The summer solstice only recently became a focal point of my Pagan-ness. During college I was closeted at home, so I really could only openly celebrate the Sabbats that fell during the school year. While I still haven’t celebrated a true Yule, the summer of 2012 was the first time I really celebrated the summer solstice. It was at Pagan Spirit Gathering, and without trying to sound too dramatic, it changed my life.
I was drowning in a desperate post-graduation customer service job, feeling financial and social burdens, and living in a stressful situation. My SO and I decided to go to PSG last minute; we got our registration in about three weeks before the event and it was nearly a miracle that I was able to take the full week off work during the busiest season of the year. We had to get all of our camping gear new and last-minute, and we didn’t know anyone who would be there. We almost called it off a few times. I’m Pagan, but I’d never been to a festival, let alone a gathering that lasted more than the afternoon; my SO considers himself a friendly atheist. I tried to give him a more thorough Pagan 101 and helped him interpret what he was reading on the Circle Sanctuary website in order to acclimate him, but I barely knew what to expect myself.
When we got there we rang the bell and had the experience that keeps people coming back: we were home. Never had I been so enthusiastically and honestly welcomed by complete strangers. Smiles, hugs and friendly greetings of “Welcome Home!” abounded. I remember the happy shock of seeing men and women in various states of dress or undress simply walking around, greeting one another and setting up camp while children wandered in small packs. I hadn’t been sure even as we drove through the gates, but we were indeed home, and we had found our tribe.
I was inspired and empowered by my experiences. That week we made old friends, learned about others and ourselves, and I saw a living breathing example of what I was beginning to doubt existed: a true community of diverse Pagans living out their values together. I felt no judgement, no pressure, no tension, only unconditional acceptance and support. In that open and honest environment, I was able to clearly see the discord in my life between what I wanted and what I was doing. I saw real breathing examples of the kinds of awesome people I wanted to be like as I grew older. During that week in my detoxified state, I promised myself that I’d live according to my values and without apology, and that I would quit my terrible job and do something that my spirit agreed with.
The next year, summer of 2013, I went to camp looking forward to seeing old and new friends, to participating more intensely in the experiences presented to me, and becoming inspired anew. But I also went with my tail tucked between my legs a little since I’d yet to quit my terrible-no-go-very-bad-soul-eating job. That week was considerably more introspective than my first experience, and I’d wondered if camp had lost it’s magic for me, if I’d been lost to mundania for good.
There was a single important experience my first go-round, and two the year after. The first was the Women’s Ritual. I’d never participated in such potent feminine magic before, and I hadn’t so tightly aligned with the Mother before that rite. I won’t go into details, but the sisterhood, the power and the duty I felt left many including myself in cathartic tears during and afterwards. The following year was the Labyrinth. This was not my first time through the beautiful candlelit all-night labyrinth, but this time I entered with a confused and heavy heart. No, that’s a lie– I entered in my normal state, and as I slowly continued through the path I realized how confused and heavy my heart was. At the center hearth I sat and cried and closed my eyes. I prayed rare petitionary prayers for guidance and strength and found a friend and a hug immediately after as my answer. Finally I participated in the sweat that invoked the Wolf and as such I still consider this to be Her first direct calling to me. I saw the immense strength and spirit in myself and my Sisters that night, and nearly a year later I’m still processing my experience. It was as if all the emptiness I’d felt during the labyrinth was filled by the Wolf that night.
This isn’t just a fond remembrance however. This year we aren’t able to go to PSG because my fellowship training starts the same week. I don’t feel this is a coincidence. I made a promise to myself at PSG 2012 that I finally fulfilled about a month after PSG 2013. I came back from camp with a no-nonsense, zero-tolerance, bullshit-free attitude and literally stopped showing up to my crap job. I worked my ass off and was accepted to this amazing program that directly leads into a career of service where I’ll be doing what I’m good at to help others. The Wolf came to me this past year, I listened, I did the work and now I’m starting anew.
The solstice is a time of fulfillment, of joy, of celebration, of the first round of growth after a lot of hard work. This winter was a dark one for me, and things are so damn sunny right now. I’m heartbroken that I won’t be able to celebrate with my tribe this year, and it’s likely that my solstice celebration this year will be little more than a small private rite when I find the time. But my whole life is going through a summer solstice right now and I can honestly say it wouldn’t be happening without PSG, without my tribe. Registration for PSG closes in minutes, and camp starts in 10 days, and still I try to remind myself that it’s just not possible this year. My solstice will be lacking bug spray and chanting, morning meetings and dancing, but after a long day of training I’ll wrap a sarong around my waist, make drumming my alarm tone for the next morning and feel the good vibes emanating from the middle of nowhere, Illinois.