Everybody loves a parade.
I cannot find an attribution for that quote, but the sentiment is surely ancient. There’s something about a procession of people, vehicles, and sometimes animals in a line down a road that makes people want to come out and watch. It’s an old, old concept; there are references to “triumphal processions” dating back thousands of years, for example, and the same sense of celebration is captured in ticker-tape parades held today. While the purpose of any particular march might not sit well with each observer, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that overall, everybody loves a parade.
The religion I practice, Hellenismos, has parades — we also call them “processions” — baked right in. Rather than setting sacred space by casting a circle or by sanctifying a building (although the latter is a laudable goal), today we proceed to the temple or shrine as a way to alter consciousness. I did something similar when I was an active Gaiaped (backpacking Pagan) by touching trees along the trail I was hiking. It wasn’t sufficient to commune with any particular tree, but instead helped me get in tune with the trail as a whole.
I happen to live in a community wherein parades are a disproportionately big deal. The biggest is the one on Halloween, when there are nearly as many people walking down Main Street as live in this community. That’s not the only one, though: there’s the pride parade, one on Memorial Day (the real one, mind you, rather than the sad Monday substitute), a celebration of Little League players, and one that happens on Palm Sunday. Once or twice there was something called a “Phool’s Parade,” which didn’t last either due to poor weather in April and May, or maybe because of the odd spelling.
What I see are three important pillars for parades in my life: they are an ancient way of gathering the people, they are a sacred part of traditions I follow, and they are woven deeply into the culture of my community. Nevertheless, it did not occur to me that New Paltz Pagan Pride, first and foremost, needed to be a parade. That notion arose for Anton Stewart, praised be his name, for it’s the parade that shall set apart this pride festival from all others held on behalf of those who follow a Pagan path.
All things come at a price, however. With few exceptions, organizers of parades in New Paltz — at least the big ones, which involve stopping traffic rather than following the sidewalk — must pay not only for a permit, but for the police officers’ time as well. That’s not an unreasonable request, but it is one that can easily run until four digits. Throw in the (refundable) cleaning deposit for the park, and you’re looking at a couple grand in seed money. With some careful fundraising at the event itself (charging vendors, holding raffles, perhaps a silent auction), the money for a second and successive parades should be much easier to acquire than that for the first. Such is the nature of money that it draws itself to itself.
I’m looking to plant that glorious seed.
To that end, I’ve started a crowdfunding campaign to get that first wonderful event on the map. It could well be a glorious addition to the religious diversity of New Paltz, which already features a Palm Sunday parade and in which there are plans for an event called “Praise in the Park.” The typical pattern would be a parade that leads to an event; in this case, it would be a Pagan pride day. I’d like to covens, circles, groves of leafy Druids and hooded adherents of mystery traditions congregate in the parking lot of the middle school before following a police escort down Main Street. Perhaps they’d even build floats! We’d chant and throw flowers as we stepped lively down the hill to Hasbrouck Park, where rituals and lessons would be the theme of the day.
Free events are not free! I’m astounded at how much time and effort goes into finding and coordinating people to pull off a simple ritual and provide more information for the curious. Above and beyond the parade, the park I’m looking at only has a nominal cost ($25 last I checked), but there’s also a $500 deposit against cleanup (which cannot be waived, but can be returned) and the cost of event insurance (which can be waived for groups that have no money). Folks also talk about designing and distributing posters, selling t-shirts, and woo-boy, it adds up quickly.
In a perfect world, the expenses of future years are paid for by the money hauled in during the previous. I do not know how perfect this world might be, but I do know that succeeding even once at parading Pagans down my main street would be boss. Traditionally there’s no admission charge for pride days, which is something I’d like to preserve. I also know that priming the pump is the first step regardless.
Perhaps there’s just no market for this kind of lavish event in this area. There’s anecdotal evidence that there are quite a few Pagans in the region (the village supports a metaphysical shop, and there are others in several nearby communities), but maybe they’re here and deeply closeted, maybe they’re not: we had three metaphysical shops just ten years ago, after all. Perhaps it’s pointless even to try. Perhaps I’m a fool for even thinking about going big or going home.
On the other hand, maybe I should start with something simpler, like a poison ivy festival.