dreaminghope: (Firelight)
Just take your clothing off, stand in a circle with other naked people, and the magic starts.

On Friday night at The Gathering for Life on Earth, there's traditionally a skyclad (nude) ritual. I go to it most years; I ran it once.

The Gathering is a lot of people's first experience being naked with other people in a non-sexual context. Sometimes it is the casual nudity of the clothing-optional site, sometimes it is dancing around the fire, sometimes it is skinny-dipping, and sometimes it is the ritual on the first night of the event.

When you go to a nude ritual with people who have done it many times before, it can be very comfortable. As they undress, they take care to fold their clothing neatly, they chat about the room's and floor's temperature, and they tease each other about footwear choices (when naked, slippers look good; gum boots, not so much). Everyone takes off all their clothing the way people usually take off shoes. No one's looking at each other's nudity, but we're not not-looking either.

I went to this year's skyclad ritual. It had a good energy, it was a lot of fun, and it started a bit of a meme for the weekend ("my legs are strong like the trunks of ancient trees"). However, I did find myself with a bit of a dilemma: I couldn't figure out what to do with my hands and arms. I couldn't remember what I usually do when I'm clothed. Clasped behind my back seemed too exposed; in front seemed like I was trying to hide. Hands at my side felt forced. Crossed over my breasts was right out as being too defensive; crossed under my breasts was rejected as an option for pushing everything up too much. I try to figure out what other people are doing, but that leads to looking at areas not normally seen, which quickly leads to not-looking.

The concern ceased to be an issue when it came time to join hands and chant and dance, but I have to remember that for future skyclad rituals I run: give people something to do with their hands. Otherwise: awkward!

Themes

May. 23rd, 2011 09:32 pm
dreaminghope: (Bee Faerie)
Every year, the Gathering for Life membership votes on a theme for the next year's event. Every year, someone suggests "no theme" to allow it emerge naturally during the event. I always vote for "no theme", but it never wins. Still, unexpected motifs do always come up throughout the weekend, and this time was no exception.

It was a different event than in the past: colder and wetter due to the new date; smaller due to the price increase and date change; changed in more subtle ways due to our return to our original event location. The Gathering was intimate feeling - softer and more mellow - but incredibly inspired and inspiring.

Despite the small membership - only a third of the previous event - there were four skyclad rituals by three different groups on the schedule, in addition to several other rituals and a full itinerary of workshops. Every person except one, who was already known to be coming on Saturday, was on site before 7 PM on Friday. The turnout at the closing ritual in particular was the best we've probably every had, in proportion to the membership. Everyone just seemed so present and so grateful to be at the Gathering together.

The primary theme for my Gathering this year was "sharing". So many people were opening their hearts and giving generously of themselves. People gave up sleep to tend the sacred fire. Every time something needed to be done - from setting up a tent to chopping fire wood to moving a picnic table - people stepped up to do it with pleasure. People offered up their amazing talents: the Bardic was short but packed with amazing singing and music; the workshops were informative and interesting; the rituals were well crafted; the merchant area was tiny but full of beautiful things, mostly handmade. People were offering healing and their other skills freely. When it came to pack up and clean up the site, everyone pitched in and it was done quickly and easily. And all around, all weekend, people were thanking each other for sharing.

The generosity of the members of this community is not new, but this year, it seemed to be present in each and every person and in the community as a whole in a way I've never felt before. There have been Gatherings that have been more energetic, more powerful, more sexual, but I don't think I've ever experienced one more full of grace.

My secondary Gathering theme this year seemed to be "tell Melissa how great she is". I got so many compliments about the two rituals I ran. One woman gave me a little gift to thank me for leading her first skyclad ritual. Several people made a special effort to come up and talk to me about my themes and even ask for copies of the text. I also gave a bunch of Tarot readings and got great feedback about them as well. I even got compliments on my clothing!

