By Coleman Drew
A Witch went into the woods of Vermont in search of answers and instead discovered the beauty of living inside the questions.
As a queer artist living and witching in NYC, I realized I needed “someplace without any trouble” for a spell. I had no idea one would appear in the form of a Faerie Sanctuary. You might even say it was my destiny to discover it.
Nancy the Girl, my friend and Faerie Goddess Mother, has been apart of the Fae community for years. She’d been trying to get me to join in the fun and the stars aligned – quote literally with Mercury going stationary and a new Moon – to bring me into the fold just in time for Lammas. Now you might be asking yourself: What is a Faerie, let alone a Faerie Camp? And what does it mean to be Fae? Well quite simply, it’s a way of life. And it’s unlike anything you’ve ever experienced until you’ve lived it – but we’ll get to that in a bit.
I figured time in the woods without the bright, glowing distraction of computer screens that will never love me back would be the perfect place to answer some pressing life questions: What are you working towards? Are you living life as you want to create it? And if home is suppose to come from inside, why do I feel so lost? Ya know, all those summertime-sadness-seasonal-depression-kinda-existential-quandaries.
I think everyone in the LGBTQ+ community has a friend or a friend of a friend who is a Fae, so I’d heard of the radical faeries before. But being a Virgo rising, I of course, did some Googling before deciding that this was the place for my answer-seeking-pilgrimage.
Here’s what I found: The Radical Faerie movement began amongst gay men around the time of the Sexual Revolution in the ‘70s. Since then it’s become a larger counter-cultural movement that seeks to “redefine queer consciousness through secular spirituality,” including modern Paganism, environmentalism, and anarchism. Thank you, Wikipedia. Big ‘fuck the patriarchy’ and ‘help the environment’ energy, while still maintaining their grassroots in LGBTQ+ circles.
Located on 166 acres of reforested farmland in southern Vermont, this co-created, co-working queer community also helps people “cope and heal from a hostile Default World” through a series of gatherings and workshops. Think wellness classes, chainsaw workshops, gardening and permaculture methods, and sexual health workshops for queer and trans folk – you know, all the stuff they rarely teach you about in the “hetero” public school system.
Today, Destiny is also open to men, women and everything in between, and Faeries come in from all backgrounds, all walks of life, and all over the world. The community that resides in the sanctuary works together doing chores, preparing meals, building and tending gardens, and holding spiritual space for one another. The idea is that by giving your time you honor those who are also giving their energy for the good of the community. Essentially it’s about co-creating a home of love for all to share – in hopes that you feel a divine connection to the space that you're helping to provide for.
Before I took the 5-five hour ride up to Faerie country, I had no idea what to expect other than a vague outline of stories. The only thing I knew for sure was that I was ready to check out of the city for a week. Standing at the bus stop on East 42nd Street, I watched as scads of people rushed onto their Monday morning obligations. All these people trying their damndest not to connect with anyone; trying to stay hermetically sealed in their own energetic bubble. Stephen Sondheim’s “Another Hundred People” from Company played in my earbuds, and I took one more drag from my one-hitter before boarding the Dartmouth Coach.
It was probably the fanciest bus I’ve ever been on; style and efficiency are a Capricorn’s wet dream.
So here I was going to Faerie camp. I set some intentions along the way: to make time for recalibrating and grounding, to refine dreams, reaffirm goals. I also wanted to address some growing feelings of anxiety and depression. Oftentimes when things seem to be spiraling out of control, the impulse is to dig in and regain the power we have seemingly lost. But I was looking for the opposite.
Being a child who grew up in the country I was really jazzed to take the trip up to Vermont, especially to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. Once in Vermont, I was scooped up by my guide – my Sherpa and host – Nancy, and after a few last minute stops to get provisions for the adventures to come, into the forest we went! As soon as we drove onto the dirt road that leads to Destiny I was hit with a powerful wave of nostalgia, almost like I’d been there before.
We noticed various campsites and tents set up along the driveway and forest, including a yurt, cute cabin, and shed overflowing with odds and ends, costumes and props. “That's the art shed. Everything is up for grabs there,” Nancy said, gently gesturing to the shack teeming with possibilities. The main building stood near a large clearing where the meadow stretched above and beyond our line of vision.
I was taken aback by the beautiful gardens bursting with wildflowers. Purple-blue bee balm, black-eyed Susans, zinnias and echinacea exploded like colorful fireworks. I would later pick some of these wildflowers in the middle of the night to make flower crowns by the fire with Faerie friends. Aesthetic wise, yes there were strong Midsommar vibes but without any of the horror aspects.
There was also an outdoor shower perched on a hill with breathtaking views of the mountainside. Atop the meadow, the forest hid a path that led up to the Crown’s circle where the community holds spiritual space for group rituals and fire gatherings. Deeper into the forest is also the Dead Faerie Circle: a place of remembrance, honoring those Faeries who’ve crossed on, some of whom have chosen this spot as their final resting place. And lastly, the Hecate Circle: another sacred fire space and the stage for where our ritual theatre would later come to life.
