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.

Good Counsel (Bo Consello)

This prayer was written by EarthSpirit elder and spiritual director, Andras Corban Arthen, and offered on summer solstice at a Solstice Global Prayer event hosted by Grandmothers of the Sacred We, a group of Grandmothers, Great-Grandmothers, and wisdom keepers from many nations.  Learn more about Grandmothers of the Sacred We on their website or Facebook page.

The breath of the earth is the wind on the meadows,
the bones of the earth are the ancient stones,
the blood of the earth is the stream on the mountain,
the skin of the earth is the grassy soil ,
the arms of the earth are the trees of the forest,
the heart of the earth is a heart of fire ,
the soul of the earth is our very own soul.
Remember then, always
to sing with the wind,
to rest upon the stone,
to drink from the stream,
to kiss the green soil,
to place your arms round the trees,
to draw strength from the fire,
and to seek the spirit of the earth everywhere,
in everything.
Remember: always return to the Earth
always return to the Earth
always return to the Earth

(O alento da terra é o vento nos prados,
os ósos da terra son as pedras antigas,
a sangue da terra é o regueiro no monte,
a pel da terra é o solo herboso,
os brazos da terra son as árbores do bosque,
o corazón da terra é corazón de lume,
a alma da terra é a nosa propia alma.
Recorda entón, sempre
cantar xunto co vento,
descansar sobre as pedras,
saciar a túa sede do regueiro,
bicar o solo verde,
abrazar as árbores,
sacar forza do lume,
e buscar a alma da terra por todas partes,
en cada cousa.
Recorda, volve sempre á terra
volve sempre á terra
volve sempre á terra.)

solstice fire

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.

4550956161_d504f97694_z

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.

Deep Peace: Ten Years of Inspiration

by Susan Curewitz Arthen

“Peace in my heart
Peace between our hearts
Peace at the heart of the world”*

I am Susan, mother of Elizabeth, godmother of Isobel, daughter of Mary, grand-daughter of Sarah and Ann and I have spent the last ten Mother’s Day holidays celebrating with a Deep Peace ritual at the EarthSpirit Peace Cairn in Western Massachusetts.

In 2001 I was inspired to reclaim the origin of Mother’s Day after listening to a radio broadcast on NPR (National Public Radio). This holiday was the creation of Julia Ward Howe, abolitionist, feminist and author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, who issued a Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870 (below). She was outraged at the Franco-Prussian war, and felt that women needed to be called to action. Julia believed that if all mothers had a day off from their labors, they would find a way to make peace happen in the world. Although the holiday was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson, it has clearly turned into something quite different from her vision. Hallmark cards, breakfast in bed and a new toaster oven replaced a radical call to change the world.

My personal feelings about Mother’s Day have been quite mixed. The holiday has always felt contrived to me; a day to honor those who Mother sounds wonderful, but there are the other 364 days where the reality of mothering is dismissed and undervalued and when, as a mother, I felt dismissed and undervalued as well. When I learned of the original intent of the holiday, I felt an immediate and urgent need to bring it to light within my own community, to share the passion and inspiration it fed in me. And all women, whether or not they have given birth, are welcome to Deep Peace. When Julia Ward Howe was alive, most women were mothers and that is not the case today.

My inspiration deepened after a workshop that Deirdre Pulgram-Arthen and I did at Rites of Spring, also in 2000, about the EarthSpirit Peace Cairn. She said, “Before we can make peace happen in the world, we need to find and commit to peace in our lives.” And so, Deep Peace was born. Every Mother’s Day, a group of women meet at the Peace Cairn; we share our female lineage, and open our hearts to peace with chant and movement. Then we each go off for some time for personal reflection. Some clear the ground around the Cairn, some sit by the stream or at the point where two streams join, and all of us seek what we want to honor in the coming year to bring peace into our lives. We often make a talisman to remind us of the commitment, and when we gather again by the Cairn we speak our commitments and also offer the story of any stones we may be adding to the mound. The richness of what is shared there often enriches me as much as any personal conclusions that I have come to, and I am amazed, honored and grateful at the willingness of the women to be so open.

Having the Peace Cairn as the location for the ritual was serendipitous. Or maybe not. The Cairn was offered as EarthSpirit’s gift to the 1999 Council for the Parliament of the World’s Religions in answer to the challenge offered there — what were we going to do when the Parliament was over, what actions were we going to take in the world? Since then, the Cairn has grown from just a few stones to a mound; a Peace Pole was donated several years later with the words “May peace prevail on Earth” in four languages, one on each side. They are English, Gaelic, a Native American language and Pawprints, honoring those whose spirits dwell here. Visitors to the EarthSpirit Center are encouraged to bring stones for the Cairn: stones from their own land, stones from their travels. The stones that are brought to the Cairn create a web of connection to the places they have come from, and are blessed and nourished in many ways. The Deep Peace ritual is one way of sending our intentions back out through that web and into the world.

Some years the ritual is small — a handful of women — and some years it is bigger. The last few years, we have deepened the event by including Stand for Peace, sponsored by Julia’s Voice, a group of “mothers and others” also working to “Take Back Mother’s Day and honor Julia Ward Howe”, and thus expanding the energy going out through that web as well.

