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.

Mother Daughter Ritual 3

“Let’s line up in two rows facing each other,” said Pia, shifting into the process phase of the ritual. “Daughters on one side, mothers on the other. Each can call out fears and joys about separations past and future, as well as about the losses of the season.”

Celeste took a place as one of the daughters and Ursula went to the mothers’ side. June situated herself at the North end of the “reel,” feeling somehow like neither mother nor daughter.

Rhea spoke first. “I hate to think of the fall coming on with winter not far behind. We’ll still have a good few weeks, but I dread the rain. Each year I say I’m going back South for the winter, but somehow I never do.”

The mother of a teen spoke next, “I’m afraid for what my daughter will encounter in the big wide world. Her growing up has gone so quickly. Will she get lost in the Underworld?”

A heart-wrenching moan rose from Ursula’s lips, immediately taken up by everyone.

“I so desperately needed to get away from my mother,” called out Cindy from the daughter side. “With my excellent education, she expected me to be successful in a way most in her generation of Japanese immigrants were not able to be. I was sorry to disappoint her but….” Her voice trailed off.

All moaned again. The energy was building. Celeste spoke next, “I am so not what my mother wanted. Coming out as a Lesbian, especially when I did so, was a kind of underworld to my mother. And June, despite her summery name, seemed to her to be a dark sort of lover.”

“Sweethearts, I know you had to leave home,” said a woman whose daughters were far afield, “to break away from the hearth into the wider world. I’m proud of what you’re doing, but the nest feels so empty with you gone.”

Ursula felt it was time to speak her feelings, “I keep getting that we are meant to be together in tribe, to carry on the traditions we’ve developed over thirty plus years. We need the generation we have borne to help bring in the new world here in our own community. To put to use the training we gave them. I too am proud of what they do elsewhere but I want them around me. Though not in my house anymore, mind you.” Everyone laughed.

June spoke up from her position as a neutral sage, “I heard an expression once, ‘There are only two lasting bequests we can give our children. One is Roots, the other Wings.’”

“I have that quote up on my wall,” said Ursula. “But it isn’t any help when I let go into this visceral place of longing….” Her voice trailed off.

Molly, still brimming with feelings from the drive up, knew she needed to speak them out loud into the circle. “I have no daughter. I am the last of my matriarchal line. Belly button to belly button down through the ages, and none now to bear another.” Tears trickled down her face soon matched by most in the group. A tissue box was passed around and there was a little time of silence punctuated by sniffles. Everyone’s sadness and loss was potent sitting there in the center as if in a cauldron, acknowledged and wept for by the circle of women.

Soon Pia, tuned into the slow down of people speaking, took up her flute, thinking to pipe the daughters off. But before she could play a note, one of the mothers jumped suddenly to the Daughter side. “I am a daughter too. I know I hurt my Mom and my Dad choosing to live so far away. But this garden is where I’ve needed to grow. I just wish we lived in England so we could be on opposite coasts and not be so far apart.”

Cali changed position as well to the Mother side next to Ursula, taking her hand. “I dread Menolly moving on – or losing her in some way…. I have had to learn to relax about the future, thanks to my wise mother’s counsel.” She smiled at Ursula.

“I gave up a daughter for adoption many years ago,” whispered Cindy. “She is gone and I don’t know where. I need to mourn that daughter I will probably never see. She didn’t go of her own accord. But I was not able to care for her at the time…. My mother never knew…. I miss her.”

With that, the sluice gates opened and a flood of tears and wailing ensued. There are no words to adequately describe that ancient, primordial keening. Moaning, shrieking even, the sounds of desolation rose and fell. Each set the others off, their personal grief cycling empathetically around and through the circle, binding them into the grief of the ages.

When in the midst of such feeling and sound, it seems like it will never end, and certainly time stands still for a bit.  Yet eventually, wails turn to moans and moans to sniffles. Soon deep breaths and a cleaned out sort of calmness.

June spoke into that peaceful, purged place, suggesting they join hands in circle, mothers and daughters all. “In some ancient versions the two women are referred to simply as the Demeters or even just the Goddesses. We have the universal Mother to rely on and come back to wherever we are, near to or far from our own birth mothers or adoptive ones.”

