Crystal Blanton and Yeshe Rabbit at Sacred Harvest Festival – Interview

Crystal Blanton at Sacred Harvest Festival 2012

Two other guests from past Sacred Harvest Festivals are returning, Crystal Blanton and Yeshe Rabbit. This year a whole range of rituals are offered from guests, Harmony Tribe members, and community members.  Crystal and Rabbit are together offering a Ritual of Ancestral Healing on Thursday, Aug 7th.   Yeshe Rabbit is offering a featured ritual Friday evening Aug 8th,  “Dancing with our Demons”, before the annual Rangoli ritual.  I talked to them together on a Google hangout.

Advance Registration for Sacred Harvest Festival ends tomorrow at midnight, Thursday July 31st. Patrons can register at the gate in Albert Lea, Mn for a day, weekend, or the full week Aug 4-10th.

Yeshe Rabbit

What is the ritual that you are offering together?
Rabbit: We are very excited about the ritual we are doing together,  the Ritual of Ancestral Healing. We recently heard a lecture two weeks ago together that was so wonderful.  It was with one of Crystal’s mentors,  Dr Joy Degruy,  who speaks about the racial and ethnic underpinnings that have formed American culture.  There are these invisible threads of racism twined within everything. You don’t see them until you pull back the cloth and reveal the threads that are holding it all together.  I am so fired up for this ritual after going with Crystal to this eye opening lecture.

Crystal:  Doing something like this together is a step at looking at some of the many layers that keep us stuck. It is opening up conversation and connection,  extending the olive branch;  not necessarily through each other but through our ancestors. It is connecting in a way we don’t normally get to in our normal walk of life.  We will be acknowledging the many layers of societal hurt,  community hurt, and how we impact one another. I am excited about it as a way to open another level of work, and acknowledging it in a way meant to be healing. Not just ripping the scab off,  but acknowledging the fact the scabs and scars exist.  Loving those scars and loving our past through one another as a result of that.  I am really excited about it for those reasons.

You are offering this in the mainly white Midwest.  Does that make it different?
Crystal: I think it makes a huge difference because it is not often we get to offer this in other areas that may not have the diversity of places like the Bay Area,  and get a chance to  explore these things, in this way.  This is something very unique that both of us can bring to the table, and that otherwise people may not have the opportunity to participate in.

Rabbit: When I have done this sort of work before, one of the things I have found is that white people feel that they can only talk to people of color about this issue. Sometimes we really need to be talking to each other about it. While our sisters and brothers of color in the Pagan community are often amazing resources of information and experience that we can learn from, it is not always appropriate for us to ask them to teach us everything.  By gathering groups of people together who are white to talk together with people they know and trust, in a creative environment of trust, we are hoping that people who are white will engage with us, and each other to take responsibility together for learning about race and ethnicity.  I know some of the people who live right there in Minnesota also have persecution in their ancestral past, that may be different than the type of persecution that Crystal’s ancestors may have faced.  Certainly different that my ancestors faced in Eastern Europe. It is still relevant because what we are coming to the table with is to take responsibility for what we can do, what we can learn from each others experiences.

Crystal: I am excited about it. There is more diversity there than one might assume at first glance.  At the same time, even knowing that, the experience of people of color is different for people of color walking into a place that is perceived as a lily white area.  What that brings up , understanding that, and having that kind of dialog  in an open and loving way is so important. We plan to back up that kind of dialog with something that is magical and supportive. This is something we don’t often give ourselves permission to do,  to come to the table as we are, and work together for collective healing.  We don’t have to, it is not a blame game, it is not making people feel they have to take accountability for something that they don’t relate to.  It is dissecting a little of it together and than backing that up with magic. Part of why this is so special is it would be totally different if we were doing this in another location.

Rangoli Ritual Ground Design

What is your Friday night SHF ritual, Dancing with our Demons about?
Rabbit: In Tibetan Buddhism you have various classes of beings that you encounter. In the Dharma view you have choices. You have rituals that will banish those demons, and rituals that will feed those demons.  In this case I am really referring to a shadow part of our personality or psyche that comes forward, or a vexatious situation, this is a demon. It is a bad thing,  some thing we deem a “bad” collection of energies. When we encounter those we are soul tied to decide, are we going to banish this, try to fix this, or try to feed this. When we are in this mode of trying to either banish, fix, or feed one of the things what often happens is we are not being present for the lessons that thet demon is teaching us in the moment.  Dancing with our Demons is a ritual to bring forward and embody some of the hardest lessons that we have had to learn from this year,  and dance them into healing, and dance them into awareness. Not necessarily seek to banish, fix, or feed any of it, but just to be moving with it. This movement based meditation will help us become aware of them and so learn from our demons.

