retreat

Celebration of a Maiden

Hope before her

love behind herJanuary 2014 102

empowerment around her

she is strong

she knows her own power

she is blessed.

You may have noticed that things have been a little quiet on this blog lately. There are a couple of reasons for my quietness. One, is that I’ve found that after the conclusion of my year in the woods, I need to re-evaluate my relationship to this blog—what is its purpose now? How much time do I spend on it? How much time to I spend on other projects? (several of which this blog directly contributed to birthing!) How do I focus the energy of my life? I also need to really DO what I’ve said I’m going to do: use my writing energy to focus on completing my thesis project, meaning thesis is first, rather than what I do with leftover time (and blog moves to the “leftover” time slot). And, finally, my reduced writing in this virtual space is because my husband and I have been very hard at work on our new, shared project: Brigid’s Grove! This site will be an “umbrella” to embrace all of our projects, particularly our shared endeavor of pewter-casting and jewelry-making. Brigid’s Grove will officially launch on February first and we’re working on some launch products for our etsy shop as well as a special site launch discount code AND a fun and useful freebie, which will be a collection of my ritual “recipes” (outlines for ceremonies, not food recipes!). You can sign up for our newsletter now and you will then get the ritual kit on our launch day. As I work on preparing this ritual kit, I remembered something that has been languishing in my drafts folder since the springtime when we held a maiden ceremony for a friend’s daughter during one of our women’s circle gatherings. I made her a braided cord of initiation and shared a photo and brief description of it in this past post. It was an initiation cord in four colors for the Maiden to step over as a symbolic threshold into womanhood. May 2013 008

On that spring day, I took the cord to the woods with me and this is what I said:

Celebration of a Young Maiden

With the earth, trees, wind, and sky as my witnesses, I bless this cord of initiation for her. May it remind her of how she is interwoven with her ancestors, her own unique gifts, with the blood of her mothers, with the spirits of the women who surround her. She is so blessed. May she draw up great strength from the earth. May she engage in deep relationship with the world around her, including the animals and the plants, other women, men. May she know that she is loved. May she know that she is needed and may she know that her voice counts. May her eyes be blessed with clear vision, may her mind be blessed with clear thought. May her heart be open, may her hands be open, may her creative center be abundant, and may her legs carry her strongly on her own true path.

Let this cord remind her that she is so blessed, let it remind her that she is so loved, let it remind her that she is connected. Blessings of natural places and wild spaces, blessings of women and small girls, blessings of real life…

Categories: blessings, community, friends, liturgy, nature, prayers, priestess, readings, retreat, ritual, spirituality, womanspirit, women, women's circle, woodspriestess | 3 Comments

Birth of a new year

20131229-213310.jpg“Let’s work together, you and I,
alongside earthsongbeat,
heartfirst, handtouch
souldance.
please.”

–Holly Wilkinson
(in We’Moon on the Wall, 2014)

Today my husband and I set a date to start our 2014 biz and year planning using Leonie Dawson’s annual workbook, which was a very thoughtful solstice gift to me from a good friend. We got started on our planning session a little later in the afternoon than we’d hoped, but rather than let that derail us, we just did it anyway (Leonie would approve, I think). It was important to me that we set up a nurturing and inspiring little nook in which to work, with items near us that symbolize some of our intentions and goals for 2014:

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We even added some snacks (and some wine and tea!) as we went…

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And, then some kids….

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Interestingly, we finished out the 2013 review section of the workbook and right as we finished putting our hands on the “closing circle” page to symbolize the ending of 2013, the candle went out in our altar space on its own. And, right then the kids got home as well. (Not-so-symbolically signaling the ending of our time to work uninterrupted!) After the kids came home, our focus definitely waned and we decided it was a natural pausing point anyway, since it was the start of the 2014 section of the book. We fixed dinner and came back to our planning nook later in the evening. One of the things I wrote down for 2014 was to listen to my body and to honor natural pauses, calls to rest, need to eat, and so on. We realized as we got to number 35 on the “things to do in 2014” list that we were both yawning and starting to feel a little more trapped than inspired. Rather than push forward and force it, which can be my habitual inclination, I said, “hey, I think we’ve done great with this today. Let’s pick back up tomorrow morning when we feel full of energy and possibility again!” And, this felt like the right answer, even though the planning part of me had envisioned doing the whole entire workbook TODAY and really we only got through the first pages of 2014. We already feel more organized and clear about what needs to change with our household organization and business planning. Looking forward to what tomorrow holds…

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Categories: family, friends, parenting, resources, retreat, ritual, self-care | 2 Comments

Winter Solstice Meditation

Winter solstice December 2013 022
deep, long, dark night.
Cold cracks
brittle branches
icy stone.

Winter’s song
echoes in skeletal treetops
and crackling leaves.
Rest time.
Hibernation.
Silent watchfulness.
Waiting hope.

Sink down.
Open up.
Receive and feel.
Hold peace.

Pause and check withinDecember 2013 023
for that glowing emberheart
in your soul.
What purpose calls your name?
What seed incubates
waiting for the breath of hope
and the breath of action
to coax it into life?

Winter Solstice.
Time for your light to shine
from within the sheltering dark.

If you pause in darkness what does your body have to tell you? What do your dreams have to tell you? What does the frozen ground have to tell you? What do the spirits of place have to tell you?

What song can only be sung by you?

What emberheart can only be ignited by your breath?

What path have your feet found?

What messages are carved in stone and etched on leaf for your eyes and in your name?

What promise are you keeping?

