I Come From

by Anya Arthen

I come from
Seed of a wild strawberry,
Morning dew,
Bark of apple tree,
Heron,
Cornflower.
I am the coalescence of Spirit personified
Sweetness of love mixed with raw inexperience
I come from earth.

Soil between my toes, grew me
Flowing water nourished my roots
I emerged out of the carrot patch
Sprouted legs, to walk away
And dance among wildflowers

I come from traditions
Only my mitochondria remember
Passed to me by my mother
Passed to my mother by her mother , 
Passed to her mother by her mother,
To her mother by her mother, 
To her mother by her mother,
To her mother by her mother,
How many generations back, to remember?

Image by Zach Reiner from Unsplash

The water that nourished me, 
Flows under bedrock
Feeds plants and wildlife
Filtered by roots for my consumption
How many generations back, to remember?

My life is intertwined 
With those roots, 
With that water
With those beings that feed it and feed off of it
How many generations back, to remember?
The earth is not my home 
The earth is who I am
How many generations back, to remember?

The Ceremonies 
Ones honoring the more-than-human world
Ones that revere the beauty of co-creation
Ones of reciprocity to land and all her beings
How many generations back, to remember?

Twilight Covening 2019

by Anya Arthen

I am standing at the center of the world, stars above me in all directions as far as the eye can see. The words “I come from” are swirling  in my mind, stirring the core of my being. I am at a crossroads, a convergence of three paths, and I have a choice. 

I choose 
Red
Walking, I come face to face with human ancestors, recently passed. I see moments, now only captured in memories. In a shard of pitch black, I stare at my own reflection, watching my features shift. A deep knowing, I too will be among them.

The red river of my blood flows on and I follow its path. Under the moonlight, I am faced with questions.

What harm did my ancestors do, what atrocities have my ancestors committed? How will my actions, here, in my life, in the world of the living do better? I receive a thread from a tapestry unwinding and an invitation to tie down my commitment, transmute that tapestry into something new. 

The shore glistens, water lapping at the sand, I move on, my heart heavy and yet inspired. In a warm space, I sit with other living beings, silent, as we wash each other’s hands, and allow our tears to fall. 

I am standing at the center of the world, stars above me in all directions as far as the eye can see. The words “I come from” are swirling  in my mind, stirring the core of my being. I am at a crossroads, a convergence of three paths, and I have a choice. 

I choose
Blue
Weavers are weaving, as they have been since the beginning of all that was, all that is, and all that ever will be. The First to light a fire, the First to sing, the First to cry, the First to make art, the First to make love, the First to kill, the First to plant a seed. I have been transported into the world of the ancestors long past, the ancestors of the evolution of my species. And I witness as the weavers entwine these threads of firsts into the tapestry of life. 

With voices of the Firsts still echoing in my ears, I hear the story of Skywoman*, she who fell clutching in her hand branches, seeds, flowers, and fruit of the Tree of Life. Skywoman’s story is the story of the animals that sacrificed to help her. The muskrat who gave her last breath so that Skywoman could have mud. With a dance of gratitude, Skywoman stomped that mud into earth on turtle’s back. The story of Skywoman is the story of creation– rather it is the story of co-creation and Skywoman is our ancestral gardener, inherently intertwined with the animals and beings of the world her fall helped to create. 

Through the woods I move, crouching under branches, soft moss under my feet, the crackle of fire drawing me closer, its warmth palpable in the cool night air. And I am standing in a ceremony of gratitude surrounded by embodiments of traditions to be remembered. An invitation: given grain, I am shown how to offer it to the fire imbued with my gratitude for those who came before. 

Holding the fire close, I keep going. Out of the corner of my eye a flicker, something in the distance beyond tangled branches of mountain laurel. I pay attention. Peering in,  I see distant human figures flowing in dance. I try to get closer, I want to dance with them. There is no path between them and me. It takes a moment to understand, I am witness to the dance of the ancestors. With no path to them, I keep moving forward and find myself among stargazers, reading the stars that have provided guiding light for time immemorial.  

I am standing at the center of the world, stars above me in all directions as far as the eye can see. The words “I come from” are swirling  in my mind, stirring the core of my being. I am at a crossroads, a convergence of three paths, and I have a choice. 

I choose
Green
The trunk of this tree is vast, it holds the stories and memories human language has not touched. I am in awe as symbols and bright white bones of creatures once alive surround me, shift my awareness. The trunk of this tree, a portal. Step through.

I feel stone, mountain, boulder tell me their story. Through it I feel the weight of the frozen world. All That Time Ago. The loneliness. Then the tree beings came and everything changed. 

I follow.

A voice? A light? A mote of….? I follow deep into the forest over jagged rock and soft pine needle floor. I follow, feeling the language of leaves, the song of those on the edge of falling. 

I follow, sinking deep into the bits of me that are like this ancient forest, that are of this ancient forest, that are this ancient forest.

I curl up in the roots of a tree and take their shape. I breath with the fern that pushed up through the soil between my limbs. My breath gives them life, their breath gives me mine.

It is hard to leave, unwind, reshape to walking. Back to self, yet somehow different.

At forest’s edge once more an invitation, this time to leave a piece of me forever behind, to leave the forest floor an offering of self, a reminder that she and I are one. 

