New Year’s Eve Prep

Finding Allies

“We’re on our way to the Art Center to work on stuff for the New Year’s Eve parade. Anybody else want to come?” Charley issued a cheery invitation to anybody in earshot in Gaia Natural Foods, while Ursula gathered up edibles to sustain the group artistic endeavor.

A dread-locked head popped out from behind the produce aisle. “I keep hearing about the parade. What’s the deal?”

“The young people started it ten or so years ago. We rent the community center and hang out with costume trunks and music and potluck goodies. Just before midnight a lot more people turn up and we all head down Main Street with flaming torches, giant puppets, and banners. There are drummers and general shenanigans. This year Ariel’s brass marching band friends from Portland are coming so the music should be particularly fun.”

“I’ve heard about that part. What are you doing at the art center?”

“During this week between Christmas and New Years we take over the large common room at the Art Center and get creative. Some puppets last from year to year but it’s fun to make at least one new big thing. The huge skeleton man and turtle finally got eaten by rats in my daughter’s barn. I don’t know if the guys will want to get down the big bird they hung up at ReBound. But when we left last night it looked like a dragon was beginning to take shape.”

“It’s really fun,” said Ursula coming up. “You never know who or what is going to show up. The young folks have already made one trip to ReBound scavenging for likely materials and will probably make a few more. I’ve got fabric I’ve been collecting plus other odds and ends. I want to make a bunch of banners this year.”

“Maybe I’ll come by. I’m pretty good on the sewing machine. I’ve done a lot of theater work.”
“Perfect,” said Charley. It really is street theater.”

“Is the parade legal?” asked an older man overhearing their conversation.

“The kids always wanted it to stay anarchistic like it was in the beginning,” answered Charley. “But us parent types rented the hall for a staging area the second year and by the third year felt we should honor the City’s request to work on some of the logistics. Small town politics, you know. For one thing, it was making things awkward for our friend, Tad, the police chief. Then the City made us apply for a permit that involved paying 300 bucks for event insurance. We went along with it that year to keep the peace. The next year a group of us identified with it were out of town and the parade happened anyway. The following year we pointed out that it had taken on a life of its own like Times Square and that the City’s insurance covers it just like the 4th of July parade they sanction. They agreed to mellow out about it if we would help with security. So we round up volunteers to wear vests at the intersections. The whole thing only lasts about twenty minutes from start to finish.”

“Who’s we?” asked the man.

“Cedar ReSources  – a citizens group that is working towards sustainability in our area villages. We see the parade as a great community building opportunity. It doesn’t hurt the economics of the holiday week either. Now there are parties and bands at a number of venues and people make reservations at the inns along the street months in advance.”

“Come on by the Art Center to see the process. For sure show up for the fun on the 31st. You could even wear a security vest,” Charley offered.

Ursula reappeared with her basket loaded. “OK. I’ve got cheese and wine and chips. Carrots and cauliflower. Molly is making hummus. Raven promised brownies. That should hold us for the afternoon. I’m figuring we can order some pizzas for whoever is around at supper time.”

“Let’s grab some beer.”

“I hear they’re making animal masks this year like the ones they did for Solstice,” said the young girl behind the counter. “I’ll be there when I’m off work.”

 

 

The Art center was already humming in creative chaos when Charley and Ursula arrived. Beer bottles from the night before and active looking latte cups were scattered amidst piles of fabric and poles, glue guns and scissors. A young girl Ursula didn’t know was making fairy wings with Maddie from Elder House. A couple of sewing machines stood idle at the moment but obviously had been put to good use judging from the clutter around them. Ariel’s cadre of teenagers doing papier mach masks had been joined by Thea. Raven was helping Orca and Summer turn a rainbow colored tent into a dragon’s head. Its tail was a roll of green nylon fabric Cali had contributed from her garage stash.

As Ursula spread out provisions, a group came in the door. “More materials,” said Carlos as he and Marina came gaily through the door. “Buckets for drums. We want lots this year. And look at this cool wire mesh. It’s gotta be good for something.”

