Bear & Ritual Class

“We should do another Bear ritual for Winter Solstice,” said Owen out of the blue as a bunch of them lingered after meditation one evening.  

“You don’t think people get tired of Bear?” asked Ursula. “I don’t of course, but…”

“Who can get tired of Bear?” said June. “She’s such a basic earthy presence. Besides I have a feeling we need her this year.”

“Can you elaborate on that?” asked Ursula.

“I don’t know…It’s like everybody is going through a lot and…”

“Molly, of course,” said Owen.

“Bears keep climbing over the elk fence at the Conservancy Trust garden to get the apples,” said Janna. “I’d like to get in touch with that Spirit a little more.”

“It’s coming on for hibernation and story season, that’s for sure,” contributed Owen.

“Well, I have to admit I did have a dream,” continued June. “Really a fragment of a dream where Ursula’s Mama Bear with the apron was beckoning to me from the clearing. Like she had something to tell me. But when I went towards her she faded away. It felt like it wasn’t just me she wanted to connect with but all of us. Thanks, Owen for bringing it up. I’d actually forgotten the dream.”

“It takes a village….”

“I just don’t want people to feel like I’m pushing my stuff on others,” said Ursula. “Yet I’ve certainly learned to trust your feelings over the years and if no one objects I’d like to have the class take on the event this year. Owen, does your brother Gordy still have the Bear skin from that kill a few years ago?”

“Yes, I’ll ask him if we can use it,” said Owen.

 

“Doing ritual is all about setting intention,” said Ursula to her class gathered in a circle around her on a late November evening, “then playing with the pageantry that wants to unfold. One approach is to act out god and goddess stories like the Women’s Medicine Circle did in September. Our intention then was multi-layered which is not unusual. We wanted to learn what the ancient Demeter-Persephone-Hades myth had to teach us about children growing away from mothers, plus honor the post fall Equinox direction into the dark of the year. In the process it became about how we might change ancient stories to better suit our times. Someday I’d like to act out and shift the Egyptian Isis/Osiris myth in a ritual setting, but that feels too complicated for the moment.” She took a deep breath.

“We almost always do rituals on the spokes of the year’s wheel, but also for an approaching birth or around a loaded subject. Menopause and money are good examples of subjects that push buttons. Once we actually burned some dollar bills. It was literally shocking for all of us, but I’m convinced that breaking that taboo helped bring about the current state of abundance manifesting around here. We let go of some of our attachment and opened up the flows. I’ll tell you more about it one of these days or maybe it’s time for another variation on that theme.” She chuckled, feeling the possibilities for a moment before focusing again.

“There’s a marvelous account in Guliana’s Legacy by Alexis Masters of a huge ritual centered around Aphrodite’s return in small Tuscan town complete with a sacred marriage and the climax of the bad guys vs. the good guys plot. Cerridwen Fallingstar’s Heart of the Fire has some of the best accounts I’ve read of small scale and individual rituals and initiations. It’s from a past life of hers from the Burning Times. Both are on the list I sent out the other day.”

“I love the elaborate stuff just as much as the simplicity of spur of the moment inspiration…. like suddenly consigning old letters or dusty artwork to the fire in a conscious manner. It all works and is important. It is all true as long as we are in true. As long as we are in touch and centered.”

“I’ve been to a few of yours over the years,” said Fern, “and I’m excited about having the chance to experience putting one together. That’s why I signed up for this class.”  Others nodded.

“I’ve never been to such a thing,” said Marsha. “How can I take part without a sense of how it’s supposed to feel?”

“Experience helps but we all had to start somewhere. In the early days very few of us had any practice with ceremony. We wound our way with sheepishness, shyness and bravado to the center, picking up clues along the way. This class has already been practicing with some of the elements of it, you know. Smudging, calling the directions. Setting up the altar. Closing.

“Winter Solstice is coming up,” she continued with a flourish, “when many religions have ceremonies of light to counteract the dark point of the year. I experience it as a high energy time which is kind of counter-intuitive.  Especially thinking of Bear.

“Yet oddly enough, it’s at the Summer Solstice that I have come to expect the laid back energy with lots of lying around and plans going awry – people with big parts not showing up, potlucks getting ruined. We long to be outdoors so rain can be a disturbing factor. It poured the year Native American mucky mucks came for a Medicine Wheel. Another year, leaving in a hurry, I backed one of our cars into the other!

“Winter is the opposite. Is it high because of our hyped up excitement around Christmas and Hanukkah or did our current traditions arise out of a primal urge to dance and make merry at this extreme of the year’s round? Are we simply staving off the dark with manic energy? Certainly the Yule tree, candles and holly wreathes were appropriated from the pagans by the ‘newer’ religions. If you think about it those traditions are an odd way to celebrate what are essentially Middle Eastern events of miraculously burning oil and the birth of an avatar.”

“I don’t care what gets celebrated, but I love the rush of being with people,” said Marsha.

“Making presents,” said Jay.

“Singing carols,” offered Ariel.

“All of that,” agreed Ursula. “Sooo – I’ve volunteered our class to put the Solstice piece together for the community. I invite any of you who are comfortable to take a speaking role in this.”

“Ooh, that makes me… like…really nervous,” said Mariposa.

“Do we know enough for that?” asked Ken.

“You need only do what you are comfortable doing,” Ursula reassured those who were squirming. “You can all be part of the preparation and the overall experience. I sense that it is growing inside of you and it will manifest as you are ready.”

“By coming to this class, you declared yourself up for it at least some degree. Desire to explore at least,” interjected Jay.

Ursula continued, “We rarely repeat the content of a ritual and certainly never do it the same way twice or follow any kind of a script. I experience the speaking parts as having the most punch when they come from a deep place within rather than because of rules, somebody else’s customs or prescribed content. Really we shouldn’t even call it ritual.