I stand at the center of the world, sStars above me in all directions as far as the eye can see. The words “I come from” are swirling  in my mind, stirring the core of my being. I am at a crossroads, a convergence of three paths. I turn, and remember the fourth road that brought me here. I follow my footsteps back, being beckoned by the rhythm of the drums of my community. Now held in a space to integrate, I reflect on my journey to ancestors past, ancestors distant, and ancestors more-than-human. 

* Throughout the night of the Twilight Covening Ritual sacred stories from many cultures around the world were told in honor of our collective human ancestors. The story of Skywoman comes from the teaching of the Haudenausanee peoples.

What do you think of when you think of ceremony?

by Anya Arthen

To be honest I do not remember ceremony being a part of my early childhood growing up in Russia, definitely not the way I know it now. The things we did that most resembled ceremonies were getting together and celebrating the new year with a beautifully decked out spruce tree, presents, and a toast to the countdown of the moments between 11:59pm and midnight, or maybe the yearly feasts that mark birthdays, years passing in a life. 

As an immigrant in the United States when I was slightly older, ceremony started to become  more prominent: ceremonies of weddings, graduations, naturalization to citizenship, and eventually funerals. Ceremonies and celebrations around the moments of significance in an individual’s life. 

Now as an adult and as a Pagan, ceremony is infused into small daily

Hands lifting water

Photo by Engin Akyurt via Pexels

routines.  It harmonizes to the phases of the moon, it punctuates the changing of the seasons, it celebrates the planting of a tree. Ceremony is Ritual. It is when I stand with community and acknowledge the moments of significance in an individual’s life. It is when we come together and open to lake, to green ones, to mountain, to creatures flying, swimming, and crawling, to sun and stars, to the unseen ones. It is when we come together to sing, and dance, and drum our gratitude into the land on which we stand, into the air which we breathe, out to the web we weave. It is when we sing up the sun on winter solstice morning, or watch it set over the horizon on summer solstice night. It is when I make my first cup of morning tea, breathing in intention for the day with its aroma. 

This thought of ceremony has been sparked by a few passages that grasped at something deep within me from the book Braiding Sweetgrass

Now, potent and powerful passages are not infrequent in that book. Yet, this particular one has had me mulling it over.  Without rest it has been at the forefront of my mind. 

Robin Wall Kimmerer writes:

“Ceremony focuses attention so that attention becomes intention. If you stand together and profess a thing before your community, it holds you accountable. 

Ceremonies transcend the boundaries of the individual and resonate beyond the human realm. These acts of reverence are powerfully pragmatic. These are ceremonies that magnify life.”

She goes on to talk about something very similar to my experience in childhood and young adulthood: the fact that in the dominant culture ceremony is focused on the individuals, or mainly on the human experience. I will quote you the passage as her words are evocative.

“Many indigenous traditions still recognize the place of ceremony and often focus their celebrations on other species and events in the cycle of the seasons. In a colonist society the ceremonies that endure are portable from the old country. Ceremonies for the land no doubt existed there, but it seems they did not survive emigration in any substantial way. I think there is wisdom in regenerating them here, as a means to form bonds with this land.

To have agency in the world, ceremonies should be reciprocal co-creations, organic in nature, in which the community creates ceremony and the ceremony creates communities. They should not be cultural appropriations from Native peoples. But generating new ceremony in today’s world is hard to do. There are towns I know that hold apple festivals and Moose Mania, but despite the wonderful food, they tend toward the commercial. Educational events like wildflower weekends and Christmas bird counts are all steps in the right direction but they lack an active, reciprocal relationship with the more-than-human world. 

I want to stand by the river in my finest dress. I want to sing, strong and hard, and stomp my feet with a hundred others so that the waters hum with our happiness. I want to dance for the renewal of the world.”

In writing those words in the time that preceded the publication of Braiding Sweetgrass in 2013, I wonder if Robin Wall Kimmerer felt the hundreds of people gathered on a mountain top by a lake overlooking her home state, singing, strong and hard, dancing so that the lake hummed with our happiness. 

The words above encapsulate for me a deep aspect of what is so important about EarthSpirit, why was it that stepping foot into this community a mere 10 years ago shifted the trajectory of my entire life. It is because living as best I can co-creatively with the natural world around me makes sense. Gathering to celebrate in gratitude the beauty of spring and the abundance of late summer harvest, and in reverence the passage of time as the year wraps around to the cold seasons makes sense. Having a community to connect with and hold these ideals and carry these traditions makes sense. 

I once heard a scholar of Russian history say that Russian culture has a pattern of self-destruction, that every 200 years or so, over and over again, Russian culture would get wiped clean and forcibly replaced. I never learned the traditions that were practiced by the people living on the land where I was born; they were not passed down in my family. In the United States I am an immigrant: I am not of the land I live on, yet I am of the land I live on, always learning to live in a way that nourishes that land and all beings on it.

That is what EarthSpirit has done for me. It has taught me the skills I need to live deeply rooted to the land. As a community drawn from the deep earth-centered traditions of the indigenous people of Europe, EarthSpirt gives all of us who are living in a colonist society a way to bring back the ceremonies that teach us how to actively form reciprocal relationships with the more-than-human world.