windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (everything changes stars)
On Sunday morning, there was no mistaking the fact that it had shifted into autumn. I'd arrived, Friday afternoon, wishing I'd packed bug spray and shorts and now it was misty and cold and everywhere I was seeing the first glow of color on the changing leaves. The night before, walking to ritual, there had been something like diamonds winking from the dark grasses beside the path, little landbound fireflies sending a few more messages out into the night before the seasons turned. I had never seen anything so amazing in the natural world as those motionless, pulsing stars at my feet.

Others were awake before me, and everytime the cabin door by my headboard opened and hissed closed, a draft of damp, chilly air wafted over me and tempted me to abandon my warm bed. It finally succeeded. I got dressed, packed my things into my carry-on bags, and then took my camera out into the land one more time. Everything was cloaked in mist, still and quiet, restful and contemplative. All was well with me, truly well.

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I walked the path up to the main house for breakfast. Someone had a deck of tarot cards out for a morning card draw with the question of, "What are you bringing home from Diana's Grove this weekend?". I drew the Five of Swords, or in this Celestial Tarot deck I was pulling from, the constellation Pegasus. Not sure what to make out of it, as it certainly didn't feel very comforting or welcome a gift to bring back from the Grove with me. :)

After a final session with my Circle of Support, the whole group got together for a fare-thee-well check-out. Everyone got a few minutes to share a memory from some time at the Grove in the past and a memory from this weekend in particular. I felt just overwhelming gratitude. The community there is extraordinary, the women who founded it inspirational, the commitments that people have made to keep it growing and vibrant remarkable. I am lucky to have found Diana's Grove while it existed in this incarnation, on this land. I can't help but wish I'd arrived sooner, somehow, that I'd been able to go through the leadership training programs, but that is small potatoes compared to the blessed sense of gratitude I was feeling. I loved every person in that room. My soul was perfectly content--at peace, at home.

After hugs and goodbyes and another delicious lunch, I had a few hours to myself before it was time for me to leave for the airport. The Grove got quieter as cars rumbled down the gravel roads and away. The bunks in our cabin were stripped, one by one. I decided to go and walk, by myself, the big labyrinth mown into the meadow. I have walked by that labyrinth so many times and never stepped in. I never really understood what, beyond a meditative aid, a labyrinth was meant to deliver. I overheard someone say that you must consider what you're looking for in the middle before you begin the walk, so I stopped on the threshold and considered what it was that I needed to find in the center of that winding coil. There was only one thing, and I didn't consider it to be related, at all, to my letter to Persephone. (Though I realize now, they very much were.)

In the center of the Labyrinth, I hoped to find self-esteem... )
windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (everything changes stars)
I was anxious on the walk to ritual that night. I should have gone ahead without my cabinmates, but they had the flashlights and parts of the road were muddy, so I waited as they layered and relayered their ritual wear for warmth and made last minute stops at the outhouses on the way. The road was empty, we were the last to make the walk and I was pretty sure at the pace we were making, we'd be not only the last to arrive but also, quite unmistakably, late. All of my anxiety, my hurry, my worry about being rude jarred me out of what is usually for me a very solemn walk. I was pretty miserable.

I arrived, at a speedwalk, to Carter Shay where a double ring of chairs was arranged around a small fire that was burning blue and green and sunset colors, popping sparks up into the circle of sky among the towering trees of the grove. I found, and took, one of the few remaining chairs in the back row and watched the fire for a few moments before we began. It was cold out and I was wearing, pretty much, everything I'd brought with me. Jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt, fleece zip-up jacket, hooded ritual cape, and butterfly shawl. I was so bulky, I felt like a linebacker and felt comfortable but disconnected from my surroundings. Sitting in the back row gave me a feeling that I was observing, more than participating, in the event as the ritual began. Watching the majority of the group leave their chairs to move closer to the fire, I wanted to cry. Really cry. I was feeling terrible about myself. I felt like, I have no business being within this community, and all sorts of other uncharacteristically unkind thoughts. It was tempting to stay in my second row chair, watch the backs of the participants, and cry. I felt like the perpetual outsider. I felt profoundly alone.

In my pocket, folded up, was the letter I'd written to Persephone. My plea. That part of myself I wanted her to walk into the Underworld with. The seed that needed to be buried, out of my hands, so that the transformative powers of the earth could allow it to sprout. The part of me I wanted her to embrace and heal. It wasn't worded this way, but in the days following, I can tell you what my letter was all about. I feel worthless. Ineffective, unimportant, small. I don't see the positive impact of my actions. I think that if only I had a clear vision, a detailed Calling, of where I should go in life that I could then work towards becoming that worthwhile person. I could feel good about myself if I was utilizing my skills in making the world the proverbial 'better place'. But I don't know where to go and I don't see a clear vision of my own best self and so I circle around, uncertain, in this whirlpool current of low self-esteem. So I'm sitting in the back row of ritual with that letter in my fist, watching the fire, watching everyone moving in the firelight, and thinking to myself with hot tears in my eyes, I don't have anything worth contributing here.

It was awful. Low self-esteem isn't new to me, but it hasn't ever intruded before into my ritual life. In ritual, I feel I have something to give. In ritual, I am comfortable in my skin. In ritual, my voice has value. So it was taking this one realm of power and opening the door between it and my self-doubt. (Misery!)

At some point, I forced myself out of the chair and forward into the group by the fire. The fire was really a marvel of fire-building. There was a central fire, small and dynamic, and it was contained within a circular low-wall of heavy logs, stacked like bricks in a wishing well. At some point, that fire was triggered into the outer wall and slowly, the flames extended around the entire circle, creating this incredible cauldron of fire, a portal or empty space just past the walls of flame. We were each given the chance to drop in our letters. I went early and dropped my letter into the center. It disappeared, immediately, out of my sight.

I had time to watch the fire and feel gratitude for its architect, the Grove's resident cook and man of many talents, as he stepped forward again and again, almost entirely unnoticed, to feed or adjust something. We were chanting, solemnly, and I felt this yearning for Persephone to hold me, to heal me, to take away the mental anguish I was feeling.

Deep Calls to Deep
and Deep Calls to Deep.


Again and again, we sang those lines. Dozens of letters were thrown into the fire. I remembered, as I sang, something that had been said during Ritual Conspiracy when the chant was introduced.

Deep Calls to Deep


The place where my deep passions meet the world's deep needs.

and Deep Calls to Deep


The World wants, needs, me to be me, to become me.

We go down as She goes down
We follow her under ground

Hail to Persephone!
Who heals the souls below.

Deep calls to deep
and deep calls to deep.


Persephone can heal anything but what I put into her hands, like burying a seed, I must let go of. I am the seed I must let go of. I cannot predict or control what I will grow into. I don't even have to know what sort of seed I am. I just have to trust the process, relax into the earth, and know that every day I am undergoing my own becoming. I am a work in progress.

Deep calls to deep
and deep calls to deep.


At the end of ritual, I stayed behind at the fire with many others for some additional singing and voice work. I sang my heart out and shifted my chair back, bit by bit, as the fire got hotter and hotter. I felt something cold strike my face and thought maybe I'd been burned by a spark from the fire. It happened again, though, and was distinctly cold. I looked up, into that circle of sky that the fire was sparking up into, the vault of stars and indigo sky and a wind picked up and in a spiraling cascade, the trees at my back released a sigh of leaves that surfed and settled into the fire, into Persephone's portal, across the ritual space and the participants still standing and seated within the circle. It was absolutely magickal. Fall, quite unmistakably, had arrived and it felt almost palpable that Persephone had descended with our letters into her kingdom under the earth. I felt a quietude, a sense of awe, an overwhelming sense of well-being as drops of water and whispers of leaves fell among me. It was time, for me at least, to make the walk back to the cabin.

