Many moons ago I would attend the “On the Square” events in downtown Cleveland. They would promise vendors and a public ritual and someone who would be responsible for explaining to on-lookers what was going on. And this is what would happen. There would be one, maybe two people selling wares. A large group of Pagans would gather in a circle. One person would stand outside the circle and talk to people who were confused. The ritual would end, people would disperse. I remember one year I had brought a notepad and was confused for a reporter. One man came rambling over to me and, in a skeptically excited manner, declared that he knew what I was and would be happy to speak to me. Unfortunately that man proceeded to drop several expletives, including the “F”-bomb, which was rather off-putting as a fellow Pagan to begin with, and I can only imagine how a non-Pagan who was an actual reporter would have felt. People would come by, look confused, make some disparaging remarks for their own amusement–and the educator might try to assuage this behavior, but it often ended in eye-rolls and giggles. I can admire what they were trying to do, but it fell short. There wasn’t enough organization, there weren’t enough volunteers, to educate, and as a result it became a spectacle.
Those events ended years ago. About four years ago, another one started in its stead. Cleveland Pagan Pride. It is held over the weekend in Bedford. There is an information tent staffed with volunteers passing out information not only about the festival but Paganism in general. More volunteers help to keep the events on schedule and rolling–making announcements and (rather terrible but nonetheless amusing) jokes to keep spirits up and people engaged. Still more people walk around as security in addition to regular patrols by the Bedford police. It is organized, safe, and there are more than enough people on hand to answer questions.
Moreover, it isn’t about spectacle. Yes, a ritual or two may be performed. By and large, however, the square is covered in vendors not only selling their wares but also providing services such as Tarot reading, faery oracle reading, Reiki healing, and workshops. Now, not all the workshops are created equally. There were workshops going on simultaneously in two different areas of the festival so I had to make my choices. On the first day the first workshop I attended was supposed to be about expanding one’s mind and freeing it. The presenter was open about having ADD, and the lecture bounced around as you might expect. It was not really a workshop so much as a presentation wherein he talked about the NWO, Illuminati, and about what he “knew to be absolute truth” and that “belief is irrelevant.” I can agree with this in principle. However, I found the lecture disjointed and less about “freeing the mind” and more about one person postulating about secret societies. I won’t say if I agree with the information he gave or that what was presented was credible, but I will say that I found it amusing that he wanted us to “free our minds” and question our sociopolitical reality…and at the same time was asking us to trust him because “he’s a skeptic” and “only says things he knows are absolutely true” because “he saw it.” No evidence, just words. It didn’t help that there were two men challenging him with very difficult questions he wasn’t prepared to handle, not out of ignorance I think but because it wasn’t the focus of the talk he wanted to give. He was very articulate and what he had to share was interesting, but not the strongest workshop.
Since it was the “Year of the Fairy” this year, I attended the fairy workshop next. I missed part of it because I had been at Spirit Apothecary shopping, but it was popularly attended. The speaker was very engaging and clearly knowledgeable about her topic. She was very informative in addition to giving the attendees some practical exercises and thoughts go away with. I felt that she was very confident and she was prepared to handle the audience’s questions with grace.
The last one I attended was a meditation workshop. I missed the Spellcraft workshop right before it, much to my chagrin. The meditation workshop was nice, though, because it was a great opportunity to just pause, breathe deeply, calm the senses, and stretch the brain muscle a little bit.
Unfortunately some wires got crossed and the public ritual didn’t happen. There was, however, dancing, music, good food–and, more importantly, brotherhood. I would say that overall the festival was a great success and the Pagan community definitely put its best foot forward this year. I can’t wait until next year and–who knows, maybe I’ll hold a presentation myself.