“Bacchus” by Caravaggio. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Flannigan’s Right Hook was playing their cover of Paint it Black as Aradia and I stumbled back from one of the furthest-flung encampments at Gaea, still high from our first shamanic journey. That was Friday night of HPF 2009, our first year together; they played again the following year on the Sunday night main-stage, to which they returned this year. I missed the first part of this show, too, eventually abandoning half of my encampment to their face-painting shenanigans.
After the quiet of rest of the festival, walking up to the stage was like running face-first into a cacophonic wall of neon light and raucous sound. A beautiful, much-needed wall, the impact with which brought me back to 2k9 and ‘10, returning to those moments in cyclical time. The guitars, the cello, the electric fiddle … it was catharsis, pure and powerful.
I needed it desperately. The festival, to that point, had had its ups and downs. The main ritual, the day before, had been an utter disaster from which we were all—despite the passage of twenty-four hours, multiple cleansing rituals, and the completion of the public closing ritual just hours before—still recovering. Even the land was stained.
So I stood there, vibrating with the music, and trying to let go. To let go of my frustration with the Sacred Experience Committee. To let go of my frustration with my camp-mates, most of whom had not yet made it to the pavilion. To let go of my desire for the festival—which I have been attending since I was eighteen years old, to which I have introduced probably a dozen people at this point, and to which I had brought three “virgins” this very year—to be perfect, and just enjoy it as it was in the then and the now. Perfection doesn’t exist in this world. I’m skeptical that it exists anywhere. …. So why, then, do I get so upset when things turn out to be less than perfect?
The music was amazing, the light show was a blast, and I was drinking thoroughly-blessed wine. And yet, I was still struggling to find the fun. My ambivalence must have been clear. When Aradia asked me if I was alright, I didn’t lie.
Aradia and Aurora had been to one of the workshops I’d missed on account of my work exchange obligations. The workshop was on aura cleansing and chakra balancing. Together, as I stood there listening to the music, they worked over my energetic bodies until I was almost in tears. Finally, something inside me broke loose, the tears came, my aura opened up, and I was able to let go and find the fun. Power filled me, and a few sudden insights.
The band was clearly having the time of their lives, too. Somehow, bottles of mead kept finding their way on stage. At one point, the band stopped to toast the audience. I raised my glass and toasted them back: “The blessings of Dionysus upon you all.”
My wine, as I said, was well-blessed. Recognizing that I was not the only one in my encampment stained by the miasma of the previous night’s ritual, I took the box of wine Aurora had offered for the purposes, and called upon Dionysus to bless it so that all who drank of it would be purged of the stain and incited to sacred revelry. I wish I’d thought to wright down the specifics, but I kinda got lost in the moment. I completed the blessing by pouring a libation in a circle around the box; suddenly, it was “hot” to the touch.
“Holy shit,” said Aradia. “What did you just do?”
When I toasted the band, my blessing spread to their bottles. But one of the things about working with gods and spirits, I guess, is that once you start talking to them, they’re listening more than you realize. And I had said “upon you all.” Little lights started going off in the audience as the blessing spread to those bottles. And then little bells started ringing in my head as other bottles throughout camp were lighted with the same blessing, too.
It was about that time that the rest of our encampment showed up, beaming and with faces painted. The wine flowed liberally and, when the concert was over, we found a secluded place to load a bowl while they lit the bonfire.
The tenor of the evening was changed, radically, and for the better.
1 – I love you guys, but you can’t spend five days camped with anyone and not end up a bit frustrated at some point.