HANCOCK, N.H. – TempleFest 2017, the annual summer festival of the Temple of Witchcraft, was held last weekend. Attendees and presenters traveled from all over the country to partake in workshops, panels, and rituals. Did these witches find what they were looking for?Folklorist and anthropologist Dr. Sabina Magliocco says Pagans attend festivals for a range of reasons, “Everything from seeking to immerse themselves completely in Pagan culture, to reconnecting with old friends, experiencing nature in the company of other Pagans, and participating in large group ritual. Some go just to party with friends.”
She says there is no single reason common to all attendees.
A feeling of home
Mat Auryn, a frequent TempleFest attendee, says a feeling of community is what keeps him coming back, “One thing that I keep hearing over and over from people when it’s their first time at TempleFest is how amazed they are at how authentic and sincere everyone is in regards to both their spiritual practices and their desire for genuine community.”
Psychologist Dr. Drake Spaeth agrees that a feeling of community with like minded persons is part of the draw to successful festivals and conferences, but feels there is something deeper at play.
“I wonder if it is not about a sort of spiritual homesickness,” Dr. Spaeth says. “Pagans are often very aware of feeling dis-connected from mainstream community contexts, even as their deep longing for connection with the spiritual nature of the world turns them onto less trodden paths.”
Dr. Spaeth says gatherings allow Pagans a sense of being home in the same sense of the Welsh word hiraeth means longing for a place that doesn’t, or no longer, exists.
Author and TempleFest attendee Devin Hunter finds home at TempleFest and similar gatherings, “Home. We are looking for the spiritual current that makes us feel like we are home and in an environment where we can thrive.”
Hunter says Pagans are a weird, misunderstood bunch of people, and it is rare for them to be able to have conversations with people who understand their spiritual virtues. Festivals offer a place for those conversations to take place.
TempleFest keynote speaker Ivo Dominguez Jr. found camaraderie and shared experience at TempleFest. He says that the discussions shared while sitting around a fire were remarkably rich, and that these types of experiences are what make our community real and grounded.
Pagan gatherings go to great lengths to bring in speakers, presenters, and panelists. The days of the event are often filled with multiple tracks of educational offerings from which to choose.
First time attendee Rhonda Chapman says that, although she chose carefully, she missed some sessions she wished to attend because they were running currently.
Ms. Chapman was there as part of the Assembly of the Wheel’s annual retreat. “For many of the students of the Temple of Witchcraft [this] is the one event they will attend all year where they are face to face with their classmates,” said Chapman.Mr. Hunter agrees, saying that the event was “full of serious Witches who want to grow and learn, so the work and focus are centered on providing avenues for that.” Hunter added that each year he learns new magical techniques that improve his practice.
Mr. Dominguez notes that the festival’s education was so targeted because it was geared towards a specific audience, “Most of the attendees at TempleFest identify as Witches unlike most other festivals and conferences that I attend that have a wider gamut of paths.”
“This allows me to teach my classes with a different focus, and with less back tracking to fill in pieces of knowledge that are more witchcraft specific.”
Phaedra Bonewits has attended Pagan festivals, conferences, and gatherings for decades. She doesn’t foresee a time when conferences or gatherings go away, but says rituals may, if too many attendees attend poorly run rituals.
“People go to a bad ritual or two and think, well, what’s the point, I got nothing out of it. Of course, many, including ritual facilitators, don’t really grok that you’re supposed to get something out of it.”
Dominguez agree that rituals need to be done correctly in order for them to be of value. He says TempleFest 2017 hosted an excellent main ritual.
“I particularly liked the Lammas ritual which served as their main ritual,” he says. “I attend many events where it feels like they’ve given up on the main ritual being immersive, transformative, and participatory.”
Dominguez noted the specifics of what he liked about the Lammas ritual. He said it was meaningful, encouraged participation, and included chanting that raised energy. He also said that it indeed accommodated for those with mobility challenges.
The Lammas ritual was also a favorite of Chapman
“The working was very powerful,” she says. “Choosing bread from a basket representative of one of the Three Rays of the Temple, eating a portion and offering a portion into a larger basket that was then offered to the Sacred Fire. I mean, who doesn’t like a ritual that includes working with Sacred Fire?”
Dr. Magliocco says that effective group rituals are designed to create intense experiences like Chapman and Dominguez described. They also can bind together a group of relative strangers in a temporary intimacy.
Judy Olson, co-author of the book Taking Sacred Back: The Complete guide to Designing and Sharing Group Ritual, also highlights that rituals can bind diverse people together.
“The ritual really becomes an experience that unites them in a common purpose, whatever that may be.”
Mr. Hunter, who hosts rituals across he nation and frequently talks about the power of rituals on his podcast, says our extended communities need shared rituals at gatherings.
“Shared rituals offer an opportunity to build bridges across traditions and that is something I think is very important in contemporary Paganism.”
Mr. Auryn felt the overall success of the event was due to the entire festival being treated as one continuous ritual. “The festival itself feels like a huge ritual and I think it is to some degree. What I mean by that is just like entering a magickal circle, you leave behind all your drama and personal baggage outside of the circle. Once inside, the focus becomes on the working itself, the education, the connecting with others and the serving of the gods.”