windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (Grow)
11. Earth-rise

Five weeks ago, we went as a family to visit the Unitarian Universalist church in our new neighborhood for the first time. We'd long hoped it would serve us as a center of social action, community spirit, and spiritual reflection but it has well surpassed my expectations. My purse is crammed with service bulletins, lettered over with hastily transcribed notes and quotes from the speakers, as I've been so driven to share my experiences there and, at the very least, to spend time better absorbing the wisdom I've found in such diverse and compassionate company.

My religious upbringing, what I'd heard about UU, and the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism below the cut... )

I go onto NBC's website and watch their Making a Difference videos because I am so drawn to witnessing and being inspired by the philanthropy and generosity of others and I cry at Hallmark ads and I'm just generally a mess when it comes to the topic of homelessness and hunger and food deserts and children without pajamas. You know me, so each week during the service I'm crying and sniffling and singing and writing notes at the speed of light to keep up with everything that can go into the soup to make me better, to encourage me to do more and be more and love more. Daniel is next to me, squeezing my hand at the parts that slay him and borrowing tissues from me. It has just been really, really an awesome resource to find. I never knew enough about the U.U.

The building is an organic, cave-like thing with small patterns of stained-glass petals sunk into the thick, earthy walls. The glass reflects the beauty of nature (bony fish, snowflakes, rainbows, trees, oceans, rock strata) as well as the concept of humanity's search for Truth. There is a rocket ship and planets, so many beautiful things and nothing of any recognizable religious symbolism or significance. It is all about nature, humanity, and the Universe. It's an amazing space conceived by members during their protests of the Vietnam War and the full-on rush of the 1960s Space Race.

Sculptured Wall

I'm just spiraling around and around and not getting where I wanted or intended to go with this post. :) I've spent too long not writing about this part of my life and now there feels like so much catching up to do! You may never read every word of this post--but I'll have at least put it to memory here for myself. :)

Here's some examples of the past few Sundays at the U.U. )

It has become a remarkable, significant part of my spiritual journey--of my paganism and my individual Path towards Truth. I'm glad I didn't let the word 'church' continue to color my impressions and taint the message of the place for me.
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.


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. (pink heart birds)

At the new moon, celebrating the end of my month with Pink, I went to take down my pink-themed altar and to clear the space for Silver's work. The area had gotten cluttered with found treasures and gifts that seemed to pour in to acknowledge my achievements and breakthroughs. From my mom, as a get-well gift, there was a pair of necklaces, one pink and one purple, from a charity in Africa that employs AIDS/HIV affected women in meticulously rolling beads from colorful magazine paper. The other, a small statue of a white-robed girl with her face buried in a bouquet of pink flowers. It is as if she knew, precisely, what I would need to affirm, the girl who bought herself flowers for the first time this month. In the mail yesterday, a card from a virtual stranger with an exquisite image of a pink lotus blossom. Chunks of pink stone, kicked underfoot in a Chicago alley, a multi-faceted bead found sparkling amongst the trash in a tree planter at the exact moment when I said to myself, mentally, "Wow, every breath is a moment to model love in the world, isn't it?" Winged seeds my son handed over, with great excitement, because they were faery wings and rosebuds dried from my bouquet, that enshrined a compassionate moment to myself.

Isis came to watch my progress, looking radiant and modern. Her hair, normally braided and weighted down with a crown, was flowing in waves of rainbow black over her shoulders. She'd traded her pleated linen for a gauzy, Grecian floating sleeveless pink gown, fixed with silver clips over her sun-brown shoulders. She's sitting, uncharacteristically domestic, with a large piece of fabric draped over her lap and a needle and embroidery thread in hand.

There's nothing to mourn, she said with a warm smile my way, you are leaving nothing behind. The thread she stitched with was silvery-pink and iridescent, making small bits of color in the fabric as she sat and sewed conversationally.

"Mama, are you Lady Pink?"

I can be.

