“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….”
“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. Now 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.