This Samhain, my group, Hearthstone Grove, ADF, and I were invited to perform main ritual at the Council of Magickal Arts Samhain Festival 2017: Walking the Veil and what a phenomenal festival it was.
The Council of Magickal Arts or CMA is tucked away on a patch of land in Cistern, Tx. known as Spirit Haven Ranch and has held the largest pagan festivals in Texas for over 2 decades.
My first CMA festival was Beltane 2015 when I attended and performed ritual with Special Guest, and my co-contributor, Jon “Drum” Pagano. Nevertheless, Drum and I enjoyed our rainy stay, and the rite we performed was excellent.
Drum was invited by Chopper Whitewolf, CMA’s former Ranch Manager, and Carly McNamara, CMA’s former Executive Director, to invoke the May Queen and King for Friday night’s main ritual.
After that first experience, feeling the energy of the land and people who call it home, I have made it a point to attend both Beltane and Samhain each year. Samhain 2017 has been my favorite so far.
While honored to be invited, after issues with last year’s main ritual that disrupted one of the most essential Samhain traditions out there, we were well aware of the responsibility given to us in this invitation.
CMA generally has a funeral procession to Saturday night’s main ritual, where the folks carry a viking ship or coffin to revel fire, after the folks have placed messages, prayers, and things to let go of inside of it.
Saturday night is also the large community revel where people from all camps come out after the ritual to celebrate. So, we knew our rite was a liminal bridge between two important observations and we took care to coordinate with different teams.
Immediately when you arrive on property, you are greeted by friendly and hospitable faces welcoming you home. It is home. This becomes more apparent, when you must painfully aclimate to “Mundania”.
You sign in, receive a bracelet, and are directed to either Open Camping, Newbie Camp, or CMA One (the info Station). You can pay for a car camping/parking pass in case you need to keep your car nearby and camp in it.
After making your way towards the grounds you’re confronted with are Trolls hanging out on the Troll Bridge. They demand, with your consent… Some cash, a laugh, or a flash… and any skin will do, so show them some of that sexy ankle bone. It’s all in good fun. You can buy a troll pass for almost no money at all and be given preferred passage over the bridge to our slice of the Otherworld.
The troll bridge is… one of CMA’s many fun fundraisers during the festival.
Obtaining Information, Passes, Schedule of Events
Once you get settled, visit the CMA One station where you can find ice and some supplies and obtain your 2 to 4 hour community service assignment, because in CMA… everyone contributes.
Some information can be found at the Sign in station up front. Additionally, you can ask any Guardian volunteer who are wearing green glowies.
Prepping, Local Secrets and Food
The City of Flatonia’s local market Migl’s, has some of the freshest and best Texas meats, though the variety of other grocery items is very modest. The employees no stranger to CMA goers and are real friendly to us, even in kilts, face paint, war braids, and other garb.
Flatonia has a large Czech community so, like a commonly used phrase in the area, I encourage you to “Czech out” the local businesses. One such place is the Timewise truck stop and gas station, were one can get buy time in the showers, because CMA doesn’t currently have public showers. BUT… Many camps have built their own personal showers and will gladly offer them if they are so inclined. Just become friendly with folks and be willing to reciprocate in some way.
Though you can buy ice at CMA One to support CMA, there is a Twice-The-Ice self serve outlet by river bridge in Smithville. If you see the black dog next to the oak tree, you’ve gone too far. And I hear the local Cistern country store “has the best burgers and frito pie!” says one long time festival goer.
Meanwhile, at this Samhain festival itself you could find food trucks. This time we were graced by the gods to have JJ’s Burgers, Tacos, n More for those quick bites in between catching workshops real close together. The burgers were like your grillmaster granddad used to make. I overheard a few handfuls of people giving the food great reviews and I would definitely make a stop or two at this truck next festival if they return.
The website is also great about helping you plan and prepare. Simply check out the camping resources on their site here, and always prepare for rain. After registering you will also have access to the festival guide which will help you further prepare for events happening at that particular festival.
What CMA Offers Pagans
There are tangible, more measurable things CMA offers, but like with anything else, the invisible things become more valuable to you.
Several workshops were offered on Heathenry, Mysticism 101, Devotional Polytheism, Folk Witchcraft, Totemism, Shamanism, Wicca, Druidry and more. There are too many to count, too many to go to. We have programs which help bring students into CMA and they have sofar, produced great Scholars who were raised pagan and bring so much value to the people out there.
Every person has a place in CMA. Each person’s strengths contribute to the entire experience. The downtrodden look a little higher, the judged a little more confident, the anxious a little safer. You can’t go there without someone introducing themselves and offering you hospitality. One festival goer swears, “You are almost guaranteed a life altering conversation that changes how you think or exposes you to a perspective you might have never considered or will experience in the outside world.”
