by Joey Phoenix (they/them/theirs)
Images provided by Daughters of Darkness and Widdershins Stories
Daughters of Darkness is happening virtually again this year on the last weekend in April, bringing three days of dark market explorations and intriguing events – including The Death Café hosted by Kristin Harris (she/her/hers) of Life After Midnight and a special storytelling event from Widdershins Stories, live music , dark yoga with Black Widow Yoga, panels and Q&As, and a virtual vendor fair.
The Salem-born Daughters of Darkness Virtual Festival and Dark Arts Market is the creation of Amber Newberry (she/her/hers – Die with Your Boots On, Fundead Publications), Laurie Moran (she/her/hers – The Cemeterrarium, Fundead Publications), and Liz Frazier (She/her/hers) of Witch City Wicks.
Now in its 4th year, the festival has built a reputation for being a meeting ground for dark, goth, and alternative small businesses created by women and non-binary creatives. As a further show of solidarity to women and non-binary individuals in the region, a portion of the proceeds from sales and happenings during the event go to HAWC, an organization which strives to help abused women, children, men, and nonbinary people live free from violence and fear.
A safe space to be weird
One of the things those in fringe, alternative, and dark cultures count on throughout the year is the ability to gather in person and celebrate their uniqueness, their weirdness. For those familiar with con culture, Daughters of Darkness also prides itself on creating a safe space for people within the dark arts and weird culture to gather and celebrate all of the things that they create, experience, and enjoy.
“For me, it’s kind of heartening to see a bunch of people like me, being such a very creative kind of just generally strange person, all in one place. You get this awesome, weird energy,” Newberry said. “Having so many people who are kind of on the fringe show up, it just proves that we’re all out there.”
“We didn’t take the decision to cancel lightly.”
When the world went into lockdown in early 2020, and the well-attended Daughters of Darkness festival had to turn virtual, it wasn’t easy for the attendees, and it definitely wasn’t easy for the organizers.
“We didn’t take the decision to cancel lightly,” said Amber Newberry. “We had already paid for events and festival vendors had already paid their table fees – a portion of which would be going towards our donation to HAWC, which we didn’t want to lose. We were heartbroken, but we knew that we had to cancel.”
Fortunately, the decision turned out to be the right one because within an hour of making their decision to cancel public on social media, Governor Charlie Baker announced that there would be no more gatherings of more than fifty people in Massachusetts.
But while the organizers were forced to cancel the in-person event, they were left with the decision to create a virtual version, which was also not something that they could take lightly.
“We quickly asked ourselves if there was a way for us to move this to a virtual festival, create a safe way for vendors to sell the stuff they made specifically for this event, and for us to still be able to collect donations for HAWC,” Newberry said, noting that while at that time they had no website or existing tools to pull it off, they knew they had to give it a try.
“We were three weeks into the pandemic, which was before doing things virtual had become the norm,” Laurie Moran added. “We were in uncharted territory.”
The Return of Widdershins Stories, a Death Café, and Much More
Despite these challenges, the 2020 Virtual Daughters of Darkness Festival did happen. There were, of course, online panels and Q&A’s and the vendor fair, but there was something new that came out of it too: a new storytelling and live music experience called Widdershins Stories, now a fully fledged podcast, led by Ashley Nunez (she/her/hers) of Old Growth Alchemy and her partner, musician Joe Sabourin (he/him/his).
Ashley began her Daughters of Darkness journey as a vendor during the second annual festival at the Hawthorne Hotel in 2019, an experience she describes as “a dream.” She remembers the hotel being so packed with people attending the event, and the joy of being able to meet other artists and makers that she had been admiring for years.
And while she was disappointed that last year’s festival couldn’t happen in person, she was delighted to be a part of that experience, and is excited to be a significant part of its second iteration.
“I love seeing my fellow friends and makers in lists alongside my own shop name and especially for the additional programming that’s come with it,” Nunez said.
Last year, she and Sabourin did their live storytelling and musical accompaniment for the event, a performance they both enjoyed so much that they turned it into their weekly storytelling podcast.
“It is such a delight to be bringing the now fully realized podcast to the virtual event that was the main stage for its development,” she said. “We are predominantly an auditory experience, but we wanted to find ways to bring other immersive elements into the market so we’re showcasing a video to go along and help transform the experience.”
You can tune into Widdershins Stories’ live reading of “She” by Alison Carr Waechter on April 24th at 8pm.
The Return of the Death Café
Another event returning this year that Laurie Moran and Amber Newberry are both excited about is The Death Café led by Kristin Harris of Life After Midnight.
The Death Positivity Movement has become an important part of the dark arts and alt culture movements over the last few years. The people and organizations that are a part of the movement believe that hiding death and dying behind closed doors does modern culture more harm than good. They also believe in creating safe spaces for expression where people can openly talk about death, grief, and their experiences with mortality.
Initially, Newberry and Moran had some misgivings about hosting a virtual death café during the start of the pandemic. But they quickly realized how important it could be to give people a space to talk about their experiences when there was so much grief and fear of death all around.
“It became clear to us that this is when we needed the most, because everyone is really scared of dying right now. So we should talk about it,” said Moran. “It became my favorite event of the festival.”
“This country has a mental health problem, really, and grief is a mental health thing. We don’t really talk about the emotional aspects of any part of our life here, and we don’t ever really get to have those discussions about death,” Newberry added. “It’s really important for people to take the time to learn about it and learn to then plan for what’s best for them.”
While the live event in 2019 was a more traditional death café, the virtual version has branched into a death panel and Q&A with experts instead of group conversation. You can tune into the event on April 25th at 11:00am.
“Not Just Another Witch Market”
Building off the success of last year’s festival, and their ongoing reputation as one of the best produced dark arts markets in the United States, the 2021 Virtual Daughters of Darkness Festival will take place over three days from April 23-25th. The event will introduce a new DJ Dance Party on Friday night as well as bringing in popular favorites from last year’s festival.
“Storytelling experiences [like Widdershins Stories], live yoga, and the plethora of extremely talented and creative folks that are on the market are what makes it really special,” said Nunez. “It isn’t just another witch market or a dark market.
“The community of artists is what makes it worthwhile both as a vendor and attendee to peruse the listings and try to recreate some of that in person feel. I’m delighted to be in such wonderful company,” she added.
Joey Phoenix (they/them) is the Director of Brand Strategy and Innovation at Creative Collective. As the resident storyteller and town crier, they encourage you to send story ideas, inspiration, or pictures of adorable critters to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Creative Collective is celebrating the ways we can get outside this Spring with their #SpringOnTheNorthShore campaign, an initiative created to highlight the best that springtime North of Boston has to offer on the longer, warmer days.
Area businesses can participate in the event by using the hashtag #SpringOnTheNorthShore and tagging @creativecollectivema and @creativenorthshore in posts on social media highlighting ways their businesses are encouraging people to get out and explore the best of the region this Spring.