Sacred Harvest Festival survives The Tower

The Tower card from the Rider-Waite deck

When the Tower card appears in a spread it is not greeted with cheers and smiles. Although Pagans recognize the cycle of destruction must happen in order for new growth to thrive, it isn’t an enjoyable process. It’s painful. At times it can be downright ugly. While a group or organization is in the midst of conflict and tearing down of the old, it can be difficult to manage the process in a way that achieves a positive outcome.

Local festival in crises
For the last year Harmony Tribe, the group that produces the Sacred Harvest Festival, has been dealing with the aftermath of the Tower. Shortly after last year’s festival the board, Tribe members, and festival attendees became embroiled in a serious conflict. Tensions came to a head after a controversial move was initiated by Harmony Tribe to ban two Tribe members and the walls came crumbling down as the entire board of Harmony Tribe resigned en masse early last fall. A rift formed and community members began to choose sides. To make a painful situation worse for all involved, this played out in public.

For many in the wider community, the escalating conflict and subsequent rift struck from out of the blue. “This entire episode was so hurtful and angry. It wasn’t anything like the community I had come to love,” said one attendee who asked not to be named. “I was stunned. I shut down. I almost didn’t come this year.”

Current Harmony Tribe Board member Tasha-Rose Mirick said she feels last Fall’s conflict was many years in the making, “Just like in any kind of relationship, when the bad things happen, it doesn’t just happen in one fell swoop. It is the little things over time that etch away at the relationship. Resentments build, fears build, resistance to change happens and everyone is scared to talk about it. It ends up looking like a lightening bolt for that very reason, because no one is talking about it. From my perspective, that’s what happened. A whole bunch of different things happened and came together at one point.”

Crystal Blanton, author, mental health counselor, and High Priestess in California says it isn’t uncommon for groups to allow small conflicts to build into larger ones. These larger conflicts then blow up into what the Pagan community calls ‘witch wars’ and they are one of the main reasons Paganism is finding a path to sustainability difficult. “Part of what takes away from the Pagan community’s ability to sustain are these rifts and conflicts and miscommunications and lack of skills in certain areas,” says Ms. Blanton.

She wants to help Pagan groups and communities learn the skills needed to prevent these larger conflicts from becoming destructive, “We have the most beautiful people with the most beautiful intents.  All of us really want something valuable for ourselves and our children and in our community and these things happen and we don’t know how to get from one space to another while holding our values close in the process. I’d love to help support in some way so we don’t have to keep tearing down and rebuilding every time something comes up. That we can find a way to get through that moment and make it something valuable and positive for everybody’s growth verses people walking away and feeling hurt or scorned or making a divide where we can’t celebrate life together.”

For Harmony Tribe, it was too late for prevention. A deep and painful rift had already formed within the community. Long time friends were no longer talking and another festival, headed by the former board of Harmony Tribe, was announced –  Summerlands Spirit Festival. This very inharmonious turn of events could have been the end for Sacred Harvest Festival were it not for nine people who stepped forward during this time of turmoil to make up a new Harmony Tribe board.

“There weren’t alot of people lining up to jump in. [The festival] could have easily died right then,” says Travis Haage, current Harmony Tribe board member. “There were just enough people willing to serve and jump into this thing to fill the 9 board positions that we had established. We were 9 people who wanted to make sure this thing happened because it was not going to otherwise. We wanted to make sure SHF stayed because it was so important to us.”

New board faces challenges
The board faced several challenges in producing this year’s festival. A wounded community tired of drama, continuing board attrition, and lack of board continuity and experience. The majority of the surviving new board of 5 members, down from 9, had less than 5 years combined experience on Harmony Tribe board.

Harmony Tribe board President Izzy Ray said it was a very emotionally challenging 10 months, “The biggest challenge was not freaking out, shutting down, and saying fuck it. I’m not a nasty person and I don’t like to hear nasty things because it hurts me. It taints everything.”

Not only was the atmosphere in the community difficult, she also faced an emotionally draining personal situation, “My mother died in September, which is right when I was elected to the board. All of this was going on at once. I had no mentor, the old council was like I’m not going to help you, I can’t do it. Then some of [our new] board members starting having problems at home and everyone starting leaving [the board]. The turmoil just did not stop.”

