Beltaine Blessings

This past Sunday ushered in the month of Beltaine (or Bealtaine, as it’s spelled on modern Irish calendars), and for the first time in a long while, we gathered in person at Glenwood Farm, EarthSpirit’s home in Western MA, to celebrate. More than 70 people joined us for the Sacred Land Walk and the Beltaine ritual. The day was glorious and warm, and we visited shrines, danced a Maypole ritual, sang, and shared food and conversation.

But not before burning away Old Man Winter. Kate Richardson led us by eulogizing the old codger, and then burned his effigy in the ritual fire. We share her eulogy with you here, and wish you the brightest of Beltaine Blessings!

Kate and Old Man Winter (photo by Deirdre Pulgram Arthen)

Eulogy for Old Man Winter 2022

We’re gathered here for a joyful occasion: to welcome the spring and the summer to come. But before we can do that with our whole beings, we have to dispose of the Winter that has passed. The old man that was Winter stands here before us in effigy, and we should take a moment to remember him before we dispatch him. As he burns away he can take with him any ill luck and bad feelings from the past season, leaving us free to celebrate what’s to come.
Each year between Samhain and Yule a new Winter is born. We welcome him with feasting and songs, gathering with friends and family to remind ourselves of the bonds of community which will keep us safe and warm through the hard and cold times. As this Winter drove us indoors, he still kept company with the pestilence of the last two years. Although the Rona seems now more ubiquitous but less deadly, it managed to sow discord, anxiety, illness and distress. We were reminded more than ever to take care of each other, even if that meant keeping a distance.
As the Winter reached maturity, going from Yule to Imbolc, he showed off his strength by biting the extremities of hopeful apple tree wassailers, and casting snow in the way of gatherings. And yet, for folk who can enjoy the outdoors, there was snow enough for skiing, and ice enough for ice fishing, as is right and proper for our climate.
Waning in strength after Imbolc, and on to the Vernal Equinox, he still maintained an imposing presence. But there were cracks in his mansion when warmer weather peeked a toe, a finger, a nose, through for just a moment. Winter gripped tight but the trees knew, the birds knew, that his end was coming. The sap flowed sweet, as it is supposed to. The snow and ice melted in the sunny places.
Finally, after Equinox, he came into his dotage, a cranky and unkempt being. The mud season he bequeathed us was the stuff of legends. He petulantly threw late-season frosts and snowfalls our way.
But now we declare that he is well and truly gone. Any lingering chills will be in his memory, and not from his presence. But let us not forget the lessons of Winter:

★ That we must turn to each other to get through the reign of tyrants with hope intact.
★ That we have strength and resilience, fed by songs and stories, by gathering and breaking bread together.
★ That we can get through tough conditions if we plan and prepare, and help each other out.
★ That kindness matters, and can counteract the cold.
★ That there can be great beauty in difficult conditions.

What lessons and blessings has the Winter brought to you?

All that said, we are properly glad to see him gone. He was cold and nasty, and we are ready for the warm and growing times. We may mock him for the bully and codger that he was, for he is gone, and we are all still here to see this turn to the warm times. Go ahead and make fun of him; this effigy will carry the bad words and feelings away. Then we will sing and dance our way to the tide of returning life, taking our place in the turning of the season’s wheel.

Kate Richardson, Beltaine 2022

Samhain Musings

by Deirdre Pulgram Arthen

At this time of year I feel especially conscious of the deepening darkness, the stark stillness of the Earth. As the sap slows down in the trees and the animals gather food and ready their homes preparing for the cold, I too look into the cold and the dark and prepare, recognizing my own fragility and mortality in the face of the winter to come. I stack the wood, rake and mow the grass, put away the tools and toys of summer, and I go out to tend the Ancestor Shrine. 

