Ren Faire Retrospective

Why does this fairy-tale fair hold such allure for so many?

Sep. 16, 2016
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Ah Ren Faire, how do I love thee? Let me count those ways. Giant pickles on a stick. Likewise, chowing down on some shepherd's pie or a turkey leg with abandon. Hard cider, honey mead, and absinthe kinds of ways. Crossbow training, annual Kamala's Own Magickal and Mundane Perfumery incense purchases, and "Vegetable Justice" sorts of ways. Diving into the mud show. Coming home with dusty sandaled, dirty feet. Seeing heavily costumed lords and ladies taken away on stretchers some years in extreme heat. Joining up with actor friends. Window shopping through poundage of corsets and leather and chainmail. Getting caught up in the infectious juggling, hip-shaking, whip-cracking and general merriment. There used to be a "Dungeon of Horrors." I do miss that.

When I lived in Chi-town, I used to catch two professional actors practice their swordplay in preparation for the event in our spacious old apartment lobby. Indeed, the location of Bristol draws both Illinoians and Wisconsities alike to this prime half-way spot. Some folks save up a boatload of cash to blow on all the garb at the Ren Faire. Now with the popularity of  Steampunk, it is not difficult to spend. Although I am a fan of trying on many hats for fun when there and perusing the silver jewelry, oils, and statues, I try to make my purchases wisely. I prefer to just immerse myself in the real life make-believe for a day.

This is one of the only places where you can wear absolutely anything and be accepted – no joke. Fairies, witches, goblins, Mr. Spock, cavemen, knights, wenches, Xena, belly dancers, Anubis, hobbits, vampires – just go for it, OK? The most surreal outfit one year was a shubbery man straight out of a Monty Python skit. He kept popping up everywhere and simply saying, "hi," to all before skittering away in his green bodysuit and foliage. That is part of why the Ren Faire is so alluring. It encourages you to play like a kid again all day long. Have a fantasy? Indulge it here and no one will judge you for it. If anything you will get compliments, the more creative you are. Costumes are not required, but this is one of the few venues you can wear a fake pair of horns on your head, so why not take advantage, yo?

Last year I was Artemis the huntress. This year I ran out of time, so I simply wore most of the accessories I've purchased there, in a Renaissancey spirit. Next time around, I'm leaning toward Bast, the cat goddess. But we will see where the spirit moves me.

My tradition has become to attend on the final day, Labor Day. The goal is to hit the grounds about mid-day (noon to one-ish), which leaves one plenty of time to partake in the various revelries, shows, sights, and plain old people-watching at a leisurely pace. Then, when the final drum circle begins to gather in the Lord Mayor's Forum, the real party begins. Young and old, costumed and not, jump in and start dancing about to the call of the huge toms and well-toned Djembes providing beats that build up to several ecstatic frenzies. There is sweat. Lots of it. Folks pass communal water goblets around so no one gets dehydrated. Everyone becomes completely abandoned, truly shaking it like they just don't care. Some just crowd around to watch. But ever since my first attendance in 2006, I've been unable to control myself from leaping into the fray and staying there until the very last thump. A large stick of incense burns nearby the musicians for good measure. It doesn't get much more Pagan than this. If you've ever wanted to truly dance like no one is watching, I cannot recommend it highly enough. 

Unlike many festivals, where workers all seem crabby and tired by the last day (Summerfest), Ren Faire doesn't seem afflicted by that ailment. A cheery group of lords and ladies of the Queen's Court serenade you on your way out, "until next year." As you shuffle back to your car on a little cloud of bliss, you promise yourself, yup. Next year.

Get more information about the Renaissance Faire here.


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