Ms Ray says a general lack of trust in the community added to her burdens, “ Nels (former HT board member and editor at PNC-Minnesota) is inundating me with information and I kept thinking “Do I trust him?” Everything was going sideways in my head. The challenge was, for me, to just keep talking and not close up because I was afraid. To not let fear get in the way.”

Mirick agrees the board faced emotional and operational challenges in preparing for this year’s festival, “It was an intense year. I cried a lot. But it was really part of the growing pains and learning to work with people you hadn’t worked with before. We had many adjustments to make for many reasons. Lack of information. Lack of experience. It was frustrating a lot of the time. As we got closer, as egos got out of the way, we came together and accomplished a lot.”

Fortunately, the board was able to seek assistance from past board members. “Really big has been having our council mentors. Nels [Linde] and Judy [Olson] have been huge. They’ve been a part of this. Both have been council members many different times. Judy has been ritual director many years. Nels has been doing web stuff and knows how registration works. Not only does he know those logistics, he feels all the different beats and rhythms that go through every aspect of the festival. He knows the wisdom about all of it,” said Haage.

Mirick says she found Judy’s advice to focus on the fundamentals particularly helpful, “Judy sat me down a few times and said you’re doing things you don’t need to do. Focus on this instead because you have a festival coming in x number of days and you need to be ready for it.”

Additional challenges faced this year included a ban on drumming after 10pm on week nights and 1am on weekend nights.  This necessitated hosting the popular Rangoli and the spiritually and physically demanding Hunt on the same day.  The shower situation was another issue to be addressed.  Showering at Harmony Park costs $5 and the solution the board came up with last year, setting up flash water heaters, was not allowed this year.  The board was able to negotiate the price down to $3.

When the effort of putting on the festival during this stressful time felt overwhelming, Mirick says thinking of her children kept her motivated, “My main motivation is my kids. The world outside of here isn’t always their friend because of what they are raised with. Here they aren’t the odd one out. Here they aren’t made fun of for believing in whatever they want to believe in or nothing at all. To give them the experience of living in an actual village, and having an actual community and not just neighbors who mow their grass at 6 in the morning.”

A return to roots
The new board had a vision of what Sacred Harvest Festival should be about, a vision rooted in the festival’s history. Izzy isn’t just the current President of the Harmony Tribe board, she was was part of the group that predated Harmony Tribe. She remembers the festival being created as a place where people of different spirituality can come together and hold sacredness.

Haage, who has attended every year of the festival, says part of the conflict may have stemmed from competing visions of the festival, “I do think there was a bit of a shift in the focus and the general intention of the gathering. The main concept being one of a vacation and a get away verses an opportunity to come together and work as a community and build something together that everybody is a part of and is expected to be a part of and everybody has to work rather than something that people can just come and relax and whatever. Yes, everybody should get a chance to relax, but it’s through our contributions that we see that community grows and we find value and a place within our community. I think there was no longer a focus on that, at least not to the same extent as before.”

Haage says he knows from personal experience that active contribution by attendees is key to the festival experience, “That’s how I grew up and learned many of my values as a person from being here at Sacred Harvest Festival and working to create community in the little stuff and the big stuff. From the silent meditations during the rituals to pounding in stakes for a community event. People have a desperate need for that opportunity to serve and and feel connected through service and find a purpose. I’ve seen people have total shifts in their life through that.”

The feeling of connection through service Haage describes was experienced by the board during the past year. “I feel really good about this year,” says Ray, “I feel like the support of the council has been tremendous. Tremendous festival, truly because of them. I feel warmth and more connected to my people than ever before.”

Healing community and rebuilding trust through Restorative Justice
Not only did the board work to return to what they considered the roots of the festival, they also wanted to use the festival as a place for healing the trauma the community experienced in the past year. The board invited Crystal Blanton to be the featured speaker. Crystal not only hosted workshops on topics such as parenting, leadership, and spiritual topics, she also held a Restorative Justice Circle during the festival. Restorative Justice removes focus from placing blame and assigning punishment and shifts it to healing harm and restoring trust.

