Thursday, July 31, 2014

Starwood 34

Starwood comes, and Starwood goes. The most wonderful event of my summer, every summer, has ticked by thirty-four times marking my life through my thirties, forties and fifties. Pardon me – I don’t mean to pick up that earlier post’s themes, but Starwood is a real part of my own process of living and aging.

This is our fifth Starwood at our new home, Wisteria Campground in SE Ohio, and things felt well re-rooted from the move. The staff (i.e. us) knows how to approach the grounds, our plans are arranged, our execution adequate for a gang of volunteers that really only goes to work once yearly. I must make a special mention of the Wisteria staff. The hippy-hearted combine that has kept that scene running for nearly 20 years now has had plenty of its own interpersonal drama, but when showtime comes they smile and roll it out. They have been a pleasure to work with in every way.

One bit of good news for me this year is representative of a larger trend of good news for the event. After most of a decade of managing either set-up, take-down or (shudder…) both I was officially off duty for those physically taxing jobs. Both were handled by younger folks, part of our new wave of volunteers and organizing associates.

In the past several years our central crew has recruited as many as 20 new folks, and many of those have stepped right up. Set-up, take-down, on-site registration and a couple of new departments were handled by newer organizers. I don’t mean to be technical, but organizers reading this know how much work is in those three departments alone.

The event was plainly filled with younger faces this year. At opening circle I asked how many folks present were younger than Starwood’s 34 years, and over half the folks raised hands. This is a trend that we’re so very happy to see – it will be young folks who keep the fire burning into this century.

Nellie, Gnorm, Liafal, me, Vickie, Oberon
Having relieved myself of some manual labor, this year I did considerably more program. A high point for me was the Pete Seeger Singalong. Several people came prepared, including our beloved Uncle Gnorm with lyric-sheets, and we spent an hour in music-nostalgia-land. More than that, there were a lot of kids at the show, and passing along such classics as “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” seems part of a bard’s duty. I surely learned that song at Camp Christian, where I spent a week for most of my childhood summers. This decade, dozens of kids, maybe hundreds across the country have their ‘Summer camp’ experience at places like Starwood or Pagan Spirit Gathering. My by-word on the topic: “Church camp is different for some kids…”

L. and I did a set as well, accompanied by AJ Gooch on didge and drum, and by his son Madoc on drum. Madoc will turn 18 next year, and has become one of the crew, as well as a competent drummer - more multi-generation fun. My voice was crushed early this year – my allergies combined with party-roaring and outdoor living, but I can usually sell a song in whatever condition I find myself, and the set was good, especially with help.

For some reason I committed myself to a lot of teaching this year. I planned to teach the Nineteen Working, and knew I’d be managing the ADF ritual. Doing the latter meant that we ought to do an ADF info workshop and pre-ritual briefing, so I signed myself up to do that. That meant I had program duties three days out of four, on top of singing and organizing. So, a busy year, even though I ditched the physical labor. Next year I must get ADF to send a team to do the org program…

My teaching was moderately attended, and my voice was badly wracked at the outset, but it generated some deep responses in some attendees, and produced good comments. I think I’ll be doing that work more often as a public teaching. The ADF ritual went well, thanks almost entirely to the reliable skill of our ritualists. Druids from three or five Groves came together and produced a strong rite of blessing for the land and the folk. What we can manage when we don’t even know what we’re doing is pretty cool – next year, a plan!

Personally I loved this year’s music. Starwood delivers one of the most unique and diverse line-ups on any Pagan festival stage, and this year was a wonderful combination of psychedelic world-music with modern rock. One of the big surprises to many was the metal set performed by Deadiron a Viking Metal band fronted by Starwood kid-village alumnus Alex Van Ness (who happens to be an active Troth member). The machine-tight riffs, vocal range and positive message of Deadiron’s music made them a hit among the tie-die-and-sorcery crowd. Telesma are another band that began their life through Starwood, and their blend of world-music and electronica turned the house at right angles to itself… or was that just me? We were very pleased to welcome Tuatha Dea to their first Starwood. They are a travelling family of musicians, and they brought a merchant booth and several workshops. A lot of bands are tightly scheduled – they arrive, play their set and depart. Tuatha Dea made themselves a part of the festival, (just as Telesma has always done) and this we like.

It was my personal pleasure to have Jeff “Magnus” MacBride back at Starwood after a decade’s absence. Magnus is one of the world’s great stage magicians, from his home-base in Las Vegas to the White House, China and various world capitals. He’s also been a Pagan festival attendee since the early 80s, when I met him at a Rites of Spring in New England. Magnus brings occult and magical concepts to his stage act, and the skills of a stage performer to his ritual work. His love for the drum-and-fire circle has led him to devise the Alchemical Fire, an all-night rhythm and trance experience that has been transformative for many folks. My organizer duties sent me to bed early the night he held his Fire at Starwood, but I’m told it was beautiful and powerful.

