Although I enjoy reading about folklore, I much prefer being a participant or observer. Besides collecting and spreading jokes, proverbial sayings and urban legends, I try to attend local festivals whenever I can. A participant/observer at a community festival can glean worthy insight into community values and customs. Not only can such research tell us much about the people observed, such study can not but help us to better understand our own values and customs. Most of the local festivals I have attended are small, community events (Holy Ghost Festival in Hawkinsville, Horseradish Festival in Tulelake, and the Weed Carnivale–stereotypical small-town religious or harvest festivals), but during August 15-17, 1987, Ken Goehring and I had the chance to study a fairly large and diverse gathering on Mount Shasta–the Harmonic Convergence. While the event started out as a one-time calendar celebration, the subsequent yearly celebrations on August 17th allow the event to be considered a “festival” from a folklore perspective.
Who Attended the Harmonic Convergence?
Besides at least one folklorist and an anthropologist, and a plethora of news media, there were between 3000-5000 participants. The roads up the mountain were clogged with RVs and buses, traditional camping areas were crowded with tent campers, and every trail had its share of day-pack hikers. It did seem to be somewhat of a populist phenomena, for those present could not be so easily pegged as simply belonging to America’s counter culture. We observed young and old, rich and poor, hippie and yuppie–though most seemed to be New Age adherents. We met astrologers, channelers, and even a couple Bible-thumping locals who drove up to convert the invading New Agers.
Why They Came
Although the event’s stated purpose likely made complete sense to Arguelles, and most in attendence seemed to believe they were gathered for a significant purpose, a number of people appeared to be there to make money or simply be a part of something larger than themselves. I suppose this is no different than the “function” battle over other calendar celebrations in America (consider Labor Day or Memorial Day–while most of America sees Labor Day as a day to BBQ and relax, the unions see it as a day to promote their community values; Military groups also find they must work quite hard to re-invigorate the original purpose of the Memorial Day into public celebration). Interestingly, the most common refrain we heard during our three-day stint was, “The mountain called me to come.”
How We Recorded the Event
Ken and I observed, interviewed participants, and videotaped the event from its start to its conclusion. We walked miles of trail, visited camps, and talked to all who would talk to us. Suprisingly, once we told the participants our purpose (to record the event for future educational use), just about everyone wanted to share an opinion or experience.
Like most festivals I have attended there was both the conscious and unconscious borrowing of rituals and symbols from other holidays, historical festivals, and cultures. We observed African drumming, Buddhist shrines, Native American sweat lodges, Tarot cards, Rune stones, and countless charms. An appeal to magic was common: crystals from the city were “charged” with divine power by burying them in the mountain for a short time, and clean creek water was used to wash away spiritual problems. There seemed to be an almost heavy-handed attempt to incorporate some sort of sacred meaning into every action or behavior, and this often created an ironic or conflicting juxtaposition of customs and rituals (i.e., A beautifully ornate Native American “peace pipe” filled with marijuana was ceremonially passed around). Also, unlike so many local festivals that cater to children (as children are often a significant part of the shared community values), the Harmonic Convergence was primarily an adult affair (some events cost hundreds of dollars, drug use was commonplace, and many events were held a bit too far for a young child to walk to). The underlying epistomology of the event seemed to be that “truth is whatever you believe it to be.” Still, there were a number of shared beliefs–beliefs that were almost universially accepted by the participants. These shared beliefs included the following:
While truth is defined individually, global change is controlled by what the majority think. If enough people “think” a belief, the belief becomes real.
Sacred things from many cultures have magical powers. Borrow freely from all cultures.
Channeling allows us to communicate with the past and the future. We can receive wisdom from those who do not have a physical existance.
Inanimate objects can communicate or have power. The mountain can “call” you to come and crystals can cure you from illnesses.
Purpose of the Harmonic Convergence
Like other festivals, the Harmonic Convergence started primarily as a celebration of shared values or beliefs. What made the Convergence a bit different, however, is that the “community” came from all over the world, and the uniting beliefs were a mix of the New Age, the Bible, and ancient Mayan astronomy. The Convergence apparently had its origin in the book “The Mayan Factor” by Jose Arguelles, published early 1987. Arguelles’ text argued that during a critical time (August 16-17) the prophecies of the Bible, Aztec and Mayan calendars indicated that the world would either begin a new age or be destroyed. If 144,000 self-chosen people were “resonating” with peace during this important time, worldwide, though especially at the “power centers” like Mount Shasta, Arguelles believed the world could be saved from destruction.