“I always think it should be called ceremony.” Owen spoke quietly.

“Yes,” said Ken, “I’ve wondered about that. Ritual sounds so…. ritualistic. Primitive.” Everyone laughed.

“I know,” responded Ursula, “it should be ceremony or even celebration or honoring, and yet…. Maybe it’s about reclaiming that word too…. I don’t know. Ritual is what always comes out of my mouth and I need to trust that too…. Anyway, it isn’t repeated in the sense that it follows a liturgy or script. Thus one important proviso is that I’m a stickler for not reading one’s piece. As said, I feel strongly that it is more powerful when it comes out of the moment – when it is inspired by the energy rising in the group. If it’s written out, it comes from the time and place where you were writing. Plus, reading has a stiltedness that keeps people at a distance. The Dogon in Africa say that the literary part of the brain shuts off the psychic, connecting part. It’s the direct inspiration from Spirit that I like to go for. I’d like you to take the leap from the get-go into trusting the perfection of what comes out of your mouth, even if you forget something “important” that you meant to say. This doesn’t mean you can’t think about it before hand… or that we can’t do that as a group.”

“What do we want our theme to be,” asked Jay who had been in on such planning in the past.

“Normally we would hash that out in the group, sometimes logically and rationally and sometimes because one person has a guidance. It would be good for you to have that experience, but in fact, that part already happened spontaneously outside of this class. I’m suggesting we take the lead from Owen and Janna here, along with guidance from June to focus on Bear.

“What hasn’t been decided is the intention beyond honoring or anything about the content. We can come up with that together. What do we want to accomplish? What is it about Bear that we want to evoke? Or maybe the better starting question is, ‘What do we know about Bear?’ I’d like you to break up into groups of three or four to brainstorm these questions. Here’s pen and paper to jot down what you come up with.”

 

With only a little hustle bustle, they settled into groups and a creative hum ensued. When Ursula called them back together, she asked each sub-group to report on what they found which she summarized on butcher paper:

  • Healer – because bears find their own medicine
  • Growly
  • Fierce, protective Mother
  • Scary
  • Human like – uncannily so when skinned
  • Hibernation – good reason to do it this time of year
  • Dreamer
  • Messenger
  • Story Teller

“What comes to me,” said Uri, “is that our Intention might be for each to listen for Bear’s message for ourselves.”

“Ooo, we could start in the dark,” suggested Ariel.

“Someone could lead a visualization, guide them through the forest and then into a cave….”

“Would you be willing to do that part?” Ursula asked Uri.

“Don’t you want to do it?” he responded deferentially.

“I could, but while you guys were talking I got it that I am supposed to anchor the ritual. That means taking myself out of the action to sit quietly on the sidelines grounding deep into the spirit of the ritual we outline. To hold the space.”

“You won’t be helping us?” asked Janna.

“In a way I will already be in the cave where Uri will lead the rest of you. I’ll be there as Bear.”

There was a little silence while everyone absorbed this information.

“So that’s what’s happening when I see someone sitting so still in the ritual,” said Fern. “I knew various ‘heavies’ were undoubtedly performing some subtle task, but I could never get a handle on exactly what that was.”

“’Weighty Witches,’ I like to call us for all the roles we different play,” chuckled Owen. “After the concept in Quakerism of ‘weighty friends’ rather than designated leaders.”

“It’s hard to describe but hopefully modeling that role will give a sense of how it adds to the ritual.”

“It’s appropriate for you to do that given your connection with Bear and all,” said Jay. “I suggest you ask Pia or Molly or somebody to help us during the setting up. I know that preparing to anchor is a delicate process.“

“Excellent idea!” said Owen.

“But, but….” protested Ursula thinking of all that would need shepherding.

“Now don’t get all controlling,” said Owen. “You can’t have it both ways and I don’t want all that pre-ritual flutter on my shoulders, though I will wear my Eagle mask for overseeing the big picture. I just have to make the eye holes a little bigger.”

In the end Ursula had to give in gracefully. Owen and Jay were right, much as she hated to admit she couldn’t do it all. She flashed on getting someone else to do the anchoring but then relaxed, knowing the students would be fine without her fussing over them and there could be plenty of old hands on deck to help. “Okay, I’ll talk to Molly.”

“I’d be happy to do the visualization,” said Uri, “I’ve had some experience of that and find it powerful.”

Rhea spoke up next. “Glad that’s settled. Shall we call for sharing after the visualization if anything about our own future path comes to us. Sometimes speaking stuff into a circle gives it a little more oomph. I could lead that part.”

“Good idea. Everyone agreed? “

“We could do a part about speaking our intentions for the coming year.”

“That feels like we’re getting too complicated.”

“Agreed,” said Janna and everyone else nodded.

“Who wants to call the directions which usually also involves closing them at the end?”

“I’d like to be Owl in the East,” said Thea. “That’ll stretch me in good ways.”

“Maybe everyone could be a creature. Something that goes inward or connects to Bear.”

“I’ll call in Elk in the North,” said Gabe, surprising himself.

“Gray Whale in the West,” said Ken thoughtfully.

“Can I also be  in the West with Salmon?” asked Janna. “Seems like it would be cool to have something that Bear eats to bring in the food chain concept.”

“I don’t see why we can’t have more than one person in each direction,” agreed Ursula, “That would give each of you a little support. Bringing in Salmon would be a gift to Pia who wants to create salmon honoring ceremony soon.”

“Then I’ll help in the East with Butterfly,” said Mariposa. “I can handle that!”

“Promises of spring,” suggested Thea thinking that Butterfly wasn’t a very wintery creature.

“Cougar in the South,” Jay said.

“I wonder if I should have taken that one,” wondered Thea to herself, thinking of Owen’s admonition about playfulness. She looked up and caught him watching her with a twinkle in his eye. “Can he read my mind?” she wondered.

