Welcome Home! A “festal virgin” on Pagan Spirit Gathering 2010

I’ve tried to write this article three different times. The first two attempts weren’t bad articles but they simply couldn’t convey the week I had. It was unexpected, life-changing and beautiful. So forgive me if at times I write emotionally and ecstatically and poetically and in a rather rambling way. Perhaps once I have that out of my system I can analyze the experience more objectively.

After over 9 years as a solitary, over a year involved in local Pagan groups and my Google-all-things-Pagan prowess, I thought I was prepared for my first Pagan festival: Pagan Spirit Gathering 2010. No big deal, I’d keep a journal and then come back here to fill you in on what you missed. I was cynical and my friends can attest I was less than enthused about the trip. In other words, I was completely unprepared to have a life-changing experience and now I feel I lack the language to convey my experience to you.

The feeling of living with Pagans for 8 days is an unbelievable high. Sure, it was also unbelievably hot but for me that was part of the Summer Solstice experience. I expected to camp out at a country fair/psychic fair type event. What I found was living breathing community, in the very deepest sense of the word. There was an overwhelming feeling of safety, harmony, friendliness, reverence and good humor. Yes, I realize that this sounds like a cult or the opening sequence of a horror movie, but trust me, this was the real deal.

There was an incredibly diverse group of participants: GLBT, poly families, nudists, 12-step folks and people of various traditions, ethnicities, shapes, sizes and backgrounds. Imagine 900+ such diverse folks crafting a community of love and tolerance in humid mid-to-high 90’s for 8 days. Imagine this community runs smoothly and events consistently happen on time. Imagine the highlight of the day for quite a few folks is a meeting!

Now imagine that these huge rituals with hundreds of participants run smoothly, are deeply meaningful and leave you feeling like you’ve experienced something extraordinary. The opening ritual featured a bonfire shooting sparks to the stars that made me feel very close to the Gods. It honored every tradition and country present and made it quite clear I was in for a unique experience. The Solstice morning ritual was lovely and funny as we each stepped forward to honor the rising sun, asking him to shine down on us, just a little less brightly. Even I participated by stepping forward to sing “We All Come From The Sun God”. The women’s ritual was intense and the power was incredible. The main ritual left me permanently altered. There are very few moments in our lives that are absolutely perfect. For me, winding into that ritual in a joyous spiral dance was one of them.

Oh and then there were about 130 workshops with on such various topics as New Media, Prison Chaplaincy, Making Dreamcatchers, Bardic Arts, Pagan Ethics, Making Goddess Flags, Devotional Dance, Home Blessings, Public Relations, Didgeridoo Healing, Gemstones, Pagan Academics, Runes, Warrior Blessings, Drama In Ritual and many more!

All of the authors and presenters were very friendly and approachable in a way I had not anticipated. Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary ministers and PSG staff were warm, welcoming wonderful people.

Did I mention the music? Damh the Bard, Coyote Run, Arthur Hinds, Murphy’s Midnight Rounders, and Shibaten were just a few of the musicians performing. There was music all day long. Generally two shows on the main stage, music at morning meetings and a late night show at The Gathering Place.

Add in the beautiful surroundings of Camp Zoe, the kindness of Camp Zoe staff, and the presence of warm showers and flush toilets, I fell in love with PSG. Adjusting to my normal life isn’t easy after spending a week at PSG.

PSG revealed the lack of the sacred in my everyday life. I miss the drums. I miss my neighbors. I miss rituals by firelight that left me exhausted and whole. Here in this house I don’t have to haul my daily drinking water uphill, or hike up and down a hill to take a shower. I even have working fans and air conditioning, as well as a reliable internet connection. I don’t share a bathroom with anyone and I can’t hear anything from the outside world in my bedroom. My life lacks vitality.

How do I bring the magic home? Can I really dance and chant around the fire ring in the backyard for hours? Of course not, it would upset the neighbors. Can I drum in the morning to start my day? My nightowl roommates would hardly thank me. This life of convenience has no community incentive, no village activities.

The world is lacking in beauty after PSG. There the men and women were natural, colorful, vibrant and lovely. Here we are bland, mundane and uninspired. We awaken to alarm clocks, not syncopated drum beats. We use coffee to wake up, not ecstatic dance. We dress to be acceptable, not to be vibrant and comfortable. We mumble along to the radio, instead of chanting loud and proud in a crowd. We depend on electric lights instead of enjoying the luminescence of firelight and moonlight.

