What is a Rainbow Gathering?
Rainbow is a gathering, not a "festival", and as such, it's just a group of people getting together in the nature for a little while with no real agenda. Rainbow is Non-Political, and totally non-commercial, there is no "market", no buying or selling.
Everything is communal (well, personal stuff is personal, we don’t expect folk to sign over their bank accounts and forfeit their back packs at the door ;)), There are no charges or fees; entrance, camping, workshops, meals, and the chaishops and snack shops are all shared freely.
There are two meals provided daily, around mid-morning and evening, which are prepared in a communal kitchen and served in a circle - everyone comes together to sit in a big circle to eat. As well as the meals, there are usually a few chaishops, where one can get tea of various sorts and snacks, and depending on the size of the gathering, a range of kitchens.
All the 'work' that is done, cooking, serving, collecting firewood and water, cleaning, digging shit-pits, etc, is done by volunteers, basically whomever feels like doing it at the time, which means YOU!
All the money to provide all this wonder and amazement is communal and comes from the MAGIC HAT. Basically, after each meal, some people (again, whomever feels like doing it at the time) will get up and make a parade around the circle, singing and dancing, with a hat to collect donations in. The magic hat is "focalised" (a "focaliser" is what we call a person who volunteers to organize something, from big things like main kitchen to little things like making tea) again, by people who volunteer to do it.
Magic hat focalisers count the money, keep it somewhere safe, pay bills and keep a kind of accounts ledger (though the depth of this record keeping depends on the person at the time). Usually there are at least 2 or 3 people doing this as a team, and often another person who is completely unrelated to the "accounting" keeps the physical cash safe.
The donations are just that, no one is taking note of how much who puts in. Some put a lot, some put none. Everyone puts what they can, whether it be cash or just energy, and everyone contributes what they can, whether it be loads of hard manual labor digging and building, cooking, focalising, or just playing music (for most people, it's a balanced combination of all of these, seasoned with a dose of 'just hanging out'!)
There are all kinds of workshops offered, usually from a kind of alternative perspective. They can be anything from various forms of massage, meditation, dancing, music, drumming, art, spiritual stuff... to practical natural living like herb walks, basket weaving, crochet, tipi building, sweat lodges...basically, if anyone has a skill or talent or information they want to share, they call a workshop. Even YOU.
None of the workshop holders are pre-organized or paid or co-coordinated in any way. It is like everything else in Rainbow - someone felt like doing it at the time. Basically, someone will stand up in the food circle (what we call meals) and announce that they are doing a workshop on (XYZ) and will meet in place (ZYX) when the sun is "over there", anyone who likes to join, come on over and bring a blanket. Or something like that ;)
Since there is little co-ordination, some days there can be about 20 workshops all happening at once (and all of them really interesting), and all seemingly under the same tree [roll eyes] but it usually gets resolved easily.
HYGIENE is really important at Rainbow Gatherings. A large group of people camping without electricity or running water for a month or more (especially in the tropics) can be a wonderland for bacteria, parasites and diseases. Keeping hands clean is VITAL. After you use the shitpit, Before entering the kitchen, Before serving food, Before eating, WASH YOUR HANDS! and scrub your nails too. Keep your own spoon/fork/bowl/cup and keep them clean.
Don’t let anyone touch your plate when they are serving you food, and if you are serving, don’t ever touch anyone's plate, even from the underneath, and even if someone else tells you to. Its a great way of spreading diseases, as you can't be sure that another person's plate is clean, and you cant be sure that another person isn't carrying parasites, even if they aren't sick. Also, as we eat sitting on the ground, people put their plates on the ground, and they get dirty. Especially underneath!
There is a very strong emphasis on protecting the environment, and every rainbow gathering cleans up the site and leaves it "as we found it" or better. We keep a strict policy of NO SOAP IN THE WATER, even "ecologic" soaps, if one must use soaps for washing, take a bucket of water at least 100 feet away from the water source and wash there. You can use ASH from the fire to wash plates and utensils, and even your own body if you rinse well afterwards.