In general the atmosphere at this year’s event was sweet and cool, a rainbow ice-cream despite some summery heat. Artistic expression, naked frolicking and focused ritual all were up this year. On the latter I’ll mention the sweat-lodge prep and work, the Labyrinth Walk, the full Druidic sacrifice and blessing, and the O.T.O.’s Gnostic Mass. A full card of women’s spirituality program and ritual was also presented at the Red Tent. Next year we’re hoping to actually get traditional Wicca back in the mix somewhere.

I came out of this year’s event refreshed and optimistic. Starwood abides. Make your plans for next summer now! If you haven’t been yet, or haven’t been in a while, this is a great time to get on the bus.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Spear of Lugh - Tredara Tornado Drill #1

 Lughnasadh was exciting.
                Now it had been an exciting week leading up to the last weekend of July. After years of hemming and hawing we had finally called the county storm-water managers, and arranged to have the old drainage ditch re-dug. This turned out to be a Giant Project, and all week long we were semi-supervising the county crew as they tore through our woods to cut the ditch. The final result will be a new road through the woods, connecting the old half of the property with the new, along with vastly improved drainage, woods no longer turning to swamp, etc. It still feels a lot like we summoned a crew of moderate-sized demons to help us build out new temple…
                Fortunately the new barn cleans up easily, and actual prep for the gathering went smoothly. Saturday was moderately attended, but the evening musical sets were very nice, and the fireworks and laser (yes, my kin, laser) show in our backyard was a real treat. As a side bonus we met more of our neighbors, and found them to be young, open and unconcerned about our brand either of fun or of religion. On we go toward that scary moment when we hang up a shingle on our road.

Two contestants strive at Staff-wrestling

To review, our Lughnasadh customs include a five-game competition, the winner standing as the Champion of the Grove for the coming year. The new Champion and the old face off in the rite, in a dance of spear and bread-loaf commemorating Lugh’s defeat of the Old Giant. The five games are 
• Rock-Toss: as titled, thrown for distance
• Loggets: a lawn-bowling game in which an irregular stone is thrown at an irregular stand of logs, across an irregular lawn. A combination of skill and luck…
• Board-game: varies from year to year. We’ve done Morris games, Othello, Brandubh, and this year another variant of fidchel, or the tafl games.
• Staff-wrestling: Opponents stand in a narrow court, each holding one end of a staff. Goal is to move the opponent out of the court, or make them release the staff. As close as we get to grappling.
• Poetry: Contestants must write nine lines of poetry in any style, on a topic chosen at the moment, in nine minutes, then read them to be judged by a panel.
                The exciting part, for me, is that I won! Well, I split the win in a tie with one of our newer folks, so I’m co-champion for the year. I’ll admit, after whining about feeling old, that I’m pleased. I placed first in Loggets, first in the Stick, and third (damn their eyes) in poetry, so a nice well-rounded skill-set to finish my boast.
The Spear and Loaf dance from a previous year.
               The other end of the excitement began when the radar and local forecasts made it plain that we were about to get hit with a wave of severe weather, just in time for Sunday’s ritual. I can count the number of times we’ve been rained into the barn for ritual on one hand, even now, but this was one of them. There may be an occult angle to that as well.
                We are working to move our spiritual work on this land from the small nemeton that has served us for some twenty years into a new glade with new structures up the hill. Since before Solstice we have been building, making offerings and doing divinations. While public omens have previously been lovely I’ve had a couple of private concerns that I have attempted to mitigate by offerings.
                Arriving at Sunday, we had decided to make-do in the admittedly unfinished new nemeton, hallowing it as part of the Lughnasadh rite. This was not to be. Driving rain sent us under roof. Fortunately we have a nice fire, well and tree available in the outer room of the barn, and we had a cozy and well-seated rite. The omen, drawn in the ogham letters, was
Ceirt, Fearn, and Huath.
                ADF druids may wonder why we didn’t call that an ill omen and call for more offerings, as is our custom in such situations. First, I don’t consider Ceirt particularly ill. Second, the ‘terror’ of Huath, in my opinion, is in some ways the experience of meeting the Other Crowd. Having these two centered by the protection and strength of Fearn was reassuring. Also specific to our case is that the apple-meadow at Tredara is in one corner, while the Hawthorn-hedge property line is in the other. One very local way of reading that omen is that Fearn protects, from apple to hawthorn. Thus the seer and I looked at each other, and decided to accept the omen as a blessing. Some blessings, as we teach, include lessons.
Generic lightning, but it
was like this...

