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Pagan Festivals in Western Canada

I don’t think that there’s anyone in the Northern Hemisphere who doesn’t feel spring fever, and this year I’m feeling it more than most.  Maybe it’s because it’s so cold this year.  The buds are just starting to unfurl on the trees in my yard and the violets have just now bloomed, with the daffodils just passing.  This might be Canada, but that’s still pretty cold for us.  But possibly because of the cold, Beltane celebrations are on the horizon and it seems that everyone is planning to do something.  For me, the festival season begins at Beltane and it keeps me pretty busy until almost Samhain.  I go to a lot of them because I own a metaphysical store and it’s a good excuse to travel and vend.  With my writing and music beginning to take off, I suppose that will give me yet another (practical) reason to attend.  But mostly, I just go because I like gathering with other Pagans and celebrating our faiths.

I’m always torn what to do with myself because I’m often double-booked.  I was relieved when this year, the organizers of the Spring Festival of Awareness in Naramata, determined that presenters would have to decide whether they would attend that festival or the Wise Woman Festival in September – not both.  This freed me up to attend one of my favourite events, the Beltaine Faire in Edmonton (April 27th.)  This event was modeled after a similar, rather famous Beltane in the Park event in Winnipeg, Manitoba, which has been going on for some twenty years.  The beauty of these celebrations is that many different groups in the local community get together to put on the event.  In Edmonton, the Knights of the Northern Realm, a local medieval re-enactment group who combat with real swords, join forces with a couple of large local Wiccan organizations, a shamanic group and some local Druids, to make a fun-filled day of vendors, dancing, drumming, a traditional processional, Morris dancing, a maypole, the crowning of a May Queen and a Beltane ritual.  I love it because it’s relaxed and friendly, and I’ll be going there with my store and my guitar to perform and to vend.  This year, it will conclude with an evening Faerie Masquerade Ball!

On the Victoria Day long weekend (a Canadian holiday that falls on the third weekend in May, which, this year, is May 17th to 20th,) two of my favourite events occur.  The Gathering for Life on Earth happens at a private campsite in Squamish, BC.  It was one of the first specifically family-oriented events established in Western Canada, at a time when most Pagan festivals were adults only.  It used to be on the August long weekend (which is right around Lughnasadh and is a civic holiday in BC) but was moved because in recent years there has been a lot of competition for that weekend’s activities.  It’s a friendly festival of socializing, ritual, and lots and lots of great workshops, but they also throw a great “rave in the woods” in the evenings.  Food and accommodation are included in your registration and options are available for all dietary needs and all levels of physical ability.

The other event that happens on that weekend is the Canadian National Pagan Conference.  I’ve mentioned this unique event in the blogs I’ve already written for this column, and next article will be entirely focused on it because I think it warrants that kind of attention.  This event is a truly national effort that brings together Pagans of all stripes from, literally, all over the country, but it travels around according to the best bid, and this year it’s scheduled for Gatineau, Quebec, so it falls outside of the reach of this article.

In the middle of June (though this year it’s earlier, June 7 – 9,) is an event just outside of Edmonton that is affectionately known as “Druid.”  The Spirit of the West Druid Gathering is hosted by the ADF, and unique in its Druidical focus, especially since most Pagan festivals are at least vaguely pseudo-Wiccan.  It’s a camping event but it has workshops, rituals, vendors, and your food is included in your fees.

This year, I’ll also be attending a new “Midsummer Festival” at the Homestead Retreat just outside of Prince George, BC.  I have no idea how it will go because this is the first one.  It’s eight miles of private road in, no power and no running water, so bring your own food and supplies, but there will be rituals, workshops, and a sweat lodge, and the site fees will be minimal so if you’re in the area, it would be worth your time to check it out.

On the Canada Day long weekend, which is the first of July as opposed to the fourth, the place to be will be the Sun Wheel Pagan Arts Festival, which this year is near Drayton Valley, Alberta.  This event is just getting itself going but is developing quite a reputation.  Last year’s headliner was SJ Tucker; this year’s are Sharon Knight and Heather Dale.  Your fee includes site fee for camping and admittance to all performances only, though there are vendors as well and the cost is considerably less than attending other festivals.

The first weekend in August I reserve for PanFest, another event just outside of Edmonton.  It was modeled after the Gathering, so it is family-friendly and food and accommodation for all dietary needs and levels of ability are included in your site fee.  PanFest is less expensive because the whole Alberta Pagan community, along with a prominent local nudist group, hold fundraisers all year to reduce expenses for everyone.  Just like the Gathering, it features excellent workshops, rituals and vendors, all part of the site fee.  I like the people I meet there and I really enjoy it.  The best place to be is the smoking pit, where all the older Pagans sit and talk after the day’s workshops are done.

In Western Canada, August is Pagan Pride month.  Vancouver, Nanaimo and the Okanagan Valley throw large celebrations with entertainment, workshops, rituals and vendors.  We try not to schedule on the same weekend so usually, you will find Vancouver’s event the weekend after PanFest (this year, August 10;) the Okanagan event on the weekend in the middle of the month (but this year, it will be August 30;) and Nanaimo’s near the end of August (this year, August 24th.)

Edmonton throws their Pagan Pride Day event early in September, and they do much the same sorts of things as the BC events.  Obviously camping and food are not included but you certainly don’t want to miss the fun; I generally drive there and crash with a friend.

Samhain marks the famous Edmonton and Nanaimo Witches’ Balls, provided that volunteer support bears them up in a given year, where you can dress up in your Witchy best, attend a Samhain dance and ritual with live or recorded Pagan music and have a great time.  Both of these events are fundraisers; Nanaimo raises money for their not-to-be missed Pagan Pride event, and Edmonton for PanFest.

So, if you’re in our neck of the woods, I hope I have given you some ideas for ways to spend your summer!  Blessed be.

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Sable Aradia (Diane Morrison) is a licensed Wiccan minister and a Third Degree initiate in the Star Sapphire and Pagans for Peace traditions. A writer, musician and vlogger, she makes her living through psychic readings, music, writing, and by teaching workshops. She also writes a column called "Seekers and Guides" and a subscription-only teaching blog based on her upcoming book "The Witch's Eight Paths of Power" (Red Wheel/Weiser, September 2014) at Patheos.com. Her channel on YouTube features her music, instructional witchcraft videos, and her many projects in the world of geekdom. Born and raised in Vernon, BC, Canada, she has been actively involved in the Canadian Pagan community for a little more than 20 years.

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