“Here’s some more sparkly fabric for you fairies,” offered Marina. “It came in just as we got there. How ‘bout these placemats for the dragon’s eyes?”

“Phew!” said Ursula quietly to Charley. “Looks like we’re on a roll here. The last couple of years have been kinda flat. The news of the brass band coming helps.”

“It doesn’t hurt to have Marina and Arlo around, plus Ariel’s new energy. The flock of birds seems to have landed – at least for the moment. Plus Thea and Mariposa for their first New Year’s. Looks like our Intention juju is still working. There’s Finch Terranova too.“

“Such a dance we all do, keeping the energy moving,” Ursula said, moving to give Charley a hug.

“It’s worth it,” he smiled down at her and kissing her lightly.

“It is indeed. Warms my heart, it does. As always.”

“Molly said to tell you that she and Gabe will be down after ReBound closes,” Carlos relayed to Ursula.

“Ursula, did you bring your animal picture books?” called out Ariel.

“Yes, and the Ted Andrews book on animal symbolism in case some of you want to look things up.”

“Can you tell us more about Power animals?” Thea asked.

“I like the way your mask is taking shape. That’s a good way to bond with your Cougar another degree, isn’t it? And you’ll have fun playing with it. Did you tell them about how you got your new friend?’

“Yes, but not everyone can do that formal shamanic process right now. Finch and Zydeco are having trouble choosing what to make.”

“Owen would probably do an emergency session,” Ursula laughed, “but short of that, I’d suggest thinking about some animal you love. Just let one come into your mind. Do you ever dream of animals? Especially if you have more than once.

“ I’ve been dreaming about Elk lot,” said Zydeco.

“There you go. I’d say that is an important messenger for you to explore.”

“But I’m kind of afraid of them when they turn up around ReBound.”

“All the better,” responded Ursula. “Dig into that. As Starhawk says, ‘Where there’s fear, there’s power.”

“Who did you cuddle with as a child?” Ursula continued turning to the others.  “Did you have an imaginary animal friend? It’s really about listening to a call…. Even just opening one of these books at random and seeing if the creature pictured resonates.”

“I had a raccoon friend,” said a skinny teen with multi-colored hair.

Ursula thought she might be the daughter of the woman who worked at the Locovore Garden but she couldn’t remember her name. Sierra? Cheyenne? “That would be a great connection for you.”

“Can you have more than one power animal?“

“Absolutely. I have several as does everyone I know. Sometimes you’ll have a main one for a time. A particular part of your life or a season. And it’s not just animals, remember. It can be trees, plants, even the Earth herself. Stars, gods, goddesses, angels. Anything that feels like a guide or an ally to you. A helper. Something who’s qualities you would like to share or learn from.”

“Awk Awk,” Raven laughed as he flew past with a handful of potato chips.

“Raven and I identified so much with our first animals that we changed our names to join them. He always has been a trickster sort and loves sparkly things.”

“And you are such a Mother Bear person.”

Finch picked up one of the books on the table and started leafing through it with a thoughtful air.

Ecstatic Dance

When Raven and Pia opened the door to the empty Mahonia Community Center, its characteristic stuffy smell assailed them. It would soon be alleviated when the other doors were opened. Such a dear familiar space. How many times had it been transformed into how many different magical settings?

They lugged in a couple of bags of supplies and a basket of scarves and skirts as well as bags of Christmas lights and things for an altar. Raven hooked up his laptop to the sound system and cued up the play list he’d organized including Gabrielle Roth, Bob Holroyd, and James Asher. While he did that, Pia laid red, orange and blue strings of lights around the perimeter creating a circle within which to dance. In unspoken agreement they pulled down the window shades to give privacy.

Pia dug in the bags and found a red-and-orange-stripped square of silk embroidered with flowers to drape over the piano stool. A large mandala painted on silk by one of the young people went on the wall behind it. She reached in for the small trash art statue Raven had made of Shiva Nataraj – the dancing, many-armed masculine deity who graced so many Hindu temples – and put it in the center flanked by prismed glass candle jars that would refract the light. A series of small dancing figures went in a semi circle around the larger central figure – a Sufi whirling dervish, a belly dancer, a hula girl and a Native American fancy dancer. Pia stood back with her hands on her hips to survey the effect. Satisfied, she took a deep breath, bowed and began to move her body sensuously to the slow strains of Margo Anand’s, “Calling the Sacred Yoni.”

