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Article ID: 2846
Age Group: Adult
Posted: July 2nd. 2000
Free Spirit Gathering 2000
by Diotima Mantineia
"We approach the Sacred Grove with hearts and mind and flesh and bone. Join us now in ways of old, we have come home."
Three long lines of worshipers from different directions spiraled into sacred space singing this chant. These days, the main ritual at Free Spirit Gathering has several hundred celebrants, and watching the three processions merge into a single entity in circle was a magical experience. The chant was particularly poignant for me, as I had moved 500 miles south several months ago, and was back "home" for the first time since January to attend the Gathering. FSG 2000 was the fifteenth annual gathering hosted by Free Spirit Alliancea community I had been a part of for well over a decade.
Of course, most of us who have been to a Pagan gathering know that feeling of "coming home", even if we are far away from where we actually live. It's not just being with friends; it's the amazing awareness of being in a society that exists only in a dream outside of these events; a society where magick is taken for granted, where the Earth is revered, and where one can not only walk around with no clothes on, but can leave (as I did) an expensive digital camera in a bathroom and have it cheerfully handed back to me by the bathroom's current occupant when I went to look for it several hours later.
The festival began the day before opening for me, as I had come to the campground early to give what help I could to the festival staff. I set up my tent, and went to the dinner that Harry, the camp's owner, always prepares for the staff the night before. Harry genuinely enjoys hosting our festivals, and we've developed a real friendship with him over the years. He and his staff go out of their way to help us run a smooth festival, and we, in turn, try to take excellent care of the campground. The facilities are perfect for a Pagan festival: there are two pools, hot showers, cabins and lots of room for tents, many ritual areas, a small lake with a beautiful bonfire site, and a private area for the sweat lodge. The meal plan is good and reasonably priced, and it is quite a convenience. Harry staffs his kitchen with Russian exchange students, and we often wonder what they think of us in all our colorful, Pagan glory!
After dinner, Eve asked me to take a trip to the local Wal-Mart to pick up supplies for various staffers who were hard at work getting everything set up. Eve puts in an astonishing amount of work for FSAshe is currently our Recording Secretary and assistant coordinator for the Gathering, as well as being a member of Kiva, and how she does it all, I'll never know. I gladly offered to help, and spent a good hour wandering around Wal-Mart. Next time, I'm taking roller skates!
Back at the camp, I sat down with the newly-delivered festival brochure and workshop schedule - 26 pages long, with over 100 workshops and rituals listed, and 26 sweat circles. I spent an hour making some tough choices about what workshops I would take, and then went to bed early, as I knew tomorrow would be a busy day.
As I lay in my tent, reaching out to the spirits of the land before I fell asleep, I felt an incredible gratitude for this place, for my friends and for all of the all the Witches, Wiccans and Pagans who had, over the years, put so much energy into teaching and building this community of like-minded people. And our community is just one of many Pagan communities across America, and around the world. As this new century and millennium dawns, we can take pride in the strength of the communities we have made for ourselves, all over the world. We are truly blessed by each other.
The next morning I woke early, grabbed some breakfast, and looked forward to watching the campground as it was transformed by colorful tents, banners and altars. Brighid's Forge's camp looked like it was stirring, so I went over and begged a turn at Fran's propane stove, since I couldn't get mine working, and settled down for a chat over coffee as more and more people arrived and began to set up. Brighid's Forge had a graceful statue of the Virgin Mary standing at the center of a field of Santeria candles calling to Oshun, Chango and Yemaya. Banners for each of the quarters waved in their cardinal direction.
I spent most of Wednesday wandering around, lending a hand where I could and greeting old friends. Kalabran, the Gathering Coordinator and our resident Boy Scout, stopped by my tent and fixed my propane stove. Kal and his wife Vivienne are good friends of mine, so we spent a little while catching up, but it wasn't long before he was called away by some new matter that needed his attention. I knew Kal would be on his feet for most of the next 5 days. Radio in hand, he'd walk the camp constantly, making sure everything ran smoothly.
Thursday morning began early, as I had a 9:00 a.m. class to teach. The class went well, and, with my duties for the day taken care of, I grabbed my checkbook and hit Merchant's Row.
Merchant's Row is lined with huge pine trees, and is actually two roads that cross very near the entrance to the camp. The variety of goods and services is astonishing; I stopped at Lady Kasmere's Cauldron to inhale the wonderful scent of teas and herbal mixtures, and checked out the carved brooms at Strega Luna and the pentagram rugs at Bell, Book and Candle. Soon I was loaded down with Firesong's wonderful pottery, some "recycled" clothes and earrings of green amber.
Later that afternoon, I took a class called "The Wiccan Sweatlodge Protocol of The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel". I had done a sweat with the ASW founders two years before, and had been very impressed, so I wanted to learn more about the theory behind it. If you ever get a chance to take this class, I highly recommend it.
After all the exertion of shopping (life's tough, huh? ;) I needed a massage, so I went to "Coszmyk Carl", a massage therapist who had advertised that "It's good to be kneaded". I love bad puns, so how could I resist? An hour and a half later, I felt really relaxed for the first time in weekstoo relaxed to do much that evening. I reluctantly decided to skip the Bardic Circle being held in the Tin Can, and went to bed in the middle of a spectacular thunderstorm. I love thunderstorms, and fortunately, my new tent proved to be perfectly waterproof.
