Here in the mid-Atlantic, festival season is in full bloom. There are so many events going on that it’s impossible to go to everything I want to attend and also live anything resembling a normal life. And that’s a real shame since I LOVE festivals. Over the years I’ve had the great fortune to attend a shit-ton of them. All of my bands, regardless of musical style, have contained Pagan themes, so I’ve been a regular performer and presenter at Pagan festivals since the early 2000’s. I’m also one of those lunatics that sometimes takes on the absolutely crazy logistical, personal and energetic burden of running festivals. Right now, my only baby is the Frederick Pagan Pride Day, but during the mid-to-late 2000’s, I was co-coordinator of a three day Midsummer festival in Virginia.
One of the fun things about being a festival-goer over many years is that I’ve had the chance to see what works, what definitely doesn’t, and I’ve compiled a list of things I bring that are not on the official ‘packing list’ of most overnight festivals. I also have some specific ways of managing festival drop that can mitigate the depression after being in an idealized, temporary environment – we’ll focus on aftercare next week with Part 2.
So let’s take this chronologically, yes?
Before you go
Unless you’re heading to a festival in an arid environment, waterproofing-spray your shoes. This stuff is amazing and makes a huge difference when the skies open. Waterproofing spray is clear and forms an invisible moisture barrier around whatever you spray it on. I generally do two coats on everything just to be cautious. You can also waterproofing-spray your backpack or satchel. Waterproofing spray is available at most sports and outdoorsy stores. You can also order it online.
Decide what you want to attend. If the programming of a festival is available online, download and print out your own copy. Devote a little time before you go to figuring out what you want to attend and who you want to study with. It’s really easy to be pulled off track once you’re there – there’s just so much to do! Vendors! Swimming! Concerts! Hanging out with friends you don’t see very often! Going with the flow is great, but it can also mean missing out on content that will really deepen your festival experience. I generally run into a quandary at some point in terms of having more than one event in one timeslot I want to attend. The tie-breaker, for me, is choosing the event that will best serve my current spiritual practice vs something that sounds cool, is presented by a friend, or is something I’m only interested in as opposed to actively working on.
AND, while you are looking at the schedule, block out some rest time. Even for someone like me, a true dyed-in-the-wool extrovert, festivals can be overwhelming and exhausting. Plan for naps. Plan for times away from everyone else to recenter. Most of our festivals take place in beautiful natural spaces – state parks, cabin camps, private land with lots of gorgeous features…plan for some time to sit quietly and rest your mind and spirit.
Assemble your metaphysical go-bag. What’s a go-bag? It’s a special kit designed to deal with adverse situations. We all want to believe that magickal and energetic fuckery will not enter festival or conference space, but the sad truth is that our community contains douchecanoes too. Seo Helrune has a great blog on the subject here. You want your bag to contain some tools for immediate removal of metaphysical ick. If you are staying somewhere overnight, it’s also good to have some tools for creating a safe boundary between your sleeping space and the rest of the festival. Now, everyone’s go-bag is different based on their practice. Mine contains, at a minimum, black salt, black tourmaline, frankincense and quick-lite charcoals for smoldering, a lighter, a hand-forged iron blade, sage and uncrossing oil. There’s some other stuff, too, but a good witch never tells anyone everything. 99% of the time, you will never even open your go-bag. But that 1%? You want to have the tools you need available to hand at that exact moment.
Start your immune-boosting routine. Festivals, particularly the large ones, bring a huge number of people from varying geographical origin into direct contact with each other. It’s really easy to run into viruses you don’t have immunity to. During the week beforehand, I make a point to take my vitamins every day, eat extra garlic, get plenty of sleep and really indulge my love of leafy greens.
Plan for your return. I tidy my house before I leave so that when I come home, the return to reality isn’t an immediate slap to the face of tasks that need to be handled. If you have the ability to do so, prep some meals ahead of time. Put them into the freezer so that your food choices are healthier and more convenient when you get back. You’re going to be tired and you may be feeling quite depleted. No one needs to try to cook in that condition.
The OTHER packing list
1) Personal business cards. Many of the places festivals are held do not have signal. It’s part of the appeal of going, of course, but it means that when you connect with people, maintaining that connection afterward can be a little tricky (particularly if you have a common given name, or if you go by a different name in Community than you do elsewhere). Have a handful of business cards that are just for you personally so you can give your contact information to your new friends easily. Printable business cards are available at most office supply stores. Also, to make things easier on your new friends, if you include a photo or illustration of yourself on the card, it’ll be easy for folks to remember you in context. One of my friends includes her Bitmoji on her cards, and it’s a great way to call her immediately to mind.
2) Earplugs, snore strips and mini packs of tissues. I always bring a giant container of earplugs from a CVS or other pharmacy store. This is one of those little things that can go a long way toward a better festival for everyone. If someone camping or cabining near you likes to imitate a freight train at night, having a remedy for that is invaluable. It’ll score you additional friends, too. If you do snore, bring snore strips or other tools to keep that from happening. Remember, sound travels further at night. There’s nothing quite like a bunch of sleep deprived witches glaring at you to give you a nasty migraine.
I don’t snore (generally speaking), but I bring snore strips anyway just in case. Many times, people are unaware of their unconscious elephant impersonation, but are more than willing to wear a snore strip once they find out they’ve been keeping everyone awake. Mini packs of tissues are great simply because you’ll be out amongst the dust, pollen, and people who choose to marinade themselves in scented oils rather than actually bathe. Plan on needing to manage your sinuses more than usual.
