In the Circle of Earth and Sky: Four Directions Ceremony in conjunction with Four Elders

by Chris LaFond

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Francois Paulette

Indigenous Elder Francois Paulette (Dene) led the sunrise observance on Monday, accompanied by elders Be’sha Blondin (of the Sahtu Region), Trina Moyan, and a Mayan Elder. I arrived at 6:45 for the scheduled 7 a.m. ceremony, but as I arrived, Bob Goulais (Anishanaabe), who is the co-chair of the Indigenous Working Group of the Parliament and was there as a fire tender, announced that the ceremony would begin around 7:30 a.m. because the elders wanted to wait until the Sun had actually risen. He explained that the Parliament insisted on scheduling all the morning observances at 7 a.m., despite the fact that most of the presenters wanted an actual sunrise ceremony. I was left wondering why, at an event like this, such a simple request could not be accommodated.

So I had forty-five minutes to wait. But as so often happens, the highlight of the moment happened outside of the scheduled event. Mr. Goulais said that while we waited, he would offer us a teaching about the fire. He then told us his people’s story of creation, which began with the thought of the Creator, and spiraled down through space, to the Earth, and primarily through the Fire. We learned about the “happy hunting grounds,” as

Bob_Goulais

Bob Goulais

he explained with a smile about that place from which our spirits come and to which they will go when it is their time. We heard several of his people’s teachings about the Earth, many of which have been confirmed by science today: the fire at the center of the Earth, the idea of action and reaction, and more. He finished with an explanation of the roles of men and women in his community, and how and why men have become the fire keepers.
At 7:30, the Elders had arrived, and Chief Paulette gave a brief instruction to all, after which we were given a small handful of tobacco to offer. As Mr. Goulais drummed and chanted (we joined him in raising our voices when he got to the “exciting parts” as he had invited us to do), we moved in a sun-wise circle, and one by one, facing the East, offered the tobacco into a small basket. When all the participants had completed their offerings, a Mayan elder took the basket of tobacco, while Elder Trina Moyan took a basket of food in her hands. Together they faced the East and offered prayers, then moved around the circle, stopping again for prayers to the South, West, and North. Finally, they emptied each basket onto the Fire, completing the offering.

The Mayan elder then explained how the teachings of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas are strikingly similar to those of the Indigenous peoples of Australia because the Original Teachings had been given to all peoples. Ms. Moyan told us that her prayers at the directions had been for all people at their beginnings, their youth, their adulthood, and their elderhood, that we might live good lives and guide others in doing the same. Elder Be’sha Blondin then gave a final blessing, exhorting us to live a simple life, and to clean and heal the Earth.

The ceremony concluded with the Elders beginning to move inside the circle, spiraling around to shake the hands of and greet each person there. The whole circle followed them in until it was whole again, where it began. As we all headed off to our next destinations, I couldn’t help humming to myself, “In the circle of Earth and sky, my heart flies to yours. We gather, we remember, and the pattern endures.”

EarthSpirit is at A Parliament of the World’s Religions this week in Toronto!  You can find more updates here and on our Facebook page.  

The Zoroastrian Boi Ceremony

by Chris LaFond

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Tehemton Mirza, Mobed

On this chilly Sunday morning at 7 am, about 40 people gathered at a small park outside the Metro Toronto Convention Centre to join the Zoroastrian Fire Ceremony. Tehemton Mirza, the Mobed (Zoroastrian priest), greeted us as we gathered around the warmth of the fire just before the Sun rose. First he thanked the representative of the First Nations, who was present to help tend the fire, for hosting us on their land. Then he explained that he was going to do an abbreviated Boi Ceremony, a fire blessing. Each attendee had been given a dry piece of wood to offer the fire at the end of the ceremony. What followed would be familiar to any pagan today. He chanted a long blessing over the fire in Farsi, and at the point in the prayer where he intoned “Dushmata, Duzukhta, Duzvarshta,” (Bad thoughts, bad words, and bad deeds), he rang a bell nine times (three for each) to banish these.

During the ceremony, the Atash (Sacred Fire) asks in the prayer, “What did the walking friend (the devotee) bring for his sitting friend (the Sacred Fire)?” This was the invitation for the attendees to place their individual pieces of wood on the fire. At a certain point, sandalwood is offered to the fire, being particularly sacred to the rite. This morning, the First Nations attendee also offered cedar, sage, and tobacco, the sacred offerings for the particular land that we are on here. Toward the end of the chant, the Mobed asked the Fire to bless the devotees:

In thy family, may the flock of cattle increase!
Unto Thee may there be an increase of heroic men!
May thou have an active mind!
May thy life be active!
May thou live a joyous life, those nights that thou live!