This afternoon my husband and I worked together on the drum kit he gave me as a solstice gift. It is still hanging up to dry, so I don’t know if it completely worked yet, but it was fun to do together and I’m extremely pleased with the result. I love it so much! It is elk hide and the kit is from Centralia Fur and Hide. I felt very mindful while working on it that this was a creature’s skin and I both felt disturbed or guilty, as well as respectful of that.

December 2013 019

Categories: art, blessings, endarkenment, family, holidays, nature, poems, prayers, retreat, spirituality, theapoetics, woodspriestess | 2 Comments

Gaea Goddess Gathering: Listen to the wise woman….

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Mini mamapriestess sculpture I made to take with me for my medicine bundle.

Last summer after I finished my priestess certification and I’d been facilitating women’s retreats and circles for about four years, I got a wild idea to go to a womanspirit or goddess festival of some kind. I did a google search and found one that sounded great—the Gaea Goddess Gathering–and it was happening in just two weeks. Imagine my surprise to then look at the bottom of the screen and see that it was located only a five-hour drive from me, just over the border into Kansas. I decided it was “meant to be.” My mom and a friend signed up with me (and my toddler daughter) and we packed up my van and went! The night before we left on our adventure, I sat down at the kitchen table and felt a knife-like stinging pain on the back of my leg. I’d accidentally sat on a European giant hornet (these are not regular hornets, they are literally giant hornets about two inches long).

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Sting before I left.

Though it became hot and swollen and terribly painful, we set forth anyway. I asked for input on Facebook and did google research and started putting benadryl cream on it, even though I usually go with home remedies over medical-model remedies. It got worse and worse, eventually running from my hip to my knee and wrapped around my entire leg so that two thirds of my thigh was sting-area and the difference in size between my legs was noticeable through clothing. During the festival, as I watched myself get worse and worse and people kept making remarks about needing epi-pens and maybe I should go to the hospital, I decided to dispense with the benadryl and listen to the wise women instead. My friend found plantain and made me a poultice. The cook gave me baking soda that I applied in a paste. I went to a ceremony that involved a healing ritual with sound and a priestess in a tent beat a drum over me as I lay there on my stomach. After a little Reiki healing, she then leaned very, very close to my ear and said quietly, “are you taking good enough care of yourself? You give and give and it is time to receive. You need to be taken care of too.” And, I cried.

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Sting after arriving. I didn’t take any pictures of it at the worst. It got about twice as bad as this. Every time I thought it could not possible get worse, it got twice as bad!

I came out of the tent and laid on a bench and women I didn’t know came and put their hands on my back and made me tinctures of strange plants they found in the herb garden and I drank it even though it almost made me gag. Another woman I didn’t know rubbed my back and though I couldn’t even see her face, she leaned close to my ear and said, “sometimes life stings you. Your friends, your family, being a parent, taking care of your children. It stings sometimes. Things people say without meaning to sting you. You’re sensitive, Sometimes it stings a lot and you worry that you’re not good enough. I see you with your baby. You are such a good mother.” And, I cried again, lying there on bench in the middle of nowhere with my dress pulled up and my red, sore, swollen, horrible thigh covered with a poultice of mysterious weeds, surrounded by women I didn’t know, but who were caring for me. And, I got better. By the time I got home, the sting was almost totally healed.

As soon as I returned home, I made a list, intending to develop it into a blog post about everything I’d learned at this gathering of women. The list languished in my drafts folder and the wheel of the year continued to turn and now it is September again and next week, some friends and I will be hopping back in my van and heading back to the GGG for this year’s festival. I decided the blog post will never get “developed” into the post I had intended, but that I can still share my list anyway. I’m also writing now because I’m going to go ahead and give myself a week off from blogging and I wanted to post some sort of explanation as to why. I’m going to focus on getting ready for the festival (I’m selling jewelry while there too!) and hanging out with my family (and, oh yeah, grading all the papers that are due this Sunday night!).

So, what did I learn at the GGG?

  • I have a lot to learn
  • Likewise, I know more than I give myself credit for—I am both more skilled than I may think and less skilled than I’d like to be.
  • I want to be more confident
  • I need to always remember to look for a wise woman when I need help. And, that allowing myself to be cared for by strangers is a surprisingly powerful experience.
  • I am much more quickly judgmental than I realized or like to admit—I judge the book by its cover and assess “worth” by appearance more often than I thought and I disappointed myself with that. I learned that ALL women have hidden gifts and I was surprised over and over again what people had to offer, that their appearance might not have suggested.
  • My body knows how to heal (I’ve learned this before, also from a bug)
  • It was great to have just one-on-one time with my little girl. She just wants to be with me. I didn’t have to cook/do laundry or anything else. I just toted her around which is exactly what she needs/wants (*note from this year: she still wants exactly this and I’m looking forward to giving it to her).
  • My mom is incredibly creatively gifted. And, I’m lucky to be around so many creative women in my own community. They have awesome gifts!
  • I don’t need to do everything—other people have their own talents and I don’t have to “do it all,” all of the time.
  • But by the same token, I don’t have to be good at everything and it is still okay to do things and be bad at them, but still try. (However, it also good to let other people have their specialties/share their gifts. I don’t have to do it all.)
  • I can be open to receive.
  • I can be a singer! Perform in a group! Feel awesome!

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    Once this started, I knew I’d made the right choice to come after all!

