Note: see end of post for recent update to this review.
I have attended the Spring Mysteries Festival, hosted by the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, many times. It’s really refreshing to be at a large complex multi-day ritual, that is so devotedly and competently done.
Some festivals are the land of the Party Pagan, whose main interest in festivals are in costumes and mead (1). While there are definitely attendees who fit this mold, this is a festival that isn’t shaped for that purpose, something that is a relief to me. Sometimes it feels like the more religious Pagans are few and hard to find. Based in this experience, the sincere dedication to ritual that deeply engages the gods and the participant, clearly and well executed in this festival is a joy.
As an ecstatic tradition Pagan and lesbian, my interest in the extremely heteronormative streams of Paganisms has been limited. The ATC has in the past been steeped in this valid but not-for-me stream of Paganism. I recall attending a non-mystery ritual there years ago which I had to leave mid ritual because of a requirement to direct energy opposite to the ways the Gods meant for me. However, I was delighted, having been away for several years, to return finding that there was room for me and others like me to participate fully without having to compromise on how our energy runs. All acts of love and pleasure, indeed.
So what actually happens there? Well, it’s a mystery. I can’t actually tell you much about the rituals – which are, well, a mystery. The nature of mysteries is that they don’t translate well to descriptions without corresponding experience. To protect the power of this particular mystery, I’ve given my oath not to.
However, here is how the festival is described on the church’s website:
Since 1985, Aquarian Tabernacle Church has been continuing the Eleusinian Mysteries originally held in Ancient Greece. These mysteries, held every year in honor of Demeter and Persephone, explore universal concepts and truths from the perspective of the seeker of hidden knowledge. Our Priests and Priestesses spend 3-4 months preparing for the festival, working with the energies of the Gods and rehearsing the ritual drama that is presented over 4 days for hundreds of people each Easter Weekend.
Though the main portions of the event focus on Greek deities, there are many workshops and other groups that bring a plethora of alternate ways to explore, including the general mysteries of women, men and those who identify as a mixture of both energies. There is also a vendors space, with many often-requested items and trinkets to take home, and plenty of space for conversations or introspective moments.
Everyone who attends will come away transformed and with wonderful memories of their time in Eleusis.
What I can tell you is that it was personally profound for me, and that a Pagan with a sincere interest in opening her heart to the Gods will find much to nourish her there, as it did me. You get out of it what you contribute, as is true of most things magical. It’s deepened my engagement with several of the Gods on a personal level, and with my matron Goddess in particular. I have attended at times of transition in my life and found it very valuable in seeing the way forward.
With group dormitories (old army barracks) it’s a good festival to go to with your coven. It’s also reasonably accessible for elders, but make sure you let them know about any mobility difficulties when registering. Children can be accommodated and there are some child-friendly activities, particularly during the day, but there are aspects of the core ritual which are for adults and older teens, and which take place late at night.
(1) If you love to celebrate your mirth and reverence in party pagan style – The Gathering for Life on Earth is a low cost festival you may enjoy. Note the location for GFLOE is not accessible to elders and those for whom stairs are a barrier.
Update February 2020: In recent times, I’ve become a bit cautious about the Aquarian Tabernacle Church – perhaps its the cultural divide between brash American style and Canadian politeness, but it seems to highly oriented toward fundraising through selling products, and I’ve noticed the lower level priests and priestesses do not appear to be well supported, while attempting to make ‘stars’ of others. I understand this is a model used in a lot of US based new age religion, but it’s surprizing and sad when applied to such a long term and respected church, with a history of extremely powerful, devoted and sincere religious practice I’d come to respect. Also, the characterization of Goddesses is quite heterocentric and doesn’t reach beyond the most 1950’s feminine stereotypes from a male perspective. I feel it underserves Them.