Hosting a Pagan Festival – A Groovy Guest-Post from Bernadette Montana

The lovely Bernadette Montana – proprietor of the famed metaphysical shop Brid’s Closet in Cornwall New York – is stepping in with a guest post on the crazy idea of hosting a Pagan Festival! Thanks Bernadette!


How to Put on a Festival OR the Ramblings of One INSANE Witch!

Yes, A long title but a totally appropriate one!

Many people talk about putting on a festival. I used to be one of them! For years, I thought about hosting a large gathering where people could come together and just be themselves. A place to be happy, a place to schmooze with other like minded folks.

In my area of New York, I am pretty much the only metaphysical shop around. The pagan community is actually quite large and so the demand for an event like this was definitely there.

I’ve always loved going to festivals and had even taught at a few. I admired the hard work and the dedication of the people who worked soo very hard to put on these events. But could I possibly do it?

The community (particularly my coven) used their wiles to convince me! Yep, it’s wonderful when people you love, know just how to get you to do the most impossible things!

The first task was to find out where we could hold the event. How many people would come? How could we raise the money needed? What about permits? How would the town handle a “pagan” event? How much would insurance cost? And HOW would I find the time?

For the first 2 years, we were at a wonderful retreat center. Great space, beautiful scenery, and we able to get Isaac Bonewits to be our presenter, but there was no stage –  so we needed to build one and hire a separate sound person with equipment. Then the rent went up and so that venue no longer fit with our budget.

The third year, we moved to another retreat center, where we had Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone! The land was great, the festival was fantastic, but we had some problems with one person at this center, so it was time to move somewhere else.

Our forth year was our best yet! We moved to a winery. The place was vast, had a professional stage and equipment, along with lots of parking. Raven & Stephanie Grimassi presented workshops, sold books and gave readings!

I must admit, I was scared! Without the help of the other “crazy” volunteers, it would have never happened. Signs where made, fliers where printed, all free means of advertising were found and utilized (calendars, press releases etc), along with social media (Twitter, Facebook)  and of course, word of mouth!

We are now in the planning stages of our 5th Beltane festival! This year we will have Judika Illes as our main presenter! Fun is to be had by everyone! If you are able we’d love to have you join us. Maybe our festival will inspire you to start your own!

Much Love


Brid’s Closet 

296 Main Street, Cornwall NY 12518

Hoodoo Hangover – An Ankhie Ramble

New Orleans is a slow burn.

Ankhie returned from the Crescent City several days ago, but can’t shake the feeling that she is still there. Or at the very least, not quite here.

It was my first visit, although I’d been hearing about New Orleans my whole life. Wonderful things. Spooky things. So, being a Yankee exposed to hyperbole I starched up and went there not with great excitement, but with a make-do attitude and an eye for disappointment.

From the moment I stepped off the plane, everything shifted – ever so slightly, like the way things look and feel just before you come down with a raging fever. Now… Ankhie doesn’t travel well (and forgot her air sick meds) so that was a factor at the start. And the weather was much warmer and moister than Boston in winter, which makes for much strange perspiration. Then there was the food – fabulous, rich, and feasty – and the high-octane alcohol, all combined the unrelenting visual, aural and olfactory stimuli of the French Quarter.  Just taken at face value this sounds like a recipe for delirium. But the really strange part was that none of it – not the glow-in-the-dark cocktails nor the black cloth doll nailed to the hollow of a cemetery tree  – actually felt strange.  It felt weirdly organic, and disarmingly… normal. I was expecting to be disappointed or overwhelmed or terrified. Instead I was totally at ease.

