ceremony

Earth’s Mystery School

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“Earth is a mystery school complete with initiations and discoveries that you only experience by living with your feelings, touching the earth, and embracing the fullness of your humanity.”

–Queen Guenivere

(awakewoman)

Three recent moments come to mind…

On Samhain morning, I wake early and mist was rising out of the forest and dancing through the field and out of the trees. I have a moment of sheer awe to see it…the veil was literally thin. october-2016-024

Over the weekend, I visit the nearby river to connect in personal ceremony in appreciation before the park closes for the year and also symbolically to those at Standing Rock. This river eventually meets the Missouri. I run my hands through the water. I anoint my brow, neck, and hands. I whisper my prayers into the ripples. I sing: “I am water. I am water…I am flowing like the water, like the water I am flowing, like the water…”

I am hurrying outside to get some work done. I feel tight and hurried with the length of my to-do list and my superhuman plans for the day. The bright red flame of a bloom on my pineapple sage plant catches my eye and then…the perfection of a bright yellow butterfly alighting on one slender stamen. My breath catches and I stop in wonder. I smell the flower and it smells of pineapple, just as the leaves do. I can hardly believe this treasure and the tightness melts into nothing. The rest of the day is full of joy. october-2016-065

I am once again healed by flowers.

I create personal ritual almost every day in my tiny temple outside my house, sometimes simple, sometimes elaborate, sometimes tearful, sometimes joyful, sometimes hurried, sometimes leisurely, sometimes distracted, sometimes astonished at the wonder of it all. Last week, I smudged the temple with sage I grew in the flowerboxes by my front porch. I rang my bell 13 times. I sang “I Am Fire.” I laid out cards and tiny goddesses and created a mandala out of fallen leaves. I left an offering of flowers from the herbs and let rose petals drop from my fingers. Ritual captivates all the senses…in this sacred space, I invoke my own senses of smell, touch, sight, sound, and wonder and the result is magic.

“Through ceremony we learn how to give back. When we sing, we give energy through our voice; when we drum, we allow the earth’s heartbeat to join with our own; when we dance, we bring the energy of earth and sky together in our bodies and give it out; when we pray, we give energy through our hearts; when we look upon our relations, we give blessings through our eyes. When we put all these activities together, we have a ceremony, one of the most powerful forms of gift-giving we humans possess.”

–Sun Bear and Wabun Wind

b2ap3_thumbnail_October-2016-027.JPGHow have you experienced the power of personal ceremony recently?

(We are also offering our Liminal Space Ritual Kit free here. And, a free 2017 Calamoondala how-to class.)

Categories: blessings, ceremony, earthprayer, embodiment, feminist thealogy, Goddess, nature, practices, prayers, priestess, ritual, sacred pause, self-care, spirituality, womanspirit, woodspriestess | Leave a comment

A Single Glorious Thing…

My body is my altar,
My body is my temple,
My living presence on this earth,
My prayer, my prayer, my prayer…

This week as I called the circle for our Creative Spirit Circle weekly ritual, I sat on the sunny back deck with small representative pieces of the herbs I had been gathering and sang the Body Prayer song.

That morning, I’d begun by picking rose petals and plantain, but then kept going to harvest pineapple sage, spearmint, chocolate mint, oregano, october-2016-031and lemongrass. In the evening I dried them in the dehydrator and then moved on to the many bags of wild persimmons we gathered to process. It feels so good to lay aside the other to-dos and enjoy the sunshine, the plants, and the wild.

I laid on my back in the sun with my arms spread out and my eyes closed as I sang. And, it was basically a perfect ritual! No more, no less.

The Womanrunes card of the day was The Heart, rune of love. This rune asks us to take a moment to pause. To rest. To draw it up, draw it in, and breathe easy. Love is the ground of being. We are embedded within it.

In the book Sisters of the Earth, Barbara Kingsolver is quoted as saying:

“In my own worst seasons I’ve come back from the colorless world of despair by forcing myself to look hard, for a long time, at a single glorious thing: a flame of red geranium outside my bedroom window.”

What do you love? What makes you light up? What single, glorious thing have you experienced this week?

Affirmation for the week: I walk in love and love rises up to greet me.

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Categories: blessings, ceremony, earthprayer, embodiment, Flowers, nature, practices, prayers, ritual, sacred pause, spirituality, womanspirit | Leave a comment

Flower Prayers

“We may need to be cured by flowers. 

