Controversies at The NW Spiritual Anarchist Beltane 2004
A lesson in the value of honesty
by David Rich 2004/05

A Little Background:
For those of you who are not familiar with this non-publicized Beltane gathering; for the last 14 years or so there has been a group of rebellious Pagans (there's an oxy-moron for you) who split off, because they were so sick of the politics and regulated constraints of the more publicized and publicly open Beltane group celebrations that required registration and fees.  This small group of the founding members had read an article titled 'Spiritual Anarchy', and wanted to bring a more pure and less structured Mayday celebration to other similarly disgruntled Pagans.  This gathering has grown and divided over the years without any formal marketing or censure of less desirables who would desire to come (like with the Southern Beltane Celebration).  You had to pretty much know someone (all remaining nameless here) who has been there, and could share some reliable info, like dates and discernable directions to that Washington State Klickitat River campground - Stinson Flats.  The main reason they keep this quite is so the camp ground does not get overwhelmed with campers. There is only one outhouse that seems to always have a sizable line to it already.  It is wise to bring your own portable pop-up outhouse.
The main focus is still on dancing the Maypole and the selection from the volunteers in a spiritually charged lottery for that next year's May-Queen (female or male) and the Consort to be the May-King she chooses.  The Maypole is later cut up in short sections for all those who want to take a piece home to burn it in their Yule fire, or just save as a keep-sake if they want.  Any debauchery is simply each individual's discretion to find and participate in, but not a group focus, as some may think.  We were surprised to find these Pagans as conservative as they seem to be, for a group of Spiritual Anarchists. <LOL>
As First timers:
We first found out about this event only 5 years ago, but could not attend that year because of a death in the family.  The first year we attended this celebration we brought our new Samhain baby.  Soon after arriving, we both got a feeling about who would be selected as the next May-King, for some odd reason.  That feeling turned out to be correct.  It happened again the very next year as well, and I even approach him about it as we were carving on the Maypole, well before the selection.  These Pagans, their SO(s), and the children do pretty well to get along each year without a more formal leadership, but the primary controversy some years is the Maypole selection; 'live tree -V- dead tree' issue.  As you can imagine, many Pagans are avid tree lovers, and some have even invested a lot in forest preservation efforts.  Where other Pagans feel strongly about wanting to bring vibrant life into this community for the coming year, instead of death.  It is largely left to the current May-Queen's discretion, just as long as she chooses to use a dead tree that is.  It can be a rather heated issue, and has seriously divided this group over the years.  So much to the detriment of alienating a good chunk of these tree lovers.  So much so that many of them are not likely going to return in the future, and some had even put together separate gathering near Eugene in Oregon.

The current May-Queen that first year felt it was important to use a living tree for that year's Maypole.  The night before the men were to go out to select the tree, I happened to be walking around visiting with some of the other camps.  I happen across a former May-King, who is also a respected Pagan Spiritual Teacher in Salem Oregon.  We chatted a while, sitting there in front of their campfire.  During our conversation, he told me how he was strongly against the May-Queen's choice.  He also told me how he plans to boycott the tree selection all together.  I implored him to not hurt this community in this way.  They look up to him as an elder and a former May-King.  I suggested that he would do better to go out there with the men and initiate a peaceful discussion on this issue, sharing his point of view.  Then he should release his hold on that issue and support their decision of the best tree for the Maypole for that year.  At least he would have done what he could, in an influential and appropriate manner.

Even though I am one to defer to the wisdom of the May-Queen, and felt she had a good point with regard to her choice, I was trying to be unbiased with my advice to him.  Heck, being a construction contractor, who am I to be so sensitive to the lives of trees?  We do not build houses with old dead and rotten trees.  Where does one draw the line on 'harm none'?  Do we stop walking on the earth for fear of harming a living creature?  Let alone to submit to automotive transportation, which as we know kills many and pollutes the air.  Others had reminded us how most of us City dwellers have become disconnected to the reality of life and death, in our plastic processed world we live in.  We pay farmers and ranchers to do our dirty work for us, becoming immune to the brutal and ugly process it takes to bring us our nice clean Wendy's burgers, shakes, and even salads.

