Dr. Leisure Meets the Pagans

Following are excerpts from The Mostly True Life Adventures of Dr. Leisure VOL II by Dr. George R. Harker  (To order click on the cover.)

Chapter 56

Dr. Leisure meets the Pagans

Over the years I had developed an awareness of those religious groups that believed in the forces of nature as the spiritual bases for their value system. During the early seventies I attended a guest lecture by someone talking about witches and witchcraft. I don't remember the speakers name or much about the content of the talk. I do remember that the presentation was accompanied by slides which showed the witch priestess doing her incantations in the nude. She was trim in figure and pleasant to look at.

During the summer of 1995 I had agreed to be the keynote speaker at what was billed as The Heartland Gathering of the Naturist Society. The gathering was the second to be held at Cherokee Nudist Resort located near Crossville, Tennessee. Bill Pennington and Camile VanSicle were the organizers of the event. I had met Bill and Camile the previous fall on a road trip to Florida at a nudist resort in South Carolina. They asked if I would speak the following summer at their naturist gathering. I had tentatively agreed.

At the gathering I happened to meet Gavin and Yvonne Frost. In the course of our conversation I came to learn that they were the founders of the Church and School of Wicca. A church of and for witches! I was intrigued by the whole concept but particularly with the legal tax implications of such an organization. Gavin and Yvonne were very open with me in sharing their technical know how of how to establish a church.

They were interested in the nudist movement and looking for possible sites to run workshops dealing with the craft (the term used by witches to include the whole general area of witchcraft and related aspects of the movement). In the course of answering my numerous questions about the craft Gavin mentioned that hundreds of pagan events are held throughout the year and throughout the United States. He also indicated that "clothing optional" was the usual state at these events. If I was an authority on such forms of recreation it would behoove me to attend and experience first hand this aspect of nude recreation. Furthermore there was to be a very large gathering in about three weeks in New York. It would be the biggest and best such happening in the entire year. Gavin said he was a speaker and knew all the main participants and the campground owner. He suggested I would be most welcome and ought to come up for the event if at all possible. I couldn't refute the logic of his invitation and decided that indeed I should go if at all possible.

Starwood 1995 ran from Tuesday July 18th to Sunday July 23rd. The site is a farm owned and operated by Darlene & Frank Lee Barney near Sherman, NY. They have named the place Brushwood Folklore Center with an emphasis on camping and special events.

I rolled down the hill from the east heading in a westerly direction. Up ahead I could see cars parked in a field to the north of the gravel road. A large sign to the south said Brushwood. It corresponded to the directions in my guide and I knew I had arrived.

Turning into the yard the entry drive was lined by parked cars everywhere. The road turned to the left and a sign indicated one should pull off and register within the rustic looking farm building to the right. I looked for the most level spot and pulled off.

Inside I found a couple of tables manned by young people in tie-dyed attire who asked my name to check against their preregistration form. I explained I would not be so found and intended to pay at the door. They indicated that would be fine but I would have to pay one hundred and twenty dollars in cash. My personal check or my credit card would not be accepted. This created a minor problem since I only had on me a hundred in cash.

I asked if they knew if my friend Gavin Frost was about. I was told he was in a meeting at the house a few hundred feet away. Taken to the house I was introduced to a women who came out of the house to deal with whatever the issue was. She was Darlene Barney. I explained I was a friend of the Frosts and needed twenty in cash to make my admission fee. She handed me a twenty dollar bill and said I could pay her back latter. She returned to the meeting and I returned to pay my fee.

During the sign-in process I learned it was expected that I would work for two hours as part of the admittance. I thought that sounded like a good idea since everyone involved would be more involved with the actual operation of the festival. I opted to get my time in early so I wouldn't be obligated later on when I might want to be otherwise committed. I signed up for "general" not wanting to be specific in an area such as first aid where my skills might be less than desired. I noted that the festival had a work admittance component. The pagan low on funds could get in for sixty dollars if he or she would consent to work for a more substantial time.

I rolled down the hill past a couple of rustic buildings that I would learn latter contained gang showers segregated by sexes. Down the hill I noticed a sign that said "you may be skyclad beyond this point." Believe it or not it took me a minute or two to figure out what it meant to be "skyclad." (Substitute nude.)

At the base of the hill the road entered into an open area bounded by woods on the hillsides. I drove past another structure that I would learn contains the swimming pool and the hot tub. I observed rows of various canvas structures bigger than your usual camping tent. These tents were the shelters of the merchants. There were actually a few rows of these transit structures running in a southerly direction away from the central focus of the pool house and a major food concession building. Over the next few days the already sizable number of merchant compounds would continue to expand to the south.