“Beaver in the South,” said Marsha, “I might as well live up to my nickname, plus I wanted something in the marshes.” Everyone laughed feeling how appropriate that was.

“Mountain in the North,” volunteered Ariel. “Could we all make masks? I’d be willing to lead an extra session or two at the Art Center for that.”

“Cool!”

“I’m in.”

“Me too.”

“You guys are ambitious. Let’s see how that plays out,” suggested Ursula. “Center?”

“Could I do the grounding first from the Center?” asked Fern.

“Good for you,” said Ursula proud of seeing her step forward. “It looks like everyone has a speaking part. That’s great. On to practical earth-plane details. Can somebody take notes? We’ll use the next sessions to iron out details and practice.”

“I can light the fire in the fireplace,” offered Jay. “And we can bring the big red parachute to create the cave.”

“We’ve got pillows and futons to lend from Benden Farm,” Rhea said thinking of previous rituals.“

“It’s coming together,” marveled Ursula honoring the thoughtful flow of inspiration.

 

 

 

Bear & Ritual Class

 

“We should do another Bear ritual for Winter Solstice,” said Owen out of the blue as a bunch of them lingered after meditation one evening.

“You don’t think people get tired of Bear?” asked Ursula. “I don’t of course, but…”

“Who can get tired of Bear?” said June. “She’s such a basic earthy presence. Besides I have a feeling we need her this year.”

“Can you elaborate on that?” asked Ursula.

“I don’t know…It’s like everybody is going through a lot and…”

“Molly, of course,” said Owen.

“Bears keep climbing over the elk fence at the Conservancy Trust garden to get the apples,” said Janna. “I’d like to get in touch with that Spirit a little more.”

“It’s coming on for hibernation and story season, that’s for sure,” contributed Owen.

“Well, I have to admit I did have a dream,” continued June. “Really a fragment of a dream where Ursula’s Mama Bear with the apron was beckoning to me from the clearing. Like she had something to tell me. But when I went towards her she faded away. It felt like it wasn’t just me she wanted to connect with but all of us. Thanks, Owen for bringing it up. I’d actually forgotten the dream.”

“It takes a village….”

“I just don’t want people to feel like I’m pushing my stuff on others,” said Ursula. “Yet I’ve certainly learned to trust your feelings over the years and if no one objects I’d like to have the class take on the event this year. Owen, does your brother Gordy still have the Bear skin from that kill a few years ago?”

“Yes, I’ll ask him if we can use it,” said Owen.

 

“Doing ritual is all about setting intention,” said Ursula to her class gathered in a circle around her on a late November evening, “then playing with the pageantry that wants to unfold. One approach is to act out god and goddess stories like the Women’s Medicine Circle did in September. Our intention then was multi-layered which is not unusual. We wanted to learn what the ancient Demeter-Persephone-Hades myth had to teach us about children growing away from mothers, plus honor the post fall Equinox direction into the dark of the year. In the process it became about how we might change ancient stories to better suit our times. Someday I’d like to act out and shift the Egyptian Isis/Osiris myth in a ritual setting, but that feels too complicated for the moment.” She took a deep breath.

“We almost always do rituals on the spokes of the year’s wheel, but also for an approaching birth or around a loaded subject. Menopause and money are good examples of subjects that push buttons. Once we actually burned some dollar bills. It was literally shocking for all of us, but I’m convinced that breaking that taboo helped bring about the current state of abundance manifesting around here. We let go of some of our attachment and opened up the flows. I’ll tell you more about it one of these days or maybe it’s time for another variation on that theme.” She chuckled, feeling the possibilities for a moment before focusing again.

“There’s a marvelous account in Guliana’s Legacy by Alexis Masters of a huge ritual centered around Aphrodite’s return in small Tuscan town complete with a sacred marriage and the climax of the bad guys vs. the good guys plot. Cerridwen Fallingstar’s Heart of the Fire has some of the best accounts I’ve read of small scale and individual rituals and initiations. It’s from a past life of hers from the Burning Times. Both are on the list I sent out the other day.”

“I love the elaborate stuff just as much as the simplicity of spur of the moment inspiration…. like suddenly consigning old letters or dusty artwork to the fire in a conscious manner. It all works and is important. It is all true as long as we are in true. As long as we are in touch and centered.”

“I’ve been to a few of yours over the years,” said Fern, “and I’m excited about having the chance to experience putting one together. That’s why I signed up for this class.”  Others nodded.

“I’ve never been to such a thing,” said Marsha. “How can I take part without a sense of how it’s supposed to feel?”

“Experience helps but we all had to start somewhere. In the early days very few of us had any practice with ceremony. We wound our way with sheepishness, shyness and bravado to the center, picking up clues along the way. This class has already been practicing with some of the elements of it, you know. Smudging, calling the directions. Setting up the altar. Closing.

“Winter Solstice is coming up,” she continued with a flourish, “when many religions have ceremonies of light to counteract the dark point of the year. I experience it as a high energy time which is kind of counter-intuitive.  Especially thinking of Bear.

“Yet oddly enough, the laid back energy is what I have come to expect at the Summer Solstice with lots of lying around and plans going awry – people with big parts not showing up, potlucks getting ruined. We long to be outdoors so rain can be a disturbing factor. It poured the year Native American mucky mucks came for a Medicine Wheel. Another year, leaving in a hurry, I backed one of our cars into the other!

“Winter is the opposite. Is it high because of our hyped up excitement around Christmas and Hanukkah or did our current traditions arise out of a primal urge to dance and make merry at this extreme of the year’s round? Are we simply staving off the dark with manic energy? Certainly the Yule tree, candles and holly wreathes were appropriated from the pagans by the ‘newer’ religions. If you think about it those traditions are an odd way to celebrate what are essentially Middle Eastern events of miraculously burning oil and the birth of an avatar.”

