WitchsFest 2018 Makes Magick in Manhattan
Article by Tony Sokol
A little bit of wind and the threat of rain didn't stop the cauldrons from boiling in New York City at the 7th Annual WitchsFest USA - A Pagan Street Faire. This year's summer event went on for two days in two locations. On Saturday, July 14th they filled Astor Place between Broadway and Lafayette Street with magic, music and dance. Mephistopheles may be a mouthful in Manhattan, according to Robert De Niro in Angel Heart, but on Sunday July 15th, the magicians cooked up Hell's Kitchen on West 39th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues.
|Tony Sokol with Lilith Dorsey and Louisa Knapp|
"As a native New Yorker, the fact that WitchsFest takes place in Manhattan makes it all the more magickal," Lilith Dorsey told Autoeroticasphyxium zine. "The city has a unique power and majesty that you can see manifested in the people that make up this event, its amazing organizer Starr Ravenhawk, her wonderful staff comprised of people like Luna Rojas who always knows what to say and how to say it, and some of the best presenters, authors, and performers from around the world," Dorsey says.
Rev. Starr RavenHawk has been organizing and serving the New York City Pagan Community since 1995. She founded the NYC Wiccan Family Temple, and WFT Academy Of Pagan Studies and Dragan Academy in 2007. The intuitive witch, tarot advisor, candle therapist and spell crafter founded WitchsFest USA In 2012.
|With Starr Ann Ravenhawk|
"It's all about community," says the “Witch Queen of New York” Lady Rhea, who owns Magickal Realms in the Bronx, "bringing a sacred space with classes and entertainment for our people. Vendors get to promote their business and meet and greet. Different organizations get to share their information."
Rhea, who opened the legendary lower east side occult shop Enchantments with owner Lady Miw (aka Carol Bulzone) in 1982, after putting in time at Herman Slater’s Magickal Childe, has been "personally hosting the New York Pagan scene since the 1970s and have always been exhilarated in sharing my love for the craft." The Wiccan High Priestess is the author of the 2004 book The Enchanted Candle and The Enchanted Formulary: Blending Magickal Oils for Love, Prosperity, and Healing, which came out in September 2006.
|Lady Rhea and Starr Ann Ravenhawk|
"Every year is different, just like the magick of snowflakes no two the same," Lady Rhea says. "I did feel there were less people out of fear, because of the recent rash of open violence in large crowds throughout the country. It's just a theory of mine, no proof and no one declined to come due to that reason to my knowledge."
This year's event wasn't as marred by the protestations of a faithful few as last year's event. A mere handful showed up and, while they tried to infiltrate the vendors and speakers, occasionally taking credit for the wind, they quickly dissolved after snorting a few sprinkles of goofer dust, available surprisingly cheap at one of the stands.
"They do not bother me at all," Rhea says. "I simply do not care. They do not pay my bills nor will they embrace my faith and vice versa. They did draw people, though, so they were in a sense great advertisement."
WitchsFest embraces all faiths, mainstream and what is considered alternative, because alternate routes avoid dead ends. "The community was served by allowing us to come together at Witchsfest USA and show each other and the world that we are just as glorious and magickal during the day as we are at night," Dorsey told us. "By that I mean many of the traditions represented such as witchcraft, New Orleans voodoo, Haitian Vodou, and others were practices that were traditionally kept in secret or darkness, and while in many instances that was done for safety and security purposes, we are now able to show our ways in a glorious arena in public, quite literally in the street, with highly informative workshops, dazzling performances, and moving rituals."
Upon entering the charmed block, Dorsey, who I quoted in an article on the dark magic of Prince's Black Album, presented me with a devotional card. "Saint Prince," Lilith said. "It's still so hard for many of us to come to terms with the passing of Prince. He was an icon and an iconoclast, an inspiration and a true genius. In many spiritual traditions when someone great leaves this plane, their spirit lives on. This is certainly the case with Prince. When I heard of his passing, I immediately began to create an altar for him, with his pictures, his symbol, candles, and an over-abundance of purple glitter. I honor him and his powerful messages of love and acceptance that still inspire me today."
