Free Spirit Gathering 2013: Many Paths
Article ID: 15456
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 2,410
Times Read: 8,593
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Author: Caroline Kenner [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: June 23rd. 2013
Times Viewed: 8,593
Sponsored by: Free Spirit Alliance
Location: Darlington, Maryland, on the southern bank of the Susquehann
Event Date(s): Tuesday, June 11th through Sunday, June 16th, 2013
A group of eager bellydancing students worked to copy The Wicked Isabelle’s every rippling move. Practicing daily, the class would ultimately dance as part of Main Ritual. “If you make a mistake during the ritual, make it big and keep going! Have fun with your mistakes! Have a blast!” said The Wicked Isabelle.
That is good advice for Free Spirit Gathering in general. Free Spirit Alliance’s 28th annual summer gathering took place Tuesday, June 11th through Sunday, June 16th, at Camp Ramblewood in Darlington, Maryland. FSG has tremendous resonance in the Pagan communities throughout the mid-Atlantic states, north to New England, west through Ohio, and south past the Carolinas. FSG has been an important gathering of the Pagan tribes for so long that we are working on raising our third generation now.
For many of us, the gathering hit all the expected high notes, and then delivered just a little bit more this year. As always, there were rituals from a wide variety of traditions, Reiki attunements, shamanic healing, Runic-empowered healing, making cordials and liqueurs (yes, tasting, too!) , a wonderful child and teen programming available at FSG, along with great fire circles every evening and performances by two bands and the fire spinning troupe Hubris. What more could a Pagan ask for? Well…
Our weather was extremely cool, very pleasantly so, but also bizarrely variable. Saturday was truthfully the most perfect day I have ever spent on site since the first year I attended in 1987: sunny, warm, low humidity, light breezes. However, there was rain and damp to get through before the sun came out. A bonus was that the weather in the evenings was almost cold, and the fire felt marvelous.
My favorite moment of the entire gathering: enjoying a stroll in the velvet blackness of the soccer field, admiring the flashing firefly show and the glimmering Milky Way, we came upon Mark the Druid and his extremely large telescope. Mark showed us some of the mysteries of the cosmos, including Saturn. Saturn is so very beautiful! Many thanks to Mark the Druid, of OBOD, seeing Saturn was like a delicious dessert, or a cool glass of water on a warm day!
Padraig mac Lynne has had really comprehensive experiences at FSG over the years. “Free Spirit Gathering has been the site and framework of many of the most profound religious experiences I have had. The site itself fills me with the surety that my gods are present, solid, real. The spirits of the land are strong and healthy, the people are warm and friendly, and the festival renews and restores me each year. To be in the presence of so many people of different faiths and paths, sharing space, interacting, cross-pollinating, teaching, learning, celebrating, and making magic together reminds me that being Pagan is not just about my little group, or my tradition, but about a whole swathe of human experiences.”
There is a great deal of variety to enjoy at FSG. Dragon Dave, of The Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, spent some of the festival showing off the outline of his new, full-back Dragon tattoo. "For me, this FSG was more about the gifts of the Ramblewood grounds, a cool night under the stars, a walk through the woods, and falling asleep to the sound of rain on your tent. I only went to one class a day, two by Caroline Kenner and a third by Scott Mohnkern. Scott’s class gave me a few ideas to ponder in the future. I want to delve deeper into the Runic Valdr work of Rodney Cox, work I was introduced to in the class. I think Runic Valdr has applications to my own casting and healing work."
Certainly Camp Ramblewood has never looked better than this year. With longtime FSA member and co-founder of Chesapeake Pagan Community Kalabran at the helm of the campground staff, the renovations to the site are ongoing and comprehensive. The cabins were in good order, the food had improved substantially, and the landscaping is beautiful. Campground owner Harry Leff purchased luxuries like new memory foam mattresses for all the cabins, and my personal favorite: a machine that makes caffe latte in the dining hall. My mornings simply always go better with a latte.