I drove around the perimeter of the general area trying to get the lay of the land and to determine where I wanted to park the truck. Although many people came in and off loaded their tents and took their cars out off site, you could keep you vehicle on site if you lived in it. Since I obviously did I had obtained the prerequisite permit to display in the windshield.

I pulled the truck off the road and got it reasonably level. I noticed some other people camped in tents a few hundred feet away and went over. Introducing myself I asked if I was situated in an appropriate manner. They suggested that I was. I would run into this same couple throughout the event.

In the days to come other tents and vehicles sprang up around my truck. At one point a station wagon slipped in between the next tent and my camper. Initially I wondered if I would be able to open my door to the camper. When I found I could I was relieved but still felt the car was a little closer than it really ought to have been. But since I still could get in and out it made no real difference to me and I went about my business.

The Handfastening (Marriage Ceremony)

During the festival I had the good fortune to be invited to witness and participate in a Handfastening Ceremony. In the non-pagan community the event would be referred to as a marriage ceremony.

About a half dozen individuals went to the campsite of the couple. Arriving there I met Paul who was in the process of building a fire. I was told that he was demonstrating his basic skill as a provider by building a symbolic fire. It was apparent that he had gone to great pains to carefully pile split kindling wood in the traditional tepee format.

He added a burning splint lit with his child proof Bic. The fire started to go but apparently neither he or Dana thought the fire was progressing fast enough. Dana suggested there was a need to blow on the fire. This accelerated the fire for a time but resulted in all the fine kindling being consumed. Further blowing then actually resulted in blowing out the fire.

Paul was obviously a bit apprehensive. His symbolic fire had failed. Fortunately he was able to overcome his anxieties and turned again to the task of the fire stacking fresh kindling and inserting another burning splint. This time without the blowing, the heat generated set off the larger pieces of kindling and the fire progressed in accord with the usual laws of nature.

All the principle participants had arrived and I was introduced to the fifteen to twenty people in attendances. The service was to be led by Rev. Omi Zaleski of the Church of Iron Oak in Florida. The participants formed a circle around the site designated as the spot for the wedding. A tree section served as the alter and contained flowers, a cup of wine and other items associated with the ritual that would unfold in the next few minutes.

Starting with all individuals facing the east, incantations where made to the spirits and the goddess to come and participate in the ceremony. Arms were outstretched and the goddess was welcomed. Next the focus of the circle was directed to the south and a similar request were made to the spirits. Then again the direction was changed to the west and finally again to the north. At each compass point spirits were asked to come and participate in the ceremony. Different spirits are generally associated with the different directions of the compass.

In the course of the ceremony that followed the couple actually had their right hands tied together with a piece of string to symbolize their bonding. Apparently a pagan hand fastening can be for most any length of time. Unlike a typical Christian marriage the marriage has an end. At the end of the time period, in this case five years, the couple can either renew or go their separate ways. Seems like a very realistic approach to things from my perspective.

At the end of the ceremony the gods and goddesses were again invoked. They were encouraged to stay if they wanted or to leave if they had to. And then bid well.

"Stay if you can, leave if you must."

"Hale and farewell."

The Bonfire

For many at Starwood the Bonfire represents the high point of the event. For other it is the beginning. A refocusing of self to face the year ahead.

Hundreds of dancers and spectators milling about a huge bonfire create special concerns of their own. A few years earlier an individual reportedly under the influence of LSD thought he could dance through the fire. He jumped in. A quick response by others saved the individual from all but serious burns on the feet and legs. On another occasion the central core of the fire made of long poles tied at the top by rope started to topple as the ropes burned through. Only action by the camp ground owner and members of his staff saved all from any injury. By moving quickly onto the field they were able to push the dancers back and clear of the path of the falling poles.

Based on these and other experiences the Brushwood management had developed a rather elaborate procedure to insure that the fire comes off as a major event with no incidents. On this particular Starwood the safety preparations begin with rebuilding the fire the morning of the intended bonfire. I had been down the day before and noted with interest that a whole truck load of logs had been brought in for the fire. Men with chain saws set about notching and moving the logs into the shape of a log cabin. I was a bit puzzled to see some of the logs braced from the outside with other logs. Clearly the intent was to keep the logs from rolling out and off of the log framework. But I wondered how this was to work if the bracing logs burned? And they were smaller than the logs they were supposed to brace!

Fortunately one of Frank Barney's friends and assistant visiting with the sole purpose of helping had the same question. After a brief consultation with Frank the log truck returned on mid morning of the day of the fire to assist in rebuilding it. All the logs were taken down and then reerected without the use of bracing logs. Instead a log retaining wall was built around the perimeter of the main core. Logs were laid in toward the center. The bottoms braced against the perimeter logs and the tops leaning against the interior framework. As these logs would burn they would fall toward the center of the fire and work against any log trying to roll outward.

