On my recent vacation, I attended the opening day of the Ohio Renaissance Festival. I’d been to this one about 7 years ago, so I kind of knew what to expect.
There’s a few distinct groups who go to Ren Fairs: the performers and merchants [who often travel from fair to fair], Goths, metalheads, medieval history/period buffs, gamers, Wiccans, occultists, pagans and guys and gals who belong at ElfCon. [If you don’t know what I mean by the last comment, sorry. Everybody else got it.]
The Ohio Ren Festival used to pride itself in being historical, but things have changed. They now allow vendors to sell elf ears, fox tails [for fantasy anime’ fans] and other fantasy items, which they discouraged in the past. Since their patrons dressed up as fantasy characters anyway, especially gamers and anime’ fans, I suppose they decided they may as well make money off it. Of course, Wiccans, fortune tellers, occultists and the like were out in numbers that were clearly disproportionate to the actual 16th century world.
Which is to say the Ren Fairs have also become more Pagan.
By Pagan, I mean they’ve slid toward debauchery and counter-culture and erased every reference to the Christianity that dominated the period [at least as much as they could]. It was if they’ve created a mirror 16th century world in which the Church had little or no visible influence, far from the actual facts. It was hard to find any evidence of the Church, though all historical accounts cannot fail to note its dominance of much of the period. The fair still had its brown-robed monk with a phylactery strapped to his shaven head, but that guy didn’t bother much to stay in character. Every time I passed him, he was flirting with some pretty dame! If he was in character, we would have to conclude that he was playing a corrupt monk with no sincere Christian characters in evidence to balance the Ren Fair’s portrayal of the Church.
Which brings me to the chapel. The Ohio Renaissance Festival advertises that you can have your wedding at St. Peter’s Chapel by an ordained minister, but it seems that this is the chapel’s sole religious function [unless one counts the knighting ceremony, which I did not see and cannot comment upon]. The music scheduled at the chapel is much like that heard over the entire festival: Celtic, medeival generica, bawdy bar tunes, pirate songs, et cetera. But none of the songs one would have actually heard from the Church in the 16th century. On the other hand, to one side of the chapel sits a grouping of tombstones [ala Disney’s Haunted Mansion] but many of their punch lines are on the racy side.
And that’s a shame. There may be a remedy, of course. For those Christians, such as myself who love medeival history and also love church history, it might be possible to right this imbalance a bit. We can come as Knights Hospitallers, warrior monks born of the Crusades, monks, priests or even medeival street performers and puppeteers, who often chose Biblical stories to which their audiences could already relate, or else re-enacted battles or fairy tales. Perhaps we could even audition to be cast members.
Ah, how imagination and boldness lend us many ways of being salt and light in a pagan society!
49 Comments Add yours
I do not have anything against anyone for their religious views, but you are right that the Ohio Renaissance Festival is going down hill fast.
BTW: The church is (was) used for other activity. As a merchant there, I have attended services in years past. I think they are gone now.
I will say, generally one does not go to a Renaissance Faire for much in the line of historical accuracy. Costuming, Weaponry, and on the rare occasion the music will be the best one will get.
What much of society has used the Renaissance Festival for, and I mean this in general, not just Ohio, is a means of escape. Attending and participating give one a chance to throw the torrents of the work week aside and present the opportunity to express ones self or have a good time out with the kids.
As for the religious presentation of the festival, I will agree, sometimes characters do not portray what one would think of when considering a priest or a nun. Realize much of what one is told throughout history tends to be the side that favors the strong. The weak and the oppressed tend to be lost in the folds of time.
I will say there is a service Saturday mornings for those who participate to get their weekly “dose” in. Our priest (not the one you saw flirting with harletts) is a wise and friendly man.
Remember, when dining with one of another faith, did Paul disrespect him? No, he came educated in his hosts’ views and acted in a respectful manner. This is not to say he did not bring up his views.
I implore you, act as a disciple and not as a mercenary.
It would be great to get some perspective from some Christian Rennies, please, assist me! Educate me as to how you keep your faith and also enjoy the festival… who have you interacted with and how?
My husband and I began a discussion on this topic last night and I’ve been researching “Christianity and Ren-fest” to find out if I truly can continue to enjoy some of what I’ve had in my past along with my relatively newly found Christ-centered beliefs.
I believe my husband is right when he says that the faires have moved toward a more pagan flavor, but I also love the celtic instruments, the fun of dressing in period costume, the stage shows (not all are appropriate, but many are quite funny and cute)
Can you have a ren-fest with a Christian foundation???
As a former performer at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival, I found it all the more difficult to remain out there as a Christian. I tried for a few years after coming to the Lord, but I was GREATLY outnumbered. And then and even still, I hear Rennies trash talk Christians FAR more than I EVER hear any Christians bad mouth or trash talk non believers. When I first started, it was run by director Martin English, a great local actor and director, and it used to be more about historical accuracy, they used to be very strict about it. Then Jim Stamberger took over and at first the historical accuracy was stressed but it’s gotten less and less, all in the name of their god/goddess the almighty dollar. And this article is correct, if someone is out there as a performer as a monk, then they are a “naughty” monk. One year they did hold a Mass out there with actual Catholic monks or priests, (who never seemed to stray from the little “chapel” and I can’t say I blame them) but it wasn’t popular so they got rid of it. Witchcraft abounds, I’d say 98% of the performers are wiccan. Pardon my frankness but orgies after hours is not uncommon and there have been adults with underage girls. It seems there are only 2 sorts of characters out there, the profane drunks and an OVER ABUNDANCE of wenches and then royalty, who openly make out with the wenches or gypsy boys, something that would NOT have been done in the 16th century. I’ve seen people who claim to be Christian and work out there and yet encourage and brag about how hot their “wife” is who is showing what a godly woman wouldn’t show, nor should a Christian man want his wife to dress promisciously and be a stumbling block to others. They like to advertise as “family entertainment” but this is not entertainment for those who are followers of Christ. I’ve seen lots of pictures taken out there of wenches grabbing men, female performers doing things with each other that should only be between a husband and his wife, female performers allowing male patrons to kiss areas that are exposed and shouldn’t be and should be for husbands only, etc. It is time for us, the church, to stop conforming to the world and turning a blind eye to open blatant sin and stop calling it “fun”.
