Archives For Transformational Festivals

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.

2013 Faerieworlds Map

2013 Faerieworlds Map

“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!

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

  • Jeet-Kei Leung, a researcher into ”transformational festival culture,” heads up a new web documentary series entitled “The Bloom” about these events. The first episode is due in February, but you can watch this 9-minute preview video now, featuring some familiar faces (and places) and plenty of Pagan-friendly themes. Quote: “Amidst the global crisis of a dysfunctional old paradigm, a new renaissance of human culture is underway [...] THE BLOOM tells the vibrant, compelling and colorful story of a cultural renaissance in progress with the artistic sensibility and inspired creativity from which the culture has been birthed.”
  • Art dealer and museum curator Carine Fabius writes about Baron Samedi, Haiti’s Lord of Death and Sexuality, and why the Haitian people love him. Quote: “I also reminded people that the Baron isn’t just the Spirit of Death. As many of the numerous works featuring larger-than-life phalli imply, he is also the Spirit of Sexuality, the extension of which is life. The Baron is death in charge of life; he is a guide and source of comfort during difficult times, and the one who takes life away. He may be unpredictable but he is God’s ultimate helper.”
  • Yesterday was a unique calendrical event: 12-12-12, which of course means that someone had to do something stupid, like carve a pentagram into his 6-year-old-son’s back. Quote: “According to CBS DFW, Brent Troy Bartel of Richland Hills, Texas, told a 911 dispatcher early Wednesday that he had carved the religious symbol — often used as a symbol of faith by Neopagans — on his 6-year-old child because ‘it’s a holy day.’” The star, or pentagram, is a symbol used by many faiths, philosophies, and traditions, and this has nothing to do with modern Paganism. Bartel is now in custody, the boy is in stable condition, and with his mother.
  • The Cornwall “Paganism Sex Case” (as dubbed by the BBC), which I’ve covered here previously, has now been turned over to a jury for a verdict. Quote: “Prosecutor Jason Beal said the duo had “used the cloak of paganism” to commit the offences. He said Mr Kemp had “put up a number of explanations” for him being linked with the case, but they were nothing more than “diversions” or “red herrings”.” During the course of the hearing, murdered occultist and parish councillor Peter Solheim was also accused of being part of their group (Solheim was murdered by a former lover).
  • The male lead in Bollywood film Ek Thi Daayan, Emraan Khan, is apparently talking to real-live Wiccans to better research for the supernatural witchcraft-themed film. Quote: “The actor didn’t know that many practitioners of the Wiccan craft reside in Mumbai, in fact, he didn’t even know that certain forms of witchcraft are practiced till today [...] the actor is making the rounds of the plush residences in Mumbai where Wiccans stay and practise their craft. Emraan visits them diligently, to find out more about their customs and philosophies. Friends of the actor say his research has made quite an impression on him.” So now you know where Wiccans live in India, the “plush residences” of Mumbai!
  • With a new film treatment of “On the Road” on its way, Scott Staton at the New Yorker considers Neal Cassady as a sort of American “muse and demigod,” a holy fool, “the consummate hipster-savant.” Quote: “He presented an extreme embodiment of American freedom to close friends who were determined to become writers, and in being thus grafted onto their work, he became an unlikely literary legend.”

  • Singer, songwriter, and visual artist Phildel sent me a link to her new video “Storm Song,” saying that it’s “a celebration of the natural world,” and that she has “always enjoyed a strong spiritual connection to nature.”I think many folks here will enjoy the song, and the imagery in the video. Her debut album “The Disappearance of the Girl” is set for release in January 2013.
  • “Hobbit” director Peter Jackson says that “West of Memphis,” the documentary on the West Memphis 3 that he produced with partner Fran Walsh, was one he “never intended to make,” but that “it turned out to be the most important one they’ve ever made.” Quote: “Their support turned into funding of scientific research and, when they felt they needed to present the evidence to the public, they eventually decided to make a documentary on their findings. They asked Amy Berg (“Deliver Us From Evil”) to direct.” For all of my coverage of the West Memphis 3, click here.
  • The Baltic Crusades were pretty terrible it turns out: “The Baltic Crusades left major ecological and cultural scars on medieval pagan villages, and new archaeological evidence shows the campaign caused deforestation, pushed species to extinction and may have even ended a pagan practice of eating dogs.” I guess it was good for the wild dogs, but still. Pretty bad.
  • More and more people are starting to notice that the “religiously unaffiliated” are becoming an important voting demographic. Quote: “The religiously unaffiliated voters are almost as strongly Democratic as white evangelicals are Republican, polls show. Their overwhelming support of Obama proved crucial in a number of swing states where the president lost both the Catholic and Protestant vote by single and low-double digits, but won the “nones” by capturing 70-plus percent of their votes.” Maybe it’s time to tone down the Christian culture war stuff?