The interior core of the fire was made of slabs of wood in the shape of a giant tee-pee that rose skyward in the interior of the framework. To my untrained eye it appeared that this wood would burn rapidly and the boards would crumble onto themselves and fall into the center of the fire. The slabs were not of the length and size that had resulted in the toppling of the earlier fire.

I visited the prepared bonfire later in the day to see how it was shaping up. By this time a guard was in place. A young woman named Majica challenged any that approached the fire and cautioned against climbing on it or having an open lighter around. Apparently in past years individuals had come up with the idea it might be good for a laugh to have the fire at a time other than when it was scheduled. The ACE people also learn from their experiences and responded accordingly.

Behind the Scenes

Other behind the scenes activities included a run through of the dancers who would lead the procession down the hill and actually light the fire. Magician Ron had been hired specifically to manage the crowd. Among other things he met with the dancers, drummers, and other support people at the base of the log pile that would be the bonfire later in the day.

He suggested that those dancers forming the inner ring which would separate the revelers from the fire tie bits of ribbon on their arms. This combined with hand movements and appropriate chant such as "stay back, stay back" would be the way the dancers could control the crowd.

Evening of the Bonfire

A concert of various groups was scheduled for the evening of the bonfire beginning about 8:00. The groups included Earth Rhythm and Mariana. Fine groups whom I have had the pleasure of seeing perform a number of times including the previous week at Syrius Rising (another workshop put on by the Brushwood Folklore Center).

But having seen the various groups already my interest was in the bonfire. With the concert in the main pavilion the crowds began to form. Easily filling the pavilion which could probably accommodate a couple of hundred without difficulty the number of people exceeded that by many fold. They milled about the pavilion like worker bees just returned to the hive. They were continually joined by others, each new reveler bringing his or her bit of energy to the happening.

I was observing things from the pool house located parallel and slightly higher than the pavilion. To my surprise I found that I had been joined by Darlene Barney who was using a Motorola portable radio to advise the rest of the Brushwood staff, the status of the event.

Time for me was dragging because I was interested in the main event. It was obvious that things were running on Eastern Pagan Time which is to say things were one to two hours behind schedule.

Finally the Magician took the stage and bid farewell to the last scheduled group of singers and dancers. He asked for and received the attention of the crowd. He revved them up and then brought them down. He asked them to kneel to the ground and touch it. A process known as "grounding." The idea being that energy is flowing and needs to have a ground much as electrical energy does.

He asks the group to remember why they came to Starwood. He acknowledges the energy in the air and in this place and time. He suggest that each individual capture a bit of that energy and place it within their hearts and hold it there as they continue to participate in the ceremonial bonfire.

Working with a set of steel ring the magician links and unlinks the seemingly solid stainless steel rings. Ultimately he spins the rings into a hollow sphere. (Visualize four steel rings held at top and bottom and at right angles to one another.)

The magician leads the group into the chant, "We are a circle, within a circle. Without a beginning, and never ending." The crowd picks up the chant and it is said over and over as the magician moves from the platform to the head of the procession. Torches are lit and the drummers start to drum. A rhythm and cadence settles on the crowd and the procession starts to move. It falls in behind an individual in what appears to be a white buffalo headdress. I am uncertain but believe it is the magician. After what seems like a false start the procession cuts back on itself and heads down the path closest to the tree line. (Probably another safety consideration. For this path is wider and free from encroaching tents which could be ignited by a careless torch carrier.)

On a parallel path I encounter Darlene heading down the hill with her radio in hand. I ask if the procession is on the right path. Her response is she doesn't know.

At the base of the hill a corridor of greeters awaits. By this time I have moved over to the corner of the main field containing the fire circle. Parked in the corner is a jeep placed for use if the need arises.

The night is exceptionally cool, in fact cold might be a better characterization. The temperature must be close to fifty. There is a dense mist settling in the low area surrounding the fire circle. The whole lower valley is full of mist and fog. The sky is somewhat obscured by the haze yet I see a shooting star drop to the horizon above the fire pyre.

The procession has entered the corridor and is now moving down and around the fire. The dancers continue to circle the pyre and go through what looks like a very well choreographed routine. In unison the dancer/torch bearers run forward and feign lighting the fire. At the last second they stop and pull back. This is done a number of times. In between the torches are whirled about above their heads.

