EXOTIC ADVENTURES AT THE SACRED MOVEMENT HEALING ARTS AND MUSIC FESTIVAL
“Oh, that’s gonna chillax you a little bit,” Sage says. I’ve just squeezed a few drops from one of her sample-vials of Sacred Mayan Healing Tonic into my mouth. It burns like Jägermeister.
“Hmmm,” I think, “I don’t want to chillax too much.” So I take a few drops of Chi Builder Tonic, too. (Anthropological note: If you’ve ever doubted the validity of the Asia-America Land Bridge Theory, here, finally, is definitive proof: Mayans are into Chi!)
Sage is not Mayan. She’s blonde. And she’s tall and in a low-cut rainbow-patterned dress and she’s almost spastic with vitality and good vibes.
I point out the sparkly green thingy she has at her third-eye. “Yeah, someone bindied me!” she giggles.
I tell Sage that I’m here to report for my column. She insists that if I really want to experience the “true medicine” that this festival is all about, I need to follow her right this instant. Though I’ve just arrived at the festival, and haven’t had a chance yet to check anything out, I say OK. And then Sage leans a little handmade sign up against one of her bags of Four Elements System Tea. The sign reads: “At the Sweat Lodge, be right back.”
The Sweat Lodge is next to a brook, surrounded by towering pines that jut up and disappear out of your field of vision. There’s a bonfire going. The actual Lodge is a low circular structure, partially built into the ground, with a roof of branches radiating out from the center.
Around the fire there are perhaps three dozen half-naked white people (and one black guy with beads in his hair). Some have feathers woven into their dreads. Many are painting themselves in vivid red or black paints, in an approximation of some sort of Native look. A few are doing labored deep-breathing, moving their open palms up and down and guiding what I can only assume is their invisible Mayan Chi. They are wearing Calvin Klein boxer-briefs or Marijuana Leaf boxers or bikinis or organic cotton loincloths, but they’re all wearing looks of deep spiritual solemnity.
I feel extremely uncomfortable about participating in this Sweat Lodge for vague reasons concerning cultural appropriation, spiritual tourism, infiltrating-the-sacred. Also, a man in his underwear with bushy white eyebrows tells me “it’s like dying and being reborn,” which sounds sort of good but also sort of bad.
In the name of “journalism”-my excuse for everything-I strip down.
The Shaman’s (I know that term is totally not right) name is Jack. He has a strong-looking squat body and handsome dark eyes, each with a single deep-etched crows’ foot going back a considerable distance toward his ears. Jack is Sage’s boyfriend, it turns out. He tells us that he is Native and that his people are cousins with the Maidu who are native to this area and that he grew up with these ceremonies—establishing, in some way, the authenticity of what we’re about to participate in. He asks us to sign up on his Facebook page and his email list. Then he asks us to take a pinch of American Spirit tobacco and “offer it” to the fire.
We do this. And then we wash ourselves in smoke. And then we stoop down low and enter the Lodge, sitting down on the soft cool earth by the central pit, or along the rough-hewn benches in the back. Two people are sitting full-lotus, with their palms up, index fingers to thumbs. We are packed in shoulder to shoulder; someone is even sitting on my feet. The smell-of earth, of wood-fire, of pine forest, but especially of the three-dozen sweating hippies who’ve been participating in Yoga workshops all day-is intense, almost tactile, like an object or a dark force in the room.
Jack talks to us for a while. He seems to be defending himself from an imagined critic of these ceremonies being done for white people. “People say, ‘Why do you do this?’ but I say, ‘You’re just people to me,’” he says, crouched by the entrance. “You all, you’re just people to me. That’s all.” He says that he loves hippies and that hippies remind him of his own people and that he even considers himself a “Native Hippy.”
This “just people” line of thought resonates with me, in a way. What are spiritually impoverished white (I mean “white” in the larger you-don’t-actually-have-to-be-white-to-be-“white” sense of the term) Americans supposed to do, exactly? Are they only allowed to go to Christian churches or the Mall? What about just being open and seeking and learning from different human traditions and finding connection and not always questioning and self-policing so much? Maybe this hyper-self-aware over-analyzing thing I do all the fucking time is the real problem? Maybe I just need to let go, man.
Yet there just seems to be something garish and in poor taste to dress up like Indians; to play make-believe with cultures one has only a shallow connection to; to take sacred traditions from people who’ve already had so much stolen from them; to be entitled Consumers of Culture; to pick and choose from other people’s sacred practices and patch them together—as if the world is still our Anthropological Oyster.
