Chesapeake Pagan Community Gathering: Dancing with Devas 2006
Article ID: 11077
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 4,902
Times Read: 9,511
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Author: Caroline Kenner [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: August 20th. 2006
Times Viewed: 9,511
Sponsored by: Chesapeake Pagan Community
Location: Northern Maryland
Event Date(s): August 3-6, 2006
Driving drumbeats urged the worshipers to dance more wildly, to catch the rhythm with focus and concentration, to accept the gifts of spirit. People reported spontaneous visions, spirit possession, pain washed away by the energy of the dance. It was the Conjure Dance, the opening ritual of Chesapeake Pagan Community's 2006 Gathering, Dancing with Devas.
The altar was broadly polytheistic, with many Gods and Goddesses brought by many different participants. People made an effort to bring their personal deities for the altar. There were groupings of pantheons: the Gods and Goddesses of Egypt, the Hindu Gods and Goddesses, the Ancestors, the Loa and the Orisha, all honored with lavish display. I then led about 50 people in the opening ritual, the New Orleans Voodoo Conjure Dance, a dance of manifestation invented by Marie Leveau, a dance inviting spirit possession by the multitude of deities, nature spirits and divinities from many traditions honored on the altar.
Chesapeake Pagan Community has for the past three years defied Pagan tradition: their outdoor festival at Camp Ramblewood focuses on advanced workshops and transformative sweat circles and rituals. There are no bands, and not many late parties. People are there to learn and make spiritual progress during the weekend. Many of the participants have been Pagan for well over 20 years, and in that time their religious and magical practices have changed, evolved and grown. This audience wouldn't be satisfied with Paganism 101.
Chesapeake Pagans believe diversity in religious beliefs and practices is stimulating. This year's programming spanned the spectrum from Africa to Appalachia, from Lady Bast to Shri Laksmi. Each evening, there was a bonfire and drumming led by Katy Gaughan. Saturday night, there was a concert with lovely music by Wendy Sheridan and Chesapeake Pagans' own Bard, Maugorn the Stray. Featured guests Orion Foxwood and Ivo Dominguez, Jr. challenged their students with advanced and novel material. Black Lotus, trained in Wicca by Judy Harrow and initiated in Hinduism by Ammachi of Kerala, led a Lakshmi Puja. Michael Smith of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel led a ritual for Bast, the Egyptian Cat Goddess. Tyrtle and Miriam Benson organized the sweat circles team. It was an exciting mixture.
The heat was intense for the first day of the festival. People congregated in the pool. Happily, Friday afternoon the heat broke, and the temperature cooled off to the low 80s. We felt blessed by the local Nature Spirits, the Dancing Devas, as we have been so often. Many people at the festival have been doing ritual at Camp Ramblewood for twenty years. For them it is a precious homecoming, a joy eagerly shared with new kindred spirits.
Aptly, considering the number of years some participants have been making magic at Camp Ramblewood, Orion Foxwood taught a class on Working with the Power of Place. Orion is currently traveling all over the U.S. and Europe teaching his Faery Seership material as an extension of his book, The Faery Teachings. Many people at Chesapeake Pagans are interested in Faery lore, since the group also sponsors the Maryland Faerie Festival. Orion brought his Faery teachings to the CPC gathering to great acclaim. He also taught Southern Conjure Magic, with a centerpost altar dedicated to Marie Leveau, in harmony with the gathering's opening ritual, the New Orleans Conjure Dance.
Ivo Dominguez, Jr. taught some of his theoretical material. Ivo's structural approach to magic is very helpful to people on any esoteric path. His workshop, The Three Selves, about the lower, middle and upper selves, is pertinent to magical disciplines from Hermeticism to Shamanism, and everything in between. Ivo also taught the Three Gates of the Moon and The Great Year. With his cross-cultural analysis of magical systems combined with past life memories and keen psychic ability, Ivo has an expanded understanding of space and time that can enlighten even advanced magical practitioners.
Ivo has taught at the CPC gathering for the past three years. He said, "I have taught at quite a few events and what strikes me most about the CPC Summer Gathering is that the attendees actually value what is being taught. They are seeking education more than they are looking for entertainment, and to a teacher that is a great reward in itself."
