Pagan Spirit Gathering is known for many things – the fantastic musicians who perform, the variety of workshops, the fulfilling group rituals, and the (in)famous Pan’s Ball. Pan is so popular at PSG that he doesn’t have just one Ball, he has two. The other Pan’s Ball is logically named Pan’s Other Ball. The two Balls have an intertwined history, but are very different in purpose and feel. Both are held on Friday night, along with separate parties for teens and tweens, and both have a long tradition, but that’s about all they have in common.
Pan’s Ball is strictly for those 21 years of age and older. Pan’s Ball is dismissed by some as a drunken college frat party or an excuse for an orgy. Organizers say it is a revel, in the sacred sense of the word, and a time to burn off the energy that has built over the past week. Dancing and drinking are used as a gateway to a state of sensual abandon. This view of revels, both positive and negative, is nothing new. The worship of Dionysos, with its accompanying revels, was opposed where ever it was first introduced. And it was also enthusiastically embraced by a segment of the population. Usually those who were oppressed by cultural norms and had limited avenues of expression. In ancient Greece it was women who sought out the Liberator in the wild countryside. In the modern world, it doesn’t surprise me that Rainbow camp, a group of GLBT campers, are the ones reviving this way of worshiping Dionysos.
All week festival goers have brought donations of liquor and cans of fruit to Rainbow camp, hosts of Pan’s Ball. Ball organizers chant “safe and sensual” while mixing the liquor, fruit, and sugar together, infusing it with magic. The punch, which packs a serious punch, is guarded by a sober bartender who fills each cup and makes sure it stays safe and that no minors partake. Likewise, the fire tenders also remain sober throughout. Safety is taken seriously. A full DJ sound system is set up and checked, a bonfire is lit, and the festivities start.
Eager festivants line up to have their ID checked, get a cup of the sacred libation, and start dancing. Some come in costume, some come in nothing, and others wear what they wore all day. As the night grows fuller, the dancing takes on a more wild tone as Dionysos manifests inside some of the dancers. At Pan’s Ball Maenads once again worship the Liberator, minus the tearing apart of animals and babies.
Pan’s Other Ball
Leaving the loud music and flashing lights of Pan’s Ball and entering the quiet wooded path back to the main camp is a shock. I realize how cold it is and how alone I am. I hurry on to my next objective, the Pan’s Other Ball. This Ball is hosted by Amethyst Camp, which is a group of campers who are in a 12 step program or are battling some type of addiction.
Needless to say, they are not interested in being at a party where alcohol is the main focus. Organizers said that for as long as there has been a Pan’s Ball (or the Tea Dance, as it was named 4 years ago) there has been a ‘dry’ party alternative. What Pan’s Ball is to booze, the Pan’s Other Ball is to food. On arriving at the main barn, where the ball was held, I couldn’t help but notice the two entire tables of snacks and non-alcoholic beverages. If you needed a chocolate fix, you were in the right place.
The next thing I noticed was that I could see. The place was brightly lit, which was a good thing, or it would have been hard to play cards. Games and conversation were going on all around me. Jokes and laughter pealed out. Most attendees seemed to know each other quite well but they were happy to welcome others to their gathering. It had a feeling of family and I soaked it up.
Pan’s Other Ball helped me come down from an energy high so I felt comfortable checking out the kids’ parties. Kids are not left out of the Friday night fun because PSG takes care to make sure that the festival is a great place to enjoy as a family. The teens had eaten their weight in pizza and were listening to music. The tweens looked to be doing much the same. Each group was enjoying socializing with their peers in a safe environment. There wasn’t anything going on for the young children but that may change. One small lass of 7 asked Rev Selena Fox if they could have a small party of their own. Perhaps a Pixie Party? PSG is always looking for ways to improve and better service attendees needs, so a party for the wee ones is not out of the question if the resources are available.
The parties I experienced that night were all very different in nature, but each of them were fun events worthy of the beloved God Pan. As Pan can inspire sensuality and is the companion of Dionysos, he is the fitting God of a revel. I’m positive I heard pipes playing mixed in the dance music. But that’s not all that Pan is about. Like most deity, he is complex. Pan loves and guards children and it wouldn’t be a night dedicated to Pan without special events for children. He also loves jokes and games and I felt his presence at the card table with Amethyst campers. Contrary to what Thamus said at the beginning of the Christian era, Pan is not dead. Hail Pan!