Nestled deep in the woods by the stream and against an old stone wall, this space is dedicated to those beings whose lives have made ours possible, and to the ones we love who have gone before us into that other way of being that we call death. I rake the path and brush off the leaves that have accumulated in the Shrine, revealing the growing moss and stones beneath. I uncover the trinkets that have been placed there and offer libations to the ones whose bits of ash or hair are buried beneath the trees. I make sure that the clouties tied on the branches are not preventing growth. I add this year’s offerings – a stone, a key, a yarn-wrapped stake. 

It is now, at Samhain, in the quiet of the twilight of the year, that we can find an opportunity to truly see, to feel and to listen – to be fully aware of and acknowledge those who came before us, and those who came before them. I feel surrounded by my ancestors, by the spirits of the woods, by the songs of the stream and the caress of the wind. I feel welcome and a part of everything. 

photo by Deirdre Pulgram Arthen

Check out the new EarthSpirit Voices Podcast!

We are delighted to share that our new EarthSpirit Voices podcast is now available, with new episodes releasing every other Friday.

Produced by Sam Arthen-Long of Singing Land Studio, this podcast will feature interviews with elders, teachers, artists, and other members of our community, building on the EarthSpirit Voices Blog. You can find new episodes by clicking on the “EarthSpirit Voices Podcast” link in the tabs at the top of this page or through your favorite podcast streaming service.

Recommended Books for Yule

by Sarah Rosehill

At our December Stories of the Season event, we featured some wonderful books for Yule and the winter season that focus on nature and pagan traditions, and we wanted to share that list along with a few other favorites in a way that would be easy to find later!

Photo by Leah Kelly from Pexels

The Tomten by Astrid Lindgren (and the sequel, The Tomten and the Fox)
These lovely, lyrical stories are based on the poetry of Swedish Romanticist Viktor Rydberg and feature the Tomten (a little gnome-like being) going through a farm and reassuring the animals that spring will come. This one is appropriate as young as 2 and enjoyable for much longer.

Sun Bread by Elisa Kleven
This rhyming book tells about a baker who makes “sun bread: to lure the sun back to the skies after a long streak of wintery weather and includes a recipe you can try at home. (We did; it’s pretty good!) Also aimed at the preschool set, this has colorful illustrations of a town filled with animals of all types.

Grandmother Winter by Phyllis Root
This story for young children tells of Grandmother Winter, who lives alone with her flock of geese, and how she makes and then shakes a quilt to bring the snow. It has beautiful illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Beth Krommes and shows what people do when the snow happens and then how Grandmother Winter passes the winter herself.

Cozy by Jan Brett
A musk ox grows a thick winter coat and several animal friends come to shelter in it through the winter, requiring an increasing number of “house rules” that will sound familiar to any parent: quiet voices, gentle thumping, claws to yourself. This book is a little longer and aimed at the 3-5 year old set. Other Jan Brett winter favorites in my family include The Mitten, which is a shorter story about animals climbing into a mitten to keep warm (and comes in a board book for toddlers!), and The Snowy Nap featuring a hedgehog who desperately wants to stay awake to see the winter.

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
This meditative book follows a young child on her first owling trip with her father. It’s longer — probably best for kids 5-8 — and evokes a peaceful, flexible relationship with the natural world. Sometimes there’s an owl and sometimes there’s not!

Solstice Badger by Robin McFadden
This longer book for early elementary schoolers tells the story of how the solstice and seasons came to be. The sun is lonely and finds a true friend, and then begins to spend more and more time out of the sky with his friend. When he realizes what he has done, his friend brings the problem to Grandmother Pine, who gives wise and measured advice.

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper
This is a beautiful illustrated version of the beloved poem: “And so the shortest day came and the year died/and everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world/came people singing, dancing/to drive the dark away.” We read it every year in my family!

Do you have a favorite we haven’t included here? We’d love your contributions to this list in the comments!

On Election Day

by Deirdre Pulgram Arthen

Today is Election Day. The country is painfully divided and the weeks following this election are likely to be very challenging, with the potential for violence, disruption and great uncertainty. Some of our community members will be especially vulnerable – people of color, queer and trans folks, immigrants, and those who live in locations where they are surrounded by hate.

