Women’s Rites – Honoring and Celebrating the Cycles of our Lives on Friday at the 2015 Parliament

By Jennifer Bennett

“Women’s Rites” panel with Ruth Barrett, Angie Buchanan, Deirdre Arthen, and Isobel Arthen on Friday at the 2015 Parliament, by Andras Corban Arthen

“Women’s Rites” panel with Ruth Barrett, Angie Buchanan, Deirdre Arthen, and Isobel Arthen on Friday at the 2015 Parliament, by Andras Corban Arthen

In the Women’s Sacred Space at the Salt Place Conference Center in Salt Lake City, UT on Friday midday there is a circle of about 20 women. The room certainly doesn’t feel like it’s in a conference center. It’s dimly lit and all four walls are covered, floor to ceiling, in deep maroon red velvet drapes that are differing sections of embroidery, tassels, mirror work and fringe. There is a corner covered in red cushions and thick, soft pieces of fabric under them on the floor. There is a muffled sort of peace and serenity pervading the room — a timelessness.

Sitting together in one curve of the circle are (from the right) Isobel Arthen, Deirdre Arthen, Angie Buchanan and Ruth Barrett; the rest of the circle is filled in (and some fringe around the back) with women of all ages and styles of dress. There are even one or two men. Some take notes, one is spinning wool, everyone is focused on the four women, who take turns speaking.

Isobel Arthen begins telling the story of the Coming of Age rites done by EarthSpirit Community for young women (and men). Having been through it herself she is very careful to hold it sacredly and only describe those parts of it that are for “public consumption”, so to speak. The gathering of the girls for each Rite, each year, from within a larger gathering of the Community…so the community can see them go and wish them well and hold them in community for this important passage. Then their coming to a circle of women who will welcome them to womanhood with special ritual prayers, activities, blessings and stories. Then, the welcoming of these girls — now passed on into young womanhood — back into the Community. Eloquent and self-assured, Isobel is a sparkling spokesperson for the importance of this Rite for all girls.

Deirdre Arthen then speaks about the Rite of passage of birth — the rites and rituals that have become part of the EarthSpirit Community and have grown over the years around the women who have given birth and chosen to do so within Community. “Whatever the hospital will let us do…!” from incense and candles to dancing (apparently great for laboring women!) and chanting. Deirdre then lead the group through a chant about the sea and waves, which she has used many times (and herself) to help women “ride the waves” of labor pains. She also spoke about a necklace that has “made the rounds” for about 30 years from one pregnant woman to the next — handed from new mother to pregnant mother — among many EarthSpirit Community women.

Angie Buchanan then began talking about her upbringing as one of the Traveling People and how, no matter what the situation, women were the anchors of the home. She spoke of how many women and siblings made up her household and how normal and supportive that women-centered world seemed to her. Later in her life, when she had grown up and moved out on her own, she found herself really missing…longing…for that sisterhood. So, she created Gaia’s Womb. She spoke of the connections made by many women, over the years and about how sisterhood is for all women of any age. All ages can learn from each other just by being together.

Ruth Barrett then stood (“I need to move and talk with my hands.”) and talked about the aging and Crone-ing time of women’s lives. Having done crone-ing rituals for many years (“…on women much older than myself, before my time came.”), she had, for herself, come up with two very definite “definitions” of who is a Crone. Fifty-eight years old, at least, and through a second Saturn return. Elder and Crone are not necessarily the same thing. Ruth repeatedly pointed out that a Crone-ing ceremony ushers a woman into an entire other part of her life — one to be anticipated with joy and excitement for the creativity and promise it holds.

If all women were blessed enough to go through these ritual times with a supportive community, the world would be a much different place. Blessings on these women and their work in creating these places and rituals!

