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The ABCs of Pagan Festivals

This article was written by Bronwynn Forrest Torgerson
posted under Pagan

The season of Pagan festivals is upon us! From coast to coast, they stretch in grand array, each with something unique to offer, so many to choose from within your grasp. Here is a festival alphabet to make your selection easier and ensure that you have the experience your heart desires.

All Aboard! You’ve checked your bank account, whipped out your road atlas, and selected a pagan festival you’re eager to attend. A bunch of folks from your circle or coven would love to tag along. Here are some things to consider: Are there financial perks to going as a group? Some events offer a coven discount. Flying can be a nightmare, unless you can all snag seats on the same plane, and it can be a headache trying to coordinate meet-up times at airports and picking up late arrivals via rental cars. Carpooling may be a better option, if you have the time. Caravanning, armed with roadside assistance cards and cell phones, can make for jolly company and the miles will seem to speed by. As for accommodations, be honest with yourself in what you need when dreamtime comes, and how much motel room you are comfortable sharing. Some pagan events are held at campgrounds, which, in addition to tent camping areas, may offer bunkhouse-style cabins. Make sure you have a space to regroup and collect your thoughts amidst what can be a nonstop affair.

Badge Ribbons are quite the merriest chase I know! In the colossal crowd at PantheaCon, held in San Jose, California every February, is a colorful, high-spirited quest. When you check in at the registration desk, you are given your name badge in a clear casing. Your mission—and you will delight in accepting it—is to hit up presenters, merchants, entertainers, and hospitality suites for narrow ribbons imprinted with a variety of slogans. They come in all colors and have adhesive strips along the back so that they can be attached to your name badge. As the weekend goes on, your collection will grow until you look like some decorated general. I hope the custom catches on in many places.

Celebrities. You will meet them aplenty at pagan events and lo, your toes will tingle! But let Z Budapest eat her lunch. Allow Kerr Cuchulain to finish his erstwhile conversation. Don’t butt in or hover like a vulture. Wait for an opportunity to speak a few words; I assure you it will come. Most “celebs” are nice, approachable folks and that moment of one-on-one connection may be the prize you bring home with you.

Donation. Most pagan events have fundraiser raffles to support community outreach, a land fund, or another worthy endeavor. Tuck a small treasure into your suitcase that’s up for adoption at your house. It’s good karma to give to the cause. If you are a craftsman, it’s perfectly okay to include one of your business cards along with the item. Folks who see your contribution may want to look you up and ask how they can get one, too.

Eating Well. One method for staying fed at festivals is to check the registration form and see if a meal plan is offered. If you are staying onsite, this can save you major bucks. Meal plan menus are varied, plentiful, tasty, and normally include a vegan option. If you sign up for a meal plan, be sure to pack a plastic plate, cup, and set of silverware in your bag. More and more events are going green and require you to bring your own. We learned that the hard way at Dragonstar in Colorado, where we ladled for our supper, dishing up three hundred bowls of soup so that we could borrow small silver mixing bowls from the chef and dine ourselves. We were ready for chili and chowder by then!

Friends of the Fey. If your event is an indoor conference, make sure to notice the trees and flowers as you return to your motel room and remark aloud, “Isn’t that splendid! Magic is in this place!” or similar acknowledgments. If you are at a campground, thank the spirits of the place for their hospitality and promise to be a good guest. A Trothmoot tale is told of a fellow who pitched his tent in a fairy ring, drank too many horns of mead, then relieved himself near the ring. Late that night, a wind came up and a driving rain. Everyone else slept dry and well, except for the guy who got soaked to the skin and went chasing his airborne tent down the hill.

Good walking shoes. Your open-toed slings won’t fare very well in sand or clay or rocky terrain, and you will walk countless miles each day. So bring all your finest ritual garb, most magnificent headdresses, and glittering adornments. Just make sure there’s something on your feet that won’t become a torture device after just a few hours, and if you’re driving, toss in your staff or hiking stick too.

