he Shaman, the Poisoner, and I arrived at Raven’s Nest when the sun was at its height in the blue sky. As we set up our tents and the axe throwing targets, we quickly discovered how the camp site got its name; ravens circled with loud croaks and the flapping of their great black wings. The Poisoner croaked back, having a conversation with a particularly large grandfather raven. It was a pleasant discovery for all in attendance at the festival as Tynehead Park is in the middle of a booming, ever-expanding city. Unlike crows, ravens do not like cities or people, preferring wild places. The park is likely one of the last hideouts for all the wild creatures that once spilled out over the land where rows of suburban houses and box stores now rule. We also learned many of the park’s serpent names are not coincidence either – there are plenty of snakes to be found! Tynehead is most well known for its Serpentine River full of salmon. The salmon have attracted black bears, coyotes, ravens, eagles, and all manner of smaller creatures creating a wonderful biodiversity which the city folk don’t seem to appreciate as they keep trying to remove the bears.
Forest Spirit Fest kicked off with a tree walk through the park hosted by The Shaman (aka Grant) with me helping where I could. We were introduced to Alder, Hawthorn, Big Leaf Maple, Vine Maple, Western Red Cedar, Western Hemlock, Willow, Oak, Birch, Crab Apple, Bitter Cherry, Western Beaked Hazel, Black Cottonwood, and more. There were great old cedar stumps so big around it would’ve taken the group of us to hug them, logged long ago, but still intact and many were hollow so we could go inside. They would make excellent forts or fairy houses. The tops of the stumps were covered in opportunistic Western Hemlock and Red Huckleberry saplings as decaying Red Cedar is one of the best natural fertilizers in the forest.
As much as I am in love with all of the trees, there is a great English Oak hidden away in Tynehead Park and I’m glad we visited it on the tree walk. It is the biggest oak I’ve seen in my province as they don’t do well here. The ground is bare underneath its heavy branches which touch the ground, making it perfect for ritual and its perimetre is surrounded by its much smaller children creating a ring of oaks, a mini grove. The red-berried Hawthorn trees and the Oak are not native to the Pacific Northwest. Once upon a time, a century or more ago, Tynehead was the site of vast farmer’s fields. The farmer must’ve been from the UK or Europe as he brought Blackthorn and Hawthorn trees with him to use as traditional hedges between the fields instead of fencing. The great Oak must’ve been close to a house once upon a time, though it is long since gone. The forest was so cool and shady, it was a shock to come back to the hot and sunny open meadow of the camp site after the walk.
After the walk my wonderful friend and festival co-host Dianne hosted a discussion on making herbal elixirs and had quite the rapt audience, enjoying the shade and the forest. I wish I could’ve listened in, but I had to set up the site for the big event of the evening. There were a few surprises at Forest Spirit Fest that only close family and friends knew about. Before the feast that night, The Poisoner and I were to be handfasted surrounded by family and friends in a beautiful forest ceremony performed by my good friend Nikiah (many of you know her as the bee priestess, but she is also a professional wedding officiant at Red Moon Ceremonies). My family had flown in from Ontario and we had friends come from as far away as Vancouver Island, Washington, the Okanagan, and the Kootenays. The Poisoner and I’s hearts could have burst from being surrounded by such a large crowd of people who had only love for us.
My father gave me away with a big grin on his face and the ceremony started. Heads wreathed in hawthorn, the Poisoner and I first left an offering of whiskey, bread, and cheese in the trees for the outdwellers who were not welcome inside the circle. Then we left a similar offering inside the circle for the Ancestors. A skein of red wool was passed person to person and then wound around the altar to bind the circle and us inside it. The Poisoner and I walk around the inside of the circle to our elders and gave them hugs while they bestowed blessings upon us – some with humour and some with tears. The beautiful ceremony Nikiah had written then began.
She bound our hands with the handfasting cord and revealed our second surprise to the crowd: three cords spun together – one for me, one for him, and one for our baby – a pleasant but intentional surprise we discovered after we’d planned our handfasting. If you’ve been wondering why I’ve been quiet, not crafting as much, and seemingly ill, it’s because I’ve mostly been hiding in bed with not-so-fun morning sickness for the past few months. Surprise! Most people in attendance were!