  • Ditto drummer!
  • Explanation of the two points above which also connect to the one about not having to do everything and yet it also being okay to try. One of the sessions at the festival was the “GGG Soul Singers.” One of the women taught a large group of us several cool songs. During the special dinner that night, we got up together with sound equipment and everything and performed our songs. Everyone was yelling and cheering and clapping and it was great. So much fun! I’m a terrible singer, I know that, but that night I felt like I was amazing. And, I learned that being terrible at something doesn’t mean you can’t do it anyway and enjoy yourself. I’m looking forward to doing this again this year! At this festival I was captivated by these massive community drums the women had. Large enough to be played by four or even more women at once, I absolutely loved them. Even though I didn’t know what I was doing, I tried, and discovered I could indeed do it. I could drum and sing and keep up with the group. When I got home, I decided I must have a drum like this and spent way too much money and ordered one online. And, even though I’m tone-deaf and “non-musical,” I can play it. And, I’m still amazing, whether I really am or not!
  • I felt both more and less competent—related to knowing a lot and yet having a lot to learn, I discovered that I’m a pretty good ceremonialist, a lot better than I’d given myself credit for, but that some other people are way better than me (and others are not. What matters is trying).

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    Intense stairs from the dining hall and lodging to the “ridge” where ceremonies took place. Navigating these was NO FUN with that sting on my leg! But, isn’t my tiny girl cute setting off on her own and heading on up?!

  • I was acknowledged/recognized as priestess/clergy to my own circle of women and it felt very good to be seen in that way. I’m trying to be/offer/bring something to the local area that still feels tender and vulnerable in myself. I lack some confidence. Want to build it! And, yet, I do it anyway. I’m brave! Maybe I’m not as skilled or musical or awesome as I could be, but I’m pretty darn good and…at least I TRY!
  • Want family to be clear priority. Family harmony is a top goal. I want to make sure to give them my good stuff too! Don’t save my passion and enthusiasm for “others” only!

When I got home from this festival, I was so inspired that I planned and facilitated a pretty great nighttime, firelit “sagewoman” ceremony in a teepee (with drumming on my new community drum) for the wise women of my own community. As a ritualist/ceremonialist, I learned from the GGG-experience that ambiance really, really matters in offering a cool ritual.

Since last year, I’ve developed my ceremonialist skills even further and last month received an additional supplemental ordination from the American Priestess Council. I’m almost three years into my D.Min program, I’ve taken advanced coursework in ritual design as well as pastoral counseling, liturgy, the role of the priestess, ethics, history, and so forth. At this time last year, I was struggling with whether or not it was “okay” for me to own the Priestess identity I felt “called” into and at the GGG I was seen and heard into this identity particularly by my friend and also by my mom. It turns out it is okay for me to serve others as a Priestess and to claim that title with authenticity even though I’m not as perfect and amazing as I feel like I should be (I’m also a blogger for SageWoman magazine and I’m currently working on a post called who does she think SHE is, that is about exactly this tension).

Some more pictures:

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Henna feet! From the woman who did this for me, I learned the phrase: “sparkles are my favorite color.”

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Medicine bundle! This was the best class ever. The woman brought piles and piles of random and awesome stuff and it was all free to choose what you wanted for your bundle. How cool is this face?!

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She also had simple clay goddesses for us to paint and attach as well as we could.

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Pensive little child  gazing back at the stairs up which she just journeyed.

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Back home demo’ing a beautiful sarong gifted to my by my seeing friend!

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What’s this…

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…I hear…big DRUMS!

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When I got home, I was inspired to make some new sculptures and my husband cut a lovely gemstone and made a pendant.

Here I go again! I wonder what lessons await me this year…

Crossposted at Talk Birth

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Categories: community, family, friends, GGG, Goddess, priestess, retreat, ritual, spirituality, womanspirit, women, women's circle | 7 Comments

Inanna’s Ascent

Inanna’s Ascent

August 2013 011

Tiny goddesses as gifts for my friends. See the crack in the chalice? We all go through the fire and get cracked by life, but that’s how the light gets in!

by Deanna Emerson

I have seen the piercing eyes
of the dark goddess
as she stands naked in the silent shadows
planting the seeds of vision
reached into the arms
of my deepest sorrow and
looked into the eyes of death
yet the world dance did not cease.
By the light of the waning moon
I have seen the faces
of the shining ones and
taking the sword of wisdom
cut the cords that bind me.

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Altar space. The untidy red strips are for the hopes/fears for the “Kali” pot (I use quotation marks because its original identity was as a bean pot from an antique store! :))

Armed only with love
I have entered the healing
power of the moon
drawing it down around me
to enter the sacred womb
of the dark goddess and
turning pain into power

I have returned.

(In Casting the Circle by Diane Stein.)

During our last Rise Up class, we focused a lot on the dark goddess and the idea of endarkenment. There is wisdom and nurturance to be found in our dark places. We wrote down our fears and hopes and burned them in a “Kali” pot watching as the smoke transformed fear in the crucible of hopeful creation. The next day, I found this poem marked in one of my books and I wished I’d had it available to read during our class! August 2013 009  August 2013 016

Categories: friends, Goddess, poems, quotes, retreat, ritual, spirituality, theapoetics, womanspirit, women's circle | 1 Comment

Ritual Recipe: Women’s Summer Retreat

July 2013 021

My husband picked these summer wildflowers for our circle’s altar 🙂

Friday afternoon was our quarterly women’s retreat and I’d like to share the outline of our process as well as some reflections in case they are helpful for others…

Summer retreat outline

1. Choose bindis (I got some nice fresh ones that are not stuck to the paper!)

2. Circle up and group hum. We do this at every women’s ritual to unify our energy, to harmonize, to focus our intention and to bring our minds and bodies solidly into the ritual space. I feel like this simple action is what “casts the circle” for our group and is a point of continuity from ritual to ritual that we all value.

3. Invocation (slightly modified from Gathering for Goddess by Melusine Mihaltses):

South: We call on Fire with our flesh. Rub your hands together fast and furious, feel the heat you have generated. Now place this heat upon your chest. Feel the heat upon your heart.

