As one might expect, the 5th annual WitchsFest USA, which unfurled its freak flag over Astor Place on Saturday, was a hotbed for crazies. Oh, we’re not talking about the usual chatty theologians, fantasy-contact-wearing druid bachelors, springy sprites, and cute pagan moms wearing their fishnet best and proudly pushing faerie-winged kiddies through the packed street fest. No, you could hardly accuse these pagan faithful of being antisocial– instead, it was the Christian protest element, out in full force on Saturday afternoon, that earned the watchful eye of the police and the ire of a doting crust punk tribe.
No one had invited either of these troublemaking elements, but everyone– the 5-0, curious oglers, and the throngs of pagan faithful included– seemed surprisingly tolerant of the crusties for once, and appreciative of their ability to deflect the angry mob. As it turned out, the dusty traveling kids and their dogs beat the obnoxious protestors at their own game with a provocation strategy that involved looking cooler than a case of hopped-up cucumbers and displaying cardboard scraps that beckoned people to do things like “Smoke Crack Worship Satan.”
Just beyond the naysayers, the fest went off without a hitch and, for the most part, the vendors, performers, and panel discussants were left to enjoy the cause célèbre. WitchsFest USA gathered to honor Summer Solstice and raise funds for the New York City Wiccan Family Temple, whose leadership– High Priestess Reverend Starr RavenHawk and the center’s director, and Luna Rojas, also a Reverend and founder of the city’s Pagan civil rights advocacy organization– organized the festivities. We bumped into Rojas on the street. Dressed in a traditional witch hat (you know, the kind you can find at Halloween USA), she surprised us both with her classic and, some might say, stereotypical portrayal of the Craft, and her exceedingly welcoming demeanor.
If you didn’t have a chance to make it through the seriously long line leading to the psychic readers or spent too much time trying on handcrafted leather cat ears to get a decent glimpse at the revelers, you can catch up on all that staring by clicking through our slideshow.