We’ve talked a lot here about the power of place. It’s a subject near and dear to the heart of anyone who works with natural energies. A city like New Orleans, where the lives of its inhabitants, past and present, are so inextricably bound to the environment, is likely to be a highly charged magical place.  At the risk of sounding like a proselytizing tourist, I have to say that New Orleans is something more – something subtler, older, and more insidious.  I’ve been to places that have awed me – even lived in a few of them – but I have never been anywhere that got under my skin so quickly and so thoroughly. And not just the European charm and shabbiness of the French Quarter. Thanks to a fabulous nighttime cemetery tour courtesy of Bloody Mary – we traveled through places in the city well off the tourist map – places that I wouldn’t recommend going without a knowledgeable guide – and even there, it all felt right.  Not good or just, but as it was meant to be  at that place and in this time. Yeah I know what y’all are thinking – Ankhie drank the kool-ade. Not quite, but I did leave a little something on an altar for Marie Laveau, and came home armed with a wee dolly and mucho gris gris.

My companions and I went well-prepared with mainstream maps and tour books, but found ourselves well-supplemented by Denise Alvarado’s Voodoo Hoodoo Spellbook. It is decidedly not intended as a travel guide, but nonetheless it proved to be an invaluable companion to the mysteries of NOLA witchery.

Here is a sample from Chapter One, on the history of New Orleans Voodoo:

New Orleans Voodoo originated from the ancestral religions of the African Diaspora. It is one of the many incarnations of African-based religions rooted in the West African Dahomean and Central African Voodoo traditions. It became syncretized with the Catholic religion as a result of the massive forced migrations, displacements of the slave trade, and the Code Noir. Slave owners forbade the Africans from practicing Voodoo under penalty of death and, in areas controlled by the Catholics, forced many of them to convert to Catholicism. The result was a creolization of the names and aspects of the Voodoo spirits to those of the Christian saints that most closely resembled their particular areas of expertise or power. Under the guise of Catholicism, the religion of Voodoo survived…

The term Voodoo Hoodoo is commonly used by Louisiana locals to describe our unique brand of New Orleans Creole Voodoo. It refers to a blending of religious and magickal elements. Voodoo is widely believed by those outside of the New Orleans Voodoo tradition to be separate from hoodoo magick. However, separation of religion from magick did not occur in New Orleans as it did in other areas of the country. The magick is part of the religion; the charms are medicine and spiritual tools that hold the inherent healing mechanisms of the traditional religion and culture. Voodoo in New Orleans is a way of life for those who believe.

Still, there are those who separate Voodoo  and hoodoo. Some hoodoo practitioners integrate elements of Voodoo, and some do not. Some incorporate elements of Catholicism or other Christian religious thought into their practice, while others do not. How much of the original religion a person decides to believe in and practice is left up to the individual. Some people don’t consider what they do religion at all, preferring to call it a spiritual tradition of African American folk magic. Throughout this book, I use the term Voodoo hoodoo in reference to the blend of the two aspects of the original religion as found in New Orleans Voodoo and as a way of life. A fellow New Orleans native and contemporary gris gris man Dr. John explains it this way:

“In New Orleans, in religion, as in food or race or music, you can’t separate nothing from nothing. Everything mingles each into the other – Catholic saint worship with gris gris spirits, evangelical tent meetings with spiritual church ceremonies – until nothing is purely itself but becomes part of one fonky gumbo. That is why it is important to understand that in New Orleans the idea of Voodoo – or as we call it gris gris – is less a distinct religion than a way of life.” (Dr. John, Rebennack & Rummel, 1994, p.159)

New Orleans Voodoo evolved to embrace aspects of the “fonky gumbo” of cultures in the nineteenth century and as a result, it is distinguishable from other forms of Voodoo and hoodoo found in other areas of the country. For example, there is a blend of Spiritualism, African Voodoo, Native American traditions, Santeria, Catholicism, and Pentecostalism. An additional hallmark of New Orleans Voodoo hoodoo is the borrowing of material from European and African folk magic, Kabbalistic influences, ancestor worship, and strong elements of Christian and Jewish mysticism, such as the use of various seals and sigils. In fact, for many practitioners, the Bible is considered a talisman in and of itself, as well as a primary source for magical lore. The psalms and the saints are aspects key to hoodoo practice for many practitioners, though not all.

