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Article ID: 2409
Age Group: Adult
Posted: June 26th. 1999
Free Spirit Gathering 1999
by Diotima Mantineia
An inside look at what goes on behind the scenes at a Pagan Gathering
Review by Diotima Mantineia
About 20 people were sprawled over sofas and on the floor of the old, pre-Civil War house, fondly dubbed "The White House" by Gathering staff. Situated at the entrance of the 200+ acre campground that has hosted FSG for 14 years, it's the perfect place to house the staff, and its comfortable front porch becomes the hub of the many activities needed to keep over 800 souls fed, housed and having fun for 5 days.
Now, at 9:00 p.m. Tuesday, questions and answers bounce back and forth across the room at the staff meeting. Recycling? It's already set up. What happened with that last-minute hole in the security staff? There's another well-qualified volunteer willing to do the job. Is there enough wood for the Fire Circle? There will be by tomorrow night.
An early-arriving merchant wanders in, and the meeting breaks for a few minutes while we focus on helping him get oriented. He offers to help if he can stay the night at the camp. Hey, no problem! Put him to work! Well, OK, we'll let him set up camp first...
That settled, Hjartafinn, this year's Gathering coordinator, drags everyone's attention back to the organizational matters at hand. The Duck, an Assistant Coordinator and FSA's president, presents his plan for organizing volunteers. Duck looks, in his top hat, like an escapee from Alice's Wonderland. But his plan has nothing of the Mad Hatter about it -- in fact, it is very well thought out -- and he gets estimates from the various departments of how many people they are likely to need, and when.
The volunteers are sent to places named with typical Pagan whimsy: The Troll Booth at the entrance, where registration is set up; the Tin Can, a large, plain, utilitarian structure that is transformed each night into a magical place of music and dancing; and the Healer's Hut, marked with a large green pentagram -- no infirmaries or red crosses here.
Radio Free FSG
Next morning, the crackle of radios becomes a constant background noise for the staff as we finish preparations and begin registration. With over 200 acres to cover, good radios are a necessity; especially if we want to have enough energy left at night to make a trip to the Fire Circle for drumming and dancing. One person's sole assignment is to keep track of and maintain all the radios.
The Sweat Circle area, so far away that we sometimes lose them on radio, is still being stocked with cords of wood, truckloads of rocks, and many gallons of water. The sweat staff is offering an unprecedented 21 sweats this year -- a challenging number, given how labor intensive they are. Tyrtle, the talented and dedicated pourer who is the backbone of FSG's sweat program, has been blessed by an equally talented and dedicated staff who give freely of their time to work in service to the spirits of the land and to those who come to commune with Spirit in a sweat.
Back on the porch of the White House, radios crackle, and a couple more people are dispatched to the sweat area to "chop wood, carry water".
Up at the Troll Booth, the earliest arrivals have just gotten to our first check-in point -- the 2 hour work shift sign-up sheets. It takes a lot of work and organization to put on a festival of this size, and we need help, so we ask everyone to pitch in. All the FSG staff is volunteer, and we know helping out is one of the best ways to meet people at a festival, so we look on the work shift as sharing the fun. ;-)
By early afternoon, the merchant's booths have sprung up along Merchant's Row, a path leading into the camp lined by tall, stately white pines which are perfectly spaced for the merchant's tents. The array of crafts and other goodies is dazzling, but the staff won't get much of a chance to look today -- there's too much to do on opening day.
Eve, our other Assistant Coordinator, can be seen walking purposefully through camp, while being accosted at regular intervals by people needing answers or solutions and talking with someone on the radio at the same time.
Up at the White House Albion, the Registrar, peers intently at the screen of a laptop computer, ironing out last-minute registrations and cabin assignments. He can keep in touch with Giani, the On-Site Registrar at the Troll Booth, through radio.
Kalabran, our resident Boy Scout, is putting up his ingenious hand-washing stations outside the portable toilets that are strategically placed throughout the camp. As Assistant Security Coordinator, he'll spend most of the festival walking around camp.
Chrystalheart, the Workshop Coordinator, has created large, waterproof schedule boards which she is putting up at the Kiosk to help people keep track of workshop additions and changes. There have already been one or two schedule changes since the program was printed due to the changed travel plans of the presenters.
Like Eve, Hjartafinn and Duck are multi-tasking, almost managing to be two places at once through the magic of radio.
