May 30th, 2006


Back from Elf Fest

Memorial Day weekend, and the week leading up to it, is the traditional date of the Elf Fest at the Lothlorien Nature Sanctuary just south of Bloomington, Indiana. After missing last year's, kukla_tko42 and I went up for the weekend. You can check her blog for her favorable review of it. She's willing to overlook, forgive, and/or work to correct behavior that I'm just not, not when I'm that badly outnumbered. Personally, I thought the whole event stunk on ice. Which both ticks me off and saddens me, because I used to feel a very deep spiritual connection to that land. I'm mourning something I loved that appears to be dead, or at least critically wounded.

A smidgen of backstory, all massively over-simplified: many years ago, the guys who used to run the entry gate also used to operate a donations-funded open bar called the Troll Bar. Quite a few years ago, there was some Drama, and the Trolls got uninvited and the Troll Bar banned -- to the vast disappointment of many drunks, who have been plotting ever since to bring it back. This was the year they sprung it on the event, basically calling the elders' bluffs so far as I can tell. They got away with it. But where the original Trolls ran a fun but safe and artistic and faintly classy camp, now it's being run by hard core stoners and sloppy drunks. On Friday night, the bartender came over from the bar to the camp of the people who were running it (and what does it say about them that they chose to camp 50 yards away from their own bar?) to boast -- and I stress that, boast -- that one of the drunks at the Troll Bar had just projectile vomited, a range of 7 to 8 feet, all over one of the vendors' tents. The reaction to this was not remorse. It was not an offer to clean it up and reimburse the person whose property was destroyed. It was not an offer to provide any kind of medical assistance or any other aid to the person who got sick. No, the unanimous response was loud cheering, and I believe it was the woman who was running the camp who said, "We must be doing something right!"

You know, it's a damned good thing that these people are flaming hypocrites. This isn't just any Pagan land fund, this is the original Faerie Faith sanctuary in the United States. And if there's anything that I know from several decades of study of faerie lore, it's that the Folk can not abide a sloppy or inconsiderate drunk. If there really were Faerie Folk who lived at Lothlorien, as everybody assures me they believe is true, then at least one of those people would have been pixy-led to their death that night, probably at the cliffs overlooking Faerie Woods. Had it happened, I'm not sure I would have mourned. As a priest of Dionysus, I have no more patience for people who can't handle their liquor, and who use it as an excuse to destroy other people's property, than the Folk are said to have.

I must also add, at this point, that "for tradition's sake" they set up the New Troll Bar dead center in Merchant Row, nearly in the mathematical center of the campground. This guaranteed that from about an hour after sunset until sunrise there was no "quiet camp." No matter where you were in the camp, the inconsiderate bellowing of loud drunks, and probably of a few sleepless acid-heads being egged on by the drunks, was audible. I was able to hear them quite well from almost as far away as it is possible to camp, through two screens of trees, with 29 db earplugs in. Would this be a good time to remind you that most of the vendors are on a morning schedule, and camped near their merchandise? Or that vendor row also had at least a dozen, maybe twenty children under the age of 10 tent camping within 50 yards of the Troll Bar?

Look, I've got nothing against getting drunk. In fact, I think that getting drunk on sacred land is a legitimate form of religious exercise, a legitimate and potentially powerful and useful spiritual act. Nor do I dispute the fact that for many people, Elf Fest (and its sister festival in September, Wild Magic) are the traditional place and time. In a better year, I might have been one of them myself. But any form of sacred intoxication needs people, and such people are beloved of Dionysus, who have the skills to prepare the space in such a way as to guarantee that nothing is likely to be damaged, and who can gently steer people away from permanent damage, madness, injury, illness, or blasphemously toxic behavior. This was just completely mismanaged. Now, you may well tell me, "Come on, Brad, this was their first year back. I'm sure they'll learn from it." No, I brought up these concerns Saturday. I did so in broad daylight, when nobody was busy, with people who knew me and like me and who know that I'm as intoxication-friendly as they are, and with more tact and delicacy than I usually employ even in job interviews. What I got back was a fountain of verbal bile and abuse. So far as they are concerned, they are 100% in the right to run the Troll Bar the way they want to run it, in the spot that they insist is traditional for it, and anybody who doesn't like it should leave. They insisted that the (largely new) board of elders are on their side in this, and judging by the sheer number of current and former elders I saw on Saturday who did nothing to rein them in, they appear to not be wrong in this.

And you know what? It did nothing to improve my mood that in 60 hours in that campground, joining every public but informal conversation around a campfire I could find, I met exactly two people out of the three hundred there who could or would chat about any subject other than the five classical hallmarks of a total mindless and idiotic bore: their job, their house, their illnesses, who's having sex with whom, and who doesn't like whom.

I can not imagine a more vivid and brutal reminder than this event of why I no longer feel that I have any spiritual connection left to the Neopagan movement. That movement has gotten perceptibly dumber, and perceptibly cruder, every year for the last 10 years or more. And I've had just about all of it that I can stand. Yes, I will be at weekend after next's St. Louis Pagan Picnic, for at least a couple of hours, but not entirely by choice - I'm performing. I got asked to play one of the cards in the Living Tarot interactive theater piece, and at least this year I get to be the Emperor instead of The Devil. While I am performing, I shall be in character and I shall be utterly professional. But off "stage," I do not pretend that I will for even a second suffer any fool patiently. I Have Officially Had Enough Of This Shit. (And what do I get when I get home? Hard-core arm twisting to join a coven as a teaching elder. Uh, no.)