I stopped going to the KC RenFest in 1994. As a Christian, I always had an eerie feeling when I was there. It just felt dark. I get the same feeling when I’m in shops that have a lot of Pagan items. My husband loved going, but it just creeped me out.
If you want people to “respect” your religion and not “trash” it, you could try remembering the Commandments “Thou shalt not lie” and “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor”. Just sayin’…
And passing over the fact that you just quoted the same commandment (modern paraphrase vs KJV), where exactly have I lied?
Beggin your pardon, maam, but that’s a bit like asking if the Middle Ages itself had a Christian foundation. ;]
Think of it this way: There were certainly pagan influences in Medeival times and even during the Rennaissance; however, the MAJOR honking influence, the very thing that dominated ALL of European society was [drumroll please] the ((((!!CHURCH!!)))))
We have a vast treasure trove of information about this period of history… Knights Hospitallers, chivalry codes, Reforming monks, St. George [heck! pick a saint. any saint!] Bloody Beowulf was even penned from a Christian perspective. Massive cathedrals and famous works of art were commissioned. Science as we know it was established in Christian culture [with it’s emphasis on a reasonable world with reasonable, ordered laws established by a Creator who wanted us to comprehend that world] when it was stillborn in other cultures. And the printing press, for crying out loud! Why did we invent it? Oh, the Book of Books! There’s more I could say and more examples that I could give, but the point is that Ren fairs [and revisionist historians] tend to misrepresent this time period as the “Dark Ages” of ignorance which they erroneously blame upon the “superstition of the Church,” when the quite the opposite was true. There were excesses and outright hypocrisies, but they did not characterize the Church as we’ve been led to believe.
Come as a Christian character.
Audition such characters for existing Ren fairs.
Become a vendor who sells items that reflect upon Christian influence rather than pagan influence.
Start your own bloody Ren-fair!
Don’t be a pill! No one cares if it’s accurate or true if it’s intolerable! ;]
PS – Sorry for the ranting flavor of this comment. I adore Medeival history. 1/4 of my personal library is dedicated to it, in fact. And if this was a little over the top… ah, well, Chaucer!
As I was perusing the web looking for photos of the Ohio Renaissance Festival, I discovered your site and thought I would respond to some of the comments posted.
I am a pastor and have been going to the Ohio renfair dressed as a jester for several years. I also belong to a medieval/renaissance re-enactment group which does Landsknecht re-enactment–German Mercenaries from the 1400-1500’s. My character is that of a Hoffnarr, which is German for jester or fool.
Our group usually shows up in force one weekend during the fair in which we set up an “encapment” consisting of a tent or two housing displays of period items, games, and so on. We also conduct a “pike college” where we give participants staves and teach them the basics of using a pike. Real historical hands on education.
Besides the weekend at ren-faire, we do numerous other re-enactment events such as “time-line” events where re-enactors from several time periods set up camp and show their stuff.
Besides being interested in medieval history, I love theater but have little opportunity to participate in regular theater, so I see my participation in the group as my chance to be theatrical.
With regards to the paganism/renfair issue, I would like to share these thoughts:
First and foremost, we cannot expect the world to live up to Christian values. It would be nice, but it just aint gonna happen. Therefore, criticising pagans for not living like Christians is really a moot point. Given that Christ’s harshest criticisms were for the religious, not the pagans, the comment about being a disciple rather than a mercenary is well spoken.
Second, the lack of emphasis on church history at renfairs is just a reflection of what’s happening in our culture at large, as a recent report by the Christian based Barna Research Group, dated Jan 12, 09, illustrates. The report said that only 50% of Americans now see Christianity as their only religion. When you combine this with the fact that many ren-fair cast members are college theater majors looking for experience, (and we all know the values espoused at many colleges), it shouldn’t surprise us that the emphasis on the church’s role in history is decreasing, not just in renfaires, but in every aspect of our culture.
Third, we need to remember that renfairs are ultimately entertainment oriented cormercial venues, whose activities are based as much on stereotype as they are on history. Not only do they indeed offer an opportunity to “escape” real life as it were, they also provide people with opportunities to purchase things that you don’t find in places like Wal-Mart. Adding to the mix is the fact that finding vendors that sell exclusively Historical merchandise who are also willing to rent stalls, pay fees, and transport large amounts of goods can be difficult, especially as most of them now sell there goods on-line at a much cheaper rate. So too, the market for truly historical goods is, as a vendor at a time-line event pointed out, very limited.
Given all of this, it shouldn’t surprise us that renfairs and their merchants endeavor to appeal to as broad a market as possible, including gamers, LARPs and others.
At this point, I would like to build on some of the suggestions Sirius made regarding being a Christian influence at renfairs.
#1. Remember who you are and who made you. As believers, we are supposed to in the world but not of it, meaning that we are to be distinctly different from the rest of the world. But this does not mean we can’t enjoy or participate in activities like renaissance fairs.
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:22 that he endeavored to be all things to all men that by all means he might save some. In saying this, I believe Paul is telling us that so long as activities are not directly opposed to the Bible, they can be legitimate opportunites for witnessing.
With regards to renfairs, I agree with Sirius that wearing historic religious costumes is a great idea, so long as a) you remember to stay in character; and b) you know something about your character and the religious events of your time period, because you may just get asked.
As I tell people, I wouldn’t have the audicity to run around in a jester outfit if I didn’tthink I could pull it off or if I knew nothing on the subject. So too, we have several people in our group who are very knowledgable about the reformation, which took place during the period we re-enact.
