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.

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Voicing my Gratitude

Sunrise at Rites of Spring, May 2010

Voicing my Gratitude
by Anya

I have fallen hard for you guys. Although words will never be enough to express the gratitude I feel to you for the experience which you shared with me, this is to give you a slight idea. I love you.

If I’m to begin at the beginning, then I am to speak of the city, the running around, breaking into houses, chasing fuel for the flame and constantly going on fast forward. The beginning is the journey to the place which is a beginning of its own.

I entered The Place walking through a gate, surrounded by a cloud of sage. I tied an intention, took a deep breath, and stepped through.

Three fires were lit, bright as the sun, shooting fireflies into the air. We sang, and as the rhythm of the drums moved our bodies, we danced. The sky lit up, and with silent lightning it illuminated the joy on our faces. We carried the flame together, singing it alive, first to the ritual fire and then to the fire circle. The drums beat, and again losing all inhibitions, we danced. We let the world go, we became the world, we danced. Your songs pierced my soul, while your motion captivated me, and I fell into the world of which I have always dreamed.

We danced, until the moon no longer outshone the stars. We danced, until our feet became tattooed with the rhythm of the drums. And then I slept, a peaceful sleep to the chirping of birds and the rustling of trees. I slept deep, hugging close the magic which you have helped me feel.

I listened close to the place you have created, to the connections that you amplified between earth and sky, fire and water. After breakfast I went exploring. I walked around the ground, which you have decorated with intention, taking in the space I was lucky enough to occupy. I climbed a rock, I faced the water, and I breathed; watching, listening, being, I breathed and I was thankful to be alive, to be here, to be.

Time was no longer linear. Six sunrises followed three nights, sleep felt like a waste of life, and shoes began to feel like an unnecessary barrier. I tuned in, I let my roots sink deep into the soil, and with every sunrise I experienced a different state of ecstasy. When I thought I couldn’t dance any longer, you drummed harder, you danced stronger, you sang louder. You charged me with your energy and all I wanted to do was to give back, to be able to give you the enjoyment and fulfillment you have given me.

We raised a May Pole, we wove a web, we connected to each other, often without words. I have never met so many people brave enough to look me in the eyes. You taught me how to breathe anew. How to breathe the world into my soul, how to breathe so that all which has been pent up can come out, how to breathe myself into euphoria.

When I expressed my wish to fly you let me through another gate, across a bridge, and to a place of magic. Here spirits roamed, beasts explored and the air crackled. Here I was transformed, and here I learned to fly. I learned not to be afraid of the woods.

You shared with me your soul through your artwork, through your music, though your dance, through your laughter, through your love, through your beautiful voice. You reached out to me and let me reach back to you. Beneath the stars you helped me dance with fire, hearing its silent roar engulf me as I spun and you sang, or played, or watched. You reminded me how important it is to smile. You thanked me for being myself, and I want to thank you for being.

Coming Together for All Beings of the Earth

by Deirdre Arthen

Dear friends, Just a reminder that the deadline for registering for Rites of Spring is coming up very soon – May 15! Don’t miss the warmth of the fire and the magic of community on the mountain. You can find all you need to register at: http://www.earthspirit.com/ros/rosb.html

I also wanted to remind you that the first Sacred Land Open House at Glenwood is taking place this Sunday, May 9. These afternoon events in western Massachusetts are free, include a tour of the land, and this week there are two programs to choose from – Qi Kong with Jonathan Kapsten, and Deep Peace – a Mother’s Day peace ritual for women. You can find out more at: http://www.earthspirit.com/openhouse/index.html

On a more somber note – as we celebrate All Beings of the Earth at Rites of Spring this year, many of us are feeling a strong desire to join in an effort to send protective and peaceful energy to all the beings living in the area of the Gulf of Mexico who are so threatened by the man-made disaster occurring there. This weekend, many EarthSpirit members will be at Glenwood for one reason or another and we are planning a simple and focused working with that intention. We invite you to join us from wherever you are.

We will place a stone and a natural sponge in the center of our labyrinth. Each person who wants to participate will follow the path to the center with the clean sea-water of the Gulf in mind, quietly singing the following chant: Holy water, Healing Water, Life-bringer, Water flow, and building power of intent. (I wrote the chant, which is on MotherTongue’s Weaving the Web of Life cd, to be used to reawaken us to the sacred nature of water, since I feel that it is largely because humans do not acknowledge the sanctity of water that we abuse it and pollute it.) Once in the center, we will hold the two objects and fill them with our intention – the stone to carry our protection, and the sponge to absorb the damage that is already being done.

At the end of the weekend we will send both the stone and the sponge to EarthSpirit members in Louisiana, so that they can put them into the water and complete the working.

If you are at a distance, but would also like to participate, you can either focus your intention on the objects here at Glenwood that will be travelling south, or you can fill your own objects and put them in a natural water source near your home. All water is connected on this planet, and whether you place a stone in the stream behind your house or in the reservoir in the next town, your intention will flow to where it is needed.