We may need to strip naked and let the petals fall on our shoulders, down our bellies, against our thighs. We may need to lie naked in fields of wildflowers. We may need to walk naked through beauty. We may need to walk naked through color. We may need to walk naked through scent. We may need to walk naked through sex and death. We may need to feel beauty on our skin. We may need to walk the pollen path, among the flowers that are everywhere. 

We can still smell our grandmother’s garden. Our grandmother is still alive.”

–Sharman Apt Russell, in Sisters of the Earth

This month, this beautiful rose made me drop to my knees with delight on my way out to my tiny temple. I drew my Womanrunes card and got the Sun and Moon, rune of laughter. Yes. This right here. This is a beautiful moment. As I knelt beside the rose, the Body Prayer song* welled out of me until I had tears in my eyes.

september-2016-077When I at last went inside, I opened a book I’m currently reading to this very quote:

“The frailest of nature’s objects, these most female of emblems, have staying power. Staying power has healing power, too. You can stand in front of flowers and look them in their many eyes and see just them, and for a moment you are doing only one thing fully, being in the presence of their tart soil and tender personalities, and connecting with the tart and tender within yourself.”

–Molly Peacock in Sisters of the Earth

Then, later in the week, I was surprised by the gift of another flower outside my tiny temple. This one a volunteer pumpkin blossom, a little too late in the game to succeed this year, but still feeling like a blessing of the season to be graced with. My Womanrunes card that day was the Pentacle which makes me think about my responsibility to protect my own energy and boundaries even when so much clamors to be done. It is more vital than ever to just sit for a minute and admire a flower.  That same afternoon, when I returned to the tiny temple to collect my laptop, I noticed that the pumpkin blossom has closed back up or fallen off. If I hadn’t taken that very moment to appreciate it, I may never have even known it was there.

october-2016-046It wasn’t until I looked at the photo later that I noticed that the blossom is also a five-pointed star…

In the anthology Sisters of the Earth, Sharman Apt Russell muses:

All around me are plants that heal and connect to the human body. The yucca spiking above is a steroid. Mullein acts as a mild sedative. Mullein root increases the tone of the bladder. Juniper is used for cystitis. Yarrow clots blood.

My body is interwoven into the chemistry of juniper and yarrow. The tone of my bladder is related to mullein root.

How can we doubt our place in the natural world?flowers

Several years ago I wrote a poem called Body Prayer, which is included in the Girl God’s Mother Earth book as well as in my own Earthprayer poetry collection. I was so touched when Goddess Magic Circle sister Angelique (Deb) shared a chant she created from the last stanza this poem. I’ve been waking up in the mornings singing it, or sitting by flowers and singing it, and it delights me. It also brings my mind back to self-care, an ever-present issue it feels like for women.

At our most recent small study group in my tiny temple, we also sang it:

My body is my altar
my body is my temple
my living presence on this earth my prayer…

May we each be healed by flowers, time to ourselves to sit on the earth and sing, and the simple, every day beauties and miracles that surround us each day.october-2016-137

“The autumn woman moves towards dreamtime. Though she knows her limits, she has also felt limitless. She has known the ineffable. She wakes at night from dreams of high windy places where small blue flowers bloom, and she knows in her bones that such places exist. Luminous beings appear in her dreams and pull her towards them. She recognizes the dust of infinity in a windstorm, the fragrance of timelessness in a fire…”

– Patricia Monaghan, excerpted from Seasons of the Witch

Side note: I created a Samhain ritual recipe kit that is currently free in our October issue of the Creative Spirit Circle Journal. Enjoy!

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Categories: blessings, ceremony, chants, earthprayer, embodiment, Flowers, meditations, nature, practices, prayers, priestess, ritual, sacred pause, seasons, self-care, spirituality, woodspriestess | 4 Comments

Facing the moon alone…

February 2016 030When all is said and done I think every Witch should, at some time, face the moon alone, feet planted on the ground, with only his or her voice chanting in the starry night.

–Laurie Cabot, Power of the Witch

I will never forget the first time I heard someone recite the Charge of the Goddess from memory. Bare-breasted, she strode around the fire in sacred circle at a large goddess festival in Kansas, delivering the words with power, grace, and confident resonance. I thought: I will do that someday.

