The Liminality of Festivals

For the past two years or so I’ve been blogging for Witches and Pagans. As some of you may or may not know, my life is currently in a state of upheaval.  While I’m not yet comfortable talking about that and while I sort out everything else that is going on, I thought I would start publishing some of those posts here. I don’t know whether or not I will stay at Witches and Pagans when all is said and done, but…I think a lot of those posts were really great and I would like to both share them with you and to be able to keep them.

So I will start with this one, “The Liminality of Festivals,” which I originally published July 25th, 2012.

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I just returned from Sirius Rising, a festival held at Brushwood Folklore Center in Sherman, NY.

For me, festival is a liminal experience. That probably sounds rather cliche in this context (who doesn’t like to bring up liminality?), but every time I go to a festival, something life altering ends up happening.

After the last festival that I went to, I hit a young buck with my car coming home. The police officer who arrived to help me, told my father as I was sitting on the side of the road next to my completely shattered car, that I was lucky to be alive. At the time, with a full Mabon moon riding red and heavy in the night sky, I assumed that I hadn’t given enough of myself that Mabon and that some more blood needed to be offered.

Now, looking back on the events of that festival and what happened in my life around that period (all of which started right before that particular festival), I’m pretty sure a particular God was giving me a very clear message about a decision that I had just made, letting me know that I was going to have to change course to set myself back on the proper spiritual path.

The events of that autumn changed me forever, and as with any initiatory experience, I think that I had to have that experience to get where I am now. I had to come face to face with the Underworld, both that night and once again later in that Fall at Samhain, to enter back into life. Yule, as it’s supposed to, brought the beginnings of the possibility of life back to me. While the Wheel of the Year is pretty clear in its metaphorical meanings, that year demonstrated many more of its actual practical realities on my life. And where I am now is a very happy, healthy place, largely because of the wonderful man that those events led me to.

This was, as I see it, my first real initiatory experience, though it was neither planned nor officiated by anyone human, and was messy and rather drawn out, with Death serving as a grim sort of Summoner. The Pirates of the C.U.C. Constantine had helped me put a name on everything that I had always felt up to that point in my life as Pagan, and this experience, assisted patiently by my pirate sisters, was my transition to my current Wiccan path.

This year, at the first festival I’ve been to since the last one, I took my next Wiccan elevation. While I’m still a ways away from actual initiation in my current tradition, I think that first walk between the worlds was the only reason that I was allowed to move onto this one.

b2ap3_thumbnail_tree_20120725-182000_1On another forum that I participate in, someone was questioning the role that initiation plays in Paganism. I feel I understand that role now. Without that initiation, nothing that has come since could have been allowed to happen. Initiation is a sort of death: it is the gateway through which you have to pass to move forward. You have to be tested, whether it is by someone else or by yourself; and you must face Death to move on. Festival plays a big role in this for me. It is a place that you go that is between the worlds (without you ever having to cast a circle). Going to festival takes you out of the mundane world. While I live my Pagan life 24/7, unlike many Pagans who are not able to be out of the broom closet, festival is still an important place for me to go to be fully myself. While I sit at my desk all day at my nine-to-five job, I have to curtail much of my true self. At festival, dancing naked around a fire, the wild, primitive me has a rightful place of existence. The Goddess flows through me and happily leaps with the excited beating of my heart in ways that She can’t manifest herself in the “real” world. Festival is a path between the worlds where you get to exist for a full week. Many things can happen in seven days when you walk between the worlds.

It also helps to remind me of the sheer joy of being a Pagan. While I study Wicca seriously and constantly, and love what I am doing, festival reminds me in a much more visceral manner about what being Pagan is and what has always drawn me to this life.

All last week, I kept stumbling across snakes. At the beginning of this festival, I had formally asked for my next elevation, but didn’t think that it was going to happen that week. I didn’t find out until near the very end of festival that it was actually occurring. Right before the actual ritual, I was sitting just outside of Brushwood’s amazing Labyrinth, starring at the Bottle Tree that they had erected for their Spirit ritual, contemplating what this elevation would mean to me. I looked up at the gorgeous and expansive night sky to witness two shooting stars. Stumbling out of the woods later, I happened to look up to see another one. The Gods were clearly walking with me once again.

This initiation was not as life altering as that very first one, but it will still have as many profound effects on my life. And I draw some satisfaction that correct decisions brought me to a much more peaceful and quick initiation this time. Would this have happened without the atmosphere of the festival? No. There was more than the usual amount of magic in that place that assisted me to further my journey into Paganism. Festivals can be many different things to many different people, but they allow for things to occur in life that perhaps can’t occur elsewhere. The level of magical energy simply amplifies all that one experiences. Whether I am hanging out with Pirates or with my Wiccan coven, festival is a place of spirit and family. While events around festival aren’t always pleasant (just ask that deer), they are vital to our existence as Pagans.

If you haven’t tried a festival yet, take a week and do it. It is not an experience that you will ever find anywhere else. You never know what might be waiting in the shadows of the forest for you, but festival is a place where you certainly might find out.

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