Early March and Glastonbury town centre is heaving – it’s the weekend of the Spring Faery Ball. I’m sat outside the Mocha Berry and I spy a dog wearing wings and a red tutu. Carl informs me that ‘the vicar’ (actually Diana, the Church of England’s ‘Avalon Pioneer Minister’) is in the Assembly Rooms wearing horns. A man in full armour is wandering along the street, closely followed by another in a monk’s habit, with a wiggly stick. Colin cycles past with a longbow and a quiver full of arrows strapped to his back, but he’s a local and this is something he does daily, so nothing odd there.
There’s a surprising number of goths in town, hair dyed jet black, steampunk top hats, boots with an impractically large number of buckles. They are mingling with the bewinged fairy folk, who are dressed either in forest greens or iridescent rainbow colours. Many of the costumes are awesome, if this was a stage production I imagine it would be a pantomime loosely based on the Matrix and Lord of the Rings with a smattering of My Little Pony and an unlimited glitter budget.
There’s a man in a black leather jacket with ‘The Mission’ emblazoned across the back. This prompts a discussion with the visitor from Oxfordshire on the next table, neither of us remember much about the Mission (despite both being the right age) and conclude that it’s because they were actually crap, even for a goth band. We try and think of some goth bands that weren’t crap – he suggests the Cure, but I think the Cure were more punk than goth, and my offer of Bauhaus he rejects on the basis that they were an Art House band. We mutually concur that no band that were actually any good can be defined as a goth band. We are both amused by the man advertising his love for a band that no one really liked even in the late 80’s.
This is why I like to sit outside the Mocha Berry – speak sufficiently loudly (and I do) and strangers will happily join in the conversation. At the next table some locals are explaining that they prefer Faerie balls to Goddess Conferences, as “Men can be Faeries too”.
The Faery Weekend kicks off with a Faery Market in the Town Hall, with both the large and small halls full of stalls selling fairy wings, steampunk hats, armour, pottery fairy houses (Ideal Gnomes?) fairy dolls and jewellery. I notice that the spot taken by the Satanists at the Occult Conference is now occupied by a stall selling soap, I wonder if some sort of cosmic cleansing was taking place, though I don’t expect it was intentional.
The Assembly Rooms features more faery themed market stalls, here I find Diana, wearing some cute but rather large and very black horns, she is offering Jesus Card readings. I’d always assumed divination was somewhat frowned upon by the Church of England, I don’t think they should be too worried though, as rather than predicting my future Diana talked very, very enthusiastically about Jesus. It turned out that all the cards revealed about me was that I was symbolized by Doubting Thomas – the cynic amongst Jesus’s disciples, who demands proof before faith. What the reading lacked in revelation it made up for in accuracy at least.
In the Town Hall I chat with Karen, the organizer of the Faery Weekends. Do check out Karen’s Faery Events website. I’m a little in awe – she runs a lot of events including regular faery weekends in Glastonbury and Cornwall and the yearly 3 Wishes Faery Festival She is also Editor in Chief and Founder of two magazines! FAE Magazine which is apparently “solely dedicated to living a faerie lifestyle”, and Mermaids & Mythology magazine. Even with all this going on it’s important to Karen to keep the events fresh, with new stallholders and themes at each event.
Karen invites me along to the Faery Ball that evening so I ask her what I should wear, she informs me the theme is ‘Forest Faeries and Dryads’ and adds “that shouldn’t be a problem, you’ll have something in your wardrobe”. I don’t think I own a single item of clothing that could be called Dryad. I don’t even think I have any glitter in the house, and I certainly don’t own any wings. Actually, I don’t even have a wardrobe. I could manage superannuated goth at a pinch, but then the man in the Mission T-shirt might try and make friends with me.
Karen tells me she lives in Penzance, but loves putting events on in Glastonbury, as much as she loves Cornwall, she feels more at home here. We’re interrupted by a man asking “do you sell ears?” and then recognizing Karen he gives her a hug. Karen explains that she can’t actually wear wings while she’s working as they’d be crushed by the constant hugging.
I mention how much I enjoy seeing Faery Ball attendees meeting Zombie Walkers in the High Street in Autumn (their events always take place over the same weekend). Karen doesn’t share my enthusiasm for the Zombies, they are banned from coming into the Faery Ball in costume as they scare the children. They also make a mess, Karen doesn’t mind glitter, but dislikes the Zombies “dripping all over the floor” at a Faery event.
I ask Karen about the crossover between Faeries, Re-enactors and LARPers (Live Action Role Players). She acknowledges that there is a relationship between all these groups that enjoy fantasy dress-up, but that there is an important distinction in that “We are faeries, we’re not just pretending”. She sees the Faery events as a “little haven, where people can be happy”. I’d assumed the event was a celebration of faeries, but I quickly realized that for the people who attend it’s about expressing their ‘inner faery’.
I pop along to the Faery Ball in the evening, it’s certainly an impressive event, the costumes are even more spectacular than those I had seen during the day. There’s music from Professor Elemental and Dutch folk rockers Harmony Glen, there’s a stilt-walker dressed as Pan (or perhaps he is the Horned God himself having a shindig). There’s a young woman in an amazing suit of elven armour, and costumes covered in so much greenery and flowers it looks like a benevolent version of ‘The Day of the Triffids”. Everyone is happy to be admired and photographed, there’s even a photo studio where the fairies are captured digitally and can buy 9” x 6” prints made there and then for a tenner. The faeries are having a wonderful time and towards the end of the evening the dancing gets quite raucous. I spend most of the evening dodging fairy wings and feeling woefully underdressed.
Click this link to Unwin Photography for their gallery of photos in which you can see some of the fantastic costumes, hopefully that will make up for my images of the event being a bit rubbish due to low light and my sudden attack of shyness.
I leave wishing that I could express my ‘inner faery’ with such enthusiasm, but perhaps I simply don’t have one, it turns out that when it comes to faeries, or Jesus, I’m still pretty agnostic.
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All text and photographs copyright Vicki Steward.