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.
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.
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.
EarthSpirit was one of the co-sponsoring groups for International Global Prayer Day, an event created by Grandmothers of the Sacred We, which is an organization founded by several Grandmothers (and Great-Grandmothers) from several different countries and spiritual traditions, with the intent of promoting world peace, understanding and respect. Andras and Donovan Arthen represented our community in this international Zoom event, and what follows is their statement and prayer.
I come with heart in hand
I come with peace in mind
I come with soul on fire
We are Donovan Arthen and Andras Arthen, and we join you from our homes in the hills of western Massachusetts. We bring with us the pagan traditions of the indigenous peoples of Galicia and Scotland that have come to us through our blood and through our teachers before us, whose ancestors before them learned from the mountains, trees, and storms, as do we now.
We are honored to be invited to be with this group of wisdom keepers of so many generations.
In recent days we have seen so much struggle across the world, so much pain, so much wounding and illness. But this is not new. It is the poisonous harvest of a long history of greed, which places the few above the many, and ignores the deep connection that all beings share.
As people who are striving to preserve the Indigenous spiritual traditions of Europe, we are very aware that this is a poison that has been spread all over the world by some of our own European ancestors. Those who embraced a religion that claimed ownership of the one Truth and rejected all others. Those who burned their own roots and tore holes in their hearts before they ever left their shores. Those who destroyed and forgot the traditions that connected them with the land that gave them birth, and persecuted into hiding those in their own families who refused to follow them.
To truly heal the wounds of this tragic legacy, European descendants must recognize the violent acts committed by these relatives of ours, and take action to remedy the harm that they caused and that we have benefited from. We must also look back to the roots that tie us to our Mother, and remember and embrace the traditions of our more ancient ancestors, so that we, too, can walk next to our cousins who continue to hold the old ways, the ways that bring healing, the ways that bring peace.
This is a time to listen deeply to our connection with our Mother, the Earth, so that we can give voice to wisdom that most human ears have long forgotten how to hear. It is time for those who have loudly spoken for so long to listen, and reflect on the voices and songs that are struggling to be heard.
The wind carries the stories of those who have been hidden, and those who have been buried under greed-disguised-as-progress, and it is time for us to raise our voices in song and shout alike, so that the bones of the Earth might echo with the rhythms of justice and of healing.
So that all peoples may find the endurance for the healing work ahead, we offer this prayer of peace and strength:
Power of raven be yours,
Power of eagle be yours,
Power of storm.
Goodness of sea be yours,
Goodness of earth be yours,
Goodness of sky.
Power of moon be yours,
Power of sun be yours,
Power of sea be yours,
Power of stars.
Yours be the unyielding course of the river,
Yours be the howling voice of the wind,
Yours be the fire that guides the way,
Yours be the strength of the stone,
May the deep peace of the running waves be with you,
May the deep peace of the flowing air be with you,
May the deep peace of the shining stars be with you,
May the deep peace of the quiet earth be with you,
As you feel the shortening days and witness the changes in the landscape around you as Winter settles in, I want to take a moment to reflect on how your EarthSpirit community has stretched and grown over the past year.
Eldering ritual for Susan Curewitz Arthen and Morwen and Jimi Two Feathers at Rites of Spring.
For any group of people to truly become a community that has depth and longevity, it needs to become generational in scope. For years, within EarthSpirit, we have witnessed the Coming of Age of our young people and, more recently, we have begun to ritually acknowledge Elders of the community. At Rites of Spring this year, together we honored three Elders: Susan Curewitz Arthen, Jimi Two Feathers and, posthumously, Morwen Two Feathers. These respected members of our community were named Elders not simply because they had reached a certain age, but because they have served and shown commitment to the community for many, many years, generously providing leadership and teaching to hundreds of EarthSpirit members over that time.
It would be hard to reflect on 2019 without talking about the subsequent death of Susan Curewitz Arthen and the many ways she has continued to inspire and teach us as we came together around her rite of passage, her burial, and memorial. Susan’s 40-year commitment to EarthSpirit provided countless personal, ministerial, and practical gifts to all of us.
MotherTongue performing at Sue Arthen’s memorial.
