Archetype and Meaning at PSG's Spirit Hunt
Contributors: River (aka Stacey Enslow), Fearn (aka Leslie Campbell), Aspen (aka Robert Paxton), PathWalker (aka Harry Dorman), Ouibe (aka Beryl Ouimette), Hawthorn (aka Bo Nelson), David Doersch, and SilverDrake (aka Drake Spaeth)
originally published in Fall 2009 pp.48-52
For many years now, the Sacred Hunt Ritual has been an integral part of the Pagan Spirit Gathering. Even after many Hunts at PSG, there seem to be a range of impressions and ideas about the Sacred Hunt that those who have not participated do not seem to mind sharing—that also seem very far from the reality of the ritual. For instance, I have overheard some telling others knowingly that the Hunt "is not open to women." I have also heard this sentiment: "I don’t know how they do it; I simply do not have the energy to throw things all night." Last year I heard this variant: "I’m sorry, but the notion of chasing each other through the woods at night just does NOT appeal to me." For those who participate in the ritual as Villagers, Hunters, or Drummers—and for the facilitators— the reality of the Hunt is one that encompasses moments of exhilaration, despair, terror, awe, determination, grief, triumph, joy, sweetness, and…love.
I have on occasion been exhorted to clarify misunderstandings about the Hunt publicly. I admit that I enjoy the fact that the Hunt still possesses a mystique that eludes those who have not (or have not yet) been drawn to it. I also respect the layers of Mystery that are woven throughout the ritual, that mercurially reveal themselves differently (and perhaps only partially) to every individual who is taking part, and yet also paradoxically forge bonds of family and friendship among participants that last forever. While I would never wish to "de-mystify" the Hunt (assuming that I could realistically do so), I will say that it is an alchemical, syncretic melding of key components of the Hunt. The Hunters expend themselves in physical fatigue and emotional longing in pursuit of their desire to slay something which they no longer need or that poses some sort of challenge or obstacle in their lives, or to quest for and embrace something that is missing or needed to make them whole. The Villagers also give everything they have in them to the Hunters in energy, magic, and nurturing, loving support, enabling the Hunters to persist well past the traditional limits of their strength and endurance. The Drummers unflinchingly maintain a very rapid, intense rhythm, drawing upon what surrounds them to maintain the flow of energy and balance of the elements, performing feats of drumming that can only be described as superhuman.
The Firetenders not only keep the Hunt space illuminated, but with their unique mysteries also weave and coax the flames in a manner that teases and defies imagination. Other key figures each play a role whose purpose I will leave in shadow. Drumbeat firelight, smoke, shadows, and forest smells—and the cries, moans, screams, and defiant laughter of the Hunters are the sensual elements that ecstatically and ritually alter consciousness so that Sacred work might be accomplished, for both participants and the community.
I am SilverDrake, one of the Huntmasters for the Sacred Hunt. I wrote the preceding to serve as an introduction to this article, in which facilitators of the Hunt (past and present) as well as a past participant in the Hunt share some reflections on their experience of this ritual. The following section is written by River, my fellow Hunt Coordinator, whose passion and intensity have made him a marvelous complementary partner in mentoring and leading the Hunters:
The first thing people know about the Hunt is usually from hearing it, or seeing Hunters stalk and prowl about the PSG community grounds before the ritual. They are intense, often self-absorbed and focused. The Hunt is a raw, powerful act. There is no calling of quarters, no decorum of any particular ritual written in stilted rhyme. No waiting for your turn and practicing lines or repeated choreography. Those may have their place, but that place is not here. This is an act of will, sheer determination, and although it is awe-inspiring, it is not pretty. The process is an arduous one; fasting, single-minded dedication, and the immediate acting of one's intent. There are few rules, but those rules are the framework of an intense ritual act that will leave echoes radiating out from that moment into the long years of days yet to come.
There is screaming, flesh is sometimes torn on unyielding earth, rocks, brambles and trees. Howls of anguish, rage, animal passion and most powerfully, defiance, fill the night. Hunters dance, beat the earth, swing hand-crafted weapons and are haunted and joined by the spirits of the dark; the ghosts of Hunters, the Shades of the primordial spirits of Hunts that have happened since the dawn of humanity, and older, stalk the forest.
