The St. Louis Pagan Picnic started some 21-years-ago. I went to the second one that they had. A picnic of “witches, druids, and pagans” was an unusual event for good old conservative St. Louis back then. I remember that the year I attended, a picture of the opening circle made the front page of the Post Dispatch newspaper.
I was a lot more involved in the pagan scene at that time than I am now. I was running a restaurant at the time and for the first couple of years I donated all of the ice for the picnic from my restaurant. I wondered what the bosses would have thought if they had known that. I was even a little worried about one of the higher ups in the company seeing me in the paper participating in the opening ceremony, but that turned out to be nothing to worry about, because I later found out my boss was totally cool about it. The only time I really got into trouble at work over being a pagan was when I helped an employee who was writing about witchcraft for a high school history project. All I did was correct some of the facts that she had in the paper, but her mom found out and complained.
Back in the beginning, the picnic was just a bunch of pagans getting together to have a family-style picnic. There was a pot luck, mostly vegetarian, but some of the folks also brought meat and other foodstuffs to barbecue. And all of the food was free to sample as you wished.
There was also some sporadic music and a couple of bands came and played, but it was mostly just people playing their flutes or forming informal drum circles. A couple of people gave talks, but it was sort of Socrates style, the speaker would start talking about something and gradually people gathered around to listen.
There were also other activities that would remind you of a family picnic: There was a softball game, and a tug or war. I remember I brought my friend Greg, who weighed in at about 350 pounds and everybody jokingly said that I had brought in a ringer. But, in a rope tug, weight isn’t everything, and I remember Greg being pulled face first into the mud. Despite some bruised egos and muddy clothes, it was still a lot of fun.
I also remember seeing a handfasting (marriage) ceremony, and a wiccaning, which is sort of like a christening, only pagan style. I remember a group of young Black kids walking by and noticing a bunch of weirdly dressed people holding up a baby and started running for their lives!
In the beginning, there were always a small group of Christian “missionaries” walking around suspiciously, clutching Bibles to their chests. They must have done something pretty bad to be sent into what some of them must have thought was the pit of Hades. One of them cautiously approached a man with long hair and a beard who was wearing a tie dye T-Shirt and carving a water melon with a huge butcher knife. As the missionary approached, he turned suddenly and looked at the man, who must have thought the worst because he visibly cringed. The man with the long hair then invited the Christian to sit and have a piece of watermelon with him.
I hadn’t been to the pagan picnic for several years when a friend, who had never been, invited me to go. We went for a couple of hours on the Sunday of the weekend long picnic which took place in June this year.
The first thing that I noticed was I didn’t see anyone in ritual garb this year. There was a lot of leather, Tie Dyes, interesting hats, and people covered with tattoos, but no long flowing robes or other ritual garb. The main activities listed on the website were a Norse ritual and a ritual to get pagans in tough with one another. There were also the opening and closing ceremonies each day. The only thing that we saw there Sunday afternoon was a band playing and some belly dancing. I love belly dancing and know a girl that does it professionally, but I thought that it was more Middle Eastern than pagan.
It just seemed that it was a lot more commercial than it’s been in the past. There were a lot of vendors with some interesting stuff, but it seemed like a lot of them traveled around the country selling their wares rather than the mom-and-pop vendors selling crafts like in the past.
The St. Louis Pagan Picnic has gone the way of some other events in St. Louis that have become popular such as Pride Fest, which is taking over downtown this year. Our Mardi Gras has become the third largest in the nation. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is huge now, and the Fourth of July celebration, although it doesn’t draw the millions like it has in the past, still fills up the riverfront all weekend long.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed going to the pagan picnic this year like I always have. I had fun. I guess when an event is really interesting and enjoyable and there’s money to be made, it gets big. But the picnic is more like a bazaar or crafts fair now instead of an old fashioned picnic like it used to be and I guess that’s progress. To some, anyway.