Archives For Pagan Spirit Gathering

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.”

*   *   *

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.

Barb MossThe Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG) family is mourning the loss of one of its devoted members, Barb Moss (1969-2015). Barb was also a facilitator of the Daughters of the Dark Moon coven as well as a member of the Open Circle Unitarian Universalist congregation in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. In addition, she was a working artist, known for her enthusiasm and creativity. Last October, Barb were interviewed for a local paper’s bi-weekly feature: “The Artist Next Door.” According to the report, Barb had overcome many obstacles in her life including addiction, failed pregnancies, and divorce. Many of these struggles were featured in her paintings.

Barb’s latest struggle was with breast cancer. She was diagnosed in 2011. After various treatments, she went into remission. Then, this past summer, doctors discovered that Barb’s cancer had spread to her liver and bone. On May 11, she lost the fight. As her friend Cathy Fia Moritz shared, “My friend, Barb, squeezed the last bit of life out of that paint tube yesterday. Even though I only knew her for a short time, she touched my life greatly. Her creativity, welcoming attitude, and her unflagging optimism were just a few of the bright qualities that made her a wonderful woman.”

The Open Circle Unitarian Church held a fundraiser and memorial service this past weekend. Then on Sunday, there was a second service at her parents church – Salem United Methodist. PSG will be “honoring her … as part of [its] Circle of Remembrance on the opening Sunday, June 14.” In addition, since Barb was scheduled to co-lead this year’s Daughters of the Dark Moon ritual at PSG, coven members decided to include an honoring of her life as part of the rite. Rev. Selena Fox said, “She was beloved by many. [I am] glad to have connected with her as part of my life’s journey.”

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Lapd sealOn Thursday, May 21, the West Valley Area, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) is co-sponsoring a meet-and-greet with local Pagans. The focus of the event will be on how best to handle and report “Hate Crimes/Speech” against the Pagan community. As the flyer notes, “This is also an opportunity to get to know your local officers.”

The idea for this community meet-and-greet was born last year when Pagan Wendilyn Emrys, a local activist, attended the LAPD Hate Crimes Forum in Encino, California. She said, “I was attending in my capacity as a Pagan Priestess, and because I am a member of a number of political groups that often get attacked by right wing psychos. I wanted to know my rights...” After asking a few questions, an officer approached her and offered to meet with her and other Pagans.

Although the event took some time to coordinate, Emrys and the current facilitating officer Sergeant II Frank Avila were finally able to secure a date. Emrys is enthusiastic about the opportunity, saying “I think it is essential for Pagans to get to know their local Law Enforcement Professionals, and Governmental Representatives … It is also important for us to know what is and is not a Hate Crime, or Hate Speech, and how to get in touch with our local Law Enforcement should someone inflict such a crime or criminal speech against us.” She is hoping for good turnout. The meet-and-greet will be held at the West Valley Area Police Station at 7 p.m., the event is open to anyone interested in the subject matter. For more information, contact wendilynemrys@hotmail.com.

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Earth

Courtesy: NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center

The Pagan Community Statement on the Environment has garnered 4,249 signatures in just one month’s time. The signatures hail from all over the world and from nearly every continent. There also now eight translations of the statement available, including Spanish, French, Italian, Hungarian, Russian, Polish, Lithuanian and Portuguese. More translations are currently in the works.

In a recent blog post, coordinator John Halstead wrote, “If you peruse the list of signatories of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment”, you will see a lot of names you may recognize…” but many you do not. Then he featured an interview with the person who signed directly before Starhawk.

Since that blog post, Halstead has noted that the group’s goal is to get 10,000 signatures by mid June. Why June? This is the scheduled time of Pope Francis’ publication of an encyclical on the environment. Halstead views this as “an ideal opportunity to share a Pagan vision of sustainability with the world.” Patheos blogger John Beckett agreed, saying, “If the leader of the world’s largest Christian denomination can issue a progressive statement on the environment, why can’t Pagans – most of whom hold Nature in much higher regard than do Christians – do at least as much?”  Halstead and the many people involved are now asking others to pass along the statement through social media and other sources. Where can it be found? The statement, its history and all the translations are available at Ecopagan.com.

