Elder Interviews – Estelle Daniels

Estelle Daniels is a native resident of Paganistan and is interviewing elders in the Pagan Community 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

This  interview is with elder Rick of Rick’s Cafe, a fixture at many midwest festivals over the years.

Rick S. from Cahokia, Il.

Rick S. from Cahokia, Il.


“Good morning Earth House! It’s coffee! It’s hot water too!”


That’s the cry of Rick inviting all who would come to his camp for coffee, hot water and great conversation. Everybody goes to Rick’s—in the morning. His coffee is (so I’m told) very good, and the camaraderie in the morning is just what a sleepy camper needs to wake up and face the day.


Rick lives outside of St. Louis, across the river in Cahokia—in a subdivision. He does a lot of gardening—vegetables—and does a lot of canning and brewing. He told me the mounds aren’t in Cahokia itself—they are 15 miles up the river. Just so we know.


How many festivals have you been to over the years? I don’t know—I started going to Pagan festivals in ’89—went to at least one festival every year since then in Wisconsin—some years two. Then I’ve attended two or three more every year in my local area, in Missouri. The ones in Missouri are more weekend get-togethers run by college students. So that’s at least 23 week long festivals, and 20-25 more for weekend festivals. Then I have also been to many private festivals with friends, these were a meeting of old friends who are magickally inclined. Maybe 8 or 10 of us—close friends getting together to camp and spend time. Many many festivals.

What is your tradition? Shamanism and I’m a Gaian. I’m a weather worker as well. I’m just me—I’m not a leader and I don’t want to be led—I’m just me.


When did you start the cafe? I was heavy into buckskinning since 81. [Buckskinning is historical recreation of the voyageur culture.] I did it there and had a fire with coffee going in the mornings—people would come and treat their hangovers there. As time went on I sold off most of my buckskinner stuff except for the lodge and the cooking stuff—and concentrated on Pagan festivals instead. I have done the cafe at festivals since 89 at PSG. Everybody knows me, they show up at my camp, we talk, we get to know each other, it builds community. Old friendships are renewed, new friendships are made.


Is there a lot of overlap between Buckskinning and the Pagan community? No, everybody in a buckskinner camp is a hunter etc. Few pagans are into that.


What are your memorable festival experiences? I work the weather, I do wild magic—magic without ritual. At Earth House every year I’ve done something: a workshop, a wedding, whatever. I want to do an ecstatic ritual this year—I need good drummers for that.


How long have you been going to Earth House? Since John invited me—the first or second year at Eagle Cave [2004 or 2005]. While some festivals claim to be festivals for elders—many people at Earth House are elders and they will talk to you. They have many interests and freely talk to those who ask questions. I talk to people. I like that about Earth House. People are very friendly and share knowledge.


I’m a pyromaniac. I made fires for a living inside boilers and ovens and such—I made a good living out of being a firebug. I competed in flint and steel contests buckskinning.


In 2001 John Stitely and Ossian came and stayed with me a for month when I screwed up my leg—I broke it fishing, two bad breaks. This was a month before the towers came down. I couldn’t work after that accident—getting up on ovens or burners on a ladder—it took two years to heal enough to go without a cane. They came and helped me out after I was hurt. I owe them a lot for that.


Do you know how you check for werewolves?—you give them a full moon—I’ve done that twice at Earth House. That’s how you check for werewolves. Nobody wants to see that again. [There have never been any werewolf sightings at Earth House.]


Thank you for talking to us. You’re welcome—it’s great to chat.

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John O.

John O.

The third interview is with John O, Head of Safety for Earth House. He lives in Burlington Iowa, hickville on the Mississippi, according to him. He worked for years as a correctional officer at Iowa State Penitentiary. Now he’s retired, and brews among his many hobbies. I interviewed him about his experiences at Pagan Festivals.


What was the first festival you attended? Pan Pagan Picnic in St. Louis. John Stitely and I drove down and stayed at Rick’s. Attending that event, I found out I wanted to change things in my life. And I got inspired to start brewing from drinking Rick’s stuff. His wines and meads are really wonderful.


How many festivals do you think you have attended in all? Not that many—maybe at the most 18—at least 12 with EH. Not that many others—I’m stuck out in the sticks. There’s not much out here. Bless the internet and the bookstores. We are children of the library.


Did the Pan Pagan Picnic inspire you to become pagan? No. I was leaning that way already. I was active in my Christian church—I read my Bible more closely than most. Learning about mythology in school, that made more sense—I wondered why I couldn’t do that. Maybe I can blame my conversion to the neopagan path to science fiction and Andre Norton. I loved her books as a teen. I learned later she was Alice Mary Norton and also wrote as Andrew North—no women wrote sf at the time—so they say. People forget Mary Shelley—that book [Frankenstein] is really science fiction. She won the bet that night about who could write the scariest story—they all admitted she won. I wonder what she might have produced if she had devoted her energies to writing full time. I did a lot of science fiction reading as a kid.


What Tradition do you follow? Asatru. It makes more sense to me as a way of living. Personal honor and responsibility mean the most to me—the quiet stuff. I’ve met a couple real soldiers in my life—there was an Australian soldier in the hospital in ‘Nam—there were stories going around that you shouldn’t cross him. He did a lot of scarey stuff over there, but he was a nice quiet guy. A lot of the dangerous fighters I’ve known are quiet and nice. I knew two hit men from the pen, they were quiet and nice, did not puff out their chest, did not scream and yell. We need to learn to settle things differently, modern weapons are too horrendous for personal feuds—we need another way. People today would rather believe a lie than take my assurance that I’ll do my best. Asatru is what calls me.


What are your areas of expertise? Oh heck, I still consider myself a beginner and a student. I’m good at talking to people. I’m a good clerk. I read a lot of books. There’s always people who know more than I do. There are things I am woefully lacking in—like astrology. I read and usually can figure out where to learn about something.


When did you start brewing? Not too long after that Pan Pagan Picnic. Rick was an inspiration. I’ve got a degree in chemistry—brewing is like that—I like beers and wine. It all came together.


How did you come to know about Earth House? That’s my connection with John—he invited me and I enjoyed it. That was the second year—at Brigit’s Field. I attended there two years—then it went to Eagle Cave. I was down at the Druid circle the night before—had a couple bottles of mead—I thought I’d pay for it the next day for sure—mead is notorious for giving you a mead head—I drank some water, snuggled into my sleeping bag and went to bed. I woke up the next morning feeling better than I had in six months. The place was doing me good.


What do you do as Head of Safety at Earth House? Nothing. There was one year I had to talk harshly to a group of campers who wanted to crash the party. I wasn’t safety at that time. I backed up the young woman who was, I helped her out. I do little safety—it isn’t needed much. Its a very quiet festival.


What are some of your more memorable festival experiences? I like the labrynth. I like the campfires at night. And Rick’s cafe for coffee in the morning. First thing I unload is a can of coffee for Rick’s. That and mead for anyone who helps me park my camper. The people are the best part of the festival. Earth House has a relaxed atmosphere where I can relax and be me.


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