I still have so much to process and I have some new ideas that need to be recorded before they fade away, but first, I need a lot of sleep. And I need to do a lot of laundry.
dreaminghope: (Working Zoey)
By most any definition, the Gathering for Life on Earth is long over. We've been home for nearly three weeks, the Facebook friending frenzy has slowed, next year's theme's has been posted to the website, and I've completed my final duties as Board secretary. I'm working on the last of my Gathering laundry today, so along with the usual t-shirts and underwear, I've got swimming towels, sarongs, and cloaks drying on the deck.

Words have been failing me in regards to the Gathering. Other people's words clutter my attempts (they say "the best Gathering I've had", "my favourite Gathering so far", and "a wonderful weekend", and I say... nothing), and the pressure of the unexpressed words is keeping my other writing attempts stopped up. Given that the 3-Day Novel Contest is in two weeks, I must write again despite wordlessness and finger stutters.

I've started slow, commenting on a few LJ posts at long last*. Next, this post. Then, soon – maybe, hopefully – a novel outline in time for the long weekend.

Today's been a day of laundry and words.

I'm awash – lost – in other people's words and in piles of wet clothing. Various distractions (William and Russ' birthday) and bad weather have interfered with my ability to do laundry, so I'm doing about a month's worth this weekend. Between, I've finally read Atwood's brilliant Oryx and Crake in preparation for reading her new book, The Year of the Flood, when it comes out in a month or so. And there's been the The Videographer – the 3-Day winner from 2008. Weird book, but worth a read. Not particularly cheery, though, so Russ won't want it soon. He read The Handmaid's Tale and Cat's Eye back-to-back and is a little over the literary misery. I've told him to read a Bruno and Boots novel before tackling "Oryx", as it is dystopian.

I don't mind dystopian, but I wish it weren't so depressing all the time.



The slowest race is happening on my porch right now, between the drying laundry and the sinking sun. And then it's folding clothes and planning my preparation for the Writers and Readers Festival. I'm thinking this year I might actually try to read some of the authors' works before hearing them speak.

*I've been reading my FL daily, but have had no words for commenting.
dreaminghope: (Starry Starry Night)
Moments of Devastating Beauty

The sun is setting. The spring has been so cold and drawn out this year that the onset of summer feels sudden. The air's still warm tonight, but there's a breeze tossing the leaves and my hair. Someone's barbequing down the street; the air smells of campfire.

I can close my eyes and be at the campfire. We're far enough from the light pollution to really see the stars, far and cold. The lake is on one side, the tents and cabins on the other. By the light of the fire, all that's visible are the first two rings of log benches circling the fire pit.

There are about a dozen drummers. They aren't all very good, but the ones who are pull the others along. I'm sitting three rows back from the fire, wrapped in my black cloak and my anonymity. The drummers aren't all great, but the ones who are pull at me, make me need to move. The drums are like another heartbeat. I wait as others get up and start swaying. Finally, I drop my self-consciousness and my cloak and I move to the edge of the fire. The flames are on one side, the drums on the other. I look at the stars.

I dance first for the stars, because they don't care. I reach for them and sway.

Around the fire, other dancers shimmy their hips. They bend and twist. Their long skirts and scarves flicker like another circle of flames.

The fire makes us all too hot, and we begin to remove clothing. It isn't a striptease – we shed shirts like dead petals.

My hips circle to the rhythm effortlessly, mindlessly. The world is reduced to the fire and the drums and the dancers. We are all entranced together.

The natural flow of the dancing takes me around to the other side of the fire. The lake is on one side, the fire and drums on the other. There's only the dark water, the fire, and the beat in my hips and hands.

The drummers falter, and my body slows as they work to bring the beat back together. I look up at the stars. All the dancers and drummers together are still only a tiny spark in the night.
dreaminghope: (Bee Faerie)
Monday morning. Breakfast isn't until 8 AM, and I packed most of my scattered sarongs and glittery bits the night before, but I'm up before 7 AM anyway. I leave all of my cabin mates mumbling in their sleep - they all made it back to the cabin last night; some for the first time all weekend - and grab my towel and head for the swimming dock. It's empty; the first time in years that I have gotten the dock to myself.