Likewise, rainbow is an ALCOHOL-FREE and DRUG-FREE event, and the main kitchen is vegetarian. The point of being drug free can extend quite far in some circles, including tobacco, caffeine, and sugar. Best to check first when sitting with new friends. Keep in mind on the drug issue that this is Thailand, a country that carries STRICT penalties for drug use, and you will land in jail for a very long time and have to pay a lot of money if caught. Not only that, you very likely will cause the authorities to make all kinds of problems for the rest of the gathering too. (On that note, the last World Rainbow Gathering was in Turkey, another country with very strict anti-drug and anti-nudity laws. In that gathering we were very respectful of the local customs, and had a beautiful gathering WITHOUT drugs and nudity)
Also, electronic devices are preferred to be left behind, a lot of people take offence at any form of cameras or recording (its an issue to deal with every time; the "official" line is NO ELECTRONIC DEVICES including cameras and flashlights) but, as the future rolls out before us, cameras and flashlights (and even cell phones, Oh MY!) are becoming more common. The best is just not to bring out your camera, but if you must, keep it low-key and ASK everyone present before hand, be respectful!
Everyone carries out their own trash. There is no trash collection for personal trash, so pack out what you pack in! this includes CIGARETTE BUTTS! T hey do NOT belong on the ground!! Also, some folk are sensitive about their fires, and insist that only clean wood be burnt in them. Best to ask before you put anything in the fire, even paper or ciggy butts, even your feet!
A side note of the no electronic stuff is that it extends to music. There are no stages or performers in rainbow (though a talent show of sorts is often organized), and all the music is acoustic, played together and shared. Generally, around the central fire in the evening musicians come and play and drum while people dance. It is very organic and free-from. This part explains the basics of Circles in rainbow, one of the basic forms of "government" in rainbow, basically, everyone is invited to come and sit in a circle, to talk.
There are many CIRCLES, not just food circles, also TALKING CIRCLES. These can take many forms and cover a wide range of topics or focuses, from sister circles to kitchen-focaliser circles to the VISION COUNCIL.
TALKING CIRCLES are often called to take place around the main fire or in the council tipi, generally a "HEART-SHARING CIRCLE", where everyone is invited to come and participate, to share their thoughts, feelings, visions, dreams, ideas, love, whatever!
Basically, the circle is opened with a ceremony (usually an AUM) and then someone will start, holding a "TALKING STICK" (which isn’t necessarily a stick, but can be any object, a feather or stone or banana or old boot ;) whatever is handy). The person who is holding the talking stick has the respect and focus of the group. This person can talk for as long as they like, without interruption, and the rest of the circle focuses on that person with loving respect, while the speaker also gives respect to the group by passing the stick on quickly (in an ideal world!) The stick is passed mostly in a SUN-WISE direction (which means clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and counter-clockwise in the southern hemisphere - Thailand is in the North, for the geographically challenged!)
It is really important to give respect to the speaker, and not to interrupt - remember, the stick comes around, and everyone gets their turn.
Many times, you will find that you have something burning to say, but you have to wait a long time. Surprisingly often, someone else will say the same thing that you wanted to say before the stick gets to you! This is a big sign that you don’t always need to be the one to speak, spirit brings the message through, meaning that you don’t need to interrupt. Other times you might find that you have something important to say, but when it comes to your turn, you forget everything. This is another big sign that you didn’t need to say it (even if your ego thinks that you do!).
The best thing is not to think at all about what you want to say, but give your focus to the one who is speaking, and when your turn comes, if you have something to say, it will come through you without 'thinking’. It is also very possible that you will have nothing to say, and you can just pass the stick in silence - you don't need to speak just because it is your turn. Trust that if you needed to say something, you would feel it like a fire in your heart, and in that moment, someone else has something to share, so PASS THE STICK! :D
Decisions are generally made in a circle by CONSENSUS. CONSENSUS is made with some guidelines that are agreed upon at the start of the circle, or generally accepted to be: -no consensus will be made after sunset (as everyone in the circle should be able to see into the eyes of everyone else in the circle, and so that councils do not become "endurance contests"
the stick should be passed at least once around the whole circle, giving everyone present a chance to speak before a consensus is called
if anyone has an idea for consensus, they call the consensus, stating it clearly, and repeating, to be sure everyone is clear, with translations if needed. Then they pass the stick around the circle. If everyone agrees, they pass the stick in silence around the circle until it reaches the person who called the consensus. If anyone disagrees with the consensus, they should speak out, and the consensus is not passed, leaving the circle open for more discussion. If the stick goes around the whole circle in silence, the consensus is reached! This does not mean the circle is over, indeed, the circle can continue, and many times there is more to discuss.
For minor consensus, e.g., what to cook for dinner or where to dig a shit pit, a shorter version is often used, where the person who calls for consensus will state the proposal and then ask for a minute (or 10 seconds,) of silence. If all agree, the silence is kept and the consensus passed, if anyone disagrees, they may say "I block", but the focus still remains on the person holding the stick.(the speaker may address anyone in the circle and ask them why they block, or another direct question, but creating internal dialogues is avoided).