Sunday, Community in action at the 2015 Parliament

by Kate Greenough Richardson

Priestesses Panel, Sunday at 2015 Parliament by Kate Richardson

Priestesses Panel, Sunday at 2015 Parliament by Kate Richardson

Sunday is the last full day of the Parliament. Again, it started early, though I missed the 7am morning observances in favor of an extra bit of sleep. I’m not alone in feeling that some of the best stuff is in the early hours, when there are rituals and practices shared. You get to experience the flavor of things rather than just hearing about them. But it does make for shorter nights!

This morning at 8:15 I attended a panel discussion about what it means to serve as a priestess, and how to embody and sustain that role. The panel had incredible wealth of experience: along with Deirdre there were seven other women, including Vivienne Crowley, Angie Buchanan, Selena Fox, Phyllis Curott, and Starhawk. The discussion was filled with wisdom and humor, centering around taking care of community and of self, maintaining a personal practice, and connecting with the web of existence.

After this I had some time to help get the booth up and running for the day. It’s wonderful to be in a place where people with questions and interest stop by to learn something about Paganism in general and EarthSpirit in particular. We get to practice and fine-tune our ‘elevator speeches’ that carefully pack much information in a small space of time, giving people ways to connect and learn more if they wish. But the booth is a steady hub of activity, so eventually I had to leave to write up my notes from the day before!

Rehearsal for the cantata was at 1pm, and let out just in time for me to get to the Langar before it closed up at 2:30. The crowd had thinned by that time and I was seated near the ‘kitchen’ where buckets and dishes were being filled with food for the servers to take around. I was close enough to hear that a couple of the Sikhs in the kitchen were maintaining a steady chant the entire time they worked, interrupting it to issue instructions to servers or children. The menu had the same format but different dishes: rice, naan (bread), salad, fresh fruit (bananas and apple slices), and two hot dishes – today, saag paneer (greens with cheese) and kidney beans. Nourishing, and delicious.

I took a few pictures of some activities and installations in the hallways on my way to the plenary at 3:45. As at the Parliament in Melbourne there were Buddhist monks making a sand mandala, but this one was on a smaller scale, with amazingly delicate detail. Nearby a table invited people to write messages on ribbons to be taken to the upcoming climate summit in Paris. I made a ribbon for myself; today I plan to add one on behalf of the EarthSpirit Community because I know that many of you would resonate with this action.

The Climate Change Plenary had plenty of substance but I also thought it left plenty of questions unspoken (link to video). Speakers all agreed on the urgency and the complexity of the problem, and mostly spoke to the fact that it underlies so many of the other pressing issues facing us all. Al Gore’s daughter Karenna moderated the session and presented a videotaped address from her father. Katherine Hayhoe, climate scientist and author, who pointed out that addressing climate change is not a question of conserving resources, but of not using resources that are available. Jonathan Granoff, a lawyer with focus on nuclear proliferation called on us to ask all our political leaders 3 questions: What are you doing to protect the climate? What are you doing to eliminate poverty? What are you doing to eliminate nuclear weapons? Chief Arvol Looking Horse urged us to remember that the Earth is the source of life, not a resource. Francois Paulette from First Nations in Canada talked about the environmental devastation already being experienced in the northlands, and said “your way of life is destroying our way of life.” The final speaker was Dr. Saleh Abdullah M. Bin Himeid, imam of the great mosque in Mecca. He spoke through a translator, about the need to address climate change, poverty and extremism, and called for people of all faiths to work together.

Burundi drummers at Morman Tabernacle at 2015 Parliament by Kate Richardson

Burundi drummers at Morman Tabernacle at 2015 Parliament by Kate Richardson

I dashed out of the plenary to save a few seats at the Mormon Tabernacle for the evening concert of sacred music. Many of us managed to attend despite the overflow crowd turned away at the door once it filled. It was a lovely way to end another full day, with prayer, dance and music from many cultures and traditions (including some rocking Burundi drummers, and the Lion drummers we’d seen at the Emerging Leaders plenary) After it ended, though I had meant to get to bed early, I ended up going out to a nearby pub for supper and a beer, and conversations about the day’s events with EarthSpirit friends.

