After reading some of my disjointed thoughts about the first Polytheist Leadership Conference, I should not be surprised that Rhyd Wildermuth is also at a loss for words. So much of what happens when people with a common interest come together in person is simply hard to express in writing. Whether it’s this conference or any other excuse to get people who chat online together in person, the magic is in reminding us that human contact makes human community happen, not the internet. Many people pointed out that this conference would not have happened were it not for the internet, but saying that online interaction has value is not the same is believing it’s a proxy for real contact.
It is not.
Online, self-identified polytheists circle the wagons against the perceived oppressions brought about by pantheist and monist despots, or squabble over points of theology so fine that in larger religions, they have caused long and bloody wars. But in person? People celebrated their similarities, and sought to learn from diversity. Oh, there were a couple of times when I saw someone get a little hot under the collar when a speaker suggested that eir assertion was absolute rather than hypothesis, but that was not the norm. Indeed, I was only very rarely even asked which gods I honor; people were more interested in the work I do in their service than in their identities.
The conversations I had will roll around in my head for some time before I think they will emerge as coherent writing, if at all. Is it more moral to sacrifice the animals I eat to my gods than to buy bits of their carcasses in town? Can someone in the United States today prosper and be wealthy without being culpable for all the evil that money is used to wreak? Is it possible for people who have an unwavering belief in the concept of binary human gender worship the same gods alongside queer, asexual, and metagender p0lytheists?
My notes from the sessions are sparse, but my feelings of spiritual fullness are strong. Those feelings will guide my interactions with these people in the months and years to come, because once there’s a personal connection formed, it changes the calculus of how we relate. No matter how much to agree with or reject the writings of a particular individual online, eir persona is built at least as much in your own head as it is in eirs. Once we talk in person, the judgments we form come from a different set of assumptions. It’s not necessarily a better set of assumptions, but it’s at least based on several of the senses rather than channeling everything through our overworked eyes and then expect our brains to interpret the bits that make it through.
This is human connection. This is how community is built. This is what each person who was at the conference must carry forth, because so many more of us didn’t make it and there will always be people who can’t make the trip. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had this conference in my own back yard; polytheism and Paganism alike being such small movements that long trips to such events are the norm. My sense is that there may be a regional PLC movement that develops, and I hope that it happens that way, because for all the wonder the internet brings, there are not enough words in all the languages of humanity for it to bring understanding without human contact.