is the largest Pagan festival in Colorado (there is an SCA
reference in the name, I think), set to begin August 6 this year. Usually the state's two main Pagan e-lists light up afterwards as people discuss what went right, what went wrong, whose behavior offended whom, who was profoundly moved by what ritual, and so on.
(I myself have not attended Dragonfest in many years, but I gather that it now attracts about 1,000 people. I stopped going because changes in my work life made early August a poor time to attend festivals of any sort, even the Telluride Mushroom Festival
, not because I was offended by anyone or anything. But I attend smaller festivals where some of the same trends are occurring.)
This year, the discussion started early, when an organizer posted a request on the lists for volunteers for "drawing down," to use the common Wiccan term for trance possession. The posting brought immediate response to the effect that since drawing down was one of the central mysteries, how could a "cattle call" via email produce qualified and ethical priestesses; that, in fact, the whole quality of the ritual was declining; and, furthermore, who would or could or should "draw down the Moon" in the day time. (The ritual is planned to begin at 3 p.m.)
Natually, those comments brought counter-comments, in which the critic was accused of suffering from the worst sort of 3rd-degree-initate syndrome, of being unwilling to accept change, and so on.
The event organizers, along with a certain amount of cyber-pouting about being unappreciated, argued that having multiple priestesses early the day reduced the waiting (see below), was easier on the elderly and handicapped, and, most of all, was a necessary religious service to provide. They argued, with some truth, that for a large percentage of attendees, this was the only time (or one of few times) when they could come together in community. The high number of solitary Wiccans and Pagans, they said, meant that these solitaries could not experience this divine communication in a small, intimate coven setting. Their only opportunity comes at a large festival.
In my experience, the large, public drawing-down is handled in one of two ways.
1. Attendees are in a big circle, in a meadow, for instance. The entranced priest or priestess(es) comes around from one to the next. Meanwhile, you stand there, shifting from one foot to the next, wondering if you remembered to make your car insurance payment, waiting for your ten-second encounter. Or else the priestess/ess(es) take positions in the circle, and people go to them, if they wish to.
2. Another method is for the entranced priestesses and their assistant(s) to be settled in tents or pavilions. The querents line up on the bank-lobby model ("Wait here for next available teller"). Or if the priestesses are manifesting different aspects of the Wiccan goddess (maiden, mother, crone), then the querents might select the one whose wisdom they seek. "Walkers" lead the querent to the priestess and back again and stand ready to assist in any way needed. Again, there is often some grumbling about the long waits in line.
There are so many ways that I could discuss this issue, so maybe I wil see which way the comments—if any—flow.
1. For a discussion of ecstatic trance based on personal experience and co-related with social-scientific research, I recommend Chapter 5, "'The Juice of Ritual': Pathways of Ecstasy," in Sabina Magliocco's recent book, Witching Culture
2. Over the past 25 years, these public drawings-down have come to be central components of at least some festivals. There are parallels with what I understand about divine or spirit possession in Candomblé
, or other African-derived traditions, as well as in such healing cults as that of El Niño Fidencio
, and probably some Asian traditions well, but I know little about the latter.
What I have seen, though, is a bit of a shift from a focus on big, theatrical participatory
rituals--torchlight processions and that sort of thing--to the main event being this mediated officient-client event. It's a change.
, Pagan festivals