It’s really great to see how this group has been working together to take care of each other and make sure we can all get the most out of this experience. Wren has served as chauffeur for this whole event, making it possible for those less able to walk to get from place to place. Cerillion has been provisioning the kitchen in the house. A team of us has made sure that there’s always somebody, and usually two people, at the booth. And everyone is checking in to make sure that people are getting to go to the sessions and events they most want to. This is our community in action!

Sons and Lovers of the Sacred Feminine at the 2015 Parliament

by Rowan Morrigan

Sons Lovers panel with Drake Spaeth, Donovan Arthen, Claudiney Prieto, River Higginbotham, and Ivo Dominguez Jr at 2015 Parliament by Rowan Morrigan

Sons Lovers panel with Drake Spaeth, Donovan Arthen, Claudiney Prieto, River Higginbotham, and Ivo Dominguez Jr at 2015 Parliament by Rowan Morrigan

EarthSpirit Community’s Donovan Arthen spoke on Sunday in an all-male panel titled “Sons and Lovers of the Sacred Feminine” at the Parliament today. Drake Spaeth was the moderator and the other panelists were River Higginbotham, Ivo Dominguez Jr, and Claudiney Prieto.

Donovan talked about how he didn’t worship the goddess but experienced the feminine archetype through his relationships with the women in his life. I found his from-the-heart recounting of watching his sister being born at the beginning of her life and now serving and supporting Isobel today as she facilitates the emergence of young people here at the Parliament, so moving, so touching, and ultimately, so humbling. All the men talked about how to ‘show up’ in the face of many aspects of contemporary feminism and vision of goddess spirituality. Donovan talked in particular about being confronted as a male and the subsequent confusion as the culture searches for life-giving images of being The Feminine today. What drives Donovan to show up in the midst of this? Humility and surrender … to allow ourselves to sit down.

Saturday, Another full and rich day at the 2015 Parliament

by Kate Greenough Richardson

Mayan dancers at the 2015 Parliament

Mayan dancers at the 2015 Parliament

As I sit at a table in the “Gathering Place” to write this Sunday morning, I can see a couple of tables of buddhist monks in saffron robes, several Mayan performers are walking by with ankle shakers of seed pods, and it looks like some kind of chorus is taking the stage in the far corner. I’ve had to make my peace with how many things I would really like to hear, see and experience I’m simply going to miss. Luckily, with so many EarthSpirit friends along for this journey, it’s likely I’ll get to experience many things vicariously.

Saturday was another full and rich day at the Parliament. It started early, as I sat in Deirdre’s morning observance at 7am, entitled “Devotional Chanting for the Earth”. About 40 people showed up to join singing some off our favorite chants, starting with “We Are One With the Soul of the Earth” and ending with “Peace in My Heart”. People really came to sing, and stayed with each chant long enough to really sink into it. I felt grounded and centered as I went off to start my day.

From there I went to the second of a two part workshop called “Healing Hearts at Wounded Knee”. There I learned from Chief Arvol Looking Horse of an annual observance that is a 9 day ride following the trail taken by Chief Big Foot to the massacre at Wounded Knee. This year the arduous ride is being done in prayer that war and genocide should end. The organizers dream of a world wide ceremony to take place Dec. 29th at noon in every time zone, to honor and hold this intention of peace. They ask people to gather in wounded places that need healing. I signed up for their email list, and hope to pass on details as I learn them.

There was rehearsal for the cantata at noon, and from there I passed through the smudge gate to the sacred fire to make an offering, on my way to the Sikh’s Langar. This is a free lunch offered to all the 10,000 people attending the Parliament, and it’s an astonishing and moving demonstration of the power of service and generosity of spirit. You take off your shoes, and receive a scarf to cover your head, then get seated on the ground in long rows. Sikhs move up and down giving out plates then filling them with delicious vegetarian food until you are satisfied. You’re then invited to move to tables for tea and sweets if you wish. It really makes you wonder how hard could it be to feed every hungry person on the earth.

