I found this piece by "Stumbling Upon" it...hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Think of it as a Thanksgiving gift, ok?
An Offering Up
So, bumming around on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I decided to pull out my old Magic Circle… Any Camp Fire girls or boys out there who remember what a Magic Circle is?Ah, Camp Fire. Now there was a truly great organization (still is as far as I know). No separation of the sexes. No para-military drills. No 'troupes.' Nope. We had clans and councils instead. Interesting what a difference in mentality those words reflect. The clans were small groups who got together to do crafts and learn about living with nature. Some stuff we learned was pretty useful: how to make a fire, survive in the woods, recognize poisonous species, make strawberry jam, present a flag, pitch a tent. Some stuff was utterly useless: why would you ever want to know how to carve soap bars with a rusty pocketknife? And of course, nothing compares to the life education gotten via the social humiliation of trying to sell over-priced candy to strangers while dressed in homespun and moccasins. It's funny though, how all these things served to draw the group closer together, and how, no matter what cliques came and went at school, no matter how much you started out despising some of the other members, you always ended up appreciating each person for who they were and what they could contribute.Anyway, one of my favorite, and certainly longest enduring, Camp Fire traditions was the Magic Circle. I don't know where this got its name, or if all groups participated in it, but our leader encouraged us all to keep a collection of songs, poetry, stories, quotes, jokes, etc… whatever spoke to us, just put it all in a book or a box. This would be brought along to camp-outs and Council Fires. Then, late in the evening, when camp was made, colors retired, dinner eaten, and everyone sleepy, we would all sit around the fire to share. One by one, each person would sing a song, tell a story, or read a poem. As we went around the circle, others might join in if they knew the song, but it was each person's responsibility to be able to at least begin themselves. It was actually seldom that anyone consulted something written down. The first round went fast, with everyone eager to share. There was lots of laughter and grumbling when someone 'stole' someone else's intended offering, forcing them to have to wrack their brains for something else to offer. Gradually, it got harder and harder to remember or think up something new. It got quieter and more serious, with fewer knock-knock jokes, more reflection, greater attention. We knew that if someone failed, if just one person forgot or couldn't come up with an offering, the circle would be broken, and it would be bedtime for us all. Like all kids, we didn't want that to happen! But as the mood of the evening, the sense of the importance of this gathering, settled over us all, it became more than a parlor game. Sometimes, the youngest were allowed to fall asleep on someone's lap, or drift off to their tents, but normally the circle was reserved for older kids, an honor, and no one wanted to leave. It was especially reverent if some older adults were there, who would always come up with wondrous stories or songs none of us had ever heard. It was unspeakably beautiful. Thread by thread, the contents of our memories, our own Magic Circles, were woven into the tapestry of the larger community circle. And in those breath-held moments when we wondered how long we could keep this up, it wasn't too much of a stretch to picture our small circle of firelight, in its turn, weaving into the larger circle of the cosmos. The stars wheeled above, right overhead, and I remember leaning back often to look up, breathing in the magic of the night, steeping myself in the words being spoken, the silences between in which we honored each person's struggle to bring forth an offering. Or I'd stare intently into the heart of the fire, trying to summon forth a contribution from my own memory. I watched others do the same, as we settled more and more deeply into the rhythms of giving and receiving the gifts of song, word, knowledge, memory… Occasionally, I would catch the eyes of someone flashing across the fire and, stranger or friend, I could feel the tightening of the bonds that held us all. Within those intertwined circles of fire, before us and above us, meshing like the gears of a clock, time itself seemed another pattern we were integrating. Because for every song and story told, some passed down for generations, some newly created, there were unmistakably others present too: all but forgotten, quiet echoes waiting just at the edge of the firelight, just at the edge of memory, waiting to be re-remembered. You could tell when this happened: the prickle at the back of your neck as a ghost was resurrected, the sigh that went around the circle in recognition.Eventually, of course, the circle would close. Depending on the 'stakes' or rules, either one person would fail to remember, or a majority would, or a consensus would arise that it was time to turn in. The next day would come soon enough, bringing with it the struggle to recognize the person whose words the night before had touched your soul, so you could corral them into, please, singing that song once more, or writing down the words to this or that. Friends and strangers might approach you with the same requests, which is where the written collections came in. Barges, I would like to sail with you, I would like to sail the ocean blue. Barges, have you treasures in your hold, Do you fight with pirates brave and bold?That piece is still in my memory, all these years later. I don't think I have it written down anywhere. I do however still have two collections of what I think of as my Magic Circle, and it was these I was flipping through on a lazy Sunday afternoon. One, a binder, the other a sketchpad, both full of songs, stories, poems, quotations, photographs, collages, lists, artwork, articles, etc. The 'et cetera,' being also known as 'ephemera' (a word I love), includes: a poem written by my uncle at sea, more than forty years ago; an old map of Powell's Books in Portland, covered with quotations; a small pamphlet from the 1960s, put out by the UN, listing the word 'peace' in dozens of languages; a purple finger-painting of my two hands at age six. It got me to thinking, though, about the role that words and stories have played in my life. So many of them are so deeply burned into my psyche that there's no need for a physical reminder. I still remember the first poem I ever sat down to memorize, Jabberworky, by Lewis Carroll, from an ancient dusty poetry anthology found at the house of a family friend. The nonsensical nature of it delighted me, and I just had to commit it to memory. Since then, I haven't tried too hard to memorize things, but pieces here and there still tend to flit around my head like so many far-off echoes, sounding and resounding. More though, it got me reflecting on the nature of community. It's been a couple years now since I've sat around a campfire. There's always a powerful sense of community there, even when the talk is light or non-existent. Sometimes especially then. But really, how often do we get a chance to tell our stories? To sing our songs? How often do we really take an opportunity to share something as powerful as what ideas are near and dear to our hearts? How many people are prepared to listen?It seems like in America, with our emphasis on personal growth, and personal development, that we also focus more on personal relationships, rather than communal ones. And that can be a wonderful, rich blessing, the closeness of friendship and love. But I think that it is also important to share with strangers, with those we might not know so well. For as we age into our own personal nights, as the fires burn low, our memories seem to flicker, too. And our loved ones have heard all we have to share. We've listened to their stories many times. I think it is important to reach out, and to listen, to members of our outer circle as well: our community. I don't know how to do that. Is blogging a way? Perhaps. I just know I miss that feeling of closeness with other people, with humanity, that comes when you hazard yourself a bit, when you open up to share the good bits you've collected from life. I miss lifting up my voice in song to weave around the voices of many others. As an adult, the only times I've done that in this country were in Kundalini yoga classes: what a powerful resonance THAT creates! Some people get that experience in church. But what about all the humble, goofy songs of our youth? What about the stories of what we have learned or are experiencing? What about listening intently to our elders… not our priests, not our bosses, or our spouses, or our contemporaries, but our elders: sitting there on equal footing, sharing their wisdom and experience… what of that connection? What of listening to the stories of children, other than perhaps, if they and we are lucky, our own?That's the sort of connection I want, the sort of community I yearn for. Those are the stories I want to hear: elders' and children's and everything in between. Every age and race and creed. One at a time. Well into the night.
And you can hold the ghost stories.
(edited 2006.08.14; reinsertion of truncations)
Tagged with: camping, community, memory, stories, camp fire, magic circle
Access: Public Type: Blog 4 Comments
posted by Tsuya
(Here's the link to her blog: http://tsuya.zaadz.com/blog)