Pia took up the bowl of pomegranate seeds and after holding it aloft, passed it around. “Take these that they may lead you in and out of the dark places as you will. Pomegranates symbolize rebirth.” Some popped the seeds in their mouths and some smeared them on their foreheads, while Pia improvised a light air on the flute. Soon with giggles, they were all smeared with the bright red juice of the Goddess, bound both to the dark and the light aspects of the worlds.

Suddenly inspired as the sweet silliness and release settled down Ursula leapt up and put on a CD. Over and over, a chant flowed into them, “Returning…. returning, returning, returning to the Mother of us all….” The group of women sank another degree deeper into a trance state with their feelings stirring deeply inside until Ursula rose again, saying to the group, “This is Jennifer Berezan’s Returning. It is too long to play all of right now, but I often use it to meditate to, sometimes to dance quietly or do yoga by myself.”

As Ursula came back into the circle Molly said, “Let us all take the Mother deep into our hearts and use this season to explore the shadow side – the back side of the moon and the richness of composting leaves, the dark lover, in whatever form he or she presents himself or herself.”

“May we always remember that there are different sides to every story and many ways to tell a tale, including new ones that we can foster.”

“Ho!” said several people in unison and soon, standing to face each direction in turn, different voices called, “Thank you to the East for bringing us such powerful inspiration in the form of our elders. Thank you to the South for the passion of our feelings. Thank you to the west for our tears and strong intuitions. Thank you to the North for those stories that still ring with truths after so many years.”

Pia brought things to a close, “The Circle is open but unbroken,” and they all joined in. “Merry meet and merry part and merry meet again!”

“Hoh!”  The multi-voiced cry went winging its way into the night.

 

“Hoh!” echoed the trees and rocks and ocean around them.

“Hoh!” croaked Raven, ancient keeper of ceremonial magic. “I’ll do what I can to make sure this healing sticks and grows in these women.”

“Do they hear us at all?” asked a passing elk cow of the surrounding trees.

“They can’t hear our voices yet but they know in their hearts that we are present and that we thank them,” answered the Mountain in her feminine voice.

“And a few of them heard whispers in their minds,” added Sitka.

Mother Daughter Ritual 2

Molly sat in the car feeling the tenor and tone of her mental and physical fatigue. “I’ve gotten this far – dirty jeans exchanged for clean; green plaid shirt for the blue…. Now I need to start the car, pull out the hand break, put it into reverse….” She tended to speak to herself when she was in this state. “Thank goodness I have an automatic shift now. One less set of details to track…. I don’t have far to go this evening. I’ll be fine.”

Her mind groped towards the ceremony ahead. She’d noticed before that she needed to be deeply tired in order to allow herself let go out of her doing self into her magical receiving self. “Does it take exhaustion for me to hear the voice of the Goddess? That’s hardly a healthy way to go about it…. but maybe it’s the best I can manage at this juncture in my life.” She took a deep breath. And another.

“How do I prepare myself for the content of this ritual?” She thought about her son Ethan who lived in the city. He was not far away and his connections here actually brought him home fairly often. No complaints there.

What washed over her was how much she minded not having a daughter. Her matriarchal line ended with her. It had been umbilical to umbilical to umbilical down countless generations of women. She was the last. Hardly a new thought, but tonight a particularly deep level of sadness welled inside her along with a pang of jealously for her sister in Southern Oregon who had two daughters, as did Ursula…. A sob welled in her chest.

Molly pulled to the side of the road to look out over the ocean for a good weep. Her thoughts were tortured. “If I had been able to stay with you, oh husband once mine, maybe we would have had another child that maybe would have been a daughter…. Who maybe would now have a child…. Faugh! Enough of these tired ‘what ifs.’ Perhaps the work for tonight is to let go of this hugey grief.” Releasing old pain was surely part of coming into new awareness – becoming healed…. Demeter could help….

 

Happily enfolded in her goddessy dress, hair only a little damp from her rainy communion with the elements, Ursula set up the altar in the middle of the frayed oriental carpet that had come from ReBound years ago. She spread a red silk cloth shot through with gold and set on it the vases and candles she’d prepped. Running back upstairs to her bedroom, she located a white bowl decorated with wheat sheaves. Back down again, she filled it with Mountain spring water. Should she light the candles now or wait ‘til people arrived?

