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

Coming Together for All Beings of the Earth

by Deirdre Arthen

Dear friends, Just a reminder that the deadline for registering for Rites of Spring is coming up very soon – May 15! Don’t miss the warmth of the fire and the magic of community on the mountain. You can find all you need to register at: http://www.earthspirit.com/ros/rosb.html

I also wanted to remind you that the first Sacred Land Open House at Glenwood is taking place this Sunday, May 9. These afternoon events in western Massachusetts are free, include a tour of the land, and this week there are two programs to choose from – Qi Kong with Jonathan Kapsten, and Deep Peace – a Mother’s Day peace ritual for women. You can find out more at: http://www.earthspirit.com/openhouse/index.html

On a more somber note – as we celebrate All Beings of the Earth at Rites of Spring this year, many of us are feeling a strong desire to join in an effort to send protective and peaceful energy to all the beings living in the area of the Gulf of Mexico who are so threatened by the man-made disaster occurring there. This weekend, many EarthSpirit members will be at Glenwood for one reason or another and we are planning a simple and focused working with that intention. We invite you to join us from wherever you are.

We will place a stone and a natural sponge in the center of our labyrinth. Each person who wants to participate will follow the path to the center with the clean sea-water of the Gulf in mind, quietly singing the following chant: Holy water, Healing Water, Life-bringer, Water flow, and building power of intent. (I wrote the chant, which is on MotherTongue’s Weaving the Web of Life cd, to be used to reawaken us to the sacred nature of water, since I feel that it is largely because humans do not acknowledge the sanctity of water that we abuse it and pollute it.) Once in the center, we will hold the two objects and fill them with our intention – the stone to carry our protection, and the sponge to absorb the damage that is already being done.

At the end of the weekend we will send both the stone and the sponge to EarthSpirit members in Louisiana, so that they can put them into the water and complete the working.

If you are at a distance, but would also like to participate, you can either focus your intention on the objects here at Glenwood that will be travelling south, or you can fill your own objects and put them in a natural water source near your home. All water is connected on this planet, and whether you place a stone in the stream behind your house or in the reservoir in the next town, your intention will flow to where it is needed.

We would love for you to tell us about your experience with this, right here on EarthSpirit Voices. The photo accompanying this post shows the labyrinth at Glenwood, to help make your focus easier if you’re joining us from afar.

Celebrating Spring and honoring those with whom we share this sacred Earth!
Deirdre
Arthen

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)