Friday, October 26, 2012


I heard it said that it is the place, not the event, and now I understand. I understand that it is the place that matters most; that the purpose of the event is merely to bring the people to the place. It is a place beyond tolerance, beyond acceptance, beyond even welcoming; it is a place that absolutely revels in its diversity. There, family structure matters not, nor gender, nor orientation, nor race. Singles, dyads, triads, more-ads, men, women, transsexuals, transvestites, straights, queers, bisexuals, blacks, browns and whites are all warmly embraced and loved; each free to be as he or she wants and needs to be. The place is All World Acres, but most often simply referred to as the Sanctuary.

The event was Utopia, held October 18-21 in the Tampa Bay area, and I was in attendance.  It is one of three adult-only pagan festivals held annually at the Sanctuary. (Body Magick is held in the spring, where the main ritual is the Wheel of Life, as described on a post here. The other adult festival held at the end of November is the Kinkster, devoted to BDSM activities.) At these events, the mundane world is left behind and free expression prevails. Clothing is unimportant and optional, as every imaginable variety of dress and undress can be found. Sarongs are very popular among the women, some topless, some fully covered. Even some of the men can be found wearing them.

During Utopia, the days on Friday and Saturday were filled with workshops, many energy related. We worked our bodies, doing such things as expressive dance and sensual yoga (couples yoga). And we worked our minds with discussion groups covering a wide variety of topics, such as polyamory and self-identification. During the latter discussion, we were each asked to define our labels for the group. I identified as the following: husband, father, polyamorist, male, heterosexual, pagan, semi-practicing Catholic, dominate, nudist, writer and motorcyclist.

Utopia in many ways seemed similar to Body Magick, but more festive and less solemn. Friday evening began with a hilarious drag queen performance, so funny the audience was figuratively, and in a few cases, literally rolling on the ground. Saturday afternoon brought forth an almost equally funny dance contest, with the ladies seducing their men with suggestive dancing. A couple calling themselves John and Jane Doe easily won, and as you might guess, both John and Jane were men. Their performance, while incredibly outlandish, was priceless.

The most notable difference between the two festivals became apparent during the main ritual on Saturday evening. Gone was the solemnity of the Wheel of Life, replaced with a very humorous, yet serious, rite. The people formed a circle around the fire and the priestesses read from prepared text. In time, we each were given an opportunity to speak briefly about specific things. Then, food and drink having symbolic significance were passed to each of us. At the conclusion, the people were obviously uplifted and hugs abounded. It was spiritual, but as mentioned, in a much different way than the Wheel of Life.

Following the ritual, the people danced to wild music well into early morning. This dancing was the type that can be found at any night club attracting young adults, not the prayerful dance around the alter of fire. The music lyrics were often highly suggestive and the dancing became more seductive as the evening wore on. It became clear that the dancers were warming up for the inevitable pleasure that would come later; and sure enough, the sounds of love making could be heard emanating from tents throughout the night.

In keeping with tradition, the festival closed with the village counsel meeting on Sunday morning.  A talking stick was passed among the attendees and we were each given an opportunity to speak.  I have come to appreciate and enjoy these sessions very much.  People expressed their feelings and perspectives, revealing a wide spectrum of emotions.  There was much laughter, and at times, tears of joy and release.  A common theme was the vast appreciation for the freedom to be who and what we each are, for the unconditional acceptance found at the Sanctuary and for the opportunity to bond with like-minded folks.  I will never fully understand what it is like to be homosexual or transgendered or genderqueer or pansexual or otherwise outside of the gender/orientation norm.  But I have witnessed firsthand what it means to these folks to be accepted and not judged.   

In my Wheel of Life post, I mentioned the lovers near where I sat, a man with black tiger stripes and a beautiful woman. During Utopia, I met and spent some time with this woman, and she is indeed beautiful. Upon first meeting, I related to her how I was unable to take my eyes off of her as she and her partner made passionate love. I told her how much I felt the intensity of their energy and how much at that moment I wanted to trade places with her lover. Amused by my flirtation, she laughed a little laugh and then went on to tell me how sad she was at their recent break-up. I too was genuinely sad for her loss and for the emotional pain she continues to endure. However, because of her external and internal beauty, I have no doubt she will soon find a new partner or new partners. Such is the poly way.

Upon reflection as I conclude this post, the wistful part of me wishes the leaders, priests, rabbis and ministers of conservative mainstream religions would be required to regularly attend pagan festivals to gain an understanding of the true meaning of tolerance. Maybe then, they would soften their positions and stop railing against such matters as homosexuality and women's reproductive rights. Maybe, they would begin to back off of their firmly entrenched, absolute, dogmatic views and begin preaching in a more balanced and accurate way regarding these important issues. But, of course, the realistic part of me knows better.

I now have two festivals under my belt at the Sanctuary, the religious home of the Temple of Divine Ecstasy. As I look back on the books I've read, the things I've written, the places I've gone and my many new experiences since retirement, it is tempting to wish I had done these things earlier in life. But earlier in life, I was not the me of today. I have learned and grown from my recent adventures, and hopefully, I am a better person as a result. If so, the festivals have played a positive role and I hope to attend many more.