Another highlight of FSG was the performance by Hubris, a fire-spinning troupe that first performed at Camp Ramblewood during Fires of Venus in 2009. As they say on their website, www.hvbris.org, Hubris is a fun-loving, piratical, licentious, geeky band of fire freaks who succeed in being very entertaining and amusing with their wickedly creative antics. The founding members of Hubris are Hobbit, Sock Monkey, and Cookie Monster; they and their Fellow Members, Consorts, Attendants, and Other Assorted Hangers-On will be thrilled to introduce you, too, to the magical wonders of the Arts of Fire. Just ask them. They are not only a fire performance troupe, but a collection of fire performers who also excel at teaching various fire arts. And one of the sweetest moments I witnessed at the gathering was listening to the exultations of a new poi spinner who just performed in public for the first time. He had such a good time! It was a great thrill for him.
Another troupe of performers born and nurtured at Camp Ramblewood over the years is Kiva, www.kivasong.com. Free Spirit Gathering has enjoyed Kiva’s performances for many years, and their performance Thursday evening was a knockout. Everyone sounded wonderful. Joined by satellite members Eve Jones and Jaqui MacMillan on drums, the band rocked the dance pavilion despite the drizzle.
Jaqui also brought her beloved Drum for Joy! workshop to FSG for an encore performance this year. “This was one of the most wonderful and healing FSGs I've been to in my 18 years of attending. The staff did an incredible job making the space feel so magical and welcoming! It was beautiful! Thank you for all you do to make this event happen every year. I always love it ... but there was really something special this year. Infinite thanks and love to everyone!”
Mystic Forest, with an outstanding electronic violin player, performed Saturday night to great acclaim. They describe themselves as a magical, World Culture-collaboration of harmonies that open the ecstatic reaches of the soul, transcending space and time. Mystic Forest travels like the wind, touching the haunting strings of Samuel’s violin, the watery and entrancing echo of Josh’s tabla, the exotic rhythm and tribal fusion of Dana’s drums, and the mesmerizing vibration of Doug’s didgeridoo. I found their music ethereal and lovely. www.mysticforestmusic.com Their members joined us at the fire circle afterwards, an unexpected gift to the community.
Tom Swiss has been going to Free Spirit Gathering for many years. “I feel that the Fire Circle worked so well this year because we learned a lot from the years that we had Alchemical Fire Rituals at FSG. We've also learned how to integrate fire spinners and dancers, those folks with poi and fans and other flaming props, into the overall experience in a way I haven't seen anywhere else. I feel like we're taking an ancient practice, probably humanity's oldest magical working, and continuing to explore new territory with it -- and that is just so cool!”
Selkie Syrin helped organize a lot of the entertainment at FSG this year. “My reward is in seeing people connecting with their spirituality through some of its most ancient languages... drumming, song, stories, myths, and mysteries. And there was so very much more of this for the 2013 gathering. We saw the return of lunchtime concerts, we saw a re-envisioning of the Bardic Circle, we saw a greater flow from one major event to the next via having placed someone into an MC position, and we saw a much larger turn out for our drumming tribe down at our fire circles.”
Because FSG prides itself on being first and foremost a family gathering, there is also tremendous thought and energy put into children’s and teen programming. This year, Lord Fairy Bottom Educifer took charge of the teens. “I led the Teen Program this year at Free Spirit Gathering, which was a phenomenal success. From this past year, my experience is that FSG is very family oriented. "It takes a village" is the typical attitude when we work together as a Community. Members within the Community stepped forward to offer their experiences and expertise. The FSG Kids' Program offered by Cheryl and Kitty, AND the FSG Teen Program that I organized along with my Team, Stormlily, Skywise and ShadowDancer, kept vigil on a growing generation while parents were able to step out of the Circle to take part in other Workshops offered by other Community leaders at FSG. We are looking ahead to create a Toddler/Pre-K Program as well.” The community thanks all concerned with raising magical young’uns. We give thanks for your work.
