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!
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.
On this day when so many people are celebrating science, I wanted to share some reflections I’ve made over the past couple months. When I was young I really thought science was the antithesis of spirituality. I didn’t put any faith in something that I thought tried to explain the unsolvable mysteries of the world around us, and I resented it for defining natural phenomena when, to me, something like fire is so much more than just a chemical reaction. In 9th grade when I started learning about ecological concepts like interdependence, food webs and cycles, I realized that science may not be in contradiction with spirituality. In fact, I discovered that it compliments it in some very potent ways.
Many of you know that I have spent my adult life immersed in the study of science, and specifically ecology. I have found that the more I understand the world around me, the more I can appreciate it. Since starting work as an educator at the Franklin Institute, I have had many opportunities to learn about how to best communicate science to museum guests, including one session about how the brain actually interprets and stores information.
This training left me with a lot to think about, but one thing especially stuck out. At the beginning, we were asked what we had always wondered about the brain. The group answered with a popcorn of questions that piqued my curiosity about every question someone else had asked. We were told, later on, that the question was specifically intended to prime our minds for learning—that inspiring inquiry, or wonder, releases dopamine in the brain, thus improving attention and focus.
After that activity I have been thinking a lot about that word, “wonder.” What a word. It is used to describe a state of inquiry and curiosity, a way of seeking new information— “I wonder why those ants walk in a line?” But it also describes a state of amazement. To stare “with wonder” is to perceive something so astounding that it is almost unbelievable. I have come to believe that “wonder” is that place, that liminal space between science and magic, and as a scientist and an animist, that is where I want to live.
To gaze with wonder at the night sky is so much more if you know that there are about as many neurons in one brain as there are stars in our galaxy, and that there are about the same number of galaxies in the universe. To handle soil means so much more if you know that it took hundreds upon hundreds of years to develop, and that it is home to billions of living beings right in the palm of your hand. What do you miss if you look at fire and just see a combustion reaction? What do you lose if you don’t notice its ability to transform and destroy, or the way gazing into a flame can transport you to a whole other place?
I am disappointed not to be at the science march, but like every day at work, I have spent today bringing science into people’s lives. I have asked guests to wonder with me, to come up with questions, to try and notice and discover new things about the world we so often take for granted. I share this with you so that maybe you’ll make a point to come up with a new question today (if you do, let me know what it is!). It seems to me there is no better way to celebrate science than to take some time to wonder.
This is a report on the trip which my son Donovan and I recently took to Standing Rock, North Dakota, to visit the camps of the people who, as Water Protectors, are trying to halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. It was a very intense and full experience, and I cannot possibly do it justice within the limits of a blog post. The photos which accompany this article were taken by one of the camp’s official photographers, and are published here with permission.
In October, we received a copy of a call by Chief Arvol Looking Horse of the Lakota nation, asking religious leaders of all traditions to join the people who had gathered at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. He wrote:
“We are asking the religious leaders to come and support them, to stand side-by-side with them, because they are standing in prayer…If you can find it in your heart, to pray with them, and stand beside them…because the Police Department and the National Guard, they would listen to each and every one of you.”
I have a great deal of respect for Chief Looking Horse. I’ve met him several times over the years, and participated with him in a couple of panels and other events at interfaith gatherings. He was one of the main speakers at the Indigenous Plenary of the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City last October. Though I don’t know him well, I have always been impressed by his wisdom, his commitment, and his willingness to reach out to all peoples on behalf of the Earth. I had already been thinking for several weeks about going to Standing Rock, and his message fueled that urge even more.
Grandmother Mary Lyons
Then I received a more personal message from Grandmother Mary Lyons, an Ojibwe elder from Minnesota who was also one of the speakers at last year’s Indigenous Plenary, asking if anyone from the Parliament was planning to go to Standing Rock in response to Chief Looking Horse’s call. She thought it was important for the Parliament to make an official statement regarding the situation. I took that as a very definite sign, and asked the EarthSpirit board of directors if it would be possible to send me there. They agreed that I should go but, out of concern for my health, suggested that someone else should accompany me. I asked my son Donovan, and he immediately changed his schedule so he could come along.
My next step was to approach the Parliament’s Board to tell them of my plans to go to Standing Rock. The Indigenous Task Force, of which I am a member, set out to write a statement, along with our Executive Director and staff, that I could take to North Dakota. Lewis Cardinal, the chair of the task force, also began contacting people at the camps to let them know we were sending a statement.