Her welcoming smile, acceptance, willingness to listen, and ultimately her ability to provide a mirror to our deeper selves continues to teach us, and guide what EarthSpirit can become. In her memory, the Board has begun the creation of a “Sunflower Committee”, which will take up the task of ensuring that everyone attending EarthSpirit events feels welcome and appreciated.
Another part of the growth we have seen this year includes the expansion of the Board of Directors to include new members: Arianna Knapp and Isobel Arthen, bringing us to 10 members. The fully-volunteer Board works behind the scenes to keep EarthSpirit evolving with the needs of its community, fueled by your generosity and inspired by your actions and passions. With your feedback, and shared reflection, a number of new Board committees and teams have been formed or re-activated, including EarthSpirit Action – focused on opportunities to speak out in a way that can amplify the concerns for our world, Membership, Sexual Safety and Culture, Fundraising, and Program/Interfaith. We will be reaching out and looking to you to join us in framing the future of EarthSpirit with an eye toward shared stewardship and shared celebrations for five more decades.
The Board is committed to this work, and just this Fall its members engaged in a retreat led by EarthSpirit member Tatiana Lyons, to dig deeper on defining who we are and who we want to be, so that we can be more effective in our outreach and programming.
EarthSpirit volunteers tending the Sacred Grove at Glenwood.
At Glenwood, the community center and physical home of our organization continues to evolve. The Sacred Grove has been establishing its roots over the past ten years, and this year, with all 9 trees now in place, we are working to ensure their health and sustained growth. We are creating a rotation plan for the renewal of all of the sacred shrines on the land, and next year we plan to turn our attention to the Labyrinth. The solar installation is in its third year, and serves as a visible reminder of the way our mission of honoring the sacred Earth looks in the 21st century.
Building alliances and bridges of understanding is important, especially in today’s political climate. Andras Corban Arthen continues to serve as Vice-Chair of the Parliament of the World’s Religions and as President of the European Congress of Ethnic Religions. His leadership there connects EarthSpirit directly with people still practicing the old Indigenous ways in Europe as well as interfaith leaders around the world. Our Earthways Initiative reaches out specifically to Indigenous leaders in the US as well as in other parts of the world. We will continue to join forces with all of these peoples and groups, to further our work to protect the Earth and support other communities who share our values. Closer to home, EarthSpirit is significantly involved in Pagan Pride events across the Northeast (thanks in large part to Christopher LaFond), in local interfaith groups, and in Boston Pride.
As we enter our 5th decade, EarthSpirit continues to provide seasonal rituals, regional and national gatherings, rites of passage, classes and workshops, counseling, networking, and advocacy. This is a remarkable community with members who lift each other up.
The Healing Altar at Glenwood.
The times we live in provide many challenges, both global and personal. Our political climate is steeped in divisiveness and fear mongering, the Earth faces more drastic dangers everyday, and our hearts are heavy with the pain and grief of loss, illness, or injury of our loved ones. Our Healing Altar has been put to much use this year. Since Samhain of last year two dear community members have died, in addition to Sue – Lorna Tibbetts and Janet Banks – and many of us have lost other loved ones.
It has been evident each time that we have gathered in the last year how important this community is to all of us. Through quiet embraces holding the memory of our ancestors, to the laughter and joy of welcoming new babies into the light of summer at the maypole at Rites of Spring, this Web shows its strength everyday – including both those who can be present in body and those who hold their strand from a distance. Words cannot truly express how meaningful it is to be a part of such beauty.
Many of you have volunteered dozens of hours teaching, organizing, staffing, or planning for EarthSpirit events. Others of you have made one or more financial contributions already this year. We have consistently received contributions large and small which allow us to carry on. We appreciate every single one, as well as all of the volunteer time and expertise that our members contribute throughout the year.
Your open-hearted giving was directly felt at Rites of Spring when you came together to seed the newly created Morwen Two Feathers Fund, and the ripple was felt at Twilight Covening when 15 members of our community were able to join us for a truly transformational gathering as a result of that fund. The sheer depth of generosity of talent and spirit that came together for October’s Twilight Covening through the Clan Leaders, the artists, and the ritualists was amazing.
