I want to tell you a story about a weekend that blew all of our best expectations completely out of the water in the best possible ways.
But first I have to tell you this story.
About a year ago I ran into the wonderful Rachel. She was stuck in the same hell-hole of a school, sub teaching for gas money like I was. I happened to be reading a copy of the first volume of Our Troth- because it’s one of those things that, at some point, every Heathen really should read. She stepped into the room for a bit and said, “Hey, can I ask you a personal question?”
About three months later, Rachel and I were at a restaurant table having just left a meeting of the St Mary’s County Interfaith Council with some serious post-meeting munchies and we kept circling back to the same idea. We were glad to see other groups starting to talk to each other, but we wanted a Pagan, Heathen, Wiccan, Druid, and whatever else was down here kind of community too. We were in agreement that we felt that the local community was at ‘critical mass’ and might be willing and able to start reaching out and doing things together. Within two weeks a Meetup group appeared- not started by us. Point proven, we thought. We each talked many of our friends into joining up. A few false starts later, we had a regular thing going at the coffee place. It was time.
This weekend was our first ever St Mary’s County Pagan Community Midsummer. We expected maybe 20 people at the most but we were determined to have a good time even if it was only us. Counting all of the children under 10 (including many toddlers and babes in arms!) we had more than 60 people come out for the potluck and rituals on Saturday. About half of them camped overnight.
But numbers are only part of it.
We as a community really knocked this one out of the park, and we did it because of the many people, pagans and otherwise, who stepped in to help us out.
First off, we got the site for free. That probably won’t happen again, since the deal was that it needed cleaned and that the camping rules were new and we were their test run. Still, not having to pay a site fee made the event so much more accessible to everyone on the first time around. Huge thanks to the folks at Historic St Mary’s City for their generosity and their very reasonable camping rules.
Second, all the people who stepped in to bring firewood, trash barrels, extra canopies, extra food, kids’ toys and craft goods, extra bug spray, band-aids, benches, weed-whackers, decorations, stories, songs, and rule-compliant beverage containers…. y’all rock out loud.
So what all actually happened? Well, we got a later start on Friday evening than we really expected, but once people started showing up it quickly became apparent that yes, all the people who signed up WERE actually going to come out, plus a few more. Anxiety intensified, but also happiness because quite a few of my awesome Virginia friends made it up and it’s always good to see the awesome Virginia friends. The weekend’s festivities are best explained in picture form.
The entrance to the site looks like the setting of some B-List horror movie, but we told people to just look for the crow… drawn by one of our talented younger members. Past the ferns, don’t bottom out in the pot hole, first clearing on the left. Welcome to the magic. The site is far enough from main roads that we couldn’t hear traffic, or people, or much of anything other than the wind and the seagulls and one pair of Osprey screaming back and forth to each other. And the crows. We had some chatterbox crows. But now you’ve parked and you’ve heard this for yourself. So come walking up the path, it’s not very long. You’ll see.
Stop at the red canopy for registration and pause to admire the community altar. Brought some pretties to add? Go for it. Found a beautiful feather or flower? Add it right in there. One of the Admin team had put together some top-quality incense that kept making its perfumed appearance throughout the weekend. Another team member made those flags. Yes, made. Another supplied the tapestry and another found a beautiful collection of natural decorations. I think the oak here enjoyed being decorated.
If you make it up to the mix of trees and small clearings on the higher ground, drop your tent off. The trees make it hard to camp in our usual groups but you know what, that’s perfect. Mix it up. Jumble them all together. Camp outside your comfort circle and meet some new people. Of all the happy accidents that occurred over the weekend, mixing up the usual camping circles was far and away the best one. It made for the best conversations, random musical entertainment, food sharing, story sharing, and overall atmosphere that I have ever seen at a festival. Ever. I sincerely hope that jumbling up our camping circles becomes part of the St Mary’s Pagan Community Midsummer Tradition!
Here’s a quote from a traveler who has been to many, many variously Pagan/Heathen events around the country. “In all the places we’ve been, we’ve never seen anything like the community here in Southern Maryland- a place we would never have expected one. All the different groups are great, but here at this festival you’re all one tribe, without hesitation. And it’s amazing.”
Y’all, I actually teared up a little. Because it’s true. But we’re not quite done with our site tour.
Come back down the hill, past the pavilion, down the root stairs, and find the beach. It’s not a very big beach, but it’s a beautiful beach. There were periwinkle snails all over the rocks and the bottom was gentle sand for the first few feet. (After that, wear water shoes because oyster shells can be vicious on bare feet. Nobody wants sliced feet.) I think the beach saw at least as much use as the kids’ area or even the fire pit. Personally I only went down the stairs once, but I’ve mostly accepted that my torn up knees mean I have to settle for seeing the pictures sometimes. Point is, the beach was clearly a hit.
