It would be impossible, even irresponsible, to talk about this year’s festival without mentioning the Sword of Damocles that overhung the whole weekend. So, as you might expect, I’ll bring it up first.
We almost got eaten by a tornado.
Last year, it rained every single day, breaking for no more than an hour or two at a time. Going into this year, I and everyone I know spent the last month with our eyes on the long range forecasts. Prognostication was mixed: there was always talk of some rain, but mostly intermittent. The closer the event came, though, the more it looked like a repeat of last year — with an added bonus of summer lightning, just to spice things up. At least it was supposed to be warm.
Aradia and I had intended to hit camp by noon Monday to help with set-up. The rain had other ideas: coming down in a torrent that prevented us from loading the trailer, and flooded the back yard so thoroughly that it ran up and over the foundation and flooded our back room. I live in a family property, so that made for family drama in addition to landlord drama. Weeping and gnashing of teeth aside, Aradia and I didn’t make camp until midnight, at which point we took advantage of a lull in the rain to set up our encampment.
Tuesday was more threat than storm, and although we had to stop several times to let the winds and rain past, we were able to get a great deal of work done, as well as move our temporary encampment to somewhere large enough to support our incoming crew.
Tuesday night, however, we were hit by and incredible windstorm. Aradia and I were camped far enough behind the treeline to be spared anything but the fear (shit was loud, y’all), but when we came out in the morning, three pavilions had been flipped: safety, first aid, and the entirety of the Vice President’s encampment. First Aid had not yet unpacked their supplies, so little was ruined. Madame Veep was not so fortunate: all her gear and food was soaked. She was gone before I woke up, and I can’t blame her: I’d have packed my shit and gone home, too. This last, however, proved to be a particular problem for my encampment: Aradia was elected to take the position of Vice President after this year’s festival, and was made acting Vice President upon her predecessor’s abrupt departure.
Wednesday was less threat and more rain, with forecasts for the coming week looking ever more dire. We worked through it. Our honored guests came and were safely ensconced in their respective housing — Lupa, who preferred to camp, with Chirotus and Pasiphae, my Keepers of Water and Earth, and Shauna Aura Knight in her cabin — and I waited, nervous, for my Iris, my Keeper of Fire, to roll in from St. Louis with her crew.
Thursday things went to hell in a hand basket.
The day started off reasonably enough: breakfast in camp, setting up the Sacred Experience Committee booth and Centering Dome, attempting to coordinate our official photographer situation (a blog post unto itself), and hoping our Keeper of Air would make it on site in time for the opening ritual, scheduled for 5 o’clock. Various emergencies demanded my attention as head of the SEC, and I helped out with other people’s work wherever I could. Wind and rain were intermittent, but the sky was ominous.
My ritual crew was getting into costume and I was already starting to shut down the SEC booth when the first micro-burst hit. Aradia was literally hanging onto the rails of our carport pavilion while I doubled the number of stakes in the feet and tightened up the ratchet straps at the corners.
Then the tornado siren came.
Evacuation protocol came through over the radio, and I helped usher people down the hill and into the designated storm shelter in the basement of the main hall. The space doubles as a tool shed, and was … less than ideal. And in no way comfortable. But we gathered together, doing our best to comfort one another and simultaneously remain rock-steady for the benefit of the attendees. Finally, the all-clear was given, and we tried to collect ourselves and make it back up to the ridge to perform the ritual.
Then the second call came over the radio: another cell headed straight for camp.
Now, having grown up in the area, it’s been my observation that my fellow locals have one of two responses to intense storms: excessive fear, or inadequate fear. I suffer from the latter. We had just made it to the top of the hill. Half of us — half my crew, half our support, half the fucking festival — had already sprinted back to their encampments to make sure everything was intact. Left to my own devices, I might have done the same. But I had been anointed with the silver wristband of blame: leadership requires that one lead, and be responsible, and follow the rules.
I led everyone back down the hill. Everyone who would be led, at least. There were only half as many people in the storm shelter the second time around, and all twice as rattled as the first.
Again, I suffer from a distinct lack of storm-fear. Not particularly afraid of enclosed spaces, at least not basement-sized. But the fear in the room … the rise and crash of ritual prep and two rounds of storms … that shit fucked with me. It fucked with all of us. Doubly so Pasiphae, whose husband had been one of the sprinters before the second call came over the radio, and who never made it back to the shelter.
By the time the second all-clear came, none of us were in any shape for an opening ritual. We were rattled and exhausted. Pasiphae still needed to find her husband. One of the honored guests was MIA. The community at large seemed about the same. So instead of an opening ritual, we had the community dinner, served in the Pavilion about an hour late.
Aradia and I were left in the pavilion while the rest of the staff ran around, trying to get people into and out of the festival as needed, and setting up a shelter in the Main Hall for everyone whose camp couldn’t be set up or had been washed out in the storm. Most people were chilling out pretty well by seven or eight o’clock: the rain was still coming down hard, but they had been given warm food, a dry place to drink and dance under the Pavilion, and all overt signs of the drama had past.
We, however, were tense. The forecast, because too many of us still had cellular signal, was grim. I began to seriously wonder if we had been … interfered with. Then Aradia asked me, “Do you have the Orphic hymn to Jupiter memorized?”
We started going back and forth. We were sure we remembered most of it. My notes were on the far side of the rain. We went to Chirotus. He didn’t remember it, but he went off to find signal to see if he could look it up.
Aradia and I started without him. I wound myself up with the opening and closing passages of the Stele of Jeu. Aradia meditated. We began to chant. Chirotus appeared just as we reached the lines we had forgotten. We repeated the hymn three times. I begged the spirits of Jupiter to intercede on our behalf, that whomever we had offended be appeased. I begged that the skies clear, the rains abate, and the festival be allowed to procede. I poured out a quarter of a bottle of really fucking good whiskey, the last of a batch that I had been hoarding for a year.
I wish I’d had the foresight to take a screenshot of the forecast. The rain didn’t stop right way, but it slacked hard. It rained off and on through the night and into the morning, but ritual and fire were undisturbed. Saturday was clear and hot, and when the sun set the stars were sharper than I’d seen out there in years. Sunday and Monday were more of the same. The rains only came back yesterday and today, and only a little.
I spent all of Friday telling people not to beg the sun to come out: the world was still spinning, the galaxy continued to turn, and we were not a ball of ice flying aimlessly through space in search of a new gravitational anchor. The sun was doing its goddamn job. Some minds were seriously blown.
Appease the clouds, I told them. Make offerings to the gods of sky and storm. And we did. Everyone I spoke to turned their attention to placating the storms. And the skies stayed clear.