If you are a performer, morality plays are very period. Years ago, at the Great Lakes Renfair, up Cleveland, Ohio way, I saw a performance group whose performance was a drama centered around Jesus. Last year, they had two ladies at the Ohio, dressed as nuns who served as “school teachers” and who taught the children proper ettiquette, forms of adress and so on.
The Ohio renfair is also good about what they call “playtrons”– paying customers who interact with the cast and others, as I did when I first started jestering before joining the Landsknecht. If you are going to take the playtron route, be mindful of the fact that regular patrons may take you for a member of the regular cast. Therefore, make sure you don’t do anything that will reflect badly on the fair, yourself, or your God.
#2. Regarding being a merchant: Recognize that there are other Christian merchants. Last year, I was talking with one shop owner, I told him I was a minister, and he asked me to say a little prayer for his business. I did, and he told me later that was the best sales day they had had thus far that year.
If you are not a merchant or a performer, support those acts and merchants that are “clean” and family friendly. Many acts are perfectly fine for Christians to watch and most shops are perfectly fine to shop in. As long as the performers and merchants are making a living, they will return. At the same time, go ahead and walk right by those shops that are more or less pagan. Just as it is in the mall, there are a few shops I won’t even consider shopping in.
#3. Don’t be afraid to be different. With regards to my own activities as a jester, while much of medieval theater/humor was bawdy, to put it mildly, I keep my humor clean to show people that you can be funny and have fun without being crude, rude and lewd. I’d add “…and socially unacceptable” but that particular term doesn’t really apply anymore in many circles.
#4. Find other believers with similar interests and hang around them. In the group I belong to, many if not most are relatively active in some church. Several are very active. We are very family oriented as well. Having several families with young children, we have extra incentive to behave, as it were. There are also a couple of Christian re-enactor internet sites. I thought I had one in my favs, but I don’t, at least not on this computer. They are out there, however, if you want to take the time to find them.
#5. Start your own re-enactment group. It’s tough, but every other group got its start somewhere.
The bottom line is that I believe it is possible to be a Christian and enjoy a renaissance fair without losing your faith, just as its possible to be a Christian and enjoy other entertainment venues as well. So too, as long as you are not blatantly trying to proseletyze, there are a number of ways to be a direct Christian influence as well. So go, enjoy, and serve.
Give Wal-Mart time…
I prefer blatant proseletyzement.
I did not criticize renfairs for not acting like Christians perse; I criticized them for being historically inaccurate where they portray Christendom. They’re portraying Hollywood’s version [and I daresay adding in a little D&D and EverQuest to it for good measure!] of Christianity if they portray it at all. And therein lay my main point: The omission of Christendom from a period that was saturated in it.
You have a lot of good points.
Well said sir! Thank you!
This is sort of what I was thinking, thank you for clarifying this!!
I know its been many years since you wrote this, but, as someone who’s been asking a lot of questions lately trying to find Jesus, one of the things I have been wondering is if I had to give up the renaissance fair, which I love.
I dress as a pirate, however, my character is a nice pirate, whos not very good at being a pirate.
As of late, I show way less cleavage, and do my best to behave myself and not get caught up in sone of the lewdness. Sonetimes I fail, but, correct me if I’m wrong, but, I believe Jesus can see our hearts, and undersrands our moments of weakness. Especially those trying to get to know him.
I’m glad I read this comment, as now I don’t feel like I have to totally give up something I have so much fun with. I feel its a better alternative to halloween, and allows me to meet new people when I go.
Blessings to you, and I hope you read this.
if you don’t like it(pagan aspect), don’t go!
but don’t sit on your high horse and bad mouth us for not portraying what you think we(re-enactors) should be doing. Do it yourself! The idea of most faires is to escape our modern reality and live another life. most people were not christians then, at least most of the middle class to poor. My father is a pastor and loves going just to look at all the neat things. Maybe next year I can get him into a friar’s robe.
the point is, this is something we do because we have an affinity for the period. If you don’t then why go! Let us have our fun and mind your own business. Besides, as Kevin eluded to, if your faith is truly strong it should be no probelm what you face in life God will see you through it.
I should caution you that you’re in danger of the worst sort of hypocrisy, for in telling me not to sit on my high horse and badmouth others for portraying what we think we should be doing, you’re sitting on a high horse, badmouthing me for what I think myself and others should be doing.
Irony aside. [And I did mean this caution in the kindess sense possible]
I should correct one notion you have: Contrary to the idea that “most people were not Christians then,” it turns out that nearly everyone was Christian then! Paganism had been almost entirely usurped! If you need a source for my opinion, you should know that medeival history and warfare is one of my passions. My shelves are full of books on the subject.
If yiu have an affinity for the period, why do you have such a false idea of it?
PS — kudos to Friar Dad
You are correct that there were few pagans back then. You forgot to mention that was because pagans were killed. No, I’m no history expert, but I do know that christians have always hated pagans and tried to stop their beliefs. Why can’t festivals be inaccurate in that respect. It is the renaissance the pagans would like to have had.
Granted, I’m an atheist, and I don’t care what silly nonsense people believe.
Cap’n Jack Havock,
With all due respect, if you didn’t care what people believe, you wouldn’t have felt inclined to leave an objection.
Christians do not hate pagans, but our beliefs are at odds with one another. Jesus Christ said He was the Way, the Truth and the Life, which means that Christianity’s claims must be exclusively true if they are true at all. In other words, syncretism is antithetical to Christianity and since the Bible teaches that there are consequences for belief in Christianity’s claims or unbelief, we have a mandate to spread the Gospel and refute all other beliefs which contradict the Bible.
It may be true in your experience that some Christians have hated or mistreated pagans, but in my experience pagans have generally went out of their way to hate and mistreat believers. On the other hand, I do have a few pagan friends. They know where I stand on pertinent issues.
Your generalization that Christians killed off the pagans is not supported by history. Pagans converted to Christianity during the Middle Ages for the most part.
