In the Beginning

MamaBear Describes the Rainbow Path

part of: Testimony

by Mamabear

This story began as an email to an old friend, and quickly snowballed into a true short story. Hope you enjoy, feel free to respond with questions or impressions!

At the Rainbow gathering, it is customary to refer to anything other than the deep woods as “Babylon”. We also customarily greet each other with the phrases “Welcome Home!” And “Lovin’ You!”

On the fourth of July, the Family maintains silent (or @ least quiet) meditation and prayer for world peace until high noon. Regardless of faith or religious affiliation, all were represented in Michigan ‘02 when I went, the estimate was 25–30,000 ppl in that gathering that day. It is a worldwide phenomenon, and there have been World gatherings of 50,000 or more, generally in November. Rainbows have been gathering together on Nat’l Forest land every year since 1972.

The silence is broken by the kids parade starting from kid village, wherever that happens to be, into the adult circles in the main meadow. Then pandemonium erupts! Drumming and dancing and joyous singing human beings of all colors, shapes, sizes, races, faiths, abilities, gender identity or sexual orientation, you name it, start to go quickly, crazily, happily celebratory, worshipful, reverent. Many gather nude or partially dressed. Others sport Rainbow hippie clothes, or terribly outrageous, elaborate costumes.

At my gathering in the upper peninsula of Michigan, 2002, (flies and mosquitoes and torrential rain and slick red mud, oh my!) I stood almost in the center with Kayleigh and Brandi, my Newfoundland/Irish Setter mix and danced around topless with (fully hippie dressed) Kayleigh on my shoulders, and I looked up on the hill of the main meadow and saw about 20 mounted US Forest Service cops on horses—we call that “six-up”, or “six-up, giddy-up”—watching keenly and attentively, video cameras whirring, getting a real eyeful, I am sure! No doubt it was at the very least, highly entertaining to witness.

It was,
****THE MOST FUN, UNEQUIVOCALLY, I HAVE EVER HAD, IN MY ENTIRE FREAKING LIFE!!!!!****

Also, with the possible exceptions of the births of my 3 children, the relatively few times I have caught a newborn baby as s/he slid into the world, and being present at the death of my husband, who suffered a brain tumor, without a doubt, the most spiritually moving, significant occasion, in my life. Full stop.

That moment was definitely a high point in my life, and Kayleigh’s as well, indeed, she remembers it much better than I do, having been five @ the time, and not remotely altered in any way mentally or chemically.

You really don’t feel weird being naked in a situation like this, I found, indeed, I felt like a sore thumb when I WAS dressed. (Tip: use sunscreen on nipples, and other “pinkish” parts, the pain of a sunburn here is exquisite). It was enormously good for my damaged, broken self esteem, as I am sure you can imagine.

We looked up shortly after noon and (I swear!!!) there was a gigantic, vivid, very visible Sun Dog, so the entire gathering sang “there’s a rainbow around the sun”. For me, that experience was truly transcendent.

Contrary to popular belief, not all Rainbows are heads, or trippers or druggies, or thieves, or vagrants etc. Though there are all those and then some, since the only qualifications for membership are the possession of a belly button and a fervent desire for world peace and harmony. Rainbows cross ALL lines and boundaries that we are forced to adhere to here in Babylon. Period.

There are those who LIVE fully Rainbow, traveling from forest to forest like gypsys, and those willing and able to travel if the gathering is near, or far distant to them. This makes the bulk of the population (which begins @ “seed camp” six weeks prior to the 4th) largely local people, or hardcore Rainbow folk, thus it is anything but static or terribly organized.

Work crews are all volunteer, and focalized by any peaceful person willing to lead and delegate duties to other willing and able volunteers. It can feel like an Utopian society at times. Definitively communal, like “Alice in Wonderland” at others, and for those who are too fucked up to handle it, too “aggro”, meaning aggressive or angry, or too unlucky to be in the way of the cops, it can be like “Red Dawn”.

If one yells the term “Shanti Sena!!!” (distress call) anywhere within the hearing of any seasoned Rainbow, particularly the brothers and elders of the tribe, they will drop everything and come rushing to your aid. Violent or otherwise out of control ppl are surrounded by a spontaneous locally available circle, physically subdued if needed, and indeed sometimes confined by the press of bodies, barraged by loving rebuke and patient discipline.