“I don’t care what gets celebrated, but I love the rush of being with people,” said Marsha.

“Making presents,” said Jay.

“Singing carols,” offered Ariel.

“All of that,” agreed Ursula. “Sooo – I’ve volunteered our class to put the Solstice piece together for the community. I invite any of you who are comfortable to take a speaking role in this.”

“Ooh, that makes me… like…really nervous,” said Mariposa.

“Do we know enough for that?” asked Ken.

“You need only do what you are comfortable doing,” Ursula reassured those who were squirming. “You can all be part of the preparation and the overall experience. My sense is that it is growing inside of you and will manifest as you are ready.”

“By coming to this class, you declared yourself up for it at least some degree. Desire to explore at least,” interjected Jay.

Ursula continued, “We rarely repeat the content of a ritual and certainly never do it the same way twice or follow any kind of a script. I experience the speaking parts as having the most punch when they come from a deep place within rather than because of rules, somebody else’s customs or prescribed content. Really we shouldn’t even call it ritual.

“I always think it should be called ceremony.” Owen spoke quietly.

“Yes,” said Ken, “I’ve wondered about that. Ritual sounds so…. ritualistic. Primitive.” Everyone laughed.

“I know,” responded Ursula, “it should be ceremony or even celebration or honoring, and yet…. Maybe it’s about reclaiming that word too…. I don’t know. Ritual is what always comes out of my mouth and I need to trust that too…. Anyway, it isn’t repeated in the sense that it follows a liturgy or script. Thus one important proviso is that I’m a stickler for not reading one’s piece. As said, I feel strongly that it is more powerful when it comes out of the moment – when it is inspired by the energy rising in the group. If it’s written out, it comes from the time and place where you were writing. Plus, reading has a stiltedness that keeps people at a distance. The Dogon in Africa say that the literary part of the brain shuts off the psychic, connecting part. It’s the direct inspiration from Spirit that I like to go for. I’d like you to take the leap from the get-go into trusting the perfection of what comes out of your mouth, even if you forget something “important” that you meant to say. This doesn’t mean you can’t think about it before hand… or that we can’t do that as a group.”

“What do we want our theme to be,” asked Jay who had been in on such planning in the past.

“Normally we would hash that out in the group, sometimes logically and rationally and sometimes because one person has a guidance. It would be good for you to have that experience, but in fact, that part already happened spontaneously outside of this class. I’m suggesting we take the lead from Owen and Janna here, along with guidance from June to focus on Bear.

“What hasn’t been decided is the intention beyond honoring or anything about the content. We can come up with that together. What do we want to accomplish? What is it about Bear that we want to evoke? Or maybe the better starting question is, ‘What do we know about Bear?’ I’d like you to break up into groups of three or four to brainstorm these questions. Here’s pen and paper to jot down what you come up with.”

 

With only a little hustle bustle, they settled into groups and a creative hum ensued. When Ursula called them back together, she asked each sub-group to report on what they found which she summarized on butcher paper:

Healer – because bears find their own medicine

Growly

Fierce, protective Mother

Scary

Human like – uncannily so when skinned

Hibernation – good reason to do it this time of year

Dreamer

Messenger

Story Teller

“What comes to me,” said Uri, “is that our Intention might be for each to listen for Bear’s message for ourselves.”

“Ooo, we could start in the dark,” suggested Ariel.

“Someone could lead a visualization, guide them through the forest and then into a cave….”

“Would you be willing to do that part?” Ursula asked Uri.

“Don’t you want to do it?” he responded deferentially.

“I could, but while you guys were talking I got it that I am supposed to anchor the ritual. That means taking myself out of the action to sit quietly on the sidelines grounding deep into the spirit of the ritual we outline. To hold the space.”

“You won’t be helping us?” asked Janna.

“In a way I will already be in the cave where Uri will lead the rest of you. I’ll be there as Bear.”

There was a little silence while everyone absorbed this information.

“So that’s what you guys are doing when I see you sitting so still in the ritual,” said Fern. “I knew various ‘heavies’ were undoubtedly performing some subtle task, but I could never get a handle on exactly what that was.”

“’Weighty Witches,’ I like to call us,” chuckled Owen. “After the concept in Quakerism of ‘weighty friends’ rather than designated leaders.”

“It’s hard to describe but hopefully modeling that role will give a sense of how it adds to the ritual.”

“It’s appropriate for you to do that given your connection with Bear and all,” said Jay. “I suggest you ask Pia or Molly or somebody to help us during the setting up. I know that preparing to anchor is a delicate process.“

“Excellent idea!” said Owen.

“But, but….” protested Ursula thinking of all that would need shepherding.

“Now don’t get all controlling,” said Owen. “You can’t have it both ways and I don’t want all that pre-ritual flutter on my shoulders, though I will wear my Eagle mask for overseeing the big picture. I just have to make the eye holes a little bigger.”

In the end Ursula had to give in gracefully. Owen and Jay were right, much as she hated to admit she couldn’t do it all. She flashed on getting someone else to do the anchoring but then relaxed, knowing the students would be fine without her fussing over them and there could be plenty of old hands on deck to help. “Okay, I’ll talk to Molly.”

“I’d be happy to do the visualization,” said Uri, “I’ve had some experience of that and find it powerful.”

Rhea spoke up next. “Glad that’s settled. Shall we call for sharing after the visualization if anything about our own future path comes to us. Sometimes speaking stuff into a circle gives it a little more oomph. I could lead that part.”

“Good idea. Everyone agreed? “

“We could do a part about speaking our intentions for the coming year.”

“That feels like we’re getting too complicated.”

“Agreed,” said Janna and everyone else nodded.

“Who wants to call the directions which usually also involves closing them at the end?”