In February of this year, we took a family trip to Dauphin Island. While there, the afternoon of the full moon, I February 2016 148decided that the time had come. I was going to memorize the Charge of the Goddess. First, I thought I would only memorize it a piece at a time. It seemed “too big” to do in a single sitting. I had it printed out on a piece of paper that rapidly became damp with the salty sea air. I drew a labyrinth in the sand with my toes, set one of my goddess sculptures at its entrance, and drew a Womanrunes card.

One stanza at a time, slowly I began to repeat the poem* aloud:

hear ye, the words of the star goddess
the dust of whose feet are the hosts of heaven..
.

Over and over, I said the words, letting them twine around my tongue and in the air, experimenting with cadence and rhythm. After I could reliably repeat one section, I’d move to the next, letting it build in my memory until I could put the two together confidently and then moving to the next.

I am the beauty of the green earth
the white moon amongst the stars..

I stared into the waves, listening to them rise and fall along with my words. My three older children dug in the sand. My husband fished. My toddler toddled around and then came to sit on my lap and nursed to sleep for nap time:February 2016 073

before my face
beloved of all…

I whispered into his damp hair. I felt in an altered state of consciousness. The words began to wind their way through me, becoming a part of me, embedded in me. I danced with them as I have never danced with another piece of writing. I felt them merging with me. I sang them aloud. I stated them fast and slow and I built, adding the next line and then the next…

for behold, all acts of love and pleasure
all my rituals.

I turned over hard thealogical questions as the words spun their magic through the air. What does it really mean that “all your learning and seeking shall avail you not, lest your know the mystery.” Do I really feel the goddess within? Do I find her within myself or is she only outside and if she is only outside, does she really exist at all? Tears came to my eyes: do I even like myself?

Two hours passed. My baby awoke and returned to digging in the sand. My husband packed up his fishing gear. The sky began to darken and spit rain. I stood and danced the words into the sand with my feet.

let your divine innermost self
be enfolded
in the rapture
of the infinite

I felt rapturous. I felt triumphant. I had done it. Faster and faster my feet stamped the sand as I called the words into the waves. I spun in circles with my toddler chanting and laughing and offering my devotion before the sea, beneath the moon.

the mystery of the waters
the desire in human hearts…

February 2016 179*I used Shekhinah Mountainwater’s adaptation of the Charge, originally by Doreen Valiente, as included in the book Ariadne’s Thread.

Categories: blessings, ceremony, chants, Goddess, invocations, liturgy, moon wisdom, nature, poems, practices, prayers, priestess, resources, ritual, sacred pause, spirituality, womanspirit, woodspriestess | 2 Comments

Day 6: Birth/Death/Rebirth (#30daysofspring)

Scatter my ashes on the tree covered hills March 2016 022
Let my bones come to rest on these stones
Raindrops will come to carry me away
Back to the Fire of All.*

At sunset, I headed to the woods with my drum. I had been thinking about the course prompts for day 6 and found myself singing the little song above. On the way, I stopped to look at the magnolia tree that we planted in memory of my third baby, who died in my second trimester of pregnancy. His death-birth, my hemorrhage and hospital transfer after his birth, and the intense walk through grief that followed, was my death-life-rebirth experience that I’ve written about before–as well as a shamanic initiation into my priestess path and my dedication to the Goddess. His memorial tree is beginning to bud.

After my drum time in the woods, I turned to go back in and looked up to see many buds on the wild plum that was damaged last year and that I feared would not survive. Through its branches, the bright crescent return of the moon…March 2016 023

Unfathomable eons
Glacier time
I am just a blink of an eye
But I can sit, and watch, and wonder.

(*I realized the next morning that my little tune was similar to Kellianna’s Warrior Queen song. **This is actually my writing from March 14)

Categories: #30daysofspring, ceremony, chants, death, drums, endarkenment, moon wisdom, music, nature, night, poems, practices, prayers, pregnancy loss, priestess, sacred pause, self-care, spirituality, theapoetics, woodspriestess | Leave a comment

Day 5: Planted, Struggling, Growing (#30daysofspring)

March 2016 153My friend made this meme for me last month using a quote originally part of a blog post I wrote called Thealogy of the Ordinary, and later used in my Earthprayer book. I thought it was perfect for today*!

Had a truly beautiful day of ceremony and restoration today. I keep trying to take a “day off” and totally failing. Today made up for it as well as reminded me why I can NOT accept letting go of my personal magic in order to “get things done.” Went on a mystical morning walk into the deep woods with my husband and our youngest child. Did a sacred bathing ceremony of renewal for myself. Then, did a lunar priestess ritual in my tiny temple, but invited my husband to participate. We meditated, passed the rattle, chanted, did some candle work, and then listened to a shamanic drum journey together. I didn’t see a lot visually during the journey, but I did have really dramatic physical sensations around my forehead, the top of my head, and my “third eye” as well as hearing flute music (in addition to the drum, even though there was only a drum!)

