From time-to-time this blog will have invited guests present their experiences of past events. This is a guest post written by Juniper Jeni about her experience arriving on Friday at the Kaleidoscope Gathering last year. Juniper is an Ottawa witch with a wonderful blog called Walking the Hedge and is an organizer of The Witches’ Sabbat gathering to take place for the first time at Raven’s Knoll this summer.
Grey had been up for pre-fest to help with the set up. She drove back home to grab me, switch out some gear, and have a shower. So with that done and the car loaded, off we went.
We arrived about half past midnight. So, technically it was Friday, but really I guess it was still Thursday night for most people. Registration had closed at midnight, but we got through the security check point quickly.
Friends found us immediately upon arrival and helped me unload. They were camping near us. It’s nice to be surrounded by good people. Gypsy (my man) had come up for pre-KG and had set up our campsite. So all I had to do was toss my bags in the storage tent and my pillow in his trailer.
Crash (who is on the approved list of dogs permitted at KG) was given a quick walk and then we sat with our neighbours, who fed me baked goods and kept me company until Gypsy sent me a text saying he was at the trailer. We had time to say hello and do a quick walk through part of Raven’s Knoll before Gypsy was off to do Flying Monkey business.
The Flying Monkeys are the awesome volunteer security people who get up early, stay up late, and spend their Fest keeping us safe. This year their main duty was enforcing the fire ban, as due to drought, we couldn’t have fires (or candles etc) at our campsites.
I was pretty tired so I headed back to the campsite. It took a while to get Crash settled, she loves car rides and the Knoll. She was pretty excited. Then I crawled into the trailer (a homemade thing that Gypsy had built himself) and lay awake in bed. It was weird being in there without Gypsy. I dozed off and on until Gypsy arrived around 5 am, which is when his security shift typically ended.
We were up at 9 to get Gypsy ready for the Stag King competition; a gruelling, 4 hour long ritual and rite of manhood. Only the beginning and end of the competition is open to the public. The rest is kept private, a sacred rite for the men in the community. Full of cheese biscuits I had made and packed, as well as energy drinks, Gypsy went to the meeting place for the Stag King.
Crash and I stumbled bleary eyed and half asleep into registration. With that taken care of, I went to the beach to watch the start of the Stag King. To proudly cheer on the men as they headed off to do their thing. The masculine energy and testosterone was palatable in the air.
Returning to the campsite, I fed myself and Crash. Then I spent some time getting organized, hanging draperies around the trailer, and decorating an artificial hedge.
Grey and I had planned on creating a decorative false hedge that folks could hang things on and make a wish. But as the campground filled it was somewhat obscured by tents, so next year we will have to be more strategic in our placement of it.
With a happy old dog in tow, it was time for a wander. It’s good to ease yourself into Fest. Especially the largest one in Canada, that is already in full swing. We headed for Diagon Alley (under the Narnia lamppost), the vendors row, greeting friends and acquaintances. I don’t take the old dog into the vendor tents, bull in a china shop and all that. Still, Diagon Alley is the place to go if you are looking to socialize during the day.
I found Grey at the Green Fairy’s recycling centre. This year, as a pilot project, we had a right and proper recycling centre run by the maintenance staff aka the Dwarves. The recycling centre was a hit, saving the Dwarves much work post-fest sorting trash. There was even composting!
I was chatting with Grey when we heard the men returning from the Stag King competition. They marched down Diagon Alley chanting grunts and boy sounds. Grey and I peered from the back of the recycling centre, eager to see who had won. The new Stag King is veiled for the march, so it’s a process of elimination.
This was the first time I had a man in the competition and I found myself holding my breath as I scanned faces. Finally I spotted him, unveiled, marching with his brothers. The men were dirt smeared, sweaty and magnificent to behold. Bidding farewell to Grey, I joined the crowd following the men, hailing the new Stag King as we went.
At the beach the new Stag King was revealed. He was among the older of the men who competed. As is tradition, last years Stag King battled with the winner. They grappled in the river, tossing each other into the water as we cheered. At last, the new (and clearly exhausted) Stag King defeated the old, dragging him through the mud before ritually “killing” him. Then, he was crowned by the men, witnessed by his community.
Hail the Stag King! Hail the folk!
People rushed forward, eager to be the first to libate our new King, offering him water and alcoholic beverages.
As the crowd began to disperse, I found my tired Gypsy. He showed me the torn pleats in his kilt, a result of the competition. As we walked back to our campsite the First Stag King (now one of the leaders of the competition) approached us. He praised Gypsy’s efforts. Gypsy had impressed the other men and leaders, earning himself an honourable mention. My heart swelled with pride and I told him so.
Doing the Stag King on only a few hours sleep is no easy thing. Now was time to hydrate my man and tuck him into the trailer for a well earned nap.
While he slept, I went with friends and folk to bring offerings to the Ve. The Ve is a right and proper (read: traditional) outdoor ritual space for the Heathens of the community. Built by the folk at Raven’s Knoll it is, as far as we can tell, the first permanent Heathen Ve constructed in Canada.
It was hallowed and the first god pole erected at the Hail and Horn gathering a couple of weeks earlier.
Upon my return from the Ve, Gypsy got up from his nap and headed for the showers. I laid down for a nap of my own while Crash made herself comfortable under the trailer. After his shower, it was time for Gypsy to grab a radio (walkie-talkie) and sign in for his shift as a Flying Monkey. So he headed off to protect our community while I slept.
A while later, Gypsy returned from patrol for some cuddle time and dinner. I heated up homemade beef stew that I had frozen a couple of days before.
