Friday 25Sep09 I traveled to Camp Gaea, a primarily pagan oriented campground just outside of Springdale, Kansas, for what turned out to be the largest gathering of Heathens in the Midwest, and the largest gathering of Heathens so far this year in North America. The event was organized by my very good friends in the Kansas City area, Jotun’s Bane Kindred. JBK are a dynamo of right works, and this event perfectly represented that fact, as it was impressively organized and executed, with a great time had by all. To the left is the pictured of the ve (shrine) that was temporarily established. The All Father, accompained by Huginn and Muginn, held court from the middle, while many folk left objects of devotion and sacrifce all weekend long with him.
This event encompassed all of the good of greater Heathenry. Various tribes, hearths and individuals all came together in frith (a kind of harmony, if you will), and we forged friendships, maintained and reinforced connections and honored the Folk and our gods. There was an interesting diversity of folkways represented, and I would not have believed that such a diverse gathering of opinionated and strong personalities could have come together so closely for three days without any breaking of frith or even heated debate if I had not been there to witness it personally. People came to learn, as well as connect with one another, and pictured above is my good friend Rod leading a workshop on “how to build a better blot” (type of Heathen ritual) for those people to take home and improve their practice with. What was best about this gathering wasn’t the diversity of tribes and folkways, however, but the family representation involved. There were proud carriers of womb-wights present, babes in arms, and well behaved yet vigorous children from skirt clingers all the way up to strong young teens at the event.
The children had Heathen oriented activities all weekend long, and did I mention how well behaved and vigorous they were? They also demonstrated a healthy knowledge of the Lore. In this photo Mark, the chieftain of JBK and a good personal friend of mine, is working his magic with a story telling play. I had stopped to watch and listen to this, and was completely charmed by what he had going on. There he sits leading the children in retelling the story of how Thor recovered his lost hammer, the precious Mjolnir for which Mark’s tribe is named. He had several of the children playacting specific parts, and he involved those who were simply watching by asking questions and having them produce funny sound effects and to pantomime things. Throughout the weekend the children demonstrated their knowledge by answering questions from their parents (and not a few random adults during the social interactions the children were present for) about the Lore and the runes.
Throughout the weekend the children engaged in craft making activities too. Saturday they made little paper drinking horns, which were filled with candy, and were toted around proudly all weekend long. They also got to participate in Saturday’s ritual by making a straw boy they named “Joe Bob” to accompany JBK’s straw man on his trip to Asgard to tell the gods of their folk in Midgard. They constructed him, clothed him, stuffed his pockets (and straw body) with gifts of candy, interesting rocks and sticks and shiny, pretty things they found in ways that only children can do, and treated him as a friend all day. One little girl cried mournfully as Joe Bob left Midgard via the ritual fire, though many of the children thought his dramatic exit was pretty neat, as evidenced by their boisterous behavior during his send off. I thought it was great to involved the kids in the ritual, because Heathenry is about family, and without the children learning and living the faith, we risk more lost generations of cryptic silence for our gods.
And have I mentioned how vigorous they were? Here is a scene from the kids battle. JBK had carefully constructed foam padded swords for the kids, which were gifted to them after the battle. It was an impressive field battle, with two sides charging and swinging wildly, that devolved into confused one on one combat, and my friend Jamie from JBK acting as one of Odin’s valkyries, dragging off the “fallen” to “Valhalla”, where they were served cookies and Kool-Aid. The kids carried the foam swords around for the rest of the weekend, and impromptu duels and raids erupted here and there rather steadily. It was great fun to watch!
The fun wasn’t just for the children. After lunch there was a Viking games for the adults. We started off with a hammer throw, using a fifteen pound and awkward as all get out monstronsity that my good friend Craig, JBK’s thule, constructed. It felt lighter than it looked, though it was still goodly weighted. The difficult thing about it is the aforementioned awkwardness. I stepped up to the competition and got in a throw of over twenty-two feet. It certainly wasn’t the shortest throw, but everyone was outmatched by my friends Cecil, of Hammer Tree Hearth, and Gunnar, of Volkshof, who both threw that hammer over FORTY feet, with Gunnar’s throw winning the contest.