Personally I would like to see the BLM not allow so much clear cutting.  It seems smarter to just thin out areas and offer logging companies more land to log.  Maybe only a third of some forest areas should be allowed to be thinned out.  Recently, when we drove out to Sisters Oregon a week after this last Beltane for the Worldwide Medicine Wheel event, we saw a lot of burned forest area.  We stopped at a viewpoint and happened to read a Forestry plaque that said how the fire fighting efforts over the last century have done more harm to the forest's natural ecosystem than good.  Just think of all the millions of dollars and human lives we could have saved in that time, where human settlements were not at risk.
That discussion about what tree to get for the Maypole went very well.  There was passion, but it never seemed to get overly heated.

I felt one of the most important things that happened that year was not necessarily the issue discussed, but the fact that an important issue was openly being discussed amongst the community at hand. These Pagans regularly get together to party, but it is pretty rare when they initiate an open forum for discussion about such important topics.  It is far easier and peaceful to pretend to embrace our diversity, whatever that might be, through ignorance.
Discussions at Other Gatherings:
Besides helping out with transportation of supplies and the set-up for the Pagan festival called Sunfest, I was inspired from that Beltane discussion to volunteer to head-up the organization of discussion panels around the campground for that summer's up-coming event.  We had set-up several dozen topics to be discussed separately at the 4 areas for an hour each with no-obligation to attend during those 3 days.  We felt that was a good start to find out who at the festival even has a similar passion for these topics as you may have.  And also have a chance to exchange contact info and go into it further some time later.

This Year's Beltane:
The camp was the most green and lush we had seen it, because they had a healthy amount of rain this year.  The insect population was also much greater than before.  I got my first tick in the side of my neck the first day there.  I did not see any snakes myself, but we heard there were a number of them.  The Spiritual Anarchist Beltane this year suffered even more controversy than before.  The current May-Queen was adamant about using a live tree this year for the Maypole.  She had discussed it with her Consort and he agreed.  His wife even asked him to not bring it up to the men for debate.  Earlier, he had searched out and selected several trees that were not thriving, as they were crowded in the forest and struggling for sunlight.  When we went out to get the Maypole, he stopped us saying he would follow tradition and discuss the taking of a live tree for the Maypole.
There was one older gentleman strongly in opposition, (who happens to be the SO of a different respected Pagan spiritual teacher).  But he did not just share his opinion with the group.  Even though he clearly was not representing the majority of the men there, he would not concede his position and stood his ground firm; arguing his point ad nauseam.  He was relentless in verbally beating down the May-King until he buckled under the pressure.  I do not mean to be harsh about him here, but there is no good way to sugar coat it.  I do not feel there is any problem offering one's 2 cents, or even a dimes worth.  But to force your $2.39 worth is a bit much, to everyone else's 2 cents worth.
As I was calling out for a final vote; the axe swept down, chopping at the cracked base of a dead fallen tree.  I was resigned to submit to the questionable decision of that group and attempted to meditate and make my peace with that tree's stump.  I overheard the men talking about scrapping off the mold near the bottom to remove the evidence, and looked over to see them scrapping it off.  Then one man spoke out saying: 'well, if it's like how I treat my wife, she doesn't need to know everything'.  I was outraged!  I did my best to keep my cool, and confronted him, saying, 'I do NOT agree'.  Another near by spoke out saying, 'Omissions not a lie'.  Again, I looked him in the face saying; 'I do not agree'.  The older gentleman spoke up saying, 'We will tell them it was a community decision'.  I made it clear I would not stand for any lies.  We would not want to be treated this way.  Regardless of how we are treated by our women, if we do not want to live in a world of lies, we cannot contribute to this.

