The Twin Cities -- aka 'Paganistan' -- will host a world gathering of witches

Support your local witches, buy home-brewed love potions.

Support your local witches, buy home-brewed love potions. Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

Witches from as far away as Lebanon and Australia will set their flying monkeys on course for the Twin Cities next weekend, where they'll throw a big pagan party and swap recipes for potions.

The Twin Cities is the home of the Paganicon Midwest Conference, which will be held from March 16-18 at the Doubletree Park Place in St. Louis Park. The metro area has been considered something of a mecca for Neopaganism -- which includes Wicca, Heathenry, Druidry, Asatru, and an assembly of other folk religions -- ever since Minnesota poet Stephen Posch dubbed it "Paganistan" in 1989.

It's hard to estimate just how many pagans live in the Twin Cities, but local witches believe it's home to a large community because of how many significant events in the history of American witchcraft have taken place here.

Llewellyn, the world's oldest and largest publisher of pagan histories and spellbooks, has operated out of St. Paul and Woodbury since the 1960s. It put on some of America's first big Occult festivals and founded the American Council of Witches, which convened at the Great American Witchmeet of 1974 to lay some foundational principles for Neopaganism and discuss how modern witches could improve their public image.

Around that time a famous occultist from Kentucky, a woman named Lady Sheba who aspired to unite all Wiccans, prophesized that the first pagan temple in North America would be built in Minneapolis. That hasn't happened yet, but the hype did draw more pagans to the Twin Cities.

Contrary to popular tales about witches' conventions, which tell of conspiracies by bald and toeless hags to rid the world of children by turning them into mice, Laurie Froberg of Twin Cities Pagan Pride says Paganicon will involve workshops on New Age spirtuality, an art show and craft market open to the public, and a masquerade ball.

Pagans will have a lot to talk about, Froberg says. They'll compare recipes for the High Holy Days, swap ideas for environmental activism, and -- as the number of pagan practitioners and convention attendees grows yearly -- discuss building relationships with other religious and secular groups while correcting misunderstandings about devil worship and animal sacrifice.