“I’d like to be Owl in the East,” said Thea. “That’ll stretch me in good ways.”

“Maybe everyone could be a creature. Something that goes inward or connects to Bear.”

“I’ll call in Elk in the North,” said Gabe, surprising himself.

“Gray Whale in the West,” said Ken thoughtfully.

“Can I also be Salmon in the West?” asked Janna. “Seems like it would be cool to have something that Bear eats to bring in the food chain concept.”

“I don’t see why we can’t have more than one person in each direction,” agreed Ursula, “That would give each of you a little support. Bringing in Salmon would be a gift to Pia who wants to create salmon honoring ceremony soon.”

“Then I’ll help in the East with Butterfly,” said Mariposa. “I can handle that!”

“Promises of spring,” suggested Thea thinking that Butterfly wasn’t a very wintery creature.

“Cougar in the South,” Jay said.

“I wonder if I should have taken that one,” wondered Thea to herself, thinking of Owen’s admonition about playfulness. She looked up and caught him watching her with a twinkle in his eye. “Can he read my mind?” she wondered.

“Beaver in the South,” said Marsha, “I might as well live up to my nickname, plus I wanted something in the marshes.” Everyone laughed feeling how appropriate that was.

“Mountain in the North,” volunteered Ariel. “Could we all make masks? I’d be willing to lead an extra session or two at the Art Center for that.”

“Cool!”

“I’m in.”

“Me too.”

“You guys are ambitious. Let’s see how that plays out,” suggested Ursula. “Center?”

“Could I do the grounding first from the Center?” asked Fern.

“Good for you,” said Ursula proud of seeing her step forward. “It looks like everyone has a speaking part. That’s great. On to practical earth-plane details. Can somebody take notes? We’ll use the next sessions to iron out details and practice.”

“I can light the fire in the fireplace,” offered Jay. “And we can bring the big red parachute to create the cave.”

“We’ve got pillows and futons to lend from Benden Farm,” Rhea said thinking of previous rituals.“

“It’s coming together,” marveled Ursula honoring the thoughtful flow of inspiration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Second Class

“So here we are at our second class. Thanks, Uri for smudging us. Anyone want to share about how the first class settled in you this past week?” Ursula looked around the room at the mostly eager faces. Ken looked disgruntled. Should she address that or leave it to surface in words when he was ready? Owen’s green eyes were twinkling. She suspected he saw the same thing in Ken and was waiting to see what she as official teacher would do about it. She carefully looked elsewhere. “Anyone?”

“I began seeing the blue light more and more,” said Rhea. “Sometimes other colors, especially lavender. In fact I realized how much Celeste quietly uses healing touch with the kids at school. I guess I should have known that but it was exciting to have it become so obvious.”

“Cool. Practicing and observing this stuff enhances it in you and those around you. You have the opportunity now to bring it alive in the kids you teach.”

“Yeah, I talked with Celeste about it some and she said she’s always been cautious, feeling a need to keep it hidden.”

“She’s of a generation when that was necessary. But these little ones need to know about it so they can enhance their own and I’m guessing today’s parents will be comfortable with it.”

Fern raised her hand and Ursula nodded in her direction. “I tried it on Anise when she was feeling tempestuously cranky the other morning. She was in my lap and I put one hand on either side of her body at her heart chakra. She calmed right down.”

“She told me about it when she got to our house,” Jay said with a smile. “She said you put happy music in her heart when she was feeling sad about leaving you, even though she wanted to see me too.”

“Good job, you guys! It does my heart good just hearing about it. The conflicted feelings of a kid who must go between two beloved households. How healing for all of you!” Ursula’s hand had flown reflexively to her heart and her voice definitely had tears in it. “And she experienced it as music. Just in case anyone thinks that seeing is always visual. Way cool! Anyone else?”

“I started using that energy from my hands on the plants that I am hoping will winter over in the Conservancy Trust garden,” offered Janna. “Kind of strengthening them for the wet and cold to come. I wonder if I should do a little experiment and give the energy to some and not the others. Though that seems cruel to the ones I don’t give it to.”

Ursula smiled. “Owen, what do you think of the ethics on this?”

“I’d say that was a great adaption of the exercise and to go for it. If you want you could ask each one if they agree to be part of such an experiment. Full disclosure and all that.” Everyone laughed. “Seriously. I think that would be cool especially if you keep notes. I never can remember to be so organized and then kick myself afterwards.”

Gabe spoke up. “A few weeks ago I had an interesting conversation with Molly about the subtle healing she says goes on at ReBound. So since the last class when it isn’t too busy I consciously put my hand out to shake when I am greeting people – I’m not much of a hugger. Most people didn’t react at all that I could discern, but one man grabbed his hand back, looking startled. An old lady held on and began telling me about a problem with the coons in her garbage can and then how her son never comes to visit and…. It took a while to extricate from her.” Everybody laughed. “But I experienced some sort of reaction in me almost every time I touched with intent like that. Sometimes I felt a burst of sadness or depression. One woman made me gloriously happy – almost giddy – for quite a while afterwards. It was really powerful.”

“That’s great, Gabe! I’m so glad you were willing to experiment with such an inventive way of adapting touch to suit your own comfort level.”

“Yeah,” the young man chuckled. “I didn’t expose myself too much but put a little energy into the ‘manly’ shake and actually felt some stuff coming back. With the needy older lady, I ended up with my other hand on hers as well – until I really had to get back to work.”

“A hand on the elbow works well too,” Owen offered.

“Just be sure you don’t hang on to any energy you don’t like,” instructed Ursula. “You don’t have to take it in. You can quietly shake it off – literally or mentally. If you feel it clinging or icky, go put your hands in running water or in the dirt.

