Early August in Hope, Arkansas, means it is time for melons. Specifically, it is time for the annual Hope Watermelon Festival—a three-day affair replete with watermelon-weigh-ins to determine the largest fruit, an antique car show, an arts & crafts fair, face painting for the kids, and music. A four-day weekend celebration of all things related to mules occurs in Columbia,Tennessee every spring, which they call “Mule Day.” The festivities include a flea market, a wagon train, and enough banjo-picking to make Ned Beatty very nervous. The Mountain Moonshine Festival has been held for over four decades in Dawsonville, Georgia and features storytelling, music, dance, and a history of NASCAR racing. As a fan of folk culture and anything quirky, odd, or a bit weird, attending festivals like these has always appealed to me. Recently, however, I have thought a lot about the potential such celebrations have to add enchantment to a Pagan’s life.
Heritage and history are deeply important to many Pagans, who frequently hold ancestral feasts for the dead, practice archaic arts and crafts, and generally seem interested in the preservation of land and tradition. Embracing folk festivals serves Pagans well, because folk festivals have done much of the work of maintaining Pagan interests and values for many years. In an article by scholar Robert Cantwell, entitled “Feasts of Unnaming: Folk Festivals and the Representations of Folklife,” the author notes:
“We call the ‘folk revival’ what we do because in the popular imagination, and on the historical surface, it seems temporarily to have lifted the oppressive weight of history and civilization upon old traditional music. But in fact the gravitational force of folksong, folktale, folk crafts, and folk culture generally upon the minds of ordinary people, though it subsides and revives, has, historically speaking, always been there; it has been there for hundreds of years, well before there was even a word, in English, for ‘folklore.’ This has been particularly true in America, which was not only the native home of a complex and extensive aboriginal civilization, but also has been the adoptive home, from day one, of innumerable ethic, religious, economic, regional, national, and minority groups from which have evolved, in the American setting, thousands of diverse folk communities, urban and rural, with many residual, syncretic, and emergent folk traditions...There is, in America, scarcely a realm of human endeavor that has not enlisted the force of folklife, or representations of folklife, in its service”