The Seed Camp Disaster of the European Gathering 2016

I was there.

That’s my only qualification for explaining what happened. It’s just my point of view and, like there are as many perspectives on what a Rainbow is as there are people who go to one, you’ll probably hear other stories about what went so wrong this summer. I’ll try to keep to the facts. With the odd joke.

The First Seeds

I was carrying the Magic Hat from the previous year’s Gathering in Lithuania (not the most lighthearted of tasks!) and wanted to make sure that seed camp could for once begin with full funding so we wouldn’t be too poor to buy a rope or a tarp or a bag of oats. I was the seventh person to arrive at a little fireplace by the river in the Austrian Alps and that morning there had been just 2 brothers.

rainbow gathering alps

Now, we just need somewhere flat..

After the tea, hugs, a bit of music and excited chats about coming together in such an amazing location, we arranged to do some further scouting up in the valley where the Gathering was envisioned. Walking up there the next day it was hard to think about the practical details because we were all just so blown away by the beauty of the place. The Alps! We were there! And so, too, soon would be thousands more!

There was only one possibility we could see for the main field and it lay behind an electric wire to keep the cows in. Had anyone spoken to the farmer? No. We were looking for him but without success. Had anyone spoken to the mayor? Yes, and she said within 5 minutes that ‘permission would not come from her office’.

But whatever. Rainbow makes magic and we didn’t see why details like these should stop us.

It emerged that the scouting circle which, just the week before, had chosen this location for the 2016 Alps Rainbow had met in that very main field. The energy was beautiful, the vision was strong. Then a forest ranger came along and told everyone to leave.

Wildapen Valley

We decided to move up to the valley and try to make the first camp there in a discreet place far from the road in the hope our presence wouldn’t be noticed. Around 20 of us gathered up there and began preparing for the rest of the family to come. But within a few days the ranger had returned and told us to go. We smiled, wished him well and stayed where we were. Two policemen came along the next day and spoke to us in the circle, asking who we were and how we lived. It was a friendly exchange and it seemed rainbow magic might be happening!

The next day, however, came the ranger, the mayor and another policeman who told us we had 2 days to leave. “Kein Spielraum!” we were told. No playing space. The policeman returned the next day without the mayor and was calmer this time but still resolute. He sat with us for 2 hours in a talking circle, drinking tea (made on our illegal fire), and explained to us that it was an environmentally protected area and therefore we had to go.

Some of us claimed that we were ‘meant to be there’ as the vision of the council had chosen this place. Some of us reminisced how, on previous occasions the authorities had denied permission to the Rainbow Family to gather, only to relent when they saw how many we were. But we were only about 20 gathered there and we passed consensus to leave.

We gathered again down the valley near the town of Wildapen and found another 50 brothers and sisters waiting for news. We formed a new camp, now 70 strong, enjoyed some rainbow magic around the fire, and were told to leave again the next morning by a rather confused policeman. Hadn’t we promised to go away?

More talking circles took place, scout teams went out, and before any consensus could be reached most of the family already made their way to a camp site.

Talking circle after painful talking circle followed. We should go back and occupy the valley. The People of Wildapen will support us! We should go to the Crystal Land in Hungary! Hungary isn’t the Alps!

Scouts went out to Italy, Switzerland and elsewhere around Austria. Places were found, lost and despair began to set in. Parallel discussions on Facebook kept the tension high and hundreds of Rainbows just wanted to know where to go.

The Great Spirit versus the Austrian Police

Finally, we heard of a monastery who might rent us their land. I joined a team of 2 cars to go and check it out. A large building with a huge, flat field. Where would we shit?

But the valley behind it was magical and we wondered if we could just move in and trust the Great Spirit to make everything okay. The next day a second scout team arrived, and a circle beginning with 30 people swelled to over 100 by the time the talking stick was passed asking for consensus to stay. Some had their doubts but the next day the farmer removed his cows and horses as he was afraid they ‘might disturb us’! Rainbow magic had happened!

Until the police showed up the next day. The hunters to whom the monastery sold rights to hunt on their land had complained. Police vans made their way up the valley and formed a long, imposing line. We made a large, powerful circle and began to sing! We are one in harmony! And lo and behold the police backed down! The Great Spirit had won!

Some had their doubts as the police said we still had to leave. A stream of the more law-abiding made their way out of the valley that night. The next morning I got out of my tent up on the hill to see a stream of 110 police officers marching up the valley road like a train of blue ants. They’d come before our morning coffee! How low could they go?

The helicopter duly arrived for psychological effect and though we tried to form another singing circle, we all knew it was over. One brother lay down on the ground and refused to move and so the cops just picked him up to carry him away. Rainbow sisters surrounded them in a protective circle. Female cops broke them apart.

It was as though the Austrian police force had a page in their training manual for how to deal with a hippie invasion.

From there the Rainbow splintered into 3 or 4 refugee camps around Austria. Chaos reigned. We were on TV and in the newspapers, of course. Would someone see our plight and offer us a magical location?

A rediscovered location in Slovenia opened up. Discussions raged on a secret Facebook group. Phone calls to the land owners and municipality went back and forwards. Diplomacy wasn’t helped by advance guards of Rainbows who peed in the village square and refused to pay for alleged damage done to the land at one temporary camp site.

Finally, the whole Rainbow just over the border in Italy in a valley which had held a smaller Gathering a couple of years before. From there I lost the plot as I had a flight to catch. I heard stories of good time but also lots of sickness due to the cramped conditions.

How did this ever happen?

Ever since the vision council in the European Rainbow Gathering in Lithuania decided upon ‘The Alps’, we knew we were in trouble. The vision was for Gatherings that would transcend borders and nationalities. It had worked when the vision was for the Baltics, ending up in Lithuania, so what could possibly go wrong this time?

Thing is, as much as most of us in our hearts would love to see all borders erased and a glorious new age of peace and harmony to sweep in, the reality is that we all do live in countries. We speak different languages, have different social networks and phone plans, and live far apart. Communication about prospective locations took place in a secret Facebook group rather than in person between scouts of one country who know and trust each other.

For example, when the scouting council met in Austrian Wildapen, the French family wasn’t there. They were 1500 kilometres away! And as the place was so blindingly beautiful it was hard to feel any doubts about the location even though we weren’t clear on its environmental protection status, communication with the authorities or the land owners.

Ideas, not visions

For me, the chaos of this summer illustrated clearly one thing. A vision is basically just an idea. Try it out: the Idea Council in last year’s Rainbow had the beautiful Idea that the Rainbow should come to the Alps!

Sounds different, doesn’t it?

Just like those who opined we were ‘meant to be here’, shortly before the police kicked us out, there’s a central illusion that a vision is something sent from beyond, part of a Divine Plan. But none of us have a direct line to the Great Spirit. Some of our ideas are brilliant and inspired, and others…aren’t.

I don’t blame the Vision (Idea) Council in Lithuania. I don’t blame the scouts who went all over the Alps with the tough prospect of finding a bit of unwanted land big enough for the Rainbow. Rainbow Gatherings always depend on a lot of good fortune and good will from the locals, aided by all the charm and good spirit that we bring. Any of the dozen leads we followed could have worked out. They just didn’t this time.

If you have the firm belief that everything happens for a reason you’re sure to find a spiritual lesson in the chaos of this summer. Everyone will probably find their own.

If you’re a believer in cause and effect then the temptation is to point the finger – at those who proposed the Alps, at the scouts – but your other three fingers will point back at you.

Many of us missed our yearly month of singing around the fire and celebrating life with the Family. It was really sad but it also reminded us how fragile a thing is a Rainbow.