We have invoked the powers of Fire.

(group together) Welcome Fire!

West: We call on Water with the moisture found on our lips, lick your lips, wet them with your saliva. Feel how this element lives within you.

We have invoked the powers of Water.

Welcome Water!

North: We call on Earth with the solidity of our own bodies, give your neighboring sister an embrace. All embrace each other.

We have invoked the powers of Earth.

Welcome Earth!

East: We call on Air with our breath, panting and sighs, inhales and exhales. Altogether, breath audibly.

We have invoked the powers of Air

Welcome Air!

4. Candle lighting with reading by volunteer:

…Make a sacred fire
and throw on it all that you would use to harm yourself.
Make kindling from shame.

Let your dance be wild,
your voice be honest
and your heart untamed.

Be cyclical,
don’t make sense..

Initiate yourself.
Initiate yourself.

By Aisha Wolfe

5. Quick centering guided meditation using Elemental Connecting by Traci Nichols.

July 2013 013

Summer altar

6. We’re a bit past the summer solstice date, but the energetic theme and the season are still the same, so I shared some summer solstice information and reflections. Each woman took a turn to add a symbol of what she’s been womanifesting to the altar as well as discuss any responses to the questions…

It’s now that we Celebrate the womanifestation of the seed dream/s we conceived at Winter Solstice. Much like the Mother Mysteries associated with this time, we are giving our full attention, time and creativity to nurturing, sustaining and protecting our dreams, while reveling in the abundance of all that we are the creatrix of.

With all of this heightened activity and energy, we may find ourselves bumping up against the shadow of the Mother Archetype. With the full activation of our Fire energy that Summer Solstice generates, we can experience “burn out” by over-giving, over-nurturing, over-protecting, and/or over-doing. So remember to “Mother yourself” as you are caring for your creations. Seek out and create support systems that sustain YOU, as you work to sustain your hopes, dreams and all that you love.

The LIGHT of Summer Solstice not only activates us to “tend the fire” of our creative dreams, we can also feel the heat and challenge of spiritual tests we may be going through at this time. Honoring where we are in our spiritual journey, as well as all of what is being brought to “greater light” and asking for “healing” and “transformation” –

via Shine Your Light! – Chrysalis Woman – Returning to the Mother and Each Other.

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF:

What seed dream have I nurtured since Winter Solstice that is now in full radiance?

Do I Mother myself as I Mother my creations? How do I create support structures for myself that sustain me during times of high activity? Do I experience “burn out” during this time of year due to overwhelm or have I cared for myself in order to feel my full radiance and vitality?

What part of my soul’s growth is being “lit up” this season? What am I being asked to shine a light on in order to heal or transform?

Is my life a reflection of the abundance that is being mirrored to me by the Mother Earth? Does my life flow like Her rivers? Is it abundant like Her gardens? Is it buzzing with loving community? Does it illuminate others with the radiance of the sun? If not, how can I shift in my relationship to abundance so that I can fully and completely shine my radiant light?

via Shine Your Light! – Chrysalis Woman – Returning to the Mother and Each Other.

7. Dance! With jingly hip scarves and scarves in our hands, we raised some energy! This was new for us. After dancing to the African drumming on the Rise Up curriculum CD during our last Rise Up class, we re-visited the action during this retreat. My mom planned out a simple, circle dance and then we did a small spiral dance too. It was fun!

8. For this retreat, we also tried something new for the middle “working” part of the retreat in that I asked each woman to bring an offering to the circle as a sort of group-prepared “potpourri.” Women read stories, shared wisdom and articles, and we made a fun project (see more soon).

9. Shamanic drumming journey CD (15 minutes) followed by journaling and brief discussion. This was also new for the group and had interesting results. Our experiences varied widely, but most had a powerful experience. I think if we did this more often, we’d be more comfortable with the feel of a “journey” and would relax into more easily.

10. Then as my own potpourri contribution and reflection, I read my recent Outraged Ancestral Mother Prayer

11. Closing reading:

…May this day of longest light become for each of us a day of longest gratitude.

A day of longest peace.

A day of longest creativity.

A day of longest hope.

Hold up to the sun your heart, and feel fully present in your life.

May it be so.

via Teo Bishop: Summer Solstice 2013: Hold Up to the Sun Your Heart.

Then, joining hands, we sang Woman Am I together and headed for the kitchen for tasty potluck snacks! I’d originally planned to make a project using some nifty new mooncharmcrescent moon charms I bought recently. My vision for what exactly we were going to do with them wasn’t very clear and so it was great that one of my friends had brought a surprise project to do as her potpourri offering. Perhaps by next time, I’ll have a charming plan in place! My friend had sewed a set of 40 tiny white prayer flags for each of us upon which we drew our Womanrunes symbols with Sharpies. She also brought us each a dowel upon which we can mix or match the womanrunes and stick it in a garden, a plant, or elsewhere to be a rotating sort of “prayer branch.” She suggested either choosing the runes whose meanings match that which we desire OR randomly selecting a set and seeing what messages want to be carried on the breeze. We can switch them out in a semi-infinite array of mini prayer flag action. It was a really good idea and I was excited that she brought something like that to offer to the circle. When my husband got home, he drilled a little hole in one of the beams of our front porch and we stuck my new prayer flag system into it (flying five randomly selected womanrunes).

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July 2013 024

Isn’t that fun?!