Ahead of me, robed figures walked in the light of hand-held lanterns. Others, like me, made their way in darkness. I thought of how many people had made this walk at Diana's Grove and how many people felt transported into a timeless spirituality the way I did. I could be anyone, anywhere, anytime as I walked down the road of torches and starshine.

It was autumn, my own season of sovereignty, and I felt peaceful in my own skin. I skipped the dessert and companionship in the barn and chose, instead, to curl up in the warmth of my bunk and sleep a healing sleep.
windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (underworld fae)
Saturday, at dusk, [livejournal.com profile] mermaiden and I dressed for the final ritual of the weekend at the Grove. Sarah looked like a dream twirling across the grass in the hand-dyed, hand-sewn ritual robe she'd bought from the Grove's ritual garb store. This ritual, unlike the others, we as participants had been invited in to co-create the elemental invocations. I'd been chosen by Center, and so while I helped set up some final candles at the Barn and took photos of Sarah's happy twirling, I was preoccupied with my obligations. What would I say?

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Just before ritual, I and the other three women who'd drawn Center as their element to call met for one last powwow. I'd had a strong vision of Center as the dark nothingness a breath before the cosmic Big Bang, that expectant moment of Pure Possibility. I was asked to speak for the group in the invocation, to stand in the Center and convey what I saw. We were invoking Center as that place, at the center of everything, at the center of ourselves that contains All That We Are, All That We Need, All That We Can Be. That core reserve of infinite potential, waiting power, and pure, divine essence. The others would orbit around me, whispering All That We Are, All That We Need, All That We Can Be as I stood in the center and twined it together. Marilyn Sue, our facilitator, asked if I wanted to do a dry run before ritual. I had to say no, frankly, because I had no idea what I was going to say. Not one clue, five minutes before. :D

Oh, ritual was beautiful, with each small group performing a different, empowering, inclusive invocation of their chosen element. When it was time for me to step into Center, the hairs on my arms stood at end and I knew what to say. It was that electrical-charged feeling of connection, that pure-fire flow of channeling. It worked and Center, as we'd conceived it, was there.

The beauty after that moment was that my working role was over and I was able to fall back into ritual, be surprised and embraced by the work of the other priests and priestesses, and have an emotionally rich experience within the genius ritual plan.

One by one, four priestesses stepped into the center of the circle. Each one held a bowl aloft and were there to carry the challenge of one of the four elements. Each stood in the center and gave their qualifications for being able to hold that element's challenge, sharing a story of one challenge of that type they had met in life. The sharing was extraordinarily brave and vulnerable and sobering. The heroics of those priestesses! I was openly crying. They were, indeed, capable of holding that challenge for us all.

We were each then called to take a rainbow ribbon, the string of our lives, and to visit the four priestesses, as we felt appropriate, to claim beads from their bowls representing the challenges of those four element types we'd met in our own lives. There was drumming and singing and candle light, slow movements and sacred exchanges between hero and priestess. Hands shaking, I reached into the bowls of colorful beads and strung them, one at a time, upon the string of my life. A challenge for fire, a challenge for water, a challenge for air, a challenge for earth. I whispered to each priestess and they met my eyes, unflinchingly. Some witnessed silently and others said, "Good Work, Hero" or something else to acknowledge my victories. I took one bead from each element, tied to a specific challenge I'd faced, but also representative of all the acts of heroism I'd undertaken in the same elemental way.

I sat and cried, running my fingers over the beads in the dark, drawing the ribbon through my hand and finally acknowledging not only the pain of those times, but my own role as the hero in getting past them. We were given time to meet with one other person, to share the stories of our beads one-on-one. A man I know, somewhat, crossed the circle to sit beside me. He held his string of beads out to me on two hands, a precious, precious object, the physical symbol of his entire life, and asked if I would hold it. I took it, reverently, and held his life as he leaned close in the darkness and whispered the secrets of those seven beads. I watched his eyes, transfixed by his story and the raw depth of sharing. I loved him. This was not a public face but the voice of his brave, struggling, beloved Soul. Who would not love this man? No face of the Divine wishes you harm. Every face of the Divine loves you. We are all so flawed, so beautiful, struggling to complete a set of impossible tasks in the pursuit of our true selves. It is all about Love. We are all heroes, all of us, but do we feel Loved? Do I believe that Venus is challenging me for my own best interests or do I believe that She is spitefully punishing me for my human beauty? Do I believe that I am a hero for simply surviving the tasks or do I never take a moment to breathe and acknowledge that what I am doing so magnificently is both impossible and hard? Will I love the hero that I am as well as I love the heroes that I see in this Circle around me?

That man cradled my life in his hands as if it was the most precious, dear, fragile thing in the world. He leaned close to hear as I told him the stories, crying, of my four representative challenges--instances I would have said before today were tales of failure and grief and loss. At the end, I could tell that he Loved me for them all. I felt it. I took back the string of my life, thanked him for holding it, and he slayed me by saying, "I would have held your beads twice."

We returned to the priestesses and added beads, unknown beads, for future challenges. They will eventually have their own stories to tell of my heroism, of my Life.

Regrouping, we began to sing the night's chant.

I Will Be
I Am Me
Pure Possibility

Here and Now
There and Then
I Can, I Have, I Will Again


Can you celebrate your life's story as a series of successes instead of a series of failures? Can you honor the self that has made wise choices, survived the unsurvivable, been transformed and stood their ground? Good work, hero. We are all heroes. We have all done impossible things throughout the challenges of our lives. What next impossible thing will you do?

I Will Be
I Am Me
Pure Possibility

Here and Now
There and Then
I Can, I Have, I Will Again


I stand in the Center, in the darkness before the beginning, in the moment that exists in every moment, of Pure Possibility.
windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (underworld fae)
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Saturday morning, with the sun lending me ample light for scanning my path and a company of Grove dogs surrounding me everywhere I went, I felt better about snakes. I am smart and capable and cautious--I wouldn't stumble upon one unannounced so long as there was light to discern my path. Still, I was feeling ripped out of the myth of the weekend and no longer connected to the work we were there to do. In the morning, my Circle of Support, that had been facilitated by the snakebite victim, was folded into another's group. We were able to talk about our experience of ritual the night before and in my case, about the snake's disturbing contributions to the ritual experience. I didn't come to any great conclusions about my unrest, but I was at least able to voice it completely and address the elephant in the room for me--that after the snakebite, my mind had gone from assisting the ritual's mood and message to full-time survival mode. I worried that I wouldn't be able to reengage with Psyche. My full and complete attention was on the level of physical reality. Good news was that the man bit by the snake had come back from the hospital in the pre-dawn hours with a lot of medications to combat the swelling and a pair of crutches, but otherwise with a good prognosis.

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At morning session, the heavy-lifting of the weekend, as I saw it, was unveiled. Pan and Psyche spoke, after Psyche made her fateful decision to accept the path of challenges in pursuit of Eros. In traditional tellings of the myth, Venus was motivated throughout with feelings of waspish, petty jealousy and revenge. At the Grove, though, Cynthea smiled knowingly at the thought that the Goddess of Love and Beauty would ever be jealous of "just a pretty girl". Instead, she told us, Psyche offered herself as a dedicant to Venus. No face of the Divine wishes you harm. Venus, tutoring and pushing, said, "To become a Goddess, you must become more than you think you are. You must do more than you think you are capable of. You must take on a series of challenges that seem almost impossible. At the completion of each challenge, each impossible task conquered, she turned to Psyche and said, "Thank you and now...." and the next impossible task was set before her. There was no time for rest or reflection or celebration, just a never-ending climb up a sheer rock face. Imagine that first task, when Psyche managed to sort the seeds of the granary. She'd achieved something that had seemed impossible! Yet, without acknowledging the weight of that triumph, 'impossible' had become the new minimum-standard, the new form of normal. Did she ever own her own heroism in meeting each successive challenge?