Langar, free meals served by the Sikhs at 2015 Parliament

Langar, free meals served by the Sikhs at 2015 Parliament

I was tired and filled with contentment and gratitude after my meal. After checking to make sure the booth was covered, I spent the rest of the afternoon watching performances by various groups. I saw Mayan dancer in full regalia, a Navajo hoop dancer, a Canadian Mohawk flute player, Cambodian classical dancers and Devotional dancers from India.

Then it was time for the evening plenary. The topic this time was Focus on War, Violence and Hate Speech. The speakers were hugely inspiring. Many spoke with great passion, calling out the institutions that promote and perpetuate violence, and asking us to search our souls for the commitment to active defiance of these evils. I had heard of some of the presenters – Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, and Jane Goodall. Others were equally impressive: among them, Allan Boesak from South Africa, Karen Armstrong who was presented an award for her work, Dr. Tariq Ramadan who asked us not to give emotional applause, but to think.

The evening ended up with a little party at the spacious and somewhat swanky house where some of us are staying. Cerillian had put together a tableful of festive nourishment, and many of us had the chance to meet or catch up with a couple of Parliament board members as well as each other. Honey and the Sting did a little impromptu performance of a few songs before the evening ended and we all went off in search of a good night of sleep.

We are always thinking of our dear friends and family back home; with these posts I can at least imagine I’ve got you in my pockets as I go through the day!

People of the Earth at the 2015 Parliament

by Rowan Morrigan

Inija Trinkuniene speaking about the survival of the Romuva religion in Lithuania.

Inija Trinkuniene speaking about the survival of the Romuva religion in Lithuania.

To a packed room, the “People of the Earth: The Surviving Indigenous Spiritual Traditions of Europe” presentation was a wonderful description of the history of indigenous people in Europe by Andras Corban Arthen, and an example of keeping a living tradition intact through the Romuva religion in Lithuania by Inija Trinkuniene. I think many people did not realize that Christian Europeans were the conquerors of the pagani (the people of the land) long before they went on to conquer the Americas and other lands. Once Andras set the stage with that, Inija showed how her tradition survived, largely due to Lithuania being the last hold-out to Christian European colonization. The photo on the screen shows a core concept of Romuva: the living fire.

Andras Corban Arthen speaking of the history of indigenous people in Europe.

Andras Corban Arthen speaking of the history of indigenous people in Europe.

Friday, Hope and Determination at the 2015 Parliament

by Kate Greenough Richardson

Young Whirling Dervishes at the Emerging Leaders Plenary, Friday at the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions

Young Whirling Dervishes at the Emerging Leaders Plenary, Friday at the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions

Friday started early, with morning observances from 7-8am. I didn’t manage to get to the Peace Drum Initiative session with Buyondo Micheal from Uganda, who had stopped by the EarthSpirit table on Friday and stayed to chat about drumming, involving youth, and working for peace. Instead I stayed at the sacred fire tended by Native Americans at the main entrance. A Mayan elder from Guatemala was doing a blessing of the four roads, including explanations of colors, directions, and numerology involved in the Mayan calendar. He ended by invoking ancestors and involving everyone present in making offerings to the fire.

Mayan ceremony at dawn, Friday at 2015 Parliament

Mayan ceremony at dawn, Friday at 2015 Parliament

Back to the booth for the morning. I hoped to spend some time choosing programs to attend for the day. If you think choosing workshops at Rites is hard, you have not seen anything. Not only are multiple presenters speaking on topics at any given time, but there is a cultural hall, many displays, a labyrinth, and of course the exhibition hall filled with booths where people stand ready to speak and exchange with such open hearts and minds. As I write this, there has just been some spontaneous drumming and dancing by “sikhs being distractingly joyful”, as Tiffany put it. In their booths, Sikhs are wrapping turbans on anyone who wants to try it out. Around the hall people are shopping (lots of pretty shiny stuff, much is Tibetan and Native American) or having earnest conversations. You could have a whole weekend’s worth of stories even if you never left the exhibition hall!