That’s it for now! My best wishes to everyone heading to Between The Worlds! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of them I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Today marks the beginning of Faerieworlds, a three-day arts and music festival in Eugene, Oregon that embraces the mythic and the fantastic in ways that many of us in the Pagan community would find familiar. A transformational space where each of us is encouraged to embrace the numinous in our own way, our own context. A chance to “live our legend.” As I said last year, this event taps into a blossoming re-enchantment of the world, one that is very in line with modern Paganism, but is not exclusively so.

The stones at the center of Faerieworlds, before the event is underway.

The stones at the center of Faerieworlds’ realm, before the event is underway.

“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.”

Jeet-Kei Leung dubbed Faerieworlds part of a”transformational festival culture,” one that re-merges spiritual/religious practices within the context of secular festival culture. Leung has just crowd-funded a web-series documentary on these festivals, and will be visiting Faerieworlds this year to document and interview participants.

“This webseries aims to explain this remarkable and important phenomenon while retaining the artistic sensibility and inspired creativity from which these festivals have been birthed in the first place. Our goal is to promote coherency and cohesion among those in the culture while building a bridge of understanding with those outside it–to support growth and expansion while preserving the magic and integrity of this potent movement.”

As in previous years, there are number of Pagan musicians involved, including Sharon Knight and SJ Tucker, and this year they are joined by the shamanic sounds of Soriah with Ashkelon Sain, the Persian world-fusion of Niyaz feat. Azam Ali, and, of course, festival headliner Donovan. Those elements, along with the performers, artists, vendors, and costumed participants, create a atmosphere that I feel is unique, one not even duplicated at the many explicitly Pagan events I’ve attended over the years. It’s a focused burst of creative energy that changes you if you’re open to the experience.

This year, I’m not only attending as a journalist, I also work for the producers of Faerieworlds, and I’m hoping to use that access to capture some images, impressions, and interviews that will enlighten and enrich. I would like to give a glimpse of the magic happening in my own backyard, in hopes that perhaps you’ll join me here someday, or even be inspired to create that pluralistic, transformational, fusion in your own backyard. Expect updates throughout this weekend!

The TEDx Youtube channel recently uploaded a talk by Jeet Kei Leung from TEDxVancouver 2010 on transformational festivals. The half-hour presentation focuses on West Coast-oriented festivals and events like Faerieworlds and Burning Man and talks about how these events re-merge spiritual/religious practices with secular festival culture.

Jeet Kei Leung specifically references how many of these festivals have adopted practices and rituals from modern Paganism, incorporating opening and closing circles, altars, invocations of sacred land, and pre-Christian (often Goddess) imagery. I’ve written about the Pagan current within Faerieworlds before, and many scholars, including Sarah Pike and Lee Gilmore, have talked about the Pagan (and “pagan”) elements within Burning Man.

While I appreciate Kei Leung giving voice to this growing trend, I do think its far larger, and older, than he might think. Yes, something unique did happen when rave/dance culture intermixed with the West Coast’s tendency to hold events in nature, but modern Pagans have been holding multi-day outdoor festivals with many of the elements he describes for over 30 years. In addition, these events, like Pagan Spirit Gathering, Starwood, Brushwood, and Wisteria, are held in the Midwest or East Coast. The reason Pagan threads have woven so easily into modern transformational events like Burning Man is because we had a thriving festival culture of our own. I also think that indoor events (like Dragon*Con), while fundamentally different from outdoor events, are starting to take on the same liminal/numinous/spiritual/tribal features.

Finally, any discussion about how Western festival culture has taken on a spiritual dimension should recognize the great debt we owe to European festival culture. Not just to 1990s Rave culture in England, but to the vast tapestry of long-running music and (sub)cultural festivals that have slowly evolved into entrenched tradition. It’s in Europe, after all, where even the Goths go camping. Faerieworlds, for example, is very much in the tradition of fantasy-oriented European festivals like Castlefest, merged with Pagan, Burner, and Tribal elements. Still, no 30-minute talk can cover everything, and I appreciate Jeet Kei Leung articulating this as an important trend. I look forward to his in-progress book “Dancing Together into The Great Shift: Transformational Festivals & The New Evolutionary Culture”.