Before we could unload everything from the car, we were immediately greeted by a stream of Faeries. The common greeting for faeries upon arrival is simple but effective: “Welcome home.” Now, being a best friend of Dorothy I was giddy inside and soon fashioned a response to nearly everyone I met the first day. Whenever someone welcomed me home, I replied: “There's no place like it…” in my best Garland vibrato. My joke was not lost on many. I will say I have never kissed so many people I just met before on the mouth – and this form of affection and intimacy had a profound effect on me. It perhaps woke me up from a Sleeping Beauty spell I didn't even know I was under.
Over the course of the week, the sanctuary would welcome over 200 faeries.
At the edge of the garden a family of chickens happily clucked behind their electric fence side note: nobody was harmed, but I did get to chase and catch a chicken who had flown over the fence trying to escape to the compost pile . Later on in the week, I caught the same hen out of the pen and said to her, “You have two choices, you can either fly over the fence yourself or I’m going to have to pick you up and put you back myself.” With a cluck as if to say, “I get it”, she flew back into pen with the other chicks. This Witch can, apparently also, talk to birds.
In the beautiful timber frame main structure, a straw bale kitchen (all hand-built by the Faeries), it would have been difficult to not feel at home. It also doesn’t hurt that there are many attractive faeries wearing – or shall I say not wearing – whatever they please. A most wondrous thing to see so many people unburden themselves from societal constraints, no shame here. Because after all, shame can’t live in the light.
The first day we settled into camp, I was able to wander around the gardens and got very comfortable peeing outside. A lot of mouth kissing hellos, faerie welcomes and introductions. I chatted with new friends around the circle’s, there are many, and got to play dress up in the woods. But more than anything, I was able to just breathe deeply. There’s nothing more important than that feeling of security, a place safe enough to call home. It’s one thing people in the LGBTQ+ community understand all too well – having grown up in a world that is, for the most part, girded towards a more hetero experience. Being able to be your most authentic self in a beautiful environment calls for a delicious sigh of relief.
Once I had spent 24 hours in faerie space I finally felt I had landed. I began to get my faerie legs, or wings as it were, under the guidance of Nancy. I was encouraged to get involved in the daily routine of the faeries. I helped prepare our breakfast and dinners in the magickally witchy kitchen and was also convinced to join in on the ritual theater.
Each year, the Faeries celebrate Lammas with an original theatrical performance. Lammas, “loaf-mass” or Lughnasadh as it’s sometimes called, is the first of the harvests celebrated on the wheel of the year in many Wiccan, Neopagon and Celtic traditions. Like Samhain, Imbolc, and Beltane, Lammas is one of the four main cross-quarter holidays, coinciding with the changes of season and highlights the sacrifices made for the greater good. “God” or male energy is represented as the grain being cut down by the Goddess or Divine femine in service for sustaining humanity. It’s a time of recognizing and honoring the sacrifices that had to be made for the beautiful things that feed us and help us to grow. So yeah, no big deal, right?
Every year a new “Magician” is selected to write and direct an original work for the ritual of honoring Lammas. Kaitlyn Tikkun, a strikingly breathtaking character who gave me strong Diana Artemis vibes, was the magician for this year and crafted an adaptation of the graphic novel and cartoon Watership Down. Kaitlyn’s version highlighted the horrors of the AIDS crisis that would later inspire queer liberation in the form of the radical faeries movement.
The play was performed in the middle of the woods at the end of the week – in the black of night lit by torches. It was pure magick – organic, radical, and unapologetically mystical. A performer myself, I’ve never gotten to celebrate the magick of theatre coming together seemingly out of nothing quite like this before. It felt like I was connecting with my roots in a way I'd long forgotten.
Even outside of the ritual theater, the entire week was jam-packed with magick. One of the rituals included each of us bringing a small totem or writing down what we wished to be free of, posing the question, “What did we wish to uncross?’ Uncrossing is anything that no longer serves our higher power and our highest good. During the ritual we asked to remove anything that was holding us back from our activism, anything blocking us from answering our call to service.
We gathered at the lowest fire space called the Crown Circle. After the circle was cast and our intentions named, our items and petitions were deposited into the vessel that was to be buried. Fifty plus faeries moved as a group through the darkness on a torchless path. We raised energy chanting along the way, it was wild and electric. Emotions were high and coming fast. There was an immense feeling of release, relief and with every ending, a bit of heartache. It was our moment of mourning that which no longer served us – all those things that would no longer hold us back.
Like all magick, I believe it belongs to those who’ve created and crafted it together in a sacred space during a specific time. I went to Faerie camp because I needed a safe place to surrender. Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from finding your own way to Faerie space or any other magickal place that beckons you. Your reasons might be different, but the important thing with all magick is to be willing to answer the call when you receive it. Go see for yourself what adventures await you on the other side. Maybe you’ll come face to face, or mouth to mouth as it were, with a new kind of shared intimacy. Or your concept of home might expand. At the very least connecting to nature and community isn’t bad on the soul either. Wherever you find yourself on your journey, I hope there are people to greet you when you arrive, ”Welcome home.”
If you’re interested in learning more about Faerie space and/or donating to the Faerie sanctuary please follow the link here.