Archives For Pagan Spirit Gathering

13254755_10209918507864198_1764277838079894992_oSAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — On May 19, Solar Cross Temple board member Elena Rose graduated from the Starr King School for the Ministry and, a few days later, was ordained by the historic Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples. During the graduation ceremony itself, all students were given two minutes to speak at the podium, and Rev. Rose used this opportunity to ask her school “to do better.” She explained, “I used my speaking time both to declare my love for the community and to speak about the various struggles I’ve faced there as a trans woman of color, and then asked the community to do better.”  These struggles, which happened over five years, included everything from the continued use of wrong pronouns to physical threats.

Prior to graduation, Rev. Rose’s speech was approved by the dean of students, who expressed support and even asked for suggestions on policy changes. When the speech was delivered, it was given applause. Then, the next day, President Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt released a public statement in response to Rev. Rose’s words.

It read, in part, “Starr King School for the Ministry is dedicated to educating people for progressive religious leadership. We study and work as a community in order to counter oppressions and to create sustainable, inclusive, beloved communities […] One of our graduates shared her story of the moments when members of our community, or the school’s systems, failed her. Her story is deeply unsettling for all of us at Starr King, and though these events preceded my arrival as president, I am so sorry that this happened to her.”  The statement also noted that the school would be implementing training programs to address the “larger, complex issues of oppression against transgender people, including the specific issues and concerns of transgender women of color.”

Rev. Rose said, “My focus wasn’t punitive; it was on helping the community grow so it was better equipped to deal with these kinds of issues.” She has not received any personal communication from the school about the statement or the speech.

When asked what she plans to do with her new title and education, she said that she plans to enter into clinical pastoral education (CPE) with the aim of getting her “certification as a hospital chaplain.”  Along with that she will continue her work with the Transfaith Council, Solar Cross Temple, and the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples. She is writing a “forthcoming book of monster theology,” co-editing Queer and Trans Artists of Color, Volume II and will be performing at the Fresh Meat Festival show for the National Queer Arts Festival in June.

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The 11035923_398746940336347_2258995926034856886_nCaldera Music Festival kicks off this weekend in the north Georgia mountains. More than 30 musicians and 100 vendors will be descending on Cherokee Farms for festivities lasting from May 26-30 in Lafayette. The festival organizers have created an app for use by attendees. They said, “In an effort to stay green and avoid printing as much as possible, we have created a simple app for Android and iPhone with the info you need to navigate CalderaFest.”

As we reported Sunday, Caldera Fest will be hosting the launch of The Green Album. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. The website contains a preliminary schedule of all the performances and workshops.

At this time,organizers are still looking for volunteers. They said, “We have had, for legitimate but frustrating reasons, five volunteers drop out. If you, or anyone you know who can be vetted, would like to attend this festival for FREE (our favorite price), please have them fill out an application.” That application is on their website.

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421599_10151180992283414_1147831352_nOver the past few years, TWH has reported on the damages caused by natural  and man-made disasters, including fires, flooding and storms. Not all of these stories happen on a big scale. Recently, Wild Hunt journalist Terence P. Ward discovered such problem in his own home town.  A small Pagan community, called the Church of the Eternal Circle, has been struggling with regular flooding at its sacred space. Ward reached out to the church to offer assistance. He  helped them to create an informational video news release and a corresponding GoFundMe campaign.

The Church of the Eternal Circle is a Celtic Wiccan Fellowship based in New Paltz, New York with approximately forty members. As noted by high priestess Lisa Stewart, they have been circling at their site for more than 20 years. The flooding has only been occurring recently and is now affecting their ability to use the outdoor circle space. Stewart said that the cause is most likely “breached cisterns” that were first built 40 years ago in a neighboring fully-paved lot.

The church has decided to turn to the greater Pagan community for help in funding a new french drain system. Such a system would take the water away from the circle space and channel it into a holding tank that would then allow them to reuse it for gardening and other needs. Stewart said that members of their local village have already pledged some financial help, but she estimates the total cost to the church, after that donation, will be around $5,000. The group is very active, holding weekly sacred circles. Stewart looks forward to a day when she doesn’t have to worry about the whether her space is usable.

*Editorial Note: Ward’s work on this project was done independently of The Wild Hunt. TWH has no direct affiliation with the Church of the Eternal Circle.

In Other News:

  • For those in the Northeast, EarthSpirit Community kicks of its 38th annual Rites of Spring festival May 25. The Rites of Spring is “open to all who celebrate the sacred nature of the Earth”  and is billed as “a week filled with over a hundred workshops, rituals and performances.” The festival takes place at a summer camp in the the southwestern corner of Massachusetts. Registration is still open.
  • In July, Treadwell’s will be co-hosting an evening conference called “UK Satanic Abuse Scare, 25 Years On.”  To be held at the London School for Economics, the event’s purpose is to educate attendees about the UK Satanic panics of the 1980s and 1990s. Through five different speakers, the event will revisit “the scare with first-hand accounts of what it was like for Pagans, and then how it ended after researchers and investigative journalism got involved.”  As noted on the site, the event will include a wine reception and “small exhibition of periodicals and ephemera of the era.”  More information is available on Treadwell’s website.
  • Wild Hunt writer and activist Crystal Blanton will be starting her annual #30DayRealBlackHistoryChallenge. The online educational series begins May 28 and runs through the month. Each day she posts a story, a picture or a news article that promotes and highlights people, organizations and events in black history. Her series has been very popular since its start in 2014. It can be followed on Facebook and on the series’ website.
  • The New Alexandrian Library is making headway on building its collection.  The library’s organizing board thanked the volunteers for their work in “shelving recently acquired books and cataloging them.” They said, “We are very close to a mini-milestone, the cataloging of the first 1000 books. Now that a number of people have experience with the software the pace will increase.”  Located near Georgetown, Delaware, the library is “dedicated to the preservation of books, periodicals, newsletters, music, media, art works, artifacts, photographs, and digital media focused on the metaphysical aspects of all religions and traditions.”  It is open to both research and lending.
  • As June gets closer, more and more people begin to make plans for Summer Solstice. For some, that includes attending Pagan Spirit Gathering, which is readying for its first time at a new location. After last year’s floods, PSG organizers moved the popular week-long camping event to Tall Tree Lake campground, in southern Illinois. This year’s theme is Our Spirit – The Key to Our Roots. Registration is open, and organizers are looking forward to “welcoming everyone home.”
  • Not all Pagans are preparing for summer solstice. Our friends in the southern hemisphere are moving toward the winter solstice. Australia’s Tasmanian Pagan Alliance has just announced that “Choon & Goon will be [the] entertainment” for the Saturday evening of their Yule festival. The alliance said, “We loved them last year, so bring your dancing shoes!”  The Yule Fest is advertised as a “weekend honouring the deep, dark winter” and away to “warm yourself with good company, fire, feasting & celebration!”  The Tasmania Pagan Alliance is based in Hobart.
  • From the blogosphere, Tim Titus shared his interview with author Tomás Prower about his book titled, La Santa Muerte. Titus wrote, “So who is Holy Death? […] Prower is a devotee of the La Santa Muerte, and his book unveils many aspects of Her worship and details about working with her magickally that were previously difficult to find in the English speaking world.”

lhpThe International Left Hand Path Consortium (LHP) recently found itself at the center of controversy only weeks before its scheduled event in Atlanta Apr 8-10. Organizers had invited Augustus Sol Invictus to be one of the many guest speakers. When the anti-fascist watchdog group Antifa found out, it began to pressure LHP to dismiss Invictus from the program. However, the organizers remained steadfast in their decision, citing their support of free speech. Organizers wrote, “The left hand path is full of controversial figures; which is why it is called The Left Hand Path and not your grandmother’s sewing circle.”

However, pressure continued to build. By mid March, several guest speakers, including Immanion Press publisher Taylor Ellwood, canceled their own appearances due to Invictus’ inclusion. In response, Invictus published a Facebook post directly on the LHP event page, calling the protestors “cowards, fools & hypocrites.” Additionally, he invited them to “come to the consortium” to put a “knife in his heart.”

That single post changed the situation considerably for LHP, as it reportedly placed the organization in legal jeopardy. According to one notice, the Atlanta Police had even taken noticed and voiced concerns over possible violence. As a result, LHP canceled Invictus’ engagement and posted the following, “We don’t regret our attempts at featuring a controversial person at our event, however, it would not have been very LHP of us to martyr ourselves for him. We made a decision with the safety of our presenters and guests when he baited the protesters.” Most of the original posts have been deleted from Facebook.

The decision drew both applause and more protests. Lucien Greaves of The Satanic Temple withdrew as a guest speaker, saying that, while he was unfamiliar with Invictus’ work, he felt “that the dis-invitation sends a harmful message in support of censorship.” Despite the controversy, the event will continue on as planned with 19 speakers, musical guests, ritualists, artists and more. In a public statement, organizer Laurie Pneumatikos added that this will be her last year organizing LHP, and she hopes it is successful.

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Humanistic Paganism

Humanistic Paganism

Humanistic Paganism has a new managing editor. On Ostara, Jon Cleland Host took over the reins from John Halstead. Cleland had already been managing many aspects of the site for quite some time and, as Halstead said, “doing a great job.” In the announcement, Halstead added, “Jon is uniquely qualified to take over as Managing Editor of HP. He is the founder of the Naturalistic Paganism Yahoo discussion group, which was the first online resource for our community.”

Cleland has a Ph.D. in materials science from Northwestern University, and has been conducting “research at Hemlock Semiconductor and Dow Corning since 1997.” He is also a writer and teacher. Halstead wrote, “I recently invited Jon to present at my Unitarian Universalist congregation, and my fellow congregants were enthralled.  I have met some wonderful people while serving as the Managing Editor here, and Jon is one of my favorites.”

Halstead will remain with Humanistic Paganism as “editor-at-large,” and has started a new column called The Naturalistic Pagan Toolbox: Beyond the Wheel of the Year. He will also continue his work at Patheos, Huffington Post, Gods & Radicals and in other online writing forums.

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Solar Cross TempleSolar Cross Temple has announced the lineup for this year’s online seminar series, which will begin in May and run through the end of the year. Each class is taught by a different instructor and runs two hours, beginning at noon (pacific time).

The first class will be held on May 14 and is titled “Introduction to Restorative Justice Process for Communities.” It will be taught by Wild Hunt columnist Crystal Blanton. Other topics include: “Questions for Cultivating Community Leadership,” “Anticolonial and Intersectional Trans Topics, “Guidelines for Giving and Receiving Critique.” Teachers include T. Thorn Coyle, Elena Rose, Courtney Weber and Ankhira.

The seminars are “designed to foster stronger temples, covens, groves, and individuals.” Solar Cross is asking for a donation of $10-$30, but also added “pay what you can, no one is turned away for lack of funds.” All registration instructions are on the Solar Cross website.

In Other News

  • After 13 years in operation, the site Lilith’s Lantern has shut its doors. Lilith’s Lantern served those people following the Anderson Craft Tradition, or Vicia. This includes the direct initiates and coveners of Victor and Cora Anderson. KS Taber, one of its operators said: “The high-content site was noted for its beauty, lucid writing, and depth of information, including exercises for the neophyte and some rare articles by the Andersons.” The announcement reads, “The wisdom and power of the Andersons’ teachings live on in their published works, in the hearts of their initiates, and in the secrets of creation. Amene Sila.”
  • Bloggers Lilith Dorsey and Sable Aradia have launched an internet show called “Witchcraft & Voodoo.”  Using Google Hangouts on Air, the show will broadcast the second Monday night of each month. Listeners can ask questions through the live chat featureDorsey and Aradia will take turns hosting the show on their own Google+ profiles and, upon completion, each program will be uploaded to YouTube. The first episode, called “The Good, Some of the Bad, and the Not So Ugly,” aired on Mar. 16 and can be watched on YouTube. Episode 2 will air March 28. The topic will be “Syncretic Religions.”
  • Pagan Spirit Gathering has announced its featured guests for its upcoming annual summer festival. These include authors Lupa, Byron Ballard, Kathryn Hinds, and Nels Linde & Judy Olson-Linde. PSG 2016 musical guests include: Tuatha Dea, Arthur Hinds, Spiral Rhythm, Celia Farran and Sentinel Grove. PSG is one of the longest-running and biggest annual Pagan festivals in the United States. Last year for the first time, the event was closed early due to extreme weather and flooding. PSG organizers and loyal attendees are looking forward to this year’s event, which will be held at a new site. This year’s theme is “Our Spirit – The Key to Our Roots.”
  • Many Gods West (MGW) announced its programming for the 2016 summer Polytheist conference held in Olympia, Washington. MGW aims at “bring[ing] together polytheists of all stripes for discussion, learning, sharing, and community building.” This year will mark the second annual event and it will take place from August 5-7 at the Red Lion Hotel.

open_halls_squareThe Open Halls Project has announced that “the Department of Defense has requested, reviewed and accepted [its] Heathen Resource Guide for Chaplains.” For over seven years, the Open Halls Project, headed by Josh and Cat Heath, has been working diligently to have Asatru and Heathen added to the U.S. Army’s religious preference list.

During that process, as Josh Heath explained, his working group was asked to “produce a document explaining the basics of Heathenry.” Heath said, “We produced a document for him modeled on the Army Chaplain’s Handbook excerpt for Wicca. This basic framework assisted us in developing information that was generally applicable to the largest amount of Heathens possible.”

The new guide will educate Army Chaplains and help them better assist Heathens in military. The guide, and more details on its creation, are fully documented on the Norse Mythology Blog. As for the quest to have the two terms added to the preference list, Heath has reportedly said that the process is moving forward, and that there is now a real push to include both Heathen and Asatru. However, no time line has been made available as to when that will actually happen.

