So, this past weekend, Scott and I went to Triangle, VA for 2 days of Fertile Ground Gathering. The event runs Thursday through Sunday, but for personal/family logistic reasons, we only attended Friday and Saturday, the days with the bulk of the rituals and workshops. The Acorn Sprout did not come with us – after discussing it, we though it would be better to leave a toddler still in diapers with his grandparents and cousins for the weekend than to bring him along camping in the (likely) rain. There were kids activities, but we expected they would be geared towards slightly older children. So, we dropped off the Acorn Sprout on Thursday afternoon, packed up, and left at 7am on Friday. We arrived around 8:30am, in time to register and have a little breakfast before the first workshops. As with other events, I’m going to be focusing mostly on workshops I attended, rather than what Scott attended, because I took notes with plans to blog about my experiences!
Early Religion in Scandinavia – Jane Sibley, PhD
This was an extremely informative workshop, and Sibley seems to really know her shit – which I would expect from someone who *is* Scandinavian and speaks a Scandinavian language and got a PhD in folklore! Much of the presentation was drawn from a book she wrote called The Divine Thunderbolt, which includes both comparative mythology and the archaeological record, though the book has a much wider scope than the presentation, which focused on the Scandinavian Thor and his cognates in Sámi and Germanic mythology. She also emphasized how much of what modern Heathens and Norse Polytheists consider lore was likely made up by, or at least heavily edited and rewritten by either Snorri or the Brothers Grimm. She believes we need to pay more attention to the archaeology and the Icelandic sources.
There were a few takeaways that I think will be relevant to my own practice. Firstly, Sibley said that the Norse originally had a tripartite elemental system, similar to the Celts, with Earth, Water, and Sky/Air, fire being considered just a hot air. Secondly, she said that Thor should probably be considered Vanir, as he predates Odin and the Aesir, but things get kind of blurry, because the bloodlines are all mixed up anyhow. (Just think about how many of the Aesir are said to have Jotun parents!) Thirdly, Sibley discussed the importance of linen or flax and leeks used together for protection magics. Lots to think about!
Making My Introductions
Before lunch, Scott and I popped down to a place we’d found last year at Hallowed Homecoming, which takes place in the same camping area, and greeted some of the local spirits we’d met in October.
This was a sort of opening ritual, following the Warding Ritual Thursday night. It was short, but to the point, and allowed people to find their trance in stillness, slow motion, or ecstatic motion as they preferred. As it was quite warm out and I was struggling slightly with my chronic illness, I opted for stillness, but that is frequently my preference in any case.
Fiber Magic – Katie LaFond
This was an extremely small workshop – just the presenter, myself, and one other attendee! It was an interesting twist of fate, though – three women of three different ages, discussing fibercraft and witchcraft. LaFond had brought extra supplies and several things to demonstrate, so she set me up with some yarn and a crochet hook while she talked about different ways she uses fibercraft to do witchcraft, from knitting intentions into baby blankets, to creating a family cable pattern for sweaters, to how she sewed planetary robes for her husband to use in his astrology work during the associated planetary days and hours. She demonstrated two different kinds of wool spinning, showed me how to spin flax and let me try that, and set up the other woman with a collapsible lap loom. We also talked about witchcraft more generally, and homesteading and gardening, discussing our lives, our paths, and our crafts as we worked away at our little projects. I made a small crocheted floppy witch hat, for one of the Acorn Sprout’s dolls.
After dinner, there were a few musical performances and then a bonfire. We stayed to listen to most of Melanie Bresnan’s set, but we went to bed before Maharal began. I have seen them perform before, however, and I do recommend seeing them if you get a chance!
Weaving your Destiny – Chris LaFond
This workshop sort of built upon LaFond’s earlier workshop on the natal chart but I have a vague understanding of my natal chart so I figured I would be able to follow along. As it turned out, we had an entirely new group of people anyhow, so he spent the first fifteen or twenty minutes giving us an overview before moving into his main topic, which was about how to use planetary timing to predict possible events coming up in your life, and how to have a better handle on working with planetary timing, instead of against it. He explained that his approach to astrology is more pre-1700s, before the Enlightenment came and added in a bunch of early psychology, and that puts him in contrast to most pagan and mainstream astrologists, who use newer astrology methodologies. Because of his focus, he doesn’t really use the outer planets much. He also uses Whole Sign Houses, where the Houses of one’s natal chart start at the beginning of the sign and encompass the whole sign, instead of starting at a specific degree of the sign.
LaFond explained the Chaldean order, and how our lives cycle through it, spending a number of years under the influence of each planet, starting with either the moon or the sun, depending on whether one was born at night or during the day (defined as whether the sun was above the horizon or not). Since I was born at night, I spent the first 9 years under the influence of the moon, then 11 years under Saturn, and I’m currently within the 12 years under Jupiter. Within those periods, each is broken down into 7 again (because no outer planets, remember), and so I am currently in the time of the Moon, within the period of Saturn.
