Rainbow Family Gathering

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The Rainbow Family Gathering is a convergence of approximately 15,000-30,000 individuals who are collectively called the Rainbow Family that occurs in a national forest in the United States. The National Gathering officially takes place July 1-7, although there are those who arrive and leave several days or weeks before/after. There have been gatherings called Rainbow Gatherings since at least 1972, and there has been at least one large gathering of the tribes every year in the United States on public land around the 4th of July since then. Many gather then to pray/meditate/hold space for peace and healing in the world. There are also gatherings in many parts of the world, in different countries and on various continents, there are even world gatherings as well as many local and regional gatherings throughout the year. Some are timed with the solstice or equinox and at other special times and seasons throughout the year. It may be that there have been gatherings before or since the "first" rainbow gathering in 1972 that may not have called themselves Rainbow Gatherings but were of the same spirit.

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An Important PSA

As of 2013, we here at Peace and Loveism cannot recommend people go to the national Rainbow Family Gathering any longer. The increasing amount of verbal and physical violence as well as the decline in attendees who wholeheartedly live the Rainbow way have made us take this position. Alternatives to the Rainbow Family Gathering are many and can be discovered by searching for 'transformational festivals' online. The following is an article written to show the historical significance of the Rainbow Family Gathering prior to its straying from its guiding principles.


Originally called the Children of Light, All-One-Rainbow Family, the Rainbow Family of Living Light, known as the Rainbow Family for short, is an international loose affiliation of individuals who have a common goal of trying to achieve peace and love on Earth. Those who participate in, or sympathize with, the activities of this movement sometimes refer to the circle simply as the "Family". The words: Rainbow Family in the longer title are a reference to the families inclusiveness of all colors, classes, races and creeds. Rainbow Gatherings are different for everyone. One may find people actively creating positive community with one another, learning and teaching ways humans can live in harmony with nature and each other, all the while celebrating life together. Rainbow attendees see strength in their diversity. Their willingness to accept anyone and everyone as a member makes them distinct from other utopian communities.

Rainbow Gatherings have always celebrated freedom of choice, encourage diversity and have helped inform generations of people about various cultural ideologies and spiritual beliefs. Over the years these inclusive and free-form gatherings have inspired others to create their own gatherings as well. While many of these newer Rainbow Gatherings are still in their infancy, they seem to use the Rainbow Family Gathering as a basis for their events. In more recent years however, members of the Rainbow Family have noticed a greater "party" mentality among some of the youth that come to the gatherings, which troubles some, yet is embraced by others.


Originally intended as a one-time event, it became an annual Gathering. People liked it so much that gatherings continued to happen annually on federal lands, each year in a different state. The length of the gathering has since expanded beyond the original four day span. For many years, there was only the one gathering, and the spiritual focus was foremost in the minds of everyone who attended. Most folks were identified with the "hippie" movement of the times, engaged in establishing alternative social, economic, spiritual, political, and/or environmental consciousness. Many were involved either in the Peace movement in the cities or the communal, back-to-the-land movement in the country. In either case, exploration of alternative spiritual systems and states of consciousness was often a common theme. Sometime around the mid-1980s, folks who felt it was too far or too long to the annual gathering started coming together for smaller, regional gatherings. People all over the country developed local and regional bonds. The original founding Council members of Rainbow at the Vortex Festival in Oregon in 1970 were primarily from the US and Canadian West Coast.

When large numbers of people started showing up in Colorado for the gathering in June 1972, Governor John Love had the roads blockaded into the gathering site. People started hiking across the mountains to the site--a three day hike. Finally 4,000 people stood in front of the road block asking to be let into the gathering. The road block yielded--the people walked eight miles up the road to the gathering site. By July 4, there were 20,000 people at the gathering. At midnight on July 4, several thousand of these people began walking to Table Mountain, seven miles from the site. They walked to the top of the mountain and made a gigantic silent circle until the afternoon, praying and Meditation for world peace.

The people who had planned the first Rainbow Gathering had no intention of calling another one until in Spring 1973, the word came that an individual who had been to the Colorado Gathering was calling a Rainbow Gathering on his own on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming with the express disapproval of the tribal council. He had already sent out announcements around the country and there was the possibility of mass arrests if people went to the reservation. So some of the people who had put on the first gathering hurried to Wyoming and talked with the Forest Service and found a site in a National Forest where people could come and not get arrested. At the end of the Wyoming Gathering someone left a sign saying "Next year in Utah". And so it was Utah in 1974.

