The Power of Pageantry


The 2014 edition of the Bristol Renaissance Faire is over for another year, but though the gates are closed, my mind is still inside them.

A lot, actually.

This was Nathan’s and my first year to attend the faire. It was good timing, because I happen to be researching medieval falconry and table manners for a writing project I’ll be tackling this winter. But what struck me (besides side-splitting laughter from the merry stage acts, the excitement of the jousting tournament, and the sheer destruction those famous cheese fritters did on my Weight Watchers points, of course) was the amount of pageantry that met me at every turn.

Pageantry: noun, plural pageantries. spectacular display; pomp

Pageantry makes for good modern entertainment, which is (of course) what any renn faire ultimately is about. But regardless of how weak the link may be between the modern renn faire experience and its real medieval roots, one thing is sure: pageantry did play a more prominent role in “ye olde times” than it does today.

While we moderns tend to equate pageantry with discrimination and shackles, social stratification and snobbery, the practice of public display and ritual is not itself evil. In fact, I would argue that we denizens of history’s most rapidly changeful era are starved for some of the good old-fashioned stability that public ritual brings.

When you think about it, pageantry is really just the heightening of a shared experience, in order to make it more impactful and (in turn) more memorable. People come together to perform a pre-determined set of actions toward a pre-determined goal. The enacting of those actions brings unity, comfort, stability, entertainment and even belonging.

Of course, when your life is ruled by a clock on which the minute hand seems to move as fast as the second hand, pausing to “indulge” a ceremony of any sort seems needlessly wasteful. Time is our precious commodity. Why would we spend it doing something ceremonious?

And so the moment passes—often so fast that we are unaware of it.

This is exactly what the practice of pageantry helps prevent.

By stopping to commemorate a moment, a ritual, a shared experience, we make a conscious choice to be present in that moment. Everything else is gone. For a few fleeting seconds, our collective attention is focused on one goal, one experience, one now that will soon be history.

In throwing off pageantry altogether, or recasting it into an entirely individual mold, we have perhaps thrown off some of what once connected us as human beings. Or at the very least, some of what helped us to be present at life’s most impactful moments.

I wonder what might happen if we made room for a little more pageantry?

Because if history teaches us anything, it’s that time, once lost to history, cannot be reclaimed.

The 2014 Bristol Renaissance Faire is now history, yet it lives on in my imagination. I’m thinking about those moments when I paused to share a collective experience with others. Moments when the only thing that mattered was what was happening right in front of me. Moments where, for a few fleeting turns of my watch, I was present.

If that is outcome of pageantry, I’d say it’s not a relic of history at all, or a once-a-year experience at the renn faire.

It just might be the next big thing.


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