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The Ren Faire and me: the Craft

(This post is part of a series of ruminations on why I'm leaving the New York Ren Faire after 13 years.)

With the ever-increasing number of pagans at the New York Ren Faire, in five years we could do it skyclad. "Authentic medieval renaissance nudity!"

Obviously, this a joke. The Faire is not a pagan festival. The owners and managers are not pagans, to my knowledge. Of course, I know none of them personally; I don't know what they believe.

However, if you walk around the Ren Faire grounds, you'll see quite a few pentacles. Many of the Rennies (both flavors) are pagan or pagan-sympathetic. During my time at the Faire, you could find a spectrum of pagans, from those who considered themselves pagan solely because they believed a feminine creative principle, all the way to up crusty old Traditionalists who wouldn't give you the time of day unless you'd known Gerald Gardner personally.

Some examples:

* Walk through the gates of the Ren Faire, and go straight ahead. Shortly there's a grassy hill on your left. In the early 1990's, you would find the Astrological Circle near the top of the slope. Early in the Faire day, some of the pagan-friendly Ren Faire performers would hold a small circle casting. It was simply a calling to the elements, but as a newly-minted Wiccan I could see the intent.

That circle is still there, but it's now occupied by a dragon ride. They "paved paradise and put in a parking lot."

* When Diane Linn was music director of the Ren Faire a few years back, she had the singing wenches include a couple of Gwydion Pendderwen's songs in their repetoire.

* In the year 2000 season, one of the performers was asked to play a standard role at the Faire: a witch. As far as the Ren Faire management was concerned, she could have put on green make-up and cackled about eating children. Instead, that performer (who knew nothing about Wicca up to that point) independently researched the role. She portrayed a positive role model of a Wiccan witch.

Every Faire day she organized a Pagan Pride Parade. Along with other performers and any interested patrons, she'd lead them through the grounds, chanting "We're Wiccan! We're kickin'! Get used to it!"

This was H, by the way.

The following year the role went to someone else, who put on green make-up and cackled. Oh, well.

In the early 1990's, the Ren Faire was part of my pagan education. I was being trained in the Gardnerian Wiccan tradition by Craft teachers, but the other pagans I met at the Ren Faire gave me a sense of perspective on the Craft and on paganism in general.

In later years I began to use what I learned through the Craft as a reader. I don't mean that I "preached" Wicca to any of the patrons; Wicca is not a missionary religion, and I wouldn't have abused my role in that way even if it were. I mean that, for those who asked, I tried to offer spiritual lessons based on what gained from my Wiccan training.

I wore a large pentacle around my neck. Anyone who was interested could identify me as a Wiccan reader. Later, when I had my own booth, I had many stained-glass and mirrored pentacles hanging on the walls (made by Silvertree Designs). I was not the only pagan reader on Mystics Way, but I was the most identifiable one. This meant  I was asked many Wicca-related questions, ranging from the basic ("What is it?") to Wiccan-based readings ("Is it wise for me to initiate this person?").

Whether or not I was recognized as Wiccan, I tried to offer what insight and inspiration I could. I described some of this in a previous post.

The Ren Faire also offered a convenient location for me to meet folks who were interested in joining my Wiccan training group; it's always wise to have the initial interview in a public place. When someone wanted to speak with me and I had a free ticket, I'd offer it to them. If they weren't interested in joining my group, at least they'd have a fun day at the Ren Faire, so their time wasn't wasted.

Unfortunately, the Ren Faire wasn't entirely a positive influence on the Craft in my life. The conflict: time.

As the years went by, I found that I had to skip or delay Wiccan gatherings because of my obligation to the Faire. I found I couldn't make Lammas or Mabon, because it was too late after I finished closing up my booth. When I started working at the Forest of Fear, I had to make special arrangements for Samhain, the most important festival in the Wheel of the Year.

This reached a peak in 2009. After I committed to working at the Forest of Fear, I found out they'd decided to stay open an extra weekend to include October 31. This means that I couldn't arrange to celebrate Samhain on the calendar date of Halloween, which is always special for a Wiccan.

In general, I felt I was setting a terrible example for my students. I often chided them about missing classes and rituals, and reminded them that the effectiveness of the Craft depended on their level of commitment. Then I'd have to tell them that we couldn't meet in October, because I had to read Tarot cards at the Forest of Fear. Talk about sending a mixed message!

So reason #3 for leaving the Ren Faire: I had begun to give the Ren Faire a higher priority in my life than the Craft. If I had not been teaching a group, this would be acceptable; as a teacher, I felt this was poor behavior on my part.