Grandmother Lyons invited us to stay at her campsite, and also to take part in a water ceremony she was going to lead. Some of my other Indigenous friends helped me to find local contacts, to get a better idea of what to expect. A Sioux man from Standing Rock was particularly helpful, even as he painted a fairly grim scenario. The police, he said, had blocked off the main highway to prevent access to the camps, so the only way to get there from the Bismarck airport was to make a long detour that added about 45 minutes to the trip. He also said that we should be prepared to be stopped randomly and harassed by the authorities, and stressed that we shouldn’t lose our cool no matter how much they might try to provoke us. He asked me if I had any connection to the United Nations. I told him that I was one of the Parliament’s U.N. delegates, and that I had an access photo badge. He suggested that I take it with me and wear it at all times, because the police tended to respect the U.N. Needless to say, this was not particularly encouraging.
After flying to Bismarck, North Dakota, and renting a car, Donovan and I had an early introduction to the level of police presence at Standing Rock. We had stopped at a traffic light in the town of Mandan, where we were supposed to turn onto a road that would take us down to the camps, when we noticed several police vehicles approaching the intersection, coming from the direction toward which we were supposed to go. It quickly became evident that those vehicles were merely the head of a long caravan: cruisers, armored cars, police vans, ambulances, sheriffs’ trucks, and one empty school bus – over forty vehicles went by while we waited.
A bit later, we found out that there had been a nonviolent protest action near the pipeline, and that about two dozen water protectors had been arrested. The vehicles we had witnessed had been taking them to police headquarters, where they would be booked and placed inside large chain-link dog kennels which had been set up as temporary containment cells. Once the protesters had been bailed out, they would return to the camps in the school bus. Apparently, this scenario is enacted on a fairly regular basis.
Because the main road to the camp was blocked, we had to go down using the backroads, a route which required us to make two major turns. At each of those turns, there was an unmarked car parked just off the intersection. But for a couple of instances over the weekend when the cars were empty, each time we made those turns the person inside the car raised a camera to take a photo of our vehicle; the authorities, I was told later, were recording every license plate going to and from the camps. As we got closer to our destination we saw lots of law enforcement personnel, many wearing tactical gear, and more cruisers, police wagons and armored vehicles. The place felt very much like a militarized zone, grim and forbidding.
Oceti Sakowin Camp
In sharp contrast, our arrival at Camp Oceti Sakowin felt like we had come upon an oasis full of life in the midst of a barren desert: dozens of colorful banners on tall poles, voices singing, drums pounding, the smell of wood fires and of food cooking, young men riding bareback on gorgeous Appaloosas, and tents and tipis, cars and RVs as far as the eye could see. It looked like there had to be at least a couple of thousand people at the camp.
After finding Grandmother Mary Lyons and her family, and our friends Robin and Nsasi from Minnesota, we went around and explored a bit, then settled down for some good conversations with Mary and her folks. One of the people who came by to talk was Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network. Tom and I
Mary Lyons’ camp (Tom Goldtooth & Mary Lyons in center)
remembered each other from the 2004 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Barcelona, and we chatted a little bit about his experiences there. Tom’s son is one of the camp’s organizers, though he was away that weekend, so Mary gave Tom a portable carport she had brought as a donation to the camp, to pass on to his son.
I wanted to find one of the people that the Parliament had arranged for me to meet, so I could hand him the statement that the Indigenous Task Force had drafted. Mary suggested that we go to the central fire, where a lot of different activities were held, and see if he was there. Though we had no luck finding him, Mary talked to some people and came back to say that they would like me to read the statement at the fire, if I didn’t mind sitting there for a little bit and wait for my turn to come.
As I was waiting, the two-dozen or so people who had been arrested earlier that morning returned to the camp after having posted bail. They were brought to stand in a line by the fire, and then seemingly everyone in the camp came by to shake their hands or hug them, one by one, and thank them for their willingness to stand up for their convictions. The whole thing took maybe half an hour, but in that brief and deeply moving time, the purpose of the camps became very apparent to me: they are there to provide spiritual, emotional and physical support to the people who put themselves at grave risk every few days, engaging in acts of peaceful civil disobedience by standing in the way of the pipeline and getting arrested in the process. The camps provide the environment in which the actions are carefully planned; they provide encouragement and moral support to the protectors; they offer them backup during the actions, to insure their safety as much as possible; they follow the protectors to the police headquarters once they’ve been arrested, and arrange for them to make bail, and bring them back; and then the camps receive them upon their return with love, with gratitude, with food, with healing. It’s a perfect example of what real community is about.
