Growth and evolution are the hallmarks of all living things. Communities, like living creatures, have life cycles, too. Thus, as with children, it can be both fascinating and awe-inspiring to watch them develop and mature. Such has been the case with the Between the Worlds (BTW) Men’s Gathering. This year marked the third in our series of annual gatherings. From its inception, BTW has been designed to provide a safe place for gay, bi, queer, and questioning men to explore alternative spiritual practices such as Neo-Pagan and Earth-centered paths. Each year our men travel from across the continent, coming together to form a loving spiritual community deep within the oak- and hickory- forested hills of southeastern Ohio.
This year marked a significant change as BTW came into its own. Fifty-one men registered for the event, some traveling as far as 2100 miles to attend. This year’s gathering offered 27 workshops, 11 rituals, and 9 social events. It was a remarkably diverse gathering: the bears mingled with the twinks, the young men with the elders, the struggling student with the engineer, the Norseman with the Witch with the Druid with the Shaman with the Ceremonial with the Eclectic. And despite a 12-hour period of intense rain from the remnants of Hurricane Ivan, the event was characterized by blue skies and sunny dispositions. Rain, it seems, is the universal solvent, dissolving barriers and bringing community together. What wells up from this primordial sea is surely greater than the sum of its parts. Christopher Penczak, in his keynote address to the gathering, departed completely from his prepared notes to comment on how personally moving this experience was for him, and what effect events like this can have on the spiritual health of the gay community.
There are so many things that stand out as noteworthy vignettes over those 5 days: the powerful midnight crossroads ritual to Hekate; a wonderful ritual done entirely in American Sign Language; a primal ritual of oracular Seidr; a joyous Minoan Brotherhood reunion; a peaceful walk to the Faerie Shrine interrupted by a flock of wild turkeys; a ritual of remembrance which evoked both tears and laughter; the assistance so willingly rendered by near-complete strangers to one another in battening down the hatches for yet another BTW hurricane; the hoots and hollers of the No Talent Show; the staff coming up to say how everyone at the campgrounds was so happy that we were back (and knew that we had returned by the constant stream of gentle male laughter wafting up out of the valley); the great river of stars flowing overhead that was occasionally interrupted by the wake of a falling meteor; the chorus of bears ruddy by firelight chanting paeans to Dionysos; the mingled looks of joy and awe on the faces of so many men, their eyes as big as saucers and their grins just as wide, immediately after the main ritual. In the current climate of fear and disenfranchisement, how often do we as queer men hear a healthy message of empowerment and ecstasy and love that makes us realize that we are all sacred and divine manifestations of the One? We need not ask of a Lord above when we will be free from our bonds. We need only look in the mirror and ask it of ourselves and it shall be so.
O IO IAKKHOS!