By Daniel Scharpenburg
I have known about the Heartland Pagan Festival for many years.
I always had friends that went, but never had much interest. I didn’t even like camping all that much and, although I like pagans, I’m not one. I’m a Buddhist. I do find it interesting to explore the connections between modern Buddhism and modern Paganism.
In 2014 I was hired to go to the Heartland Pagan Festival to lead a meditation workshop. Because meditation is part of modern Paganism and the idea of having a Buddhist meditation teacher come and talk about it was interesting to the organizers of the festival. They had never had one before, even though the festival had been going on for decades.
They didn’t pay me, but I got free tickets to the festival for myself and my family, so it was a good deal.
It’s around $100, which seems like a lot until you realize it’s five days of camping.
The Heartland Pagan Festival has been going on for 30 years. It happens at a beautiful campground called Camp Gaea in the middle of nowhere in Kansas. Several festivals happen there throughout the year. HPF is the largest.
Everyone goes and camps for five days, building a little community and enjoying their time together.
I didn’t know what to expect.
But when I got there I felt like I had come home.
I loved every part of it: the chanting, drumming, naked people everywhere (because clothes are optional), bonfires, kindness, tolerance, dancing, open-mindedness, joy.
In this place we let go of the preconceptions and labels that society and culture place on us and we become what we really are: wild, connected, and free. Bright and shining and joyous and beautiful. When people come together like this there is a wonderful transcendence that occurs.
I saw a different world—a better one. I saw a place of transformation, where no one judges each other and everyone is nice and welcoming; a world of enthusiastic harmony. People come from all over the country to this festival in the middle of nowhere in Kansas.
It’s absolutely amazing.
The festival changed me. I grew as a person because I spent five days in the wilderness with hippies and pagans.
In a month I’ll be going again.
The Heartland Pagan Festival is part of something that’s growing across the country. They’re called transformational festivals and they have a value system that celebrates life, personal growth, healthy living, and creativity.
These are festivals where you build your own community.
Transformation refers to both personal transformation (enlightenment) and the transformation of our culture. Some transformational festivals are held outdoors, often in remote locations, and created by the participants.
I’m not going to say I attained enlightenment at the Heartland Pagan Festival, but I am going to say that it changed me; that it was very important in my journey to awakening. There was an experience of awakening, a moment when I felt complete oneness with the world around me, with all of the people and the trees and the plants and animals. That feeling of harmony has stayed with me.
And a lot of the things I saw there were the things that are often missing in modern Buddhism—excitement, joy, intensity and energy. These things existed there in abundance.
And maybe it isn’t coincidental that soon after the festival I received Dharma transmission. Soon after the festival I started writing a lot more, like my head had been blown open and all sorts of writing and teaching is now flowing out of it.
It was definitely a part of my spiritual journey.
This Memorial Day weekend I will be there again. It starts on the Thursday before Memorial Day and ends on the Tuesday after. It’s almost here and I am full of anticipation.
Last year I was a tourist in the beginning and by the end I had let go of my identity on the outside and become one of them.
This time I think I’ll be one of them from the beginning.
I’m not a Pagan, but in a very real way, these are my people and this is a spiritual community for me.
It’s about a month away. Do you want to come? We could camp together.
Editor: Dana Gornall