Of those who’d been arrested that day, roughly half looked to be Indigenous. Most of the rest were white, including a couple of elderly people. Then there were four young African-Americans, all wearing hooded sweatshirts with BLACK LIVES MATTER boldly written in the front. Given the political and social climate in the U.S. today; given the widespread racism that has been crawling out of the ruins of our national denial, triggered by the election of the first black President in history; given the senseless acts of violence perpetrated against unarmed black people by civilians and by police officers unworthy of the title; given all that, the thought of those four young people taking the kind of risk they took, deliberately and openly approaching law enforcement personnel to commit acts of civil disobedience which they knew would land them in jail, took incredible courage. In so doing, they modeled for everyone what solidarity really means, the importance of all of us standing together for each other.
Reading the Parliament’s statement at central fire
A few minutes after the ceremony ended, someone came over and asked me to go up to the microphone to read the Parliament’s statement in support of Standing Rock, which I gladly did. I had also brought similar declarations from EarthSpirit and from the European Congress of Ethnic Religions, so after reading the one from the Parliament, someone else came and collected all three, saying that he would pass them on to the camp coordinators. Several people came over in the next little while to tell me they were grateful for the statements of support, and to ask that I pass their thanks to the respective organizations.
While I was sitting by the fire, I had a very interesting conversation with an Indigenous woman who was seated next to me. She was curious to know more about the Parliament, because she remembered hearing something about it a while ago. I gave her a brief description of it, and talked in particular about the Indigenous Assembly we had organized in Melbourne in 2009, and the large and very prominent Indigenous program we had at Salt Lake City last year. She asked me if there had been any friction between Indians and non-Indians at Salt Lake City, and explained that she has usually felt friction between both camps, even when they are together to work for a common purpose, so she wondered if there were any events, such as the Parliament, where that friction wasn’t present. I told her I was very familiar with what she was describing, and that there have occasionally been varying levels of friction and tension between Indians and non-Indians at the Parliament, though I had felt it much less at Salt Lake City, and hoped that meant that we were making progress in reaching greater understanding and respect. I said to her, in turn, that in the short time I had been at Camp Oceti Sakowin, it appeared to me that it was pretty free of that kind of tension, and asked her if that was her experience as well, and – if it was – why she thought that might be the case.
She replied that, for the most part, people were getting along together really well, which she ascribed to the fact that, when the camps started, the great majority of participants were Indigenous, so that even if they came from different areas and nations, they shared a very similar culture. By the time that a number of white people started arriving, the “Indian way” had been solidly established, and the newcomers had to adapt to it. She said that, while Indians are very used to functioning within white culture, the opposite is not at all true, so the newcomers were told, “you’re welcome here, we can use your help, but if you’re going to be here, you need to do things our way.”
In her opinion, that worked out fairly well for most of the summer, but she said there had been some friction lately, as more non-Indians arrived. “Some of them come because they think it’s a cool place to be, because they want to play at being Indians. But that’s all wrong, it’s not about making them feel special, it’s about working hard for the reason that we’re here, to stop the pipeline.” Other white people come “to save us,” she added: they bring an attitude that they know better, that they have fancy college degrees, all kinds of advanced skills, and that they’re going to step in and fix everything. “It’s like they’re saying, ‘I’m gonna make it all better for the poor savages, if they only get out of the way.’ Well, that’s just colonialist bullshit, we don’t need that. We have cultures that are as old as the Europeans, we know what we’re doing. People with that kind of attitude don’t last very long here.” According to her, several people have been asked to leave recently because of that.
Most white people, she said, tend to see what’s happening at Standing Rock just in terms of the pipeline, as an isolated incident. Indians, on the other hand, see it as the latest battle in a struggle they’ve been waging for hundreds of years, a struggle to preserve their lands, their cultures, their lives. She thought this was one of the most important things non-Indians needed to understand.
The next day, Donovan and I joined Mary Lyons and a group of her family and friends to walk down to the blockaded road to participate in the water ceremony. The police had placed two large, rusted trucks across Rte. 1806 to prevent access to the camp, and there were several cruisers and security vehicles parked just on the other side of the blockade. We had been asked to only go so far down the road; getting any closer to the trucks would trigger the police into action, and the camp organizers didn’t want anyone provoking them outside of the planned protests.
