Future PaganCons: Won’t You Include Us Too?

I’m getting some post-PantheaCon discussions coming through my social media feeds, with much said on the topics pertaining to inclusion–the need for great heaping gobs of it–for “everyone.” Reading these posts, I always have the pitiful question, “does that mean people like me too?” Generally, it doesn’t. 

Decorated Mask copy
Multiple Chemical Sensitivity/Environmental Illness. My decorated chemical cartridge respirator.

I ‘ve never gone to PantheaCon or any other neo-pagan convention because my disability is seldom accommodated. I didn’t go to this last PantheaCon either–the very last, ever, apparently–but some friends of mine just got back from it. These are people who have a long history with the event and with some of its founders. I’m talking “Old Guard Pagans” who have been active for a long time in Northern California. One of them brought back a stack of ephemera from the conference so I’m looking through the flyers and postcards, as well as the conference program, to see what I missed.

And, frankly I’m also looking to see if any one of these organizations, events, or teachers bother to put the magic words, “Come Fragrance Free,” on their ephemera. But before I get too curmudeonly and critique-ish about the program and ephemera, I need to say a few things first and ask a few questions.

Here’s the Pathos.

Please take a few moments to consider the following. Can you imagine:

Living like an “almost hermit” for a major portion of your life, simply because consumer toxins, including fragrances, are in wide use?

Becoming ill, asthmatic, or brain-fogged after ordinary outings such as trips to the grocery store, dental and medical appointments, buying new tires, meeting a friend for lunch at a restaurant, going to a concert or event, attending a class, filing out forms at government agencies such as DMV or Social Security, venturing outside when a neighbor is doing laundry, taking public transportation, using a public swimming facility, and pretty much any other activity that involves other people and poor indoor air quality?

Finding out that friends, family members, and lovers or spouses prefer their toxic products to spending time with you?

Finding that you’ve lost the love and concern of people you deeply love, because accommodating you is just too much work and they’ve grown tired of it?

Not having a job, as there are practically no fragrance free workplaces, and not being able to get disability benefits either?

Having your options for affordable housing severely limited due to toxins used in building products and home furnishings, as well as by people who could have been roommates?

Finding that most of your social contact takes place online, but then being shamed for it?

Being told that your sufferings are imagined or exaggerated, or the result of negative thinking? Being told you don’t “look” sick or disabled?

Seeing medical and mental health professionals who have little or no idea what you are talking about?

Being constantly exposed to substances that make you sick, tired, brainfogged and frustrated, just in order to have something that remotely resembles a normal life?

And finally, can you imagine all of the above and also being denied physical entry to spiritual communities, fellowship, and solace? 

I could go on.

Welcome to my life and the life of every other person I know who copes with “Toxicant Induced Loss of Tolerance,” also known as “multiple chemical sensitivity,” “chemical injury,” or “environmental illness.” We not only cope with “invisible disabilities” but are also invisible ourselves, as we “don’t get out much” and most dialogue about inclusion & disability and environmental health & justice take place without us. For most people, we do not exist. And there are no social programs to assist us with our special needs. There are no celebrities or major philanthropists championing our cause. As for allies–there are only a few.

Now For the Curmudgeonly Part

Back to my examination of the PantheaCon program and ephemera. In the program, I don’t see any of those magic words that address disability accommodation and indoor air quality, such as “please attend fragrance free to allow people with asthma and enviornmental illnesses to attend.” The program also does not have a section with disability access information. I do notice “no smoking” and “no incense, smudging or candles” policies are in place, and those are certainly helpful to preserving some semblance of breathable air. However, the lack of restriction pertaining to fragrance use in public spaces, workshops, and rituals makes the PantheaCon (and any conference) a dangerous place for someone like me.

I also skimmed through the “Event & Ritual Etiquette,” looking for some awareness of “share the air” manners, but there’s nothing. None of the hospitality suites, workshops, ads, or group events contain accommodation language either, EXCEPT for the following:

(1) Katrina Rasbold’s The Limpia: Cleansing the Mind, Body, Spirit workshop (p. 20) specifies that “no smoke, scents, or scented sprays are used in this workshop.” Reading this makes me want to adore her!