"This has been such a hard month. I thought this would be one where I'd really shine and now with it ending, I feel like I've only started to get it, that I'm seeing Pink, really seeing those lessons, starting to transform about three weeks too late. It has been hard to decide whether I need to devote to another Pink Month. I could learn a lot more if I did."

Every month of your life has been a Pink Month. Why do you think that next month will suddenly be different just because you will be studying another color? The Silver will be Pink, the Blue will be Pink, every month you will grow more into yourself and you were always meant to be Pink. Your compassion, your desire to serve, your goodness and love will shine through everything you do and will color everything you learn. You lose nothing by growing in other areas. Each month, you will find the way to give it away, to make a gift of it for someone else. That is your Pink work.

I cried, unsure what to say to such kindness, such compliment, such reassuring guidance. She finished her stitching, knotting and snapping excess thread away.

"Thank you. I needed to hear that."

You are devoted to living your life as a Song to Isis, are you not? Have you never stopped to listen to yourself sing it to me? Can you be so deaf, Rachel, to the music you are making? Beloved girl. Sweet, beloved girl. Sing your heart out. Every day, you serve me well.

It was time for her to go. She stood up, arms laden with her sewing project.

"I didn't know you were a seamstress."

I am not. You are. All of you are.

The room tilted, she spun, the cloth that she was holding floated down and spread itself out against a wall where I could see it. It was a work-in-progress, no doubt, and bigger than I could even take in all at once. Close up, I could see it was made of stitched hearts, both miniscule and fairly large in a rainbow of colors and textures and heart-like shapes. And together, though not entirely filled in, I could see the suggestion of a gigantic heart made up of all those smaller, individual hearts taking form. There, in one space, was a small over-round heart in a silver-pink iridescent thread that I recognized--Isis' latest stitches.

This is the song of your life. Everyone has one, but few see it before they die. Sing the song that only you can sing. Love, for me. Believe, for me. Live, for me.

And she was gone and only a faint ghostly memory of that embroidered field was left. The brilliance, the light, the sparkle, the warmth that had poured out of it was dazzling even still. Had I stitched that miraculous, infinitely detailed image? Of course not, She said from some distant place behind my ear, you sew, always, for others.

And I saw it! I saw friends and family and loved ones and strangers and passers-by I smiled at taking their turn to sit at my Song, stitching hearts of gratitude, hearts of acknowledgment that said, "Thank you" and "You don't know how much what you did meant to me" and "You wished me a good day on the worst day" and "You made a difference in my life". I saw myself sitting to weave a few stitches of thread into others' Songs, marking the places where they treated me with kindness, gave me the advice I needed, bandaged a wound, cheered me with their presence, inspired me to believe in myself, met my eyes and encouraged me to keep going, held a door open for me when my arms were overloaded. My Song is recorded by others, added to with every kindness I do, every act of compassion, every word and action that positively impacts someone else's life here. It is the feedback, the acknowledgement, the record of my Life lived.

A Goddess sewed one of the hearts, a token of my work's loving impact on her immortal existence, and I begin to feel, again for the first time, that my case is not so hopeless after all.

I do the work of Pink in the world and it is beautiful.

windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (underworld fae)
Saturday, at dusk, [ 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?


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. (witch's circle)
The weekend before my surgery, I flew to St. Louis with [ 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.... :)

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. :)

Our little cabin kingdom!

Myth, Ritual, and a Call into Life )
windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (scarab)

For the last time, I've lit my black pillar candle, the one so cheaply made that it is only a whisper of black coating on an unabashedly white candle. Earlier this month, I knew it to be a metaphor for our embodied existence. It is so much more than that.

I've pulled out my collaged self-portrait, that archetypal image of the Goddess, of air and water and magickal heart. Making it, digging down through all my layers in order to accurately, honestly represent them, I expected to have to overcome shame at what I found. I knew I'd have to just bare it and steel myself for the response from friends and family and myself. Who would still love Me, the dark and the light, the public and the private, the hidden and the obvious together in one complex person? I had no idea.

