It was in the dusty, dry heat of the 1999 Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG) that several gay and bi men from across the Midwest came together to talk about a range of topics, from queer spirituality to intentional community. During those discussions, the concept of developing a spiritual retreat for queer men in the Midwest was proposed. The idea remained with us through the following years as we networked and established a cohesive and visible presence at PSG. By PSG 2001, a critical mass of interested and motivated men had formed and the idea went from theory to reality. The Green Faerie Grove, a queer pagan brotherhood in Columbus, Ohio, took the lead to make the event happen. A site was contracted, a website was crafted, advertising conducted, and workshops arranged. By PSG 2002, the final details were falling into place. Then, in the blink of an eye, it was upon us.
Between the Worlds (BTW) was designed to provide a safe place for gay, bi, queer, and questioning men to explore alternative spiritual practices such as Neopagan and Earth-centered paths. The gathering was held in southeastern Ohio during the weekend of the Autumnal Equinox (September 20-22, 2002). Mabon was chosen for several reasons. First, it is the harvest festival associated with grapes and with the new wines that flow from them. Dionysian ecstatic energies manifest themselves in the ritual and spiritual path-workings of many queer men, making Mabon an auspicious time for us to initiate or renew our commitments to the Gods and to one another. Second, the equinoxes represent times of balance between light and dark, sun and moon, male and female. As walkers between the worlds of spirits and humankind, between the longhouses of the men and the women, and between the worlds of straight and gay, queer practitioners find strength at these times of the year. And the fact that our gathering would take place under the blessed light of a full Harvest Moon was merely icing on the cake.
The weekend began on Friday as our Grove arrived at the campgrounds to set up. A community green was established, and a queer spirit altar was erected to receive offerings. The attendees began rolling in by
mid-afternoon, with the last stragglers arriving sometime Saturday
morning. In all, 32 stalwarts were present for this inaugural event. As
night began to fall, Ea led us in the opening ritual. The clouds, which
had been forming all afternoon, now began fitfully to release droplets.
Ea blessed the gathering site and the altar and, as he called upon the
spirits of our queer pagan ancestors to join us and guide us in our
efforts, a wind burst through the outer bounds of the circle as if They
were eagerly rushing to comply. Afterwards, the weather was polite
enough to wait until everyone had regrouped in the pavilion for the
night’s festivities. Then it rained for several hours, but no one seemed
A No Talent Show was held in the early evening, emceed by the lovely
Dion from Chicago. If you’ve never seen one of these, it’s a bit hard to
describe. Tomfoolery abounds as folks vie with one another to break the
ice with a parade of poems, songs, stories and dance. In short, it was a
scream. Our Raymere won first prize for a Mediterranean sword dance that morphed horrifically into the chicken dance. Dan from Texas caught the breath in our throats with his bittersweet poetry, and took second
prize, and our tears, with him. I will not divulge my own contribution
to the fare, but suffice it to say that no one who attended will ever
think of the old song “Jimmy Crack Corn” the same way again. David
Wood’s concert was a proud, energetic, and awesome finale to the
evening, and set the mood for the weekend. David is a singer/songwriter,
a gay Witch, and one hell of a High Priest. Some of his songs touch to
the heart of who we are as a people. (And boy can he belt out an
unbelievable version of Purple Rain.)
Saturday was overcast for half the day, and then the clouds broke and it
was quite clear with early Fall temperatures. We had three workshop
periods, covering such diverse topics as history, spiritual paths,
belly-dancing for men, sex magick, creating your own tarot, and
polyamory. A special late workshop session by David and Marc from D.C., detailed the relationship between sacred geometry and sacred sites,
illustrated with the travel stories of the two men. At Saturday
afternoon’s potluck, the table groaned under the contributions. It was
an afternoon of great food and excellent company. What else can we say?
The main ritual Saturday night was the Rites of Dionysos. The full moon had not yet crested the trees when the rope dance processional began to snake its way through lit luminaries to the beat of drums and rattles. The eerie cries of Ia! Ia! echoed through the forest as the line of men slowly descended down into the darkened grove. Once the audience was in place, the members of The Green Faerie Grove then performed a ritual play on the birth, death, and rebirth of Dionysos and the origins of our place in the universe. The Mysteries were liberally sprinkled with queer humor, sexual innuendo, dance, and wine. The Rites ended with chanting and dancing around a roaring fire. The full Harvest Moon was just cresting the trees as we finished, bathing the campgrounds in silver reminiscent of the frosty nights to come.
Some men took advantage of the magickal atmosphere to embark on a moonlit walk to a Fairy shrine. Spectral moonbeams slanted through the forest canopy. Rustling sounds in the autumnal leaf mould made clear that we were only guests in that place. Take care! On the return trip, a small toy werewolf was found on the path in a pool of moonlight. Those Faeries! Afterwards, there was drumming, drinking, jokes, marshmallows, and story telling around the main fire. Late in the evening, a low mist rolled into the valley, yet it only covered the area occupied by our campsites. We really were “between the worlds” at that point.
Sunday was spent taking leave of one another and breaking camp. A number of newbies attended BTW. For some, it was their first experience with pagan community. Judging by their reactions, it will likely not be their last. A number of people remarked that their ribs hurt as if they had done a million sit-ups over the weekend because they had laughed so hard throughout. The healing power of laughter and joy – I think that Dionysos would approve.
We are an old People, we are a new People
We are a queer People, stronger than before.