Festival season for Pagans basically begins in early spring (March) and wraps up in late summer (August), though there are other things going on in the winter as well, and Halloween is especially big with Witches, but I’m sure you knew that already.
Festivals can be enormous gatherings with thousands of people attending from all over, sometimes even internationally.
Other festivals and events can be local gatherings hosted by a Pagan community council or even a single coven. They can run from several hours to several days in length.
Historically Pagans love to party and these events typically involve food, music, celebrations, drumming and chanting, dancing, watching performances, attending classes, lectures, and workshops, participating in ritual, and purchasing items from fun and unique vendors. A lot of gatherings have also taken the extra care to arrange entertaining events for children so they can also be included.
The festival season usually is centered around three of the Witches Sabbats (holidays).
Beltaine/Bealtinne/Beltane (also called May Day, Walpurgisnacht, Roodmas, Cethsamhain, Calan Mai) — The sabbat itself is typically celebrated April 30-May 1, though different seasonal variations or traditions are acceptable. Some traditions celebrate Beltaine according to astrological timing, either on the full moon in Taurus (which occurs between April 20-May 20), or when the sun crosses 15 degrees Taurus (usually around May 5-7). It is always recognized as the beginning of the heat of summer and the lusty renewal of life and fertility. Celebrations can go anywhere from mid-April to mid-May in recognition of this sabbat. Common things for celebrating Beltaine gatherings involve erecting a Maypole and dancing around it, Crowning a Queen and King of The May, and couples coming together for handfasting rites — a ritual “marriage” that lasts for a year and a day, at which time they may wed or go their separate ways. Ritually, the focus on this sabbat is celebration of the God and Goddess joining together (yes, physically), faeries, summer, and love.
Litha (also called Summer Solstice, Midsummer, Alban Hefin, St. John’s Day) — This sabbat occurs on the day of the summer solstice, which can vary from year to year, but falls between June 20-23. Festivals and gatherings to honor this sabbat may take place any time in June and even sometimes in early July. This is a day to recognize and honor the height of the Sun’s power. In many traditions, the sun is seen as a symbol of the God and this sabbat honors him in all of his glory, because hereafter, his strength will diminish as the days grow shorter. Traditions that honor the duality of the Oak and Holly Kings will re-enact their timeless battle for the crown where the Oak King yields to his brother until they meet again at the winter solstice in December and he reclaims his throne. Midsummer is well-known for being connected to fairy activity, and many celebrations enjoy this time to build fairy houses, make flower garlands, and leave presents for the fae in the nooks of trees and under roots.
Lughnasadh/Lunasa (also called Lammas or Loafmass) — This sabbat occurs July 30-August 1, with seasonal variations or traditions that celebrate it astrologically on the full moon in Leo (between July 20-Aug. 20) or when the sun crosses 15 degrees Leo (usually Aug. 3-7). Any time from mid-July to mid-August is appropriate for a festival or gathering centered on this sabbat. This is the first harvest and celebrates the gathering up of grains and fields. The God’s life is given over in sacrifice to the land and he is cut down (John Barleycorn) to feed his people. Celebrations of this sabbat involve sports and games of skill in honor of the Celtic god Lugh and his foster mother Tailtiu. Bonfires, breads and cakes, and a feeling of thanksgiving and acknowledgement that the summer is coming to an end with colder weather and shorter days approaching are themes of this sabbats rituals.
These are some things to keep in mind when you are attending a festival or event:
- If it is held outdoors, dress for the weather and be prepared for it to change. Have sunblock, appropriate clothing and even a jacket or additional clothes in case of a rainstorm or unexpected shift from hot to cool, or vice versa.
- Stay hydrated — have plenty of water or access to water. Along with this, if you are bringing food (such as an event held at a beach, in the woods, or at a park) be responsible and pack as ‘green’ as you can — avoid plastic/styrofoam and instead try to bring your own dishes from home. If you must use disposable items, be considerate and responsible and don’t leave your trash lying around. Recycle whenever you are able.Along with this, if you are not bringing your own food and will be sharing in a potluck or taking advantage of free food, please bring something to contribute or have money to make a donation. Lots of events don’t charge for attendance, but nothing is free to put on and donations are always greatly appreciated to show you are grateful for the time and attention hosts have put in to creating a great experience.
