The rituals at the last two Heartland Pagan Festivals were deep, dark, and powerful – digging up years of accumulated pain in the attempt to cleanse and heal them. The climax of last year’s main ritual featured the enactment of a confrontation between Demeter and Hades over the abduction of Persephone, where each participant let go of something, or honored something which they had lost. At the end of each ritual – and several of the workshops – nearly everyone was crying. (That I wasn’t, actually, was one of the Clue Phone calls I got that year: apparently I am still more emotionally retarded that I had allowed myself to believe.) This was at the height of a blue moon, following the full moon at Beltane.
This year the rituals were somewhat less focused. The opening ritual was about finding the fun and awakening the inner child; the main ritual was about blurring the line between the Sacred and the Mundane; the intensive workshops were largely aimed at the BDSM and polyamorous communities, so Aradia and I did not attend. This year, however, was not a blue moon but the last bleeding edge of waning and the first night of the Dark.
There had been storms for most of the week, and tornadoes Wednesday afternoon. The forecast for the weekend had been deteriorating slowly the closer we got. Camp Gaea was soaked and battered when we arrived.
The opening ritual began strong  with an invocation of the Four Elements. Guest speaker Orien Laplante cast the circle with a bell – more like a miniature gong on a string – a feat which I will have to reproduce at some point. Into that circle, we  called our various patron Goddesses and Gods, and spread that circle to the corners of the land. We were encouraged to reclaim our childish sense of fun, and given a length of string with which to affirm our purpose in being at the festival. Mine was to reconnect with the life I have – before moving on to my new life at Earlham, and I believe I ultimately achieved that goal. As always, the circle was left open, to be dismissed at the conclusion of the festival.
The main ritual echoed the first in structure. The Elements were invoked and Orien cast the circle with a musical instrument – this time a drum. As the elements were invoked, the circle was drawn in colored sands. The ritual leaders did a bit of sermonizing – telling us how we, outside the circle, could not know the things they experienced inside the circle – then directed us to step into the circle, and back out, to feel the difference. We danced in and out of the circle, walking and eventually obliterating the line, both literally and magically. It was fascinating to feel the edges of the circle unweave, blur, and eventually disintegrate. Ultimately, the ritual proved what we should always have known: that the distinction between the magical and the mundane is an arbitrary and illusory one.
The closing ritual, sadly, was weak. Firstly, I don’t care for the new tradition of holding it Sunday night, rather than Monday afternoon; although I understand why that might be better for the Sacred Experience Committee and even for some of the attendees, Sunday night is usually the largest bonfire and the height of the festivities, and having the closing ritual right before the bonfire undermines both events. Secondly, the closing ritual was just that – a closing. No energy was raised, I didn’t have time to enter a magical state of mind. We thanked the various powers for their attendance and bid them depart “at dawn”. This, I think, serves as an excellent example of the sort of drama that would work well in fiction, but not in real magical ritual – at least not for a group as large and un-integrated as a public festival; a close-knit coven might well find it effective.
As has been the case since I started participating it, the vision quest was my spiritual highpoint of the festival. This year’s them was The Odyssey, a narrative with which I can relate and whose characters I know well. Homer was the guide waiting outside. Athena  stood waiting at the first station, warning that though I had “survived the war”, there were struggles yet to come. As is often the case, I wish now that I had taken more time to meditate on each of these things sooner, while they were still fresh in my mind. Each of the guides had something of value for me, but only these stick so firmly in my mind.
The second station was the Winds, reminding that there was aid to call upon – a notion which was particularly helpful to me, given that so much of my magic is related to movement and progress, and who better to call upon for that (especially given my Wiccan ritual structure) than the Four Winds? The third station was a Kyclopes, reminding me of the debts of hospitality and the dangers of overstepping those proprieties. At the third station was Kalypso, followed by Tiresias, followed by the Siren. Eventually I came upon two suitors of Penelope, and finally stood before the great Queen, herself. Kalypso spoke of loneliness, and Tiresias warned of the debts to the dead. The Siren spoke of voices, warning against those that lead us astray – I am fortunate in that I can barely hear those over the screaming of my Muses. Penelope the Queen spoke to me of patience, a virtue I often neglect; my path is cleanly laid for the foreseeable future, now I have to walk it.
The sky was overcast for most of the weekend. The winds were high, and cold, hard rain threatened constantly. By the time Sunday morning came – and with it a much-hoped-for parting of the clouds – we were afraid that Thursday had held all the sun we were going to see that weekend. Spirits throughout the camp were low. People seemed to be trying too hard to have fun, and not succeeding.
Aradia and I attended only one workshop – a detailed and informative two-part lecture on the structure of spellcasting by Deborah Lipp, one of Aradia’s newest favorite authors. Aside from participating in the public rituals, we spent almost all of our time in camp – drinking, smoking, and feasting. I picked up a few pointers on hot stone massage from the gentleman associate of one of the Taco ladies, and intend to incorporate that into both my massage techniques and magical practice.
When Monday came – usually a day of frantic last-minute shopping, goodbyes, and intermittent packing – I saw the camp empty faster than almost any year. Everyone was exhausted and yearning for their beds – “to my babies and my fuzzies”, as one friend put it. Aradia and I were no exceptions.
 I will say that the invocation of the Great Buffalo in the North bugged the shit out of me. Sorry, Sacred Experience Committee, but even if your North Caller is Native (or legitimately initiated into a First Nation tradition) and has a right to that invocation, not enough (read: “few or none”) of your attendees have a similar right.
 Or, rather – the rest of the attendees. Although I am generally comfortable with Wiccan structure, the monism and gendering implicit in invoking Goddess and God in that fashion are still things I have trouble reconciling with my queer polytheism when I’m not in control of the ritual.
 Athena, as channeled by a friend of mine who will henceforth be known as such on this blog. I could tell just on seeing her that she was at least half-ridden, and talking to her later learned that she could not actually remember any of the individuals who passed by her. The presence of Athena was adequately clear that I was able to name her without any of her major iconography – helm, spear, or owl.