“Okay, then. I have a disclaimer to make about calling myself a shaman in last class. Many people assert that you can’t name yourself shaman, that others have to call you such. I was embarrassed after class when I realized that word had popped out of my mouth. Usually I describe what we do as shamanic, not making that further claim…. I don’t even think I am a shaman because I don’t journey into the spirit worlds to find what’s wrong with someone, nor do I take others’ hurts consciously into myself to heal – at least as far as I know. It’s all much more subtle than that. There are a lot of good books out describing different shamans, past and present. I’m putting together a list of them for you. Owen is much more of a shaman than I am, both as a plant whisperer and doing the journeying he does…. So I really don’t know why I said that….”

“I’m not a shaman either and I don’t think you were really naming me that,” Owen took up the gauntlet Ursula had tossed out. “Though I certainly didn’t contradict you the other night. It slipped right by me. I was more caught by the wizard/witch thing. But maybe Spirit was giving you – and I – a little goose. Our blurts often give new meaning and dimension…. And it’s good to try these things on even if they are shocking. I’m guessing you’ve thought a lot about it since.

“I certainly did. It was so weird to play back the ‘tape’ in my head and realize…. In case you think we’re perfect, or anything,” she said to the group. Jay snorted and grinned at his mother.

“Maybe it was my future self speaking to me somehow. I can imagine that I might be working my way slowly towards that…. But Shaman now? I don’t think so. Even if others named me that I don’t think I would claim it…. Let’s settle on what I and others do as being shamanic.

“Okay. On to the content for tonight’s class. I’m sure you noticed that I set out a few things in each of the four directions. These are items that have meaning to me – our family’s beloved sparkly cloth snake in the South for her hissing, heated energy and her love of the sun. Also for all the Goodwin-Brown memories she holds and for her ability to shed her skin – to grow and change. Some might put her in the north as an Earth spirit because she lives so close to the ground. Instead I put my Edward Curtis photo of a native medicine man in the north to ground us into the deep traditional shamanic energy of the Old Ones. I also put my whale vertebra there. Even though whales are certainly of the water, bones are of the north and this was found on the beach. In the East I put the eagle and condor feathers I’ve been gifted with over the years. They bring in air and cleaning energy. Also song – bird song and omens. For the West, I have the dolphin and the mermaid and one of Charley’s surfing T-shirts. Just in case you think this has to be all serious.

“From the looks of your bags, I’m thinking that most of you have brought some objects to add to these. Let’s go one by one and tell us what you brought and why. But how ‘bout if we don’t comment on each others’ offerings. All offerings are sacred and exactly right for us in this moment. We’ll do a little processing after everyone has put their things out.”

“I brought bells for sound in the East,” said Janna adding them to Ursula’s feathers. “And a pot of mint for the south that I’m hoping someone will take home afterwards. My watering can over here in the West and compost (of course!) for the North.”

Rhea stood in the South to make her first contribution. “An aloe plant over here for the healing and regenerative energy. A conch shell my mother gave me in the West, magic mushrooms in the North for where they grow and also in the East for visions.”

“I wasn’t sure what to bring,” said Ken. “But for the West, I brought my dream notebook that you suggested I start keeping and here is a spruce branch – wasn’t sure if it should go in the North or the South…” He hesitated then placed it in the North. “So I’ll put my mother’s photograph in the South and this flicker feather in the East.”

“I couldn’t think of anything for the north, but now I realize I could put my moonstone ring there.…This rose quartz heart belongs in the South….”

“Ganesha in the South….”

“Walrus tooth in the West…”

“I think this pile of rocks goes in the North….”

“My little frog in the East cause they croak in the spring….”

“My drum in the East…”

“A bottle of our beer for the West. A Jaguar mask for the South. A snake skin for the North and a bird skeleton for the East.” Jay knelt reverently with each offering.

Ursula watched delightedly as each person moved thoughtfully around the circle. She could feel the power growing in each as they placed their sacred offering and in the circle as a whole. Blessed Be!

 

 

 

First Class

“Now that we’ve grounded and called the directions, we have made ourselves ready for our work,” said Ursula to the seven women and five men who sat on backjacks in a circle on her living room floor. In the center was a simple altar of four candles and a central figure of a small blue ceramic bear and some newly fallen alder leaves. “Thanks, Owen Logan for being here tonight to help me anchor the space.”

“I’m thinking I might want to teach this someday so I thought I’d tag along with my mentor here.” Owen grinned at Ursula.

“Mentor, ha! Don’t let him fool you. This one goes deep. He knows a lot and we have grown with it together. Why don’t the rest of you start introducing yourselves and say a little about why you are here.”

“I’m Rhea. I live at Benden Farm where I listen to Cali and everyone talk about all this. I figured it was time for me to dig a little deeper.”

“I’m Mariposa. I’m an intern for the PSU program so I really don’t know any of you or much about this? But I think it might be why I came to this community? Like, I thought I was coming for the sustainability stuff, you know? Saving the earth and permaculture and recycling? That’s important and I really love helping to make changes happen here? But the mystical side seems to underlie a lot of this for you guys,” She nodded at Ursula and Owen and shedding the question marks in her syntax, said firmly, “so I want to know more.”

“The spiritual is indeed a foundation for what we do, though it is rather a chicken-and-egg thing. Can any of us really say which came first? The practical is so intertwined with the Spirit level,” said Ursula. “When I look around this circle I can guess that some of you come out of your experiences in the everyday and some have touched into psychic, dreaming or other realms that may lead to some different involvements in the so-called ‘real’ world. Remind me to bring those connections to light as we talk in the coming weeks. Thea?”

