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Article ID: 14696

VoxAcct: 203884

Section: festivals

Age Group: Adult

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Starwood Festival 2011 (A Review by Oberon Zell)

Author: Oberon Zell-Ravenheart
Posted: August 7th. 2011
Times Viewed: 9,455
Sponsored by: Association for Consciousness Exploration (ACE)
Location: Wisteria in southern Ohio
Event Date(s): July 5-10, 2011
Attendance: 600

I’ve attended nearly every Starwood festival for the last 27 years, as a guest and speaker, and I have to say, this year’s may have been my all-time favorite! For more than two decades, Starwood had been held at Brushwood in upstate New York, but last year it moved to Wisteria in southern Ohio, where the Pagan Spirit Gatherings had been held for many years. Wisteria comprises 620 lovely acres of forests and fields in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains, and has a very different ambience than Brushwood. It just feels more intimate somehow, and the lower numbers in these early years at a new site allow personal connections to be made with nearly everyone attending. The Brushwood Starwoods had sometimes been as large as 1, 500 attendees, so widely spread out that there were entire camping areas I never managed to visit. But this second year at Wisteria saw only around 600 revelers, which brought it all to a delightfully human scale.

If you have never attended Starwood, you have been missing one of the great Pagan experiences of our time! Starwood has been put on for 31 years now by the Cleveland-based Association for Consciousness Exploration (ACE) , founded in 1983 by members of the Chameleon Club. As it says on the Starwood Festival website ( :

“The Starwood Festival features over 15 performances of music, drumming, dance and theatre. It’s a multiversity featuring over 150 classes, workshops and ceremonies offered by teachers from many fields, disciplines, traditions and cultures. It's a family-friendly camping event with tenting and hiking, a food court, co-op childcare, a Kid Village and multimedia shows. Starwood is also a social event with costume parades, jam sessions, merchants, parties, all-night drumming and much more, including the blossom of our fest: our huge and infamous Bonfire!”

This is all true, of course, but it’s impossible to convey in so few words the richly intense Pagan experience that one finds oneself immersed in. The Wisteria site was once a major strip-mine, now long-since reclaimed by lush forests of maple and honeysuckle, with winding trails, meandering streams, rocky out-croppings, a Fairy Forest, and even caves. The entire site is in a kind of crater surrounded by cliffs, into which you descend down a steep road. It’s a secret valley outside of the Mundane world! The festival area is laid out along a roadway, with vending booths clustered on either side in the central area with the offices, café, and first aid station. Further away from the center in either direction are campsites, pavilions, workshop spots, ritual areas, outdoor showers, drumming and dancing circles, and a large main stage. Far down the road in one direction is a nice little pond for swimming, and equally far in the other direction is the broad field where the enormous 3-story bonfire is being assembled. But you don’t have to do all that much walking to get around; a fleet of golf carts are constantly going back-and-forth along this road, picking up and dropping off hitchhikers along the way.

It’s a long way from my home in NorCalifia to Wisteria in Southern Ohio, and it took a long time to get there. I left home at 8:00AM on the airport shuttle, which takes 2 hours to get to the San Francisco airport. My flight left SFO at 11:30, changed planes in St Louis, and arrived in Columbus, OH at 11:00 PM. Unfortunately, the Starwood person who was supposed to meet me had not been informed of a schedule change from Wednesday to Tuesday, and was not there to meet me; I had to wait until 1:30AM before Norm finally showed up. On the way back, his van started coughing and sputtering, and it finally died altogether about a mile-and-a-half from Wisteria. The time was 3:34AM, and there was nothing to do but start walking. The half moon had long-since set, and the country lane was pitch dark, with fog setting in.

Finally, after walking more than a mile, we saw light shining through the fog at the top of the next hill, and when we got up there, we saw black tombstones rising from the mist, spookily back-lit by what turned out to be the headlights of a car parked in the graveyard. As we approached, a portly silhouetted figure in the uniform of a Deputy Sheriff emerged from the shadows. A moment to give a Hippie Pagan pause! But he introduced himself as “Papa Smurf, ” the only Pagan cop in ten counties. He knew Wisteria well, and cheerfully told us all about it as he drove us the 1.3 miles back to Norm’s van to get my luggage, called a garage with a tow truck to pick up and fix the van, and drove us right to the trailer I’d be staying in. It was 4:30 in the morning when I finally got to bed! But it was quite an adventure, and suitably dramatized, it soon became the stuff of campfire tales.

Feeling about how you’d expect after several hours’ sleep, I dragged myself out of bed Wednesday morning and set up a couple of tables for selling Mythic Images statues, jewelry, and books in the ACE bookstore right across from Caffeina’s Cosmic Café, where I had a front-row seat for the café concerts by some of my favorite Pagan musicians—including Awen (Ian Corrigan and Liafal) , Kenny Klein, and others. But there was always something else going on during the other concerts at the main stage, Pufferdome, and Green Man Tavern, and I never got to any of them this year. But I did manage to see the spectacular Pyrosonic Meltdown fire-spinning show at the main stage Friday night to Ron Slabe’s electronic music, which was simply amazing! And the outrageous kid’s costume parade led by James Barnes and his “Waking Dream” troupe with giant puppets came right down the main street.

