“The weak find an excuse, the strong find a way.” Leo Louis Martello
I grew up on a farm in the 1960s and 1970s. My brother, sister, and I had a good life. We weren’t rich by any stretch of the imagination (at least in Western terms), but we lived comfortably and worked hard. We managed to entertain ourselves in the summertime by hiking, swimming, camping, biking, reading, and playing hide and seek and war (this was the Vietnam War era, after all). There wasn’t a lot of extra money, so we learned to make do. It’s a skill that has served me well over the years, both at home and at work.
It never occurred to me that others didn’t have this skill until I entered the adult world and encountered a plethora of people who seemed more content to complain about their circumstances than figure out a way to work around their situation. A case in point was the dearth of Pagan retreats for men who love men in the United States.
Now I had been going to mixed sex Pagan festivals for a few years, and they were great. But I consider my sexuality to be an integral part of my spirituality, and these festivals just didn’t meet that need even when several of us organized programming along those lines at those events. The right atmosphere and mix of people wasn’t present to satisfy the calling that a number of us were feeling.
At that time there were some other events scattered around the country during different times of the year such as Radical Faerie gatherings and the Mid-Atlantic Men’s Festival, but nothing that really called to most of us. What to do? We believed that the thing we were looking for was possible, but were unsure of how to make it happen.
Now some people are content to sit back and complain about the lack of choices, and certainly that was the case in this instance. But Julian Hill and I put our heads together and decided that we not only *should* do this, but *could* do it. We set out to learn the mechanics of how to run a large Pagan festival and, from that, we developed a plan for running our own event.
We got involved with several festivals, volunteering and learning the ropes. Both of us already had backgrounds in business and in risk management. I was in my 40s, and Julian was in his 30s, so we already had some life experience upon which to draw. In a couple of years, we both felt we had a sufficient grasp of what was required to successfully run such a gathering. In 2002, we founded the Between the Worlds Men’s Gathering (BTW). The first year of BTW was rough, but with each succeeding year we built up a trained staff and a loyal following.
By the time Julian and I retired as co-facilitators (he in 2010 and I in 2011), the festival had broken the magical 100-person barrier and had become one of the largest events of its kind and was attracting a wide variety of gay and bi practitioners – Buddhists, the Norse, Druids, Wiccans, Witches, Ceremonialists, Shamans, members of African Diasporic paths, and others – from across North America.
We had initially aimed for persons living within a 500-mile radius of Columbus, Ohio, thinking that people simply wouldn’t travel further than that to attend a small festival like ours, no matter how unique it was. We were mistaken, as it turned out, with one man traveling all the way from Texas to be there in 2002. Since then we have hosted attendees from twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia, and from the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Ottawa. And we have fielded inquiries from the countries of Mexico and France.
We’ve had many men pass through the festival who have become re-energized from their experience. Many speak about the life-changing aspects of BTW. Some talk about how they had given up on the concept of brotherhood or even simple joy in association with other gay men until they had come to this temple in the woods. From my own personal perspective, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing the expression of awe or joy on the face of an attendee after coming out of a meaningful ritual, the look of connection and understanding during a workshop, or to watch the connections being formed between men from different parts of the country, different backgrounds, and different paths. Some men have made good friends of the people who they have met at BTW. Some have progressed beyond that point. We had our first handfasting at BTW in 2002, a tradition which we’ve been proud to see repeated twice more in the years since.
I raise these points to emphasize that all of this might not have happened if Julian and I had sat back like so many others, complaining about what didn’t exist and doing nothing about it. Instead, we devised a plan to realize our vision, developed the skills we needed to bring it to fruition, and then executed it. Don’t be that ineffectual complainer. Be the one who figures out a way to make it happen, whether it’s a big thing or a little one. Remember the words of New York Witch, gay activist, and Pagan rights activist Leo Louis Martello – “The weak find an excuse, the strong find a way.”
Michael Lloyd is a co-founder and former co-facilitator (2002-2011) of the Between the Worlds Men’s Gathering, one of the largest Pagan spiritual retreats for men who love men. He is the author of “Bull of Heaven: The Mythic Life of Eddie Buczynski and the Rise of the New York Pagan” (Asphodel Press, 2012).