Though I can infuse my own life with the sacred I will not feel that reciprocated in my surrounding community. Though T. Thorn Coyle, who was a fantastic presenter and wrote two lovely posts on PSG at her blog, makes a valid point that the groupthink that produces phrases like “Welcome Home!” and “Our Tribe!” can be a cause of concern, the fact that many of us have no community that even remotely resembles PSG makes that feeling of family, community and homecoming not only understandable, but necessary. For some of us this is the only place we find of pure acceptance and belonging, and it is like water to a parched soul.

I must state that I adore my local coven. They are my lifeline and Gods-send in a world that ignores the basic sacredness of life. What I experienced at PSG was beyond their scope, and beyond the scope of most local groups. How can I convey to you the power and majesty of hundreds of people united in purpose and intent, living and working side by side for a little over a week? I fear I can’t.

One of the most impressive things about PSG were the Rites of Passage for men and women. Even solitaries could be welcomed into the circle of women, take the tests of the men’s rites of passage, be croned or handfasted with the support of a loving community. In fact I witnessed a handfasting and a proposal while I was there, and felt enriched for the experience.

It felt good to be in a community that embraced the masculine as well as the feminine. I’ve written before about how I am closer to male Gods than female Goddesses (although I’m currently trying to strike more balance in my spiritual life), so it was good to see rituals with both yang and yin energy, to see the God honored as well as the Goddess.

It felt good to be in a community that honored many different kinds of relationships. I heard “my partner” far more often than “my husband” or “my wife” regardless of whether or not the couple was married or of mixed genders. It felt good to hear people speak openly about polyamory and to disrobe without concern if they felt so inclined. After a few days at a clothing-optional festival you find the things people wear are far more interesting than the things they don’t. Naked is actually kind of boring.

It felt good to utterly exhaust myself in ritual. The spiral dance at the last ritual felt like an endurance test and I strove to dance and sing and push my body to ecstatic exuberance. From winding into ritual space between such amazing people as Jason and Zan to chanting about the power of women while rocking ecstatically back and forth with Misty, I pushed myself to limits further than I expected in tribute to my Gods, community and my own understanding. I cannot recall the last time I prayed as fervently as I did during that last ritual.

I sank into bed every night knowing I had lived to my fullest during that day, even though I could only accomplish perhaps 10% of what I wanted to do. Oh the things I long to do next year! The redneck ritual, both of Pan’s balls (he has two, you know), more workshops, the Sacred Hunt, witnessing Rites of Passage, dancing ecstatically at bonfire circle, swimming at Echo Bluff and maybe even performing in the talent show!

What did PSG change in me? It gave me a sense of pride and possibility in the wider Pagan community. It gave me the feeling my local community was full of unbounded potential and that my local community didn’t have to bear the weight of all my expectations. My local coven can provide meaningful, intimate rituals and a local Pagan family, training in the deeper mysteries and a foundation for my daily life. Those things are vital and sustain me.

These are things no large festival can hope to provide. Yet, PSG has given me membership in a larger tribe where love comes before praxis and every moment is milked for its sacred essence, in a way that might be exhausting or impossible in daily life. I was immersed in a loving Pagan world for a week and connected to the larger Pagan network in a new way. I now know Pagans across the country that I met in person before connecting with them online.

I’ve spoken before about my levels of Pagan identity, from solitary practice to group practice to the greater Pagan community. Pagan Spirit Gathering has merely added another level to my religious identity. I now also belong to the PSG tribe, not in an exclusionary way, but in that I share a common spiritual experience with these people from across the country and around the world. That’s a powerful thing for a Pagan living in a small conservative town in the South.

I really don’t feel like I’ve scratched the surface of what PSG actually is. No matter how eloquent I rhapsodize, I never can. Pagan Spirit Gathering is something that must be experienced, particularly if you are solitary. Maybe there are other festivals I could have had this experience at, and there are many wonderful large Pagan festivals out there, but I doubt it. There was simply something about Pagan Spirit Gathering that felt like home.

About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

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  • http://www.thorncoyle.com T. Thorn Coyle

    Ya Hu! (as the Sufi’s might say)

    What a grand write up of a very moving event.

    Lest your readers think I was dissing PSG by my statements, I want them to know that I found PSG equally moving and powerful. And your point is well taken.

    May we all find that sense of home, together.

    blessings – T>

  • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

    Thorn, I never meant to suggest that! Your post simply got me to thinking about the type of community identity I experienced at PSG. I really enjoyed your posts on PSG and I certainly hope my readers are following your blog and podcast! They’re quite excellent!

  • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

    You’re right, that did come off as negative and I didn’t intend that. I’ve edited the post with a link back to your blog.