I sit for awhile, wearing only my cloak, and watch the mist race across the surface of the lake and the sun reach above the tree tops. I probably look meditative.

When I finally drop the cloak and slip down the ladder - fast; if you stop halfway, the cold water on your ass or breasts may convince you not to get in at all - it's simply because I can't sit still a moment longer. I do a shallow but rapid breast stroke back and forth to warm up and to out-swim thoughts of Pagan politics and bad pick-up lines.

It takes a dozen short laps, but I finally relax into the water and the trees and the sky and the mountains.

Finally, I get cold. After floating for so long, my body feels heavy under the relentless downward pull of the air. I feel like I weigh twice as much when I pull myself up the ladder as I did when I went down it.

Friday night. This is my twelve time at this Gathering, making me an old-timer here. It's like a family reunion; a very dysfunctional family reunion. It's the fourth year that this camp has been at this site and the paths, lit by long strings of Christmas lights that twist off into the woods to temples and lairs and docks and grottoes, are familiar. I even remember some of the tricky sections where the roots seem determined to twist the ankle of anyone not paying enough attention.

Saturday. We're still arriving, mentally and spiritually, to this place out of place. I hang out in the shade, too lazy to go to any workshops. I catch up on gossip and share some dirt of my own.

I envy the person I was my first year at this place, when I arrived alone amongst the Pagans as a naive seventeen year old and found a sense of community. Some part of me is still that sweet and naive.

A new friend calls me "Snow White" and teases me that little birds sing just for me and squirrels frolic at my feet. I think of a certain Snow White scene from "Shrek 3".

I say something a little nasty about a difficult member of the community and get rewarded with a big laugh. It's funny because it's true, and because it's sweet little me that said it.

Don’t mess with Snow White.

Saturday night. Or Sunday morning; I'm not wearing a watch. There's a fire, hot in the cool night, warding off the damp and the exhaustion. The drummers are maintaining a beat well despite scotch and wine and beer. I dance in the circle of dirt between drums and fire until I'm too hot, then I remove my shirt and dance some more. My hips know the beat my hands can never quite find. All around, the shapes of other dancers and the drummers' hands in the firelight. Through half-closed eyes, I see the half-round moon rise above the trees and shimmer on the lake.

As the night wears on, some of the drummers leave the fire, and the less experienced drummers left stumble more often. I begin to feel the ache of my legs from the length of time I've been dancing. An hour, two hours? I've lost track. I trance out and return over and over, never quite reaching the other state but always close. My body flirts with the drummers, trying to re-create the rhythm when they falter.

There's need and desire in the night, and it isn't all mine.

A young woman - 21, she says - with a carrying voice and too much to drink tries to lose her virginity. She pursues one man for several hours, flattering and teasing awkwardly, even as he tells her over and over that he is not going to sleep with her. He tries to spare her feelings, but she simply does not stop until he actually leaves the fire on an invented errand. He leaves her on the lap of a sweetly monogamous man who tries to soothe her ego only to find himself on the receiving end of her attentions. He talks about his wonderful girlfriend a lot.

Two people at the far side of the fire dance around each other, gradually becoming intertwined. They leave for the shadows before the rating reaches X, though she is topless.

An intoxicated pirate rawly propositions a friend. It seems that he'll take any to his bed, but none seem eager; we laugh at him in the morning, both for his behaviour and for his well-deserved hangover.

Sunday morning. Around the campfire, people cradle their coffees and their heads. I get a few (mostly mock) glares for my cheer. The young woman from the night before pokes at the embers and casually drops that she did get someone to bed the night before, though she doesn't say who. I fill a large garbage bag with cans and bottles and carry it to the main lodge. I pass a cabin mate who is heading to bed.

Monday morning. The closing ritual is simple and bittersweet, and followed by a whirl-wind of packing up our own cabins and the rest of the site and trying to say good-bye to as many people as possible. Garbage and recycling gets gathered up and all the Christmas lights and tent decorations are bundled into plastic bins. From magical space to just another children's camp in just a couple of hours.

