Well, and I are back from SpiritFire. A little shaken up — we had our first really serious blow-out, largely around issues relating to how we relate to our community — but we’re the same people, stronger than before.
Wednesday we got up early, finished packing, and drove to Northampton to pick up our friend Craig. He couldn’t afford to go, but and I both felt he was strongly called to be there, so we arranged to pay half of his admission fee, in the hopes that he’d scrape together the other half. We were right, and it was good for him to be there. He was with a lady friend when we arrived, an hour earlier than expected, and Anne the Amazonian was in good spirits. There were many dishes in the sink, but not as many as we had expected. Craig’s roommate really needs to work on cleanliness issues around her cooking — how a great cook can not care about her equipment is beyond me, but there it is.
We left Northampton about 12:30pm, and drove Route 9 west to Pittsfield, and then took Route 20 west past Hancock and the Shaker Village there, over the mountain to Lebanon, NY, where the Abode of the Message is located. A left-hand turn off of Route 20 brings you past the Darrow School to the Abode. Both the Darrow School and the Abode occupy the buildings left over from the Mother-House of the Shaker Order, and the structures are fantastic — plain but beautiful buildings of stone, brick and wood, beautifully proportioned and among the largest private buildings of the early 1800s. I love them, and they practically sing. If the Shakers permitted marriage or sex, I’d have been a Shaker.
The Abode of the Message is, of course, a Sufi intentional community and retreat center; their guru/elder/leader Piers Vilani (sp?) died on Friday afternoon (I think it was friday; the days run together somewhat). I have never met such a wonderful, loving, generous group of people; and I are thinking about joining the Abode’s staff for AHO in two weeks. They’re that cool. Moreover, as we were leaving on Sunday, we ran into five or six Sufis who were coming for the celebration of their teacher’s life… they were expecting to party all night long (“Celebrate” was the word they actually used). I think if I hadn’t already been exhausted, we would have gone ourselves. Next time I go to the Abode, I think I will do my best to attend Universal Worship, whenever and at whatever time it may be held.
So… Wednesday. We drove up the mountain, unlike last year when it was a muddy sluice, parked, and registered. and I pitched our tent near Emily, the yurt of Carl (Leah and I suffered from yurt-envy the whole time we weren’t stressing about our relationship. It turns out that Forest’s yurt fits in his car… I may ask Forest to help me build one that fits in my car, too, even if it means removing seats and such. Hmmm. I got involved in sherpa’ing Julie’s stuff to her cabin, and then I began checking in with all sorts of people from last year. I forget what we had for dinner, only that it was good — very good. All the food was.
We had our own worship before the meal. This begins with everyone attending standing in a big circle, clapping in their own chosen rhythm. The result is both chaotic and beautiful, because everyone winds up filling in little spaces in the silences, and yet because we’re in a circle you hear different bits of the rhythm from different parts of the circle. Announcements, followed by grace — I think this is when we did the Sufi grace, “Oh thou the Sustainer…” which I also use at school here from time to time.
Then opening circle. The Fire Circle at SpiritFire is a wide green lawn, with a ring of guardian statuary (made by Martin) surrounding it — each of these is a cut, carved, and painted board in the shape of a two-headed figure, one face looking out and one looking in, defending the space within. At the four directions are altars to fire in the south, water in the west, earth in the north, and air in the east. At the center is a dancing circle of soft mulch and at the center of that is a fire pit perhaps four feet in diameter. Attached to the south end of the dancing circle is a series of benches for drummers and instrument players, and at the north is a bubble of mulch with a ring of posts marked with runes and symbols, and containing a post at the center hung with animal skulls and prayer flags. This ring is the “ancestor zone”, where people can be safe to enter deep trance and commune with their pasts and their deep pasts.
During opening circle, each participant was smudged into the circle through the portal, a assembly of wood and red flags marked with symbols of the divine and magical intention. Then small groups of participants were led by a drummer or a rattler to each of the four altars, where we were given a glass bead in an appropriate color, or a stone. Each of the altars is associated with a specific aspect of the circle — air with communication, song, and spoken word; fire with drums and music; water with dance and movement; and earth with service to the community and the circle.
and I got separated from one another at dinner, and I wound up getting approached by various people during dinner to talk and reconnect. I think our troubles started here: not being able to meet the community as a couple, we wound up getting distanced from each other during dinner. Then it happened again during opening circle. We didn’t get connected again until after dinner and circle were both over.