New Orleans Voodoo is unique in its use of Spirit Guides in worship services and in the forms of ritual possession that its adherents practice. There is candle magick, and there used to be Voodoo seances.  (I don’t know how prevalent these are among practitioners today). The Voodoo-influenced Spiritual Churches that survive in New Orleans are the result of a mingling of these and other spiritual practices. I should point out that Spiritualists will typically say that they have nothing to do with Voodoo or hoodoo. Still, some of the spiritual practices are extremely similar, whatever you call it.

A most important difference, however, is the retention of the various religious practices from the different African cultural groups that arrived on the Louisiana Coast. For example, there is gris gris from Senegambia; the “serpent cult” of Nzambi from Whydah, or Li Grande Zombi as it is known in New Orleans; the obvious influence of fetishism, the nkisis or “sacred medicine,” from the Congo basin of Central Africa; and the Bocio figurines from the Gulf of Guinea and the Congo Kingdom.

This is just the briefest excerpt from this excellent book. If you have any interest in Voodoo or hoodoo I highly recommend that you pick up a copy. The table of correspondences for Saints/Angels and Loas/Orishas is particularly helpful.

And if you find your lucky self in this fabulous city, check out these excellent occult retailers and services – all Ankhie visited and Ankhie approved!

Bloody Mary Tours – I can’t say enough good things about Bloody Mary, Mambo Gina, and their amazing tours. This is the New Orleans you came here to find.

Esoterica Occult Goods – Lady Mimi Lansou is the real deal, and this is one of the spookiest (in the best possible way) shops in the French Quarter (on Rue Dumaine). Don’t miss it!

Voodoo Authentica – just across the street from Esoterica is this awesome little shop and cultural center. An astonishing collection of dolls, altars, and art are just the beginning of the educational opportunities here.

Erzulies – this shop on Royal Street looks deceptively like a ladies boutique or perfumery from the outside (lots of pink in the decor – it’s all about the love!) but don’t be fooled – this is a serious shop of hoodoo run by folks who know their business. Ankhie found the woman on staff (whose name I regret to say I did not catch) extremely helpful and informative!

Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo – one of the few shops on Bourbon Street that sells serious hoodoo supplies, and it’s endorsed by Bloody Mary so that goes a long way with me. Take a break from the glow-in-the-dark cocktails (see above) and spill-over nudies shows on the tourist  strip and step inside for some spookage.

HEX New Orleans – Christian Day is just getting settled in on Decatur Street  (with the excellent and indispensable help of New England transplants Tim and Sharon) but like its Salem counterpart, HEX New Orleans is shaping up to be all that a hard-core occultist could hope for in a shop. Less Voodoo oriented that the others but chock full of Old World Magick.  Ankhie personally recommends a reading with Sharon (who uses a well-worn Thoth deck) .

Coop’s Place – Not occult per say, but there is definitely something otherworldly going on here. I am still thinking about the jambalaya and spicy bloody mary I had at this amazing hole-in-the-wall eatery on Decatur Street. Had Christian not lead us there, we would have walked right by it. Tasty. Tasty. Tasty! Damn, now I’m hungry!

Special thanks to Doctors  K.J. and E.E. for financing Ankhie’s trip and to Dr. K.J and Bad Kris for making it both memorable and a total blast. And thanks to Christian Day for giving us all the private tour. 🙂

Guest Post by Bernadette Montana of Brid’s Closet – Community and the Season of Giving

Today, on the first day of Winter, there will be 9 hours, 40 minutes, and 50 seconds of daylight in the Northeast U.S. Those numbers will gradually start to shift, increasing first by seconds, then minutes as the natural year progresses, but in the meantime, the nights will be long and cold and difficult for far too many people. Holiday celebrations and the excesses of the season aside, most of us have more than we need. Maybe not financially or materially, but compassionately. Those who take time to step back and assess the value of their own hearts, will find that they have a lot to share this season. Look around in your community. Someone is waiting for a kind word, a kind deed, a gift of your time and attention. These are commodities we all have. They are not subject to financial markets and they do not expire. They are yours to give freely. Take, for example, the story that Bernadette Montana – owner of Brid’s Closet in Cornwall New York, offers  in this guest post:

What is community?

