“Wiccan, as well as satanic, symbolism was in nearly every gift shop.”
— from a Yelp.com review of the Georgia Rennaisance Faire, quoted in Well Met (237).
Rachel Lee Rubin’s Well Met: Renaissance Faires and the American Counterculture is, obviously, not about contemporary Paganism, but the two topics cross paths occasionally, as the quote above shows. Reading made me think once again that most studies of Paganism in the United States, at least, tend to shy away from class issues, although gender issues are plowed through in all directions.
Yes, the “redneck Disneyland” description comes from someone in the book. And there is this quote from a participant about Renn Faire visitors as a whole: “The ones who hate their [mundane] jobs wear really great costumes.” When you think of a song like “Take This Job and Shove It,” what social group comes to mind?
Rubin traces the Renn Faire phenomenon from one created in the mid-1960s outside Los Angeles as a fundraiser for the left-leaning Pacific Radio network. So that was “countercultural” in the 1960s sense. But it is not the 1960s anymore. Who goes to Renn Faires? The (mostly) white lower-middle and working class, I would say.
Somewhat like the Renn Faires, the Pagan movement in America was mostly birthed by leftish intellectual bohemians (but not totally). Decades later, should the movement still be described that way? I don’t think so. But who is researching this question?
And apparently the “crackpot religion” of Wicca is one of those currently countercultural things to have found a home on the Renn Faire circuit, along with homosexuality and polyamory (216).
At least two questions drive the narrative and analysis of Well Met. One concerns the potential centrality of the Renaissance faire to our understanding of the counterculture in the 1960s and 1970s. Is the faire essential to the story of hippie explorations into communalism, antimodernism, and craft revival, as well as rock and folk music revivals? Rubin gives a resounding, and rather persuasive, yes. Another question that the author specifically poses in her introduction is, “To what concrete personal, political, and cultural uses can a group of Americans put a past that, for the most part, is not their own?” (p. 3). Answers to that question have evolved over the faire’s history.
There is (who knew? not me) a chapter devoted to a subgenre of romance novels set at Renaissance Faires, of which I can say only that that is not as strange as romance novels set in Amish communities, which is another subgenre.