March 2016 131I feel I have been VERY close to the edge of total burnout and perhaps something bad happening (health-wise) to me lately. I’m so happy to be happy again today!

I finished three intense projects and went on a big vacation as well as finished up a class (including final paper grading, etc.) what seemed like all at once and I feel like I dipped too far into my “reserve” energy and even went beyond it in order to get it all done. Very depleted. I also noticed it helps to acknowledge: “yes, it makes sense that you feel depleted. That was a LOT to do. It’s okay that you feel that way.” I think I had been feeling annoyed with myself for feeling depleted or like I “shouldn’t” feel that way!

Anyway, a little dedicated attention to my own renewal goes a long way! I will not neglect it again.

March 2016 141

(*actually from March 13)

Categories: #30daysofspring, ceremony, drums, family, practices, priestess, retreat, ritual, sacred pause, seasons, self-care, spirituality, woodspriestess | Leave a comment

Day 3: Edges (#30daysofspring)

March 2016 096I took this photo at tonight’s* Pink Tent Circle and then laughed to see how it literally portrays an edge between winter and spring–the feet with socks and the bare feet!

Not a lot of time to write. Feeling the tug of springtime and bird song and yet feel I’m spending too much time indoors, when my soul longs for the peace of my cherished woods. Had a long conversation with my husband tonight about restructuring our schedule and boundaries to allow me some more time off for renewal and self-care. I know from past experience that it is ME who has to make my woodstime a priority. The whole family, and my work, benefit from the solace and wisdom I find there and yet…I keep holding it away from myself like a carrot on a stick…my reward that I have to earn each day and sometimes don’t get around to. That changes NOW. I tried to change it last month, but dissertation writing and business preparation before going on vacation precluded the reinstating of my woodspractice as a daily priority rather than a scrap at the end. My self-care feels like it has really suffered in the last month and I’m really feeling the emotional impact of that neglect tonight.

So, I’m recommitting here and now! Thanks for witnessing me.

(*actually March 11. And, yes, I know I also said several months ago that I was recommitting to my daily practices. Took a while for my promise to actually catch up with me!)

Categories: #30daysofspring, ceremony, community, practices, priestess, sacred pause, seasons, self-care, woodspriestess | Leave a comment

Powerful singing

“It is that holy poetry and singing we are after. We want powerful words and songs that can be heard underwater and over land. It is the wild singing we are after, our chance to use the wild language we are learning by heart under the sea. When a woman speaks her truth, fires up her intention and feeling, staying tight with the instinctive nature, she is singing, she is living in the wild breath-stream of the soul. To live this way is a cycle in itself, one meant to go on, go on, go on.”
– Clarissa Pinkola Estes February 2016 177
 I’m getting packed up for a Red Tent Circle tonight. There will be singing and dancing and wild women. It feels so appropriate that we reach this quote about powerful singing at the same time!
I also think of my past post: Women’s Voices | WoodsPriestess
“I hear the singing of the lives of women. The clear mystery, the offering, and the pride.”
– Muriel Rukeyser
February 2016 134

Supplies packed up to make manifestation bracelets.

 

 

Categories: ceremony, priestess, quotes, red tent, resources, ritual, womanspirit, women's circle | Leave a comment

What is the difference between a ritual and a ceremony?

January 2016 035In the course of my dissertation research, the subject of the differences between ritual and ceremony arose as one of the spontaneous questions under consideration. There are many ways to use the words and people tend to gravitate towards one over the other. I realized in our conversation, that I perceive a distinction between the two words and use them in slightly different contexts, but it is difficult to pinpoint the exact difference. Is it just personal preference? Is it tradition or habit? How do you use the two words?

I find that for myself personally I have increasingly begun using the word “ceremony,” because to me it denotes something dynamic and alive. Ritual sometimes implies repetition or roteness. Ceremony implies living, changing, evolving, as well as celebration. I think ceremony is about a sacred approach to the world. However, both can be a collection of actions, a sacred container for experiencing and shared experience, and a process of honoring and celebrating. I also use the terms somewhat interchangeably–i.e. “a women’s ritual” or a “ceremony for my pregnant friend.” I’ve still been trying to puzzle out the distinction between when and how I use the words. We have “full moon rituals” and seasonal rituals and then I have “ceremonies” for specific occasions–like a maiden ceremony or a baby naming ceremony. I’ve also noticed that ceremony feels like a “safer” and more expansive word to me when describing what I do, because ritual might sometimes be associated with “ritualistic” which can have negative, “occult,” or abuse-associated connotations for some people.

