Fairy Tale

by Morwen Two Feathers

(photo by Cherrie Corrie)

As soon as I am among the trees I feel at home. The patch of woods behind our house is just large and thick enough to shield me from all view of the surrounding houses. Only the distant sounds of children playing hint that I am not completely alone in the wilderness. I make the rounds, checking to see if any of my fairy houses are occupied. The good smell of clean dirt greets my nose as I carefully clear away the leaves and pine needles that have fallen onto the furniture I constructed of sticks and bark. The skunk cabbages whose tiny shoots I nibbled on just a few weeks ago have unfurled into broad stinky leaves as big as my head. I suspect the fairies are hiding there among the smelly plants, where they know I will not search. I continue my rounds, cleaning up the messes that Mother Nature has made, moving dead tree limbs off the path, brushing pine needles off the boulders, making my way back to the bramble-patch where I will reward myself with the raspberries that are probably ripe by now.

Like all children, I know the woods are alive. Not just the birds and squirrels and the myriad of insects that crawl and hop and fly in all their fascinating glory, but the woods itself. The trees have personalities, and the rocks appreciate tending. And most of all, there are the fairies. I never imagined them as pretty little girls with wings. By the time I ever saw any pictures like that I’d already had my own first-hand experience with fairies and I knew they aren’t like that. Not that I could tell you what they do look like. They are more of a feeling, really. Much older than those little sprites in the pictures, and a little scary even, because of how much they know everything. They know everything because they are part of everything.

The first time I felt the fairies was in this very same woods, but I’ve felt them lots of times since then. Sometimes you can even feel them in the city. It’s that feeling that happens when you are in certain places and you get a tingle that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Even if there aren’t any people around you just know someone is watching you. I know they can see what I do and it makes me a little more careful.

One time I was playing with my friends in the stream down at the end of the road. Just past the cul de sac there’s a gully where the creek cuts left to right, coming out of a culvert a little ways upstream and winding through mud and scrub into a field way down behind the houses. Across the stream the sandy bank rises steeply to forest. Now it’s summer and there’s hardly a trickle in the ditch, but back then it was spring, there was real flowing water thigh-high in places, and we were on an adventure to see how far downstream we could wade. I was holding my sneakers up high over my head as my bare feet picked my way from rock to rock, feeling the current caress my calves and knees. Behind me I could hear my friends chattering about school. I was in the lead, and was coming to the place that was as far as we had ever been. I looked up at the sun through the trees to see how much time we had, and that’s when I felt it. Between my thighs, the streaming water was suddenly solid, a long black sinuous shape sliding its entire length along my leg as it rode the current down. I gasped, and took a breath to scream when it turned aside into a marshy eddy on the side of the creek, lifted its head and looked right in my eyes. Everything stopped and the hairs on the back of my neck stood straight up. Right then I knew that snake had a soul, just like me.

I could feel the fairies watching me. It was like every leaf and blade of grass and even the clouds were paying attention to see what I would do. I swallowed my scream because I didn’t want them to think I was afraid, or worse, mad at the snake. The moment stretched, my gaze locked with the being in the water. As my friends came splashing up behind me, the snake slid back into the water and disappeared downstream. Time started again. I didn’t tell them what happened, because you just don’t talk out loud about some things.

Sometimes when I am in bed at night, I get a feeling of falling straight up out of my bed and through the ceiling of my room, up past the trees and clouds and even the stars, all the way up into space, into the middle of the big Nothing. Then I see how huge the world is, and how tiny and insignificant I am compared to everything. It makes my stomach jump around just to think about it. When I was smaller I couldn’t make the feeling go away by myself and I had to go snuggle with my mom to make it stop. Now that I’m bigger, I can manage to stay in my bed if I remember to breathe. It’s not easy to breathe when your heart is pounding and your stomach wants to turn your whole body inside out, but it helps when I remind myself about the fairies. Even though they are older than old and part of the hugeness of everything, they notice me so I must mean something.

