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 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.
by Andras Corban-Arthen
This is a report on the trip which my son Donovan and I recently took to Standing Rock, North Dakota, to visit the camps of the people who, as Water Protectors, are trying to halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. It was a very intense and full experience, and I cannot possibly do it justice within the limits of a blog post. The photos which accompany this article were taken by one of the camp’s official photographers, and are published here with permission.
In October, we received a copy of a call by Chief Arvol Looking Horse of the Lakota nation, asking religious leaders of all traditions to join the people who had gathered at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. He wrote:
“We are asking the religious leaders to come and support them, to stand side-by-side with them, because they are standing in prayer…If you can find it in your heart, to pray with them, and stand beside them…because the Police Department and the National Guard, they would listen to each and every one of you.”
I have a great deal of respect for Chief Looking Horse. I’ve met him several times over the years, and participated with him in a couple of panels and other events at interfaith gatherings. He was one of the main speakers at the Indigenous Plenary of the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City last October. Though I don’t know him well, I have always been impressed by his wisdom, his commitment, and his willingness to reach out to all peoples on behalf of the Earth. I had already been thinking for several weeks about going to Standing Rock, and his message fueled that urge even more.
Then I received a more personal message from Grandmother Mary Lyons, an Ojibwe elder from Minnesota who was also one of the speakers at last year’s Indigenous Plenary, asking if anyone from the Parliament was planning to go to Standing Rock in response to Chief Looking Horse’s call. She thought it was important for the Parliament to make an official statement regarding the situation. I took that as a very definite sign, and asked the EarthSpirit board of directors if it would be possible to send me there. They agreed that I should go but, out of concern for my health, suggested that someone else should accompany me. I asked my son Donovan, and he immediately changed his schedule so he could come along.
My next step was to approach the Parliament’s Board to tell them of my plans to go to Standing Rock. The Indigenous Task Force, of which I am a member, set out to write a statement, along with our Executive Director and staff, that I could take to North Dakota. Lewis Cardinal, the chair of the task force, also began contacting people at the camps to let them know we were sending a statement.
Grandmother Lyons invited us to stay at her campsite, and also to take part in a water ceremony she was going to lead. Some of my other Indigenous friends helped me to find local contacts, to get a better idea of what to expect. A Sioux man from Standing Rock was particularly helpful, even as he painted a fairly grim scenario. The police, he said, had blocked off the main highway to prevent access to the camps, so the only way to get there from the Bismarck airport was to make a long detour that added about 45 minutes to the trip. He also said that we should be prepared to be stopped randomly and harassed by the authorities, and stressed that we shouldn’t lose our cool no matter how much they might try to provoke us. He asked me if I had any connection to the United Nations. I told him that I was one of the Parliament’s U.N. delegates, and that I had an access photo badge. He suggested that I take it with me and wear it at all times, because the police tended to respect the U.N. Needless to say, this was not particularly encouraging.
After flying to Bismarck, North Dakota, and renting a car, Donovan and I had an early introduction to the level of police presence at Standing Rock. We had stopped at a traffic light in the town of Mandan, where we were supposed to turn onto a road that would take us down to the camps, when we noticed several police vehicles approaching the intersection, coming from the direction toward which we were supposed to go. It quickly became evident that those vehicles were merely the head of a long caravan: cruisers, armored cars, police vans, ambulances, sheriffs’ trucks, and one empty school bus – over forty vehicles went by while we waited.
A bit later, we found out that there had been a nonviolent protest action near the pipeline, and that about two dozen water protectors had been arrested. The vehicles we had witnessed had been taking them to police headquarters, where they would be booked and placed inside large chain-link dog kennels which had been set up as temporary containment cells. Once the protesters had been bailed out, they would return to the camps in the school bus. Apparently, this scenario is enacted on a fairly regular basis.
Because the main road to the camp was blocked, we had to go down using the backroads, a route which required us to make two major turns. At each of those turns, there was an unmarked car parked just off the intersection. But for a couple of instances over the weekend when the cars were empty, each time we made those turns the person inside the car raised a camera to take a photo of our vehicle; the authorities, I was told later, were recording every license plate going to and from the camps. As we got closer to our destination we saw lots of law enforcement personnel, many wearing tactical gear, and more cruisers, police wagons and armored vehicles. The place felt very much like a militarized zone, grim and forbidding.
