I remember the excitement well.
It was the 5th day of the vision council in the European Rainbow Gathering in Portugal in 2011 and after the talking stick had passed around enough times to settle any remaining doubts, concerns and quibbles, there was finally consensus that the the European Rainbow should not be represented on Facebook and the offending page would be withdrawn. There were slaps on the back and excited grins all round. I looked around the tipi and imagined a similar atmosphere must have prevailed when slavery was first abolished in parliament.
The following year someone set up a new Facebook page for the European Rainbow gathering in 2012. There were some indignant demands to ‘close it IMMEDIATELY’ from those who remembered the consensus of the previous year but these comments were soon bumped down the page by other posts announcing that they ‘love you family!’
Once upon a time we found out where the next Rainbow Gatherings would be by rumour. A postcard might might make its way to alternative communities, squats or just well-connected hippies who would let all their friends know. It was less than 20 years ago that things worked like that and yet now it seems impossibly remote and implausible.
And yet the Gatherings frequently numbered in the thousands. It took almost a military precision to serve rice and dal to so many spiralling concentric circles. Indeed, when the internet began to take off there were fears that the Gatherings would soar out of control and become like the circus of an American Rainbow Gathering with tens of thousands of people in attendance.
The fears seem to have been ill-founded. In the last few years the European Rainbow has rarely had more than 1500 people at food circle on the full moon night (I know because I’ve been walking around counting) even though it’s easier than ever to find your way to a Gathering.
So what’s going on?
There seem to be two possibilities: or the world is becoming less hippie and the thought of spending even a few days without an internet connection becomes a increasingly unbearable prospect, or it just might be that there are more Rainbow Gatherings now than ever before and so the attendance is shared out among them.
So why the online secrecy about where the next Rainbow Gathering will be?
The fear that the wrong kind of people might hear about the Rainbow and come along would seem to contradict the idea that ‘every colour of the Rainbow is welcome’. It’s true that when the media get hold of a Gathering and publish sensationalist accounts of what goes on (as in the European Rainbow Gathering in Finland in 2011 where the headlines reported ‘women are rolling over the men’ – it was a contact impro workshop the journalists saw), then it might not be the best thing to have the exact GPS coordinates available to every bunch of drunk villagers in search of a hippie orgy.
But mostly the people looking for the Rainbow or who would think to look for it are people who are already open to the idea and would love nothing better than to come and find their true colours. As it many national Gatherings tend to attract the same people and become the kind of cliquey affair the Rainbow was never meant to be.
As it stands word of upcoming Rainbow Gatherings leaks out drop by drop through Facebook events, listings posted on forums dedicated to Rainbow Gatherings and electronic word of mouth. Often you send an email to a given address and get an automatic reply with the directions. It’s hardly a fail-safe mechanism to keep the wrong people out. If the authorities, for instance, want to find out where a Gathering will be it’s hard to imagine they would lack the technically sophistication to do so.
The websites containing calendars of Rainbows come and go of course. There was one great list of Rainbow Gatherings but eventually the guy running it became a father and had to dedicate his time to his own Rainbow Family. Another forum which used to list posts about Gatherings faded away and if you type the url into your browser it redirects you to someone’s personal astrology site.
There was even a move to create a database of Rainbow Warriors who could only be allowed in on a vouch system. But even if it isn’t true that ‘information wants to be free’ the Rainbow surely does and excluding the unconnected newcomers would again seem pretty far from the Rainbow spirit.
Ultimately I suspect it’s a lot of fuss about nothing. And therein lies the magic of talking circles in general in the Rainbow. It’s rare that something particularly enlightening is said or agreed upon but the process itself is what brings us all together.
Incidentally, I keep a list of Rainbow Gatherings in Europe here..