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  • Cheri

    Welcome to the tribe. I am glad you found your way home. See you next year.

  • Skyefire aka Lisa Mohan-Holstein

    I am so moved by your article. I know exactly what you mean. 4 years I ago I decided to return to school not realizing I would be giving up returning to PSG – I have been an avid PSG community camper 5years in a row. I have since missed 4 – I missed the community so much and the article really connected with me. I am so moved by it- I cannot wait for the year I will be be back and reconnect with everyone in my PSG family. You are all missed and loved and Drake you are right after a week it is hard to get back to life- it seems so mundane. For me it has been 4 years to long and I cannot wait till next year – for I hope to see you all there.
    Brightest Blessings and thank you for sharing. I was able to transport myself there and here the music, feel the community and the vibration of love that everyone shares with each other.
    skyefire

  • Carlee Gutkaes

    Star, That was simply beautiful. So many of us struggle to describe PSG, even those of us who have attended for years. You summarized the spirit of our community and our gathering passionately, succinctly and with all heart. Kudos!

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  • http://www.petruciafinkler.blogspot.com Petrucia Finkler

    what a wonderful post. Thank you for your vibrant rambling description of what you felt and experienced at your first PSG. I have been going since 2004, and this would have been my 7th. However, I am back to my home country Brazil, and could not make it this year. Your post made me long for those drums and moonlit nights. I live in a loud metropolis now… the paragraph where you mention that it’s hard to find beauty in daily life after PSG is very accurate. It’s always a challenge to try and transfer some of that feeling and vibrancy to our mundane world. That is actually one of the reasons I moved back home. Brazil tends to make that a little easier for me. I hope to be there for 2011, and hope to meet you in person, and so your pagan network will stretch down to Sao Paulo. :)

  • Edmund

    “How do I bring the magic home? ” On such questions are built great works.
    Thanks for sharing the view from beginners mind.

  • circe

    thank you for your beautiful words! As one of the “gate girls” we scream out “welcome home” every year because as you said once you experience psg you never really find a place quite as inviting. Every year someone will show up at gate upset because they have no one to help them set up camp, or their belongings got lost by the airlines. I tell them calmy to just ask their neigbhor for help or a ride in to town to buy what they need. Usually i get a crazy look from them!!!! But about two days later i will be greated on the road with a big hug thanking me for convincing them to stay, that they were given shelter, bed and food. Borrowed clothes or a ride to town. The look in their eyes tells me what they can’t say with words….who knew people could be like this. I know exactly what they mean so every year we scream “welcome home!!” As the last day comes and everyone gets sad our sweet “gate girl” Messina yells to the cars leaving- “have a good supply run see you soon!!!” Some people get it some don’t but for her and so many of us we don’t leave psg at the end we just take a long time getting our supplies!!! :)

  • Jade

    Thank you, Star, for your beautiful words. This was my first full-week PSG too. I will never be the same again. A-Ho.

  • http://www.selenafox.com Selena Fox

    Thanks, Star, for venturing forth from the comforts of your home, journeying to the Ozarks, and being part of the Pagan Spirit Gathering and its community this year! Thanks, too for your moving account of your experiences, insights, and transformations — and for adding the clever “festal virgin” to our community vocabulary!

  • Teresa Frank

    Star, Thanks for your article. There were so many wonderful moments and experiences at PSG. What amazes me, is that for one week a community of pagans came together to celebrate being pagan. We were in a safe, loving, and nurturing environment. I can’t wait for next year!

  • http://eyedance.blogspot.com Nataraj Hauser

    As an 18-consecutive-year veteran of PSG, all I can do is nod sagely and agree with pretty much every experience you shared, Star. You well described exactly why I keep coming back. Eventually you will find ways to keep the sacred in your everyday life in ways that are more satisfying. The geni is out of the bottle now, and having tasted richness you will not settle for bland. For me dance has become one such way, as well as photographing people. When I shoot, I think namasté.

  • Debbie Heron Feather

    Bravo, welcome, and thank you. My first PSG was 2000. I have been several times since, but moving around the country has kept me from attending these last couple of years. And, yes, I miss it terribly. We are making plans to attend next year. Your descriptions accurately describe my first PSG. I thought I was “ready” for it. But it was more ready for me, than I it! Never have I experienced the essence of community like I do there. I am glad you have posted your experience so that others may become more interested in joining the tribe!

  • Cinda

    As another newbie to PSG this year, I especially enjoyed this blog. You’ve put into words many things that I have not yet been able to.

    Many thanks, Star! Will see you there next year…

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