Many participants said how exciting and high-energy the rituals were at CPC gathering. Myth Woodling said, "It was really wonderful to have Lakshmi Puja done simply for American Pagans unfamilar with the Puja ritual format. Black Lotus called it 'Puja 101' or 'Puja for Dummies'. Many of us felt moved by the presence of Sri Lakshmi, the Hindu Goddess of Abundance, during the ritual." Diotima Mantineia said of the Bast ritual: “I have four cats, and have honored Bast for many years, but Michael Smith, as a dedicated priest of Bast, honored her with a phenomenal ritual that moved me deeply and taught me many things I had never known about this goddess. The ritual was accessibly ancient, with roots in actual ancient Egyptian practice, but skillfully interpreted for modern worshipers.”
Main ritual on Saturday night was a cooperative effort between Ivo and Orion, with the intent of arousing joy. The Four Quarters wore capes depicting their realms, and danced with abandon. A Star was inscribed in the Circle of participants, and the single circle morphed into two circles to reflect love and joy at each other, and bask in the magical moment. Thoron, with Kalabran a coordinator of the Chesapeake Pagans gathering, said, “Like our previous two gatherings, CPC's 2006 gathering had a rich magical content. Our small size, with attendance at 104 people, contributed to the strength of the gathering's magical focus. We had enough people to make the magic work, but not so many that it would feel diffused or unfocused, as you might find in a larger gathering.”
People commented on the serene feeling of community during the festival. Black Lotus particularly enjoyed himself at the Chesapeake Pagans gathering. “I am new to the Chesapeake Pagan Community, but they went out of their way to make me feel accepted and welcomed as a guest speaker. I'm not your run-of-the-mill Joe Pagan. As a handicapped individual, I have difficulties getting around, and it's gotten me taken off the Invite List of more than one festival. But the CPC made sure I had radio-dispatched golf-cart transportation, and everyone pitched in to make sure I had access to food, or seating at rituals. I had a great time, and look forward to attending again.”
In addition to their focus on community, Chesapeake Pagans take their stewardship of the Earth seriously, as you can tell at mealtimes from the Leave Less Trace program. Leave Less Trace is a voluntary dishwashing program. Instead of using Camp Ramblewood's one-use Styrofoam dishes, Chesapeake Pagans offer diners the choice of using a regular dish and silverware. After dinner there are some splashy moments behind the dining hall. If participants don't want to wash up afterwards, Leave Less Trace also gives people the choice to use 100% recycled paper plates, cups and bowls. Trustee Peggy Brennan went to a thrift shop and bought the dishes and cutlery for the group last year. “Just as the simple task of moving a rock becomes prayer when it's an Ancient One entering a sweat-dome, dishwashing becomes sacred work. Pagans worship Earth, so we also used non-chlorine bleach for sanitizing, and like villagers at the river, it became social time!” CPC estimates that Leave Less Trace has cut dining hall trash generated by the CPC gathering in half.
One way of judging a festival is how complete newcomers react. One such newcomer, Mike, had never been to a Pagan festival before. He said, “Well, I came out just for Saturday this year, but next year I'm going to come to the whole festival!”
Kalabran, president of CPC and coordinator of the 2006 festival, hopes Mike will come back for the entire event next year, along with a few other new friends. “We are negotiating with Camp Ramblewood for a different weekend, earlier in the summer, for 2007, which we hope will be less hot than the Lughnasadh date has been. We'd eventually like the CPC gathering to be about twice as big as it is now. At two hundred attendees, Camp Ramblewood isn't crowded, and there is no strain on the facilities like there can be at a larger festival. Ideally, CPC would like to present a great summer festival without getting so large that we lose our community feeling, or sacrifice the quality of the rituals, the sweats and the workshops. Chesapeake Pagan Community is reaching out to new people through the Maryland Faerie Festival, which had 3,000 attendees in a single weekend last May, the second Faerie festival. We hope this will result in an influx of new people attending the Chesapeake Pagan Summer Gathering, as well as introducing the Pagan world view to a wider audience.”
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Caroline Kenner is a professional shamanic healer in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC. She has been a Pagan community organizer since the early 1980s. Caroline has studied shamanism with Michael Harner and Sandra Ingerman, and has completed their most advanced levels of training. Caroline studied anthropology at Bryn Mawr College, and has a Master's degree in communications from Boston University. In addition to her magical practice, Caroline is initiated into the arcane mysteries of Public Relations. She works with national and local media to correct misperceptions about Paganism and Witchcraft. See Caroline's website at www.mythkenner.com
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