The Return Home: A Journey Through the Harvest Home Gathering|
Posted: September 24th. 2004
Times Viewed: 3,512
Location: Madison, CT
Event Date(s): September 17-19, 2004
Milling about in anticipation of the start of the weekend, I stood listening to bits of reunion conversations as Pagans met their brethren from other gatherings. With Hurricane Ivan's presence looming in the distance we each wished for another dry hour. After a short time, Sean the Bard stepped forth and his baritone voice called us to the procession. Large torchbearers lit the way, and drummers laid a path of Magick as we snaked through the wood and field on our way to leaving the mundane world behind. As we walked, the tight skin of our daily lives cracked and loosened, letting the energies around us seep in. With the torchlight radiating against a jet-black sky, I felt like we were being lead to an invisible veil, through which only our purest selves could pass. Across the field we bowed low into an opening in the wall of trees and re-entered a Magickal wood. Ahead I could see the bonfire, and as I approached the archway to be smudged my eyes welled up with tears. I was coming home.
I hadn't been to a Pagan gathering in over two years. In that time I had become afraid of being around Pagans who judged others for what they did, who they knew, or what new magickal concept they'd mastered. In short, I was afraid of being real and getting hurt. My coven mate assured me that if I felt lonely or unsure at any point he would come stay with me until I felt better. So months after registering for HHG we drove to Camp Laurelwood in Madison, Connecticut, and I tried to leave my fears behind.
At the fire circle that first night I began my journey to discover a family of what the Irish call Anam Cara. Anam Cara means "soul friend" in Gaelic. Layers of cynicism and fear fell away each time I was rendered dumbstruck by the deep love and humility of the people around me. Every experience added to the connection, and the belief that we all have a spiritual family in each other. We just have to open up and feel it.
The opening ritual was powerful, conveying the message of sacrifice as the God danced before us, celebrating the last of his ebbing light. He accepted his fate by being sacrificed to the land, to feed the seeds of life. We were drawn in by the natural flow of the rite; it's participants authentically bringing both the elemental and divine energies into our hearts. We danced, chanted and raised energy to launch ourselves into the weekend. Following this rite were classes offered by nine of the twenty speakers present. I left the fire circle a bit dazed by all the energy and stumbled to my first class, held in a small cabin, where I came face to face with the shocking realization that I had just danced in circle with Margot Adler. This is an example of how powerfully real the entire gathering was for me.
Classes were small and intimate, taught in cabin-sized buildings. In this environment, it was easy to find these amazing teachers who revealed themselves as both passionate and human. Lon Milo Duquette enchanted his students with Enochian Evocations that carried us so gently into the astral that I couldn't tell when I left or when I returned. I only knew that I was having a once-in-a-lifetime experience worth treasuring. Andras Arthen regaled us with both history and stories of Scottish Pagan traditions, weaving the present and the past into a marvelous work of authenticity. Azrael and Amber K taught down-to-earth lessons of the Goddess. The most memorable lesson that Azrael taught me though, was the heart-touching love that she has for both teaching, and her partner Amber. In a class on the Return of the Sidhe, Tom Cowan's students learned both about the energies of these magickal beings, and also about the power of nature as Ivan's winds ripped through tree branches and forced Tom to yell over the rain as it pummeled the roof of the Nature Hut. We all stopped short several times through the class as the winds threatened to tear off the doors.
Though we were rain-soaked for most of the day, by Saturday night's Dionysian Feast we were dry and happy. With wine, food, and song we laughed and exchanged our newly acquired knowledge. After dinner, Andras and Dierdre Arthen's songs opened our hearts, and then tickled them like a loving parent tickles a child. They reminded us of the power of love and to not take ourselves too seriously. With full bodies and hearts we gathered in the rec hall to enjoy the humor of Marion Weinstein and the powerful music of Kiva. The concert that night carried me into a state where I was open and ready for Rev. Dorsey's Ritual for the Ancestors at the Fire Circle. With my bare feet caressed by the peat moss laid down around the fire, the drumbeat pushed it's way into my bones. Cutting through the haze of energy, Lilith's call to let go and let it out drew me into the current. There was no denying that we were dancing with the ancestors that night. As the fire warmed our bodies, the drums and shouts of the dancers pushed at me to be transformed by the will of my loved ones. I danced until the energy ebbed out of me, and then retreated to a cozy spot to sink into the comfort of this sacred place.
In the chill of Sunday morning, I awoke after four hours of sleep remembering the bliss of magickal energies carrying me when physical ones gave out. I opted to mill around with my newfound spiritual sisters rather than attend the classes offered that day. My coven mate, who diligently attended as many as he could, returned with a smile to report that he was very satisfied with what he learned. We ate a hot brunch that day, and I shopped through the vendors' tents with a hot cup of espresso in hand. Though the dining hall didn't offer fresh brewed coffee, java master Steve became our God of the Morning in Temple Caffiena. Folding chairs set up around the entrance to his tent became a coffee house al fresco, and many lingered there over their cup sharing stories as well as silent connections.
An organized amalgam of experiences, the Harvest Home Gathering offered something for every Pagan, no matter what their taste or mood. Well-known authors and leaders taught each genre. The energies of this gathering were pure and simple. It was dramatic when the time called for it, and humble and earthy when not. This camp was a perfect place to hold a Pagan gathering. The food was wonderful, the layout intuitive, and the scheduling of events easily manageable. Though it rained, most people agreed that Ivan had heard our pleas, and compressed himself to as small a time as possible. The mornings and evenings were chilly, but being inside during classes and having hot food helped a lot. The staff was warm and helpful, and took their responsibilities seriously.
The entire camp took on an Avalonian feel as the weekend drew to a close. We were called once again to Circle by a powerful drumbeat, and held hands to reinforce the loving community that we had each just built. I was bewilderingly sad as I walked back to my cabin to pack. I felt at odds with my adult self as the child within me cried to return to that place where everyone makes a space for you at the table, and smiles when they say hello. Real people gathered together to honor this harvest time, and celebrated our connection to each other and to the earth. I left behind the cynical adult, and returned with a more loving and recharged one. I am changed, and I like it.
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