Rainbows and Hitching Circles
Rainbows and Hitching Circles
Author: Bernd Wechner
Published on: September 1, 1999
This August brought not only a total eclipse of the sun to Europe, but also the annual European Rainbow Gathering in Hungary. The roads in that direction were littered with hitch-hikers. I counted 50 or more leaving Prague. In fact there are so many hitchers heading to a gathering of this scale that many of them are relying on bumping into someone on the way to direct them. The precise location of a gathering being something of an obscure mystery at times.
So what is a Rainbow Gathering? My friend Hamish tells me "it is many things to many people", and there he has a good point. It is indeed many things to many people. Loosely based a hodge-podge of native American tradition, it's really grown, since the early '70s into a rather popular if ill-defined coming together of peaceful people.
This gathering ran the full month of August and was centred around the total solar eclipse. People coming and going all the time, numbers peaked around 3000 (I'm told), there must have been 10,000 or more who took part at some time during the month. That leaves a lot of people to which it can mean a lot of things all right!
A lot of people at Rainbow are just checking it out really, new kids on the block, having heard on the grapevine, of some vague hippie, new age, naturalists get together in the wild ... I was one of those people. To help us work it out, there's a welcome centre where the basic rules are laid, and illusions dispelled.
What are the key themes of Rainbow then? Respect, harmony and love - between one person and another, between people and nature, anti- exploitation, abuse, violence, discord, just about anything nice you can think of. Participants join the Rainbow Family of Living Light, all are welcome, all are accepted and all are loved. "Brothers and sisters, we looove you," is not an uncommon cry. Nudity and intimacy (surprisingly asexually) abound. Tolerance is the order of the day.
And yet there are rules. No alcohol. No cars. No electric devices. No soap. No violence. It's not a festival but a gathering - the signs clarify as you walk the hour long trail from the nearest village (where cars must be abandoned). It's about getting close to nature and one another, a rejection of the modern society, a middle-class dream - and the hike is part of the ritual.
The family feeds its members twice a day. There's a breakfast food circle, and a dinner food circle. Everyone sits in a circle, or two or three ... and food comes round. The food circles are the social life of Rainbow, they are meant to bring us all together, they demand proximity, they demand infrastructure ... cooking for 2000 people isn't easy!
With a supply van at one end, the kitchen and food circles in the middle and the shit pits at the other end, there's a council that brings this little society together and makes it happen. Council meets daily, is open to all, informal, democratic and without hierarchy. Council meets after dinner, sits in a circle, and a stick (the talking stick) is passed around, granting the right to speak and demanding attention. Discord meets with a request to focus on the stick. The stick comes around to all in the circle and all have their say. Needless to say council takes a loooong time. So much so that breakfast focalisers are still sleeping when they should be cooking, and breakfast usually arrives around noon, don't ask when dinner comes around!
Inevitably though a hierarchy does creep in, the hierarchy of the mouth. That is, he (and it usually is he) who speaks loudest and longest gets his say, wins most attention, gets the better hearing. It takes equally strong character and voice to move the stick along and divest these little ego trips.
Council calls for and appoints focalisers. There's a kitchen focaliser, a supply focaliser, a shit pit focaliser, you name it, there's a focaliser for it. If the job needs doing, it needs a focaliser. The focaliser of course turns a bunch of aimless people into a coordinated team, has overview, focuses efforts. I think we used to call them bosses, and coach is fashionable term in business schools.
When council fails to appoint focalisers, they appoint each other, they appoint themselves, they appear out of the woodwork, or from time to time, they don't appear at all and things just fail to happen. It's a most fluid and fascinating social order.
Council is a talking circle, about the gathering's infrastructure. But there are also open circles, get-to-know-you circles, sex circles, healing circles, and yes, we founded a hitch.hikers' circle.
Signs went up in front of the kitchen, at the info board, at the welcome centre, and ads went to air. Rainbow television is simple really. At every food circle, like a string of ads, a steady stream of callers walks past announcing the days workshops, attractions, circles, needs ... so too Hamish, Pawel and I announced what may have been the first ever Rainbow hitching circle.
"Hitch-hikers! Have you ever hitched to or from a Rainbow Gathering? Interested in doing so? Come to the Hitcher's circle, behind the main kitchen, after breakfast. Share stories, ideas, advice, get to know one another, team up ... shade and tea aplenty" - the call went out, over and over.
"What is a hitching circle?", we were often asked on this interactive Rainbow TV. Beats me? It was all Hamish's idea really, it was his third gathering and he had experience, I was the novice, and knew as much as most people about talking circles, hitching circles or whatever else. In fact, Hamish was pessimistic, most circles are a flop on the first call, he thought. But we had tea and shade on offer and the turnout was good. Some 30 people came together, and stretched the kitchen's tea and shade resources to the limit. Any more and we'd have had to move.
Not knowing what else to do, I opened the circle by introducing the survey, the Suite, and a tale that so replete with synchronicity that it hadn't failed to elicit a wonderous laugh since I'd started telling it. What better way to open a hitching circle, and close this article? It is so very Rainbow ...
I live in Geneva (Switzerland) and had ridden my motorbike up to London, where I sold it, before thumbing to Berlin on my way to Rainbow. Waiting for a ride at the Medway services halfway to Canterbury, another hitcher comes walking up to me - none other, it turns out, than Hamish from Edinburgh! Hamish presented a masters thesis on hitching earlier in the year and I'd visited him in Edinburgh over Easter, and now here he was at the Medway services, thumbing to Rainbow!
We caught up, let the awe subside, and then stood some 10 or 20m apart to hitch independently. A car pulled over for me a few minutes later. He was headed for Ramsgate, and was happy to take Hamish along too for the Ramsgate-Belgium ferry. I turned to shout the deal to Hamish, only to see that another car had pulled up for him! He has a ride to Dover for the both of us for the Dover-Belgium ferry. We argue the relative benefits of Ramsgate and Dover shouting at one another in apologetic consultation with our respective drivers, when Hamish's driver gets out and they both walk over to us. He'd recognised my driver - they knew each other! They were headed in different directions, had come from different places, but worked together on the Chunnel-London rail link from time to time. Our awe was reawakened. We took the ride to Dover ...
We parted ways in Belgium and met again at Rainbow, the Medway services having served as some kind of knot in time and space where two hitchers came together with two drivers, in the most uncanny of circumstances.
The hitching circle carried on without us I hear. An exchange of stories, ideas, advice -- young/old, novices/experts, men/women, diverse nationalities, even languages. Who knows? Perhaps the start of a new Rainbow tradition, or simple of the renaissance of an old one, or maybe just a hitch in time?
Long live the Rainbow Family, and long live hitching circles! Oh, and the eclipse was stunning by the way!
September 1, 1999