By the time the red-glowing stones are brought in on a pitchfork from the fire, and by the time the blanket at the opening is dropped and the water is ladled onto the stones so that everything is dark and steamy and unbearably hot—by that time I’m already tied up into my usual neurotic knots. Why can’t I just enjoy this and have an unmediated cathartic experience like everyone else in here?
Because people are feeling it. You can see it on their faces. A girl next to me is already weeping cleansing tears. People are rocking forward and back, mumbling prayers, having genuine personal experiences. They’re doing those ululating “Indian war-whoops” with their hands going on and off their mouths, and they’re not feeling ridiculous doing them—they’re just pure expressions of gratitude and joy.
There’s the steady drum, like a heartbeat heard in utero, and Jack is leading everyone in song and then people start “offering” their own hippie songs and prayers and thanks to “The Grandfather and The Grandmother” and they’re heartfelt, so heartfelt.
When it’s over, outside, everyone embraces. I don’t feel like embracing. Don’t feel right doing that. So I just go right over to the brook and let myself down into the cool waters and it’s like all my cells were just individually cleansed and I feel physically amazing and yet separate, very separate. I wish I could be a Hippie-it seems so much more fun to be a Hippie-but I can’t; I’m not.
On the way back up to the festival grounds, the man walking in front of me spots a leopard-spotted wildcat—like an Ocelot, except I’m pretty sure Ocelots don’t live up here—in the tall grass, five yards from us. The cat is maybe 35 pounds and she’s gorgeous.
Other people from the Sweat Lodge Diaspora come wandering up, and they see the cat, too. You can see in their eyes that they’re wondering, “What does it mean?”—á la Double Rainbow Guy. Then one of them asks, to no one in particular: “What do you think that means?”
But nobody has the answer.
The Sacred Movement Healing Arts and Music Festival is set against Lake Concow under a spare canopy of sky-bound pine. It’s a truly lovely setting.
Generally speaking it’s what you’d expect a Hippie/New Agey Festival to be like. There’s a stage with Jam Bands jammin’ in front of psychedelic projections. The projections are being made live by this awesome ponytailed guy with a video mixer and a plate he moves around on colored oil and water. There’s another stage with DJs playing Dubstep and girls doing sensual Belly-Dance-inspired hippy-dancing in midriff shirts and one dude (that dude) doing a combination of Ecstatic Dance and Pop-Locking off to one side (drawing, from Ecstatic Dance, the imperative to not be concerned with being “good.” I can only imagine, since I came very late, what the “hip hop cypher” and Poetry Slams were like, though I cringe, cringe at the thoughts).
There’s laughing children running about. There’s the open enjoyment of Medicine. There’s slacklining (Gen-Y’s hacky-sacking). There are Aerialists dangling from long stretches of fabric suspended from branches, sort of stuck-looking but trying to play it off.
There are booths with Saris and paisley sarong-dresses and another with Tie-Dye.
At one booth I meet Anthony and Sunkiss. Anthony sells these pendants that he says are “energy generators.” “Every stone has a unique energy and the wrap just amplifies it,” he explains. The pendants are pretty.
And Sunkiss, who has butt-length dreads, draws trippy watercolors. There’s one of a big marijuana bud with crystals coming out of it. The drawing is titled “Bicolor Urkline”—a combination of the type of crystals and the strain of marijuana.
“The crystals coming out of medicine isn’t all I do,” Sunkiss tells me. “If you wanted a synapsis (sic) of what I do it’d be visionary meditation and mandala,” she says. “I meditate with the name of the festival I’m going to and then feel what my gift to offer that community is,” she explains.
Sunkiss also does massage.
(Note: I mostly just tried not to interview any hippies at all because, if I quote them, it invariably seems like I’m trying to mock them, which I really don’t want to do. But Hippies just say/do such hippyish shit, man. There’s not much I can do.)
It’s dark now, and I’ve caught a chill from my brook-wet underwear and so I buy a Tie-Dye sweatshirt and then I buy a hot chocolate, too. I’m really excited about my hot chocolate even though it’s made, it turns out, from chia seeds and hemp seeds and coconut sugar and a banana.
I sit by the big bonfire in my Tie-Dye and sip my “hot chocolate” and chat with a few people. I like the people I talk to. I like hippies, even though they can be such hippies, sometimes. They’re trying, you know? Trying to rediscover the sacred, trying to do the right thing, trying to love each other, eat healthy, not be consumer shit-heads. Like I said, I wish I could be a Hippie.