Monday, June 23, 2008

Ahhh, vacation!

I'm freshly back from a week of vacation, and my batteries are recharged. The week was filled with music and dance, ritual, and reconnecting with my larger spiritual community. In short, it was everything that work is not. I was at the annual Pagan Spirit Gathering, one of the larger festivals of its type.

For me, the week starts with a quiet, 6 AM loading of the car on Saturday, the weekend prior to the summer solstice. We have a VW Beetle, so camping for a week, with three drums included in our must-have gear list is an exercise in logistics. We use the hollow bodies of the drums as suitcases to pack clothing into. There simply isn't room to take three empty drums if we also have suitcases or duffles for our clothing. We pack knocked down cardboard boxes and garbage bags to set up as in-tent suitcases when we arrive. After stuffing the car with our large dome tent, 2 each of sleeping bags, pads, pillows and chairs, plus food, tarps, cooler, and the miscellany needed for a week in a tent city, we hit the road around 7:15 AM. Our destination is a nature sanctuary in southeastern Ohio, approximately 600 miles from home. Our route is now quite familiar. We head south on I-39 to Bloomington, IL, then east through Champaigne, Indianapolis and on to Dayton. There we head southeast through Xenia, Washington Courthouse, and Chillicothe. We have generally found that we find friends in the area - others arriving for the gathering - if we have dinner in Athens, OH, at a fun worker-owned restaurant called Casa Nueva. A good meal in the company of friends we seldom see, washed down with local microbrews is a great way to knock the travel dust off our brains and start to settle into a more relaxing head space. We camp that night at a handy state park, not bothering to unpack. We do a bare essentials style camp: Tent, bags, pads, and pillows. Nothing else comes out of the car. The next morning we're off to the gathering.

Entering the Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG) starts with a transition from mundane to something other. There is a gate, and without prior registration one doesn't get in. This keeps out the merely curious, the media, and those fundamentalist types who are intent on saving us, even if that means doing us harm. Yes, such things really do happen (watch the video at the link), and the gate is the first and generally effective layer of our defense. Once in to the gathering, a genuine transformation takes place. We are now camped with a thousand or so like-minded people, all together to share sacred moments, learn from each other in workshops on topics ranging from esoteric to mundane, and generally let down the psychic armor we all have to keep in place most of the time to deal with people who insist on thinking we're evil or simply don't belong in America. That in itself is a magical experience. In Madison I don't run into too much of that sort of trouble, but I pretty routinely field questions from people who simply assume that Pagan equates to godless heathen ("Not that there's anything wrong with that.") and by extrapolation, I'm one of those people that their preacher (or Fox News pundits, or any televangelist you care to name) warned them was trying to destroy America. So knowing that I can let go of that omnipresent defense mechanism for an entire week is pretty special.

A typical day at PSG goes something like this:

For the early risers, someone will be leading morning yoga, tai chi, or meditation. At 10 AM there is a morning meeting for (theoretically) the entire community in which any changes to the day's schedule are announced, musical acts featured that day give a sneak preview, and calls for assistance for unmet needs are made. The meeting is "announced" with a dozen or so drummers playing to draw people, and for movers like me, to provide a motive for starting my day dancing. From 11 AM to 1 PM, casual meetings and ritual planning happen, along with lunch and so on. From 1-2:30 PM and 3-4:30 there are workshops offered. Topics are hugely varied and cover things like minister training or Pagan scholarly pursuits to making pagan-y craft items. There are more than a dozen such workshops offered at each time slot, each day, so by the end of the week there are 140-150 workshops offered. After dinner there is some sort of large-scale community ritual, such as an opening ceremony, a ritual to honor the drumming/dancing/singing/music aspect of Paganism, separate mens and womens rituals (which vary in form and content hugely depending on who crafted the ritual), and of course, a ritual to celebrate the summer solstice. Late night there is typically a musical performance, and also drumming and dancing around the bonfire until dawn.

So there is a brief skech of How I Spent My Summer Vacation. Photos are permitted, but posting said photos is a no-no, so don't expect to see any here. Photos and posts from my regularly-scheduled life will resume shortly!

1 comment:

  1. Dear Nataraj,

    I'm so glad to have found your site! We met at PSG (first at the bonfire ritual, drumming for the Earth) and spoke very briefly on and off throughout. I am still so happy to have met you and I think your photos are gorgeous. :)

    I don't see a place here for your email, but you can find me on at

    Keep in touch, lovely soul.


If you don't have a blooger or "open" ID, you are free to use "Anonymous" for your posts, and leave your name if you are willing.