I am that candle. I dug through the dark parts and you know what I found this month? My Soul. My whole, shining, good, Divine, immortal and evolving Soul. The heart of me is big, it is filled with the infinite possibilities of perfect love, true connection, and the potential for complete healing. I chose this embodied life to learn more, to grow more, and in so doing I pulled on a flawed mantle. I trip up on silly things and skin my knees. I worry about my flyaway hair and let insecurities lock me away from other people. I am human, imperfect, a work-in-progress and that's just the thinnest most inconsequential surface layer. If I dig, I don't get to darker places within myself--I scrape off the daily-life detritus that obscures my soul from view. I am as beautiful, as perfect, as shining and loving as everyone else is in their depths--for we're all bits of radiant godstuff poured into flawed temporary housing.

I have spent so much time worrying about the time I was wasting, anxious that my life didn't meet some arbitrary standards that I had set for it, shameful at how ineffectual and unimportant and invisible I felt. I have been so hounded by the looming sense of my eventual death that I've been paralyzed and self-hating. That's short-sighted one-life thinking.

At my birth, the moon was in Taurus. Physical things make me feel safe. It is a stubburn, fixed sign for me, at odds with the rest of my air and water chart. I feel safest when I've dug in. When I'm anxious, I ground my emotions with food and material accumulation. I abhor change. Well, what greater change can there be than death? New existence, new chance, new set-up. I value it spiritually and intellectually, but my little warm earth body wants to stay just this way, unmoving, forever. Without change, though, the egg never cracks, the seasons never shift, the seed never sprouts, and my soul cannot continue to evolve.

By doing nothing, by vacillating for years, I've been making a daily choice. I can choose, instead, to change and to allow my life to change and evolve along with me.

"It is free will that lets us choose what we eat, our cars, our clothes, our vacations...similarly, we can choose to increase our capacity to love or be compassionate; we can choose to perform the little acts of kindness that bring us internal satisfaction; we can choose generosity over selfishness, respect over prejudice. In every aspect of our lives we can choose to make the loving decision, and by doing so, our souls will evolve." ~Dr. Brian L. Weiss in Same Soul, Many Bodies

I am not on track to cure cancer or govern the nation, become Miss America or a fashion model or do any other exceptional and ambitious and societally applauded life undertakings I may have once dreamed of. That has poisoned my self-esteem for so long, measuring my accomplishments against that impossible yard stick. My soul doesn't need that to be bettered. None of it. My month working with the color Black in the Temple of the Twelve was bookended neatly by volunteer shifts at a neighborhood homeless shelter. Six hour shifts, without break, interviewing families and seniors teetering on the brink of complete financial disaster. I could have done it, tirelessly, for days. Both times, I came home with such a sense of completion and presence and inner satisfaction and divine glow that I felt, quite fully, that I could die a happy woman in those moments. I let my heart lead and I shined and watched others shine around me and I was in an almost otherworldly state of Perfect Love and communion. I was doing what I'd entered this world to do--to Be Love. What more than that could I possibly aspire to? It's all about love and I have that, naturally, in spades.

My gift isn't small after all--it has the biggest potential of all.

"All of your roads will end in death. Not all roads lead to life." ~Cynthea Jones (Diana's Grove Mystery School)

I will love to my best, most fearless ability. I choose to hold a candle in the dark so that others may catch a glimpse of their own divine soul. I trust that change, while not always easy or safe feeling, leads me to greater spiritual evolution and healing. I know that under this very thin veneer of flaws and uncertainty, that I am truly a "whole, shining, good, Divine, immortal and evolving Soul" and I will look for it sparkling in the eyes of those around me.

Lady Black sent me a token. It is a Glamourkin, the image of a castle tower on an utterly black night with light in just one window. The text, clipped from an old book and reassembled, reads "a candle burns, as bright as stars". We are the candles, little embodied bits of godstuff and starshine, immortal and growing and exactly where we are supposed to be on this learning path. Love shines in the darkest of nights and connects us, not only to each other, but to our own immortal, divine cores.

