Modern Fey Circles at Riviersonderend
Human Folklore has long held tales of fey circles. In Europe, a ring of mushrooms could be a doorway to an elfin kingdom, while the circles of red sand that emerge among the grasses of the Namib desert in southern Africa are whispered to be gathering places for fey and elvish dancers alike. Humans stepping into such circles are liable to be whisked away to a mystical realm and danced to the point of madness by the feyfolk of old. Those who escape might still find themselves lost or forgotten, for a few moments spent dancing in the fey world could be weeks or even years in the human one.
Today, of course, the explanation for such natural phenomena is far less fun, if no less interesting. There is little talk of magic circles and feyfolk anymore. People have come to accept that such things are just for myths and stories. However, if it were possible to step into the realm of the fey, I imagine it would feel something like stepping into the Circle of Dreams during the Vortex Open-source festival (December 2018).
This being my first trance festival experience, I had little idea what to expect when arriving on the scene. The landscape was still relatively empty, as we arrived a day before the festivities were set to begin, but the entire space was already infused with a sense of quiet anticipation. We used the emptiness to our advantage, setting out on a mission to find the perfect campsite. And we did so. About seven times.
By the time we had dragged our groundsheets, bags and tents to a new spot for the last time, it was well into the night. Our final selection was motivated as much by exhaustion and an inability to figure out where the hell we had ended up as any situational advantage. As it turned out, even blind and disorientated, we were able to find a decent spot – and over the next five days it became our home in every sense of the word.
Within two days, our campsite had grown to include around fourteen people. Everyone set about making the space their own in some small way. Tables and chairs sprung up. A makeshift washing line was rigged between two trees. Fairy lights wound their way around the overhanging branches. Mugs, gas stoves and bottles of paint multiplied at an alarming rate. We formed a small, chaotic community within the larger world of Vortex. We were at once wild and charming, and underlying our every choice and interaction was the thrum of trance.
The music at Vortex is a peculiar thing. It takes over the entire area, holding every person a willing hostage. There is never a still moment – even back at the campsite, there would always be a tapping foot or bobbing head. At any given time, anyone could start to dance wherever they stood. There may have been two identifiable dance-floors, but the dancing hardly stopped where the floors ended. It spilled outwards among the trees and along the edge of the river, following the music that seemed to pool in every open space. With DJs playing just about constantly – for around twenty-three hours every day – it was only during the daily ‘Nature Hour’ that a semblance of silence could be found. We would usually use these silent hours as an opportunity to sleep, but even then echoes of the music found a way into our dreams.
It would be wrong to assume that music and dance is all there is to Vortex. The festival represents a curious meeting of art and nature. Whether it was the eerie blue jellyfish that acted as hanging lights over the Heartspace floor, the dream-catchers that lined the paths, the geometric cloth and string creations stretched between the trees or the neon-painted dragons that overlooked the dancing crowds, every part of the festival was a visual delight. At night, everything came alive with light. Ultra-violet caught on psychedelic patterns and faces alike, and the space seemed awash with a purple glow. It was enough to make even the most level-headed person feel as if they had slipped between dimensions and emerged somewhere Other – and we are certainly not level-headed.
During the day, we all made use of the swimming, slacklining and painting areas. Morning yoga sessions along the river bank were a common sight. People of all ages and backgrounds mingled both on and off the dance-floors, creating a fascinating tapestry of human lives and experiences. For the most part, everyone I met was friendly and engaging. From the hardcore festival-goers who looked to have cut their teeth on post-Woodstock hippie happenings, to the mercurial newcomers seeking to dabble in an idea of a lifestyle, everyone was caught up in the intrigue of the Circle of Dreams.
There is a grittier side to Vortex. Five days of camping and dancing in the mud is not for everyone – particularly when most abandon their shoes as a lost cause within the first day. The constant noise and press of people can very quickly go from captivating to overwhelming, and there are, of course, enough hallucinogens, amphetamines and other stimulants floating around to…well, to keep a trance festival of over a thousand people going for five days. Anyone who wishes to avoid exposure to such things should probably avoid attending this event. While engaging in the festivities sober is not uncommon – and can be extremely enjoyable – not everyone else will be doing the same.
That being said, for anyone who is planning to visit the Vortex Open-source festival or another like it for the first time, here are a few tips that might come in handy.
Tricks of the Trance:
- Don’t go alone. Preferably go as part of a group, as it adds to both the fun and security of the experience, but at the very least take a friend or two along.
- Take fairy lights. Because they’re lit. But also because there are thousands of tents at Vortex and having some lights strung above your site can really help you to identify it when heading back at night.
- Stay cool and hydrated. It can get very hot on the the dance-floors, particularly during the day. There are sprinklers lining the floors and free water points all over. Learn where they are and use them liberally.
- Take time to eat and rest every day. Vortex takes on a certain timeless quality – it is the village that never sleeps. With all the activity and stimulus, you are seldom holding to normal sleeping and eating patterns. Make new ones.
- Watch out when accepting water from strangers. It’s fairly common for people to offer you their bottles on the dance-floor. This is usually a friendly gesture – however, you have no way of knowing what is in other people’s water. Think twice before accepting.
- Sunscreen. Being burnt is very not fun.
- Take time for yourself. As already mentioned, the crowds can get overwhelming at times. Take time out to swim, read, paint or just relax somewhere quieter. Five days is a long time to be constantly around other people.
One last thing that should be mentioned is how incredible the Vortex organisers are. I cannot begin to imagine what a massive undertaking it must be, planning and maintaining such an event. I certainly would not know where to start. Thanks for the amazing experience!