Some of us caravan off site and meet at a White Spot restaurant in the nearest town. Over burgers and milk shakes we start processing, decompressing, and planning for next year.

It takes time to pull myself out of the Gathering mind space. My spirit feels heavy under the relentless pull of the real world. I feel twice as heavy coming out as I did going in.
dreaminghope: (Waterbaby)
I suppose it started with Cora. As the Friday set-up of the biggest event of my Pagan year proceeded magically smoothly, Cora wandered up the path to the Temple where I was contemplating the lights that had to be strung back down the path.

It was her first year at the Gathering for Life on Earth. It was her first experience with the Pagan community. She was there alone. She was completely my opposite in all those things. I decided to play "adopt a newbie", and get some help with my lighting task at the same time. Cora, Jeff, and I strung lights for half an hour or so. When we were done, I think Cora was relieved to be dragged around the site and used in our opening ritual rehearsal. It can be hard to be new in such a tight-knit community.

This was my eleventh Gathering. I've gone every year since I was seventeen and had to have my parents sign a consent form. I'm definitely an old-timer in that little community; we could only think of three or four people who've been going as long and as consistently as I have. This year, I felt all those years as I guided Cora around and kept having reasons to tell stories about past Gatherings.

"At my first Gathering, I decided to take advantage of the clothing-optional option. I was laying on the docks feeling very brave because I was topless. Then Jay walks up. Jay's much older then I, male, overweight, and completely naked. Jay decides to make me feel welcome in the community with a little conversation. Now, picture this carefully: I’m laying down, propped up on my elbows. He is standing. It felt like the longest conversation I'd ever had."

"Let me tell you about why they don't have divided Men's and Women's Mysteries anymore. At my first Gathering, the women finished their ritual on time. They went to the fire pit and started the chant that was supposed to call the men down from their ritual. And we chanted and drummed, and drummed and chanted: Pan, Odin, Baphomet, Cerrnunos, Osiris. After twenty minutes, we moved closer to the men’s area to try to get their attention. And we chanted and drummed, and drummed and chanted: Pan, Odin, where are the men? Where are the me-e-e-en?. It was about forty-five minutes of constant chanting. And that's when they stopped doing the Mysteries."

It was my favourite Gathering so far, and I was deeply honoured to share with Cora and some new folks from my own Tribe the kinds of moments that were highlights for me in past years.

We did the opening ritual. I'd run one opening ritual before, in my third year. My tribe did me proud this year too. The lines were loud and clear. The drumming was energetic. That magic happened: as the spirals of people coiled around each other, the chant spontaneously became a call and response that echoed through the field: All life! / One tribe!

Around the campfire, the drummers were going, and we chanted (we all come from the Goddess, and to Her we shall return; like a drop of rain, flowing to the ocean…) as [livejournal.com profile] misselaineeous danced topless, firelight and moonlight. She was a beautiful Goddess, with the fire before her, the lake behind her, and the drum and the chant moving through it all.

I partied in the forest, in our Grotto. I sang with James to The Last Saskatchewan Pirate and kicked up dust doing kicks to the chorus. I taught Cora how to dance with her hips. I drank of Deb's strawberry vodka, which is simply the most heavenly beverage ever. I served out tequila shots.

I floated naked in the lake, watching dragonflies and damselflies chase and mate in the sun.

I listened while the elders of my community gossiped. Prudence calls the famous Starhawk "Mimi". She also knows the dirtiest, filthiest songs, and is very willing to sing them in exchange for sangria. And she reportedly knows 350 verses to That Old Time Religion, though she only sang about a dozen before we ran out of sangria to bribe her with.

We've watched Ryan grow from a bump to a very sweet and bright seven year old. [livejournal.com profile] xtalforge gave him a piggyback ride, after Ryan stole his sunglasses. As they trotted back across the field to us, Ryan let go to push the huge sunglasses up his little face. [livejournal.com profile] xtalforge said: "You should hang on! I'm not very reliable." For some reason, that struck [livejournal.com profile] edableme as so funny that she ended up spitting lemonade all over the people opposite her at the table.

