The Pagan Music Festival: A Night in Reverence of Samhuinn

It is the final hour of spook season, and in the midst of most people's plans to go to costume parties, haunted attractions, or go trick-or-treating, the sacred origins of the holiday are all but forgotten — except within certain circles. Various Pagans still remember and celebrate the Gaelic festival of Samhain [pronounced “sah-win”] for traditional and spiritual purposes. Tonight, there will be a music festival at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art which will focus on those very purposes. The Pagan Music Festival: A Night in Reverence of Samhuinn [an alternate Gaelic spelling of Samhain] will be a costumed event featuring a range of local and guest pagan musicians, a screening of Häxan, a tarot card reader, and vending (including “Magickal and Ghoulish Jewelry, Amulets, Talismans, and Lip Balms”).


The festival is the brainchild of musicians Joy Shannon, Daryl Hernandez, and Nicolas Rocha. Hernandez plays guitar in Joy Shannon and the Beauty Marks and both he and Rocha are members of Deathkings, and while the music of the two groups is very different (Shannon's band is more rooted in folk while Deathkings is rooted in heavy experimental rock), both bands are rooted in Pagan mythology and belief systems; this is the commonality of all four bands on the program for the Pagan Music Festival — each of which has a dramatically different sound from the others. Shannon revealed to the Weekly that her band's most recent album release was on the spring equinox and that she and Hernandez like to coordinate performances with the Pagan holidays. When they had the idea to do a show on Samhain, the idea became contagious — attracting other like-minded musicians and vendors.

Rachell Eve Frazian is another one of the festival's organizers. She shared a few words with the Weekly regarding the costume aspect of the festival. Similar to the bands, each of which brings its own execution of the Pagan theme, Frazian encourages uniqueness and individuality in the costume designs of the guests. Specifically, the event is meant to showcase DIY costumes. By fostering this approach, Frazian says, “the audience's role changes from passive to active, [thus] the event becomes tribal, grassroots, inclusive, and connected.” Frazian dislikes being a spectator at events and hopes that the DIY costuming will allow guests to feel like they are an integral part of the Pagan Music Festival.[

Given this approach, there is likely to be quite a range of styles present — some which reflect traditional Gaelic fashions and some which are much darker. As for the music, Shannon says that the musical line-up is strategically arranged so that there will be a progression from light to dark music as the evening goes on. The first act will be Inner Ecstasy, who play classical music; next is Shannon's band, followed by Deathkings, and finally NoOne of T.O.M.B. (the only musician of the lot who is not native to SoCal). NoOne's music is indeed representative of the darkside; his band T.O.M.B. performs black metal and ambient, industrial, doom music. Some of NoOne's nightmarish electronic recordings feature ambient samples from infamous abandoned mental asylums.

As for the stylistic eclecticism of the bands, Shannon says, “Even the Celts would have been at peace with and incorporated [the extreme variations on the theme] into a holiday like this; they would have celebrated the light and the dark in equal balance.” She elaborated by saying that the methodology of the festival program honors the Pagan concept of “balancing life and death and light and dark.” As for the holiday itself, Shannon explained that it represented a very delicate balance of darkness and light to the Celts who celebrated it. She explained, “It's six weeks after the last of the harvest festivals, which is Maben — Maben is kind of the kick off for Fall — and then Samhain is like this quiet in-between when the leaves have fallen, and everything is dead in the forest and in your fields, and you have to have faith that you're going to make it through the winter.” Adding to the metaphoric darkness, of course, is the fact that the days get shorter and shorter at this time of year — especially in the northern regions — until six weeks later, when the winter solstice arrives and the days start getting longer again.

Shannon revealed that to the Celts, and within Pagan belief systems, Samhain represents much more than the cycle of the harvest. She says, “It's the time when Celts would think of everything in life, the spirit world and the physical world, being tied to all the cycles of the earth and everything down to the cycle of a tree, to the cycle of the seasons, to the cycle of someone being pregnant — where you have to have faith that you're going to be able to give birth, that you have to nurture it, and it can be kind of a scary time because it can go either way.”

While some of the beliefs, imagery, and philosophy of Pagans may seem frightening and strange in the context of modern society, Shannon affirmed that within their cultural context, these elements are meant to be positive and cathartic. Additionally, she described the performance of live music as a ritual, and her vision for tonight's musical festival is “one that is cathartic and cleansing for all who attend as well as for all who are playing the music.”

See also:
The 50 Best Things About the OC Music Scene
The 50 Worst Things About the OC Music Scene
The 25 Greatest OC Bands of All Time: The Complete List

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