I’ve been feeling a little discouraged about my retreats lately, primarily because there are a lot more women on the email list than actually show up and so I always feel like I’m doing something “wrong” or am not planning interesting enough things to attract them. I also take it kind of personally—there is a vulnerability in preparing an offering such as this and each time I do it I actually feel like I’m preparing a gift for my friends. When they decline the invite, it feels, in part, like a rejection of the gift I’m offering. Cognitively, I know (or, I hope!), this isn’t true, but emotionally that is how it usually registers. This summer retreat was a beautiful experience that felt just as I wish for these retreats to feel—nurturing, affirming, and celebratory—like a blessingway for all of us with no one needing to be pregnant!

Things I was reminded of after this experience:

  • There is nothing like having friends who are willing to lie on your living room floor and listen to a shamanic drumming CD without laughing or saying you’re ridiculous.
  • Small IS good—I already know from my years as a breastfeeding support group leader that I’m a sucker for bigger-is-better thinking (I tell my own students: don’t let your self-esteem depend on the size of your group!!!!!). When the group is small or RSVPs are minimal, it starts to feel like a personal “failing” or failure to me somehow. However, the reality is that there is a quality of interaction in a small group that is not really possible in a larger group. At this retreat there were seven women. While there was an eighth friend I really wished would come and who we missed a lot, the size felt pretty perfect. I reflected that while some part of me envisions some kind of mythically marvelous “large” group, ten is probably the max that would fit comfortably in our space as well as still having each woman be able participate fully. Twelve would probably be all right and maybe we could handle fifteen. I also need to remember not to devalue the presence of the women who DO come. They matter and they care and by lamenting I want more, it can make them feel like they’re not “enough.”
  • Retreats like this provide an opportunity to explore/experiment with ideas and activities that we usually do not allow ourselves time for in everyday life—I know that I often “run out of time” for more spiritual/contemplative/relaxing pursuits.
  • Circling together in a woman-to-woman atmosphere allows for a type of healing and connection through shared experience that is qualitatively different from getting together to casually chat and socialize. Shared experiences matter and are in some ways more satisfying than shared conversation (most women do plenty of chatting–we can benefit from some being and experiencing together).
  • The potpourri thing was a good idea. While my husband said it sounded like a nightmare idea to him—he hates being responsible for bringing something to a group setting—I felt like it created a sense of investment and shared responsibility for our circle. It was fun for each woman to be at the center for a while and to share her contribution with the rest of us.
  • I find great value in interacting with my friends in a woman-to-woman context, rather than a mother-to-mother context. So often when I’m with my friends we are in a space of “co-mothering” (i.e. mothering together and “friending” at the same time). While this can work and be fun, a lot of times it is actually kind of unfulfilling—there are constant distractions and I often feel I’m doing neither well–not paying full attention to my kids OR to my friends, and it is a scattered, distracted, stop-and-start, unfinished sort of mode of interacting (I think this is particularly a feature of having a toddler. If I only had my bigger kids, it probably would be a less scattering experience to co-mother). There was a time earlier in this year when I felt like the sense of unfulfillment or frustration I often experienced during friend conversations had to do with my friendships themselves and it took a post-retreat revelation in the spring to realize that it actually had to do with trying to have a substantive visit with friends with all of our kids present!
  • That said, perhaps it is somewhat ironic that my own mother is a regular part of this women’s circle—apparently, she can’t escape her kid, ME. But, this too is of important value—despite the close proximity of our homes, we rarely actually have the chance to interact in a woman-to-woman context, rather than as busy adult daughter and grandmother co-strategist. Also, along the same lines of my first point, I also feel lucky to have a mom who is willing to plan ritual dances and lie on the floor with me listening to shamanic drums!

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Categories: community, friends, liturgy, priestess, resources, retreat, ritual, spirituality, womanspirit, women, women's circle | 7 Comments

Thursday Thealogy: Rituals–to read, or not to read…

November 2012 151

Altar during fall retreat

This Friday is our quarterly women’s retreat and, because we have multiple reasons to be coming together, it is composed of several interlocking rituals. As I prepare the ceremony outline and choose the readings and structure, two perspectives are on my mind. The first, from Ruth Barrett in her classic Women’s Rites, Women’s Mysteries:

When you are speaking an invocation in a group ritual, remember that you are the conduit between the elemental energies and the will of the women in the ritual circle. You will need to project your voice, speaking out so that everyone present can hear and feel the invocation. This is particularly critical if you are outside, where sound can easily be lost. Personal ritual invocations need not be spoken with such projection, but it is still best to speak them aloud. Speaking aloud gives the elemental forces within you an opportunity to come fully forward. It is a form of self-witnessing. How and what you hear within ritual space may be different than how and what you hear in a state of ordinary consciousness. Try invocation both ways, aloud and silent, to hear, see, and feel the differences for yourself. As you become more sensitive to ritual energy, you will feel the energy in the room shift or drop, depending on what is happening at the time. In some Wiccan traditions, invocations are passed out and read from a printed page. This can have a profound and unpleasant effect on the energy of the ritual, and the invocations can sound and feel flat. Whether you are preoccupied with memorizing exact words or speaking them from a page, there are energetic consequences. If you rely on the left, linear side of your brain completely for delivering your invocation, there won’t be much change in the energy of the ritual space. However, when you be-speak your invocation and you truly embody the essence of the Goddess and the elements, the energy builds rather than drops.

Ruth Barrett. Women’s Rites, Women’s Mysteries: Intuitive Ritual Creation (Kindle Locations 2204-2212). Kindle Edition.

I do tend to pass out readings on a printing page, just as she describes and for a while I’ve felt kind of bad about that—like if I was “better” at this, I’d remember everything, OR be able to spontaneous compose fabulous perfection on the spot. However, in the course of my Ritual and Liturgy class at OSC, I read this section in one of our lessons:

“While it is fine for some rituals to provide space for participants to speak from their hearts, for the most part there should be little extemporaneous speaking. Select poems or write words that mean exactly what you wish to convey, and practice delivering them for the best possible effect.”

