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Who Started the Gaia Movement?

Dawn of the Gaia Movement

By Arlo HenningsPublished 2 years ago 6 min read
Who Started the Gaia Movement?
Photo by Elise Zimmerman on Unsplash


The original Rainbow Tribe Gathering was in July 1972. Since then every year on National Forest land. Gatherings have been held annually in the United States from July 1 through 7. And in many other places around the world.

Organized by youth counterculture "tribes" based in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest. The first Rainbow Gathering of the Tribes was a four-day event. Held in Strawberry Lake, Granby, Colorado.

Twenty thousand people faced police roadblocks. Threatened civil disobedience, and pushed their way onto National Forest land.

The "revitalization movement" was intended to be a one-time event. Yet, the second gathering in Wyoming the following year materialized. At which point an annual event was declared. The length of the gatherings has since expanded beyond the original four-day span. As have the number and frequency of the gatherings.

The 50th Annual Rainbow Gathering took place in Taos County, New Mexico, in July 2021. Critics contend that today's gatherings have lost the original vision. To further world peace. And serve as a model for reforms to mainstream society.

Escape from Babylon

I was not going to hang around for my Vietnam War draft number. Rather, with my school of life education, there were more unknowns and adventures, I longed for.

The next calling came in July 1972. I arrived by bus at Strawberry Lake, Granby, Colorado.

The first Rainbow Tribe gathering.

16-years old made me the youngest in a group of 11. When I heard about the festival and there was room for one more rider, I jumped at the opportunity. I had never seen the Rocky Mountains.

Thousands of people came - many on a spiritual quest. Others, a curiosity camping trip. Many sought a deeper connection with the Earth. Native Americans attended. They waved a magic wand over my head. Believing the event to be a fulfillment of a prophecy called the "Ghost Dance." A sign that the Spirit was returning to the land.

The designation of the name "Rainbow Tribe." Referred to people of all races coming together in peace and harmony. To be the role model of a new society. Utopian in its expanse. It was the beginning of a new era? I heard that at Woodstock too, but this tribe wasn't about the music.

We arrived to find that access to the sacred mountain was blocked off. Some people were hiking in, while others set up a base camp at the foot of the mountains.

Even though it was July, the temperature in the mountains dropped at night. I hiked about 6 hours to the top and constructed a simple lean-to out of tree branches. A bed of leaves covered the stony ground. I shivered through the night. The area was very primitive and the event was free for all. People brought in their food and shared it.

Open latrines contaminated the underground water and many fell ill from drinking it. Strawberry Lake was ice cold for bathing. As days passed. People replaced soiled clothing with garments fashioned from nature. While many went naked. The rough living conditions didn't dampen the spirits of the awakened ones.

The Rainbow Gathering was about the spirit of the Earth called "Gaia." No bands and no electricity. Still, every day many people came together and made music. Some brought instruments. Others improvised by blowing on bottles, banging on pans, or knocking sticks together. Sometimes a group of as many as a thousand people would join together in song or spiritual chanting.

At other times smaller groups would gather around one of the many campfires. That dotted the mountainside at night like floating lanterns in a sea of green trees.

I joined them, taking it all in and pondering what it all meant. There was talk of healing of both the Earth and her people, and much of the sacred chanting aimed to this end.

I waded through a sea of sound, smoke, and tie-dye, in search of somewhere to sit before a makeshift stage. Seating consisted of piles of leaves scattered around the ground. Which turned out to be quite uncomfortable. The crowd sat facing what was presumably the performance area. And waited for what seemed a long time for the session to begin.

Finally, a group assembled in the staging area amidst a collection of instruments. A man, who turned out to be the leader of the group. Launched into a lengthy introduction of the collective and the assortment of instruments.

I judged the man to be in his late 50s, although his time-worn face could belong to someone much older. He had long, hair that resembled a wild mountain goat. Dressed in tie-dye. A gaudy array of bangles and baubles adorned his neck. Arms, ears, and fingers - causing him to jangle like a junk wagon when he walked.

The self-proclaimed guru droned on for an hour. Describing the instruments that surrounded him. They included a didgeridoo, tabla, and a dotar. Tibetan singing bowls. And a Native American flute, along with several sticks, bells, and cymbals.

The man, who referred to himself as our "brother." Had an oratory style more like that of a preacher versus an Earth healer. He told how he and a group of his devotees had fasted for three days. And through prayer and sound had healed a woman with a broken hip.

He concluded by inviting everyone to sit up or lie down. Whatever was most comfortable. To take part by praying, singing, or yet, we felt inclined. Then with one mighty and extended blast on the didgeridoo, the event was underway.

I had already been squirming in discomfort for a while. So I opted to lie down. Relieved to be able to relax the muscles in my back. That ached from the tension created by the awkward position in which I'd been sitting.

The deep, resonating hum of the didgeridoo. Gave way to voices chanting in what sounded like a Hare Krishna sing along. As the instruments joined in. One by one. It became clear that none of the "professional" musicians could play the instruments. Instead, they produced a distracting clangor of discordant sounds. Out of sync and off tempo.

I observed as one of the Earth people fanned an odd-looking stringed instrument. As if it had become possessed and was trying to escape. A braless woman danced around, breasts flopping and arms waving. Others joined in. No one seemed to notice or care that the movements of their dance had little connection with the music.

A drum pulsated like a heartbeat, joined by the chiming of bells and the bonging of bowls. The notes of the flute floated on a dense cloud of smoke from several pots of burning incense. Voices joined in with mantras.

Devotional chanting, intertwined with stories extolling the magical healing virtues of Gaia.

I laid back and closed my eyes. Trying to ignore the chaotic symphony of instruments.

After four days in the mountains, We were all starving, dirty, and exhausted. Some were ill, but we also had the satisfaction of knowing that we had been part of something important. We piled into the bus for the trip home back on Earth.

Except for the bus owner. Who I ran into at a McDonald's years later, divorced and jobless, I never saw the rainbow tribe again.

"Being there" at the moment. One never knows the historical reference of these "happenings." Cooked up in the mad mind of a self-proclaimed prophet. The Rainbow Tribe outlasted anyone's prophecy. The idea of the Rainbow Fest would survive decades. Grow to a worldwide chant.

When I read I missed the 50th anniversary of the event. I had my nostalgic "OMG" YouTube moment. Shaking my head in utter disbelief; I had attended the original gathering? And now, I had the dubious honor tagged as a second one of "them," Woodstock being the first.

In disharmony. The Rainbow Tribe and Native Americans went their separate ways.

I found a small stone in my drawer of forgotten reasons. When I rubbed the rock in my hand it spoke to me that it was from the rainbow gathering. I was to carry it "for the pyramid."

It's never too late for the Ghost Dance.


About the Creator

Arlo Hennings

Author 2 non-fiction books, music publisher, expat, father, cultural ambassador, PhD, MFA (Creative Writing), B.A.

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