Healers. From a mundane perspective, find out where the first aid station or tent is. Headaches, sunburns, and accidents happen. If you practice the healing arts such as reiki or grounding and are comfortable offering some time to assist others, make your name and contact information known at the registration table or information tent.

Instant Community. The moment you sign in and pick up your scheduling packet at the gate, you voluntarily become part of a tribe. Unfamiliar faces will become the ones you turn to for direction or greet in workshops again and again. A sudden show of kindness from an unexpected direction will reveal the strong spine of cohesion that is the spirit of that festival. Whether you are a covener or a solitaire, you are a member of the living energetic body of that festival. This became clear to me one night at a festival when a small child went missing. The little boy could have gone anywhere in those hundred acres of lake and timber. Everyone gathered under the large communal tent, and endless coffee was brewed. A vendor passed out souvenir t-shirts from prior years so all might have an extra layer of warmth. Children were tagged with glow-in-the-dark bracelets; a search line of adults was formed. As we waited for police dogs to arrive, dowsers were called forward and given a Xeroxed map and a red marker. This narrowed down the search. The boy was found around midnight, unharmed except for scrapes and bumps. He’d gone off to see a waterfall, and gotten turned around in the brush. All ended well, and the village that we had become rejoiced.

Jackets. Guys, the sunshine will feel great on your bare shoulders during the day, and you’ll get tons of compliments on your tattoos and piercings. Ladies in gossamer gowns and fairy wisps o’nothing will shimmer and shine. But let that sun go down and a chill wind may blow you all the way to Goosebump City. Pack a jacket, heavier cloak, or your furs. Shivering with delight is one thing, but shaking from the cold is not appealing.

Kids Activities. Many pagan festivals have superb programming for children and are separated out by age group and interest level. Gods bless those volunteers who keep the young ones engaged and safe while mom and dad take in a workshop or ritual. Inquire at the childrens' area as to what form needs to be filled out to drop off or pick up your child, and be prepared to donate a couple hours of your time, as well, to help out in the kids’ area. Other events may have no formal activities for small ones. If childrens' programming is a prime concern for your family, you may wish to check out a one-day event instead. There is great family fun at Pagan Pride Day events, for example. An event’s website will give you a good idea of what age groups it is geared towards.

Law of the Land. If you will be traveling outside your own community, do some research and find out what’s a no-no in a different part of the country or the world. On a Sunday afternoon in a southern state, my love and I parked our rental car and wrestled the Styrofoam cooler out of the trunk. We had a last sandwich and chips; I drank the dregs of a bottle of wine. Suddenly, someone was glaring through my passenger side window. It was a local, and boy howdy, was he mad! It turned out his state still had “blue laws” against alcohol sales or consumption on Sundays—something that never entered my head. He let me off with a scolding, but he could have made a citizen’s arrest. I’ll never do that again!

Musicians and other entertainers are the crown jewels of any pagan event. Do check out the concerts, fire dancers, drum troops, and falconry displays! Your senses will be wakened to things you’ve never heard or seen before, and should you become involved in the planning of something closer to home, you can build a contact network to start with.

“Nekkid.” Some festivals allow nudity in specified areas, away from the front gate and roadside, where you can be “as bare as you dare.” Other gatherings frown on folks without their clothes. Honor the protocol in place and let others do the same. You may also find an element of nudity in a workshop or skyclad ritual. Check your own inner boundaries and decide whether or not to participate.

Offering. Among Craft people, “So mote it be!” is a powerful phrase. But equally potent is, “How can I help?” Utter those words and magic happens. You might end up peeling carrots, running through a ritual, helping put up pavilions, or any number of things while hearing great stories and gaining new skills. At an Asatru gathering, I learned to make Spam, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwiches. The smell wafting out on that brisk Northern breeze is like nothing in all the Nine Worlds.

