HPF 2013 After-Action Report: the Public Rituals

This year’s public rituals consisted of two main rites around central circle, a vision quest, a funeral for one of the better-known merchants, and the usual Memorial Day service.  Having not known the gentleman in question, I did not attend the funeral, and, being an anti-nationalist, I never attend the Memorial Day service.  I did, however, attend the main rituals and vision quest.

The Main Rituals

The main rituals were a marked departure from the norm in that they consisted of two rites—an opening rite on Thursday and a main/closing rite on Sunday—rather than the usual three, with the main rite on Saturday.  I heard rumors that the ritual had been altered to accommodate some last-minute change—perhaps the funeral—but am uncertain as to their veracity.

Owing to Saturday night’s full moon, the theme for this year’s ritual was The Dragon Moon, and the Sacred Experience Committee elected to build their ritual around the theme of the five Chinese elements.  For the opening ritual, five persons bearing lantern-like globes were spaced equidistantly around the circle, which was traversed first in pentagram shape and then circumnavigated by a fairly large paper-mache dragon.  The ritual, itself, told a story of creation and dissolution: order rising from and then collapsing into chaos.  We, the audience, were implored to consider our own life stories and determine where we wanted to go, and how the cycle of creation and destruction could aid us.  We each took a ribbon, which was to be tied to the dragon and would be burned to fuel the rite at the end of the festival.

The main ritual, as is often the case, used the same setup and partially reenacted the first.  We gathered around the bonfire about to be lit.  There were more incantations by the ritual leaders, our intention-charged ribbons were thrown into the pile, and it was all lit to send our intentions out into the universe.

Overall, the rituals were highly theatrical: very pretty, well orchestrated, and fun to watch.  Unfortunately, I did feel that there was a strong divide between the ritual leaders and the audience and that we were more “watching” than “participating”.  There were few callbacks, and not even any real energy work for us to do.

My party and I did find ourselves a little frustrated at the generic quality of the magical aspect: “what do you want out of life” is a rather large and nonspecific question to tackle in any ritual, let alone a public one.  On the other hand, it rather amused us that, given the synchronicity which rules these things, that was the question that apparently everyone was wrestling with this year, as well.

Finally, I was a little troubled by the fact that we were a group of largely White witches performing a ritual based in “ancient Chinese lore”.  While I don’t think the Chinese are harmed by this sort of thing the way, say, Native Americans and other aboriginal populations are, there was definitely an air of appropriation to the whole thing.  Even something as simple as greater specificity in the pamphlet description of the ritual—“… based on the Chinese philosophy of Wu Xing, which is often imprecisely translated as ‘Five Elements’…”—would have gone a long way, and it would have been better if they could have found a primary source to cite for us.  The sad thing is, “ancient Chinese lore” (much like “ancient Native American wisdom”) is often code for “some shit I just made up”; the imprecision puts my back up (as an academic if nothing else) and the whole thing comes of as a bit racist.

The Vision Quest

Since  returning from my failed life in St.Louis, the vision quest has been a major part of my Heartland experience.  This was the first year that, having gone (I didn’t last year), my party didn’t make a point of being the first in line.  That proved to be a mistake.

The theme of the year was Heroes and Villains.  Villains included the Banshee, Baba Yaga, the Pied Piper, Lucifer (if I read the marks on his chest correctly), the Boogie Man, Lilith, and at least one figure I was not able to identify.  Heroes included Queen Boudica, Robin Hood, Sigmund, and Beowolf.  There were definitely some themes that resonated with me: honor and honesty and promices not kept, the question of what you’re willing to do to achieve your goals.  At the end, though, the message I received was more direct and immediate: chill the fuck out, go have fun.  I’m finding this charge painfully difficult.

The people playing each of the roles did fabulously.  They had clearly worked very hard to find the “voice” they were aspecting and deserve nothing but commendations. 