Actually in that era, England had been dubbed a Christian nation and most people of that era had been “Christened”…Christian…poor and rich alike. http://www.thefinertimes.com/Middle-Ages/christianity-in-the-middle-ages.html (among other sites, books, historical records that affirm the same information)
Paganism was not replaced because ‘Christians killed all the pagans’. The witch hunts were a product of the early renaissance/early Modern period. They began in around the 16th and reached their height under the puritans in the 17th century. Its questionable how many of those supposed ‘witches’ were, in fact, pagans. Many were falsely charged and would have considered themselves to be Christians.
Even the oft-mentioned Inquisitions targeted mostly ‘heretical’ Christians, and in the case of Spain the ‘conversos’- Jews and Muslims who had supposedly converted to Catholicism. I
In Western Europe, evidence for actual paganism can barely be found after 1000AD. Even then, it was largely among groups like the Vikings. The Anglo-Saxons, Franks, Goths, Scots, Irish, Italians etc all converted centuries before that. Going back to Roman times, in a lot of cases.
Paganism simply died out in much of Western Europe, not because of persecution, but because it just became outmoded. The only place where there is was real evidence of persecution were places like Germany under Charlemagne, and the late Roman Empire.
The only places where paganism really held on past the first millennium where certain parts of Eastern Europe, such as Poland and Lithuania, and even then, it was not like any form of paganism we would recognize today, which is really just nice sanitized nature worship. I want to ask people who profess to be worshipers of the ancient Norse gods for instance when was the last time they sacrificed slave girls to Odin, cut out the lungs of enemy Kings, made sure they died in battle with swords in their hands to ensure entrance into Valhalla.
Neo-paganism started with the Renaissance period.
If you are a person who has the Living Christ within and you are going to the Renaissance Fest then you better go with the intention of proclaiming the Good News or you are participating in the work of the Adversary.
No one who has the Mind of Christ would go for the “fun of it”.
Be Holy as I am Holy. 1 Peter 1:15-16
During prayer the Lord Himself told me not to go. You are in the world, but not of it.
There are other ways to enjoy history without exulting Neo-paganism and evil.
Thanks for the comments.
Actually Neo-Paganism [literally “new paganism”] is a much more recent invention, but it has it’s roots in pre-Roman Europe’s pagan religions. These pagan religions were already around whe Christianity was introduced throughout Europe. A lot of Ren Faires try to paint the Renaissance and/or Medieval period as purely pagan and superficially Christian [a lot of times, only to show the hypocritical side of Christendom].
I respectfully disagree with you on whether it’s acceptable to attend a Ren Faire, but I applaud you for your convictions in this area. Do what the Word tells you to and let God lead you to the ministry He has prepeared for you.
The point of my article is that I feel Christians who enjoy attending these events should find ways to be witnesses for Christ, because the people who attend these events need Christ like anyone else, and if this period in history is very interesting to them we can use it as an opportunity to show them how Christ was a big part of that era; folks who would not otherwise consider Christianity might then linvestiate to find out more simply because it has something to do with one of their bigger interests. Just food for thought…
Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31
God bless you,
Neo-paganism is almost entirely a product of the last couple of centuries: with, perhaps the exception of Druidism, which was the invention of a Welshman in the late 1700s. Although many neo-pagans like to claim ancient provenance for their beliefs and practices, there is very little evidence for actual connections to the ore-Christian religions of Europe.
Simple because those religions have not left much written evidence. The actual Druids, famously, did not write anything down, and the old German tribes were basically illiterate.
The only ancient pagan religions we have a lot of evidence for are Roman paganism, and Norse paganism: which in its historical form was rather more violent and less glamorous then its modern incarnation.
As C.S. Lewis said true paganism is dead. All that’s left today is a vague form of nature worship, Wicca, and the the people who claim to worship the ‘Norse gods’, but really just seem to be just latter-day hippies or fans of the Vikings. In fact, I’m glad its dead, because there is evidence for such unpleasantness as human sacrifice in many of those old religions.
Its also an irony that many modern pagan/Wiccan symbols were in fact stolen from Christianity. Including the pentacle or five-pointed star, which in the Middle Ages was the other way around and represented the Five Wounds of Christ, and the triquetra, which as a symbol of the Holy Trinity found on Irish tombstones. As evidence, the former gets a mention in a 14th century English poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in which the hero is something most assuredly not a pagan. Although there is a reference to a witch from the Arthurian legends in it- but that is the odd thing about Medieval religion. Even Merlin was portrayed as a Christian.
Kevin knows his stuff, hence I love seeing him every year.
All this mess aside, I’m a little confused by your argument. I think it’s pretty established the ORF is an entertainment venue, rather than an example of historical accuracy. If it’s historical accuracy you would like to see, it’s best to stick with the SCA.
There are faires that are historically accurate. The Pleasure Faire in California (there are two faires, actually) stress accuracy a lot more.
Now, if you want to get REALLY accurate, then things get a little, um, shall we say bloody? The point of the Renaissance Faire is to take all the good and shiny stuff happening during that time, while completely ignoring the persecution (Catholic against Protestant), the bloodshed, the diseases, the lack of rights, tax laws, and so on.
Frankly, I don’t think you should get upset about it. I’ve worked at ORF for years, and while most of the cast drive me crazy (sans a few diamonds in the rough like Kevin), and I agree that the Pegan side of it has really gotten out of hand for the festival it’s supposed to be, let’s face it: They serve TACOS there. Okay? Tacos, hamburgers, turkey legs (not period, no matter how many faires try to push that little gem), do I really need to go on?
I 250% SUPPORT people going to ORF. I wish the ticket price was less so people didn’t have to compete against vendors who actually hand-make their goods, but I still support it.
One side-note though: the shows are not offensive, unless something as risque as Benny Hill offends you. If it does, then you’re in the wrong time in history. Music, plays (have you never heard a Shakespeare play?), entertainment (remember, this is NOT court entertainment only, it was for farmers and sailors too), I’m sorry hon, but it’s going to be a bit bawdy.
