In 2011, a solar eclipse followed by the dark of the moon was a sensational enough happening that a few people organized a viewing event at the Irish Cultural Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Word quickly spread on Facebook, and what was expected to bring together around 30 people ended up hosting at least 550.
Mark Bailey, who was part of that event, said that he is only sure of that figure because that’s how many pairs of eclipse glasses that were sold.
The overwhelming sentiment which emerged, Bailey recalled, was, “When can we do this again?” The answer was twice a year ever since. Under the name Phoenix Fire Gatherings. the two events, which were until recently run largely by three people, have now formally organized a board to facilitate the work. Bailey is currently the executive director. Its January event, HearthFire Gathering, is historically themed, while the upcoming May BaelFire Gathering is steeped in mythology.
What makes this one-day event stand out is that organizers strive to make it accessible to Pagans of all traditions. The founders come from diverse backgrounds, which helps. Michelle West is a senior Druid in an ADF grove; Michael Erwin,who has since stepped down from the executive board, is a Heathen Goethi; and Bailey himself is a third-degree Wiccan and a Druid, with a public relations background.
“We want people to find the similarities, and leave the differences behind,” Bailey explained. To that end, three years ago they opted to stop hosting rituals entirely. “People were leaving,” Bailey said, because the inclusivity message wasn’t being heard. Rituals will make a return this year, after some careful discussions about how to make participants of different traditions feel welcome in each other’s corners of the “big tent” of Paganism.
“This is a night of fairies, a night of land wights,” Bailey said, but language matters. “Everybody wants to talk bad about each other. ‘Fairy’ and ‘wight’ are prickly words.” The focus is on weaving together elements of different traditions, such as having both a Celtic punk rock band and a native American fusion band playing at different times during the day.
Long term, organizers hope to make this a weekend event that eventually rivals Pantheacon. It’s currently attracting up to 750 people each year.
A Magickal Beltane
The Council of Magickal Arts (CMA) also hosts two events annually, both at Samhain and Beltane. Its upcoming spring festival happens over four days on private land outside Cistern, Texas. Executive Director Carly McNamara provided some details about this month’s festivities, which usually attract about 400 attendees.
We will have your usual plethora of workshops, which can span from craft making to chanting and drumming workshops, and even path specific workshops on Druidry, Thelema, Voudou, and more. We have revel fires and main rituals each evening of the event, which runs Thursday through Sunday. Participants are also encouraged to perform their own smaller and even private rituals during the event.
We also have live music at each event, often using this as an opportunity to promote Pagan and Pagan-friendly music and musicians in Texas. Each event we bring in a guest speaker, usually a specialist on a specific tradition, to give workshops and often to hold rituals. We have had guest speakers from ADF, various Wiccan traditions, Heathen traditions, Sumerians, Vodou, as well as Pagan authors such as Kirk White and Phaedra Bonewits.
CMA owns the land, so the atmosphere can be developed year over year. Part of that development stems from a community-service requirement expected of all attendees. The site has a number of permanent shrines and circles, but it is a primitive camping environment. Non-potable water is available, and attendees are encouraged to bring their own portable showers.
This and all CMA events are family friendly, and while alcohol is permitted, a sober camping space is also available.
Grove of Gaia Fest
Outside of Pittsburgh is a day-long Beltane festival put on by members of the Grove of Gaia, a group affiliated with the Hills and Rivers Council of the Covenant of the Goddess.
“While Grove of Gaia is a Wicca coven,” said Lady Annabelle, “this is really an event for the whole of the Pagan community. It is sober and kid, tween and teen friendly, as well as friendly to persons with disabilities.”
This single-day event begins at 11 in the morning with a maypole dance, and includes half a dozen workshops before another group leads a closing ritual to finish up the day. Annabelle said that there are also “drum circles, and arts and craft vendors, psychic readers, and many healers, as well as food and sweets.” The workshops — all of which are included in the $5 admission price — include such topics as non-binary Paganism, sacred dance, and ritual preparation. Well over thirty vendors will be selling their wares.
Some 350-400 people usually attend from the Pittsburgh area as well as neighboring states. The day includes a food drive for the Food Bank of Pittsburgh, and this year there will be a raffle and plant sale to benefit the local council. This is the tenth annual Grove of Gaia Fest.
A Symbolic Beltane
In the small town of Rosendale, in the Hudson Valley region of New York, members of the Center for Symbolic Studies will be holding their 26th annual one-day Beltane event. Situated on 240 rolling acres, the site includes a massive stone circle that was installed at the behest of landowners Stephen and Robin Larsen. The day’s events include a spring pageant put on by the children’s troupe of Vanaver Caravan, a local dance company. The pageant is embedded with Pagan themes and features gigantic puppets that Robin Larsen herself created for that purpose many years ago.
A maypole or two are danced (the children often do their own), and there is an after-hours ritual for center members and event staff only; all others must be off the grounds by 7 p.m. This is a strictly alcohol-free event.
Brendan Merritt, one of the organizers, said that this Beltane has muted Pagan themes. “It was originally a Pagan festival, and Robin [Larsen] wants to keep that,” he said, with the elements particularly used during the pageant, such as horses being driven between two fires for purification and representations of a god and goddess appearing throughout.
However, many attending members of the general public might not even be aware of those elements. Both of the Larsens were students of Joseph Campbell and wrote a biography of him called A Fire in the Mind, so it’s not surprising that another included theme is “the return of the child of promise.”
According to Brad Gorfein, another festival organizer, a new attraction for this year is a stockade, where imprisoned people may be subjected to a pie in the face. Exactly how someone will end up in stocks has not yet been determined; however, some ideas being batted around include putting bounties on attendees’ heads as a fund raiser, or imprisoning parents who lose their children.
These are only four of the many other local May and springtime events happening throughout the U.S. and beyond. In many ways, these local events are the backbone of our collective communities and are the manifestations of dedication, service and hard work. If your favorite was not highlighted this year, please feel free to include the details below in the comments.