Okay, so Jason didn’t actually punch me. But nobody would’ve faulted him if he had, because instead of walking over and saying hello like a normal person, I snuck up behind him whilst he was signing books and yelled, “JASON MANKEY, MY OLD NEMESIS. WE MEET AT LAST.”
And to his credit (and my eternal delight), he jumped up and yelled back, “MY MORTAL ENEMY,” and gave me a big hug.
Jason Mankey gives, like, Olympic-level hugs, y’all. You heard it here first.
We didn’t have much time to talk, since he had to go get ready for his first official appearance of the day. So I turned to leave and smacked into John Beckett. And before I could even recover, I turned around again and ran into Lilith Dorsey.
After that, Douglas was like, “So, what do we want to do first, now that we’re at Witchfest?” And I was like, “I mean… I just wanted to meet Jason and John and Lilith. So I guess I’m good to go home whenever you are.”
So then Douglas was all, “We did not just drive 15 hours to immediately go home,” and granted, it wasn’t technically 15 hours, but time did seem to stop for a while when we were flying down the highway between Houston and Austin, and his GPS suddenly went, “You know what you boys need? A scenic side trip through a folk horror film. Turn left.”
We ended up puttering through a town called (I promise I’m not making this up) Zionville, where the population has probably remained eerily unchanged since 1870. But we did see this giant, three-story house tucked into a copse of old live oaks, with an oversized cupola sporting a witch hat-shaped roof. Douglas was so enamored that he failed to notice the stop sign in front of it, and he was still talking about the house 30 seconds later when we got pulled over.
The cop was very nice, although he seemed a little confused as to what possessed us to detour through Lovecraft Country. I couldn’t see his face from the passenger seat, but his arms were visible, and y’all, they were covered in occult tattoos. But he also had a red-string nazar bracelet tied around his wrist, so I figured the chances of him being an ambassador of the local murder cult were fairly slim.
On the downside, Douglas did get a ticket. But on the upside, we didn’t get, like, sacrificed in a cornfield or anything, so I feel like we broke even.
Because of the unforeseen delay, we missed the opening ritual put on by Spirit Haven, but even so, there was still plenty to experience. Witchfest is a one-day event, with back-to-back workshops and lectures and a ginormous vending area — my only constructive criticism is that there was almost too much packed into an eight-hour period, and without a physical schedule posted, it was a bit of a challenge to determine where I wanted to be and when.
But those are the most minor of grievances. It was a wonderful event overall, made even better by the 2000 witches in attendance.
I know this is going to sound like an exaggeration, but I could swear I saw strangers bump into each other, start chatting, and then just, like, decide to become best friends. Rituals were staged in very public spaces, which made me a little nervous — I’ve participated in rites where the officiants had to work overtime to hold things together against giggles, heckling, catcalls, and assorted drunken disorderlies. But at Witchfest, onlookers were observant and respectful, even joining in to help with chanting and raising energy.
The only palpable tension was accidentally caused by Reynard, who learned a very important lesson about eating funnel cake on a windy day when literally everyone in a half-mile radius is wearing black. But powdered sugar only stains temporarily, so the people caught in the blinding, confectionary cloud he created weren’t too peevish about it.
Plus part of Jason’s ritual involved brushing negative thoughts and emotions off of ourselves, so it was actually pretty helpful to be covered in a light, white dust and just focus our intent on that.
But speaking of: Right before the ritual started, Jason and John waved at me and were like, “Thumper! We need your help.” And a couple of people in the circle kind of looked at each other like, “… Thumper?” And I was all, “I didn’t choose the name. The name chose me.” But afterwards, they came over and were like, “We read your blog.”
And here’s the thing with that: Logically, I know people read my blog. But I normally don’t have faces to put with those people. And I braced myself a little, like, “Oh, shit, I might get punched in the face for real,” because some of the people who read my blog are a wee bit zealous with the negative feedback.
But these people were like, “We’ve digested all the stuff that comes out of your head and accept you as not that weird of a human.” And honestly, if I hadn’t needed to stay near Douglas (I’ve been left at enough festivals to know to always keep tabs on my ride), I would’ve spent the rest of the day following them around like a gay puppy.
So yeah, TL;DR, Austin Witchfest was epic, and I will definitely be returning next year. In fact, if you’re reading this and want to go too, just let me know in advance, and we’ll arrange some kind of on-site, Fivefold Law meet-up. I’ll bring Golden Apple buttons for everyone.
And Douglas can be our adult chaperone/authority figure/source of bail. I won’t even have to ask him to do it: As long as he never has to go back to Zionville, he will gratefully supervise the rest of us.