By Jennifer Bennett
In the Women’s Sacred Space at the Salt Place Conference Center in Salt Lake City, UT on Friday midday there is a circle of about 20 women. The room certainly doesn’t feel like it’s in a conference center. It’s dimly lit and all four walls are covered, floor to ceiling, in deep maroon red velvet drapes that are differing sections of embroidery, tassels, mirror work and fringe. There is a corner covered in red cushions and thick, soft pieces of fabric under them on the floor. There is a muffled sort of peace and serenity pervading the room — a timelessness.
Sitting together in one curve of the circle are (from the right) Isobel Arthen, Deirdre Arthen, Angie Buchanan and Ruth Barrett; the rest of the circle is filled in (and some fringe around the back) with women of all ages and styles of dress. There are even one or two men. Some take notes, one is spinning wool, everyone is focused on the four women, who take turns speaking.
Isobel Arthen begins telling the story of the Coming of Age rites done by EarthSpirit Community for young women (and men). Having been through it herself she is very careful to hold it sacredly and only describe those parts of it that are for “public consumption”, so to speak. The gathering of the girls for each Rite, each year, from within a larger gathering of the Community…so the community can see them go and wish them well and hold them in community for this important passage. Then their coming to a circle of women who will welcome them to womanhood with special ritual prayers, activities, blessings and stories. Then, the welcoming of these girls — now passed on into young womanhood — back into the Community. Eloquent and self-assured, Isobel is a sparkling spokesperson for the importance of this Rite for all girls.
Deirdre Arthen then speaks about the Rite of passage of birth — the rites and rituals that have become part of the EarthSpirit Community and have grown over the years around the women who have given birth and chosen to do so within Community. “Whatever the hospital will let us do…!” from incense and candles to dancing (apparently great for laboring women!) and chanting. Deirdre then lead the group through a chant about the sea and waves, which she has used many times (and herself) to help women “ride the waves” of labor pains. She also spoke about a necklace that has “made the rounds” for about 30 years from one pregnant woman to the next — handed from new mother to pregnant mother — among many EarthSpirit Community women.
Angie Buchanan then began talking about her upbringing as one of the Traveling People and how, no matter what the situation, women were the anchors of the home. She spoke of how many women and siblings made up her household and how normal and supportive that women-centered world seemed to her. Later in her life, when she had grown up and moved out on her own, she found herself really missing…longing…for that sisterhood. So, she created Gaia’s Womb. She spoke of the connections made by many women, over the years and about how sisterhood is for all women of any age. All ages can learn from each other just by being together.
Ruth Barrett then stood (“I need to move and talk with my hands.”) and talked about the aging and Crone-ing time of women’s lives. Having done crone-ing rituals for many years (“…on women much older than myself, before my time came.”), she had, for herself, come up with two very definite “definitions” of who is a Crone. Fifty-eight years old, at least, and through a second Saturn return. Elder and Crone are not necessarily the same thing. Ruth repeatedly pointed out that a Crone-ing ceremony ushers a woman into an entire other part of her life — one to be anticipated with joy and excitement for the creativity and promise it holds.
If all women were blessed enough to go through these ritual times with a supportive community, the world would be a much different place. Blessings on these women and their work in creating these places and rituals!