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David-Bowie-in-Labyrinth

It was announced this morning that music legend and actor David Bowie had died from cancer at the age of 69. Born in London in 1947, Bowie is said to have shown an interest in music from a very early age, playing the saxophone at 13. His first music hit was “Space Oddity” in 1969, and his acting ability was first really showcased in his album Ziggy Stardust (1972).

Over the years, Bowie continued to draw audiences and attract loyal fans with both is engaging work and eclectic nature. Since 1969 he has recorded 26 albums and has appeared in a 24 films, and countless shorts and TV shows. He is most known for his role as Jareth the Goblin King in Jim Henson’s cult classic Labyrinth (1986).

Due to a unique performance style that seemed well-suited to science fiction and fantasy, Bowie was often asked about his religious and spiritual beliefs. After the release of his album Heathen (2002), Bowie was interviewed by Beliefnetand said “Questioning my spiritual life has always been germane to what I was writing. Always. It’s because I’m not quite an atheist and it worries me.” Then in 2004, he told Ellen DeGeneres, “I was young, fancy free and Tibetan Buddhism appealed to me at that time. I thought, ‘There’s salvation.’ It didn’t really work. Then I went through Nietzsche, Satanism, Christianity… pottery, and ended up singing. It’s been a long road.”  And that it has.

The announcement of Bowie’s death was posted publicly to Facebook. It said that he died peacefully surrounded by family on January 10 after 18 month battle with cancer. What is remembered, lives.

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salem

In an update to a story we first reported in August, Wiccan Priest Richard Watson pleaded not guilty to charges of heroin trafficking. The latest arraignment was held on Jan. 5 at the Salem Superior Court.

Watson was arrested on Aug. 7, 2015, during a sting operation which led police to his home. There they found a small amount of heroin. Watson denied the charges and cooperated with police. After news of the arrest broke, Watson’s religious community was very divided in its reactions. Some people offered support and other didn’t. Our Lord and Lady of the Trinacrian Rose Church, the Wiccan organization in which he was involved, immediately revoked his clergy credentials. High Priestess Lori Bruno said, “I still hope that may be there is no truth in this, but as it stands right now, to protect our people, I have to remove him from clergy status. I hope that he is innocent of this, but should he not be, this revocation will stand.”

Watson is currently out on $10,000 bail, which was reportedly posted after his original arraignment in August. He is due back in court, along with the other man arrested in connection with this case, on Feb. 17.

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Solstice Fire at Pagan Spirit Gathering

In an article titled “24 Festivals And Retreats To Revitalize Your Soul In 2016,” The Huffington Post Religion included four popular dedicated Pagan festivals. These include Witchcamp in both Wisconsin and California, Summerland Spirit Festival and Pagan Spirit Gathering. The article begins, “As the new year stretches out before us, it’s the perfect time to start setting intentions. Among them should be a renewed commitment to self-expression and healing — and there’s no better way to do that than in a community of like-minded souls.”

Each of the 24 festivals is featured with a photo and a short descriptive blurb. Speaking about Summerland and PSG, one commenter said, “For me, the beauty of these festivals is the tolerance. No one believes the same thing and that is okay. No one wants to change you. You can be gay, dress outside of your ‘normal’ gender, wear fairy wings or nothing at all and no one will judge you. They will embrace you and your right to free expression.”

Of the other 21 festivals listed, some may be very familiar to Pagans and Heathens, and others not. These include events like Burning Man, Spiritweavers Gathering, Wanderlust, ILLUMINATE film festival, Shakti Fest at Joshua Tree and more. Check out the list before making your spring and summer festival plans this year.

In Other News

  • Cherry Hill Seminary has announced the programming for the upcoming international conference “The Greening of Religions.” The event, held in conjunction with and at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, attracts “activists, sociologists, bioethicists, anthropologists, seminarians, clergy, planners, philosophers, scholars and students from across the continent and beyond.” This year’s theme is “Hope in the Eye of the Storm,” and the keynote speaker is Bron Taylor, who “brings an interdisciplinary approach which blends religious studies, activism and the application of nature’s lessons to a rapidly-shifting societal landscape.” More information and registration details are on the CHS site. The event will be held in Columbia, S.C. from April 1-3.
  • Prairie Land Pagan Radio has taken some big strides recently. On Jan 4, broadcasters announced that the station will be on air 24/7, which will includes music, interviews and talk. In addition, they are also currently organizing a 2016 Prairie Land Music Festival and Campout in June. This brand new event will be held at the Johnson County Fairgrounds in Iowa City, IA and already has some well-known, national Pagan musicians scheduled to perform, including Celia and Mama Gina. More information, including pricing, is on the website.
  • The Bibliotheca Alexandrina is now seeking submissions for two new devotional anthologies. One,honoring Hestia, which will be titled First and Last: Devotional for Hestia. The announcement reads, “[Hestia] is the hearth of the Hellenic home, the keeper of the sacred flame of the gods, guardian of hospitality, and keeper of oaths.” A wide variety of submissions are being accepted including essays, rituals, recipes, art and poetry. For the other, which is entitled is entitled Dauntless: A Devotional for Ares and Mars, “The editor is interested in a variety of material, including but not limited to: prayers, rituals, hymns, essays, visual artwork, short stories, plays, recipes, and new translations of ancient and public domain works.”  The deadline for both is June 1. Contact the publisher directly for more information.
  • The Grey Mare on the Hill anthology is now available for purchase. Last February we reported that Grey Mare Books, an independent publishing imprint in the U.K, was looking for writters to help with their project. Titled “The Grey Mare on the Hill,” this project was inspired by the work of the Brython group that “has offered a number of writings on its blog including liturgical material, ritual practices and modern myths.” The resulting anthology, edited by Lee Davies, includes 120 pages of essays, poetry and devotionals from “devotees of the Great Goddess of the Land, the Mare Goddess, the Giver of Sovereignty.” It is available through Lulu.
  • Cró Dreoilín, a Colorado-based Celtic Polytheist organization, will be holding its annual Paths and Traditions Fair this coming weekend. Organizers Kelley Forbes and Chris Redmond describe the event as a an open house “designed exclusively to provide a chance to meet and chat with representatives of various Polytheist and Pagan paths, groups, and traditions, for those who are curious or seeking.” They noted that this year will be the biggest fair yet with over 30 groups already scheduled to attend. Paths and Traditions will be held Jan. 16 at the Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, Colorado. It is co-hosted by the local CUUPs chapter.

Now that the season has turned and we are nearing the end of the 2015, we look back, one last time, to review the year. What happened? What didn’t happen? What events shaped our thoughts or guided our actions? In our collective worlds, both big and small, what were the major discussions? How did Pagans and Heathens specifically face world issues and local crisis? What were the high points and low?

[Public Domain Image / Pixabay]

[Public Domain Image / Pixabay]

As the light began to return, the world faced, almost immediately, the reality of global terrorism. On Jan. 7, the home offices of France’s satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were attacked. This event seemed to set a tone for the remainder of the year, as the world faced additional attacks, the growing influence of Daesh, the Yezidi genocide, institutional sex slavery, the current refugee crisis and the painful reality of Islamaphobia. Who are these are these people and what do we call them? How do we stop them? And, what is their relationship to Islam?

The year also began with another unresolved struggle. The U.S. was grappling with the deep social justice issues brought to light after the shocking events in Ferguson, Missouri in November 2014. Related conversations concerning race and diversity increasingly punctuated Pagan and Heathen communities. Some Pagan activists joined community protests and action throughout the year. Many organizations developed diversity statements and policies. Unfortunately for the Covenant of the Goddess, its own effort fell flat, causing internal strife and eventually serious public scrutiny. However, by the summer, the 40-year-old Wiccan and Witchcraft organization did apologize and make significant changes.

Social justice themes permeated the February PantheaCon conference, culminating in a special session after a satirical pamphlet, called PantyCon, offended a large number of attendees. The conversations concerning race and ethnic diversity continued to run concurrent with other narratives throughout the coming year, sometimes with celebration and sometimes not.

As if those two realities weren’t enough to begin 2015, another issue was already brewing internal to the collective U.S. Pagan community. A group of witches were attempting to rebirth the American Council of Witches. Bathed in secrecy, the group of founders would not reveal any details, causing community confusion, frustration, anger, backlash and eventually the demise of the project.

While the year may have begun with a bang or better yet a very difficult sigh, there was also much to celebrate in those early months. Many Pagans and Heathens applauded the presidential veto of the Keystone XL Pipeline and the exoneration of #Flood11 protestors. Iceland would soon see its first official Asatru temple. The UK marked its first legal same-sex Pagan marriage. Northern Ireland saw the acceptance of the first Pagan priest. And Manannan mac Lir, who had been stolen in January, was found only a month later.

In March, Paganicon attendees even learned how to calm their inner dragons.

[ © Copyright Mat Tuck / CC lic.]

[ © Copyright Mat Tuck / CC lic.]

Then, spring rounded the corner and religious freedom took center stage. The Aquarian Tabernacle Church spoke out publicly against RFRAs, attracting significant mainstream media attention. In Iowa, Wiccan Priestess Deborah Maynard offered the opening invocation before the state legislature, drawing protests and walk-outs. The Open Halls project had to renew its efforts to have Asatru and Heathenism placed on the Army’s list of accepted faith group codes. And, in his first column for The Wild Hunt, Dr. Manny Tejeda-Moreno discussed Religious Discrimination in the Workplace.

Then, as the Beltane fires were lit and festival season was underway, the U.S. faced a brand new round of social struggle and violence. In late April, residents of Baltimore experienced both peaceful protests and a devastating violent riot after the weekend funeral of Freddie Gray. Two months later, Charleston’s historic Mother Emmanuel Church was shocked by a hate-driven terror attack, leaving nine dead.

But time marched on and, as the summer approached, nature seemed to be making itself felt in the most extreme forms. Nepal was hit with a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in April, and the California drought only continued to worsen.

Pagan communities began to directly feel the sting of these natural disasters. In June, Pagan Spirit Gathering was flooded, causing it to close for the first time in 35 years. The Alaska Pagan Community Center was completely destroyed by the Sockeye Wildfire. Later in the year, the Bay Area community witnessed the destruction of its beloved Harbin Hot Springs by the Valley Fire.

As many were coming to terms with the reality of such extreme weather conditions, climate change became an international “buzzword.” In May, a large group of Pagans published the Pagan Community Statement on the Environment that has since garnered 6,860 signatures. Then in June, the world finally was presented with the long awaited Pope’s Encyclical on the environment.

In that very same week, the U.S. also witnessed another landmark moment. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, making same sex marriage legal in all 50 states.

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Celebrations outside courthouse June 26 2015 [Courtesy D. Salisbury]

For many, the summer months continued on with festival season in full swing. Early August saw the premier of Many Gods West, and Heathen Chinese shared his thoughts on this new event in his first column for The Wild Hunt. The summer conference raised the volume on an ongoing conversation about Polytheism as a definitive practice, which had been previously addressed by guest writer Anomolous Thracian in his Polytheist Primer.

The summer also brought with it some obstacles in the digital world. Etsy changed its policies on the selling of charms and spells. Instagram banned the hashtag #goddess, and a popular Witchcraft Facebook page was hacked.

Then, violence hit the U.S. again. In July, Chattanooga, Tennessee became the next town victimized by a terror attack. In October, a man opened fired at a college in Roseburg, Oregon. Then, in December, terrorism hit San Bernardino, California. In these latter two cases, a member of the local Pagan community was killed in the attacks. Both Kim Dietz and Daniel Kaufman, were reportedly shot, while trying to save the lives of others.

As the temperature cooled and the leaves began to fall, the mainstream news predictably began to ring the doorsteps of Witches, for better or worse. Additionally, stories with even the tiniest link to Witchcraft made headline news. In early August, a Florida sheriff prematurely ascribed a triple homicide to Witchcraft, igniting protest. Then, just days before Halloween, the sheriff announced an arrest. October also saw a public controversy over Pagan Libertarian candidate Augustus Sol Invictus. And, on the day before Halloween, local Massachusetts news decided to cover a minor legal battle between two well-known Salem Witches. And, at the same time, Heathens were also grappling with their own media issues.

The month also saw the publication of Alex Mar’s Witchcraft in America, which generated a string of publicity and reactions.

October 2015 also hosted something entirely different: The Parliament of the World’s Religions. In record numbers, Pagans and Heathens arrived in Salt Lake City to experience a unique event and to share their own perspectives with others, as both presenters and performers.

Autumn brings with it an end to the festival season, culminating in the well-known celebration of Samhain or Halloween. But there are other Pagan and Heathen holidays observed at the time. For example, this year the small Pennsylvania-based Urglaawe community shared its celebration of Allelieweziel.

Throughout the entire year, The Wild Hunt spotlights unique Pagan and Heathen practices and communities, like the Urglaawe. This year alone we shared stories from Thailand, Finland, India, Costa Rica, South Africa, and Norway. We covered Pagan news from Iceland and Italy. And with the help of our three international contributing writers, we were able talk Canadian politics, discuss religious freedom issues in Australia and celebrating the winter solstice on a hill in the UK.

Shamans hold their drums over the Holy Fire in order to warm them and obtain a clearer sound whiel drumming.

Shamans hold their drums over the Holy Fire in order to warm them and obtain a clearer sound whiel drumming. [Photo Credit: Linnea Nordström]

Outside of the festivities and cultural hullabaloo that occurs around Halloween, these days also have a sobering effect as we mark the passing of our loved ones. The Wild Hunt Samhain post honored the following people: Deborah Ann Light, James Bianchi, Kim Saltmarsh Deitz, Barbara Doyle, Thor von Reichmuth, Michael Howard, Lola Moffat, Brandie Gramling, Max G. Beauvoir, Keith James Campbell, Lord Shawnus, Brother Flint, Heather Carr, Terry Pratchett, Andy Paik, Mary Kay Lundmark, Brian Golec, Maureen Wheeler and Pete Pathfinder. Since we published that list, we have also lost Marc Pourner, Richard Reidy, Carl Llewellyn Weschcke, Morgan McFarland, Scott Walters and L. Daniel Kaufman.

