To Festival I Shall Go! (every chance I get)
By Elizabeth McNally
I have been in the Pagan community for three decades now, yet my first Festival camping experience happened only a week ago. This was my first camping experience, excluding pitching a tent at a friend’s for a night several years ago, as well as my first outdoor, in the woods Festival. I have attended Pagan events throughout the years. Pantheacon in San Jose was an annual event I never missed, when I was living in the San Francisco Bay area. I attended that event at least three times since moving back to the East Coast for the chance to meet up with dear friends once again. Pantheacon takes place in a comfortable hotel, attended by a few thousand people, and though always exhilarating, a far different experience from settling oneself in a tent in the woods by a small body of water with a small group of joyful people of all ages who have come together to enjoy nature, and share food, knowledge, ritual, song, dance and story.
My decision to attend this Festival was spontaneous. I read a post by a friend regarding the upcoming Firelight Festival and something just spoke to me and I wanted to attend. I had to excavate the barn and closets to find my tent, sleeping bag and other gear I thought I might need (ie, acrylic wine glasses and other important such things!). The generous camaraderie began as soon as I announced I thought I would try to attend. The organizer, JD Hobbs, sent me a list of items to pack. Friends as well as those in the community who did not know me personally, offered to bring gear for me if I didn’t have what might be needed (extra tents, sleeping bags, cook stoves etc.), invitations were extended to join in meals. I felt the warmth of this community long before I embarked upon my journey to Whispering Pines.
I strategically chose to arrive earlier than I knew my friends were going to arrive. My thought process was that should I coordinate to arrive with friends who I knew would look out for me, I would feel I was hanging on to “apron strings”, and if I wanted (and I did) to feel I could attend such Festivals on my own, I needed to arrive and figure it out on my own. So I drove out to Whispering Pines early on Friday afternoon, arriving on the property with no idea of procedure, or where to go. I choose a small road where I saw there were already Festival campers mulling around, rolled my window down and all came over with warm smiles and greetings. I introduced myself and explained this was my first Festival and first time to camp and didn’t know what I was doing. They described the different camping areas, suggesting I leave my car right where it was and explore until I found where I might want to be. That I did, and found a spot in the woods by the water, on the other side of the small lake from where the drum circle would be. I pulled out my gear, put down my tarp, began taking my tent out and … sadly (even though I have been told these are idiot proof) realized I was never going to figure it out. I looked about and spotted a woman on her own putting her tent together. Strolling over her way, she looked up, and I said, smiling sheepishly, “You look like you know what you’re doing. I’m lost trying to put mine together. Can you help me?”. Cara (of Blue Gypsy Wines) I later learned, laughed and told me she had just got off the phone with her husband for directions on putting hers up. She finished putting her tent up and came over and figured it out for me. I invited her to a beer, then realized I had no bottle opener, which sent me on a quest where I met another lovely woman camping with her children. She took me to her tent and we chatted amiably, while I managed to open the drinks. I headed back to my site, offered my Hero a drink, and settled in to decorate my little camping site.
Whispering Pines is an enchanting private camp ground, with a river stream, and small lake, a Faerie Garden, an amazing Children’s area with wooden fort, area 51 (where food is available if you don’t want to cook), all set among pine forests and open fields. That first evening I witnessed the last rays of the sun magically streaming through the forest, and as dusk fell I was greeted by a little bat who played around my head before heading into the forest. Arriving at the road leading to where my friends were, I came across a stately toad (obviously a prince) sitting boldly in the middle of the path, so I stooped and spoke with him briefly (no kissing involved!), and wished him well, before moving along to dine. Dine we did! I love the idea of Glamping, and I plan to become very good at it. My friends are all well ahead of me, but I am a fast learner.
There were a dozen of us gathered for the meal. Friends I already knew and wonderfully interesting people I was introduced to. The Pagan community is so very diverse, which makes for unending conversation. I don’t ever remember being among Pagans where there has been a lull in conversation. There are just so many topics and never enough time to delve fully into them. I walked back to my campsite, cloak wrapped around me in the coolness of the night, listening to the sound of the drum circle and taking in the shadows thrown through the forest by the camp fires dotted throughout. I chose not to attend the drum circle that first night. I admit to having felt a little vulnerable and uncertain of walking into the area on my own. Instead I entered my tent and got cozy in my bed, looking up at the stars through my tent windows, and listening to the drums and voices across the lake. To these blissful sounds I fell into a very pleasant sleep.
Next morning, after camp coffee, chocolate almond croissant (a treat reserved only for such an occasion as this) warmed in a real oven run by propane, more conversation and laughter, it was time to take in some workshops.I would have loved to have attended all workshops offered, but that would leave no time for socializing, so choices were made. The workshops I took in over the weekend were fascinating; Mead making by a darling woman who rescues Ferrets and keeps her own beloved bees; Flirtology (or how never to get to “No means No”) taught by my vivacious friend, Marie … common sense, with the understanding that common sense is sometimes in great lack; Magick and the mind (an interesting look at what happens within the mind when magick is perceived); Runes. A perspective new to me (and I am very much a novice); and Stoicism (close to my heart). This class was held on the stage platform where we sat upon the floor, and I felt I could have been in ancient Rome on a porch listening to a Stoic Sage. Wonderful.
Saturday evening was a communal feast for all who wished to participate. There was a Vegan (Stone soup). Those who participated in this option brought something for the pot. There was a meat option (roasted local pig, salad, potatoes, applesauce, gravy etc) provided for a price. After the meal, we gathered around that amazing campfire tended by two artists, brilliant in how they stacked the logs, and somehow added color every now and then to the flames. We smiled, we laughed and shed tears, as we listened to those who entertained us in the open bardic circle sharing a story or a song. As a grand finale, we were mesmerized by the choreography and grace of Loran Magie Mystic, the Fire eater. A magician of International note. His performance was breath taking and unforgettable. By that point my inhibitions and vulnerability had dissipated. I danced, participated in the drum rhythms with my Goddess rattle, and was enchanted with sweet conversation. It was 3:00 am when I arrived back at my tent. A wonderful day and evening/night/morning … I slept sound and deep.
I awoke relatively early to the sounds of birds and frogs and the rustling of leaves, and after journalling, wandered barefoot in the warm morning sun, through dew moistened fields just taking it all in. There were very few up and about, so I felt I had the whole place to myself. I don’t believe my smile left my face all weekend, even in sleep! Eventually, I meandered back and broke camp packing my car to be ready to leave later in the day. I spent the rest of the morning, in between workshops, conversing with people, laughing, sharing, and hugging. Then all too soon, it was time to leave.
On arriving back home, I was ready to go again! It has taken me a very long time to discover how wonderful the outdoor Festival experience is. I feel I chose wisely for a first experience. This was a small Festival, and its first year, as well. As it was so very well received, no doubt it will be an annual event that I look forward to attending again. I believe we arrive at experience exactly when we are meant to. The timing was perfect. The Festival was perfect. I look forward to my next experience, and eventually a large Festival of a week long or more. I hope to actively participate in various ways in future Festivals. I fear a Festival junkie has been created here! Scary!