We would love for you to tell us about your experience with this, right here on EarthSpirit Voices. The photo accompanying this post shows the labyrinth at Glenwood, to help make your focus easier if you’re joining us from afar.

Celebrating Spring and honoring those with whom we share this sacred Earth!
Deirdre
Arthen

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]

Cummington 350, International Day of Climate Action

by Sarah Stockwell Arthen

I helped organized the Cummington 350 event Saturday (International Day of Climate Action) – here is the photo of us with our local apples forming the “350”, and each of us holding a photo of a species we especially love from our area in recognition of our beautiful, rich world that is endangered by how we humans are living. Several EarthSpirit folks participated, including Deirdre, Isobel and Olivia Arthen, Adam and Gene… Spirituality into action, local to global, art as spirit food, sparks and ripples.

See the Hilltown Sustainability Group for the 350 Neighbors local species photo project.

Western Massachusetts Pagan Pride Day

by Deirdre Pulgram Arthen
photo by Michael Whitehouse

ritual circle at Western Mass. Pagan Pride Day
A number of EarthSpirit folks from the area spent yesterday at the Western Mass. Pagan Pride event. Thanks to Cassie Olewinski, whose hard work organizing was quite evident, the day was a great success overall. The EarthSpirit Community had been asked to lead the ritual this year and MotherTongue was also asked to perform so, since we had an information table there too, it was a very full day.

For the morning performance we intertwined group choral pieces with solos by Sarah Stockwell Arthen and Andras Corban Arthen. The mix was a good one, it went beautifully and we were well received – though it is always difficult to play for an audience that is milling about, and you kind of wonder if anyone is really listening. It’s certainly not the best venue for quiet or subtle songs, but we did hear appreciatively from people afterwards.

The afternoon ritual was the part that I found provocative in a lasting sort of way. We began with some of our community drummers playing to gather some energy and people in the area for the ritual. Again I was grateful to have a significant group of EarthSpirit Community members there, because many of the attendees seemed reticent about joining in, and together we created critical mass to get things moving. (Someone later said that the rituals in past years have been more demonstrative than participatory.) We began chanting and spiraling in to create a circle and did collect many people, but a portion of them still remained outside, even when invited in. It was a very participatory ritual including several chants, collective knot work and another spiral dance – a pretty typical EarthSpirit style ritual with an emphasis on accessibility for all and connection among the people there and with the natural world around us. The work of the ritual was about each person taking responsibility for her or his side of the relationships in their life – relationships with self, other people, the community and the web of creation – seeing what it is that we each need to do to hold our relationships with integrity and binding ourselves to do so. It was a good piece of work and it felt good as we did it together. We ended the ritual with the recognition that integrity in our relationships can bring us inner peace and, from that, help to create outer peace in the world that we are a part of. We sent out our wishes for that peace.

What lingers with me now is the recognition that came once again as we sang and danced together in that little green patch of earth near the highway, that many people in the greater pagan community – even those who have been involved for years – have not had much experience of that kind of ritual. Many people who consider themselves pagans gather more often indoors and follow a prescribed and scripted ritual when they celebrate their spirituality. To be invited to open up to the land that we were on and to the beings there, to feel our connections with each other and with the earth, to reach inside and find something there waiting to speak out – these are all aspects of ritual that I take for granted at this point but which were surprising and especially moving for some of the people who came up to me afterwards.

Today, in the September sunshine, I feel especially blessed and filled by the spiritual community that we have within EarthSpirit and by the traditions that we have preserved, reclaimed, brought together, developed and shared over these 30 years. It is wonderful to me when I watch people who celebrate and assume that this is the way that it has always been – because that shows me the depth to which the work has taken root. And it is also wonderful when I am with people experiencing these ways for the first time and they tell me that they will never forget that moment – because I am always amazed at their willingness to be so open and I am reminded of the importance of what we are doing together.

2008, the year in review

[Excerpt from an end of year letter about EarthSpirit’s work in 2008.]
Rites Maypole
At this challenging moment in history, during this year’s Twilight Covening the EarthSpirit Community took time to experience the fullness in our lives and to express gratitude for all we are blessed with. Our Earth-centered spirituality helps us to recognize the value of the sacred as manifest all around us every day. It tunes us in to the web that connects us all, one to the other, with no hierarchy of superiority and no assumption that what benefits humankind will be the best for all of creation. It guides us and sustains us in times both joyful and difficult.
 
EarthSpirit’s work is to share the basic concepts of Earth-centered spirituality with our world 
– by building a community which shares these values and serves to support its members 
– by offering ceremonies and artistic expressions to all who might be moved by them 
– by preserving traditional spiritual practices which embody these values and teaching ways in which they can be integrated into daily life, – and by connecting with people from a wide range of spiritual traditions to foster understanding among all people.