Finally they move forward and it is not a feign. The torches are inserted into the base perimeter of the wood pile. The flames slowly move from the torches to the kindling. The kindling in turn starts to take off. Flames move skyward travelling up the thin slabs which constitute the central core. It is but a few minutes and the flames are leaping up the central core to the very top. Sparklers and other incendiaries placed within the core start to ignite. Bright flashes of light sparkle and glisten through the night.

The center of the area is clearing as the heat drives the moisture up and away. The fast burning nature of the central core produces a lot of light. Everyone in the immediate area is illuminated by the intense light. It appears to my untrained eye that the fire is burning as intended. The central core is totally engulfed in flames. In a matter of minutes, perhaps ten or twenty, or maybe more the central core starts to fall in on itself. As the fire collapses into itself and it is clear that it is well contained within the log barriers the crowd is permitted to move around the fire.

Literally hundreds of festive pagans start dancing and moving about the fire. The central core is composed of dancers with ribbons on their arms. They form a barrier to the fire. With their arm and hand gesturing combined with the chant "Stay back, Stay back" they effectively keep the dancers a respectful distance from the fire.

The dancers are arrayed in a variety of costumes. Some have shed their clothes entirely and are frolicking barefoot around the fire. Others are wearing colorful costumes or are but scantily clad. The crowd is having fun but seems to be doing so in a relatively constrained and safe manner.

As the fire consolidates and begins to consume the main logs the dancing continues. Revelers that have clearly done this before are taking breaks and visiting water jugs secreted with their friends in the crowd. Some actually are carrying them around as they dance. There is a great deal of energy in the air. Yet the revelers seem to have taken the magicians words to heart and it seems the energy is positively and safely directed.

I enter the perimeter of the spectators and move toward the dancers of the inner circle. The whole group has moved closer to the fire. I circle around stopping and talking briefly with many of the people I have come to know in the last week. Everyone seems to agree that the bonfire has been a success.

I moved back to the jeep and join up with other friends that are working safety. They are monitoring their radios but no problems seem to be surfacing. A para medic wearing a fireman coat moves to our location. He had been circulating close to the fire in the event he was needed. Apparently he was close enough to the fire that his jacket was starting to heat up. He says this indicates that the fire temperature was particularly hot. He needs a drink of water. He is quickly provided with one by one of the others.

A report comes in on the radio that someone has been detained by ACE security with a camera. Reports indicate the women had some thirty rolls of film on her and a professional camera. A black Porche has been blocked in at the parking lot by a suspicious security person. The fellow in the car is asking about the woman. The woman is denying that she knows the individual. ACE will keep the film and process it. They will return what they see fit. Cameras and photography are prohibited at the festival.

It is well after midnight and as much as I am interested in what will transpire around the fire as the night progresses I yield to my body's desire for sleep. I turn in to the sound of the constant drumming. A sound that I truly like. It is hypnotic and helps me fall asleep.

On rising at dawn I walk down to the fire. Individuals are still moving about. Perhaps twenty or so. A drummer or two still remains and still drums.

I am offered mead by one dancer and special Brushwood water by another. I drink the mead and am skeptical of the "special" water. The offerer sensing my skepticism assures me it is straight Brushwood well water and that in itself is its "special" quality. While I am sure her comments are valid I still decline not really needing any water either plain or special at the moment.

I am told that passions run high at the bonfire. As at many pagan festivals the number of women is greater than the number of men. Quite often the provocative dance of the female pagan is for the benefit or enticement of a particular male. I talked with one male who admitted to making love in the grass the night of the fire under the influence of the moment and the inducement of a particular lady. Before it happen he had never thought he would be up to sex under such circumstances. After the fact he found it was much easier and more enjoyable than he could possibly have imaged prior to the event.

Some Observations on Sex and Ritual

Part of what any pagan ritual is about is an altered state of consciousness. Indeed, I suspect that any Christian service is also after an altered state of consciousness as well. Many devices and aids are incorporated into the service or ritual to assist in bringing that state about.

Let me suggest that a shift in the state of consciousness may be nothing more than focusing the mind of the individual on the words of the speaker. If one thinks about it this is a shift in the state of consciousness of the individual. Prior to the moment the mind is processing information from many different sources. When the individual focuses his or her attention on the speaker the number of different sources to which the mind is attuned is greatly reduced. Perhaps for some the speaker will be the sole source.

Music is also used. Again by focusing and being involved in the production of sound and singing the mind becomes focused. Prayer and or meditation is another aid in focusing the energy of the mind.

So when we think of trying to produce a state of altered consciousness it may not be a whole lot different than what we often do on numerous occasions but never give it a second thought.

