Rainbow Family of Living Light has set up its commune in WMNF


Monitor staff

Published: 07-01-2023 5:01 PM

Eric Peterson stood in the middle of a grassy field wearing dark denim overalls and a big smile.

He had journeyed to the White Mountains of New Hampshire to join hundreds, if not thousands, of his brothers and sisters for the Rainbow Family of Living Light annual gathering.

Back further in the field, a campfire burned under cloudy skies near a teepee, while through the nearby woods other communal spaces were being set up – like Faerie Camp, Home Shalom and even a performance area called Granola Funk Theater. A washing area, first aid station and latrine were already in place in anticipation of more Rainbows arriving through the weekend.

Peterson, who grew up an hour outside of Minneapolis, learned about the Rainbows as a teenager. When he heard from some of his friends in Source Ministries that they were going to the Rainbow Family festival, he wanted to go with them.

“I was like, ‘Oh, that sounds pretty cool,’ ” Peterson said. Now he’s a regular attendee.

Like Peterson, most wore clothes. Many did not.

As more and more Rainbows arrived, they greeted each other with the same set of phrases: “Welcome home, sister.” “We love you.” 

Hundreds of cars and vans lined the 14 Mile Loop Road on Friday, with more arriving as the Fourth of July approaches. U.S. Forest Service officials said they expected up to 5,000 people to show up, but those estimates have been lowered. With no tickets and no attendance, it’s anyone’s guess how many will arrive.

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“Welcome home,” people say to cars rolling in, with license plates from Minnesota, Tennessee, New York and around the country.

Who are the Rainbows?

The Rainbow family was founded in the early 1970s and has maintained its reputation for praying for peace and congregating in nature.

Anyone can join, which makes the Rainbow family unique among its commune counterparts.

The Forest Service has a special team that works closely with the Rainbows, who year after year have declined to apply for a permit, to coordinate safety and environmental protection at each gathering.

Although Forest Service officials do not condone the gathering, they find it unproductive to remove thousands of people from the forest. Instead, they choose to collaborate and work to restore the area when the gathering is over.

Past the trailhead in the woods, law enforcement and forest services were nowhere to be seen, and the only vans along the one-way path were modes of transit for Rainbow family members.

Each year, thousands of people from the self-declared non-organization of non-members gather in a different national forest and chose White Mountains for 2023. This year’s pilgrimage officially began on Saturday.

Beyond these annual meet-ups, Rainbows also gather at smaller, regional events. These happen frequently enough that members like Ciccone Waters, Rainbow name Chick, can live week to week on the trail with a Rainbow home at all times.

“I’m retired and my kids are grown, so I’m just back on the trail. I got nothing better to do,” said Chick.

The gathering

On June 30, Chick estimated that 600 people were already living at the Rainbow camp.

Chick said this might be the smallest national ever, most of which average around 10,000 to 12,000 attendees. Turnout at East Coast nationals tends to be lower, but the Rainbows do their best to spread their destinations so everyone can attend.

Chick plucked the same few strings on his mandolin in front of the Lovin’ Oven, which had hundreds of dinner rolls baking for the night’s evening circle.

The Lovin’ Oven is a staple of every Rainbow event. Two large metal tubes are covered in water and mud to create a massive oven that can cook dinner rolls, cinnamon buns and cookies for thousands of people each night.

Chick continued to play his instrument while he walked 10 minutes from the Lovin’ Oven to Granola Funk Theater, the camp that puts on shows each night.

“You can be whoever you wanna be, you know, you’re living in the moment,” said Chick while plucking away.

Granola Funk Theater will have a dog pageant, a production of Rainbow the Musical and a singer-songwriter series, among other entertaining events.

Because the Rainbows pride themselves on having no organization or hierarchy, anyone can place an event on the chalkboard that sits by the main meadow, like a yoga session or a class on natural ways to increase fertility.

Granola Funk is just one of many themed campsites at the gathering.

The largest site is the main meadow, a patch of grass that hosts massive prayer and drum circles. Under a minute’s walk from the main meadow is Home Shalom, the Jewish camp, which had its own kitchen that serves Kosher food offered to everyone at the gathering.

Sharing is the protocol for all food, water and spare equipment at a Rainbow gathering — theoretically, you can arrive with nothing and survive.

Faerie camp is where the queer community sets up, and at Turtle Soup Kitchen, soup is made in excess.

The information tent guides newcomers to their desired spot.


This year, these themed patches were all within a 30-minute hike, but Chick re called some years that the camp spanned over four miles.

“Lovin’ you,” said passers-by, a Rainbow phrase used for a simple hello.

When the police come through the event, Rainbows will assign an escort to each officer who warn other Rainbows of their presence by yelling “six up.”

This attitude toward the police is common among counter-culture groups, but there are also illegal activities at the gathering that would cause tension between the two groups.

Marijuana, still illegal in New Hampshire, could be seen across the gathering. One man walking around was offering mushroom tea.

Alcohol is discouraged in Rainbow family culture, and those who choose to use it often remain around the outskirts of the group near the car line, which Rainbows call “A Camp.”

Anyone who acts rowdy or out of sorts is deemed a “Drainbow.” Inside the woods, a few hundred yards away from the cars, a commune was established, separating the Rainbow gathering from the outside world. They have a word for that too: Babylon.