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A Comprehensive Preview and Guide to Thirst for Light IV

by Jason Simpson

Drive down the half-mile twisting dirt road leading up to Red Hawk Avalon in Washington State and you’ll enter another world. This path won’t necessarily lead you back in time, but more outside temporality—a realm where past, present, and future exist simultaneously, where all of the paths in destiny’s garden intersect, morph, and merge.

On the weekend of June 30 – July 2, Red Hawk Avalon serves as site for one of North America’s most potent solstice celebrations:  the Thirst for Light festival, now in its fourth incarnation.

Nearly every Earth-based religion or belief system acknowledges the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, when the night is on the wane, marking the official beginning of summer. This is not the hedonistic, escapist “summer” of lifestyle marketers pushing sunscreen and travel packages; no, this is the pagan summer—with endless bounties of ripe grapes, abundant fields, sun, and sweat. It is a time of passion, energy, and ambition, particularly here in the Pacific Northwest, which is ensconced in gloom for two-thirds of the year. Its grasp embraces the neopagan rites of Litha to the Germanic tradition of Midsummer’s Eve, even acknowledged by the Christians as the Feast Day of St. John the Baptist and which retains some of the traditional pagan elements of bonfires and healing herbs. Many of these celebrations focus on a whitewashed, sanitized revelry, all maypoles and holly wreaths for the festival set—a Hallmark variant of the Wheel of the Year, which overlooks some of the diabolicism and shadows of the festivities, and misses some of the vitality in the process.

Litha/Midsummer’s Eve/Summer Solstice is the moment when the Earth is closest to the sun, when the shadows are most fleeting and temporal. It’s also the moment when we begin cycling back into the Dark Time of the Year. It is a time for both healing and renewal, for sowing the seeds of abundance for the coming year, and a prime opportunity to both explore and strike back against the forces of darkness—the real dark, not just cloven-hooved Satyrs and mischievous fae.

To know the true darkness, to know where to focus our energies and know our enemies, we must not be afraid to look. Too many white-clad yogis and new-age practitioners are unwilling to even acknowledge that pain and suffering exist in this world or their lives, let alone meditate on what to do about it.

A Cry in the Darkness:  The Music of Thirst for Light

“This one’s for the victims of the Pulse night club!,” a hoarse, raspy voice cries out over the shadowed canopy of Red Hawk Avalon’s sprawling Pacific Northwestern rainforest. The band was Seattle’s Eye of Nix, who proceeded to tear into the most vicious, coruscating, mind-blasting black metal you’ll ever hear, at 2:00am of the second day of Thirst for Light III. It’s not exactly what you would expect to hear at your average pagan fest where you’re more likely to encounter flutes, pan pipes, lutes, mandolins, and skin drums (which are, of course, also in great abundance).

Simply put, Thirst for Light is a magickal music festival for occult-oriented practitioners and music lovers who are too raw and real for Renaissance Faire-style gatherings and festivals; for eclectic music lovers who dig neofolk as much as black or death metal or post-industrial noise, all of which are equally represented in one of the Pacific Northwest’s most eclectic yet still cohesively curated festivals.


There is a new renaissance of dark folk, black metal, and nature-oriented noise bands operating out of the Pacific Northwest, with some of the most talented acts in the world living in the Cascadian region. Yet, despite the world-class talent that lives here, much of it is unknown outside of Oregon, Washington, Northern California, or British Columbia.

Neofolk fanatics (especially those looking for dark folk acts without nationalist or racist sympathies, indeed some who even outwardly oppose such ideologies) will find loads of new neofolk bands from the region to load their music player with, to help get through the dark times. Some of neofolk’s biggest names, such as Novemthree, will be joined by up-and-coming acts from the Pacific Northwest that need to be known by more outside of Cascadia, including the trance-inducing Geist & the Sacred Ensemble out of Seattle, or Portland’s fabulous Die Geister Beschwören.

Metalheads will also be in ecstasy with the funereal doom of Seattle’s Isenordal, as will psych rockers with the culture-hopping trance rituals of Portland’s Abronia. Noise freaks and ambient dreamers might be in for the biggest treat, however, with soul-shattering performances from Seattle’s Hail, the despair-inducing feedback catharsis from Portland’s Sleep with the Earth tempered by the windswept ambiance of Organelle’s ethereal vocals and ambient electric guitar, or the organic dreamscapes of sometimes collaborator Cedar Dreamer.

Thirst for Light IV will feature more electronic and dance-oriented material as well, like the minimal thumping trance techno of HOM & Black Floral, or the scratchy, magickal Ceremonial Abyss. All of this in addition to a series of special “late night mutations” with special guests that are unlikely to quit before dawn.

Geist & the Sacred Ensemble

There will be plenty of traditional pagan entertainment, as well, with performances from the epic poetry troop the Council of Gallows. If you’ve never had the pleasure to see someone truly inhabit and invoke ancient Germanic heathenry, you don’t know how mighty these timeless invocations can be! Next to a giant rusted metal mead horn, brown-robed bards call out to Odin, to Loki and Thor. It’s so much more than the standard LARP-style spirituality we see so much of these days. Around the fire, the wind becomes Odin’s beard—the perennial mist, Thor’s tears.

The gods are truly alive and kicking at Thirst for Light.

Thirst for Light: Bringing Together the Heathens

Too often, these days, even underground subcultures are split with in-fighting, bickering over terminology as technology makes finding real meaning increasingly impossible as we disappear down a mirror tunnel rabbit hole of semantics and subjectivity. This creates schisms in the underground, even among such kindred spirits and scenes like black metal and crust punk, as can be seen from some of the recent clashes between ANTIFA and black metal festivals.

Serpentent | Credit: Angel Ceballos

At this particular moment in history, we cannot afford to let such divisions take hold. We need to come together through the discovery of commonalities and by putting differences aside—at least until the looming threat against all life on Earth has been quarantined, at which case we can go back to splitting hairs and discussing linguistic niceties.

Thirst for Light is an invaluable resource for lovers of dark ritualistic music of all stripes. It’s a chance to discover dozens of great new bands you probably don’t know, as well as meet legions of friendly, approachable hedge witches and wizards, metalheads, crust punks, nature worshipers, artisans, and artists, many of whom might even be your neighbor if you live in the Pacific Northwest.

Thirst for Light also shows that many of these styles and scenes aren’t as mutually, or musically, exclusive as you might assume at first glance. There is a vibe and a mood that runs through many of the artists’ works—from wild, natural imagery, often in and around the Pacific Northwest, to an interest in pre-Abrahamic religions and obscure mythologies outside of the folklore section of the Smithsonian.

If you have not yet been, here’s your opportunity to experience a cross-section of the many ritualistic scenes and styles of the Pacific Northwest in a vast old-growth forest. Indeed, we are incredibly lucky to still have music festivals like Thirst for Light. More than ever, this world is in desperate need of such community-enriching events.

Thirst for Light IV