In other news:

  • On May 25, the Pagan/Academic European Associates Network (PAEAN) will be holding its 3rd online academic conference. Held in cooperation with the Pagan Federation International, the PAEAN Conference will “focus on the different aspects of development of Contemporary Paganism and its challenges.” The online platform allows “scholars, lecturers and attendees to engage in meaningful discussions to “hopefully increase learning and understanding.” This year’s theme is “The Future of Contemporary Paganism.” and will include lectures by Mr. Stanislav Panin, Dr. Lila Moore, Mr. Shai Feraro, Ms. Martina Capuleti and Mr. Gwiddon Harveston. There will also be several group panels. Information can be found online.
  • T. Thorn Coyle has just released her first fiction novel, titled Like Water. Nayomi Munaweera, author of Island of a Thousand Mirrors, described the book“Like Water is a love letter to both the streets of Oakland and the youth who walk them. It tells of the city’s history as well as the conflagrations threatening to devour it. These are characters attempting to love through the fire.” Inspired by her social justice work, Coyle calls the book “visionary fiction.” It s now available in both paper or electronic forms from online and local bookshops.
  • The Norse Mythology Blog has begun its annual midsummer art competition. This year’s theme is based on “an excerpt from the Old Norse poem Sigrdrífumál (“Sayings of Sigrdrifa”) from the Poetic Edda.”  The specific except is posted on the site along with project suggestions. In addition, Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried also wrote, “Throughout Northern Europe, there are local traditions that celebrate midsummer. Some of these practices preserve very old rituals. Your original piece of visual art should capture the midsummer spirit of Norse mythology.” Past winners and their art are posted in the blog’s archives. The submission deadline is midnight June 19.
  • On May 11, Molly Khan launched the Heathen at Heart blog on Patheos Pagan Channel. In her opening post, Khan wrote,”Hello, and welcome to Heathen at Heart!  Here I hope you will find a thoughtful commentary on Heathenry, polytheism, and Paganism in general; as well as practical information, prayers, and rituals.” Khan is member of a local Kindred as well as a Scribe for an ADF Grove. She is also a wife and mother of three, and a strong supporter of her local Pagan community.
  • The Wiccan group Silver Circle, founded in 1979, has commissioned a film on Witches in Holland or Heksen in Holland. The project is part of the group’s recent 35 year anniversary celebration. The organization has established a foundation that is “committed to expanding and evolving Wicca to an ever growing public.” To help fund the project organizers have launched an Indiegogo campaign.  However, they have already begun production with the help of a variety of volunteers

That’s it for now. Have a great day.

2000px-Seal_of_Oregon.svg As news of Deborah Maynard’s upcoming invocation at the Iowa State Legislature spread, so did the fact that Maynard will be the third Pagan Priestess to offer such a prayer before a state body. As we noted on Wednesday, Cleda Dawson was the first in 1999 and Selena Fox was second.in 2009,

At the time of our report, neither the video recording of Dawson’s or Fox’ invocation was available online. While Circle Sanctuary is still working on acquiring a copy of the 2009 Wisconsin invocation, a clip of Dawson’s invocation has since been uploaded to YouTube. On April 2, a local Pagan, who works in the “legislative media,” was able to track down a VHS copy and transfer it into a digital format. .

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HUAR LogoOn April 1, Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR) issued a declaration stating that the “Confesión Odinista Española (C.O.E.) has been covertly engaged in” racism. HUAR said that this declaration is “based on an extensive investigation submitted to us by an independent source.” The statement and background data are provided on HUARs public Facebook page.

Several hours after the declaration was released, C.O.E. fired back, denouncing HUAR as a “farce.” They challenged HUAR and its independent sources to prove the accusations, saying that C.O.E. is against all forms of “fundamentalism” including the “politicized HUAR.” HUAR has not yet responded.

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Heather-1-225x300

Heather Carr [Courtesy S. Carr]

On Tuesday, several British Columbia news sources reported that a woman had been killed in a “ritual gone horrifically wrong.” Several added words like “Pagan ritual.” After further investigation, it turns out that the woman was Shamanic Witch Heather Carr, and she was, in fact, doing a ritual when she or her clothing caught on fire.

