Now in its 11th year, the Pagan Picnic has grown from modest beginnings in the backyards of two local pagan leaders into a two-day, full-fledged festival that combines music, a marketplace of vendors, food stands (including the ubiquitous "Sweet Meat Stix"), workshops and rituals, sprawling over the eastern end of Tower Grove Park. Organizers estimate that around 2,500 to 3,000 people attend the event, and it's clear that attendees are drawn by a wide range of enticements.
For starters, Pagan Picnic has to rank right up there with Pridefest as the perfect event to just come as you are. Are you a man who likes to wear skirts or kilts? A woman who fancies running around barefoot in fairy wings? A non-adherent to media-driven standards of beauty? Chances are, no one will bat an eyelash at you at Pagan Picnic...except to welcome you and perhaps hand you a colored streamer for dancing with. Plenty of merchandise is available to support the Pagan lifestyle, including informational books on Native religious traditions and spells, handmade soaps and body jewels and flowing clothing, crystal dragons and warlords and unicorns, and gorgeous willow furniture.
But for all the gawking to be done at the vendor booths (and, in my case, at some of the customers, too), Pagan Picnic is not focused on mere consumption. In several shady areas under the magnificent trees of Tower Grove Park, designated venues with names like "Oak Grove" and "Ritual Circle" played host to a full complement of workshops on everything from past-life regression to ethical use of spells to the enticing-sounding "Coming Out of the Broom Closet," led by a St. Charles-based group of folks to help with the issues that might arise in dealing with family and friends when you're a born-again Pagan.
And just what is a born-again Pagan, you might ask? Something to do with animal sacrifice and patchouli? Most Pagan religions of which there are a host, based in many different indigenous traditions share in common an Earth-centered spirituality, belief in the interconnection of life, personal autonomy and polytheism. They may be historically based (such as Druidism or various Native American practices) or more contemporary, like the Church of All Worlds, which was founded in 1962 and based on the novel "Stranger in a Strange Land." As an outside observer, I also note that there seems to be a great sense of humor that pervades Pagan practices, too; the theme of this year's picnic was "Gimme That Old-Time Religion," punctuated by a graphic of Stonehenge.
Next year's Pagan Picnic, scheduled for June 5 and 6 of 2004, has the theme of "Discovering Spiritual Frontiers," a nod to the Lewis and Clark fervor that's already gripping the region in preparation for commemorative celebrations. To find out more or get involved in the planning, contact the Council for Alternative Spiritual Traditions (C.A.S.T.) at 314-481-3575 or online at www.cast-stl.org.