“Barbara, it’s true! Clothes really do make the man!”Damiana Blume, author and poet
When was the last time you did something that took you out of your comfort zone? It was the twilight of my military career. My sister Carol (AKA Damiana Blume), plucked me out of my suburban slumber to attend a Free Spirit Gathering. It took some convincing, but the time was right. The military had finally started recognizing pagan religions and I was totally on board.
We headed out to a remote northern Maryland campground in the sweltering summer heat. We checked in and found our accommodations to be modest and earthy. It was first come first serve, and we scored an open bay dwelling with a scant shower and bathroom to be shared with hundreds of fellow attendees.
The place was loaded with tarantula-sized spiders. Oddly, my sister and I seemed to be the only ones who had issues with these feisty arachnids; so much so, we actually slept in her car on the first night! Truth is, they kept the insect population down, so I guess they served a valuable purpose. And we were lucky, because we had cots to sleep on and a roof over our heads. Everyone else had to rough it in pup tents or sleep under the open sky, with the hordes of hungry mosquitos.
Community Service Job
Shortly after arriving, we signed in for our community service obligation, a requirement for every attendee. We opted for the check-in/registration desk. Working a desk job was more appealing than cleaning the latrines! I was a little nervous, because I had never attended a pagan gathering of this magnitude and I did not know what to expect. Working the registration desk was a great idea, because we got to meet everyone who entered the festival.
There were attendees from all walks of life, young and old. All religions and philosophies were welcomed. Everyone was pleasant and respectful. Some people arrived dressed for a costume party. Others were hippies. We even checked in a cheerful leprechaun! He proved to be quite entertaining in the days ahead.
We noted that many of the registrants drove fancy cars and were impeccably dressed. They represented a vast array of educated professionals, such as doctors, lawyers and business owners; complete with leather briefcases and elaborate business cards.
We checked them in with a wink and a smirk. Then we watched them head to their grubby accommodations, thinking they might feel a little out of place.
But to our surprise, a majority of these same people started reappearing – sky-clad! Just to be clear, they were completely naked and perfectly comfortable with their nudity. Obviously, this was not their first gathering! I knew going in to this event that clothing was optional. But I was not quite prepared to witness the tsunami of “au naturel” enthusiasts so soon!
Dressed for Success
One particularly handsome gentleman entered the festival in a high end business suit. He exuded wealth, class, charisma and charm. However, twenty minutes later he was demoted to a mere human like the rest of us. He emerged from his tent in his birthday suit, sporting a beer gut, man boobs, excessive body hair and multiple skin issues.
My sister, never missing a beat, tapped me on the shoulder and whispered in my ear “Barbara, it’s true. Clothes really do make the man!”
I laughed so hard that I threw snot bubbles from my nostrils! It was a good ice-breaker; and from that moment on, I knew I would be ok with all the nudity that was to come for the next few days.
Shortly after registering, everyone transformed into, gulp – free spirits! One man had tattoos covering what I believe was every inch of his body! Some people had painted-on clothing; others were sprayed with bronze glitter.
It was the ultimate come as you are party! The pagan gatherers were dancing, chanting, chatting, drumming, and basically celebrating peace and joy while they set up their camps.
Body parts were hanging out, sagging and flapping in the summer breeze. I suddenly felt over-dressed for the occasion. For a few awkward hours, we gawked and giggled to ourselves, until we got used to it.
A Jolly Good Time
There were many pagan workshops and classes to choose from. I performed ritual drumming, identified my spirit animal and learned about barbarian war-fighting techniques.
There was a huge vendor area and of course I did my share of buying as many arts and crafts as I could carry out.
It was fun to walk from camp to camp. Robust aromas of pachouli and campfire food swirled through the air. There were whispers, laughter and story-telling. Strangers quickly became kindred spirits over glasses of wine or cups of coffee.
Every night, just before sundown, there was a huge drum circle. A fire master, who kept the fire stoked with wood, proudly donned nothing but horns and a tail! People danced naked around the fire for hours, sometimes until dawn. I found my life-long passion for djembe drumming, and even purchased the drum I still use today.
We met so many interesting people! We also got a glimpse of how a large group of people with differing religious beliefs and lifestyle choices can still respect each other and coexist in peace and harmony. This is something that mainstream Americans are still trying to achieve.
I had the best time ever! If I had the chance, I would do it all again. I know a pagan retreat is not for everyone; but I do encourage you to step out of your circle of comfort every now and then.
In case you are wondering, the only time I was fully undressed is when I was in the shower! Oh wait, there was that time in the swimming pool…
Thanks for stopping by! – Barb, the River Blogger (Btrb)