We have just returned from an outstanding Ostara celebration sponsored by the Asatru Folk Assembly in eastern Oklahoma. What a great time!
This gathering was especially important to us because it was hosted by AFA Folkbuilders from two states: Texas and Oklahoma. As such, it was one more step toward our vision of regional AFA gatherings all across the country - and ultimately, around the world. Our goal is to ensure that the Asatru Folk Assembly is "a national organization with a local face."
Folkbuilders Gregg Tharp and his wife Debbie, of Oklahoma, and Jerry and Judy Floyd of Texas, cooperated to make this event possible. It was a model of what we will see happen many times from coast to coast in the years to come.
This gathering was also "a first" because it was held in Wister State Park, near one of America's controversial runic artefacts - the Heavener runestone, a large slab of rock with a runic inscription sitting in a small, quiet dale. The runestone provided a dramatic focal point for the event. We visited it as a group, and two of the weekend's presentations dealt with its history and its meaning.
Socializing, the simple acts of being with our old and new friends, is one of the most important things about any AFA gathering. This one was rich with opportunities in this regard; besides our prominent hosts, there was Brad Taylor-Hicks, leader of the Folkbuilder program, who drove through night with most of his kindred all the way from Florida. Mark Stinson and Gunnar Wodenson drove from Kansas and from Minnesota respectively with their contingents, and of course Sheila and I had flown in from California. The willingness of all these people to travel so far to be with fellow Asatruar was very inspiring.
It was wonderful to meet in person AFA members like Scott and Ralph, whom we had known from the AFA's online forum. Eric from Tulsa stands out in my mind, as does Bryan, the energetic former NCO who gave the excellent presentation at the Heavener Runestone State Park. Bear, the appropriately-named leader of the Franks, provided memorable moments of insight. Gregg, who might best be described as a dapper, savvy, and very social cowboy, oversaw it all.
I experienced a moment of thought-provoking synchronicity when Steve from the Dallas area introduced himself and said that he had come to Texas from Grass Valley, the town where Sheila and I technically live (Nevada City, just over the hill, is where we get our mail). I, of course, had made the reverse trip many years ago, moving from Texas to Grass Valley/Nevada City. Indeed, the subject of synchronicity was a recurring theme through the course of the gathering.
Ritual celebrations are another important part of any such meeting, and this one was no different. Jerry Floyd, one of our Texas Folkbuilders, led the opening rite, lighting the need-fire which was kept alive throughout the event. That evening, he led an informal sumbel in which we introduced ourselves and made three rounds of toasts to the Gods and ancestors.
Judy, his wife, gave the Ostara blot the next day, as birds chattered up a storm in the nearby trees and a pair of puppies cavorted in the distance. Our toddlers-in-arms and the other children added to the sense of surging life as we tied our ribbons to the leafy oak tree which was the center of our blot-area. This day also saw our trip to the Heavener runestone, and the thought-provoking presentation led by Bryan.
That evening, after the feast, I spoke on the meaning of the Heavener stone for us, Asatruar in the twenty-first century. I pointed out that there were two ways to approach the stone - the scientific (factual) on one hand and the workings of Wyrd (intuitive, synchronistic) on the other. While facts are essential, they are not in themselves, meaning. "Meaning" is about a thing's connections with, and implications for, our lives both inner and outer. I will expand on this in a separate document.
Mark Stinson spoke on the importance of community and the role played by gatherings like this one. He invited us all to Lightning Across the Plains, the very well-attended annual event in Kansas which he organizes and leads.
Afterwards, it was time for the Odin-blot. We had rehearsed the call-and-response, so it was interactive and thus very powerful. The usual coincidences - a blast of wind at just the right moment, and a shower of sparks from the fire that enveloped me at one point lent a nice touch and let us know we were "in synch." After the blot, we again sat in sumbel. The toasts to Gods, Goddesses, and ancestors were very good. On the final round I recited from memory a 54-line poem I had been practicing for weeks - one written in the style of a Germanic skald, dealing with the battle of the Alamo. Considering the strong Texas presence at the gathering, it seemed appropriate. (Google "harsh that hearing for Houston the raven" and you'll find it; I made minor alterations in the version I recited.)
This gathering was possible only because so many people worked tirelessly to make it happen. (Well, actually, they probably were tired, but they seemed to never stop!) One such person was Gregg's soft-spoken and understated wife, Debbie. She produced an endless supply of food - awesome chili, goulash, and more. Aided by Judy and a host of other women and men who cooked, washed, and served, she oversaw the activity that fueled our endeavors. Serving in a different way, Jerry was always there when something needed to be done, either taking care of it himself or rounding up his always polite and helpful sons to carry out the task.
Leaving the next day was difficult, as it often is after such a weekend. Rushing back to the airport, we had one more experience that truly capped the entire trip. We were going through airport security when one of the TSA workers saw the Thor's hammer amulet around Sheila's neck...and commented that he was wearing his own beneath his uniform shirt.
This was an extended weekend characterized by synchronicity and the weavings of Wyrd. Deep inside, I know we have not seen the last of the events set in motion there!
Asatru Folk Assembly