Original Intent

Prior to the first Gathering in 1972 information about the coming event was distributed among certain circles, among which was the declared intent and purpose of the Gathering. It reads as follows:

"...to hold open worship, prayer, chanting or whatever is the want or desire of the people, for three days, but upon the fourth day of July at noon to ask that there be a meditative, contemplative silence wherein we, the invited people of the world may consider & give honour & respect to anyone or anything that has aided in the positive evolution of humankind & nature upon this, our most beloved & beautiful world--asking blessing upon we people of this world & hope that we people can effectively proceed to evolve, expand, & live in harmony & peace".


The form of governance, or lack thereof, that the Rainbow Family instills most closely resembles Zenarchy, with individuals who are called elders that come together to discuss general matters such as picking a location for the national gathering, as well as any issues that may arise during the gathering itself. That being noted, there are no official leaders, no formal structure, no official spokespersons, and no membership. It is longstanding Rainbow Family consensus that nobody has ever, or ever will represent the Rainbow Family. Instead, the Rainbow Family forms community through passively shared "traditions" of love for the Earth and gatherings to pray for peace. Most gatherings are loosely maintained by open, free form counsels consisting of any "non-member" who wishes to be part of a counsel. There is no formal organization or leadership. It is felt by many to be contrary to the spirit of the gatherings. It is said that any one with a belly button may consider themselves part of the rainbow family, and that even a belly button is not really needed, since the saying is symbolic of universal unity.

The gatherings are free and non-commercial, and everyone is welcome. Each person is asked to bring their own camping equipment (this all takes place in remote areas of the National Forest), their own cup, bowl, and spoon, and whatever they might want to share to help the gathering happen (tarps, shovels, musical instruments, bulk food, etc.). No one will be turned away because of lacks in these areas, however. The Magic Hat is passed at mealtimes and around camp. Donations are used to buy food in bulk for the kitchens and whatever else may be necessary for the communal well-being (plywood covers and lime for the latrines, first aid supplies, etc.).

Besides the work that goes on to help the gathering happen, there's also lots of acoustic music, drumming, dancing, workshops, herb-walks, council circles, sister circles, brother circles, brother-sister circles, people hanging out, people bartering, people enjoying nature, people meditating, chanting, and praying, people talking politics, people talking spiritual and personal growth, people visioning the future, people doing bodywork and other healing work. Rainbow Family Gatherings are a convergence of these and many other activities and events.


Rainbow counsels are simply than ad hoc discussion circles, not elected legislative bodies that can decide anything for anyone who isn't participating directly. Agreement with individuals or the group is, and all-ways will be, optional, never mandatory. Everyone have a mind of their own, and no one may dictate to another's reason. There is no way that all who gather can ever duly appoint anyone to any official position.

Foremost at councils is respect. There is respect for the person speaking, respect for everyone's right to speak about whatever may be on their mind, respect for all points of view, and respect for the council itself. Respect is shown to the person speaking, no matter what their social status may be outside of the Rainbow Family Gathering.

Vision Council

Aside from the general Rainbow Council meetings, there is a special type of convergence on the last day of the national Gathering that decides on where the location of the next year's Gathering will be. Some Vision Councils, such as the 1987 Council at the North Carolina Gathering, take a few significantly longer than others, lasting up to a few days in extreme cases. Given these instances, such as the 1987 Vision Council, proved to be inefficient, it was decided unanimously that a consensus has to be reached by sundown on the last day (July 7th) of the Gathering. While the Council could go on after that, it would have to ratify all decisions during the daytime.

The Talking Feather

An aspect of the Rainbow Council is the passing around of an object, usually a feather, from speaker to speaker within the council circle. This aspect of the council exists as a sign of respect for the individual speaking, as to not turn the council into a shouting match between differing views on a particular matter. Whether it be a feather, stick, conch shell, or something else, the idea is for an object of some sort to carry with it the message that all others in the council should wait their turn to speak their piece, so that one person at a time articulates whatever they wish to express to the council.