Carr was well-known and loved by the locally Pagan community. Openly practicing Witchcraft, she ran the “Being Out of the Broom Closet” Facebook group and taught at local events. Blogger Sable Aradia was one of Carr’s friends and has written more about the Carr’s life and death on her blog. We will have more on this story in the coming days.

In Other News:

  • Conjure-Craft, a partnership between Orion Foxwood and Susan Diamond, will be hosting its first annual weekend event. Billed as a “meeting of magical minds,” the new seaside forum will be filled with “workshops and immersion experiences in the many modes of magic through education, sacred ceremony and skills development in shamanism, spiritual healing, seership, root-work and witchery.” Special guests include Lou Florez and Sharon Knight. Conjure-Craft will be held April 11-13 in Santa Cruz, California.
  • Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG) has released its new art work to celebrate the festival’s 35th anniversary. Since 1980, PSG has been welcoming Pagans and people of many paths for a week-long event to celebrate Summer Solstice. The new artwork, created by Colleen Koziara of Mystical Willow Productions, pulls from the festival’s history. PSG organizers said, “Every Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG) has had a unique theme that helps focus the energy of participants …All thirty five of those themes are represented in the image, as chambers of the nautilus shell.” This year, PSG will be held from June 12-21, at Stonehouse Farm in Northern Illinois.

PSG 2015 - Small

  • In the wake of the RFRA legislation and subsequent protests in Indiana, writer David Freedlander of the The Daily Beast interviewed Wiccan Priest Dusty Dionne of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church in Washington. Freedlander reached out to Dionne after learning about his very vocal position on Georgia’s proposed religious freedom legislation.The article, titled “Mike Pence’s New Fan Club: Wiccans.” was published March 31. The story was picked up by Raw Story and Jezebel.
  • Sacred Space organizers have put out a call for proposals and workshops for the 2016 event.The newly published form explains that they “use a peer review process for selection based on methods used in academic scholarly communication.” Sacred Space 2016 will be held from March 10-13 in Maryland. All proposals are due by June 21, 2015.

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. Our hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started! 

HUAR Banner [Courtesy Photo]

HUAR Banner [Courtesy Photo]

For Americans, today is Martin Luther King Day, a national holiday during which the country acknowledges and celebrates the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Due to the current social and political climate, this year’s events have been or will be bigger, and far more poignant than in the past. Several Pagan and Heathen activists have indicated that they are participating in and even organizing public demonstrations, marches and vigils.

For example, on Friday morning, Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR), Solar Cross and Pagans United Against Racism together dropped a banner over the University Avenue footbridge in Berkeley. The banner contained Dr. King’s quote “We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.” and included the hashtag #MLKalsosaid.

Today, HUAR, Solar Cross, Coru Cathubodua and other area Pagans will be joining a march in Oakland, California to “celebrate the radical legacy of Dr. King.” One of their banners reads “Pagans United for Justice” and “Will we be extremists for hate, or extremists for love? – MLK.” The march begins 10:45 a.m. Pacific Standard Time.

According to the PNC Minnesota Bureau, Minnesota Pagans are joining a big #ReclaimMLK march being held in St. Paul at 1:00 pm CST today. Although the article doesn’t indicate any specific names, the groups attending will be marching together and holding signs. The article reads, “Words are wind and many Pagans hope to change that with action.”

[public domain]

[public domain]

In Glenwood Springs, Colorado, Pagan shop owner, Kristin West, is using her monthly “Witch’s Night” to honor King with a discussion on freedom. According to a news report, the popular themed meeting, which usually focuses on religious practice and the Craft, can draw up to 30 people from around the state. This month she changed directions, deciding to connect King’s work to her freedom to practice Witchcraft.  West said “If we didn’t have freedom of religion, we wouldn’t be here.

