Bele Chere 2013: Going Out With Style

Coven Oldenwilde volunteers in 'Witches of Coven Oldenwilde' t-shirts.

Coven Oldenwilde’s volunteer band of wristbanders.

For the third year in a row, Coven Oldenwilde manned a “beer bracelet” booth during Asheville’s annual street fair held on the last weekend in July.
Booth table with assorted appurtenances and signs

Booth table on Friday, July 26, 2013. (Click photo to view fullsize in new window.)

This year was heartrending since weeks before, City Council voted to discontinue the event after this, its last hurrah. Public input was not solicited prior to the surprise move. We were stunned that our city renowned for cultivating tourism would dispense with the well-known event it had publicized nationally for decades. Further, forty local non-profits have benefitted from receiving a percentage of the proceeds they raise on behalf of the city by working the event. Worse still, we soon learned that two other festivals — LAFF and Goombay — are also cancelled this year.
Ribbons, divination kits, cards, signs on a table

Ribbons, divination kits, cards, signs ….

Decorated card, 'Magical Bookmarks', atop silver ribbons in basket

Samhain 2012’s handfasting ribbons became Bele Chere 2013’s magical bookmarks!

Nonetheless, Coven Oldenwilde decided to go out with a bang. In addition to selling alcohol bracelets, we planned to elicit donations in exchange for handmade, organic divination kits, copies of The Goodly Spellbook, Coven T-shirts, and embossed Handfasting ribbons from Samhain 18 re-purposed as magical bookmarks.
Cauldron with 'TIPS' sign, small brass bell, lid

Our “tips cauldron” with a bell hung on its bail and a lid in case of rain.

While prep was duly extensive, it was well worth the effort because we made mad “tips” this year — often a fiver or sawbuck put in our cauldron in appreciation of our being public Witches!
Booth table with assorted appurtenances

Booth table on Saturday.

View of booth with pavilion above table, two water barrels on either side anchoring guy ropes

Coven Oldenwilde’s booth open for business.

As always, we received a kind reception from fellow citizens who sought out our booth and thanked us for saving local old magnolia trees from a developer’s ax; entertaining them with our annual public Samhain rituals; and for our various spiritual activism exploits. Among the many vignettes we’ll never forget:
  • Two precious wee sisters who fell in love with Lady Passion’s div kits. The stayed up all night planning to return and buy some with their allowance. They convinced their Pagan parents to bring them back to our booth the next day.
    Divination kits in baskets with sign

    Divination kits: 3 magic beans answer questions. Left: $10 pouches; right: $5 clear packs. (Click photo to view the two kits close up.)

    They beamed so proudly when picking out the kit that appealed to each of them. What a sterling example of parental support, we thought!
  • A man buying a bracelet from us remarked that we had a friend in common: renowned Gardnerian elder and author Raymond Buckland. (Indeed, Raymond gave our The Goodly Spellbook a glowing review and gave us insider info on where to schedule signing events during our 2006 book tour throughout England.) *Diuvei gave the man two of our business cards — the back of which sports the magical alphabet Passing the River which Raymond publicized in his famous “Blue Book.”
    Coven Oldenwilde business card, with Magical Alphabets cheat sheet on back.

    Coven Oldenwilde business card, with Magical Alphabets cheat sheet on back. (Click image to view in print resolution.)

    A few days later, Lady Passion got a sweet email from Raymond: The card had quickly made its way to him, and he appreciated our work. Wow!
  • A former male student whom we’d trained from childhood came up repeatedly to relate how profoundly we’d affected his life. He’d named his firstborn girl-child Apassionata in honor of Lady Passion, and was writing a book of poetry based on magical techniques we’d taught him!
  • Seeing the courageous strength displayed by two Friends of Oldenwilde when countering evangelical fundamentalists damning families attending the event.

    *Diuvei captured on video one of Bele Chere’s bullhorn-bullying street preachers being overwhelmed by a diverse crowd protesting fundamentalist religious intolerance, including Latisha and Abramsbane.

    Protest sign

    Our friend “Abramsbane” protested the street preachers with a sign pointing out the “iron chariot” Bible contradiction in Judges 1:19. (Click photo to view sign larger in new window.)

    Latisha in Coven Oldenwilde t-shirt

    Latisha describing her experience protesting the street preachers (as seen in the YouTube video).

    Both exercised the Power to Be Silent to strong effect in their own separate ways: One man stood quietly holding a thought-provoking sign in front of a succession of men spewing ear-splitting screeds through a bull-horn, while the other (booth volunteer Latisha) used her break to stand beside one — the brazen Coven T-shirt she wore showing dignified resolve in opposition to the hysterical zealot. Interestingly, someone must have heard the suggestion we published after last year’s Bele Chere to counter the street preachers’ sonic disruptions with music. This year, festival organizers set up a karaoke stage in the central Vance Monument area. Sure enough, that area was freed from the amplified ranters for the first time in years. The only hate-speech zone festivalgoers had to endure was in Pritchard Park, where hundreds peacefully but powerfully responded by exercising their own First Amendment right to protest against the fundamentalists’ hypocrisy, intolerance … and their inhumane lack of humor :-). (Rumor had it shortly before the wild scene we captured on this video that one of the worst preachers gave up after catching a pie in the face.)
  • Lady Passion in front of view into beverage booth

    Helping out at Bele Chere will be a sorely missed source of survival funding for dozens of the Asheville area’s hard-working non-profits, which perform irreplaceable social and charitable services but receive few or no government or private grants in today’s increasingly stingy financial environment.

  • Hearing pervasive poignant sadness regarding the unceremonious discarding of Bele Chere by the powers that be. Many related memories of their decades of observing the yearly festival, expressing in blue streak fashion their certainty that the decision would inevitably wreak financial ruin on the city. Grumbles about governmental disregard for the people’s pleasure abounded.
Coven Oldenwilde fulfilled our obligation in high Witch style, but it’s with heavy hearts that we bid Bele Chere adieu. We are proud, though, that for the past three years we represented Paganism with panache.
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