Dorsey is an expert practitioner of Haitian Vodou, New Orleans Voodoo, and Santeria, and a respected voice for Afro-Diasporan Pagan religions. She wrote the books Voodoo and Afro-Caribbean Paganism, Love Magic: Over 250 Spells and Potions for Getting it, Keeping it, and Making it Last and The African-American Ritual Cookbook. Dorsey directed the experimental documentary film Bodies of Water: Voodoo Identity and Tranceformation.
|Tony Sokol and Rebeca Spirit|
"I met Lilith Dorsey at HexFest 2015, she took me under her wing and has been guiding and teaching me since," says Rebeca Spirit, boss at Rebecca's Spirit. "Lilith teaches me how to work with Voodoo and to approach certain deity. Lilith is a great teacher who shares so much of her knowledge. She also encourages me to stretch past my ideas and try new things." Spirit, whose specialty is tarot and mediumship, is "in the process of learning about astrology and all the ways we are affected by the stars."
"We are so fortunate to have a huge community of witches, pagans, psychics, and spiritualists," says Spirit. "Being able to meet up for an amazing weekend of fun and community is such a blessing. It's easy to get wrapped up in the crazy of the world, so much going on causing such distress, and having the ability to 'check in' with our peers and friends is priceless. I personally am so grateful for the chance to spend just a small bit of time with such wonderfully magical beings."
"It felt like I was spending the weekend at the family’s vacation home," adds europa-C, an eclectic solitary witch, who is a first degree student at the WFT Academy Of Pagan Studies and Dragan Academy. "Cousins and aunts in the scorching hot sun preparing for a big feast. The Sun represents willpower, activity, and energy to us, and boy did I see a bunch of hard working old ladies. We call them the Chrone aka the wise. What a bunch of Wicked (cool) witches."
"This weekend's WitchsFest was amazing, and not just because of the food, music, weather or great products," says Rebecca Spirit. "But because of the community, and the people that were there."
"One of the many reason I return to WitchsFest every year is I always feel like I am returning home for a family picnic," agrees E. Massey, the High Priest of The Moonlit Grove, a local community of Witches and Pagans in Pennsylvania. "Growing up within the NYC community, in my 'little Witch' days, I knew many of the familiar faces seen throughout WitchsFest. What I love most about the NYC community is the unique and diverse dynamics of it. You meet people that are very traditional and others who walk their own path. Yet they are all there for the same reason, to experience the magick of community."
Nominated for the 2018 Witch Way Magazine Awards “Favorite Witch Teacher," surrealist artist E. Massey is the author of the book A Modern Witch's Curriculum, as well as Casting Creative Magickal Circles. "I have been a patron of WitchsFest USA since its start. However this was the first year I joined some of the most amazing speakers and teachers in the magickal community, not as patron but as a presenter. The decision to be a part of WitchsFest was due the release of my second book. Already having experienced its presence within the community, I knew it would the perfect event for me."
Massey, who is part of the Pennsylvania investigative group Paranormal Spirit Finders, has been a practicing Witch for over 20 years. Trained and initiated into the Gardnerian tradition when he was 13, and initiated in Santeria as a separate spiritual path, he is a medicine man who merges family's indigenous spiritualist with traditional Witchcraft. The performers merge music with magic. "I am a magical healer, as was my mom and my grandma before me," says Margot Day of Metamorph, which brings mysticism and mind-altering visuals to their tracks. "Channeling the music and singing in tongues, then organizing the chaos and capturing the essence, molding and melding with Kurtis Knight and offering our Metamorph music – an alchemy of sound to inspire and transform. We invite the listener to follow their hopes and dreams."
This is the first time Day has performed at the annual block party, but it's not her first time on the block. “I played in street festivals in the East Village with my band The Plague in the 1980s," says Day. "So with WitchsFest felt like I had come home to New York – home to so much wild gorgeous fabulous witchyness."