Uri and Ursula Tarot

“Do you have a tarot deck you prefer?” Ursula asked Uri as they settled next to each other on the purple futon in the back room at Bear Essentials. A red Japanese lantern light hung overhead and a Christmas cactus was getting ready to bloom on a little table next to them. A silk banner of the chakras and a poster of Bob Marley graced the two walls without windows. A massage table was folded in its traveling case in the corner.

“I don’t really know much about the Tarot,” admitted the young fey man who had come to connect with Ursula after many promptings from his spirit guides and new human friends.

“Then go ahead and choose a deck, either by looking at them or…. as you are doing,” Ursula chuckled watching Uri let his hand hover over the several decks she had in her basket. He settled on a green bag embroidered with flowers and handed it to her. “The Herbal Tarot,” said Ursula. “Done by respected herbalists, Candis Canton and Michael Tierra, based on the traditional Ryder Waite deck.” It seemed like a fitting choice for this young healer shaman before her.

“It had a glow about it and made my fingers tingle. All good signs that it is the one we should play with today.”

“I think we won’t do a full spread, but rather pull them one by one as our conversation progresses,” said Ursula shuffling the cards. “Do you have a specific question or….?”

“I just wanted us to get to know each other another degree and to see if you had some advice, either through the cards or via your own wisdom and experience, about settling myself into the community.”

Ursula blew on the cards and handed them to Uri. “Shuffle these a bit yourself and then pull one.” She watched as Uri grounded deeply inside himself and the cards seemed to whirr into place with the ‘important’ one on top. He carefully turned it face up.

“Ah, the Magician, numero uno of the Majors, who traditionally has all the elements at hand. See, he has tools for water, earth, air and fire, available to be picked up. A cup, a sword, a wand and a disc or coin with a pentacle, which are also the suit names for this deck. He is connected downward where he’s pointing and upward to the sky. ‘As above, so below,’ as Hermes Trismegistus and the astrologers are fond of saying.”

“What is evidenced in the heavens and what comes through our guidance appears always in earthly form as well,” mused Uri thoughtfully. He noted but did not speak of the crystal ball in the Magician’s upward hand that matched the one he had been gifted just before moving here.

“This version of the Magician certainly looks like an angelic being so it fits your name, Uriel. I would assert that, like you, he has healing hands. Astragalus, the herb the authors chosen for the Magician, increases energy for digestion, both assimilation of actual food and of what you know. As you learn how to use all the tools, you will have new stuff to teach us. It is also helpful for manifestation so I assert this is saying that you will find whatever you need to move forward. I suggest you get some astragalus root for putting into soups. It’s good for the immune system too.”

“That card gives me shivers, said Uri.

“Me too. It’s a powerful card… as are you. Take another one.” She liked the way his hand didn’t hesitate but went straight to one in the middle of the pile. “The King of Pentacles reversed. You need to learn and practice your earthly skills. Medicines, perhaps? Hang out with Owen? This deck, by the way, is a good one for a right-brained approach to learning herbs.”

“I was just thinking I should probably buy it for myself.”

“I have one around here somewhere I can give you that was damaged in shipping and I have a feeling it wants to be yours. Anyway, this King is the master of earth plane stuff. Since the card came up at all, the energy is present but hidden, occluded in some way. I suspect you already know a lot of stuff and have used it some but it hasn’t manifested to its full extent. And to some degree, you don’t know what you know. Plus,” she laughed, “the alfalfa assigned to this card is also about manifestation. Be careful what you wish for. You have some powerful energies lining up for getting what you want.”

Uri nodded with a twinkle in his eye. “I want to pull several cards now. Not sure why.”

“No need to know why. I trust your intuition. I hope you do too.” This last as he looked wryly at her. “Ha! I was wondering about the other  elements. You’ve got two wands for fire and a water card. As the Magician it seemed like you should have all the elements.”

“I wonder if I made that happen. To achieve the balance that I could see was missing and to get clues about my personal Magician’s tools.”

“Of course you did, that’s why I have you pull the cards. It’s your power that’s at work here not mine. I just set the stage and help with the interpretation.”

“Just!” said Uri.

“So there’s your fire – the Four of Wands – fairies playing in the fennel. They kinda look like you. The affirmation for this one,” she said looking at the book, “is ‘I feel greater self-confidence by quietly recognizing my many gifts and accomplishments.’”

