Cross and Pentacle: Two religions at the crossroads

I was a Jesus Freak, a passionate theologian, and a Southern Baptist minister. I worked hard to convert pagans. The pagans won.

Discovering magic as a witch with an intimate knowledge of western christianity I explore the juxtaposition of these two faiths. Christianity and paganism alike are undergoing dramatic changes with parallel trends, conflicting challenges, and a growing concern for interfaith dialogue.

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Pantheacon and Leadership

It seems that Pantheacon gives me writer’s block. My first year it took me three weeks to write about the convention. My second year I eventually gave up and wrote about something else instead. After this, my third Pantheacon, I spent two weeks waiting, typing and deleting, and then waiting again.


One reason is that I was mostly unaware of the racism that has been exposed and discussed on various blogs (like here, here, and here). And then, once I became aware, I felt at a loss as to if and how to respond. Yesterday John Halstead wrote a heartbreakingly raw and honest piece which captures every bit of my own process in words that I failed to find. I found myself reading it a second and third time as well as listening to the panel on Bringing Race to the Table.


The second reason is that I found myself in a different struggle, one that became very personal for me. Since this year's Brigid ritual, I have been reflecting on how I have been running from a calling I received two years ago. The word that I reluctantly pledged at my first Brigid ritual was 'leadership'. The very next day I was asked to lead a chocolate ceremony. I accepted, but over the following year, I often shrunk back. I found excuses, like the need to focus on my business - until the relationship with my business partner fell apart and we had to sell the business. I hid behind 'experts' who came into my community, only to wreak havoc before disappearing again. And then finally, a week before Pantheacon, I was presented with an incredible opportunity and a mountain of responsibility and I knew I had arrived at a crossroads.


And so my theme at this year’s Pantheacon was leadership. I started the convention with what I thought would be a lighthearted panel, The Good, The Bad, the Blogging, led by Angus McMahan, who never fails to make me laugh. My greatest takeaway was hearing both Niki Whiting of A Witch’s Ashram and John Halstead, The Allergic Pagan, talk about their faux pas. Last year I was called out for cultural appropriation and went through the humiliating process of canceling a ritual, apologizing to the group gathered, and visiting the POC suite to fess up. It made me want to hide under a mountain, never to lead anything again. But Leadership means making mistakes. As Cat Chapin-Bishop pointed out so eloquently concerning the recent blunder at calling out racism, Real Anti-racism Will Involve Mistakes. The panel took a heavy turn for me, and I was grateful for Jason Mankey’s comic relief and honesty, a welcome reminder to be kind toward myself and laugh more often (and maybe even allow myself to read the comments - every once in a while).


Another highlight was Turning the Wheel, a panel of young(ish) leaders in Paganism. The question that stuck with me was how we define and understand Pagan community outside of events. What would it look like for us to create stronger bonds and networks that we can rely on, even in times between festivals, conventions, and public rituals?


Shauna Aura Knight’s workshop on leadership reminded me again just how many mistakes I have made and will continue to make, way to keep me humble. But she also helped me see the skills I have and am invited to contribute. Her teaching was the perfect balance of power and compassion, honor and humility. I came away feeling encouraged and empowered and grateful for so much wisdom in our community.


And then I took my enthusiasm for supporting young leaders and went with it and ran head first into a wall. I had been looking forward to an event listing which I thought would be an interactive collaboration for the 2015 Parliament of World Religions. Interfaith work is near and dear to my heart, and I am excited that there will be many young Pagans at the Parliament this year. At the event, however, I was the youngest person in the room, by a couple of decades. The presentation - for it was a presentation, not a dialogue - focused on the history of the Parliament. It seemed like almost everyone in the room had been to past Parliaments and there were frequent interjections of “oh, remember so-and-so was there!” and “wasn’t that the one where this-and-that happened?”. I felt alienated and began to wonder if everyone else already knew each other. I hadn’t expected to walk into a Parliament veteran reunion party.


