Paula Jean West, a Wiccan priestess and travel writer summed up the situation with Renaissance Fairs and paganism very succinctly. "Renaissance Fairies are not Pagan, but most Pagans love a good Renaissance Faire."
She is exactly right. Renaissance Faires are intended to celebrate the Renaissance period (14th-17th Century) by dressing up in period costume, recreating events such as jousting matches, and showcasing arts and crafts. These festivals are held all over the country and are quite popular.
However, not all are what we would call "good family fun." In addition to celebrating some of the bawdier aspects of the era (drinking and wenching, for instance), these fairs also attract Wiccans, pagans, Goths, gamers, and sundry occultists.
The Rev. Tony Breeden, who writes under the pseudonym of Sirius Knott, visited a Renaissance Fair in Ohio several years ago and commented on how these fairs have become increasingly pagan.
"By Pagan, I mean they’ve slid toward debauchery and counter-culture and erased every reference to the Christianity that dominated the period [at least as much as they could]. It was if they’ve created a mirror 16th century world in which the Church had little or no visible influence, far from the actual facts. It was hard to find any evidence of the Church, though all historical accounts cannot fail to note its dominance of much of the period."
The fair still featured a monk, but he "didn't bother much to stay in character," Breeden writes. "Every time I passed him, he was flirting with some pretty dame! If he was in character, we would have to conclude that he was playing a corrupt monk with no sincere Christian characters in evidence to balance the Ren Fair’s portrayal of the Church."
Even though these fairs were never supposed to be pagan, they have apparently become that way. While some fairs are fun and interesting, others are not. The best advice I can give is to take the time to check out the vendor/exhibitor list ahead of time to be sure the fair you want to visit will feature booths full of people displaying authentic period arts and crafts rather than fortune-tellers and mediums.
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