I recently finished a book that has been waiting on my shelf for a long time, In the Shadow of the Shaman, by Amber Wolfe and she notes the same: “the very words ceremony and ritual have so many different interpretations that we may become confused and frustrated.”

She offers three basic approaches to the concepts:

Native American. Ritual has to do with acts of Nature energies, primarily shamanic. Ceremonies have to do with set forms of spiritual connections.

Western Occult. Ritual has to do with energies of soul or spiritual levels, set form. Ceremonies have to do with Nature or elemental energies, some set form.

Aquarian Format. Ritual is set form; specific words are used, although you may construct these beforehand from your own blend of traditions. Once ritual is begun, it follows a set format, regardless. This can be most important for acts of active magick when the energies become intensely focused and specific. Ceremony is free-flowing. Emerging energies are incorporated in the basic format. Some traditional ritual formats are used in ceremony to being and to end the events.”

In this context, Wolfe primarily identifies ritual as set or fixed and ceremony as free-flowing, spontaneous, or co-creative. Living ceremony.

The dictionary also seems to overlap the two without clear distinction, describing ceremony in terms of ritual:

  • a formal act or series of acts prescribed by ritual, protocol, or convention <the marriage ceremony>

And, ritual in terms of ceremony:

  • done as part of a ceremony or ritual

Both words get the mark of perhaps connoting meaninglessness or roteness:

  • For ceremony: 2 a :  a conventional act of politeness or etiquette <the ceremony of introduction> b :  an action performed only formally with no deep significance c :  a routine action performed with elaborate pomp. prescribed procedures :  usages <the ceremony attending an inauguration> b :  observance of an established code of civility or politeness

  • For ritual: always done in a particular situation and in the same way each time. Done in accordance with social custom or normal protocol <ritual handshakes> <ritual background checks>

In my research group, the women turned the question over, with one reversing my own use of the terms (ritual = more habitual, scripted, and formulaic and ceremony = living, evolving, active, and embodied) explaining that in her experience: Although ritual can involve ceremony to a lesser or greater degree – the ceremonial aspects are simply trappings. They are the outward visible signs of an inward reality – the embodiment of the ritual enactment within the participants.

On the one hand, “doing ceremony” can be seen as trivializing ritual, the ritual process, the ritual prayer. It is an outward sign. How many times have we experienced ritual – liturgy – perhaps in a traditional church setting, and known that the presider is simply going through the motions. The presider is “doing ceremony” or “saying the mass” — there is no determinable connection with those present. If one acknowledges such things, Spirit is lacking, although many in attendance will contest that observation. However, and I have experienced this myself, when the presider truly connects Higher Power and with those in attendance — truly becomes that vessel of connection — is embodied, then ritual is transformative.

In the book Sacred Ceremony by Steven Farmer, he differentiates the two based on how they change or not. Ritual, to him, is something that doesn’t change–it is always done the same way. Ceremony, to him, is alive and evolves, adapts, and changes.

Another participant pointed out that ritual is the way of enacting ceremony. The two cannot be separated—ceremony is used as a noun and ritual is used as an adjective (though this isn’t actually the case in common use, in which ritual is often used as a noun).

As I’ve typed, I realize that I may personally be more likely to use “ritual” in terms of holidays/calendar-associated events and ceremony with regard to life passages, rites of passage and celebration. I also notice I have a blog category for ritual, but not for ceremony, which indicates that my personal semantics have evolved since I began this blog.

I would love to continue to expand this section. What are the differences in the words to you? Which do you prefer using? Do you use both, but in different contexts or purposes? Is one an inner experience and one an outer one? Is one solitary and one communal? Does your choice of word depend on your “audience”?

IMG_0172Speaking of ritual and ceremony, I’m almost finished with our free Brigid’s Day ceremony kit! And, for a very reasonable price, we’ve also developed a digital version of our Mother Blessing Facilitator Kit.

motherblessing

 

Categories: 30daysofdissertation, ceremony, practices, priestess, ritual, spirituality, women's circle | Leave a comment

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