[ Photo by 403 ABC ]
Reflections on Illumination: Astral Harvest, 2018
Written by Nix Nihil
July 19, 2018
When I sat down to try and write something about Astral Harvest Season 11: Illumination, my brain would not let me. Come on, now, it said, You have only ten fingers. And two hands. One keyboard. You surely cannot compress that week of elevated experience into any coherent structure. Why even try? Perhaps my brain was right—but try, I must! Focus! Focus.
* * *
In a last-minute decision, I was tasked with taking our group’s cube van to the festival grounds. I clamored to get all my camping supplies in order, taking two hours to do what I had originally planned to do in a whole day.
I arrive on site, late—in a van stuffed with a metric shit tonne of stuffed animals and other sundry soft objects for the Fuzz Life dome. I scramble to set up my tent and tarp in the dying light. Then, they come. Mosquitos. Mosquitos! MOSQUITOOOOOS!
“Happy birthday, dear Niiix.
Happy birthday to you!”
I sheepishly hang my head, flattered and embarrassed, as my friends sing this silly song for me. Shots are taken. Puffs are inhaled. Beer and wine are sipped. Cheers and toasts are exchanged. What a hell of a time and place to celebrate my thirty-fourth birthday!
Last year was truly excellent. But this one will be incredible!
I am dispatched… by the High Priestess… to seek the Raven! Must… fetch… Raven!
Every cell burns for oxygen as I dash to the outlands in pursuit of the wayward messenger. Time is running out, but I find her! I pull her out of her nest. I gather her shiny things while she adorns herself. We fly back in tandem. Fly, fly, fly… back to the Temple.
Here! Go, Raven, that way! To the left!
Just in time, Raven drops her sealed letter before the feet of the High Priestess.
I am exhausted from two days of performance and revelry. But, as I enter the river, that all washes away.
Sitting in the mud, splashing and laughing with my friends, I become a child again. Such simple joys.
I am an angel of peace and forgiveness. I flutter down from Heaven in a flicker of sunlight. I carry a basket full of cut, black ribbon. I move to a hundred beholders, offering these gifts. The High Priestess sings the song of remembrance and release, of love and life. My eyes meet those of a distant reflection. I approach. I bow while extending a ribbon to my friend. A gift for my love. There is only love. I dissolve into bliss and melt away as the hearts of the beholders blaze in rapturous flame. I smile and disappear, for I am no longer needed here.
See my shadow changing,
stretching up and over me.
Soften this old armor—
hoping I can clear the way
by stepping through my shadow.
Coming out the other side.
Step into the shadow.
Forty-six and two are just ahead of me.
Sitting on a plush throne, sunken in the sands of the dancefloor that is the outdoor living room of the Manor, I stretch back, put down my pen, close my notebook, raise my goblet of sangria, and take a sip. Ah. That’s the life.
Shadow Raven returns to the temple, spotting a new shiny. She moves to claim it. As she swoops, Golden Lion pounces. The spirits surprise one another. Their awareness sharpens and, eye to eye, they circle round and round. They cackle, and they growl. They hop and they swipe, but they do not harm one another.
As the silence grows thick, the Magus looks to the Temple courtyard while the Shaman steps back to comfort Shadow Raven and Golden Lion. The Magus, staring trance-deep into the courtyard, conjures forth a wand. Facing the crowd, and raising the wand aloft, the Magus steps forward.
He takes a deep breath and proclaims:
I flop down in the Fuzz Life dome among friends as they chill out, color in books with markers, trade wardrobe items, and claim treasures. This place becomes a refuge from the sun during hot afternoons: a place to kick off the boots and rest, a place to recharge myself before key performances. Sleep is scarce. And, like some journeying magi, we “sleep in snatches” and catch what Zs we can in between moments of revelation, bursts of intensity.
I am particularly amused by the children who visit the dome for its trinkets and minor treasures. Their greedy ingenuity never ceases to impress me. But these seven suckers are all connected and still in one package. So, that’s, like, one sucker. Can’t I have more?
steal, then, O orator,
plunder, O poet…
collect the fragments of the splintered glass
and of your fire and breath,
melt down and integrate,
opal, onyx, obsidian,
now scattered in the shards
men tread upon.
Sound pounds outward from the pyramids of Wakah Chan! The mob writhes in a dancing frenzy, and the blank eyes leering from the stone faces of the fearsome animal totems judge all, as wings stretch and claws extend. Static swirls and shattering fractals contaminate clear vision, and the tension from these sonic sacraments sweeps along the dirt floor. Stomp, feet! Kick, legs! Sway, arms! The Fierce Gods control your bodies now!