                The company was feasting in peace, rain heavy but not frightening, when cell-phones lit up with a tornado warning for our small county. Now, until recently, a warning meant that a funnel had been sighted, so folks began to get worried. Recent tech advances means they issue the warning (as opposed to a watch) if radar sees clouds even beginning to form certain patterns, so it isn’t quite as dire…
                Then the area tornado sirens went off. Once again, this generally only happens if the status is ‘imminent threat’. I’ll admit that the combination of the networked warnings and local siren scared the crap outta me – that ‘terror’ promised by the Huath blessing, I might say. We had a barn full of friends and their kids. The only real shelter choice if a funnel had marched in to that very meadow would have been the nice new ditch now filling with water. After a moment’s pause to calm ourselves, and a sky-watch that revealed no immediate threat we made the dash to our back porch, where access to our basement would provide at least provisional shelter. It also provided access to radar on TV and real-time local coverage, which revealed that our neighborhood wasn’t in line for the 80+mph wind events that were hitting a few areas, and that no funnels were in the air. We brought everyone into the house and Thexalon (the retiring Champ) told a story to calm and center the kids. Twenty minutes later the active warning was over, and radar showed the storms moving out.
                Despite our terror (which, to our credit, never turned to panic) the worst that our patch saw was heavy, straight-down, pounding rain, and lots of it. We might say, in fact, that we were protected from south to north, as our omen-reading suggested, as no damage was sustained. However, it is plain that the new nemeton was not ready – the hard rain washed away some of the support of the new eastern porch, causing a small section to collapse. Plainly we were premature and Those watching over the process schooled us to that effect. We will proceed, more deliberately.
                I have occasionally allowed myself to think I know what I’m doing in terms of such things as establishing a new nemeton. Yeah, well…

                However it generally was a lovely weekend with tribal peace, revelry, cheerful striving and bardic delight. The Spear of Lugh was over us in every sense, and may his blessing be upon you all in this season, dear readers, if not quite so literally.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014


I’m getting old. I’m not totally old yet – I still rock on with what needs done, my brain generates material and I’m staying on my feet. Still, I can tell I’m slowing down. My beard is elder-gray; my more-tenaciously-dark hair is graying (and fleeing). The aches and pains that were a cliché are now a reality.

As I usually say, if one is lucky, one gets old. One of the goals of traditional magic has always been to extend life. For a Vedic yogi “immortality” meant a lifespan of 100 years or more, as average lifespans of 40 or 50 years rolled on by. For many of my generation, and many more of those just following, 100 years will be achieved by the magic of modern culture and scientific medicine, far more effectively than it was ever managed by sorcery or alchemy.

But, as they say, “Eat right, achieve wisdom, die anyway.” Our spans are not determined by our effort, but by the capricious (or sneaky) cutting of the thread, the song ended in a half-measure, the nail-flick of a passing giant. To this annoyingly unfair reality, we can only respond with resignation. Our fate is not in our hands.

I’m a young boomer, and my generation is beginning to fall to those thousand natural shocks one hears of. People I have considered my elders have passed. Funny, my life of magic and religion has led me to understand their death as a rising in glory, a lift from illness and failing flesh to a spiritual presence. Isaac, Morning Glory, Don, Sparky, more – it would be a bitter season if I didn’t treasure their spirit in death as surely as I did in life. Nevertheless, I love life and the world very well indeed, and intend to get as much out of this ball of nerves as my time allows.

“Youth is wasted on the young” dem say. I say “Wisdom is wasted on the old” – once you know what you should have done, the time, or ability, has passed.

What have I learned as I have grown older? First, I learned that life is hypnotic. The tick of routine, the enchantment of the habitual patterns of thought and image in one’s mind can allow the days and weeks, even the years to roll by. Once again the cliché becomes reality – the subjective time between Samhain and Samhain has become an hour where once it was a decade. At that pace, my kin, you can bloody well miss something! Like, say, your 40s – especially when the added pressure of establishing full-scale adult life is added to the mix.

That’s my message to youth – pay attention, and go for what you want! Examine your heart, and go for what really moves you. So many elders return, in their later decades, to the dreams they had when they were young. Don’t wait! Try now, when you’re young and strong. Strive, fail, strive again; change directions, win, gain, strive, fail, then win. 

Watch the days as they happen – don’t patience your way through shit you hate to get to the weekend, if you can help it. Make sure there are things in your days you love, as well as the things you decide you must do anyway. And when you have time for yourself, use it. Read, motherfuckers. Make a pact with yourself to read a book a month for life – nothing relieves ignorance better. I suspect many readers here are occultists of one sort or another. If you’re a young occultist, get busy – start now and use the time. Likewise, meditate. Stop whining and just do it. You don’t even have to get off my lawn, if you’ll meditate…

Most important, spend time in your body, in the real world of flesh, and not just in the contents of your head (this may well be me advising my own younger self, here, ymmv). My third cliché that happens to be true – stop and (smell) the (roses) (insert fave activities…).  Slow down for a few minutes a day to just dig something cool. You know what ‘dig’ means, my kin  –  it means to get down in it. “I wanna get my hands dirty with that…” Getting down into something – even for a few minutes, slows time again, makes a moment like a week, and adds years to your conceptual lifespan, in retrospect.

Finally, to readers who are Pagans I’d say we have more reason to be happy with our situation in N America than at any time since the beginning of our movement. The first wave of our founders is passing, though it is not past yet. Nevertheless if the work is to continue we need those who are 20+ and 30+ now to step up for 20 years of solid organizing. There’s no help for it – this is different from the work of one’s spiritual path, more like a combination of politics and drudgery. Nevertheless, if we are to establish social institutions to support modern Paganism, that’s what will be required. I hope that the first wave will leave some solid inheritances for those who come after.

If I’m lucky I’ll get a couple more decades of useful work out of this lifetime. By that time these young button-pushers better get in line…
But by all means, enjoy the lawn.