Others have been discussing or honoring King through their writing. For example, T. Thorn Coyle, who has been actively involved in the above California-based events, published a blog post titled “Disturbing the Peace.” The Humanistic Paganism blog offered a dedicated meditation in its post, “Beloved Community.VooDoo Universe writer Lilith Dorsey considers the complexities of historical remembrances and the honoring of Dr. King. The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel has published its official statement on the #blacklivesmatter movement. HUAR released a solidarity statement for “the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend actions.”

While King’s message and his life had a very specific purpose during a very tumultuous period in U.S. history, over time his message has been distilled down and come to permeate U.S. culture with a meaning that far exceeds the focused goals of that particular decade. In the wake of Ferguson, that message has returned with force, in many ways, to its origins, regaining a new vitality and forward momentum.

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King:

I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds. – Dr. Martin Luther King, a Letter from Birmingham Jail

In Other News:

Alane Brown in Peru [Courtesy Photo]

Alane Brown in Peru [Courtesy Photo]

  • The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Quad Cities, located in Iowa, has begun a new earth-based traditions program. According to reports, organizers kicked off the new program with a Yule Sabbat last month, and will continue with monthly meetings and eight yearly sabbat celebrations. Organizer Lana Long told reporters, “We are an umbrella for a little bit of everything — Pagan, Shamanism, Wiccan, etc. One of our goals is to offer a place for people like that to be able to meet in a community.”
  • Pagan Todd Bernston has launched a new “Relationship Survey that “explores and compares relational dimensions such as emotional bonding, anxiety, caregiving, and sexuality, between monogamous and consensual non-monogamous couples.” Bernston is a couple’s therapist who “does a lot of work with couples in non-traditional relationships, such as polyamory and consensual non-monogamy.”  He said that many past studies have not adequately looked at the bonds in non-traditional relationships.  He hopes that “the results [will] help shape our cultural and therapeutic understanding of the growing number of couples who are involved in non-traditional relationship styles.”  The survey is online at Relationship Study.

That is it for now.  Have a nice day!

cuups

On Nov. 8, the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, Inc. (CUUPS) has announced its new structure and officers. Long time member, David Pollard, was hired as executive director, and the organization welcomed Jessica Gray, Maggie Beaumont and Martha Kirby Capo to the new board. Nominations are being sought for the position left open by Pollard. The organization says, “If you are a currently paid member of CUUPS for a year and would like to serve on the board please contact President, Amy Beltaine.” CUUPS is also in the middle of their revisioning process, which was put into place in order “to identify our common principles and values, create a shared sense of identity and purpose among Pagan-friendly UUs and UU-friendly Pagans, and develop a mission and vision for CUUPS for the next ten years.”

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Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh

On Nov. 11, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, suffered a severe brain hemorrhage and was in intensive care. Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, poet, author and peace activist. When the news was announced, Asa West, writer of the new Patheos Pagan Channel blog Shekinah Calling: Reclaiming Witchcraft with a Jewish Twist, offered a healing blessing in her second blog post. She discusses the energy of mindfulness and healing work in the Buddhist tradition, as requested in the announcement concerning the Zen Master’s condition. West adds, “I hope Thich Nhat Hanh makes a full recovery. May all beings be happy, well, and safe from harm.” The worldwide call for meditative energy healing may have worked. Reports are now indicating that Thich Nhat Hanh condition is stable and he is on his way to recovery.

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fairy-investigation-societyThe Fairy Investigation Society has published a new survey asking people to record any encounters they’ve had with fairies, as well as opinions and experiences on the subject. F.I.S. explains, “The Fairy Census is an attempt to gather, scientifically, the details of as many fairy sightings from the last century as possible and to measure, in an associated survey, contemporary attitudes to fairies. The census was inspired by an earlier fairy census carried out by Marjorie Johnson and Alasdair Alpin MacGregor in 1955/1956, a census that was published in 2014.”  The survey and more about the organization can be found on their website.