The Sacred Hunt was my very first reason for coming to PSG, in 2001. I had flirted with the idea of going to PSG for years, but the description of the Hunt from the PSG website, and the urgings of my friends who had been to PSG for years, finally overcame my initial reluctance. The transformative process of the Hunt called to me, seemingly from inside my very bones.
Like everyone who has been a part of the Hunt, I was in transition. Since then, that work that I accomplished in that Hunt has helped me form the framework of the remainder of my life, and was in many, many ways a culmination of spiritual practices I had been a part of since my childhood.
Like others in our community, I have participated in radical and unconventional ritual and transformative spiritual practices before. I have almost frozen on icy beaches in rituals to cold, wintery oceanic spirits, and I have danced in dappled sunlight in lonely wooded glades, and I have participated televised rituals of hundreds of Pagans, and I have been initiated into solitary, chthonic rites in deserted old ruins... But this was different: this time it was not just me, or just I and intimate, trusted guides. A whole community would join in this act of shamanic catharsis. I had never participated in a group ritual of intense, spiritual, naked transformation before, but I instinctively knew that this ritual was the one group ritual of transformation I could believe in.
I fasted, I sought out a weapon, hearing the call from a piece of fallen wood -a gift from the land- and crafting it into a ritual tool I still carry this very day. Community members I did not know, and old friends re-met, helped me without complaint: some offered leather for my weapon, others words of respect and encouragement, and yet others silent acceptance. Some were frightened, or uncertain, and mostly kept it to themselves. All of it mattered. I was alone in my Hunt: part of the Mystery is that your Hunt is yours alone. Yet I was not alone in my Hunt: the community banded together for all of us Hunters, and made us know that we were NOT alone, even though we went to face our demons in the dark by ourselves.
We were not entirely by ourselves, but those who would aid us were far removed. The villagers were there, we knew, but meanwhile, out in the wood, we Hunters were alone with the spirits of the forest, and our Prey.
I shall only say that my Hunt was successful.
The Hunt is (rightfully) considered a Mystery. What you learn is not for words. Those that have hunted, know. Each aspect of the Hunt has its Mystery, and each aspect of the Hunt draws from the participant resources that are miraculous and powerful, and even terrifying.
I have helped in the Hunt every year since that time. I have drummed, and learned a Mystery that still amazes me; I have been a villager, and discovered more, a mystery of my inner workings I couldn't have known any other way. Now, with SilverDrake, I aid in the facilitation of the Sacred Hunt for others. I have Hunted, now, I serve the community of the Hunt.
I am blessed, in that not only have I experienced the Hunt, and its Mysteries, but that I can help others do the work that they need to do.
The next section is written by Fearn, the beautiful, compassionate woman whose gift of gifted empathy has made a lasting impact on the Hunt. Fearn is currently the Village Coordinator (or Head Villager):
The Sacred Hunt. The beloved Village. It was four and a half years ago at PSG when I first became a part of the Village of the Sacred Hunt. A friend was going to be Hunting for the first time and when I learned that I could help him, I got involved. I knew intuitively that I had to be there though didn’t realize at that time that it would be such an incredible experience that would forever change me.
I went to the orientation meeting and listened in wonder and excitement to David Doersch and Liz Wiley as they explained the framework of the ritual and the general purpose of the separate roles: Hunters, Villagers, Drummers and Firetender. I realized that this was going to be unlike any ritual I had ever participated in before.
The next night I entered Hickory Grove and felt it transformed, the magic begun already. In silence, the Villagers walked around the space quietly preparing in their own individual ways. The air was crackling with anticipation, then hugs, smiles, and heart connections that were quickly forming amongst us. We became stronger in our collective purpose, energy, and intention. From that point, I was no longer just myself, I was One of the Village.
The drum’s heartbeat began and I was quickly wrapped in the energy and momentum of the ritual. My heartbeat became one with the drums, with the Drummers, with the sacred land we stood on, with the Villagers beside me, with the Hunters who entered the space. Though our roles were separate, we were One.
When the drumbeat quickened, I stood and watched, feeling the different roles and how they were interacting with one another. The Villagers stood together in the light and shadows of the Sacred Fire, often combining their efforts and energies in support of the Hunters and Drummers. The energy swirled around, was directed as needed, was accepted as needed.