Grandmother Mary had asked us to bring water from places that were important or sacred to us. We brought water from the Munlochy Clootie Well – an ancient healing spring in Scotland – and from Glenwood, from a point where the waters of four streams converge. The ceremony itself was very simple: Mary spoke for a bit about why we were there and
about how Water is Life, then asked those of us who brought water to say something about where it came from, and then to pour it onto the ground to bring blessings and healing to the land.
Before heading back to Bismarck and the airport, Donovan and I stopped by to see Devorah Rosenberg, an old friend from Western Mass. who was working in the main kitchen. It was heartwarming to see someone else from home at the camp. Soon after we returned, my niece Ember Arthen-Cheyne, who is a former Army medic, drove out to Standing Rock to offer her services at the medic tent, and was planning to remain there until the end of December.
I am very grateful for the support of our community in enabling us to make the trip out to North Dakota, and I encourage everyone to lend any help you can to the people who remain in the camps and are now preparing for the harsh winter months ahead.
Addendum: Just today, it was announced that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had turned down the permit for the pipeline company to continue excavations on what are legally held to be federally-owned lands (the Sioux claim otherwise). Though this is being widely trumpeted throughout social media as a decisive victory for the Water Protectors, it is likely too early to tell what it actually means. There’s no question that this decision is a very important development, and that there is much cause for celebration in the moment. How long the moment will last, however, nobody really knows. It’s important to not lose sight of the fact that, in barely a month-and-a-half, there will likely be a dramatic change in Washington, and today’s decision could be reversed. Friends at Standing Rock inform me that the camps are continuing to prepare for the winter, and that they could still use our support.
Andras has been traveling a great deal lately. His recent travels in Europe were part of the groundwork for a book he is writing, which will lay out and expand upon the material he’s been teaching in recent workshops. Andras has been studying the survival of remnants of pre-Christian practices and beliefs which we as Pagans can draw upon and learn from. He has been contacting people he first talked to long before this project was clear in his mind, to get their permission to be included in the book.
At the Sacred Harvest Festival in Minnesota Aug. 6-12, Andras will be presenting a series of workshops. In advance of this festival, Nels Linde of the Pagan newswire Collective – Minnesota Bureau did a very good interview with Andras, which gives a sense of the projects he’s working on in between the times we may see him at our own gatherings. It’s a wide ranging overview, and ends with a challenge to our own communities to consider how we can articulate our Pagan perspective, and from that stance engage with world issues and with people of other faiths.
This year I found myself with enough free time to be able to volunteer to help out in the EarthSpirit office on a weekly basis, which has given me a good look at all the projects and efforts this organization is leading and supporting. One week, Deirdre asked me to help think about a way to visually represent EarthSpirit’s work and its connections within our own community and out to the rest of the world. She had the idea of using something that was more like the living world we connect with, than like an organizational chart. Specifically, something that involved trees.
We listed out all of the projects and connections we could think of, and spent some time sketching on big paper, moving pieces around to see how they grouped together. In the end we came up with the outline for the drawing of the “EarthSpirit Grove” which now hangs in the office, and which was also reproduced in the latest annual newsletter.
In the center is the “Tree of Ground”, the physical home of the organization. This tree represents all the things a healthy organization needs in order to keep going and do the work of its mission. Here is the care of the physical home of EarthSpirit at Glenwood –the sacred sites which need maintenance and care, the community building in the process of upgrading so it can become a more functional and welcoming home for meetings, workshops and retreats. It includes also the office with its computers and phones, and all the routine administrative functions that any non profit has to attend to in order to keep going.
On one side is the “Body Tree”. Here are all the efforts and activities that support and nourish the home community of EarthSpirit. This includes the sort of pastoral care that the elders and adepts among us may do, the individual counseling and readings that help others meet challenging situations and decisions. It also includes the celebrations that bring us together as a community; seasonal rituals both on smaller less formal scale at Glenwood and elsewhere, and more formal open public rituals. And it also includes our major annual gatherings: Feast of Lights, Rites of Spring, and Twilight Covening. This is the tree that feeds our spiritual practices and our sense of community. Here are the models and teachers and co-practitioners that help us find and pursue our path; this is where we find and enliven our spiritual community.