So many people have contributed in so many ways. Thank you! We feel blessed to share membership in this committed and dedicated community.
If you have not had the opportunity to participate in this year’s fundraising yet, or you have found further inspiration in this letter to participate once again, now is a great time. We count on all of you to be a part of the web that holds us together on so many levels.
We wish you all a prosperous and healthy year ahead.
We hope to see you at our Yule Celebrations in Eastern and Western Mass!
And, of course, at A Feast of Lights this February 7-9 in Sturbridge, MA!
Thank you all for being part of, and supporting, the EarthSpirit Community.
[Ed. note: Amanda Leigh-Hawkins is a longstanding member of the EarthSpirit Community, and she also serves as program coordinator of the International Relations & Exchange Program of The Troth, one of the most prominent heathen organizations in the U.S. We are happy to publish this report of her participation in the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto; her report will also be included in the January issue of Idunna, The Troth’s quarterly journal. A full account of EarthSpirit’s presence at the Toronto Parliament is in the works, and will soon be included in these pages.]
The Parliament of World’s Religions (PoWR) was held in Toronto, Canada November 1-7, 2018. The theme this year was “The Promise of Inclusion, the Power of Love: Pursuing Global Understanding, Reconciliation and Change”. It gives me hope for humanity and the earth to have witnessed and participated in making a real difference. It was such a powerful experience to support and be part of this kind of shared interfaith, and international collaboration. The event was filled with high-magic, and deeply meaningful, intellectually inspiring, personal, educational, and transformational experiences. I was there formally representing The Troth as the Program Coordinator for The Troth’s International Relations and Exchange Program (IREP), and the Alliance for Inclusive Heathenry. I was also there to support paganism in general, and my local pagan EarthSpirit Community. This was my first interfaith event. I hear there were 10,000 delegates from 80 countries, 1600 presenters, 200 religious and spiritual traditions, and at minimum 100 pagans and Heathens in attendance this year, and perhaps as many as 300. I am grateful that pagans and Heathens were represented so well. It was like our own mini event within the larger one. So much happened at the Parliament that I can only do my best to describe my personal 2-day experience.
I remember first hearing about the PoWR from EarthSpirit Community members when I first met them around the year 2002. If I’m not mistaken, Earth Spirit has been attending since 1993. I’ve always respected, appreciated, and been inspired by the efforts and support that “the pagan contingent” have put into the Parliament, pagan community, and other shared values such as human/civil rights and protection of the environment. I have been particularly inspired by Andras Corban-Arthen, and Deidre Pulgram Arthen. I was thrilled to finally be able to attend.
Our group members spoke at the following presentations & panels:
Saturday: 17:00-17:45: Room 201E: Ancestor Sumbel: Come honor your Beloved Dead
Hosted by Diana Paxson, Robert Schreiwer, and Ethan Stark. Photos by Angie Buchanan.
This public Heathen Ancestor Sumbel was everything it should have been. Sumbel is an important way to connect, share, remember, and honor. Later that evening we had a private sumbel which was what I really needed. I’ve been so isolated at work full-time, and as a mom of a young child, that I don’t get to spend as much time as I need with my religious/spiritual communities. I look forward to hosting and attending local gatherings more often. Such quality time is so vitally restorative and healing. I think any psychologist would say that spending time with trusted friends helps keep depression away.
Sunday: 14:15-15:45: Room 104D: Ancient Religious Rituals and Vows and their Relevance in Modern World
The Heathen representative on this panel was John Mainer. Heathenry is a world-accepting religion. Whereas many (most?) other religions are world-rejecting. Vows and oaths are handled differently in the various traditions which deeply affect how we as peoples interact with others, self, and the world.
Presented by Ethan Stark, Robert Schreiwer, Eric Thorpe-Moscon, and Brian Weis. (Left photo, back row, l-r: Ethan & Brian; front row, l-r: Rob & Eric. Right photo, l-r: Ethan & Rob. Photos by Amanda Leigh-Hawkins.)