While our hands were bound Nikiah splashed us with fresh sprigs of wild sage dipped in water. She smudged us with a bird wing. She had us light our egg-shaped hearth candle with a beeswax taper. She fed us blackberries dipped in honey and de-alcoholized mead from a traditional Scots Quaich. She spoke beautiful blessings to us both. Suddenly we heard the loud flapping of wings, and the huge grandfather raven flew low, right over The Poisoner and I, letting out a loud pleased croaked. We laughed in delight and thanked him for his blessing, a blessing from the ancestors. And then we jumped the broom (which we had forgotten, but luckily a friend had gifted us a beautiful one by chance that day). They say we jump the broom to sweep away the old and make way for the new, but really it’s a phallic symbol and in old European folklore, if a woman crossed over a broom, it was believed she’d get pregnant — too late!
Still bound, The Poisoner and I walk around the circle with an offering of chocolate heart cookies and delicious mead from a bull’s horn to all our guests. “May you never hunger, may you never thirst!” Many gave us their blessings and all gave us big smiles. And then it was done. “Time to feast!” I shouted to everyone’s glee. And feast we did – what a potluck! And what cakes! Both Nikiah and another very good friend of ours had made us cakes – four in total! It was a lucky thing though as we ended up needing them all to feed the crowd. Chocolate beet, spiced carrot, vanilla, and sponge cake.
The tables were covered in green cloths and decorated with lanterns, canning jars full of wild flowers, and pots of every herb imaginable which my Auntie had brought. More lanterns hung from the picnic shelter, creating a soft glow at sunset. Jan lit the bonfire and we all celebrated by its warmth with food and drink and excellent company.
The next morning Nikiah hosted her honey bee workshop in a great bell tent decorated with red blankets and saris and goodies from her beehive. The tent was packed to the gills with people who wanted to learn about the unfortunate plight of the modern honey bee as well as their importance, their sacredness, and their long history of coexistence with humans. It was a wonderful workshop, full of excellent lore, a delicious honey tasting, and a simple meditation.
After lunch Dianne, Seb, and I hosted a Pacific Northwest native plant walk also covering wild herbalism 101. We had quite the turnout! It wasn’t a short walk, but they were all troopers and we had them identifying plants on their own by the end. It was sad to see that many areas of the park had been allowed to be overrun by invasives like Himalayan blackberry and jewelweed, but it could’ve been worse. Even though it had been a very dry season and most flowers and fruits were now gone, we lucked out finding bolete mushrooms, nettles, herb robert, false lily of the valley, false solomon’s seal, skunk cabbage, some seriously prolific wild comfrey, as well as covering tree medicine and many edibles. Dianne’s forté is wild medicines, Seb is a pro when it comes to edibles, and I know a lot about traditional magico-religious uses of native plants. Between the three of us, we managed to fill in the gaps in each other’s knowledge resulting in well-rounded teachings.
When we returned from our plant walk we received another surprise. Catamara, the host of the Esoteric Book Conference had come to visit with a good friend of hers as she just happened to be in town that weekend DJing. It was lovely to meet more fellow occultists and we had some lively discussions before they had to run off to the gig. If you’re a bibliophile within driving distance to Seattle I highly recommend the conference. It’s affordable and entrance to the esoteric art show and book fair is free.
In the afternoon there was a discussion on home brewing, and distilling to make essential oils and hydrosols. At the same time was an informal fire-starting workshop. Jan taught the adults how to start a fire with a bow and drill and the Shaman taught the kids how to start a fire with flint and steel. No matter what age you are, I don’t think one ever tires of lighting things on fire.
That evening we had a truly impressive forager’s feast – a potluck of wild and local foods everyone had brought. There were moose burgers, venison and herb sausages on buns with mustard, fire roasted quails in black currant sauce, elk and juniper salami, wild boar salami, duck proscuitto, and a local cheese platter. There were homemade wild jams and pickles, salal berry muffins, piles of tiny wild plums, Seb’s amazing from scratch blackberry jello, homemade wild fruit syrups we made sodas with, and so much more. We ate until we were so full of meat we resembled a pack of wolves with fat bellies after having gorged on a deer. We socialized, drummed, and danced around the fire that night, the children cooking us marshmallows and delicious smores for desert.
In the morning, we woke up, ate bacon, and then began the take down and clean up of the site. It went faster than we could’ve hoped with all the campers pitching in. Seb and I took the wildflowers from my handfasting, a bottle of mead, and a pile of wild seed biscuits to a hidden, mossy and old Hawthorn grove Dianne had discovered and left them there as an offering of thanks to the genius loci of the forest for letting us share their land for the weekend. We all hugged and made our farewells and hit the road home. I was very sad to leave the forest and all the wonderful people at the festival, old friends and new. We had such a good time and received such good feedback that Dianne and I will host another Forest Spirit Fest next year, either in the same form, or at a bigger site with cabins and showers. The big difference will be that next year the Poisoner and I will be coming with a tiny new baby.