“Confidence again, huh?”

“Yup. This one isn’t about a specific tool but more of an assurance that you do have them all at your fingertips. Perhaps not at your command yet,” she smiled, “but you have only to notice and practice – playfully and in a group. So now look at the Two of Wands. Because the young man is holding the globe and looking out over the landscape, I usually I think of this card as someone heading off on a journey. In this case, I’m thinking that he’s looking to see if he’s found home. Of course, I have to be careful with this interpretation because I’m all about recruiting everyone worthy to stay here and play with us…. But if it resonates with you…”

“You know it does.”

“He is a bit of a dandy like you and a fairy too.”

They both laughed and then were silent a moment taking in the gestalt of the cards. Uri spoke next, “The Magician is holding what feels like a celestial orb and this one has the Earth. I wasn’t sure if I should tell you with the first, but now seeing two globes reminds me of the crystal ball I was recently given. Do you know anything about gazing into other times and places?”

Scrying is another word for that. And, no, I’ve never really had any luck with that, nor has anyone else in the Medicine Circles that I know of. Mostly we’ve tried with bowls of water or obsidian. Occasionally fire. So that is something you’ll get to teach us when you’ve had success with it. Uriel is the prophesizing angel after all.”

Uriel looked at her startled. “Hmmm. Stay tuned, I guess I haven’t had the nerve to play with it yet. One more tool.”

“I’m also getting another hit on this card,” said Ursula, “Again don’t take it on if it doesn’t resonate, but he looks like he’s from another time, and that he’s looking at the earth to see where to land….”

“Funny you should mention that. I often have a feeling of being from somewhere else.… the stars…. and some-when else. Maybe even the future? Come to help the Earth’s people…. ourselves… transition to something different…..”

“I see…. Not quite of this world and with huge energy, power and magical gifts hidden just beneath the surface. Like you’ve brought them with you and now is the time to discover them. I am honored to be helping you with that process.”

He took a deep breath and a tear ran down his cheek. “Thank you for hearing me. I can’t say that to very many people.”

“I suspect more of us than we have any idea have landed here on Earth and in this particular spot like you have. All of us even? Coming from the future would mean that we have already experienced the changes and it’s up to us to see that they happen. Think of all those science fiction books about going back in time and changing something. It’s going to be velly intelesting as our sense of bringing the future into the present come to light more and more.”

“But why, oh why can’t we remember? Why do we have to dig so deeply to uncover it all??”

“It’s completely frustrating, isn’t it? Perhaps at first to protect us from the muggles of the world we are born into – my generation certainly. And also because we have to build it – not just wave our magic wands (though they help) but to build it ‘inch by inch, row by row…’” She sang the last part. “All of us…. Together…”

They looked at each other and leaned over to hug, both in tears now.

“Okay,” Ursula said briskly, fishing the Kleenex box from under the little table. “We haven’t looked yet at the water card. Knight of Cups. Another interesting looking young man. As we’ve already discerned, you have many guises, Uriel. A magician indeed. Here you have wings on your hat and an exotic an old-fashioned drink…. A potion? I’m not clear about this card. The watery element for you is a mystery for me. Let’s look in the book for this one…. Ah, ‘the airy aspect of water.’ That fits. ‘A messenger of the Gods….’ Check. ‘In pursuit of a dream…’ Check. ‘He is on a tireless search for identity in relation to another…. Sarsaparilla symbolizes purification of emotions…. ‘ How’s your relationship to Michael? If I may be so bold as to ask.”

“Challenging,” responded Uri. “We’re on very different planes about all this stuff. I certainly can’t talk to him about coming from other worlds and times, but I keep hoping that something will shift once he’s settled into this demanding new job and gets to know you all from your woo woo perspective. I’m so glad he’s working with Charley so some is bound to rub off on him – it won’t just be weirdness coming from me…. The good thing is that we both feel very HOME. He, of course, cause he grew up here, but me too. I feel like I’ve found my tribe.”