I left the booth for a while for a rehearsal of a 10 song cantata that is being performed Monday by a pickup 150 voice chorus. Written by Mary Lou Prince with words by Patty Christiena Willis, the songs evoke seasons and ancestors. On the way back, I stopped a while to listen to some amazing Indian singing and tabla playing going on under an outside tent, with people spontaneously dancing to the infectuous beats. I found a long hallway lined with banners with colorful depictions of many deities, I could have spent a half hour just getting through it.

The main event today was the Emerging Leaders Plenary in the evening [video part 1 and part 2]. Isobel was very involved in planning the program, which was stirring and diverse. Music and dance alternated with rousing speakers, people under 35 talking about their work and calls to action in the world. There was a group of very young whirling dervishes, Honey and the Sting performed a couple of songs, and a phenomenal group of lion drummers with a singer and a sword dancer. The projects described include “Rebuild With Love”, a Muslim initiative to rebuild Black churches destroyed by arson, and AFL Peace Team, an Australian Football (“Footy”) team from Jerusalem that is half Palestinian and half Jewish. There were speakers whose family members have been recently killed by hate crimes, speaking out for spreading peace and love, and defying the hatred that is so commonly being sown. Toward the end, all audience members younger than 35 were asked to stand and pledge to go out and do the work to change the world for the better. Then those over 35 stood and pledged to support and respect and publicize the great work that these young leaders are doing.

I think we all left the hall tired but energized. Another rich and full day, spent full of friendly curiosity, being moved to tears by reports of pain and injustice, being lifted by hope and charged by the determination to take the needed actions to heal the world, in the company of so many different and diverse people working for the same ends.

Emerging Leaders take a bow at the end of the Friday Plenary at the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions

Emerging Leaders take a bow at the end of the Friday Plenary at the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions

Thursday, Opening day at the 2015 Parliament

by Kate Richardson

EarthSpirit booth at the 2015 Parliament of the World's Religions

EarthSpirit booth at the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions

I arrived at the Parliament just in time for the closing session of the Women’s Assembly on Thursday (10/14). Deirdre started it off, filling the large room with voices chanting “I am the Earth” while she sang the main melody counterpoint. Women of many faiths then offered songs, prayers and invocations with encouragement for activism on behalf of peace, justice and healing the planet.

I then connected with some more of the EarthSpirit contingent at our booth in the exhibition hall. The booth is a communication hub for our group. Passers by stop to chat as well, and exchange information and questions, and sometimes to leave information about their events and practices. It’s lively, sometimes a little chaotic, full of web-weavings and little openings.

Just walking in the hallways you come across many fascinating sights that you wonder what they are about, such as this circle dance on a floor of circles.

Circle dance on a floor of circles at the 2015 Parliament.

Circle dance on a floor of circles at the 2015 Parliament.

The big event Thursday night was the Opening Plenary [video]. A huge room held many of the nearly 10,000 Parliament participants. It started with a procession of flags of different nations, and groups of indigenous people in full regalia, while a group of men drummed and chanted from the stage. As with the Australian Parliament six years ago, the chair of the Parliament Council started by thanking the local indigenous people, as original caretakers and inhabitants of this place. Many of the following speakers did the same.
Addresses and blessings were given by dignitaries of many faiths- Islam, Baptist, Baha’i, Sikh, Ute, Judaism to name a few, as well as a representative of the United Nations, and the governor of Utah and local government officials.

The plenary ended after 9pm, and some of us went out in search of food. Most restaurants were closing, but we found some highly entertaining cycle cab drivers who whisked the sore of foot off to a good kebab joint that was willing to serve us before they locked the doors.

As we move through all this activity I’m struck by how every one of our group feels a connection to the people who helped us get here, in so many ways. I’m sure there will be many wonderful photos and stories to help us carry it home and share the inspiration we’re getting here.

All best from Salt Lake