by Eric Leventhal Arthen
the moon shifts across the winter sky
evergreens and bare trees reach up
snow covers all but the steepest ground
the sound of water over rocks and under ice
the inner voice gives way … slowly … slowly
by Lanna Lee Maheux Quinn
For those of us who find strength in earth-based spirituality, Twilight Covening is a unique offering, a weekend-long ritual, that allows us to plug in before the winter, learn some skills and connect with the greater community in a meaningful way.
The way it works is that you pick a focus for the weekend. You do this by choosing your clan, and your clan leader or leaders will guide you and your fellow clan members through the weekend. You spend time together with your clan, and then spend time with the larger gathering. You focus in with the smaller group, and focus out with the larger group; Deirdre Arthen likens it to breathing, which is a very apt description.
Choosing a clan is a magical process. You sign up for 4 different clans, in order of preference. You don’t always get your first preference. You might get your second or third or even your fourth choice instead. I firmly believe you will end out in the clan you were meant to be in; I’ve found this to be the case for myself, even if it took me a few months to realize it! So choose wisely, and trust that you will end out where you need to be.
And now it’s time for a shameless plug, because this year, for the third year in a row, I am offering the White Raven Clan with Giariel Foxwood. (I’m one of those clan leaders I mentioned earlier!) We will be building relationships with our ancestors, human or other, by using Faery Seership Practices. Those who take our clan will walk away with a daily practice that will help them build co-creative partnerships with their ancestors.
Whether you decide to sign up for White Raven Clan or one of the other fantastic offerings we have this year, I hope you join us. It’s a restorative and invigorating weekend that gets you set for your contemplations over the long winter.
by Tracey Seier
Today about two dozen members of the EarthSpirit community joined approximately 40,000 people to protest against the “free speech” rally on the Boston Common. Most of us were on the Common near the State House while some of us joined the marchers who marched from Roxbury to the Common. Happily, our collective numbers overwhelmed both the 30 or so “free speech” folks at the Gazebo and the (at most) 50 or so people who chose to carry racist signs or wear racist clothing in the crowd.
One of the very special things that EarthSpirit has to offer at rallies like this is our singing. Being able to keep a rhythm and having the right song for the moment helped us to channel some of the crowd’s energy. When we were at the top of the Common, several people outside our group joined in with us or thanked us afterwards for the songs we offered. Later, we ran into two folks with a big Flag and some “White United States of America” T-Shirts and we surrounded them and sang to encourage them to make their way out of the Common.
The day was a great success, in the sense that the bad guys were decisively defeated, but it was also a great day because though the majority of the crowd was White, a large percent were People of Color. When Ken and I were thinking about going to the counterprotest, we were pretty nervous. When we committed to going, we were not sure how many counter-protesters there would be. We knew that the chances were small that anything would happen to us, but still, if we were to go, we would be taking a chance that we could have a life-altering injury or worse. We thought very carefully about our decision, but what decided us was that as White people, we are the ones who can most safely stand up to White Supremacists. Several People of Color that we talked to in the week before were even more afraid, knowing that they were more likely to be targeted by Nazis and less likely to get police help. The fact that so many People of Color did show up is a testament to their bravery.
The speakers reminded us that their groups have been fighting racism and racist systems for years, and that they need our help on an on-going basis, and not just after high-profile racist incidents. A Muslim member of the Cambridge City Council, Nadeem Mazen, reminded us that he and every single Muslim public official lives with regular threats to their person and their family. A Latina woman reminded us that the reason that there were not more brown faces in the crowd is that many Latinos fear that a chance encounter with the police could cause their family to be torn apart. A prisoner’s rights organizer reminded us that the prisoners at MCI-Norfolk are drinking lead-tainted water. They asked us to have their backs on a regular basis, by showing up to smaller protests, to court hearings, and to the State House. They asked us actively work to dismantle the racism that permeates our society.
As members of EarthSpirit all of us, coming from our different traditions, we have learned to build coalitions with each other in order to create a community that can hold and support all of us in our spiritual work. On a larger scale, right now, in Massachusetts, religious and ethnic minorities are coming together to create a society that will support all its members.
by Vince Teachout
Rites planning. Bear with me, there eventually is a point.
I have my own personal Dias de Los Muertos ritual that I’ve done for over 15 years. On November 2, I go to a Catholic shrine and light a votive and say prayers for each of my deceased friends or relatives. For the last 4 years, I’ve tried to incorporate adding marigolds to the candle, like they do in Mexico, with slowly increasing success. I only managed to keep a few alive for a vase, until last year.
Last year was my first Rites, and the directions said to “bring something to decorate your tent with.” Naturally, being a dork, my first thought was flowers!
Then I thought of marigolds. Just before leaving, I went by the nursery and bought a flat of marigolds, which I put around my tent and barely kept alive in the heat. I almost tossed them when I left, but brought them home and planted them.
