Our first PSG (Pagan Summer Gathering), kindly gifted to us by my mother as a combined Christmas/Birthday present happened over the weekend of 13-15th January 2012. For me, it was to be my first real introduction to ‘the pagan scene’ in my new country, and I’ll admit I was feeling a degree of trepidation; Mr U knew a considerable number of the participants from his past and I was this oversized Kiwi who had tagged along without proof of my even knowing my Zoroaster from my athame!
We were on the road at 4am to allow ourselves time to get lost with our new GPS unit; but we also figured that since Registration was scheduled for 8am with the first part of the weekend proper lined up for 9am that being on time or a little early was probably not only wise but polite. We were newbies after all. We had an easy trip (despite Mr U’s attempt to frustrate the GPS!) and pulled into the Scout Camp around 7.30am in lovely early morning sunshine.
Stretching as we exited the car, we were greeted by a prominent (dare I say ‘celebrity’?!) pagan, who was convinced she had met me but Mr U was a new face to her. Being polite, I didn’t point out that I come from New Zealand and haven’t met her before in my life. Mr U on the other hand has met her 4 times in the past. Still, it was rather early and she had clearly just stepped out of her bunkroom.
Turns out She was unable to give us any practical direction as to where we had to sign up/let folks know we’d arrived, so I followed my eyes to the ladies room to alleviate a pressing need before trying to find someone in the know. Funnily, I came across the organiser/main contact person (Kerrieann) for the weekend whilst in the ablutions block, and got directions to the dining hall and the other half of the Registration team. So we made ourselves known and signed the requisite forms in time to join the breakfast queue. I’m human enough after a long drive to want food; and bacon, eggs and pancakes were too good to resist! (Big kudos to the kitchen team!)
9am rolled around and folks were still breakfasting – apparently that old chestnut of ‘pagan standard time’ holds one of its last bastions in the Aussie pagan community – and as a result, much of the rest of the day’s workshops and events ran somewhat out of the planned time-spans. It was whilst people were making their way into the dining hall for breakfast that I had the first of what would prove to be a weekend-long range of anxiety/panic attacks. Seizing the chance to make up my bunk, I ducked into our bunkroom and presented the world with a view of my ample derrierre for 15 minutes whilst I tried to get over the concept that there were a large number of people out there, and that the ‘tin shed’ we were all living and eating in tended to echo and amplify any and all noise they made, including the repeated banging of the various bunkroom doors. Sadly, it all sounded like downtown Mogadishu to me, and I retreated to a corner of the dining room, close to a door to outside. It was in this place I met the first of the lovely people who I hope to continue keeping in contact with; Annie of the badly broken arm. She took me under her unbroken wing and was understanding of my explanation for my air of ‘keep away!’ and my need to be either near a door or hiding in my bunk. Soon after meeting Annie we again were met more formally by Kerrieann, who in turn introduced us to Fabienne, definitely someone both Mr U and I connected with immediately.
The first event took place, and I stepped outside to watch the folks beating the boundaries on a variety of drums. It was then I had the first moment of agoraphobia that saw me bolting back into the dining hall and not as close to the door as previously. The rest of the weekend I stayed indoors as much as humanly possible, and the few times I needed the toilet or the shower, my eyes were firmly fixed on the ground at my feet as I walked. Not a good way to be at a gathering that’s all about Mother Earth and being in touch with nature, but I did at least manage to curb my panic at the crowds for meals, meaning I wasn’t simply the weird bird in the bunkroom all the time! Sadly, I found myself unable to attend any of the outdoor workshops or ritual events which somewhat nullified my reasons for attending. But I did meet a number of people that I only knew via Facebook, and caught up with old friends from our wedding, which I consider highlights of the weekend.
My overall impression of the event however? Less than favourable. There had been some group politics and squabbling in the week leading up to the PSG, and this seemed to have carried over into the event itself. It was never tacitly mentioned, but there was a definite undercurrent.
Pagan standard time really needs to be thrown out and proper time needs to be seriously considered – this would perhaps alleviate some of the minor hiccups.
I found out that ‘celebrity’ is not synonymous with ‘appropriate behaviour and attitudes’ but that’s their choice. I don’t have to condone it however.
The location, whilst lovely, did have a combination of indigenous sacred sites in the vicinity as well as a tree that I was warned about as being the site of torture and beatings of the local Aboriginal people in the history of the area. Personally, I was aware of the tree, due to the continual screams and pained moaning I could hear from its vicinity that wasn’t coming from any of the PSG attendees.
Team that with an elderly – and very non-corporeal – Aboriginal lady taking up residence in the middle of our bunkroom floor for most of the first night where she talked non-stop to me (probably because I was the only one awake?) and there’s a recipe for declaring me a complete fruitloop. *shrugs* I found out once we got home that the Aboriginal culture tends to spend time detailing their history and family events before they actually tell you who they as individuals are (ie: ‘my name is…’) and from the body language and the recitative style of speaking that the Medicine Lady had, I’m guessing she was introducing herself! I can only surmise that’s what she was, as she had several piles of what looked like leaves, bark and herbs on the tray she was sitting alongside on the floor.
I can’t help but wonder if there had been some recognition or placation of the ancient Aboriginal spirits of the land using rituals that they could recognise (eg: burning of eucalyptus leaves and stamping the ground) might have improved both the tortured sounds from the tree and the negated the need for a visitation by the Medicine Lady? I found it surprising that there was a range of cultural options like Celtic and Native American style drumming, Hoodoo healing techniques et al, but no apparent (to me at least) recognition of the spirituality of Australia and her first people. Perhaps this has happened at past PSG events, I can’t say, but for an organisation that propounds respect for the land and all its peoples, it might be a reasonable suggestion to include some rituals that are local rather than from the other side of the world?
We were very lucky to have dry weather (at least it was until Mr U and I left just after midday on Sunday!) for the duration of the weekend as the dining hall/main congregating area wasn’t able to handle the numbers at the event – so much so that at least one meal it was instructed that the children eat first to allow enough seats for all. I dread to think of the challenges for workshop presenters if they’d had to present in a tin shed with pounding rain and people who were confined indoors for a long time! And if you take into account that there were scheduling double-ups of workshops…
In the end, all I can say is: “I can at least say I went.”