In addition, this year marked the end of two beloved Pagan media outlets: Circle Magazine and ACTION.

As cold winds creep in and November changes to December, the U.S. honored Transgender Awareness month, which was particularly poignant this year after Caitlyn Jenner had previously generated mainstream visibility. Within the Pagan world, conversations on the subject became heated in November, leading up to the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Then, the holiday season arrived in all its warmth, glitter and commercialism. As Americans were preparing for Thanksgiving, terror struck the world again. Both Paris and Beirut were hit by multiple attacks. Due to anger and fear, Islamaphobia has now reached all time highs, and anything with the name Isis could become a target, as discovered by a metaphysical bookstore in Denver.

And so, while much has happened in the story of 2015, the year seems to have come full circle from Paris to Paris.

Despite all the struggles that we have seen this year, hope still remains alive for many in Pagan and Heathen communities, especially with those involved in progressive interfaith work. This Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, CBS will air a United Religions Initiative “groundbreaking interfaith” special called, “May Peace Prevail on Earth.” Several Pagans are prominent and longtime members of this grassroots organization, and will be appearing in the show.

Above are only some of the many stories, reports and events that touched our lives over the past year. There are so many others – ones that we reported on and even more that we didn’t. Here is the best of the best from each of our regular, current contributing writers:

Promoting Healing and Justice for Change by Crystal Blanton
Imbolc’s Invitation by Erick DuPree
Women, Witchcraft and the Struggle Against Abuse by Heather Greene
UK Pagan Community Confronts Child Abuse by Christina Oakley Harrington
The Fire is Here by Heathen Chinese
Canadian Truth and Reconciliation by Dodie Graham McKay
Australia’s Pagan Festivals by Cosette Paneque
Improving Access to Death by Lisa Roling
Building Pagan Temples and Infrastructes part one by Cara Schulz
Iceland’s Temple on the Hill by Eric O. Scott
Terpsichorean Powers by Manny Tejeda-Moreno
Fear of a Blue Sky by Alley Valkyrie
Treating Depression in a Pagan Context by Terence P. Ward
Tomb and the Atheist by Rhyd Wildermuth

Bring on 2016!

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As first reported on Nov. 26, T. Thorn Coyle, Marissa Evans and twelve other religious leaders were arrested “for trespassing at the Alameda County Court House.” The group was protesting the charges faced by another set of protestors known as the Black Friday 14.

Last week, on Dec. 4, District Attorney Nancy O’Malley announced that she would drop the charges against the Black Friday 14 group. According to the SFGate.com, O’Malley and “the protesters agreed to participate in a restorative justice process.” In a statement, the Interfaith leaders responded, “On this day, love is victorious. We pledge ourselves to the ongoing effort to ensure it”

While the charges have been dropped for the original protesters, the religious leaders are still facing their own charges for trespassing. According to Coyle, members of the religious group have been given several different court dates. Coyle’s will be on Dec. 29. However, she said that their volunteer attorneys may try to consolidate all of the hearing dates into one.

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The Doreen Valiente Foundation (DVF) has released the cover art and announced the presale of the long-awaited biography called Doreen Valiente Witch. DVF organizers have described the book as such:

“Author Philip Heselton draws on firsthand testimony and Doreen’s own personal papers to reveal previously unknown details of her life with fascinating and sometimes startling insights. Adding to the still-emerging story of how an underground cult, described by some as Britain’s only living indigenous religion, became a worldwide spiritual movement in the course of a few decades.”

In a video slip posted to YouTube, John Belham-Payne talks more about the writing of the book and about the launch.

Although the book itself will not be released, until February 22, 2016, the presale has already begun with limited edition options, including signed and personalised copies are available.  All proceeds go back the Doreen Valiente Foundation and to helping fund the creation of  its museum, scheduled to open next year.

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12313616_526199964203023_3353242948467852451_nOn Dec. 12, residents of Philadelphia will gather in Liberty Lands Park to celebrate Krampuslauf.  In its fifth year, Krampuslauf Philadelphia is a family-friendly folk festival that culminates in a “parade of spirits.”  Founder Amber Dorko-Stopper said, “My original purpose in creating Krampuslauf Philadelphia was to experiment with grassroots folkloric festivals within the community. I started out without a community to do it in, and so everything I hoped Krampuslauf would be — having never been to a “real” one in Austria or Germany — was based around what I would want to see and participate in with my then three-year-old children.”

Dorko-Stopper has welcomed the local Pagan and Heathen community to participate, and many have been doing so since its inception. According to Robert L. Schreiwer of the Delaware Valley Pagan Network,  “From the Heathen perspective, the Parade of Spirits is a depiction of the Wild Hunt.”  He added that, “The Heathen Contingent for Krampuslauf Philadelphia every year presents themes or characters that align with the multicultural presentation of the event. German, Austrian, Pennsylvania German, Manx, Scottish, and Irish characters have a regular presence at the event.”

This year’s Krampuslauf Philadelphia will be held on Dec. 12 and begins at 3 p.m.

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psgThe big summer festival, Pagan Spirit Gathering, has just announced the opening of registration for its 2016 event. With that, organizers announced that the event will be switching locations. As we reported, the 2015 PSG festival came to a screeching halt when attendees found themselves and their gear underwater, literally. Torrential rains flooded the campsite, forcing organizers to close the event.

Since that time, PSG has located and contracted with a new 200-acre site called Tall Tree Lake. The location already hosts a number of large events and can easily handle the size and operational needs of PSG. Organizers explained, “The decision to move PSG is always difficult.  This year, after careful consideration and review of our community feedback, we realized that the PSG community needed more space to grow and thrive, and we feel that Tall Tree Lake is the larger home we’ve been seeking.”

They also said that this site will allow them to make some “infrastructure changes and innovations, including more private ritual space, an improved system for trash and recycling, a ‘food court’ for our food vendors, and other services.”  More information on what to expect during the week long solstice gathering will be provided as the event gets closer.

In Other News

  • Last month, we reported on a campaign to save the waters in the Canadian town of Elora. Author Brendan Myers pledged all profits from his November book sales to an organization working to protect their local waterways from the corporate giant, Nestle. On Nov. 28, Myers announced the results with only two days left to go in the month. He raised $100 for the Elora campaign. He said, “For a self-published writer, this is a very, very good result: and compared to my usual showing, it’s about four times better than usual.” He added that he hopes to run another similar campaign in the future.
  • Mills College, located in Oakland California, is looking for a new Chaplain and Director of Spiritual and Religious Life. Pagan student and activist Kristen Oliver has been invited to serve on the committee to select the new person.  She said that she is “representing the student body,” and that she will “be intimately involved in the entire process.”  Oliver also said that “as long as the candidate is qualified, there is no reason that Pagans cannot apply.”
  • The Occult Humanities Conference 2016: Contemporary Art and Scholarship on the Esoteric Traditions is coming to New York City in February. The conference presents “a wide array of voices active in the cultural landscape who are specifically addressing the occult tradition through research, scholarship and artistic practice.” Our own columnist, Christina Oakley Harrington, has been selected as one of the featured presenters. Her presentation is titled, “Bohemian Occult Subculture in Britain’s 1890s: How Artists, Actors, and Writers Made the Golden Dawn.”  Hosted by Phantasmaphile, the event will be held Feb. 5-7 on the New York University Campus.
  • Conference season will soon be here. The Conference on Current Pagan Studies, held in Claremont, California, opens the season in January.  PantheaCon, held in San Jose California, runs from Feb. 12-15. Its program guide is already available on line. ConVocation runs the following weekend, Feb 18-21, in Detroit.  It has announced its guest’s of honor.  Paganicon runs from March 18-20 and is held in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This event’s programming was just made available. And the list goes on.
  • And, lastly, for some holiday cheer, the Pagan Alliance Network has posted an original Yule story for kids, called “Jölnir’s Ride: a Norse Pagan Yule Story.”

I can’t begin to wrap my mind around the fact that this senseless act of violence happened on sacred ground. It does not matter that my spiritual path is different from those at Mother Emanuel … what matters is the sacredness of where they were when this occurred.” – Kelly Scott, Chairwoman of the Charleston Area Lowcountry Council of Alternative Spiritual Traditions.

In recent months, it seems that news report after news report speaks of violence either against or within a sacred space. These acts range from the horrifying terrorist attack at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel to the destruction of ancient religious sites. While the magnitude of each tragedy is, and never should be, comparable, these two specific examples, as well as others, involve unwelcome aggression and destructive violence against far more than body and property. They include the desecration of the sacred.

Romanian Church Burning [Public Domain]

Romanian Church Burning [Public Domain]

Why does violence against the sacred or within the sacred “feel” worse to us than violence in non-sacred space? What is this transgression exactly? And what imprint does it leave in its wake?[i]

In a recent discussion, I asked priest, spirit worker and devotional Polytheist Anomalous Thracian his thoughts. Thracian not only maintains several personal altar spaces, but he also is currently working to build a community worship space. He said:

Certain lines must be held as absolute, and religious spaces — the freedoms and promises therein — are among those. This must be held to be universally warranted. As with the sanctity of a child’s innocence, the trust that we must hold that sacred spaces are safe and protected is an intrinsic expression of what it is to be a human in a society; these are fundamentals. There will always be assaults, always be murders, always be robberies, but certain transgressions are felt (and held) at a deeper and higher level of severity in response and reaction, specifically because those intrinsic lines and boundaries are not abstractions.

The invisible boundaries that define a sacred space, whether that be within the walls of a church or outside in a field, are created by deeply felt meaning. Those meanings, based on belief, spirit and emotion, can be or often seem like abstractions. However, because the sanctity of the space itself is recognized and understood beyond the meaning-makers or the church-goers, the boundaries, as Thracian said, are not at all abstractions.

In other words, Pagans can respect the sacred nature of a Christian church, even if they don’t follow the religion; and vice versa, a Christian can recognize the sanctity of Wiccan circle or Heathen temple. “The intrinsic lines” separating the sacred from the common world “are not abstractions.” This accounts for Charleston’s community turnout in support of the AME church. As Scott said, “It does not matter that my spiritual path is different from those at Mother Emanuel….”

Unfortunately, it is also this universal understanding that precipitates the violence itself. The attacker knows the value placed on the space, which makes it a target. In his book War on Sacred Grounds, Ron Eduard Hassner wrote “The more sacred a site, the more likely it will provide crucial functions, the more likely the friction with other groups, and the greater the odds of large-scale violence…”[ii]

The attack is, therefore, not typically directed against an individual person, nor against the practice of religion in general. It is an attack on a people; on a community at its heart and center. In the case of Charleston and the recent church burnings, the attack is on America’s black community.

In the essay “Sacred Spaces and Accursed Conflict: A Global Trend,” Chaiwat Satha-Anand wrote, “When a site becomes sacred for its believers, it is founded on the four political pillars: sovereignty, legitimacy, meaning and a sense of community. As a result, attacking sacred spaces is seen as an attempt to undermine the foundations on which their opponents identity and faith rests.” (p. 27)

Traditionally speaking, churches, temples and other sacred sites have been the “foundations” and hearts of community. While in today’s secular-based society the so-called “master planned cities” are developed around commerce and recreation, there is still room for the sacred as a binding factor and identity maker. Even if the sacred space isn’t physically central, or if there is no building at all, the space can still remain the heart beat of a community. For example, in local Wiccan circles or even in large yearly festivals like Pagan Spirit Gathering, it is the sabbats and the seasons that bring people together, year after year, into a sacred, ritual space. Whether the circle is in a home or a forest, it is a communal world built with the noted pillars of meaning, sovereignty, legitimacy and community.

Is that space sacred without human intervention? That discussion is beyond this article. However, at this point, it is enough to know that the sacred has traditionally been recognized as central to community and even to personal identity building.

Notre-Dame still sits at the center of Paris. [Photo Credit: Atoma via Wikimedia]

Notre-Dame still sits at the center of Paris. [Photo Credit: Atoma via Wikimedia]

In our conversation, Thracian agreed, noting that violence against the sacred “is a violation of the entire fabric of what binds people together.” He added:

Society is humankind’s gods-and-spirits-directed answer to the first question posed by the natural world itself, of survivability through the dark night. The purpose of society is to answer the question of survivability in the positive by way of a vouched-for promise to the people in the dead of night: gather round this fire, and you will be safe. Within that answer, certain places carry a stronger emphasis in the promise than others.

Mother Emanuel’s victims had faith in the sanctity of the church’s building, and that faith built meaning into its walls, thereby creating a sacred environment. It is in that place they studied theology, spoke with their deity, celebrated and mourned. With guards down, they felt secure, held within the promise of that sanctity. Based on this understanding, they permitted a stranger not only into the physical building but into that safe space; into that trust.

In that respect, sacred spaces can act as expressions of divine hospitality. In other words, just as a temple serves to nurture its own people, the space also easily welcomes the stranger. Whether it be a Christian church, a Wiccan circle or an Asatru temple, all are constructed houses of or for deity and, as such, spaces of welcome. At Pagan Spirit Gathering, for example, guests, both old and new, are greeted with the words, “Welcome Home.” All are invited to experience the community as well as the divine. Since sacred boundaries are considered universal and not-abstract, it is easy to offer, accept and value this hospitality. Therefore, any violence against or within that sacred space becomes a jarring violation of this divine hospitality, as well as a direct devaluation of a community’s worth.