Crystal arrived at the festival on Sunday and found she had her work cut out for her, ”When I got here it felt as if people were in a whole myriad of positions in how they felt about being here at the festival. The tone felt to me as if people didn’t really know what to expect or how much they should put in. They were very guarded. Friendly, extremely friendly, but you could see that people were holding back.”

Looking around the festival and noting the attendance numbers, just over 150 attendees, it was obvious many long time festival attendees were missing. Some didn’t make it because of economic conditions, some because of the conflict. “We knew we had this rift,” said Ray, “and we said if we have 50 people that’s great and we got more than we expected. And yes, I can tell there is a decline in numbers.”

The lower festival attendance didn’t translate to a lower number of people attending the Restorative Justice Circle facilitated by Blanton on Tuesday. Festivants were eager for the opportunity to find healing and Blanton was nothing short of a miracle worker. (An article detailing the Restorative Justice Circle at SHF is forthcoming at PNC-MN)

After the Circle, Blanton noticed a change in the community, “I’ve seen a lot of differences in the tone from when I came on Sunday all the way up until this [Saturday] morning. … As the festival has progressed I have seen more and more talking, more genuine interaction, more displays of affection and a willingness to be vulnerable. Moments of trust. All of these things that shift a tone in a community. There’s been incredible movement and healing. I have really felt the shift of people all being on the same page of progressing beyond wherever it was that they were before.”

Blanton says this is just the first step in a larger process to restore what was lost to our community and must include community members who weren’t at the festival, “The wider community can come together again. We do heal. We do recover. We have to believe that and we have to honor the fact that it is a process and this is one phase of a process and we’ll move to another phase of the process with the hope that one day we will all be able to celebrate together.”

Festival outcomes
The answer to the question that loomed in everyone’s mind before the festival, “Will the festival survive?” seems to be a resounding yes. Over and over attendees I spoke with praised this year’s festival. Alana expressed a common sentiment when she said, “At first I was worried about [the low attendance], but this was my favorite festival ever.”  Attendee Domino said, “The community coming together so strong that I was inspired to write my first song for them.”

(For more quotes, see The best thing about Sacred harvest Festival was…)

The pain caused by The Tower is beginning to heal and a new foundation of trust, love and caring has been laid. A positive feeling of regeneration and growth permeated the festival by Friday, “It actually feels like next year we will have a big amount [of attendees] because of this work,” said Ray.

Mirick, a huge smile lighting up her face, agrees, “It feels so good here. Look at what everyone has done. This is great. I feel so happy to be here. I feel so blessed to be here. I feel like we have a really good footing to go forward now, not just to heal from the past calamity, but to grow. I’m very inspired for next year.”

Editor’s note:  All interviews were conducted on site during the festival.

14 thoughts on “Sacred Harvest Festival survives The Tower

  1. Michelle Hooker says:

    I am grateful to Cara and Nels for writing these articles for PNC. I was not in attendance this year, and am truly heatwarmed to hear of the healing that has taken place. I personally needed to take some time, but honestly, am very curious as to how attending Crystals workshops, and RJC would have been. I am hopeful, and excited to see what happens with HT and the SHF in the future, and am looking forward to next year’s festival. I always had faith the festival would happen, it always does, because it is its own entity now. I can see from the current boards words and seeing FB status’ and pictures of other attendees they are feeling united, and going forth…and this is beautiful. It is important to carry on the actions of unity, and maybe help others within the larger community with these new skills, and blessings.

  2. retro says:

    It is great to see the past be that. The people need a great festival experience. That’s all that matters. You guys should be commended for putting aside your difference to rebuild a historical festival. Blessings to all.

