Austin Lawrence, February 2014
This Quork post is brought to you by Ethan Kincaid, a longtime Fester and Canadian author.
An unobtrusive path leads northward from the archery field of Raven’s Knoll. This suits the purpose of the sacred site beyond. Quiet, and out of the way, sits the Men’s Cairn; the ever-growing pile of stones lies surrounded by tall grass and, to the south, birch and poplar trees. The adornments on it are simple: necklaces and other mementos of men who have gone on before us, passed out of this world.
But what is the cairn? How did it come to be? And what manner of things occur at this site? How does it serve the men of our community?
What is a cairn?
A cairn, simply put, is a pile of stones. Cairns have been erected throughout human history in many parts of the world and serve as navigational devices, graves, memorials, and as sites of spiritual power. The Men’s Cairn of Raven’s Knoll is a combination of the latter two.
How did the Men’s Cairn come to be?
It was the Ferryman, Doug Thew, who happened upon the idea while talking with the other men of the community about the lack of a sacred space for men to commune with each other and contemplate their spiritual needs in the same manner that many women’s spaces provide. He proposed the structure and was met with enthusiastic approval. Soon, a place was selected upon which to build it. A place that was private and peaceful.
To imbue the site with a powerful masculine energy, the Ferryman decided to select some small branches from a tree at the Knoll that had been struck by lightning. Such wood is said to be god-touched and is held as sacred in many cultures. Among the foundation stones of the cairn, the wood was placed and burned to evoke the blessing of the Sky God so that the place would be hallowed and filled with the energy of the sacred Male. After that, all that remained was to build.
In the summer of 2010, several men attending Kaleidoscope Gathering assembled for the annual Men’s Ritual. There were around twenty participants, each with a stone brought from home. The men walked in silence to better contemplate their individual journeys to manhood.
When they reached the cairn, each man took some time to consider what blessing he wished to give to the structure along with his stone. As they placed the rocks, building the mound together, they gifted it with things like “strength,” “dignity,” “compassion,” and “wisdom,” until all the stones had been set. A horn of ale was passed around and tobacco was shared as the first Men’s Ritual was held at the new cairn. The experience of a loving and accepting community of men was moving, and one that none of the attendees will soon forget.
What kinds of events occur at the Men’s Cairn?
There are three events that are set at the Men’s Cairn at Raven’s Knoll: The Choosing of the Stag King, The Cairn Walk, and sometimes the annual Men’s Ritual.
Each year at Kaleidoscope Gathering, after the Stag King Competition concludes, the participants rest around the Men’s Cairn while the judges decide on which is to be crowned the Stag King for the year. It is from the Cairn that the procession to the river begins.
In some years, the Cairn Walk and the Men’s Ritual are combined into one event. This depends on whether or not the organizers of the Men’s Ritual wish to allow people who do not identify as male to participate in the Men’s Ritual. When the Men’s Ritual is open to all genders at a masculine energy ritual and not only a ritual for men, it is not held at the Cairn but rather another location on the Knoll. (This is because it is taboo for people who do not identify as men to be upon the surrounding bedrock upon which sits the Cairn, just as it is taboo for people who do not identify as women to be within the stones that form the Red Spiral.) The Men’s Ritual is different each year, depending on what the organizers wish to explore in the realm of masculine mysteries and male energy.
The Cairn Walk is a tradition that began in 2012 when the Men’s and Women’s Ritual organizers, David Rolfe and Pamela Fletcher, decided to open up the ritual to participants of all genders. As the combined ritual involved the building of a structure to shelter an earthen oven, it would be a very busy event and there would be no time of quiet contemplation and communion in which the men of KG could catch up with each other, share their joys and sorrows, mourn the brothers they had lost since the previous year, and receive the acceptance and support of their fellow men. As these experiences had become a very important part of KG for at least one man, Ethan Kincaid, and he brought his concerns to the other men of his community.
These concerns were met with agreement from several of his peers and Fraser Sinclair stepped forward to lead the first annual Cairn Walk. The event is a simple, yet powerful one. Participants meet at the Stage where they greet each other and share a horn of mead, beer, or other alcohol, before proceeding in silence to the Cairn. Each man brings a stone to add to the mound. Some bring tokens from men who have passed on since the last Walk. Some men carry their shoes, going barefoot to remind themselves of their own difficult journey to manhood.
Once at the Cairn, a short ceremony is held to place the stones and the tokens, and to say farewell to those men who are no longer among the living. Libations and offerings are given to the departed. Men who have newly completed their rite of passage are welcomed into the community. Men speak of their triumphs and hardships, births, deaths, marriages, their hopes and fears. It is a time for men to look each other in the eye without unease or aggression, to drop their facades, and to reaffirm their identities as men. It is also at this time that the drinking horn—the same one used in the inaugural ritual at the Cairn—is passed into the care of another man of the community to look after for the next year. Each man adds something to the horn, be it an engraving, a carrying strap, or other decoration.
What purpose does the Men’s Cairn serve in our community?
The Cairn is a meeting place, a memorial, and a sacred space for contemplating the nature of masculine energies and what it means to be a man. It is a place to share tears, laughter, and a drink with our brothers, both those still among us, and those who have gone on before.
As a final note, the Cairn is guarded by the totem of the Fire Ant. If you wish to meditate, look before you sit.