Jen, the incredibly efficient, talented and tireless Entertainment Coordinator, is busy getting the musicians settled in Harper Hall, while making sure the stage in the Tin Can is set for the Kiva concert tonight.
By evening, the campground is transformed by colorful tents, flags, banners and altars. The smell of incense wafts on the breeze, and everywhere people are greeting old friends and making new ones. Eve and Duck prepare for the opening ritual at 7:00.
When the opening ritual ends most people head for the Tin Can for a welcome party, potluck and dance featuring Kiva. By now, the energy of the Gathering has begun to weave its magic, and the mundane world seems far away. The dancing moves from the Tin Can to the Fire Circle by the pond, and goes on until early the next morning, despite the occasional drizzle. Hjartafinn ends the evening by getting his car to make sure someone on crutches did not have to walk back to his cabin in the rain.
So Many Workshops, So Little Time...
By Thursday morning, thanks to the volunteers, most of the staff has figured out how to get enough free time to fit in the workshops, sweat circles and concerts they want to go to. It's hard enough to choose which workshops to take even if you aren't staff! There are usually 4 or 5 going on at any given time, and inevitably there are some hard choices to make. The Pagan community is blessed by some truly inspired and knowledgeable teachers who give generously of their time to pass knowledge along. The variety of workshops offered is astounding; dancing, deep ecology, shamanism, pathworking, crafting ritual, healing and magic are only some of the subjects we have to choose from.
And more people keep coming in....
Registration is holding up well, processing everyone in as quickly and efficiently as possible while maintaining a safe and secure Gathering. We have managed to find enough lifeguards to keep the pools open, and the sweats are going well. Brian, the Security Coordinator (who is walking around with "Sheriff" writ large in body paint on his chest), assures us that nothing is out of the ordinary. We are all feeling a bit more relaxed.
This year, we have daytime open-air concerts, and the booth where drums are sold is the scene of several impromptu drum jams every day. More music can usually be found near Harper's Hall, where at least one person is almost always playing some instrument or another. (We've discovered that if you put a lot of musicians together in a small area, they seem to have this compulsion to make music. We like music. Having discovered this scientific fact about musician's behavior, we got smart and created Harper's Hall).
By Friday, there's a lot of maintenance being done. Emptying trash and recycling bins, refilling water jugs at handwashing stations, making sure the floor in the Tin Can is swept. Parking and Registration are preparing for an afternoon rush, as the weekend-only attendees begin to arrive. The dump truck pulls in with more rocks for the Sweat Circles; he'll dump the load at the dining hall -- from there it's up to us to haul them up to the fire. Hey, how are we doing for volunteers???
Our medical staff responds quickly to a couple of minor medical emergencies. Good thing Jeff, who's in charge of first aid and safety, was insistent that even if there were only two volunteers available at any given time, he would get them both. He was right -- and we were prepared.
We certainly don't lack for healers here, and by now many of the staff are taking full advantage of the various modalities available. We can choose from massage, cranio-sacral therapy, Reiki, auric healing, and even a student of Michael Harner's who offers shamanic healing.
Early evening, and instruments are being loaded into the Tin Can for tonight's concert, people are putting on their evening finery, and volunteers are sent to build the fire for the Fire Circle later on. Almost 800 people are here now, and the healing, transformative energy is reflected in the love and laughter that are everywhere apparent.
Saturday is the last full day, and the pace in camp seems to pick up, as people try to fit in all the visits, rituals, workshops and events they had planned. The pool is a popular place today, too. The main ritual in the afternoon draws a cast of hundreds as Elspeth and Nybor help us turn the wheel again and greet the start of the dark half of the year.
The evening concert, featuring Shaman, is fantastic, and the drumming at the Fire Circle goes on until dawn.
Sunday morning comes, and the clean-up begins. The sweat team breaks down the lodges, and does their best to return the area to a natural state. Signs come down, floors are swept, the fire pit is filled in, recycling is removed. Hugs are exchanged, a few tears are shed, and the cars load up and drive off. Now, only the staff and a few hardy volunteers are left to finish the clean-up amid an almost empty campground. We'll be back in the fall, for our Fall Retreat event, but FSG is over for 1999. Where did the days go?!
Hey, only 357 days 'til FSG 2000!!
And Merry Meet Again!
Associate Editor - The Witches' Voice
(photo above) is of Ron and Arianna from this years Free Spirit.
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