Bear Ceremony 2 – Moving Onwards

Masks off now, the class members were clumped together, high from their experience.

“Oh man, I forgot to say anything about the importance of the cycles of the Salmon…”

“Ariel, it was cool that you received a message from the Mountain as you were BEING the Mountain.”

“Yeah, I’m still pretty overwhelmed by that. I need to talk to the elders about it… Could you feel Ursula there? It was like she as Bear was growling at me.  I knew if I didn’t speak what I had received that she would rake me with her claws.”

“Did you hear how the long gone Natives connected with both Ariel and Owen?”

“That was cool when you stamped your feet, Gabe. The antlers on your mask seemed to be glowing and I got shivers down my spine.”

“Funny that I got so grounded when I usually feel so fluttery,” said Mariposa. “I feel like I could do anything right now. Only thing is that I didn’t get any specific message as to what that should be.”

“Maybe your grounding was your message – as a gift – and the rest will come when you stay or return to that state….”

“You guys did a great job,” said Charley coming up. “And the masks added a magical touch.”

“It was so powerful feeling the Salmon come alive in me just by putting on the mask…. “

Marsha stood quietly listening to the excited buzz.  She could find no words for her experience. It had been deep, no doubt about that, but…..

 

Molly brought a plate of salmon, scalloped potatoes and a big piece of chocolate cake to Ursula who sat quietly in the corner, the Bear mask by her side, looking rather dazed at the noise and chatter around her. “Here’s some food to bring you back. First drink this glass of water. It was the biggest glass I could find.” Not getting more than a glance from Ursula, Molly remembered another tact to take. “What’s your name?”

“Umm…. Ursa…. Ursula…. Ursula Goodwin-Brown.” Ursula’s voice got stronger.

“Good. What color are the candles on your dining room table?”

Ursula laughed. “Red! Thanks for remembering to ask me those questions.”

“You’re welcome. I suddenly thought of the time I got interrupted by a sequence snafu when I was deep in process being Gaia at our ceremonial weekend out by the River that time. I was so feeling her pain and anguish about the clearcuts, it was at least twenty-four hours before I could shake off the daze you were just exhibiting. Everyone had to do a whole ‘nother cleansing ceremony just for me. We figured out some important techniques after that, didn’t we? Don’t forget to mention them to your class when you go back over all this.”

“Salmon for the Bear part of me,” Ursula said gratefully, reaching finally for the plate of food and then feeling the protein hit her system. “Potatoes and cheese for my humanness. Chocolate,” she said as she gobbled it, “for celebration. They did a good job didn’t they?”

“I’ll say!”

“Look at them over there chattering away. I should go be social – talk to them.”

“Not quite yet. You’re still a little in that other world. Let me rub your feet.”

After a bit, Ursula gave a deep sigh. “I think I’m back in my own body now. Enough at least to carry on.”

“Okay,” Molly agreed, “I think you’re good to go. Onward into the fray!”  Molly didn’t realize how prophetic she was being.

 

“Guess we got our go-ahead,” said Jazz to Gideon Terranova standing by the sparkling Christmas Tree circled by the potluck of gifts waiting to be picked through and claimed. They had put two Tantra tapes in the pile and wondered who would gravitate to them.

 

“Charley, we need to talk,” said Michael. “I gotta get some perspective on all this.  Not right now, but…”

“Anytime, Mr. Di’Angeli. Anytime.”

 

“Ariel! It’s so good to have you here.” Pia moved emphatically, her long green skirt swishing. “What a powerful message. Come talk with Owen about what you both were getting.”

“I hope I didn’t… upset… anything.”

“On the contrary,” said Molly who had also made a beeline for her once Ursula was back on her feet. “I think you may have livened things up considerably. It goes hand in hand with what we’ve been getting all fall. We need to be stepping it up somehow. We just can’t quite get a handle on how or what we’re supposed to do. Let’s get some food and go sit with Owen.”

“Things can be pretty touchy with Native Americans in general and specifically those few who relate to this area. We’re always hesitant to step on any toes,” cautioned Molly.

“And as anyone who has worked with Traditionals can tell you, they can be offended if we seem to be taking over in any way or stealing from their practices.” Pia was emphatic. “We’ve stolen so much else that is theirs as it is.”