The overall experience, however, was deeply marred by logistical complications.  I’m not sure what, exactly went wrong: maybe the gatekeeper was letting people in too quickly; maybe one or more of the guides on the path was consistently taking more time than they were supposed to.  Regardless, despite my best efforts to move at a moderate pace, I caught up to the person in front of me after the first station.  By the fourth I was caught in a pile-up that went at least three ahead of me and at least five behind.  The long waits, my own irritation, and the increasingly frustrated presence of other Questers made it extremely hard to maintain the appropriate mindset.  Ultimately, I spent half of the time on the path increasingly furious at the orchestrators of what had turned into an ordeal of patience.

HPF 2013 After Action Report Part I: Overview

I was more than a little surprised to find myself at Heartland Pagan Festival this year.  Although last year’s debacle was negotiated to an amicable conclusion, many of my friends had not seemed interested in returning.  I had just completed the two most grueling semesters, personally even more than academically, of my life.  Money was (and is) tight, and my spiritual practice was in shambles.  But then Pasiphae and Aidan decided they wanted to go, and Aradia got really excited about it, and that got infectious.  Then I learned that not only would it be a full moon, but Janet fucking Farrar was going to be there, and I have dabbled in Wicca/witchcraft for far too long to turn down an opportunity to see Janet Farrar and hear her speak.

There was one further complication, however: as a part of the aforementioned negotiations, I had agreed to join the Heartland Spiritual Alliance and get involved in the Sacred Experience Committee.  That never happened: first I was broke, then I was busy, then I was overwhelmed and nearly crushed by the last year.  So, before leaving, I sent an email to Bousiris, Mr. Crane, and Alexandros inviting them to Camp WTF to partake in my mead as an apology for my failure to act as I had intended.  Ultimately, and to my chagrin, although all three accepted that invitation, either by email or in person, we never managed to actually meet up to clear the air.

Planning and packing were both achieved with unprecedented efficiency and alacrity.  We arrived at the front gate for our traditional pre-fest camp out at shortly after midnight, despite the fact that preparations included baking four loaves of bread and two dozen muffins (Aradia is a badass).  We were able to secure one of our top four pre-selected camp sites, despite the fact that one had been closed off to “rest” for the season, and another had been selected as the location for the Lushes in Exile, as their usual encampment was likewise closed.  After setting up our encampment at a pleasant and leisurely pace, we set up the best camp-altar ever, and proceeded to relax for the rest of the day until opening ritual and public dinner… both of which were slightly disappointing, but inoffensive.

Friday started with approximately the average amount of confusion over my Community Service (after an above-average amount of confusion last year, the rest of my encampment bribed out), slightly complicated by an unusual number of  musicians and merchants who felt the rules didn’t apply to them.  Meanwhile, Aradia and the rest of our camp went to Ed Hubbard’s first workshop, which they enjoyed, and found me afterwards for breakfast.  We went to the first Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone workshop that afternoon, followed by Ed Hubbard’s second workshop.  After dinner, Aradia and I demonstrated the Stele of Jeu to Pasiphae (whom I think would benefit from doing the rite a few times) and Aidan, then went for a long walk before performing our own private Esbat.  The results of those rituals were impressive.

Saturday was slow to start, and we ended up not going to any of the workshops we had considered.  Instead, when we finally got moving, we went down to the lake, where we had the misfortune to discover a solid dozen unsupervised children, most in the single-digit age range.  That disaster-waiting-to-happen was kind of a buzzkill, and by the time their parents showed up and then finally left, the day had cooled and the lake was too cold to be any fun.  In the meantime, we did divination.

Sunday we caught a workshop on working with spirits and the final lecture by Janet Farrar.  The former was disappointing, but the latter was interesting: the origin story of Lake Onessa and her name.  Although much of our party crashed early, Aradia and I stayed up until the wee hours searching for a party.  We were sadly disappointed.

Monday morning began a little before dawn with the threat of a storm.  By dawn, the threat had been made good on with nickel-sized hail and a torrential downpour that made packing difficult and brought everyone’s temper to the surface—particularly mine.  Although I won’t name names, I will point out that this is why we don’t do weather magic.  Seriously: does anyone know any stories, mythic or personal, of anyone of European descent doing weather magic for good?  It’s all crop-destroying, drought-causing, malicious evil-for-evil’s sake in the myths I know.