From time-to-time this blog invites guests to present their experiences of past events. This is a guest post written by Gypsy Birch about his experience at the KornuKopia gathering this year.
The KornuKopia Gathering was a celebration of the Wheel of the Year’s turning into fall, but it was, as I expected, so much more than that. It was a joyous gathering of community to be thankful for all the good things that we have in our lives. It was a festival where we expressed our joy for the world, our thanks for the gifts we receive from it, and especially our thanks for our friends and companions.
I arrived during the day on Friday, anxious as always to leave behind the mundane and get to Raven’s Knoll. The KornuKopia Gathering, or KKG, officially started that evening with much in the way of merrymaking around the Hearth Fire, the flames burning high and warm under the watchful care of the fire keepers. Into the night the attendees, travelers from near and far, enjoyed catching up with old friends, making new connections, and discussing the coming events planned for the weekend. As the evening drew on, I joined in as a few of the folks, the ones willing to pull themselves from the warmth of the Hearth, strode off into the evening and attended the opening ritual at the Standing Stone. The night air was cool, but our collective visible breath wafting into the air was like that of the fire’s smoke, reminding everyone of the strength of the circle and the comfort that was drawn from each others’ presence. We stood together as the KornuKopia Gathering was formally opened with a simple but compelling ritual under the guidance of Auz, one of the Hosts of the festival.
The following day (depending on the wake-up time of each individual) a variety of workshops and events were held on the land. Some of the workshops went in deep spiritual directions with discussions on history and personal understanding, and others were casual and relaxing, such as anytime-fishing and a euchre tournament. There was much freedom to be had in terms of workshop attendance; that is, there were many people happy to attend the events and many just as happy to pass their day wandering, spending time with each other and enjoying the land. I spent most of my own day on the pier by the river, dividing my time between fishing and teaching others to fish. The luck was minimal, but with a few catches, something fresh and immediately local was ready to add to Sunday’s feast.
As the day moved forward, many of the fest-goers made their way to the main fire pit to see the grand creation of the year: the great Wicker Man. He was constructed of brush and branches from around Raven’s Knoll land, and seated in a great wooden chair. Built by Raven’s Knoll volunteers, the effigy was created to represent the sacrifices that are made to ensure a good harvest for the year. Little notes, gifts, and personal offerings were made to the man, laid upon and around his body. These things were tokens of thanks for those things we had reaped this past year, and asking for a bountiful harvest in the year to come.
Ending my fishing for day, I decided to join Auz as he took a few of the attendees to visit the Vé, the Norse shrine area at the north end of the land. I provided my assistance to him as he initiated new guests to the Vé by way of an oath, one which I had taken at the first Hail and Horn Gathering. As always, it was a powerful experience visiting the God Poles of Odin and Frigg. I know of at least one person who, that very weekend, found a very deep and personal connection with the Vé. This is the sort of thing that happens at the Knoll when we open ourselves to that which lives in and around us.
Shortly after leaving the Vé, I made my own way to the main fire pit to prep the firebowl braziers, set up the torches, and help set up for the main ritual. While I did this, I could hear and feel as the energy of the community, already raised high by the anticipation of the coming evening’s event, was raised even higher by a concert performed by IO at the Raven Stage. Passionate voices and powerful drumbeats prepared everybody’s spirits, and at the conclusion of the performance the festival attendees made their way to the Birch Grove.
We all met together at the Grove as the sun finished setting, the community ready to take part in the main ritual. Circled around the edge of the clearing, we bordered in the space between the torchlight and the dark shadows of the trees. Auz led us through this ritual with the aid of Juniper Jeni and Angela Grey, two of the community’s well-known witches. As always, the ritual was powerful, creating a great compass to draw together the energies of the land and the elements, reminding us of what we have, and all that we have to be thankful for.
I had the fortune of being the herald for the event, helping the two witches as they led the people of the community to the Drumming Pit. I did my best to blow on the provided horn to announce our arrival; suffice it to say I wish I had practiced with the horn a little bit more.
But, despite the possibly hilarious noises I elicited from the horn, the vigour of the people was still high as we entered the Drumming Pit. We all stood and faced the great man, and watched as Maryanne Pearce, Austin’s wife and fellow host of KKG, represented the Great Mother and spoke to the man as if he was her child, then as her partner, and then as her elder. The man’s voice echoed back through the night in sadness, in passion, and in resignation, for he is all of these things to us and while we lost him in sacrifice this season, we did not lament his loss, for we know we will be reborn to us.
At the conclusion of the ritual, the man was set aflame, and the smoke roiled up into the night. There was something about the wooden man, and how he burned, that let us know that he wasn’t upset about his sacrifice, but rather he was actively joyous. Some of the more energetic among us began to dance about the circle, and happy conversation and socializing became the order of the evening, continuing on late into the night.
The Sunday morning (once again, some getting up much later than others) started for me much like the Saturday: fishing. I was asked by some of the festival attendees if I was bored from spending so much time at the pier. They saw me constantly teaching people how to fish, sometimes being there alone, all of it with little luck actually catching anything. My response was always the same:it’s not always about catching fish, but spending time connecting with nature and being thankful for it, very much like we were doing as a community at KKG as a whole.
My only fishing interruption was running Archery and Axe Throwing, a consistently well-attended staple workshop of Raven’s Knoll festivals. It was a great time, and the archers had especially great fun aiming at their target: a large foam mattress with a spray-painted representation of Odin taunting his foes with runes saying “Hit Me” (although it has been questioned if the runes say “Hit Me” or “Hit Ma”; it may be a spelling mistake, or Odin may have an accent of some sort, but that is for the scholars to debate).
After all was said and done in the archery field, I made one last run at fishing before beginning to prepare for the feast. A total of four appropriately edible fish were caught over the weekend by my fellow fisherman, and it was time to clean them. Unfortunately, as my own skill set is focused on a catch-and-release style of fishing, I went to David Rolfe, a previous organizer of Kaleidoscope Gathering, for help in cleaning our contribution to the feast. It was a definite honour to have one of the elders of the community teaching me in such a way, and it’s part of what made my own KKG even more memorable.
When the time came for the Feast, I’d grilled some of the fish and deep fried the rest, adding it to the already impressive lineup of food set out upon the tables. Slow cookers, pots, baskets and plates, all heaped with a vast variety of food to accommodate the many tastes present, were eyed hungrily by those attending. Auz led us in giving thanks for the feast, for each other, and for the year. And soon, patiently waiting to take our turn, we all took part and filled our bellies to our heart’s content. Fortunately I had sampled some of the fish while cooking it, because it was quickly cleared up by the hungry community.
Our plates emptied, it came time to pack up and leave Raven’s Knoll and the KornuKopia Gathering behind, but just as we spent our weekend celebrating the turning of the wheel into fall, we knew in our hearts that we were not coming to an end of something; rather, we were moving forward towards a new beginning. There was a sense of quiet, that this was a time to rest as we prepare ourselves for the coming winter and, beyond that, the next year. There was not a sense of loss of the time behind us, but an excitement of what is yet to come.