Festival season is now underway as the wheel turns and the weather continues to get warmer. Pagan and Heathen communities around the country are stepping outside for daylong, weekend long and even weeklong adventures and community-building. While the early festivals focus on a re-connection to the outdoors after months of cold weather; the midsummer events celebrate the high season of long days and hot sun; and the fall festivals welcome the harvest.Although festival season begins in earnest in May for most of the country, the state of Florida gets an early start due to its climate. Leading off in March are festivals such as the newly created Equinox in the Oaks, held near Ormond Beach, and Phoenix Phyre, held in Lakeland. Florida’s warm temperatures and sea breezes allow for comfortable camping in early Spring.
As the Florida festival season continues, other areas of the country join the fun as the warmer temperatures slowly move north. States in the Southeast begin to see festivals in April. These include daylong events, such as the Atlanta Marketplace of Ideas, in Georgia, or longer camping events, such as ADF-sponsored Trillium Spring Gathering in Virginia. The Washington-based Aquarian Tabernacle Church holds its Spring Mysteries festival at this time. While it is run similar to a festival, Spring Mysteries is mostly held indoors due to the weather.
As April turns into May, festival season truly takes-off across the country. Whether it’s Beltane, May Day or another reason entirely, the first weekend in May seduces people into coming outside and connecting to nature and to their communities. As explained by the Beltane Fire Society, based in Scotland, “the growing power of the sun … provides an opportunity to cleanse and renew the conditions of a community – both humans and their animals – that had spent the dark months indoors.” Since 1988, the society has hosted its annual Beltane Fire Festival on this weekend, as a marker of community-building in that region.
Here in the United States and Canada, the beginning of May sees an extraordinary number of festivals, both big and small; ranging from local celebrations hosted by individual covens to bigger region-wide events. Many of these early May festivals are Beltane-inspired. In Pittsburgh, for example, Grove of Gaia hosts a daylong festival called Grove of Gaia Fest. This year’s event attracted over 400 attendees, hailing from many religious practices. Further south, Florida Pagan Gathering, run by the Temple of Earth Gathering (TEG), holds its weekend long Beltane festival; in Connecticut, the Panthean Temple runs Beltane: Pagan Odyssey Festival; and, in Colorado, Living Earth Church hosts Beltania: a Pagan Celebration and Musical Festival.
There are also many non-Beltane events during May. These fesivals simply encourage people to get outside and come together in community. The Bay Area Pagan Alliance rebooted its popular, daylong spring festival this year. Over Memorial Day weekend, many people head to Kansas for the Heartland Pagan Festival; while in Massachusetts, Earth Spirit Community celebrates the Rites of Spring. During May, Southern Pagans and Heathens drive through the Tennessee mountains to attend Pagan Unity Festival. During this year’s event, Tuatha Dea ran its group drumming workshop. After a rousing grand finale, Danny Mullikan said to the group of drummers sitting in a circle around him, “You all were just communicating. That is community.”
As spring moves into summer and the days get warmer, the population of festivals increase. June sees as many events as March, April and May put together. The biggest, and arguably most well-known, festival is Pagan Spirit Gathering in Illinois, sponsored by Circle Sanctuary. Beginning in 1980, PSG attracts over a thousand attendees and hosts over 400 events. As Circle Magazine editor Florence Edwards-Miller said, “Like Brigadoon appearing from the mists, Pagan Spirit Gathering is essentially a bustling Pagan town that manifests the week of the Summer Solstice every year.” This year’s PSG marks its 35th anniversary.Nearly as old as PSG is Canada’s WiccanFest in Ontario. Despite its name, the popular five-day festival is open to all Pagans and Heathens. Canada also sees the Sun Wheel Music and Arts Festival held in Alberta near the end of the June. And, it is impossible to talk about Canada’s spring events without mentioning the biggest one: Gaia Gathering. Held annually over Victoria’s Day Weekend in May, this event is actually an indoor conference that changes cities each year and attracts attendees from around the country. Gaia Gathering’s mission is to bring people “together to talk about who we are, where we’ve come from, and where we might be going as a religious community in Canada.”