Another highlight of the gathering is the trance possession ceremony presented by Cat Firesong and The Universal Temple of Spirits. Shamanic healer Monika Lonely Coyote spoke of the UToS ceremony at FSG: “My own spirituality is ever-increased by the spectacular UToS ritual. Singing for the spirits develops a great community among FSG attendees. I love dancing with Coyote, who Loves to inspire running and howling among all!” This year I danced Kali Maa, and was profoundly possessed in a deeply meaningful way. Thank you to Cat, Richard, and all of the Universal Temple of Spirits personnel, for a wonderful ceremony.
Cat Firesong is a busy woman at FSG. In addition to UToS, Cat co-leads the annual Women’s Summer Solstice Ritual, in its 21st year, with LafingFrog. Many of us look forward to that ceremony annually. And this year, Cat brought her homemade cordials and liqueurs, with instructions on how to make the beverages of the Gods as well as lots of delicious samples. My favorite was the peach that she put up and then forgot about for eight months, lusciously fruity and succulent. In addition to her sacred and spirited activities, Cat Firesong also vends her beautiful pottery and her beaded necklaces patterned to honor the Gods and Goddesses of all the pantheons of the world.
Shopping at Free Spirit Gathering remains excellent. With a good selection of drums, Faerie coture, amber and jet, Pagan themed stained glass, a bookstore, and a panoply of other items for sale, Merchant’s Row is almost painfully tempting. There are also plenty of healing options. In addition to massage, Neighborhood Acupuncture of Laurel, Maryland was at the gathering, which made everything much easier on a physical level for me! I tried to be a good Witch and not break the budget, but the wands Kevin brought from Delaware sent me into the red. We were teasing him about being Ollivanders, my friends and magical family members and I bought so many of his wands and his partner’s Tarot bags.
For the most important group ritual work of our time together, the Universal Temple of Spirits provided a wooden spirit coffin. It was solidly constructed, to carry all the energies we revelers would ritually shed over the course of Free Spirit Gathering. And so on Saturday night, I found myself marching solemnly down the hill to the fire circle, helping to carry the child-sized spirit coffin towards ritual immolation. We sang to Le Baron Samedi to assist us in our work of shedding, and many of our number wore top hats in His honor. With the help of the fire tenders, we hoisted the coffin to the top of the fire, and watched as the fire slowly consumed the coffin and its contents. The drums rose and fell, the people danced around the fire, it was primal, elemental, satisfying. Satisfying, yes, it was very satisfying to be purged clean by sacred fire during the Sun’s annual zenith.
The last words belong to Radio Boy, aka Hugh. Hugh was “volun-told” to be clean up coordinator at the first festival in 1986. As we observed yet another annual gathering of the tribes: “We walked our many paths to this sacred land, to this grand reunion of our families of choice. We sang to the Powers, danced with them, braided their Names into a spiral dance. We met in joy and peace, joined in laughter and love, left with regret--and hope for the next meeting.”
Won’t you join us in the dance next June at FSG? The tribes will gather once again next year; it is almost 30 years now. There is a simple strength and virtue in continuity. It is rare to have a Pagan community now moving into its third generation, rare, valuable, and something to treasure. Please consider joining us for more forest revels, fires, rituals and magic next year!
For more information about Free Spirit Gathering, please visit www.freespiritgathering.org
Thanks to Joel for the awesome coffin, and Sidhe Dances for The Wicked Isabelle's quote.
Photography by Frederick G. Friedel, Sr.
1. Firedancing with Hubris
2. Bellydancing at Main Ritual
3. Vending at FSG
4. Mystic Forest performs at FSG
Location: Olympia, Washington
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Bio: Caroline is one of the usual suspects in the Washington, DC/Baltimore Pagan community. Currently, Caroline helps produce Sacred Space, an annual conference in its 23rd year. In addition to her shamanic healing and teaching practices, Caroline owns an electronic Tarot and oracle card company called The Fool's Dog with her husband Jason, a brilliant C programmer.
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