Unfortunately, the June attack on Mother Emanuel is not the only recent instance of violence within sacred space, and it is not even the most recent. Many will remember the 2012 terrorist attack on The Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. During Sunday morning services, Wade Michael Page entered the building, open fired and killed seven people. This past March, Al Badr mosque and Al Hashoosh mosque in Yemen were the targets of a suicide bombing that killed 137 people. More recently, during the holy month of Ramadan, terrorists attacked worshippers at al-Imam al-Sadiq mosque in Kuwait, killing 13. These are only a few such incidents.

Violence against or within sacred space is not limited to cases where there is loss of life. Along with the recent church burnings in the U.S., terrorists are engaged in the systematic destruction of ancient sacred sites. In an article partially entitled “Tracking a Trail of Historical Obliteration,” CNN recounts the recent destruction of religious sites such as Jonah’s Tomb, Nimrud, Hatra and Bosra. According to news reports, Daesh (also known as the Islamic State) is now calling for the “obliteration” of the Egyptian pyramids and Sphinx.

The ruination of sacred sites is not limited to terrorist acts. Commercialism, colonialism, expansion and “progress” have all been blamed for such transgressive acts. And, such accounts are not only in our history books. In a March 2015 article, entitled “Selling off Apache Land,” The New York Times reports that the San Carlos Apache Tribe has been fighting to save Oak Flat, an area used for prayer and ceremonies, from mining interests. In The Guardian, Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, writes “Canada’s Tar Sands aren’t just oil fields, they are sacred lands for my people.” These are just two examples of many from around the world.

Moonrise over San Carlos Apache Land in New Mexico [Photo Credit: John Fowler via Wikamedia]

Moonrise over San Carlos Apache land in New Mexico [Photo Credit: John Fowler via Wikimedia]

Whether land or edifice, sacred spaces promise connection and safety, created by a communal meaning. They exist at the heart of community and are often bonding points. However, these sacred spaces also have another role. They connect us, through memory, to our past and to spirit. Thracian said:

The promise is not merely made to humans: it is made to the gods, and to the ancestors who came before us. Ancestors of religious lineage (saints, prophets, teachers, martyrs, heroes) and ancestors of society (founders, forefathers and foremothers, familial relations, immigrants who survived atrocity to bring their families to safety), going back thousands upon thousands of years.

As noted in The New York Times Apache Land article, “the archaeological record at Oak Flat contains abundant evidence that the Apache have been there since well before recorded history.” The Apache Tribe is protecting more than just a plot of dirt on which they perform ceremony. Through the sacred we can locate a connection across time, which allows us to deepen our present and develop our future.

Memory itself, absent of religion, can even bring about this condition of sanctity. The spaces to which we nostalgically cling become sacred themselves – our childhood bedroom, a grandmother’s kitchen, a pet’s burial ground, the park bench where you had your first kiss or even a quiet spot in the forest where you once hid. While not traditionally or religiously sacred, these places are personal examples that demonstrate how memory brings about sanctity.

In that vein, there is a type of sacred space that is born of violence and its memory. The 9/11 Memorial, otherwise known as Ground Zero, was once a thriving business center in which two iconic towers stood. They were symbolic of both New York City and the thriving heart of American business. In that way, the Twin Towers were similar to a church, containing more meaning than existed within its physicality alone. However, the space was not sacred.

All of that changed on Sept. 11, 2001. Today, the memorial’s meaning far exceeds its construction and its past purpose. Here, violence begot the sacred. Within that memorial space, visitors connect to memory, to ancestors and even to deity. The memorial’s guards request low voices and respectful behavior. All around, people pray, cry, remember and walk slowly in thought. Other examples of such a space are Auschwitz, the Anne Frank House, battlefields such as Gettysburg or Normandy. And, there are many countless smaller memorials around the world that mark past atrocities, loss of life and acts of violence, all of which have given way to sacred space.

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9/11 Memorial, New York City [Photo Credit: H. Greene]

When violence births the sacred, it is difficult to reconcile the two in one thought. Even when one is put back together. While the 9/11 memorial is a beautiful place, it only exists because of that violence. This develops a sanctity that is uncomfortable, but powerful nonetheless. You can’t appreciate the memorial’s beauty without acknowledging the tragedy. That is not easy.

In all cases, transgressive violence against the sacred suggests a toxic aggression – one that breaks down community. The sacred is about wholeness and congruity; violence is about division and chaos. One nurtures and supports; while the other undermines and destroys. They can’t coexist; therefore, together they create a discord in our thinking – a cognitive dissonance. There is, at that terrible intersection, a stuttered void, in which we find ourselves only able to ask: “How? Why?”

 

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[i] This essay discusses unwelcome and toxic violence aimed at community destruction or obliteration. This must be distinguished from any small ritual acts, which in some cultures are considered acceptable including, for example, animal sacrifice or effigy burnings.

[ii] This quote was pulled from Chaiwat Satha-Anand’s essay “Sacred Spaces and Accursed Conflict: A Global Trend?” which was published in the book Protecting the Sacred, Creating Peace in Asia PacificTransaction (2013). Hassner’s own book, War on Sacred Grounds, was published by Cornell University Press in 2009.

EARLVILLE, Illinois – On Sunday June 14, the opening day of a week long Pagan festival called Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG), it stormed at the Stonehouse Farm campground as it had done all the previous week. Then on the following Monday afternoon, a flash flood hit the camp. Cars and trucks were engulfed in mud and water up to their axles. People had to abandon their tents and spend the night in other attendees’s tents that were located on higher ground. They were cold, worried, and many had only the clothes on their backs.

Then it rained some more. The next morning, Tuesday, attendees were stunned to hear the announcement: Pagan Spirit Gathering was shutting down five days early. Everyone had to leave within 48 hours. This had never happened in the 35 year history of the Pagan camping festival.

Pagan Spirit Gathering 2014 [Photo Credit: F. Edwards-Miller]

Pagan Spirit Gathering 2014 [Photo Credit: F. Edwards-Miller]

Pagan Spirit Gathering is the biggest, and arguably most well-known, of the Pagan camping festivals. It lasts a full week and is sponsored by Circle Sanctuary. Beginning in 1980, PSG attracts over a thousand attendees, and it hosts over 400 events.

The decision to close the festival wasn’t made lightly. PSG is the primary fundraiser for Circle Sanctuary. It’s also a very important place for the over 1000 attendees, who go to spiritually recharge for the coming year, to participate in workshops and classes, and to meet up with friends they only see at this event. The PSG merchants, musicians, and food vendors hope to make a portion of their year’s income at the event.

Yet when the extent of the flooding was seen, complete with animal and human waste mixed into the water and with more rain and storms in the forecast, the decision was clear. The festival was over and everyone needed to evacuate as quickly as possible. It would be a Herculean effort and PSG would need to do this on their own. No outside relief agencies would be assisting.

[Photo Credit: L. Dake]

[Photo Credit: L. Dake]

During the flash flood, one third of the camp had to be moved to another area within 2 hours. Volunteers helped those in the flood path take what they could and move to higher ground. Food, water, and shelter had to be found for the roughly 200 to 300 people who had been displaced for the night. Circle helped direct it, but it was other attendees who gave those people a place to sleep, fed them, and hugged them.

All of the cars in the flooded parking lot had to be moved. The water was still rising and the mud was getting deeper. Dozens of volunteers spent the entire afternoon and evening on Monday pushing cars and trucks out of the mud, mostly by brute force. Several cars couldn’t be moved and were a total loss. Other cars were initially able to be moved, but later were also declared damaged.

Tents and a camper were destroyed by falling tree branches and trees. Countless gear and personal items ruined. Fortunately, with all that damage, no one was seriously injured. Water was rising up over the lip of tents, filling them with a mixture of water, mud, and sewage. People were wet, tired, and uncertain what the morning would bring.

And yet, that night there was singing. There was drumming. There was love and gratitude.

Here’s what happened at PSG as told by the people who were there. They share how the attendees and volunteers came together and lived this year’s theme – “Celebrating Community.” They’ll also describe the emotions felt now that most of them are back home. When possible, we’ve noted where the attendee was camping, which you can find on the map below.

The pink was under water at one point, everything else was ankle- to knee-deep in mud. The green section became an island. By Bob Paxton of Circle Sanctuary

The pink was under water at one point, everything else was ankle- to knee-deep in mud. The green section became an island. By Bob Paxton of Circle Sanctuary

 

Excited for the Festival
For many attendees, going to a festival like PSG is the only time they are able to participate in community rituals. It may the only time they are able to be openly Pagan. For others, it’s a time to learn more about practicing their religion, either by attending workshops or through one on one conversations with people they look up to as mentors. When attendees enter PSG they are traditionally greeted with the phrase, “Welcome home!” because they are entering their spiritual home and are now with their tribe, even if they arrive not knowing a single soul.

JE, 4th time attendee, Rainbow Camp:
“After my very first year I vowed to do everything in my power to return every year. I was particularly looking forward to this year. I had started a new job in August as a Manager of a truck stop. It’s good work, and I enjoy it. However, over the months I had let mundania get the best of me. My spiritual side was lacking, my connections weak. I hadn’t done a proper ritual in ages, it seemed. I wanted to be rekindled by the bonfire, the drums, and of course, the tribe. I had to put in a lot of hours before PSG in order to make it happen, and indeed I wasn’t even sure it would be possible to pull off with only 2 days of personal time. Determination, and a good boss, prevailed and I registered us with only a few days to spare.”

Beth Yoder-Balla, PSG Coordinator
“I had surgery at the end of last year and ended up having to use all my vacation time. I had to work loads of overtime to be able to go to PSG. The day I got my gate pass, I burst into tears because I wasn’t sure I should go because of my health issues and a strained relationship with my campmate, but I decided the pros still outweighed the cons and I went.”

Eric Eldritch, attendee
“I had just come through a huge wave of interfaith and pagan ministry work … [I] carefully reserved time for co-coordinating PSG’s 35th Anniversary Main Ritual and teaching two classes Masks of the Divine and Generations. I put my all into honoring PSG with classes and ceremony. The expectation for an amazing magical weekend was something I could feel as tangible.”

Edmund Zebrowski, 4th time attendee, RV land
“This was my fourth PSG at the Stonehouse location and the second time to have encountered the rains and winds common to a late midwest Spring. This was the first year that I came in from out of state, as well as the first time renting an RV for the week of the trip. Several months back I moved to Boston and my boyfriend, now finance’, were flying in to meet with several friends for our traditional week of fun at PSG.”

Three Rivers Pagans
“[We] had a contingency of six, three that were 1 year veterans, and three virgins.  The veterans had told the virgins what to expect, what might happen, and what they would see that was vastly different than our conservative town has to offer.  For some, it could be quite the culture shock.  There’s no judgement at PSG, from how you want to dress to how you practice your faith.  There’s no “you’re doing it wrong”.  People actually ask how you are doing and they mean it.  They also pitch in to help when something happens.”

Saturday: Merchants set up

Tracie Sage Wood, Merchant
“When we first got there, to tell you the truth, it was a clusterfuck. You could feel the tension in the air. it wasn’t a ‘welcome home’ sigh of relief, I got emotional right away, feeling it. They couldn’t put trailers in RV camp because of the mud … I’m a vendor with electric, and couldn’t put my small camper in my site. I need electric for my husband’s c-pap machine, and was told “oh, well” by a high person in charge, but later was found a site. It was a foreboding of things to come. I almost turned around at that point and left, this feeling of impending doom was so strong.”

Beth Yoder-Balla, PSG Coordinator
“We got there a day early due to being coordinators [for PSG]. The first night,we lost my daughter’s tent when it took on water.”

Lori Dake, Merchant
“When we arrived at the gates around 1pm, I made [my son] Ryan get out and ring the virgin bell. We found our merchant spot, which I got a double this year, and I started setting up. We unloaded the car, got the canopies up, and we draped the tarp over [the canopies], but that was about it. At that point, we go to set up everything, including pushing Ryan to make sure his tent was up too, because I knew even more rain was predicted that night. And just as his tent was fully pitched, the rain came … and a battle to save our mostly-constructed campsite was on.

“At around 11:30pm, I … went to sleep … in the back of the car. I don’t know how much later, but I was awoken by beams of light piercing through the car window, which is when I heard the rain pounding again. It turned out that Guardians had come by and noticed my campsite had taken a turn for the worst…everything was just about ready to come crashing down. So, they said the best course of action was to move everything to one side under the newer canopy/tarp/car setup and gently lay down the old side. After that, I slept. Hard.”

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A "widow maker" branch above Lori Dake's tent. photo by Lori Dake

A “widow maker” branch above Lori Dake’s tent. photo by Lori Dake

Sunday: The Gates Open

Edmund Zebrowski, 4th time attendee, RV land
“After flying in at the insanely early hour of 6:05 a.m., we were picked up at the airport and headed to breakfast and our Second Sunday Tarot Meet-Up before getting to Stonehouse. The day was sunny and we were in high spirits that the move in would be a dry one. Once at the site of PSG we were informed that we might not be able to get the RV that we had being delivered for us back to the area that was set up with electric and water. Through the grace of The Gods and with the full knowledge that if we got stuck while getting the RV in that we were on our own to get it out, we managed to secure a spot for our home away from home. Sunday night came and despite the camp roads already being 2-3 inches deep in mud, we all had a great time. This was the first PSG for several of my friends, a few of whom were tenting out in the high mound in the back of Quiet Camp. We walked around and for the most part things looked like they were going to go just fine.”

