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 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]
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
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.”
* * *
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
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.”
JE, 4th time attendee, Near the pond
Flooded ritual greens at PSG [Photo credit: L. Dake]
“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
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
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
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.”
“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.”
“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…”
“[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.”
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.
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
“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.”
“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”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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 …”
“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.”
“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.”
“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
“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
“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.