Reading this made SUCH a difference to me.  Like I said, I’ve felt bad about “needing” written material to read from during rituals. I kept thinking that as I “evolve” as a priestess I will “grow up” and not need pre-selected words and readings, but will be able to spontaneously speak and guide the ritual. As I read the above quote, I realized that my process of carefully choosing and selecting opening and closing readings for my rituals as well as poems and quotes during the circles is actually legitimate and possibly very helpful.

I do appreciate that over-reading can contribute to a lack of life in the ritual and I’m gradually finding a good balance there. I know that in my personal experience of them, our women’s rituals have improved in the feeling like they are working as we’ve continued to refine our approach and choose our words and activities. We moved away from including a time for general talking and discussion and into more structure, which helps “hold” the energy and momentum of ritual, rather than letting it leak out in the form of side conversations or long personal stories. (Conversation.discussion then happens after we end the ritual and have potluck snacks and make a project together.) In another book I just finished reading, Jane Meredith explains the layers of ritual:

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Outdoors during overnight sagewoman ceremony.

Firstly there’s the outer layer; which is composed of the actions you take. What matters here is what you actually, physically do. It might include making altars, offerings or dedications; dancing or going out into nature. It might include cleansing in the form of a ritual bath, a fast or a time of meditation and prayer. It is the form of the ritual and functions as a container for the other aspects of ritual. When this outer layer exists on its own, it is sometimes called an empty ritual. Then there’s a second layer. This consists of what is happening within you, and it is encouraged and supported by what’s happening in the outer layer. Being willing, being true, carrying out not just the actions but the intent of your ritual or journey make up this second layer. You may find it helpful to whisper a mantra under your breath, to focus on an image or to chant or drum for a while to take you further inwards. When these first two layers are in concert, the ritual will feel satisfying and alive. There is yet a further layer. This is the mystical one, and may be different every time. It is the moment when the ritual takes off, when you slip across from one realm into another, into the sacred; into the realm of the Dark Goddess herself. In this layer you will feel the divine all around you and within you, and you will sense yourself as being in an altered, perhaps luminous space. This does not happen every time you do a ritual, no matter how well you are managing the other two layers. It is enough to work with the first two layers and invite this third one to manifest. A ritual will still be meaningful without entering the third layer; though it may be more memorable and feel more powerful when you do slip across the boundary into this realm.

Meredith, Jane (2012-05-25). Journey to the Dark Goddess: How to Return to Your Soul (pp. 42-43). NBN_Mobi_Kindle. Kindle Edition.

People have sometimes been “scarred” by past experiences with hollow, meaningless, and rote rituals they may associate with religion and have trouble understanding that a good ritual is evocative of something very different from that experienced in mainstream religion. As I explained in a previous post:

Notice that what is NOT included is any mention of a specific religion, deity, or “should do” list of what color of candle to include! I’ve observed that many people are starved for ritual, but they may so too be deeply scarred from rituals of their pasts. I come from a family history of “non-religious” people and I feel like I seem to have less baggage about ritual and ceremony than other people do. An example from the recent planning for a mother blessing ceremony: we were talking about one of the blessingway songs that we customarily sing–Call Down Blessing–we weren’t sure if we should include it for fear that it would seem too “spiritual” or metaphysical for the honoree (i.e. blessings from where?!) and I remembered another friend asking during a body blessing ritual we did at a women’s retreat, “but WHO’s doing the blessing?” As someone who does not come a religious framework in which blessings are traditionally bestowed from outside sources–i.e. a priest/priestess or an Abrahamic God–the answer felt simple, well, WE are. We’re blessing each other. When we “call down a blessing” we’re invoking the connection of the women around us, the women of all past times and places, and of the beautiful world that surrounds us. We might each personally add something more to that calling down, but at the root, to me, it is an affirmation of connection to the rhythms and cycles of relationship, time, and place. Blessings come from within and around us all the time, there’s nothing supernatural about it.

I also think, though I could be wrong, that it is possible to plan and facilitate women’s rituals that speak to the “womanspirit” in all of us and do not require a specifically shared spiritual framework or belief system in order to gain something special from the connection with other women.

via Blessingways and the role of ritual | Theapoetics.

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Rise Up and Call Her Name class in February.

Barrett explores this concept as well:

Sadly, many women describe their previous experience of religious ritual as meaningless. This response is usually derived from experiences of religious traditions that are male-focused, with little to no attention paid to the realities of women’s lives and experiences. When women empower themselves to ritualize passages that they deem as significant and to which they can ascribe their own meaning, like a snake they shed their old skins and emerge into a new reality, a new conscious awareness. The mundane world of the previous moment becomes transformed and they are brought closer to greater understanding of the sacred. Women who create and participate in their own life-cycle rituals are saying that their lives are important, that their stories matter, and that every human life is a gift to present and future generations.

Ruth Barrett. Women’s Rites, Women’s Mysteries: Intuitive Ritual Creation (Kindle Locations 308-312). Kindle Edition.

As I’ve also written before, in keeping with Carol Christ’s work, for me, thealogy absolutely does begin in experience. I do not think that everyone needs to share my personal experience that the Goddess path and the Pagan path are different ones and I do not think the two paths need necessarily diverge to different ends, just that they do exist separately (and, yes, there are scores of different pagan paths as well). It is important to my own mind and experience that a Wiccan path to Goddess is not the only path and I believe that an overemphasis on the Wiccan path can cause some women to turn away from explorations of feminist spirituality.