In other news: 

  • The Heathens United Against Racism (HUAR) has published a statement “denouncing Irminfolk as racist” based on the Irminfolk bylaws. The HUAR statement reads, “We denounce them for their blatantly obvious support for such ideas, and we move that all members of Heathens United Against Racism disassociate with the organization, its officers, representatives, events, functions, and all affiliates.” The statement in its entirety can be read online as well as the Irminfolk bylaws.
  • A video taken at Margot Adler’s memorial service has been posted on You Tube. The video includes speakers, tributes and songs. The memorial was held on All Souls Unitarian Church in NYC, on All Hallows’ Eve 2014.
  • Circle Sanctuary’s Pagan Spirit Gathering has launched is registration for its summer festival 2015. This will mark PSG’s 35th year. Rev. Selena Fox said, “I am thankful to all who have contributed to PSG and its community over the years. This is the earliest we have opened PSG registration — we hope that this will give us more time to share ideas and plan for PSG 2015.” The event will be held at Stonehouse Farm in Northern Illinois from June 14-21.
  • Courtney Weber, organizer of the Pagan Environmental Coalition – NYC, has announced the upcoming publication of her book Brigid: History, Mystery and Magick of the Celtic Goddess. Due out May 2015, the book is already listed on Amazon for pre-sale. Weber is also planning a book tour.
  • The Universal Society of Ancient Ministry is celebrating the acceptance of its trademark, including the phrase Pagans in Need and PIN. Gerrybrete Leonard, CEO and HPS, wrote, “One year ago Universal Society of Ancient Ministry absorbed Pagans In Need to run under the Churches 501(c)3 … This now means that we can now publish and print our name with legal support.” The organization has also recently launched its Toys for Yule holiday giving program. Information can be found on its website.

That is all for now. Have a nice day.

 

“Time and again, parents and community leaders have recounted to me how the American conception of camp offers an opportunity for a cultural, religious and, in some cases, linguistic immersion with other American Hindu children. This is understood to be all the more important because within the dominant American and Christian culture, Hindus and Hinduism are often exoticized and maligned.” – Shana Sippy, professor of religion at Carleton College in Minnesota, on the value of Hindu-American summer camps for children.

The above quote comes from the recent New York Times article “Building on U.S. Tradition, Camp for Hindu Children Strengthens Their Identity.” In it we meet Neha Dhawan, a Hindu-American woman who says her life was changed by attending “Hindu camp” when she was eleven.

Like many children growing up in a minority religion, she felt set apart from her more mainstream friends. Her holidays were different; her culture was different and she dreaded questions such as “where do you go to church?”

At first Neha did not look forward to summer camp for Hindu children. But eventually she loved doing morning yoga, her hair still cool and damp from the shower. She discovered a favorite bhajan, a Hindu devotional song. She spoke with her peers and their college-age counselors about dealing with stereotypes and racism. “I realized,” she said, “it’s O.K. to be proud of who you are.” Neha is now the director of the Hindu Heritage Summer Camp.

The US has a long tradition of religious or ethnic summer camps for children. According to Professor Sippy, they help to “strengthen the denominational and ancestral identity of young people in a polyglot nation with an enticingly secular popular culture.” Because they are surrounded by their peers, children learn what living their religion looks like for them. They learn how to be more comfortable with their religion which allows them to be more comfortable in mainstream society. If that’s the case, are summer camps something that would benefit Pagan children?

Teens create a pattern using spices before the Rangoli at Sacred harvest Festival. [photo credit - C. Schulz]

Teens create a pattern using spices before the Rangoli at Sacred harvest Festival. [photo credit – C. Schulz]

“As a family, we are a solitary unit. We attend one Pagan Festival every summer, but that is the only exposure they have to us being part of a larger community. I would love for my children to have another opportunity to make those important connections,” says Kristin, a Pagan mother of two who lives in the Chicago area. She says that she would budget through the year to be able to afford sending her children, ages 5 and 8, to a Pagan summer camp and would spend up to $700 a week for a sleep-over style camp. She says not only would children benefit from knowing they aren’t alone, but Pagan communities would also benefit through a focus on instilling Pagan ethics in children.

Ashley Sears, a Pagan mom living in the Minneapolis area, also welcomes the idea of a Pagan summer camp for her three children, ages 15, 13, and 11.“Having raised my kids Pagan since birth, it’s been a struggle to help them find their own “identity” within our faith. We’ve moved all over the country and have been blessed with many Pagan friends and Pagan Parenting groups, but never a chance to expose them to an immersive experience in our faith.”