They shot up and put out masses of blooms, and that’s when I thought “Hey, I can use these for Dias de los Muertos, if I can keep the frost from killing them!” Well, a sudden snowfall in November did half of them in, but I dug the rest up and rushed them inside, and for the first time had enough for almost half my family.
In short, I accidentally stumbled on semi-success. I thought it over, and this year will try them in large pots on the porch, which I’ll bring in at mid-October, regardless of what the forecasts predict.
What does all this have to do with Rites? I’m very excited about intentionally starting the process at Village Builders and Rites, in proper pots around my tent this time, carrying them back from Rites, taking some with me when I go to the Ancestor Shrine at Glenwood in October, and then having enough for everyone in November. I’m just really excited that the process will begin at Village Builders.
Here’s a picture from last November.
by Isobel Arthen
On this day when so many people are celebrating science, I wanted to share some reflections I’ve made over the past couple months. When I was young I really thought science was the antithesis of spirituality. I didn’t put any faith in something that I thought tried to explain the unsolvable mysteries of the world around us, and I resented it for defining natural phenomena when, to me, something like fire is so much more than just a chemical reaction. In 9th grade when I started learning about ecological concepts like interdependence, food webs and cycles, I realized that science may not be in contradiction with spirituality. In fact, I discovered that it compliments it in some very potent ways.
Many of you know that I have spent my adult life immersed in the study of science, and specifically ecology. I have found that the more I understand the world around me, the more I can appreciate it. Since starting work as an educator at the Franklin Institute, I have had many opportunities to learn about how to best communicate science to museum guests, including one session about how the brain actually interprets and stores information.
This training left me with a lot to think about, but one thing especially stuck out. At the beginning, we were asked what we had always wondered about the brain. The group answered with a popcorn of questions that piqued my curiosity about every question someone else had asked. We were told, later on, that the question was specifically intended to prime our minds for learning—that inspiring inquiry, or wonder, releases dopamine in the brain, thus improving attention and focus.
After that activity I have been thinking a lot about that word, “wonder.” What a word. It is used to describe a state of inquiry and curiosity, a way of seeking new information— “I wonder why those ants walk in a line?” But it also describes a state of amazement. To stare “with wonder” is to perceive something so astounding that it is almost unbelievable. I have come to believe that “wonder” is that place, that liminal space between science and magic, and as a scientist and an animist, that is where I want to live.
To gaze with wonder at the night sky is so much more if you know that there are about as many neurons in one brain as there are stars in our galaxy, and that there are about the same number of galaxies in the universe. To handle soil means so much more if you know that it took hundreds upon hundreds of years to develop, and that it is home to billions of living beings right in the palm of your hand. What do you miss if you look at fire and just see a combustion reaction? What do you lose if you don’t notice its ability to transform and destroy, or the way gazing into a flame can transport you to a whole other place?
I am disappointed not to be at the science march, but like every day at work, I have spent today bringing science into people’s lives. I have asked guests to wonder with me, to come up with questions, to try and notice and discover new things about the world we so often take for granted. I share this with you so that maybe you’ll make a point to come up with a new question today (if you do, let me know what it is!). It seems to me there is no better way to celebrate science than to take some time to wonder.
by Sarah Lyn
Last May, I stood in a field during a large community ritual, swathed from head to toe in gloves and sunglasses and hat and veil. I was fully protected from the sun. I was standing in the field. That was a feat for me.
Just six months earlier I had been in a freak accident. I had been on fire. I almost died. I almost lost my legs. I was in a coma. I woke up. I have fought every day since for my strides back towards independence.
Strands of a web were rolled out, followed by calls for those who would hold specific energies for the community, both in ritual and in the world-at-large after. These people were invited to come and hold the end of a strand.
They called for those who would hold Fire for the community. I was the most surprised when I stepped forward. One foot in front of the other, I began walking across the field. A few people around me gasped. I understood.
There I was, walking slowly but surely across the field to hold Fire for the community that so tenderly and urgently assisted me and my wife with deep, death-defying healing. I held the strand so that we could build a web of community. For me, it was a physical manifestation of the web of healing energy that had been created for me.
I could hold Fire for them. I had already become it and survived it.
I can’t lie, though. As I was walking across the field, even before I held onto that ribbon, I wondered how I would hold it over the course of the coming year. It’s easy to be brave in the moment. How could I hold Fire when I was actively trying to heal from it?
What work would Fire and I do together through the year?
As far as outreach goes, I have been actively promoting and educating about fire safety, even though it was not a factor in my accident. Awareness matters. And I am currently on the search for the first responders who saved me. I want them to see that life exists on the other side of the fire. I want them to see the life they saved. I imagine they don’t always get the chance to see the good outcome. Without them, I wouldn’t be here.
The other work I have been doing with Fire has been simple and personal. I had been partially devoured by the elemental. No one lives through such trauma without fear, but I was determined not to allow that fear to creep into the spaces the fire cleared away.
I am pagan. I do not blame the fire for being fire.
