'Winter Solstice Faerie Ball': Find the light — and a little dark fun

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SHEFFIELD — It may be hard to believe if you look outside, but technically, winter hasn't started yet.

The winter solstice arrives at 5:23 p.m. EST Friday in the Northern Hemisphere, marking the beginning of our coldest season and the longest night of the year. To honor the occasion, Race Brook Lodge is hosting "Winter Solstice Faerie Ball," a live music dance party that kicks off at 8 p.m. Friday and features tunes by Dust Bowl Faeries as well as Heather Fisch and The Bleeding Femmes. Race Brook Lodge has held multiple winter solstice-related gatherings in recent years, perhaps prompting a question from the winter-weary: How did the culmination of our descent into darkness become a cause for celebration?

"I can't speak for all of paganism, but from what I understand, winter solstice is celebrated as a pagan holiday," said Fisch, the night's "Mistress of Ceremonies."

Indeed, winter solstice festivities can be traced back centuries to pagan groups in Europe, according to the BBC and other sources. These parties often focused on light rather than darkness; after the winter solstice, days get progressively longer.

Dust Bowl Faeries isn't a group aiming to evoke the sunniest of days. Consisting of Ryder Cooley, Rubi LaRue, JoAnn Stevelos and Jon B. Woodin, the Hudson, N.Y.-based dark-carnival band performs with a disembodied ram and wields a singing saw, among other instruments. The band's influences include post-punk, circus and Gypsy and Eastern European folk music.

"It's not all fun and games, happy fairy land," Fisch said. "It's all sides of the universe, including the dark side."

Cooley, the group's founder, approached Fisch about collaborating on an event.

"We're both female accordion players, kind of avant-garde artists," Fisch said.

The "Faerie Ball" was Cooley's idea.

"That's thematic with what she's offering, with what they as a band are offering," Fisch said. "There [are] magical forest creature elements to her work."

An event description encourages attendees to don some magical attire to dance in.

"Woodland creatures, winter nymphs, elves, sprites, pixies, witches, wizards, genies, centaurs, unicorns, fairy princesses, otherworldly creatures and you ... all are welcome, costumed or revealed," it says.

But costumes aren't required.

"People can dress casual, dress down, or they can just go totally nuts. We're expecting the gamut of costume preparation," Fisch said.

Fisch, who founded Race Brook Lodge's Down County Social Club, will be debuting a new band, The Bleeding Femmes.

"We could call it undeniable heartfelt angst," Fisch said of the band's genre.

At 11 p.m., the gathering will transition from a "full-on cabaret dance party" that includes "circus performances" to "a more inward place," according to Fisch. A solstice ritual will involve a sound bath led by Senta Reis.

"There's always an element we have there of sacred community rituals that's very informal, that's asking people to take a moment to get centered and grounded and inwardly reflecting and also feeling a connection to the other people in the community," Fisch said of past solstice parties.

Attendees can bring poems or other items to share by a fire.

"It's important as a social health activity at the time of entering [winter], which can be an isolating time, to remember and also reconnect with the community that's around and know that there are other people passing through the port of isolation and darkness," Fisch said. "There's solidarity in that."

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.

"It's important as a social health activity at the time of entering [winter], which can be an isolating time, to remember and also reconnect with the community that's around and know that there are other people passing through the port of isolation and darkness. There's solidarity in that."

Heather Fisch


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