Imagination and the festival experience

I’ve long been a festival goer. Doofs we call them in Australia. Places where people go to celebrate under the stars, to stomp and dance on the earth, to connect with friends, to be debaucherous and generally let go of their regular state of mind.

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I’ve been thinking lately about festival experiences, in particular their role in sanctioning unbounded adult play and how this seeks to represents the sacred in our atomised, secular society.

Imagination is something children are accepted to have ample of. Adults however, are only rarely associated with the endless, embodied imaginative play endowed in a child.

However, judging from the happenings at the recent Earth Frequency festival (www.earthfrequency.com.au), held during the February full moon in Queensland Australia, it is clear that adults are equally filled vessels of the infinite, embodied imagination of the child. I saw this evidenced in the tribes of people rolling around in mud on the dance floor, in those swimming with their blow up turtles and ducks in the lake, in the variety of costumes from animals to superheroes to space villians and in those dancing and thrashing around from the most deeply wild and frivolous places of their hearts.

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What is inspirational about festivals like Earth Frequency is that people gather to celebrate in a way that is about leaving the ‘regular adult’ state of mind behind. It seeks to recover what we’ve historically lost by simultaneously making use of myth, art, dance and games. It is a way to connect, to unlock the essential joy and frivolity held in our hearts and bodies,  so often resigned to childhood memories.

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It appears then, that outdoor festivals provide the opportunity for the inner child to run free, to play dress up, to move into wider realms of self-expression, and to truly dance as if no one is watching. They have, in many ways, inherited the function of ritual, by providing a meaningful, distinctive outlet for people to reconnect with themselves, with their land and their inner selves.

As my lovely friend Rhyll Tonge commented,

The place where all this meets for me is on the dance floor. The steady thrum of electronic music initially grounds me deep into the earth allowing my imagination to create a meditative dancing style that lets go of tensions, life worries, heart distractions, anything that might be holding me back from being in present moment. This is the dance where I can imagine my spirit and soul shaking out the oldest anger and deepest trauma scars within me and it is a spiritual/emotional journey with limitless impacts. The practice of allowing my imagination to be free and creating dance, concepts or art therapy workshops builds my imagination muscles and will allow them to be stronger in the outside (not so playful) world for adults (Personal communication, February 17, 2014). 

More importantly, they enable such sacred experiences uncoupled from the confines of traditional religions or institutions. As Jackson (2004) put it ‘there was no God on my dance floor, there was no cosmology of possession, just people, booze, drugs, grins, music, all packed in on top of one another combining to produce an experience that becomes more than the sum total of its parts. “It’s the bollocks” about sums it up.’

I believe these experiences are inextricably tied to the cultivation of imagination, to unleashing wildness and re-establishing our connection with nature. Festivals like Earth Frequency play a pivotal role in moving white, regimented, middle-class Australian society forward into more open, playful creative spaces which modern, industrial culture seeks to strangle out.

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Images courtesy of the Earth Frequency Festival Facebook Page – Crystal Fire Studios, Zaccy D Photography and Black Rose Studios.

References

Jackson, P. (2004). Inside clubbing: Sensual experiments in the art of being human. Oxford: Berg.

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