How I Learned to Keep the Peace at a Hippie Festival With No Rules

by on July 13, 2016 · 2 comments

in Culture, Energy, History, Life Events

Rainbow gathering livia gershon

Blessing to the four directions. Photo by Livia Gershon

When 10,000 people camp out together at the Rainbow Gathering, staying groovy can be a challenge.

by Livia Gershon / Atlas Obscura / July 11, 2016

When I wandered into an internet forum for members of the Rainbow Family of Living Light and started asking about going to their long-running national gathering, the responses were friendly, but a little unnerving. In the midst of a series of messages about Rainbow etiquette, one person briefly noted that “some bad things have a potential 2 happen. If ya ever have trouble just yell ‘shanti sena’, & some help will be on the way.”

Another mentioned that the gathering attracts “an interesting group with very mixed purposes.” Be cautious, she warned. “If you get into trouble yell SHANTI SENA and help will come.”

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this. If I did find myself in a scary situation out in the forests of Vermont, I was pretty sure there was no way I’d remember the phrase “Shanti Sena.” Surely “help” would work just as well? How do you even pronounce “Shanti Sena” anyway?

As I trudged up the road toward Mount Tabor, the site of the Rainbows’ 2016 annual gathering, it quickly became clear that the Rainbow-specific lingo was no joke. Close to a dozen people—men and women with an assortment of giant backpacks, long beards, flowing skirts, and adorably grubby children—greeted me with the phrase that also appeared on banners hanging from the trees: “welcome home.”

Some Rainbow terms are pretty self-explanatory: The gathering is home, while the commercial world outside is Babylon. Men and women are brothers and sisters. The holes that volunteer crews dig in the ground are shitters.
Others are less so: Getting people organized to do something is “focalizing.” Any sort of activity, from a meal to a fistfight—particularly ones that are fraught and absurd—is a “movie.” Shanti Sena, named after Gandhi’s nonviolent Peace Army, is the term for any kind of peacekeeping (and it’s pronounced pretty much the way it looks).

The Rainbow Gathering began in 1972, when more than 20,000 people gathered in Colorado, chanted for world peace, and camped out together. Since then, they’ve done the same thing for a few weeks around the 4th of July every year, in one forest or another. People organize kitchens to cook meals and provide for the basic needs of whoever shows up—10,000 people this year, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

This all happens with no formal organization and without any money being exchanged. People pass a hat to buy rice and beans and kale, and bring coffee and tobacco and weed to share (though alcohol is strongly discouraged except in an especially rowdy camp on the periphery of the gathering). Dozens of smaller regional gatherings also happen throughout the year.

In theory, no one at a gathering is the boss of anything. Outside of theory, at the 2016 national gathering, Karin Zirk was the boss of Shanti Sena—the one who focalized the workshop to share tips on the subject, the one people went to when something was going wrong. Zirk is a middle-aged database administrator for a San Diego biotechnology company. She’s been coming to Rainbow Gatherings since the late 1980s.

For more please go to the original article at Atlas Obscura.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris July 13, 2016 at 12:50 pm

To each his own but for me. no thanks.


L July 13, 2016 at 3:54 pm

Ah, the Drainbows. Do I feel any nostalgia for defecating in a slit trench? Checking, checking. Uh, nope.


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