Thirty Years of Festival Culture

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Though I’m still processing the experience, I wanted to start unpacking my festival experience for you here at The Wild Hunt. While Pagan Spirit Gathering isn’t the first Pagan festival I’ve attended (that would be Florida Pagan Gathering), it was certainly the longest, largest, and one of the oldest continuing events of its kind in the United States. For the first time the idea and experience of immersion into an intentional, albeit temporary, Pagan community fully clicked within me. This being the festival’s 30th anniversary, I was doubly blessed to be witness to many remembrances, stories, and events that showed just how much America’s Pagan festival culture has shaped modern Paganism.

It’s difficult to conceive of now, in an era of social networking and easy communication, that modern Paganism was once a series of walled gardens with very little in the way of ongoing interaction or exchange. Attempts at Pagan councils from the late 1960s through the 1970s (the Council of Themis in 1968, Council of Earth Religions in 1972, and the American Council of Witches in 1973) did not endure. But the emergence of outdoor Pagan festivals succeeded where other initiatives failed, and gave birth in this country to a shared culture that we didn’t truly possess before.

“The first [Starwood] festival was small compared to things nowadays, but that gave everyone a better chance to get acquainted…Early Pagan gatherings were highly communal and informal. At festivals when I was giving a concert, such as with early PSGs, early Starwoods, and the Pan Pagan Festival out of Chicago, people sat on the ground in a wide semicircle in front of the performer, and car headlights were sometimes used as stage lights. Other times, there were Coleman lanterns, flashlights, or electric lights, depending on what was available. Microphones might or might not be used. There was a real sense of intimacy with the audience, because they were only a few feet away, and there was nothing to separate us. I encouraged people to sing along on choruses, which helped bring us together, too.” – Jim Alan, Pagan musician, and former partner of Selena Fox (excerpt from an unpublished interview).

I’d like to share two audio interviews that were conducted by the Pagan Newswire Collective at the 2010 Pagan Spirit Gathering that give a sense of the history of Pagan Spirit Gathering, how these events build community, and some of the stories from 30 years of Pagan festival. The first is an interview conducted by Star Foster of Patheos.com with Selena Fox that delves into the early history of Pagan festivals, the founding of PSG, and her many experiences over the years.

The second interview, conducted by Star Foster from Patheos.com and Dave from the Proud Pagan Podcasters, talks to Arthur Hinds from Emerald Rose, and David Doersch from Coyote Run about their many experiences at Pagan Spirit Gathering, showing how this event builds and binds community.

I hope you’ll take the time to listen to both interviews, especially if you’ve never been to a major Pagan festival, and get a sense of the power and endurance of these events in peoples lives.  Stay tuned to future posts, as the Pagan Newswire Collective recorded several hours of interviews with a variety of participants, and we’ll be making these resources available to the Pagan radio/podcast community in the near future. I’m hoping in a future post I’ll discuss my personal feelings of PSG, and how I feel it has changed me.