- If you are bringing children, remember that they are YOUR responsibility. Make certain there are activities/supervision and/or childcare if you’re going to have your kids participate. Otherwise, do not expect to drop them off and let others watch them. Stay close.
- If you are uncertain what the gathering will involve or if you will be expected to provide anything, check that out ahead of time or seek out one of the hosting staff as soon as you arrive to make inquiries. Showing up for a ritual or workshop unprepared because you didn’t look into what was expected is bad form.Along with this, please do not show up late to scheduled events. It’s terribly rude to the facilitator and other participants. Remember to silence your cell phone, and if you must take a call for any reason, leave the area and return (or not) as quietly as you can when you have finished.
- If you are not attending a particular lecture/class/workshop or are not participating in a ritual, but are walking by with friends or watching, please be courteous and keep your voices down. In the open outdoors it’s hard to hear people– most of the time there aren’t microphones– and those who are trying to listen to ritual leaders or workshop facilitators don’t need to hear you talk about your business because you’re standing behind the class or in earshot of the ceremony.
If you have never attended a Pagan festival before, or public ritual, and want to participate, keep these etiquette tips in mind:
- Limit unnecessary chatter in ritual — it’s okay to quietly ask a neighbor if you really don’t know what you should do, but most of the time, you can simply follow along or wait for the ritual leaders to give instruction. The middle of the ceremony is not the time to ask what the Priestess is doing with her knife/wand/incense etc.
- If a circle is cast, and you feel the need to leave the rite for whatever reason (hopefully only for something serious, but you must determine what that means), please do not just walk out of the area. Instead, try to get one of the ritual’s hosts (preferably not the person or persons leading, but another who is assisting) to “cut a door” in the circle for you. You should also seriously consider not returning for the remainder of the rite, because that person will also need to “cut you back in” and that can be very disruptive. Basically, if you’re going to participate in the ritual, try to stay for the whole thing. Otherwise, ask if you can just stay outside of the circle and observe before it begins.
- Do not touch items on the altar, other people’s jewelry, or tools without express permission. Also, do not take pictures of people without their express permission. This means if you ask and the person is hesitant or reluctant in any way, then take that as a “No.”
- Do not photograph the ritual without checking with the facilitators first to see if this is okay. Many Pagans fear hostility or discrimination if their spiritual practice becomes known. Some people are not comfortable with being ‘outed’ and that should be respected.
- If a communal cup is passed for the “Cakes & Ale” part of the ritual and you do not want to drink after others, it is acceptable to reverently hold the cup and/or kiss the side of it, and pour a sip’s worth onto the ground before handing it to the next person (but only if outdoors — don’t pour the cup’s contents on the floor) Along with the Cakes & Ale etiquette, do not eat until/unless you see the ritual facilitators do so. Most of the time, it’s traditional to wait until all have received their share of “cake” before eating.
- If you have general questions or comments, save them for after the rite and please give the facilitators space before you approach them. Generally, they are very nice people and would love to chat with you and answer questions, but let them sit down, eat, drink, and rest a bit before you dive in to an interview.
- If you have a different way of practicing or performing ritual, that’s fine — we aren’t all cookie-cutter cutouts. Simply act accordingly to the rite, with good manners. If you really disagree with something, ask for a door to be cut for you (or cut one yourself if you know how) and leave. If you have any comments about the ritual that are positive, please share them with the facilitators. If you have any suggestions or complaints, it’s best to keep that to yourself unless there is an appropriate way to offer them politely — sometimes there’s a comment box of some kind. If there isn’t a comment box, keep your opinions to yourself and simply don’t attend the next rite. It’s perfectly acceptable to “vote with your feet”.
I hope you will enjoy festivals and gatherings this season!
** If you are unfamiliar with some of the names, terms, or words here, please comment and ask (I’m happy to clarify or explain things) or check out the page link at the top to my Glossary.