Free Spirit Gathering
Article ID: 14057
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 3,481
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Author: Caroline Kenner [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: July 11th. 2010
Times Viewed: 8,169
Sponsored by: Free Spirit Alliance
Location: Darlington, Maryland
Event Date(s): 15th through 20th June 2010
A surge of excitement hit me as I turned west from I-95 at the Havre de Grace, Maryland, exit, just before the road crosses the Susquehanna River at the north end of the Chesapeake Bay. 2010 marks the 25th celebration of Free Spirit Gathering, and I was almost there!
This year’s Free Spirit Gathering was a good combination of exciting new presentations, such as the Alchemical Fire Ritual, and the same wonderful elements that have kept so many Pagans and Wiccans coming back to FSG over the course of 25 years.
The Kiva show we have come to expect at FSG was masterfully performed. There were so many wonderful drummers at FSG that the forests echoed with rhythm at all hours of the day and night. The workshops ranged from the arcane to the sublime, and included presentations on dance, song, stories and lore, eroticism, psychic abilities, martial arts, fiber arts, culinary arts, hypnotic trance, possessory trance, shamanic trance, staying grounded, writing for the Pagan market, and of course drumming. Traditions of all kinds proliferated like stars in the sky, and people could learn about Haitian Vodou, Blue Star Wicca, Universal Temple of Spirits, Asatru, Goddess worship and Faeries all in one day, if they were energetic enough. And due to a wonderful feat of manifestation by a dedicated team, there were three transformative sweatlodges to choose from, for those up to the endurance test sweats provide.
This year was my twenty-third year attending events at Camp Ramblewood, primarily attending FSG when it was the only Pagan festival within easy reach of my home in Washington, DC. I have spent years learning every path and trail behind the cabin areas, taking long walks in the silent forest to ground myself after performing shamanic healing for people. Located at the mouth of the Susquehanna River where it meets the Chesapeake Bay, the campground is sacred land for those of us who have returned year after year to celebrate the beginning of summer with our magical families.
We come home to FSG to reunite with our magical families and recharge our spiritual batteries. And many also seek to explore and transcend our boundaries and limitations. Some come to learn, some come to play, drum, dance and sing, and some come to get tattoos. No one leaves unchanged, whether it is his or her first festival or one’s twenty-fifth.
I was impressed with the breadth and the depth of the workshop offerings and rituals presented at FSG this year. The topics were wildly diverse, and there were thirty pages of workshop descriptions in the program. Here are some random highlights, but there was such a rich mixture it is hard to convey:
Our favorite anthropologist, Professor Gina Oboler of Ursinus College in Pennsylvania, taught a workshop on coming of age rituals. Gina has been both studying the Pagan community and attending FSG for many years. And Kenny Klein, present at so many Free Spirit Gatherings, taught fairy lore.
Pagans love to dance and drum and divine. Lord Fairy Bottom taught a whole series of classes on various dances, and Lauren presented bellydancing. Jacqui MacMillan, Tigre Cruz and Conrad Kubiak taught drum workshops. Vanadisflame taught Runes and Cayte taught Tarot. A relatively new oracle called IVATOS was demonstrated by Ing.
Firesong presented a Universal Temple of Spirits ceremony for the Spirits of Legacy. She describes the Universal Temple of Spirits tradition as similar to a Unitarian Universalist-style of trance possession work: all spirits from all pantheons are welcome, and the ceremonies are theme-based rather than pantheon-based.
Familiar ceremonies like the Women’s Summer Solstice Ritual, which Firesong and LafingFrog have presented for many successive years joined newcomers like Hilary’s Coyote Summer Solstice Ritual, described as a Howlin’ Good Time. The Chocolate Ritual is a long-standing favorite at FSG and provided the annual chocoholic ecstasy.
Godhooks presented the introduction to their weekend workshop based on the Descent of Inanna. Godhooks also taught a lovely erotic workshop on kissing and foreplay. The Pink Sphinx, an employee of the Whore of Babylon, brought an erotic thrill to the gathering. Arakeane and Selene taught classes on healing and psychic work, as well as some mild kink workshops. And Denise Cumor brought her unique blend of eroticism and feminism to the gathering.
Kenaz Filan and his spouse Kathy Latzoni taught a couple of classes on spirits of Vodou, and also shared their expertise on writing for the Pagan market. Deborah Lipp taught three classes on the Four Elements, and led a Pagan leadership conclave. In addition to her vocal teaching, Izolda taught us how to transform our lives using the four elements as a model, and practiced Tai Chi every morning. Satayana presented a very full course of Reiki training to the second level, and I performed shamanic healing and taught shamanism. Abraham and the Fires of Venus team offered an introduction to the newest Free Spirit festival, Fires of Venus, to be held in September.
In addition to the drum circles every night, there were many classes on drumming during the day. I wonder if any of the drummers ever slept more than a few hours at a time? Poi spinners also performed every night at the fire ceremonies, and taught poi spinning all day. There was a large group of poi spinners performing as Hubris (www.hvbris.org) on Saturday night, each of whom learned their craft at FSG. It was the most fun synchronized poi spinning I have ever seen.