We do this because we recognize the importance of connection between all people, between people and the Earth and between people and the realm of spirit in maintaining a sustainable future for our planet. Especially now, when separation so clearly prevents us. When we look back, we can see that 2008 has been a very full and productive year for the EarthSpirit Community: 



Rituals, Classes and Gatherings

EarthSpirit offered community rituals for Beltaine, Samhain and Yule in both eastern and western Massachusetts and also a ritual for members celebrating Lunasdal at Glenwood, our land-based center. In addition to giving us all the opportunity to gather and celebrate our most sacred times, these ceremonies are some of our best outreach tools. They are publicized by mail, on the Internet and also by word of mouth, and have proven to be a wonderful way for people to get to know about EarthSpirit as well as a powerful way for members to connect with one another throughout the year. 
 
We also sponsored Andras Arthen teaching “Anamanta”, a system of spiritual practice which he developed from traditional European roots, to classes in both eastern and western Massachusetts and more classes with him and others are being planned for next year.
 
A Feast of Lights, Rites of Spring and Twilight Covening continue to be a strong ritual and social cycle for our community. These gatherings are very special times of connection for so many of us who live far apart and rarely get the opportunity to actually spend time together. The meaningful community traditions span multiple generations and there is fulfillment in watching our young people step into leadership roles as they become adults. This year each of the gatherings brought forward new teachers from within our community and from connected circles. We are excited to see some new voices speaking up and we are looking forward to hearing more from them.

Our Center at Glenwood

Volunteers have been in and out of our center at Glenwood this summer and fall, helping us to rehab our Common House so that it can become a more welcoming space for the public and for members who come for workshops, concerts, rituals or classes. At the time of writing, we are finally ready for the finishing touches on the first floor – new light fixtures, paint on the walls and wood trim around the windows and doors. In order to make the space fully functional, though, we would like to also replace the roof on the building and maybe even add a composting toilet. It will be wonderful to be able to have a permanent and beautiful space in which to host more programs for our community.


When the weather turned warm, EarthSpirit invited all members to come to our center for a series of Open Houses. These free monthly events allow members to connect with the sacred shrines here on the land at Glenwood and include a tours as well as programs which varied from month to month, including singing and chanting, a healers’ round-table discussion, and an ancestor ritual. The Open Houses will begin again in the spring, after “mud-season” and we hope that you will be able to join us.



The Arts

Spirituality is often most directly expressed through the arts. MotherTongue’s new CD, Weaving the Web of Life, continues to sell well on CD-baby and through direct orders. It includes many of the songs and chants that the EarthSpirit Community has created for use at our rituals and events throughout the year. The Art Salon that we have offered at both Rites of Spring and A Feast of Lights, has grown and deepened as our visual artists have brought their work to exhibit and as they discuss the ways in which spirit has moved them in their creative process. 


An Advisory Council

In the spring, we established an Advisory Council which met twice during the year. We invited 20 active and committed EarthSpirit members from a variety of groups and geographical locations to make a 2-year commitment to come together to discuss our current strengths and also some new directions that we want to take. 
 
Topics of conversation have included the development of new programs for members in both eastern and western Massachusetts and for those at a distance, further outreach through more classes and public rituals, an increased and updated Internet presence, and the continued expansion of our interfaith work on local and international levels. The membership in this council will grow and change over the years and we hope that many of you will become involved in this kind of discussion with us.
 
Much interest has been expressed in training on various levels – from deepening spiritual practice to leadership training, to young-adult classes, to classes and activities for children and families. Concrete discussion has already begun around creating a EarthSpirit curriculum for children and their families and we hope to be able to present that to the community within the next year.



The Internet

The EarthSpirit website is one of our most consistent tools in developing and maintaining our community. Designed and maintained completely by volunteer service from Solstice Sun Designs, it has been both beautiful and reliable for years. In the coming year, however, we are hoping to be able to fund a complete overhaul of the site to bring it up to date with current standards and software while maintaining the distinctive beautiful design we have grown to love.



Interfaith connections

EarthSpirit maintains a strong voice in the global interfaith community with its director, Andras Corban Arthen, serving on the board of trustees of A Parliament of the World’s Religions. One of the special and most interesting aspects of his work there this year has been his participation on the Indigenous Religions Task Force, where he is able to work closely with representatives of American Indian and Australian Aboriginal traditions and at the same time share information on the indigenous pre-Christian European traditions. His work there has opened minds and doors and developed lasting connections with others who share similar Earth-centered ways. Andras is currently working to develop an international network of people who are practicing and preserving the old ways of Europe, and to that end he recently spent a month in Spain and Great Britain, giving several talks and meeting with a number of traditional practitioners; he hopes to bring some of them to the 2009 Parliament of the World‘s Religions in Melbourne, Australia. 
 
EarthSpirit plans to send a delegation to that 2009 meeting as well – to offer workshops, rituals and performances that will further the work of sharing our Earth-centered perspective with people of other traditions, and to engage in the global conversation about values and actions that can change our world for the better. Members have been very supportive of EarthSpirit’s participation in these kinds of efforts in the past, and we appreciate any financial assistance you can offer as we undertake this expensive but immeasurably valuable project.