This was a very good presentation and overview of the issues Heathenry faces on a daily basis. I am very appreciative of the work HAH does to combat prejudice in Heathenry directly. Please take the time to watch the whole video (linked above). I would more actively participate in HAH itself if I wasn’t already spearheading IREP, which is similar to HAH but its focus is frith building and connecting inclusive peoples. Sometimes the work of these two Troth programs overlap. HAH at PoWR is an example of that overlap.
Tuesday: 15:15-16:00: Room 605: “Heathen” is a Belief System, not a Put-down
Presented by Lisa Morgenstern, Angela Carlson, Diana Paxson, John Mainer, Lorrie Wood (from left to right in the picture below). Photo by Yvonne C. Conway-Williams.
Description: “Around the world, ‘Heathen’ has been linked to the idea of ‘godless,’ ‘uncivilized,’ etc. Pagans have reclaimed their root word ‘Paganus’ meaning country dweller who worshipped the Old Gods. ‘Heathen’ evolved into a Middle English root word meaning something similar to ‘Paganus’ rather than ‘a person having no religion.’ As we stand up to the white supremacists/racists who would steal our ancient symbols for their own purposes, we must also stand up to the prejudice of language within the World Community.”
This reminds me of the taxi ride I had back to my hotel. I was lucky enough to get a semi-famous taxi driver renowned for having memorized the North American map. We had a trivia session, starting with locations, and then sciences, and then he gave me to option of picking my own questions for him. After having failed or nearly failed most of my trivia questions, I was relieved that I had something to offer him. I asked him something to the effect of “What is paganism?”. He said, “pagans don’t have religion”. I replied that many of us do have religion. He was surprised and asked me more about mine. I tried to describe it simply, “Germanic pagan. Asatru to be specific. We honor many Gods and Goddesses. Such as Freya, the Goddess of love. I am inclusive and wish the best for everyone.” Maybe I wish I just said “Asatru, meaning having faith in the Aesir”. Instead of saying Germanic pagan. But that would require explaining the Aesir and Vanir, which would bring me back to Germanic Heathenry anyway. Ugh, labels, and identity and beliefs can be so complicated. I am uncomfortable associating ethnicity with my religion/spirituality. Why? Well, for example my ancestors have not been pagan or Heathen (or European) in hundreds of years. As far as I’m aware, ethnicity does not bind you to a faith, your choices and relationships do. Asatru-Witch is even more precise way I self-identify. Circling back to the taxi ride again…after reflecting on how little I know about the subjects he was quizzing me on, instead of just feeling like my college degrees and 40 years of thoughtful life failed me, I felt like I at least had something important to offer the world. He and I were both humbled and had some new things to think about. My primary interfaith interaction back at the booth, was also in support of the Goddesses. “Don’t’ forget the Goddesses!” I said to Lisa, as she masterfully explained Heathenry/Asatru to a young lady who seemed to be eagerly waiting to hear about the Goddesses and beamed when we made that connection. Hail Freya! Freya has been following me around the world in my efforts to build alliances between Heathens and pagans internationally. I felt Her influence strongly in Toronto. Among all the God-religions at the Parliament, it was very important to advocate for and with the Goddesses.
Which brings me to the EarthSpirit Community booth #911:
It was such a pleasure to stand together with the EarthSpirit Community in support of our shared values, community, and desire to make a positive difference in the world. Jennifer brought me to my first Sikh Langar lunch. Which was very different than our usual lunches together at work. Langar is the term used in Sikhism for the community kitchen where a vegetarian meal is served to all visitors, without distinction of religion, caste, gender, economic status or ethnicity. When I sat down to eat this lunch, I felt connected to and equal to all the people who struggle to have access to food in the world. I was very appreciative of the food offered, especially that it was at no cost. I reflected on how perhaps I would not have had lunch today without this hospitality. Will wrote about the Transforming Masculinity workshop he co-presented at PoWR. Moira, I have known since I was a “wee pagan” at my first Rites of Spring EarthSpirit event in 2002. She’s always been a strong and wise woman to look up to that I respect very much. Though he was not in this picture, Andras Corban-Arthen is the spiritual Director of EarthSpirit. He was very busy at Parliament, being Vice Chair of PoWR, and President of ECER [European Congress of Ethnic Religions]. I appreciate all he has done for community, pagans, the world interfaith dialogues, and me personally as a young Witch.