Another workshop you offer is about the Dharma Pagan?
Rabbit: In this session we will start with a chanting session so everyone can come and benefit from the experience of a chanting practice. We will talk about the notion of the Dharma, and how I relate that to what in my Pagan practice I call magic.  It is the universal force that flows through all things.  We will talk about where my practice overlaps between my Paganism and my Tibetan Buddhism. This so perfect because after we leave you all we move on to what is like our pilgrimage. The first leg of the pilgrimage is the Pagan one to Sacred Harvest Festival. Then the second and third legs are first in Colorado at the Buddhist monastery, and then in Tibet itself. These are the Dharma voyage of the pilgrimage.  This workshop will be a great time to talk about that in terms of the structure of my beliefs.

Crystal, your Tuesday workshop, “Embodying Cultural Archetypes”, is this preparation for the ritual with Rabbit or a separate topic?
Crystal:  In some ways it is a separate topic, but there is some intersection there. Initially it is something I am working on,  work that I am doing independently as a writer and spiritual person. The Ancestral Healing ritual idea came about and they complimented each other.  Though I  didn’t plan them together, they will probably work in that way.  I am delving into the marriage between culture and our spiritual practice.  How we show up in our spirituality. It is important to acknowledge and honor all the many different layers of privilege and gratitude in our practice. Sometimes there is a negative viewpoint when someone brings up the idea of privilege, at least that is the perspective.  In reality we all live with privilege and there is an intersectionality with privilege. It is  important to understand and talk about how that feeds into gratitude. How we can acknowledge the things that we have,  and do so alongside other things that are very challenging for us.  How we can make that part of a balanced perspective and practice for us so that we are moving forward with gratitude. For me they are very closely related to the theme of the whole festival. How can we be grateful if we can’t acknowledge e what is happening within our life.

Are Pagans class aware as a group, Is this about class?
Crystal: I do think we struggle in that area. In some ways we are class aware but in other ways my perception is that we struggle with the many different layers of what makes us a whole person and not just a Pagan.  It is in the evolution of any community. You start with one person and then it spreads out and spreads out.  We add to it and then have a different awareness and understanding.  At this point we are expanding our understanding around issues like class, racism, gender,  and how those things make up the Pagan community.  We ask does our understanding enhance or take away from our spiritual practice?  We are growing in that way. Not all Pagans are poor,  but not all Pagans have a lot of money either.  It is a struggle to wrap our minds around that. Even though we are Pagans we are also just people who are struggling in different areas. Bringing attention to that just makes us stronger.

You are offering a Community Gratitude Restorative Justice Circle on Friday, what does that look like?
Crystal:  Because it is focused on community building we will do some interactive things differently than at the other restorative justice circles I have done there before. It will be the same format but different. I don’t want to give too much away, but one of the activities we will be doing will leave the community with something tangible that has a piece of everyone there. You can choose what to do with it, whether to put it on your website, or return it to the festival. I really want to leave something tangible and walk away so when anyone sees it they will remember, remember how incredible it was to build community in that way.  I am excited about offering it, I did something similar at Pantheacon a few years ago.  There it was a really great experience and I m excited to see how it works for Harmony Tribe at the festival.

It is such an honor to be back there at the festival for a wonderful theme like gratitude, when I feel so much gratitude for everyone I have met in Minnesota.

 

Yeshe Rabbit and Crystal Blanton  will join Tony Mierzwicki for a week of workshops and rituals at Sacred Harvest Festival, August 4-10th near Albert Lea, Mn.  Advance registration closes this Thursday, July 31st, but is available for a week, weekend, or day pass at the festival gate.

 

Nels Linde

~ Nels is a council member of Harmony Tribe, sponsor of Sacred Harvest Festival

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Restorative Justice II at Sacred Harvest Festival – Editorial

Thursday, August 9th, the second community Restorative Justice (RJ)  circle was held at Sacred Harvest Festival,  a year after the first. The festival was a lot different place this year, it was observable that an immense amount of grief resolution and healing had taken place over a year. A focus on the festival theme of the sacred in our lives, and the power of love, had seemed to replace a sense of anxiety, hurt, grief, and fear that many had felt a year ago.

