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Burning

Wicker Man 2013 Photo by Nels

Wicker Man 2013
Photo by Nels

Samhain on the River is an event hosted by my friends Nels and Judy for many years.  This year was the last and I made a point to attend.  The high point of the weekend is the burning of an effigy “corn man” or a “wicker man” in ritual.  Nels did a piece several years ago about his experiences hosting fire rituals.

The ritual itself is powerful, dramatic and lovely.  Sitting with a group of friends drumming and dancing around a HUGE bonfire is a great time.  Taking time out to acknowledge and honor the ancestors is especially nice in a year when we’ve had a recent death in the family.  However, dramatic and awesome though it may be, the burning isn’t the heart of the weekend for me.

The ritual starts with a casting of the circle, calling in the four directions as guardians and protectors.  The ancestors are welcomed and so is the Divine, in many forms.  Then there is the feasting.  This is a huge pot-luck extravaganza.  The ovens are going for two days.  There are half a dozen crock pots.  The desert table has two levels and probably could use a third.  Given all the dietary issues in the group everything is supposed to be marked and labeled – does it have meat?  Nuts? Is it gluten-free? Vegan?

We each placed a pumpkin around the man and named our ancestors for remembrance

We each placed a pumpkin around the man and named our ancestors for remembrance

When I attend I complicate things.  It’s that darned allergy to cinnamon.  Most people don’t think it’s a real allergy, or they just don’t hear it, or they haven’t a clue how to read a label down to those tiny ingredients.  (Except in red hots, cinnamon is rarely one of the first ingredients listed.)  It gets even trickier when all the label says is “natural flavorings and spices.”  Most of the time that actually means cinnamon.  Who knew?  – Well, I do.

There are a few people in this crowd who have watched me react to cinnamon.  Who know that my children wash their hands and brush their teeth before they come home if they have a cinnamon roll elsewhere.  People who have been to restaurants with me and been asked “Please don’t order the waffles, the cinnamon roll, the warm apple pie.”  If the ventilation is good I might manage the room (if they’re not baking right then) but not at the table.

some of the drummers got a little warm

some of the drummers got a little warm

Because of all the trouble, the feast isn’t really the heart of the event for me either.  It’s the people.  It’s being able to spend time just talking and catching up with folks I only see once or twice a year.  It’s the late night conversations about being a leader in the spiritual community and the lessons that come with the job.  It’s the laughter when someone pours a glass of wine and makes a joke.

These people remind me that not all our ancestors are ancestors of blood.  Many of them are simply ancestors of the heart.  I remember this year, my aunt who just passed, but also the friends who I have lost over the years.  I miss them all the time and think of them often.  But so many of them would have loved sitting in a circle full of drummers and dancers around a really HUGE bonfire.

Orion couldn't wait to tell everyone about it.

Orion couldn’t wait to tell everyone about it.

Welcome ancestors.

I have mentioned this event in an earlier post.  See Ancestors and Descendants

Reaching out to the ancestors through the fire

Reaching out to the ancestors through the fire

Festival

Herbs on the ground prepared for ritual dancing

Herbs on the ground prepared for ritual dancing

A Pagan festival is a unique thing.  Although there is certainly a sense of costume and play, unlike a Renaissance Fair the players are not acting a part.  It is an experiment in tribal living, in being in the world the way we would like the world to be.  It is a place where there is no need to hide, or explain, or be afraid of beliefs and practices often misunderstood in the working world.

Teo Bishop was one of the National Guests at this year’s Sacred Harvest Festival.  His blog about this experience is posted on The Wild Hunt.   We also had music and workshops from Kenny Klein whose views on Faerie, quite different from our whitewashed Disney, were well received.  His books on the topic will greatly help the Pagans who work with these tricksy creatures.   David Salisbury is another Pagan author and activist visiting the festival from the DC area.

Too dark and too far away but Teo and Kenny are both waiting to perform

Too dark and too far away but Teo and Kenny are both waiting to perform

I have known Kenny for over 20 years, but it was really nice to meet in person some of the people I’ve only known through their blogs.  Does that count as meeting blogging buddies?  It seems different somehow, both because of the nature of a festival and also because the Pagan blogging community is so much smaller than the blog-o-sphere in general.  I already know I have more in common with these folks than just enjoying their writing.  We’ve friends in common, whether or not we can point to them.  There are always fewer than 6 degrees of separation among Pagans.

I wish I had a photo of Teo and Orion.  Star Foster (developed the Pagan channel on Patheos and who I’ve known personally for a year) organized an early morning sing.  Orion is a morning person and he loves to sing.  Me, not so much – at least in the morning.  So I made an arrangement with Star to get Orion to her workshop.  She sent Teo.  Apparently Teo and Orion had a grand time together sharing songs.  Orion pulled out his German camp repertoire and serenaded the group with Der Vuglbeerbaam, lyrics adjusted for camp.

Lamyka L. took this photo of  Szmerelda and David

Lamyka L. took this photo of Szmerelda and David

Orion and I also had the privilege of picking up Szmerelda when she came in from Chicago.  Szmerelda is featured in Crystal Blanton’s anthology Shades of Faith.  She is a visual artist and ritualist in the Chicago area.   She is also delightful.  When I found my tent filled with water the first time it was Szmerelda who jumped in and bailed me out.  I had met Szmerelda briefly at Pantheacon in February so it was nice to get a chance to actually spend some time getting to know her.

Sacred Harvest Festival is all about the people.  It’s sharing time and space under the beautiful oak trees.  It’s talking about our beliefs and practices and plans.  I presented a few (three) workshops and that was fun.  It was the first time for all three and I find Sacred Harvest Festival a nice venue to try out new things.  Got some great feedback too!

Camping in the oak grove

Camping in the oak grove

In spite of the rain in the tent and the back problems I’m glad we went.  It’s revitalizing to make heart connections with people who share a love of nature and spirituality.  It’s always a joy to see Orion having a grand time.  My campmates and I made good food.  I got treated like a queen visiting Cara’s camp at happy hour. (Her book is Martinis and Marshmallows: A Guide to Luxury Tent Camping.)   And you know from last week I got packed up and sent off without a fuss.  Now the back is slowly healing and the memories are only fond.

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