I’ve been thinking about this subject for a while now.  The holidays are upon us, and for some, it is a time to help others who are less fortunate.

I myself, cannot afford healthcare.  I  limit my expenses and try my best to pay the bills.  Being that I am “self-employed”, I struggle with this on a daily basis.  Clearly-we all could use a little help. What might be less obvious, is that we can all offer a little help too.

Two weeks ago, I received a call from a friend who told me about a person who was in desperate need.

Jennie, who we affectionately call “The Hugging Goddess” is on full disability because of health reasons, and she was going to be evicted from her home.  Just one of her problems.

She had a leak in her kitchen.  It wound up rotting out the floors in the trailer home in which she lives.  Because of this, she lost her home insurance.  When hurricane Irene hit, she was flooded.  The water left garbage and downed trees all over her land and the house developed mold.  Then her furnace stopped working.  Now there was no hot water for showers and no heat to keep her home!  The whole trailer was being heated by space heaters.

She went to FEMA for help and was denied because she had no home insurance, and because of the condition of the land, the home association wanted to evict her.

Back to the original call…

Her friend Robin filled me in on what was going on.  I immediately put out a call for help to our pagan community.  Calls where made, The local press was contacted, and used social media (Facebook, Blogger, Twitter) in order to get the word out.  With 24 hours, committees where set up, donations of material and money started coming in, and a cleanup crew was sent to Jennie’s home!

In 2 days, the entire lawn was cleaned up, dead trees where cut down, the furnace was fixed, and a shed was rebuilt.  In the weeks to come, the rotted floors will be replaced, and new ones will be laid down with all the donations of wood, tile and money that came in.  Looking into finding used kitchen cabinets for her as well.

Jennie came into the store to thank me!  She gave me her famous hugs, got all “teary” and tried to give me the last $3 in her pocket! Very emotional…What is community?  It’s about the love we give one another.  It’s about caring and hugs.  It’s about honoring the Goddesses and Gods within each other.  It’s about the pagan community that I am soo blessed to have here!

Many thanks to Bernadette for sharing this story!

Blessings to each and every one of you this holiday season. May the days to come bring you health, happiness, and comforts to enjoy and to share.

Catch the Wave! Join author Dan Furst on the Surfing Aquarius North American Tour

Dan Furst , intrepid rider of astrological tides and sacred geographical currents, begins his Surfing Aquarius tour TOMORROW NIGHT  at East West Bookshop in Seattle! Dan will be reading and signing his new book, and chatting with folks about the changes to come (2012, the end of time as we know it … good stuff like that) and the state of spirituality in America. He will also be videotaping some of these conversations as he travels across the country and uploading them to the Weiser YouTube page.  So stop in at East West if you’re in Seattle tomorrow night, say hi, smile for the camera, or check the list below and see if Dan is coming to a city near you! It’s a great way to support your local bookstores and metaphysical shops, by the way – a cause near and dear to Ankhie’s heart.

More Dates and Locations to Come!

Follow Dan Furst on his U.S. Book Tour for Surfing Aquarius on his website



Bookseller Profile – Bernadette Montana of Brid’s Closet

I am going to state this as plainly as I can – we need booksellers. We need the local independents, the Mom and Pop stores, the funky used paperback vendors, and yes, even the local mega-chains. We need them because they are owned and run by people who live for books. You can walk into a bookstore with only a vague yearning for something that will fill a few hours on a plane and leave with the literary love of your life – courtesy of an informed and insightful bookseller.

This is particularly true of specialty bookstores – run by individuals who sacrifice free time and financial security in support of small publishers, unknown authors and under-appreciated genres. They run on enthusiasm and a keen insight into their customer base – and they deserve our support.