The path of challenges, the road to becoming our true selves, is not a glamorous one. There is no praise, no hero's welcome, no ticker-tape parade. You arrive back, scratched and dirty and breathless with the golden fleece and are swept directly, unceremoniously, into the next challenge. As Cynthea put it, "Following your bliss isn't blissful."

Our task for Saturday, the work of our final ritual of the weekend, was to take the time to breathe and honor our own heroic selves for all the impossible things we'd done, all the challenges we'd successfully passed in life unsung. We are all Psyche, all Breath and the Soul, all heroes already. Could I reframe my self-perception enough to see all the things in life that I could not have done and yet somehow did? Could I acknowledge that just because I had managed to get through something did not diminish how difficult it had been? Could I see myself as the hero in the story of my own life?

Based on the four elements, we were given four types of heroism to consider:
Challenges of Air- the heroism of speaking the Truth and intellectually, strategically solving the problems before me.

Challenges of Fire- the heroism of confrontations and transformations, the times when I throw myself into the fire.

Challenges of Water- the heroism of surviving the unsurvivable, of simply going on, of living another day.

Challenges of Earth- the heroism of taking a stand, standing for something, standing my ground

So the question isn't whether you are a hero or not (you are) but what sort of heroism you have used throughout your life when you met challenges. Oh, this work spoke to my greatest sense of wounded self. I know, intimately, every detail of every wrong decision, hurtful thing, and spectacular failure of my life. My victories, too soon, are forgotten and discounted and belittled. I don't count myself and I certainly don't count myself as a hero. The people around me, I see their glory and myself, I only know how uncertain and small and making-it-up-as-I-go I feel inside. That does not feel like the stuff of heroes! Throughout the session, I was writing madly and doodling stars in the corners of my notes. I was drinking it all in and yet, still, I wanted to go find a private place to curl up and have a cry. Was I an unsung hero? Had I never given myself credit for my accomplishments? Did I never breathe and reflect and honor myself as courageous and strong and capable of achieving impossible things, of surviving impossible pains? Oh, it hurt and it healed and mostly it stopped me dead in my tracks. I'd never considered such a thing.

There was incredible wisdom and strength and beauty among the heroes of that room. Some shared stories of their challenges. Others shared insights they'd had on the topic. I resonated most with a few snippets and so I'm just going to rescue them from my notes and leave them here, the wisdom of staff and participants alike. Maybe you'll resonate with these truths, too.

~Anything I know I must do but don't, I label 'impossible'. Anything I know I should do, but haven't yet done, I say is 'impossible'. (Of course, once I do this 'impossible' thing, I then bury its importance with a shrug. Afterall, if puny me managed to do it, it wasn't such an achievement after all.)

~No face of the Divine wishes you harm. Sometimes, though, catastrophe is the only way for the Gods to get us to move. How much worse do we want to make it for ourselves by choosing, stubbornly or out of fear, not to change, not to act when we know we must?

~We compare our insides with everyone else's outsides. They look so brave and accomplished and put together and we feel scared and inadequate and flawed. Everyone else looks like a hero to me, but inside, I don't feel like a hero myself.

~Virginia Satir was quoted, "I own me, therefore I can engineer me. I am me and I am okay."

~Everything you've done up until now has worked. Otherwise, you wouldn't be here. That's okay. Good work. Now the trick is, for the next challenge, to strategize to get to the other side without paying such a high price.

~What if, instead of seeing your life as a string of failures, you insisted on seeing it as a string of victories? Remember, one type of heroism, the challenge of water, is simply surviving another day. What does your life look like, that Path of Challenges, if it is retold from the knowledge that you are already a hero and that you've accomplished/survived/overcome one impossible thing after another? What does that change?

We had the afternoon to let these truths percolate, to sit in the cleansing flow of the stream and then to step into ritual one last time. A ritual gathering of heroes...
windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (underwater mermaid)
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Friday, after our sessions and lunch, we had the afternoon to ourselves to explore the land and try to find respite from the summer heat. Sarah and I were of a mind, so we changed into lightweight clothes and headed to the creek. The water level varied from a few chilly inches to a couple feet, so we found a comfortable little dip mid-channel to plunk ourselves down in to cool off, chat, and let the currents sweep our troubles downstream. It was a decadent experience. Little fish started congregating around us, hiding out in the shade under our legs, darting impishly away from [livejournal.com profile] mermaiden's attempts to pet and hug them underwater.

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(This photo was taken the day before, but I don't care! :D It's [livejournal.com profile] mermaiden, working her Earth Goddess mojo. :D)
~*~

We showered and dressed and got all sparkled up and jewelry-laden for ritual. The ritual began in the barn, where we met in the moonlight clutching our love letters to Life. We were back into Psyche's story, her choice to follow the Song of Life and to exit the Underworld. At some point, most of the ritual staff disappeared from the barn and we were instructed, at long last, to begin our silent journey from this dark Underworld and back into the full riot and color and light of Life. We were told to go out into the world and to listen to the love songs, the songs of Life that were so audible in the night-dark woods and grasslands. Singly and in unintentional pairs and triplets and small groups, we left the drumming of the barn behind us for the dirt and gravel footpath outside, flanked with occasional tiki torches, as it wound through the bottom of the meadow for some long minutes to an area of the Grove that is called the Water Path, a clearing with a firepit near the creek bed. In the woods, here and there, there were snatches of an instrumental guitar and maybe the call of a pipe or flute. The ritual participants walked in silence, scattered along the path, the crunch of feet and the rustle of robes the only counterpoint to the roaring cry of the cicadas. At long last, I turned a corner in the darkness and the ritual site came into view--a vision of priestesses waiting to welcome us in white dresses and capes and an abundance of candlelight and tiki flame. A ring of chairs was open on one side and in the opening, priestesses there to give us cups of cool water and bid us relax and rest ourselves after our journey. I found a seat in the circle and was sipping my water as other journeyers arrived from the dark path. Whispers and clumped ritual staff members around the circle edged into my awareness. There was something strange in the chaos and I cast my eyes Sarah's way to see if she was catching on to the unsettled feeling in the circle. The hair on the back of my neck stood up and the welcome I'd felt at the lights of the clearing dissolved away into a sense of uneasy tension and squirminess. I didn't want my cup of water anymore. I didn't want to be sitting in that chair. At last, all the journeyers arrived and Patricia, one of Diana's Grove's founders stepped into the center of the circle and announced, with great calm, that one of the ritual staff members, intending to aspect Pan, had been bitten by a snake and was going to be carted off to the hospital. There he sat in the center of one of the whispering clumps, his instep in his hand and several staff members crouching by his legs. Patricia assured us that everything would be fine, that the snake had been asked to leave and had (without harm) complied and then River stepped into her priestessing role to resume the ritual.

The thread was snapped for me. Growing up in South Florida, snakes are serious business. There are coral snakes, rattlesnakes, and cottonmouths. We have six poisonous snakes and they are all pretty serious business. I wanted to know where the snake was when he was bitten, what kind of snake was involved, if it was poisonous, how long it would take them to get him to a hospital, how the snake had been asked to leave, how far away that snake had been compelled to leave, and what would keep him or her from returning. I'm an air sign, I wanted to intellectually exhaust the topic before moving on and instead, here was the ritual team getting us to start tonal singing work while the guy is actively being loaded into a hastily rounded up car directly behind my chair. I found it physically impossible to harmonize. Everything was coming out in minor, dirge-full moans.