During the ritual, the change in me happened so deeply, so quickly, yet I did not consciously feel it let alone understand or comprehend it yet. The ritual gifted me with the incredible opportunity to witness intense and deep spiritual work unlike any which I had seen up to that point in my life. It helped me to see a potential for self-transformation that I had never been aware of before. I felt so blessed, so grateful to have been able to be of service, to have been a part of the Village.
That following day walking through the "town" of PSG, I could feel other members of the Village before I could see them. We would nod to one another and greet each other "Greetings Hunter," "Hello Drummer," "Good morning Villager." Our hearts open to one another through the experience of coming together in the Village.
At the post-mortem we shared common feelings, visions and impressions. It seemed to seal the experience somehow. As I was talking to some of the Village at the conclusion of the post-mortem, a Hunter, who I had supportively cradled in my arms after his Hunt, gathered me and a few other Villagers who he had felt a deep connection to during the ritual. Taking us to his Hunt Space, he offered as gifts some sacred objects that had been a part of his Hunt as a way of showing his gratitude, then suddenly turned and walked off. I was moved to tears that this Hunter, whose name I never knew yet who I had bonded with deeply in ritual, was gifting us for our service when the service itself was the incredible gift.
I brought those gifts back to my personal sanctuary, my apartment where I live, and they have sat in a circle on my main altar since the day I returned. For four and a half years, they have been a reminder of the change that occurred in me when I became a part of the Village of the Sacred Hunt. It was a reminder of the deep sense of honor that service to community was and continues to be for me. It was a reminder that the Village is always there, always in support of one another, even if we are not near one another physically.
The following piece was written by Aspen, the Drumming Coordinator, whose gentle spirit belies a fierceness and tenacity that allows him to orchestrate the Drumming (while also drumming himself) in a breathtakingly intuitive manner.
Hunt drumming is full of dichotomies and contradictions - - and mysteries.
It is the steady rumble of energy which heats the crucible of the Hunt grounds, implacably urging each lonely Hunter to continue his or her quest - - a private urging to each one, saying "Carry on. Go." It is also the most public of the Hunt's manifestations; the sign that energy bends now to serve and support the Hunters, the clamor of each kill, the stark silence when all is done.
Hunt drumming is not like bonfire drumming; there are no soloists, there is no danceable beat, there is not and cannot be a jockeying for ego. We all play the same flat, fast, implacable pulse for hours without end. We drum in service, which is not like playing for dancers' delight - - it does not feed the competitive spirit or open up space for flirty fun.
Each Drummer approaches the same abyss that each Hunter does, and each one must exert conscious will to press through. Each Drummer (and Hunter) asks "Do I have the strength for this?" Though we sit together in a tight phalanx, each of us has our own internal battle of will to fight with the exhaustion of our own bodies. On the spectrum of individuality, the Hunters are the most alone; the Villagers have the greatest freedom to confederate or go solo; and the Drummers are the most rigidly conjoined - - and yet the snake swallows its tail, for each Drummer must choose alone to press on.
And yet in a strange way, Hunt drumming is incredibly accessible to anyone who wishes to do it. Pretty much anyone, regardless of drumming experience, can drum for the Hunt - - provided they have the internal focus. Physical prowess is not a predictor of success as a Drummer; willingness to accept the powerful energetic gifts of the Villagers is.
The next section was written by PathWalker, long-time Fire-tender for the Hunt, whose wise and humble presence and ability to shape fire is a gift beyond measure for this ritual:
Sacred Celestial Fire brings Universal aspects into being, and marks their existence. Our Sun's Solar Fire represents a portion of the Elemental Balance required to sustain life upon our native earth. And each year at Summer Solstice, Fire in its many aspects comes to life in the arena of PSG's Sacred Hunt, where it helps weave together the fabric of this awesome and transformative experience.