“Not all Indians feel so protective,” said Owen.

“You’d think they would like us to be more in tune with the land and its beings – like we’re finally finding ‘religion,’” ventured Ariel.

“I wouldn’t presume to do a Sun Dance outside of the existing native peoples’ contexts, but all shamanic traditions use smudging of some sort,” Cindy spoke up. “My own Celtic and Germanic traditions call the directions, as do the Andeans. The word ‘shaman’ is actually a Siberian word… And then there are Michael Harner’s teachings about what shamanic traditions have in common, what he calls ‘core shamanism.’ I feel so clearly that this is a time for integration of the many variations of the themes. That the New Age is not about hanging on to old turfs.”

“It’s kind of like the question of how we treat scotch broom, holly and ivy, and other so-called invasive plants. Not even foxglove is native,” Owen chimed in. “Do we uproot them – and each other – out of here? Don’t we all have something to give to the NOW?”

“That’s right. We are hardly native to this place!”

The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown….” Ariel sang a line of the Christmas carol. “It’s always confused me that those two plants are traditionally sacred to the pagans in the British Isles – especially during Yule.”

“Nitrogenous Scotch broom, like alder, gives health, i.e. nitrogen, to the soil. Do we give health – fertilizer – to this place or do we just detract from it?”

“Yes and no, of course. We’ve definitely taken over the ecosystem.”

“I’d say we are a mixed blessing.”

“Like stone soup.”

“Yet we haven’t had much luck connecting with those who used to live here – those people who used to be on our River and Mountain.”

“And we have to be extremely sensitive….”

“But Pia, aren’t you planning to put together a ceremony honoring the salmon?” asked Jay.

“Who told you that?” Pia responded sharply.

Taken aback, Jay stammered a bit. Had he done something as wrong as Pia’s tone implied? “Uh, Mom mentioned it in class.”

“Fuck!” Pia exploded. “Can’t I tell her anything without her blabbing it all over?” Pia turned and stalked away.

A stunned silence came over the group left at the table.

“Uh oh,” said Owen.

“Should I not have mentioned it?” moaned Jay. “I didn’t know it was an issue. Mom just said….”

“Of course, dear. Guess you didn’t know this was a sensitive subject,” Molly reassured Jay. “Pia has a thing about stepping on the Native people’s toes. Ursula tends towards pushing the melting pot concept a bit more. Plus they often have different boundaries about what to speak out about on any given subject.”

“I forgot that Pia and Ursula have a history of misunderstandings like this,” said Jay.

“They’ll work it out. At least they always have before….” Owen sighed.

“You mean, we’ll help them work it out!” said Molly.

“Well, yes. I guess I do.”

 

“Ursula!” Pia went straight to the person she considered the culprit in this affair to speak her mind, barging into a cluster continuing to process the details of the evening’s ceremony. “What the hell do you think you’re doing telling people about my Salmon ceremony idea?!”

Ursula remembered to take a deep breath before she turned towards Pia. “I did not realize that you were keeping that quiet. I know you are concerned about stepping on Native people’s toes. But I will thank you not to make a loud issue about it in such a sacred time and place, especially when I’m just coming out of anchoring.”

“I told you that in strict confidence. I DO NOT feel ready to have it be public information and I’ll thank you not to spread the word prematurely. I’m still working it out for myself. You are always rushing in to SHARE. Like you need to be in on it all. To be the first to announce things. Sorry, students,” she said the word sarcastically, “but your teacher is kind of a know-it-all sometimes.”

“Pia,” Ursula said warningly.

“You knew damn well I wanted to wait until we had some sort of sanction from existing tribal peoples and that it would take time to find them and….”

“I’m very sorry I’ve upset you but I assumed that networking the idea was a valid way to make the connections to find such people who could give us some sort of license. Not that I think we need license, by the way.”

“I know you don’t and that bugs me too. You just want to step in there and co-opt all the old ways and…”

“I’m truly sorry, Pia. I did not get it that this was not to be shared yet. It’s such a wonderful story of how you got the guidance. In fact, it does seem like we got a kind of a go-ahead tonight. That should make you feel better.”