Although I always encourage people to go, if it really upsets, just don’t go.
First I’d like to say, you obviously do not know much of your history sir. The Pagan society was very much alive during that time. The problem was they were in hiding from the christians who persecuted them. If they weren’t in hiding, they were being burned at the stake or killed in cold blood! Let us not forget what people believed before christianity.
Secondly The Ren Fest is meant to be fun! If you want the Ren Fest to be accurate, you would have to have people being slaughtered at every corner! The christians were all so focused about why and how jesus died. There was so much killing and fighting, I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t have fun at a ren fest that had blood and guts strewn across fields! And let’s not forget about things that don’t even involve religion at all. Why not just have everyone relieve themselves in clay pots and toss it in the area you are walking. That would be accurate.
Thirdly where do you think the stories of elves and fairies came from? They weren’t just imagined by J. R. Tolkien, or the japanese! They were stories the mothers of the renaissance era told their children. The people were just coming out of the Dark Ages! They needed stories to give hope to their children!
So before you decide to try and change something make sure you do some research first.
By your own admission, history records a minority Pagan presence in medeival times. Likewise, the stack of history books dealing with the dark ages in my living room lets me know you haven’t done your research where it concerns the level of carnage one would expect at a tournament. You likewise admit that elves and fairies were fictional stories. I don’t know if you’ve read a lot of fairy tales, but most of them weren’t the sort of inspirational story that would inspire hope; most of them were morality tales and tales which taught social expectations.
No one is asking that the Ren Fairs makes itself completely historically accurate; we’re simply objected to the anti-Christian portrayal of a wholly Christianized era.
As a side note, Christianity, having it’s roots in Judaism (Surprise! the original church was started by…Jews) and worshipping the God of Israel shows that “pre-Christian” is just a time before the nomenclature was coined. Saying something is “pre-Christian” only points the the time before followers of Christ (also considered the third person in the Godhead of Israel – which existed before paganism) were called “Christian” (meaning little Christ, originally a slur, but adopted by believers). It technically doesn’t prove than Paganism is “more ancient”, or more valid than Christianity.
I’m calling nonsense on Shallea’s statement, as a Medievalist. First of all, because the witch-hunts were largely a produce of the early modern period, and not the Middle Ages, reaching their height under the puritans in the 17th century. Second, most of those so accused were not, in fact ‘pagans’, but would have identified as Christians. What they were accused of was more like Satanism then witchcraft, which they almost certainly were not guilty of.
Thirdly, although we think people were ‘burned as witches’ in the Middle Ages- mostly because of Joan of Arc, burning was actually the punishment for heresy, not ‘witchcraft’. Which is why the majority of people who suffered this punishment were Christians who were convicted of some kind of ‘heresy’ such as the Knights Templar and some of the English Lollards. William Tyndale was burned, and he most assuredly was neither a witch, nor a pagan: nor was he accused of being any such thing.
If anyone had it in for old herbalist ladies it was professional apothecaries who were afraid of losing business, not the wicked old church. We think Medieval people were terrified and paranoid about witchcraft, but seriously, I doubt that. This was an age when they thought Saints could do miracles, and what we would probably call ‘spells’ were considered fine as long as they involved prayers to Mary. Read the Arthurian legends. They though Merlin was a prophet, for goodness sake.
I have been involved with Renaissance Faires for over 20 years. I have performed at them and have been a playtron for the last few years. I agree that from the prospective of Rev. Tony Breeden that the Ren-faires do not portray Christianity as it was. I believe that the faires are fantasy and not historical. I started out at the KC Renfest and as Tina has said it has turned from historical to fantasy. This is congruent with the popularity of fantasy in our culture. I agree with Rev. Breeden that more people should become part of the faire and represent Christianity in street characters, court, vendors, and crafters. There should be more of a voice of Christians out at the faire. My wife Kris and I are active to be a presence in every faire we attend. Christians need to do a better job of expressing a positive reaction toward pagans and wiccans at faire. I have received many jabs and insults from pagans and wiccans and have returned them with a calm loving response. Many have been hurt by their family members or friends. They need to have a positive response of care that they are expressing hurt and anger. We often express sadness at their hurt and reflect a desire to show them that we walk as Jesus walks and not as their family or friends have done. It requires a mature Christian to be able to deal with their raw emotions. We simply desire to be loving and faithful to our beliefs at the same time. One can even give the gospel regularly in a calm loving manner and there will not be any offense. A Christian needs to be willing to hear what they believe as well. Then there will be a calm mutually benefiting conversation. Remember that people are out there to have fun. For the serious Christian prayer for opportunity is very important. I think a lot of prayer by Christians would open faires up to all sorts of wonderful opportunities to express true faith and love toward you neighbor.
Ren Faires without Christianity aren’t ren faires. I was interested in medieval and rennaisance fighting techniques and checked out the SCA. What I found was a bunch of athiests and neo-pagans flailing around LARPing a fantasy novel, and bad one at that. They wanted nothing to do with Christianity and seemed offended by its very presence.
I turned down the SCA for this reason, and have instead started to put my time into a Historical European Martial Arts group that roots its study thoroughly in the basis of Christianity.
There’s enough christianity other places in the world, so the people that show up like pagans feel like it is one of the few places christians wont start yelling at them for having different beliefs. True, the festivals are not all that accurate, but it’s just about having fun.
Also, you forgot two groups on your list of people that come; Steampunks (who usually dress victorian) and the people that don’t dress up.
Cap’n Jack Havock,
Allow me to apologize on behalf of my Lord Jesus if any Christian has yelled at you personally or a pagan friend without provocation. Having been yelled at and singled out by pagans without provocation, I understand the hurt you must feel over this.
I genuinely forgot about the Steampunks. I’m generally, though not always in the latter category, but my boys have a lot of fun dressing up for the RenFaire.
I accept your apology.