Main stage music at Starwood this year included two great Pagan world-music groups, Mayan Ruins and World Collision. Kenny Klein and his Jug Band opened for a terrific Newgrass group called Cabinet, and Celtic elements were supplied by Emerald Frequency. Styles ranged from the Goth-rock group Morticia’s Chair thru the jam bands Elemental Groove Theory and Broccoli Samurai to Chicago AfroBeat Project, delivering a goodly dose of Fela music. Various other groups played on the stages of the Green Man Tavern, Caffeina’s Cosmic Café’, and the PufferDome, like the Cavegirls, Telling Point, PanMan John and Phat Man Dee.

In addition to running my Mythic Images booth, I also had three workshops to present, so I was pretty busy. To my undying gratitude, Sabina helped a lot at the table. Mercifully, I wasn’t scheduled for anything on Wednesday, giving me time to prepare for my weekly radio show, “Over to Oberon and Ariel, ” which I did “Live from Starwood!” Our guests were Rev. Ivan Stang of the Church of the SubGenius, Bard Ian Corrigan of the ADF (Ar nDraiocht Fein) Druid Fellowship, and Jeff Rosenbaum of ACE. I think it was a terrific show.

There were more than 60 speakers presenting 150 workshops at 10 different sites simultaneously, including a full schedule of kids programming! On Thursday I did a presentation on “2012: Year of the Awakening.” On Friday I led a panel on the Grey School of Wizardry called “Esoteric Education.” And on Saturday I hosted a round-robin discussion on “The Once and Future Religion.” As a presenter and a vender, it’s hard for me to get around to other workshops, but I try to do so as much as possible. I made it to Tom Swiss’ workshop on “The History and Nature of Magic, ” Mary Laubach’s on “Trends in American Neopaganism, ” Kirk Everist’s “Polyamory as Paradigm, ” and Donald Michael Kraig’s “Magick for the Future.” All were excellent!

Although I had meal tickets, I was continually receiving invitations for dinner, so after I closed up the booth each night, I spent some time at different campsites. It’s always been my custom at festivals to spend my evenings roaming from campfire to campfire. I carry a staff topped with a lighted crystal and wear flowing robes and cloak, with a wide-brimmed pointy hat. I’m always invited to have a seat, and passed a drinking horn, chalice, bottle, jug, or pipe. We sit around and share stories, jokes, songs, and good company, and then I move on to the next fire. This is my favorite part of the festival, and this year I managed to make it to just about every camp.

One of the best places to hang out was the G Spot, hosted by the SpaceRangers—a group of next-generation 20-somethings, some who’d grown up at Starwood over the years, and whom I’ve known since they were kids. Indeed, I found myself telling tales of Starwoods past from before they were even born! At the G Spot you can really see how the move to Wisteria has fostered a new young audience at Starwood. Norm hangs out there, keeping everyone fed with his famous soup. On Thursday night, Taliesin treated us to a showing of his feature Witchcraft movie, “Dark of Moon, ” which included Ian and Liafal, with one scene filmed at their home Tredara.

Another great nightspot was the Palace—a large pavilion with several rooms, including a pool hall and a hookah lounge. A vast array of snacks and beverages filled the long central table, overhung by crystal chandeliers. I sampled various meads and absinthes before being ushered into the hookah lounge, where I ended up holding court for a while.

And then there was the PufferDome—a huge inflated balloon dome upon the interior of which were projected strange artsy animated films and light show effects. “Rising like Gaia's glowing nipple, the PufferDome is Starwood’s own unique late night club and performance space.”

But probably the favorite spot for serious revelers was the Paw-Paw Grove, down in a hollow, with hot dynamic all-night drumming and dancing around the fire. To me, this is the quintessential Pagan experience—something I’ve fantasized all my life, and have joined in for nearly 50 years!

Last year I was initiated into the Guild of the Torchmakers, creating the special torches for lighting the huge bonfire on Saturday night. My dear friend Xyaida brought me in, and this year I also crafted a torch for the ceremony, carving and embellishing it with the rest of the crew. Each torch was imbued with a magickal intention, and mine, appropriately, was for “Healing.”

The great Saturday night bonfire has always the centerpiece of Starwood. All week long the SpaceRangers and others had been building it with enormous logs. It was a multi-story log-cabin affair, as big as a house, and festooned with all kinds of pyrotechnics. And at midnight Saturday, the eight Torchbearers, carrying the torches we’d created during the week, solemnly processed in a choreographed dance to the Lighting of the Fire. Flames rose 100 feet into the sky (Jeff told me that it could be seen from Space) , fireworks went off, and the full moon rippled above in the heat waves. Drums pounded, dancers danced (some in costumes, others naked, and many body-painted) . It was, as always, an incredible rush!

See you next year—at Starwood!

Copyright: (c) 2011 Oberon Zell


Oberon Zell-Ravenheart

Location: Santa Cruz, California


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