When the presenter finally arrived at the 2015 parliament we were already 15 minutes overtime and I had to leave soon. I raised my hand and asked about networking for newcomers and especially young people. I was told that there was a Facebook group. When I said that I was looking for a way for young people to help out and be involved, I was told that there was no need to worry, the Parliament had programming for youth. It took me a moment to understand the answer, and when I spoke up again I was cut off and the presentation continued until I needed to leave.


My initial response was the one to which I was conditioned by years of dis-empowerment. I walked away feeling dejected and depressed. Pointless, I thought, until I remembered what Alley Valkyrie had said on the young leader’s panel. What do you do when you run into a brick wall? You keep banging your head against it. You don’t give up! We can’t afford ageism and alienation any longer.


So this was the decisive moment for me. I chose to walk away from dejection and depression and into my power. I chose to take a stand and do my part in creating Pagan Visions for the Future. I chose to commit to this community through service. And I chose to fully embrace Brigid's call and wear the mantle of leadership.


I respect our elders and seek to learn from them. I am grateful for all the battles they fought, the roads they paved for us, and the foundations they laid. And I now understand that it is time for me and for us, the younger generations, to step up, to walk upon these paved roads, and to build upon these foundations.

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Born and raised an evangelical Christian in Germany, I joined the Jesus Freak movement as a teenager and became a passionate evangelist and worship leader. No one was surprised when I went to the US at age 19 and came back a tattooed and pierced fundamentalist Christian, betrothed to a "Chrispie" (a Christian hippie, that is). I was a virgin the day we married. Five years later I graduated bible college with highest honors and post traumatic stress disorder. I deepened both my theology and trauma on the road by traveling the country in a big yellow school bus. For three years I lived as a nomad, playing music and leading bible studies, from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine. I learned that Christianity in America encompasses a wide range of beliefs and practices, from Amish groups casting demons out of school busses to Roman Catholic priests breaking into government buildings. I saw Jesus in the oddest places. And then everything changed and I ended up a polyamorous Witch in a Pagan community in California.


  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham Thursday, 26 February 2015

    Yes, yes, and yes!!

  • Shauna Aura Knight
    Shauna Aura Knight Thursday, 26 February 2015

    Keep banging your head against the wall, my friend. That's what I've been doing. If I'd waited for some kind of formal approval to be a leader, I'd still be wandering around wide-eyed. I just decided to do it. And yeah, I made mistakes...and yeah, I will make more mistakes. But, at the very least, they make some great examples when I teach. Here's the thing: Those of us that make mistakes as leaders, but are willing to see them, are the ones who are the future. The folks who refuse to look in the mirror are part of the problem.

    As always, let me know if there are ways I can help support, even if just as a vote of confidence from afar.

  • Annika Mongan
    Annika Mongan Thursday, 26 February 2015

    Thank you, Shauna. That is what I will be doing. I had to learn the hard way that while I will hurt people by the mistakes I make as a leader, I will also hurt them by not leading. By giving away power that was given to me, I enabled those who were far too eager to snatch up that power for their own personal gain.

  • Gwion Raven
    Gwion Raven Friday, 27 February 2015

    I like to remember that I can choose where to step into leadership, which I think differs from being a Leader. I have been comfortable and extremely uncomfortable being in leadership, but when I choose it or it chooses me and I accept the responsibility, I give it everything I have.

  • Annika Mongan
    Annika Mongan Monday, 02 March 2015

    Thank you, Gwion. That is a really helpful perspective, and while we have already started attributing areas and times of responsibility in our communities intuitively, it helps to spell it out.

    I remember a social gathering shortly after my first Reclaiming class and one of the teachers came. At some point she interrupted the chatter and said: 'look everyone, I need to do something here for a moment.' We all listened quietly, after all, she was the teacher! She grabbed a random piece of cloth in the room, draped it over her head, and said: 'see this? It's my teacher's cap!' Then she took it off her head and tossed it across the room saying: 'look, my teacher's hat is gone!" and we got it. The conversations changed after that and we were able to relate as friends.