In sharp contrast, our arrival at Camp Oceti Sakowin felt like we had come upon an oasis full of life in the midst of a barren desert: dozens of colorful banners on tall poles, voices singing, drums pounding, the smell of wood fires and of food cooking, young men riding bareback on gorgeous Appaloosas, and tents and tipis, cars and RVs as far as the eye could see. It looked like there had to be at least a couple of thousand people at the camp.
After finding Grandmother Mary Lyons and her family, and our friends Robin and Nsasi from Minnesota, we went around and explored a bit, then settled down for some good conversations with Mary and her folks. One of the people who came by to talk was Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network. Tom and I
remembered each other from the 2004 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Barcelona, and we chatted a little bit about his experiences there. Tom’s son is one of the camp’s organizers, though he was away that weekend, so Mary gave Tom a portable carport she had brought as a donation to the camp, to pass on to his son.
I wanted to find one of the people that the Parliament had arranged for me to meet, so I could hand him the statement that the Indigenous Task Force had drafted. Mary suggested that we go to the central fire, where a lot of different activities were held, and see if he was there. Though we had no luck finding him, Mary talked to some people and came back to say that they would like me to read the statement at the fire, if I didn’t mind sitting there for a little bit and wait for my turn to come.
As I was waiting, the two-dozen or so people who had been arrested earlier that morning returned to the camp after having posted bail. They were brought to stand in a line by the fire, and then seemingly everyone in the camp came by to shake their hands or hug them, one by one, and thank them for their willingness to stand up for their convictions. The whole thing took maybe half an hour, but in that brief and deeply moving time, the purpose of the camps became very apparent to me: they are there to provide spiritual, emotional and physical support to the people who put themselves at grave risk every few days, engaging in acts of peaceful civil disobedience by standing in the way of the pipeline and getting arrested in the process. The camps provide the environment in which the actions are carefully planned; they provide encouragement and moral support to the protectors; they offer them backup during the actions, to insure their safety as much as possible; they follow the protectors to the police headquarters once they’ve been arrested, and arrange for them to make bail, and bring them back; and then the camps receive them upon their return with love, with gratitude, with food, with healing. It’s a perfect example of what real community is about.
Of those who’d been arrested that day, roughly half looked to be Indigenous. Most of the rest were white, including a couple of elderly people. Then there were four young African-Americans, all wearing hooded sweatshirts with BLACK LIVES MATTER boldly written in the front. Given the political and social climate in the U.S. today; given the widespread racism that has been crawling out of the ruins of our national denial, triggered by the election of the first black President in history; given the senseless acts of violence perpetrated against unarmed black people by civilians and by police officers unworthy of the title; given all that, the thought of those four young people taking the kind of risk they took, deliberately and openly approaching law enforcement personnel to commit acts of civil disobedience which they knew would land them in jail, took incredible courage. In so doing, they modeled for everyone what solidarity really means, the importance of all of us standing together for each other.
A few minutes after the ceremony ended, someone came over and asked me to go up to the microphone to read the Parliament’s statement in support of Standing Rock, which I gladly did. I had also brought similar declarations from EarthSpirit and from the European Congress of Ethnic Religions, so after reading the one from the Parliament, someone else came and collected all three, saying that he would pass them on to the camp coordinators. Several people came over in the next little while to tell me they were grateful for the statements of support, and to ask that I pass their thanks to the respective organizations.
While I was sitting by the fire, I had a very interesting conversation with an Indigenous woman who was seated next to me. She was curious to know more about the Parliament, because she remembered hearing something about it a while ago. I gave her a brief description of it, and talked in particular about the Indigenous Assembly we had organized in Melbourne in 2009, and the large and very prominent Indigenous program we had at Salt Lake City last year. She asked me if there had been any friction between Indians and non-Indians at Salt Lake City, and explained that she has usually felt friction between both camps, even when they are together to work for a common purpose, so she wondered if there were any events, such as the Parliament, where that friction wasn’t present. I told her I was very familiar with what she was describing, and that there have occasionally been varying levels of friction and tension between Indians and non-Indians at the Parliament, though I had felt it much less at Salt Lake City, and hoped that meant that we were making progress in reaching greater understanding and respect. I said to her, in turn, that in the short time I had been at Camp Oceti Sakowin, it appeared to me that it was pretty free of that kind of tension, and asked her if that was her experience as well, and – if it was – why she thought that might be the case.