I was briefly a Hellenic Neopagan and felt constantly shunned by christian friends who thought it was silly or against their beliefs. My best friend’s mother told me that I was not allowed to try and convert her daughter to my beliefs.
I have also witnessed two christians who saw someone’s bumper sticker declaring themselves pagan. They said something along the lines of “How dreadful! Well, we know they’ll be burning in hell someday!” my christian friend who heard this also shared my disgust at their conversation.
As I said earlier, I don’t care what people believe, but I care when people’s beliefs start intruding on others. Clearly you are a good guy and don’t mind pagans, but please don’t pretend there isn’t a prejudice against them, even only among extremist communities: http://www.religioustolerance.org/reac_ter7.htm. I just wish we could all live in peace together.
As an Ásatrúar, honesty is one of the pillars of my faith and I believe it’s imperative for everyone to be forthright and speak his (or her) mind, so I’d like to thank you for speaking your mind on the matter. I think too often people are so afraid of stepping on others’ toes and hurting feelings they’ve forgotten what it means to hold a conviction. I’m also sorry for any abuse you’ve had to endure at the hands of especially contentious or immature Pagans. We should be able to enjoy the benefits of society where freedom of expression and pluralism are held up as virtues while still maintaining a level of decorum.
That said, I have a keen, but admittedly amateur interest in the history of the Middle Ages. I’ve been to a few RenFairs over the years, and they’ve always been the same sort of New Age, high fantasy, pseudo-historical fluff with a healthy dose of Dungeons and Dragons thrown in. (nothing against D&D, I love tabletop games)
Basically I agree with you, and I think that the situation at the fairs is a shame, because really we can’t and shouldn’t deny the role that Christianity played in the formation of post-Pagan European civilization from the early Middle Ages up until the Renaissance. I think it’s vitally important for people to understand it’s involvement to understand history in perspective. After all, we are ALL the result of that culture whether you embrace or resent that fact. But it’s very easy for people who have been gifted with the hindsight of modernity to paint with a wide brush over past peoples as wholly barbaric and ignorant, centuries removed from a world in which both the demands and expectations of life were very different from what they are now.
So in a sense I can see why these people exist. And to be fair, not all neo-Pagans are like that. At least not in my estimation.
I think part of the reason that is, is that a significant minority of them aren’t really religious in the truest sense, but more thank likely LARPers. I mean that they are people who are otherwise functionally atheist, who hold post-Christian beliefs, and who are probably disaffected with dogmatic atheism in general and so go seeking something more tangible in order to validate their worldviews.
From my perspective this is an unhealthy situation for Paganism. A lot of Pagans have set themselves up as a political movement which is defined by it’s eternal opposition to Christianity, rather than defining themselves from within and seeking answers in their gods. It’s a top down rather than bottom up approach.
First of hall historically tails were worn in an attempt to dodge getting the plague. They aren’t sold for the anime. The initially didn’t want them sold because they are more from the dark ages as apposed to the renaissance era. But they are allowing more of an era span.
And they add things like ears and fairies because those are fun aspects for children and they are creatures that have been around in stories for centuries! Again has nothing to do with anime.
Yeah the church had a big part of it historically but so did mythology, and mysticism. And to not offended people they focus more on the fun mystic side of history. Which is more entertaining.
If they focused on Christianity there would be actresses burning at the stake on main street for being mistaken as a witch. The ignorance of that time is removed to make it a fun experience for everyone. If it was 100% history it wouldn’t be fun, and it wouldn’t be running strong today.
Most of us don’t want religion jammed down our throats when we go to fun events. And who are you to attack the pagans? What did they ever do to you besides not be Christian! ? Are you even familiar with pagans or Wiccans? They are actually very peaceful people. Historically they don’t rage and cause war like the Christians have.
The fact that people still can’t get along with someone because they aren’t Christian is so ridiculous. And just so ya know paganism is an open view culture like Buddhism. It allows you to take in multiple views. Most pagans during that era were actually catholic as well.
I am very familiar with pagans and wiccans. I’m even friends with a few.
This article pointed out that Christianity is under-represented given the historical period at these events and further noted that when it is represented it is distorted to only show the hypocrisies of Christianity [witch burning, etc]. No mention of monasteries making wine and Bibles in an age before the printing press. No mention that the Knight Hospitallers returned from the Crusades to give the world the first real hospitals, etc.
I go to the ren fest to ESCAPE the society that wastes their time bothering to care about this kind of stuff and have FUN… America is a country for ALL religions not just ‘Christianity’ your not putting light anywhere, just salt in the wound.
I never asked for Christianity only at renn faires. Where did you get that idea? I merely noted that Christianity was grossly under-represented and distorted where present at all.
Why would bothering to care about ideas and ideologies be a waste of time?
One does not attend a Renaissance Faire for religious reasons. That is what church is for. Just as today, there were many religious sects during that time period and contrary to popular belief, Christianity was not the only one. Paganism was alive then too. After the medieval dark ages, the Renaissance (rebirth) period began and people started thinking for themselves instead of in groups. This led more people to start to exploring their spiritual beliefs on their own and just as today, people have come to see and feel things differently than they were told to see, feel and believe by the church who wanted to convert and control the world according to their beliefs.
It is true that most Pagans were murdered by the Christians in historical times. Religion is the biggest cause of hate, violence and war all based out of fear; fear that others may start to think for themselves & see that we truly are all God as he is a part of each and every one of us be it Pagan, Wiccan, christian, or Muslim, like it or not. But trying to make everything religious is an ancient way of trying to control the masses. No one needs to force their beliefs onto anyone or save anyone. All we can do is be good people, treat others how we’d like to be treated, and love. This is Christ like behavior and the ultimate goal. And if we don’t learn, we keep coming back until we get it right. 😉
By the way, in Celtic culture, there was a large belief in fairies and elves during that time. The Renaissance Era did begin in Eastern Europe. The fox tails aren’t a representation of anime, but instead they were actually worn during the period because people suffered from fleas and lice. They believed that by wearing these tails that the fleas would attach to them instead of the people’s skin and hair. People were much simpler and mostly uneducated back then. Just as there is today, the world did have wenches, servants, prostitutes and pirates so I do think the faire is pretty accurate.