We sought opinions from many Pagan parents. Other than questions about affordability, there were no parents who were opposed to the idea. One parent did say that he wouldn’t send his children because he didn’t see a need for summer camp and declined to be interviewed. However, he wasn’t opposed to the idea.

Pagan summer camps – past and present
While there appears to have been a summer day camp for Pagan children in the past, there aren’t any operating now. So what options do Pagan children have for a summer camp experience? Not many.

The closest to a Pagan summer camp currently operating are programs like Indigo Camp. These are summer camps with no specific religious take, but with Pagan-friendly components such as spiritual drumming, yoga, and non-violent communication techniques. These camps welcome people of all, or no, religious background. However, they won’t be able to give a child the benefit of being surrounded by those of their same faith.

For a specifically Pagan camping experience, a family could attend a Pagan or Heathen camping festival. These can last from a weekend to a week or longer. Festivals vary in the programs offered specifically to children.  Some are increasing their offerings as more families with children attend.

One of those festivals with a robust child and teen program is Pagan Spirit Gathering. “Every year, Circle Sanctuary [the organization which produces Pagan Spirit Gathering] creates programs for youth of different ages as part of its Pagan Spirit Gathering,” says Rev. Selena Fox, Senior Minister of Circle Sanctuary. She says activities include storytelling, craft projects, playtime, and rituals. She adds, “It is a wonderful way for Pagan children and older youth to learn about Pagan spirituality as well as form friendships with peers.” Rev. Fox asks those with skills in youth programming to please contact her at psg@circlesanctuary.org

Yet these festivals aren’t the same as a summer camp just for children. The children camp and take meals with their parents, not with their peers. The environment is friendly towards them, but wasn’t created just for them.

Another option isn’t a camp experience at all, but an alternative to Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts called SpiralScouts. SpiralScouts was created in 1999 by the Aquarian Tabernacle Church and is coed and nondiscriminatory. SpiralScouts was created to be specifically Pagan, but can be adapted to work with most any faith. Like other scouting groups, it focuses on woodland lore, camping, and outdoor living skills, but also includes the mythos of the ancient world. As of now, SpiralScouts does not host a summer camp and it can be difficult to find a local group.

Challenges in creating summer camps
If there are Pagan parents who want the traditional summer camp experience for their children, why aren’t there any Pagan kids camps available? There are many challenges that a group or organizer would face in setting up a summer camp.

The first is simply numbers. Although the American Religious Identification Study in 2008 reports that there are more Pagans and Wiccans in the USA than Hindus, [582,000 Hindu vs 682,000 Pagan and Wiccans – ARIS 2008 data], Hindus are more homogeneous than Pagans. Paganism isn’t one faith with denominations; it is many different religions with little in common with one another. The largest religion under Paganism, Wicca, is mostly either coven based or solitary, but it isn’t family based – although that may be changing. While Paganism may have the numbers on paper to host summer camps, in reality the number of Pagans practicing one specific religion is still very small. Yet it’s not impossible. There are an estimated 135 Hindu summer camps. That’s one camp for every 4311 Hindu-Americans.

Another challenge is the cost:  the cost to buy or renting land with the facilities for a summer camp; the high cost of insurance for taking care of minors without their parents on site; the cost of employees and volunteers to staff the camp and the cost to parents.

While parents may say they want a summer camp for their children, do they value the idea enough to pay for it? There’s a common misconception that Pagans are economically lower than the general population. Yet data from Voices from the Pagan Census: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-Pagans in the United States shows Pagans are slightly higher than the general population in both education and income. The average cost of a summer camp stay is anywhere from $400 to $2000 per week, depending on whether it is a day camp or an overnight camp. In addition, parents need to transport children to and from the camp and pay for supplies. While other religious and ethnic minorities do find the summer camp experience of value enough to support, it’s unclear if the Pagan communities feel the same.

