Pagan Elder Interview by Estelle Daniels

John Stitely

John Stitely

Estelle Daniels is a native resident of Paganistan and is interviewing elders in the Pagan Community in the Midwest who attend Earth House Midsummer Gather to get their stories.

Earth House Midsummer Gather takes place from June 16-23 at beautiful Eagle Cave campground in Wisconsin, a short 4-5 hour drive from the Twin Cities. It’s a medium sized festival with a definite family feel. This is the 13th year it will take place, and there has grown up a community of Earth House attendees—several of whom are elders with many years festival experience. Estelle will be interviewing some of the elders who attend Earth House to show what a rich variety of people attend the Festival from all over the Midwest. For more information or to register for Earth House, go to earthhousemn.org

Rev John Stitely is the current Chair of Earth House. He is originally from Iowa, born and raised there—went to school there and worked as a lawyer there for many years. He has been attending Pagan Festivals for many years and I talked to him about his experiences. I interviewed him about his experiences at Pagan Festivals.

What was the first festival you attended? I can’t really remember—I graduated from Law School in 1987, and I guess summer of ’88 was my first Festival—PSG 88 then. I decided to take the suit off for a week.

 

How many festivals do you think you have attended in all? I’m not sure—let’s see, PSG from ’87 to ’99—that’s 13 I guess, a couple of Heartlands, 3 or 4 festivals held in Columbia MO, I don’t remember the name of that one anymore, Sirius Rising, a few Avalons, all the Earth Houses, that’s 12 so far, plus a few hotel festivals, Invocation near Chicago, another couple—30 or more I guess. I like camping festivals better than hotel ones. I prefer being outside to being inside. That’s what we miss being urban Pagans.

What led to your love of the land? My parents were Methodists but they also had a strong reverence for the land. It was part of what we learned growing up.

When did you become a Pagan? Really, I always have been—my parents would have been distressed to learn that, but what they taught me led me to what I discovered to be a Pagan world view. I read a lot and living in a small town with a Carnegie library I read a couple books by Leland—and I was off. That was in my early to mid teens.

What Tradition do you follow? I started as British Traditional—some odd branch. But for many years I have drifted. I’ve been mostly solitary for the last 30 years reading and studying. I sit with people, study with them, listen and learn, and it all works into a marinade that’s harmonious. I would resist the label of Eclectic, but there’s truth to that—it’s searching for the authenticity of what you are doing.

What are your areas of expertise? There are not enough experts in our community—so many people who claim that label who don’t deserve it. Maybe I have a better understanding for energy work than most—I read a lot and have done Chinese martial arts—that’s a culture where etheric energy is a part of life. That’s what we try to work with in magick, so I like how they work together.

How did you come to know about Earth House? I don’t remember—I probably saw it on a pagan list, possibly Witches Voice—it was close, reasonable cost—I came and never went home. I fell in love and just had to come back—not necessarily just with the festival but the festival too. Eventually I moved up to St. Paul. Paganistan is the sucking land of milk and honey—it sucks people out of Iowa City into Paganistan. That’s what people in Iowa City said about Paganistan. I lived in Iowa City longer than my hometown. Closer to 19 years—most of my social life was in Iowa City.

What made you jump from attendee to chair of Earth House? It was a long stagger. For a number of years I held no office with Earth House, but if you want a Pagan community, somebody has to do the work—that includes me. First I was a member of the Wiccan Church of Minnesota—WiCoM. I have been teacher’s rep in WiCoM for many years. Then later I ended up with a few offices in Earth House. The last couple years I’ve been the chair—if someone else wants to do it they can have it—but the work’s gotta be done and someone has to step up and do it. So I’m the Earth House Chair for now.

What are some of your more memorable festival experiences? Oh my. They come in a couple of categories—best ritual was at an early PSG—it was all organic—there was nothing planned, it was unscheduled time. It started with drumming: a mother and daughter drumming to Isis Astarte—then it grew into a drum circle—then people came to listen to the drumming. Once a decent group had gathered, a guy walked up with an old broom: this was not a ritual broom, it was a broom you bring camping. He swept the circle and then saluted the quarters—all silently while the drums continued. Once he stepped out of the space, people came into the circle—those who weren’t drumming were dancing and it became a spontaneous ecstatic ritual. I thought I was humming along and later I realized I had shouted myself hoarse—I didn’t realize it. I think I wasn’t the only one who was carried away by that ritual.

I have made more than a handful of lifetime friends at festivals. I met Paul Tuitean of the Guardians at PSG, Rick S.—that’s the Rick of Rick’s Cafe, Pete Pathfinder, too. There are many others who are special to me who I’ve met at festivals over the years.

My memories are mostly of rituals and people. There was a PSG opening ritual where the thunder and lightning were in time to the drums—there was a storm coming in. There were people who left camp the next day because they didn’t believe magick was real—it spooked them out.

There was the Maid of the Forest ritual Stephen Posch ran at one Avalon. The Maiden was chosen by lot and Cerridwen was chosen. The Goddess came into her—that was incredible.

Then less spectacular but really important is that Rick’s cafe has gone on forever. The whole camp can come together and good stuff happens—real camaraderie. Rick’s cafe is a gathering around Rick’s campsite every morning—informal but he has coffee and hot water and people gather and chat, drink coffee and wake up. He makes a fire with his big coffee pots over it and he makes real boiled coffee over the fire. It’s wonderful stuff when you’re camping and you want to wake up at a festival.

Thank you for your time. You’re Welcome.

Earth House will take place from June 16-23 and more information can be found at earthhousemn.org

The board of Earth House Project approved this publication

 

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