There was a brother once, he went to A-camp and got plastered and wandered into the gathering, and discovered his Rainbow wifey-type screwing around with another brother. He began hitting and slapping her, screaming obscenities like “whore” and “fucking cheating cunt” at her. He was quickly subdued, surrounded and gently pinned to the ground by large, gentle men, who crooned softly but forcefully to him that he was loved and they wanted to help him find clarity and forgiveness again. He was shunted by about twenty of the stoutest bros down to the river, dunked in the drink repeatedly til he sputtered and collapsed, sobbing, to the ground, where he lay helpless under firm hands. The next morning, his “pennance”, along with sincere apology to wifey, was that if he wanted to stay, he should sit at the base of a tree, with a mirror, and look himself in the face off and on til at least noon, while mamas especially, including myself (but a lot of brothers and elder man-types, too) came and sat before him and told them why what he did was so very WRONG. Otherwise he would be escorted to the front gate and turned over to the po-po for his grievous transgression. I actually witnessed, and participated in that. It was a powerful, poignant lesson for me and many present.

Conversely, examples of pure monogamy are relatively rare, in my experience, anyway. The battered young mama was taken to CALM, the Rainbow version of an infirmary, staffed by volunteer healer gatherers of every type, from MD’s to midwives (several babies are born in the woods every year) to acupuncturists and Reiki masters. Many choose to access this service for detoxification and loving, healing care from the destroying addictive substances found and clung to in Babylon.

I spent the majority of my time during the daylight hours, unless it was raining, hiking from kitchen to kitchen, village to village, meeting and connecting with outrageously wonderful, interesting ppl from the world over who, for the most part, lovingly helped heal some of my deepest pain. I sincerely hope they feel I somewhat repaid them all in kind.

A-camp, a place I walked through, but never lingered once, keeps all the alcohol, and all the aggro, and most of the six-up attention focused at the welcome home gate at the established entrance. Alcohol, as well as weapons, money, hard drugs such as cocaine, heroine, methamphetamine, and really bad attitudes are all strongly discouraged, if not forbidden, by annual, unanimous consensus inside the gathering. The bulk of the law enforcement officers, or LEO‘s, are generally focused on rare violent ppl, major obvious drug activity, and land stewardship.

There is a federal law on the books, prohibiting gatherings of people on nat’l forest land in groups of 75 or more without a government-issued, signed permit, which the vast majority refuse to sign on principle that it is unconstitutional re: the right to peacefully assemble. This is the law’s main tool which to prosecute, and because it is a completely non-heirarchical entity, with no established leaders, this effort is continuously thwarted by smartass hippies like me, who refuse to sign a permit, and claim innocently that, “well, decided to take the family camping, and all these damn hippies just showed up out of nowhere! We are not camping WITH them, we are merely camping NEAR them.”

Most cop-types have no retort or reply to this statement, because it is undeniable.

Many Rainbows remain in the forest up to six to eight weeks post gathering to help clean up, remove garbage, and restore, re plant, fill shitters and fire pits, grey water pits, and re-naturalize the place in general. Shitters, for you Babylonians out there, consist of deep pits or trenches, complete with cans of wood ash or lime to control odor, bleach water for hand washing, and admonishing signs reminding one of the fly-shit-food-illness cycle. Many Rainbows take great pride in digging and/or building (indeed, in locating and patronizing) and equipping the most elaborate, fancy, private shitters. In my experience, the lines for the Jesus Camp shitter were around the proverbial block, sporting sturdy plywood box toilets, soft paper, and stairs with walls and doors, all built on-site, for both genders) . (Sorry, folks, I write like I talk, and that means horrendously long run-on sentences and over done adjective imagery).

There are many newspaper articles from local host towns who praise the Rainbow gathering for bringing tons of kind, non-violent business their way, and often (but of course, not always) leaving the forest renewed and in better ecological shape than it was prior to the gathering.

Men greatly outnumber women as a matter of course, like 8:1. This makes for a lot of really attentive, kind attention from brothers, even a little competition, that is charming and adorable, and very flattering. Hippie men are, for the most part, very sensual, enormously kind and exceptionally validating compared to Babylon-only men.. I lived on that love and acceptance for several years.

I miss the woods terribly. I haven’t gone back because I am afraid to take my kids because the year after I went, the six-up started shooting everyone with pepper-spray balls (like paint balls) as a form of “riot control”. We later found out they were using Rainbows to train riot cops for the republican and democratic national conventions, chosen because of the heavy pot and psychedelic presence, inherent hippie fear of the law, and mostly? Because Rainbows are very rarely violent, thus training would not likely be that dangerous for the cops. But there is video of the cops shooting the ppl in kid village, a place usually monitored for drugs, but largely left alone and free of hassle, out of deep respect and reverence for children and their mamas, especially.

