Pilgrimage is a part of many religious traditions. A spiritual pilgrimage is a physical journey toward a place of spiritual significance. For many Pagans, travel to festivals and conventions functions as a kind of pilgrimage, especially for those for whom travel is financially or physically difficult.
Every summer, numerous Pagan festivals are held around the country. These include: Pagan Spirit Gathering in Illinois, Starwood Festival in Ohio, Heartland Pagan Gathering in Kansas, Pagan Unity Festival in Tennessee, Rites of Spring in Massachusetts, Free Spirit Gathering in Maryland, Sacred Harvest Festival in Minnesota, and Summerland Spirit Festival in Wisconsin. There are also large indoor Pagan conferences, like Pantheacon in San Jose in February and Paganicon in Minneapolis. They are attended by Neo-Pagans, Wiccans, Witches, Polytheists, and others. The largest outdoor festivals can draw 1000 people, while the largest convention, Pantheacon, draws over 2000. These festivals and conventions feature workshops, lectures, and panel discussions as well as rituals, concerts, and drumming, not to mention opportunities for networking a meeting new Pagan friends.
Festivals give participants a sense liminality — a time and space apart from the mundane society. They create what Hakim Bay calls a “temporary autonomous zone” where participants can explore alternative social identities and reflect critically upon the mainstream culture.
Contemporary Pagans may also travel to sites which were sacred to ancient Pagans like Stonehenge or Crete.
Pilgrimage as a part of spiritual growth is not a new concept. Religions and cultures throughout time have regarded travel to specific locations as a means of spiritual enlightenment and fulfillment. Traditional pilgrimages to destinations like Stonehenge, Mecca, Haiti, and other spiritually significant locations have depended mostly on the beliefs of specific religious paths. In her article, What is a Spiritual Pilgrimage? Nikki Jardin states “A spiritual pilgrimage is a physical journey toward a place of sacred or religious significance.” This definition fits with how many Pagans, Wiccans, and Polytheists have come to revere Pagan conventions and festivals: As yearly spiritual pilgrimages for transcendent and communal enlightenment.
This past weekend, PantheaCon turned 20 years old. This California-based convention pulls approximately 2,500 Pagans every year to San Jose, California to enjoy music, rituals, lectures, panels, great conversation and connection among a wealth of magical practitioners. This convention-style event is the largest of its kind within the United States, and has become a yearly attraction for people of various different levels of practice within this broad community of Pagans. While PantheaCon offers a plethora of experiences that can equate to spiritual connectivity — an important concept within a community of practitioners that are often separated by paths, traditions, and variations of time and space — opportunities to engage in activities that fall into categories of political discussion, social engagement, entertainment, and religious rites, bring a wide variety of people in touch with others in unique ways.
The journey of PantheaCon is often filled with months of planning, saving, and preparation, ending in an experience that promotes alignment with spiritual energy, beliefs, and practice. The idea of pilgrimage would imply that this time and space encourages these very things, leaving us with some knowledge that could clarify why several thousand people insist on coming to this yearly event, regardless of where they live within the United States or the cost involved.