Preceding the event, the Sacred Hunt Fire purifies the event's Sacred Space, providing a beacon to the Ancient Ones of Hunter realms as well as supportive residual energies of prior participants. Once underway, Sacred Fire helps unify the magickal workings of Villagers, Drummers and Hunters alike. A sharply flaring Sacred Fire enhances that climactic moment when Hunter and Hunted momentarily merge then forever separate, via a symbolic "kill." Following the event, residual energies are released to the Universe as the Sacred Fire dies and silence returns.
For several years it's been my honor to participate alongside Ouibe as the Hunt's Sacred Fire Co-tender. I look forward to the Sacred Hunt's reincarnation at Camp Zoe, where the Sacred Hunt's magical energies past and present shall once AGAIN illuminate the night.
The following was written by Ouibe, who is currently the Sacred Fire Co-tender in the Hunt, a woman with a sparkling sense of mischief and wit and a breathtaking ability to pierce the Veil with her perception:
The Sacred Hunt from the Alchemical Center
All year we’ve been preparing, the staff members that create The Sacred Hunt. From conference calls to compare notes, progress and ideas, to the studying, path working and Pagan practicum of magic, we have each been incubating all year the magic that makes the Sacred Hunt what it cumulates as: an intense, transformative and highly cathartic ritual.
My role in the Sacred Hunt is that of one of the Fire Keepers. This service goes far beyond making sure there is enough wood to keep a fire going for a few hours. I am honored that my fire kin, PathWalker, has blazed this path before me and has shared with me his wisdom, stories and mysteries of this role within the Hunt. Individually and together, he and I prepare the Hunt area with blessings and wards. I have for the past two years actually laid and started the fire, a sacred process that I dearly love.
Fire burns up
We keep the birthing of the fire as natural as possible, avoiding the use of an aim-a-flame or accelerants. One of my earliest memories of ritual is that of my father teaching me to light a fire. I was probably 7 or 8 years old (my, how times have changed). Each time I go through this ritual, I can feel his spirit accompany me and even lead me to the best of components.
I was taught to gather, in order, fluff, tinder, kindling and firewood. Fluff is material that burns easily and straight away – dead pine needles and fallen birch bark, naturally imbued with an oil that takes off easily, bits of animal fur, dried leaves, rolled up hairs from my own head, etc. Starting a fire in this way is most satisfying if materials are all natural. The magical associations with many of these components are deep, runic and weave much of the mystery of the sacred fire tending.
After laying a railroad of small sticks on the ground for circulation, the fluff gets arranged in a long, neat mound atop the length of it. It looks like a small, awaiting body. At each end of the bier, sticks are jammed into the earth at an "X" and a supporting spit stick is cradled above it.
Next I gather pieces of tinder, small twigs to be smaller than my smallest finger in diameter. I was taught to find dead branches that had yet to fall from the trees, for they remain driest, and won’t be moist from lying on the ground. Tinder is arranged above the bier, lean-to-style, and supported by the spit stick. The more tinder, the better.
Next comes the kindling. These branches ranged in diameter from my smallest finger to smaller than my wrist. Also, the deader and drier, the better. These were laid atop the tinder in the same configuration.
Last comes the firewood. Larger pieces, wrist-diameter and larger split logs, waiting nearby for the laid fire to take off. If everything goes as planned, they will be within easy reach to grab and lay atop the flaming kindling.
A match is struck and set to the fluff…gently. Flaring to life, burning quickly and bright, the flames leap just a few inches and ignite the tinder. The hot flare of the burning fluff is enough to get the tinder going, which has just a bit longer life span than the fluff. By the time the fluff is burnt to ash, in just a few moments, the tinder is already heating, charring and igniting the kindling. As the flames grow, I breathe life into the fire, exciting it with oxygen, chanting magic, blessings, protection, life, ferocity, into the jumping and licking flames. Up it goes.
The base of this fire has to be solid – a long, slow burn. This is like the very base of community, which has come together to create a space where a Hunt like this can be held.
At the beginning of the ritual, the fire is stoic, holding space; it is there for illumination and as the touchstone for the center of the Hunt community. Once the ritual begins in earnest, however, this fire takes on a life of its own.
The fire tenders continuously stoke fire with smaller fuel. We blast our breath into the base of the fire, which tears oxygen up the height of the flames. It has to burn brightly, viciously, hungrily, to feed the energy of the hunters, to fuel the support of the villagers and to forge the roar of the drummers.