The blessing is reminiscent of many of those from the Gaelic highlands.

After the prayers, and the final pieces of wood offerings were given to the Fire, each attendee was offered some ash that had been removed and cooled earlier, so that we could put a small bit on our foreheads in a sign of humility and respect for the Fire.

Having concluded the ritual part of the gathering, the Mobed drew attention to the very close parallels between the Zoroastrian ceremonies and those of our First Nations hosts. He spoke of the three different kinds of sacred fires, and he introduced a female Zoroastrian priest who was present, pointing out that there is equality among men and women, and this includes women’s participation in the priesthood.

We concluded as the Sun’s rays poured over the buildings around us on the first rainless day we’ve had since the Parliament began.

EarthSpirit is at A Parliament of the World’s Religions this week in Toronto!  You can find more updates here and on our Facebook page.  

Holding Integrity: A Lesson from Chief Arvol Looking Horse

by Chris LaFond

Arvol Looking Horse

photo by Balkowitsch, used under a Creative Commons license

On Saturday, I attended a workshop titled “Pipe Ceremony,” presented by Arvol Looking Horse, Lakota. Mr. Looking Horse talked about becoming a sacred bundle keeper when his grandmother died in her eighties, which was young for a bundle keeper. As a consequence of becoming a sacred bundle keeper, he began to live in ceremony all the time. He was told that he could not ever use a gun or weapon, he could not use foul language, could not run for political office, and he could not raise his hand to swear an oath to the U.S. flag.

What I find impressive about his presentation and his life is his willingness to take on a responsibility for his community that defines how he will live for the rest of his life. His role in his community is not merely the person who keeps the bundle or offers the pipe. His entire life is now a ritual.

Most modern pagan communities don’t have such a rigid differentiation of roles.  In fact, we often have a difficult time staying in ritual for more than an hour or so, even when there is nowhere else to go and nothing else to do.  Few of us live in the kind of tight-knit or geographically-centered communities that would allow for such a lifetime dedication. But the model might serve even for those of us who take on temporary roles within our own groups. If you are responsible for holding a particular piece for your community, perhaps you might try letting that role infuse your whole life, at least until you pass that role to another.  Instead of looking at your responsibilities as something that you do, maybe try to think of them as who you are.

EarthSpirit is at A Parliament of the World’s Religions this week in Toronto!  You can find more updates here and on our Facebook page.  

The Canadian Way

The Canadian Way

by Andrew Watt

At my second day of A Parliament of the World’s Religions, the thing that keeps striking me is the “Canadian Way”. That’s the name I’m giving to a practice, which I have found striking and emotionally powerful, of acknowledging and recognizing the First Nations of the region around Toronto as the keepers of the land.  These tribes include the Mississaugas, the New Credit Tribes, and the Six Nations.  I’ve not caught all the names or subtleties of the relationships between the tribes, I know.  But I know that they are here, their chiefs saw us at the Parliament’s opening session on the first day, that they knew we were coming, and that they have extended a formal welcome to the Parliament and a kind of formal permission to conduct our business here. (In a kindly, funny but also serious fashion, we were told in no uncertain terms to go home when we were done.)

Talking with a few Canadians today, I learned that this is becoming more and more common at all sorts of Canadian official events: graduations and conferences, government meetings, matriculation ceremonies, and higher-level religious events like church synods.  Canada appears to be making a serious commitment to recognize and acknowledge the place and position of what it calls the First Nations within the fabric of Canadian life.  My new Canadian friends admitted that it feels more like “talking the talk” and not enough like “walking the walk” — but that Indigenous Peoples are much more active in the political and social fabric of the nation today than they were twenty and forty years ago in their own childhoods.

And so, the Canadian Way: to be welcomed to traditional lands by traditional First Nations custodians, to be given permission to settle and perform ceremony, and to participate in the life of the nation as the First to speak.  To Be First.

