Growing Traditions

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.

marigolds

Is this the year for you to start a Rites of Spring tradition? Join us! Online registration is open through May 13.

Holding Fire

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.

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Photo by Trevor Hurlburt, used under a Creative Commons license

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.

It was an honor to step up and hold the fire for a community that holds me.

Join us in holding this year’s web at Rites of SpringOnline registration is open through May 13.

Gathering the Threads

by Sarah Lyn Eaton

Right now, the snow and ice are melting, the winds are warming, and I am dreaming of groups of people in the woods. I call them my gathering dreams. I have them twice a year. In the summer, they are in preparation of Twilight Covening. Right now I am dreaming about Rites of Spring.

At the end of May, in the beauty of the Berkshire Mountains, the EarthSpirit Community holds a gathering of earth-centered pagans from around the globe. Recovering from the darkness of winter, from our separate burrows, those of us who dream of fire and water, sunlight and starlight, start to count down the days till we can come together again. We are waiting to meet those who will step on the mountain for the first time this year. We are waiting, excitedly, because some of my closest friendships have been made at this gathering over the last decade.

The first time I attended Rites of Spring, I didn’t know the other attendees outside of the small contingent of

Photo by Maggie Schollenberger

people from my local community. I will never forget how overwhelmed I felt to stand among so many people who believed in being open, in being kind, in being loving, and in sharing that energy with each other. Rites is my annual pilgrimage to a land that exists within our everyday world, one which we sometimes lose sight of when the hardness of the world clouds it. Over the course of my week at Rites, that spirit renews.

That spirit is contagious from day one. As everyone arrives, they are excited, joyously crossing through the Welcome Gate. Some say they are coming home when they arrive. And yes, if home if where the heart is, then we carry it with us, wherever we wander. Feet on the earth, flesh on the mountain, heart open and present.

The setting of the established mountain campground is gorgeous. The rocks, woods, and water make the immersion in nature’s wonder easy. It’s easy to be open. I walk the campground with my head up, eyes and smiles meeting both friends and strangers. You don’t have to know someone to find yourself in a deep conversation. It’s one of many gifts the gathering continues to offer.

I wasn’t new to paganism when I first arrived, but I was new to the idea of a specific path. Throughout the gathering, whether you arrive on Wednesday, or on Friday, there are workshops and rituals and concerts and drum circles and dances and so much more! Over the years I have taken classes with over a dozen different practitioners, some using the words Shaman, Druid, Buddhist, Animist, Witch, Heathen, etc. Last year, there were over seventy workshop presentations offered over the span of five days. Bring a notebook and an extra pen.

For first timers there is a newcomer breakfast, where you get to meet some of the facilitators of the event, as well as get a chance to connect with the other people new to the gathering, insuring you will see familiar faces throughout the week. You become small touchstones for each other.

During the day, if there aren’t workshops or affinity groups that tickle your fancy, check out the Art Salon or any one of the community-built shrines throughout the camp. You might walk the Merchant Circle and check out the amazing crafts and artistic wares for sale, from beautiful hand-dyed silks to stained glass, from pottery to drums, from leather masks to hand-forged blades (some created on-site!). Then in the evening there are concerts, large and small, rituals, dances of varying themes, poetry slams, sacred drum circles in the woods, and more. The week, or weekend for some, culminates in a large community-shared feast.

There are larger rituals that connect the gathering, from the Firelighting Ritual to the Maypole to the not-to-be missed Web Weaving Ritual. Hand over hand, thread over and under thread as drum and song excite the air. I want to entice you. I want you to come and add yourself to that web. I want you to come and experience the community I have become part of. Because it follows you home. And the world you see when you cross back through the gate is forever altered.

Join us this year. Be present. Throw yourself into the rituals. Smile at strangers. Take some classes. Start up random conversations in the dinner line. Weave your own web and let us be part of it.


Join us this year on the mountain for Rites of Spring!  Registration is open for a few more days: through May 8 if you mail in your form or through May 9 if you register online.

Rites of Spring!

Rites of Spring!

We’re back from the mountain, where we had a wonderful time, despite rain, wind, cold, and even some hail!  I’m looking forward to sharing lots more about Rites with you soon, but in the meantime, here’s a photo from the very end, when the sun showed her face again and there was much rejoicing!

Our beautiful lake

If you were able to join us, tell us about one lovely moment.

Voicing my Gratitude

Sunrise at Rites of Spring, May 2010

Voicing my Gratitude
by Anya

I have fallen hard for you guys. Although words will never be enough to express the gratitude I feel to you for the experience which you shared with me, this is to give you a slight idea. I love you.

If I’m to begin at the beginning, then I am to speak of the city, the running around, breaking into houses, chasing fuel for the flame and constantly going on fast forward. The beginning is the journey to the place which is a beginning of its own.

I entered The Place walking through a gate, surrounded by a cloud of sage. I tied an intention, took a deep breath, and stepped through.

Three fires were lit, bright as the sun, shooting fireflies into the air. We sang, and as the rhythm of the drums moved our bodies, we danced. The sky lit up, and with silent lightning it illuminated the joy on our faces. We carried the flame together, singing it alive, first to the ritual fire and then to the fire circle. The drums beat, and again losing all inhibitions, we danced. We let the world go, we became the world, we danced. Your songs pierced my soul, while your motion captivated me, and I fell into the world of which I have always dreamed.