Here is my friend Gunnar (middle) and two of his kindred mates from Volkshof participating in the kindred tug’o’war. This event was for specifically defined and established groups, and as such I did not participate. For a variety of reasons I will discuss elsewhere, I am not a member of a Heathen group, though I did not begrudge or in any other way feel slighted by the focus on membership groups. It was great fun to watch these contests, and there was much good natured taunting and cheering from the sidelines. The Franks, the largest group there and an impressively cohesive theod (a particular style of group oriented Heathenry) from Oklahoma took the tug’o’war title and won an amazing brass hammer that Craig of JBK had constructed.
Here is Billy the Berserker, a funny little man I carved while sitting at the informal tent-hall in the middle of the field. That was also a great part of this weekend, just sitting and talking with people in between or instead of official events. There was a lot of good conversation there, with dogs and kids making the rounds between the fold out chairs. I sat in my chair and over two days had whittled out Billy the Berserker, and ended up leaving him as an offering to both the Old Man and the vaettir (land spirits) of Camp Gaea out in the woods where there are numerous shrines. Though the camp is generally pagan, there are Heathen gods and vaettir acknowledged here and there, and I wanted to add to that place our Heathen presence. Billy was carved biting his shield and gripping his spear in typical berserker mode, he carries the Ansuz rune carved into his back, and ended up blooded. I felt good about sending Billy the Berserker out into Camp Gaea to represent the Æsir.
Friday night there was a folk sumbel, one of my favorite things about Heathenry. Since this is the first time I’ve mentioned it in my blog, I’ll explain a little bit about it here. In sumbel Heathens gather in a circle and take turns “toasting and boasting”. Basically it’s a social drinking ritual, and survives to this day in lesser forms in everday culture. A “folk” sumbel is informal, and a time for fun, though it’s not a party and what’s said “over a horn” is just as meaningful as at a high sumbel. The sumbel moves in three rounds: to the gods, to the folk and heroes, and an “open” round where people normally brag about something they’ve done or boast about what they will do, and often toast the hosts of the event or one another for different and wildly various reasons. In the third round someone started singing songs, and I sang two songs for the crowd which were well recieved. I got complements on my singing all weekend long! Another thing that one can do in the third round is give gifts. “A gift for a gift” is a general Heathen thew (custom), and I returned my good friend Craig’s friendship and hospitality by gifting him with a reproduction Viking sword. The next day at the high sumbel, the more formal and ritualized version, he raised the bar by gifting me with his personal drinking horn, an act which floored me with its meaning. I was highly honored, and will cherish that gift for the rest of my life. At high sumbel I gifted Gunnar of Volkshof with a Vespa scarf, as a token of our meeting at a scooter rally and how he helped me find the path to “returning home” and “rejoining the ancestral stream”. Gunnar’s a good guy, and he gifted me with a poster of Weyland the Smith, a figure from the Lore, before returning to Minnesota on Sunday. Also during high sumbel I was gifted by Mark with a silver pendant of the Valknut, the sign of we who are dedicated to the Choser of the Slain, telling me he knew how much it meant to me. It is no small thing to call such men friends.
I had a great time, my only regret being that I missed the opportunity to watch my son Donovan play soccer that afternoon. Intending fully to go to his game, I ended up taking too long in setting up my campsite to get back to Leavenworth in time. The entire weekend was a little haphazard for me, actually. Things have been going so steadily non-stop between school and the other things I do, that I didn’t even get out to Camp Gaea on Friday until after 1900hrs. I ended up driving home at 0300hrs to sleep in my own bed, because I had brought nothing with me and it was too cold to sleep in the car. I hadn’t even a jacket with me. Even with two blankets I was quite cold Saturday night in my tent. Fridays rain was recreated in miniature inside my tent on Saturday because I had not closed the dew flaps on my tent, so there was a steady drip-drip-dripping “rain” in the early hours of the morning when I finally dragged myself away from the camp fire and crawled into bed.
It was a fantastic time, and I am lucky to live in a city with such a strong and dynamic group of Heathens.