So...it's been a while. :)
It's been a while since I'd been to any kind of pagan gathering either. Because a lot can go wrong at a pagan gathering.
Firstly, there can be those people that give off the 'creep' vibe. Not everyone's a happy, loving pagan....but if you've ever hung out in the pagan community, it's kind of like hanging out with gay people - they're more accepting of you because you're different, and being different is okay. They've got their own norms (sacrificing anything living is NOT a norm, and you'll be generally shunned, honest!) and as long as you're peace-loving and friendly, most things are just accepted as differences.
Secondly, there are some groups that move out of your comfort zone. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, but some people aren't comfortable with nudity. Some people aren't comfortable with natural drug usage. Some people aren't comfortable with drinking a 'home brew' (holy crap, what's in this bottle?). Some people aren't comfortable with anyone being in close proximity. Hell, some people aren't used to outhouses, or drumming, or overly large fires. Any of these things can happen at a pagan gather, but that doesn't mean that they happen at EVERY pagan gathering. It's pretty random and low-key most of the time when it does surface. So...sometimes, you never know what you're walking in to.
For me, this one was a little more nerve-wracking in the fact I didn't know anyone or anything. Literally. Because the difference between going to a large gathering and a small one, is that smaller ones have a tendency to be ONE group, which has ONE focus. This particular group follows the Sumerian Pantheon. I know -nothing- about them. Or didn't know anything about them (I've been reading some since...). So not only do I not know about the people, I am completely ignorant of the magic involved. I'm walking in blind.
All cultures have a lot of the same kinds of mythos, and this particular group was doing the 'end of the year/harvest' type of celebration. The honoring of the dead. We were going out there for that kind of thing, meeting some friends, so we would not be alone in a sea of people we didn't know and immersed in a sub-culture of paganism we knew nothing about.
So....after a long an grueling night after work, trying to get things washed and packed, and a very long, grueling day of getting things last minute to make sure we were ok...we arrived about an hour before sunset.
Any good pagan worth their eye-teeth help out their community and tribe. This gathering was no different. There was a lot of meeting, greeting, hugging and helping. That's not anything I'd ever experienced from a Christian church (no offense to my friends who are Christian...I'm sure there are some really good communities, I've just never run into any), and I have a hard time explaining this to a lot of people. Even past all the offers, feeling almost shy (me? shy?), my husband and I move to set up the tent.
Now, there are a lot of things that we are hard-pressed to agree on. But one thing that people never really get to see is both of us acting together on the same task. I know how to set up a tent, but this is the first time I'd ever set up this particular tent. The husband had set it up before for the kids to play in, but we had never really used it (and the other one is MIA, I don't know where it went off to). Anyway, within a few minutes, we're scratching our heads at it, because really, it's a 'summer' tent, and we know it's going to be DAMN cold, but there are no tie downs for the windows. Resigned to the fact that we're going to freeze, we unpack the car and have everything ready, all before dark.
There was a ton of stuff we didn't have. We forgot. Between us two, we had one flashlight, some glow sticks, drinks and frozen foods, but no cooler. A bizarre assortment of things, which were supposed to be partnered with other things for reasons which would have made it easier.
That's okay though, it's another story. ;)
Anyway, the fire is stoked up, the drums begin in the darkness, and people arrive well after midnight. We try to do the right thing and lend aid to those who are strangers to us, trying to be helpful in whatever way we can. Because although we are new to this group, there is a certain amount of etiquette that goes along with pagan gatherings. You help. You share. You take care of one another. You take care of the environment you are in and you 'leave no trace' of your passing through. You are polite, you are respectful, and you walk with an open mind. You don't take pictures without permission (or post them, dear gods!) and you don't use anyone's real name unless you're given leave to. Because a lot of neo-pagans think about their people as tribe and community, almost a type of living, breathing socialism. Any person that doesn't follow these basic rules is an asshole and a moron and really doesn't deserve to be in that place.
Beyond the ranting, everyone, and I do mean everyone, greets with open arms, hugs and kisses. Total strangers. You have no idea what kind of love people project, because you accept them and they are accepting you. They want to see if you are part of the tribe, if you are coming in love. And most certainly, your answer is in your response. Do you hug back? Are you comfortable enough to touch a person you do not know without cringing?
We bring food, because food is important. It's sacred. You don't break bread with enemies, and among family and friends, food is always given freely. I wanted to make sure to express that, that I was trying to be open and honorable and caring, that I wanted to be there. I did. So I made four dozen cuppy-cakes and brought along a slew of other things. They joined well with the dinner provided that evening and there is a gentle feeling-each-other-out thing going on, where we get to meet several members of this little tribe.
And in the first night was the honoring of the dead.
