Pagan Rave is an ongoing, performance-based project which aims to reimagine folk traditions and calendar customs of Ireland.
Using as a starting point the costumed figures of Irish and European folk theatre and seasonal festivals, it seeks to operate at the margins of place and mind, and embody the transformative and liberating aspects of masks and music in a ceremonial context.
The project manifests in different ways. Some occasions are large, community- or festival-sized events, with scores of performer-participants and hundreds of spectators. Others involve smaller groups, and may not have any audience at all. These private occasions offer an opportunity to explore ritual space, with participants making use of mask, music and movement to tap into an often primal sense of trancelike consciousness. It may also simply manifest in a party-like atmosphere, where straightforward enjoyment and fun is the aim.
I have a background in archaeology and folkloristics, and draw heavily on academic research when devising events, making costumes and composing music. Ceremony seems to have formed a huge role in past society, in both making and maintaining myths and metanarratives, forming identities, and in enabling social cohesion. It is the very same in the modern world. I draw on this to allow both participants and spectators to engage with ceremonies.
These ceremonies, if that is what they are, do not profess any dogma, or follow any creed. They are deliberately vague, although the actions, costumes, music and words are, at times, intricately detailed. The meaning of the event is left up to the individual.
There is a sense of the importance of ceremony in our understanding of the past. We are aware that great assemblies took place at locations such as Tara, Navan Fort or Rathcroghan. Likewise, the great megalithic tombs of Newgrange and Poulnabrone must have been at one time the site of great public events, and likely charged with spiritual and social energy. One can imagine masks, drums and songs being part of many of these events. It doesn’t really matter that the details of these events are lost, as it is a creative exercise to reimagine them, and bring these reimaginings into the modern frame.
We can also look to seasonal events from recent times, like Hallowe’en, The Wren’s Day, Christmas Mumming and Bonfire Night. Fires, masks, singing and most importantly, people coming together in celebration. These must be features as old as human culture itself. There is plenty of material out there that people are willing to view as aspects of ancient culture, whatever its true origin. My work seizes on that view of our culture, and unashamedly recasts it in a new context, using archetypal imagery to create a sense of timelessness.
I aim to give people a sense of authenticity, even though it may not be historically so. Ultimately, it is an entirely authentic expression within the bounds of our own, 21st century culture. It offers people who may be jaded with a virtual, intangible world of iphones and laptops an opportunity to enter a liminal space, and to immerse themselves in an atemporal, visceral experience.
Collective joy is an extraordinary thing. When one is in a large group of people who are participating in ecstatic celebration, especially with music and dancing, the individual is overwhelmed by the crowd, an entity that is much bigger than the sum of its parts. Masks can be an amazing way of bringing this out too. Ironically, by covering the face, a person’s true nature is free to come to the surface, and surrender to the bigger experience. There is no place for self-consciousness or ego, and feelings of isolation or loneliness can give way to elation and connectedness. And this is the ultimate aim of the project.
Keep up to date with future events on our Facebook group.
If you are interested in the project, get in touch here.
A gallery featuring the masks from the project is available here.