There are some groups of the Rainbow Family that use one particular object in all their councils for years, in order for it to become a symbol of the group's integrity, and it's capacity for promoting a respectful atmosphere. There are those who disagree with this practice, since it has the potential to invoke feelings of hierarchy by viewing the person who owned the object in the first place to be a sort of de-facto leader. Overall, it is felt that to respect the feather (or other object) is to respect the speaker.

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There are many ideals that make up the philosophy of the Rainbow Family. Some of these are:

  • Peace, Love, Unity, and Happiness
  • Intentional community
  • Respect for indigenous peoples and culture
  • Ecology and environmentalism
  • Spirituality and conscious evolution
  • Non-commercialism


Many of the Gathering's attendees are very empathetic and spiritually-minded individuals that know at the core of their being that something is wrong with humanity's cultures, societies, and civilizations. They feel that something great is about to happen to this planet and humanity as a whole. The Rainbow Family is usually simply seeking alternatives in interpersonal relationships, alternative medicine, and spiritual paths for the betterment of humanity. Besides these characteristics, it is impossible to categorize or stereotype attendees as being one type of person or another. Individuals from all walks of life can be found at the Rainbow Family Gathering, thanks to its philosophy of total inclusion without judgments.


There are events that occur during the Gathering that are put on and created by regular individuals who associate themselves with the Rainbow Family. Things ranging from yoga, meditation, parades, weddings, music performances, fire performances, dance instruction, drum circles, and others are all found at the Gathering. Anyone is free to post their event information on a bulletin board type of system so that anyone who feels it might be something interesting to see or experience, may be a part of that event. All events are free of charge, as no reserve notes or currencies of any kind are not allowed at the Gathering. Although not enforced, the group consciousness of the Rainbow Family feels that using the monetary system brings about more harm than it does good.

Gathering Site

There are many aspects of a Gathering site that are looked at, when choosing a location for a Rainbow Family Gathering. In 1991, the Thanksgiving Council put together a list that describes what an ideal Gathering site looks like.

  • Meadow - A sizable, centrally located and environmentally hospitable meadow for the main gathering and Council location.
  • Water - The site should have adequate drinkable or easily-treatable water
  • Environmental Impact - The site has to be able to sustain a Gathering of the amount of people expected to come, without any long-lasting environmental impact
  • Parking - Designated parking areas should be able to accommodate all the vehicles expected to arrive. Poorly-accessible and poorly-draining areas should be avoided when possible. The parking area should be a reasonable distance and hikable.
  • Access - The site should be accessible to handicapped individuals, but not to vehicles.
  • Private Land - Sites with private land either on the site or near the site should be avoided.
  • Swimming - The site should include an area for people to swim.
  • Toxins - Scouts should carefully evaluate potential sites for toxic pollutants.
  • Terrain - The site should have good drainage for trails, camping areas and meadows.
  • Local Impact - Adverse impacts on the local community or their infrastructure should be avoided.
  • Auxiliary Meadows - The site should provide meadows other than the main meadow for various special interest camps and purposes.
  • Isolation - The site should be isolated from nearby population and tourist centers.
  • Local Political Climate - The local political climate should be take into consideration, as to not have a Gathering in an unfriendly political climate given the possible confrontations that could arise.
  • Firewood - The accessibility of fallen wood for fires should be taken into consideration.
  • Insects - Areas with a high level of undesirable bugs and insects should be avoided whenever practical.
  • Police Logistics - Given the occasional negative perceptions and experiences with local law enforcement, a site with several approach roads would be preferable.

Seed Camp

The seed camp is comprised of committed volunteers who lay the infrastructure for the main Gathering (July 1-7). These are the individuals who are essentially responsible for the availability of proper water and waste systems that will affect thousands of people. They also construct the makeshift trails and bridges that run all throughout the Gathering site. The figure out where the best locations for the camps will be. The seed camp, in essence, builds a temporary city in the middle of the forest. They are the first response team for the local populace and depending on how the public relations go between the seed camp volunteers and the locals can greatly determine the local perception of the Gathering and its attendees. The average number of volunteers within the seed camp is around 100. There is known to be a scarcity of food and other essential supplies during the seed camp period (4-5 weeks running up to July 1st) and it is suggested that those who come for the seed camp bring some extra supplies in order to help with this prevalent issue.

