BETHEL, Vt. –Whether or not there is such as thing as “Pagan community” is as slippery a concept as the definition of “Pagan” itself. The core question is whether or not people who follow vastly different traditions have enough in common to share a common label, or a common table. Some festivals are positioned to reinforce a feeling of community. For example, at the end of Pagan Spirit Gathering participants don’t just leave; they head out on a “year-long supply run.”
For those who participate in one or more festivals during the warm weather, it’s an opportunity to let down some personal guards and be temporarily freed from the pressures of the overculture. Festivals are often the only way for many Pagans, Heathens and Polytheists to worship in groups, learn from respected authors and elders, and compare notes with co-religionists. Within these spaces, they can recharge their spiritual batteries and become inspired to deepen religious practice. Joy and revelry are also not at all uncommon. As such, festivals represent a mixed blessing for would-be participants who struggle with a substance abuse problems, or those wishing to continue a recovery process without backsliding.
If you’ve ever attended a Pagan festival, you’re familiar with post-festival letdown. You spent a weekend, or a week, at fest being fully yourself; living your ethics with every breath; being emotionally open to others; meeting amazing people who now feel like family to you; relearning to love your body and embracing your unique beauty. You feel glorious and strong and loved. And then you go home, away from all those people you’ve grown so close to in such a short time, where you cover up your religion and you cover up your skin, to a greater or lesser degree. Insecurities creep in.
Harmony Tribe, the group that produces Sacred Harvest Festival (SHF), a Pagan camping festival held in SE Minnesota, celebrated its 17th year last week. While the festival has experienced ups and downs over the years, most recently a new campground zoning restriction limiting night time drumming, it now faces the challenge of finding a new location. The Harmony Tribe stewards announced at this year’s festival that it was the last time the event would be held at Harmony Park. They also said that they had not yet secured a place to hold the festival next year.*
The campground, which has hosted the festival for all 17 years, is a favorite with attendees. It’s small, private layout combined with a full grove of Burr oak trees gave the festival an intimate feeling and helped attendees connect with nature and one another.
The 1960’s and early 70’s Pagan culture was born of ecofeminism, British Traditional Wicca, and the counter-culture hippie movement. The Goddess (or God) within was explored and nature in all its beauty was celebrated as more conservative ideology was abandoned. An outward manifestation of these new ideals was often expressed though nudity. Nudity was seen as a statement of freedom from conventional structures and a way to worship the divine in all its forms. The Charge of the Goddess specifically said, “And ye shall be free from slavery; and as a sign that ye be really free, ye shall be naked in your rites; and ye shall dance, sing, feast, make music and love, all in Her praise.“
When Pagan festivals sprouted across the US in the late 70’s and early 80’s, nudity went from the living room to the campground. If you attended a festival it wasn’t uncommon to see nude Pagans dancing around a fire or listening to music.