One notable year, we had several pairs of mothers and daughters and I was moved to tears when I asked Lucia, Deirdre’s mother and the oldest woman present, to start the lineage naming. It fed a need for multi-generational sharing that I did not know I contained. Every year brings a challenge, an answer, no small amount of camaraderie and joy, and, of course, delicious food sharing at the end.

My wish for this year is that others also begin to create Deep Peace moments wherever they are on Mother’s Day in addition to any traditional celebrations; take some time for yourself, connect to the Deep Peace ritual, connect to the Stand for Peace event, open to what will bring you peace in the coming year, and feel the strength of our power and intent. “Arise, the women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts…”

Mother’s Day Proclamation, by Julia Ward Howe, 1870

Arise, the women of this day!

Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of fears!

Say firmly: “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies.
Our husbands shall not come to us reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, “Disarm, disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice!” Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession. As great men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.

Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, and each bearing after her own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And at the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

*(Deep Peace chant, at top, © Copper Fox)

Heartbeat and Beyond

by Starwind

Twilight Covening has always presented opportunities to learn, to share, to experience, to develop lasting bonds — but this year I experienced something else. This year, I broke through a wall, and what might otherwise have been considered a personal “ecstatic” spiritual experience was infused with a profound sense of the Sacred.

Twilight can be warm (not my favorite years), can be wet (less favorite), can be very cold (fitting for the work), but for sure while my spirits are always revived, invariably I get tired — bone-deep tired. This year, confronted with the challenge of “holding the space” for the closing of the visioning ritual, I inwardly sighed and wondered how to contain/direct/keep focused the energy of so many people having such potentially profound experiences for a significant period of time…..

My tool of choice is the drum. So I drummed a heartbeat. And I drummed, and I drummed and I drummed — and sang. It made perfect sense to me at the time — few words, simple tune.

We are One
With the Soul
Of the Earth
Mother Earth.*

At first, I felt all my trained magical and physical muscles kick in, and then they began to quiver with strain (the drum is not small), and mentally I was continuously checking in with the groups of people coming in to the closing space, watching the energy, listening for “issues”. Moving with the energy into and out of the various rooms — I was doing what I considered to be my Job that evening. The folk were there, imminently present in the space and the moments as the chain of that ritual formed link by link…..and I drummed, and we sang. And time became a blur — until my muscles reminded me that I was human, standing, drumming for what seemed like hours and my back and neck and shoulders were singing a protest song. What to do? Common sense said take a break (I did relinquish the drum for a time) but I was uneasy about taking a breather and losing the tenuous harmony that had formed in the closing space — both inside where it was warm, and outside where the stars danced and more of the Folk were singing. So instead, I took a breath.

The Camel Clan had a wee space in the corner of the room where they were practicing some breath work and some poses, people were doing physical and energy work on each other, profound support was pouring from those overflowing to those in need — and in a clear moment of increasingly blurred vision, I Saw that the tapestry was not of human weaving; that the perception of my Job that night was nothing but my ego speaking — the entire concept of containing, directing, and focusing that night’s work was ego — and nothing more. The pain in my back and shoulders continued to increase, and I fought to ignore it. And I drummed, and we sang. And finally the pain said to me “sit and breathe”, so, slumping down the support pillar, my back resting against it, I continued to drum and to sing and to breathe — and with a tear of exhaustion, I released the need to succeed, to control the environment, to “manage” the energy of the closing space…I could no longer contain what wasn’t mine to begin with.

(photos by Tchipakkan)

I breathed — and felt the plants and the trees and the mountain and the stars and all the Folk breathing along. The drummed heartbeat, maintained for, oh, 5+ hours or so, beat whether I struck the drum with a feather touch or an earnest stroke or at all as my fingers had cramped around the antler beater. The song was now a whisper on my dry lips, and yet the Music flowed without effort. The tiny spiral of twinkle lights arranged on the floor whispered of continuity, of intent, of progression and creation — a spiral dance that we’d danced year after year as a Community.

We had Gathered. We had remembered. And the Pattern Endures.

*We are One With the Soul of the Earth, © 1981, Andras Corban-Arthen


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

Beltaine celebrations

by Eric Arthen, photos by Dawn, Moira Ashleigh
end of the Maypole dance
On May second and third, members of the EarthSpirit Community gathered at two celebrations of Beltaine. On Saturday, in the Middlesex Fells Reservation north of Boston and on Sunday, in Hampshire county in western Massachusetts, we reconnected with each other at this mid-point of Spring, danced around the maypole and shared food and company.


At the Fells, we did our annual “spring cleaning” by removing trash and leaves from the new grass. This Winterman was created from some of the debris collected as a magical symbol to help clean away our own winter debris and reconnect with the sacred ground.

New kid goats to be named.
Many people in the community come up to the maypole after the dance to tell of an important transition in their lives in this past year. These kid goats, just a few weeks old, were brought to the maypole to be introduced and to receive their names.