  3. Mark Slone says:

    Interesting article, now lets visit a tarot spread done at the SHF a couple of years ago. That festival where the old SHF board left, before the next board that left.
    The ritual with individuals being a tarot card was interesting, but the spread done for SHF gave some interesting insight. This article “The Tower” can be taken as a very derogatory statement towards the very last SHF board that went on to form a new festival Summerland.(maybe it was, in the cards)
    Some saw that in the tarot spread, SHF would go through some big changes. Which it indeed has, but it still has the emperor card to deal with. That for certain has not changed, so it could be that SHF may not be what it could be for some time to come.
    “Witch wars”, my goddess, when will this tired old cliche every leave us. Maybe we should address this as pagan economics 101! When our community is plagued by the emperor card, individuals that seem to have their hands in everything. Just a few “upstanding”, then some upstarts that create something new, like summerland, are the trouble makers. Let us see what is at issue! Gate attendance, approximate, 150 for each Fest. Ouch, vendors are not going to make as much, operating costs are tighter, so on and so on. Money is tight for everyone, so how do you get into their pocket book?
    I for one did not attend any “local” fests this year. I wonder if I have had Tom Sawyer hand me the paint brush and point to the picket fence one to many times. Just what is service to the community, or is it that P.T. Barnum has finally burned me out on the “community”? When I look at the “community” why is it that I see the same faces with their hands in everything? Maybe it is their circus, but I feel that the community at large is better than that!
    Maybe it is not the “Tower” card, but the “emperor” card!

    • Marlene Freeman says:

      I thank you for sharing your insights about some of your experiences while serving in Harmony Tribe. I believe that accountability needs to be addressed in Harmony Tribe through documentation. For example, during a recent HT meeting, I addressed some problems that were affecting the festival. I called a person in the meeting to be accountable for the emails they had sent which gave the wrong perception to a festival participant. Although the situation was handled in a positive way due to this exposure, I wasn’t allowed to add the emails to the meeting minutes. This situation was handled, yet could recur year after year without retribution by any member of the tribe. Solving a problem can open an opportunity for the growth of the individual and the group.
      During my involvement in Harmony Tribe over the years, I have always felt much resistance to discuss and document problems. In fact, I was a proponent of audio taping all meetings for the archives. Usually, I was given the advice that it would be a legal problem, yet if the tribe often implodes due to the ‘hidden’ problems, wouldn’t that be more of a worry? Often times, truth-tellers are stigmatized as speaking negatively, spreading gossip or creating drama. Documentation involves specifics without a point of view. Giving objective feed-back is a skill that all organizations need for success.
      Perhaps Harmony Tribe would not still be dealing with those members who still flourish with their control within the tribe if the truth had been spoken more often. I don’t know. I still think that Harmony Tribe is a new experiment within our community.
      When Michelle, Kim and I formed the skeleton organization of Harmony Tribe as a tree, we were attempting to guard against a few having all the power. That structure has not been utilized for years and has morphed into a more power at the ‘top’ type of model. I’m not saying that the ‘tree’ model, which shuns the corporate names is without problems. But it was our attempt to prevent the problems of one, two or three people wielding the majority of power.
      I did hope to retain my friends who moved on to create Summerland. I do understand though, that life moves on and people are busy and they move in circles they trust. I feel the rift as a deep regret and I hope to move through all this with healing in mind. When I stepped forward to help in Harmony Tribe this year, it was because the other council stepped down. I didn’t know why and all I had heard was rumors. I stepped in with caution and as I worked preparing for the festival, I experienced much that the former council experienced. This was no surprise to me. But, on that note, I dislike the opinions expressed that I stepped up to support a friend, when in fact, I had my own misgivings. I stepped up to keep the festival going.
      To alleviate these sorts of problems in the future, perhaps we could treat our stories as sacred. At the risk of being called a ‘gossip’ or being blamed for creating drama, we could speak up with courage.
      I read that the word ‘gossip’ was derived from the word ‘godsib’ as the godparent of a child who brings the voice of the goddess (also known as Holy Spirit) to the child. In oral traditions, the stories of the people in the community were given as parables to the community. This served as their instructions to the consequences of their actions.
      I do believe there is a time to forgive and it is right now. Yet, the persons who continually create problems that will effect the outcome of the festival must be ‘called out’ with honesty in order for the group to effectively create change in the process. The forgiveness can even precede the accountability, but shouldn’t be used in lieu of honestly confronting the problems.
      I actually had the idea for the name of Harmony Tribe. There was resistance for this idea in the beginning due to the fact that it was held at Harmony Park and the idea that it might cause confusion. But, we spoke with Jay and he didn’t believe that it would be a problem. My idea in that the word harmony is sacred because it is the ‘prize’ for working with all the disharmony that we as individuals confront when working toward the same goal. As for the word tribe, I was listening to the stories my daughter told about the tribal council on the reservation. As I listened, I became more intrigued with the democracy of that model. I still believe that spreading the power equally amongst members is the best way to achieve success.