The COVID pandemic is also growing and we will probably be spending our winter physically separated from one another as we try to maintain our health and the health of the ones we love. 

Many of us are experiencing legitimate rage and fear, and it can feel like there is nothing tethering us to sanity, normalcy, or security. When we find there are fissures in the ground beneath our feet we need to remember what we know at our core.

Here is what I know:

Community is more important now than ever.
Showing up for each other is more important now than ever.
More than ever, we need to maintain the vision of the world that we want and do everything we can to live in a way that embodies that vision. 

Yes, It is hard to stay focused.
Yes, it can feel hopeless at times.
Yes, it is hard to take a deep breath and step in again.

But we have the resources of a broader community to turn to. We are not separate from the rest of the natural world, and those beings are part of our community too. They do not know politics or COVID and they can help us keep our balance if we spend time with them.

We have the humans that we love who can listen to us and surround us with care.

And we have the mystery, which we can touch but cannot see, and which winds around humans and rocks and streams and birds and clouds and mammals and fire and all the rest to create the world that we view with wonder. We need to remember to look with wonder.
If you haven’t already, I urge you to vote – for the Earth, for Black lives, for kindness, for the things that matter most to you. Vote for what moves us closer to that world we want for future generations.

Tomorrow night is a time to care for yourself. You might choose to be with others on Zoom, you might spend the night in ritual, you might just turn off the internet and read a novel, or anything else.  Wednesday will come and there will be plenty of work to do after that – whatever the results.

I hope that you will find moments of beauty and joy for yourself through this turmoil and I hope that EarthSpirit will be able to contribute to your sense of connection and community. I know that I rely on this community to keep me tethered to what matters. Thank you for being a part of that. 

May there be peace among all beings.

Permanence of Place

Permanence of Place

by Anya Arthen

Crisp is the air
breathtaking,
the colors of fall.
Birds in flight high above the treetops.
These are not the geese.
Small wings beat
flutter, flutter, soar
they disappear out of view.

The sun starts to play on the color speckled leaves. It is taking its time to cross over the horizon and then the rooftops of the neighboring homes.
We are a spiral winding. 

Permanence of place.
There is something special about stepping outside and sitting with the same trees, the same blades of grass, the same earth, Every Day. 
I’ve known this conceptually.
In fact I’ve been encouraged to build these connections by various teachers of my spiritual path.
Logically, conceptually, I understood. 
But, I did not truly feel it, until the slowing down of the world brought on by a pandemic forced me to find respite in place.
So I would venture out, grateful for the privilege of the slice of nature that surrounds me. I would sit observing, breathing, being, with the trees, the grasses, birds and rodents, rocks and soil, with dew, frost, rain, and sky.
And today I sit here once more, feeling a deep sense of connection, reverence, and awe.

Photo by Anya Arthen

There is a familiarity between me and this place. One that could only be created by being together with intention – with breath, awareness and gratitude. 

Permanence of place.
In the ever changing world of an ever changing life my soul holds the imprints of the wilderness I have had the pleasure to embrace. 

Thick brambled woods, heron standing in a swampy, mucky pond. Fields of wild cornflowers, bell flowers, daisies, so tall I could get lost in them. Innocence. 

Next came the ocean, the vastest body of water I have ever encountered.
From the shores I played on you could see an unreachable island, a smooth, rounded, out-jutting — perhaps the back of an ancient creature dreaming.
The full moon would rise out of the ocean so large you could almost touch her, sending her reflection on gentle waves out to shore.

The ocean was my growing up, it was playfulness and lust, it was pleasure and laughter.
Though I didn’t know it in these words at that time, the ocean was a place of release. It is where I would turn, to transform deep anger or sadness. Walking up and down the shores along the path where salty water barely touched the sand, ever shifting with the coming and going tide. 

