ONE TREE FAMILY

by Jules Sparkles

‘Only occasionally the sequel outshines the original’ haunted me as I trotted off to the 7th annual One Tree Gathering (OTG), welcoming all Hindus and Druids to celebrate our differences and similarities, with fascinating talks and fun activities.  I secretly hoped this year would be fabulous because I dragged my teenage daughter along, whose expectations were high after I raved about OTG last year.  It was great to see new and fresh faces as well as familiar smiles.  Our own family network is sadly somewhat frail and remote, yet the One Tree Gathering affirms Family is so much more than blood kin or marriage bonds.  Ripples reverberating through the OTG experience affirm ‘We are One Family.’ -  Unreservedly.  Unwavering.  Undeniably - United.

As OTG coincided with the festival of Raksha Bandhan, the opening ceremony included exchanging Rakhi bracelets; symbols of protection and love between us, as brothers and sisters.  This was perfect timing, as my beloved Rakhi from last year was literally hanging on by a thread.  It was wonderful to participate in the Surya Puja dedication to the Sun God represented by small bowls of fire, into which we offered ghee while the pandit prayed.  When I relayed the event to a friend she was horrified we basically poured fat into fire, but that just made me chuckle.  It reminded me how fear and ignorance can escalate a situation not experienced first-hand.  Which is why I feel it is vital for us to engage in our communities, explore other cultures and embrace diversity; to abolish alienation and dehumanisation that excuses atrocious abuses and murders of our brothers and sisters.

After a delicious, hearty lunch we learned about Celtic Birth Trees.  Reminiscent of last year, Rob and Lynne had us giggling as we expressed our trees’ characteristics with highly entertaining performances.  I love that people participated wholeheartedly and no one took activities too seriously, which ensured an enjoyable and entertaining weekend.  Even as Madhava explained the solar and lunar Hindu calendars, his face beamed. As Jonathan presented ‘Who is a Pagan?’, he projected passion.  He proposed the etymology of ‘pagan’ was a pejorative term depicting someone who refused to convert to a Christian soldier.  So, to proudly label oneself ‘pagan’ could be loosely likened to reclaiming ‘N*gger’ or ‘C*nt’.  While I do not normally introduce myself as ‘Pagan C*nt’ anyhow, I do know that how I define myself is less important than the focus and intention of my energies.  Others will always form their own opinions of me, regardless of my self-selected labels.  But that is their business, not mine.  I am just happy being ‘me’.

The panel discussion considered various perspectives of what it is to be pagan and/or druid and how this affects our life choices.  Engaging the audience in discussion offered one family the opportunity to share their story of being misunderstood and mistreated by mainstream society, simply because they are ‘pagan’.  Conversely, Avalon shared how she involved her school in ritual so they experienced it for themselves.  Fortunately, while I dance with druidry, my youngest daughter’s school supports diversity and nurtures each individual, regardless of religious affiliation.  I understand others are not so fortunate, which makes me more grateful for my positive experiences.  I feel I am an ambassador for Druidry; a living, dancing example of spirituality interwoven with the mundane.  I open my big mouth, dare to be vulnerable with strangers and speak with love.  I welcome curious minds.  My life is my spiritual practice.  This is my Druid path.  It is neither kooky nor spooky.  I just love working with energies, hugging people, oh, and talking to trees!

Tim and Erin cheerfully cajoled our inner bards into composing poetry and Adrian offered insight into the Ogham calendar.  His carved creations were available to buy, along with an interesting selection of spiritual books by various authors, which was wonderful.  Coffee and books are my favourite vices.  There was so much more information offered and assimilated over the weekend, that I sadly cannot convey on this ‘tattooed tree’ called Touchstone, as much as I would love to.  However, I enjoy the variety of activities and interesting talks immensely; the dance between receptively listening and actively doing. 

OTG always gives you plenty to talk about between mouthfuls at mealtimes.  Interestingly, Nick, Rob and I grew up in authoritarian Conservative, Catholic families and rebelled as soon as we could.  I am now curious as to how many druids derive from similar backgrounds.

Philip CG facilitated a fun and relaxing Sophrology session; a simple technique to relax and energise mind and body.  Photos of our furrowed faces can forever be found online, along with folks having fun at  https://en-gb.facebook.com/ICCSC/    Afterwards, Amanda whizzed us through a yoga session to stir up our energies.  Intriguingly, during my second year at Uni I employed yoga, meditation and breathing techniques to choose my essay questions.  My grade skipped from 2.1 to a First.  I don’t believe in coincidences!

A busy but beautiful day was brought to a blissful end, with Eisteddfod and blazing bonfire.  Creative contributions - poetry, stories and music - made the evening more magical.  Luan played a length of plastic ‘plumbing’ pipe!  His ‘digeri-don’t’ surprised us all and left me, a sesquipedalian wordsmith, dumbstruck.  The improv composition of musicians magically merging with their instruments was mesmerizing.  After dancing round the blazing fire, our tummies, heads and hearts happy, we retired for the night.

The sky cried loads next day, but Keith still squeezed in an informative walk and talk about trees, around Beaumanor Hall, before we retreated indoors.  Mimsy’s account detailed the International ICCS conference in Mumbai, where more than 30 tribes gathered to talk about the Divine Feminine and the importance of women’s empowerment for the future health of the world.  Yet, where fiercely patriarchal societies still consider it acceptable to hit a woman and that to be feared is better than to be loved, this will obviously be tougher.  Yet, I have hope.  If everyone does their bit wherever they are, ripples will radiate worldwide.

Jonathan also reported on his participation in the Cultural Exchange Programme, where he was hosted by a Hindu family for a weekend.  His positive experience encouraged my daughter to volunteer for the programme and we have just been contacted by our lovely host family.  I cannot wait to meet them soon.

Sadly, it was too wet to perform the closing ceremony under the arms of the ancient yew, but indoors and sheltered from the downpour, we laughed.  We sang.  We chanted.  We parted.  No sweet sorrow saying ‘sayonara’ though, because my daughter, myself and a friend will visit our One Tree Family again next year.

Thankfully, the sequel successfully outshone the original, for us.  My daughter said she’d had some of the most interesting conversations in her life because, she noted, people spoke authentically and listened to others’ perspectives, without the egoic need to be right.  In one weekend I watched my anxious and risk aversive daughter blossom to courageously embrace new people and experiences.  I believe this is because OTG provides such a friendly and supportive environment.  OTG offers a nourishing soil in which we can dig our roots deep, connect with others and give ourselves permission to grow.  My daughter and I feel we have finally found our Family, that I have certainly been longing for since I was small.