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Faerie Realm: An Intentional Community in Mendocino 

Wednesday, Dec 9 2015
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One difficulty with alternative spiritual paths is that even among articulate people, the lack of sacred texts or priestly castes can lead to circular verbiage. Like-minded people intuitively grasp one another's meanings, but to outsiders, things can sound hazy to the point of incomprehensibility. Halloween presents a special circumstance, but even on an ordinary Tuesday, Faerie spirituality leans toward the mystical and pagan. Religious dogma, so often damaging to LGBT people in their youth, is out, but much of Faerie culture is structured around ritual, from holding hands in a circle before a meal to creek-side hallucinogenic tea parties.

DeVries is "solidly agnostic," focusing on transcendence in the physical domain, through sex, physical labor, or meditative walks in nature.

"Our main focus is around queer spirit," he says, "of non-patriarchy, non-heteronormativity. We want to be spokespeople for how being queer is not only an okay thing, but an amazing, beautiful, and essential thing. And we should be celebrating that spirit of otherness and embracing it."

Dr. Manifesto, the tarot reader (whose real name is Sam Zoranovich) considers Faeries to have "an ambivalent relationship with urban settings. A lot of us live in the city and try to get out into the country as much as possible." Having served on various boards, co-organized the Faerie Freedom Village at S.F. Pride, and lived in communitarian houses like San Francisco's Feyboy Mansion, he is more involved than most.

Halloween "was the most mellow, the most peaceful, and low-intensity gathering that I've been to at Groundswell," he says, contrasting it with the more intense party for Beltane, the May Day festival that augurs the beginning of summer. "It was the hardest gathering to leave that I've ever been to. Coming back was so difficult. I got to experience so much of my most authentic self, and now I'm burdened with figuring out how to incorporate more of that in the rest of my life here."

For his part, DoubleSnake considers his approach one of "embodied spirituality," centered on the here and now, as opposed to a Protestant ethic of working to escape a broken world of suffering. This rings doubly true for him as a queer man reared in the church, and as a disabled person. DoubleSnake has syndactyly (a genetic condition meaning "without fingers") and was born with only thumbs on his hands. It doesn't stop him from being Groundswell's most outdoorsy resident, lifting 120-pound bales of hay.

"It takes me twice as long to milk a goat than a 10-fingered person, and I'm no good at chin-ups," he says. "But in many ways, I can pass, in that my disability doesn't stop me from having access to parts of the world, but I experience the world as a disabled person because people react to my difference."

"People have perceptions that I must be suffering with the hands that I have," he adds. "But the quality of my life is not limited by what I physically cannot do. Even in my crippled body, I experience spirituality."

And it is DoubleSnake who, when the time comes, handles the slaughter of livestock. He describes the shift from being the animals' primary caretaker to taking their lives as being "really hard," but reconnecting urbanites to their food heartens him. After some pre-screening, he allows people to participate in the act of slaughter, encouraging onlookers to touch the goat in the moments before its death. (Jason Patten, the former camp counselor, was present for the killing of the Thanksgiving rabbits, and received the skulls.)

"I thank the animals for their life," DoubleSnake says. "I promise them to do my best to be a good steward for their relatives that are remaining, and I ask their forgiveness. I also feel like 150 years ago, slaughtering animals wouldn't be controversial. People are so alienated from where meat comes from."

"But," he adds, "if being witness to slaughtering animals made someone a vegetarian, then I think that would be an excellent result of raising their consciousness."

The haunted house is open. This being almost exclusively a group of queer-identified males, the people who put it together invested some serious elbow grease into decorating. It looks like they raided the entire contents of a Jo-Ann Fabric to sew the ghouls and glue the demons together, and, gentle hippies or not, the prevailing response seems to be ironic remove. Nobody's scared, but everyone's cooing over the art direction.

The dance party starts in the half of the barn that isn't full of fake spider webs and eerie lighting. There are cushions to flop down on, and bowls of punch. The sweeter of the two is a natural aphrodisiac made with yohimbe bark and a dozen other herbs, while a bitter potion contains a longer list of extracts from potentially psychoactive plants, including — as I read only after ingesting it — salvia.

Many people have been in a state of low-grade intoxication since arriving, but now that it's Halloween night, things are really ramping up. Groundswell's policy on substances is enlightened but by no means anarchic: "Discovery through substance is the choice of each individual and can be fun when people respect boundaries. Boundary: no meth." But here, activities that by necessity have a surreptitious cast in a club take on ritual aspects. People share what they've got with a hug or a kiss, shaking their bodies in anticipation of what's next.

By this point, there's glitter everywhere. As a substance, glitter is subject to its own rules of entropy. It seems like it can neither be created nor destroyed; it merely is, and it's highly transferable. The dance party lasts for hours. People come and go, stepping outside when they get too hot, creeping close to the bonfire when they get too cold, slipping away to get naughty, convening and reconvening in little groups. Phone use is somewhat contrary to the spirit of things — and hookup apps are strongly discouraged — but the glow of iPhone flashlights on the zigzagging paths reveals how crucial technology is, even here.


About The Author

Peter Lawrence Kane

Peter Lawrence Kane is SF Weekly's Arts Editor. He has lived in San Francisco since 2008 and is two-thirds the way toward his goal of visiting all 59 national parks.

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