And now I am back in fields and forests and with trees, working together to build permanence of place.
Place, where I — where we — can live with intention.
Place, where one day I hope to see the tree branches shake with the laughter of children.
Place.
Permanence of place.
As permanent as anything in this world can ever be.
A place to root my being to.
A place to spiral through time with.

You can find more of Anya’s writing on EarthSpirit Voices by clicking her name below. You can learn more about her work as a naturopath at Earthen Medicine.

Descending

Descending

by Walter Kittredge

Fall hides its sinister side in gaudy colors
But gay asters and goldenrods can’t conceal
How hard it sets me on my heels.

It dims my light and steals my warmth
Drawing my spirit inward in receding shades of gray
like the tumbling down falling leaves now fading away.

Birds soaring south in tumultuous flocks
leave a smattering of the hardiest to stay,
but none to wake me before the morning clock.

Squirrels gray and red put thousands of acorns to bed
For their wintry slumber beneath a leafy blanket heap,
Under mine I steal an extra hour of dreams asleep.

You’ll find my bones buried one day as I found a deer’s,
Laid to rest in my favorite forest deep
Returning forever, for the land to keep.

Photo by Walter Kittredge

I Come From

by Anya Arthen

I come from
Seed of a wild strawberry,
Morning dew,
Bark of apple tree,
Heron,
Cornflower.
I am the coalescence of Spirit personified
Sweetness of love mixed with raw inexperience
I come from earth.

Soil between my toes, grew me
Flowing water nourished my roots
I emerged out of the carrot patch
Sprouted legs, to walk away
And dance among wildflowers

I come from traditions
Only my mitochondria remember
Passed to me by my mother
Passed to my mother by her mother , 
Passed to her mother by her mother,
To her mother by her mother, 
To her mother by her mother,
To her mother by her mother,
How many generations back, to remember?

Image by Zach Reiner from Unsplash

The water that nourished me, 
Flows under bedrock
Feeds plants and wildlife
Filtered by roots for my consumption
How many generations back, to remember?

My life is intertwined 
With those roots, 
With that water
With those beings that feed it and feed off of it
How many generations back, to remember?
The earth is not my home 
The earth is who I am
How many generations back, to remember?

The Ceremonies 
Ones honoring the more-than-human world
Ones that revere the beauty of co-creation
Ones of reciprocity to land and all her beings
How many generations back, to remember?

Twilight Covening 2019

by Anya Arthen

I am standing at the center of the world, stars above me in all directions as far as the eye can see. The words “I come from” are swirling  in my mind, stirring the core of my being. I am at a crossroads, a convergence of three paths, and I have a choice. 

I choose 
Red
Walking, I come face to face with human ancestors, recently passed. I see moments, now only captured in memories. In a shard of pitch black, I stare at my own reflection, watching my features shift. A deep knowing, I too will be among them.

The red river of my blood flows on and I follow its path. Under the moonlight, I am faced with questions.

What harm did my ancestors do, what atrocities have my ancestors committed? How will my actions, here, in my life, in the world of the living do better? I receive a thread from a tapestry unwinding and an invitation to tie down my commitment, transmute that tapestry into something new. 

The shore glistens, water lapping at the sand, I move on, my heart heavy and yet inspired. In a warm space, I sit with other living beings, silent, as we wash each other’s hands, and allow our tears to fall. 

I am standing at the center of the world, stars above me in all directions as far as the eye can see. The words “I come from” are swirling  in my mind, stirring the core of my being. I am at a crossroads, a convergence of three paths, and I have a choice. 

I choose
Blue
Weavers are weaving, as they have been since the beginning of all that was, all that is, and all that ever will be. The First to light a fire, the First to sing, the First to cry, the First to make art, the First to make love, the First to kill, the First to plant a seed. I have been transported into the world of the ancestors long past, the ancestors of the evolution of my species. And I witness as the weavers entwine these threads of firsts into the tapestry of life. 