At midnight, we had the fire lighting ritual, and then the drums and the dance began. We wound up going until early Thursday morning; sometime around 6 is when things peter out, and sunrise ritual started about 5:45am. In between lighting the fire and sunrise, there’s this tremendous outpouring of energy and power, and this tremendous intake of energy and power, in the form of slow and fast drumming, slow and fast dancing, soft interludes of spoken word, and silence. It’s mind-blowing, and it’s tribal, and it’s deeply sensual, and it’s beautiful. As Tiana says, “we’re a community of beautiful women and interesting men.”
Post-sunrise, and I tried to crash in our tent. We’d promised each other not to have sex during the festival this year, for two reasons. We both wanted to work on our ritual presence in this community, and we felt we could do that best by not having sex with each other. I admit, in retrospect, that I think I pushed in this direction, but it was a good thing in many ways: even when an opportunity to have sex with someone else came along, I was faithful to her and our relationship because of the promises we’d made to each other. And that meant I had to talk with her and work things out.
The big thing this year at SpiritFire was that Daniel, who introduced and I to each other as potential partners, had brought four older boys to the festival to undergo an ordeal and a rite of passage into manhood. It’s not proper for me to speak about what we did, or how, but the boys spent their days out in the woods doing various challenging activities, and their nights dancing around the fire, interspersed with ritual challenges and formal ‘crossing-over’ rites, leaving boyhood behind and coming into manhood.
On Thursday night, there was a women’s council. This was one of their challenges. Fifteen women met in council, with three men (including myself) sitting in silent witness outside their meeting space. The women welcomed the four boys into their midst, and each woman spoke about their experiences with men. Again, I may not speak of it, because we were sworn to silence. But women readers — what would you say if you had the chance to tell four fifteen-year-olds something about how a man should behave? What would your women friends say? The boys had a chance to ask three questions of the women, as well. Male readers — what would you ask? And believe me, they asked good questions. I was blown away. I have never seen a group of women engage so powerfully with a group of men like that. I was amazed that handled her part of mediating the council so powerfully. I had not known she had that in her, and I was impressed. Even then, though, I knew I was drawing back from her in a variety of ways, putting on the mask of me in ‘festival mode’.
Friday is when the Shit Hit the Fan. There was a Men’s Council for the boys, where we had a chance to tell the four what being a man was all about, and because these were boys becoming men, we excluded female witnesses (Ladies, when you initiate girls into womanhood at SpiritFire, make sure you exclude us from your council in the same way). sat as our doorwarden and timekeeper. Perhaps she’ll write in her diary about her experiences as the guardian, but that’s really up to her. As for me, I can’t speak of what occurred in our council, but I felt like I connected with a number of men in council that night, and I feel more thoroughly connected to this community than I ever have before.
Coming back from the Council, Leah and I walked together. She was weary from sitting in the cold and the dark, and it started raining. It was almost 11, and I had a role to play in the opening circle — or thought I did. When you take on a role solely on your own recognizance, it’s hard to put down, and when it’s a good and useful role to the community, it’s very hard for someone to tell you to stop (thank you, Asherah).
Cutting a very long and drawn-out and idiotic scene which was very private and intimate, and yet very loud and probably which several people heard, asked me for help and comfort in dealing with the rain and cold and the darkness and the vulnerability she was feeling. I responded by going and getting a lot of her scattered stuff out of the rain — a mask she had bought at the auction, the magical journal I had bought for her at the auction, some clothes… all that really doesn’t matter. As I went, I was getting more steamed and angry and upset. I had given her a lot of stuff here: she had wanted to be a priestess, and I felt I had arranged several opportunities for her to be a priestess for this community, and now it seemed like she didn’t want them. When I got back from finding all this stuff, I was good and mad, and I gave her a lot of shit. Mixed in with the shit was some good stuff, I think — but it was about 2% diamonds to 98% shit. I didn’t figure that out until Saturday night. I then left her to go do what I thought of as my role.
Sometime that night, I saw someone drinking out of a water jug that I wasn’t carrying — and I almost got angry. How dare she? I thought. she’s not letting me do my job! I realized that was a fucked-up notion about three hours later; It’s like insisting that parents get to live their children’s lives for them, or that only priests can approach the altar and bring God or Goddess to the people. I think this was the beginning of me breaking down.
The other thing that happened Friday night is that I began fitting together a poem/chant for the men to sing to the new men during the fire circle on Saturday night/Sunday morning. I worked on it most of the day on Saturday, and consulted with a few women and most of the men about its content and structure. Owen, Wolfgang, , , and a number of others contributed bits and pieces to it, but I like to think that the overall structure and pattern was mine. So I was very pleased that I was going to be a part of the welcoming ritual for the boys-become-men.
