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.”

 

 

 

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!