Column: Pagan Festival Season in Ontario

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[Walking the World is a new addition to our weekend columns. It will feature different Pagan and Heathen writers from outside the U.S.A. bringing new perspectives and unique outlooks to The Wild Hunt. In our inaugural post we introduce Dodie Graham McKay, our Canadian-based Walking the World columnist. Dodie is an initiated Witch and independent film maker living in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. She has been involved in magic, music and media since the late eighties, and finds it important to be connected to the currents and communities that influence our art, environment and magical practices.]

Greetings from Canada!

Summer has finally kicked in after what will no doubt go down in history as one of the harshest Canadian winters on record. For many Pagans, this means we can finally head outside for ceremony and celebration. This time of year also means festival season!

The Labyrinth field at Wic-Can Fest and an Ontario summer sky." [Photo Credit: Alex Del Busso]

The Labyrinth field at Wic-Can Fest and an Ontario summer sky.” [Photo Credit: Alex Del Busso]

Canada’s Pagan festival hotbed can be found in the southern tip of the province of Ontario. The land mass is only about 15 percent of the entire province but it is the most densely populated and the southernmost region in Canada, with more than 12 million people calling it home. This high population means that it is the part of the country with the largest Pagan population as well, and where you have that many Pagans, you will have festivals. From May until October, Pagans from many paths host an impressive number of events throughout the region.

[Public Domain Photo]

[Public Domain Photo]

Much of the festival activity occurs at Raven’s Knoll, a Pagan-owned and -operated campground and event centre located near Eganville, Ontario.This community-driven space will host seven festivals this season as well as LARP events and spiritual retreats. Raven’s Knoll also holds work weekends, where volunteers get together to work on projects to improve the site or do a major clean up of the land following one of the large events. The marquee event of the year is Kaleidoscope Gathering (KG),which will be held from July 30 – Aug. 4 and is the largest Pagan festival in Canada. It may also be the most diverse, inclusive and colourful event on the Canadian festival circuit and everyone should visit at least once!

In recent years, the Kaleidoscope Gathering has had hundreds of people contribute to the event, from longtime Festers who camp for weeks to interested seekers just checking it out for one day. This year KG promises to be huge as it is the 25th anniversary edition. As notes on the KG website:

The history of the festival is deep and reflects the evolution of Canadian Paganism, from its intimate origins in a kitchen party through to an ever-widening circle for friends, to a roaming gathering for souls on a kindred spiritual journey, to a village of living imagination that manifests every summer at Raven’s Knoll. Over the years we have established a culture of open-minded spiritual revelry for the entire family and instituted many cherished traditions, such as rituals of the Stag King and Trials of Artemis, the Rainbow Pride Parade, the Women’s, Men’s and Third Gender rituals, nightly drumming and dancing, and … of course … the Bardic Competition.

2_KG BannerWhile Kaleidoscope Gathering may be the largest, the title for longest running goes to Wic-Can Fest. Held each year on or about the second weekend in June, Wic-Can Fest started 33 years ago. Since the beginning, this festival has provided an inviting and friendly environment for members of the Pagan community and curious seekers to gather for the purpose of shared learning, ritual, workshops and fellowship in a pristine and lush outdoor setting. From the cabins to the campground, the forest to the icy cold, clear river, the Mansfield Outdoor Centre, an outdoor education facility, is absolutely idyllic. It is trademark of Wic-Can Fest to ensure that the schedule is packed with opportunities for individuals to learn from and network with community Elders in good standing and have a chance to get acquainted and ask questions. There is also a meal plan available and the food is prepared on-site by a fun loving and cheerful staff (at least that was what I told myself when I got up at 6 a.m. to contribute a volunteer shift…what was I thinking?)

One of the striking things about this festival is also the multigenerational atmosphere. It was not uncommon to see three generations of the same family enjoying activities together or even volunteering and helping to make the festival happen. As the organizers started having children of their own they identified that if you want your event to succeed, you need to invest in making it family-friendly and getting the children involved in the work. This investment has paid off and now those children are taking their places as future leaders in the community. If you want to know what the past, present and future of this Pagan community looks like, here it is.

