Have you ever availed yourself of the myths and wonders of ancient Pagan traditions? Or come upon a mystery in nature that brings to mind archaic folklore and ballads? Are you curious about your place in the history of humanity and in your relationship to the universe? The Center for Symbolic Studies (CSS) is a not-for-profit healing and performing arts center committed to “exploring the psyche through the window of myth.”
To that end, CSS offers programs that delve into wisdom traditions once honored and employed in everyday life. At Midsummer, the approximate midpoint between the Summer Solstice and the Autumnal Equinox, the Earth’s abundance is at its peak. CSS hosts its annual Midsummer Festival this weekend at Stone Mountain Farm in Tillson.
Two days of music and dance and theater will now include talks and workshops pertaining to environmentalism. Experts will speak on permaculture – the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient. Storytellers and local musical acts will entertain on two stages, and local organic food will be available for purchase.
The first evening will culminate with the traditional burning of the Wicker Man. Wicker men are temporary sculptures constructed of wood and sticks, such as willow, that are set ablaze in effigy during a celebration, usually toward the end of the event. Based in Celtic Paganism, wicker men are burned to pay tribute to the gods at important ceremonies throughout the year. At the Midsummer Festival, the immolation proceeds with music, drumming and bonfire.
Brad Gorfein, musical coordinator for CSS events and producer of this Midsummer Festival, says, “We’ve had a different theme every year. This year, I had a desire to have people come together for festive means and to focus on social issues, so we could accomplish two things at the same time. Frivolity and raising of awareness: looking at the way we interact with our environment and how to do that better.”
Originally from Long Island, Gorfein is a SUNY-New Paltz student transplant who thinks that the Hudson Valley is “a lovely place to live” – and being connected to nature here has a great appeal. Midsummer is especially significant as a time when people in older agricultural societies expressed their gratitude and hopes for a good harvest each year, he explains. “I think it’s going to be a great event. This is a great place to be thinking about nature. You’re really in it.”
The gates open at 10 a.m. on Saturday for the start of festivities. A guided meditation from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. with Lia Simone will put attendees in the proper frame of mind. “Music of the Plants” will be facilitated by Gisela Stromeyer: a demonstration measuring the electrical impulses of a plant and turning them into “notes” that can be heard. From 1 to 2 p.m., a workshop titled “Honeybee Lives” will take you into a deeper understanding of the beauty and value of honeybees and the world around us.
Storytelling, that ancient art of spinning yarns and imprinting tales of mythology and magic, comes next, with Jana Smith, James Warren, Josh Otero, Rich Schwab and Peter Blum on the stage. From 3 to 4 p.m., the “Connecting to the Spirit of the Trees” workshop will take place, given by Rick Feltington, storyteller, poet, teacher, flow facilitator and all-around gateway-opener. Paid Vacation, Six7 & the Afterburners will play. At 5, a Forest Ecology Workshop with naturalist Michael Ridolfo will take attendees into the woods to witness Nature’s miracles, while Seven Swords and It’s Not Night; It’s Space provide a musical backdrop up until the 8 o’clock ritual ceremony and burning of the Wicker Man. A drum circle starts at 8:40 p.m., and the evening ends with “H” playing from 10 to 11 p.m.
Sunday-morning breakfast is served at 8 a.m., and Yoga with Valeria Georghiu will happen from 9:30 to 11 a.m. Then a Permaculture Workshop with Avery Jenkins and Lauryn Belafiore will take place. Afternoon music includes Magic Mooka, Shy Spy and Secondhand Star Dust – all to be emceed by performance artist and core member of the Arm-of-the-Sea mask and puppet theater troupe, Carl Welden. Check the website for schedule.
Samuel Claiborne of the Rail Trail Café will provide food for purchase, and attendees are welcome to bring in their own food, too. Dress for the weather, especially if you’re tenting overnight, because the weekend’s festivities will go on rain or shine. Admission for the full weekend costs $25 at the gate, $20 if purchased online, Sunday-only $10; kids get in free. Overnight camping costs $10 per person. With the expectation of at least 300 people, parking will be limited, and there will be a $5 charge for parking on-site, so consider carpooling or riding the Rail Trail in. Volunteers are always needed, and gain free admission and more! (Contact for volunteering info: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Midsummer Festival, Saturday, August 6, 10 a.m. to Sunday, August 7, 3 p.m., Center for Symbolic Studies, Stone Mountain Farm, 475 River Road Extension, Tillson; www.cssfestivals.org.