The ritual text moved on to talking about the life around us, the songs of Life around us, and all I could do was creep and shiver and suppress nervous giggles about hearing the songs of snakes all around me, twining silently up my chair legs or sidling ever closer to my feet in their totally-impractical sandals. At one point, we were each invited to the fire pit which had been transformed into a candle-studded altar where we were each able to retrieve a lit votive by which to read our Love Letters to Life.

As we reread the words we'd written, in a fabulous twist, we were told to mentally replace each instance of the word "you" in the letter with "I". For, in truth, we'd not written love letters to Life as we'd thought--we'd written love letters to ourselves. My love letter had been in poem form, so the cool and fabulous twist didn't work nearly so well. And really, I was all out of joint and off-step and thinking of snakebites, so maybe nothing in ritual was destined to work well for me that night. Here I'd gone out of the safety and comfort of the Underworld into the challenge and sensation of Life and this snakebite had me feeling completely unsafe, exposed, imperiled. I thought to myself during the ritual, "Why do I need this message? Couldn't I have babystepped into a welcoming world? Instead I'm sitting in the dark and practically barefoot with snakes?! Who would be so cruel to me when I'm already feeling vulnerable just in rejoining life?"

At some point, we moved to our chant for the evening and clustered around the firepit-candle altar to sing it.

Let the beauty we love
be what we do.

There are hundreds of ways
to kneel and kiss the ground.


I was forcing it, unfortunately, while others genuinely seemed moved by the chant and the ritual and were even physically kneeling and kissing the stones and logs and earth circling the many-candled altar. Meanwhile, I'm safely perched up on my chair or standing back three feet and thinking to myself, somewhat obsessively, "Snakes live in woodpiles and they live in rock piles and what are these people doing on the ground? Holy crap they're crazy!!"

After ritual, we had a short little jam session, pulling chairs up or sitting on the ground directly around the altar area and having a little re-sing of the main (Rumi text) chant. Sarah was sitting on the ground, I think, sorta in front of my chair and she lifted one hand, mid-note, and pointed to a spot between candles. There, a couple feet away from a dozen singers and weaving swiftly between the votives and pillars and other candleholders, was a two foot patterned snake. Right under her silently pointing finger.

I, and my lawn chair, was ten feet back from the firepit within two seconds. The song halted and singers scattered back, particularly when the words "Copperhead" and "poisonous" were sounded by someone in-the-know. The snake moved quickly, unpredictably, and someone said we should clear a path out of our circle for its safe exit. Well, I didn't want to let that snake out of my sight, it was in the only area of light in a hundred acres of darkness, so I watched it like a hawk and jumped up onto my chair for good measure. I can't believe I was the only person who didn't want my bare feet so close to the ground but really, I think I was the only one up on a chair and I got some good-natured ribbing for it later.

Some people came up with the grand idea of making a break for the barn's safety and so whole groups of ritual-goers abandoned their chairs and headed for the gravel path. Never has a long, dark path seemed so sinister and dangerous to me. I was watching my feet in the feeble moonlight and praying, really, really praying, that I would not accidentally step onto a snake. It seemed like a real danger--two snakes in one ritual! Maybe the whole Grove was writhing with poisonous snakes and the small one we'd seen eating a fish on the banks of the creek that afternoon was, with some reflection, a third copperhead.

OMG. OMG. OMG. OMG. OMG. OMG. OMG.

Southern Copperhead, east Texas(illustrative photo by TomSpinker of Flickr)

I have no animosity towards snakes, you must understand, but I don't know them. Their habits, their moods, their signals are alien to me and so they seem unpredictable. I'm snake-dumb. I'd rather avoid a miscommunication entirely by not running into any and not, please Goddess help me, force one to bite me by stepping on them, unintentionally hurting them, or making them feel endangered by my presence. I've never been bit by a snake, never known anyone bit by a snake, so it all seemed pretty overwhelming and horrible. Walking back there was a lot of laughter and snakes-are-good conversation around me and I was wound tighter than a spring, praying to every Deity I have ever served to protect my naive, blundering self from crossing the path of all the snakes laying invisible on the path.

I didn't much feel like the after-ritual dessert party at the barn. I was feeling shocky and ungrounded and bizarre after the interrupted and reinterrupted ritual energy and wanted nothing more than to reset myself, and my outsized fears, with the remedy of a good night's sleep. (I'm a Libra--given time the scales always settle down into calm, even-keeled, rational thought and big-picture perspective.) The dark minute or two's walk into the woods to the outhouse at night felt like blindly praying my way through a minefield. The Grove felt dangerous for the first time ever and I felt stupid for not having respected those dangers in the past. Following the call into Life wasn't looking so attractive anymore!

(Don't worry...by the end of my next installment, I get a grip on myself but in the dark of night, with copperhead snakes afoot, I was a mess. An "I don't even know what to do with myself because there isn't even an emotional label to put on this" mess. :D)
windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (sacred)
Friday afternoon, we worked with the concept of there being four levels of reality that we define ourselves (and everything around us and everything that happens to us and, I guess, just everything) by. The levels are: physical, emotional/psychological, mythical, and essence. The idea, as I vaguely understand it, is that we create our reality in layers. There is physical reality that well-focused observers could agree upon or measure. (On Friday morning, just after 6:00am, I went for a walk.) The other three levels, though, are products of our fascinating powers of creativity. We are all storytellers and our minds are constantly scripting the unfolding tale of our lives. There is a emotional/psychological track where I set the mood and there is a mythic track where I ascribe great importance to my morning walk. I cast people into roles in my tale--there are heroes and villains and innocent bystanders and magical guides. And down at the essential level, there is the core of everything--innate qualities, talents, perspective. So in real-time, physical reality is unfolding in a series of events without meaning and then we power up our amazing story-telling minds and dip the proverbial quill in the proverbial ink and get to work with all the rest of it. It can become so elaborate that I almost lose sight, entirely, on the physical reality of what occurred.

Now, the Grove philosophy seems to stress that this is normal, empowering, and good. It sounds delusional, but this is where we find meaning in everything. There is a power in knowing the process, though, because there are pitfalls to all these layers of reality. For example, there is a boy from Middle School that tormented me. One of his favorite tricks was to flip my skirt up in the hallways, flashing my underwear for all and sundry to see me. To this day, I don't want to wear skirts because of what this guy did to me when we were 11 years old. I have cast him, mythically, as THE VILLAIN! He's not even human, he's a cardboard cutout of THE VILLAIN in any story that includes my school experience. My senior year of high school, after years at another school, he became our class president. He approached me, all smiles and kindness and struck up a conversation in the halls one day about a big class trip he was hoping to plan. THE VILLAIN was acting completely out of character. It didn't make sense to me, at all. He wasn't trying to humiliate me. He wasn't taunting me like an eleven year-old terror. He was just nice and friendly and talkative. It didn't jive with my mythic reality. Other VILLAINS from my school days are now adding me as "friends" on Facebook and cheerfully commenting on how beautiful my profile picture is. They, too, are shattering their cardboard roles because they've aged and matured and changed and mythic portraits of people that we create never do. So that's where the reality I've created is probably nothing like their own perspective, their own reality of the days we spent in school together.

