Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The History of Lightning Across the Plains

Well, it is the fifth Anniversary of Lightning Across the Plains this year. And we thought it would be interesting to share some of the history of the event, how it was started, and some of our expectations five years ago when it began.

Back in October of 2007, before Jotun's Bane Kindred had begun...the future founding members of JBK were meeting for only the third time. The five of us were sitting around a dining room table talking about what sort of group we would like to form. We were discussing how it would be structured, how decisions would be made, and even what the group would be called. That night we decided to call our future kindred "Jotun's Bane Kindred" and we decided that someday we would like to host a regional Heathen gathering that we would call "Lightning Across the Plains. We would not actually hold the first Lightning Across the Plains until two years later, but we knew what we wanted to do and we knew what we wanted to call it.

In 2008, we spoke with a kindred here in the region about the possibility of co-hosting a yearly regional gathering, with the idea that we would rotate hosting the event year to year. The name of this kindred is not really important at this point. But, this other kindred had been around a long time, and we were pretty thrilled that they were interested in cooperating with us and helping to co-host the event. Over time though, they wouldn't really talk to us about any concrete plans. They also seemed to have a vision for the regional event that was very different from our own. The lesson that we learned from this, was the idea that if we wanted to follow our vision for what this regional event could be, we were going to have to begin it and host it ourselves.

In late 2008, our kindred began internal conversations about whether to go ahead and launch Lightning Across the Plains in 2009. It was quite a discussion. There were two schools of thought in the kindred. Some believed that we were ready to host such an event successfully, and that it would be well worth it to get started right away. We were pushing for a September 2009 date for the event, and that meant we had 9 months to plan the event, promote the event, and get everything ready for our first shot at this thing. There was another school of thought in the kindred that we weren't ready. That there was not enough time to get ready. And that perhaps we should delay starting the event for a year or two more. Ultimately, those of us that wanted to push forward and schedule the first LATP for September 2009 were convincing enough, that a kindred consensus formed that we should move forward with our plans.

In planning for the first LATP, we attempted to estimate how many Heathens would attend. We had attended a number of gatherings hosted by other kindreds in the region, and we were forming friendships with other kindreds. So, we added up our friends across the region, and attempted to calculate who would attend. The number we came up with, including members of our own kindred, was about 60 people. We looked at what sort of supplies we would need for 60 people. We decided to provide the evening meal each night of the event to everyone in attendance. We created a tentative schedule for the event, with very specific objectives in mind, including providing plenty of activities for both adults and children. We learned a lot about how to host an event from the kindred gatherings we attended across the Midwest. Volkshof Kindred in Minnesota is one group that we learned a lot from. I'd like to think that this exchange of information and ideas has been very reciprocal over time, but early on it is clear that their annual Heathen event had a lot of influence over how we planned the first LATP. With a plan in hand, we reserved the location for the event, built a website and on-line registration system, and announced the event everywhere we could think to announce it.

LATP was started with $200. We had recently decided that kindred members should pay monthly dues to help pay some of the expenses of our group. Jennifer and I paid our dues in advance for the next year, providing the kindred with the $200 we needed to reserve the Ridge and the Pavilion at Gaea Retreat. That $200 was the initial investment...the seed money that made LATP happen. Rather than the 60 Heathens we were expecting, 120 Heathens showed up that first year. And about 1/3 of the attendees were children...a trend that has continued over the past 5 years. Now, how can any kindred pay for an event with 120 people in attendance with only $200 at the start? It is basic capitalism at work. We required participants to pre-register, and the registration fees were enough to cover nearly everything we needed for the event. The financial health and continuity of the event has always been ensured by a Heathen Auction we hold at LATP.

When we planned the first LATP, we set the registration fees as low as possible. We understand that for many Heathens, money is tight. We did not want registration fees to ever be the reason someone couldn't attend. Over the years, we've never allowed our registration fees to stand in the way of someone attending our event. In five years, we've never increased the cost of registration. A couple of years ago, we added an additional day and night to the event, and created two levels of registration. There is now the full-event registration and the weekend-only registration. That weekend-only registration in 2013 costs exactly the same amount it did in 2009. Every decision we make is aimed at making attendance at the event something affordable for both individuals and families, no matter what financial situation they find themselves in.

Weekend-only registration is $40 for an individual and $60 for a family (of up to five members). Full-event registration is $50 for an individual and $80 for a family registration. And these registration fees include a dinner provided every night you are at the event.

That first year, we were shocked that 120 Heathens attended the event. It was a number that doubled our forecasted numbers. So, we were amazed in 2010 when 240 Heathens attended the second LATP. It was that second year when it really sank in that one of the largest, if not the largest Heathen gathering in the world was right here in the Midwest. It was also in that 2nd year, that other kindreds in the region began helping with certain aspects of the event. Participating kindred volunteer to help prepare the evening meals. Some kindreds help by organizing some of the Fainings/Blots, workshops, and other activities at the event. Some kindreds help with setting up certain areas of camp, or preparing for certain aspects of the event. And this regional assistance that began in 2010, has only expanded and increased over time. It is only through these cooperative efforts, that our relatively small kindred is able to host an event that had 260 participants in 2012.

Another aspect of LATP that we did not fully anticipate when we began in 2009, is the Regional Midwest Thing that is now held at LATP. The name for the "Midwest Thing" came from an annual event hosted by Volkshof Kindred in Minnesota. Volkshof Kindred and Jotun's Bane Kindred are aligned with one another, and we consider each other sister kindreds. We share many of the same goals, and after much discussion it was decided that moving the Midwest Thing to LATP would ensure its accessibility and growth. Volkshof Kindred changed the name of their event to the Northern Folk Gathering, and if you haven't attended this event yet...look into it. It is a great event. The Regional Midwest Thing at LATP brings together the Chieftains, Gothar, and Elders of our various kindreds to discuss the needs of our region, as well as projects and efforts that will have a regional impact. A Lawspeaker is elected each year, but this Lawspeaker is merely an organizer and facilitator, and does not directly impact the autonomy of any participating kindred. The Thing does not interfere with internal kindred matters, but instead focuses on regional issues and goals.

The goals and intentions of LATP have shifted and evolved over the past five years. That first LATP in 2009 was all about bringing Heathens together, in face-to-face interaction. A pretty simple goal, really. We wanted a highly organized event, with plenty of things to do, including workshops and religious activities. We wanted attendees to go home feeling they had more than gotten their money's worth, and looking forward to returning the next year. Over time, LATP has become an event where marriages happen, so that they may be witnessed by all the folk in our region. LATP has become a place where many new kindreds take their kindred oaths, beneath the limbs of Forn Halr, our holy tree. LATP is where ideas are exchanged, friendships and alliances are built, inter-kindred projects are launched, and where the next generation of Heathens play and learn together. The web of friendships and bonds that have formed at LATP and other events in our region strengthen all of our individual efforts. LATP is more important than any one person...or any one kindred. LATP is truly a regional event, where many Heathen individuals, families, and kindreds from across our region gather together in order to honor our Gods and make our ancestors proud.

There are more details that could be added to this brief history. But, I think I've hit the main points I wanted to make. All good Heathens are welcome at LATP. So, please feel welcome to learn more about Lightning Across the Plains and know that you are invited to attend.

Mark Ludwig Stinson
Jotun's Bane Kindred
Temple of Our Heathen Gods