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How I became a child of the Rainbow Family

Posted: 2008-09-03 13:37:35, Categories: Travel, Ecology, Serbia, 1300 words (permalink)

Ola playing guitar in the Polish camp. The Rainbow Family of Living Light meets in different locations around the world, creating spaces for alternative living in natural surroundings, disconnected from the rest of society. This year the main European gathering was in Eastern Serbia, from 2nd until 30th of August. I spent two weeks there and will tell you about Wednesday August 13th, my third day at the gathering. It was just a day among others, but for me it was an important one.

I got up around 9, or perhaps it was 10, time didn't matter. The sun was already high but it was nice and cool under the trees where my tent was. I spent a good half an hour doing some stretching exercises to wake up properly and feel good.

I walked up the hill to the common kitchen, where brothers and sisters were preparing breakfast. Lunch might be a more correct word, as the first meal of the day was usually served after midday. Working in the kitchen was a good way to make sure that the meal would actually happen and a get a little bit of breakfast while doing it. I helped to cut watermelons and started digging a new compost because the old one was full.

That was enough work for the day. The compost was not finished but someone else would continue digging later. Just before eating I took a shower to wash off the sweat. Yes, there actually was a shower, at the end of a garden hose coming from a spring further up the hill. There was no shower curtain but being naked was considered perfectly normal at the camp, and there was no fear of paparazzis showing up to take photos.

About 400 people formed a big circle around the main fireplace, sang about the unity of the family and then ate together. Food was muesli and fruit salad. Towards the end of the meal people went around in the circle announcing the day's workshops or whatever else they wanted to say. Last, a small troupe playing cheerful music made a tour with the magic hat. Money put in the hat was used to buy ingredients for the common meals.

After eating I had a bit of rest in the shade at the Polish camp, called so because mostly Polish people happened to be camping under those trees. Ola had been learning shiatsu in one of the workshops and wanted someone to practise with. I volunteered and got a relaxing massage.

I didn't do much else during the afternoon except going for a short walk meeting new people. Evening came and there was a second meal with the usual rituals. Sun was already down but there was light from the almost full moon, stars and a number of campfires.

One of the announcements in the evening food circle was for angel walk. Participants stood shoulder by shoulder in two lines facing each other, leaving a narrow corridor in the middle. One person at a time walked slowly through the corridor, eyes closed, receiving hugs, gentle touches, kind words and other gifts of love from others. At the end, all came together for the big final collective hug. It was a wonderful experience, both drawing and giving a lot of energy.

Around the main fire, three drummers were pounding tribal rythms, together with one musician playing a large wooden xylophon. I danced wildly for a short while before walking back to the tent, exhausted but happy. It was clear sky so I pulled my sleeping bag out from the tent to sleep under the stars. That moment I felt Rainbow was a family I wanted to belong to.


When I talked to people who had been to Rainbow gatherings and searched for information online, the opinions varied wildly. The invitation would describe a paradise where everybody lived happily in perfect harmony with the nature loving each other, while critics would describe Rainbow events as bunches of pot headed survivors hanging around. The reality, not suprisingly, was somewhere in the middle, and depended greatly how one personally chose to live it.

I particularly liked the idea of no trade of any kind inside the camp. The only thing involving money was the magic hat, with both rich and poor being equally welcome. As time passed, the rule became gradually less strictly followed with local farmers coming closer and closer to sell their products and camp participants flocking to them to buy cheese, milk and other goodies not provided by the common kitchen. Still, it was certainly possible to live without using or thinking about money if one wanted to.

Compared to Ecotopia, which I attended two years ago, Rainbow was less political and more spiritual. The setting was almost the same: camping in the nature with basic facilities, common vegan or vegetarian meals, decisionmaking in a circle and music around campfires in the evenings. However, while Ecotopia was full of workshops about learning ecological ways to live, co-operating with the nearby eco-village and thinking how to change the world around, Rainbow was more about creating an alternative world, being there and feeling it. Be the change you wish to see in the world, as Gandhi once said. There were workshops in Rainbow as well, but in a more relaxed schedule and focusing more on arts or finding oneself through meditations and spiritual exercises. Some interesting discussions about politics and about Rainbow itself happened under a big tree in the library, which also offered a selection of books to read.

The Rainbow gatherings got started in early 1970's in the U.S. from the late 60's hippie movement. Still the biggest gathering is in the States each July with over ten thousand participants. First European gatherings were in the eighties and now there are both local small meetings as well as big international gatherings on all continents. Curiously, the trend seems to be towards more small local gatherings while the number of people attending the big ones is in decline. The European gathering in Serbia drew about one thousand people, with the peak being around 700 during the full moon celebration.

Some people live continuously in the Rainbow way, either traveling from gathering to gathering or pursuing a similar lifestyle in one of the more or less permanent Rainbow villages. Most participants, however, have their regular lives in the Babylon, as the outside world is called in Rainbow slang, and the gathering is a temporary state for them. It can be about appreciation of the nature, survival without modern commodities, escaping hectic city live, partying, meeting old friends, discussing life and politics with new people, giving and receiving love, finding a personal connection with the divine, something else or all of the above. Rainbow gathering is a form of tribal living but members of the tribe are individuals, so the experience is at the same time a collective one and yet different for everyone. Some people who had been to many gatherings said that they come each time to feel the spirit of the Rainbow and try to carry some of it with them through the rest of the year.

For me, camping out in the woods was not new by itself, but Rainbow was a learning experience about how people do it as a community with as little organization as possible. The whole gathering wasn't just joy and happiness, I went through a short period of diarrhea and had my days of low mood during the middle of my stay. Overall, I still greatly enjoyed it. I'm too deeply rooted in the Internet age to seek for a life in a Rainbow village, abandoning all modern technology. However, it's very healthy to do it sometimes, questioning the values of the society around us. Rainbow gatherings are a perfect place to do it.

3 comments

Comment from: Emilie [Visitor]
Arto! So glad you found your way to the Rainbow gathering! It sounds amazing, and I’m hoping to join it someday too.
2008-09-03 @ 18:39
Comment from: Paivi & Santeri [Visitor]
Welcome home.
2008-09-05 @ 16:47
Comment from: Thomas Tempé [Visitor]
Hi Arto, Reading your newsletter/blog is always a pleasure, and it’s also a healthy reality check. Thanks for keeping it up all these years.
2008-09-08 @ 08:24


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