The formal opening session of the Parliament was preceded by several hours of Indigenous Ceremony in the park outside the Convention Center: dancing, smudging done by members of the Toronto tribes, welcomes from the chiefs of several of the tribes, drumming and singing in the traditional styles and in the traditional costumes of the

Indigenous dancer

photo by Moira Ashleigh

Mississaugas, the Cree, the New Credit Tribes, the Six Nations.  A few hours later, at the formal opening of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, the chiefs spoke again.  No rousing strains of “O Canada!” filled the hall.  Instead, with the raising of Indigenous eagle feathers and staffs, the singing was one of one of the local tribe’s national anthems, and another song in a First Nations language to thank veterans. During the opening speeches, a minister of the government of Canada thanked the Mississaugas and the New Credit Tribes and the Six Nations. So did the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.  So did a city councillor of the government of the city of Toronto.  No one stumbled over unfamiliar names.  No one tried a couple of times and gave up.  The tribes were mentioned in the same order each time (which I’ve endeavored without notes to repeat, but apologize if I’ve gotten in wrong).  There is clearly an effort underway within the Canadian government to restore a sense of traditional custodianship of the land to the First Nations, at all levels of government.

That’s extraordinary in itself.

But then… it happened in some of the sessions and workshops I attended during the day.  A presenter thanked the First Nations tribes of the Toronto area, and named them the same way the government officials had.  Then she got around to thanking the Parliament for inviting her to speak.  A ritual event in another space included a formal acknowledgement that the ceremony was taking place on Mississaugas land.

Later in the day, I asked a Canadian if they knew what First Nations land they were on. “Mississaugas,” came the answer, followed immediately by surprise. They didn’t know, quite, how long they had known that information, or how they’d come by it.

And yet, in an extraordinary way, the Canadian Way is beginning to undo the effects of centuries of deliberate erasure of the First Nations:  by inviting them to speak First, by inviting them into the role of the traditional custodians, all across Canada people are waking up to the idea that they are on someone’s land, that they are in someone’s land: that Canada is more than one country, and the country has a deeper and longer history than just the French and English, Confederation and a couple of World Wars.

The Canadian Way may bring about a deeper understanding of their nation’s cultural heritage, a heritage that extends at least twenty thousand years into the past…. and into a present where the First Nations always speak First, in words of welcome and of permission. There’s a power in that; and I hope that it brings the many peoples of Canada a few long and graceful strides toward reconciliation. At the same time, I feel the challenge and the opportunity in the Canadian Way that all of these visitors from around the globe must see and hear, and I hope that many of them — and we ourselves — can take the steps and begin the conversations that begin to put Indigenous voices as First Voices.

EarthSpirit is at A Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto this week!  Keep an eye here and on our Facebook page for more updates on our interfaith experiences.  

Morwen

poem by Donovan Arthen; Snake Woman chant by Starhawk

Snake woman shedding her skin

A teacher, a drummer, a flutist, a mother.
A lover, a leader, a wise woman born.

Snake woman shedding her skin

Heartbeat, opened love, embracing and playing, praying for what was always acted upon.
Loving the earth, drumming for peace, building connection, drawing threads together.
Giving voice to what was silent, challenging what seemed easy, a warrior of rhythm, rights, and responsibility.

morwen

Photo by Afon Art

Shedding
Her pain

Shedding
Her fear

Shedding her skin

Shedding
Her attachment

Shedding
The form we know

Shedding her skin

Snake Woman shedding her skin.

Two Feathers drift on breezes now
Rustling leaves
Caressing hands and faces
Soothing and smoothing rough skin and painful wounds

Two Feathers float on a river
Carried by the current toward a mystery unknown
Shining with droplets reflecting the brilliant sun.

Two Feathers fan the fires
As drums echo and feet slap the ground
As song erupts from hearts
And magic is made within and without

Two Feathers sit on a mountain
Finding stillness and quiet
Seeing and feeling more slowly
Beholding the expanse of the world that they are.

Two Feathers are woven into a web
Rooted in earth and sky
Now she is everywhere
Now she is everything.

Deep Peace Meditation

by Deb Banks, daughter of Janet

This piece was written for Deep Peace, our celebration of mothers, in 2018.

Close your eyes
And settle your mind
Taste the spring air
Smell the wet soil
Hear the stream full and rushing
Feel you feet on the ground
Our roots go deeper than
We will ever know

Hidden from our view
Roots, seeds and all manner of being
Are held by our Earth Mother
Until it is time to arise

Never too early
Never too late
Always arising at the moment
When She knows
It’s time
She does not think
Or overanalyze
If the time if right
It just is

She does not stop to worry
If all the pieces will fall into
Their proper place
They will

She does not fret that it will not be
Easy
It won’t

IMG_0921She is not afraid
Of failure
It’s not a matter of being perfect
She isn’t

Each time
The beings arise
They are
Different

Reshaped
By their
Experiences
Never the same
And no two ever alike

A flower with
A slightly different color
A berry that is sweeter
Because of more rain
All perfect in their
Imperfection

We don’t seem to question this
About our Earth Mother
We trust in the system of Nature
To Know.

