Community experience at Raven’s Knoll documented in new book

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EGANVILLE, Ont. — The staff and a group of regular visitors of the Pagan owned and operated campground and festival site, Raven’s Knoll, have announced the launch of a book titled Rites of Raven’s Knoll.

The book is a collection of essays, poetry, ritual scripts, song lyrics and tributes to a place that has successfully earned itself a devoted and enthusiastic collection of volunteers and visitors since it opened its gates in 2009.

Fire pit at Raven's Knoll (courtesy photo)

Fire pit at Raven’s Knoll [Courtesy photo]

Raven’s Knoll, or “The Knoll” as it is affectionately referred to, is located on 100 acres of forested land along the Bonnechere River in southern Ontario, 143 kilometers (89 miles) west of Ottawa. It features a campground, a group activity building called The Rookery, trailers and a cabin for rent, a large fire pit, laundry facilities, showers and many opportunities to explore nature.

Throughout the May to September camping season, there are numerous Pagan festivals, representing many different paths. Repeated use by the attendees of these events has inspired several permanent shrines and sacred sites to be constructed around the property, as well as the “Raven Stage” for live performances, a wood-fired bread oven, and a clothing-optional swimming pond.

The creation of the new book was a team effort, including 28 different voices who all share a deep connection to the land, and the events held on it.

Two of the editors and writers are Maryanne Pearce and Austin “Auz” Lawrence, the owners of Raven’s Knoll. They are also the organizers of the campground’s marquee event, Kaleidoscope Gathering, which is a six-day event held over the first weekend in August. It is considered Canada’s largest outdoor Pagan festival.

Completing the book’s editing team are Juniper Jeni Birch, organizer of The Witches Sabbat and frequent volunteer at the Knoll, and Gypsy Birch, who serves as security for Witches Sabbat as well as other events on site.

Gypsy and Juniper Birch at their wedding, celebrated at the Knoll (Photo:Shane Hultquist Longship Photography)

Gypsy and Juniper Birch at their wedding, celebrated at the Knoll [Photo Credit:Shane Hultquist Longship Photography]

Reflecting on the new book, Gypsy Birch said, “The very core of what makes Raven’s Knoll is something that is sought after by many. That is, a land with devotion and space to many practices, where all faiths are welcome. This collection shows that such a place is not only possible, but already exists with a thriving multi-faith community.”

The other two-dozen submissions came from the wide spectrum of Pagans who frequent Raven’s Knoll. There are contributions from ADF Druids, Hellenists, Wiccans, Heathens, and Hedge-Witches, to name a few. Some familiar names from the Pagan festival and conference circuits also appear, such as Hail & Horn Gathering’s Erik Lacharity, and Witchdoctor Utu of the Dragon Ritual Drummers.

While many of the stories, rituals, and poetry represent serious reflections on peoples’ experiences with their spirituality and the land, Lawrence brings humour and fun to the collection with the “Horned Lord Rap”, previously only experienced live around campfires on the Raven Stage

Even the youngest community members are represented in the book. “First Footing of Wendell and Loretta” is a rite of passage ritual script written by ADF Druids Sheena MacIsaac and Rae Green for children.

As the Pagan community grows and matures, it is becoming increasingly important for many to capture and record the stories of the growing movement. In the United Kingdom and also in the United States, many books, blogs, and articles have documented the histories of those Pagan communities.

While Canada does have many celebrated Pagan authors, actual published histories of the various communities are few and far between. In 1989, Kevin Marron, a non-Pagan journalist, wrote the now out of print Witches and Pagans and Magic in the New Age, an account of the Canadian movement at the time.

Academia has provided some opportunities for Pagan accounts to be recorded. Shelley TSivia Rabinovitch’s thesis “An’ Ye harm None, Do What Ye Will – Neo-Pagans and Witches in Canada” was delivered in 1992. In 2008, Marisol Charbonneau wrote a one titled “The Contemporary Pagan Revival In Montreal At the Turn of the Millennium.” Both are available online.

Pagan blogger and editor of the now defunct Pagan magazine WynterGreene Amanda Strong published a history of the Canadian Pagan movement in that magazine, and has since reprinted it on her blog WitchyWays.

With an obvious void to fill in the Canadian market, the release of Rites of Raven’s Knoll is a timely and important snapshot of a community and the development of its unique culture and customs.

The Wild Hunt caught up with some of the editors of this book, to find out what motivated them to create this document.

Austin Lawrence (courtesy photo)

Austin Lawrence (courtesy photo)

For Austin Lawrence, the new book could serve many important purposes. “There are a number of reasons why I felt it was important to publish this book. The first was to preserve for posterity a vignette of the Canadian Pagan community. Its richness, diversity, and importance in our lives are very dear to the authors of this volume; and, we wanted to share that with others,” he explains.

“The second was to share something unique and special regarding Raven’s Knoll. Most Pagan devotionals focus on one religious tradition, one god or goddess, or come from the perspective of one theological orientation. In contrast, this book is about a location that many people, traditions, and outlooks gather to make a single place a sacred home, but they do so by weaving a multi-stranded tapestry.

Lawrence then goes on to say that the third reason was to “document what people actually do in their practice.” He says, “The ritual scripts here are not generic, but specific to time and place and event; the first person accounts are remembrances of specific experiences, not anecdotes to illustrate a larger narrative; and, in some pieces you can see how ritual and tradition is constructed from research and relationship.”

The province of Ontario has the highest population in Canada, with the densest area being the south. Raven’s Knoll is in the middle of this, and benefits by having a relatively high number of Pagans in the area. This diversity is reflected in the book, on the land, and at events.

Gypsy Birch adds, “One of our favourite parts of the Knoll is seeing the interplay between followers of different paths. It is not a strange thing to see a Wiccan helping out at a Heathen event, or a Druid helping at a Witchcraft event, or people of no defined path helping at everything. Such actions strengthen the bonds between the smaller communities, but also strengthen the overall community, all while forming a unique mythos and history that is distinct to Raven’s Knoll”

RK Book Cover copy

After only eight years, the changes to the local community have already become apparent, adds Juniper Jeni Birch. “We are beginning to see Heathen influences at the Witchcraft events, and vice versa, for example. This is not only building stronger bonds and mutual respect, but gives the Knoll a feeling of having a seasonal cycle that is unique and created organically by the individuals who attend.”

With such a short history, why release a book so soon? Gypsy Birch explained, “For us, we felt that a record of the first few years of the Knoll was particularly important in order provide a marking point, a sort of baseline that we can look back at to remember where we started. It can be difficult at times to maintain a vision of the future, and to continue to work towards it, but having a source to reflect upon and remind us of the work that has already been done is a useful tool in planning and preparing for the days to come.”