Meanwhile, Raven donned a sparkly shirt, tied an orange silk scarf turban-wise on his head, and added a half-mask with peacock feathers sticking up along the top. He too began to dance, his arms reaching out to swirl around him. The two of them moved to dance together, not touching physically but with the energy shimmering delicately between them, especially between their palms mirroring each other, inches apart. This was an important moment, one they’d been dreaming of for months, maybe even for years. Lifetimes?

Of course, with the arrival of others, the spell shifted, but they grinned with the promise of group energy to build on in a bit.

“I couldn’t get Charley to come,” announced Ursula as she came in the door. “But I did bring the spring water you requested. And some plastic cups in case you didn’t have any. People can put their names on them so we don’t have to throw them away.”

“Or wash them even,” said Pia. “Thanks.”

“Owen is not coming either,” said Thea who had gotten a ride with Ursula and the young people. “We stopped by but he was reading up on animal symbolism and didn’t want to go anywhere.”

“I thought you’d like a little male support,” said Carlos as he swept dramatically into the room in a purple cape under which, it soon became apparent he wore a gypsy skirt and blouse.

“Thanks. Nice outfit,” Raven grinned, his eyes twinkling behind his mask.

Rhea was decked out as well in a swirling cobalt blue rayon dress with a low neckline. She had bright ribbons braided into her hair.

“You look smashing,” Thea said, hugging Pia admiring her sexy black top with sparkles all over it and her swishy full skirt that flashed with bands of sequins. “I wasn’t sure what people would be wearing….” She was a little embarrassed at her plain black yoga pants and top.

“Have at the basket there. All sorts of things to play with.”

Thea dug in and found a jingly belly dance belt and a rainbow colored skirt. She’d had the forethought to put a tank top under her long sleeved shirt. No matter what this type of dancing was, she couldn’t imagine not getting sweaty and wanting to shed a layer.

Molly had walked to the community center with Mariposa, her new tenant. Dressed in her usual plaid flannel shirt and jeans, she soon found a blue headband and picked up a purple scarf to tie over her shoulders. She felt pretty self-conscious but maybe in a bit she would put on one of the gauzy skirts in the basket.

Pia lit the candles. “Let’s gather in a circle,” she instructed. “The candles bring fire to the circle. Let’s feel our roots going deep into the ground, the blood flowing in our veins, and our wings beginning to sprout. I call in Crane and Heron to help us with the dance, as well as Shiva and Shakti. Our intention for tonight is to be fully in our bodies. I’m convinced that eventually, if we keep playing with it, we can find our true selves that way. Feel free to move uninhibitedly. As your body wishes. Nobody can see in the windows if that’s a concern for you. Sit if you want, roll on the floor, play. But no talking. Let’s stay out of our heads. We’ll dance for an hour. The music will start slowly and build to a crescendo before it gentles again to softness. I’m imagining ending in silence.”

“But let’s see what happens,” interjected Raven. “I’ll start the play list I’ve put together.”

 

“I’m scared,” thought Mariposa as she donned a sequined skirt from Pia’s basket. “Next time I’ll dude it up with an outfit anyway. I wonder what I’m supposed to be doing.” She watched surreptitiously as people began to move with the slow dreamy music. Some stretched, doing standing twists and backbends. Some twirled gracefully. Others were stiff and self-conscious. That made her feel better. She wasn’t the only one unsure of herself. She spun a little to see if her skirt would swirl and was captivated by the sparkle of it. Pretty soon she was in her own little world.

Ursula stretched slowly to get herself warmed up. A forward bend became dog pose which, as she rose with her arms held out, turned into warrior pose. Strong and firm. But then, almost of their own accord, her arms began to flutter with birdlike movements. She went up on her tippy toes and then slowed like a heron coming in to land. How would a hummingbird dance? Flit, flit. Seeing Pia with a long iridescent scarf, gave her an idea and she went to get one to give herself wings.

