Society & Culture
Nestled in the heart of Ohio beneath a canopy of red and gold lies Camp Graham, the home of the Earth Warriors Festival. Seven years ago, under the direction of event organizer and shop owner, Heather Killen, members of the local pagan community gathered to create sacred space for growth and networking amongst those who walk the path of a warrior or guardian. Since then the festival has grown from being a small outdoor event to being one of the premier festivals in the nation.
(Participants gather around the fire)
This year I was invited to teach at the festival and jumped on the opportunity to fly out and bring some west coast witchery to rural Ohio. For those of you who don’t know, I grew up not far from the festival location, so this was going to be a bit of a blast from the past for me. I loaded a suitcase and boarded a seven hour flight to Columbus. When I arrived on location the event staff was finishing preparations and attendees began pouring in. One by one tents sprung up and by nightfall the land, not to far from Fort Ancient, was buzzing with the beat of drums and roaring fire. EWF felt different than other festivals but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why that was.
I taught an early morning workshop called Advanced Psychic Shielding to a bright-eyed group of people the next day after breakfast. I had a blast sharing my top five spells for psychic shielding and really enjoyed discussing concepts of etheric cleanliness. Those who came to my workshop seemed to get a lot out of our time and asked all the right questions. I spent the rest of the day meeting new people and walking around the beautiful festival site. I felt at home there, I felt comfortable there, I felt proud to be pagan there.
(Devin Hunter preparing for his workshop)
The next day I was approached by an old friend of mine who had signed up to participate in a ritual called The Sacred Hunt. He had taken a vow of silence and as he wrote out his request I soon realized I was being asked to participate as well. I agreed not knowing exactly what I was signing up for, but when a friend asks for ritual support you do it. He smiled, gestured ‘thank you,’ and pointed me in the direction of one of the ritual leaders.
Without giving too much away, as there are elements to this ritual that are meant to be kept secret, I found that I had signed up to participate as a ritual ally for those who would be performing a sacred hunt at midnight. I listened eagerly as I was explained my role and spent the rest of the day preparing for the ritual that night, checking on my friend, and pondering over those things that I needed to hunt in my own life. You see, the ritual wasn’t designed to hunt prey of the physical sense, but rather that of the mental and spiritual. That night I entered the dark woods alone and emerged early the next morning a changed man. There, under the light of a crescent moon and the crisp chill of an autumn night, I released the chains that bind.
As the sun rose Saturday morning I awoke to the sound of birds racing through the trees and squirrels busily gathering for the long winter that would surely come. Still electrified and entranced from a night of drumming and sweat I made my way to the galley where breakfast was coming to a slow end. As I poured hot water over my tea I overheard a conversation that would change the way I looked at pagan community forever.
There amongst the close of breakfast and the clanking of dirty dishes I heard the kitchen staff discussing the fact that they had venison on the menu. This wasn’t just any venison, but deer that had been ritually hunted and brought back to feed the community that was gathering there that weekend. My jaw hit the floor. This changed the way I saw the people around me, it changed the way I saw the pagan community as a whole. Upon further investigation I discovered that the event organizer blesses each hunter at the start of deer season and empowers them to have a plentiful hunt. The deer are given rites of passage when they are tagged and are then brought back to the organizer who then processes the deer for meat and other supplies. Everything is used, even the fat from the deer which is then rendered into a special ritual soap, which you can purchase at her store.
Later that day I taught ritual dance techniques and parts of a Maori war dance called the Haka. I couldn't stop thinking about how different the culture was here, how everyone really did get along and everyone was going out of their way to be kind to one another. I looked at the blacksmith who had set up a forge next to the communal fire making hooks for someone who needed a tent repair, and saw the fire-spinner setting up a candlelit labyrinth. These people celebrated spirit by putting it first and their greatest sacrament was community. They were doing it right, thats why it felt so different.
(Celebrating high bids at the Pirate Auction, proceeds benefit the EW Council)
(Celebrating a very large bid on his donated spirit board, Devin Hunter is seen here lifting his shirt and rubbing his chest hair on the willing and winning bidder.)
During closing ritual the next day those in attendance spoke of how they had made connections to people the year before and thanks to those connections were able to survive a cold winter. I heard people say in countless ways how the community had lifted them up and supported them when they needed it. I heard people say that the festival gave them hope for a better world and it gave me hope, too. As the festival came to a close it was hard to let go and as I write this I wish so desperately to be back.