Music is an essential ingredient to Free Spirit Gathering. Songmistress Izolda performed her usual miracle, and trained a group of festival attendees to sing beautifully in harmony on the first three days of the festival, with a recital on Saturday night. Everyone was impressed by the degree of excellence they achieved with so few lessons. Kellianna joined us again this year, offering a class in Goddess chants as well as a concert on Saturday night. Her new Elemental CD is a marvelous showcase for her considerable talent. I missed the Coyote Run show early in the week, but heard it was amazing, and that the band really rocked out and got everyone dancing. Kiva’s sound benefited from having Eve Jones, a former Kiva member, and percussionist Jacqui MacMillan, playing along with the rest of the band. Tigre Cruz debuted a song he had written, which was warmly received. Ariana was in fine voice and Kiva’s sound shimmered while the dancers shimmied. Predictably, I entered an intense trance while dancing to Om Shiva.
I also tranced out at the Alchemical Fire Circle. With the sacred precinct marked out with prayer ties, with a smaller fire and a sober audience, the Alchemical Fire Circle provided a safe container for spiritual exploration and transformation. Produced by a team including Whittney Matlock, Tigre Cruz and Michael Gryffyn, there was an ethereal energy present, and a more serious degree of spiritual intent than at most public fire ceremonies. I enjoyed making a prayer flag dedicated to protecting attendees from harm, and also shared a song invoking Papa Legba with the group.
By contrast, the normal fire circle down at the pond seemed to have some difficulties this year. One night, the fire was simply too large and hot for the number of people attending the circle. It was overwhelming and the heat discouraged dancers from whirling around the flames. The drumming was good but not amazing. This is part of the difficulty with presenting two fire circles at one gathering on the same night: splitting the drummers. But with Jacqui MacMillan, Conrad Kubiak, Tigre Cruz and many of their friends and students attending the festival, at least there were plenty of drummers to share.
This year’s theme was Three Generations Under the Tree. The Coven of Amber Rose presented their annual School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for the younger children. There is nothing quite like seeing a group of Pagan children wearing their first official Witch hats and capes that they themselves have made. I have watched the little ones graduate over the years while hovering between chuckles and sentimental tears. The Coven of Amber Rose has given a very significant gift to an entire generation of our local Pagan and Wiccan children.
The teen program at FSG is capably run. Providing teen space that the teens themselves want to participate in is difficult. Over-programming the teens just drives them away. FSG has found a capable teen “cruise director” in Danny Snook, and they are lucky to have his work.
Elders are also well taken care of at FSG. The staff has taken to providing a golf cart taxi service with designated stops along a route. That is a big help for those of us with mobility issues.
A bizarre bazaar of merchants graced Free Spirit Gathering. I indulged my love of pottery at Purring Banshee, the artistic home of Firesong. Firesong also makes necklaces dedicated to different deities. Odin chose me this year, and so far I haven’t been allowed to remove His necklace since the festival. I also love the work of the Crafty Celts, and bought one of their cast bronze necklaces. And I bought a silk tie-dyed dress at Reyen Design Studio, whose style I like to describe as Faerie Coture. Bonnie and Davy sold me a newly renovated cauldron, and Sarasvati’s Call sold me a lovely new white skirt. Gordon Staub brought his tattoo shop, decorating stoic Pagans with artistry and finesse. Where else in Maryland could you buy Norse style drinking horns, Coyote skins, drums, tie-dye clothes, tons of jewelry, and get a tattoo, other than at FSG?
I have a lot of admiration for the staff of FSG. Putting on the festival year after year is a huge challenge. We were lucky this festival: there were very few injuries. A major security problem involved a raccoon that was stealing food. Comically, the raccoon was spotted lugging a dozen bagels in a plastic bag up a tree. The staff truly is dedicated and hard working. It is not easy to produce a great festival with hundreds of attendees and merchants, dozens of workshops and rituals and sweatlodges, and keep everything moving more or less on time without injury in every possible weather. Kudos to the FSG staff, you have my gratitude for your hard work. It takes way, way more to produce FSG than just those gaily decorated golf carts you folks whiz around in.
So here it is only July, and my thoughts are already turning to the autumn relief from heat. The next festival Free Spirit is presenting at Camp Ramblewood is Fires of Venus, to be held September 23rd through 26th. The Pawpaws will be ripe in the Pawpaw Grove at Ramblewood just then. Let me know if you need directions to find the grove, otherwise, I’ll hope to see you there.
Copyright: (C) Caroline Kenner
Location: Olympia, Washington
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Bio: Caroline Kenner laughingly calls herself a Washington Witchdoctor and has had almost 3 decades of experience in Paganism. Find out more about Caroline's shamanic healing practice in Silver Spring, Maryland: www.mythkenner.com
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