Well, anyways, as little seeds of potential and change, we discussed the levels of reality as a place to go to effect true, lasting change within ourselves. We were challenged to consider that in order to change we must first change our essential selves. Changing just the physical issues or altering our mood rarely works longterm. We must instead put our storyteller selves at work for a good cause and tinker at the essence/essential self level of reality by undergoing an "essential reclaiming". This is changing the very unquestioned essence of who we are, how we understand and define our talents and basic qualities, the gifts we feel we have as part of our birthright. At this level, at essence, is where we tell our unique life's story.

To help us to chart some of these essential self waters, we had two writing exercises for the afternoon. All you need to follow along is a few minutes and two pieces of paper. :)

Essential Self (The key is to not spend too much time with any one task. Go with your gut!)
1) Divide a piece of paper into three columns.

2) In column A, list ten nouns describing yourself. These are labels that you feel can be attached to you. Some examples would be (woman, mathematician, couch potato, athlete, mother, lover, blogger, priestess, student, etc).

3) In column B, list ten adjectives describing yourself. These are qualities you feel you have. Some examples would be (bold, colorful, lazy, talented, artistic, skeptical, passionate, etc).

4) In column C, list ten descriptives/adjectives that your best friend (who is not your partner) would say about you. Chances are this list will differ somewhat from the list you made of your own qualities.
Complete these steps before moving on behind the cut. )

The second writing exercise we were given was to write a love letter to Life. We weren't given much time to dwell on it, just ten or fifteen minutes with a sheet of paper to pour out a love letter to that Life that calls us out from the Underworld, that Life that encourages us to engage, that Life that sings that song that lifts our head from our grief and our isolation. Everything about Life that calls us yearning towards it--craft a love letter. This letter we were told to bring with us to ritual, to read it privately again to ourselves in the safety of sacred space. Will you write a love letter to Life?

:)
windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (joy fae)
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Friday morning, I woke to the misty, cool enchantment of dawn. After the battering heat and humidity of the day before, I was eager to take advantage of cooler temps. I grabbed my camera, slipped my feet into my clogs, and took off on an early morning walk of the land with the companionship of one very friendly, very adventuresome beagle that I found waiting outside the cabin door.

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Butterflies were out in dancing, laughing clouds of color. Goldfinches dove and banked among the wild echinacea. Brilliant, milky moonflowers glowed in a scatter of magic around the meadow and fenceline. In one perfectly fragile blossom, a camoflaged snowy spider held court. Dew sparkled everywhere and the morning sky was a watercolor wash of pastel pinks and purples and blues. The pathways were sealed, in spots, with iridescent webbed barriers and I felt like the only human alive in a world of bountiful, busy little creatures. Everywhere I looked, the Earth was bright with life. Grasshoppers skipped ahead of my shoes and great black butterflies drifted down to investigate the bright surface of my hat or the amber pattern of the freckles on my bare shoulders. I found my way down to the rock-bottom creek and walked into its icy, shallow current. Oh, it was glorious standing mid-stream and watching small moonstone-scaled fish and chubby little tadpoles race past my shoes. The rocks glowed underfoot, reflecting all the colors of the sunrise, of the wildflowers, of my heart. Oh, to be alive and alert and awake and aware, to be fully present in the magic of a summer morning in nature!

Photos from my morning hike under the cut )
~*~

By 9:30am, it was time for everyone to meet up at the main house and split up into our respective small support groups. There were four of us in my group and I welcomed the opportunity to get to know the others better. The facilitator of our group was a guy I'd met back when I first joined Mystery School but didn't fully recognize until the second day at the Grove. Life or magic or presence or something had utterly transformed the way he looked and carried himself. It was eerie and interesting--I tried not to stare. After our group broke up, it was time for a morning Breath and Song, Prayer and Trance work session. It was really an amazing demonstration of skill and spontaneity. It started with clapping, rhythm, breath and then a handful of facilitators beginning to hum and tone and wordlessly sing. Others joined in. I joined the building song, adding my own melody, my own complementary rhythm, soulful rise and fall, and soon the room was filled with a yearning, magical, entirely improvised, wordless song of prayer. Each individual was singing their soul and yet together, somehow, it worked and together, somehow, we all made a beautiful, coherent, rich and dynamic whole. It was one of the most incredible, empowering, all-out-abandon experiences of song in my life and it was essentially an unplanned morning tune up and gathering-of-the-tribe. Phenomenal. Every hair on my arm raises just remembering the song of that room, the light in everyone's eyes, the glow and power and rock-em-sock-em gorgeous group of people I was surrounded by, singing with, singing to.

We moved into breath work and I closed my eyes and found a comfortable, grounded place to sit on the floor as I was coached through the Breath of Wind, the Breath of Rising Embers, the Breath of Rolling Waves, the Breath of Growing Trees, and the Breath of the Divine and Mysteries. By the time the morning session was ready to begin, I'd experienced a breath/energy/body/spirit connection in a completely new, immediate, impossible to ignore way. It was terrifying and challenging and energizing and enervating. Just a glimpse into an entire world of ritual tools I'm unschooled at.

~*~

At our morning session, we went back to the story of Psyche and her choice to pursue the path of challenge. I don't remember if it was River or Cynthea or somebody else who led the discussion, but what struck me from that session was that the path of challenge leads us to our very self. It is tempting, so temptingly easy, to settle for the other option--easy success and the approval and admiration of others. The harder path is less glamorous! Why, on the easy path, everyone can look like a star because they are doing the things they are naturally gifted at. The path of challenge, however, is littered with opportunities to look foolish, experience complete failure and silly mistakes, and to be viewed as unlikable or different. Psyche could have remained, forever, a beloved princess to her people. They loved her for just who she was! She could fill the role with ease and looked graceful every step of the way. Imagine, then, when she chose the path of challenges, how absurd and clumsy and out-of-her element she must have appeared before she battled through and grew from her experiences! Hadn't I just admitted to myself, this month in Temple of the Twelve work, that one of my three greatest heart wounds was that I didn't try things for fear of looking ridiculous, embarrassing myself, and failing? Here, in morning session, I was hearing that was a pretty common reason why people stick with what comes easy to them--why so many women like me might choose life as a princess in comfort instead of a life of fighting to be acknowledged as an equal to a God. I'm scared to show my loving public that underneath the smooth, princess exterior lies a bumbling, make-it-up-as-I-go girl prone to failure, mishap, and absurd pratfalls!

So here's the part that hooked me right through the chest. Knowing all that, knowing that there is a choice between the easy path of doing what you're good at versus the challenging path of becoming fully who we were meant to be--the very purpose of life isn't to sail through gracefully, masquerading as someone put-together and worthy of a pedestal. The purpose of life is in our own, individual process of becoming. A forest is magnificent in its diversity, when the many varied seeds become their intended selves. We are all born seeds in that forest. Born seeds. Not blank-slate seeds but specific seeds. I don't know what I will grow into, I fret and worry and flail around because I don't know how to become the shape I'm supposed to be because I wasn't born with a seed packet description or a photo of my fully mature, realized state. I don't know what kind of seed I am! How can I grow into something without that information?! This has bothered me for years now, because Mystery School talks a lot about souls as seeds growing and I always draw the blank. I don't know what my vision for myself is. I don't know what I am meant to become. I don't know who I truly am, at core, and that is perhaps expected as that is a life's work and more to get to the bottom of. But what blew me away was the thought, finally, that seeds don't have to know what they are growing into. When they grow, they are also becoming, and no forethought or blueprint is necessary. I am a seed and what I have the potential to become is set. A Mystery to me, but not something I have to figure out. I don't have to wait to figure it out in order to grow--I need to allow myself to grow and see what I grow into becoming. I'm already a certain kind of seed. All I have to do is grow. There is no need to know anything beyond that. Once I figured that out, totally accepted the reality of that necessary blind faith, in the hospital a little voice said with great loving charity to me: You are a sugar maple. I don't have to know how that translates into a human life. I don't have to know where I'm headed. I just have to grow and trust that the essence of myself, that seed of me, will direct me into my best, intended shape.