I read the words I collaged together as part of my self-portrait's heart one last time.
We all have a role mothering. Witch, help connect all our broken pieces together.

Hail and Farewell, Black.

windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (underworld fae)
Saturday night, after eating cupcakes and hula hooping and declaring war on any mosquitoes that so much as looked cross-eyed at us, we dressed for a starlit ritual. I traded my all-white faerie costume for an all-black ritual gown and a red hooded cloak. Sarah showed up, equally transformed, in all white. We both kinda laughed when we saw each other. She joked that we looked like the priestesses from that L.J. Smith trilogy, The Secret Circle, with good Diana in white and selfish, dark magick Faye in black. :p Thanks, Sarah. :D

A few weeks ago, Sarah and I had powwowed about the ritual logistics. We discussed a few themes and we knew that we wanted to leave people with a physical token of the departing Sun's energy. Neither one of us knew where we could get that much citrine on short notice, but I remembered this amazing bead and jewelry-making shop nearby that carries a lot of semi-precious beads. Maybe they'd have something we could use as a charged token? Walking in with Graeme one afternoon, it seemed like a grin from the universe to find a bowl of rough citrine immediately by the front door, for sale by the gram. I stocked up and we were set. :D Other than that, and the suggestion of a walking candle meditation, we didn't solidify anything. Sarah said, "Well, how good are you on the fly?" and I said, "I'm really good on the fly" and so we went into ritual with some idea of what Midsummer meant to us, the intention of distributing citrine, and not much more. At ritual conspiracy, element callers had volunteered themselves and we got to talk about what Midsummer means to us, what this Midsummer means to us as a group. Heart stuff.

Objectively, I can say that some things worked and some things didn't quite get there. )

Sarah and Jenn's backyard is big, but not as big as it feels. With some creative mowing and pruning, they created paths and sacred spots in the midst of wild meadow and pine stands. Thistle and blackberry bushes and wild grasses head-high make the winding paths seem mythical. So in the dark, we walked down a little side path out of sight of the house that curved into a sudden small circular clearing for ritual. At the center of our circle, two tin mosquito-warding candle buckets threw light across the faces of the participants as we sat in circle with drums and soundmakers, coming into sync with each other. I beat my palms happily into the bottom of a spaghetti pot made sacred, feeling like I could drum my very heart's happiness up into the star field. The song naturally ended and we moved to ground and begin with the circle casting and calling of the elements. Sarah and I fell into an easy double voice, back and forth, meeting the needs we felt and trying to stay in touch with the energy of the circle.

Really, I haven't the foggiest idea what was said. I wasn't really the one talking, frankly, so the words came easy from another place that I was more spectator to than anything. The bounty of Midsummer giving us all that we needed, both physically and metaphorically, for the dark days ahead on the Wheel. The bittersweet sensation of being both at the peak of the light season and a step away from the dark, of feeling that life was shifting and we were to shift along with it.

Everyone got a lit white tealight, including me, and we scattered in the darkness of the woods and the meadow and the tent city beyond to have our moments of walking meditation. I found a curve in the path I liked, from where I could see lone candle flames flickering in the distance in many directions, and yet ahead of me nothing but wild, untamed plantlife. I held that flame up and thought how small and mighty that light was. How comforting to see the tiny lights of others, faint floating faerie lights, who without the candle I'd have never known surrounded me in the night-silent woods and fields beyond. I was not alone, though I could have easily felt that way if I hadn't looked around. I had enough light for me to see by but not much idea of the landscape around me. At one point, the cup of the tealight tilted and my palm was scalded in one white wax wash. I hissed in pain, immediately fixating on the experience and wishing it hadn't happened. The light, though, unhindered by a pool of liquid wax, was flaring brighter, bigger, bolder as a result. How often in life do I try to rewind and wish away sudden dark moments instead of seeing the way the light in me can grow because of the experience? Hasn't all my most valuable personal, spiritual growth been the gift of dark times that changed me, that cleared out what I didn't need, and helped me breath a little? I was meant to spill the wax. I cannot control the candle, the Wheel, the world. I am not in control of what happens, only how I choose to view and respond to what does happen.