Behold, the sacrifice! Sounds sweet and terrible surge from the dais. How much can one hear? How hard can one dance? How long can one go on?
It is just you and I at the edge of it all. Everything is quiet. We stand at the end of the path. The lantern on the ground casts a dim glow.
Our conversation concludes. We have each set our own mission in motion. We have made our pact that nothing will break the sacred circle we have just drawn. We each know what we must do as we prepare to embark on our separate journeys. All that is pure and true shall find us. That which no longer serves us shall fall away.
We embrace. It is done.
Be it resolved.
As I watch a troupe of drag dancers sauntering across the stage at Angelica’s Basket while happy techno beats blast away, I think to myself: I’ve already seen a lot of beautiful shit at Astral so far, but I gotta give it to ‘em… this is the biggest fucking smile I’ve had on my face this whole time!
[and that stood, too.]
It has been a long day, and a longer night, and now another day dawns as the sun breaks over the distant tree line.
Singing my heart out at sunrise, the ritual is at its peak as a large group of my best friends all arrive at once. I cherish their support, but I cannot see their faces while blind in the trance-vision.
Eventually, they wander off, and the ritual draws to a close, with only the most determined witnesses remaining. But the songs are complete, and my heart is full. After a long sleep, and future meetings, these friends express their appreciation. Proposals for new collaborations are made and accepted. New alliances are forged. New possibilities appear.
Everyone is where they need to be. The time is always right.
I lie awake, tossing and turning in a miserable failure of sleep. So much adventure. So much fun. So much growth. And, so much love.
Still, at the center of this galaxy of joy, I sense the gravity well that is you. I will have no rest as long as this weight draws out from my mind in strands.
I surrender. I cease to deny: I love you, I love you, I love you.
I tear out two sheets of parchment. I try, carefully, to write. But, I cannot. I am, admittedly, afraid of what might come out. I hesitate to expose myself.
I close my eyes. I see your face and hear your name. Over and over. I sigh.
My hand moves, uncorrupted by thought, guided only by truth. For you.
The chrysalis squirms, coagulating from its liquified state, once adrift and in flux, imprisoned in a rigid shell, immobile and helpless.
The monarch bursts forth, shedding the husk, spreading its wings.
An intense drive home. I am tired, sure—but sober. Awake and aware, and riding with a friend. But, the car in front of me… what is going on here? He’s all over the road.
A badass biker dude closes in from the horizon, Harley gleaming. The gray car before us edges closer to the center line.
And closer… and closer. And closer.
The gray car crosses the center line. The bike thunders within fifteen feet of the gray car.
I smash the horn as this unguided missile cruises directly towards the biker. He swerves—right as the gray dart rips straight through the empty space where he would have been had he not been so vigilant.
Sheer catastrophe and death dodged us all by those mere few feet.
I pray you all be safe and responsible, my friends.
We come together for this ceremony,
and for all of Astral Harvest,
to support each other
and to hold space
for receiving inspiration from the Spirit World.
We give thanks for the gifts and talents
we already have
and for all the abundance
that is always there,
given to us by our beautiful Mother Existence.
May there be peace in the North!
May there be peace in the East!
May there be peace in the South!
May there be peace in the West!
May there be peace in the Universe!
[And, so it is.]
There is a great beating of drums. Shadow Raven and Golden Lion fall still. Out of a rising mist emerge the Shaman and the Magus. Approaching the objects of power, these humans sink to their knees. The Magus reaches for the lamp. He holds it still while the Shaman takes its fire and brings it to the bundle of sage, resting it on a seashell. As the sage burns, the Magus lowers the lamp and accepts the shell from the Shaman. The drumming stops.
The Shaman pulls the wafting smoke into her hands and washes her face, her crown, her heart, her whole being. She then takes the shell and the sage and approaches Shadow Raven, who receives the smoke. She approaches the Magus. He receives. She approaches Golden Lion. He, too, receives.
[ Photo by Brette Culp of 403 ABC ]
[ Photo by Britt Rose ]
[ Photo by Taylor Kanary ]
The elementals have gathered: sylphs, salamanders, gnomes, and undines. All women. The most powerful of women. They wind and they weave, entrancing their beholders, ensnaring them in Arachne’s webs.
They dance, they sing, they chant, they scream.
They are beauty. They are terror.
They are the tear in my eye.
[ Photo by 403 ABC ]