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.

On Community

Brian Rowanby Brian Rowan Hawthorne

I grew up in a New England town and remember attending town meetings with my parents. From that early age, I valued the direct democracy of town meeting, and as I grew into adulthood, I looked forward to the day when I could join a community and become a part of that unique local system of volunteer government. Becoming a part of a tightly knit community was always where I was headed. 

Nearly 30 years ago, long before I was able to move out of the city and back to small town Massachusetts, I became a part of the community of EarthSpirit. As I moved around from city to town and from job to school to job, changed my career and started a family, EarthSpirit was always there, providing a community of interest at the local, regional, and national levels.

Now, as I move into the second half of my life, I am a member of one of those small New England towns. I attend town meetings. I serve on the Fire and EMS Department, the planning board, the broadband committee, and in numerous other capacities. I know all of my neighbors and most of the people who live in this tiny town. My childhood need to be a part of a small-town community has been fulfilled.

But, what I had not realized all those years ago was that I needed not only to be a blade of grass in a small local field, but also to be connected to the wider world. While I have set my roots down in the rocky soil of this New England hill town, EarthSpirit has kept growing, expanding from a local group of like-minded individuals into an international network reaching out to the interfaith community and building connections with indigenous religions here in the US and around the world. While I work at the grass roots level to help keep my town thriving, EarthSpirit works to connect me to people around the world who see the magic in science, the beauty in nature, and the spirit in place.

Over the last three decades EarthSpirit has always provided me with a connection to people of spirit: people who have become friends and family, colleagues and collaborators. Just as we sometimes take our families, our friends, and our community for granted, assuming they will always be there for us, I admit that I sometimes forget that EarthSpirit could be as ephemeral as any non-profit, and only continues to exist because of the energy and dedication of its volunteers and donors. If I do not feed it, some day I may find that it has faded away, and will not be there three decades from now when some young man or young woman in Boston or Scotland or Spain or Lithuania is looking to connect with a larger world of spirit.

EarthSpirit is now engaged in its annual fundraising campaign to help support the work we do both locally and around the world.  Learn more or please make a gift here.

On music and roots

By Deirdre Pulgram Arthen

This past weekend I attended the Old Songs Festival just outside of Albany, NY, as I have done for all but two of the last dozen years. It is a place that feeds my soul. I get to dance and sing, listen to and play music —  and relax, with no performance expectations from anyone. The musicians who come there are, for the most part, people who feel the roots of their music: they study their traditions in great depth and absorb them into their bodies, then exude them in their playing and singing. Their motivation is love — not fame or fortune, but love of music, love of the old ways themselves, love of the people who brought the traditions into being and of those people who carried them on, love of harmony, love of community, love of our species, love of the earth.  Many of the people who perform, organize, and attend have deep and long-held commitments to social justice and to the environment. Many have been political activists for decades. Very few preach. Instead we bask the joy of making music together as we walk through the fairgrounds and feel the satisfaction found in sharing the work of making the world a better place.

Gordon Bok and Archie Fisher performing

Gordon Bok and Archie Fisher performing at Old Songs 2013 (photo by Andras Corban Arthen)

While there were many things that I loved that weekend, there was a song that Gordon Bok performed that especially touched me.  It was something that he had written years ago as a result of listening to the marine radio channel in Maine, which he said he does for entertainment sometimes. It was essentially a conversation between two lobster fishermen. One was stuck and, over the course of the song, the other one came to help. That was it, really.  But something in the way that Gordon captured all of us in the fairly common conversation of two men on the water was just magic to me. There they were, fishermen on the ocean – that vast and moving body of water that cares nothing for people, but still feeds us and gives us life. And here we all are, humans in a universe that is not centered on our needs and desires, but which we must live in and depend on while we are incarnate beings.  We can forget sometimes that we are also floating – maybe near the rocks, maybe out of our depth – and that the simple act of accepting an offer of help allows both us and our neighbors to experience ourselves more fully as the interconnected beings that we are. The song held the magic of knowing, and Gordon shared that knowing with us all.

I find my own path reflected in that community of music makers. I, too, value the roots of my traditions and those who have brought them forward, and I find in the shared songs and dances true expressions of the joy of being human, fully intertwined with all that is creation.