AUSTIN, Texas – The one-day event, Austin Witchfest, is the brainchild of Derrick Land, who moved to Austin in 2011. Inspired by a small shop festival in his home town of Harker Heights, Texas, Land’s vision for WitchFest started to form in the Spring of 2019.
This vision of a small, local gathering, grew well beyond his expectations when he started to see the traction that the event gained on Facebook. Over 3,500 tickets were sold and more were purchased in cash at the gate.
While not everyone that purchased tickets online showed up, the attendance for the festival was over 3,000. Land said, “I am so incredibly humbled and thankful for the community because, without them, we would not have this kind of turn out.”
The overall goal of the event was to promote diversity and inclusivity with not just the attendees, but in all paths of witchcraft as this festival was cultivated, “by witches, for witches” as stated by Land.
Land’s goal was to create a family-friendly environment where people could experience a safe space to explore different paths. The festival catered to many of the people who attended by offering a variety of workshops, bringing in keynote speakers, storytime for the children, as well as a various array of vendors who came as far away as New Mexico and Colorado.
Suzie Zurn led the opening ritual with Coven of the Witch’s Moon. It featured a group of women clothed in white with their belts from initiations and crowned with colored flowers that represented their elemental quarter.
“This was their first ritual and some of their first time being out of the broom closet in public,” Zurn explained. “We kept the ritual light, relaxed and very fun with bubbles and everyone was given an egg filled with an Ostara blessing and confetti,” said Zurn, who teaches a wide variety of not only witchcraft but metaphysical and tarot classes, has emphasized a strong belief of empowering women through her teachings with witchcraft.
Keynote speakers, authors Danielle Dionne and Mat Auryn were one of the highlights of the event. Auryn’s book, Psychic Witch was released last month and already gone into a second printing. Dionne’s book Magickal Mediumship has an anticipated release date for later this year.
While Auryn gave an informational and crowd-drawing talk, Dionne conducted a popular workshop called Ancestral Magick and Healing that coincided with her book.
When asked about their influences, the two long time friends had shared that Silver Ravenwolf had been a big part of their early development.
After being asked if he felt that he was continuing Ravenwolf’s legacy, Auryn went on to explain:
Even remotely comparing myself to Silver Ravenwolf is such a huge compliment, as she had a monumental influence and impact on myself as well as my generation and that of others. But there will only ever be one Silver Ravenwolf, just as there will only be one Mat Auryn. More importantly, I feel there isn’t a need to continue Silver Ravenwolf’s legacy yet as her own legacy and work isn’t finished yet either. I do often try to reflect on how I discovered witchcraft at a young age and Silver was instrumental in that. I try to remember that everyone starts somewhere and my own roots of seeking to inform my writing and teaching and Silver’s welcoming accessibility and amazing talent to teach complex topics so straightforward is something I often reflect on and has definitely influenced the manner in which I share.”
Auryn’s topic for his talk, “Magick for All: Witchery from Nothing,” focused on the subject of his book–that with the power of the mind, you don’t need things or objects to perform magic. Auryn also expressed the importance of diving deeper than the esthetics of the “witch look” that people see on Instagram and mistakenly falling under that glamour.
When asked about advice that he had for the practitioners out there, Auryn went on to say, “Do not compare your witchcraft to other people and to focus more on your own practice.”
Dionne was drawn to Ravenwolf’s books when she had begun her journey with the Spiritualist Church. Her book stems from her teachings about psychic mediumship. She focuses on how to incorporate psychic mediumship into practice while covering topics such as how it can not only be used magically but in a healing way for a family lineage. She went on to say that anyone can tap in and use this tool.
Dionne’s relationship with death had started at a young age and she felt called to strive towards giving people the knowledge of not only the natural progression of death but also about learning and communicating with our ancestors.
“There is a great benefit in learning from those that have lived before us,” Dionne explained. “This topic is something that I believe people are very hungry for and many people came up to me after the workshop to share their experiences with death.”
Over 50 vendors set up for the day on the open field at Jourdan-Bachman Pioneer Farms, the site for Austin WitchFest.
Ellen Brooks, of Imagine Soap and Tea, was one of the vendors that had a steady stream of people in and out of her booth from opening to closing and was almost out of all their merchandise by the end of the day.
