Ramble On-Sirius Rising

The last week of my overly long Midwest/East Coast jaunt was spent at the Brushwood Folklore Center, at their Sirius Rising Festival. I’ve been going to Sirius for almost ten years, originally just because it was right before the Starwood Festival, and then eventually just because I enjoyed Sirius (and Brushwood) its self. I don’t think words can describe how much I love and appreciate Brushwood. As a campground it has perfectly situated its self between two worlds; there’s great infrastructure (pool, hot-tub, hot showers, flushing toilets!) but just enough “wild” left that I never confuse the place with a commercial campground. (This is a good thing.)

For me the draw of Sirius Rising is not so much the festival, but the campground and the people who visit and live there. Brushwood isn’t just a place for festivals, it’s also a home away from home for over one hundred people every summer. Brushwood has a large amount of “seasonals” who rent space for the entire summer, giving the place this “lived in” look that I’ve never seen at any other gathering site. While there’s a family that owns Brushwood, there are hundreds more people with an emotional investment in it. You know that the place is always going to be taken care of because for 100 people every summer it’s their living room.

Weirdly I didn’t have much to do at Sirius Rising other than to hang out with friends and catch up on some reading. I did a workshop on Monday and then a second one on Saturday. While workshops are probably not the “main draw*” of Sirius, I did have really good attendance at both of my workshops (even if my personal performance was a bit lack-luster). I rambled on for nearly two hours about Greek Gods (most notably Pan, Aphrodite, Dionysus, and Demeter) on Monday, and I just love talking about Pan so that was fun. On Saturday I did a presentation on Ancient Druids, but ran into a lot of technical problems when my Ipad decided to go fuzzy on me. (My Ipad never got wet, but apparently two weeks of humidity at Wisteria and Brushwood was too much for it.) I don’t need notes when I do a workshop, but I like having them, especially when I’m directly quoting ancient things. I got through the whole presentation, but I wasn’t happy with it.

One of the things my friends and I have said about Sirius over the years is that “Sirius is serious.” For years Sirius had this low-key sort of vibe to it. The festival put a lot of focus on workshops, community ritual in the evening, and building a sense of togetherness. That’s still there at Sirius Rising circa 2012, but there’s also a larger party contingent. The party part of the festival is not over-whelming by any means (no one is screaming at 2:00 am), but it’s become more noticeable. Festivals like Starwood and Sirius Rising have their own radio stations, and just four or five years ago the only type of music Sirius Rising Radio (known then as “Dogstar”) played was basically ambient instrumental stuff. Today there’s rock music being broadcast nearly 24/7. It’s just another sign of how the festival has morphed over the years.

While the festival started on Monday, the music part of the week didn’t really get going until Wednesday. Concerts at Brushwood take place inside a covered pavilion, especially appreciated on Thursday night when the festival got a lot of rain. There were a lot of good acts at Sirius this year: Ginger Doss, Telling Point, Dixon (a real highlight for me), and Frenchy and the Punk. (Kenny Klein also played at Sirius, but geez am I tired of linking to his website by this point of the summer.) The band that stole the show for me was River Glen, and that was probably because they did a cover of He Got Game by Public Enemy. (Play the right cover song and you’ve got a fan in Jason.)

There was a breezy comfortable feeling at Sirius Rising this year. After five workshops and a ritual at Starwood it was nice to not have a whole lot to do. In my down time I got to do a few rituals in the Blue Star tradition, and engage in my favorite past-time at Pagan Festivals: arguing gently discussing Pagan History with people holding different opinions than my own. Next year I’m thinking of putting together a few workshops with people I disagree with just to get a whole lot of views squeezed into seventy minutes or so. All summer long I had a lot of people stopping by and telling me that listening to Kenny Klein and I argue about Pagan History was a highlight for them. I agree that it’s probably an interesting thing to listen to, but I also think those people should get out more.

That’s a brief overvue of my week, it wasn’t all that exciting, but it was most welcome. Time to share a few other thoughts in this round of Good Pagan/Bad Pagan.

Good Pagan: For over ten years I’ve been hitting large outdoor festivals, and most of them have concluded with a giant bonfire. Usually I’m pretty ambivalent about giant bonfires; they are nice to look at but also waste a lot of resources. This year’s bonfire was special though, and not because of the terrestrial combustion. Just a few minutes before the bonfire was lit a very bright and vivid shooting star streaked through the sky, and I was in just the right position to see it. Amazing.

Bad Pagan: Ten dollars per day for spotty internet access? Brushwood can do better. I don’t need free Wi-fi but twenty bucks for the week would be a bit more reasonable.

Good Pagan: The hysterics and noise that plague a lot of other festivals was completely missing from Sirius Rising this year. A lot of that is probably due to the layout of the campground, and a lot of it is probably just due to common courtesy. The loud areas of the campground (like the drum circle) are generally removed from the majority of campers. There weren’t golf-carts whizzing by my campsite every thirty seconds either. Writing things like that always makes me want to say “kids get off of my lawn.”

Bad Pagan: In the future I’d like to see more diversity with the speakers. The “name speakers” are generally the same year after year at Sirius (though to Brushwood’s credit they had Gavin Bone and Janet Farrar at their Summerfest Festival last year, the week after Sirius). While there’s some comfort in the familiar, mixing things up now and again can be a good thing.

Good Pagan: No one runs a campground better than the people at Brushwood. Everything is always clean and every year I visit there’s always some sort of improvement to the grounds.

Good Pagan: Attendance over the last two days at Sirius Rising reached over 1400 people, making it the largest outdoor festival in the country this summer. Awesome that I got to be a part of that!

Bad Pagan: Ehh, I’ve got nothing else negative to say, I just had that nice of a time.

While home will always be where my stuff is, it’s easy to understand why so many people call Brushwood and Sirius Rising home. Definitely my favorite week out of the five I spent on the road. Thanks Sirius Rising.

*When I’m at an indoor festival nearly everyone goes to workshops during the day. At an outdoor festival nature is as much of a draw as any lecture. Rituals and workshops are certainly important to outdoor festivals, but I think they are just two pieces of a very large puzzle.

About Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason can often be found lecturing on the Pagan Festival circuit, so you might just bump into him. When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.


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