“Can I let go of decades of Dancing and shift into Movement?” wondered Thea to herself. Though this music was different from her usual, her hips still fell automatically into the familiar shimmy and shake, egged on by the jingles tied there. She loved this feeling and went with it for a while. It had been another long painting day so it was good to get her wiggles out, but as the music went into Lorena McKennitt’s “Santiago,” even the belly dance figure eights and bicycles rolls began to feel too formal for tonight. “If I dance the same ol’ way, I’ll be the same ol’ person and I want to feel differently. How do I do that?”

Keep moving.” The notion from inside her head startled her, but the advice was sound and she had asked for help, after all. She moved faster as the music sped up and lightened. Noticing Ursula and Pia running playfully with bright scarves streaming behind them, Thea had an inspiration. She imagined her Cougar prancing beside her self as the little girl of her Soul Retrieval. She grabbed a huge veil and soon was leaping and skipping with the other two, enjoying giggles and flirty eyes as they swooped their veils over each other’s heads. Raven joined in with a scarf of his own, his mask making him both mysterious and fey. Ariel found a rainbow streamer on a stick and began to swirl it around them all. “What a lovely romp,” thought Thea breathlessly as the song ended. Surely, that counts as play,” she told her Higher Self as she got a drink of water. Then, “African drums. Yum.”

Draw your energy down into your second chakra.” That felt good. After a bit she noticed she was paying less attention to what others might be noticing about her and could tune into the ancient fire that her ancestors had danced around. The music changed again to a didgeridoo and some animal sounds. She liked it that there were no words to any of this music that she could understand. It wasn’t emotional music. Especially not all that lost and lonely whining about being done wrong. She was so over that co-dependent shit. This sound and beat hit her in the gut – right where she needed to be.

 

As the music sped up and became Middle Eastern again, Pia began to move in a pattern like the hora’s grapevine, familiar deep in her bones from her Jewish and Palestinian ancestors. But soon her movement became looser with a dipping motion that reminded her of the birds she’d called in. Others joined with her and they spun in a circular motion around the perimeter.

 

“Tribal,” thought Ursula, “What bliss.” As she began to tire from the strenuous dancing she entwined her arms like two snakes to conjure up a new sort of fire, which she could then feel rising sinuously from her root up to her belly towards her throat. Watching the tracery of lights through her fingers made her feel delightfully trancey, a feeling she was learning to enjoy.

 

Rhea and Carlos mirrored each other, their hands doing a kind of push pull. Rhea was conscious of how this was different than dancing in the barn. The floor was better for one thing, though they missed the live music. Experimental and rough as their jamming was, Arlo and Gabe’s drumming and Fern’s keyboarding added an aliveness even though off notes or children’s bounciness created jerky hesitations in their connections. It had been deepening lately, as they’d hoped, with the addition of Uri’s didge. Dancers and musicians increasingly were able to feed off of each other in a way that canned music could never do, but it was chill to hear the crazy beats of Brent Lewis. “Maybe I’ll borrow a few of Raven’s CD’s to inspire me.”

 

Raven felt flushed and sweaty after putting so much of his attention into tracking the energy of the group as he danced. Not that they needed much tracking he was happy to see, but he was curious how everyone would react to the music he had put together – how the flow would go. It was different, of course, than just he and Pia, but as he had hoped, the energy was magnified. No doubt there would be people who would distract from time to time but they definitely had a core here who could carry it. Assuming they all wanted to play again.

As the last piece started up, Ashana’s Embrace, he was pleased to hear others begin to tone with it. Most settled on the floor in the center of the room, a few still floated around. He lay down with his head towards the middle and soon others had shifted so they were the spokes of a wheel. The music faded but their toning continued – soaring voices, fed by the energy of their loosened bodies. When they finally settled into silence hands reached out around the circle and the energy buzzed clockwise around. He could feel his own and everyone else’s hearts soaring in a great cone of power into the sky.

“There spirits, take that. Take our energy and feed the hungry world.” Raven spoke aloud.

