Starwood 2017: An Unconventional Convention

The first alternative culture I connected with was the Rocky Horror Picture Show, back in high school. So it was somewhat fitting that on Thursday night two weeks ago, I stood outside at Wisteria campground and event site, watching a RHPS showing and yelling smart-ass remarks at the screen with my fellow attendees of the Starwood festival, another alternative culture.

In the movie, Doctor Frank N. Furter (Tim Curry’s character) addresses the crowd who have come to see his experiment as “my unconventional conventionalists.” And that’s a pretty good description of Starwood: an unconventional convention.

From the Rocky Horror screening to a candle labyrinth bathed in harp music, from a game of Exploding Kittens over beers with friends to reading Ginsberg’s “Footnote to Howl” during an improv performance by Mayan Ruins, from teaching a self-defense class to speaking about the magic of fire circles (a post on that coming soon), from performing in the Bardic Circle open mic to partaking of vegan feasts at two different camp sites, from offering hugs to a dozen first-timers I met to chatting with and autographing one of my books for Oberon Zell, one of the founders of the modern Pagan movement (wow!), from partying at The Palace for Faerie High Tea to staying up all Saturday night at the famous Bonfire, I had quite a week.

And this was a mellow Starwood, where I was mostly recharging my batteries after an exhausting year. Usually I would try to pack in more activities.

Starwood is a magickal adventure construction set. A variety of pieces are provided, but it’s up to you to put them together as you please. You want a wild party? The pieces are there, hail Dionysus and Pan and Aphrodite. A more Apollonian spiritual retreat? Rituals, sweat lodges, fire circles, and workshops ranging from Hermetic magic to Transformative Play will give you what you need. You want a music festival? Plenty of that, from headline acts like the spectacle-heavy Didges Christ SuperDrum to campsite folk/pop jams to sweet and mellow fireside sessions.

This was, if I’ve counted right, my eighteenth Starwood, and my fourteenth year as a presenter. Somehow I’ve become enough of a regular that they stuck my head in the banner image for the Facebook page for “The Starwood Festival 2017”, right next to Timothy Leary and Robery Shea (co-author of the Illuminatus! trilogy. I think it was just a good photo of the legendary purple top hat, but still, an honor.

sw2017-bannerBut as sometimes happens, the best part for me was outside the bounds of the festival itself. Sunday night, after the closing circle, there were rumors that we might get a fire circle going down in the Paw Paw Circle; but I stuck my nose in around 10pm and all was dark and silent. Ah well. I headed back to my campsite, but just as I got there — the sound of drums!

I turned around and headed back. Two determined drummers were pounding out a beat, but there was no one else there, and no fire.

There was, however, still a bed of hot embers. I had no authority to set a fire, but I presumed on my status as a regular and decided that poking up a bed of embers was within the bounds of the principle that “it is easier to get forgiveness than to get permission”. I gathered up a few small sticks and got a small blaze going — small enough that I could knock it down and stamp it out with my boots if necessary, but a definite fire. And started dancing around it, and adding to the beat with my claves.

A few more people heard the racket and came down to join us, and a few more. Someone else, presumably authorized, threw some more wood on the fire, and more drummers showed up, and pretty soon we had a genuine fire circle going.

It wasn’t the biggest or loudest or most festive moment of the event. But it was, for me, the most magickal. I gave up some burdens into that small fire, and worked magick with a friend, and put into practice what I had had the chance to lecture about a few days before.

Even at a big event like Starwood, sometimes it’s the smallest things that matter.

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