To create Sacred Space
To Create Beauty Through Ritual
Dan B. recounts the origin and history of the Passover Village
In 1994 (or 1995?), Laurie & I attended the second “Village of Gender Reconciliation” week-long retreat for men & women in Mendocino Woodlands Camp 2.
The first one took place the year before in the same area, different (Camp 1) and included Michael Meade, James Hillman, Malidoma & Sobonfu Some, Miguel Rivera and others. My experience was that it was somewhat intellectually oriented vs. “ritually rich” and had a not-very-culturally diverse group of attendees (few people of color, etc.).
The second one was much more diversely attended and included other teachers including Michael, Malidoma, Sobonfu, Miguel and others.
The intention was to separate into two groups (men & women) at some point and spend the day reflecting on relevant issues. When it was time to begin, some of the African American contingent felt they didn’t want to be separated from each other by gender, that they so rarely had the opportunity to be together on retreat, in this type of environment, etc. and, therefore, decided to meet as a group by themselves. Then other groups began to take that call to heart and soon there was a Hispanic group and perhaps others.
During what you may remember as Conflict Hour and/or the final approach to entering deep ritual space, there were many pleas to the African Americans (and others) to stick with the program and not take themselves “away” from the groups, that they were really needed, etc. There ensued a fierce session of “how do you like it, being excluded, being needed but not being included, and so forth. We proceeded to separate and people went where they felt called. Laurie & I, and many other women & men still opted to separate by gender.
Several of us of the “Hebrew tribe” took a lunch together to consider if there was something for us to do to continue our own cultural exploration, although not during the conference; rather, we decided to meet shortly after the conference to continue the discussion. More about this later.
We came back together at the end of that gender/culture separation day with displays, gifts of song, etc., for each other. However, the pain of the fractured separation was with us until the end of the conference. At the end there was some healing, acceptance and appreciation for what had happened but there remained a deep, open wound in the community.
At the subsequent informal gathering of 8-10 men & women to discuss our Hebrew heritage and how we might continue, we agreed we’d gather for a Passover at a remote site Marc W. knew in Joshua Tree. We carried camping equipment, food & water, wine and ritual materials a couple of miles to a completely unimproved site: no water (except what we carried), no toilets of any kind, no tables – nothing. We weren’t even allowed to have a fire and it was a very cold year. Still, it was a wonderful event, attended by perhaps twenty men & women, some people of color and a number of kids.
That was our first year and we continued to develop a community of interested people willing to camp for 2-3 days in the desert and create a deepened and extended Seder. A few of the years we met “in town”: once at the Temescal Canyon Conference Center for a one-day event (vs. multiple days camping) and a couple times at the beautiful Wright Land high above Malibu; once for a few days’ camping, another for a single-day event (if you don’t know this place, that’s a separate story!).
We’ve found a wonderful, very accessible, easy car-camping site in Joshua Tree National Park that can officially hold up to 40 people. In fact, one year we did have as many as 40 attend but since then we’ve seen some decline in attendance (some regulars moved away, others weren’t called to attend again, etc., etc.). At the height of the retreats, we took an additional cue from the Mendocino conferences and created Meditation Walks that would orient people to whatever sub-theme we’d agreed on for that year as they arrived. You may remember arriving in Mendocino and being asked to visit various shrines (elements, animals, etc.) to see where you were called for that conference. The Meditation Walks were inspired by those orienting displays and rituals. Themes have included the Twelve Tribes, Elijah, Judges, and others. We also incorporate Council as a form of community time sharing and many drum with djembes and other percussion instruments. Other art and opportunities for creative expression are frequently and spontaneously offered.
Over the many years, we organizers “did it all:” scouted for/reserved sites, arranged community camping & ritual gear, explored and developed sub-themes throughout the year, sent communications & invitations, etc., etc. We acquired a massive 15x30’ tent to offer at least shade and protection from wind/rain as needed (we’ve had it all from scorching heat to freezing rain, high wind and even hail and snow!). The tent approximates the proportions of the historical Tabernacle or travelling prayer & meeting area and we’ve often decorated it with a “holy of holies” area at one end (where “the” tablets were historically kept), colorful flags representing the twelve tribes, and the community usually creates a beautiful centerpiece. The event has even been catered on-site from beginning to end (once or twice)! The requested donation for attending has always been approximately what our expenses were, although we always made clear that no one with a sincere call to attend and participate would be turned away.
In recent years, we organizers grew weary, burned-out, etc. and pulled back a bit. The options were to have a smaller event, no event or some other idea. We asked for greater participation from the community in carrying and creating this annual gathering and, while a few have stepped forward, it’s mostly fallen back on the original organizers and a small core of participants. We felt we’d rather continue doing it for ourselves and would continue inviting and welcoming sincerely interested returnees and newcomers.
Over the last couple years, a few of us have met monthly as a Study Group, both for the study & togetherness as well as with an eye toward how it might inform the following Passover Village Retreat. This past year has been about the Book of Ruth.
Okay, that’s a fairly detailed, if long-winded, recap of 14-15 years of history!