  • Crystal Blanton
    Crystal Blanton Monday, 02 March 2015

    Great insights to complex topics. I am still dealing with the fallout that comes with leadership, and yet I get reminders every now and then that this is what I am suppose to be doing. That helps.... because it is easy to question it when the situations suck. I am glad that you got the confirmation that you needed, we need you. And as you saw with the upcoming Parliament event, we need you a lot!!! There will be some of us there, I am going, and we can support one another in learning how to fully support this change that is happening. We need integration on all sides, from the color of the faces in the crowd to the ages. It has to happen and the leaders of today are tasked with supporting this transition. Much support!

  • Annika Mongan
    Annika Mongan Monday, 02 March 2015

    Thanks, Crystal. Leadership really is about service. It's odd and exciting to have joined a community that is going through growing pains and so much change. I love seeing it expand and open up to be more hospitable and diverse.

  • Greg Harder
    Greg Harder Monday, 02 March 2015

    The Parliament is a huge event that usually has over 10.000 people attending. The problem is the organizers have a small overworked event staff, so it is sometimes hard to get quick answers from them.
    As was stated at the Pantheacon Parliament workshop there is a Facebook page for Pagans going to the event - It is already very active with many folks checking in. The Pagan coordinators for that page are Angie Buchanan, Shel Skau, and Andras Corban-Arthen. Any one of them should be able to hook you up with young people's programs at or before the event.
    The Parliament web page has a great deal of information including details on the schedule of events as they develop.
    If you wish to volunteer at the Parliament you can contact them at:
    They have a large list of areas that need volunteers to help. As you say. "Leadership really is about service, " so this would be a very good way to get started.
    If you wish to present a program or workshop you can get connected here: The deadline is March 15 so you would have to hurry.
    I hope this info. will help you.

  • Annika Mongan
    Annika Mongan Tuesday, 03 March 2015

    “Don't read the comments” was one of my ribbons at Pantheacon - but I did, and while I will not respond to everything that was said, there are a couple of things I would like to clarify.

    I wrote this post not to call anyone out, but to explore my own process around a spiritual call combined with a specific situation in which I was asked to take leadership. I purposely did not name the place in which the talk about the Parliament took place. My intention was not to indict but to use this as an illustration of the challenges young leaders face within the Pagan community.

    Now that this conversation is happening, however, I want to reiterate that my concern was and is for young leaders, not for myself. My seminary days followed by my ordination and entry into ministry lie more than a decade in the past and I would be considered too old for most youth programs. I am also not new to interfaith work. My current work in a religious organization pays a salary that enables me to make my own way to the parliament and I have already paid for my registration, flight, and lodging. I have also been a member of the mentioned Facebook group since before Pantheacon.

    My questions at the talk were prefaced with an expression of gratitude for the work that has been done by our elders and a desire to learn more from interfaith veterans. At the same time I am excited that there will be young Pagans at the Parliaments, up-and-coming leaders younger than me by over a decade. I want to see us welcoming them, listening to them, and valuing the cross-pollination of ideas that takes place when old meets young, experience meets fresh perspectives and enthusiasm.

    I wanted to attend everything at Pantheacon that pertained to the Parliament - but there was only one offering. This was the only opportunity I saw to connect with other interfaith workers and talk about the Parliament. My hopes of helping to bridge the gap between elders and young leaders - not youth looking for youth programs or volunteering positions - wasn't met at this event. But we still have months before heading to the Parliament. The work done by the older generations made so many things we enjoy today possible. I can think of no better way to honor their achievements than to welcome young leaders into building upon these foundations. That is my desire for this upcoming Parliament and I hope that we can take these coming months to network veterans and newcomers. I hope to see old and young leaders getting together, collaborating beforehand, and then working together on projects, presentations, and other offerings once we are all at the Parliament.

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