The Magic of Fall Festivals

Faery at the Festival

I love Autumn.  There is no season like it.  The air is crisp, the colors intoxicating, and the seasonal selection of food unbeatable.  I don’t know a single human being who is not enamored with fall.  There are many ways to enjoy this season of bounty and beauty, but one of my favorites is to take advantage of the numerous fall festivals that appear all across the country, in small towns and cities alike.

Fall festivals have transformative powers.  Even in the city, Autumn reminds us of the pleasures of country living and of simpler times.  Like the Yule season, Autumn demands colorful celebration, which changes stoic and crowded city streets into brightly bedecked havens of harvest hospitality.  Most fall festivals contain some hint of the harvest theme and often will include stalls dedicated to local farmers and artisans. I love prowling the stalls for seasonal flavors I have not tried or old favorites presented in a new way.   This year I tried garlic ice cream for the first time.

For many Pagans Summer is the festival season, but I prefer the festivals of fall.  I begin taking advantage of the fall festival scene in September with the many celebrations of Pagan Pride Month.  This year I attended the Pagan Pride celebration hosted by the Eastern Massachusetts Pagan Pride Project in North Andover, MA.   It was the best PPD I’ve ever attended.  The location at Harold Parker State Forest was cozy, pretty, and comfortably close to nature.  The vendors were good, the workshops amazing (I attended a great herb walk with Susun Weed), and the music was kickin’.  Even now I look forward to celebrating PPD with the Pagani of Eastern Mass. next year.

Come October the fall festival season really heats up.  With the harvest flowing in like the tide and Halloween just around the corner, there is no end to the celebrations.  However, there is one celebration that I take advantage of each year, the Renaissance Festival.  Renaissance festivals are magical and exciting places with obvious Pagan undertones (for more about this check out the Autumn issue of Witches & Pagans). Renaissance festivals, like Halloween, are an excuse to let our inner witchlings out to play.  My inner witchling likes to attend ren fests in breezy black dresses and a red velvet cloak.  I get a kick out of eating smoked turkey legs and watching the daring and sometime ridiculous performances.  But I can’t lie; I mostly attend ren fests for the shopping.  Vendor stalls at renaissance festivals are a smorgasbord of Pagan delights.  Any decent ren fest will have at least one good herb and oil dealer, several incense shops, numerous clothing shops with fantastic options for ritual garb, and many shops selling statues, trinkets, and jewelry of a witchy or Pagan nature.   My coven sister, AutumnMoon, and I go shopping for ritual effects every year.

No fall festival season is complete without celebration Halloween and the mother of all Halloween parties takes place in Salem, MA.  Each year my coven, Cat’s Claw, visits Salem, MA for the fun, history, and yes the shopping unique to the Witch City.  Although there are endless tourist trap distractions to amuse, I prefer to take in the more historical attractions.  My favorite is the House of Seven Gables – yes the actual house depicted in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous book.  There’s something amazing about walking through a structure with such literary and historic importance.  Salem has also devoted itself to preserving the history of its infamous Witch Trials and there are several historical houses and sites to visit in connection to that sad chapter in American history.  There’s so much to be said about Samhain in Salem that I think I’m going to save it for a later post. Needless to say, I can’t wait to continue my tour of fall festivals.  Below are links to some of my favorite festivals in New England. Enjoy & Happy Harvest!