“A panel discussion / presentation by Andras Corban-Arthen, Inija Trinkūnienė and Vlassis G. Rassias, board members of the European Congress of Ethnic Religions – from Spain, Lithuania and Greece – concerning the survival and preservation of pre-Christian, indigenous and ethnic spiritual traditions among European peoples, at 2018 PARLIAMENT OF THE WORLD’S RELIGIONS in Toronto Canada, on Sat, November 3rd, 2018.”
This presentation is the one that has stood out to me the most, and is most thought provoking, and the most challenging to reply to as an inclusive Heathen. The Heathens Against Hate presentation is an important one to consider at the same time as this one. These two presentations are two primary reasons for my attendance. If you know me, you know what Frith Forge meant to me, you will see it discussed in the HAH presentation. If you know me or don’t know me, imagine how one might help take the right next steps from here for inclusive Heathenry/Asatru, and much broader/shared concerns with PoWR. I invite my friends from Frith Forge in particular to listen to this video thoughtfully, especially Andras’ comments during the Q&A at the end. I look forward to continuing our discussions about what inclusive Heathenry/Asatru means to us throughout the world.
I think Andras is doing a very good job leading the ECER in the right direction, far away from its racist past. I appreciate Andras’ statement: “Ethnocentrism becomes a problem when it becomes a way to shut anyone else who is different out of that.” There is good bridging language used in this presentation. I see good interreligious harmony building in this as well. Andras quotes someone from Denmark who said “If the Gods of my people want to accept this person (a black person), it is not my place to say no. If this person wants to worship the Gods of my people, it is not my place to say no. However, the religion of my people is totally centered on this land that I was born and grew up in. So, this person would need to live here to practice my religion because it is connected totally to the land. The ceremonies are all, all take place in the Danish language. So, they would need to speak Danish. They are rooted in a culture that still exists in Denmark, so they would need to be in some way assimilated into the culture or be willing to be assimilated into the culture. If a black person, say from the United States or from Africa or whatever, wanted to do all of that, we would welcome them.” Then Andras said “What really struck me about that, is that is the same kind of answer I would expect from a Lakota, or a Wurundjeri, or a Yoruba in their native land. It’s really not that different. We’re not, perhaps used to thinking of Europeans in this same context. And I think in some ways that’s part of what looking at the survivals of these very ancient traditions in many places can give us a different perspective on European culture and therefore western culture.” I respect that, especially in the context of trying to protect “endangered” traditions and peoples. However, after sitting on this for a couple weeks, I am starting to be able to articulate my remaining concerns. For example, one thing that one should not forget is that (it seems to me) that the Aesir and Vanir Gods and Godesses are not restricted by the boundaries of a country or ethnicity or sometimes even species when choosing where and with whom to connect to. (Dwarves, giants, and elves oh my!). Also, what happens when this guy from Denmark goes on vacation outside his country? Is he no longer able to practice his religion? I would think he would still be able to honor the Gods, Goddesses, ancestors, community. I find that land spirits can be different and are different even at your neighbors house compared to your own. Bit you can still practice honoring friendly land-spirits wherever you go. (Andras, I know you know all about that. I look forward to chatting more with you about all this). On a slightly different train if thought… One thing that I am learning over and over on deeper levels is how harmony, inclusion, and frith/peace building also requires equally strong boundaries. I am an inclusive Heathen, however, like the The Gods and Goddess may connect with anyone, as do humans. I think each person’s religion is unique to them. Religion is very personal. Yet like at PoWR people were finding commonalities between seemingly totally different religions constantly, all week long. So maybe it’s communities, not as much religion, that need the stronger boundaries? Communities, especially spiritual communities have boundaries and require mutual acceptance and trust. For example, I’ve been attending EarthSpirit events for 16 years, yet it took until this PoWR for me to feel (for personal reasons) that it was fully appropriate for me to wear the Earth Spirit Community pin. (Andras, thank you for that hug. It meant so much to me. The elaborate web weaving was not lost on me.)