Lori Dake, Merchant, Merchant area
“Well, some folks came by, one by one, and told us to look up. That’s when we saw [a large dead branch hanging above us]. Yeah, so there’s that. I mentioned it to several PSG important-type people to see what could be done about it …About an hour or so later, PSG coordinators asked me to move across the street to the single slot. I was a little grumpy about that, losing a whole slot, but what was I going to do? … Everything got moved over with a bit of help …And then – more rain. I made sure everything was secure, and I said screw it to go hang out with Judy and Nels for a gin and tonic. I was halfway through my cocktail when the rain started coming down in buckets. I helped them get their stuff tied down, then I ran back to my spot. And wouldn’t you know it? It all came down. More poles bent. Stakes pulled up. And, the canopy I had left, one of the legs was bent inward …We released the tarps to keep things dry and sat in the car with the heat on to dry off. I felt like a complete failure and totally defeated.”

JE, 4th time attendee, Near the pond
“We left later than intended Sunday … When we arrived it was beautiful setup weather with plenty of blue sky, and I was quite thankful. We camped by the willow in roughly the same spot we’ve taken the last two years. Since people were getting stuck, we were told to leave our SUV at our site for now. After setting up we “made the rounds” and connected with old friends, and made a few new ones right away. We got back to our site as the opening meeting at the pavilion was taking shape. The drumming! We could see it across the pond, and listened as the … as we were still figuring out how to secure all of the sidewalls of our new canopy system before the rains started.

“I was watching the meeting when something caught my eye. To the south, a funnel cloud formed and stretched halfway down to the ground. It only lasted about five minutes, but it was a bit concerning. Luckily, it never appeared to touch down. It dissipated, and then the rains came. Anyway, after the rains had let up, Josh and I wandered a bit wondering if the procession would happen. The opening ritual was as fantastic as always. I wanted to join in the dancing, but we were quite tired from lack of sleep and turned in early.”

Funnel cloud sighted over Stonehouse Farm. Photo by JE

Funnel cloud sighted over Stonehouse Farm. Photo by JE

Carla, attendee with children, Quiet Camp
I had been to a few PSGs. Three adults and six kids meant lots of gear, and before I go any further, I want to thank everyone that helped Rain and I get the gear out of camp while my sister watched the kids in the aftermath of the flood … The rain had held off all of Sunday while we set up camp. By evening, Rain and I were pretty much spent and watched opening ceremony with the kids from our site across the pond … Shortly into opening ceremony, the first deluge hit, scattering everyone … That night and the following day brought more rain, but the real torrent was yet to come.”

Elise, attendee, age 13
“It was my first year there, I came on Sunday and it seemed a lot of fun. There was so much to do there! I went with my family, my aunt with my cousins and her friend with her kids.  It would rain for around five minutes then it would be so hot. It was muddy too, I always had to take off my flip flops, it didn’t bother me until I stepped of a sharp rock.”

Eric Eldritch, attendee, Rainbow Camp
“Before leaving I got word that the whole week was going to be filled with rain. As a precaution, we brought umbrellas and bought contractor grade heavy duty bags as back up.  When we arrived we set up as high as we could in Rainbow Camp and Twist left for Chicago. From our first welcome meeting, were instructed about separate evacuation and tornado signals and that meeting was cut short by a downpour. I weathered that first bout just fine. With the help of friends I readjusted tarps and was ready for the next rain to come down. But I wasn’t prepared for water to rise up.”

Bryan O’Dell, First time attendee
“[Sunday] I even got to be the first to ring the virgin bell. I went and began setting up my camp, which had already been partially done as my partner was on setup so she had our tent already staked up. The rest of our group arrived and set up. I went to park my van and immediately got stuck in the mud, as it had rained rather intensely the night prior. It was stuck for some time, needing to be pulled out and parked separately. After that I met up with my partner and our group went down to the pond for some together time and to enjoy being home. That night and the next morning was pretty fantastic seeing friends and meeting new ones.”

Bill Wheaton, attendee, Quiet Camp
“My companions crashed early … so I got the candle lantern … and trucked on over to the main opening ritual where the fire that is kept burning all week was laid and waiting for the spark of life. I arrived a hair late, but in time to honor the elements and the directions, the kindling of the fire, and witness the charge given to the Guardians – the people, duty bound to protect the land, the spirits, and the people attending the gathering.  It was quite ritualized and participatory and beautiful. As we gathered closer in, sharing candle lights and sparks we began to dance the circle round – faster people in the center, slower, stumblers like me on the outside – all ages just dancing around a fire to the beat of 20 people on drums.

“It was so magical. I had finally arrived! PSG was unfolding before my eyes, and I was with my people. People who I had met last year, people who I met online in between. Faces that would have names and stories to share before long.  But not yet … There there was just enough time to get back to my tent to put on dry socks and don my new dairy boots. Those boots were a life saver … At 11pm, and we were all gathered waiting for Arthur [Hinds] to begin. … Selena and Dennis arrived, and then Kathryn showed up!  Wonderful songs and stories of Welsh heroes and weird births and magic enchantments and an invite to finish up the story the next day. Afterwards we mingled and hugged the latecomers and then I high tailed it back to what we would soon call ‘the island.'”

Monday: Flash Flood Hits

Three Rivers Pagans:
“Monday brought more downpours and a lot of mud. As a Tribe, we became mud people, trudging everywhere through it, our feet covered to our ankles. Shortly after 5 pm on Monday, the word came through: we were going to flood … Guardians … were assembled, along with anyone that could help. Cars and tents were in the floodplain and it wasn’t going to be long before they were underwater. A dam upstream was going to be opened to let water out of Shabbona Lake and we were in the path of that water. It was time to move.

“Teams fanned out, calling out to people to move their cars if they were in the lower parking lot. Some of them were stuck, but people volunteered to push, pull, and drag them out of the mud and rising waters … Hours later, a mere 8 cars were left, their owners unknown. Many of them were totaled … People who were camped on the lower end of the campground around the pond and Grandmother Willow were helped to high ground. Many had to leave their belongings behind, watching as the water rose and engulfed everything they brought with them, leaving a sludge of mud coating most everything. I helped direct traffic for a while … I watched as people lugged up their tents and whatever they could carry, a look of shock on all of their faces…

“At the TRP camp …  We were on the edge of the flood zone and we needed to get to safety …We had a mere fifteen minutes to grab what we could and find our way to higher ground. It was hard, I’m not going to lie. I set our virgins on a path that I knew would take them away from the flooding, but I stayed behind. Two members of our camp had gone to move cars and I didn’t know where they were. When one of them returned, we ran, praying to the Goddess that the last missing member was safe with guardians. When she met up with us later, she had been helping push out cars from the mud, but she was safe. The hardest thing I’ve ever done was take three people who did not know the terrain and send them to safety, not knowing where they were when I made the trek myself. Monday night we were able to return to camp.  We were very waterlogged, muddy, and a mess, but everything was ok.  We were alive, together, and could support each other.”

Flooded ritual greens at PSG [Photo credit: L. Dake]

Flooded ritual greens at PSG [Photo credit: L. Dake]

JE, 4th time attendee, Near the pond
“We headed back to the site and secured everything, ready to ride out the storm with some fun activities. We started hearing sirens around the camp. At first we thought it was a medical emergency. But then the sirens came this way. At first the communication was mixed and garbled; a suggestion to leave due to a possibility. We didn’t know what to do; should we stay and ride out the storm in our setup? Pack up everything and relocate? If so, to where? … Then the word came. Grab what you can and get out. … Most of our items were in totes, so we grabbed the totes and threw them in the back of the SUV along with the duffle bag with our clothes, and the cooler with all of our food (and booze!). ….

“We realized the scope of the situation when we were finally moved out and saw the green for the first time. Wow … Then we heard that they were trying to push cars out of the parking field that was flooding. I rallied Josh and we headed that way. Originally we were told that there were enough people there at that time, but we needed to get the word out for people to come get their cars. So, I used my heralding skills I got last year and did my best to spread the word. We then went back to the field. An incredible site to see cars in that much water. Many people were already there helping, and more were arriving. A few of the cars were actually floating as they were being pushed out. The rallying cry became “keys!” when someone arrived with them. “Pushers!” when and where they were needed, splitting the workload between the field and the edge of the green. It was surreal. The pictures tell the tale quite well.

“After we rescued all that we could, we found our way to gate camp to talk to the troll. We were taken in and cared for by the whole group. They let us use their shower, gave us water and mead, paper towel to clean up.They were all very nice. We cleaned up and relaxed for a while before retiring to the back of the SUV for a poor night’s sleep. On the way, we went over to the road leading to the quieter area. The road was washed out under a river leading into the pond, and the pond was growing wider and wider. It was beyond belief.”

Attendees push cars out of the mud in the parking area now known as "Lake Keys." Photo by Heike Feller

Attendees push cars out of the mud in the parking area now known as “Lake Keys.” Photo by Heike Feller

Rain, attendee, Quiet Camp
“ ‘Flash floods! Grab your valuables and get to your car!’ these were the words that would turn what was a fun and relaxing day at my first PSG, into an utter nightmare. I was making dinner for the kids in our 3 family camp, so with a spatula in one hand and a tortilla in the other, I looked from the creek to the pond confused. “Do you need any help?” which would be the words I would hear over and over in the next 24 hours. I ran to my tent to see what I could save, I closed the totes, threw anything loose on the air mattresses and stared at my children (3 & 9) and the other children (5,9,11&13) standing under the canopy looking bewildered and crying. I could vaguely hear the conversations outside but I did hear a guardian tell my son to take care of his little sister and little brother and for the kids to help their moms.

When the crying became louder and more fearful, I heard a guardian say “now listen to uncle… it will be ok, I’m here” Assured that they were in good hands, I grabbed my keys and started to grab my drum when the wind blew so hard it pulled the tarp right off my tent and the poles to the ground. I’d decided that there was absolutely nothing more valuable in my tent than my children standing outside. I closed up my tent and looked around at the mess we’d left outside, my friend Denise’s daughter (13) asked if she could take my kids to the truck and without hesitation I let her and watched her run off in the rain. Denise and I secured camp as much as we could in the little time we had, while Carla fed the creek and asked it to spare us. I can honestly say that I don’t know what all was happening around me, my focus was secure camp and get out!

“With the wind howling and the rain pouring down, I’d made the decision that it was just time to leave. Once in my car I watched those around me scurrying to close up their camps, I white knuckled the steering wheel and waited for someone to tell me to leave. The children were eerily quiet in the back seat, the pulse in my ears was maddening, I was unable to hear the announcements so I called over a guardian to confirm if we could leave or if we had to stay. I was told that they weren’t ready for everyone to go and I told him I had small children and I really wanted to just go to safer ground. Once I had been given the ok, I backed out and immediately got stuck in the mud, but with the assistance of several people, I was pushed out of the mud and onto the road. I looked over and saw my friends with their kids huddled together by their car, so my assumption was that they were on their way, too. Slowly making my way down the muddy road, first to head out, I believe. I’d made the decision that it was best to just leave entirely. I stopped momentarily to call my friends to check on their safety, but I didn’t want to get parked in, so I headed out.

“Fortunately I live relatively close so I left PSG and took my children home to safety, as I got closer to home I pulled over and called Carla and she told me that she was stuck in the teen center pavilion and couldn’t get an answer on her sister’s phone, I’d offered to come back and get her kids, but she had opted to stay … I worried about them, I worried about Renee and her son (4) who was camped only one camp over, I was relieved to hear from all of them and to hear their experiences. Carla, Denise and Renee had all ended up waiting the storm out in the pavilion, close to their children and other families who had been displaced. They eventually were able to get their cars pushed out of the mud, Carla and Denise went to Carla’s house, but Renee had to ride out the storm. Renee was able to walk back to camp with her wagon and drag her things back to her car, she ended up taking refuge in someone’s camper. While scary for all of us, our children were safe, our cars were out of the mud and we were out of immediate danger.”

Carla, attendee, Quiet Camp
“We had all the kids in the cars and Rain managed to get hers out of the area and up the hill thinking that my sister and I were right behind her, but my car was blocked in so I went back to the tent one last time to save a toy my son was screaming for. When I returned back to the car, we were being told to abandon them and get to higher ground immediately, so the six of us ran to the pavilion where we watched until the rain had let up a bit. After a while, it looked like all the cars except ours had been moved. I said to my sister that if we were going to get the cars out and get the kids home, we needed to go try right now while there were still helpers down there. We left the kids in the pavilion which was now itself flooded because of a temporarily blocked drain with orders to my thirteen year old niece to keep the kids with the group up there.

“With the help from our tribe that was still down there, we got the cars back on the road and were headed up the hill. My sister made it up just fine, but I was stopped by the big field and told to pull over to make way for trucks that needed to get through with the promise that they would push me out if I got stuck. I tried to reach my sister, but her cell phone was dead, and after what seemed like an eternity waiting for these trucks that never came, I asked to be pushed out, knowing that my kids must be frantic not knowing where I was since they couldn’t see my car. Finally reaching the pavilion, we left camp for the night knowing that there would be no way of returning to there until at least morning and figuring that it was nine less people to worry about for everyone else.”

Renee, attendee, Quiet Camp
“I was camped over by the sweat lodge facing the creek. We were called to evacuate, taking only essentials. The teenagers came over to help us load. … Once I had what I thought I needed, we sat in the car-which was running, while the rain was pouring down and the creek was rising. Cars were already being pushed out. This was my first sense of being trapped. I had to wait in my car as the waters rose, unable to move in any direction for the other cars to get out. I waited, sobbing, and pointlessly sending out distraught texts to my sister and husband.