After I trained as a Cakes for the Queen of Heaven facilitator in 2007, I discovered something every powerful in the resources of the Unitarian Universalist Women and Religion organization. At the conclusion of the training, I had profound sense of THIS is what else there is for me! It was a pivotal moment. I started to realize that my strong draw towards Goddess actually had a place and a home under the UU “umbrella” and that I didn’t have to self-identify as pagan or Wiccan in order to explore a relationship with Goddess. Before, I felt like it was “Wicca or nothing” and Wicca was not a personal match for me for a variety of reasons. Cynthia Eller notes that feminists coming to neopaganism, “often had little patience for the measured pageantry and role-playing that characterized some neopagan rituals…” (page 38, emphasis mine) and this was true from my own experiences too. My brief encounters with Wicca felt “hokey” and inauthentic, my experiences with Goddess felt deeply meaningful and true in my bones. It took a long time for me to realize that it was both acceptable and possible for there to be multiple paths to Goddess. On a related side note, in an article from Brain, Child magazine, the author describes her overall experience at a Beltane ritual and says that she, “can’t deny a sense of detachment as well; the theatrical component makes me feel like I’ve been involved in some kind of interactive Medieval play rather than a genuine spiritual experience. Maybe group ritual isn’t for me.” This immediately made me think of a great series of posts by the Allergic Pagan on the subject of pagan embarrassment. Some of these embarrassing elements are part of why I’ve never embraced the pagan label and instead moved towards Goddess spirituality instead [a move for which I have UU’s to thank]. In my own experience, “measured pageantry” is the best description I’ve read of why I fail to click with it, otherwise known in my personal vernacular as: hokeylicious.

So, to read or not to read during ritual, that is the question. What do you think?

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Fall retreat space

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Categories: OSC, priestess, retreat, ritual, spirituality, thealogy, Thursday Thealogy, womanspirit, women, women's circle | 4 Comments

Womanrunes: Cauldron of Reflection

Womanrunes: The Cauldron of Reflection. Rune of Solitude. Retreat, Withdrawal, Creative Solitude.20130508-162212.jpg

When you draw this rune, you already know what it is you need, what your soul is craving, and what you are asking yourself for over and over and over again. Time to spend alone in your own company. Rest. Reflection. Renewal. Retreat. Pull back, draw in, cocoon. It is time to come into relationship with yourself. To investigate that which you need to know from your own heartspace, your own soulsong. What is crying out from within you to be heard? What creative impulse wishes to be followed? What heart message longs to be expressed? It is time to steep in your own knowing. Time to incubate your dreams, creations, and inspirations. Time to merge inner experiencing, to prepare a rich stew, a hearty brew, a precious potion, of your heart’s desire. When you draw this stone, pause. Rest. Take a time out. Give yourself permission to take a retreat, to withdraw from external demands, and to sit with yourself. Savoring your own flavor.

I’m having a great time with this little experiment. I wasn’t sure I had interpretations for these womanrunes within me, but apparently I do! Once again, the rune I picked today was perfect. And, in fact, I went ahead and gave myself permission to take a mini-creative retreat and focus on writing blog posts and rituals during my break while the kids are gone today, rather than grade the papers that are waiting for me. I will work on the papers tonight after they go to bed. I have a headache and feel overtaxed. Schoolwork with my kids today was frustrating and exhausting and sloooooow and I just wanted to be alone. So, when I drew this rune, I laughed!

Still noticing the unfolding tapestry of change within the woods today. The tulip tree has lost all of its blossoms and leafed out:

20130508-162222.jpgYellow cinquefoil flowers have joined the spring landscape:

20130508-162230.jpgAnd the lilies the kids got me for Mother’s Day last year are coming back up!

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Update: this project evolved into a real book!

The first post in my Womanrunes series is available here. The runes and the names of them come from Shekhinah Mountainwater’s Womanrunes system for which there are no written interpretations available other than the name and one word meanings. I’m engaging in a semi-daily practice of drawing one and then going down to the woods with it to see what it “tells” me–basically, creating what I wish I had, which is a more developed interpretation of the meaning of each womanrunestone.

Categories: nature, retreat, Womanrunes | Leave a comment

Woodspriestess: Spring

Spring March 2013 002
what are we leaping towards
what wants to push up from cold ground
what wants to open to the sun
what is it that we need to know

What quiet, steady pulse beats
below the surface
what hope watches from the wings
what light grows broad
upon a patch of ground

Shedding
releasing
changing
renewing
growing
healing
springing

Letting go
leaving behind
casting off
sloughing
opening…

What expectations need we shed? What old thoughts need to leave our minds? What habitual patterns of behavior, relationship, and communication need to change? It is easy to be centered when you sit in the woods alone. The challenge is to carry that core into the unrelenting murmur of everyday life. The challenge is to reach for that place of inner stillness, even when it feels as if chaos reigns. Perhaps the challenge is to return to the place that heals my soul every single day even when the to-do list gets longer, the have-tos, the should-dos, the want-tos. Those things can be shut up for a minute and I can step forward onto dry leaves, solid earth, and steady rock. I can rest for a moment in the calm stillness that sings through these woods in harmony with the call of my own heart and the center of my own being. Find it here, find it now. Know that the potential is always within me and the place remains for me to return and return and return….

March 2013 064Spring
cast off
lay down
renew
release.