That question was answered by a knock on the door that turned out to be Pia arriving early with an armload of grasses for the altar, as well as a red bowl of pomegranate seeds and a few whole ones.

“Molly got these to me yesterday so I could pick out the seeds ahead of time. What do you think about leading the young women off to the hot tub with the pomegranate seeds?” she asked.

“That might be perfect,” answered Ursula. “But how ‘bout we wait to see if it fits in the moment? I see more cars arriving. Will you smudge people in the entryway? I want to use the rain stick just inside the door. I’m thinking it should be a non-chatty beginning tonight.”

So Pia stood tall and elegant in a rainbow-striped caftan, her frizzy henna-dyed hair aglow, as women came into the large entryway lined with benches. Umbrellas and walking sticks stood in a tall handmade urn. Each hung their wraps on the hooks that once sported children’s jackets, added their shoes to the jumble that lived there and, one by one, stood to receive the cleansing wafts of white sage from Pia’s bundle. She waved it over each head, down the front with a spiraled focus over their wombs, and went all the way down to their feet, which some people raised to get the bottoms cleared. Then up the backs of their legs and spines with another spiral at their back heart before circling the head again. Finally with a kiss on their forehead or cheek and sometimes a whispered word or two, she sent them through the French doors into the living room.

She admired Cindy’s new purple hooded cape and thanked June & Celeste for their role as counselors, pleased to have them there though they weren’t mothers as far as she knew. Sensing Molly’s tiredness, she gave her a little extra attention until she could feel the ReBound Director sink into this place rather than the outside world. She winked at Thea who was looking around in wonder. Could this be her first time here?

Cali entered the familiar space of her old home with a smile. It always smelled the same, even with the overlay of whatever had last been cooked. What was it? Damp coats, smudge certainly and just a tiny whiff of the cat box. Her mom must have skipped that prep detail. She gave Pia a hug and her mom one too once she went through the door, where Ursula was tipping a long rainstick up and down each person’s body. “Could you light the candles?” Ursula whispered. “I never quite got to that.”

When it seemed like all had arrived and settled into a circle, Ursula moved to stand in a spot left for her. Everyone else stood listening as she continued the soft shuuush shuuuush of the rainstick. “Feel your roots going down into the ground like rainwater – nourishing, replenishing, centering into the Mother. Feel the Mother’s warmth coming back up into your root chakra and up through each energy wheel in turn, through belly, solar plexus, heart, throat, to your third eye. Feel washed and grounded by the Mother all through your body.”

Ursula stopped the rainstick and Molly dinged together the two discs of a Tibetan chime. “Feel this sound in your third eye. Feel it shimmer with your consciousness up through your crown to burst out of your head and shoot up past the clouds and the moon. Feel it swoop around the Universe. Then bring the starry light –  let’s call it masculine light tonight – back down into your crown, down past your third eye, through your throat and your heart to glow there in your diaphragm. Mother Earth and Father Sky. We are here.”

Turning to the East, the group called out associations with that realm. “I call on Eagle for the wider vision.” “Clarity.” “Inspiration.” “Breath.”

Facing South next, a few began to clap their hands and shimmy a little. “Fire!” “Warm hearts.” “Passionate feelings.” Cali glowed, this being her favorite element and direction.

Watery West brought new voices into the mix. “Dreams.” “Mermaids.” “Orca’s telepathy.” “Gray Whale.”

Facing North, the group began to stomp. “Ancestors, we call you in with all your stories.” “Polar Bear.” “Rocks and bones.” “The Mountain.”

Finally turning back to the center, and raising their arms high they called in unison, “To the Above.” Then they bent to touch the ground, “To the below,” and rising to extend hands forward, “To Spirit, the Great Center.”

Pia called out triumphantly, “The circle is cast. We are between the worlds.”

Thea felt a shimmer down her spine.

Ursula stood silent for a few moments, then took up her bright feather be-decked rattle and spoke into its rhythm. “The harvest is mostly in, the herbs are drying on the racks, tinctures are a-brewing. The serious rains are coming. It is close to the time for the bears among us to go inward. We are accustomed to the march of seasons here. But once upon a time in these latitudes and in many around the world, it was always summer. Demeter and her daughter Persephone (sometimes known as Kore) played in the fields and gardens year round. They wandered among the ever-growing plants and ever-bearing trees plucking what they needed. They nibbled on berries and spinach, threshed grain, and dug up carrots and beets. It was a rich, sweet life.” Ursula paused so all could remember and soak it up.