“Wow,” said someone, descending again into earth plane reality. “That was incredible.”

“Indeed, and it will only get better if we keep doing it. See you next week, I hope. Same time same place.”

 

“That went very well,” said Pia, as they drove home. Cleanup had been quick with several hands staying to help.

“Fabulous, if I do say so myself,” responded Raven. “I loved it that everyone got into the spirit of it. Or perhaps I should say, ‘let Spirit come into them.’ I saw some new looseness in a number of folks.”

“Wasn’t it great to see Molly cut up? Maybe next week we’ll get her into something flowing. I loved it that the kids from Benden Farm came already dressed to play.”

“And it wasn’t even Full Moon.”

Thea’s True Self Painting

Thea walked along the beach a week or so after her Soul Retrieval. The clouds were hanging low and the wind a bit brisk, but it probably wouldn’t rain ‘til evening. As she walked she imagined Little Girl Thea beside her, one mittened hand in hers. Mittens? No, that’s what a mother would put on her. Or a responsible big sister. Thea realized the hand in hers was now bare and, in fact, the little girl only wore a petticoat like Thea had loved at that age. As she became aware of this, the hand tugged. “I want to go play in the waves.”

After a moment’s hesitation, Thea laughed out loud, “Of course you do! You can do anything you want.”slide12

“Anything?” the little sprite asked.

“Anything! You can’t get cold and you can’t drown either!”

The little girl spun away from her across the sand to the waves with her cougar bounding Tigger-like beside her. A rush of joy made Thea giddy. It was as if she herself had just breathed in a freedom that brought with it a whole new set of possibilities.

In the next moment a gull swooped down into Thea’s peripheral vision, bringing her to a standstill. Stunned, she realized it was as if she was actually inside a painting done last year before moving down here. A scene that had come through her paintbrush was happening now.

She remembered struggling to settle down to the assignment from her group to paint her True Self. A preliminary Tarot spread told her to let go of her head, her ego, her rational side. “Not an unusual message for me that year. Or still,“ she thought with chagrin. She had smudged, lit candles, and prayed to the Goddess as was her practice to help with that letting go process before picking up a brush.

She started in with a red swoosh which became part of a multi-colored stormy spiral. Then into her mind had come the image from a photo she’d had on her wall since college: reaching ecstatically towards the sky, a little girl twirled almost out of control, ocean waves behind her. A gull had gone into her painting high above the child.

“I realized how Gull was my uplifting omen bird most of my childhood,” Thea thought now, purposely capitalizing the ‘G’ in her mind’s eye. “As Hawk was for my city years and Owl is these days. And I remember suddenly knowing with utter clarity that a crone needed to go in on the right – a crone in all her magnificent glory. My beloved white grandmother, yet also the me I am becoming – part of the identity I am reaching for.”

Thea remembered wanting to give her a paintbrush. But knowing this powerful figure was so much more than her artist self, she had instead painted in an orange cloak with purple swirls on it. “Whenever I look at it now I feel like the crone is guiding the girl toward the adventures of the huge spiral tunnel that looms, though she could also be welcoming her back into a loving, safe embrace. Occasionally in my most fearful moments I worry that she is warning her away…. from being a witch.”

Thea brought herself back into the present with a shiver, the hair standing up on the back of her neck. Here she was with the not-quite-real little girl who was her lost soul self dancing towards the waves with the gull swooping and herself waving the child on, saying, “go for it!” Indeed this was just the way the painting had given her permission to move forward at the time it was done. Wow!

She wasn’t wearing her orange ruana today though she really did have one. It wouldn’t have been warm enough on this windy beach. But she knew she was in the proverbial cloak of power that shimmered around her more and more these days.

“I’ve got to tell Ursula,” she thought pulling out her cell phone. I’m close to town and she might be at the store.”

 

Ursula grinned at Owen as Thea burst in the door of Bear Essentials about twenty minutes after her excited phone call.

“The paintings are coming alive!” She described what just happened.

“Sounds like the soul retrieval is working some magic,” said Owen. “Good job staying in touch with your little child.”

“I’ve seen that painting on your website,” Ursula said. “It’s very beautiful.”