On the other side is the “Tree of Song”, the tree that reaches out in to the world beyond the EarthSpirit community, to add our voice to the chorus so we may be able to bring the insights we gain from our practices and beliefs to the great effort of healing the world. This includes cultural offerings like MotherTongue, EarthSpirit’s own ritual performance group, as well as support of other pagan performers who bring their perspective out to wider audiences. It also includes outreach in writing– from the EarthSpirit Voices blog to books and articles. One segment of this tree holds the ‘gateways’–places that hold information about EarthSpirit by which people can enter and learn about us. This covers the websites and blog.
On a larger scale, the Tree of Song holds our interfaith work and political activism, both on a formal and informal basis. EarthSpirit supports efforts to have a visible pagan presence in political actions related to concerns we particularly share. Primarily these include environmental concerns, peace work, and the rights of indigenous peoples. We have been instrumental in ensuring that pagans have an active presence and voice in the Parliament of the Worlds Religions, an international interfaith organization which holds regular conventions every 5 years. A group of our youngsters are also involved in Peace Jam, a project that connects kids with Nobel laureates to inspire their sense of responsibility and activism.
The Body Tree is our selves, and the paths and practices that bring us and hold us together as a living community. It’s how we take care of ourselves and each other. The Tree of Song is how we speak of what we know to the greater world, and how we use our skills and strengths to heal the wounds of the world. And the Ground Tree is the structure that makes this all possible in the world, so it’s not just scattered dreaming. Each tree connects with the others, each is a vital part of what EarthSpirit is in the world.
All the trees have roots in our spiritual practice, which is what makes for our distinct perspective. It informs the work we do in the world, and sets the tone and flavor for our community gatherings and rituals. The principles Andras has codified in his Anamanta teachings are the underpinnings of all our work. At the root of the Ground tree, you’ll see the egg representing the Glainn Sidhr order from which the initial inspiration for EarthSpirit arose.
In creating this representation for EarthSpirit’s work, Deirdre hoped it would provide a way for people to get a sense of all the things EarthSpirit is involved in. It gives us a way to pay attention to the whole, but also to pay attention to each tree and branch, to see what may need to be fed or supported, and what may need to be pruned or trimmed back. And also, my personal hope is that this mode of representation shares the sense of vitality and potential that has fed me as I’ve engaged in the work of EarthSpirit.
It has been another busy year for EarthSpirit, as we have consolidated and expanded our important work in all branches of activity — thanks, in large part, to many dedicated community members who have made contributions of their time, expertise, goods and funds to support the work of the organization. We are very grateful; we could not do it all without you.
In over thirty years of existence, EarthSpirit has been able to grow into one of the largest pagan organizations in the US, supporting its members with programs and actively engaging in the world on many levels to create change. We’ve done a lot, and we look forward to doing more.
One of the original intentions of EarthSpirit was to build spiritual community through connections. Over the years this has always meant local and regional celebrations and gatherings, publications, performances and classes. By offering programs and leading rituals for other organizations, we build relationships regionally and around the country. Increasingly, EarthSpirit has reached out to its international members to assist in developing community in Europe and Central and South America. We hope to further develop and deepen these efforts in the coming year.
Our web site, www.earthspirit.com, continues to be an entry-point for newcomers as well as a resource for long-time members. Our recent addition of EarthSpirit Voices (earthspiritcommunity.blogspot.com) has brought sharing and discussion of spiritual practice into our presence on the Web. We look forward to expanding and improving both of these important communication vehicles in the near future.
In the early 1980s we realized that pagans, given the opportunity, could make meaningful contributions to the interfaith dialogues that were developing both nationally and globally, and that we could also benefit greatly from participation in such forums. Since that time, EarthSpirit has played a major role in helping paganism attain a much greater level of credibility and respect within the interreligious movement. The work that EarthSpirit director, Andras Corban Arthen, has been doing through his service on the board of trustees of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions (CPWR) has been growing. Last November, Andras was sent by the CPWR to Guadalajara, Mexico, as part of the site committee which evaluated that city’s bid to host the 2014 Parliament. While there, he also had the opportunity to meet with many local pagans as well as several indigenous leaders.
In February, Andras went to Chicago to help choose the host city for the 2014 Parliament, which will be Brussels, Belgium. In early May, he was sent back to Guadalajara along with CPWR executive director Dirk Ficca to explore ways to maintain a working relationship with the local group that organized that city’s bid, including a collaboration to develop an interreligious initiative throughout Latin America. As a result of that trip, Andras was asked to serve as the CPWR’s liaison with the Guadalajara group. In addition, Andras was elected again to the CPWR’s executive committee, and was asked to oversee the Parliament’s Ambassadors program, which coordinates several hundred Parliament supporters from all over the world.