The Sugar Maple (photo by realkuhl on Flikr)

~*~
windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (witch's circle)
The weekend before my surgery, I flew to St. Louis with [livejournal.com profile] mermaiden and drove from there to Diana's Grove for their July Mystery School weekend. The theme of the long weekend event was Playing for the Song. The temptingly vague registration catalog promised, "This weekend celebrates the creative spirit. To enter the innermost sanctum of your soul requires a leap of faith. Challenged to step into your own power, what will you create? Are you ready to let go of yourself and bring your sacred gifts to fruition? This weekend will be devoted to unleashing your own art… whatever form that joy may take." As a singer, the very mention of song drew me in and I was sold, completely, on whatever spiritual challenges, transformative experiences, and path-shifting surprises the ritual team had in store for me. There was that frisson of anticipatory bracing, though, wondering what I had gotten myself into and if the Universe would smile on me and my kidney stone out in the middle of nowhere for a weekend. :D The magic of the Grove is that it changes everyone it touches. My story is my experience. Though we may have gone through ritual and meals and meetings as a group, the other magic of the Grove is that everyone is having their own private transformations, confirmations, inspirations. We are all there alone, together. So this is my story of my weekend the way I heard it, experienced it, and was changed by it.... :)

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Our meadow-view cabin--we had the Moon(right) side. :)

A longtime Mystery picked us up at the St. Louis airport and drove us out to the Grove. We arrived late afternoon and had a few hours to ourselves to sort out our luggage, set up our bedding in the cabin, and walk the land together. I think something like thirty people were at the Grove for the weekend, but Sarah and I were still fortunate enough to be given our own cabin that would normally have housed four more campers. It gave us full license to have long slumber-party talks about things together without feeling like we were excluding anyone else around us. And, dorm-room style, it gave us plenty of room to strew our belongings around, hang wet towels and creek-swimming clothes out to dry, and otherwise take over the little lavender den as our own little retreat from the sun. :)

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Our little cabin kingdom!

Myth, Ritual, and a Call into Life )
windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (pink lotus candles)
photo(22)

Separating my experiences at Diana's Grove the weekend before my surgery, the hurt and healing of the surgery saga itself, the month of working on compassion and other "Pink" topics in Temple of the Twelve, and everything else that has been unsaid for so many weeks is impossible. It is such a tangle! Everywhere, lately, I've been discovering wise words about wounds and compassion in such a synchronous flood that it is impossible to ignore how important the lesson must be for me to learn. I'd love to be able to compartmentalize it into neat single-topic entries here and yet I can't cut it cleanly apart. So, eventually I'll talk about Diana's Grove and how some of those moments fold back into some of my surgery moments and my healing moments and my Temple of the Twelve moments. For now, though, as best as I can, I wanted to tell you what I learned about my third, and greatest, heart wound.

I don't count myself.

This month, my Pink Month with Temple of the Twelve, I accepted a few challenges. I agreed to dig for and uncover my three greatest heart wounds. I vowed to take steps to heal those wounds and to develop, in particular, a long-range strategy for the healing of the largest of these. I intended to act in a mindfully compassionate manner every day. I dared to stand my ground, at least, and stop running from love in all its forms as it made its way towards me. I would do (and record) one kind thing for someone else each day of the month. Tall order, all of that, from such a gentle color! :)

Following my surgery, I was doing some mid-moon musing on all the ways that this month has changed me and I have risen to the challenges Pink set before me. I've realized that I was shorting those around me by giving generously but carefully avoiding having to receive love/gifts/favors/encouragement/compliments/you name it in return. I wasn't allowing people to really connect with me, to know me beyond my surface layers. I've learned a lot about wounds--the way they stick around only because I feed them, the way that they can be honored by me and yet not sustained, and to appreciate their making as opportunities for compassionate growth within me. I've enjoyed the feeling of gifting myself with flowers for the sheer beauty and enjoyment of the act or surprising loved ones and strangers with tokens of appreciation and magick. I've affirmed for myself how inseparable my compassion and my service of priestessing are intertwined. There was one thing, though, that I had not done. I did not record my daily acts of kindness. Two days ago, I was quite certain, I would be repeating my Pink month in order to meet that obligation fairly.

It isn't that I didn't share a smile or a kind word, an encouraging note, a meal, or a gift with someone every day. Chances are good that I did. I left small "Believe" cards behind on bus benches and subway seats with random quotes about faith and accomplishment. I contributed uplifting, beloved books to the neighborhood free book exchange box. I called a rescue organization and did my best to aid a young pigeon in peril. I bought a meal and extra groceries for a neighborhood homeless man I've sailed past apologetically in the past. I poured my heart into the natal chart readings I did for people. I gave away gifts both small and large. I made a point to cheer all the people who crossed my path--nurses, cashiers, bus drivers. I wrote thank you notes in my hospital bed to the staff who delivered my food, checked my blood pressure, wheeled my bed from place to place. What I didn't do, though, was record any of it. I had failed in that obligation, completely, and would have to start over again next new moon.

On Lammas, all the things I had to mentally unpack wove together into one all-encompassing sense of insight. One part of that new knowledge is that my not-recording my good deeds is actually a symptom of my greatest heart wound--I do not count myself. I think that everyone around me is so beautiful, so heroic, so worthy of praise. I love the spark of the divine within their eyes and watch with sheer admiration the loving work their hands do in the world. They may not see their strength, their light, the difference their lives are making in the world--but I do. Me, though, I do not count myself. What I do is ordinary and flawed and always-too-little, so I do not count myself. When I achieve things that make my soul sing, they are soon forgotten. When I fall short of my expectations for myself, however, I remember those things forever.

At Diana's Grove, we were encouraged in ritual to string beads of challenge onto a string representing our life. Instead of counting our lives as a series of failures, we were pushed to rewrite those challenges into victories--even if that victory was merely surviving the hard time. I cannot tell you how much I wept. I see everyone for their victories, for their purest motives and most untarnished qualities, and myself I sketch in negative space. Here's where I fell, chose badly, stepped awry, took too long, wasted potential, wasted time, wasted space, did not do that which I knew was right. Here is where I screwed up my Pink Month's endeavours by not writing something down each day.

So slowly and finally, the messages are starting to sink in from the month. On Lammas, it all came together in one knowing--I am deserving of an equal share of compassion. It is a given that I am flawed, that I am challenged by this life and that I don't always respond in the way that I would wish. It is a given that I act sometimes out of fear instead of love, out of pain instead of wisdom. This is a given for everyone. This is not why I don't deserve compassion but rather why I require it. I must begin to count myself. I am as beautiful, as important and immortal and precious, as those who catch my eye and my heart and my admiration around me.

I must count myself, number my victories instead of my failures, and lend myself the compassion I need to truly thrive and grow and dare.
~*~

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This month, I ran across two phenomenal pink items from a catalog of inspirational gifts for women. They made me weep with joy and soul-deep longing, so I bought them. There would be women aplenty in my life that I could gift them to. That is my way, when I see wonderful things, I want to give them to wonderful people. One, a small blank journal, reads on the cover, "She just had this way of brightening the day." The other, a portable folding picture frame, read on the outside cover, "She makes the world a better place." For Lammas, as an act of compassion to myself, I gave those gifts to myself. I will not redo my month of Pink, unless my New Moon time with Lady Pink convinces me otherwise, but part of my long-term task of healing my wound of not-counting-myself, I am keeping track in my little pink book my kindnesses of the day--for myself and for others. Into the picture frame, I slipped a photo of myself and a trimmed down card from the same "She..." line that reads, "She listened to her heart above all the other voices."

