On the road with that other Jason
by Jason Mankey
On Monday I hit the road for an extended tour of Pagan festivals and bookstores. I’ve been to a lot of Pagan festivals in the past, but I’ve never done so many of them in a row before, and been so far from home while doing them. If I had a tour bus and thought I’d break even on my trip, I’d say that I kind of feel like a rock star. Since I don’t have any of those things, I think I’m going to feel more like a homeless hippie. At least all of the festivals I’m going to have showers, and some of them even have hot water!
I have several motivations for heading out “on tour” this summer. In some ways, my trip is work related. When I’m at a festival I do workshops, which will hopefully result in me selling some books. Speaking in front of people also results in some notoriety, and if I do a good enough job prattling on about stuff people might check out my online writing outlets. Checking out those outlets then increases my revenues and I have more time for writing. At least that’s how it works in the most idealized sense.
Besides work, I have an entirely other reason for visiting a bunch of festivals: I love them. While I don’t live in a world where I fear losing my job or house because of my religious beliefs, I often don’t feel very free to express them. It’s socially acceptable to wear a crucifix around your neck, but placing a pentacle (pentagram) there is something else entirely. I don’t like to do things that attract negative attention to myself, and as a result, I often feel like my Paganism is locked up in a closet somewhere.
A lot of Pagans who attend festivals often use language like “going home” to describe their feelings about them. While I’ve never felt that strongly about them (home is where my stuff is), I do revel in the chance to immerse myself in my spirituality for a week or two at a time. Since summertime Pagan gatherings are outdoor events, I love getting the chance to actually spend time in nature. Sure, the bugs are annoying and no tent is as waterproof as the manufacturers would have you believe, but those are small inconveniences to experience a world of sun on my face and moonrise in my heart.
During festivals, I feel like a completely different version of Jason, and I love it. The names of the gods that I love are constantly on my lips. Friends allow me to indulge in hard-cider as the sacrament I think it is. Songs by bands like The Doors and Led Zeppelin become religious hymns. All that I find sacred is given value and acceptance. I have wonderful friends outside of Paganism that I love dearly, but they don’t understand why the beauty of a drum circle makes me cry or why the best nights are spent under stars performing ritual.
In the days before the internet, Pagan festivals were the only real means of communication for Pagans separated by miles of interstate. We’d gather to share chants and songs, exchange gossip, and show off the various ways we all do ritual. Festivals acted like giant clearinghouses of ideas; and you didn’t have to go to a festival to benefit from it either. Friends would bring back what they had experienced, exposing even more people to ideas that might otherwise have remained regional. (Even in the internet age, Paganism is still rather regional. I was surprised at how different West Coast chants are from East Coast ones. This could be solved with a few more festivals in the middle of the country.)
Since Paganism, like most religions, is something that has to be experienced, gatherings still have value in this regard. You can read about ritual online, but that’s never the same as participating in one. Words can clue you in to what’s going on at a ceremony, but they can’t replicate the experiences and emotions that a devotee feels during a ritual. In that regard, festivals have real value.
Without a church and/or college lecture circuit, the best and brightest of Pagandom tend to visit festivals. At a gathering, I can meet my favorite author, or perhaps share a pint with her. Festivals are the places where our best and brightest share whatever they’ve been working on, and since it’s a live setting, I get to ask questions and take the learning experience far beyond the written word. Sure, some of those people respond to questions with “The answer is in my book!” and I understand the need to eat, but most Pagan leaders/authors/lecturers are generous with their time and knowledge. Festivals are a place to see that and be thankful for it.
Spending a month and a half on the road in a tent is probably going to result in a sore back and possibly a few hangovers, but it’s still something I’m looking forward to. My heart belongs to the sky and my spirit to the fields of summer. Bring on that chance to be me and that other Jason for a while, I relish it.
Jason Mankey is a Pagan writer, blogger, and frequent festival speaker. This past Monday he began a new venture blogging for Patheos at www.patheos.com/blogs/panmankey He’ll be writing about his festival experiences there throughout the summer.