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


On Twilight Covening

by Irene Jericho

[Ed.note: Irene Jericho attended our Twilight Covening gathering in October this year for the first time. With her kind permission, we are posting an account she wrote about it, since she captures so clearly and beautifully the deeply transformative environment which our community has so carefully crafted from our collective spiritual experiences over the past two-and-a-half decades. Irene is the frontwoman of the Pagan operatic metal band Cassandra Syndrome, and co-chair of the Shenandoah Midsummer Festival in Winchester, VA.]


This is for the Pagans, or those of you who have been curious about some of the Pagan stuff I do. Everyone else, these are not the droids you’re looking for.

This past weekend (Friday-Monday), I attended Twilight Covening in Massachusetts for the first time. It’s a four day spiritual retreat for those on the Pagan path and this past Covening was its 25th year.

There are a lot of things from this past weekend that I’m still processing and am not ready to talk about yet. Maybe I never will be. Some things there are no words for. So what I’m going to try to do is tell you about the space, the environment that Twilight creates and envelops you in. Perhaps that will be enough to give you an idea of what’s happening up North.

Imagine four days of ritual space. The ritual begins in the evening on Friday, when everyone arrives. The initial circle is formed, the energy spreads out. And the energy… There are around 200 people there. Every single one is there because they have chosen to devote four days to intense spiritual, emotional and psychological work. Imagine ritual space infused by the focus of our most committed practitioners. And that those committed practitioners stand to the right and left of you, holding your hands.

Now we add to that. That ritual space is constantly actively held. At all times, a Clan (usually 6-18 people) is actively concentrating on maintaining the spiritual connection of the space. They lend their energy to help your connection, to help you focus, to help you on your path. At. All. Times. Night or day, you are energetically guarded, enhanced and protected by a team of dedicated energy workers. Even while you sleep, they help you stay attuned.

Now we add to that. Everyone is there because they want to work as hard as you do. Everyone is there because they are actively trying to improve themselves, to heal, to connect, to grow. So everyone you talk to is sharing a lot of the same things you are going through. Everyone there wants you to succeed. The people you interact with honor your trust. They listen when you share your insecurities, your fears, your weaknesses, and do not trivialize or brush off. Instead, they try to find ways to help you. They pray and laugh and weep with you. They help you find ways to lower your shields and to reach out in ways you didn’t know you could.

Now we add to that. Your specific Clan is even closer to your own path. Clans are small–the largest I saw was maybe 18 people. They are led by one or two facilitators–some of the most accomplished Priests and Priestesses our tribe has to offer. The Clan you are in is specific in its focus. The people closest to you not only share your goal of working on your spirituality, but they share some of the specifics of that goal. You eat, sleep and work with your Clan. You share and learn from each other. You hold each other while you cry, you raise energy together, you joyously witness the steps each Clan member takes forward because you know just how hard they were to take. You’ve been taking those steps yourself.

Now we add to that. The space that you are in is breathtaking in natural beauty. You’re on top of a mountain in the Berkshires. There is no light pollution, so the sky at night is a sea of stars. The trees are in a full autumnal riot of color and their vibrant tones are reflected in the lake. There are boulders and tall pines, towering oaks and birds singing. There are spaces for quiet reflection, there are spaces for intimate conversation, there are spaces for group work. There are even spaces for silliness. Mirth, after all, is the counterpoint to Reverence.

These words can only capture a fragment of what that space feels like. I wish I could give you the memory of that feeling. I wish I could cover the world with it.

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that you should go. If you’re on the Pagan path, if you’re working on your spirituality, Go. Set aside those days for next year now. Start setting aside the money now. Go. Please Go. You probably need this as much or more than I did. And I needed it. I needed it the way a rose needs the sunlight.

Go to Twilight with me next year. Our tribe has built something beautiful in Massachusetts. You should feel it, too.

Twilight Covening 2009 Visioning Ritual

by Deirdre Pulgram Arthen

Returning from this year’s Twilight Covening, I am struck once again by the power in a community working ritually together on a deep level. Each year we create a spiritual bridge together that brings us from the season of summer exuberance and brightness into the dark time of introspection and germination. The effect of this special and potent time stays with me all through the winter.

This year’s Visioning Ritual on Sunday was about the essence of fire itself, its many aspects and our relationship with it, as the humans that we are. It was about getting outside of our assumptions and symbolic minds and approaching a natural and elemental force – open and listening. It was a journey to learn, to shift and to gain a new companion in our continuing travels through our spiritual life. Here is the story that that was told to begin the journey. May it inspire you to travel further.

TWILIGHT COVENING 2009     VISIONING RITUAL STORY
Deirdre Pulgram Arthen, October 11, 2009

You are embarking on a journey to find a vision; to seek a path to follow into the winter.

Let me tell you a story about someone who was on a similar journey not so long ago.

A young man left home to seek a future for himself.  He knew it was time, though he had no particular goal in mind.  He just knew that if he looked hard enough he would find his way. So he wandered for months and had many wonderful adventures, but as the winds grew colder and the nights grew longer, he began to feel afraid that he would be pulled along into the cold dark time with no direction or path.

The stranger he met on the road one day appeared old and quiet. They traveled along together for a while side by side, and then the young traveler asked the wise woman, for that is who she was,

“What am I to do? The winter is coming and I am travelling without direction.  How will I know which path to chose?  How will I find my way?”

“Fire is the key”, she answered.  “Fire transforms.  You give fire one thing; it gives you back something else.  You must get to know fire, for if you do, fire can offer light to show you a path to chose and the power to follow it”.

“Know fire?  I lived with fire my whole life; I already know fire” the young traveler responded.

“No”, the wise woman said.  “What you have is assumptions about what you do or do not do with fire.  What you have is a head full of stories about what fire “means”.  Leave these assumptions and stories behind, and let yourself gain a new companion on your journey.  Fire is not an easy companion, but it is a strong ally.  It is obvious that we are made of earth and air and water, getting to know the fire itself brings us closer to knowing the fire within”.

And with that, she turned and walked away.

Not really understanding exactly what the wise woman meant about “knowing” the fire, the young traveler decided to see what he could find out about what it meant to know fire.  He went to the first fire he found and joined the crowd around it; he listened and he watched.  Eventually, he came to do as the people around that fire were doing, and after a short time said to himself,

“Ah, now I see, now I know fire and can ask for its help finding my way”.

But the fire answered, “No, there is much more, seek another fire.”

So he did.  He traveled for a time and found people gathered around another fire, and he tried to do as they did and come to know the fire.  Again, after a short time he said to himself,

“Ah, now I really know fire” to which the fire responded “No, there is much more, seek another fire”.

And so the young traveler did, fire after fire, taking a bit of knowing from each one, until one day he encountered a fire that spoke to him first!

“I recognize you”, the fire said.  “You have seen me in many forms, and I have seen you at those times as well.  If you work with me now, and bring all that you have learned, I will help you find the path to take.”

And so the young traveler approached that fire with an open heart, bringing all the lessons he had learned, and he began to talk with and listen to and dance with and make offerings to the fire.  In its turn, the fire offered him its light, its flickering visions, and the power to act on what he saw.

Together, they began to create a vision and find the direction for the next step on the traveler’s path.

[photos by Robbi Packard and by Dave Anderson]