The last challenge is more nebulous – trust. Pagans generally are less trusting of organizations and less inclined to follow traditional organizational processes. While there are benefits of this, the downside can be poor business practices coupled with lack of support from the community, which is a reinforcing cycle. Recent and past sexual abuse within Pagan groups and gatherings, although similar to what other groups of any type face, may also cause some parents to be more cautious in sending their children away to camp.

Do the benefits outweigh the challenges? That’s a question which can only be answered by potential organizers and parents.

“Our children have met other Pagan children, but normally have to hold their faith close to their vest for fear of social exclusion or not being able to answer questions,” says Ms. Sears. “Having a Pagan camp for kids would be an amazing way for our kids [to] freely celebrate their love and faith in the Gods.”

[The following is a guest post by Florence Edwards-Miller. She is the Communications Coordinator for Circle Sanctuary, which runs Pagan Spirit Gathering, and she has attended PSG for six years. At PSG Florence presents workshops on nonprofit management and development for the Pagan Leadership Institute. She is also editor of CIRCLE Magazine, a quarterly publication for the Pagan and Nature Spirituality community.]

As each car passes through the Stonehouse Farm gates on the opening day of Pagan Spirit Gathering, those who have already arrived wave and shout, “Welcome home!” Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG) is a festival known for a strong sense of community that embraces newcomers and brings others back for years or decades in a row. The intervening year between PSGs is jokingly referred to as the “51-week supply run.” Every year, those attending Pagan Spirit Gathering for the first time are amazed to find such a welcoming and accepting community of like-minded people. They feel like they have come home.

PSG 2014 Logo White Small for WebLike Brigadoon appearing from the mists, Pagan Spirit Gathering is essentially a bustling Pagan town that manifests the week of the Summer Solstice every year. This year, PSG broke its own records with well over 1,000 people attending and more than 400 events, including workshops, concerts and rituals. This was, by every measure, the largest PSG ever. Yet despite its size, PSG has been able to maintain that sense of ‘home’ and of community.

That sense of community is deliberately nurtured through all aspects of the festival. Each year’s Pagan Spirit Gathering has a theme, and in 2014 that theme was “Heart and Harmony.” These concepts have always been core to what PSG is about. The very first PSG, 34 years ago, was intended to be a place where Pagans of many different traditions could come together harmoniously. This year, focusing on “Heart and Harmony” helped the PSG community accept a record number of first-time attendees with open arms.

A strong sense of community supports each participant through the festival. It is so much easier to try something new, from dancing freely around the bonfire or singing in front of an audience for the first time, when you know that everyone present is cheering for you.  At times of difficulty, when looking into the depths of your soul during an intense spiritual experience, while mourning the loss of a loved one or just coping with a leaky tent during the rain, it helps to know that there are hundreds of new friends ready to offer a hug, a tissue or a dry tarp.

The process of building community starts months before the gates ever open. The creation of a safe, welcoming and cohesive community drives every decision made by Circle Sanctuary staff – the festival’s organizers. PSG has a thriving Facebook group where participants support one another through life transitions during the year; exchange ideas and tips for next year’s PSG; and support newcomers. A week before the festival begins, members of the local Circle Sanctuary community come together to assemble hundreds of ‘spirit bags,’ which contain herbs harvested from Circle Sanctuary’s nature preserve and are charged with energy for a great festival. At the festival site, an amazing team of volunteers works in sweltering temperatures to erect communal tents, post signs and prepare for the instant village that would bloom almost instantaneously on the Sunday before the Solstice.

[Photo Credit: S. Fox]

Burning Heart [Photo Credit: S. Fox]

PSG, like every other town, has its municipal services: daily garbage and recycling collection, parents shepherding children to lessons or childcare. EMTs race off to respond to occasional medical situations and even watchful guardians patrol their beats.  But, in this town all of the ‘police’ are volunteers, as are the medics who will patch up your blisters or sunburn; the heralds that call out the day’s news all over camp; the smiling gatekeepers who greet each car with clipboard in hand; and the workers at ‘city hall’ (otherwise known as the heavy canvas Info Tent.) PSG is more than just a destination; it is a community that functions because everyone contributes their love, their effort and their energy.