“That’s still up for discussion. I don’t think it’s all that clear…. I think we should be carefully considering…. And anyway it certainly isn’t a matter for common gossip.”  She spit out the word.

“I know you and I have different senses of where the line is on gossip and networking. And that I tend to have a looser definition than you do. You know it’s my belief we get further when things are shared. And I don’t see how we can be a psychically connected ‘tribe’ if we keep secrets from each other.”

“Tribe! Goddamn it, Ursula. Even using that word is stealing from the native peoples. We don’t have a clue what tribe means – we’re just wannabes! Wannabe Indians and wannabe medicine people.”

“Isn’t that what bugs you, Pia? You have this leading and you want to follow it. Gaia spoke to you, for heavens’ sake. But you’re afraid of not being genuine enough. Nobody owns all this stuff. We all have it in our background in one way or another – past life or ancestrally. We need to re-member it. We need to own it.  And practice it. If we don’t talk about it how are we going to make any progress and learn from each other?”

“You told what wasn’t yours to tell.”

“I’m truly sorry about that. I didn’t realize. My memory isn’t what it used to be. I’m not always sure anymore where and when and with whom it’s ok to share what. It’s gotten to be too much to track. I didn’t think this was such a personal thing…. I don’t remember you specifically saying not to mention it. Really I’m sorry.”

“Humph!” muttered Pia as she stormed off.

“Oh damn!” Ursula spoke shakily into the circle of open mouths around her. “That’s not what I want to be dealing with right now. As you can see, it’s not all sweetness and light in River City. Misunderstandings. Miscommunications. Different perspectives. We’re not immune, obviously, to conflict despite all our high talk sometimes. We’re definitely a work in progress… Stay tuned.”

 

 

 

Winter Solstice Bear Ritual

Molly rushed to get to the Community Center in time to help with the set up of the Solstice ritual, a little late for her role of backup for Ursula. She had been talking to the paper buyer about the lousy recycle market situation. When she walked in the door, the room was already well into the process of being transformed. Owen and Jay were standing on tables hanging the dark fabric to divide the large room into two sections. She could see people in the kitchen setting up serving tables, Marsha Quince looking very much in charge. Someone had moved the Women’s Club Christmas tree under the East windows.

“We need one more piece of fabric to really partition it off,” said Ursula bustling up. “Did you bring any new stuff?”

“The Goddess must have been whispering to me,” said Molly. “A big green one came in today and I had a feeling it would come in handy. Let me just unload these muffins in the kitchen and I’ll dig it out. I brought the extra lights you asked for too.“

“Where do you guys want the lights?” asked Mariposa flitting up behind her.

“We talked about the inside of the bear’s den being dark, so string them up along this entrance area. People can leave their give-aways under the tree here. We moved it from the other corner to have the festive feeling out here and not in the cave. Come see it,” she said turning back to Molly. “Can you help Pia and I sort out how the altar inside should look? We have different ideas and are pretty irritated with each other. She’s always so sure she’s right and I’m too scattered to focus very well. I’m not even sure why she’s helping, the folks from the class need to learn this….”

“OK, how ‘bout if you ground first,” suggested Molly reaching out to give her a hug.

“Oh, yeah right! I guess I am sort of out of my body. I still tend to do that when there’s so much going on, don’t I? I feel a particular responsibility to Bear with this one and the students that are looking to me…. It’s all making me cranky. It’s too much….” Ursula was close to tears.

“BREATHE,” commanded Molly firmly looking Ursula in the eye, belly to belly. Then more gently, “Breathe.”

They stood quietly together for a minute amidst the bustle, going deeper with each breath and imagining their cords going down into the earth from their second chakras.

“Aahh. Much better,” they both said at once.

“I love how we can do that for each other,” said Ursula. “My cord was brown today, of course. What color was yours?”

“Silver with little sparkles in it. Like Christmas lights,” she smiled. “Would you like me to do the altar with Pia? Then you could go sit quietly with your Bear mask for a while to get ready for the anchoring.”

“Actually, I think I’ll walk down to the beach to watch the sun go down. That always seems an important part of Solstice to me. It’s like if I don’t watch it go down it might decide not to come back up.”

