As I walk through the arches of the McDonald Theatre, I hear the words to an old Joe Jackson song in my head: “I stepped into, I stepped into, into another, into another world.”
I am instantly bombarded by grown women wearing fairie wings. Men in top hats and goggles look as if they have just stepped off the time machine. Elven points adorn the ears of spritely looking fellows, and the ”bad fairies” come dressed in black lace and even blacker stares. Angels walk the hall with dragons, and witches cackle from the corners. Everywhere is mischief and magic. This is Fairieworlds. The Bad Fairie Masquerade Ball, to be exact.
I had prepared accordingly. Knowing that anyone daring to venture into this territory without the proper accoutrements would be scorned, banished, or maybe even pixie-led, I dressed as my natural world alter-ego, The Mobster Fairie. Complete with a gun belt on my thigh (packing only a child’s water-gun, not loaded) and a flapper-esque dress, I was allowed to pass through the realm undetected.
The Green Man, the archetypal embodiment of nature in British-Isle lore, whistles at me from his perch on the stairs. Fairies fix their wings in the bathroom mirrors while gnomes and goblins imbibe in the bars. It’s like a night-club for the otherworld, a scene straight out of Labyrinth with David Bowie singing to me from the balcony.
I feel right at home.
For the past four summers, I have attended the Fairieworlds festival held outside of Eugene. The three-day event takes place on Lughnassah, an ancient Celtic rite marking the midsummer point. My own Celtic heritage is greeted warmly at Fairieworlds, where tribes of people gather from throughout the nation, and even the globe. This convergence of like-minded folks is a haven for those who choose to practice ancient, nature-based religions and for those who simply like to dress up.
The wild popularity of this gathering is matched by one in the rolling hills of my hometown, Glen Rock, Pennsylvania. The 20-year-old Spoutwood Farm Fairie Festival has been host to tens of thousands of nature spirits each May Day. The Spoutwood Festival is held on the first weekend of May, which is believed to hold the budding, fertile energy of all that is Spring.
Both festivals draw international Celtic and mystical musicians, and a Renaissance fair-like atmosphere of artisans. The canvas tents, resembling a village from a time long gone, boast handmade treasures. There’s pottery, jewelry, fantasy art, and delicious food. Fairie wings, Pan horns, and clothing to satisfy even the sauciest wench pour from old wooden chests. There is a sense of history and place, but also of magic. The pennants flying in the breeze above the encampment whisper ancient secrets.
Revelers come to these festivals to pay homage to an old way of being that still has merit in our modern world. The dizzying pace of communication is slowed to a natural rhythm. Some folks attend as a sort of spiritual retreat, a respite from the everyday, a safe place to worship.
Here, imagination is alive and well and creativity is celebrated. You can come as you are or what you dream to be.
Smoke pours from the stage as Zoe Jakes, the bellydancer accompanying Beats Antique, takes the stage. Her presence is electric, the crowd is mesmerized by her undulations. The music, a mix of ancient and modern, transforms the theatre into a swaying sea of glitter and feathers.
Prior to this, sound pirates Abney Park called the fairies to the dance. With an eclectic mix of instruments, they set the wheels in motion.
The highlight of the evening was the mid-winter ritual. The symbolic crone passed her light on to the sleeping trees, whispering the prayers that stir them to life.
The Green Man and storyteller Mark Lewis teach the audience to become like the rain. We listen as we start with a soft pitter-pat and swell to a deluge, sweetly finishing like the dew. There was magic that night, made through the intentions of the winged crowd.
When I step outside of the theatre, something in the air shifts. Maybe it was the wind caused by the rushing cars. Maybe it was my overactive, story-telling imagination. But maybe, just maybe, there was something else.
As I walk down the city street, a soft mist forms, and I notice the first tiny buds growing on the trees.