Today is the start of the Faerieworlds Festival in Eugene, Oregon. Faerieworlds is a weekend-long event that mixes fantasy, art, music, mythic themes, and wild creativity to create something that is truly unique within the world of festival culture. Existing in a liminal space between the “transformational” West Coast festivals, Renaissance (and re-enactment) fairs, and traditional multi-stage music events, Faerieworlds is something that is hard to describe until you experience it for youself. As co-founder Kelly Miller-Lopez said in 2009, Faerieworlds opens “doorways to help people connect with beauty and magic.”
“For the first time ever…OMNIA will be bringing the one and only, pure and uncut PaganFolk to the US! Old world Paganism meets the New world tribes! The Clans that were sundered by time, politics and emigration will be re-united for this one amazing, fantastical, artistic and magical Festival in Oregon! I get all goosebumpy thinking about it! Finally we get to play to an audience that speaks our language! FaerieWorlds here we come! Nature has provided us with a lot of energy, and we long to share it with you! See ya there!” – SteveSic Evans-van der Harten of the band Omnia
I would argue, as someone who has experienced Faerieworlds as both an attendee and an employee, that an integral element that makes Faerieworlds so special is that, in many ways, Faerieworlds is very Pagan. While the festival has no religious or theological mandate, and is welcoming to everyone, there is, and always has been, a strong Pagan thread running through the event. For those who simply want to frolic with Wotan the Faerie-Smasher, dress up in glitter and wings, sample from an array of artists, or simply dance to a diverse lineup of bands, the festival provides all that, and more. However, if you go in looking for it, you’ll notice the ritual and Spiral Dance during opening festivities, that headliners like Omnia, S.J. Tucker, Sharon Knight, and Woodland sing songs from within a Pagan frame of reference, and that Pagan luminaries like T. Thorn Coyle are there conducting workshops. These Pagan elements do not dominate, but merely inform the festival, creating a creative ambiguity that resonates far beyond modern Paganism’s borders. As Faerieworlds co-founder Robert Gould put it in 2012, when talking about why Faerieworlds booked singer-songwriter Donovan, all great art inhabits this ambiguous, liminal, space.
“The most common and unifying quality of great art is ambiguity: it’s ability to be experienced and interpreted by people of any gender, age, culture or time.”
This melding of elements, this willingness to stand in a liminal space, has allowed Faerieworlds to strike chord far wider than any explicitly Pagan event, drawing an estimated 6-8000 people per day last year, and with an even bigger year planned for 2013. As I said in 2011, Faerieworlds taps into our primal communal need for festival, for gathering, to honor nature and the numinous.
“Events like Faerieworlds tap into a deep cultural hunger for romanticism, for a re-enchantment of the world that has long been denied by both secular and religious institutions in the West. I don’t think the recent fantasy boom is happening in a vacuum, nor do I think it is any coincidence that a growing number of people are opting out of traditional forms of religion altogether while still holding onto religious beliefs. While Faerieworlds, or Burning Man for that matter, aren’t explicitly “Pagan” they tap into a primal need for festival, for gathering to honor the numinous, the changing seasons, each other, and our own creativity. I think that these events, especially as we weather hard times, will continue to grow in importance. There is a vital roots-up form of small-p “paganism” emerging here that is very compatible with our more formal adoption of Pagan religion.”
Faerieworlds is something magical and unique, something that I think many Pagans need to see, and perhaps emulate. Grown from a small local gathering of friends and family, Faerieworlds has become, in its 12th year, something of an institution in Oregon, rivaling the venerable (and popular) Oregon Country Fair. They did it by realizing that the need to tap into myth, into story, into festival, resonates far beyond the borders of our personal communities, whatever they may be.
I hope to see you at Faerieworlds, and let’s all live our legends!