“Oooh, radical move, Ursula! Good letting go! I could learn this from you,” Molly admired the shift Ursula was making.

“Well, I know if I don’t go I will be no good at anchoring and mess up the energy all around…”

 

By the time Charley walked in, others were arriving too. The place was dimly lit and mysterious. He’d been held up at the Conservancy Trust working some bugs out of the mailing list. It was great to have so many people helping with ritual these days. He could sit out a few out prep-wise. In fact, two young women he didn’t even know greeted him quietly. Ursula’s new ritual class was already proving fruitful. The taller one took his plate of deviled eggs into the kitchen. The other smudged him with cedar and sage, brushing the fragrant smoke with what looked like Ursula’s hawk feathers.

As always, the smudge instantly calmed and grounded him into a trancelike state. He felt a little buzz of anticipation as Owen, recognizable behind an Eagle mask they’d made together in the Men’s Medicine Circle, pulled aside a gauzy curtain and gestured him into what felt like a dark cave. A couple of parachutes were draped low from the ceiling representing Air, while a small fire cast a glow from the fireplace in the South. He could dimly see chairs and pillows in a circle on the wooden floor, many with people already in them. Candles twinkled on an altar at the west end. He couldn’t see what else nestled there, probably shells and a dish of ocean water for the West. He had a flash of the year they’d done a ritual around Sedna, the Kwakiutl seal goddess who was especially meaningful to the surfer part of him, with a handmade kayak filled with Christmas lights in the center. Tonight the room smelled of the cedar branches that had been placed around the outside of the circle. Earth.

All the elements were there. He always liked to check. Not that any would be forgotten. Maybe it was more like “checking in.” Calling his personal circle. Soon their individual hearts would intertwine like a Celtic knot to bring Spirit, the fifth sacred thing, into the Center. Would they remember to make that explicit as they called in the directions? “Stop it,” he chided himself gently. “They’ll do just fine and all the old hands are here to hold the space and provide the deep energy.” Always there was something new to surprise them and neither the “audience” nor the “celebrants” ever knew quite how it would appear as the distinctions between them blurred.

He found one of the pillowed floor seats with a comfy back and realized he had settled in between Gideon Terranova and Michael. Finch Terranova was on the other side of his dad. It was so great to have more men involved these days, especially young ones. For a long time Owen and he had been the only ones – or the only consistent ones anyway. It quickly became obvious that Michael was kind of fidgety. Charley patted the knees on either side of him in silent greeting, leaving a calming hand on Michael’s for a heartbeat or two until he felt the younger man take a deep calming breath. Charley knew Michael was not very into what he called spiritual fol-de-rol but was present for Uri’s sake.

A dark shape suddenly loomed followed by others. The Ritual was about to begin. Draped and masked figures took their places, two in each of the Directions, while two more stood slightly to the left of the altar. The silence deepened. Another figure in a mask – a bear mask – appeared and sat on the floor on the right side of the altar. On the bearskin that he hadn’t noticed before. Gordy’s bearskin. Ursula…. He settled in another degree into a meditative place and breathing deeply himself, sent grounding energy to his wife as one more figure holding a candle came into the Center with arms outstretched.

 

 

Ursula sat silent and still by the altar. It was good she couldn’t leap up to coach or nudge her students as they made their way through calling in the directions and the elements. She’d insisted they get over the hump of wanting to read their parts. It was always tempting for those new to ritual to script things out. They wanted get it “right.” As if there was a “right.” For her the strong power came when it was done intuitively, when space was left for Spirit to inhabit, inspire and shape the words. Written out it stayed in the literary, planning part of the brain, not nearly as connected to the Creative Source. In her experience Spirit needed a lot of open space. That’s what the first clearing was about – to allow breath in so there was room for inspiration. In-spire. To Breathe. Fern had done a great job of grounding and centering the group. Soon Thea in tandem with Rhea would be telling something of Bear and the intention for the ritual. It was Ursula’s job simply to be, to anchor. She imagined the splash of leaving the boat and sent her claws down deep.

