Got back from FSG yesterday...pretty mellow festival this year, even though there was a higher level of attendance.
So for those who've never been, just what is the Free Spirit Gathering? Every year (this was the 22nd one, and my 10th) near the summer solstice, about 600-700 people come to a private campground north of Baltimore. Most of them identify as Pagans, Pantheists, Wiccans, Druids, Heathens, or as followers of African or Native American spiritual paths. There are workshops of topics ranging from folklore to shiatsu (me!) to the spirituality of body modification to hand drumming - as well as programs for kids, teens, and a set of NC-17 rated sacred sexuality workshops. There are concerts (Kiva and Telesma this year, as well as an open-stage "Bardic Circle" hosted by yours truly). There are large group rituals - this year's festival theme and main ritual was on masks, we all made two masks to represent aspects of ourselves we wish to cultivate and those we wish to be free of, and burned the latter in the bonfire.
Ah. The bonfire. Every night, there is dancing and drumming around the bonfire - for me, the heart of FSG. If I had to make a stand somewhere, give me the fire circle at FSG on a good night, with Jackie MacMillan and Daveed Korup and Eve Jones and Tigre making thunder, and my fellow dancers leaping and twirling, turning the sounds and fire into motion; here, I will fear nothing.
The first time I came to FSG, in 1998, I went down to the fire circle the first night. When I saw that some of the people dancing were skyclad - naked - I thought well, that's cool, but I could never do that.
I think it was maybe 90 minutes later that I was dancing skyclad myself. One, because fire is hot, and you want as much exposed skin as possible; two, because fire is sacred, and you want to expose yourself to it, soak it in. I don't always dance skyclad, there's something to be said for the support and protection of a pair of shorts, but I usually get naked and jump around the fire at least once during the festival.
This year's festival was pretty mellow, though; general vibe more relaxed than ecstatic, the fire circle a little more subdued. We barely kept the Saturday night one going until dawn. But that's ok; mellow is nice too. Had some good conversations, gave my workshops to a good response, went to a few nifty ones (one on folklore of Robin Hood, one by our good friend Hillary Banachowski on "The Work that Reconnects", dealing with the psychological stress of the ecological crisis), did a little grieving for my relationship with Cathy as I danced around the fire...was glad the our good friends Joe Galitsky and Brian Jefferson came down for the last night's concert and fire.
So now - clean the camping gear, and start getting ready for Starwood!