During the wild ride of the hunt, the fire is a visual and alchemical axis. The Earth’s energy blasts up through the fire, shimmering into the heavens and radiating outward into the Hunters, the PSG Community, and the world, feeding and echoing the energy of the tribework here. It is a hearth fire for the hunters to glance up and visually touch, through sweat-stung eyes, a contact of the center, community and primal energy. It touches the sister flames in the forest, one with each hunter, keeping the connection alive. It illuminates the eyes of totems, protectors, phantoms and monsters in the darkness of the forest, at once a voracious predator and a fierce weapon at our backs. It leaps to the howls and shrieks of the hunters, almost exultant, defiant. And on we feed it.
As the ritual cumulates, the fire is a beacon to bring the hunters in. Explosions of sound, heat, light and fury accompany each hunter’s success in the night, more mysteries. When the last hunter is back, the fire exhales, slowly banking down, serving now to warm, to consume just the energetic and spiritual offerings and remains that are fed to it. Its job as a illuminator, protector, catalyst, and engine, a geyser of raw, primal power, is done.
The next section was written by Hawthorn, a man who writes beautiful songs and has a strong voice as a Hunter:
The modern world has evolved faster than the human spirit. This is why I participate in the Hunt. Because I believe inside all of us are primal urges and raw instincts that we bottle up on a daily basis. I have tried to stalk my prey (at the local grocery store). I have attempted to keep the wolves at bay (and off my city block). And I have felt the thrill of the kill (just try to run from my level 71 gnome frost-mage). But with all sarcasm aside, having the opportunity to be able to truly explore and work with all of those energies. To be able to release them in a safe way; in a safe environment. Then to focus all of that raw energy towards a specific spiritual purpose. Knowing that when it is all done I will never be the same, but comforted knowing that while this path and magick is my own, I am surrounded by others who feel the same drive.
The last section of this article was written by David Doersch, a complex, multi-faceted man who we all honor as the founder and creator of this ritual experience that has so profoundly touched the lives of so many:
Those who Hunt, don’t do so just for themselves, but are Hunting for the entire Hunt Village and the ripples of Hunts spread and benefit the PSG community and beyond.
Some two decades ago, within the larger Pagan community, I perceived a trend in the ritualizing towards a very gentle, nurturing and affirming pattern in the rituals. Don't get me wrong, these were lovely and supportive and very nice. That was the problem, they were nice. While I have no issue theologically with what was being practiced, I found that these yin rituals really weren't speaking to my deeper self. The form was not matching my personal needs. I have always responded better to yang energy and while I support and encourage the beauty and gentleness of the yin practices, they were not helping me to reach my deepest areas of transformative work.
I began to work on a concept using the ancient archetypes of the Hunt. The idea would be that a group of "hunters," i.e. individuals working on significant personal change and growth, would be wordlessly driven to battle their own demons, hunt their own goals, chase their own needs. This would and could be intensely powerful because each Hunter would be answerable only to Herself or Himself. Coming from a background in the Theatre, I have always understood that it is the portions of the story that are left to the imagination that are most powerful. All too often, we create, even with the best intentions, divisions and separations -- diminishments of effect with our words, whereas with the unspoken, we are left only to the common Human experience. Of course, I hadn't thought all this through when I began work on the ritual. It was more of an inchoate feeling, guiding me towards a kind of ritual, rather than a clear-headed, perspicacious series of choices towards a specific ritual.
The first experiments with the Hunt occurred in the early 90's with my group in Minneapolis. Very intense, but lacking in several details. I shared the ritual with my wife, Liz, and she -- a very gentle and nurturing person -- determined that I had gone too far into the yang and had not balanced the act. While the Hunters' experience needed the yang intensity, the energy within the circle needed balance and grounding. We needed a yin source to counterbalance and provide a stable platform from which the Hunters could launch. The idea of the Villagers was born. The Villagers are a group of supporters, nurturers -- but more than that -- they are active energy givers who feed the Hunters energy and cloak them with protections during their journey. With this addition brought by Liz, something aligned and was triggered.