Firmly rooted, yet barely able to see out of the mask even if there had been enough light, she slipped into a dreamy state…. Soon she couldn’t remember what the intention was.… Could people could see her there in the mask?…. It didn’t matter…. She was holding the deep space…. leading them under…. welcoming them there. Being Bear. Her consciousness stretched as she put out her hand to the stuffed head of the real bearskin underneath her. She thanked this particular bear for the gift of its presence in their midst, and felt him in the Spirit world…. lumbering through the woods…. plucking a salmon out of the rushing stream…. Felt his pleasure at finding a stump full of bees…. his sleepiness as this deepest point of winter was reached, the longest night of the year…. Wanting to snuggle with his She-Bear, yet feeling that before relaxing there were some important messages to convey to these two-leggeds gathering here in this Spirit Cave…. Not from themselves necessarily… they were just setting the space…. Being the conduits…

“Is that what Bear does??” thought Ursula and with that thought tuned into the circle again. She should probably be listening while people around the circle spoke of their experiences, what they had dreamt, but somehow she knew that the deeper part of her was hearing them…. Had that been the intention? She didn’t need to take care of those dreams or figure out how to make them real…. They were being felt deep in Bear’s heart. All she needed to do was be Bear…. What do Spirit bears dream about? What will Bear ask of me this night? Or of us all?

 

Molly was enjoying being gathered up in sacred space. To her the feeling was almost tangible – a soft mossy bubble wrap that enveloped them all. She was glad her informal part of grounding Ursula was over early and she had plenty of time to sink into the familiar glow. She had thought about her health issue for a second in the beginning and then successfully pushed it out of her mind. “Let Bear’s healing energy take care of things tonight.” Now the talking stick was being passed around and people were sharing their experiences from the visualization.

Tuning in she realized the person speaking now had a familiar ring that slowly formed an image in her mind…. Ariel.

“…. As Uriel’s voice led us into the forest, I found myself imagining being at the base of a giant Sitka. I could feel hemlock and cedar nearby. A circle of Old Ones told me they are exhausted and need some respite from the caretaking of this place. They were grumpy and frail. They said we’ve put ugly structures on most of their sacred spots and only a few of their tree friends are still standing. They told me I must be part of the change – part of opening the door – part of taking over as a Guardian of the Mountain and this place….”

Her voice trailed off in uncertainty and there was an almost audible hum as everyone absorbed this news.

“I received a similar message.” The voice was Owen’s and Molly’s heart warmed. “I was inside a cave in the Mountain – really, under the Mountain. I couldn’t actually see anybody but I felt a huge, impatient presence. They told me they’ve been watching…. that we are doing a good job stewarding places with the Conservancy Trust…. some of us as individuals as well….” Owen hesitated, trying to speak what had probably not come to him exactly in words. “There is no time to lose, we must find the… meanders…. the paths…. get through the blackberry bushes…. We must see… recognize…. the Old Ones and let them go…. They want to be thanked…. We must step up to the…. the plate…. the table….”

A young man spoke simply after a space of a few heartbeats. “It was all like a dream. I saw myself walking tall and moving forward with my work at the day care center. There are children there who need to be nurtured and taught about Bear and the Mountain and the Old Ones…. This will heal them…. I can do that.”

“I am to study herbs,” said a young voice. Flicker maybe? “There are people here to teach me.”

“The community is ready for what I know…” said Jasmine Terranova.

After each there was the silence of witness. The “how” conversation would come later after the circle was closed and they shared food and chose gifts from the unwrapped offerings under the tree, emerging again into the sparkle of the Holiday season or perhaps even later as things rounded into the New Year.

 

Healing Begins

To: undisclosed recipients

From: Molly

Subject: Healing Needed

I seem to be – I am – in the middle of a Breast Cancer scare and would love to have your energies to help me deal with it. I guess I also need a healing – maybe at the next Ecstatic Dance….

 

To: Molly

From: Charley

Subject: Re: Healing Needed

Whaaaat??

 

To: Molly

From: Ursula/Bear Woman

Subject: Re: Healing Needed

Ooooh, Sweetie!!!!!!

 

To: Molly

From: June

Feel my arms around you.