“I am new here too and I fall into that latter category,” responded the sole black person in the room. “It was in answering a call to know myself more deeply, that I fell in love with the Goddess a few years ago and was led to a new style of painting. Since moving down here I’m learning about the earthy, woodsy aspects of all this. Oh and community. I’m the opposite of where you’re coming from, Mariposa. I’m not very P.C. when it comes to technology and giving stuff up, but my psychic perceptions are blooming. It’s almost scary. Plus ever since the women’s Demeter-Persephone Ritual I can’t seem to get enough of ritual in my life.”

“You’ll give us another sort of balance, especially as you come to this from deep within and through a lot of trial and error in your life. June said she’d be willing to come for a couple of sessions to teach us about the psychic pieces to it all.” Ursula turned to the next person in the circle.

“My name is Uriel and I’m a newbie to the community as well, though not to the magical. I play didge and I have a healing touch and I want to go deeper. My partner is Michael DeAngeli who runs the PSU Sustainability adjunct campus here.” There was a chorus of “ooohs” and smiles from most of the group either because they knew Michael or the program.

“Uri is trained in natural healing techniques. Can you tell us a little more about that?”

“I don’t actually have much formal training. I’m not a naturopath so I don’t know a lot about supplements and herbal remedies. Probably not nearly as much as Owen here. And I’m not a chiropractor so I don’t do spinal adjustments and I’m not a massage therapist so I can’t legally work on a naked body. I’m not even a certified Reiki practitioner, but I do general energy stuff that I’ve picked up along the way from various teachers and workshops….” He paused to gather his words. “I feel like I need to put what I know into a general context and begin to develop allies and compadres so I can see how I might want to set up a practice of some sort here…. maybe in conjunction with others with more formal training and maybe even – this is a dream of mine – with the regular medical establishment. This class,” he said smiling, “seemed like a good next step. I am so grateful to be in this place and with you people.”

“I’m sure between this group and other folks you meet in the near future, you will find a productive niche for yourself here. It will be interesting to see how your path develops. And you’ll be right at home with our first exercise tonight and have lots to teach us all I’m sure!”

“I’m Janna. I’m the Conservancy Trust caretaker and permaculture gardener. I can feel the gardens calling me to be more consciously spiritual. I do a little on my own.” Her voice rose in her effort to convey what she was feeling. “I call the directions and sort of pray when I plant and weed so that I take and leave the right ones. But it’s time for more exposure to formal ritual. Plus I need more tools.”

“Planting and weeding are very Kali Ma things to do,” said Ursula. “She’s the many armed, very complex, fierce goddess from India who knows when to cut and when to comfort.” She turned to the next person. “Welcome, Gabe. I didn’t realize you’d be coming. You give us the requisite thirteen in number.” Ursula put a teasing emphasis on the idea of a required witchy quorum.

“I’m pretty skeptical about all this but it calls me too, you know?”

“Every class needs its curmudgeon. I honor you for coming in spite of that. You’ll probably ask some of the most thought provoking questions. Marsha, I’m so glad you could come.”

“Marsha Quince. I am a retired corporate executive.” She said this almost defiantly. “I’m probably in Gabe’s camp. Skeptical. But I’m looking for something new in my life and you people all seem so interesting. I don’t know much about any of this.”

“I’m Marsha’s husband, Ken. I’m also retired. From sales. I’ve been having a lot of strange dreams recently and this seemed like a good way to connect in.” He turned to the young woman on his left.

“I’m Ariel. I lived here when I was little and now I’m back!”

“Yay!” said Ursula and several others. “It’s so cool that you’re returning to the roots of your birth on the Mountain. I have no doubt that the Mountain called you back and that we’ll all benefit from your return.”

“I’m Fern. I used to be married to Gabe,” she grinned at him, “And we share Anise, our little girl who goes to Illahee where Rhea teaches. And now I’m with Jay, here.”

“I’m Jay and besides being with this pixie, I’m also Ursula’s oldest offspring. I am apprenticing as a brewer in Klatsand. I grew up with all this as Mom and Owen and the others of the Medicine Circles were exploring it. So in a way I know a lot, but I don’t exactly know what I know. If you know what I mean….”

Everybody laughed.

“Obviously we have all levels of experience,” Ursula continued. “There is no such thing as dumb question. We each know different aspects and we’re all here to garner from each other. I guarantee I will learn some new things from you all and the questions you ask.”

Ursula took a deep breath to launch into the next phase of her rough outline. “It seemed appropriate to have our first class in this Halloween-Samhain window. Spelled s.a.m.h.a.i.n. in the Celtic tradition but pronounced sow’-en. It’s the pagan holiday that comes halfway between Fall Equinox and the December Solstice. It’s one of the cross-quarters, the time in this Northern hemisphere when everything is dying back and we launch into the dark to compost and renew. Thus it is often called the ‘Witch’s New Year.’” She grinned inside as she watched Marsha pick up her notebook and pen.

“I thought Spring Equinox was the time for making the next year’s intentions,” said Janna, thinking of the plants.

“Spring, of course, is also a time of new beginnings and many people consider the Vernal Equinox the most appropriate point to start the round. I’m sure that makes a lot of sense for you as a gardener. Personally, I think of the Winter Solstice as that time because it is the darkest moment and is associated with our Gregorian calendar New Years. I think of the year as going upwards from there.

“But don’t forget,” she said as an aside, “it’s all opposite in the Southern Hemisphere. For them Winter Solstice comes in June so the calendar New Year is when they are experiencing the peak and then dying back of the light…”

“The point is that it’s a circle, a sacred wheel of the year that goes round and round, with no real beginning or ending. You can also think of it as an upward unfolding Spiral. Each time we go around we are further along and further up (hopefully). The sequences of tarot cards do this as well. It’s like how in high school we reach the senior level and graduate, only to start over again as freshmen in college or apprentices in the wider world.

“This class is partly about learning to be in touch with those cycles as they play out in the year and in our lives – the astrological and astronomical as well as the earth centered ones. It’s about how we celebrate and how we can explore the caverns and mysteries of ourselves and this place – both locally and in the wider world.