We could never have predicted the Sacredness that occurred when we added the Villagers to the mix. Something about their selflessness, their focused support and love detonated an explosive new level of commitment from the Hunters. Now they were not Hunting only for themselves and to fight their own demons. Now they fought and struggled for us all. Now there were others depending upon them to succeed in whatever their personal transformation entailed. Now, they were not just Hunters, but Sacred Warriors.
A similar change happened concurrently, and really cannot be separated out in discussion. The corps of drummers went from two or three overworked but valiant souls, to nearly twenty. A wall of drummers, four or five thick, that created a massive wave of energy and sound that transported the Hunters to a magickal place, to a sacred and powerful place. I cannot overstate the contribution that the Drummers brought, often unwittingly, to this ritual.
Over the years, new additions and tweaks have been added. A post-Hunt feast, to help the physical grounding of the Hunters -- and to touch again the archetypal world towards which we strove. Each addition brought new power and somehow moved us closer to the indescribable towards which we yearned.
Liz and I had experienced numerous metaphysical and incredibly powerful events over the years. We had seen and felt things that could only be described as the miraculous, and watched in awe as we all touched the Divine and Timeless in some arcane and ineffable manner. But it was never me or Liz that caused or created it. We had bumbled forward over the years towards a feeling of greater Truth. We made some mistakes (such as letting spectators observe the ritual one year), and we left some holes unfilled. But mostly we listened. We listened to our inner voices moving us towards some Artistic whole, we listened to the participants sharing their experiences and reflecting on what would have made it better. What has made this ritual powerful, through all of our changes and efforts, has been the intensity and integrity with which the participants -- those beautiful souls who have earnestly engaged this event over the years - embraced the ritual. How indescribably powerful and joyful those transformations have been; some were poignant to the point of tears on all our faces; some were obviously the pain of a torn or tearing spirit, needfully but agonizingly having to excise some toxic part of itself. How enriched and blessed we have been to have stood witness to this over the years! How humbled and awed we have been by the privilege granted us by the Hunters, Villagers, Drummers, Fire Tenders and Feast Partners.
Three or four years ago, after many years, Liz and I realized that it was time to step down from leading the Hunt. Even the most powerful and rich creative relationships can be spent, and we both felt that we were no longer bringing to the ritual the energy and focus that we once had. It wasn't that we had lost any of the respect or awe for the ritual, it was merely that we were exhausted and needed to hand off the baton.
But to whom does one trust a sacred event like this? We were thrilled when Drake stepped up and agreed to take this on. Besides being a psychologist who specializes in archetypal relationships to the world, he had personally gone through the Hunt as a Hunter, not once, but three times. He had seen his personal journey as a trilogy. He wisely gathered River, who had also Hunted, Villaged and Drummed for this ritual over the years, and Fearn, who brought a woman's perspective to the Hunters. Together, they have continued our efforts, ennobled the vision and kept this yang ritual alive. Liz and I are deeply grateful to their efforts and successes. We know that the community will be blessed for years to come with the opportunity for honest, painful and necessary transformation that this ritual provides. It is not a ritual for everyone, but in its edginess, it provides a critical and necessary ritual for many. We are deeply proud to have played a part in the history of this ritual and look forward to watching it grow and develop over the years.
"For it is in the grey area beyond exhaustion, where the magick lies."
These are the Voices of those who love this ritual for many reasons. For me, the Sacred Hunt satisfies a deep longing for a real connection to what Carl Jung calls the Numinous—the very real magic and mystery that comes into being when people work together, passionately united in intense focus and purpose. I honor David Doersch and Liz Wiley for what they created together, and I honor all participants and facilitators of the Hunt, past, present, and future. Thank you for taking time to share with us our excitement about this beautiful ritual.
This year, PSG will have a new home at Camp Zoe, and the Hunt will take place on new grounds in the Ozark Mountain region. I am admittedly sad about the loss of our beautiful ritual space at in Hickory Grove at Wisteria. On the other hand, if the Hunt has taught us anything, it is that we may face the unknown with courage and anticipation. I eagerly look forward to meeting the land spirits there that will protect, challenge, and help future Hunts.
Postscript: Since the publication of this article, the Hunt has continued to evolve further and continues to be a PSG tradition. The Hunt is now coordinated by Hawthorn, and has adapted gracefully to several PSG locations.