The ‘Indians’ of Old Europe, the presentation that Andras has been offering in recent years which places the surviving pagan traditions in the context of Indigenous European spirituality, has been receiving a great deal of favorable attention throughout the interfaith movement, with lots of people telling him how it’s helped them to see paganism in a different light and to take it much more seriously. As a result, he has been receiving many invitations to speak at interfaith and academic events in the U.S. and abroad, including two next year in India and Denmark. Unfortunately, those invitations rarely cover all of the expenses involved, so the only way he is able to attend is through the support and generosity of our community.
EarthSpirit has been committed to young people since the outset. Without engaging and including youth, any community becomes unsustainable. Our mentoring programs, Rites of Passage ceremonies and ongoing activities such as EarthSpirit PeaceJam help those growing up within our community learn from the experience of elders while finding their own voices and means of expression. In the coming year we look forward to continuing and expanding our support for these programs.
In 2011, thanks to our generous donors, we have replaced our sluggish and undependable office computers with new Dells that actually work reliably. What a difference it makes for our office volunteers! We have also begun work to completely revamp our database system using expert volunteers to develop and create a configuration that will greatly improve our ability to stay connected with members across the US and around the world.
As you might imagine, all of this work, in so many areas, requires a significant amount of money to sustain it. Despite the struggling economy over the past few years, our community has been very generous. We have consistently received contributions large and small — both in the mail and at the auction at Rites of Spring. We appreciate every single one. Please consider increasing your donation to EarthSpirit this year to help us move quickly toward our goals.
We count on you to be a part of the web that holds us together on so many levels. Thank you all for helping EarthSpirit to continue moving forward!
[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.
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.
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
The EarthSpirit Community is part of a coalition of national Pagan and Nature-centered religious organizations which has released a letter calling for religious freedom in a California court case. The case, which has attracted national attention, is being waged over whether California should hire prison chaplains from outside five “state approved” faiths: Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Native American.
In an amicus brief, the conservative Christian group WallBuilders, Inc. called on the courts to reject the case of Rev. Patrick McCollum, a Pagan chaplain and long-time EarthSpirit friend, arguing that Paganism is a “second tier” religion and therefore not subject to the protections of the First Amendment.
Our Freedom: A National Pagan Civil Rights Organization rejects the state’s claims in general and the WallBuilders, Inc. amicus in particular. Our Freedom states that Pagan inmates have requirements and needs comparable to those of the five faiths currently being served. Our Freedom stands in the promise of our nation’s Constitution and its guarantee of religious freedom.
Included in Pagan inmates’ needs are: access to paid Pagan chaplains to facilitate regularly scheduled religious services; provision of spiritual guidance and counseling support; facilitation of Pagan rites of passage and liturgical needs; and service as intermediaries between Pagan inmates and correctional administrators and staff to educate about Pagan religious needs or requirements of Pagans.
[For further information and links, see the bottom of this post.]
The following letter was sent to the Office of the Governor of California; WallBuilders, Inc.; Clerk of Court, United States District Court, Northern District of California; and Attorney Caroline Mitchell of Jones Day, Attorneys for Plaintiffs.
To Whom It May Concern:
We, the undersigned, are a widely divergent group of American citizens. We hail from varied economic strata, educational backgrounds, ethnic groups, and cultural experiences. We are taxpaying citizens of this country, and some of us have served in uniform. Members of our religious community have died in that uniform, protecting this nation, its constitution, and all that it stands for.
All of us are deeply spiritual people with sincerely held religious beliefs that have called us to service beyond our private lives. In many cases, our courage in being public about our faith has caused us persecution, harassment, and ostracism. Yet, we persevere in our spiritual traditions and in our faith. This is the testament of our sincerity to traditions that fall outside the religious mainstream and the spiritual status quo.
We are Pagans. Paganism is a collection of diverse contemporary religions rooted in indigenous traditions or deriving inspiration therefrom, characterized by a belief in the interconnection of all life, personal autonomy, and immanent divinities. Inside our spiritual traditions themselves, there is a wealth of diversity, just as within Christianity there exist different and distinct communities such as the Roman Catholic, the Presbyterian, the Lutheran, the Methodist, the Baptist, the Mennonite, and the Greek Orthodox. Although Wicca and/or Witchcraft comprise the largest sub-segment of Paganism, other sub-sections of Paganism include Druidry, the Norse Asatru, Strega, the Church of all Worlds (CAW), and numerous other traditions including modern believers in the ancient gods of Rome, Egypt, Persia, Gaul, Great Britain (England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Cornwall) and Greece.
