Not even a 17 hour drive from Minneapolis to Darlington, Maryland could dampen my spirits on June 15, 2011. Many of my coven mates and Trad kinsmen had been telling me for years that Free Spirit Pagan Gathering was the best time they had ever had at a Pagan festival.
My husband and I, plus one of my students pulled up to the rustic looking camp at around 4 pm, and we instantly felt our energy change. Happy Pagans in various stages of dress were milling around on their way to the pool or to a ritual or class. Vendors with lovely wares played music or burned incense to entice buyers to peruse the magickal sparklies under their tents.
My Tradition, Blue Star, has its "area" at the camp, and no fewer than a hundred of my kinsmen were in attendance, which added to my joy. Once settled and properly hugged, I took a quick shower in the modern group bathroom near my cabin and commenced to analyzing the festival schedule. The biggest bummer of all was that there were so many awesome classes and rituals that I knew I couldn't attend them all.
I settled on lounging under the Blue Star shade awnings and enjoying some quality time with my people while my student took a dip in the pool before her mandatory "Staying Grounded at Festivals" class began. The evening lazily crept upon us as my husband and I took a few turns around the vendor tents and talked about all of the great ritual options before us.
We took a sacred sexuality class with O and Christine and learned amazing details about pleasuring and loving. We talked with the Lord Cernnunos in a circle given by Assembly of the Sacred Wheel. We ate amazing food cooked outside under the hot sun, sang, danced, and rejoiced. I was honored to take a class on creating meaningful end of life rituals and led a small circle to speak with our beloved dead. My student learned how Druids celebrate the Solstice and just how big her spiritual family really is. And my husband learned to relax, if only for a few days.
In retrospect, it wasn't the fabulous classes nor the ecstatic rituals we attended that ultimately made an impression upon my spirit during those few days at Camp Ramblewood. Certainly those things were wonderful, but the elusive magic was subtler than that. It was being in Pagan community. It was hearing the distant drumming of someone else's rite of passage. It was watching a stately gentleman with flowing hair and beard stride proudly through the camp, decked in green body paint as the Lord of the Forest. It was watching our children play naked and unashamed in the grasses and hearing our songs and chants on the wind.
Then it occurred to me. The whole thing was a ritual. The entirety of this coming together of like-minded travelers who knew the Gods and the Ancestors was one big ritual, one big prayer. From the first preparation of the staff to the last cleaning of the cabins, this gathering fed the Gods and Their Children as much as any spiral dance. The wonder of this idea filled me and my throat caught. A tear escaped my eye and I said a silent prayer of thanks. And then I heard the Mother laugh.