“The Inca and many others in their prophecies talk about the fact that much of this age’s advances will be made in groups, that it cannot be done solo anymore. There may still be some hermits to help hold the space but mostly it’s now about communing and self-discovery with others. What’s more that it needs to be done as part of a lineage within a village. We have a rudimentary foundation for that both with folks like Owen’s and Michael’s families who have been here a long time, as well as the hints we’ve been getting about connecting with the Mountain and the native Old Ones. But mostly I’m thinking it’s about building the legacy for our descendants…..”

“Ursula, I am suddenly seeing you and I as Old Ones who have come to Earth other times. Not here, but to the Inca…. Stones. Huge stones. And those red woolen caps pulled down over forehead and ears….. Also as Pueblo Indians…. rattles and drums and mountains…. We know about this stuff…. We come here to create council fires…. So did others but I can’t see their faces. I hope Michael’s is among them…. I’m to help connect us to our missions here…..”

“Oh Uri, I’m so glad you’ve finally gotten here,” said Ursula. “Welcome home.”

“Me too.” They hugged again.

“I want to take a card from a different deck,” Uri said picking up the new Gaian Tarot from Joanna Powell Colbert. The figures in this deck were from real people, exquisitely painted. After a quick shuffle, Uri pulled the Seven of Air from the middle of the pack. “There’s the Air card I was missing. That’s me looking at the map, isn’t it? Trying to learn the territory. Michael has one map and it’s useful to me. You have one with other pertinent details for me, but I must still find my own way across the valley to the peak.”

“Yup, but how ‘bout this for starters. Would you like to use this room to begin your shamanic healing practice? It’s been the starting place for several of the healers in the area.”

“Really? Oh, Ursula. You read my mind. I was wondering how I was going to find a space. This would be effortless.”

“And would you like to meet with Raphael Turner, the MD up at the clinic who is interested in combining forces with alternative healers?”

“Would I?! That would be incredible. Kind of scary though.”

“Now don’t start that. There are others who want to get together with him as well. I think it’s time to follow up on that thread… One more card for all of us, for the Tribe…”

Uri pulled The Tree.

“Of course. Usually called the Hanged One, it’s about choosing to have ourselves hung upside down from the Tree of Life. Thus we are dangled into challenging situations in order to discover ourselves. Even with the forgetting and other struggles, we do our light work with diligence…on the good days….”

“Onward,” said Uri.

“Hey, that’s my line,” teased Ursula, “But you can use it as much as you want with my blessings….”

They bowed to each other with hands at their hearts in Namaste and began to talk logistics of Uri taking up a working residence at Bear Essentials.

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.

Drumming 2

So what is it that happens at Full Moon Drumming?” twenty-something Finch Terranova asked Owen nervously as they munched on lamb and veggies encased in whole wheat rolls somebody brought from Angel’s. “I’ve never done this sort of thing before.”

“It’s a loose jam. Sometimes it gets cacophonous with so many different levels of musical knowledge and drumming experience.”slide10

“Loud too,” offered Charley. “At least when we’re inside.”

“It’s been happening monthly for fifteen years.”

“More like eighteen or twenty, I think,” said Ursula. “It began when that bunch over there were in high school.” She gestured towards Arlo, Jay and Cali.”

“Others are as new to it as you are. Help yourself in the bags of percussion toys – tambourines, maracas, whistles. You name it. The pill bottles filled with gravel make especially good rattles.”

“Not everyone likes this free-for-all drumming,” said Owen. “Some prefer structure and a tradition, be it African, Middle Eastern or whatever. Or written out patterns.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that, mind you,” offered Charley. “A tight structure like a raga is cool and deeply spiritual.”

“It’s like how sonnets or haiku with set numbers of syllables or rhyming patterns somehow frees up the mind to play with images.”

“Owen, are you getting all didactic again?” asked Cali pointedly.

The older man looked sheepish but hadn’t quite finished his lecture. “Sufi dervish or Native American trance dancing has a pattern of rhythms or movements generated over millennia that can even include spirit possession. I learned recently that Shaker turning was also a trance dance tradition.”

“I can’t really grok the celibacy of the Shakers,” said Raven who had just come up. “And I like the lack of safety in what we’re up to.”

“You would,” laughed Alex. “I get frustrated when the beat gets lost.”

“Yet many traditional cultures are open to the unexpected,” said Owen. “In Voudun it’s never known who will be the ‘horse’ the spirits ‘ride.’ Brad Keeney who works with the Bushmen says you have to let go of rhythms even or beautiful dancing to give the gods room….”