Trade Circle

Perhaps stemming from the general understanding among the Rainbow Family that money is taboo at Gatherings, bartering has developed to such an extent that there is a separate area for trading. Usually called the Trade Circle, individuals set up a small area for themselves and their various wares. Everything from jewelry, herbs, crystals (perhaps the most-traded items currently), publications, and various handmade items can be found. Things which are considered necessities, such as foods and beverages, are also taboo just as money is. This stems from the philosophy that such items should be given freely in order to ensure the well-being of others. Non-necessity items such as candy and cigarettes are traded, however.

Pocket Trades

At the Rainbow Family Gathering, one may frequently come across others asking to do random pocket trades. This interesting game played within the Gathering consists of walking up to a random person and asking to do a pocket trade, which means trading a usually-insignificant miscellaneous item with another person. The trade is done without looking at what one is actually trading, in order to keep a playful spirit all the while this is occurring. It's a fun game that is one of the many ways a person can meet others at the Gathering.


The kitchens are the most observable component of a Gathering. These kitchens (which double as camps) take it upon themselves to be responsible for feeding thousands of Gathering attendees. They each have their own name in order to discern themselves from others based on their specific themes. As long as a person has a bowl, cup, and spoon they will have no problem acquiring food and drink. Those who forget even these most basic items utilize their creativity in finding or creating makeshift bowls, cups, and utensils. At the 2010 Nationals in Pennsylvania, there were an estimated 85 camps set up, many of them with their own kitchens. Every kitchen has a tendency to develop its own community within the overall community of the Rainbow Family Gathering. Everything from simple oatmeal to gourmet pizza can be found at the various kitchens set up at the Gathering. Most kitchens at the Gathering are vegetarian.


One of the principal aspects of the Rainbow Family Gathering is the Center of/for Alternative Living Medicine (CALM). It is essentially a comprehensive health care facility providing a nurturing environment that deals with health problems that may arise at a Gathering as well as chronic and terminal diseases. It is sometimes noted as being akin to a conventional health clinic but with the treatment being heavily focused on alternative medicine and techniques in a holistic way.

Shanti Sena

There is no official group that is in charge of keeping the peace at a Gathering and any notion of there being such an official force is on the side of error. However, a concept that has come to be called Shanti Sena (meaning Peace Center) has been developed as a sort of self-policing of the Gathering and its attendees in reaction to hostile behavior or conflicts of any sort. The manner in which this works is that everyone is conceptually a part of Shanti Sena and if anyone sees a conflict or situation that may pose a threat to the peace of the Gathering, he or she yells "Shanti Sena" in order to alert others of the situation and gain more help in order to neutralize the situation. Anyone attending the Gathering can assist in such a situation, leaving no need for an official security force. The premise of this concept stems from the idea that we are all peacemakers who share the responsibility the Gathering safe and harmonious.

There are also those who take it upon themselves to patrol the Gathering 24 hours a day in order to maintain the peace as well as discover any agent provocateurs that may be at the Gathering. It should be noted that some of these individuals seem to be calibrating at the lower ego-dominated Levels of Consciousness which becomes visible in apparent "power-trips", to which the proper response should be to call attention to such individuals displaying egoistic patriarchal behaviors and form a Council on the issue.

A Camp

Close to the outer perimeter of the main Gathering site is a special section called Alcohol Camp, or A Camp for short, where those who feel predisposed to the use of alcohol camp together. This is done primarily as a safety precaution, since violence has been noted as been the most prevalent where alcohol had been consumed. Instead of those who decide to use alcohol being spread out around the Gathering and causing potential problems for other Gathering attendees, this compromise was established, instead of outright banning people who wish to consume alcohol.

A Camp has been noted as being the single most disruptive element of the Rainbow Family Gathering since its inception. It has been reflected upon by Gathering attendees and Forest Service officials alike as being a separate entity within the Gathering itself. Violence and chaos not rare occurrences in the designated A Camp and it is advisable for those who do not wish to partake in the consumption of alcohol to keep out of the A Camp.