The wax spills, the flame grows, the wax builds again.

I have been given all the supplies I need for the days ahead. The Sun's light may be waning, but the light within me is waxing in counterpoint. Around me, in community, the Sun's light has become internalized and we'll all, as a tribe, get through the season of darkness together. I need only open my eyes and see the lights around me to know that I'm never alone.

We are all moving through the dark together, separately, and we are all carrying light with us. Enough to share, enough for us all.
windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (scarab)
For the new moon ritual marking the start of my month of Black, I had put together a very simple altar. I wanted to use items I had already instead of visiting the storage facility or, worse, buying things specifically to meet the need. So I had a black pillar candle and three black stones from my crystal collection ready for the occasion. I also had my jet ring to charge. I decided last minute to pick up my simple altar items, commandeer a small side table for the bathroom, and transport them all up to the tub for a solitary ritual soak. :)


I filled the tub with almost unbearably hot water, adding nine drops of Misery/Love's Ye Olde Potions perfume oil. Lighting the candle, turning off the lights, shutting myself into the blazing heat of the tub and the flickering darkness of the bathroom, I asked to see some part of what I needed to know about Black, how it as a Color served me and vice-versa. The heat of the water forced me to retreat and so, quite naturally, the ritual had three segments of dreaming sight interspersed with bouts of coming up for air, so to speak, cooling down and thanking the world for cold marble floors to lay upon.

Cut for vision, metaphor, and lots of sorta foggy thoughts. )

Blessed, Blessed Be, fellow lightbearers. May the darkness reveal your talents and give you moments of peace, rest, and needed reflection.
windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (perfect love)
This past weekend, I had the extreme good fortune to be able to celebrate Beltane with some of my dearest friends at Spoutwood Farm's 19th Annual Fairie Festival. I've heard so much about it, through [ profile] mermaiden and [ profile] willow_cabin, both who are regular attendees and huge fans, but I was completely unprepared for the reality of the event. I knew from their pictures and accounts that it would be a place to dress up as fancifully as I cared and to be surrounded by kind, accepting people. But the whole of the Festival was bigger, more beautiful, and more complexly flavored than I'd understood. It was something perfect and energetically alive as an entity all its own. I finally understand the potential of Beltane, the magick of the earth, and the pulse that can effortlessly tie humanity together. It all exists at Spoutwood.

Wintering in Florida, I stumbled on a path that led me to hearing Gaia's voice for the first time in my life. Not as a hazy hip bumpersticker concept, but as a Goddess made flesh in the Earth with a heart-breaking cry and a compelling offer. She will change everything about my life's trajectory if I say "Yes" and the rewards will serve us both. I serve Isis because, as my mentor, I could do no less. I serve Death, because I knew at our meeting that I must. With Gaia, it was instantaneous, too. I am compelled to see where this leads. For this spring, my service led to Spoutwood. What lessons it delivered! I felt, bone-deep, my connection to the Earth. I was standing in the balance between Beltane and Samhain, between embodied life and embodied death. I could fiercely dance life, fiercely dance towards and breathe in my own eventual death. I have never been so spiritually alight and impossibly, so completely grounded into my own physical body. By walking the land, I was walking my life and by doing it in community, I was allowing myself the sensation of shared vision, hope, and love. We are capable of such greatness together.

And so yes, it was serene and spiritual and awe-inspiring, but it was also fun and silly and entertaining. It was this encapsulation of life, the sort of ideal life, where the good outweighs any bad, where those around you are eager to lend a hand or think well of you, where the energy is constructive and not destructive.


Follow the cut, into the woods, and towards my adventures... )
windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (sacred)
This weekend, Daniel stayed home with Graeme, allowing me to meet [ 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.


(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.)