With voices of the Firsts still echoing in my ears, I hear the story of Skywoman*, she who fell clutching in her hand branches, seeds, flowers, and fruit of the Tree of Life. Skywoman’s story is the story of the animals that sacrificed to help her. The muskrat who gave her last breath so that Skywoman could have mud. With a dance of gratitude, Skywoman stomped that mud into earth on turtle’s back. The story of Skywoman is the story of creation– rather it is the story of co-creation and Skywoman is our ancestral gardener, inherently intertwined with the animals and beings of the world her fall helped to create. 

Through the woods I move, crouching under branches, soft moss under my feet, the crackle of fire drawing me closer, its warmth palpable in the cool night air. And I am standing in a ceremony of gratitude surrounded by embodiments of traditions to be remembered. An invitation: given grain, I am shown how to offer it to the fire imbued with my gratitude for those who came before. 

Holding the fire close, I keep going. Out of the corner of my eye a flicker, something in the distance beyond tangled branches of mountain laurel. I pay attention. Peering in,  I see distant human figures flowing in dance. I try to get closer, I want to dance with them. There is no path between them and me. It takes a moment to understand, I am witness to the dance of the ancestors. With no path to them, I keep moving forward and find myself among stargazers, reading the stars that have provided guiding light for time immemorial.  

I am standing at the center of the world, stars above me in all directions as far as the eye can see. The words “I come from” are swirling  in my mind, stirring the core of my being. I am at a crossroads, a convergence of three paths, and I have a choice. 

I choose
Green
The trunk of this tree is vast, it holds the stories and memories human language has not touched. I am in awe as symbols and bright white bones of creatures once alive surround me, shift my awareness. The trunk of this tree, a portal. Step through.

I feel stone, mountain, boulder tell me their story. Through it I feel the weight of the frozen world. All That Time Ago. The loneliness. Then the tree beings came and everything changed. 

I follow.

A voice? A light? A mote of….? I follow deep into the forest over jagged rock and soft pine needle floor. I follow, feeling the language of leaves, the song of those on the edge of falling. 

I follow, sinking deep into the bits of me that are like this ancient forest, that are of this ancient forest, that are this ancient forest.

I curl up in the roots of a tree and take their shape. I breath with the fern that pushed up through the soil between my limbs. My breath gives them life, their breath gives me mine.

It is hard to leave, unwind, reshape to walking. Back to self, yet somehow different.

At forest’s edge once more an invitation, this time to leave a piece of me forever behind, to leave the forest floor an offering of self, a reminder that she and I are one. 

I stand at the center of the world, sStars above me in all directions as far as the eye can see. The words “I come from” are swirling  in my mind, stirring the core of my being. I am at a crossroads, a convergence of three paths. I turn, and remember the fourth road that brought me here. I follow my footsteps back, being beckoned by the rhythm of the drums of my community. Now held in a space to integrate, I reflect on my journey to ancestors past, ancestors distant, and ancestors more-than-human. 

* Throughout the night of the Twilight Covening Ritual sacred stories from many cultures around the world were told in honor of our collective human ancestors. The story of Skywoman comes from the teaching of the Haudenausanee peoples.

What do you think of when you think of ceremony?

by Anya Arthen

To be honest I do not remember ceremony being a part of my early childhood growing up in Russia, definitely not the way I know it now. The things we did that most resembled ceremonies were getting together and celebrating the new year with a beautifully decked out spruce tree, presents, and a toast to the countdown of the moments between 11:59pm and midnight, or maybe the yearly feasts that mark birthdays, years passing in a life. 

As an immigrant in the United States when I was slightly older, ceremony started to become  more prominent: ceremonies of weddings, graduations, naturalization to citizenship, and eventually funerals. Ceremonies and celebrations around the moments of significance in an individual’s life. 