“It came to be my turn, and a lot of people with their cheerful faces and positive attitude gave me the assurances I needed and they pushed my car out of there, got me turned around and … I just followed that truck, through the river that was running between the green and the pond. She parked up at the stage, and I parked there, too. When we both rolled our windows down, it turned out that she had been following the one in front and we weren’t actually being directed by any person on the roadway. She and I were both crying. We left our cars and hugged. This was the first time I had met J., although, I was on her tail, praying for her leadership the whole way out. I met J.’s campmates at this point, and we stayed in touch on and off until we left …

“Moonfeather and Selena Fox came to the pavilion. They explained about the reservoir and said, now we could go back over there on foot and get anything we could. I had my child’s red wagon with me, and I proceeded to make 4 trips barefoot (the water was up to my calves, and I couldn’t get a foothold with my shoes). I used bungees and ropes to hold everything onto that child’s toy. On the 2nd trip back, I saw that my car was parked in by a trailer! Again, I was trapped … I had baked and decorated a cake for the potluck, this I shared with those in the pavilion. I was offered a spot in a trailer … I was lucky for offer, and her trailer was warm, high, dry, and quiet for the night. My kid was fascinated with all the gadgets in the trailer, the stove, microwave, toilet, the folding table.”

Area near workshop #10. Nearby tree fell on a camper, crushing it. photo by Michelle Johnson Walach

Area near workshop #10. Nearby tree fell on a camper, crushing it. photo by Michelle Johnson Walach

Tracie Sage Wood
“My husband [was] watching the weather minute by minute on his phone. He started receiving the emergency alerts Monday morning…flash flood warnings… and we thought… what are the disaster plans that should be in place for a place like this? I went to vend, and told one guardian [to] let whoever is in charge of the guardian’s know…flash flood coming… well… nobody did anything. I later heard they knew, but rather than alarm people, they hoped it would go around us. This was the most dangerous, stupid thing I’ve ever seen. Because of this, at the last minute, it was mass evacuation…

“There was no reason for chaos and it was chaos  …  hey could have told everyone in the field it’s coming and we think you should move, and we have people to help you … there would have been no rush. The thing that saved everyone is the tribe, not the guardians or the people in charge. The tribe itself jumped in to help everyone else. people out in the weather helping neighbors move, giving them dry towel, clothes, food.”

Elise, age 13
“Monday, around the afternoon, my aunt’s friend from PSG came over and told her there was a flood warning, I heard little about [what] they were talking about. [A] couple minutes later when we were starting to eat, three guys told us we had to leave and pack up. Ten or five minutes later it started to rain really hard, all the little kids were freaking out. I carried one of the kids, my aunts friends and the older brother was leading me to the car. I told him to keep his sister calm. I helped as much as I could and tried to stayed calm too. We put stuff in the tents and put the stuff we need in car..

“Some of the people were telling us to leave and some were saying to stay, it was confusing. Then one of the helpers was bringing me and my brother to the tween center. They were asking if we were hungry, cold or okay. We started to see cars so my mom and aunt tried to get the cars out. They put me in charge because I’m the oldest. We got out safely and went to my aunts house for the week. My aunt and her friend brought the stuff back and brought other friends so they had a place to sleep. I heard a lot of people got flooded …”

Eric Eldritch, attendee, Rainbow Camp
“I hurriedly sorted and protected non essential replaceable stuff into contractor lawn bags and piled everything that could stay, or be lost, on queen side cot bed. I grabbed essentials … It was hard to convince myself that it would be alright, I had experienced the deluge of campsites swept away in a flash flood years ago at Four Quarters. I was shocked by that devastation and wanted no repeat experience. No time to think about that I was in grab and go, and the pelting rain was jolting me to reality. When I look at the flooded fields and campsites, even the pictures, I get a catch in my breathe. This storm was expansive, extensive, exceeding expectations.

“As the rain pelted, I made trips to convey my essentials near the road. Trudging and slipping up the road in the slick mud, several folks grabbed a bag, lightened my load and pieced together a plan with each slippery step. I had nowhere to go, just up and out. It was confusing, truely confusing. Where are you going? Where are you staying? I had to trust others for those answers, I had never been displaced in that kinda rush. I had never been helped so selflessly. I experienced being swept away in wave of love and help. I was in the midst of what Selena calls out over and over again year after year. She invoked the reality of “P-S-G Community!” After finding shelter in an RV, I sloshed out to help others and to document the car evacuation with pics and video. The mobilization of support and direction was in full gear. I felt relief. Help was being coordinated in a good way.”

Michael Greywolf, 5th year attendee, Rainbow Camp
“Our car was parked right down the hill from Rainbow Camp, so we quickly threw everything into it. As we were running things to the car it started to rain, and it was coming down hard. As soon as we had finished my partner told me they were only letting one person per car move them. I had my partner go and I stayed behind to help where I could. The rain was still coming down very strong and everyone was getting soaked. The Guardians and coordinators were directing people to move their cars to higher ground. Volunteers were helping to push as many of the stuck cars as we could out of the mud. There were a couple of instances where we had to help a couple of people gather up their belongings and toss them into their cars …The frantic and chaotic energy from the whole situation was making me very tense and a bit scared.

“While there we helped where we could, my partner was running errands for a few people and I was comforting my ‘adopted’ niece … She was scared and I did the best I could to keep her comfortable. As we were sitting in the pavilion we could see groups of people moving whole tents from the area that was going to be flooded. We saw people pulling wagons of gear, and trucks hauling possessions and people to higher ground. One of her moms’ finally returned and took over comforting her daughter. When I returned to Rainbow Camp I could see the water was covering the road and it was coming up to my thigh. Several tents had been moved to higher ground and the parking area in front of us had been cleared. …The energy had kinda calmed a bit, people were laughing, cheering and congratulating each other for all the work we had done as a community. After that I returned to my tent, we were well above the rising water and passed out.”

Tents in standing water in the background. Area called the Green where rituals were held. Photo by Sarah Kaczmarek

Tents in standing water in the background. Area called the Green where rituals were held. Photo by Sarah Kaczmarek

Bill Wheaton, attendee, on The Island (former Quiet Camp)
“Right before sunset around 8:30, the rain stopped. We had been watching it on radar, and the pittance coming behind it wouldn’t do much more. The lake to our north that was threatening to open its levies was actually getting less rain that we were getting, so we were really doubting that would happen. However, Indian creek had already breached and drained into the meadow and the causeway past the pond was a waterfall. …The Guardians told us over and over to move. I realized that even though we might be safe, that I was causing turmoil and real concern to those charged with protecting us. I realized that if I was wrong, and someone had to come rescue us then they might be injured or worse. … I decided to take the last opportunity to leave before The Peninsula became The Island. And now I was a refugee.

“The town was surprisingly up-beat. Not knowing what else to do I dropped by Kathryn’s & Arthur’s tent and chatted. Eventually, it got around to “So where will you go?” I was stunned. I had not even thought of it. I was still reeling from the frenzy of staying so long on the island, and pretty worried about my companions …  Kathryn offered me the back of their van which I gladly filled with my bedding. I was still wired though and walked to the fire circle, and then onto the new waterfront. There were parties going on in shuttered vendor tents out of the final rain. I stopped by the EnCHANTment tent and joined voices with them to sing the most powerful chants I have ever done before. Everything was going to be ok.”

Bryan O’Dell, first time attendee
“I joined the efforts to help push and maneuver cars into the high ground of RV land. The next few hours went on like this: parking somewhere between nine and fifteen vehicles. During that time a nice lady offered us some chili, but we were still moving vehicles. So were unable to take her up on the offer …. I continued to help push vehicles and then when done helped moved items out of the rain. One of the people I was with insisted on me getting some Gatorade. Which they escorted me to the med tent so I could partake. … After staying there for a bit [a medic] noticed I looked a bit peaked and asked me when the last time I ate was. Upon examination, I realized I hadn’t eaten anything except a protein shake that morning at eight am, it was now past eight pm. I remembered the chili from earlier and went to inquire about it. It had been given to the teens just prior my arrival, but the lovely woman cooked me up a quick meal of eggs and potatoes. I was extremely grateful and shall be for years to come.

“After that I wandered back to camp. During the whole time I noticed some pretty amazing acts of heroism. People in our community doing anything and everything they could just to help out. To help out people they may or may not have known. It didn’t matter, the only thing that mattered was it was all hands on deck and from what I saw, no one had idle hands. The staff, both Circle and Stonehouse, zipping back and forth organizing everything they could to ensure the safety of all. Everyone else using whatever skill set they had to ensure everybody was taken care of. Yes, there were losses, but no one severely hurt and it could have been significantly worse. It was literally a natural disaster. I will always keep in my heart the amazing efforts and acts I saw, took part in and witnessed.”

Lori Dake, Merchant
“When the rain finally stopped enough for me to feel safe enough to lie down around 11pm, a friend was texting me about everything that was going on. As I was texting back, I heard some crackling and thought someone was shooting off fireworks. Very soon after, I heard walkie-talkies and Guardians talking about a tree falling down on a camper! My jaw dropped and I texted my friend about it, too. I then started hearing about people whose cars were trapped and now drowned in the newly formed lake, since named Lake Keys, we had seen rising behind us during our potluck and food hand-out. Even though I was exhausted, and my feet were soaking wet down to the bone, wrapped up in several blankets, I prayed for the best outcome that no one was hurt. Once again, I do not remember going to sleep.”

Tuesday – PSG Closes – stage 1 of evacuation

Three Rivers Pagans
Tuesday morning, our traditional morning meeting was mandatory. It was announced that we all had to leave. PSG 2015 was over. It was time to go home … I looked around as the realization hit everyone … The land could not support us in its waterlogged state. The shower house was overrun with water as was the septic system. It was no longer safe for us to stay. I spent the day organizing camp slowly, not aware of my own feelings yet.  I was shell shocked.

Lori Dake, Merchant
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a sad morning at PSG, but on this day, most everyone was pretty down. The vibe was a sad, anxious, with people eager to compare notes and share what they have heard. Lots of rumors were going about. Some were saying PSG was going to cancel. Others were talking about wanting refunds. Branches, like the one I had over my head, had indeed crashed through people’s’ campsites. Some people said their neighbors did more than just evacuate to higher ground and went to a nearby hotel all together …

“Now usually at morning meeting, there’s a good amount of people there, but not that day. It was packed … Usually too, the bonfire dancing slows down just a touch after 10am, but at 10:20, it was still going strong, so I knew then they were going to cancel PSG. That dancing was the last hoorah. They were letting people have a little bit of fun before the bad news … [And] Arthur did NOT say “Good morning, PSG!” That too was a big hint.

“Before the…  bad news [was] announced at the meeting, Selena, Bob, Sharon and everyone else from Circle, thanked everyone for jumping in and helping. We were reminded that the nearby town of Paw Paw is three times bigger and would have called the police, fire department and National Guard to help, but we had done it all ourselves. That was certainly encouraging about the Spirit part of PSG. We really do care about each other, even if we don’t necessarily get along with or even like everyone else ….”

Rain, attendee, Quiet camp
“Tuesday morning Carla and I came back, the road to Quiet Camp was closed so we waded through ankle deep water past the sweat lodge to our camp that had been at least a foot under water the night before. We had mixed emotions as we saw that our camp was relatively unharmed, in spite of it all and that it wasn’t still under water. There were a few inches of water still in my tent, but for the most part other than some wet bedding and clothes, things were dry. The problem was then how do we take down 3 tents, 2 canopies and collect all of our gear and get it down a muddy road with 2 red wagons. Out of no where we hear those words again “do you need any help?” Yes! Volunteers came and took down our tents, helped packed our gear, loaded it all on tarps and dragged everything down to the clearing where more volunteers trucked everything to dry ground. It took us 7 hours to collect everything and get everything loaded to go home, but without those volunteers that I can’t thank enough, we might still be there packing gear or given up completely.”

Tracie Sage Wood
“The day after [the flood] was a true coming together. We put out  a table of food, as we were at the crosssroads across from the pond, and people dropped food off and ate as they needed to. some people shopped. some packed up. It was a beautiful day, looking at the tribe helping, and one of the most precious moments of my life. But it was the people and not the ones in charge that saved it. They dropped the ball … They should have alerted people sooner and let the people make the decision to move or not. They put people in danger.”

Michael Greywolf
“We had weathered the storm and it was going to be a lovely day. As the morning started to pass the heralds were going around saying that Morning Meeting was mandatory that day. My partner and I got there and did what you normally do at a Morning Meeting, drink your coffee and have a seat as the drummers drum and people dance around the fire. It was there that the Circle Board told us the heartbreaking news that PSG was going to be ending right after Morning Meeting. You could feel a wave of sadness pass over everyone who was there. The board members were in tears, in the 35 years of PSG history they had never had to do this. But they told us another line of storms was coming and the flood waters were going to get worse. They wanted us safe and keeping the festival going was going to put their tribe, their family in danger. So we started the packing process and still tried to make the most of the time we had left. Vendors stayed open and the artists who were supposed to be performing all week were giving little concerts. Not everyone was able to leave that day. Those who were left were sharing food with each other and fellowshipping as much as we could. We even had a concert and fire spinning. But the next day my partner and I had our car packed up and were on the road back to our apartment.”

Bill Wheaton
“That meeting is when my emotional magic carpet ride began. I do so love those people. It is exceedingly hard to explain to someone who has not been through it. I have always needed community, probably since I was a little kid. It gives me strength, and a sense of normalcy I can’t get any other way. When I don’t have it, everything is wonky and doesn’t work for me. They are my pack, my tribe. You can have your rugged individualism any day, but give me my herd or I die.

“The rest of the day was spent with the volunteers. There were tarps, tents, canopies to shake earthworms from. There were teams of strong lads hauling tarp-fulls of boxes, mattresses and water soaked gear across a muddy plain and filling pickup trucks time and again. There were cars to get unstuck. Eventually though it was my turn to leave. I was in phase 1 of the evacuation. According to the triage plan I had to leave quickly so that others could get out…”

Edmund Zebrowski
“[Tuesday] night the mandatory meeting was held up on the high ground of the pavilion were all the performers set to play that week gave an impromptu concert as a way to help the weary have some fun after a long day of helping others pack and getting cars out of the mud. Stories were told and dancing happened but while the tone was joyous it was bittersweet. That night more rains came. All night we could hear them on the roof. Our numbers were now down by half and the spirit of joy and happiness was not as present as we waited for the night and, hopefully, we would still be able to make it out.”