We danced, until the moon no longer outshone the stars. We danced, until our feet became tattooed with the rhythm of the drums. And then I slept, a peaceful sleep to the chirping of birds and the rustling of trees. I slept deep, hugging close the magic which you have helped me feel.

I listened close to the place you have created, to the connections that you amplified between earth and sky, fire and water. After breakfast I went exploring. I walked around the ground, which you have decorated with intention, taking in the space I was lucky enough to occupy. I climbed a rock, I faced the water, and I breathed; watching, listening, being, I breathed and I was thankful to be alive, to be here, to be.

Time was no longer linear. Six sunrises followed three nights, sleep felt like a waste of life, and shoes began to feel like an unnecessary barrier. I tuned in, I let my roots sink deep into the soil, and with every sunrise I experienced a different state of ecstasy. When I thought I couldn’t dance any longer, you drummed harder, you danced stronger, you sang louder. You charged me with your energy and all I wanted to do was to give back, to be able to give you the enjoyment and fulfillment you have given me.

We raised a May Pole, we wove a web, we connected to each other, often without words. I have never met so many people brave enough to look me in the eyes. You taught me how to breathe anew. How to breathe the world into my soul, how to breathe so that all which has been pent up can come out, how to breathe myself into euphoria.

When I expressed my wish to fly you let me through another gate, across a bridge, and to a place of magic. Here spirits roamed, beasts explored and the air crackled. Here I was transformed, and here I learned to fly. I learned not to be afraid of the woods.

You shared with me your soul through your artwork, through your music, though your dance, through your laughter, through your love, through your beautiful voice. You reached out to me and let me reach back to you. Beneath the stars you helped me dance with fire, hearing its silent roar engulf me as I spun and you sang, or played, or watched. You reminded me how important it is to smile. You thanked me for being myself, and I want to thank you for being.

Guising

by Sarah Twichell

In fairy tales, beings often appear in guises. A spirit appears in the guise of a fox. A god comes to earth in the guise of an old woman. In traditional European cultures, people took on guises as well. In Scotland, people dressed as spirits of the dead at Samhain, or changed their appearances to trick evil spirits out of harming them. In story and ritual, the appearance of guises teaches us that things are not always what they seem and that we should look carefully before judging or dismissing something.

When I work magically with a guise it teaches me the same lesson. I am not always what I seem, and I should look carefully before judging or dismissing ideas about who I am or could be.

Guising gives me the opportunity to take a look at what I consider to be beyond my own boundaries. When I guise as a being who is deeply wild, I can embody more wildness than I can ever imagine having in my ordinary life and self. In doing so, I gain a chance to question those limits: am I really tame and civilized as think? Is there wildness I didn’t see or recognize in me? What else am I missing when I say and act as though I am not wild?

Guising also works to free me from the ways that habit and expectation limit my perceptions of others and of the world. Sometimes things seem clearer, even harsh, through new eyes, and at other times they look softer and less clear. Knowing how different even the very familiar can look reminds me to find out what I can see when I really look, even with my everday eyes.

No matter how deep or magical my connection with a being I am guising is, in the end, I must come back to a shape that’s nearly the same as the one I left. In that “nearly,” though, lie the most powerful lessons of guising: the ones we bring back to our everyday lives.

At Rites, there were several opportunities to take on a guise. Did you choose to do this work there or somewhere else, or to interact with someone in guise? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments.

[photo by David J. Anderson]

Wandering Into Magic – A Labyrinth Experience at Rites of Spring

by Tracy Andryc

Over the past ten years I have had the honor and pleasure of creating labyrinths, both temporary and permanent. On beaches, through feet of snow, in groves and halls I have collaborated on labyrinth creation, but none as magical as the one this year at Rites of Spring.

The construction of a labyrinth can often be a heavily intellectual experience. It takes a good deal of thought and planning to lay the pattern correctly but also in concordance with the environment. Much of the time it can be a challenge to maintain a ritual focus when doing this part of the work. With support, I was able to devise a way to create an organic labyrinth design working with the land in the Green Ones Shrine.

A group of inspiring and creative people came together for Village Builders to create a sanctuary that was in harmony with the land and its beings. We gathered in the center of the pine grove with half our group holding the container around the outer edge. The five of us, in procession, began to walk a path out from the center leaving a trail of white yarn. As we walked a path into the earth we were guided by the land through rocks and trees, roots and brush. We had brought forth a sacred labyrinth pattern that was unique to that space and time and was guided by the collective energy there. 

Using fallen branches, logs, rocks and leaf piles we created the walls to delineate the path circuits. The result was a natural, sacred shrine that radiated peace and harmony. Meandering the path of this 60 foot labyrinth in the pine grove seems to have brought a sense of stillness and tranquility to many people.

I feel honored to have had the opportunity to work with the Red Maple Grove. Their presence and willingness to open themselves to divine guidance facilitated a unique experience for themselves and the community. I cherish the sacredness of those moments we created magic and walked a path together