Friday, the weather dawned bright and clear. My friends Caroline and Lilith were scheduled to teach a class on "Shamanism and Wiccan Ritual" at 9:00 a.m. that morning, but Caroline had been unavoidably detained. She had promised to be there in time for the class, though, and when she drove in around 7:30, I helped her unpack. The class began with an interesting discussion, and concluded with a Circle and shamanic journey. What a great way to start the day!
Right after the class, a small and clearly pregnant black cat attached herself to me. I scooped her up, and took her up to the White House, the old, pre-Civil War house on the property where the Gathering staff stays. I knew that Vivienne would help me figure out what to do with the cat, and would keep our furry friend in her room in the White House until we found out if she was a stray or just lost.
"Well, we know she's smart", Viv observed as we stood in the kitchen watching her drink milk. "Coming to a Pagan festival was a great career move for a black cat". Duck, FSA's president, wandered in and donated a large chunk of the roast chicken he had in the fridge to the cat. I went to find out if she had a current human or needed a new human who would take her in.
Having done what we could for the cat, Viv and I went shopping. At the crossroads on Merchant's Row, Earil, one of the merchants, was creating a circle on the ground with cornmeal which ended up as a community prosperity spell in an Afro-Caribbean tradition. People were invited to place money into the circle with intent to draw prosperity to the community as a whole. The money thus placed was then donated to the Te and Bear Memorial Scholarship Fund.
We spent a moment at the circle remembering Te and Bear, two founding members of FSA. Te died quite unexpectedly soon after Festival two years ago, and Bear, her husband, followed her to the Summerland last year. A memorial service the next day would plant a willow tree at the camp in their honor. I remembered my friends, who had always been so much a part of this Gathering, and added my donation to the circle.
We wandered on, stopping to chat with friends as we went. I found Elspeth and Nybor's booth and spent some time talking with Elspeth about the workshops she is doing around the country on "Resonating With the Crone." Elspeth is a true elder in this communitynot simply in years and wisdom, but in her generosity. She gives unstintingly of her time; teaching, organizing, and setting an example any of us could be proud to follow. If you ever get a chance to take one of her workshops, do!
Finally, it was time to prepare for the sweat circle I had signed up for. I walked quietly up the hill to the sweat area, which almost shimmers with the energy of the intense spiritual work that goes on there for five days straight during Gathering. Tyrtle and her devoted sweat staff chop wood, carry water, tend fires and generally work their tails off in service to Spirit, the land and the community. We can't thank you enough, folks!
My friend Richard Hood was pouring this sweat, and as I walked back down the hill some time later, flushed and covered with mud, I felt strong and renewed.
After a shower and dinner, I went up to find Vivienne and see how the cat was doing. A domestic dispute was already brewing, as Viv had developed quite an attachment to the cat, but Kalabran was adamant that 2 dogs and 4 cats were quite enough in one house! He didn't have a chance, and we all knew it. :-) Later, Viv confided to me that the cat had escaped, and it was Kal who found it and brought it back. Make that 2 dogs and 5 cats, with more on the way. (If you live in driving distance of Washington, DC, and can give a kitten a good home, drop me an email!)
Viv and I put on our evening finery, but the Gathering's head of security, Sheriff Brian, won our vote for best outfit that evening dressed as a Pagan version of the Lone Ranger. We went to find Caroline, as Kiva and Jaqui and Rachel were playing in the Tin Can that night, and we didn't want to miss a minute of the concert. We danced and dancedKiva is even better live than on CD, and they can raise some serious energy. Jaqui and Rachel, following them, handed out small rattles made from empty film canisters and the Tin Can itselfa huge, hangar-like structureshook, rattled and rolled with their music.
I began Saturday with another class, this one titled "Elements of Creation", and taught by Gwydion Stormcrow. Having had a massage and done a sweat, I felt that all I needed was an elemental tune-up, and I'd be good for another 30, 000 miles. The discussion and guided elemental pathworkings were uniquely interesting and very well done, and indeed, I'm still humming along on all eight cylinders two weeks later.
Saturday afternoon brought the main ritual, organized this year by three local Druid groves affiliated with ADF. It is always a challenge to plan a large public ritual, and the Druids did a great job. The ritual was very moving, and towards the end, as we chanted "We are a circle within a circle, with no beginning and never-ending", I felt the energy swirl around the camp, blessing all of us who were fortunate enough to be part of this magical world between the worlds.
Sunday morning, I woke at dawn to the last drumbeats from the fire circle, and began to pack up for the long trip back to North Carolina. Where had the time gone? I looked around the camp. A few people were stirring, some were just getting to bed. It occurred to me that there were many different Gatherings going on here, each one of us having a unique experience, with many different things to do, different points of view, and varied ways of celebrating our Pagan heritage. But the sense of community is unmistakable, and I gave thanks before I drove off for the healing and love that is given so freely here.
As I write this, my cat Pyewacket sits on my lap, purring, and his sister Mariah plays by the stream that splashes and gurgles outside my window. I love my new home, but the move here had been hard on me both physically and emotionally. I realized soon after my return that I had brought some intangible magic back with me from the Gathering. The stresses and strains of the move had been healed by my time there, and I now felt much more "at home" in my new place. I recalled the ending chant, written by Sable, from the main ritual:
"Walk with wisdom from this hallowed place,
Walk not in sorrow; our roots shall ere embrace.
May strength be your brother, and honor your friend,
And luck be your lover until we meet again"
So Mote It Be.
Associate Editor - The Witches' Voice
July 3rd. 2000
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