  4. Crystal Blanton says:

    Thanks for such a great article. I think it is important to see how things progress and how they can come to a place of restoring. These types of situations are harsh and people are hurt. If we don’t grow from them then we just sit in our own views of upset and allow bitterness to remove us from our chance to learn from one another. One of my favorite sayings is that resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. This is how I feel about working with the energies that could become poisonous or could be what allows us to learn more about ourselves and what we can do together.

    It was an honor to work with such a great group of people who were pushing for a common goal of rebuilding. The lack of negativity was refreshing and I was honored to meet everyone. I look forward to seeing more people learn about the power of being lovingly accountable and being restorative in our approach to co-existing.

    Witchwars (as tired of a clique as it might be) is one of the things that could disrupt our ability for sustainability or be the stepping stones to learning the skills we need to build, rebuild and teach to our children how to walk through adversity towards something that is truly spiritual.

    I look forward to having the opportunity to experiencing such awesomeness again in the future. Blessings!

  5. Tasha-Rose says:

    I enjoy your insight, Mark, and I respect you in the community and missed you and Sheila this year. You were talked about extensively and your absence noted.

    I would like to say in response that often you see the same hands in everything because no one else is willing to do the work.

    I think, had you attended SHF and joined us in the RJ circle, that you may have a drastically different perspective. Then again, maybe not.

    Blessings to you. You are missed!

  6. Rosemary says:

    To the “no one else is willing to do the work” comment:

    I don’t know if I’m part of the “same hands in everything” comment, but I do know there are many out there who are not only willing but have done the work.

    Not only that but many are doing good work that isn’t so obvious as festivals and isn’t seen by the rest of the community. They remind me of a Bible verse “Do not pray aloud in public as the Pharisees do, but go into a closet and pray quietly and humbly.” Maybe they seem “unwilling” because they are already very busy…working.

    And for the record, many of the previous council members not only offered but also lent a hand, at least initially, in the transition phase, and some much longer than that. One has documented proof up to about a month prior to SHF.

    “no one else is willing to do the work”..Bah!..that comment is insulting to the intelligence, kindness and integrity of the whole of Paganistan! It is this attitude that burns willing people out and pushes others away. It is ungrateful and doesn’t acknowledge that even the small things one does helps the whole.

    On a kinder note (hopefully), all one needs to do is do their best every day. Also need to realize that your “best” changes from day to day and can be dependent on your condition physically, emotionally,intellectually and spiritually. If we can remember this, perhaps we can all work in a compassionate way, supporting one another.

    One last comment-how one says something is just as important as to what is said. ( and yes, when I point fingers, I’m aware of my own three pointing back at me)

  7. Marlene Freeman says:

    As former Ritual Director, you were very welcoming to me and shared all the information in a timely manner.
    I think this says so much about your devotion to our community. Even though we were in the midst of so many people around us were swimming through very turbulent waters, you treated me with respect and were so very kind.
    I appreciate your comments, your positive attitude and infusing hope into our community with your words.

  8. Izzy says:

    Hi, I need to be clear about the above statement I made. Here is my quote from the article above, ” I had no mentor, the old council was like I’m not going to help you, I can’t do it.” I want to state that the past council did heIp me as much as I asked. Benjamin D.(President) was very helpful in taking care of anything we needed, Todd B answered any questions. What I had meant from the statement above is that a council member needed to stop helping due to whatever reasons which is none of my business and I am truly ok with that.. I completely understand and wish the past council much happiness and success in aII areas of their lives. I don’t want to discredit the help that was given or offered. I am very grateful for their time and effort. I do believe a long term mentor might have helped in understanding my role. I also know we had heart which was reflected back to me from the community;) Much love to all.
    Izzy Ray-Chair

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