“Oooo. Let’s get him here,” said Jasmine.

“We did once several years ago,” said Pia. “Sometimes he had two songs on at the same time to mess up our expectations.”

“Not that we have possession or anything like that goin’ on,” Raven contributed, his tall thin form dancing about a bit, feathered earrings flying. “We’re just makin’ noise and goin’ with what rhythms arise. Depends on the mood and who’s here and what instruments show up.”

“How the stars are aligned,” laughed Pia.

“Did you bring your trumpet tonight, Raven?” someone asked from the edge of the circle.

“I’m taking a break from brass at the moment. But here’s Uri with his didgeridoo. It’s been a while since we had didge players show up.” A couple of people broke away to greet the latecomers.

“I like bein’ in that edgy place where you never know what’s next.” Raven continued his line of thought. “I like the fact that we’re making it up. Older traditions are there to draw upon. Some of us have training even. But we’re combining and integrating to make us a new whole.”

“When it works,” said Alex.

“When it flows,” agreed Raven. “Sometimes it’s coherent and satisfying. Sometimes it’s irritating and ear splitting. Not because someone’s playing a ‘wrong’ note,” he mimed quotation marks with his fingers, “but because we’re not in tune with each other.”

“That’s not the right word cuz it implies ‘in tune’ like our western chord scale,” said Charley. “It’s more that we’re not entrained. Not together in some way.”

“Egos maybe battling a bit.”

“What? Us?”

“Sometimes the internal virtuoso gets the better of one of us and we’re rather showing off,” Owen chuckled.

“Yet sometimes that’s exactly what’s needed. When someone has a moment of being so present in the beauty of their skill that they take off and the rest give them room.”

“Play backup.”

“Yeah, the ego thing is more about hogging that spot or directing the show or … being ‘off’ somehow. Not connected with the group.”

“Don’t forget we add our bodies in there too.”

“When there’s a good beat.”

“Anyway, you’ll see that we’re improvising,” said Owen turning again to the Terranovas. “Making room for each other. Being playful. Allowing new people to be comfortable to give it a try. Just like life.”

“Inspiring the magical. Though we only manage to connect in that way every now and then….” said Cindy wistfully.

“I always like it best towards the end with just a few of us left and we can hear ourselves again – and there’s more room for dissonance and harmonies to take hold.”

“Each time is different, that’s for sure.”

“You’ll tell me if I’m doing something out of place won’t you?” said Finch still needing reassurance.

“One of the kids used to say that if you miss a beat or play a note that feels out of place, just repeat it and then it’s no longer ‘wrong.’”

“So what’s with all this talking?” challenged Raven, his hands beginning to dance on the congas. Arlo went over to join him as did Carlos. Soon fifteen or twenty folks had taken up drums. Others stood on the sidelines. Clusters of conversation persisted so the focus stayed scattered for a bit. Pia danced around the edges urging claves and rattles on the recalcitrant ones.

Most of the kids stayed out beyond the fringes of the music. Enveloped happily by the dark, they’d begun a game of flashlight tag that made them look like spirits flitting about. But as was usually the case, young Flicker sidled over and started in on a spare djembe.

If you listened carefully you might notice at a few who were a bit off. Charley’s plonking on the cowbell was erratic and a-rhythmic and the person on the third conga didn’t have a lot of confidence. But none of that mattered. The majority settled into a groove and carried the others along.

Molly lay down in the center with a deep sigh and let the beat throb over her. Though loud, it soothed her body lulling her almost to sleep.

At the end of the first fifteen or twenty minutes, an energy rush of wild-anything-goes drumming took over. Fast and loud and thumping. People grinned at each other at the joyful noise. Ursula threw back her head and laughed uproariously. Someone began to yip like a coyote.

Finch could feel the sweetness of that wild energy stir in his veins. Certainly finesse was not part of this thronging sound. Looking up at the Mountain, he wondered if he had found his home. He’d dropped in to visit his parents’ latest landing spot but there was something about this process that was calling him to linger…. As he had this thought the music suddenly stopped. Everybody was laughing and hooting in their delight at being together.

“Young Flicker here really lives up to his name. Like the woodpecker who drums on our chimneys, he knows his beat,” said Arlo quietly to Finch in the lull. “You could do a lot worse than tune in to what he’s doing.” Flicker ducked his head bashfully, proud to have been singled out by his hero.

