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!

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]

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.

Sparks and Ripples at Rites of Spring

by Deirdre Arthen

This year at Rites of Spring, EarthSpirit’s largest annual gathering ( www.earthspirit.com/ros/index.html ), we embarked on what will doubtless become a tradition there – an exploration of how our community’s spirituality manifests in the world. We called it “Sparks of Inspiration, Ripples of Action, Exploring How We Walk in the World”. We all come to the EarthSpirit Community from different places and paths, but we all share the belief that the Earth is sacred so we wanted to look at the many ways we live that belief in our day-to-day lives. The ways may be large and dramatic, or small and simple; public and visible, or private and subtle, and together we make a vibrant mosaic, a beautiful pattern of spirited and spiritual engagement with the world.

To make the patterns visible, we invited all Rites of Spring participants to share their particular part of the mosaic – any actions that have been inspired by their spirituality or connection to the Earth, whether those be in the community, through creativity, for the Earth directly, or in the lives of others – by creating a page, including a description of what they are doing, to add to an actual mosaic on the wall of the Dining Hall. It was wonderful to see how many different ways people are living their spirituality. We read about permaculture and green building, about assisting with births and deaths, about living off the grid, about working with children and working with local communities and about college students planning career paths directly emergent from their spiritual values. The scope was broad and the writing thoughtful. I look forward to sharing some of the specifics with you here soon (after I get permission).

There were several other aspects to “Sparks and Ripples” this year, in addition to the wall mosaic. One was an event on Saturday morning where some very active members of the community, Jimi Two Feathers, Sarah Stockwell-Arthen, Steve Trombulak, ALisa Starkweather, Isobel Arthen and I and some others, spread out on blankets in the merchant Circle to share more about our inspirations and actions in person. The topics ranged from environmental activism, to community planning to service-learning to healing. On Sunday during lunchtime, Sarah Stockwell-Arthen and Isobel Arthen hosted an introductory talk and round-table discussion about sustainability and activism, and several of our community rituals also included some focus on how we manifest our spirituality in the world. (Many thinks to Sarah, Isobel, Stephen, Morwen, Eric and Chris for their work to make this vision a reality at Rites of Spring this year.)

The Web Ritual, in particular, was very meaningful as people first made commitments to taking their own actions in the world and then as so many stepped forward to hold the strands of the web that make our own community – strands of communication, teaching our children, creating music and art, writing, growing food, developing earth-friendly technology, maintaining our sacred traditions and more. As small groups held the strands the rest of us wove ourselves into the web with many colored yarn – some even home-spun that day. The resulting structure was not only beautiful, but especially powerful to be with because of the depth of true intention that went into it.

“Sparks and Ripples” is a chance for us to see new aspects of each other and be inspired by the many ways that members of our community take actions that ripple out through the web, far beyond the bounds of Rites of Spring. We look forward to hearing what you have to share. Please drop us a comment and let us be inspired by you too!

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.