At least if they claim it was a community decision to deliver a dead tree, since the men are not the whole community by any stretch, there is some room for discussion, and the women would know the truth of the tree.
These men stripped off all the bark and did some carving on it.  We delivered it to the area where it is to be erected.  The women were waiting there for us, as they are in charge of digging and consecrating the hole (symbolic relevance).  The women then enthusiastically danced over that Maypole as if it were a most sacred phallus.
Afterwards, Tia was telling me about how she had not seen the women of this community band together in such positive manner as they had this year.  There were about three times as many women participating in this years rituals.  She also mentioned about the May-Queen's discussion with the women about this issue of the live tree, and how they united in saying they would not accept a dead tree if that was what the men delivered.  I asked why they accepted it then.  I find out that when the May-Queen asked her May-King a direct question about this tree; if there were at least green leaves on some branches, her May-King told her it did.  But I had to tell her how there could not be any question in the mind's of the men there that this tree was long since dead.  It was a bold face lie.  Tia could see something was wrong when they asked, as a former May-King Ezera seemed very uncomfortable.  She then could see how he was itching to tell the truth, but felt compelled to keep with her May-King's statement.
You can just imagine how distraught Tia was at this news.  She talked to one of the women there she had known the longest and felt she could safely confide in.  They were in a quandary about what to do about this issue, but they certainly did not want to plant this lie in their hole and dance this Maypole of deceit.  More importantly, she was planning to volunteer for the lottery for next year's May-Queen, but this was not what she was willing to support, and would now not feel right in accepting that responsibility with this deception over the women.  She felt the best course was to go directly to the May-King and see if he was willing to right this wrong, instead of going directly to the May-Queen with this.  We pulled him aside in private, and when asked if this was a live of dead tree, he admitted how they knew full well it was a dead tree we brought to the women.  We could see he was feeling very frustrated and defeated.  We tried to turn it around and explained how we plan to leave it up to him to make this right and go to the May-Queen with the truth, or bury it if he chose.  We would most like to see him show strength and the confidence we feel he had in him.
A Wise-woman and his teacher happened to be near by in his camp, and approached us asking what was going on.  She had been working with him through this last year or so towards his spiritual development.  She was telling him how this was part of the main issues he was dealing with, and this is his time to do the right thing.  He decided to confide his deception to the May-Queen, and she had him bring her out to the site where the tree was taken.  She came back to our camp and said she was resigned to accept this tree as the Maypole.  We were inclined to honor her decision.  Tia had me take her out to the site under flashlight and moonlight, and we also made our peace with this issue.
The Community Discussion at the Main Bel-fire:
When we came back to camp, we were very surprised to see that this issue had been brought up for a heated debate at the main fire pit, instead of the normal drumming and dancing we expected to see.  Apparently the May-Queen and King decided to ask the drummers to stop before we got back there to camp.  A little later a good portion of the drumming faction had gravitated to a nearby fire pit only about 50' away to continue to drum, dancing, and holler up a storm!  Many of those remaining at the main fire trying to discuss this issue and work things out, felt as if the other group were intentionally trying to drowned them out.  I could not blame that other group for being so upset and feeling so slighted, as we had taken over their normal space for their Beltane celebration.  They did not seem too pleased this issued had soured their special Beltane time, to do what they loved most.

That is understandable, but I can also see the importance of how this went down that one night. Something like this normally does not interfere with the drumming around the fire pit. I have never seen it happen before. So I would like to think the drummers could have also seen the importance it seemed to have for many others there, if not for them.

I don't mean to beat a dead horse, but it was not likely that the discussion would have lasted all that long. It took place early in the evening right after the sun went down.  Normally the fire pit does not get going until after 10 to 12PM.  Most likely the debate would have wound up much quicker if we did not have to struggle to hear each other so much over the very loud drumming and yelling. The drumming did more to heighten the emotions with the frustration it added. We had to repeat ourselves and shout to be heard, which made things seem we were more upset than we were. This made others become that much more defensive.  Making it very hard to defuse that situation and have a peaceful discussion. In all likeliness it could have ended at least an hour earlier, and with a lot less hard feelings left at the pit.