“At the time I recognized it as powerful and important, but it was frightening as well. The spiraling tunnel seemed scary – like I was going into my fallopian tubes (which there is a painting about as well.) I knew that was the journey to learn what I needed to absorb. Plus the figures insisted on being white! Like my Mom’s ancestors coming through me. But more frightening still was the idea of a spiritual “coming out” to my family and community. It was not okay with them for me to be into all this weird stuff. Whatever intuition…. ummm…. sensitivity I was allowed in my growing up was carefully guarded. I had to keep secret even from myself my belief in fairies, my belief in goodness, my belief in God. I can look back now and see the signs, the footprints, but it was not safe to acknowledge them in the 1950’s. I shielded myself well….”

“Yes,” said Ursula. “I think we all locked that away in a cocoon unless we were in the rare home like June’s where her mother taught her about seeing auras, setting intentions and shielding, among other things. She’s way ahead of us on that score.”

“So now my shields are coming down,” Thea continued. “The layers of protective skin are peeling back. There’s the snake again,” she smiled at Owen and he grinned back acknowledging another connection to her Soul Retrieval. “The process is sometimes joyful and sometimes painful…. That painting sure set off reverberations. I’ve been reeling ever since with the implications. My painting group at the time could only sort of get it.”

Owen and Ursula exchanged a glance. “You’re doin’ the work.” And “We’ve all been telling you that we can see your power shining through.”

“But nobody seems to realize the effort it takes or the lack of safety I feel…. or how hard it was to get myself to this new life.”

“Don’t you think we’ve been there?” Owen said as he lovingly handled a particularly beautiful rose quartz that he’d always admired.

“Or had similar fears?” added Ursula. “This is a tiny community. It was very, very scary to begin to realize where our explorations were heading. We practically had code words to see who else understood.”

“But you have this shop and everything.”

“And it was terrifying to take that step. The first yoga teacher got hate calls back in the 70’s. Remember, Owen, our first pagan green float in the 4th of July parade that got booed? There are still people who look at me kind of sideways in the hardware store.”

“Now you’re acting as a gateway for a lot of people, Ursula,” observed Owen. “I’ve noticed that both tourists and newcomers like Thea get connected up through the portal of this store.”

“Yes, Ursula, it was partly this store that made me choose Mahonia to move to,” said Thea. She flashed on the voice she’d heard as she finished the Mountain painting, but decided to hold her tongue for now about that.

Ursula was speaking, “Christiane Northrup talks in Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom about our visceral inherited fear of the Burning Times. I believe her. I remember. Years ago some friends poo-pooed this notion but I had such a strong feeling that it was more important than any but weirdoes like Shirley MacLaine professed. And since then I’ve had a bunch of past life memories come through during body work, as well as dreams that have confirmed it to my mind at least.”

“Is that the limb I’m out on? It would certainly explain the demons and scary images that keep appearing in my paintings and my dreams,” said Thea.

“You betcha. A lot of people definitely think we’re weird.” said Owen.

“Did you know that ‘weird’ means ‘witchy’?“ interjected Ursula.

“Oh. My. Gosh. Really?”

“Have you ever seen the videos done by the Canadian Broadcasting System about the Burning Times? I have them and often show them this time of year with a sharing session afterwards. It’s a good way to connect back into that history and the haunting reasons for our fears. Some people just cry and cry when they see them.”

“I think maybe I’d rather watch them by myself,” said Thea.

“That works too. But keep this in mind: when I was wrastling with my own version of those shadows, I was assured by Spirit that we are not going to be killed this time. We are here in this life and in this place to cleanse those old fears and write new stories. We’ve come together to re-member the old skills and magicks.

There was a silence for a beat or two.

“That was spoken pretty powerfully, Ms. Bear. You sounded like an oracle,” said Owen handing her some cash for the crystal he couldn’t seem to put down.

“Owen, you old greenwitch you, when are you going to bring me some more of the flower and crystal essences you promised? I think Thea could use a little of Comfrey’s synthesizing, re-membering energy. I’ll trade you for that hunk of heart energy you’ve got there.”