Other popular events in June, include the two-day St. Louis Pagan Picnic, now in its 23rd year; Wisteria’s Summer Solstice retreat; Free Spirit Gathering, Michigan Pagan Fest and EarthHouse’s Midsummer Gathering. The Troth holds its own national event in June called TrothMoot. This year’s four-day festival will be held at Camp Netimus in Milford, Pennsylvania. Next year, TrothMoot will be on the West Coast. Additionally, for Heathens, the Volkshof Kindred sponsors the four-day Northern Folk Gathering in Minnesota.
New to this year’s June festival season is Pan Gaia in California. Sponsored by the North Western Circles Association, the festival will take its “maiden voyage June 20.” Organizers describe it as, “a delightful event of vendors, performers, and presenters distilled down from the best of the best of magical festivals over the past 15 years.” The two-day festival will be held in Fair Oaks, California, and will feature vendors, workshops and a Jim Morrison ritual by Patheos editor Jason Mankey.
The endless opportunities to be outdoors celebrating with fellow Pagans and Heathens continue throughout the summer months. In July, for example, there is Kaleidoscope Gathering; Free Witchcamp; Sankofa Festival; Chrysalis Moon, and Sirius Rising. Wisconsin sees a nine-day Summerland Spirit Festival, described as an “Earth-reverent spiritual retreat where you can experience personal growth, connect with nature and make new friends. And, in Ohio, the long-running Starwood Festival, which began in 1981, kicks off its seven day extravaganza of music, vendors, workshops and more.
In August, there is Pan Fest in Alberta, DragonFest in Colorado, Festival of the Midnight Flame in Michigan and Coph Nia in Pennsylvania. At this point in the year, the festivals begin to take on a harvest theme, such as Harvest Gathering, hosted by the Connecticut Wiccan and Pagan Network, or Sacred Harvest Festival, hosted by Harmony Tribe in Minnesota. Additionally, one of the longest running Pagan events occurs in August. Now in its 39th year, Pan Pagan Fest, sponsored by the Midwest Pagan Council, is held in Monterey, Indiana and this year’s five day festival theme is “Open Spirits, Open Hearts.”
By August, the schedule begins to shift, providing a array of new community opportunities. The Pride season begins in many areas as the longer festivals disappear. Additionally, this is the month that Covenant of the Goddess hosts Merry Meet, its annual meeting and conference. Over its many years, Merry Meet has been both an outdoor festival and an indoor conference. And, finally, this year marks the launch of a new indoor conference, Many Gods West, to be held in Washington. It is one of the few indoor summer events.
Regardless, the U.S. and Canadian festival seasons wind down quickly in September as the focus turns to Pagan Pride Days, Witches Balls and other autumn fun. However, there are still a few remaining festivals left for those who cannot get enough of camping. Lightening Across the Plains, the biggest Heathen-focused event, is hosted in September and held at Gaea Retreat outside of Kansas City. Dubbed a “regional Midwest thing,” the four-day festival includes “Asatru and Craft workshops, Viking Games, a Heathen auction” and much more.Many of the groups that sponsor early spring events also host autumn events. In September, Wisteria invites guests to attend a four-day festival called Autumn Fires. Earth Spirit Community holds an October retreat called Twilight Covening. In Canada, the WiccanFest organizers stage a second festival called Autumn Fest. And, Phoenix Festivals, Inc. hosts Autumn Meet in Lakeland, Florida. Then, finally, in November, TEG hosts a second Florida Pagan Gathering to close out the year.
It is not surprising that Florida, and other southern regions begin and end the festival season. This cycle is wave of warm-weather fun that migrates just like birds. Of course, the many festivals listed above are only a small sampling of what is actually available every year across the country. There are floating festivals, like Hawkfest, and outdoor intensive retreats, such as Reclaiming’s Witchcamp, that appear in multiple places across the country at different times. In 2016, there are already new festivals scheduled, such as the Dragon Hills Pagan Music Festival to be held in May in Bowden, Georgia.
Additionally, there are many smaller very local and private festivals and outdoor events during the entire season. Together with the winter conferences, the Balls, the Moots, the Picnics, the many Pagan Pride days, the year is filled with opportunities to connect to community, find inspiration, enjoy creativity, shop or just kick-back within spaces dedicated to the Pagan, Heathen, Polytheist religious cultures.