But wait, now you’ve seen the spaces and the kids have run off to the siren song of shade under cedar trees and a tire swing by a table full of genuinely fun crafts and activities- not just busy work, either. They made sun stones out of salt dough and did a scavenger hunt and had face painting and a kid sized drum circle and all were utterly worn out by the end of the day… so what were the grown ups left to do?
Well, Friday we got our stuff set up and got to know our neighbors a bit better. We had a fish bake at one camp area and plenty of roast hot dogs at another and then we went down to the fire.
Real fire. Real people. Real fellowship. I’m still sore, actually, from all the wild-drumming-induced dancing. I don’t normally dance that much, and my calves and feet are unhappy with me today.
Saturday had a sunny start with plenty of coffee brewed among multiple tent clusters. Everyone made sure their neighbor had breakfast and coffee- even if they’d never camped with them before. Mixed up circles for the win. Generous neighbors for the even winner. 😉
We went down to our nice shady event area for a group topic talk- this one was about different techniques of cleansing and protection. There will be more topic talks in the coming months, because the turnout and engagement were impressive and encouraging.
When the Sun had reached her zenith, the horn sounded to call all interested persons to witness the faining for Sunna, the Sun personified or the driver of the chariot of the sun, depending on who’s telling Her story. (It’s a faining ’cause we only sacrificed some good mead, instead of a critter. Some folks are touchy about that, so we decided against it.) I acted as gythia for the rite, and when I do this I call the Holy Powers in three successive waves, from the Aesir and Vanir, to the Ancestors, to the Landvaetir, and let me tell you a thing. The land heard. It was all I could do to keep composure in the face of that upwelling emotion from the earth. The rite went beautifully, and seemed to be much appreciated by all. I invited all present to tie their wishes for healing or their good wishes for the community into a sunwheel, made of straw, to be burned at sunset.
In late afternoon, while the kids were on a scavenger hunt or coloring in the shade, our Druid guests led a brief rite for Blodeuwedd in Her aspect as lady of Summer. We learned a new chant that will probably become part of the local repertoire, and I know that many who had not been familiar with Blodeuwedd decided to look up some information about Her later that evening.
And we feasted that evening. Oh gods did we feast.
There was epic rockfish. There was epic chicken. There were many epic salads of grain and pasta and potato. There was fruit in joyous abundance. There was brined and roasted goat. I looked at the table of deserts and felt diabetes creeping in. The leftovers were… not many. (I think there was more goat left than anything else, but when you start with nearly 40 pounds of meat that’s not shocking.)
I left at that point to go feed my still living goats and managed to be delayed by so many little things (@^##ing red lights) which, by themselves would have been nothing but collectively kept me from seeing all but the last minute and a half of the evening ritual performed by our wonderful Wiccan friends from the next county over. I hear it was beautiful and elegant and it is much desired that they return in future years. The ring of flower petals around the altar was like the icing on the cake of just plain pretty magic for the weekend and it made me happy to see it.
Then the Saturday fire happened.
We should probably apologize to HSMC about the couple of stones that EXPLODED when the fire got really hot really fast. Fortunately, no one was hurt. Memo to us, build the fire up more slowly next time. But isn’t it cool?!?
We wound up with two very different fire circles, Friday and Saturday night. Friday was wild dancing and building the intense, positive energy that we were working with all weekend. Saturday was pure magic in a different way.
At sunset, exactly, we processed the sunwheel to the fire and burned it to the sounds of drums and cheering voices. That is a magic memory that will stay with me for a very long time.
Then we sang songs, and told stories, and shared our stories with each other as midnight came and went. (Don’t let the bare benches in the pictures fool you- most had brought their own chairs.) A much-loved friend told me later that, in all the years of festivals, it was the best fire circle she had ever attended. She felt completely at home, and completely safe to tell her story, sing a song, and not worry that her kids were going to be unwelcome.
The Saturday night fire circle also gave me my favorite picture of the entire event. It shows just how many people were not just there but really engaged. It shows how many families were there, how beautiful the site was, and just how much fun we were having. I will leave you with this image. The admin team will be meeting later this week to go over some ideas and responses to the event. We’d like to hear what you liked, and what we might want to consider doing differently. Please be part of the conversation. I keep referring to the ‘admin team’ but really, we’re more of a ‘logistics team’ than anything else. We’re not here to give orders or dictate anything- we’re here to help coordinate the abundant resources and energy of this surprisingly large group of generous, open minded, courteous, talented, magical people. We’re also here because someone has to put their name on the rental agreement. 😉
I wish all of you, from the bottom of my heart, a joy-filled and blessed Summer Solstice.
Thank you for making our first Midsummer magical.