Volunteerism is at the core of what makes PSG work. Every adult member of the ‘tribe’ is asked to contribute four hours of labor during the week toward making the festival run smoothly. Some teens volunteer as well, and some adults even take on more than the required number of two hour ‘work shifts.’ Directing their efforts are a team of volunteer coordinators who oversee services such as the Teen, Tween and childcare centers; sacred sites such as the Ritual Bonfire Circle; the Moon Lodge or the Temple of the Sun God; or events such as the Zodiac Potluck or Magical Gift Exchange. The coordinators’ service to the community starts months before PSG and often continues throughout the year.

Pagan Spirit Gathering strives to feed the heart on so many levels. One ‘heart’ of PSG is the community Sacred Fire. Lit during the opening night’s ritual and, then, fed and carefully maintained by the bonfire coordinators and volunteers through rain and wind, the fire is energized by nightly drumming and dancing, and is the focus of the Solstice morning ritual. The bonfire circle is also the site of the daily morning meetings, when the community comes together to hear both practical announcements about the days’ activities and to get ‘teaser’ performances from musicians who will play later on during the day.

Music is a key part of every PSG. Three or more concerts a day are the norm. This year’s musical guests included Arthur Hinds (of the band Emerald Rose), Celia, Helen Bond and Fode Camara with Diamana Diya, Spiral Rhythm, Tuatha Dea and Picti (David Doersch and Catherine Hauke, formerly of Coyote Run). In addition to performing, these musicians add to the harmony of the gathering by presenting workshops and participating in rituals.

Baby Blessing [Photo Credit and Permissions: F. Edwards-Miller]

Baby Blessing [Photo Credit and Permissions: F. Edwards-Miller]

A variety of handfastings and weddings happen at PSG. At a time when friends from all over the country come together, many couples choose to recognize their unions surrounded by their spiritual community. While ministers at PSG have been blessing same-sex unions for decades, this year saw the first same-sex marriage that was equal under the law. Other rites of passage throughout the week recognize times of transition, including Coming of Age rites for young men and young women; the Blessingway for mothers; the men’s Personal Rite of Passage; planning for a new women’s rite called Daughters of the Dark Moon; and rites for those recognizing the transition into Crone and Sage years.

PSG also tends to the hearts of those who are in mourning. At the beginning of the 2014 festival, Selena Fox, Moonfeather and Nora Cedarwind Young officiated at a Ceremony of Remembrance that honored members of the PSG community who had passed away in the preceding year, and gave support to community members who had lost loved ones. The Ancestors’ Altar was erected near the bonfire with tokens and pictures of the beloved dead of the community.

In addition to tending to the hearts of individual community members, PSG seeks to help educate and train those who go back and become the ‘hearts’ of their home communities. The Pagan Leadership Institute (PLI) is a special track of programming with workshops that are designed to help those serving as Ministers, Priestesses and Priests. PLI workshops are taught by experts, Circle Sanctuary Ministers and PSG’s featured presenters. Some of this year’s guest presenters were T. Thorn Coyle, Kathryn and Arthur Hinds and Byron Ballard. Over thirty-five workshops were part of the 2014 PLI program, including a five-day minister’s intensive by Selena Fox on Supporting Life Passages.

PSG continues to grow, thrive and change to fit the needs of the community. In 2014, PSG added a new center called EnCHANTment, which hosted nightly singing and chant shares. EnCHANTment started one year as a single night of singing around a bonfire and grew to a nightly informal gathering. This year it not only became an official part of the festival, but the EnCHANTment team also coordinated the beautiful main ritual on the evening of the Summer Solstice.

[Photo Credit: S. Fox]

[Photo Credit: S. Fox]

Together everyone processed onto the ritual grounds, carrying a heart made of vine, ribbon, and canvas inscribed with messages from the community. To the throb of drums, we chanted. “I am the Heart.” “We are Harmony.” “I am Home.”  This year we promised not to just let it be a 51-week supply run; we pledged to bring that same energy of the heart and spirit of harmony to every aspect of our lives and to widen the circle of community to include all who we touch. I invite you to join us next summer, June 14-22, as we once again welcome our Pagan community home.