Transformational Festivals: A New Religious Movement?

Transformational Festivals: A New Religious Movement?

Andrew Johner (Lesley University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8665-6.ch003
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With the growing popularity of psychedelic trance worldwide, as well as a general resurgence of electronic music in the United States, several new forms of music festivals are one the rise in North America- among these are transformational festivals. Transformational festivals in North America are a progeny of psychedelic trance, Burning Man, and full-moon rave culture. Transformational festivals incorporate spiritual practices such as yoga, chanting, meditation and ecstatic dance alongside their primary exhibits of musical and psychedelic entertainment. The festivals advertise a predominating intention of providing attendees with multiple avenues of self-development, therapeutic healing, and spiritual transformation. The purpose of this chapter is to access elements of belonging, identity, religiosity, and elitism among transformational culture and their transformational festival events. This chapter will offer comparison to religious revivals, cults, new religious movements, millenarianism, and cultural revitalization movements.
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The expansion of psychedelic trance across the world has been consequential not only for the rise of psytrance’s global tribe, as it has been identified by anthropologist Graham St. John1, but also for the offspring of several new forms of psytrance cultures, among these are Transformational Festivals. Internationally, many transformational festivals such as Portugal’s Boom Festival, and Australia’s Rainbow Serpent Festival, are historically popular psychedelic trance festivals. Yet in 2012, both events began to identify under the transformational festival moniker—as Boom is now classified on Wikipedia. In the United States, events with names like Lucidity, Lighting In a Bottle, Transcendence Festival, YOUtopia, Wunderlust, and Serenity Gathering, are also being distinguished as Transformational Festivals (Reyes, 2013).

Transformational festivals in the United States share historical ties with local psytrance communities, and from an international scope are also categorized as visionary arts festivals along with many other psytrance festival events (Davis, 2014). They share emphasis on ecstatic trance dancing for long periods of time, spiritual and religious iconography, fractal and geometric psychedelic art, as well as a millenarianism involving extraterrestrials, apocalypse, and techno-singularities. Julian Allison, of the New York Times describes the festivals as “the slightly smaller, psychedelic-art-and-electronic-dance-music-centered, commercialized progeny of Burning Man (Allison, 2014).” A community is emerging around these events that some identify as transformational culture—claiming allegiance to the transformational festival as a movement of cultural revitalization akin to the visionary arts movement (St John, 2014).

What characterizes a regular music festival from a transformational festival, or TF, is the presence of seminars, workshops, drum circles, religious ceremonies appropriated from indigenous traditions, installation art, yoga, and an ethos of community-building, self-realization, healthy-living, and creative expressionism (Perry, 2013). At TF events, participants discuss new age, and neo-spiritual ideologies while maintaining a shared experience of leisure and openness. They dance as a unified ecstatic mass. They buy, sell and ingest a multiplicity of psychedelic narcotics.

They attend several workshops on tantric sexual healing, mediation, raw-food dieting, or astrological channeling. Attendees claim to be positively changed by the experience—hence their transformational label. Many TFs also advertise themselves as forbearers of a new worldview, with many of their attendees claiming to be a part of a larger social movement paving the way for a new planetary culture (St John, 2014). Nate Hogan, a long-time participant, infamous within the community for building natural art installation sanctuaries at TF events, remarked the following comment in an interview back in 2009:

People have labeled it all sorts of things, people call it Neo-Tribal, or Ancient-Futurism, no one can quite put there [sic] finger on it, we just know it’s pushing the boundaries of cultural evolution and we know that we’re in that creative process, and the key is that we are learning what cultural alchemies work well together. If we bring all these different creative elements together then it creates this surge of energy that helps elevate everybody to a new level of consciousness. (N. Hogan, Personal Communication 2009)

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