After the way my life had been going the past few months, I do not exaggerate when I say that I made it to the Free Spirit Gathering a few weeks ago with just one thread of sanity left.
Attendance was light this year, but FSG is still my “home” event. Indeed, Saturday night as I went around the fire offering chocolate to everyone and wine to those of age as is my wont, I made a joke to one pair of parents about teaching their kids that strangers have the best candy. “Oh, Tom Swiss is no stranger,” said the father.
I’m still sort of rolling that one around in my head.
In my mind I’m still that kid sitting alone at the elementary school lunch table, reading a book for escape. I’m not always sure what to do about compliments and acceptance and support. But I got a lot of it at FSG this year from festival-folk who had read about my travails on Facebook or Twitter or here on TZP. At Tuesday night’s karaoke I tried to express my thanks with a rendition of a song that tells how we get through the rough times: With A Little Help From My Friends.
This was the first time since 1998 that I was not part of the event staff. (And even that first year I got sucked into working the staff and performer kitchen in exchange for being fed — that’s how my whole FSG saga started, a “will work for food” deal.) It was nice to not have the usual worries; I really don’t know if I could have handled them. But I did play two one-hour concerts, and still ended up putting a little mojo into the Fire Circle, so I was far from a passive observer.
I ended up playing twice because one of our performers fell ill at the last minute. Well, I’ve got a big book of songs. I was able to put together two one-hour sets of my own songs, some traditional tunes, and a few modern covers. It went over well — in fact I made contact with festival-goer who is starting his own recording studio. So perhaps that CD of my originals will finally get made.
I also got to take an archery workshop co-presented by our blogging neighbor Thorn Mooney. That was fun, I hadn’t picked up a bow in thirty years.
With a more open schedule, I was able to do something I haven’t been able to do in all my years at FSG: attend The Universal Temple of Spirits ritual.
UTS works with trance possession, which isn’t something I work with a lot. Being a naturalistic, atheistic Pagan makes it a little tricky — but as Whitman said, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”.
They invite an eclectic list of spirits, some of whom were strangers to me. But I do love the eclectic.
A few of them nodded to me; Baron Samedi, Loa of the Graveyards, reminded me that death is there for us all eventually, that my canine companion Ringo was accepted with a embrace. I always see Samedi with an overlay of Gaiman’s Death, a presence that greets us on the other side, that truly knows us and so cannot hate but only love.
(I should note that we are firmly in Unconfirmed Personal Gnosis territory here, I’m making no scholarly statement about the deities, just my own experience and gut feeling.)
Thor smiled at me as the Aesir sometimes do, saying “Oh, yes, I knew your great-great-great-great-great…great grandfather.” Probably back somewhere along my mother’s father’s mother’s line. the German side of the family, but those Vikings got around. I’m not a Heathen but I feel some thread of connection there.
And then there was The Morrigan.
“The Morrigan Knows Your Time And Place,” said the chant. And central in my thoughts of late has been how, rather miraculously, Franklin Square Hospital last fall was not my mother’s time and place to meet with the honorable Baron.
In her recovery, my mother showed again and again what I can only call “warrior energy.” In my decades of work in the martial arts I have known soldiers and I have known champions. I thought I knew something about fighting. But watching her fight her way back to life was a lesson on a whole new level.
So the Morrigan, that Celtic goddess (or trinity of goddesses) of war and death (but also perhaps of fertility and sovereignty), had some things to say to me in this ritual. While there was a full-blown possession going on in the center, with more of a currernt-political cast to it, I was having my own personal interview with a different facet; wherein it was pointed out to me that I’ve spend most of my life as the student of female warriors (my first jujitsu sensei as a kid, my current karate sensei) and that I teach them now, from six-year-old girls on up. (Indeed the Sunday before FSG I taught a self-defense class for a group of yoga teachers, all women.)
I have said before that there are Celtic warrior queens in my mother’s ancestry. That is, again, UPG, not genealogy. But if I believe it, then that’s my ancestry too. And so perhaps, as I teach women the martial arts, it’s an energy I should be more conscious of.