Any Renaissance Festival, Medieval Faire, Scottish Games, Viking Fest, or other gathering of that ilk will bring out the local Witches en masse. I’m not saying everyone who attends or works at these faires are Witches, nor am I saying all Witches enjoy said events. I’m just saying it’s a place beloved by practitioners of many magickal modes and mystical mythologies.
Since the beginning of my experience with Renaissance Faires and Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) folk, I’ve known them to be associated with practitioners of alternative spiritualities.
My first experience was at a small faire held by a local SCA group on campus at the University of Houston, where I attended one semester in the late 1980s. I didn't have much money in those days, so I wrote a poem in exchange for a tarot reading.
One might wonder why Witches would want to wander through the dusty paths of imaginary villages, historical warplay, artisan shops, and fantasy fare. I’ve pondered this myself, and today I’d like to share my thoughts.
Before I go on, I must clarify what I mean when I refer to Witches. This title can refer to everyone and anyone who wishes to identify with it and anyone who fits into the following categories (and others I can’t think of right now). A Witch can be an Interspiritual Christopagan like myself, a follower of Wicca, a Heathen, a Christian who practices the Craft, Occultists, Hearth Witches, Kitchen Witches, practitioners of any Pagan tradition from Egyptian to Ancient Greek, from Norse to Celtic to Native American spirituality, or any combination thereof.
Here are 10 reasons why Witches love RenFaire and the like:
- Witches are anachronisms in themselves. We claim a name given to women who were feared for their knowledge and strength in a time when most were not given the freedom to reach their true potential. Many women and men were killed for being “witches” when their only crimes were following a different religion from the dominant religion of their time (various Protestant Christian traditions, Gnostic traditions like the Cathars, Quakers), being midwives accused of killing babies when death was prevalent among newborns, women practicing herbal medicine when medicine was coming into its own as a male dominated profession, or owning property the church or an accuser wanted. Accused witches were not all women, but so many were that many women claim the name in defiance of history.
- Witches love trinkets. Artisan shops where amulets, rings, ear baubles, buttons, or any other well-made jewelry will draw many a Witch of any stripe. They will often be looking for something specific, such as a symbol they haven’t found anyplace else, or a ring that fits just so. These items may be a bit magickal in themselves, but once a Witch takes it home and dedicates it to a purpose, it becomes much more than jewelry. It can become a tool.
- Witches enjoy finding new potions. Shops that offer up specially designed oils and perfumes, incenses and soaps are another natural draw for Witches. While many are often herbalists themselves, they may not have time to create everything they desire, so they seek out the best of the festival creators whenever they attend the faire. Many will wait all year for a specific shop that is only in their area during the run of the festival.
- Witches love food. Witches who gather in groups, whether in covens, kindreds, or at open Pagan events where solitary practitioners mingle with established groups, always bring food. Not unlike the local Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, or Midwestern retirees, Witches bring potluck. Festival fare is like a huge, expensive, and extremely satisfying potluck where turkey legs, bread bowls, Scotch eggs, falafel, and chocolate come together with less ancient options like pizza and gelato. Nobody goes to RenFaire without enough money to at least eat a little bit, and like it was at my mother’s table, there’s no reason for anyone to go home hungry.
- Witches love a good party. I once wrote that Pagans have more reasons to party than any other group of people. For those who follow the Celtic Wheel of the Year, there are 8 Sabbats where gatherings and rituals occur, all of which are often followed by feasting and sometimes drinking. Add to that the secular holidays, including the ones that coincide with Pagan Sabbats, such as Samhain (Halloween), Yule (Christmas), Candlemas (Brigid’s Day), and Eostara (Easter), and they’ve got lots of options. RenFaire is another such option. All the reverie, singing, and opportunities to down a sweet, sweet glass of over-priced commercial mead makes for a fun day to look forward to for many a Witch.
- Witches love connecting with nature. At least, most of us do, in my experience. Renaissance Festivals take place out-of-doors, often on untamed land. Here in Arizona, the Faire is held at a permanent site built on 50-acres of desert. The dusty lanes are watered down at the beginning of the day, but it doesn’t take long for thousands of pairs of feet and a little bit of breeze to scatter the tiny bits of sand and dust. Desert vegetation is enhanced with lawn in only a few places, most particularly in the area where the Birds of Prey are exhibited. These fantastic trained birds are a natural wonder, and a truly Renaissance-era exhibit, since many of this type of birds were used for hunting during that time.
- Witches love anachronistic music. Now, this is not to say they don’t also love today’s musical offerings. However, Witches tend to be drawn to musicians like Enya, Clannad, Blackmore’s Night, Enigma, and various types of chant music, including Gregorian. Almost (but definitely not all) Witches I know have a soft spot for the pipes; that is, bagpipes. We in Arizona, as well as those who attend a few other Faires like Texas Renaissance Festival, the Michigan Renaissance Festival, and the Viking Festival in Texas, look forward to hearing our favorite pipe and drum outfit, Tartanic. Tartanic describes themselves as “Insane Bagpipe/Drum/Dance/Comedy Performance!” and truer words were never spoken. You should see their “Men Without Pants” show!
- Witches like fantasy. Ask any Witch what their favorite book genre is, and the answer is likely to be “Fantasy.” Many of us older Witches and Wizards have read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings multiple times, long before the popularity of the Peter Jackson films. Faeries, elves, goblins, fantasy wizards and witches, Arthurian legend, dragons, and fantasy creatures of all kinds populate our imaginations and our mythologies. Any RenFaire is likely to be replete with such wonders.
- Witches love dressing up. It’s true, for a good many of us. Speaking for myself, I love a reason to become my most creative self, whether it be through writing, art, or costume and make-up. From the very beginning of my RenFaire patronage, I have created garb. Most of it was somewhere along the lines of hippie skirts and flowing poet/peasant-style blouses and flowers for my hair culled from my own closet or the local thrift shops. I was not a “playtron,” because I was not historically correct enough that someone could confuse me with a part of the cast. Now that I’m working at the Faire, I’m slowly creating more historical garb, which I pair with fantasy makeup and anachronistic hats created by my sister or myself. I, myself, love seeing the many different kinds of costumes that show up at today’s Renaissance Festivals, in spite of the fact that much of it is far, far from Renaissance period design.
- Witches enjoy seeing each other. Fact. When we’re running around town taking care of the mundane and worldly tasks of shopping, working, or having the vehicle oil changed, we delight in noting another person wearing jewelry or tattoos depicting the symbols we identify as sacred. We won’t always mention it, because like anything else, context matters. Sometimes we do greet one another with something along the lines of, “I like your pentacle” or “I love that Mjölnir.” I have a favorite cashier at my local grocery store. They are a young person who wears their pentacle every day and never freaks out at my Ouija board reusable bag. We are in our element at a Festival, where many of those who patronize the Faire are followers of some kind of alternative religion or spiritual path. It’s not always about knowing the person or even talking to them. Sometimes, it’s just about the whirlwind of energy we feel when surrounded by folks of all walks of life that also includes a good number of kindred spirits.
Renaissance Festivals are gatherings of all kinds of folks with similar interests. It’s a place where everyone is welcome. People who feel out of place at other kinds of gatherings feel at home amongst the Rennies and the patrons and playtrons of a Faire.
This story originally appeared on Medium