After returning home from a five day Heathen utopia, I have a lot to unpack even after all my things are put away.
When I first cautiously mentioned to my wife that there was something of a Heathen summer camp held every year, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. I perpetually have a sort of imposter syndrome when it comes to my religious practices. Do I practice enough? Do I know enough about my gods? Am I offering to enough gods? Will I say the right things during group ritual? Do I know enough of “the Lore” or the theological principles that underpin my faith? And if I’m being honest with myself, the answer to all of those questions is probably “no.”
However, my wife playfully gave me no choice and I resigned myself to adding another event to my calendar as part of my self-imposed goal of getting out and meeting Heathens and pagans in the community. So, I submitted my registration.
Off to Camp
On my way to the camp, I subconsciously added stops along my journey disguised as looking for “necessary” things I had neglected to bring. Though all this did was delay the inevitable.
Arriving at camp was disorienting. I was handed a hefty packet containing the schedule of events and briefly shown a map where I was to pitch my tent (I had selected tenting over sleeping in a cabin). Then I was on my own.
I was left to discover on my own that I shouldn’t park my car next to my tent and should instead use the area that was not in anyway designated as parking. I was left to wonder where the showers were. I was left to guess where the playhouse, vé stead, and dining hall were that were mentioned in the schedule.
I probably could have gotten answers to all my questions from anyone, but I was already surrounded by dozens of people I didn’t know and, besides the man that checked me in, I couldn’t tell who had volunteered to “staff” the event. For someone who has trouble initiating conversation with strangers I did what I always do: retreat into the safety of my phone and hope I could figure things out by watching others.
I made my way down to the dining hall at dinner and plopped myself down at an empty table. Joining a table with others already in coversation was too much pressure for me, but I thought if one or two people joined me at a time, I would be comfortable enough introducing myself. When a couple of people did join, we made awkward conversation, being sure to hit all the hot button topics I was sure would put us at odds for the weekend.
After dinner I attended the Opening Ritual and Welcoming ceremony, followed by the first blót, to Nerthus. Then I crawled into my tent and went to sleep feeling ambivalent about the whole day.
Had I ended my tale here, you would get the impression that disliked my time at ECT. That is not the case at all, but I did feel it necessary to give an accurate portrayal of what the first day was like for one relatively inexperienced Heathen, because it lies in stark contrast to the rest of my experience.
The Rest of the Story
I spent the remaining time at camp going from workshop, to ritual, to meal, and back again. I attended blóts for Heimdall, Frigga, Skaði and Tyr. I was asperged with heavenly rosemary water for Eir, participated in a thunderstorm processional for Thor, and journeyed to the underworld for Hel. I participated in an ecstatic blót for Odin and very moving ritual for Loki that brought me both tears of sadness and the joy of laughter.
I learned that modern interpretations of “the Lore” have changed the understanding of the gods, giving them new mythology in the oral tradition of yore; I learned about matted hairstyles (deadlocks being just one popularization of an ancient practice), creating a non-profit church, why Viking penis honor is for losers, and laughed about the importance Heathen memes.
I marvelled at the talented musicians, poets, singers, and dancers. I gawked at (and spent too much on) a wealth of paintings, glasswork, fibre craft, pyrography, jewelry, and mead. I envied the skill of Kubb players, axe throwers, and hammer tossers.
I had emotional discussions with other Heathens, drank plenty of delicious meads passed around the fire, and had a moment holding a ceramic bowl in a field that was more powerful than I could have imagined.
My first trip to East Coast Thing mirrors my first ritual experience. In both cases I went into it not having any expectations, just pushing myself to try something new. And after the newness and awkwardness wore off, something profound happened.
During a round table discussion this weekend, the moderator called his trip to East Coast Thing a pilgrimage. I hadn’t thought of it like that before, but I definitely do now and I will continue making that pilgrimage in the coming years.