Lightning Across the Plains 2009 was attended by 120 Heathens from around the Midwest. Lightning Across the Plains 2010 was attended by 240 Heathens. Kindreds. Hearths. Families. Individuals. As the hosting kindred, we feel that both events went very well, and met all of our goals and expectations. The feedback we received from our guests was enormously positive, and we are very much looking forward to LATP 2011.
Hosting a weekend Heathen gathering is not as simple as picking a time, date, location and then posting that information on the web and hoping for the best. There is a lot of thought and planning that goes into it. The hosting kindred is very busy both prior to and during the event ensuring it goes well. This essay shares some tips on how to hold your own successful heathen gathering...
1. Sit down as a kindred, and fully discuss the pro's and con's of holding a gathering. Ensure that everyone is on-board. If one or more people in the kindred are hesitant about hosting a gathering, find out what their concerns are, and fully discuss them. Hosting a gathering can be a lot of work, and it will take your entire kindred to really pull it off well.
2. Consider whether there is a need for another heathen gathering in your region. In most regions, there is still a need for additional gatherings. Take the time to really research the existing gatherings in your region. Talk to the other kindreds in your region, and really do your homework. Where are the other gatherings and what time of year are they held? You don't want to make Heathens choose between your event and another event they could go to. And you certainly don't want them choosing between your event and one they they already regularly attend. There is a limited number of heathens. When we split our efforts and schedule competing events, everyone loses.
3. Give yourself plenty of time to promote the event. Don't sit down and schedule an gathering for 2 or 3 months from now. You won't have time to plan it and prepare properly, nor will you have time to promote it properly. Plus, your guests need time to get your gathering on their calendar, make their own preparations for it, schedule time off from work, etc. Jotun's Bane Kindred usually plans out our travel plans a year in advance. It can be difficult for us to attend a gathering that is announced just a few months before it is held. If this is a new gathering, set the date at least a year out, if you can.
4. Once you find a date that works and does not conflict with other gatherings in your region, reserve a location for the event. You need to take into consideration the level of comfort your guests will expect and the cost of the location you are reserving. Some gatherings involve camping in tents, and these events usually cost a little less to attend. Some gatherings involve cabins, and can cost quite a bit more to attend. When choosing a location, keep in mind the weather that time of year, the need for bathrooms, etc.
5. Organize your gathering well. Plan it, make a schedule of activities, and really think through what you want to happen at the gathering. People don't want to travel to something that is disorganized, or has very few activities planned. When you have a rough schedule made, go through every single activity on the schedule and thoroughly examine what you will need for every activity. Make sure that you can realistically accomplish everything you have put on the schedule.
6. If you have Heathen workshops on your schedule, make sure the subject matter and the tone of the workshops are something that will appeal to Heathens in your region. Workshops that might be a big hit in one region, might not work in another region. While you can certainly have members of your kindred give workshops, it is always nice if some of the workshops are given by knowledgeable guests in attendance. It takes more pre-planning to have people outside your kindred give workshops, but it can definitely be worth the extra work.
7. Plan the event so that it will work whether it is well-attended or sparsely-attended. This is especially true if it is your first time hosting the event. You have plan the event so that it will be a success, spiritually and financially, if there are 20 people there...or 100 people there. That means choosing a location for the gathering that is not immensely expensive. If you set up a gathering that only financially breaks even if 60 people are there, and only 30 show up...it is unlikely you will have a second gathering. If your Godhi prepares a blot or faining that works well for 30 people, and 100 people show up, the blot or faining can go really badly.
8. Don't make the gathering about YOU and YOUR kindred. For instance, if you are Folkish...don't make it just a Folkish gathering. If you are AFA, Troth, or OR, don't make it just an AFA, Troth, or OR gathering. Make it about Heathens in your region gathering in mutual respect, and focus on your similarities with other folks...not your differences. A Heathen gathering should be about our Folk gathering to honor their Gods, their Ancestors, the Vaettir, and to get to know one another face-to-face. If you focus on this goal in all that you do in hosting the gathering, then you are more likely to keep on-course, and have a meaningful gathering that people really enjoy.
9. Personally, I believe that a Heathen gathering that focuses on being regional...will draw together kindreds, hearths, families, and individuals from that region that are likely to get to know each other, and that will be likely to want to continue gathering. A gathering that focuses on being national, will have a different feel to it. I've written extensively on the importance of regional face-to-face relationships between kindreds and Heathen individuals. Your regional gathering will spark other regional gatherings, and over a relatively short number of years, bonds can be built between Heathens in a region...bonds that strengthen and enliven all that are involved.
10. Heathenry is about families and communities. There is nothing more disturbing, than the idea of a Heathen gathering with very few children and no activities planned for children. Our children are the future of Heathenry. So, if you are planning a gathering, put your money where your mouth is. Don't just talk the talk, walk the walk. Set up your registration fees in a way that encourages families to attend. Plan activities for children, and communicate these activities are part of your promotions for the event. Lightning Across the Plains 2010 was attended by 70 Heathen children...nearly a third of those in attendance. We're enormously happy with this ratio of children at the event.
11. Keep the price to attend the gathering as affordable as possible.. Heathens tend to be middle class...lower-middle class...and working-class folks. Especially the Heathens with children. They aren't made of money, and you want your gathering to be affordable for them to attend.
12. Some gatherings don't provide any food for their guests. Some gatherings provide one or two feasts, and ask guests to provide their own breakfasts and lunches. Some gatherings provide all of the food, throughout the entire weekend. If you do provide food, you need to make sure everyone walks away satisfied from any meals you do provide. Running out of food is absolutely not acceptable.
13. Make the gathering both fun and spiritually meaningful. Plan for one or more blots or fainings, one or more Symbels, and ensure that the event is as "Heathen" as possible. But, also plan activities that are purely for fun and enjoyment. If you know the folks in your region fairly well, then you'll have a better idea of what they will consider to be fun. Viking games, contests of poetry and song, and a lore game-show are all activities that can be really enjoyable, if planned well.
14. Once you have a location reserved for the date of your gathering and a thorough plan for the gathering, announce the gathering as widely as possible. Find ways to clearly communicate the details about your event. Share everything about it you can. The schedule, the plan, the details. People do not like the unknown, and will not travel to something that is sort of nebulous and mysterious. Traveling to a gathering is a big commitment of time and money, and the more they know about your gathering, the more likely they are to commit to attending.
15. Heathenry is about reciprocal relationships. Gift for a Gift. You need to get to know and forge bonds with other kindreds and Heathens in your region. Communicate with them. Get to know them. Travel to their open events and gatherings they are hosting. People are more likely to travel to something you are hosting, if you have already traveled to visit them. This seems like common sense, but a lot of people just completely miss this whole concept. In the year 2010, Jotun's Bane Kindred traveled 2843 miles to gathering with other Heathens. We'll probably end up traveling more miles as a kindred in 2011.
Well, those are the tips I could think of tonight. By the time I publish this article in the Heathen Tribes book, I will likely have added a few more.
BTW, if you are in a kindred or a you are a Heathen family or individual here in the Midwest, I want to invite you to Lightning Across the Plains on September 23-25. All heathens are welcome, regardless of where they live, but we specifically interested in gathering with Heathens from Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. LATP 2011, will be the second year for the Regional Midwest Thing...and we want your participation and friendship. http://www.lightningacrosstheplains.com
Mark Ludwig Stinson
Jotun's Bane Kindred
Temple of Our Heathen Gods