During my months abroad in Asia, I was missing spending time with my ‘tribe’ back in the U.S. The energy exchange and fulfillment I get from drumming and dancing around a giant bonfire until the sunrise couldn’t be found during my travels, in the way I needed it.
While in Goa, India there were drum circles nightly on the Arabian Sea, but they lacked fire as a focal point, and the energy was too scattered, chaotic and disharmonious. In Chiang Mai, Thailand I went to a small circle inside a vegetarian restaurant called the Tea Tree Cafe, which was fun, but can’t compare to festival energy.
Nor did I find anything in Bangkok.
This was a large internal drive for returning to the U.S. at this particular time. I wanted to make two large summer festivals called Starwood and Sirius Rising, which happen in July. Both of which have bonfires as large as a 2-story building, incredible energy and familiar faces.
After about 2 weeks of returning to the U.S. after living abroad and experiencing reverse culture shock I started the long drive from Florida to Ohio.
After around 14 hours of driving, I arrived in Ohio at Wisteria at night.
This was Starwood’s 35th year running. A handful of years ago Starwood was held at Brushwood Folklore Center in Sherman, NY, but that’s another story.
What unfortunately set this year’s event apart (from my time there last year) was the consistent rain. This steady rain switched between soft drizzles and pours for most of my 6 days there. As you can imagine, this produced a large amount of MUD. The type of mud that didn’t clear up for the rest of my time there.
In many cases this isn’t a big deal, but…. I use a very small backpacking tent, the Lynx Pass Big Agnes 1. You can see compared with a chair how small it is…(photo from a pervious festival.)
In a setup this small, when you have mud going several inches up your pant leg and attempt to get into a tent, it’s a challenge, especially with no dry spot to change before entering.
When you can’t get your clothes dry, you stick them in the vestibule area of the tent, causing a mildew/toxic air environment due to low air flow/ventilation when the rainfly is closed for days on end.
This has me thinking of upgrading my ‘car camping’ setup. Originally I built a lightweight ‘bug out bag’ type of setup (in a Kelty Redwing 50) I could fit in the overhead compartment of an airplane that was minimalist.
It has the massive limitation of being very unsociable as well, as I can’t have company or friends over. So I’m considering using an REI Kingdom 6 to create a sort of party spot with lanterns, a canopy and tapestries with plenty of space to chill and actually stand up straight in the screen room and ‘bedroom’.
Anyway, back to Starwood…
Each year I read through the event literature picking which of the 100+ workshops I want to attend. Within the chaos of many late nights/early mornings, I seldom make any. Usually the day is spent wandering around talking to people and getting ready for the nightly drum circle in which I expend all my energy until I’m ready to pass out.
For the most part photographing people is a no-no due to the nature of these festivals as a ‘Pagan Gathering’ and most want to understandably keep this private. Therefore I’ll only share a couple of grounds photos I took along with a few web found photos.
With that said, I’d like to share a few memorable moments from Starwood.
For example this field, before embarking upon a sunshine daydream.
One night while walking along, I came upon a geometric dome, which housed a ritual paying respects to our ancestors. The rhythmic sounds of drums and rattles beckoned me to investigate further. A small fire was reaching towards the sky while a steady procession of participants encircled the flame in unison.
As I joined in the circle, moving clockwise and shaking my rattle, I noticed the Dragon Ritual Drummers were participating in the drummer area. They were set to play a concert the following night, so this was a welcome addition. Getting further enthralled with the energy, I noticed Oberon Zell (an elder in the Pagan community) dressed in full wizard regalia placing his lit candle within the circle. We’re talking full robes, a staff and pointy hat. Web found photo for illustration purposes.
For a short time, I almost entered into a timeless state and it was a definite highlight of this evening’s happenstance.
Paw Paw is probably my favorite drum circle space in existence. Imagine finding an entrance into the woods, lit by torches and going down a hill toward what’s always a memorable night, and greeting to the dawn.
Down further into the woods you go, as the sound of gypsy screams, fast drumming and general mayhem gets louder. Finally you find yourself in front of the flames. Looking up you see a circle of trees that seem to crown the night sky perfectly. Around the circle are wood benches and a covered hut area for drummers and plenty of space in the sand for dancers. Starwood allows full nudity (aka. Skyclad) for those who choose to participate. This adds a special, free aspect to the gathering and reminder that you’re far from mundane life with its plethora of rules, regulations and general feelings of uptightness.