How would we be different
If we trusted
Ourselves to know
When that time
Was right
To arise?

I invite you
To open

Open
To the possibility
That you
Know

Open
To that which is in you
Ready to arise

Open
To the possibility
That this time
The story may be
Different

Open
To the hope
That we can sense all around us

Open
To the mystery
Of what is to come

Open
To yourself
And Arise!

Why Twilight Covening?

by Lanna Lee Maheux Quinn

For those of us who find strength in earth-based spirituality, Twilight Covening is a unique offering, a weekend-long ritual, that allows us to plug in before the winter, learn some skills and connect with the greater community in a meaningful way.

The way it works is that you pick a focus for the weekend. You do this by choosing your clan, and your clan leader or leaders will guide you and your fellow clan members through the weekend. You spend time together with your clan, and then spend time with the larger gathering. You focus in with the smaller group, and focus out with the larger group; Deirdre Arthen likens it to breathing, which is a very apt description.

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White Raven clan table (photo by the author)

Choosing a clan is a magical process. You sign up for 4 different clans, in order of preference. You don’t always get your first preference. You might get your second or third or even your fourth choice instead. I firmly believe you will end out in the clan you were meant to be in; I’ve found this to be the case for myself, even if it took me a few months to realize it! So choose wisely, and trust that you will end out where you need to be.

And now it’s time for a shameless plug, because this year, for the third year in a row, I am offering the White Raven Clan with Giariel Foxwood. (I’m one of those clan leaders I mentioned earlier!) We will be building relationships with our ancestors, human or other, by using Faery Seership Practices. Those who take our clan will walk away with a daily practice that will help them build co-creative partnerships with their ancestors.

Whether you decide to sign up for White Raven Clan or one of the other fantastic offerings we have this year, I hope you join us. It’s a restorative and invigorating weekend that gets you set for your contemplations over the long winter.


Twilight Covening will be held in the Berkshires from October 6-9, 2017.  Online registration is open through September 23.

EarthSpirit on Boston Common

by Tracey Seier

Today about two dozen members of the EarthSpirit community joined approximately 40,000 people to protest against the “free speech” rally on the Boston Common.  Most of us were on the Common near the State House while some of us joined the marchers who marched from Roxbury to the Common.  Happily, our collective numbers overwhelmed both the 30 or so “free speech” folks at the Gazebo and the (at most) 50 or so people who chose to carry racist signs or wear racist clothing in the crowd.  

One of the very special things that EarthSpirit has to offer at rallies like this is our singing.  Being able to keep a rhythm and having the right song for the moment helped us to channel some of the crowd’s energy.  When we were at the top of the Common, several people outside our group joined in with us or thanked us afterwards for the songs we offered.  Later, we ran into two folks with a big Flag and some “White United States of America” T-Shirts and we surrounded them and sang to encourage them to make their way out of the Common.  

The day was a great success, in the sense that the bad guys were decisively defeated, but it was also a great day because though the majority of the crowd was White, a large percent were People of Color.  When Ken and I were thinking about going to the counterprotest, we were pretty nervous.  When we committed to going, we were not sure how many counter-protesters there would be.  We knew that the chances were small that anything would happen to us, but still, if we were to go, we would be taking a chance that we could have a life-altering injury or worse.  We thought very carefully about our decision, but what decided us was that as White people, we are the ones who can most safely stand up to White Supremacists.  Several People of Color that we talked to in the week before were even more afraid, knowing that they were more likely to be targeted by Nazis and less likely to get police help.  The fact that so many People of Color did show up is a testament to their bravery.

ES Boston Common

photo by Moira Ashleigh

The speakers reminded us that their groups have been fighting racism and racist systems for years, and that they need our help on an on-going basis, and not just after high-profile racist incidents.  A Muslim member of the Cambridge City Council, Nadeem Mazen, reminded us that he and every single Muslim public official lives with regular threats to their person and their family.  A Latina woman reminded us that the reason that there were not more brown faces in the crowd is that many Latinos fear that a chance encounter with the police could cause their family to be torn apart.  A prisoner’s rights organizer reminded us that the prisoners at MCI-Norfolk are drinking lead-tainted water.  They asked us to have their backs on a regular basis, by showing up to smaller protests, to court hearings, and to the State House.  They asked us actively work to dismantle the racism that permeates our society.  

As members of EarthSpirit all of us, coming from our different traditions, we have learned to build coalitions with each other in order to create a community that can hold and support all of us in our spiritual work.  On a larger scale, right now, in Massachusetts, religious and ethnic minorities are coming together to create a society that will support all its members.  

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.