Somewhere, someone's got a beautiful picture I took of the candle-lit altar which housed tokens and photographs of those who have passed on. And in the course of the ritual, the flow of the energy moves (which I thought odd...was was kind of an amoeba of energy...not just a 'circle') into the darkness, by this altar, surrounded by a mock-graveyard that looks as if it could have been real in the darkness. We speak of our honor, our love, and our longing. A chosen one (a priest?) dressed as Nergal goes from person to person, hugging them, whispering love and comfort, reassuring them that he is gently leading them past this life and into the next. I can feel my eyes water, then I think about the little green skull made in sugar by the hands of my youngest daughter to honor the dead, sitting on the altar, and how my grandparents never got to really know her. And I weep just as openly as the soft sobs in the darkness of the little makeshift tribe chorus through the night. We speak of our honor, our love, and our longing.
Then the reveling begins.
And late into the night, there is drumming and merry-making (uh, I might need to omit the merry-making details, but it's quite a bit of merry-making). People ask about my friends, because they haven't shown, and we don't worry too much - things are taken care of, problems resolved, and we meet and greet and talk and get to know one another.
Then we freeze our asses off.
Well, I think I went to be about 4 am, but it was so cold, that I probably got up about three hours later. Someone else is kind enough to stoke up the fire and the offerings of coffee are a warm welcome. Somehow, time gets eaten up and everyone's running on PST.
Now, if you don't know what PST is, you're either new to the idea of paganism or you're not pagan at all. PST stands for 'pagan standard time', which generally allows for a half an hour to sometimes three hours past the original deadline given. Sounds crappy, I know, but really, time is just compartmentalized for our benefit and illusionary by nature anyway, right? Right??
Maybe about 10-11, we stagger down the way to where the outdoor kitchen is set up. Somehow, I find myself cooking eggs. I don't mind at all, I want to help. I feel a little adrift in so many people who are so familiar with one another, and I really know no one. But it is okay, I don't burn anything, and with the other cooks, we're soon munching along. At one point, someone is kind enough to let me charge my phone.
So...I find out my friends aren't coming. Fail. Well, it's okay, I suppose. At first, I was only coming out one day anyway, but it winds up that we decide to camp the weekend. Then my friends don't come out. That's not a bad thing, because I hope that I've made some new friends in the journey. A little prep work through the day and suddenly, it's evening again as people get ready for the next ritual.
Now mind you, I've been snapping pictures along the way. I want to take pictures, because I love to take pictures and to me, this is something that should be documented. Not just because the people here might want something to look back on and remember, but because of reasons that I hope someday will amount to something. The idea is that modern America is branching out from the right-winged conservative radicals. This is not a pagan nation, but the nation houses pagan people. In America, there are so many pagans that are 'in the broom closet', but it's living history that is not getting documented for future generations to see. It's being overlooked, this 'underground movement', which will eventually, I believe, reflect the change in our societal outlook in a century or two.
Regardless, it is getting dark and the time for ritual draws neigh. The bonfire has been spread out, restacked, but not lit.
We are lead through the dark by Nergal, into the Netherworld, with galla (demons) in the woods around us. I think of this as very surreal, but very true in analogy. We are beset on all sides by hazards we cannot see, and this ancient god leads us through the darkness. I am not really fearful, but I am in awe of the passage.
We watch as Inanna tries to dethrone Ereshkigal, to seize the Underworld for herself (there is an epiphany of sorts later on, but that is another story). As these vessels have invoked gods and goddesses, I realize that in all the time that I have practiced forms of paganism (the western idea of Wicca and Druidism), that although I have heard of such pageantry, I have never actually witnessed it. I was rapt. I was in awe. I wept openly.
We were all meant to sacrifice to escape the Underworld, leaving something behind that we wished to be rid of. What I left behind was as important to me as it was unwanted, but left it I did. (Another tale for another time...) And have had a series of epiphanies since then. In regards to my life and the things that I am. Was. Wanted. We shall see.
As far as comfort zones go, there was nothing there that was out of my comfort zone. Everyone was nice, upstanding and kindly. The way a group should be. In fact, the next time I'm able, I'm taking my children. There were free-range children out there, and by the gods, I moved out towards the sticks so my kids could be free-range children too. The adults are very guarded about the kids, knowing they're able to range out a little, but keeping a sharp eye. My kind of peoples. Tribal peoples. Takes a village to raise a tribe? Probably. But a herd of good pagans will do.
But I am waking up. I am deeply appreciative for the chance to partake of this event, and I do not know if they understood how much it meant to me. It reaffirmed who I was and reminded me of dreams that long ago I'd forgotten somewhere. I hope that with this new year, I am taken closer to who I am, who I am meant to be, and able to strive closer to being that in which I wanted all along.
But it promises to be a grand adventure. ;) Thanks for the opportunity.