Festival Coordinator in charge of programming, Anne-Marie Greymoon had this to say about what makes this festival special:

The underlying philosophy of Wic-Can Fest is to make it a place for all sorts of varied Pagan paths to come and celebrate together; to meet each other and realize what a big diverse community we have and also it makes it a meeting place for people to find the tradition they are seeking. So we place a huge onus on the qualifications of the people presenting

The Dragon Ritual Drummers, live at Wic-Can Fest 2014 [Photo Credit: D. Graham McKay]

The Dragon Ritual Drummers, live at Wic-Can Fest 2014 [Photo Credit: D. Graham McKay]

This year’s event was packed with workshops, music, fellowship and fireflies. The theme was “One Drumming Village” and the five-day event was certainly filled with the rhythm of many drums and dancing feet. On Saturday night the Dragon Ritual Drummers (DRD) treated us to a concert. DRD is based out of the Niagara Falls/ St. Catherine’s area and has been constant on the Ontario Pagan circuit since its inception in the early 2000s. Since then DRD has traveled throughout North America playing its unique blend of tribal rhythms as well as hosting Voodoo ceremonies and workshops at Pagan gatherings. A ritual honoring Harriet Tubman and the Spirits of the Underground Railroad was hosted by these guys Friday night and it was a uniquely Canadian and meaningful way for all present to come to know the ancestral energy of those African-Americans who fought their way to freedom from slavery by following Harriet Tubman, aka Mama Moses, from the southern United States to freedom in St. Catherine’s, Canada.

The cairn of stones and a wooden cross, symbols of the Underground Railroad, lit with candles to invoke the spirit of Harriet Tubman to aid our magic [Photo Credit: Todd Fashion]

The cairn of stones and a wooden cross, symbols of the Underground Railroad, lit with candles to invoke the spirit of Harriet Tubman to aid our magic [Photo Credit: Todd Fashion]

The festivities at Wic-Can Fest carry on into its sister festival, Harvest Fest, which is organized by the same team at the same location. This year it will be held from Oct. 11 – 14 and will also feature the same high quality workshops, speakers and entertainment as Wic-Can Fest. As the website promises:

Create warm memories, walk the Labyrinth, dig in the dirt, let the children run free in the fields, the wood and howl at the moon, pick plants, bake bread, make a magical craft, help us welcome the land spirits for one last dance, share a warm bowl of stew, drum-drum-drum, dance at least 3 rounds around the sacred fire, sing and chant and witness Nature in all Her glory as She puts on Her red mantle.

Harvest Fest provides one last blast of festival heat before another unpredictable southern Ontario winter.

Here is a list of festivals coming up this summer and autumn in Ontario and other parts of Canada. It is by no means an exhaustive list, but does represent some of the opportunities to camp, network, learn and explore all that Canadian festivals have to offer.

Spirits of the Earth Festival
July 8 – 13, 2014
Fifteen minutes west of London, Ontario

July 17 – 20, 2014
461 Penetanguishene Road
Barrie, Ontario

For a complete listing of events at Raven’s Knoll explore their website. It really is a special place, tenderly loved and cared for by Pagan folks. It really seems like that Pagan place many of us dream about having access to and the river is amazing to swim in.

A few other festivals across Canada:

Sunwheel Music and Arts Festival
Friday, June 27, to Monday, June 30, 2014.
Near Busby, Alberta
This year featuring Damh the Bard!

Pagans on the Rock
July 3 – 6, 2014
Duncan, British Columbia (on Vancouver Island)

Aug. 1 – 4, 2014
Near Edmonton, Alberta

Mabon – Autumn Equinox Festival
Sept. 12 – 14, 2014
Bird’s Hill Provincial Park
Thirty minutes north of Winnipeg, Manitoba