Forgive me. Internet. if I messed up and said something wrong. I usually am not one to write a lot, because I can talk myself out of saying pretty much anything. Haha. However, I’m trying to learn and share, and not be a stereotypical “one-dimensional” American. I’m trying to make a positive difference. I am hoping this personal report reaches an audience who can continue to engage in compassionate and educational dialogue like at PoWR. Instead of the flame wars that could start over such a complicated topic regardless of weather I say the right or wrong thing. I have SO drawn my line in the sand between me and the hate groups. So please don’t put words in my mouth and say I am not firmly inclusive. For I most certainly am. I’m warily considering how faiths centered on “regional” practices may be okay and when it’s not. Instead of just writing off anyone who resembles prejudiced people whom I want nowhere near my personal boundary.
Moving on. After this presentation we had a group dinner together for the Heathens and Inija joined us. What a good dinner with friends and acquaintances! At which point suddenly, I “oathed-in” to another Troth role, International Steward. There is much I wish to continue helping with. The official title just helps me do what I’ve been doing even better. I’m just trying to do my part to at least learn and grow and help others connect.
(Left photo, l-r: Rob Schreiwer, Camille Crawford, Amanda Leigh-Hawkins. Photo by John Mainer.The picture of The Troth banner was taken by Amanda Leigh-Hawkins at Trothmoot 2018.)
There are so many other presentations, performances, and spaces I wish I had the chance to see. Such as the women’s space room, the Red Tent, the LGBTQIA+ safe space room, the art salon, spend more time at booths and presentations for other faiths, plenaries, performances, and so much more. On my way back to my car I had an incredibly important personal conversation about ‘wolf medicine’ with one of my new Heathen friends. Then I stopped by the native American 24-hour fire and made an offering. I really appreciated feeling welcome there. I found myself returning home, more comfortable with my place in the world, myself, and how to interact with both. I highly recommend going if you get the chance. It is well worth it. And…don’t forget the Goddesses. Hail Freya! Hail Frigga!
Indigenous Elder Francois Paulette (Dene) led the sunrise observance on Monday, accompanied by elders Be’sha Blondin (of the Sahtu Region), Trina Moyan, and a Mayan Elder. I arrived at 6:45 for the scheduled 7 a.m. ceremony, but as I arrived, Bob Goulais (Anishanaabe), who is the co-chair of the Indigenous Working Group of the Parliament and was there as a fire tender, announced that the ceremony would begin around 7:30 a.m. because the elders wanted to wait until the Sun had actually risen. He explained that the Parliament insisted on scheduling all the morning observances at 7 a.m., despite the fact that most of the presenters wanted an actual sunrise ceremony. I was left wondering why, at an event like this, such a simple request could not be accommodated.
So I had forty-five minutes to wait. But as so often happens, the highlight of the moment happened outside of the scheduled event. Mr. Goulais said that while we waited, he would offer us a teaching about the fire. He then told us his people’s story of creation, which began with the thought of the Creator, and spiraled down through space, to the Earth, and primarily through the Fire. We learned about the “happy hunting grounds,” as
he explained with a smile about that place from which our spirits come and to which they will go when it is their time. We heard several of his people’s teachings about the Earth, many of which have been confirmed by science today: the fire at the center of the Earth, the idea of action and reaction, and more. He finished with an explanation of the roles of men and women in his community, and how and why men have become the fire keepers.
At 7:30, the Elders had arrived, and Chief Paulette gave a brief instruction to all, after which we were given a small handful of tobacco to offer. As Mr. Goulais drummed and chanted (we joined him in raising our voices when he got to the “exciting parts” as he had invited us to do), we moved in a sun-wise circle, and one by one, facing the East, offered the tobacco into a small basket. When all the participants had completed their offerings, a Mayan elder took the basket of tobacco, while Elder Trina Moyan took a basket of food in her hands. Together they faced the East and offered prayers, then moved around the circle, stopping again for prayers to the South, West, and North. Finally, they emptied each basket onto the Fire, completing the offering.
The Mayan elder then explained how the teachings of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas are strikingly similar to those of the Indigenous peoples of Australia because the Original Teachings had been given to all peoples. Ms. Moyan told us that her prayers at the directions had been for all people at their beginnings, their youth, their adulthood, and their elderhood, that we might live good lives and guide others in doing the same. Elder Be’sha Blondin then gave a final blessing, exhorting us to live a simple life, and to clean and heal the Earth.
