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Women’s Herbal Conference, Glastonbury Goddess Conference, West Kentucky Hoodoo Rootworker Heritage Festival, and other gatherings.

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Walking Between the Worlds--Pagan Conference and Pagan Festival

This has been a busy time for your Village Witch...mostly because she keeps leaving the village and hitting the road.

I've only just returned from the Pagan Unity Festival in Burns, TN and am pondering the differences between festivals and conferences, since I was fortunate enough to be included in the Cherry Hill Conference several weeks ago.

All these gatherings. What draws us into these artificial communities? And are they really so artificial?

The Sacred Landscapes Symposium was held at a university and had all the cool accoutrements of an urban setting, with actual buildings and flush toilets. For the most part, we sat in a well-appointed lecture hall and we listened to interesting papers from smart people. In between we chatted and exchanged business cards. It was an exemplary group of people--including Ronald Hutton, Holli Emore and M. Macha Nightmare--and our brains were abuzz with the possibilities of scholarship, of travel, of unweaving the complex tapestry that is the modern Pagan movement and seeing where all those threads actually originate.

There was a box lunch, too--very civilized.

I loved it. I love to go to conferences and read papers that no one will seriously judge and talk to smart people about this wyrd thing we call religion.  It makes me happy. It challenges me mentally.

It's a good thing.

But those festivals...they are good things, too.  Sure, there are bugs (the spider bite on my ankle has finally subsided), the food is terrible and your choice of tenting or being in a cabin still doesn't guarantee a waterproof bed.

We walk around in our garb, our finery.  Large women in long bright skirts. Bearded men with walking sticks...and kilts. There was this one guy...

There are plenteous rituals and classes and drumming. Stuff to buy, stuff to sell. And the joyous patter of a village fair--bragging and stories and songs.

It may take you a couple of long hot showers to get all the wildwood off your skin. If you choose to do that.  There is drama and high emotion and it verges on the not-very-civilized-at-all.


As a woman who is blessed with a strong community at home, it is always a blessing--a revelation--to be amongst the people who are like me but are not my own village. I learn from both of these communities equally.  The wisdom, the fire, the depth of scholarship, the call of drums.

It is festival season now.  I have at least four more ahead of me--Glastonbury, Steampunk Fair, SE Women's Herbal Conference and the Hoodoo and Rootworkers Heritage Festival.  Each one different, each one its own delight.

And I am looking ahead for possible conferences in 2014. So much to learn, so much to experience.

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H. Byron Ballard is a ritualist, teacher, speaker and writer. She has taught at Sacred Space Conference, Pagan Unity Festival, Southeast Her essays are featured in several anthologies, including “Birthed from Scorched Hearts“ (Fulcrum Press), “Christmas Presence“ (Catawba Press), “Women’s Voices in Magic” (Megalithica Books), “Into the Great Below” and “Skalded Apples” (both from Asphodel Press.) Her book Staubs and Ditchwater: an Introduction to Hillfolks Hoodoo (Silver Rings Press) debuted in June 2012. Byron is currently at work on Earth Works: Eight Ceremonies for a Changing Planet. Contact her at,


  • Freeman Presson
    Freeman Presson Saturday, 25 May 2013

    I used to go to festivals regularly, and may again; but I have frequent dreams of being at conferences, THAT is what would be "in my blood."

    OK, I'm a nerd.

  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard Saturday, 25 May 2013

    I love them both (well, mostly) but they are very different critters. Since my field is Appalachian folk magic, I have had some nice opps to play independent folklorist.

  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien Sunday, 26 May 2013

    I love the conferences, too. In some ways some of the newer hotel-based Pagan gatherings combine some of the aspects of festival with a few academic presentations here and there. They are, IMO, admittedly 'lite' on the scholarly side, but at least there's something for us analytic types to ponder.

    For years I've gotten my intellectual Pagan jollies from attending various sessions at the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, which is held in a different city each year. Now that I'm on Social Security, it's not likely I'll be able to go unless it happens to be in my back yard or near enough to drive and stay with a friend instead of in a hotel. (I was able to attend CHS' "Sacred Lands, Spiritual Landscapes" thanks to the hospitality of a local Pagan.)

    In the meantime, if you can get to California in January, I guarantee you'll find the Claremont Pagan Studies Conference a real treat.

  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard Monday, 27 May 2013

    Getting to California is such a pain from the East Coast--and not to mention expensive. But if I can ever manage that, I'd love to attend that conference. I've heard about it for years and am hungry for that kind of deep thought. The Cherry Hill conference was like a deep drink of cool water.

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