LaFond also explained how an astrologer can cycle the natal chart forward every year and use that as a means of predicting the year to come (on the birthday, not the calendar year). For my chart, that means I’m in a 5th House Year, now, and my fifth House is in Taurus. Another means of predicting the year to come that he discussed was to cast a new chart for the solar return of your birth, which is usually within three days of your calendar birthday.
Next, LaFond discussed planetary days and hours, and emphasized that the “hours” are just daylight or nighttime divided into 12, so only near the equator near the equinox do they actually last an hour! Also, the planetary days all begin at dawn, and the first planetary hour is the same as the day. They cycle through the week completely (again, with only the 7 planets of older astrology). This made me think of the old nursery rhyme/divinatory poem that starts “Monday’s Child is full of grace…” I’d always considered myself a “Monday’s Child” because I was born on a calendar Monday. But by this system, as I was born before dawn, I was born on the Day of the Sun, instead!
After Chris LaFond’s workshop, I wandered down to the water there, which I have come to learn is called Happyland Camp 5 Lake. I saw a number of turtles and frogs and it was really quite lovely, especially since the rain overnight had taken the heat away. On my way back to the feast hall I started wondering about one of the local spirits, and I took a wrong turn – I found myself at a footbridge over a creek, near the fire pit, but I also found my answer. Not exactly my intention, but once I acknowledged that and understood the message, I found my way to the feast hall for lunch with no further ado, so: no harm, no foul. Perhaps a good reminder to keep slightly better track of my surroundings, however!
Warrior Blessing Ritual
Irene Glasse led a Warrior Blessing Ritual after lunch, for blessing and healing of the Warriors among the Dead, the Living, and the Future Generations. It was a really heartfelt and emotional experience, especially as I took the time to connect with two of my great-grandfathers who were in service during WWII, and I reflected upon the military service of other family members and friends, both living and deceased.
Power, Freedom. Boundaries, and Consent – Rath
Some of this presentation was apparently based on a Foundations class Rath had previously taught. There were only a handful of us in attendance so we sat on the porch instead of inside the craft cabin, where we were divebombed by carpenter bees on occasion, but it was nice to be outside in the warm-but-not-too-hot weather.
Rath began with Power, and had us all give words we associated with it, and asked us if we wanted power. I said “it depends”, which is a normal tendency of mine that is perhaps related to my dealings in Faery – I generally want to know all the details before I agree to something, and there are plenty of circumstances in which I would not want specific kinds of power! Rath then discussed “power over” vs “power with”, and different models for wielding or sharing power. When he discussed Freedom, Rath also used two kinds: “freedom to” vs “freedom from”, though he spent more time focusing on “freedom to”.
That brought us to Boundaries, both in the personal (between individual people) and in pagan traditions and systems of magic, where some things are a part of the system or tradition, and other things don’t fit the paradigm. Rath emphasized that even the most eclectic and welcoming groups have a boundary somewhere, using Mormons as an example of a spiritual tradition most pagan groups would consider outside their boundaries. Following on boundaries, we talked about consent, and how in an ideal world consent would always be explicit and informed, but that some experiences are so difficult to fully explain that nearly everything is only partially informed, and in many cases consent is implicit instead, though it can still be revoked.
The final segment of the workshop was focused on exploring a number of different common pagan group models, and pointing out the flaws in each, because at the end of the day, no group is perfect, and all are open to different sorts of abuse. The best thing we can do is to try and mitigate the flaws as much as possible as group leaders, and as group members we should try to find groups that best fit out own personal boundaries.
This ritual began in the ritual field we’d used for the Wakening Ritual, and instead of a Maypole, this year we wove ribbon as a community, in keeping with the theme “Weaving a Tapestry”. The Fae were invited to weave with us and then to join us in as we processed back to the feast hall and walked through hanging veils into the evening’s revelry and feast.* The ritual was not to be closed until Sunday morning, but as Scotty and I needed to be home Sunday and a thunderstorm was rolling in, we left instead of staying for the feast, and therefore missed the Kindred Crow set which was somewhat disappointing. Still, we got home in time to get decent sleep, which I needed. One of these days, though, I am going to actually manage to see them live!
Overall, we had a pretty enjoyable experience. It was really nice to be out in all that GREEN! I’m not sure if we’ll be back next year, though, because Beltaine is usually a pretty busy time of year for us, both for our hearth cult and because it’s near the Acorn Sprout’s birthday!
* Note: I had serious misgivings about the structure of this ritual, not least because we were all supposed to be in the Otherworlds with the Fae all night, despite the fact that there were quite a few young children attending the event. As a practitioner of the Fairy Faith, I really can’t emphasize enough how mercurial and potentially dangerous the Fae are, especially around Beltaine. I was told that offerings were made and precautions were taken, but as I wasn’t there for the Warding Ritual and I wasn’t given details, I can’t speak to their efficacy. I made my own supplications and performed my own protective magics. I’ll leave you with Morgan Daimler’s words on the subject.