“This was such an amazing experience!” Brooks exclaimed. “There were people from all over the states that had come to be a part of this festival from as far as Oregon and Mississippi. I don’t think that anyone that expected the turn out to be so amazing.”
While the Imagine Soap and Tea store was stationed at the front entrance of the festival, Penelope with Prairie Fire was in the middle of the action. Traveling from Euless, Texas with her handmade candles and tinctures, she had only been vending about a year after honing her thirty-plus years of herbalism into her products. Attendees stopped by for a glass of lemon water and conversation while shopping at the booth. “I really hope this turns into a recurring event,” Penelope expressed as she bagged up items for shoppers.
When rounding out the back of vendors row, there was Elevenkeep run by Virginia Villarreal. Stocked with incense, oils, crystals and more, Villarreal commented, “I have not had a festival this awesome in years!” The overall response from the vendors seemed to echo the same success with their daily business.
Nokken + the Grim provided a hauntingly beautiful music soundtrack for those who stopped to watch the show as well as those that were enjoying the abundance of shopping and socializing. The trio consists of Karli, Feherlo Gortva and Stephen, who represented the local music scene with a mix of violin, viola, bass clarinet, and electronics.
All three shared their overall feeling of excitement and gladness for the experience of Austin WitchFest, along with hoping to return to play next year. When asked about concerns about the Novel coronavirus, COVID-19, Stephen responded with a chuckle and stated, “Don’t know her, haven’t seen her.”
The looming health concern of COVID-19 was a topic on the minds of a number of attendees. Especially in light of the recent announcement of the cancellation of South by Southwest (SXSW) due to the city of Austin issuing a statement to ban events with 2,500 or more attendees beginning on March 14 in response to concerns over the spread of the virus. SXSW routinely has had an attendance of over 100,000 people and brings in hundreds of millions in revenue for the businesses and of Austin.
TWH spoke with a couple of attendees, Madelyn from Fort Worth, and Andrew from Garland were enjoying the company of the farm’s chickens when asked about their thoughts on the festival and the health threat.
“I thought it was going to be smaller,” said Madelyn in response to her thoughts on the festival’s turn out.
The two friends traveling from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, went on to give their opinions and personal experiences with the virus. Andrew, who is Laotian and Vietnamese explained that he had been, “Getting weird looks, ” because of his nationality.
Madelyne added, “I think it is another outlet to be racist.”
The threat of COVID-19 was concerning enough that some vendors and volunteers had pulled out from being a part of the day’s events. However, the overall consensus seemed to be one of caution and hand sanitizing stations.
In addition to the topic of COVID-19, the festival had also gained attention from some area religious groups that gathered to protest the event.
TWH reported in Jan on church members who had been canvassing the area around the venue with flyers that consisted of a prayer-like chant as well as logistics for those who wanted to protest. Some members of the protest actually bought tickets for WitchFest, gaining entry and access to attendees. They then proceeded to administer prayers, as well as blessings for the attendees. The on-site security team intervened quickly and escorted the praying protesters off the property. There were no other instances of protesting throughout the day.
When asked if there would be another festival next year, Derrick Land gave a resounding, ”Yes!” Land and his phenomenal team that he expressed so many thanks for, will be back next year at the same venue to put on another great event. Land’s vision of diversity and being all-inclusive definitely has shown that he follows his own advice of following your own path and being who you are.
Land ended with a quote from Ru Paul, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love yourself?”
Mistress of Glitz, Glam, and Mayhem, Azure West is a Washington state native turned Texas transplant since 2002. Azure suffers from “helium hand” which has landed her in coordinator positions for Houston Pagan Pride and Council of Magical Arts as Entertainment Coordinator, serving as Special Events Coordinator for her OTO Temple, Bubastis Oasis, as well as various community event leadership rolls. After many years of coordination positions, Azure has now turned to keeping it simple by traveling days at a time throughout the year with ‘Tuatha Dea’ as their “Tuatha Girl Friday” and has done so since 2014.With only having the band shenanigans to tend to, she has decided to branch out and write about the festivals, gatherings and other events that draws community interaction. Given the title of “People Magician” by her tribe of friends, Azure thrives on helping build community. When she is not gallivanting the countryside she conforms to her mundane job as a mortgage closer, working on her goal of being Gothic Martha Stewart, and whatever else she can pile on her overflowing plate of deliciousness called life.