At this time, we turn our attention to the ongoing legal struggle occurring in California, wherein prisoners and a Wiccan chaplain are seeking equal footing in the state prison system. The Pagan Plaintiffs seek the same considerations, opportunities, liberties, and equality in the exercise of their faith during imprisonment as is already available to the Catholics, the Protestants, the Jews, the Native Americans, and the Muslims. The Catholics and the Protestants are sub-sections of Christianity. Christians, Jews, and Muslims are monotheistic religions sharing a central patriarchal god.
In one amicus brief submitted by WallBuilders, Inc., the question is asked:
”The true historic meaning of ‘religion’ excludes paganism and witchcraft, and thus, does not compel a conclusion that McCollum has state taxpayer standing … paganism and witchcraft were never intended to receive the protections of the Religion Clauses. Thus, in the present case there can be no violation of those clauses … Should this Court conclude that McCollum has taxpayer standing … this Court should at least acknowledge that its conclusion is compelled by Supreme Court precedent, not by history or the intent of the Framers.”
We Pagans respond to this on three levels. First, the intent of the Framers of the Constitution of the United States is perfectly clear on the issue of religion and government in that the only mention of a “God” appears in exactly one place in the original document, and that is in the determination of the date in which the document was signed. The preamble makes it clear that it is “We the People,” and not any one particular God, who determines both the structure of government in this country and the benefits/rights which that government will provide.
Second, even if one were to conclude that it was the intent of the Framers to be exclusive in matters of religion and not inclusive, one must look at some of the other demographic classes who were excluded from the rights and privileges by the Framers in the Constitution, such as women and Africans. “We the People” clearly referred to landed white men. The truth is that no matter the work of genius worked by these great minds, they were minds of the times in which they lived. Thirty-three percent of the signers of the federal Constitution were slave holders. Thomas Jefferson himself was the master of a plantation run by slaves and sexually frequented the black women whom he held in thrall. James Madison, who actually wrote the Bill of Rights, owned slaves. The drastic error in permitting slavery to exist beyond the founding of our government was an error to be solved only in blood through the Civil War and a subsequent amendment to the Constitution.
If we were to read the Constitution only through some sort of lens in which we claimed to know the minds of these men, then we as a people and as a government could not have progressed forward into the twenty-first century, and a significant number of today’s American citizens would still be disenfranchised. It is the genius of subsequent generations in using and interpreting the Constitution as a living document which spares us from the insular thinking of the eighteenth century.
Third, the California district court would be wise not to answer the question posed in the amicus of the WallBuilders, Inc. in the affirmative. To do so would give a legal foothold to a viewpoint which is blatantly discriminatory and which flies directly in the face of decisions regarding modern Pagans and Witches/Wiccans: decisions made by state courts, federal courts, administrative agencies such as the EEOC and state agencies such as the Missouri Tax Commission, which must surely be one of the most conservative governmental entities in this country.
Thus, we as Pagan Americans say to the Northern District Court of the State of California: Do not be fooled by the subterfuge which WallBuilders, Inc. is attempting, and turn aside their position by answering it in the negative.
Furthermore, we as Pagan Americans say and affirm to the Northern District Court of the State of California, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, California Attorney General’s Office, and the Governor of the State of California, that Pagan inmates have similar requirements and needs comparable to those of the five faiths currently being served. Included in these needs are: access to paid Pagan chaplains to facilitate regularly scheduled religious services, provide spiritual guidance and counseling support; facilitate Pagan rites of passage and liturgical needs; and to serve as intermediaries between Pagan inmates and correctional administrators and staff to educate about Pagan religious needs or requirements of Pagans. In doing so, the state of California will continue to move forward into a system which is inclusive of religious belief.
Also note: The EarthSpirit Community has provided supplies and resources to people incarcerated in prisons across the country for more than 30 years. In Massachusetts and in many other states, direct access to prisoners is not denied to pagans and, in fact, I correspond regularly with the MA Department of Corrections, which is often looking for pagan clergy to serve its population.
If you are interested in volunteering time to help serve that population, contact me at email@example.com.