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!

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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!

An Unexpected Journey: Caribou Clan at Twilight Covening

This post is by Rose Starwind.  She started pursuing her magick at the age of 13, and has walked many Paths and followed many trails in pursuit of spirit.   A poet, environmental consultant, and mom, she has a deep love and respect for the Earth. Twilight Covening remains a significant part of her spiritual work each year.

The year I birthed my daughter was the year I birthed the Caribou Clan. By then, I had attended Twilight Covening sixteen times, and suddenly all the things I had experienced and been taught there fell into a big soup cauldron. My clan leaders’ combined energies, devotion, and love of their Crafts gave rise to something new: an understanding of what it was to be deeply magickal without compromising who I was as a woman. I knew clearly that any Work I did was Women’s Work, because I was a woman doing it! Coming to the Mountain as a new mother, my first time leading a Clan alone, with my six-month old daughter and her father forming the Kangaroo clan, something essential shifted inside me again, watching my daughter wander the Mountain. Her first tooth appearing during the Visioning Ritual, and the forms of nourishment that could be absorbed shifted profoundly — for both of us.

Looking into her eyes at that moment, I remembered the dance of the energy exchange in the Lynx Clan, the resounding silence

Photo by Bruce McKay

Photo by Bruce McKay

that fell after we had raised a sound with our voices. That sound had become a clear chiming as the energy blended into something other, a whole far beyond the sum of its parts. I remembered shuffling in a sodden circle, shape-shifting through the elements of fire, all of the Alligator Clan in Sarah Cooper, attempting to thaw in front of the fireplace. I really remembered what it felt like to Shift into bear form, my shoulders bunching and relaxing as I walked — or actually, as I lumbered along. As the room warmed and our chill faded, the bear gave way to the lion and I felt what it was to walk with intensity, to hunt, to take down prey, my eyes glowing like the fierce sun present inside me, warming spirit and form.

I remembered my first Reindeer Clan- immersion in the practices of the wild north- food (knekkebrod!?) storytelling, magickal crafting, journeying with the drum. I laughed, remembering my chagrin and the heart-felt laughter of my fellow Reindeer when we returned from a journey to meet our guides. I met a puppy. A puppy with big dangling ears that it stepped on and tripped over rather consistently. ME (?!), with a puppy for a spirit guide? Only in hindsight can I find the lesson there: yes, in many ways I was just a pup. My all-grown-up and magickally mature hunting hound had to find the places where we still stumbled on our ears and needed to trust, and gain both strength and grace.

I stayed with the Reindeer work and then into the Ptarmigan work at the forge: the creation of the sacred fire using specific woods to build it, the sound of the smith’s hammer echoing as we journeyed to its rhythm. I remembered my first snowfall at Twilight, flakes striking the forge and the hot iron with tiny hisses. The following year, one might say that I moved from the proverbial frying pan of the Ptarmigan Clan into the fire of the Gryphon Clan. And oh, the changes that came from that Work. Profound, intense, sacred, and silly, the Gryphon Clan changed me: my perspective of who I was, what I believed about myself, and how I contended with Pain, whatever its source. A new strength was discovered, and after years of suffering with physical pain, I was able to simply identify it as pain. That was the Secret: pain was nothing more, and certainly nothing less, than just pain. The Gryphon work in particular prepared me for the pain of childbirth, embracing it to fuel the change within myself, and allowed me to birth with confidence. Yes, it hurt, and yes, I hollered — there is no safeword in childbirth to make it stop — but the lessons from Gryphon allowed me to ride that pain, not allow the pain to give rise to fear, and therefore my child came into the this world without her mother’s fear coloring her birth.

In Albatross we shared the poems of the Norse, found our way through our experiences, and engaged each other to write our stories, poems, musings, the challenge being to write them in skaldic verse (a specific Norse poetic form). It was there I touched a grief I didn’t know I had; there I was enabled (yes, even as a clan leader) to be held in safety and trust by my clan, and there that I created poems and art that birthed my healing. In Elk, we used the stories of the Norse to reflect our own realities: what were Our Stories? How do we continue to stumble through we should have learned from our Ancestors? We became the Norse that find and express the laughter despite hardship, or pain, or fear, or cold, or wet. Exploring the wisdom of the ones that have gone before, fueled by laughter, rich stories, and trust, the Elk stayed warm and dry despite the eight (yep, 8!) inches of rain that fell across that Twilight weekend.

It is with a profound sense of gratitude – for the Earth and the mountain, for the clan leaders and participants who have helped to shape the woman that I am today, and for the opportunity for growth and change that Twilight Covening represents — that I approach my 20th consecutive Twilight Covening. But most of all, I’m grateful for the journey that began with a long drive up a steep mountain road, my first Twilight Covening, all those years ago.

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Twilight Covening is a weekend-long ritual where participants work in small groups focused on a particular aspect of Earth-centered spiritual practice and then come together for community rituals in the evenings. This year, it will be held October 11-14; registration is open until September 25.  Learn more or register now.