It feels too extravagantly, embarrassingly kind to myself and yet also, I know soul-deep, true. I have trouble holding onto the knowledge in the midst of all my self-criticism, but I am good and loving and compassionate and influential. The less I doubt myself, the more impossible, world-changing things I can achieve.

We are all necessary, irreplaceable, glorious lights in this life, finding the places where our unique abilities are cried out for, altering forevermore the lives of those we touch, shaping the world with our love and compassion--and I-Am-Counting-My-Self!

(I hope you will, too.)

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windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (pink lotus candles)
Tippy-tapped update from me and my phone at the airport. My weekend at Diana's Grove was transformative, restorative, beautiful, and fun. The trip home met some hiccups as my flight last evening out of St. Louis was cancelled and I was left to get a hotel after many hours at the airport. Five hours sleep and I'm back and trying to get home again. This morning I am supposed to check into the hospital at 10am and have the first procedure, a radiology guided percutaneous neprostomy, at 11am. I am working hard to keep the anxiety at bay. I love this term I heard at the Grove this weekend--"growing edge". This is definitely a growing edge for me. I hope you will keep me in your thoughts. I sure need calm thoughts and still moments bravery to face this.

Love!

Rachel
windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (sacred)
This weekend, Daniel stayed home with Graeme, allowing me to meet [livejournal.com profile] mermaiden for the Spring Equinox Woman's Weekend at Diana's Grove in Missouri. It was the most enriching, life-changing, magical sabbat celebration I could have ever hoped for.

Thursday afternoon, I flew up to Chicago. On the plane, I was reading the book Affluenza about our society's unhealthy addiction to stuff and I've been giving great thought to the impact I have upon Gaia in my own life, so it should have come as no surprise that shortly after arriving at my Chicago condo for the night, my iPhone died a sudden death and couldn't be revived. The message there wasn't lost on me, so I happily did without until my return here yesterday. (I was pleasantly surprised to find that pay phones do still exist.)

Friday morning, I lugged my bags to the bus stop, transferred to the train, and rode to the airport to meet up with Sarah. As luck would have it, I found her in the terminal without the use of a phone. That was pretty awesome. :D We flew together into St. Louis and were picked up there by another woman driving to the Grove. The four hour drive to the Grove passed companionably with a stop at Subway for sandwiches. The weather was gloriously warm and sunny. We felt pretty lucky and intrigued to learn that there were only 15ish women registered for the weekend, compared to the crowds of 40-50 I've encountered in the past. We were assigned our own cabin together, with three bunkbeds, so it felt like outrageous luxury and privacy. There was one woman and her dog in the cabin adjacent to ours, but really we felt like we had the run of the place...acres and acres and acres of solitude. The afternoon gave us a couple hours to walk the land together, wade bravely into (and out of!) the icy spring run-off of the rocky creek, visit some of the Goddess shrines/altars on the land, and otherwise sink our roots into that sacred land. At 5pm, we hiked up the hill to the Mystery School House, pinned on our name badges, and circled in the Great Room with the other participants. It was an intimate, warm group. Just over a dozen of us women, aged 12-70?, mothers with their daughters, maidens, mothers, crones. A few of the women I'd met in visits years past and it was wonderful to see and hug them again. Others, I hadn't met, were so kind and open-hearted, it seemed we'd known each other forever.

There were a couple themes to the weekend: the courage of a seedling dreaming in the dark as it stretches towards the uncertain welcome of the spring world and the sacrifice of Persephone returning out of love and service to the world of her Mother, Demeter. We are the Seeds, we are Persephone, we are Demeter.

After introducing ourselves, talking about the weekend and the science of composting outhouses, we split up into smaller support groups and took some time to talk about where we were at emotionally and what we expected from our time at the Grove. At 6:30pm, a communal dinner was served. We had time to hike back to the cabin under the bow moon before hauling back up for what had been billed as an 8:30pm Candlelit Storytelling in the Great Room. What began as a story morphed into a group ritual. There was drumming and dancing and impromptu elemental invocations. I have no conscious memory of what was said. (I should have journaled.) :)

That night, my sinus infection got worse and I froze about to death. I remember thinking that I needed to get out of my bunk and across the room to turn the gas heater up but I was shaking so badly the thought of throwing off the covers I did have seemed suicidal. ;) I did get up and piled on clothes, cranked up the heat, and slept better after that.

I woke up at dawn and took photos around the barn and meadow.

Around 10am, Sarah and I went up to the main house for a quick breakfast before our morning sessions. We talked a little bit about the astrological wheel and all the pairs of conflicting/related issues that spread across its spokes, the solstices and equinoxes that mark it into quarters. Another staff member, a poet and wordsmith, led us through a really neat writing activity. Here's how it worked: Poetry, A Unique Egg Hunt, and other Wordy Bits... )

During the afternoon, the main house was host to some crafting opportunities. The big kitchen table was surrounded by women working on creating collages with their word strips from the earlier session, decorating magical, inspirational eggs, and coaxing the sun onto that sunprint paper. I had no idea what to do with the eggs. On the one hand, I'm vegan and I don't buy or use eggs. On the other hand, it is their big ritual tradition for the sabbat, decorating and exchanging blessing eggs. If I didn't create one, then someone else wouldn't get one. I was totally at a loss for how to proceed gracefully and within my own comfort. The giant bowl of undecorated eggs on the bowl decided me. I did my decorations and when the time came, collected my egg from someone else, absorbed the message of the blessing, and slipped it back into the basket before I left.

At 4:30pm, after a glorious hot shower, we met to plan the evening's ritual. I was randomly sorted into the group to invoke Water, very happily, and we laughed our way through some borderline crazy considerations for how to do that. In the end, we had half a plan and then made it up on the spot later with perfectly acceptable results. ;)

At the last Circles of Support meeting, I cried like a baby. I'd been mentally calculating how many days of my life I could expect to spend on that land at Diana's Grove. When the question came around to me in our small support group of how the day had gone, I surprised myself by completely losing it. I was mourning the loss of it, the loss of my daydreams where I could bring my daughter, my daughters with me to this land. I felt like I'd come to the party about fifteen years too late and I just felt the loss of that passing in one painful rush.

Dinner was at 6pm and then we had a few hours to get dressed for ritual.

And the ritual! It was perfect. The best part was that release of the energy after an increasingly fast, wild, joyous singing She Changes Everything She Touches and Everything She Touches, Changes. We were in the dark, our breathless faces lit by the candles we each held, as the chant ended and we all took a huge, collective, grinning breath. Looking around at the faces of all those women, beautiful, wild, joyous women of all ages, gave me perfect faith in humanity's goodness, the power of the Craft, and my own divine ability to make a difference. One of the staff members looked over us all and proclaimed us something like "Beautiful, powerful women all. Changers. You have the power to change eternity, to change the world." We are all seeds dreaming ourselves up through the dark, close to making our colorful entrance to the world of light, of spring. :) Sarah and I went back to the cabin and stayed up talking long into the night. The ritual had unlocked something in both of us, the door to the path of our lives. Torrents of words about where we each suddenly knew we were headed and tarot cards to reinforce that knowing with images. Witchy slumber party par excellence. :D

Sunday morning, we woke up to a steady, icy rain and the reminder that it truly takes courage to sprout in spring. The weather isn't always welcoming! My sinus infection shrugged off the 15-whatever-days of antibiotics and I was back to having pockets stuffed with tissues and tins of cough drops and drinking all the water I could stand. The damp wasn't helping me feel like less of a troll, I can tell you that! :) I've been told I'm not contagious at this point, but it was still hard not to feel like a plague. Very shy and sniffly. :)

At 10am, after breakfast, we had a tarot session with the Grove's resident Tarot expert. Really, every tarot session with her brings up new techniques, new insights, new wisdom. What is it I'm planting to bloom in my life? Every woman had her own answer--mine was the 4 of Wands. Funny as that's what I've gotten every time I've been at the Grove. Another portal to cross, another new life born from the work there.