(2) Dree Amandi’s Aromatherapy Magick-Spellcraft warns that “we will be actively using essential oils, hydrosols, and carrier oils in this space.” Such warnings are also deeply appreciated, though use of such substances in a workshop may also affect my ability to attend adjoining workshops in that time frame, or workshops which take place in the same room or nearby afterwards.

Workshops that might be expected to use this inclusive accommodation language would include anything with a breath,  “eco,” or healing theme, such as: Selena Fox’s Circle for Planet Earth and her Brigid Healing RitualEcoActivism & Climate Change, which was put on by Circle Sanctuary EcoActivists; The Power of Yoga–Energy and Healing with Lisa J. Hamlin; Chants for the Earth with Starhawk and Evelie Delfino Sales Posch; Eco-Magical Activism with Starhawk; possibly The Healing Isle with Christopher Penczak, though the talk of “potions” and “plant essence” makes me nervous; Theurgic Activism Panel; Tomorrow’s Pagan Panel: and Envisioning the Future of Paganism with Solstice.

Such compassionate and inclusive language would also be nice for Elysia Gallo’s Pagan Speed Friending, as I couldn’t risk being “speed friended” by a well-meaning person off-gassing toxic petrochemicals in the form of personal care products. And for anyone talking about inclusion and diversity as part of their program–likewise. Set an example of inclusive welcoming by asking people to be considerate on behalf of those who depend heavily on the “kindness of strangers.”

Of all the many pieces of ephemera gathered by my friend, only one is inclusive of people with multiple chemical sensitivities and respiratory ailments. This is the postcard advertising the “JeWitch Camp,” an event with “Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Starhawk, and Friends.” It has the magic words: “come fragrance free.” (And again, I want to adore them!)

I think you get the idea.

I won’t say I never go to conferences, ever, but the ones I attend are professional conferences which enable me to gain CE credits to update my professional certifications and/or may help boost my diminishing private practice–my only means of work. Still, I don’t go to more than one every few years, and I build in recovery time and escape routes and limit my attempts to socialize. It sucks, frankly. Read my Fragrance-Free FAQ on my professional site to know more.

Why Are Pagans OK with Polluting the Air-One of Our Four Essential and Sacred Elements?

Ea is a word in the Hawaiian language that first means “sovereignty, rule, independence.” Its second meaning is “life, air, breath, respiration, vapor, gas; fumes as of tobacco; breeze, spirit” (Pukui, M.K. & Elbert. S.H. (1986). Hawaiian Dictionary: Hawaiian-English, English-Hawaiian. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, p. 36). To me, the connections between these two categories of meaning are highly significant.

And I want to know why–when air is our sacred elemental symbol of mental powers and intelligence–we humans are short-circuiting our brains with deliberate inhalation of toxic, petrochemical fumes, via consumer products? And why are we so stupid as to deliberately pollute our air, INDOORS and out, along with our water and soil? As pagans, shouldn’t we be extra aware and respectful?

And why isn’t consensuality considered? Why is the physical violation of other people’s bodies with airborne toxic chemicals not a matter of discussion? We ban smoking in public places. Why not scents and fragrances and essential oils, which contain some of the same cancer-producing and respiratory irritant chemicals found in tobacco smoke and vaping?

The answers to the above questions have lots to do with capitalism, entitlement, and industry pressure on legislation and policy. And they also have a lot to do with who we feel is worthy of “accommodation” and assistance. There is something in the American psyche  that despises the “snowflake”–those seen as weak are deemed unworthy. And people with significant adverse reactions to chemical toxins are among the “snowflakiest” of us all.

