Michigan Pagan of the Year 2016

Thank you again everyone for coming to party with us at the 2016 Witches Ball!  And a big thank you to our many sponsors who make this possible. This is the 20th consecutive year of the best Pagan party in the country!  Aren’t you glad you made it?

But this event is more than that.  My name is Gwenn Starda.  A lot of you have seen me grow up. I used to take tickets at the front door at the old Knights of Columbus hall, in my REAL blue sparkly high school prom dress, back when I was an 18-year-old baby witch and couldn’t get in!  Over the years, the Ball has become more than a night out.  It’s also become a vehicle for improving and honoring our community. We have over 100 Sponsors this year supporting our community and allowing us to come together. We held the Witch’s Bazaar for the 6th straight year, promoting 50 vendors from among us, allowing us to support their talents and their livelihoods.  And we give back to our designated Pagan charities, doing good works in the community – providing canned goods to those in need, scholarships to Pagan students, and much more.

All of these things would not be possible without the hard work of the Witches Ball Committee.  Let’s give them another hand.  Some of you might not realize the YEAR ROUND EFFORT AND PLANNING that they put into making this happen for us.  And they contribute their time and effort for free, as volunteers, because they love our community.  (OK, and they love a good vodka tonic too.)  That’s TWO DECADES of community activism, y’all.

Another thing we do at the Ball is use it as a platform to honor the Pagan of the Year – someone who has made an outstanding contribution to the Pagan community.  I would say that TWO DECADES of organizing one of our most successful events is pretty outstanding, yes?  For those of you that do not know, one of the Committee’s earliest members is stepping down after this year into a well-deserved retirement – Gordon Ireland.  My mom once said, “Gordon only created the Pagan of the Year Award so that he could give it to himself.”

Well, Gordon has a pretty sick sense of humor.  This year’s Pagan of the Year is my mother – Arwen Starda!

In addition to being part of the Witches’ Ball Committee for all these years and organizing all the good works that I spoke about, Arwen has also been hosting the Pagan Roundtable the first Tuesday of every month at the Mount Clemens library since 1996.  I can remember myself and my brothers being hauled there as kids. This group was a lifeline to Pagans seeking to connect with one another in the days before the internet was ubiquitous. People that met there have made lifetime friendships and relationships.

Our family moved to Michigan in 1990.  I remember that right away Arwen sought out connections with the Michigan Pagan community.  I remember her packing me off in the car so that she could spend the afternoon at the Mystic Curio, where I would embarrass her by blowing out Elegua’s candle like a little shit every time her back was turned.  Knowing what Elegua is about, I think Bo wasn’t too upset.  We found a coffee night in Ferndale prior to the Roundtable.

The one thing I can say personally is that because of my Mom, I had a very different experience with Paganism than most of us did.  In our religion, most of us today are still converts, but I grew up with it.  Arwen has never been in the broom closet. She’s always been open to everyone and sharing her talents as she’s able. Over the years I saw her practice with various covens, I saw her put on several public rituals and attended dozens more together.  She’s attended ConVocation for twenty years, as well as other festivals both local and out of state, sometimes volunteering, sometimes offering classes. She’s taught on interfaith marriage, which her and my Dad have shared for 30 years, and making Psanki, Pagan Easter eggs from Ukraine.  Not only has Arwen been an integral part of this community for over twenty years, but because of her, I’ve been able to as well.  I’m so glad that I was able to grow up with all of you, and I’m so glad to be able to honor my Mom tonight for all her contributions to the Michigan Pagan Community.  Congratulations and thank you, Arwen!