We exchanged eggs, hugs, good wishes and had lunch before packing up and saying our goodbyes to the damp, daffodil brightened spots we'd come to love again. Long drive to the airport in the rain, rain delays, long walks at the airports with leaden, clothes-stuffed bags. In Chicago, I took the train back to the condo for a quick sleep before my morning flight back to Florida. I decided, fortunately, to take a midnight shower before falling into bed where I found, to my horror, a tick dug tenaciously into my shoulderblade.


AAAAAAAAAGGGH!

(It's okay now. Provided I don't get Lyme. But really, I kinda freaked and when the suffocate-them-with-goop-so-they'll-let-go didn't work, I just used all my strength and ripped the little bugger out of my skin. My immune system will have to dispose of his little mouthparts.)

AAAAAGH!

Ahem. Yes. I've had two ticks in the whole of my life and they've both come from the state of Missouri. Missouri, I'm looking at you! ;D

But hitchhiker notwithstanding, it was an incredible weekend.

Photos here... )
Lots more photos at my Flickr page.
windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (sacred)
Lessons, from all sides, have been piecing themselves together into an "a-ha!" moment. I'm not sure I can explain my personal epiphany or where it all came from, but I wanted to try.

I've been inspired lately by Nicole Bouchard Boles' book How to Be an Everyday Philanthropist. It has hundreds of suggestions on how to live a life of daily philanthrophy using the resources you already have to spare. It encourages me to know that if I share what I have, on a small, sustainable scale, that I can do good in the world every day that I'm on it. Reading through the sort of menu of ideas and cobbling together what works with my own circumstances has been so inspirational. I can remember in elementary school telling people I wanted to be a philanthropist when I grew up. (If it wasn't a "ballerina" kinda day.) I'm only now getting into the mindset that it isn't something to aspire to in the future, when I'm organized and I have a lot of disposable income and my son isn't quite so dependent upon my time. It is something I can choose to be, choose to embody already. Quite a mind-shift there.

Mystery School at Diana's Grove has raised some interesting questions for me. Somewhere in the material or the resulting conversation, I came across that concept where theologian Frederick Buechner described a vocation, "[It is] the place where your deep gladness meets the world's deep need." I was reading another theologian who dug into the concept a little and talked about how, if you start with the world's need, you get nowhere. It is too immense. Everywhere, need. Anyone with any empathy can feel the edges of that need, sense the size and shape of that hole. Nobody could get out of it. How often do we get the barest sense of that abyss and back away by shutting down emotionally? I know that is what allowed me, for years, to eat meat even though it went against my own personal ethics. I backed away and shut down to the reality of what it meant to me. Clearly, if we gathered on the edge together and looked into the yawning depths of despair and deprivation, we'd never begin anything. Instead, I must start with my own abilities, my own renewable resources, my unique talents and passions that urge me where to direct the small sparkles of effort I can contribute to the darkness of the world's troubles. What a life I would be living if it was shaped to the purpose of being love! What are my abilities and talents? I have more trouble with that. I do know what the Call sounds like, though, I know the feeling of reading a news-story, more often about children than anything else, and sobbing. I know the feeling that energizes me, even for just a moment, with the lightning bolt of, "I Must DO Something!".

Mystery School discussed the nature of heroism, too. Heroes were defined at one point as the people who keep getting up after they're knocked down. They aren't perfect and they aren't some elite predestined group--an unattainable level of mankind--they just choose to keep getting up. That's it. The sole quality of heroism. That shook me to the core. In the mailing lists, someone asked what helps you get back up when you've fallen or stumbled in life. I couldn't answer because, unlike other respondents, I didn't think I had much of an inner cheerleader spurring me on. I think when I stumble or fall, I'm the opposite of my own cheerleader. I've been, in the past, the voice of my own self-doubt. If I trip up, I've used it as an affirmation that I wasn't the person for the job--I wasn't good enough, talented enough, strong enough, organized enough, enough enough to be the hero that I wanted to be. At the core of all that self-doubt, there is the despair that tells me that I don't matter in the scheme of the world, that my life has not lived up to my potential, that I'm not important, that I'm without worth. That is the wound at the heart of me.

I met this banyan tree in the park the other day. It was fairly young and hadn't yet gotten any prop roots to grow from its branches down to the ground. Instead, it was curved around itself tightly in a tangle of bark, like a trunk of rolling snakes, to keep its weighty branches aloft. I put my hand out to her and felt the soreness. "Oh, Mama Banyan! What has happened to you in life?". I looked up along her great curving branches and found the source of that pain. Two of her main branches had curved alongside each other and there was a giant half-healed sore there where the wind sawed them against each other as a constant irritation. She couldn't get out of her own way. She couldn't help but hurt herself. She bore the scars of pruning and wind damage but nothing compared to that giant wound of her own making. Isn't that the way of it for me? Aren't I a banyan spirit whose greatest injuries don't come from outside influences but from the barbs I've laid that tear and worry at my energy, my sense of self?

And in another spiritual group, we discussed our Sun Signs and the lessons they are bringing us as individuals in life. I'm a Libra Sun and I have always thought I had that pretty much down pat. I'm fair and balanced, I'm diplomatic and logical, I eschew drama in search of harmony. I had this realization, though, that I'm lacking in balance. I'm invested in relationship and in doing so, I often neglect my own needs. I want others to feel harmonious so I don't always take a stand when something is important to me. I have trouble claiming what I need for my own self without feeling that is being, in fact, selfish. (One of the worst curse words my Libra mind can come up with...along with any thing along the lines of declaring what I "deserve". *shudder*) I am lacking in balance between meeting the needs of others and meeting those of myself. I don't always have to come last, do I?

It is time to dedicate to an element for the year. I am dedicating to water. At the full moon ritual, when I was so immediately connected to the divine, I felt my energy as an overfull glass of water, cascading the excess as more poured in. I was an open vessel of abundance. There was no scarcity within me, no wound, no self-doubt. I was embodying the Ace of Cups. I've often felt that I shouldn't dedicate to water or air as they are so much a part of me already. It felt like a cop-out, an alliance that would be too easy to take on. And yet...the full moon ritual, the meeting with the banyan, the realization that I'm not the balanced Libra I'd like to think, the hero getting back up, the everyday philanthropy, all of it moved together into my mind in one click. I am a compassionate being and yet I rarely, if ever, spare compassion for myself. If I become an embodied Ace of Cups, I must first fill my own cup to overflowing and then that energy, that healing and compassion and philanthropic passion will pour outward. I will not be living in scarcity if I drink first myself. There is enough for all of us--including me.

All this time, like Kore, I've walked without looking behind me. I've wandered and worried about all that I couldn't do. I've fallen and refused to go onward. I've been the thorn in my own side, the poison in my own cup. I have wanted to matter and yet refused myself the self-compassion of looking backward and acknowledging the wake of flowers that have sprouted like a cloak of small, bright miracles behind me.

I am the hero in my own life's story. Now to stop being my own hero-self's villain, too. Love and compassion trumps all and there is enough for all...including me.

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December 2015

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