3) Medicinal tea and single-packs of honey. This is great for sore throats and hangovers. The tea selection at most festivals is pretty limited, but most of them have hot water available all day. I also recommend bringing a travel mug with a lid for this purpose.
4) Hand sanitzer wipes or baby wipes. I learned the baby wipes trick back when I was in the Marine Corps. Regularly cleaning your hands will keep your risk of festival crud to a minimum. Baby wipes are great for general tidying up as well. By the end of the day at most festivals, I’ve accumulated a semi-sentient covering of sweat, sunblock and bug spray. No one wants to climb into a tent still smelling like that particular melange.
5) Emergen-C and Alka Seltzer. Emergen-C is great for cold prevention as well as hangover treatment. Put a pack of Emergen-C into your first water bottle of the day every day you’re there. It’ll help keep festival crud at bay and give you a little boost to recover from any questionable decisions the night before. Speaking of questionable decisions, I bring a large pack of Alka Seltzer with me. That stuff is GREAT for hangovers as well as digestive discomfort. I know when I’m at a festival, I tend to be following a diet that’s different than the one I follow at home. Sometimes there are consequences.
6) Extras. Extra flashlights, socks, gloves if it’s chilly, etc. Someone, somewhere, will have forgotten theirs. Or will be trying to use their phone as a flashlight and will then run out of battery. Carry extras of things that you can give away. I like to buy the multi-packs of LED flashlights and then color the lenses with red sharpie (makes them less destructive to night vision). I also always have a few extra pair of socks.
7) Air freshener spray for the bathrooms if you are at an overnight festival (whatever form those bathrooms happen to take). Try to choose a non-floral to avoid setting off folks’ allergies. The restrooms at large gatherings can get….fragrant.
8) SNACKS. This is generally covered in the packing list of most festivals, but I’m going to highlight it. You will be hungrier. You’ll be outside, walking more than most of us generally do. You’ll be doing more magick, more ritual. You’ll be peopling more. All of that has a price tag, and we generally end up needing to pay it in calories, sleep or both. Pack nonperishable snacks.
While you are there
1) Put down the internet and walk away. We gather so rarely in the grand scheme of things. You have been presented with the opportunity to talk to other people who have some really important stuff in common with you. There’s an entire group of humans around you who know that your UPG experiences do not make you crazy. Take advantage of this time. Let yourself be fully present. Shut off your phone, put the damn thing on airplane mode, or leave it packed in your suitcase.
2) Soften your judgment. You’re going to meet some hella-cool people who are hella-different than you. Your fellow festival-goers will feel empowered to dress and behave in ways that are well outside the norm because they can finally let that freak flag as high and brightly as they want to. Let them. You’ll attend some rituals and workshops that don’t completely fit with the way you practice. The thing is, pieces of those experiences can deepen, enhance and improve your own practice. Hell, sometimes just figuring out how NOT to do a ritual is a valuable experience. Soften, and let the people around you teach you. If it helps to view your entire adventure as an anthropological research project, go for it. Learn rather than judge.
3) Do all the things. There’s a saying at Twilight Covening hosted by the EarthSpirit Community (my favorite event of the year): ‘There’s nowhere else to go and nothing else to do.’ It’s a funny way of reminding us that participating is the best thing we can do with our time. When you are not resting, go to the workshops. Attend the rituals. Participate in the discussions. Our time in person, together, is limited. Take advantage of what’s happening around you.
4) Talk to people. This one is tough, I know, especially for a community that skews introvert. The thing is, whoever is sitting by you is probably just as uncomfortable breaking the ice. I find that radical authenticity can be incredibly useful here. ‘Hi, my name is Irene. My pronouns are she/her and I feel really awkward just walking up to people and introducing myself, but I wanted to say hello. I’m working on getting past my social anxiety. What’s your name?’ Just be real with folks. This is the space for it. If you start out with benevolent authenticity, you’ll find that people generally match it. We’re all looking for safe space and connection. And while you’re communicating, truly listen. Be curious about the people around you. We all arrive on the winding Path from different starting points. Most of the stories unfolding around you are fascinating. Everyone you meet has the capacity to teach you something. Listen.
5) Use the buddy system. Have someone you check in with or travel with. Keep tabs on each other. I’ve done this one wayyyy wrong, so please learn from my bad decisions. Let someone know where you are. If you’re intoxicated, ask your buddy to help you get back to your cabin at night. If they’re really intoxicated, be their helper. Even the Pagan community has creeps (the aforementioned douchecanoes), so be part of the system that makes our community safe.
6) Hydrate. This one is kind of in line with packing extra snacks. You’ll be outside and most likely doing more physical activity than usual. It may be really hot depending on where you are. If you’re indulging, remember that alcohol and drugs are dehydrating. Please pound water. If your lips feel chapped/rough, it’s time to drink some water. If you haven’t peed all day, you’re not drinking enough water. If you haven’t peed, have chapped lips AND are experiencing muscle pain, you’re starting to veer toward the dangerous side of dehydrated and it’s pretty surprising how quickly and easily this can happen. My festival bag is a hydration pack (a Helena CamelBak specifically). Inexpensive hydration packs can be purchased at most outdoorsy stores. Wearing one makes it easy to stay hydrated and gives you a place to carry your snacks, sunblock, bug spray, notebook, business cards, etc.
I hope these thoughts have been useful to you. If you have other suggestions for preparing for and attending festivals and gatherings, please hit me up in the comments! Next week, I’m going to focus on aftercare and managing festival drop.
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