One time I was walking up the trail and heard cries of “six-up giddy up!” echoing all over nearby. Mounted cops were riding through, arresting ppl who were openly toking, ticketing ppl for things like no leash (indeed I had no leash, so before the cops got too near, a kind brother gave me his belt to attach my dog, and gladly took my glass pipe and “held” it for me) (yeah I never saw that again, but who knows what might have happened if it had been discovered?) As they drew nearer, the vibe around us got more tense, and Kayleigh began to cry loudly, afraid of the parade of uniformed men who looked so very different than her new family. I noticed they were recording us with video cameras, and this enraged me! Unable to contain my disdain for these men, I shouted, “shame on you for hassling peaceful mamas and making children cry! No guns in my Church!” And the lead guy turns beet red in the face, the camera lowered, and offers Kayleigh candy, which I did not allow her to take, repeating, “shame on you!!!!” Soon it became a chant, enjoined by up to 50 ppl! It was almost like they WERE ashamed.

Indeed, the night of the third, I danced and drummed at the bliss pit, the drumming/dancing epicenter, (tho there are many smaller pits throughout) Kayleigh asleep either in the camp chair while I danced,or on top of our huge dog @ my feet while I drummed my ass into a trance. I looked over and the two hippies next to me, in plain clothes were two cops I had actually had a great convo with that day. They were both obviously stoned, dancing in the moonlight, having a great time, and when they noticed me next to them looked sheepish, smilingly said, “hiya, MamaBear”, and I said welcome home brothers!” And gave them ecstatic, sweaty, topless hugs to which they voiced no complaint;-)

I would sleep in the morning, spend the day visiting, drumming, looking for kitchens offering food for the kid, (she grew like the proverbial weed, I lost 40+ pounds in six weeks) tobacco for me, after dinner snooze, and wake up when the drums began to throb and pulse around me.. They are almost constant, particularly in the villages and camps of the Messianic Jews, amazing drummers, like ceaseless machines, and what I like to call the “Cavemen”; dirty, unkempt, kind, gentle men, who seemingly have completely rejected Babylonian society, with filthy, mud-covered dreadlocks, sometimes to their knees, who live full time in the woods and rarely speak to others, and even rarer stop drumming. Both camps had drummers pounding like a train sometimes, but round the clock. It is very hypnotic.

I miss it tremendously every year around now, and troll the internet for news of the goings on. The gathering is in full swing right now, 2010, Allegheny Forest, Pennsylvania, and LEO presence is sparse and kind there from what I can tell, so it is going well.

There are lots of pics of family online with a google search on Rainbow family, and many videos on You Tube if you are curious. It is like stepping through time, terribly intoxicating even if you are stone cold sober, which I was the vast majority of the time, having K to look after.

I think most humans would enjoy the experience, if they could manage to loosen up and allow themselves to, and I will never forget or regret mine. I suspect, within a couple days, you would feel welcome home, too:-)

I lived deep in the gathering for 17 days straight. I did not recognize myself, could not tolerate a/c, and had trouble sleeping in anything but a hammock for months after my return to Babylon. It completely changed the way I look, think, behave, and perceive the world we live in, connected me to the Earth, and its ppl in a way I never thought possible. I plan to take the whole summer to follow regionals all the way to nat’ls, as soon as I can arrange it, and once my kids are grown and out of the house, I plan to do it every summer, for as long as I can hike the trails and dance in the bliss pit:-)

Btw I dress “hippie-ish” in babylon, but not overtly so, keep my dreads tied back or up in a bun most of the time in public, and not ONCE did I let my child out of my sight the entire time.

We spent her fifth birthday (July 3rd) on the trails mostly, Kayleigh telling everyone we passed, “Lovin’ you! Its my Birthday, I am 5 years old today!” She was dubbed the very popular name of “Butterfly” by several kind folk, due to the butterfly passenger she carried on her hand as she walked for over an hour, solid. She was gifted spontaneously by over 100 ppl, some with just a hug and specific blessing such as “I wish you love, strength, and acceptance your whole life through” or just “Rainbow blessings, tiny beautiful sister!”. I was also told “happy giving birth day, beautiful mama” more times than I can possibly count. She still has many of these treasured, well-loved items; crystals, handmade hemp necklaces, a purse, a pretty silk sarong just her size at the time, a bamboo pan flute, an embroidered poncho, a hand made patchwork teddy bear, along with lots of hugs, treats and sips of cool, clean filtered water from the river.

It was HOT, and rained heavily almost everyday, so because of the mud, we all were the color of clay after a couple days. The cultural significance of the phrase “melting pot” was not lost on many there, I suspect. Unless you got in the river, or were willing to haul water to the solar shower station and wait for the sun to warm it up, you were DIRTY, in a way that I suspect most ppl rarely experience past childhood. It made it really clear that human beings are all of a kind, and that there a lot of kind ppl in the world:-)

Thanks for indulging me. You prolly think I am a complete weirdo by now, but I would likely take that as a compliment :-)

LY, MamaBear