I understand the fear others felt for me, for my life, for my mental health. There was reason for that fear.
But my community used that fear as a catalyst to come together in prayer and healing for me. I felt it. It pulled me out of the darkness I was drowning in. I stepped up to the challenge. I answered fear with love. The speed of my healing was unexplainable. Miracles happened. Not just for me.
Fire devours, but it also ignites. It sparks transformation.
I had to hold myself accountable for being the catalyst for my recovery. If it was going to get better, it had to start with me. Every time I stood up, even though I couldn’t feel my legs beneath me, mattered. Every time I walked an extra lap mattered. Every time I thanked those who were taking care of me, even when they caused me pain, I changed the trajectory of my journey. Every morning I get up and get outside and walk means I will recover.
Many times, in the hospital, the nurses commented about what a supportive community I had. One of my favorites went so far as to say she thought it said a lot about me, that people were so eager to help. But you get out what you put in. You become part of a community by plugging into it, by helping where you see the need. You become a strand of the web.
by Steve Trombulak
At Feast of Lights last month, Deirdre invited me to participate in the Saturday morning plenary, called “Walking on Uneven Ground.” The purpose of the plenary was to involve the entire community present for Feast of Lights in a common conversation about the recent earth-shaking shifts in our country’s social fabric. For most of us, the results of the election in early November and the subsequent administrative appointments have fundamentally altered our sense of the ground upon which we walk. The gains we have struggled to achieve over the last 100+ years for peace, justice, and the environment are now under assault at a level that we have not seen in decades, nor at a level that we thought we would ever see again.
Indeed, we now walk on uneven ground. We are at a point in history, and in each of our own personal narratives, where each of us needs to answer the question, “how is it that I will now choose to walk?”
My life’s work is as a teacher, environmental scientist, and conservation advocate, and it was with the context that Deirdre asked me to participate in the plenary. How does someone with my interests choose to walk now that everything I hold dear is threatened?
My response ended up coming in two parts, the first about science and the second about my own personal approach to the path forward.
How I choose to move forward as a scientist and in the domain of scientific inquiry is actually quite straightforward: Regardless of the issue, if it is affected by data, you need to (1) know what you are talking about, (2) speak your truth, and (3) repeat your truth, over and over again. It’s that simple, and I can speak more about all of that at another time if any of you are interested.
What’s hard, however, is finding a way to maintain the strength and the courage to do this in the face of such resistance and outright evil. Fundamentally, I have done it for myself by finding my anchors that allow me to translate spirit into action. For what it is worth, these four questions have been my anchors … through Nixon, Reagan, and Bush the Lesser; through Vietnam, Iran/Contra, and the First Gulf War; through 9/11 and every market crash since I had to worry about a job; and through every environmental fight waged and lost, of which there have been too many to count.
My anchors are simple. I continually ask myself four questions, reminding myself of my answers and thus reminding myself of who I am, moored firmly on the ground despite how uneven if may be, and what path I travel.
Where do I come from? This keeps me connected to my past. Where I come from has many dimensions: geographic, cultural, emotional, social, experiential. We all come from somewhere, and if we lose sight of that, we not only risk losing a piece of ourselves, we also risk losing our real connections – our bonds – to others. For example, I am the son of an immigrant. If I ever forget that, I risk losing my ability to empathize deeply with any assault on the plight and rights of immigrants today.
Where am I now? This keeps me connected to the present. Where do I choose to live now, and why? How do I imagine that place to be beyond the labels that others may put on it? For example, some would say that I live in the State of Vermont. However, I tend to say that I live in the People’s Republic of Vermont. Why? Because it reminds me in a forceful way of how I conceive my landscape to be not just in terms of its geography but the social fabric that knits together the people there. If I ever forget that, I risk losing my sense of true community.
Why am I here? This keeps me focused on the future. It is far too easy for me to go through each day trying to simply go through each day. Demands of work, family, finances, health, and so forth can too easy consume every waking hour. And with that comes a growing sense of powerlessness in the face of the evil that thrives when the social fabric is torn. And with powerless comes resignation, fear, and withdrawal. If I ever forget that I am here to honor, protect, and restore the diversity of life on this sacred Earth, I risk surrendering to the forces of evil and withdraw from the fight.
Who do I speak for? (Okay, technically this should be “For whom do I speak?” but that wrecks the symmetry of the four questions, so I tend to cut myself some slack on this. After all, these are just questions that I ask myself.) This keeps me focused on the world around me. It reminds me that I am not alone. It reminds me that my work and my actions are not just about me. There are always others that are affected by what I choose to do. If I ever forget that I walk on this ground with others and that I have a responsibility to consider them as well, I risk making too much of my life just about me, and thus risk losing my soul. And this question has been so important for me in my life, that I have tattooed my answer to it on my body so that I will never forget.
So, these are my anchors that continue to give me the strength I need to walk on uneven ground, and I give them to you to use or ignore as you will. So mote it be.