Three Rivers Pagans
“Tuesday night, we grieved. We partied. We drank. And we listened to some of the best music ever played. Bardapalooza happened in the pavilion and it was glorious. SJ Tucker, Celia Ferran, Mama Gina, Spiral Rhythm, and a host of others all lent voices and talent to keep us entertained and brighten our spirits. We were blessed to hear a beautiful story from Janet Farrar. Firespinners went all out on the only night they were going to get to spin.  And of course, there was drumming and dancing around the Sacred Fire.”

The Aftermath

As attendees made it back to their homes and logged into social media they expressed gratitude to the PSG staff and volunteers for their efforts to assist campers to safety. They noted that they witnessed a level of caring and love that they’ve seldom seen in their lives. They also expressed sadness at leaving PSG early; guilt for not helping more or for not having it as rough as others did. Anger and fear over lost cars, belongings, and experiences. Some have started having nightmares, anxiety, and spats of crying.

get over it

In talking with Anthony Rella, a Seattle mental health therapist, these reactions don’t appear to be uncommon for people who have lived through a natural disaster. Rella said, “What is happening sounds like very typical responses to trauma. Psychological trauma occurs in an overwhelmingly stressful situation in which one is unable to process all the emotions happening at once.” He went on to say that, although it sounds like the community did an amazing job of supporting each other and surviving the immediate trauma, now that the life-threatening crisis is over they are beginning to process their experience. He said that it’s not unusual for people to relive moments or feelings associated with such trauma.

Rella added that PSG wasn’t “just a festival” and the feelings aren’t just about the loss of money and belongings,  “…this festival holds an important place in the participants’ lives, there was a lot of emotional and financial investment in it, so to have been disrupted with this awful experience is definitely a trauma.” He said:

Intellectually most of us ‘know’ that terrible things happen every day, but we don’t always get this on an emotional level. If we were emotionally aware of the possible disasters we could encounter in our daily lives, we would be overwhelmed with fear and anxiety or constantly on edge, watching for danger, which is essentially what happens in full post-traumatic stress disorder. Instead, most of us live with a basic sense of safety and trust that nothing awful will happen to us, and most of the time it does not. When it does, however, then that emotional part of us becomes deeply aware of danger and loses touch with that basic sense of safety and security. When someone comes to expect this event every year as an important part of their lives, then it is a major loss of security to know that it could be, and in fact has been, disrupted like this. Then you add in the stress of these financial losses and losing “stuff” which probably also had personal meaning, that creates a lot of stress that needs to be attended to.

Rella noted that the best thing is to return to typical living activities as soon as possible, while also giving oneself permission to continue experiencing these distressing emotions. Friends and community members can give affected people the emotional safety to share whatever they want to share. “If a person who went through this shares their story with you, then do your best to listen … with compassion, validating their feelings and not trying to judge or fix their experience,” advised Rella.

KitKat shows off her new tattoo to commemorate the struggle at "Lake Keys." Tattoo by Kidril Telrunya

KitKat shows off her new tattoo to commemorate the struggle at “Lake Keys.” Tattoo by Kidril Telrunya

JE
“The PSG facebook page lit up with stories of heroism, and stories of loss. My heart breaks for those that have lost so much. As Shouting Mountain put it a few days ago, we all experienced loss. Some lost experiences, some lost business, some lost tents, some even cars. However, NO ONE LOST LIFE. For a natural disaster to affect a concentrated group of 1000 people without modern infrastructure and no one to be seriously hurt or killed is surprising. Nature is going to do what she is going to do…but I still believe the Gods listened to our plea for consideration and safety. We truly demonstrated our intention of celebrating community. It was fantastic to see everyone pitching in and helping, everyone in their own ways.

“In the end, It’s not the way PSG is supposed to be. Instead of renewed, I feel drained. Instead of happy, I feel disheartened. Instead of rekindled, I feel numbed. I had hoped that typing all of this out over the course of 3 hours would help sort it all out for me. However, the experience was what it was. It will write a new chapter in the PSG history book, where the tribe connected in a way it had never before, and became stronger for the experience. … My immense thanks to the tribe, to the Guardians, to the teardown crew, Stonehouse staff, Circle Staff, and especially Moonfeather. The choices that were made were not made lightly, but they were made correctly. Blessed be.”

Rain
“This experience had brought a myriad of emotions, from fear to disappointment to gratitude and just like any other devastating experience; we are working through these feelings. Our children have amazingly bounced back due to kindness of the volunteers and those who were able to act quickly and with kindness. We are very thankful that everyone is able to say “we’ll see you at PSG 2016!” Community! #WeAreTribe”

Carla
“Someone pointed out that even though the week was abruptly ended, we still had our Rites of Passage. My niece who had been planning on her Young Womanhood initiation, more than earned it, keeping her younger brother, cousins, and Rain’s children safe in a crisis. The Hunt which was to happen Thursday night, happened all around us as people and property were rescued … Before my first time at PSG, the person who introduced it to me told me that PSG was as close as we could get to The Summerland on this plane of existence, which at the time I thought was a bit melodramatic. After my first PSG though, I also felt that way. We have been all mourning the loss of our week in The Summerland together, and some of us dealing with loss of property, but everyone came through this experience safe from harm, and for that I am so thankful this Solstice morning. I have never been so proud of my tribe, or so thankful to all of them. We will have many more weeks in The Summerland together, but this one cemented us together … as the saying now goes, ‘been there, survived the flood, bought the tshirt ‪#‎WeAreTribe‬‘”

Tracie Sage Wood
“Thinking about this from a lessons learned, other than the complete lack of disaster planning, it was a lesson for us pagans, for the community. We’ve become so regimented. … Many of our rituals have become huge theatrical productions that I come away from feeling nothing. After the morning meeting where we were told we were closing up, Selena had an impromptu healing ritual … for people and the earth. Everyone that was left there was hugging in a circle, and crying… THAT was community. That was the first ritual there where I felt the energy, and felt the love. Perhaps we need to get back to our roots. to a more spontaneous group effort at things … everyone eating together, singing together…helping each other. I feel closer to my tribe than I ever have.”

Eric Eldritch
“As a community, I’ve learned far more than I ever could imagine about the resilience and reliance on community. Online I read a PSG post saying ‘Is it natural to feel guilt about wanting to stay and help out some more, but having to leave?’ I learned about how torn I was to stay or leave. I decided to follow the need to follow disaster coordinator’s lead and help from afar. It was important to have people on the outside responding to emails, texts and posts to keep up morale while the evacuation rolled out. Pulling together onsite and offsite gave a sense of community that was more expansive than any storm. Feeling, Seeing and Experiencing Tribe in Action was life changing for us all.”

Michael Greywolf
“So now we are home and missing our tribe so much. Three days was not enough, but it was an amazing three days, I wouldn’t trade that time for all the world. We saw our community come together in the face of a crisis, a disaster and we overcame it. In 35 years PSG has never had to use their disaster plan, not once. But we did it, we showed just how strong our bond as a community, as a tribe, as a family truly is. Sure we lost a lot because of it. We lost time with friends we only see once a year, we lost experiences we were hoping to have, we lost a few possessions, we lost money, but no one lost their life. And that’s what really counts.”

Bill Wheaton
“This week was an exhilarating, sublime and harrowing experience, but one I hope not to ever repeat in the same way. Since that time I have had a lot of stress symptoms. Bad dreams, emotional ups and downs, trouble concentrating, worry about others and other stuff like that. And really the whole reason I am writing this at all is to help me get it sorted out and back to normal. Things are still wonky, this helps …”

Edmund Zebrowski
“We did make it out by about 10 o’clock [Wednesday] … Our flight is not till Monday and funds to change tickets were not in the budget for the trip so we opted to spend the week with friends and enjoy the world of Chicago while we are here. We feel very fortunate to be able have been taken in and cared for as we been told of several people that were not so lucky. So the money that was set aside to eat at PSG now is being used to by dinners that we are cooking at friends houses. We are sleeping in spare rooms and washing up the one or two pairs or normal clothes we brought … Online people try and make sense of what happened and we all sit and wonder how this will affect next year.”

Tina Stover, Merchant and wife of PSG Guardian
“After 23 years of going to PSG, I have seen my share or bad weather. We have been evacuated and hunkered down before. This year, however at the end of it all, I felt devastated and broken. I watched people helping in all kinds of ways from pushing cars to comforting children. I saw everything from people hiding to acts of courage. We all came together and managed the best we could. However, there was something missing at the end. It was healing. All the other times when we went through bad weather, we had the chance to heal and spiritually comfort everyone. This year the only spiritual time we had was the opening ritual and then disaster and then get the hell out now! There was no relief … The poor herald’s constantly reminding people and then others telling you constantly move your car, leave, move your car, leave. It was more than I could take. The last words said to us on Thursday afternoon, was not of love and thanks, but another reminder that we had to be gone by 5pm. I was so hurt and devastated at that point, I cut my wristband off and threw it out the window on the way home … These are just my personal feelings and I think that healing was forgotten and replaced by urgency. I blame no one. It was a lesson in love and loss for everyone.”

Three Rivers Pagans
“Now that we are home, we are working on healing the deep cuts to our psyche from seeing such devastation. No matter how much you helped out, it never seemed enough. No matter how many people you fed or pulled out of the flood zone, there were still more. But as a community, we came together. We got things done faster and more efficiently than any government agency could ever think to do. Together, we celebrated community in the best way possible: by becoming that which we celebrated.”

Bryan O’Dell
“Yes, there were losses, but no one severely hurt and it could have been significantly worse. It was literally a natural disaster. I will always keep in my heart the amazing efforts and acts I saw, took part in and witnessed. I will make it an effort of mine to keep that level of community going.”

Melanie Moore
“So me and my tribe were very upset by PSG’s decision to close. This was my 25th PSG. We have been through floods, tornadoes, heat waves and we are a group of good campers. We had planned to just stay at Stonehouse. When it became clear that that was not an option, threatened with the sheriff, we decided to move the festival to my house … Wednesday, on the drive home, my coven sister … and I brainstormed a list of activities. We didn’t do all of the list. But we did do: reiki attunements, nail and make up day, beach day … We also supported each other through our grief stages. It was a giant slumber party. I remember waking up … at four in the morning on the floor of my living room. I woke up and saw that all my best friends were passed out all around me. I felt such love and joy.”

"Spa Day" at Melanie Moore's house, after PSG closed. Photo by Melanie Moore

“Spa Day” at Melanie Moore’s house, after PSG closed. Photo by Melanie Moore

Beth Yoder-Balla
“I was home one night when a tornado hit my neighborhood. It touched down on my street. We were lucky, some of my neighbors, not so much. Then came possibly the biggest blow of all, not one of the people here [in my town] that I thought were my closest friends offered to come help. The friends that I’ve helped move, or helped when basements flooded, or talked through emotional crises. So here I am today, and I’m angry, sad, and tired. Very tired. I’m not asking for anything here except a safe place to put these feelings. Thank you for that. Blessed be.”

*   *   *

Attendees aren’t the only ones trying to recover from the flood. Stonehouse Farm has a massive and expensive clean up operation ahead of them. Likewise, Circle Sanctuary had to clean up, pack up, and leave the campground as fast as possible, too. They also face an uncertain financial future and said they will be making a statement soon on how the flood affected Circle Sanctuary’s finances. Circle asked for volunteers to assemble at Circle Sanctuary last Saturday to help scrub every item of gear they use for PSG and over 75 volunteers showed up.

Volunteers clean Circle Sanctuary equipment. Photo by Circle Sanctuary

Volunteers clean Circle Sanctuary equipment. Photo by Circle Sanctuary

“We’re once again overwhelmed and amazed by the strength of our community. After the work was done, our volunteers joined in a Summer Solstice ritual of healing led by Selena Fox and were treated to an impromptu concert by Wendy Rule. The healing and recovery process will continue over the coming weeks, and we give thanks once again for our compassionate and dedicated PSG tribe!” said Florence Edwards-Miller. Circle Sanctuary will be  hosting a special podcast tonight, June 23, at 7 to 9pm Central. The podcast will focus on sharing experiences and perspectives by a variety of Pagan Spirit Gathering community members.

[Photo Credit: L. Dake]

[Photo Credit:Beth Yoder-Balla]

EARLVILLE, Illinois- Shortly after we reported on the extensive flooding at the 35th annual Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG), organizers announced that the festival would be shutting down. All attendees and staff personnel must evacuate by tomorrow. According to reports, the grounds have become unsafe, and more rain is on the way.

As reported by local news, Illinois state emergency planners are now closely watching the Illinois River as the waters begin to rise, reaching flood-level in some locations. Due to the record downpours across the region, several cities have already initiated emergency plans.

Circle Magazine editor Florence Edwards-Miller said, “While PSG has endured severe weather before, including a near miss by a tornado at a different campground, this is the largest scale emergency in the festival’s 35-year history.”

During the Tuesday morning meeting, attendees were informed of this decision, and an emergency evacuation plan has been put into place. During stage one, those people camping in the flooded areas, such as Rainbow and Quiet, will be evacuated first. PSG has asked anyone in the drier areas of camp to help assist with the effort.

After the meeting and before the packing began, Rev Selena Fox led a “community ritual of healing and farewell.”

[Courtesy Pagan Spirit Gathering]

Edwards-Miller said:

In the wake of the emergency, the community rallied to support those displaced and the PSG volunteers and Safety team. Offers of spare tents, bedding, and food flowed in and people opened their hearts and campsites to friends and strangers alike. Guest musician Wendy Rule performed for those displaced and waiting.This year’s PSG theme is ‘Celebrating Community’ and the community rose to the challenge.