The Circle was much smaller this year, down to 15 participants, with 6 having their first experience with RJ at this circle. The feelings of the nine who returned were softened,  and reflected a feeling of a return to normalcy, which in this case is defined by the tribal sense of family this festival has generated based on the feedback of thousands of individuals over fifteen years.

Crystal Blanton had offered to facilitate this RJ circle again.  Crystal began with establishing a talking stick. This year she used a personal Phoenix tradition piece because:

“What we are doing in this community. We are rising from circumstances, regardless of what those circumstances have been, and where everybody falls in that. Taking where we are at, and using it as a catalyst to grow into something beautiful and bigger, and in some ways unimaginable.”

Crystal solicited;  “Any questions before we begin?   None were asked.

Crystal Blanton

Crystal:

“We open with two pieces to set the tone for where we have been, and where we are going :”

“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence, when mindfulness embraces those we love they will bloom like flowers. “

And from an article: “Contact beyond the Gods”

Crystal read a quote about the spiritual importance of connection, and the connection we all have with each other. Acknowledging the importance of the process we are in, how we integrate the lessons we have learned into our spiritual being, and into the path before us. Not only learning how to work in community, but teaching how to work in community, for our children. Preserving what we have worked so hard for here.

Crystal begins the RJ circle offering two values she brings, asking each participant to state a value they bring to the circle.

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Harmony Tribe Restorative Justice Circle Update – Editorial

A Restorative Justice circle took place facilitated by Crystal Blanton,  guest at last summers  Sacred Harvest Festival (SHF) in August.  This Restorative Justice (RJ)  Circle was specifically to aid Harmony Tribe(HT) and its festivant community to move beyond the real ‘hurt and harm’ the individuals, organization, and festival had felt over the past year. When I wrote about it, I also committed to  updates  as the Harmony Tribe (RJ)  process evolved. I wrote then as a Harmony Tribe member, and as of this editorial, am now a member of the 2012 Harmony Tribe Council, as one of 15 Council Members at Large.

Please read that August editorial for a more complete back ground of RJ and this particular RJ Circle.

The purpose of this RJ Circle was:

“… to restore; to restore a sense of safety in a loving and empathetic community. We are not here to blame, or to cast judgment on who was right or wrong. It is a about how we can support our community together and heal the hurt and harm that has been caused by a series of events. “

And Crystal summarized the RJ Circle with:

“ What happens, Where do we go from here? We can not fix everything that has happened. We can not restore relationships without everyone present. We can restore what is here. We have not lost our community… what I have seen is that with time ,work, and a commitment to values, and the mirroring of those to each other, a community can be healed. “

The RJ Circle came forth with several Collective Agreements, promises each person present made to the Harmony Tribe community. These were jointly arrived at by consensus, and individually affirmed by those present as their own commitments. These were to facilitate this community to “move forward in the healing process with safety and trust”.

The agreements are:

  1. We will aid the process of developing commonly defined principles and values, and the primary purpose for our community (HT) so that the HT council can work for the whole of our community.
  2. Define how Harmony Tribe (and its community) can participate in the processes of community, beyond HT the organization.
  3. The HT Community commits to participate as they can – to show up.
  4. Find ways to solicit community support and input.
  5. Commit to developing a means for mentoring or transferring knowledge or roles within the organization.

How has Harmony Tribe and its community progressed toward meeting these commitments?

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Restorative Justice, Restoring Communities – Editorial

We live in tumultuous times as a society and as a Pagan community. Conflict has caused many divisions, often accompanied with the drawing of lines. These can easily become permanent fractures, solidifying within what might be a unified and joyous community of similar beliefs. Often these conflicts are personal, or begin as personal disputes, or emerge in community settings. Just as often a community gets drawn into them. I participated in a restorative justice circle at Sacred Harvest Festival (SHF), facilitated by Crystal Blanton, and will refer to that experience.

Restorative Justice (RJ) is an idea and method to repair some of the damage these conflicts cause in community. It was developed and used in criminal victim-offender mediations in the 1970’s and has been adapted and applied to a broad range of conflicts, from within our schools to whole societies as in the The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a court-like restorative justice body assembled in South Africa after the abolition of apartheid . It can be used in a community setting through ‘restorative group conferencing’ or ‘peace circles’.

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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.”

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