The energy and altered state of consciousness associated with the sex act has never been lost on any group in human history. Indeed it is such a powerful force that many religious groups make very concerted efforts to control and regulate it for their members and others, particularly those that are not members of their group but whom are subservient for one reason or another.

My friends Gavin and Yvonne Frost often give a workshop on how they incorporate sex into their worship ceremony. It was at a CraftWise workshop in Connecticut that I had an opportunity to more fully participate in one of their programs.

I had attended the workshop earlier in the day entitled "How to Raise Energy in Ritual" The workshop was given by Yvonne and Gavin Frost. They had explained the purpose behind different aspects of the ritual. For example the shape of the circle was slightly ellipsoid to give two focal points within it. Reference was made to seven different directions thus going beyond the four cardinal points to include the sky above and the earth below. Additionally the spirit within the individual was also included.

The Frost teach a form of Wicca derived from teachings they have studied in England and Europe. Sex has always been part of pagan rituals in one form or another. Unlike some contemporary versions of the craft the Frost have recognized and maintained elements of this aspect of the human condition as part of their teachings. In some circles they are respected for this while in others they are disdained for the practice.

Albeit there are some definite modern overtones. For example the main aspects of the sexual component are worked out in advance by the women. The women decide who will pair with whom. Any potential frictions over sex are essentially worked out in advance. No women has to submit to a man if she does not choose to do so. Note: the men have little choice if any. I presume if they do have reservations they will make this known through their female spokesman. Additionally the woman is on top. She is also expected to guide and initiate the actual penetration. The whole idea being to empower the woman and remove any suggestion of sexual assault from the affair.

The midnight hour of the ritual approached. I went to the designated conference room with a woman I had met at an earlier pagan festival. One that I was attracted to and whom I thought was attracted to me. She was married. However, her husband had no interest in the pagan thing and did not attend. Whether he knew the ins and outs of what went on I do not know. I do know that he did what he could to be supportive of his wife's interest. For the earlier event he had paid her airfare of $1,000 plus so that she might attend.

It appeared that there were present some dozen participants; six men and six women. Before the ritual began the women caucused. With pairing decided the ritual began.

We all disrobed and assembled outside the circle. Each entered and embraced each of those that had entered before and then took a position further around the circle to greet and embrace those that would follow.

Some centering. Some incantations. Some singing and dancing and we moved toward the sexual component of the event. During the dancing I had been advised that I would not be paired with the woman I had anticipated. I asked her what happened and she indicated that some other woman indicated she wanted me so she held back not wanting to create any tension in the group.

Dancing with Yvonne I was told about my upcoming liaison that I should "Like it or lump it!" It was clear that from the women's perspective I was to do my male thing and my wants or concern were of no consequence. (Imagine how that could affect the old male ego!) Anyway, things were moving, although not the way I had anticipated!

The time came to pair off. I found myself standing in the circle wondering whom of the remaining five women was to be my partner. To my left a woman approached asking if I was George. To my right another woman approached with outstretched hand clearly looking to me as her soon to be companion. I was somewhat puzzled. Clearly I was being approached by two woman. Before I could ponder the full implications of this situation another woman known to me stepped forward to the woman to my left and said, "No honey, you are paired with Dennis... there!" I think the woman was gently pointed toward Dennis who was also off to my left. By now I was being lead out of the circle by the woman that had apparently got first choice.

She took me aside and said, "There is a sexual component to the ritual which happens now."

I responded, "Yes, I know. I'm up for that. Or rather I will be up for that when the time comes. Your place or mine?"

"It doesn't make any difference."

"Do you have condoms?" I asked. She said no and I suggested we go to my room since I had some available. We had all agreed to be back in about twenty minutes. We dressed and went off to my room in the hotel to carry out the initiation and build energy.

Returning at the appropriate time we returned to the circle to continue the ritual. We sat in a circle and Gavin lead us through a meditation. We were instructed to create in our mind our own safe place. A place where we could go and be totally secure. Once there we could move into the white light that filled the space seeking our guardian spirit. For many the guardian is in the form of an animal. For some a large black cat. For myself that evening I was remembering the magnificence of a wild turkey I had seen on the shoulder of the road somewhere in New York State. The sun was low on the horizon and beams of light cut through openings in the trees behind me. Some portions of the landscape were brightly lit while others were in deep shadow. This magnificent turkey was standing in a lit portion of the roadside. He took on an iridescent quality as the light glistened on his dark black feathers and off the flecks of color within. It was a stunning sight.

 The Mostly True Life Adventures of Dr. Leisure VOL II  by George R. Harker, Ph.D.

The Pagan Book of Halloween  by Gerina Dunwich makes for a good read particularly around Halloween

 To read Chapter 57 Naked Volleyball, click the chapter title.

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