and entertainment was phenomenal. I remember Castailia rocking out at the banquet and Pagans from all over Canada were absorbing her music through dance. It was breathtaking.

Question:  What's on the agenda this year?

Dominique:  The question is what isn't? The year's keynote speaker, Dr. Brian Hayden is coming to Gatineau all the way from B.C., who is a Professor Emeritus of Archaeology at Simon Fraser University, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, with a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto. He will be thrilling us with two presentations: Tradition in Canadian Pagan Identities and A Familiar Helper. There will be other lectures present topics about Egyptian Religion, Stoicism, Pagan Philosophy, Ceremonial Magick and more. The panels and round-table discussions range from gender identity, women's spirituality, humanist Paganism, all way to the appropriation of indigenous spirituality. In all there will be more than 30 opportunities for Pagans to expand their minds, connect and rediscover.

Question:  How much is registration and when is the cut off?

Dominique:  Online registrations are still open and the weekend rate in $110.00, you can also see Heather Dale at the banquet for $35. But of course there will also be registration available at the door.

Question:  Where do people find more information? 

Dominique:  Please head over to http://www.gaiagathering.ca for the programming, evening events and accommodation information.

Thanks once again to Dominique for taking the time to do this interview in the midst of her very busy last minute preparations for the Conference!  If you get a chance, I urge you to go; you won't be disappointed.  Blessed be, Sable

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Sable Aradia (Diane Morrison) has been a traditional witch most of her life, and she is a licensed Wiccan minister and a Third Degree initiate in the Star Sapphire and Pagans for Peace traditions. Author of "The Witch's Eight Paths of Power" (Red Wheel/Weiser 2014) and contributor to "Pagan Consent Culture" and "The Pagan Leadership Anthology," she also writes "Between the Shadows" at Patheos' Pagan channel and contributes to Gods & Radicals. Sable is just breaking out as a speculative fiction writer under her legal name, and a new serial, the Wyrd West Chronicles, will be released on the Spring Equinox this year. Like most writers, she does a lot of other things to help pay the bills, including music, Etsy crafts, and working part time at a bookstore. She lives in Vernon, BC, Canada with her two life partners and her furbabies in a cabin on the edge of the woods.


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