The ceremony concluded with the Elders beginning to move inside the circle, spiraling around to shake the hands of and greet each person there. The whole circle followed them in until it was whole again, where it began. As we all headed off to our next destinations, I couldn’t help humming to myself, “In the circle of Earth and sky, my heart flies to yours. We gather, we remember, and the pattern endures.”
— EarthSpirit is at A Parliament of the World’s Religions this week in Toronto! You can find more updates here and on our Facebook page.
On this chilly Sunday morning at 7 am, about 40 people gathered at a small park outside the Metro Toronto Convention Centre to join the Zoroastrian Fire Ceremony. Tehemton Mirza, the Mobed (Zoroastrian priest), greeted us as we gathered around the warmth of the fire just before the Sun rose. First he thanked the representative of the First Nations, who was present to help tend the fire, for hosting us on their land. Then he explained that he was going to do an abbreviated Boi Ceremony, a fire blessing. Each attendee had been given a dry piece of wood to offer the fire at the end of the ceremony. What followed would be familiar to any pagan today. He chanted a long blessing over the fire in Farsi, and at the point in the prayer where he intoned “Dushmata, Duzukhta, Duzvarshta,” (Bad thoughts, bad words, and bad deeds), he rang a bell nine times (three for each) to banish these.
During the ceremony, the Atash (Sacred Fire) asks in the prayer, “What did the walking friend (the devotee) bring for his sitting friend (the Sacred Fire)?” This was the invitation for the attendees to place their individual pieces of wood on the fire. At a certain point, sandalwood is offered to the fire, being particularly sacred to the rite. This morning, the First Nations attendee also offered cedar, sage, and tobacco, the sacred offerings for the particular land that we are on here. Toward the end of the chant, the Mobed asked the Fire to bless the devotees:
In thy family, may the flock of cattle increase!
Unto Thee may there be an increase of heroic men!
May thou have an active mind!
May thy life be active!
May thou live a joyous life, those nights that thou live!
The blessing is reminiscent of many of those from the Gaelic highlands.
After the prayers, and the final pieces of wood offerings were given to the Fire, each attendee was offered some ash that had been removed and cooled earlier, so that we could put a small bit on our foreheads in a sign of humility and respect for the Fire.
Having concluded the ritual part of the gathering, the Mobed drew attention to the very close parallels between the Zoroastrian ceremonies and those of our First Nations hosts. He spoke of the three different kinds of sacred fires, and he introduced a female Zoroastrian priest who was present, pointing out that there is equality among men and women, and this includes women’s participation in the priesthood.
photo by Balkowitsch, used under a Creative Commons license
On Saturday, I attended a workshop titled “Pipe Ceremony,” presented by Arvol Looking Horse, Lakota. Mr. Looking Horse talked about becoming a sacred bundle keeper when his grandmother died in her eighties, which was young for a bundle keeper. As a consequence of becoming a sacred bundle keeper, he began to live in ceremony all the time. He was told that he could not ever use a gun or weapon, he could not use foul language, could not run for political office, and he could not raise his hand to swear an oath to the U.S. flag.
What I find impressive about his presentation and his life is his willingness to take on a responsibility for his community that defines how he will live for the rest of his life. His role in his community is not merely the person who keeps the bundle or offers the pipe. His entire life is now a ritual.
Most modern pagan communities don’t have such a rigid differentiation of roles. In fact, we often have a difficult time staying in ritual for more than an hour or so, even when there is nowhere else to go and nothing else to do. Few of us live in the kind of tight-knit or geographically-centered communities that would allow for such a lifetime dedication. But the model might serve even for those of us who take on temporary roles within our own groups. If you are responsible for holding a particular piece for your community, perhaps you might try letting that role infuse your whole life, at least until you pass that role to another. Instead of looking at your responsibilities as something that you do, maybe try to think of them as who you are.