Emerge
perhaps cautiously
perhaps tenderly
but pushing forth
into full blossom

Know that stillness
in the midst of swirl
is possible
movement is constant
and so is quiet

She places her hands on both
and on her own heart…

Today began as another crappy day in what has been a string of crappy days. I awoke with a headache…again…the last time I remember NOT having a headache was in January. Lots of phone calls, lots of things not working out right, kids out of sorts, etc., etc. In the late afternoon, my kids went to visit my parents (who were having their own crappy day, so bless them for still helping me out!). After spending a half an hour on the phone, again, making a doctor’s appointment for my daughter as a prelude to her oral surgery appointment next month, I lit out for the woods. When I came back, I made tea. And, I decided that rather than immediately jump into preparing for my classes that begin next week, that I would take 15 minutes to listen to a shamanic journeying track. My best tips about “successful” journeying are to first look for a hole of some kind and actively go into it and that actively starting the journey off is okay. I used to think I shouldn’t try to “make” anything happen, just wait and see what happens, but then I read that journeying is 80% spontaneous and 20% created and that is okay. People will say, “how do I know if I’m really just making the whole thing up?” The answer is, so what if you are? It still means something. It is fascinating to watch my own brain work though once it gets going and to see how hard it becomes to continue to actively “control” the journey once it finds its own direction.

I went into a hole in a tree and ended up walking down a tree-lined road. In the past, I’ve always descended into caves, it is usually night, and it is in the woods with a bonfire and people dancing/drumming. This time, regardless of how I tried to pull my brain back to the familiar dark cave, start to the journey, I was on a road, headed to a city instead. It was a bright, sunny day and in a Central Park type area of bright green grass surrounded by a white city skyline, a woman is dancing with a tambourine. There is a white tent-like temple structure with a big gold ball on top and red carpet spilling out onto the green grass. I try to make the tent red like a Red Tent, but it stays white. I go into the temple and am greeted by a priestess who tells me it is okay to rest and that I am taken care of. She moves her hood back and she is me. I lie down and other women come in and massage my back and feet. I then saw—ack for the Whovians among us—a stone angel and she started crying. I think I dozed off for a minute then and when I woke up, the drums were done and my headache was also gone…

On Facebook today the following caught my eye:

This is how we DARE to have a grassroots movement. Come on women. Let’s raise these temples up. 30 states and 6 countries! If there is not one near you, it is waiting for you to start it! Let’s work together.

What is at risk for you to be the creative, alive force of love that you were born to be? What holds you back? What every day lies coerce you not to fly high and even stay lowly in a place that betrays everything your soul is beckoning you to be? This is the moment. This is the life. This is the breath. No one can take the action you are waiting and waiting and waiting to take but you, even when others have told you “yes you can” and “no you cannot.” You decide. A thousand years from now will anyone remember you? Likely not even in a hundred. So why not? Be the daring unrecorded history that mattered because you lived. (emphasis mine)

ALisa Starkweather Red Tent Temple Movement

This is my 100th blog post on this blog! (I’m pushing 800 on my other blog) Last night when I published the 99th post, I noticed I also had 99 comments (and it was 11:59 on the 19th. And, I have 91 followers [not very impressive, but this is still a new blog. And, I appreciate every one of them!]). So, it would feel fun to get my 100th comment on my 100th post…who wants the honor? 🙂

Categories: nature, poems, retreat, spirituality, theapoetics, womanspirit, woodspriestess | 2 Comments

Woodspriestess: Permission

Release 20130318-182414.jpg
let go
open
flow

be present
be still
be centered

retreat
withdraw
pull back
draw in
turn away
fold up
close

cocoon
center

become quiet
become still

Rest in the sensation
that soaring on this breath
is enough.

Today was a long day and a hard day. I had to let go of things I’d expected to have time to do. I had to release expectations. And, I had to accept information that I didn’t want. I went to the woods twice today, the first time before taking my toddler to the dentist and the second after we returned. I had a powerful sense that I just wanted permission. Permission to not do anything else today.

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Heartbreak of tooth decay sculpture from fall of last year–mama covers head, not wanting to know and yet holding both baby and the extracted teeth. At her heart is a jewel, because she acts with deep love.

no obligations

rest
just rest
lay on the couch with a book
read
think
imagine

permission to quit for a minute
permission to stop
permission to get off the spinning wheel
permission to say no thanks
permission to say no
permission to say I changed my mind
permission to say I don’t want to
permission not to finish
permission not to do
permission to take a break

draw in
quiet down
listen deep
fold up

20130318-182436.jpg

My little sculpture helper!

right now is a time to be still
to rest and self-nurture
to snuggle with cuddly babies
sniff heads
lay on a husband’s shoulder
be needy
be nurtured
and receive

draw in
draw closed
retreat
recollect
call your spirit back
and emerge once more
with strength

On the first woods visit in an effort to distract myself from the later appointment, I took some new sculptures down to the rocks to photograph and bless before shipping.

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Cesarean and VBAC mamas.

On my second visit to the woods I watched two hawks flying. They swung back and forth through the sky for a period of time and then flew away.

Permission not to write any more tonight.

Permission granted!

Categories: family, nature, poems, prayers, retreat, theapoetics, womanspirit, woodspriestess | Leave a comment

Breathe peace

January 2013 028Open your heart to the world
open your hands to your sisters
open your life to your children
open your spirit to the Goddess

spread your arms
open your chest
lift your face to the sky

breathe deep
breathe peace

Each year, during the first week of February, I take a “computer-off retreat” (within the parameters of having a job that requires being online). That time is now and I’m so looking forward to a digital rest. I also treated myself to a Breathe Peace online class (ah, the irony, since I’m having a computer off retreat! Luckily, the online class lasts throughout the month of February, so I can take my break and still come back to it!) I also have a new book called The Magickal Retreat: Making Time for Solitude, Intention & Rejuvenation and I’m toying with the idea of doing an outdoor, all night “vigil” of sorts (maybe as a family).

(Amazon affiliate link included)

Categories: nature, poems, retreat, womanspirit | Leave a comment

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