It has been Nemeton summer. As of Starwood I have been directly involved with the renovation or creation of three worship spaces, one of them brand new. As I described in the New Thrones article our local Grove found ourselves with an embarrassment of idols in the early summer. Two different artisans had produced Earth Mother and Gatekeeper images, one in wood, one in cast cement. The cement images ended up in the temple that has the harder weather, and the wooden images were used to begin a new worship space at the Wisteria Campground in south-eastern Ohio.
This was our third Starwood at Wisteria, and, as a Starwood organizer, I’d say that we’re rolling in a groove. The initial welcoming vibe has continued, and attendance continues to creep back up after the transplant. ADF has been pretty well ensconced at Brushwood after 20 years there, and it has taken a little while for a Druidic presence to redevelop at Starwood. This was a year of communities, with ADF and CAW both bringing a renewed presence to the event. I feel confident that Starwood will go from strength to strength in the new site.
The site chosen for the Wisteria Nemeton was a tifle challenging, being at the bottom of a fairly steep switch-back trail. The whole site is in the hills of southern Ohio, and flat spaces are at a premium, but the glade at the bottom of this trail had been sanded and used for ritual before, including by us two years previously. The Wisteria folks graciously allowed us to transform the glade, and provided, sand, stone and tools for the job. They also provided a freshly cut alder post from a section of woods that was already being cleared, to make a Bile some twenty-five feet tall!
We arranged the Three Hallows in the style that I prefer, with the Fire altar in the direct center, the Worls Tree slightly north of it and the Well slightly North of that. As we have done at both Brushwood and Tredara we dug a small shaft as the permanent part of the Well, setting the usual iron bowl for the ritual water. Wisteria had a nice supply of chopped limestone, and we made sure the fire altar had a thick sand top, to keep fire away from the limestone sides. We lined the Bile and shaft in the same white stone, and used it to decorate the bas of the two idols, making a nice unified look.
|The Fire Altar, Offering shaft (capped, bottom |
right) and the Bile pillar between them.
Note Bile ascending out of frame...
We placed the Earth Mother in the East, which in Gaelic lore is the direction of prosperity and bounty, and the Gatekeeper idol in the West, the direction of wisdom and poetry. The whole thing, this year, is just a first wave. The place needs benches, a work-table and eventually additional shrines. However it had a nice feel on completion, the tall trees creating a shady canopy some thirty feet overhead.
I’ve helped to consecrate or reconsecrate three sets of Earth Mother and Gatekeeper images this year, so doing the third set felt fairly easy. We had an A-1 team of ADF elders, along with skilled and willing newer folks, and we made good sacrifice, using no scripts. The blessing was first sprinkled on the assembled crowd (mostly ADF folks, but with about a dozen festival guests) and then poured at the four sides of the Fire Altar, invoking the blessings of the four ‘provinces’ of Gaelic lore. All in all I was pleased with how the Blessing turned out, ex tempore as it was. In general the rite was powerful and, I think effective. We will see how the new installation comes to fit into the Wisteria ‘temple district’ and spiritual culture.
Starwood had a good year this year, as we regrow in our new location. Attendance was up some 15% or so, with nearly six-hundred on site. Our management machine can easily handle those sorts of numbers, and systems ran smoothly.
ADF’s presence at Starwood is being reaffirmed. ADF has a long history with the festival, the annual meeting having been held there for the first few years. This year the consecration of a new Nemeton put a new seal on that history.
Other long-time Starwood communities are coming back together as well. We had a substantial CAW camp, and renewed GLTB organizing as well. One of the things that has always made Starwood special is the variety of groups and communities it welcomes.
In the same way the event is not strictly focused on Pagan or magical spirituality. This year saw plenty of content on science and scholarship; alternative energy, permaculture, byways of American history, and NLP were all well represented. Of course the Pagan and magical scene were well-represented.
I always say that Starwood is a menu-driven event. If you want a spiritual retreat you can follow tracks of Pagan, or new-age-para-hindu-meditation, ATR or whatever mix of other topics one chooses. If you want an arts and music event you can listen to, practice and learn a variety of styles and instruments. If you want an alternative science and politics event, then that’s readily available. All these communities get to meet, greet (and for that matter, excrete) in the same woodsy circumstances.
Frater Barrarbas has been writing concerning his doubts about the long-term viability and sustainability of outdoor, camping-style Pagan events. I think he’s right about many things, especially that festivals no longer play the almost exclusive role in community building that they did at their beginning. I still attend probably three to five camping-style events yearly, though some smaller events have cabin-style accommodations as well. Barrabas is right, I think – the regional festival may well become more of the norm. I know that in the ongoing development of ADF work regional festivals serve as both social events and occasions for spiritual development.
While I agree that fests no longer drive or direct the course of the Pagan and magical movement I think they provide an invaluable service that cannot be easily replaced. As I always say – this is fun that you can’t get in town, at any price. The experience – the social, educational, immersive experience – of Starwood (or PSG, or Heartland – any fest with several hundred people) is unavailable except when someone makes it happen. For that reason I doubt that fests will be vanishing any time soon.
One distinct pleasure is that the next generation is arriving at Starwood in numbers. The place was full of twenty-somethings, with lots of tots and even a half-dozen babies. Starwood’s solid child-care and kid’s programming crew keeps everyone feeling safe. This year the roads were full of grey-beards, aging boomers, gen-x types and twenty-somethings. A refreshing mix, and a commonality of culture across generations.
This year I described Starwood as a “giant machine carefully designed to produce peak experience”. A week of immersion in ideas and music, of a spirit of erotic liberty, of exposure to remarkable sights and sounds all culminates in a bonfire revel that brings a modern person closer to “the sabbat” or to a Dionysian or Eleusinian event than can be had anywhere else. This produces moments that bring ‘em back over and over, and attracts new folks as well.
Genuine Starwood – accept no substitutes.