In 1998, Scientific American published a study that claimed that the air in the average American home is MORE polluted than the air around most outdoor Superfund Clean-Up sites. Here’s the PDF: SciAM-EverydayExposure-3 As for me, I’d love to have a study done on the air quality in the average pagan conference in an average hotel. And then I’d like something done by way of solving this problem, so that we may all breathe freely in fellowship with each other. Pagan conference organizers, I’ve thrown down the gauntlet. What say all of you? Or can you still not hear me and those who are like me? A 2018 study showed that one in four Americans suffer from environmentally caused illnesses (Ann Steinemann study–download here). So, with this increase in illness, how long can you ignore the effects on people in pagan communities? How long can you refrain from a proactive examination of this issue of indoor air pollution, and from creating policies that seek to diminish the health consequences of attending your events?

Spirits of the Air, I conjure thee–give us the awareness to do better, help us heal your sacred substance, and that of the earth, and of all living bodies–else we be doomed to choke on our hypocrisy and ignorance as all living things perish around us, through our selfishness.

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18 thoughts on “Future PaganCons: Won’t You Include Us Too?

  1. I knew several folks with chemical sensitivities. I can grasp your problem. I have a traumatic brain injury. I am hermit for reasons of too much stimulation as in sound and lights. Few able bodied people think outside their own selves. I would not mind having a quiet conference, without chemicals, since they are overwhelming to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve a friend with a severe cedar and juniper allergy. She brought it up to a nearby community gathering and was told they wouldn’t compromise the sacred mixture for ritual by excluding certain barks and needles… she’d just have to decide if she wanted to come or not

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  3. My symptoms aren’t quite as severe as yours but they get worse with passing years. At BayCon we have made my office fragrance free and we request that people refrain from unnecessary fragrances but I’m looking at that language and noticing that we put it in our accessibility policy… which means it’s not getting seen as much as we’d like. I’m going to see about fixing that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Susie, I am so sorry you deal with this as well! And bless you a million times for (1) having the language, and (2) noticing that it could be more visible! As for symptoms, you probably know that whatever you can do to make your home environmentally safe for you, will help you heal. I am actually LOTS better than I was when all this begain (during my first kid’s pregnancy–he’s 30 now), but I live very carefully. I hope that you can reduce your symptoms too. Our bodies are wise to alert us to poisons, but it sure does make life hard trying to avoid everything that’s out there. The mantras of the disability movement used to be (and perhaps still are) “self advocate” and the “systems change.” We need allies, awareness, and so much more to create that systems change. The irony is, when we request good indoor and outdoor air quality, it benefits everyone. But we are so often the ones who have to leave. Thank you so much for reading and writing!

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  4. This conversation has been going on as long as PantheaCon. The overwhelming response when it was brought up in the early days (pre-Cathedral Hill) was “scent is an important part of our spiritual practice and we won’t compromise. Can’t you just take an anti-histamine or something, or not come? It’s not realistic to expect the vendor room to be scent free just because of you.” Ironically, the most vocal of that crew later went on to develop severe scent allergies, and had to stop attending PCon. But this viewpoint/attitude prevailed until the very end. The invisibly disabled are clearly unwanted at Pagan events. The visibly disabled are also often treated shabbily. This is unsurprising to me given the levels of entitlement and open racism that resulted in the Con’s demise. It’s doubtful future Pagan events run by white people will acceptably address that, either; the PCon crowd clearly showed their white supremacy by attending this year at all, after last year’s debacle.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for reading this blog and writing! I agree we need to see an end to the entitled attitudes of racism, ableism, transphobia/homophobia, sexism, classism, xenophobia, and all the rest of the socially toxic and life-destroying macro- and microaggressions that poison us (along with the systems that perpetuate them). I want us all to do better! Ready and willing to signal boost and support all efforts that arise from conscious examination and repudiation of such shite, and aim to construct actually inclusive communities. If you know of anything, I am glad to signal boost as much as possible, though my “platform” is limited. All the best to you!

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  5. You are welcome at Readerfest, a writers’ conference and mini pagan ish con. I’ll leave it to you to find housing that will work, but the venue is the UW Tacoma campus, Phillips Hall, in Tacoma, WA July 17-19. It’s free to attend. ADA accessible building. http://www.Readerfest.org

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for letting me know about this event! I’ll check out your website! https://readerfest.org
      This event would be of interest to me as a writer, for sure, though I’m looking at relocating later this spring, so don’t know where I’ll be in terms of finances. Gonna keep it on my radar though!
      Want me to signal-boost anything? All the best!