Photographs. Please ask first before you go snapping off shots. Some subjects will give you their blessing and tell you to flash away. Others may cringe and avoid the camera’s eye, lest the photo wind up online or in print and compromise a life or a career. I am reminded of the antler-crowned mage whose visage made his hometown newspaper’s front page. His church going in-laws were aghast, as on that Samhain night, his wife had said he was out with his bowling league!

Quarters. If you’ve pitched tent in a campground with a shower house nearby, odds are that those showers run on quarters. Estimate a dollar per day per person. My mate and I are frugal and did it on less, but you know those Bavarian cuckoo clocks where on the hour the figures emerge and go whirling madly about? Yep, that was us.

Rucksacks can provide everything you need for a festival day. Into your backpack pockets, tuck a bottle of water and a baggie of trail mix or some other snack. Pop in a notebook and pen for “a hah!” moments in workshops. Take a little money, perhaps your camera, aspirin, and lip balm. Grab your hiking stick and presto, you’re off and traveling light.

Schedules can be as individualized as the people in your group who are attending. As each of you receives your conference schedule, break out the colored highlighters and find a place to sit in the shade. Go over the blocks of time and the offerings listed for each, and pick what most appeals to you. Use a different color for each person in your group, making of the schedule in each brochure a master key to where each of you plans to be. Arrange a time and location you all know, like perhaps the information tent, to meet back up. You’ll have unique experience and plenty of tales to tell.

Transportation. I love shuttles, and the folks who drive them are divine! What a boon to weary feet! Some weekend conferences use golf carts to whisk you down the long and winding road. Indoor events may have arranged for vans to get you from the event motel back to your own accommodations. Find out, via the website and some direct emails, whether this is available, how to sign up, and where or when to catch it. In addition, check to see if the home of your pagan adventure is handicapped accessible. Sandy, rutted, or rocky terrain might not be wheelchair-friendly. Concrete sidewalks or hotel corridors are more readily do-able. Get the facts up front.

Updates are available on a daily basis at most festivals, either by bulletin board postings at the community tent or through printed notices of last minute changes in time, location, or substitution of a workshop, book signing, ritual, etc. It’s wise to start your festival day by looking over that information.

Vendors. We have all heard the Witchy ban on haggling over a merchant’s price, for it is said that to do so cheapens the worth of the thing and lessens its magic. Possibly true, but I’ve struck a few good barters in my time, so I’ll leave that up to you. Here’s a dowsing trick that works for me, and you’re welcome to try it, too. Ground and center and describe the thing you’re seeking aloud to the spirits of the place. Add the top dollar amount you’re willing to pay, and end with, “If it is in this place, lead me to it.” Works like a charm.

Wiccans and Druids and Shamans, oh my! And you will meet a whole wider variety than that, I guarantee you. Hold your critique, open your mind, and try to come away with new knowledge. I’m a Norse Heathen who has been flogged at a Lupercalia rite, sprinkled with water and sweet grass at a Voudoun blessing, and even survived most of a Feri tent revival. Variety makes for interesting time.

(E)xpress your gratitude to the organizers, presenters, entertainers, cooks, and clean-up crew. “I appreciate you” is never over-used and it is richly deserved.

You’ll return to the best events over and over, sharing your adventures with the folks back home and encouraging them to come along. That’s how festivals grow. You may also some components to weave into the pattern of your own local event.

Zoophiles are a regular zoo! I’ve seen pagan gathering goers sporting pythons on their heads, tucking ferrets in their pockets, dressing their lizards in cloaks and wings, and taking white rats for walks on a leash. Before you go loading up the feathered, scaled, and furred members of the family, though, ask the festival organizers how they feel and abide by their say.

Go in gladness, travel safe, and have the time of your life!

Bronwynn Forrest TorgersonBronwynn Forrest Torgerson
Bronwynn Forrest Torgerson was a solitary Witch who practiced the Craft for thirty-five years. She was a member of the Arizona Interfaith Movement and Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS). A long-term organizer of Pagan Pride Day, she was...  Read more

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