VIENNA, Ill. — Circle Sanctuary’s 38th annual Pagan Spirit Gathering will be held June 17 – 24 at Tall Tree Lake campground. Volunteer Florence Edwards-Miller is organizing youth activities for the event, and provided details about what to expect.
Edwards-Miller said, “Bringing a child of any age on a week-long camping trip to a primitive camping ground is not easy. Keeping your kids fed, hydrated, dry, protected from heat, bug-bite free, and entertained is a parenting challenge.” She added that “many parents, like me, come from interfaith households, and come solo with their kids. My husband doesn’t come to PSG, and I really needed the help I received from many of my friends last year.” This will be the third year that Edwards-Miller’s daughter has attended this gathering. Her attendance began at seven weeks of age.
“The idea is to create a sacred environment where we can explore the spiritual aspects of parenting,” said Edwards-Miller. In this environment, PSG organizers want to explore the divine as parent. This will include parenting focused workshops and rituals in the family center. These planned workshops and rituals include a workshop on spiritual parenting, a birth café discussion, and blessingway ritual for new mothers, adoptive and biological.
A family camp area will continue to be available at PSG for people with children, forming a “community within a community.” The family camp has made it easy for children to connect with peers and for parents to connect with other Pagan parents who can then share parenting duties.
Services are provided for three categories of minors at the festival: teens ranging from 13 to 18, tweens from six to 12, and children from two to five. No direct services are planned for infants and toddlers age two and under, although their parents will be able to use the family center. Edwards-Miller said that the family center would be a welcoming space for nursing mothers and other caregivers, with rocking chairs and other resources.
Many workshops and rituals will be open to teens, and there will be two rituals and one workshop focused specifically on teen needs. The rituals are rites of passage, and the workshop is titled, “You’re the Boss of You: Consent for Pagan Teens.”
The childcare and tween centers will be incorporated into the new family center. Parents will be able to drop off children older than two at the childcare center during workshops and major rituals. The tween center will offer a social space as well as areas for specialized workshops and crafts. The family center will offer storybook reading and small acoustic concerts.
Spiritual events with youth can teeter between religious indoctrination and spiritual self-determination. The diversity of Pagan practices and belief complicates this even further. Edwards-Miller rejected a Pagan equivalent of a Bible school. “I want to help them socially integrate into the broader PSG community.” This goal can include inviting people in the community, like the guardians who oversee safety at the event, to come in, read a story, and talk about what they do. Such a discussion could help children understand how to deal with potential problems and dangers.
Edwards-Miller wants to introduce children to the general concepts and vocabulary of the Pagan community to familiarize them with PSG activities. She stressed the importance of discussing nature spirituality in particular.
Children with special needs
Last year about 90 children and youth attended PSG. Given current estimates of autism prevalence, one of those child attendees could have been somewhere on the autistic spectrum. Edwards-Miller knows several attendees whose children have autism or sensory processing challenges. These parents told Edwards-Miller that their children had found PSG meaningful.
Edwards-Miller knows of parents with transgender or gender non-conforming children. She said that according to PSG’s policies a ritual, workshop, or group is open to all who identify with the target audience. She did not know if any transgender youth had yet taken part in the rites of passage for young men or young women, but she expects that to happen soon.
Changes have been made at PSG to accommodate people who reject the idea that gender is binary. Last year, the organizers of PSG added an all-genders ritual at the same time as the ritual for men and the ritual for women. They also added a gender-neutral rite of passage for seniors as well as the rites of passage for crones and sages. Edwards-Miller also stressed the need to have gender-inclusive storybooks.
Edwards-Miller hopes to see more programming and rituals for children and their caregivers. She along with others saw a need to make some changes in this direction. She said she’s “incredibly grateful for Moonfeather, PSG’s coordinator, who came up with the idea to combine all these concepts into the family center. [Moonfeather], Selena [Fox], and the rest of the PSG leadership have been marvelously supportive of all of these ideas.” She added that “I’m grateful for my fellow coordinators, Marty and Calypso, who’ve been enthusiastically bringing their experience to this project. It is going to take a great deal of work, but I think the result should be something magical. “
Early registration is available until May 14. This year’s gathering has the theme of “soul shine.” In recent years, the number of attendees has ranged between 600 and 1,000 people.