When I was a very little girl playing outside with my friends, I always thought they felt the fairies too, even though we never talked about it. I just assumed everyone knew they were there. But now we’re getting older and I’m not so sure. My friends don’t want to hang out in the woods anymore, and they would rather talk about boys than listen to birds. So I come to the woods by myself now, to sit on this rock and eat raspberries and listen to the voices of the trees in the wind. I don’t think the fairies are something to grow out of, in fact the older I get, the more important I realize they are. The fairies are the spirits of all there is, and when I listen to them I learn how to treat the world. If other people don’t understand that, then it’s even more urgent that I do. I know my friends think I’m a little weird, and my parents worry that I spend so much time by myself in the woods. But I don’t care. The raspberries are delicious, the chipmunks are amusing, and the trees tell me their secrets in long, whispering verses. And when I remember that snake looking me in the eye I know it is a part of me, just like everything else on this wild and boisterous planet. I feel the fairies smile when I think that. Popping another raspberry into my mouth, I smile back.

[This was originally published in Gaian Voices. Morwen Two Feathers grew up in the Connecticut River valley in Northern CT. Now she lives in the Assabet River watershed in Concord, MA, where she has been known to develop personal relationships with rocks and trees.]

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Practicing Paganism

by Morwen Two Feathers
Like a lot of other people, I got laid off during this last recession. When it came it was a blow, though I realized later I could have see it coming if I was looking. It was autumn, just past Equinox, time to slow down, turn inward, and that I did. Looking back, I saw that I had been seriously out of synch for a couple of years. My creativity had slowed to a crawl, and even in the warm growing season I’d felt curiously stagnant. Time for attunement.

When I first began to walk the pagan path more than 30 years ago, I was driven by a desire to connect with the sacredness I’d always felt in the woods. Although my studies in psychology, sociology and anthropology gave me a deep appreciation for the power of symbol, story, metaphor, and community ritual, I was not so interested in Deity or ceremonial magic. My investigations led me to a series of practices that were designed to align my life’s energy to the systemic cycles of the earth, moon, and sun. I found that careful attention and an intention to align myself with the cycles of the seasons and the moon, along with the life cycles of the animals and plants in my environment, helped me keep my life in perspective. And when I was attuned to the natural world in this way, the Universe delivered an endless stream of good fortune and synchronicity into my lap. I could not articulate any scientifically acceptable reason for this, but it worked out that way nonetheless.

It is easy to fall out of practice under stress, and the last couple of years have been filled with stresses including aging parents, a child hitting the teenage years, a changing primary relationship, and conflicts at work, not to mention my own dance with menopause. I just felt I didn’t have time or energy to stick with my daily meditations and attunements. As my practice slipped, though, my beliefs didn’t. I thought I was just as connected as always, until I was shocked awake by a layoff notice. And even then it took a winter of forced hibernation to make me realize just how disconnected I had become.

Nearly all the choices I make in my life are grounded in my pagan beliefs, including my volunteer work on sustainability in my town as well as my choice to seek work in the nonprofit sector, my consumption habits, my parenting, and more. Yet being forced to stop and take stock has made me realize that for me paganism is more a practice than a set of beliefs. And an interesting thing happened when I began practicing attunement again. Spring Equinox came, and I could feel the sap rising in the trees and in my own soul. And after months of sending out resumes with nary a peep in response, a week after Equinox I was contacted and asked to apply for three different jobs in one day. As I write this it’s still in process and I’m not sure where I’ll end up. But it’s good to feel the energy moving again, and to know that practice, not belief, is the key.

***
Attunement Practice for Connecting with Food:

With your plate of food in front of you, come to inner stillness. Meditate on the source of each ingredient in your meal. Where was it grown? How did it get to your table? Be aware that all food comes from the Earth, and ultimately from the Sun, the source of all energy on our planet. Be thankful for all the human hands that brought the food from its origins to your plate.

Say:

“Mother Earth, bless this food.
Fruit of your body, fruit of your womb.”

Enjoy your meal mindfully. Over time you may find your choices of what to eat shift. Listen to your inner wisdom.

As we play together

by Morwen Two Feathers

As we play together, locked in and riding the energy wave created by years of practice, I feel the familiar surge of joy and I know. This is my purpose in this lifetime, my cells sing. My body continues in the well-worn groove shaped by repeated rambles through polyrhythm together with the faces, hands and bodies of my companions. My consciousness zooms up for a bird’s eye view of the circle. Swirling movement surges around the bright glowing center of fire; reflected light glitters from shining costumes and instruments, and sparkles in the eyes of the multitude. The Fire Circle is in full swing. Soon the exuberant rhythm wave will peak, and slow, and a delicious silence will open, welcoming the entry of a chant or personal testimony that will weave us together into another rhythm, another ramp-up to ecstasy. And so it continues through the night, until the rising of the sun.

