Last weekend, my spiritual family gathered around a dinner table to talk theology and eat and drink. It was the first Silver Spiral Pagan Symposium, as inspired by this post in “Under the Ancient Oaks”.
The Symposium was doubling as my birthday party, so my partner and I had hired a chef as a special luxury for all of us. As fun as the potluck aspect sounded, for this occasion, we wanted it to be as little work as possible for everyone, especially since it was all planned for a Friday night. Besides overnight stuff for those staying over, the only thing our guests were asked to bring was a theology or philosophy question.
We came in our all beautiful chaos, most straight from work through truly awful traffic. Altogether, the Symposium was made up of most of the local Silver Spiral members and one from out of town, spouses from various spiritual backgrounds, three young kids, and a puppy who is in training to be a seeing eye dog. We came out of the pouring rain with overnight bags and toddlers in tow. Almost all of us were later arriving than we’d planned to be, we almost forgot to set the table, and we’d poured a first round of drinks and started nibbling on the appetizers before the last guests made it in. Throughout the multi-course dinner, there were breaks for the chef to tell us about the next course, for taking the dog out, to deal with children arguing, for baby bedtime, and for taking medications. Our conversations split and wandered from deep theology to community gossip to mundane things and back. We only poured two offerings. We didn’t get to most people’s questions. At one point, I was in full rant mode about something – cultural appropriation, Pagan fundamentalism, something else? – when I saw the chef step towards the dining room holding a cake with lit candles, see that it didn’t look like quite the moment and start turning around. I was the only one facing that direction, so I interrupted myself by laughing and waving my birthday cake into the room.
It wasn’t what John described in his post: an orderly dinner with each course proceeded by an offering and a question and an evening of thoughtful, focused, adult conversation. But what it was was beautiful: the extended Pagan family in all its glory, ending with sipping a truly perfect mead at around 2 am.
In the midst of all that, we did have some great theology discussions. Silver Spiral had a head start on those because our previous discussions had covered a lot of basics about what each of us believe, so we could dig directly into more specific topics such as why make offerings, the politics of being a nature religion on unceded First Nations territory, where we think we really are when in a sacred circle or ritual space, anthrocentricism, what makes a good leader in Paganism… We took good advantage of what we did know about each other, but we also drew on the different backgrounds of our non-member guests, such as a Unitarian and someone with an intense science background (who also told us about the sweetening effect of artichokes), which enriched the conversation further. We all brought open minds, which was most important.
It’s not something we will do every month or even every quarter – too much rich food, too much wine, and too little sleep, especially for the parents of small children – but we will do it again. The most important part of our symposium was definitely the people, but great food and wine does facilitate conversation and some guidelines about the topics helps guide the group. Attempting to exert too much control over an evening like this would meant missing out on the magic of a full family experience. The only thing I would have changed is putting it on a Saturday night or starting a little later so people didn’t have to rush as much.
Our evening may not have been “productive”, but it was spiritually nourishing and a lot of fun. I did learn some really interesting things about my friends’ beliefs and got some food for thought (that will probably show up in this blog soon). I highly recommend putting together your own version of the modern Pagan symposium.
Series to date:
Our big questions – part 1
Our big questions – part 2
Our big questions – part 3: Ritual structure 2.0
Our big questions – part 4: Circling from awkward to graceful (and back)
Our big questions – part 5: Hacking our religion