Evacuating and clean-up won’t be easy. There are about 800 people currently on site at PSG, including the staff.  Many cars still won’t start, and camping gear is underwater. In addition, the sanitation fields are flooded, which brings further safety and clean-up concerns. PSG will be holding a mandatory meeting tonight for those people still around. Edwards-Miller added:

PSG and Circle Sanctuary plan to release further information later in the week, but for now the focus is on helping those affected and on organizing a safe early departure from the site.  Circle Sanctuary thanks the PSG community for a truly awe-inspiring display of strength and mutual support, and asks for continued understanding as we work together to get everyone home safely.

EARLVILLE, Illinois – As the 35th annual Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG) got underway June 14, attendees found themselves grappling with unusually wet weather. Earleville, located 70 miles west of Chicago, has seen an above average amount of rainfall since May, with more than double the monthly average falling in the first half of June alone.

Flooded ritual greens at PSG [Photo credit: L. Dake]

Flooded ritual greens at PSG [Photo credit: L. Dake]

The rains began again on Wednesday and continued on and off through the weekend. By Monday, PSG attendees found themselves in the middle of a deluge with rising waters throughout the campgrounds. One of the fields, which is now completely underwater, has joined with a nearby pond that has overflowed its banks. Attendees have jokingly labeled this “Lake PSG.”

Rainbow, the LGBT area, was the first to flood and, as reported,  the waters rose so fast that attendees had to “quickly grab their stuff and run.” The parking area is also completely flooded. On Monday, attendees joined with PSG staff members in a muddy attempt to rescue remaining vehicles. Some cars did sustain water damage, and a few reportedly wouldn’t start. Additionally, there have been limbs down throughout camp, and unconfirmed reports of trees falling on tents and campers.

Many PSG attendees have taken to social media to report on their experiences and on the damages. Blogger Lori Dake has posted a video:


A small number of attendees have left permanently; most are staying. Of those staying, some people have taken refuge temporarily in locals hotels, and others have moved into their cars. Despite these adverse conditions, spirits remain high, and nobody has been hurt. The community is cooperating with the PSG staff, who have reportedly worked efficiently and effectively to make the best of the situation. Praise has been pouring in specifically for the work being done by the PSG security team, known as the Guardians, as well as the medics. Some people are going so far as to call them, “heroes.”

Today’s weather reports call for part sun and only a 10% chance of rain. Although the waters have not yet receded and very little has dried out, today’s prospect for clear weather brings with it the hopes of assessing damages and reorganizing the week’s activities. Unfortunately, the weather reports are also calling for more rain tomorrow through Sunday. As a result, there may be little drying out, more water soaked tents and more rescheduling in PSG’s future.

We are in touch with the Staff. We will share more as reports come in and the story unfolds.

Paganism, together with the many subcultures that are often associated with it, is a place where strong women are both common and respected for their power. The challenge this poses for men is finding a way to relate to, and partner with, women and others without falling back on a stereotypical bag of tricks that relies upon physical strength, aggressiveness, and an implicit threat of violence.

Opting to be subservient is not an option for many self-identified men, who desire to use their masculine gifts positively rather than deny them. The other extreme, embracing the take-no-prisoners macho approach that contributes to undercurrents of misogyny and an implicit acceptance of rape culture, is even more distasteful. The Wild Hunt spoke with several men with experience working through these issues.  Perhaps not surprisingly, those explorations are often in the context of ritual.

Wrestling members of the Brotherhood of the Stag and Wolf (photo credit Lyle Hawthorne)

Wrestling members of the Brotherhood of the Stag and Wolf [Photo Credit: Lyle Hawthorne]

One of the ways that the overculture falls short — for men and women alike — is in the diminished value given to rites of passage. For many American youths, obtaining a driver’s license is the only acknowledged transition into adult life, and it’s a poor one. Pagan boys and men who recognize a need for something more may be able to undergo a rite of passage with more spiritual depth.

Pagan Spirit Gathering and Rites of Spring each have such ceremonies available, but they are not alike. PSG actually has two distinct tracks, one for boys who are growing into adulthood, and another for adult men who are seeking a rite-of-passage experience that wasn’t available to them earlier in life. The children who grow up in and around the EarthSpirit Community can choose to undergo a rite of passage at RoS when they come of age.

We spoke to the organizers of the two PSG rites to learn more about how they differ from each other. Bob Paxton coordinated the Young Men’s Rite of Passage for four years, and said that “there are two components to this: 1) orienting the young men and their parents toward their impending independence, and 2) giving them some context about what their communities will start to ask of them.”

Parental involvement is required, and the process begins by interviewing the boys and their parents separately. “We ask them probing questions and record their answers, and we compare notes afterwards.This tells us a great deal about how synced up the young men & their parents are, and reveals much about any frustrations with the family dynamic.” Both the parents and the boy must be on board for this process to unfold, he added:

We push them pretty hard on this — sometimes they’re only there because the parent made them, and it’s our job as facilitators to tell them it’s not the parent’s decision to make. Sometimes the boy chooses not to go ahead then, and that’s for the best. At the end of that interview, we go through a ritual separation process, which sends the parents off to reflect on this change while plugging the young men into a community of other young men who have been through this in prior years & can act as peer mentors.

The notes from those interviews are reviewed by Sages, who prepare what Paxton called individually tailored “wisdom packages” for the young men. “In the final rite, which is held at night-time, we send the young men through a mentally and physically-challenging ritual journey where they receive challenges from the 3 Fates, a Warrior archetype, and the panel of Sages, then I deliver some final words about community expectations and send them off howling into the night with the tribe of slightly-older young men who then expand their ranks to include them. That group of young men commonly stay in touch year-round.”

The encounter with the Fates, he said, is designed to directly challenge societal gender roles. Paxton explained, “Those three manifestations of feminine divinity are sharp, strong, direct and uncompromising, and that’s a core part of the Mystery. How does that impact a young man’s journey of discovery? It directly counters the common masculine ‘power-over’ teaching, at a place in his life where he’s primed for change.”

He summarized the process:

We pick our coordinators carefully, from people we know to be good and fierce and gentle men. We get to know each person who comes to us for passage rites, and we personalize what we pass on as much as possible — and, having sent them through these extended explorations of themselves while primed with the things they need to hear, we acknowledge them publicly within the community as men who have made commitments to our shared values.

For adults who missed the opportunity for such an experience, there is also the Men’s Personal Rite of Passage Experience (MPROPE). Zero, one of the current coordinators, spoke about what drives men to participate:

The most common thing I hear from our men is how they want to do better in their family role, whatever that may be. Some men want to be a more understanding or stronger husband, while others a more patient or confident father. Some of the younger have more commonality in that they really want to be seen as a man. They want to accomplish and endure things to earn respect from those they care about, and from themselves. We try to be sure that the men share their thoughts with each other, so they know that there is no one true way to be a man. Not every man does his part by mowing the grass, fixing the car, being the tough guy, or working in the factory all day. And it would seem, for the most part, that they are able to see that.

That informs the underlying goals of the MPROPE. Zero said, “We do not believe that if you deviate from the role society says you should be in, that you are not a man. Being the homemaker is just as valuable as being the breadwinner. You can be the comforter and nurturer, and still be a man. It is when you accept yourself, better yourself, and do your part that you truly become a man.”

The adult men’s experience involves community service, sleeping in the woods alone with one’s thoughts and one’s gods, guided meditation, and both brotherhood and solitude. “We offer them a safe space to speak of their strengths and insecurities. We give them opportunities to reflect on how they see their role in their families, as well as communities, and how they can strengthen that role by strengthening themselves,” Zero said. The men are also pushed to their physical limits, but that is individualized to ensure no one is excluded. “I’d rather push them through mud in a wheelchair myself than to have them feel like they couldn’t take part,” Zero added.

Public Domain / Pixabay

Public Domain / Pixabay

Even as participants in these rites seek to define their own manhood, no external definitions of what makes one a man are imposed. However, that was only made explicit recently. “Before this year, no one had asked about transgendered men,” Zero said. “No one had stepped up for the rite itself. I didn’t know if it had just never come up, or if there was a precedent. So, I spoke with my co-facilitator, and we were in immediate agreement. A ritual that is meant to be a tool for a man to find his inner strength, to realize their potential as a man, can be perfect for someone making that transition. To deny them that chance would not only be unfair to them, but it would go against the very reason we keep this going.”

Paxton is in full agreement, and said, “In short, we don’t check equipment. Whenever I’ve done any men’s-specific programming (be it rites of passage or things like the Men’s Ritual at PSG), my approach has always been that anyone who identifies as a man and wants to hear what I’ve got to say about manhood is welcome.”

While a powerful, ritual experience to set the stage for manhood as a Pagan is important, that role can be chipped away by societal norms and expectations. Ongoing support is also important for men who don’t wish to fall into uncomplimentary stereotypes when they are not in the company of other Pagans. That piece of the puzzle is the focus of the Brotherhood of the Stag & Wolf, a group which was formed by a group of young men who had undergone rites of passage in the EarthSpirit Community.

Donovan Arthen, one of the founders, spoke about what these men do, and why:

In 2003, a group of seven of us came together because we all had this shared desire to explore what it meant to be young, strong, and present men in our community, which was and is a community that is deeply connected and rooted in powerful women. The sacred feminine is part of the Pagan world, and growing up with that was really wonderful. For me, it gave a different perspective on what it meant to be a woman, and a man.

At 15 years of age, Arthen was one of the youngest in a group that included others nearly 30 years old. Together, they asked, “What does it mean to be a man in this community? Strong, present, not an oppressor or a predator? How can we be partners and peers, stand next to amazing women in our community, and be together without being dominant? How can we help each other to be that?”

Those explorations started on the beach at Rites of Spring, guided by one of the first points they agreed upon: men’s groups often petered out, and these men felt it was because there was too much talking. The solution was to bring in exercises from martial arts. They started with a variant on a Tai Chi exercise of touching hands: two men, eyes closed, touch hands and keep them in contact as they move. “We move around with our hands, feel the energy, and try to score a touch on chest. There are so many ways to do that,” Arthen explained. “We quickly learned how we can pull, or use stiff arms to keep you away, maybe encourage you to touch, or be totally fluid so you never know where they were going to be.”

Next, they added sumo-style wresting, where one bests one’s opponent by forcing them from the ring drawn in the sand, or getting them to touch the ground with anything other than the soles of their feet. Their activities started drawing more interest, both participants and audience, and it became clear that a change of philosophy was in order. Arthen said:

Some people got hurt, it didn’t feel like success, because it reduced trust, not built it. We re-investigated and came up with cooperative competition. The root is we are creating a space for men of all ages — some who were fathers, some older we wanted to learn from — creating a place where men could come together and build trust, camaraderie, develop understanding of each other and sensitivity in themselves to better walk in the world as a man in their definition. It’s about instead of pushing someone out or down, both people pushing each other up. In every interaction I see you, I respect you. I see some of who you can be, and are. I want you to push yourself to be who you can be.

Those watching the wrestling were told that neither cheering nor jeering was acceptable, and instead they simply stood witness to the struggle of two men, while also standing ready to catch either if needed. That idea dovetailed with the rule of 80%, which Arthen describes as, “Use only 80% of your strength; save the other 20% to catch your brother.” The emotional connections flow from the physical ones. “They push through physical and emotional processes, talking and deeply sharing, and there are opportunities to ask for help in a safe space from peopl they can rely on. When someone goes flying, three people are there to catch him. It’s a group for safe space to explore and encounter different kinds of men. One man can express his own manliness in so many different ways. This group gives that opportunity.” And again, the only requirement to participate in these annual activities is adulthood by rite of passage or not, and self-identification as male.

The brotherhood itself is not men wrestling on the beach, however. The core membership gave some care to select totems which would reflect their spirituality. Arthen explained:

The stag in so many cultures is epitome of maleness, the archetype of man.” The mythological king stag emerges from the herd for the season to lead. “We see that each one has the king stag inside of us, and it emerges and the others follow. You don’t have to be the leader all the time, you must trust in the power and skill of each other in different situations. We don’t have a leader or a leadership council. We are all peers, and leaders emerge in moments. It’s about shining, taking a role in leadership, and being in the front.

On the other hand, “The wolf is only as strong as its pack, and is symbol of brotherhood, interdependence, and interreliance. A lone wolf is a dangerous wolf, starving and cast out for some reason, sick and scared. A pack is healthy, looks and watches, takes care of each other, works in concert males and females, offering a place for those who identify as men.”

Shrine of the Brotherhood of the Stag and Wolf

Shrine of the Brotherhood of the Stag and Wolf

Upon those foundations they have spent the intervening years learning how to meld their role as men with their beliefs as Pagans. That includes the development of seven balances, pair of conflicting values which men should strive to embrace in equal measure, such as persistence and mutability. Much of that work is done in in a shrine of megalithic stones that the brotherhood built in Massachusetts after raising money via a crowdfunding campaign. With a permanent home, only recently did the founding members start discussing how and if their work could be replicated in other Pagan communities. “We are so rooted in EarthSpirit, we’ve had to ask, if we share or lead an experience elsewhere, what would that look like?” Arthen asked. Much of the group’s values have been unspoken until recently, when they started thinking about a defined pathway for accepting new members.

Defining and living healthy roles of manhood is a continuing struggle in a society where the denigration of women is still often acceptable, and the deference given to men is unconscious. The roles, which are clear while circling a sacred fire at a Pagan festival, become much murkier in the office, the locker room, and the political arena. While there are some opportunities to explore, and support a healthy and supportive role as a man within Paganism, the communities still are small compared to the mores of the over-culture, which still blatantly denied women the right to vote less than a century ago.

It is, however, a good start.