“Yet, there came a time when Persephone was beginning to feel a little restless. She had recently begun to bleed every month and was noticing the young men eyeing her. None of them had caught her fancy enough for her to forego the pleasure and security of her mother’s company…. So far….

“Then one day, as she was picking flowers in the meadow Persephone noticed a dark stranger standing at the edge of the forest. He was tall and beautiful, with a spotted wildcat skin around his loins and curling hairs on his bared chest. He was older than she….”

“Sexy,” someone pronounced and everyone giggled. Ursula nodded and winked.

“Persephone was very intrigued by him. Acknowledging her interest, he put the set of pipes Pan had given him to his lips and beckoning with his eyes for her to follow, he turned and slipped between the trees deeper into the forest. Who among us wouldn’t have been at least tempted to follow? Persephone, though hardly of an impetuous nature, never even looked back. She followed the stranger all the way to his gloriously bedecked cave deep within the earth….”

Rhea moaned and all the women followed suit, elbowing each other knowingly.

“Ah, but when Demeter tells the tale she sounds like a Mother Bear: ‘I was at the far end of the garden tending to the grapes when I looked up to see a dark bearded man shrouded in a cowl, grabbing my beloved Persephone. He dragged her screaming into a huge crack in the earth that had opened at the edge of the forest. I dropped my basket of fruit and dashed after them but the crack closed and they were nowhere to be found. I searched and called and threatened to no avail. I moaned and mourned, pounded the earth and tore my hair ‘til the skies became dark and the rains fell like never before. Not gentle rains but hurricanes and typhoons, one after the other. Such tempests seemed fit mourning for the abduction and rape of my Persephone.

“’This went on for months until all was laid waste such that famine threatened. The people, unaccustomed to having to fend for themselves, begged me to forget about my grief for my daughter and let the sun shine again so that their food could grow.

“’Finally able to hear their plight, I sent Hermes to the Underworld to beg Hades for her return, for that was who I learned had taken her. Hermes and Hades reached agreement that Persephone could come back but before she left, hellish Hades tricked her into eating a single pomegranate seed…. For the Fates had a rule that whosoever consumed food or drink in that place of death was doomed to spend eternity there and so the compromise was that Persephone must return to the underworld for six months out of each year. Thus each year we have six months of autumn and winter when I mourn my daughter’s absence, and six months of new growth and warm weather in spring and summer when she is returned to me.’

“This is how the mother tells the story, thinking the worst. And this is how the Patriarchy has told it through several millennia, being rather enamored of rape and pillage and macho displays. But what if Persephone was actually happily ensconced with her lover – a beautiful wild man who treated her magnificently, fed her elegantly, and loved her well and often. She did sympathize with her mother, of course….”

“Of course.” Was the group’s tone just a teensy bit sarcastic?

“So when the bargain was struck she didn’t mind going back up for part of the year, but she always returned to the dark world and her true love with joy and anticipation…. Now some stories say she was also “Mistress of the Labyrinth” and it is appropriate that we think of her as such given our recent journey into the Equinox Labyrinth. I also like to think of her as a healer – an edge-dweller, She who is willing to go deep into the mysterious shadows but who is also the bringer of Spring.”

Ursula sat down quietly with her hands in her lap, waiting to see what would happen next. It wasn’t long before June spoke, “There is another dimension to this story that I love. Persephone and Demeter came to represent the great wheel of life, death and rebirth. They were celebrated in ancient Greece in the Eleusinian Mysteries at this time in late September. The women danced wildly, took hallucinogenic potions, and were part of secret rites that have never been described to this day, it being death to any who told of them to the outside world.”

“That gives me shivers,” said Cindy, her almond shaped eyes aglow with ancient memories.

“Me too,” agreed Ursula. “I’d forgotten that part when Demeter came to me so strongly last week. It was as if she were asking for this ritual.”

Thea didn’t say anything, still being so new to all this, but thought of her Mountain Woman painting. Was it Persephone in her cave being with the shadow side? Or was it a local native version of a similar archetype?