By Kari Tauring
This is the fourth, and final, installment of my vandrestav journey this summer, 2011. The first two events, Trothmoot and Northern Folk Gathering, were specifically designed for practitioners of the spirituality of the Northern European folk tradition. The Midwest Viking Festival was a celebration of specifically Viking era traditions, attracting Scandinavians as well as the general public looking for deeper root connections.
My final event this season was Lightning Across the Plains (LATP)/Midwest Thing. The event takes place at the Camp Gaea compound in McLouth, Kansas. It draws 200 plus Heathens, (70 of whom are children) from Michigan to Texas. This year we even had visitors from the coasts, Rhode Island and Los Angeles!
Many of you readers will know of Camp Gaea already. I first visited this sacred space in 2000 and again in 2001 when I played music for the Goddess Festival, an all women’s event. I was wholly impressed by the care taken in assuring that men did not enter the camp areas (even to suck out the toilets!), respect for multiple pathways, and sense of safety spiritually and physically. It was my deep wish and prayer of mine that the Northern/Heathen tradition could be represented at this amazing site. I was simply overjoyed to hear that JBK had begun to tend a Heathen Ve (worship space) on the grounds there. Through conversations and meetings we got to know one another and they asked me to be their honored guest at the first LATP in 2009. In 2010 they added the “Midwest Thing.” A Thing is where tribes/clans/families/kindreds who live far apart to meet in person and conduct business pertaining to the region. The parliament in Iceland and Norway is called the Thing (Ting).
While Jotun’s Bane Kindred (JBK) hosts LATP, attending kindreds share in leading ceremonies, providing work shops, and food preparation which creates the sense of regional partnership, community and belonging. This event serves to bring together the Midwest regions varied Heathen kindreds, tribes, families and individuals. It fills a need for a central gathering where all Heathen-identified persons and groups can come and meet one another, share knowledge and experiences, and begin to create the bonds of community that are so important in spiritual and religious development.
We arrived on Friday night after an 8 hour drive. My first event was to lead an old-time dance. We were heavy on children and light on adults so the steps we learned were the basic Faroese Vanl I gur “two to the left and one to the right” while grasping arms in a large circle. As the group got smaller, the dances got more sophisticated until we were creating a new dance to a freshly written tune. Mott and Megin (body and spirit) were shared by all!
Thing, Wedding, Games, and Sumble
8:30 Saturday morning was the Elders meeting, a pre-cursor to the public Thing. Chieftains, gothar, and elders gathered to represent their constituencies, discuss what goals we accomplished individually and for the region since last year, and share what future plans and needs we have as we build community. The meeting began by recalling the Heathen value of clarity in speech. As stated in the Havamal, gossip and assumptions are not the basis of good community. Verifying information (particularly that obtained through social media/web sources) is paramount to curtailing drama.
A new law speaker was elected among persons nominated. This person will keep records straight until the next meeting. They will be the point person to settle disputes or conflicts. The volva elect may be called in cases needing even greater partiality.
As volva elected at Thing 2010 I reported receiving a grant for developing and implementing Nordic Roots Dance curriculum (http://nordicrootsdance.org), a new paypal button on my site to support travel to teach, and a call for submissions to, “A Sober Heathen Manual,” addressing addiction from the Heathen perspective. I have been involved in creating culturally appropriate healing modalities for the Northern European both in Minnesota and in Norway and will be pursuing this further in the coming year.
Two major prison missions within the Midwest are in need of more resources and financial support for newsletters and mailings. A collection/editing spot for children’s materials was determined. A new teaching material geared at children is a high priority.
Finally, the purchase of a building by Volkshof Kindred (North Minneapolis) for a public Hof was announced. This will be a public Hof, but what that means to the larger Heathen and non-Heathen community is yet to be detailed (more details about the doings of the region can be had from Mark Stinson).
Editor’s note: PNC-Minnesota will publish a story on the new Hof on Wednesday.
There were many workshops and “Viking games” events scheduled throughout Saturday. I was happy to have many women and some men attend my Volva Stav workshop. There are several groups using the stav technique in their ceremonial practice and we had some great sharing of how they are doing it and what more resources I can provide.
Saturday evening was a wonderful feast and then a Heathen Wedding. After this I performed some of my Volva Songs and then the High Sumble began. High Sumble with 200 Heathens on the mount of the ridge at Camp Gaea was an amazing sound. The first person takes the horn and hails ancestors, gods, and community. Then the hall joins in with a “Hail” that echoes throughout the nine worlds! I remember the acoustics of the Pavillion on the ridge at Camp Gaea and the magical sounds that travel far and wide from this holy space.
Gathering disturbed, rituals mocked
Then, sadly, an unusual and disturbing thing happened. For those of you who know Camp Gaea, you will be shocked. After a hearty “Hail” there came a singular mocking voice from a camp ground not part of LATP – “Hail” back. At first we tittered nervously
thinking it a “one-off” response. But it continued after each prayer said over our horn. Mark Stinson, Cheiftain of JBK, sent a few men to talk with the disrespectful camper. The mockery stopped for a time. I excused myself from Sumble at the break since my body was so done with me being awake and doing things. I slept soundly in my cabin with a jembe drum jam in my right ear and hearty hails in my left.
Sunday morning I was told that the mocking camper did not stop and had, in fact escalated to the point where the mocking became seriously abusive, hateful, and intolerable. The manager was summoned and the camper accused the Heathens gathered of attacking. Fortunately the hard working and wise board of Camp Gaea saw the truth and these campers were ejected for a year and a month. The fine reputation of JBK, LATP and the Midwest Heathens prevailed. Next year the gathering will rent the entire campground to insure the comfort of the attendees.
Ethics of hospitality in action
As with other gatherings this year, the “drama” of the evening did not interfere with the sacredness of the moment. We gathered for Thor’s blessings and protection on the road, we had an all day auction to support next year’s gathering, and many wonderful children came by collecting recycling and hugging one another. Nothing about the events of the night’s confrontation was mentioned, joked about, or whispered around. The energy of LATP was clean and clear and the joy of our weekend’s fellowship was shared by all.
This is the thing common to all the Heathen gatherings I have reported on this journey season. From Troth Moot to LATP, the Heathen host will always strive to minimize or eliminate uncomfortable situations for their guests. Drama (and there is always something when you have a large group) is handled discretely, fairly, and quickly. This ethic is due directly to the belief that every person we are in contact with contributes something to our energy/our oorlag or “karma” if you will. An event organizer will take great care and caution to insure that the well of wyrd for the community has contributors that are honorable and healing for the community. For this reason, impeccability of word and deed has become the hallmark of Heathen ethic at the events I have attended this year.
I can wholly recommend any of the events I attended this year to anyone desiring to know more about how pre-Christian Scandinavia and Germania worshiped, played, and built bonds of trust and community. The events were diverse with slightly different purposes, yet connected at the core. You will experience the variety and uniqueness of the people of the Northern Path and the unified ethics that bind them.