So in honor of these heroes of the literary world, Ankhie is offering up a series of Bookseller Profiles – a spot in the blogosphere for these frontline warriors to speak for themselves about the dangers and delights of a threatened profession.

To start things off, I asked Bernadette Montana, the proprietress of Brid’s Closet in Cornwall New York to write about a day in the life of a metaphysical bookstore owner. It’s a fantasy that I know a lot of us share. What could be better than running your own business, surrounded by esoteric books, magickal tools and mysterious oils, unguents and herbs? I think that Bernadette would tell you that nothing is better – which is part of why her shop is so successful and so well beloved by all members of the occult community. Read on, and enjoy A Day in the Life of Brid’s Closet!

From the minute I open the store, people are waiting for me. Not necessarily to buy product, but to talk. While this is going on, I am trying to answer maybe 300 emails a day.  Half of these emails come from students of my intuitive tarot class or from the social networks that I belong to. The other half come from my coven mates, the pagan community, and others that I network with. After I TRY to do this, I read the tarot for my customers, sell product for the shop, book appointments for readings and make plans for any weddings or handfastings that I need to perform, and then prepare for evening classes.  And while doing all this, our festival is being planned!

In regards to the store, I make my own magickal oils and herbal preparations. When someone comes in with a special need, I will do the research needed and then make what that person needs.There are also medicinal needs as well. Colds, stomach aches, cuts and headaches all need tending to! People come to me for blessings and counsel.

I network quite a bit. It’s the best way to get the word out for any business. It may not sound very magickal but I still run a small business and have to do what I can so the business can make the bills. Whether it is donating to the public library for raffles or filming a short clip with Monster TV. The networking aspect is the way any modern pagan can find other communities to practice with. We have the largest pagan Meetup group in Orange County NY. In doing this, it is vitally important that I keep in contact with many in the community! Hosting authors and musicians for our festival and ceremonies are an important part of why I network.

Brid’s Closet also holds many events for this large and growing community! We hold open Full Moon and Holiday celebrations that are open to all! The Ostara ritual had 46 people.  Beltane is huge for us! This year Raven and Stephanie Grimassi will be at our festival. Last year we had Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone. I hold a festival that is getting a little bigger every year. The planning involved is enough to keep anyone up for a month! From stage building and logistics, to printing the brochure and determining the entertainment schedule, the Beltane festival is always on my mind. Planning is done on a daily basis as this festival is so big, that it takes approximately one year to plan. Once the festival is held, the next one is already in the works!

Tarot is a big part of what I do during the day. These sessions tend to be very deep. There are times when it turns into a counseling session rather than just a tarot reading.  Learning how to deal with a person’s issues is essential. It can be a very emotional time for both the customer and myself. I try to be sensitive to their needs if they are sitting in front of me or on the phone or online.

Most evenings I teach classes. The topics vary from Wicca, herbs, oils, tarot, to those requested by the community. I also teach the tarot and write articles/interview elders, authors, and teachers for an online Wiccan College called Sacred Mists. With the intuitive tarot class, I grade homework and attend their online forums. Every Wednesday is coven night. The group here consists of the inner circle and a very large “outer” circle group. Finding a balance between the needs of the pagan community at large and the coven is something I work at every day.  We also have many authors and teachers come to the store to do readings and workshops for us.  Some of these names are Judika Illes, Isaac and Phaedra Bonewits, Raven & Stephanie Grimassi, Dorothy Morrison, Janet Farrar & Gavin Bone and Lilith Dorsey.

I guess I never really realized just how much goes on in this store! Actually, Brid’s Closet is not just a store. It’s a home, a spiritual meeting place, a church. A place for most to relax. I am blessed to have this place and blessed to love what I do.



Brid’s Closet

Brid’s Closet is located in lovely Cornwall New York, and definitely worth a trip.

Bernadette can be contacted there or through:

Brid’s Closet “Random Thoughts” Blog and Podcast


and Brid’s Closet Spiritual Circle