Reflections on The Starwood Festival, in Pomeroy, OH
During the height of summer festival season for 2018, and I began seeing things that bothered me more and more. It really brought out issues of consent, particularly where it is assumed to be granted vs where it is explicitly granted, and the idea of “community.”
At one festival, a friend had a gift from her mother cut off her tent and stolen as part of a Pirate Flag stealing game. It was her first festival, and none of this was explained to her. It was just assumed she was participating, and has been told multiple (paraphrased) times that “well, that’s just how the game goes,” and “if you didn’t want it stolen, you should not have brought it.”
It happens that at a festival I attended, the year before, I had my own pirate flag that I had put out onto the side of Nightshade, specifically, so friends who were attending could find where we were camped. Someone on a golf cart, claiming to be a member of security, warned that “well, it’s gonna get stolen, cuz that’s how the game goes.” Again, this was new to me, and after pushing back along the lines of “no one here has consented to this game” his reply was, basically, “it doesn’t matter, I’m just giving a warning and a heads up; it will get stolen.”
Again, how rape-y.
Concerning another festival due to take place later in 2018, a friend discovered that a photo of her and her child had been used for this year’s marketing collateral. After some back and forth with members of the festival crew, it was pointed out to her that she had consented to all terms and conditions on their website by agreeing to attend. Though this is normal, what I found specifically concerning was “All guests consent to photography…[to be used] in promotional [material]” and that people attending with children “understand that photography WILL be taken of their children” and that they “consent to photography” of their children, also to be used potentially in promotional material. Their photo policy further states that they possess full copyright “of all photographs” taken during their event and that “guests who photograph [at the event] consent to [the crew] using their photos” in promotional material. Her follow up contacts have been ignored by the festival crew in question ever since. It appears to be their modus operandi.
Yet again, how rape-y.
Also concerning that same festival crew’s marketing efforts, I discovered a photo of mine edited and used to advertise ticket sales for the same festival without my consent, and without any compensation. My out-reach to them was most definitely read and ignored. Instead, the event crew’s co-founder reached out to the talent depicted in the photo in order to see about continuing to use the photo. They never contacted me directly about using it or continuing to use it. Ultimately, my attorney sued them for copyright infringement.
Once again, how rape-y.
Another annual event’s photo policy states that “your attendance…grants consent for any picture or movie that is put in the public domain, taken by you, to be used [by us].” People who pay to attend are consenting, by default, that any photography they take, professional or not, can be used promotionally to sell tickets to the event, without any need to contact the original photographer or to discuss purchasing rights to use those photographs in any commercial manner.
Still fucking rape-y.
And, in 2019, I attended a festival in Massachusetts. For the 4 days on site before the festival opened, the pirate flag was left alone. I had put it up for friends to use as a landmark, again, to help them find me once the festival itself opened. On the day the festival opened, the flag was stolen from my camp. During dinner, that same night, I made an announcement that it was stolen, and thievery was not cool. Though some sitting at dinner snickered, a couple of people sneered, and I pointed out that snickering and sneering at a theft was not cool, no one came forward. The flag, ultimately, was never returned.
Contrast the above behavior, experiences, and policies with excerpts from the venue page that hosts The Starwood Festival, a Pagan oriented summer festival in Ohio:
- Leave No Trace is a set of principles for participation in outdoor recreation that seeks to minimize the impact on the natural environment. Proponents of Leave No Trace believe that individual impacts caused by recreation can accumulate to degrade the land. Therefore, the Leave No Trace message encourages people who spend time in the out-of-doors to behave in such a way that they can minimize unavoidable impacts and prevent avoidable impacts. It is often summarized: “Take only photos, leave only foot prints.”
- Please be respectful of the privacy of others while photographing and recording. It is necessary to obtain permission from the subjects to photograph people.
- If it is not yours, please leave it where it is. This could be a chair, a drum, a blanket, or other instruments. The owner WILL return for that item, whether it be tonight, tomorrow, or next year. Please help us maintain the trust we hold with our attendees that their things will be safe with their neighbors.
- Please do not touch anyone without their consent, be they dancer, drummer, or other energy worker. You are also an energy worker, and please feel empowered to speak to any of the staff nearby, or a fire tender, if you are made to feel uncomfortable. Please do be aware that drummers, dancers, and energy workers may be on their own journeys, and attempting to engage them is a form of energetic touch which also requires consent.
During my time at Starwood, I put out my pirate flag. It was left alone, even though there were Pirates everywhere and I was on site for a week.
From start to finish, the Starwood Festival was true community participation. The opening ceremony was an authentic and honest ritual without any ridiculously new-age appropriative “shamanic” costuming and verbal psychotwaddle, one that took itself so seriously that they could laugh every time someone made a mistake. Saturday night at Starwood, which is typically the peak night of any festival that takes place, generated more energy and tapped into deeper magick with more reliance on organic instruments, individual moments of ritual, and the acknowledgment that accepting chaos and loss of control is as equally necessary as structure and planning.
Via conversations held with people, Starwood had its largest festival attendance (estimates were about 1,200 by Saturday afternoon), and on Sunday it was stated that there were zero calls required to any outside services. No medical/EMS calls and no calls to Law Enforcement needed to be contacted, and the property was, to the best of my knowledge, left completely alone and un-harassed by any outside authorities.
I urge us all to look past the veneer of whichever festivals we have attended this year or in years past. The most powerful magick, art, performance, or transformative festival experience occurs when the artist, magus, director, or crew can create the ritual experience, canvas, stage, or structure that allows the participants to tap into the deep flow of energy on their own, in their own way, as they will. In the end, what is magick, but “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.” Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.
We preach magick and transformative experiences yet fail at allowing deep magick to truly manifest in favor of more lights, more visuals, more sonic ambience, more forced authenticity, creating the proper aesthetic, and lust for control and structure. We preach consent and support while failing to see how another person may need to be heard or listened to. We assume or we require that consent is given just by virtue of physically existing in the same space. We preach PLUR constantly, but fail to apply it to others in favor of requiring it and expecting it for ourselves first. Therefore, I feel it is appropriate to challenge all of the so-called transformational festival crews, organizations, tribes, retreats, events, burns, and communities that we are a part of to actually learn something from Starwood Festival’s example.
We conveniently appropriate elements of paganism, here and there, into our respective scenes while forgetting that Pagans have been partying in the wilderness, and have been doing it better with far less, for a much, much longer time. We can do better.
We must do better.