I got to see wonderful people I see all-too-rarely outside of the Gathering, such as [livejournal.com profile] gerimaple. And I got to hang with my fellow Twinkies – we had t-shirts and everything!

I wish to publically thank my wonderful opening ritual participants, most of whom who also slaved away to load and unload the truck at both ends of the Gathering, and did more then their share of set-up and take-down: [livejournal.com profile] xtalforge, [livejournal.com profile] misselaineeous, [livejournal.com profile] cinnamonsqueak, [livejournal.com profile] bob_lazar, [livejournal.com profile] edableme, [livejournal.com profile] fruitkakechevy, [livejournal.com profile] grayson100, [livejournal.com profile] grinningthefool, [livejournal.com profile] rythos42, [livejournal.com profile] straw_berry_red, [livejournal.com profile] tareija, [livejournal.com profile] vcooke, [livejournal.com profile] paganjoy, Jeff, and Jamie.

I give up: there's no way to effectively summarize this magical weekend.

It was beautiful.
dreaminghope: (Labyrinth)
I didn't see a lot of Russ at the Gathering, which was OK because I know he had other things to take care of, but it would have been nice to spend more quality time together.

Then, yesterday evening, I come home from work to find dinner made (spanakapitas, roasted garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus), candles ready for lighting and music ready to go. We ate dinner and had americanos with amaretto for dessert. He did the dishes too!

Then we talked about the Gathering and all kinds of other things. We flipped through the feedback forms (Dallas, was it you that filled one out for Gem the dog?) and got excited about being on the Board again (to the tune of On the Road Again: "On the Board again; Just can't believe I'm on the Board again..."). And the rest of the night was fantastic as well... ;)

He'll be home soon. We found out today that he is being laid off. Tomorrow is his last day of work. I hope everything will work out quickly.
dreaminghope: (Firelight)

I cannot record it all. It is impossible to summarize the whole experience. But there are some random memorable moments here. )

There's too much! I'll have to process some more and maybe add more later.

dreaminghope: (Firelight)
I am a little overwhelmed by the task I have set myself: summarizing one of the biggest events of my year. Every year I go to a long-weekend Pagan camp, The Gathering for Life on Earth. This was my ninth Gathering. Every one of them has changed me in some way; some ways have been more subtle then others. I haven't really processed this weekend yet.

My weekend - a general overview )
This is going to take a few entries and possibly a few days... I have a lot to remember and process.

Gathering!

Jul. 28th, 2004 10:45 pm
dreaminghope: (Firelight)
It's coming! I can't believe how fast it is coming up... The Gathering!

I'm mostly packed. I did it last night. I know: I packed on Tuesday for a Friday departure... but this way I have time to re-think everything I'm bringing at least a couple (more) times!

We have to buy a few things still: a mattress, a flashlight, alcohol, snacks. And I don't know how everything is going to fit into the car with three people too. But we will manage somehow; it all has to go!

What am I forgetting to bring?
dreaminghope: (Firelight)
One post about great things:

Registration packages for the Gathering arrived yesterday. Aside from the sour grapes and bitching from a few on the Gathering email list, this is a moment of pure excitement!

Russ, Jamey and I will be going this year, tenting together. This is Jamey's first Gathering, and I am really looking forward to introducing her to everything and everyone. And I think the new site sounds great.

Our registrations and cheques will be in the mail tomorrow!

Also, my birthday is fast approaching and I am getting really joyful about it. Today was the first "event": Shannon bought me a sushi dinner, because she's going to be out of town for the actual birthday. I wish she could be at my party, but I think it's important that she go to Edmonton.

And tonight I hung out with ED, watching Queer As Folk on DVD and chatting.

I was going to do a second post about some crap that's going down at work, but that can wait until tomorrow. Tonight, I want to think about the good stuff.

Yeah -- great things coming!

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