Me and Cerri have been hosting the Anderida camps in Sussex since September 2003. They are small magical weekend camps, limited to 60/70 people, that have a theme that we all explore during the weekend. The size of the camps means that we can all go very deeply into the theme, and in the past we have worked with the Lore of Faerie, the story of Ceridwen, two wickermen, a Dragon camp where we all walked on fire, and many more. The camps are now so popular that they sell out in less than 24 hours.
For the last two years we have also been hosting the Anderida Gorsedd conference at Southwick Community Centre, but this year we thought we’d try something different – AnderidaFest. We hired our usual camping field, and thought we’d have a go at a larger camp that still attempted to hold the same energy as our smaller events. Of course, the mere fact of having more people, and Saturday day visitors, would change things, but we thought we’d have a go. Our other camps are self-catering, but with day visitors we needed a cafe on site, so we hired Paul of the Chai cafe with his more than suitable ‘yurt’ cooking space, and massive tipi lodge. More toilets were needed, and a ritual that could hold the attention of up to 150 people. I have to say that AnderidaFest was the most stressful event me and Cerri have hosted, but the end result was absolutely worth it.
We were due to set up on Thursday, for people to start arriving on Friday around 1pm. But Thursday was a stormy day with very gusting, high winds. The weather report said that Thursday night woul be really bad with gusts of up to 70mph, but sitting around the small campfire with the people who had volunteered to help with set up, a beautiful clear sky at around 10pm, we did wonder if we should have ignored the weather reports and put up the structures anyway. But we were glad we didn’t. At around 1am the storm hit. It felt like the caravan was being driven along the ground by the sheer force of the gusts, and my thoughts were with the others who were in their tents! We all made it through, but there is no doubt that, if we had have put up the marquees, they would have been seen flying through the air above Brighton that night.
The Friday was still very windy and it was a challenge to get the structures up, but with the help of many on site, we managed to get two large marquess, and two smaller ‘temples’ put up. Over the course of the day people began to arrive and gradually the wind eased off. The opening ritual was followed by an evening of music with me and Paul Newman, Sol Carroll, Bardacious T, Paul Mitchell and Kate and Corwen. Then it was back outside to continue the music, storytelling and poetry around the fire. But me and Cerri were exhausted, so had an early night. As I lay there I could hear the songs and voices from the fireside, all singing, and laughing together, and I smiled to myself, because here, in this amazingly creative group of people, I was expendable! That felt good.
The morning arrived and started with the Dance of Life. A Native American chant/dance brought here by Ivan MacBeth, and a sound that always makes me happy. So gentle, it sets the day up, even if you don’t take part. Then after that gentle start to the day, the Pentacle Drummers arrived, walking around the camp playing tribal rhythms, letting people know that the day had begun. They ended their parade back at the central fire, bringing with them hoards of campers, like tatter-wearing, tribal drumming, Pied Pipers. We were ready for the day!
We put out a call to gather everyone in the marquee to work through the rhythm of the day. The ritual really stated now, as everyone from camp tried to squeeze into the marquees. We shared some Awens and asked that the Spirits of Place would bless our day. After the gathering we were all treated to a workshop/presentation by Barry Patterson on aspects of our Green Man. He was talking for nearly 2 hours but it literally flew past, and by the end everyone had developed a closer relationship with that Face in the Trees.
Dinner was served up to the sound and vision of the Mythago Morris who entertained us with their story of Herne the Hunter. They are really an exceptional Morris side who combine storytelling, dance, and music. Awesome.
After lunch it was back in the Marquee for another workshop/presentation, this time from Cerri and a team of other women who would take us on a journey through aspects of the Goddess. Now our friend Roland Rotherham calls the speaker spot just after lunch the ‘Graveyard Shift’. Where everyone has just eaten and if we were lions we’d be sleeping under a tree in the sunshine. So with hindsight we probably should have put Barry on in the afternoon to wake people up again, with Cerri and the girls on in the morning, as theirs was a far gentler experience. Cerri spoke of the historical and mythical aspects of the Goddess, then the Goddesses spoke with the voices of other women around the marquee. We chanted their names and invited them into our space. It was poetic, beautiful, gentle, sometimes harsh, sometimes deeply sad, as were heard their stories. The two talks, each one offering energies from the Green Man and the Goddess, were brilliant, and really set the scene for the evening’s ritual.
We were due to go into a sacred poetry workshop but time was against us. So we moved that to the opening of the evening’s ritual, which worked out to be perfect. So we ended the day with more from the Pentacle Drummers and people had an hour or so to chill and prepare. Then at around 7pm we gathered by the two temples and split into two groups. The women sat by the Goddess temple, and the men sat by the one dedicated to the Green Man. There we worked through a poetry writing process that has never failed, by the end of which everyone would have written a poem without even realising they had, and there would also be three or four poems that had been created through the ‘group mind’. The men wrote of the Goddess, and the women wrote of the Green Man. We would hear the poems as offerings during the ritual.
I then taught the men a Green Man chant, and also an Earth Healing chant we had learned during our trip to the USA. At the same time Kate Fletcher taught the women a Goddess chant and the same Earth Healing chant. I had written the Goddess and Green Man chants to ‘weave’ with one another, but didn’t know if it would work for the whole ritual. In the USA we had also been given a candle that had been lit from the Flame of Brigit in Kildare, and also relit by the Dalai Lama. From this candle we had lit two pillar candles, one in each temple, and while we were weaving our chants each person took a nightlight and lit their own candle that they could keep. Then the women walked moonwise around the field as the men walked sunwise, still chanting. When we all met up again outside the circle I was amazed (and pleased!) that the chants were still in time, and were still weaving their web. We formed a circle and the chanting stopped as four women stepped forward and spoke the poems they had written as groups. They were beautiful. Then three men stepped forward and offered our words to the Goddess.
So we had honoured both. But what of the physical Green Men and Goddesses in the field? The men stepped forward and formed a smaller inner circle, facing outward. The women then stepped forward and formed a circle around us, facing us, facing each other. The men then began to circle clockwise and the women circled anticlockwise. We looked into each others’ eyes as we passed by, and spoke the words we felt. Yes, it was fluffy, but it was also wonderfully life affirming. We must have circled about 5 times before we stopped, many laughing. Then we turned both circles out into the night. We looked outward, thought of the Earth, our Mother. Thought of the oil leak off the Gulf, thought of the pain She is suffering at our hands. And we began the chant:
Oh Mother, hear our calling, your Children we send healing.
Over and over again. There were tears, there was a wave of emotion that spread around the circles and out into the world. We reached down and touched the Earth, made our commitments to walk a little more gently upon her back.
And then we let it go, out, with a resounding HENGWAH!
On Sunday the Goblin market really showed how, over the course of a day, we had come together as a tribe, as a community. But we keep our camps to just a weekend, so soon that community was returning to the outside world. But that feeling will always be there inside, and will be there again in September, when we explore Shamanism, and the Bull’s Hide Trance.