When I dance around a bonfire, I wear a wolf skull mask and shake a rattle made of turtle shell I received at a Native American gathering. Tribal stomping for hours at a time. It’s the single best feeling I’ve ever experienced in this life, especially when your enhanced within the warm embrace of Entheogens. Time begins to stand still, and something else begins to emerge within you. A primal force, as you instinctively dance in a way that’s been done for thousands of years. Look to the right and see beautiful semi-clad creature dancing next to you, long dreads swinging about. Others wearing masks of significance to them. You see people in various states of joy or ecstatic trance. Inherent powers and energies with the fire and forest make themselves known.
Sometimes one person is chanting and it sounds like many all around you. Images of mythological scenes tend to form within your mind’s eye. Your body energized in fluid and rhythmic motion. This went on for multiple nights in a row, until the sun came up. Once you get going, it’s hard to stop.
On Saturday night is the BIG bonfire. Meaning it’s the height of a 2-story building and much anticipated. Here is a photo I took while it was being built.
For this one, I used my rattle in one hand, and a new Stag mask I acquired in the other. This mask was meant to signify a level of wisdom and maturity reached after I took this giant leap of quitting my job and moving to Asia.
Especially throwing myself into India first, alone. A trial by fire. Rites of passage and initiation are painfully missing from today’s society, but I’d like to expand upon this in a future post.
Here is a (web found photo) of this large Saturday night bonfire raging.
Another found photo…
A fire this large takes a lot of energy to circle for an hour or two at a time. It’s massive and an absolute rush to continually circumambulate. At some point after this, I moved over to the Pufferdome.
The Pufferdome is another fantastic experience. Some people avoid it, as they are already too sensitive to various energies, and the Synesthesia rush of entering this place is too much for them. Imagine a giant dome with psychedelic imagery projected onto the entire surface. On the ground in the middle is a small curved mirror, which shows a microcosm of the entire pattern. The music is ambient, electronic and experimental. Old school acid blotter art melds with movie scenes, fractals and pattern recognition imagery. Here are a few Pufferdome photos I found on the web.
On another night, was the magical journey to the stone circle/ancestor mound area at dusk.
These are just a few of the many special moments from Starwood 2015. The ones I can recall.
After leaving Pomeroy, Ohio I needed to snag a motel room at the Red Roof Inn for a few days to recuperate and clean my gear, which was trashed. I was feeling pretty worn out from dealing with mud every day and partying every night. I tend to like this motel chain for fairly inexpensive lodging as they have washer & driers on premises, are fairly cheap, have in room Wi-Fi and a fridge. Looking at the weather forecast, I almost didn’t go to Sirius, as rain was forecasted every day. I waited until Wednesday to show up and overall there were no weather problems. The first night got down to 39 degrees, which was slightly cold in my tent.
Brushwood Folklore Center in Sherman New York is a much smaller facility than Wisteria Campground in Pomeroy, Ohio. There were plenty of magical spots to be found here as well.
One particular day I wandered around a couple of hours before the sunset. Coming upon back road areas, I found seasonal camps of people who live there half of the year in good weather. One special camp caught my eye. A couple of twisted trees formed the entrance with pots, pans and other decorative objects hanging from the trees in picturesque formations. I saw a long white bearded gentleman in the area named Tom, who granted my entry. We ended up chatting a while about some interesting subjects. Towards the back, was a large screen room, which housed two birds. An African Gray, and what appeared to be a Crow or Raven belonging to Dennis.
Another night, I found a small bridge, which was a path to the labyrinth. Through a field and into the outer rings of hedge and candles I proceeded. Coming upon the center some time later was a twisted tree alter with random objects, lanterns and candles.
And then there is the Roundhouse for nightly drumming. (web found photo).
Yet another occasion, I was standing in the middle of a field and looked around. On one side I saw fire spinners, from another direction I heard operatic singing on stage, then in the distance the Roundhouse fire circle was going, and it felt like the place to be.
These are some of my most memorable experience from recent festival season. I try to base my lifestyle around being able to attend and have these moments. Too many years passed when I didn’t do this, and life is short.
Coming up shortly, I’ll be attending Paralounge, Earthdance, Phoenix Phyre and Florida Pagan Gathering.
(Several of these images are web found photos as mentioned, due to respecting the privacy policies of the festivals and attendees. If any belong to you, please let me know and I’ll use your source as credit.)