— EarthSpirit is at A Parliament of the World’s Religions this week in Toronto! You can find more updates here and on our Facebook page.
by Andrew Watt
At my second day of A Parliament of the World’s Religions, the thing that keeps striking me is the “Canadian Way”. That’s the name I’m giving to a practice, which I have found striking and emotionally powerful, of acknowledging and recognizing the First Nations of the region around Toronto as the keepers of the land. These tribes include the Mississaugas, the New Credit Tribes, and the Six Nations. I’ve not caught all the names or subtleties of the relationships between the tribes, I know. But I know that they are here, their chiefs saw us at the Parliament’s opening session on the first day, that they knew we were coming, and that they have extended a formal welcome to the Parliament and a kind of formal permission to conduct our business here. (In a kindly, funny but also serious fashion, we were told in no uncertain terms to go home when we were done.)
Talking with a few Canadians today, I learned that this is becoming more and more common at all sorts of Canadian official events: graduations and conferences, government meetings, matriculation ceremonies, and higher-level religious events like church synods. Canada appears to be making a serious commitment to recognize and acknowledge the place and position of what it calls the First Nations within the fabric of Canadian life. My new Canadian friends admitted that it feels more like “talking the talk” and not enough like “walking the walk” — but that Indigenous Peoples are much more active in the political and social fabric of the nation today than they were twenty and forty years ago in their own childhoods.
And so, the Canadian Way: to be welcomed to traditional lands by traditional First Nations custodians, to be given permission to settle and perform ceremony, and to participate in the life of the nation as the First to speak. To Be First.
The formal opening session of the Parliament was preceded by several hours of Indigenous Ceremony in the park outside the Convention Center: dancing, smudging done by members of the Toronto tribes, welcomes from the chiefs of several of the tribes, drumming and singing in the traditional styles and in the traditional costumes of the
photo by Moira Ashleigh
Mississaugas, the Cree, the New Credit Tribes, the Six Nations. A few hours later, at the formal opening of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, the chiefs spoke again. No rousing strains of “O Canada!” filled the hall. Instead, with the raising of Indigenous eagle feathers and staffs, the singing was one of one of the local tribe’s national anthems, and another song in a First Nations language to thank veterans. During the opening speeches, a minister of the government of Canada thanked the Mississaugas and the New Credit Tribes and the Six Nations. So did the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. So did a city councillor of the government of the city of Toronto. No one stumbled over unfamiliar names. No one tried a couple of times and gave up. The tribes were mentioned in the same order each time (which I’ve endeavored without notes to repeat, but apologize if I’ve gotten in wrong). There is clearly an effort underway within the Canadian government to restore a sense of traditional custodianship of the land to the First Nations, at all levels of government.
That’s extraordinary in itself.
But then… it happened in some of the sessions and workshops I attended during the day. A presenter thanked the First Nations tribes of the Toronto area, and named them the same way the government officials had. Then she got around to thanking the Parliament for inviting her to speak. A ritual event in another space included a formal acknowledgement that the ceremony was taking place on Mississaugas land.
Later in the day, I asked a Canadian if they knew what First Nations land they were on. “Mississaugas,” came the answer, followed immediately by surprise. They didn’t know, quite, how long they had known that information, or how they’d come by it.
And yet, in an extraordinary way, the Canadian Way is beginning to undo the effects of centuries of deliberate erasure of the First Nations: by inviting them to speak First, by inviting them into the role of the traditional custodians, all across Canada people are waking up to the idea that they are on someone’s land, that they are in someone’s land: that Canada is more than one country, and the country has a deeper and longer history than just the French and English, Confederation and a couple of World Wars.
The Canadian Way may bring about a deeper understanding of their nation’s cultural heritage, a heritage that extends at least twenty thousand years into the past…. and into a present where the First Nations always speak First, in words of welcome and of permission. There’s a power in that; and I hope that it brings the many peoples of Canada a few long and graceful strides toward reconciliation. At the same time, I feel the challenge and the opportunity in the Canadian Way that all of these visitors from around the globe must see and hear, and I hope that many of them — and we ourselves — can take the steps and begin the conversations that begin to put Indigenous voices as First Voices.
— EarthSpirit is at A Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto this week! Keep an eye here and on our Facebook page for more updates on our interfaith experiences.
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.