Then the music started up again as spontaneously as a flock of sanderlings taking off at the same moment. This time the beat was more Middle Eastern. Rhea slipped into the center, banging a tambourine against her knee as her belly rolled and hips swayed. She was soon joined by Ursula and Pia as well as lithe and graceful Uri with snaky arms entwining. Two little girls in bright skirts were drawn in to dance their own versions.Drumming Circle 1

Jasmine watched, working up her courage to let her body go with the internal call she was feeling. She certainly didn’t know how to belly dance and it was hard to imagine having the grace and style of those in front of her but when Raven leapt in with wild flopping and flittering movements, she realized that there were no more rules to this than there were to the drumming. She stayed on the outside of the circle, but her sways became jiggles and her hips took up the call, seemingly of their own accord.

In a bit, as if in response to Raven’s antics, the music morphed yet again and the dancing went with it, of course, for another twenty minutes or so.

At the next pause, the dancers flopped down in the chilly sand. Beers were renewed. A few more nibbles found, especially some late arriving brownies. Most families with little children rounded up their things and headed home to bed. A few of the younger couples wandered off down the beach.

Pia picked up her flute and began a quiet Native American yearning call. It wasn’t long before Uri’s didge contributed its primal growl. Soft beats came from a Remo frame drum and the congas. A voice – whose was it? – began to chirp. Another began a repetitious wordless chant. Thea, arriving late, was surprised to hear her own voice take up a counter chant that was syncopated with the other sounds such that her notes stood out every few beats. A clave began to sound in tune with that. The whole thing was mellower and more eerie sounding. Edgier, not in a punky way, but as if a different spirit was now leading the music. Dragonfly, maybe. Bat? That mysterious creature so comfortable in the dark.

Uri was lost in euphoria and his didge seemed to be playing itself. His circular breathing was flawless for once and suddenly it felt as if Spirit had come into him. Was it…. Mountain? Bird? Animal? All of the above, perhaps. Angel? He could feel the connection with the others and knew where they were going next before they actually did it. Was he leading or following? It didn’t matter because it felt so good. The entrainment they all longed for.

Cali sat quietly nursing Menolly next to the fire as the bright blaze began to settle into coals. The evening was winding down. A few drops of rain plinked here and there. More would be following soon. Owen knelt nearby as did several others. The coals were mesmerizing. Black laced with that amazing fiery orange and red. She suddenly knew with a sinking in her heart that she needed to walk on those coals. Not tonight. No, please, not tonight. She knew it was possible – her mom and others had done it in the course of their travels and workshops. But it always made her feel slightly nauseous to imagine it. So impossible. Yet not…. she knew that…. but….

Cindy too stared into the dying fire but she was musing about her husband, Van. Little flames flickered from the coals. Cinders. Cindy. Cinderella. Sometimes she wished she could be someone different for a while. Shed the mask of the shy herb lady and be swept up by a fairy godmother into the castle of her dreams. Not to a different man. But to a man who was different. Would Van ever see the beauty of her magic? Would the shoe of the greenwitch ever fit comfortably on her feet? She knew she was mixing up metaphors but it was that sort of night. Why think in straight lines? Staring into the fire was a kind of scrying for her…. As her eyes blurred she seemed to see a figure in the flames. A salamander. She’d never understood that legend. Here salamander was a creature of the wet woods. Bogs. Yet it was often talked about as if it were a fire being. There it was dancing on the tip of its tail surrounded by blue flames.

You must come dance with me someday, Ms. Cinders,” the salamander whispered in a wavery voice. “The coals – the cinders – are calling you, aren’t they? I know you can hear me.”

Cindy froze using all her concentration to calm her gasping breath. She looked around to see if anyone else was noticing. Cali was entranced with her babe. The others were making quiet, dreamy music – the few drummers still at it were tapping now rather than pounding. Uri’s didge was dancing in and out with Pia’s flute. A voice she didn’t recognize hummed and another made rhythmic ch ch ch sounds. When she looked back at the coals, the salamander was still there, grinning wickedly at her. “You’ll dance in the fire before long, Madam Woodburn. Madam Greenwitch. Oh, you’ll dance…. Only this time you will not burn…”