Pumpkin Festival

Connecticut Renaissance Faire

Keene Pumpkin Festival

King Richard’s Faire

North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival

Pagan Pride Project

Salem Haunted Happenings

Coming Out of the Broom Closet . . . Again

empty classroomComing out of the broom closet the first time was easy.  I was a sophomore in college, young, brazen, and drunk off my newfound independence.  I didn’t worry about harassment or discrimination.  As a young, black, woman I ate that kind of stuff for breakfast and was genuinely unafraid.  Of course, I had little to lose back then – no professional affiliations, no job that couldn’t easily be replaced, and my familial relationships were tenuous at best.  Things have changed over the years and I have experienced the fear and pain of being harassed on the job.  I have been told I am going to hell by my supervisor.  I have been asked if my religion is “official” by human resources.  And I’ve seen the apprehension and confusion in co-workers’ eyes as my pentagram fell out of my shirt.  So I have learned to play it cautious and feel out my environment before I decide when and how to come out.
Tomorrow I begin my first day as an elementary school teacher and I haven’t decided what to do about coming out of the broom closet. If it were only staff and students I had to worry about I wouldn’t hesitate to wear my pentagram tomorrow, but I’ll have to deal with parents too and parents can be tricky. I know from working at the school for the past two years, that many of our students and their parents share a very strong and traditional Christian leaning.  I’m not sure how parents will react if they see a pentagram dangling from the neck of their child’s teacher.  Will they freak out?  Make accusations?  Ask embarrassing questions?  Assume I worship the devil?  Any and all are definite possibilities.
Up until now I have chosen to keep my religious practices separate from my job while working at this school.  However, things feel different now.  I am taking on a full-time position and will be engaging with more students and more staff.  To keep this part of myself completely hidden would feel like a lie.  I don’t plan to shout about Witchcraft from the rafters, but I want to feel comfortable wearing my pentagram.  I wear it everywhere else. Why should I be barred from wearing it to work?
It’s all so complicated.  Sometimes I wish for the blind privileges afforded practitioners of the Christian faith.  To go where I want, wear what I want, and say what I want about my faith without contemplating thoughts of discrimination.  Knowing that I will have time off of work for my most important religious holidays because they are nationally recognized.  To comfortably assume that everyone in the room accepts my faith and is probably a member of the same.  To enjoy such privileges would be bliss, but that’s not the world we live in.  At some point I’m going to have to make a decision – to proudly open the closet door and risk persecution or to continue to peak through the crack, hiding who I am.

A Witch’s Responsibilities

June is International Pagan Values Blogging Month and Pax from Chrysalis issued a challenge to his “fellow Pagan netizens” to write about the morals and values that we have found along our Pagan paths.  If you are interested in reading some essays by other authors, check out MetaPagan.

Pentacles

In my early exploration of the Craft I ran across a statement that said to become a Witch one need only declare out loud “I am a Witch” three times and it is done.  I am certain the original author did not mean to imply that walking the “path of the Wise” was a choice to be made capriciously or that the path itself was easy.  However, in my naïve stage, I truly believed that being a Witch was as easy as making a statement.  What I quickly learned is that becoming a Witch is like eating the forbidden fruit from the mythical Garden of Eden.  Upon embracing the path of the Witch, the blinders were off and I could truly “see” the world.  There’s a great deal of responsibility that comes with awareness.

Having chosen a path that worships nature and finds the Divine in all things, I believe it is my responsibility to steward the planet and all life on it.  I cannot, in good conscience, ignore the consequences of my actions.  The more I learn about Nature and her interconnected workings, the more aware I become of how far-reaching my actions can truly be.  If I know an action is harmful to the planet, cruel to animals, or unjust to people, I feel obliged to look for an alternative.  In this way, I am tempering myself into a more compassionate and respectful human being.  Ignoring the consequences of my behavior corrodes my spiritual core, allowing my thoughts and actions to become increasingly self-serving – like a negative, downward spiral.

Adopting stewardship as my golden rule has greatly changed my life.  I returned to a vegetarian lifestyle after six years of eating meat not because I think eating meat is wrong (on the contrary I rather enjoy it), but because I know that the conventional meat industry is cruel, inhumane, and unhealthy.  Until I can find a farm where the animals are well treated and allowed to live out their lives healthily and naturally, I have chosen to abstain.  I have made similar decisions regarding eggs, which I now get directly from a local farmer that allows her chickens to roam free, and dairy.  As in nature, I have found that one lifestyle choice always impacts another part of my life.  My choice to humanely source animal products for my dietary needs has led to my supporting local farmers who desperately need the financial backing of their community.  I have also sought out others in my community who are seeking to make their lives more sustainable.  Now I am establishing connections and friendships with my neighbors, something that is becoming increasingly rare in inner city communities.  When I choose to follow my heart and do what I believe is right, I am rewarded ten-fold.  This is my interpretation of “harm none” and my way of honoring the Mother who so generously takes care of us each day.