PSG 2015: The Year of Community

The Green, lovingly renamed Labyrinth Loch ~ © 2015 photo by Chris Eldridge

The Green, lovingly renamed Labyrinth Loch
~ © 2015 photo by Chris Eldridge

Pagan Spirit Gathering 2015

I don’t really even know where to start telling you about Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG) 2015.  We had such high hopes for a beautiful week, filled with love, friendship, and community.  The theme, after all, was “Celebrating Community”.  What we didn’t know was how true that theme was going to become.

Three Rivers Pagans had a contingency of six, three that were 1 year veterans, and three virgins.  The veterans had told the virgins what to expect, what might happen, and what they would see that was vastly different than our conservative town has to offer.  For some, it could be quite the culture shock.  There’s no judgement at PSG, from how you want to dress to how you practice your faith.  There’s no “you’re doing it wrong”.  People actually ask how you are doing and they mean it.  They also pitch in to help when something happens.  That was totally evident when disaster struck at Stonehouse Farm, the venue for PSG.

Disaster Strikes

Rains had plagued the area leading up to the week of PSG, June 14-21, 2015.  The ground was wet, mud was plentiful, but everyone was in high spirits.  We set up our camps on Sunday in the rain, but a little rain doesn’t dissuade us from much.  Monday brought more downpours and a lot of mud.  As a Tribe, we became mud people, trudging everywhere through it, our feet covered to our ankles.  Shortly after 5 pm on Monday, the word came through: we were going to flood and we had to move quickly.  Guardians, people that take on the responsibility for keeping everyone safe during the festival, were assembled, along with anyone that could help.  Cars and tents were in the floodplain and it wasn’t going to be long before they were underwater.  A dam upstream was going to be opened to let water out of Shabbona Lake and we were in the path of that water.  It was time to move.

Teams fanned out, calling out to people to move their cars if they were in the lower parking lot.  Some of them were stuck, but people volunteered to push, pull, and drag them out of the mud and rising waters.  People stood at the top of the hill, urging drivers to slow down and reassuring them that they were on high ground, safe, and that nothing would hurt them.  Hours later, a mere 8 cars were left, their owners unknown.  Many of them were totalled, having taken on water and mud when the waters rose.
People who were camped on the lower end of the campground around the pond and Grandmother Willow were helped to high ground.  Many had to leave their belongings behind, watching as the water rose and engulfed everything they brought with them, leaving a sludge of mud coating most everything.  I helped direct traffic for a while, holding up safety tape to allow management vehicles to pass.  I watched as people lugged up their tents and whatever they could carry, a look of shock on all of their faces.  The displaced found lodging in other camps where they were welcomed with open arms.  New friends were made, families were forged through the trial of water.

On High Ground

At the TRP camp, we were floored early on when we were told that although we were on very high ground, some 10 feet or more above the floodplains, we were being evacuated.  We were on the edge of the flood zone and we needed to get to safety.  Fifteen minutes.  We had a mere fifteen minutes to grab what we could and find our way to higher ground.  It was hard, I’m not going to lie.  I set our virgins on a path that I knew would take them away from the flooding, but I stayed behind.  Two members of our camp had gone to move cars and I didn’t know where they were.  When one of them returned, we ran, praying to the Goddess that the last missing member was safe with guardians.  When she met up with us later, she had been helping push out cars from the mud, but she was safe.  The hardest thing I’ve ever done was take three people who did not know the terrain and send them to safety, not knowing where they were when I made the trek myself.

Monday night we were able to return to camp.  We were very waterlogged, muddy, and a mess, but everything was ok.  We were alive, together, and could support each other.

Festival Ends Early

Tuesday morning, our traditional morning meeting was mandatory.  It was announced that we all had to leave.  PSG 2015 was over.  It was time to go home.  Days early.  I looked around as the realization hit everyone.  In its 35th year, PSG was going to end early for the first time.  The land could not support us in its waterlogged state.  The shower house was overrun with water as was the septic system.  It was no longer safe for us to stay.  I spent the day organizing camp slowly, not aware of my own feelings yet.  I was shell shocked.  TRP members spread out through the camps, helping others less fortunate than we were, getting them packed up and out of the venue safely.  I’ve never been prouder of a group of people.

One Final Hurrah

Tuesday night, we grieved.  We partied.  We drank.  And we listened to some of the best music ever played.  Bardapalooza happened in the pavilion and it was glorious.  SJ Tucker, Celia Ferran, Mama Gina, Spiral Rhythm, and a host of others all lent voices and talent to keep us entertained and brighten our spirits.  We were blessed to hear a beautiful story from Janet Farrar.  Firespinners went all out on the only night they were going to get to spin.  And of course, there was drumming and dancing around the Sacred Fire.

Wednesday brought our leave.  We were helped by wonderful people to get our gear down to the parking lot, far from where we camped.  We loaded up and headed to showers at a truck stop.  They were glorious.  We hadn’t showered since Sunday, and it was much needed.

Decompressing

Now that we are home, we are working on healing the deep cuts to our psyche from seeing such devastation.  No matter how much you helped out, it never seemed enough.  No matter how many people you fed or pulled out of the floodzone, there were still more.  But as a community, we came together.  We got things done faster and more efficiently than any government agency could ever think to do.  Together, we celebrated community in the best way possible: by becoming that which we celebrated.

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