My point was that Christianity was grossly under-represented and distorted where it was represented at Renn Faires.
With all due respect, the idea that religion has caused more wars than anything else is reductionist; even wars between religious groups are often motivated primarily by economics and prejudices.
As for the idea that we are all God… try walking on water sometime. Christ Himself said there was no one who was good except God, which is why He sacrificed Himself to save us. If we were capable of being good enough to save ourselves, He would have said, Try harder. As for the idea of reincarnation, God’s Word [from which you borrow the idea of Christ-like behavior] says that it is appointed unto man once to die and after the judgment; it also says that Jesus [not Wicca, Islam or what-have-you] is The Way, The Truth and The Life, so that no one comes to the Father except by Him.
You cannot respect my religion if you do not bother to understand what it truly claims.
I sincerely appreciated this post. I am a Christian who husband used to be a missionary in Honduras and in Costa Rica in which he portrayed a pirate as “satan” in plays written to spread the Gospel. Our alter egos for ren faire are pirates because of that. We love the ren faires and recently found out that one of the singers at the faire in Muskogee, OK also sings Gospel Music. We will be supporting him MUCH MORE now. Thank you
Rennies for Chris
This article sounds like a sad Christian whining about the fact that Renies, for the most part, are Pagan. However, it shouldn’t be assumed that there isn’t any Christian influence, mainly because Christianity came from Paganism. So, think of it as paying your respects to your parents, considering Paganism did give birth to the bastard child known as Christian Religion.
Fact: Paganism was celebrated 5,000 years prior to Christianity, which is only 2,000 years old, historically and anthropologically speaking.
Fact: if you’re upset because the fair is mainly a “Pagan-Haven”, the Christians really only have themselves to blame. Considering they’ve already built their churches on the grounds of the sacred temples, and have even found a way around the whole ” separation between church and state” aspect of our country. The Goddess survived then, and is still surviving, and the fairs allows Pagans to be themselves without Christian persecution, of which they have already endured for over 2,000 years.
I guess, yes, the 17th century was Christian ruled, but, Pagans still existed, which is how they practice today, because the Christians couldn’t catch em all! It’s OK though, you don’t have to be upset about this, because at the end of the day, your faith is the child of the Old Religion, so pay your respects, play some games, and go home.
[sigh]. Historically speaking, Christianity came from Judaism. Anyone who’s read the Bible would know that… or taken a college history course. Please get your facts straight.
Sorry, no respects given for claims made on base ignorance
Both Tony Breeden and Niko Ravencraft are somewhat right, but mostly wrong. Yes, Christianity did start out as an offshoot of Judaism, at a time when Judaism was going through a lot of schism (Saduccees vs Pharisees) and evolution (from Pharisaic to Rabbinic). But as a struggling new religion, Christianity was competing for hearts and minds in a wide marketplace of religions in the Mediterrantean basin in Late Antiquity, from Manichaeism to the Cult of Isis and a lot of other systems of belief. Appropriating the most popular aspects of these competing new religions as well as those of the preexisting beliefs of target audiences was key to attracting a wider audience. Why do we think Christianity discarded the Jewish requirements of circumcision and keeping kosher? Of course it was to attract converts who wouldn’t want to have to slice their little buddy or give up the delicious shellfish found on the coasts of Greece and Italy, or the plentiful and easy to raise pigs of the European forests. The Catholic Church’s mariology attracted converts from the Cult of Isis and other sects that believed in a Mother Goddess; its veneration of saints was a skillful substitution of the colorful pantheon of demigods and heros of the Greco-Roman religion. Jesus himself, the early iconography of him borrowed much from Phoebus Apollo. Even as the church expanded beyond the Romanized parts of Northern Europe in the Early and High Middle Ages, new converts found ways to fold in and reconcile their old beliefs with the Church, and at times this was even encouraged by local church authorities, sort of a way to “co-opt the gang.”
But to say that pre-Christian pagan religions were able to go underground and survive all this to be authentically practiced to the present day is wishful thinking. The fanciful Gardnerian-influenced paganism of the present day, the kind practiced at Renaissance fairs, is largely a late-Victorian invention
I’m not a Christian at all, I swore off my Catholic upbringing as a young man, however I am a big Anglophile and Medieval nerd. I ended up minoring in English lit in college with a specialty in Medieval English Literature, reading The Canterbury Tales, Havelock, The Vision of Piers Ploughman, etc. I attend the Texas Renaissance Festival every other year because it’s the closest I can get in my neck of the woods to an immersive experience, even though its target time period is about 100-150 years more recent than the end of the period that most interests me (though I do like the English Renaissance as well). Anachronism sticks out to me like a sore thumb, so I’ve had to just do my best to ignore the Vikings (long-gone by the 16th Century, or even by the 1200s and 1300s which are my favorite period to study), late 17th to 18th Century pirates, the Highlanders in belted plaids (which, in addition to really only starting to take hold in the early 17th Century, wouldn’t have been seen in an ENGLISH village), and don’t get me started on the 19th Century Bavarians and Classical Antiquity Greeks Romans in their “togas” (they apparently don’t know the differences between a himation and a toga). That was all bad enough, but more and more fairies, furries, and even late-Victorian-inspired Steampunkers are becoming so numerous that they are hard to ignore. And the women in the chain-mail bikinis. Not that I always mind the sight of a shapely woman in a bikini, but a.) this is not a beach, b.) the idea of wearing protective armor over only those areas creates cognitive dissonance, and c.) these chain-mail bikinis are usually worn by flabby, tattooed biker women in their 50s. Does all of this detract from my experience, what I come to a Renaissance festival to experience? Yes, it does somewhat, but it isn’t just MY experience, it’s their experience too. Cosplay isn’t my thing, but it’s something that brings other people a lot of joy, something they don’t have a whole lot of venues to freely do, and though their particular cosplay impression might not be all that in keeping with the geographical and historical context of the fair, it is an appropriate venue for cosplay, and I’d be a pretty uptight and mean-spirited person to begrudge them their enjoyment of the event in their own way.