By Saturday morning, and I were lying in the same bed, but unable to sleep, and really unable to speak to each other. We lay there, uncomfortably curled up against each other, and we tried fooling around sensually without breaking the agreements we had made regarding sex. It was hard. We were really in the wrong space to forgive each other, and we couldn’t use sex to make up with each other.
So I left. I went with Yuri to do a town run, to get money to pay my debts from the auction and to pay for Forest’s book, and to get away from the site for a bit. We wound up going to Pittsfield, and that gave me enough time to finish writing my poem for the ritual, and to be away from for a while. When I came back, I borrowed a frame drum and went to a workshop with Jake on frame drumming. Excellent. I need to get a frame drum and learn to use it with my spoken word stuff.
After that, it was almost time to go to dinner. I found and talked to a couple of men I hadn’t talked to before — my thought was that each of us would take and do a verse of my poem for the ritual, and that would be the ritual. Then I ran into Daniel, and he told me to touch base with Eric Wolfsson, who was doing the ritual.
And then I talked to Asherah. She and I spoke for… what, ten minutes? the essence of what she said is that we cannot do everything. The container of the fire circle is built to sustain strong trance and deep personal work, because it must be. People have to feel safe to take up a role as a speaker, a performer, a server, a priest, a priestess, a magician, a drummer, a dancer — and to put it down again. She asked why I thought I could do everything all the time, or words to that effect (in answer to the bit about pouring water in the soaking-wet anscestor zone, by the way — I thought I was offering water to the dead. It didn’t become clear until early Sunday that I was offering tears to my grandparents that I was not able to shed myself). I asked about Eric during hand-clapping, and turned around to discover him standing behind me, this… this… kid. Looking into his eyes, though, I saw this strength, this manliness….
I backed off. I gave my part in the ritual to someone else. YE GODS, but that was hard. I resolved not to carry water that night. That was easier. I suggested that Eric invite another teacher to speak the words about teaching the children, and I told Steve and Forest when they asked why I wasn’t at the ritual, that if I was part of it, it couldn’t ever belong to the community, to the tribe.
I’ve always joked about giving a piece of poetry up to Anonymous, but this year I really did it, and given how powerfully it appeared to affect people, it was in a sense my greatest spoken word piece ever. And it doesn’t belong to me any more. It belongs to a community that may choose to forget how it came to be. I’m OK with that, but letting go of it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, ever. And the fact that I’m telling the story here suggests that I’m not really OK with letting it go. I’m telling all of you, after all, aren’t I?
But doing so — putting this piece into Eric’s hands, putting down my water jugs, letting twelve other men function as priests in the circle and take on new roles they had never sought or desired — allowed me to connect with again, and cry my eyes out over dead grandparents, and deal with some of my issues. I’m not to the bottom of all of them yet, by a long shot. For the first time, though, I feel I have a community that can let me deal with them in an open fashion, and rest in their arms, where I can be a priest and yet still find help when I need it.
How cool is that?
Tiana offered to priestess for and I when we get hand-fasted. If we get hand-fasted. We’re talking about the issues involved. Both of us are newly empowered and newly strengthened by the stuff we went through this weekend, and we both feel that if we are to get hand-fasted, we want it to be done in the community’s way. We want to have a say in what the ceremony will look like, but we don’t want to have the only say. This weekend was about the rite of passage into manhood, and and I feel that we don’t want to have to invent a ceremony that doesn’t have the full support and backing of our community. We want the rite that’s used to be the community’s rite, the way we do it when we’re together.
So we’re planning on asking the SpiritFire community to start talking and thinking about what our rites of passage look like — how we celebrate births and mourn deaths, how we join two (or more) people in the bonds of committment, and how we loose them when those bonds no longer work for them. We want the community to think about how it takes counsel with itself about these issues, and how these matters will be done in our circles. We’re taking counsel with each other about whether or no we wish to be hand-fasted, and whether we’ll need to have a handfasting as a betrothal, followed by a wedding for our mundane families, and whether we want kids, and where and how we’ll live, and all that. But we need the community to think about what the ceremonial will look like, because we can’t do this alone — handfasting, like birth and death and passage into manhood or womanhood, is about strengthening community rather than just the two individuals involved. We can’t do this without you.
There will be more as I think about SpiritFire more, and I’m sure and others will post about their experiences this weekend. As I see such entries, I’ll post links to them here, so that you non-SpiritFire people can think about whether or not you want to attend next year.
You know you want to.
And because it’s a much better drink than an :
|How to make a Watermountain|
5 parts success
1 part humour
1 part instinct
Blend at a low speed for 30 seconds. Add a little cocktail umbrella and a dash of curiosity