Festival culture dates back to the very beginnings of our human existence. Originally a pilgrimage for shared belief, it is also the practice of creating a sacred space or spaces that embody a certain paradigm. The popularity and longevity of such an activity makes it evident that in human culture we must come to know an idea through experience in order for it to have the most prolific effect.
National Geographic explorer, Wade Davis (see video at bottom), spent thirty years living with the Peruvian people of Chinchero, an Incan civilization that dates back approximately two thousand years. Towards the end of his residence he participated in a traditional festival and pilgrimage. It involved a group of people from the community who ran together from the base of the Andean mountainside, ascending to the peaks and then once again descending to the bottom of the mountains without rest for 24 hours. “The metaphor is clear,” says Davis, “You go into the pilgrimage as an individual, but through exhaustion, through sacrifice, you emerge as a community that has once again re-affirmed its sense of place in the planet.”
Though this is an extreme example of shared experience, it illuminates the concept that ritual and organized activity are deeply engrained in our culture and that they have shown to encourage transformative behavior in an individual and their collective. In accordance to the age-old saying – to see is to believe – to see the practical benefits of a permaculture site or community garden is intensely moving, more so than any permaculture manual could hope to achieve. To then move even further into the experience and participate in building that permaculture site with a group of people is deeply transformative.
When stepping into a sacred space, such as a festival or community garden, you pass through a certain threshold. You are able to step outside of your individuation and participate as one part of a greater whole; the community. The very nature of shared experience requires a certain level of communion. Though we like to assume that we are connecting with others from behind the cozy wall of a touch screen, this is often not the case. Due to the fast pace of our modern world, the opportunity to truly connect with others is fast becoming scarce. However, one of our most ancient methods for bringing people together is through rituals.
What form that ritual takes is critical. Considering that whoever is participating in the said ritual will be investing a lot of meaning and energy into it, therefore intentions must be clear and un-convoluted. While there are many festivals and organized group activities that are functioning for the greater good of the world, such as; Lightning in a Bottle in California, Woodford Folk Festival and Bluesfest in Australia and of course the notorious Burning Man Festival in the Nevada desert, there are also many which are not.
In his lecture, The World Wide Web of Culture and Belief, Davis says that “the measure of a society is not only what it does but the quality of its aspirations.” It is imperative to maintain clear aspirations within a community. And this is perhaps precisely the function of festivals — to provide a tangible and interactive demonstration of people’s aspirations.
The emergence of sustainability-focused festivals is providing visceral experiences to communities around the world. Ensuring that practical lifestyle solutions are presented in an accessible and compelling arena. By drawing ideas and education into the present reality, festivals and other organized activities give people meaning and re-affirm their sense of place on the planet.
I would like to re-iterate a quote from the writer and enthnobotanist Terence McKenna that has always provoked in me a deep aspiration for the future of human communion. It reads thus, “Imagine if every problem were solved appropriately, if every relationship evolved appropriately. That alone would be the kingdom of heaven. And that is, I think, what we’re pushing toward. Not cosmic fireworks but simply appropriate activity — empowered, felt experience — and the abandonment of the illusion of separateness.”