One of the benefits of A Camp, besides the curbing of conflicts and hostilities within the main Gathering, is to introduce alcoholics into the Rainbow Family. Another is serve as a place for local bikers and people looking to party to be able to do so whilst slowly becoming introduced to the Rainbow philosophy and potentially leaving A Camp at some point in the future to join the main Gathering. A Camp is unique to the United States and is not reported to be found in any other country thus far.

Om Circles

In times of meditation or in response to hostility or conflict occurring at a Gathering, attendees form an Om circle in which they hold hands and resonate the harmonic Om frequency. The intent is to raise the energy frequencies to a higher and more harmonic/peaceful level. These Om circles, when done in response to a conflict or a hostile situation, are formed around the situation posing a threat to the peace of the Gathering and the Omming is done until it is generally felt that the negative energy has subsided. Those not familiar with the Om Circle, when in response to a conflict or hostile situation, may incorrectly perceive it as being hostile and threatening in and of itself. Generally speaking, the Om circle is done for the purpose of a meditation, as demonstrated on July 4th during the noon Om circle meditation with thousands of Rainbows participating.


The Rainbow Family ensures that it not only follows a leave-no-trace policy as has been popularized by Burning Man, it also adds on the intention of leaving the Gathering site in a better state than it was in before the Gathering took place. Those who stay for the majority of the cleanup are a very small minority of the main portion of the Gathering yet provide the most assistance in response to returning the location of the Gathering in as good or better of a state than it was in before tens of thousands of individuals converged on the site. It is generally acknowledged that those who stay after July 7th are automatically part of the cleanup crew, and are expected to help in the cleanup process. The Rainbow Family has such a positive track record concerning site cleanup that it is seldom the case that even a single piece of paper will be found.


Rainbow Family Gatherings have occurred all over the country and indeed the world. The location of the National Gathering is different each year. Throughout the years, the Nationals were in the following US locations:

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  • 1972: Roosevelt National Forest, Colorado
  • 1973: Shoshone National Forest, Wyoming
  • 1974: Dixie National Forest, Utah
  • 1975: Ozark National Forest, Arkansas
  • 1976: Lewis and Clark National Forest, Montana
  • 1977: Gila National Forest, New Mexico
  • 1978: Umpqua National Forest, Oregon
  • 1979: Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, Arizona
  • 1980: Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia
  • 1981: Colville National Forest, Washington
  • 1982: Boise National Forest, Idaho
  • 1983: Ottawa National Forest, Michigan
  • 1984: Modoc National Forest, California
  • 1985: Mark Twain National Forest, Missouri
  • 1986: Allegheny National Forest, Pennsylvania
  • 1987: Nantahala National Forest, North Carolina
  • 1988: Angelina National Forest, Texas
  • 1989: Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Nevada
  • 1990: Superior National Forest, Minnesota
  • 1991: Green Mountain National Forest, Vermont
  • 1992: Gunnison National Forest, Colorado
  • 1993: Talladega National Forest, Alabama/Kentucky
  • 1994: Bridger-Teton National Forest, Wyoming
  • 1995: Carson National Forest, New Mexico
  • 1996: Mark Twain National Forest, Missouri
  • 1997: Ochoco National Forest, Oregon
  • 1998: Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, Arizona
  • 1999: Allegheny National Forest, Pennsylvania (41.450189, -78.879304)
  • 2000: Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, Montana
  • 2001: Boise National Forest, Idaho
  • 2002: Ottawa National Forest, Michigan
  • 2003: Wasatch-Cache National Forest, Utah
  • 2004: Modoc National Forest, California
  • 2005: Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia
  • 2006: Routt National Forest, Colorado
  • 2007: Ozark National Forest, Arkansas
  • 2008: Bridger-Teton National Forest, Wyoming
  • 2009: Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico
  • 2010: Allegheny National Forest, Pennsylvania (41.646018, -79.289360‎)
  • 2011: Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington (46.044314,-121.859454)
  • 2012: Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee (36.50175, -82.04347)
  • 2013: Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, Montana (45.23845 -113.43487)
  • 2014: Nevada or Utah (Details Forthcoming)


Further Reading

  • Niman, Michael I. People of the Rainbow: A Nomadic Utopia (1997) University of Tennessee Press. ISBN 978-0870499890


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