I had the honor to attend the Coven of the Standing Stones community Mabon celebration last weekend. This is a private, by invitation event, but those for whom it is needed, or appropriate for, always seem to find an invitation (or you can ask for one). If you ask; “What is this coven known for?” , most would say they excel in the ‘craft’ of the Craft, they put together a solid ritual experience. They are the most welcoming group you will find, and take pride in their diversity and inclusiveness. Standing Stones has been supportive of many community groups and events over the years, particularly helping the local Covenant of the Goddess raise needed funds for survival a few years back, and ongoing help cleaning the highway with the Upper Midwest Pagan Alliance (UMPA) and raising funds for that group. If you can’t find them at Magus Books offering free classes, look wherever you see Pagan community growing and they are likely somewhere involved!
Standing Stones is a coven of leaders. I got a chance to corner three of the most visible. Don, John, and Tamara, and ask some questions.
How long have you been doing a community Mabon?
John: This is the eighth year we have held this event as a community Mabon.
How many folks do you have attending?
John: By our count, close to 120. A pretty good turnout! It’s a large family.
Why do you hold this event?
John: It is a way we give back to our community. By giving back some of our bounty, we help build our community. Our community gives to us and we have to give something back.
We started inviting our community to celebrate Mabon with us about eight years ago. About 70 people attended. Some in our community have been at every one. We feel honored by that. We used to hold both a community Ostara and a Mabon, because we liked honoring the balance of light and dark at both times of the year. But they got so large and came up so quickly that we decided it was best to just offer one. We picked Mabon because it is a time of abundance. We thought, let’s feed everybody and pick a time when we can all be outside and enjoy some great weather.
We don’t do this for a ‘pat on the back’. We offer this because it is the right thing to do. We think every year that we may need a larger space, but the reality is everyone has a life, and economics are hard, and this is a little trek out of the Twin Cities (near Wyoming, MN). We have 60 cabin beds and those are all filled up for tonight. We always have contingency plans to accommodate whoever shows up, tents, pop ups, and cots. It used to be all completely free, but with the increased charge for the cabin use, we ask $5 a night for the cabins, and any donations. We added a silent auction a few years back to help with some of the costs, but that is a small aspect of the celebration. We have ‘coven dues’ at $5 a month which can help to support activities like this too.
How long have you been working on these Mabon Ritual props?
Don: Some of this is accumulated from over the years, but our new gateway, well I got the parts last Sunday, and have been working all week on them. They are a wood base and then covered with textured Styrofoam and paint. We etch and wire brush texture into the foam so they look like wood. There were chips flying all week getting them ready!
What are your expectations for Mabon?
Don: I am happiest when everyone goes home full and happy!
Where do the items for the silent auction come from?
John: People find and create items and save them all year to put them into the auction. I donated an etched glass image of a wolf from my ‘wolf’s den’. Some people make brooms or staff’s or other ritual tools to donate. Sometimes our guests bring items to donate as well. We appreciate the generosity!
Who started Standing Stones?
Tamara: There were several founders, John, Don, Brent, Michelle, Al, and Tracy. They all came from Triskellion. As is often the case in the Pagan community, a smooth hiving was desired but tensions were high and they departed after a blowup instead. They functioned as a coven for about a year before classes were started up.
What is Don’s role in Standing Stones?
Tamara: Don is an Elder in our coven. He offers leadership and mentoring. He shows by a strong example what family is all about. If a coven member is sick, going in or coming out of the hospital or needs another type of support, Don is there.
Don is also a rule breaker, but when he breaks them it is usually to support our collective sense of family and the needs of the individuals. He never put rules or procedures ahead of the needs of the group or our people. He makes sure that people are our priority not rules.
Is it an Alexandrian Tradition?
John: No, Standing Stones is not an Alexandrian tradition. It is really an eclectic Wiccan tradition. We are fairly traditional, but not as traditional as Alexandrian or Gardnerian. We do stay very ‘Earth based’. We are very elementally driven. We don’t have specific deities we that we always work with but we do like a sense of balance between feminine and masculine deities. That is because we believe that both sacred feminine and sacred masculine is experienced within each of us. We celebrate the Sabbats and Esbats of the year. We try to be inclusive and open to other people’s ideas. We have a core base of practice and then vary from there.
Tamara: Training in our tradition provides a body of shared understandings. We have such a variety of people; old, young, partnered, single, parents, foot loose and fancy free, and those who come from different educational, or, economic backgrounds. Once they learn the base of our tradition it provides a common ground of understandings. We can all work together easily. If they want to do something ‘new’ in ritual it becomes simpler. But, you usually won’t see anyone’s new or ‘experimental’ ritual at a community event. We share those within the coven.
Do you have classes coming up?
John: Yes, we do. We have classes beginning again Friday, November 9th at 6:30 p.m. It is our Eleventh year of offering classes, and we have offered them at Magus Books and Herbs for that entire time. These classes coming up cover a broad variety of topics that pertain to many Pagan traditions. We are happy to offer them to the community as a service. There is no charge. We used to offer them every year, but, in order to accommodate other types of classes, we now only offer them every other year. So, having them start-up this November is a kind of ‘big deal’ for us because they won’t be offered again until 2014.
How have you evolved over the years?
Tamara: We have several people stepping up and mentored into teaching duties. This is a really exciting development that promises continuity for the future. We have the larger coven itself, and we have developed an internal structure consisting of several groups within it. We have a Ladies and a Men’ group that meets and learns on their own. We have an inner group that helps people develop daily personal spiritual practice and another that works on spell work. These have all passed hands to people coming up and they are taking on a life of their own. In addition to that, some of the administrative functions such as treasury, communications and yearly calendar planning have also been mentored and passed on as well. Many aspect of our coven’s functioning has been invested in members. We are investing in them and it feels good, like we are investing in our future.
John: We have a leadership core that does not consist of only a High Priest and High priestess. The leadership core involves many people. We may not always agree with each other but we all support each other
Don: We try not to limit people’s contributions by their degree level. We even have people stepping up to help the coven who are still dedicants.
Standing Stones sponsors a huge afternoon feast at Mabon. Yes, it is potluck but the lion’s share is touched by Don’s spoon, and heaps of roast pork and turkey are provided. I counted a little over 80 at the evening ritual, but there are also always kids, teens, and shepherding adults maintaining order surrounding it. Each year ritual participants go home with a gift. It can be a stone, a scribed wood disk, a cut geode, and this year a key with handmade black and white lanyard.
Whoever you are, when you leave this Mabon, you know you have been appreciated. You have a gift to add to your altar and a focus for it. You leave with a renewed sense of optimism and community that a simple but heartfelt welcome provides. Thank you Standing Stones!