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  6. I have life threatening allergies to airborne natural rubber and latex derived from natural rubber. I am also hard of hearing. You would think a balloon free environment and a dedicated chair in the front row would be doable but alas…. I hear you on this post. The current in-accessible model of Paganism has always seemed like alot of bullshit to me so I set out to do better by example and have events all of my friends could safely and easily access

    Please consider coming out to Land, Sea, Sky Travel events.It’s my company and we are working hard to build up a new inclusive model of polytheist and pagan events. We offer on-line conferences that we work hard on making as deep and meaningful as in-person conferences. All our in-person events try to be as accessible as possible. We model all our accessibility from feedback provided from those that are differently-abled or from a minority. I would have no trouble asking folks to go scent free for you. We’ve asked that of folks in the past and my guests are good people who want to also be inclusive.

    .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Vyviane, This is wonderful. I’ll be spending time looking at your website later today. Thank you so much for letting me know. What can I do (from afar) to signal boost?

      Also, I think alot about people with latex allergies, as there is talk of using old tires to renew coatings on roads. I shudder to think what will happen if that actually becomes “a thing.” I am sorry you have to deal with that condition.
      All the best!

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      1. Word of Mouth is our bread and butter so check us out and if you find something you feel called too share, please share it. If you do attend and you enjoy something let others know what you enjoyed.

        We have plenty of scholarships and free hearth passes available. Most of our events are on a sliding scale. We can always use help signal-boosting those programs and getting them into the hands of folks who can utilize them. Right now we aim and succeed at having one full scholarship position at all our in-person events. Even our pilgrimages abroad offer a full scholarship with airfare position. At our online conferences Women of Color, Indigenous and native women of the Americas, anyone under twenty-one and over seventy-one years of age are welcome to attend for free regardless of their financial situation. We run specials were other sexual, romantic and gender minorities may attend certain events for free to boost their voice in our community and remove any financial barriers to our community.

        We have a Facebook, newsletter and Instagram and sharing any of those to interested parties helps as well. Thanks for asking, getting the word out about small businesses is a challenge !

        As far as the roads go, when they repaved the road in my old house I had to go stay with my friend for a few weeks as I was sick as a dog, However they just repaved in front of the house we live in now and all was well. It’s so hit and miss. The bigger issue are all the playgrounds made with recycled tires. On a hot summer days those can get me, even from a considerable distance.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh yikes! Yes, I forgot about those playgrounds! (My kids are adults now, so I seldom venture to such places.) I am so sorry! I’ll be delving into your website and offerings for sure, and will be getting back to you with questions and more! Thanks for all you do!

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  7. I am sorry that people do not understand how deadly their fragrances, incenses, etc can be to people with asthma and allergies. I worked in an ICU and every once in awhile even a health care worker would come to work wearing a fragrance! I always used fragrance free grooming products before work so as not to make the patients and staff sick. I am going to bring this up to my fellow board members of a non-profit at our next meeting. I will ask to offer alternative fragrance free systems for cleansing/purification and spiritual rituals at a festival they hold for Beltaine every May. Thank you for bringing this to people’s attention.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Niniann! I really appreciate hearing from health workers who are aware of this problem! One of my worst memories is checking into the labor and delivery ward to be evaluated for potential pre-term labor. I had a written “fragrance-free” birth plan worked out with my doctor, but she was not on staff at the time. My nurse was HEAVILY scented and I had to ask for another. I know her feelings were hurt, even though I showed her my birth plan. Even when chemical sensitivity conditions are ignored, asthma is well established–and fragrances are a known asthma trigger! Thank you also for advocating alternative fragrance-free spaces at rituals! It really hurts to NOT be able to be in fellowship with others, and these alternative spaces will go a long way toward combatting the loneliness which is a secondary–and also potnetially deadly–condition. (Studies showing it is more dangerous to health than 15 cigarettes a day.) Again, thanks for reading and for all you do!

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