My feet were hungry for the feel of fallen oak leaves on a fertile pasture far away. I was craving stars and trees, hugs and honeyed drinks, sky for my skin, and song for the little bird in my soul. I required a lovely fire to match the dancing flames within us all. Most of all, I needed the sacred purpose within all of these things. So I went to Phoenix Phyre, a small and friendly Pagan festival at a ranch in Lakeland, Florida.
Last time, at Autumn Meet, I spent a lot of time around elders, listening to learn whatever I could hold in my mind. This time was more about being nurtured and recharged and feeding my spirit. If that meant indulging in an Access Consciousness mini-treatment, I did it. If that meant participating in a round-robin group massage session, I was there, enjoying every minute. I even got the chance to be on the receiving end at the healing circle, surrounded by kind and gifted people and nestled in the shade of a wonderful old oak tree that fell on its side years ago and still continues to live and thrive.
You might say it was a very hands-on weekend. Yet the hands also worked and played for other reasons than my own enjoyment.
My hands joined other hands when someone else took a turn on the healing table. Later, I carried the libation vessel for a modified blot employing the unique names and deeds of all attending it and their ancestors and deities. Our hands also joined together to create tiny seed bags in preparation for the main ritual, and to raise energy in the ritual itself. I was pleased to feel like just one more member of the family and yet still very much myself.
Even when the rain beat down on the pirate party and the power went out, we just gathered under the big tent in the middle and let the family reunion continue by lantern light. I got to know an older couple from Germany whose idea of family togetherness was wrestling alligators for fun. The younger pirates at the party, mostly members of a fire spinning group, sang vivid songs about shipwrecks while the storms roared around us.
The ritual fire never went completely out. It burned high and bright throughout the frankly frightening weather. When the rain was still pouring down, ten or fifteen people peeled off all their wet garments and danced around the fire. I was feeling dancey myself, so I joined in.
I want everyone who is reading this to understand that it wasn't about the male gaze or any other gaze really. While we all appreciate the beauty of dance or the human form itself, in this setting it was not for the benefit of anyone watching, although they were welcome to do so. The real gift of the dancing was in the dance itself. It is sacred and sensual all at once, even when no carnal meaning is intended. It's a celebration of being alive.
So, too, were the fire spinning, fire eating, and fire breathing. I missed another chance at fire eating because it was too windy the day of class, but I got up close and personal to pods of flaming Kevlar anyway when we practiced spotting the fire spinners with a wet towel. I was scared of the fire and had trouble putting it out, but I did it anyway and learned how to do it better. I also practiced throwing poi, minus the flames, while coached by a 13-year-old fire spinner.
The best thing about this festival is the egalitarian flavor of it all. It doesn't matter who you are or who you aren't. I didn't hear a lot of fancy titles. The staff stays mostly in tents and welcomes everyone at their hearth. The sages cook and serve lunch on Friday for everyone in the place. Someone else serves homemade soup at her camp every night for anyone who wants the comfort and the company.
Even main ritual involved everyone. The planning continued for days, during festival itself, employing anyone who showed up for the class. Although one person was in charge, he seriously considered suggestions on chants, the strengths of each individual for various roles, and even the structure of the ritual itself.
It might have sounded like quite the cluster--I might add that the high priestess needed to be changed out--but everything went smoothly when the time came. I heard many comments on how powerful and beautiful and joyous the ceremony had been. It was certainly one of my favorites, the intention being to heal and nurture and build our faith community.
I think it's working.