Friends warned me about last Saturdays Sunfest 2000 at the First Unitarian Church of Orlando. Despite its title, the event wasn't an outdoor reggae marathon, but a goods-and-services fair for Wiccans, pagans, astrology buffs, Renaissance revivalists, Christian spiritualists and probably even a Libertarian or two.
"You're going to meet a lot of nuts there" was a typical forecast. Ah, but there are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in ordinary philosophies. (Laurence Olivier, Mel Gibson and Ethan Hawke all said it, so we know it's true.)
Much to my joy, Sunfest was the product of a subculture that knows it has an image problem, and is reaching out to mainstream society with humor and self-knowledge. A sweep of the vendor booths -- where bumper-sticker slogans ranged from the flighty "Witches do it in circles" to the resolutely material "It's lonely at the top, but you eat better" -- left no doubt that these people had at least one foot on terra firma. Or was it a hoof?
The day was the brainchild of Kelli Vandegrift, a 21-year-old member of the Wiccan Religious Cooperative of Florida. "We want to do more events that are fun," she said. "We're not trying to convert the masses."
Vandegrift's idea of fun was an open-air courtyard in which psychic readings were performed, balladic music was played and the magick-minded stocked up on candleholders, suncatchers and decorative jewelry. Racks of instructional cassettes ("Rituals That Work" ) stood next to CD displays that spotlighted the latest in metaphysical pop, folk and rock. (No hip-hop yet, but there's always next year.) An inflatable SpaceWalk jumping booth was set up in one corner for the amusement of the younger set; it was painted, of course, like a Medieval castle.
"I'm not a huggy-bunny person," Vandegrift said, distancing herself from the more earnest, humorless members of her circle. "It's flaky to me."
Inside one of the low-slung church buildings, local photographer Kay Simon took Polaroids that revealed the multihued bands of customers' auras. I decided to pass on the process when I read the following tip in Simon's brochure: "Keeping the bowels clean also assists in keeping the aura strong and resilient." Wary of a camera that could tell if I was wearing fresh underwear, I instead watched as a redheaded woman went before the lens. She was rewarded with a snapshot whose blue-and-white streaks looked like the landing of the mothership in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."
Simon said the color scheme denoted the subject's deep spirituality and natural healing ability, as well as "a little bit of grieving." Even better, I noticed, her aura perfectly matched the appliques on her lime-green jumper.
My money went to Dikki-Jo Mullen, a psychic and astrologer who came highly recommended by Vandegrift's fellows in the WRCF. In the middle of the afternoon, I sat for a personal reading that included Tarot-card analysis, palmistry and a toss of the Victorian dice cup. A short 10-minute session was all Mullen needed to correctly ascertain that I'm anxious to follow rules, thrive on deadlines and grow impatient when I feel that the work of others is substandard. In other words, she hit on every personality trait she could divine without my coming right out and telling her that I'm German. I was so impressed by her powers that I forgot to ask my one prepared question: Who's going to replace Kathie Lee Gifford?
Broom to grow
To end the day, the reins of control were turned over to the Pagan Youth Group -- or PYGs -- a teen auxiliary that Vandegrift stressed is not sponsored by the WRCF. (With bigotry all around, the adult Wiccans can't appear as if they're "indoctrinating" youth into their fold.)
What the PYGs had planned for us was a run-through of the Chocolate Ritual, a self-mocking, sweet-toothed spoof of a typical pagan ceremony. The last-minute unavailability of a female participant meant that one of the PYG boys donned a black shawl to portray the Goddess Godiva, the "Mother of chocolate." Another, burlier boy played the handmaiden Swiss Miss, who in a screechy voice invited us all to stand in a circle as the ground was anointed with M&Ms.
"I am the strength of the candy rack," the Goddess proclaimed, "and the piece that fell on the floor, but looks like it might not have gotten too dirty." She went on to bless us with "the power of jaw strength to bite off a piece of that frozen Milky Way bar" and to offer "the shelter of Häagen-Dazs when that big date didn't work out."
Giggles and guffaws were encouraged as a sacrament of Oreo cookies and chocolate milk was handed out. The only interruption was the scruffy-faced handmaiden's brief difficulty in prying the foil covering from one of the plastic milk jugs. Damn witch-proof caps.
Now, I ask you: Do these kids sound like nuts to you? And remember, please, that almonds don't count.