I split my evening between tagging along as Gypsy roamed, radio on his belt, and visiting friends.
At one point I ran into a sister by choice, for whom this was her first KG. We toured Diagon Alley together and I bought her a sarong. You can’t go to fest without a sarong! Well, I do but that’s because I am contrary enough to refuse to wear the standard issue Pagan festival garb.
Before I knew it, night was upon us.
Gypsy has provided Crash with a child sized tent of her own. Being a dog with over a decade of camping and festing experience, she is content to rest her old bones in her tent. Tucked in with a bone, water, her blanket and her favourite toy, she was fine to be left for brief periods of time.
I filled a plastic bottle with some Bailey’s. Glass bottles are not allowed around the fire pit, broken glass and bare feet is a bad thing. Then I put on my green evening gown.
I swung by an enclave containing my dearest friends and we prepared for the drumming fire. My friend looked fabulous in her new sarong.
To the drumming fire we go!
Oh, do you that feeling? The sweet anticipation. The long dark walk down the Yellow Brick Road. Passing pretty girls who jingle as they walk and men strutting proudly in kilts.
Past the security outpost where the Flying Monkeys greet you as you go by. Then, a right turn down Swamp Road.
The drums and the shouts become gradually louder and louder. But still muffled by giant sand berms built by a madman and his machinery.
A left turn onto a sandy path. Walk between ZombieTown and Birch Grove.
You can feel the beat of the drums in the soles of your feet now. Calling you. Calling you to the dance.
Goosebumps. Hard nipples. Cheshire cat grins.
Come to the dance. Come!
Grey and I clutch our Fest-virgin sister with delight. We shush her. Hush, hush … You must take it all in. Are you ready?
Some moments are meant to be savoured. Some sights and sounds are to be taken in. Burned into your mind. Marked upon your soul.
The drums are loud now. The laughter, the shouts.
“Freedom” cry the drums. Celebration. Joy. Ecstasy. Community. A revelry as old and wild and pure as can be.
Our friend asks why is she being shushed, when everyone else is being noisy?
Because this revelation must be fully experienced.
We round the bend and pass the berm. We have arrived.
The massive and carefully tended fire casts a golden and orange glow. A double ring of dancers circumambulate it desoil. The tall Firekeeper with his stick stands, keeping an experienced eye on his fire. Hail the Firekeeper!
Beyond this, groups of people sit and stand together. Laughing, singing, talking, arms draped across the shoulders of friends and lovers.
Beyond this, closer to the berms, a few people dance with lighted staves. Coloured lights spin in hypnotic patterns.
On the opposite side of the fire from us is the drumming pit. A dozen of them, maybe more, maybe less. They work together, lead by the Drumming Marshal, to give the celebration its heart beat. Hail the drummers!
We watch for a minute, taking it in. Grey and I giddy as school girls, our friend perhaps wondering why we are being so ridiculous. We tell her how the dance is done, how to ease your way in to join the rings of dancers. It’s like merging onto a highway, explains Grey. We point out the dancers. They are wearing any manner of clothing; dresses, bikinis, sarongs (of course!), blue jeans. Some wear nothing at all. Different body types, different ages. Everyone is beautiful here. Hail the Dancers!
They all dance in their own way; some do not even dance to the rhythm of the drums, though it’s a good idea to not be the slowest person in the circle. There is no need to be self conscious, there is no judgment here. It’s the freedom of the dance.
Here in the drumming and the dance is the very definition of Paganism, the joyous celebration of life and all of creation, each in our own way. We drum and dance together, as we openly express our individuality.
And so we tuck away our sandals and bottles and bags and gear against a berm, beside a solar light to find it all again easily. Then, we dance.
As we dance men with large jugs of water walk around, shouting over the din offers of water to the dancers and drummers. A Flying Monkey passes by, his radio pressed to his ear so he can hear it better. We take care of our own here, at the dance.
The drumming speeds up and then slows down, finally tapering off for a break. The dancers hail the drummers. The drummers hail the dancers. The folk hail the Firekeeper. The Firekeeper hails the folk.
I hear tell that the FireKeeper sleeps all day, rising at dusk to prepare the fire pit. He watches over the fire all night before dousing it and climbing back into bed. This is how his fest is spent, that is what he does.
Lady N materializes before me, as tall and stunning as ever. I have not seen her in months. We embrace and then she leads me away from the fire. She leads me into ZombieTown. Walking into ZombieTown is like straying in the land of fairie. Here are the beautiful young people, most of them college age. Lady N introduces me as the woman who taught her everything she knows and I am humbled. Then I am plied with drink. I no longer have the constitution as these young folks. I watch them laugh and drink and revel in ways I no longer do and feel the difference between 32 and 22. It’s not long before I bid farewell and find my way back out of ZombieTown, drunker than I had planned to get that night.
After making my way back to the drumming fire pit, I find myself in a convoluted but wonderful conversation with a random man about Paganism and community. Gypsy finds me, his radio against his ear. He leads me to the security outpost where he needs to check in. Sitting and chatting with the good folks at the outpost quickly became a favourite activity of mine and it’s also kind to keep them company. I suspect it can be a little boring there. Gypsy heads off on Flying Monkey business and I stay behind at the outpost, enjoying the company.
While visiting the outpost I am lucky enough to witness the late night arrival of a certain notorious bard.
It’s bedtime. I must be up at a decent hour tomorrow. There is a discussion panel to sit on and a workshop to teach. Crash gets her bed time walk while I drink as much water as I can, to avoid a hang over. Eventually, around 5 am, Gypsy joins me in bed and holds me close. The alarm is set for 10.
Friday has ended, Fest has begun.