Back in the 1980s, in my young twenties and newly emancipated from my restrictive Protestant upbringing in the Deep South, I groped for an expression of faith that could accommodate my pesky square-peggedness and discovered the writings of Scott Cunningham. I remember thinking, “THIS! Yes, this!” His work became my gateway to the writings of Z Budapest, Margot Adler, Brooke Medicine Eagle, DJ Conway, Patricia Monaghan and countless others over the decades.
Empathic and introverted (INFJs Unite . . . preferably via text!), I grew into my Craft as a happy Solitary, never really giving witness to my beliefs save in the privacy of my own home or between the pages of a book. Yet I am finding, as my Crone years approach, that I crave connection with a (my?) larger community. Thus September 10, 2017, found me at Mills Park in Oak Park IL for Chicago Pagan Pride Day, the proverbial Stranger in a Strange Land.
From the Chicago Pagan Pride website: “Our Pagan Pride event history began in September, 2002, on the south side of Chicago, Illinois. At that time, the Sanctuary of the Crescent Moon, a Dianic Wiccan Temple, saw the need to promote the ideals of Pagan fellowship. Since then, Chicago Pagan Pride has evolved and represents all Pagan paths, faiths, and traditions. We’ve collected food goods for Chicago-area food banks, raised hundreds of dollars for the TLC Animal Shelter in Homer Glen, Illinois, supported charity fund drives for the Katrina and Tsunami victims and battered women’s shelters, as well as collected religious items and books for Wiccan, Pagan, and Heathen soldiers overseas.”
So, what was it like for this new Crone on the block?
I spent a few minutes simply standing just inside the gates of the Park, allowing myself to adjust to the energies of the people streaming around me. To the right I could see the rippling jewel-toned gauze skirts of women dancing to an enticing drumbeat; to the left a pathway beckoned me to follow its curve and delight in the unseen surprises awaiting me. Before me lay the historic Pleasant Home, completed in 1897, thronged with people bringing donations the Lakeview Food Pantry and looking over the Raffle items, which this year benefited victims of hurricane Harvey.
I added my donation to the steadily growing piles of food—450 pounds of it I later discovered!—and wandered to the grassy area where the Opening Ritual was to be hosted by Ones of Fire, a Chicago-based Coven. As we gathered in Circle, I noticed one person—whose mobility was difficult—seated along the perimeter. More people assembled and the Circle had to be expanded for all to be accommodated, leaving the seated person alone, just to the inside of the Circle. The Ritual Circle began to form as one person reached a hand to the person on the left, saying “Hand to hand, the Circle is cast”, the action and Invocation moving steadily along the perimeter person by person.
I felt some mild anxiety beginning to rise as the Invocation swept closer to the seated person. Would the person have to stand—a labored process—and move back to the line of people? Would the clasping of hands, the sharing of energy, simply pass this person by? Neither. Hand to hand the Circle was cast—to EVERY hand. One edge of the Circle moved in to meet her outstretched right hand, another edge moved in to clasp her offered left hand, seamlessly, without prompting. “This,” I thought, “is what True Community looks like. This is what acceptance of one another feels like.”
While not a particular interest of mine, I went with my personal theme of expanding my Self and attended a workshop given by Cindi Muntz of RIP Midwest. A full-sensory Medium since birth, she and her Team work with the paranormal in a variety of settings. I appreciated the genuine rapport she had with her audience, and her down-to-earth presentation style. As I listened to her accessible and straightforward presentation, I felt a thrill of kinship as she described the moment she realized that no one else was seeing what she was seeing. I left feeling I had attended a multi-dimensional Master Class.
I also attended the Quick and Dirty Tarot workshop given by Pagan writer and poet Tinnekke Bebout. I do a Tarot reading as my daily meditation practice, so I was eager to hear what she had to say. Held outside, she still was able to create a sense of intimacy with the people who had gathered with her under at the base of a shady tree. After introducing us to a few of the spreads she uses, her presentation quickly became interactive as she invited people not only to have a quick Reading done but to also share their own experiences in reading Tarot. I found her willingness to invite shared knowledge to be very affirming. Her responses to the questions and observations of the audience never diminished the speakers; rather, she treated us all as respected peers in the Craft.
I spent a good amount of time wandering through the extensive vendor stalls—so much to see, to smell, to hear! From gorgeous besoms to exotic incenses, from altar items to more crystals than you could shake a staff at—the vendor booths spilled over with riches and treasures. I particularly enjoyed seeing—and hearing—the wares in the booth presented by Custom Tank Drum. And lest you think that you need deep pockets to bring something home from the Faire—I’m happy to tell you that several items throughout the marketplace are very affordable. There’s no reason not to be able to come home with a li’l sumpin’-sumpin’ from Greater Chicagoland Pagan Pride Day!
So, will I return in 2018? You betcha. There was an over-arching Good Vibe throughout the afternoon, across events, and shared by folks in attendance. On a more mundane note, the Port-a-Potties were very clean (an hourly maintenance sign-off sheet was displayed—and completed!—in each unit), and the entire operation, a massive endeavor comprising dozens and dozens of moving parts, seemed to run smoothly and efficiently. And who knows? Maybe someday I’ll offer to give a workshop on Ritual-making. In the meantime, I offer my thanks to the organizers of this annual event. You welcomed this shy Solitary and made her feel right at home among “her People.”