Now as an adult and as a Pagan, ceremony is infused into small daily

Hands lifting water

Photo by Engin Akyurt via Pexels

routines.  It harmonizes to the phases of the moon, it punctuates the changing of the seasons, it celebrates the planting of a tree. Ceremony is Ritual. It is when I stand with community and acknowledge the moments of significance in an individual’s life. It is when we come together and open to lake, to green ones, to mountain, to creatures flying, swimming, and crawling, to sun and stars, to the unseen ones. It is when we come together to sing, and dance, and drum our gratitude into the land on which we stand, into the air which we breathe, out to the web we weave. It is when we sing up the sun on winter solstice morning, or watch it set over the horizon on summer solstice night. It is when I make my first cup of morning tea, breathing in intention for the day with its aroma. 

This thought of ceremony has been sparked by a few passages that grasped at something deep within me from the book Braiding Sweetgrass

Now, potent and powerful passages are not infrequent in that book. Yet, this particular one has had me mulling it over.  Without rest it has been at the forefront of my mind. 

Robin Wall Kimmerer writes:

“Ceremony focuses attention so that attention becomes intention. If you stand together and profess a thing before your community, it holds you accountable. 

Ceremonies transcend the boundaries of the individual and resonate beyond the human realm. These acts of reverence are powerfully pragmatic. These are ceremonies that magnify life.”

She goes on to talk about something very similar to my experience in childhood and young adulthood: the fact that in the dominant culture ceremony is focused on the individuals, or mainly on the human experience. I will quote you the passage as her words are evocative.

“Many indigenous traditions still recognize the place of ceremony and often focus their celebrations on other species and events in the cycle of the seasons. In a colonist society the ceremonies that endure are portable from the old country. Ceremonies for the land no doubt existed there, but it seems they did not survive emigration in any substantial way. I think there is wisdom in regenerating them here, as a means to form bonds with this land.

To have agency in the world, ceremonies should be reciprocal co-creations, organic in nature, in which the community creates ceremony and the ceremony creates communities. They should not be cultural appropriations from Native peoples. But generating new ceremony in today’s world is hard to do. There are towns I know that hold apple festivals and Moose Mania, but despite the wonderful food, they tend toward the commercial. Educational events like wildflower weekends and Christmas bird counts are all steps in the right direction but they lack an active, reciprocal relationship with the more-than-human world. 

I want to stand by the river in my finest dress. I want to sing, strong and hard, and stomp my feet with a hundred others so that the waters hum with our happiness. I want to dance for the renewal of the world.”

In writing those words in the time that preceded the publication of Braiding Sweetgrass in 2013, I wonder if Robin Wall Kimmerer felt the hundreds of people gathered on a mountain top by a lake overlooking her home state, singing, strong and hard, dancing so that the lake hummed with our happiness. 

The words above encapsulate for me a deep aspect of what is so important about EarthSpirit, why was it that stepping foot into this community a mere 10 years ago shifted the trajectory of my entire life. It is because living as best I can co-creatively with the natural world around me makes sense. Gathering to celebrate in gratitude the beauty of spring and the abundance of late summer harvest, and in reverence the passage of time as the year wraps around to the cold seasons makes sense. Having a community to connect with and hold these ideals and carry these traditions makes sense. 

I once heard a scholar of Russian history say that Russian culture has a pattern of self-destruction, that every 200 years or so, over and over again, Russian culture would get wiped clean and forcibly replaced. I never learned the traditions that were practiced by the people living on the land where I was born; they were not passed down in my family. In the United States I am an immigrant: I am not of the land I live on, yet I am of the land I live on, always learning to live in a way that nourishes that land and all beings on it.

That is what EarthSpirit has done for me. It has taught me the skills I need to live deeply rooted to the land. As a community drawn from the deep earth-centered traditions of the indigenous people of Europe, EarthSpirt gives all of us who are living in a colonist society a way to bring back the ceremonies that teach us how to actively form reciprocal relationships with the more-than-human world.