Special EventsSometimes Camps offer fun special events. I’ve attended a Fish Bowl Party last year hosted by one of the camps for their 20th anniversary. There’s the long time tradition, Midnight Bacon hosted by Rainbow Camp, CMA’s LGBT Community, which speaks of a hospitality that is unprecedented. You’ll see fireworks, costume parties, rituals and magics performed right in front of you that you’ll never forget. Our camp is already thinking of ways we can extend our own kind of radical hospitality and contribute to the merriment.
I attended a handfasting on Friday afternoon, and there was a minor earthquake during the rite. Additionally there was a lamb omen in the clouds during the fastening of the couples hands. It’s safe to say, I cried a little.
Samhain Tales, Music, & More
The Bard’s fire is phenomenal where story telling, singing, and performances happen. I’m still waiting for a bard battle to take place, born out of extemporaneous face blanching.
There is a rural Texas feel you can sense strongly, and though there’s not really any conservative presence at the festival, the neighbors are familiar with the festival and don’t mind and have a “live and let live” attitude about it.
Nature, Outdoors, Camping
One of the excellent features of the festival for me is hearing and seeing the wildlife. The sounds of the woods, the cows, and the flight of birds can be observed.
The land is alive with nature and with life. We all seek to respect it. The event is a pack in and pack out event. When you wake up on the first morning, crawl out of your tent, the Earth Mother is there to greet you.
The Assistant Executive Director, says “Waking up that first morning in a tent & the hushed sounds of the community sharing first circle over coffee. I love the excitement built around those first community fires. The release that drumming with our chosen family brings. The smiles that light up the faces of the new drummers when they catch that first rush of connection and you can tell they’re hooked. The sweat from the dancers glistening in the firelight and the steam coming off fire crew. The constant movement of happy pagan people through Vendor’s Row and around all the different Sacred Spaces. All of it. I love ALL OF IT!”
Let’s talk about fire. I’ve never seen a central bonfire out there on Magic Meadow, sometimes refereed to as Revel Field, less than 30ft high. When the drummers are pounding and inhibitions are gone, expect the unexpected, because anyone could fly loose from the circle of 300-400 people and start dancing clockwise round the tall flames. On the other hand, if crowds aren’t your thing, Spirit Haven Ranch is well over a hundred acres of Ves, Groves, Nemetons, Magical Forests, Hollows, and Hobbit holes. All of it comes with rich traditions and over a 18 yr history.
This Year’s Main Ritual
Performing this year’s Main ritual was a real pleasure and privilege. We rehearsed for the first time and had band practice for chants and songs on wednesdays leading up to festival. We got several compliments and people seemed to receive it well overall.
White Wolf Hall, one of the camps, had a member named Jack who recently passed from this world. At the beginning of our rite, White Wolf Hall spoke a few words about him, gave out a shout to ring out through all of the otherworlds, and we burned a viking ship, filled with offerings to the dead, on a funeral pyre that went up like a napkin brightening 2 acres ’round the field.
Something close to keening at the sight of the lighting of the fire rang out and my heart sank. It was really moving, and we began with nine blasts of the war horn that echoed across the land.
Mists filled the sky and an orange column of smoke bridged earth and heavens.
A circle of people was packed and complete with most areas 3 layers, and sometimes 4 layers deep, all shouting “Accept our Offering!” and belting howls, hoots and gritos alike. That’s a war cry for all you gringos.
The fire was a solid Texas tall at 30-40 ft flames. Then we opened the gates.
The wind rushed in right as we did it and the fire fell over and went sideways, licking the grass at if it was a tongue coming out of the mouth of earth to clean up all the spilled offerins’ that fell on mama’s face.
Portals Flung Open
We had to pause for 5 to 10 minutes as the fire crew riverdanced on the grass fires and dowsed the ground and themselves. Impromptu Jigs in our rites are indeed favorable amongst the dead and gods.
We honored An Tri Morigna: the three Morrigans and the Three Daughters of Ernmas: Anu, Macha, and Badb as the primary deities invoked for the occasion.
The Samhain Omen taken in sat main ritual spoke of the blessings given by the gods and ancestors specifically, especially to White Wolf Hall, but which affect all present generally in the coming weeks.
1st lot was hÚath(hawthorn), despair and fear at facing growing pangs and people loses, its Mac Moin kennings are: pack of wolves, the whitening of faces.
2nd lot was nGetal(broom), versatility to heal through it, its word kennings are: rainment of the leech(magical physician).
3rd lot was Idad(Yew), Memory which will last to carry through into the future, both lessons learned and the memory of the dead. Its word ogam is: oldest of woods, oldest tree, oldest letter, older than letters.
This was a good omen.
I’d like to thank whatever force was responsible for inviting ADF, HearthStone Grove, Amanda Godwin and myself. It was beyond an honor. Simply phenomenal.