In the early 1990s, EarthSpirit’s Rites of Spring was the birthplace of a particular form of Fire Circle ritual that has become the inspiration for events and rituals across the U.S. and around the world. As a drummer and one of the midwives of this tradition, I have witnessed both the original formation of its basic elements and many of the reiterations of these in new settings where, like all living cultural traditions, it has changed and taken a myriad of forms. It has been a fascinating journey, observing how different communities and different event organizers interpret what I take as the “basic elements” of the Fire Circle, and how the flavors and purposes of the ritual change from place to place and time to time.

In those early years of the Rites of Spring Fire Circle, the magic was wrought by a small group of individuals who came together around the drum. The insight that rhythm itself is a vehicle to altered consciousness and transformation provided the ritual impetus. This group of drummers became a “well-oiled self-facilitated rhythm machine” around the fire (in the words of Arthur Hull, who witnessed a Fire Circle run by this group in 2000), and over the years took many people on many ecstatic journeys to the heights of the Universe and the depths of themselves.

The passion and joy of these rituals engendered a desire to replicate them, with changes. Individual members of the original group developed idiosyncratic visions of new and different ways to structure the basic ritual, and “hived off” new Fire Circle events. People who participated in Fire Circles took their experiences home and reproduced what they understood as the basic elements, adding and subtracting and creating their own home-grown rituals. Some chose to de-emphasize the drumming and focus on chanting, instrumental music, or art. Some chose to elaborate on the symbolic and ceremonial elements of the ritual, while others stripped the fire circle of structured ritual in favor of “go with the flow” sensibilities and/or invocations to Chaos. Some specialized in bringing together groups of previously unrelated individuals from the “general public” to experience the Fire Circle – a strategy that relies upon either extensive orientation and training, or a small group of performance-oriented ritual leaders, or both.

And over the past ten years as these diverse forms of the Fire Circle proliferated across the U.S. and abroad, some say that the Fire Circle at Rites of Spring has lost some of its magic. In recent years it is not unusual to walk to the Bear Rock fire circle late at night and find a struggling rhythm, a few people working hard to fill the night with song, and a ring of spectators chatting. There have been attempts to address this, with physical changes to the space (and the space is beautiful and lovingly tended), publishing written guidelines, appeals to individuals to show up at the circle early, workshops and discussion groups on drumming or the fire circle itself. But what has been missing is a core group of people drumming and working and playing together all year round, and coming together at Rites of Spring to lead the community on a rhythm journey through the night.

For drummers at the fire circle, it is regular practice that enables a group to read each other’s energy without overt facilitation, to know when (and how) to make space for songs, chants, or spoken word, to know when (and how) to speed up together, to carry the dancers to heights of ecstasy, and when (and how) to slow down, to bring the dancers down gently, and even down to silence. A group of practiced drummers with good communication skills can easily integrate newcomers and beginners, giving them a foundational rhythm to hang their hands on. And when people with a commitment to each other come together to practice this form of community ritual on a regular basis, not only the drummers but the dancers, chanters, healers, and witnesses form a team, working together to bring the entire community along when the Mothership takes off for the ecstatic realm.

I believe that a Fire Circle container strong enough to hold people’s truth, their joy, their pain and anger and rage, their hope, their willingness to walk through the gates of their own growth in witness of each other… is best created and sustained by stable groups of people working the magic together. At Rites of Spring there is a strong and stable community, a solid foundation upon which to build such a container. The nurturing of a drummers’ affinity group at the gathering and all year round would help bring a transformational focus back to the RoS fire circle.

Over the years, traditions that developed around the Rites of Spring fire circle have become codified, a set of tools that can be applied to bring any group of people together around a fire and create a fabulous experience. All over the world, gatherings and festivals are doing just that, in an endless variety of forms elaborating on the basic structure, entertaining and engaging people and inspiring them to create even more fire circle events. Having been to many such events, and in my primary role as a drummer, I can say this: It is possible to create conditions where a random group of drummers can play together well enough to carry a ritual and have a good time. But when groups of drummers work together regularly, learn rhythms together, jam together, and council often to reflect on what works and where they want to go – then real magic happens at the Fire Circle.

(photo by Jimi Two Feathers)