She replied that, for the most part, people were getting along together really well, which she ascribed to the fact that, when the camps started, the great majority of participants were Indigenous, so that even if they came from different areas and nations, they shared a very similar culture. By the time that a number of white people started arriving, the “Indian way” had been solidly established, and the newcomers had to adapt to it. She said that, while Indians are very used to functioning within white culture, the opposite is not at all true, so the newcomers were told, “you’re welcome here, we can use your help, but if you’re going to be here, you need to do things our way.”
In her opinion, that worked out fairly well for most of the summer, but she said there had been some friction lately, as more non-Indians arrived. “Some of them come because they think it’s a cool place to be, because they want to play at being Indians. But that’s all wrong, it’s not about making them feel special, it’s about working hard for the reason that we’re here, to stop the pipeline.” Other white people come “to save us,” she added: they bring an attitude that they know better, that they have fancy college degrees, all kinds of advanced skills, and that they’re going to step in and fix everything. “It’s like they’re saying, ‘I’m gonna make it all better for the poor savages, if they only get out of the way.’ Well, that’s just colonialist bullshit, we don’t need that. We have cultures that are as old as the Europeans, we know what we’re doing. People with that kind of attitude don’t last very long here.” According to her, several people have been asked to leave recently because of that.
Most white people, she said, tend to see what’s happening at Standing Rock just in terms of the pipeline, as an isolated incident. Indians, on the other hand, see it as the latest battle in a struggle they’ve been waging for hundreds of years, a struggle to preserve their lands, their cultures, their lives. She thought this was one of the most important things non-Indians needed to understand.
The next day, Donovan and I joined Mary Lyons and a group of her family and friends to walk down to the blockaded road to participate in the water ceremony. The police had placed two large, rusted trucks across Rte. 1806 to prevent access to the camp, and there were several cruisers and security vehicles parked just on the other side of the blockade. We had been asked to only go so far down the road; getting any closer to the trucks would trigger the police into action, and the camp organizers didn’t want anyone provoking them outside of the planned protests.
Grandmother Mary had asked us to bring water from places that were important or sacred to us. We brought water from the Munlochy Clootie Well – an ancient healing spring in Scotland – and from Glenwood, from a point where the waters of four streams converge. The ceremony itself was very simple: Mary spoke for a bit about why we were there and
about how Water is Life, then asked those of us who brought water to say something about where it came from, and then to pour it onto the ground to bring blessings and healing to the land.
Before heading back to Bismarck and the airport, Donovan and I stopped by to see Devorah Rosenberg, an old friend from Western Mass. who was working in the main kitchen. It was heartwarming to see someone else from home at the camp. Soon after we returned, my niece Ember Arthen-Cheyne, who is a former Army medic, drove out to Standing Rock to offer her services at the medic tent, and was planning to remain there until the end of December.
I am very grateful for the support of our community in enabling us to make the trip out to North Dakota, and I encourage everyone to lend any help you can to the people who remain in the camps and are now preparing for the harsh winter months ahead.
Addendum: Just today, it was announced that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had turned down the permit for the pipeline company to continue excavations on what are legally held to be federally-owned lands (the Sioux claim otherwise). Though this is being widely trumpeted throughout social media as a decisive victory for the Water Protectors, it is likely too early to tell what it actually means. There’s no question that this decision is a very important development, and that there is much cause for celebration in the moment. How long the moment will last, however, nobody really knows. It’s important to not lose sight of the fact that, in barely a month-and-a-half, there will likely be a dramatic change in Washington, and today’s decision could be reversed. Friends at Standing Rock inform me that the camps are continuing to prepare for the winter, and that they could still use our support.