“Shaman, healer, witch, wisewoman, greenwitch, and now teacher. These are all words that define me and are clues that I dwell with the sacred cycles and their blessings,” said Ursula.

“Those words define me too,” interjected Owen. “Well, maybe not ‘wisewoman.’ Can I be a wise man? I guess so.”

“What does Wizard really mean but ‘wise man’?” suggested Jay.

“Bingo,” said Ursula. “We all become wiser over time as we tune into nature and what it really wants of us. Not just nature as we have been taught but the super-natural as well, the unseen parts. That which is behind the veils. The occult, which, not so incidentally, means ‘hidden.’ So much is coming together as we enter the New Age, the Age of Aquarius. It’s both exciting and scary to be opening to all this. Luckily there are guides we can learn to call on who are actually just waiting to be invited to aid us. With Owen’s help we’ll do some deeper work together in another class finding these spirit helpers, whether they be angelic, bird, animal, stone or tree.

“One of those I particularly relate to is Grandmother Spider, known as the Creatrix in many American Indian traditions. I have this feeling that we’re all in the midst of this vast web spinning out of her center that is too complicated for us to see in more than tiny, tiny bits. Thus Eagle who flies high and can see the big picture, turns up a lot for me to confirm when I’m in touch with powerful Medicine on behalf of the whole. Lately I’ve been experiencing Goldfinch who, according to Ted Andrews’ book Animal Speaks, helps us connect with nature spirits and leads us into inner realms. Elk helps ground and center me – connects me to the earth through its four strong legs and, since it’s a herd animal, to my Tribe. According to Jamie Sams, Elk also is about stamina.” Ursula swept her arms around the circle to include them all.

“Tonight, however, I want to invoke Bear who is a particular friend of mine to connect us to our inner healer selves and particularly our healing hands. I believe we are all healers. We do it in many different ways but this “handy” appendage can give us tangible evidence.

“So! First exercise: each of you hold your hands together and feel their temperature. NowOwen Or Grape pull them a little ways apart – about an inch,” she said as she demonstrated. “Now move them slightly farther and a teeny bit closer, not touching, but so that you can begin to feel a little buzz between them. If it feels appropriate you can rub them together vigorously for a little more oomph.”

She watched as amazement broke out on some people’s faces and consternation on others. “If you can’t feel  anything, that’s okay. Just keep playing with it. Chi energy is present whether you feel it or not. Experiment to see how far you can stretch it apart. Can you make it into a ball? Try throwing it back and forth between your hands.”

Some people obviously got it. “I see it as a blue energy,” said Rhea. “But then I’ve done this before.”

“Bravo. I can’t see  it visually myself but I know others who do. Can anyone else see it?”

Fern nodded shyly with wonder on her face.

“I thought you might be able to. Okay everybody, pick a partner and take turns putting your hands on each others’ heart…”

After a bit, Ursula reassembled the group into one circle. “The heart is a good place to start because even if there is something else obvious going on – stomach ache, sprained ankle, grief – the heart is usually the source and the most important part to be healed – or at least to give energy to. Who’s willing to share their experience?”

“I felt a warm glow where Jenna had her hands,” said Mariposa wonderingly.

“That’s good to hear,” said Jenna, “because I couldn’t feel anything from my end. Though I did notice that she took a deep breath and seemed calmer.”

“Perfect you two,” said Ursula. “If you can’t see anything spectacular, and most people can’t, then you rely on the subtle clues. And Receiver, if you feel something tell your Giver. Not necessarily in the moment but afterwards at least. You never know what little thing you might be able to corroborate and thus strengthen them. How was it for you, Uri?”

“I’ve done it before, of course. I rarely see anything either, unless the person is a really strong empath themselves, but I get an almost electrical tingling in my hands when I’m at the right place and the energy is flowing. Sometimes that feels blocked between us and then I have to be careful not to get kinda shocked if it bounces back on me with… with sharpness. Tonight I could feel it more strongly on Jay’s front heart than his back heart. I sensed that chakra as really open and trusting, but there is something lingering in his shadow side we might want to look at later.”

“That’s interesting,” said Jay. “I’ve been feeling a little oppression recently like something old is trying to get out. I’d love to work more on that with you.” His mom nodded.

“I couldn’t feel anything,” said Marsha. “It was really frustrating. This stuff is harder than I thought.”

“Don’t get discouraged. It’s only your first go at it. I’m sure you’ll feel more successful as we practice these things. And ironically sometimes “trying” too hard can block the very energy that wants to flow here. But remember also,” she said to the group, “some of you will be good at this particular aspect and others will pick up more easily on other things we do. I’m sure even Uri will hit some snags here and there.”

“So your homework for the next time is to bring things for the altar representing each of the four directions as I called them tonight: East as Air, South as Fire, watery West and Earth in the North. (Other traditions have other elemental correspondences.) We can’t discuss it any more tonight as there isn’t time but please bring items that seem appropriate to you and we’ll work with them next week. Remember there are no “right” answers. Most things can fit into all of the categories so go with your instincts of the moment.

“And speaking of the moment, on the shelf there next to our family portrait I have placed what I am calling a Begging Bowl. Put your payments for the class in there. Remember that although the suggested donation for the class is $10, you can put any amount more or less in the bowl, including nothing. I’m practicing a new way of collecting and charging that is called Dāna in the Buddhist traditions. That’s a Sanskrit word that means generosity or giving and receiving as a spiritual act. So put in whatever feels right for today. I am grateful for your presence.

“Blessings on our journey together. Thank you to the inspiration of the East, the heart & web energy of South, the water in the West for bringing forth our unconscious, and the Bear and our ancestors of the North. Namaste.” Ursula put her hands together in prayer position and bowed to the circle, who, of course, bowed back.