Sacred Harvest Festival – rebuilding, changing, and staying the same

Harmony Tribe, the group that produces Sacred Harvest Festival (SHF), a Pagan camping festival held in SE Minnesota, celebrated their 15th year last week.  While the festival experienced ups and downs over the years, most recently a split in Harmony Tribe in 2010 resulting in the board resigning en masse, it appears to be back on the upswing with higher attendance and new and returning merchants.

In 2011 the festival faced several challenges.  A wounded community tired of drama, a new zoning restriction on the park which limited night time drumming, and lack of board continuity and experience.  These challenges showed in the attendance numbers.  Approximately 150 people attended SHF in 2011.

To meet these challenges the board brought in Crystal Blanton, author, mental health counselor, and High Priestess in California to hold a Restorative Justice circle and begin the healing at the 2011 SHF.  The success of that move, which rippled out through the community after last year’s festival, can be seen in this year’s festival numbers.  Although final numbers won’t be out until Sunday, Harmony Tribe Council Officer Judy Olson says the numbers topped 200.  Ms. Blanton returned to SHF this year to continue the community healing that was started in 2011.

Crystal Blanton, Cara Schulz, Judy Olson, and Heather Biedermann

Another sign of rebuilding for SHF is reappearance of persons who were gone last year.  One such person, who asked not to be named as they need to remain closeted as a Pagan, said, “I’m so happy to be back.  I wasn’t here last year because I was so hurt, everyone was hurt.  But I’m back home and I love my tribe and I missed them.  I’ll be back next year, too.”  Along with returning attendees, there were first time attendees in the crowd which helped bolster attendance numbers.

The same was true of merchants.  While many merchants return to SHF every year, some were returning after being away and several were new. Body work, adult products, and belly dance gear were some of the new offerings.   For the second year in a row there was a new food vendor.  This year was MG and Amee and they expanded the food offerings to include not just vegetarian and vegan options, but gluten-free meals and snacks.

There were several changes to SHF in 2012, some more visible than others.  One change was to adjust some of the bylaws and change the structure of the board.  The board returned to a Council Governance system from a more corporate style of governance utilized in the past few years.  Instead of 5 to 13 board members with titles such as President or Treasurer and clearly defined areas of responsibility, the present council consists of three elected Officers and up to 24 Council Members at Large.  “If someone was voted into a position where they were responsible for a certain thing like marketing or activities or ritual they got to the point where they felt a strong ownership of it.  When that happens it’s real easy for it to turn into a personality thing when you question a decision that someone makes.  In order to make it so  it didn’t become a personality thing we made it so we are all equal and we all make the decisions together,” said Ms. Olson.  She says returning to the original council style of governance has worked really well.

One of the more visible changes, not having the Wild Hunt, was a result of the noise ordinance limiting drumming to 10pm Sunday through Thursday and 1am on Friday and Saturday.  The Wild Hunt is normally held on Thursday night and is a transformational ritual by ordeal and hours of night time drumming.  Participants fast and exhaust themselves for 24 hours before the ritual starts.  The rest of the ritual takes place in the woods and is not disclosed as it is an Mystery.  Some festival attendees were unhappy the Wild Hunt did not take place and are looking for ways to bring it back.  Olson says the Wild Hunt could be back next year if people are willing to make it happen, “As Harmony Tribe we don’t really sponsor the Hunt, we don’t make that happen.  We leave that someone who feels compelled to take that one.”  She reiterated the drumming restriction does make the Hunt and other night time events such as the Rangoli more complicated to schedule which is why the council is soliciting attendee input on if SHF stays at Harmony Park or moves to a new location.

“Maybe being able to drum late is not as important as we [the council] think it is and that’s why we asked people to fill out the survey,” said Olson.  She said attendees complain about the cost of the showers, but seem to love the trees and the feel of Harmony Park.  The council will continue to seek input from the community on keeping SHF at Harmony Park or moving to a new location.

Some of the other changes this year was a greater focus on celebrating rites of passage and community shrines.  Most years there are a few rites of passage celebrated during the week, but this year there were celebrations taking place most every day.  Saging and Croning, moon blood rites, and the starts of new families were all heavily attended by the community.  The community also joined in on creating community shrines.  You can read and see photographs of the shrines here.

The council will hold a post-mortem on the festival this Sunday but overall Olson feels very positive about this year’s Sacred Harvest Festival, “We focused on bringing back the things that have worked in the past and we dropped the stuff that wasn’t working and didn’t stress about it.  I feel good that we created an environment where people found the festival familiar and comforting.”

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