That same elderly gentleman was relentless in fighting for the right of living trees; touting how horribly illegal it was to cut down a tree without a permit from the Forestry Department.  Several opposing people were calling him on his argument with many examples of legalities and contradiction overlooked in his own life.  The May-Queen could clearly see no matter how passionate he was, he was still well out numbered against him, but she kindly asked him what they could do to appease him, short of simply conceding to his authority.  He insisted we turn ourselves in to the Forest Rangers.   He was unable to come up with a viable option, but was relentless and not going to let go of this issue.
After over an hour of this, I could not hold my thoughts any more.  I spoke out saying: 'I really do see a beauty in our being able to air serious topics like this, but I feel the real issue here was not so much the live or dead tree issue.  It is more about the issue of lies and deceit between the sexes, yet again'.   Star Hawk wrote about this issue in her amazing book 'The Fifth Sacred Thing' in the 23rd chapter on the last two pages: 'How can you lie to her and be her lover'?  Even if the men were to get away with their lies, his lover(s) would know something is not quite right, and he can never hope to develop a deep meaningful bond.
There was talk of tabling this issue until morning, but a resounding cry for resolution was at hand.  They felt that it would not be possible to just pretend this was not an issue and celebrate the rest of the night, and sleep soundly.  The May-Queen & King along with many of us stood forward ready to accept responsibility if the Forest Rangers were to come here and make an issue of it.  She finally was able to soften his resolve by promising to file for a permit (after the fact), and he finally left the fire pit. 

It was a shame and sad waste, but we moved the 'Maypole of lies' over to the fire pit, and eased it into the fire, foot by ugly foot, until it was all burned to ashes that night.  It was important to many that this violation and betrayal against the women of the camp was not just swept under the rug, as if it never happened or mattered.  Many could not stay at the fire pit that night to drum and dance, as the energy was so unpleasantly thick.  The other party group that had separated before the debate really got going, but did not return to the main fire pit either.  There were a few of us who did stay to heal and cleanse the energy around the Bel-fire, even if it was not much of a happy celebration.

The Next Day:
Some of the community gathered at the fire pit that morning to discuss the days plans to go forward with the celebrations. One woman was clearly irate about this controversy and was outraged at the decision to kill a tree for our selfish pleasure.  She tried to argue the issue again, and after she felt she was getting nowhere, she blasted the May-Queen & her King to their face, saying: 'You owe the community an apology for this atrocity!' (it was ironic that her man was the one saying 'she need not know everything he does').  The May-King's mentor (mentioned earlier) lost her cool, and then fled the scene in a huff.  I went to comfort her and offer my support.
There was still a good portion of the same and different men who went with us to get a live tree.  As we had it up on our shoulder delivering it to the women, a Forest Ranger just happened to drive into the camp (go figure). The Ranger questioned us about the tree (it's not like we could hide it).  We explained the situation, and he said 'you have always been good campers and have left the camp cleaner than before.  Watch out for rattlesnakes.'  In essence he gave us his blessing, so I guess that argument cannot be used again, and we do not even need to file for that permit.
A new May-Queen was selected, and she picked her Consort to reign during this coming year.  We danced the Maypole.  We took the Maypole down and cut it up.  There was a couple hand-fastings.  That now former May-King and his special lady he has been with over the last decade finally got legally hitched up at the Moon Rock.  Shortly afterwards, we were alarmed to see a kayak drifting upside down in the river.  A pair of young ladies with our group tried to do some white-water kayaking down the river and were tossed out, but survived OK.  The kayak got wedged in a spot on the other side a little farther down river, and when we left the camp, they still had not been able to remove it.
All is good, and I try to not be upset with that elderly gentleman who fought for the lives of the trees, as I feel the issue of honesty was an important issue that needed to be faced here that weekend by this group of Pagans.  If he did not play his part as passionately as he did, this issue would not have been raised as it was, for us to look at and reexamine how it affects out daily lives all year round.  It will send ripples out to the community, Pagan or not.  Which should help people face their demons and begin to live a better and more honest life.  To learn what it is to truly develop good relationship skills and deepen their bonds with their mate(s), family, and their community.  Something desperately lacking in our community it seems.  This is only one small painful step, with many more to follow most likely.

Are we up for the challenge?

Thanks for your timee-mail-us
Blessed be and much love to you all
(even the worst of you)

David & Tia Rich


The pictures above link to the 2004 Beltane Celebration pictures.

This 2005 Beltane Celebration went a lot smoother without incident.  A standard but small portion of the men got together and had some great discussion about more than just dead trees.  Although, it seems the women reverted to being more separate again, and not sharing in the planned rituals, other than the Maypole dance it's self.  The few women who would help out had a good time, but felt hurt by this.  For the first time we had a separate children's Maypole dance.  We also had our first May-Princess lottery.  Only time will tell how this community will come together, or not.

Click on the Maypole below to see pictures from the 2002 Spiritual Anarchist Beltane Celebration





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