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. (perfect love)
Sarah's ([ profile] mermaiden) recent visit and the Full Moon's appearance while she was here, provided us an opportunity to celebrate an esbat together. Other factors conspired to create my favorite sort of ritual environment...that moonlit, deserted beach that I grew into a witch upon. So it was, on Saturday night, that the two of us descended the dune at Juno Beach in time to watch that full moon rising over the dark ocean. We were able to stand barefoot in the surf--rocking with the energetic pull of moon and tides, waves and wind--for a few precious hours. We talked and the Divine talked and the whole natural world around us joined the conversation. I remembered, as I often do at full moons, exactly who I am. I am a priestess, I am a bit of the divine embodied, I am part of that incredible, ever-changing whole. I am.

It was the first day of their visit with overcast skies. That night, as I mentally prepared for ritual, as I stood and relaxed into the cool pull of the tide zone sands, the moon presented only a vague hint of light behind a veil of heavy gray clouds.

We sat and the moon pulled herself slowly out from the clouds, casting a wide pavement of light across the ocean from horizon to shore. In that rippling path, I could See thousands and thousands and thousands of silver-backed fish, little fish of moonlight, and felt their silent, inobtrusive listening. I could feel that one of those many, many magickal fish was waiting on my words--one on Sarah's--and that whatever we said, whatever soul message we had would be born by those fish safely to the heart of the sea. All those moonlit magick fish, that incomprehensibly large ocean, able to hear and hold the secrets, the pain, the experience-of-living of every being that is ever, has ever been embodied. The great cleansing place, the emotional plane itself, pure feeling and Mystery and dark, cocooned rest.

That ocean, that cloudy night sky, the constant cycling whispering rush of it all made maintaining a walking meditative state almost inevitable. I didn't have to journey to the gods I honor, they came to me, and I found myself in that brilliant, brief state where I knew exactly what to say because I wasn't the one saying it. I had so much energy, I could feel it pushing outward past my skin, the layers of me bowing outward, expanding without feeling weightier. I was outside of my normal self-imposed limits. I was having micro-second flashes of knowing, those perfect and ungraspable moments when everything made sense on a Universal level before tumbling away like an elusive rolling shell in the surf.

I was brimming with stillness and certainty.

We chose, with the environment, not to cast a circle. We acknowledged the Elements, the Lord and Lady, and watched the sky as the Moon pulled free from the tangle of clouds. A large circle of light formed among the clouds, a perfect moon-circle cast around us. Sarah bent to collect sea water to anoint me and I did the same. At some point, we walked our separate ways to commune with our own gods and goddesses, to receive our own individual messages in privacy.

I was filled with an uncharacteristic exuberance. I wanted to laugh and leap and throw myself into the waves. I wanted to sing and shriek and run around like a wild woman dragging my skirts through the water. There was such pure joy.

I got to a wide, perfectly planed patch of wet sand. I had no tools but my feet and I was compelled to walk a pentacle of footprints into the sand. I chanted to Isis, the first song I ever wrote to Her, and as I finished the last encompassing circle, turned to find the tide already surging up to cover the edge of it. I stood in the center of my giant pentacle of footprints and sang my heart out to the moon. By the time I was done, all that crazy, cascading energy had drained completely away and I was left feeling hollowed out and whole, still and at peace, perfectly placed in my life. Around me, in every direction, my footsteps had already been filled in and smoothed out to that glass-like surface of the ocean's edge.

My offering, those footsteps, that path I walked in honor of the gods I serve, was accepted and taken into the vastness of the water.

I walked down the beach and reunited with Sarah. There were more quiet moments and words, more singing and a closing of the ritual, but frankly I don't carry much memory of it. I know that the moon shone down on us with the Perfect Love of a doting Mother and I know that everything I needed to clear out and recharge this month, I received.

It was perfect. Perfect love, perfect trust, perfect moment, perfect place, perfect understanding, perfect timing. For just a moment, I wasn't seeing my life through my embodied eyes but through those divine, immortal soul's eyes.


windinthemaples: A lane of red maple trees in riotous fall color. (Default)

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