Next, my thoughts on paganism in Medieval and early Renaissance times. The open practice of pagan religions had been effectively extirpated from Europe by the High Middle Ages, to be certain. However, that is not to say that pre-Christian superstitions and practices did not survive in everyday life. Indeed, many pagan beliefs were folded into the early Christian church and were a strong influence on the development of the Church in Late Antiquity, as it looked for ways to make itself more attractive to compete against other popular beliefs like Manichaeism and the Cult of Isis, to name a few. The Mariology of the Church is one such result of this. But even as the church expanded beyond the Romanized parts of Northern Europe in the Early and High Middle Ages, new converts found ways to fold in and reconcile their old beliefs with the Church, and at times this was even encouraged by local church authorities, sort of a way to “co-opt the gang.” Not that this has anything to do with the chiefly Garnerian-influenced paganism on display at Renaissance festivals, which is largely a late-Victorian imagining at earliest.
Now my thoughts on the absence of Christianity at the fairs. First, yes, the Church was THE big institution in the lives of Medieval English people, but reading the ribaldry of the chansons de geste and other genres (including Chaucer) of Middle English literature, it’s clear the English people at that time did have outlets in their everyday life to escape the overbearing influence of the Church. Markets (back then a market wasn’t a business establishment, it was an event) and fairs (like the Nottingham Goose Fair, that is still held to this day) were just such outlets. While the Church did sponsor many feast day fairs, many others were not affiliated with the Church and were granted to townsfolk by royal charter. If there is any actual Medieval or Renaissance institution that modern Renaissance festivals emulate, it is these markets and fairs of England during those periods. These events were first and foremost matters of commerce. Farmers and craftsmen came to buy, sell, and trade their wares at the markets, and fairs were expanded markets with traveling hucksters like quack doctors, jongleurs, minstrels, feats of strength and skill, food, wine, ale, were all enjoyed there. Even with those fairs associated with the Church, a quirk of English law divorced them from church influence compared to fairs on the Continent, for as while continental European fairs were usually on the church or abbey grounds, Edward I decreed this to be desecration of a churchyard, so English fairs had to be held on village greens, where they lost a lot of church influence. Likely the local clergy would have avoided attending the fair even if the church were deriving money from it, as they would have been seen as worldy and debauched, no place for a man of God. Therefore English fairgoers were left to enjoy their fairs in the same way small-town Bible Belt denizens here in the US have been able to enjoy traveling carnivals without being pestered by the local pastor.
Second, we must remember that these events are nominally ENGLISH RENAISSANCE events, not medieval events. We are talking about England at the time of Henry VIII through Elizabeth. By 1542, all the monasteries in England had been dissolved, and their assets forfeited to the Crown. Any fairs that had been granted charters through their local parishes, the towns took over, and they became completely secular events.
So, in summation, the lack of visible Church influence at these events is not all that historically inaccurate after all.
Last, as an aside, I would like to point out the absurdity of you bemoaning the “historical inaccuracy” of a lack or Church presence at an ENGLISH RENAISSANCE (ie, post Protestant Reformation) event while suggesting as a remedy dressing as Knights Hospitallers and warrior monks from the Crusades. The Knights Hospitallers, as a CATHOLIC organization, had all their property confiscated by Henry VIII and effectively ceased to operate in England. Do you have any idea what would have happened to someone who dared to dress in public in as a Hospitaller – or any other Catholic military order – in Tudor England!?!?!?!? Not to mention the high point of English involvement in the Crusades was a 250 year old distant memory in Tudor England.
This is coming from Someone who has their masters in religious studies.
I would just like to point out that part of the reason that most renassciance festivals (or really anyone for that matter) do not emphasize the churches history during the Renaissance period is because it is some pretty ugly history. Religiously, the Renaissance was the time when the church split between Catholicism and Protestantism. That split led to the torture and execution of thousands of people on both sides. The split was also a major reasoning for most of the wars of the period. Christian against Christian.
That is not exactly the most family friendly or church promoting historical message to send out at a public event. Know what I mean.
All I am saying is, Before you complain about church history not being shown to the public, I think you need to realize that most church history before the 18th century was for the most part pretty gruesome. I mean the whole reason people migrated to the USA in the late 16th century and early 17th century was because they feared for their lives from religious persecution. Christians against Christians. Throughout history the most violent group was the church. And that is fact. I also found it funny that you pointed out that the monk character was flirting. Did you know that many of the monks, bishops, and priest frequented brothels and had their own bastard children. They rarely kept their vows of celebacy.
Thank you for this article, Tony. This, along with all of your mature, kind, educated replies to all who have chimed in, has helped me tremendously. I love going to faires and dressing up and enjoy the process of making costumes, but I also find that the faires have become increasingly full of debauchery and hedonism…I know there was the same in those times, but not to the extent that they portray. I have worked faires and found the seething hatred of Christians around every corner. It’s not just sweet Pagans, though there are some who are, in the mix, but the majority are severely anti-Christian. I tried myself to be the kind of Christian who showed love, but it was difficult not to get drawn in, or face the pain of heated debate (which I hate) and risk hurting those for whom I cared in the process. Thank you for being an example of the proper Christ-like response one should have in light of these situations. God bless.
The final year I was a member of the resident cast at Michigan Renaissance Festival was in 2007 and management was actively discouraging us from wearing crosses and including references to Christianity in our characters. I think this must have changed since then because I’ve noticed ladies of the court wearing crosses again (including one girl I know to be a practicing Jew.)
That is very interesting. Thanks for your comment. 🤔