I go to a lot of festivals and have seen a lot of event staff. The staff at EWF is different. They stop to make a personal connection with each attendee and went out of their way to make sure each and every one of us had what we needed. They weren’t the kind of staff that put a million miles between you and them, they actually cared, and because they cared we all had a better experience. Everything was on time and the workshops ran smooth.
(Kellianna takes the stage and wows the crowed with her song, "Stone Henge.")
The entertainment was incredible. Kellianna, Sharon Knight, Pictus, the Pirates of the CUC Constantine, and DJ Frater Ziku made each night unforgettable. As concerts ended the main fire would fill with drummers and tribal beats would resonate in the woods for for hours. First-class presenters like Jacki Smith, Alaric Albertsson, Drake Spaeth, and Lilith Dorsey rose the bar with each workshop and continually upheld the high standards of this festival.
(Jacki Smith delivering her deeply inspiring workshop on "Becoming a Legend in your own life.")
I had an incredible time and look forward to coming back next year. It made me feel like I was home and gave me hope for the pagan movement. There I saw people building community by building bridges and working together, something that tends to be personified but not often experienced in the modern pagan movement. Everything from the food you ate to the songs you chanted brought you closer to spirit.
Attendees had this to say:
“EWF is a place where the idea of tribe truly comes to life. Everyone comes together, hauls together, and really works for a common goal. Cliques dissolve and hearts open. It's incredible.” - Michelle P
“I had an awesome experience at EWF. This was my first year and I left with peace in my soul and happiness in my heart. Everyone was so nice and helpful. The service by Seamus was inspiring. The presenters had so much wonderful information to share. The music by Sharon Knight, Kelliana, and Pictus was great. I enjoyed the vendors and their reasonable prices. I can't wait until next year. I was so impressed with the organization. A big "thank you" to Heather and all the volunteers!” - Sandy D
(Cue Ball playing the drums during a surprise jam session in the pavilion.)
“As a first time attendee I was not at all sure what to expect this weekend. What I found was an amazing tribe who were open and welcoming, instructors who shared knowledge openly and with spirit, rituals that changed my perspective and practice, and music that spoke to my soul. This was a particularly rough weekend for myself and my husband, and somehow every class and ritual seemed to be helping me through the chaos. I have made connections and friendships that will last far beyond the festival. There is no doubt that we will return next year.” - Betsy W
“We're small enough to be able to keep that personal feeling, yet continue to grow each year so are able to afford to bring in amazing presenters and musicians and also provide very yummy food at reasonable prices. Those are the mundane reasons EWF has become the fav fest of so many. But the real reason? It's the people. Heather and a rather large staff of volunteers truly do leave their egos at the door and are rather passionate about Serving the needs of our Pagan community. That attitude of compassion just seems to infest most everyone at the festival. How is this possible? Well, Magick, of course. Duh.” - Pan Jeff R
(Devin Hunter learning how to become a pirate.)
Even Sharon Knight left saying, “I am at Earth Warriors Festival. Awesome people. Piratey vibe, so I feel at home. Talked with a sister entrepreneur well into the night. Felt better about being Pagan than I have in months on the internet.”
All in all, this festival is life changing and is not going to remain a hidden gem for much longer. As the festival grows so does it’s spirit, which from my experience looks hard to contain.
(Devin Hunter and event coordinator Heather Killen.)
A very special thank you to Heather Killen for inviting me to come and be a part of this amazing event. Teaching this year was an honor and I hope to come and do it again soon. Your transparency, authenticity, and hospitality is second to none and what you have done with this festival is nothing short of miraculous. I truly hope that others can see what you have done and the sacrifices you make year round to make this festival happen. You are incredible and a gift to the pagan community.
To the EWF Staff, you all ROCKED IT! I never had a need for anything and you were even willing to work with my surprise food allergies! Thank you for the amazing job, you made this festival the incredible thing it was.
(Jacki Smith and Devin Hunter discussing world domination.)
To Jacki Smith of Coventry Creations, I had a remarkable time connecting with you and sharing so many deep thoughts. I look forward to having you on the show and can’t wait to put that order in! You gave me some incredible advice and are quite the powerful witch!
To the attendees, thank you for being there. Thank you for making the magic.
For more information about the Earth Warrior’s Festival visit their website. A special thanks for letting me use them and all photo-cress go to Jason Price.
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