 

To: Molly

From: Pia

WTF????   OK, guess we need to get into gear: Next week at Ecstatic Dance feels like a great place to start….

 

Molly sat in a haze with the extreme heat of a sweat lodge rising about her. Perspiration trickled down between her breasts and her thighs. If she thought about it too much, she could feel panicky glimmers building, each feeding on the other. “Would it get too hot? Would she pass out? Was she in some kind of danger? There had been publicity recently of people dying in these things…..”

She told herself to breathe quietly and ground. She could get out if she needed to, though it would mean crawling unglamorously over several people and might result in a little sprained dignity. It was prideful to want to stay in with the “best” of them. “But there you have it,” she thought, “ I really don’t want to be the first to leave.”

There were eight other people in the lodge with her, shadowy shapes in the steam rising from the beach rocks that had just been replenished. Most were part of her “tribe” (including Arlo Rosen, for instance, who she had known since before he was born) but a few were strangers – friends of friends who had set up the lodge. It wasn’t a formal lodge following one of the Native American traditions, but there had been some sincere ceremony at the beginning and no doubt would be at the end. Owen had called it a “hippy lodge” when he invited her to come with him the ten miles up River to the settlement of growers and craftspeople that straddled the county line.

“Relax,” she told herself again firmly. “Think of all the toxins and ancient ghoulies slipping out of your pores. There’s much that could stand clearing. Let go. Let God.”

She jumped a little as a young man she didn’t know put his hand on her shoulder. He had a nice face with a rough blond beard, dotted now with droplets of moisture. “If there were any light he would be lit like a Christmas tree,” she thought irrelevantly. He gestured to her back, silently asking if he might give her some massage touch. It might have felt creepy to be approached by a naked unknown man but she had just talked herself into in a trusting space. She looked up to see Owen watching from across the pile of glowing rocks. Yes, she had plenty of friends around her to keep track of the vibes. She nodded acquiescence and settled in to the young man’s soothing touch. He went right for the sore places, of course. She could tell that he had healing hands and knew how to use them. She slipped deeper into her internal haze……

At some point she realized others, including the young man at her side, were leaving to cool off in the spigot outside the roughly blanketed lodge. She hadn’t been the first to give in to the impulse to flee back to normalcy. She chuckled at herself and made her way out. Waiting her turn at the spigot, the chilly night air slid delightfully down her nasal passages, a welcome relief from the searing heat inside the lodge. A light rain kissed her body, also welcome in its coolness. “Thank you, Air; thank you Water; thank you Fire; thank you, Stones,” she intoned quietly.

Having had enough, some people ceded their places to others who were waiting their turn. No one spoke though there were a few self-conscious giggles. After her clumsy splashes from the bucket at the spigot, she knew she should join those heading for the house. There were some cookies and fruit piled there along with water to drink. Instead, she gulped some liquid refreshment from her cupped hands and made an uncharacteristically selfish decision to go back into the sweat lodge. She was taking care of herself tonight. Probably no one here but Owen knew of her cancer concerns but she felt no need to explain or even voice her decision to anyone. She turned and, lifting the blanket flap, crawled back into the lodge.

Again, the steam assaulted her. Her lungs searing, she realized that the logical place for her was way at the back so others could get in without climbing over her. She wouldn’t be able to get out if she needed to. No matter, it was where she knew she needed to be. Someone poured water on the new rocks and steam rose, startling her nostrils and lungs yet again. Still in a dreamy haze, she surrendered to the stillness that descended once people were settled….

 

She had no idea how long it had been when she became drowsily aware of everyone leaving again. This time she had no energy or desire to move. Instead she curled up limply on the damp blankets. The air was cooler now, cozy rather than searing and the sense of deeper quiet without anyone around her was blissful. No way was she up for being inside with other people. If a finishing ceremony was happening she would have to miss it. She could do something on her own later. Conversation was beyond her. So was driving home.

The flap lifted and someone laid a soft cotton blanket over her. Good, she wouldn’t get too chilled as the lodge continued to cool. “Are you ok?” Owen’s murmur touched her ear and, with a slight delay reached her consciousness. She nodded yes and drifted off again into some sweet place that wasn’t sleep but felt deeply healing. Just where she needed to be.