Ursula’s Burning Times

“Talking with Thea got my brain going on my own Burning Times stuff,” thought Ursula as she fixed herself a cup of tulsi and lavender tea after Thea and Owen left the store. “Do I really want to think about all that again? Yet, I have such a strong feeling that many of us in this community experienced being burned, hung or drowned in past lives….” She shuddered. “And that we have come here to get over it together. We are learning to live in a small town and not only survive, but thrive.”

She thought back to when it had all really come to the fore in a Healing Group session way back in the late 90’s. It had been her turn to be in the center of the circle with Pia, Molly, Cindy, Chloe, Stella and Owen. It wasn’t that she had any particular aches or ills but rather that they were practicing hands-on healing with each other. Usually at Ursula’s house. It was a stormy day, the rain beating on the south facing windows making the cozy fire in the stove all the more welcome.

Ursula lay on her belly on cushions covered by a light wool blanket. The others sat around her, first breathing together quietly to center and then softly toning in a blend of voices that incorporated Owen’s deep bass and the women’s altos and sopranos. Some molded their mouths to create the eerie melodic overtones that seemed to come from another realm than their own throats. After a few minutes without any discernable signal, the toning quieted and someone started a simple chant they knew well. “Oh, purify and heal us, heal us and free us.” The chant repeated for many rounds, sometimes softly, occasionally almost shouted. A few tentative harmonies came and went. A rattle sounded and Pia’s frame drum began a steady heartbeat. Ursula lay still, feeling the energy swirl around her, trying to empty her mind of her fears. “I am safe,” she reminded herself. “Loved. These are special friends all on a journey together.” She knew about their wounds…. It was time to open again to her own….

As the rattle crescendoed and then abruptly stopped, Ursula took a deeper breath and felt the others respond in kind. Then hands settled gently on her upper and lower back while others touched her feet and arms, and gently cupped the crown of her head. It was impossible to tell whose hands were whose and in fact it seemed like way more hands than the number of people she knew were there. “Stop trying to figure it out,” she told herself firmly.

Flashback, 1996

Presently Stella’s voice spoke quietly, almost dreamily. “I am getting a picture of Ursula in the woods, in a long dress with a basket of herbs on her arm in the early 1700’s somewhere in Europe. A blue dress. Her hair is much blonder than it is in this life. Oh, Ursula! I am getting the feeling that you were running, afraid for your life. You have been carrying pain here on your back for a long time.”

As Stella spoke Ursula felt waves of nausea and began to twitch. They had uncovered some past lives on Ursula’s body before that were important revelations about her relationships with her “growing up” family and with Charley but this one struck at her core in a new way.

“Breathe into your panic,” Chloe instructed.

“Breathe into her panic,” Owen ammended.

Soon Stella was describing seeing Ursula in a past life as a healer witch woman being chased after leaving the home of a patient.

Looking back now, Ursula remembered being of two minds about this revelation. One part of her was saying, “Of course! It makes perfect sense. Now I know why I’ve been drawn to all this stuff for so long.” Yet, she knew she was about to be incredibly sad and that it was going to be hard to bear.

They had begun to talk about what they were each receiving. Ursula would have a questioning thought, “I wonder what that would feel like?” and then impressions would come into her mind. Not like a screen she was watching. More like her imagination being very fertile and emotive. When she thought of it like that she would immediately become suspicious of herself, “I’m making it all up.” Yet she felt impelled to relax and go with it. Certainly there was no denying the increasingly strong feelings besieging her, all aspects of her body/mind now fully engaged.

“I have the impression it is my own village folk chasing me, not an organized inquisition group. A hectic, angry mob that knows me and wants me to be a scapegoat for something…. They’re very scared…. crop failures, famine…. they need someone to blame….” She could empathize with their fright and anger, yet their pain only magnified her own…. and…. betrayed, betrayed by people she loved and was helping…. Ursula thought of the hysteria in The Crucible.

As if in confirmation, Stella spoke her own impressions aloud, “I see betrayal here…. and torture.”


Back in the present for a moment, the store quiet around her, Ursula took a sip of her comforting tea and picked up a small statue of the ancient Mother Goddess. Fat and round, a clay model of the Venus of Willendorf, it fit into her hand providing tangible comfort. Soon her mind’s eye slipped back to the Healing Circle remembering how she had propped herself up on her elbows weeping, weeping hard – snuffling and wiping her nose on a tissue Cindy handed her…. Another awful feeling arose…. She almost knew who the betrayer was…. Could sense a presence…. Was he or she in the room with her here?

“Were you burned?” At first Ursula had thought Stella was referring to the marks on her arm from the previous day’s brush clearing around her house. Then she’d immediately had a strong image of herself tied to a stake. In fact, she’d had that image several times in the previous minutes but hadn’t mentioned it.

“Yes,” she whispered turning over and sitting up. “And my children and grandparents were watching. Don’t know if I even had a husband. I left my body quickly – I knew how to do that. But they didn’t realize I was no longer in my body…. Their pain was worse than the fire. I get the sense I was a loner for many lifetimes after that….” Tears were running down everyone’s faces. Owen’s strong arms held her from behind as she shook and shivered – her body wracked with reaction. It was hard to breathe into her agony yogically with her nose plugged up with tears.

“We all feel it, Ursula,” whispered Owen. “We’ve been there too.”

“Betrayer and betrayed,” wailed Pia.

“Atlantis, Crete, the Russian steppes. Over and over,” intoned Stella fiercely.

“We have much to heal.”

“And much to atone for….”

The chant came again. “Oh, purify and heal us, heal us and free us.”

As they began to tune into clock time and thus to wind down, Chloe and Molly each massaged one of Ursula’s feet gently, while others continued to talk about letting go of the pain. “Now that this is in your consciousness, you don’t have to carry it in your body anymore.”

“We can only be free to move forward when we have healed these ancient past life wounds.” Stella went on to warn Ursula to take good care of herself in the coming days.

“Take a bath filled with flowers,” Chloe counseled.

“Be sure to journal this,” Owen reminded her as they stood then in a circle with arms wrapped around each other, noting each other’s swollen eyes and puffy noses. Feeling so blessed to have uncovered another of the stories they had been holding inside them. For each knew they had their own version of the tale. Uncovering one wound helped them all.


Ursula remembered going home and blurting out her tale to Charley where he was weeding in the garden, before even getting into the house. His long hug had been a healing balm down to her very center. For several days she had been aching, battered and sore – wild jolts coming whenever Charley put any pressure on her scapula or held her close. He had sweetly held her close a lot. She’d had moments of sobbing again as well.

During the night she cried about that village wondering how they managed when the next woman went into labor after she was gone…. or the next child got sick and needed a special herb that only she knew where to find. What did they do then? But the image of her children of that life was the most haunting one. It made her heart hurt and sent her into sobs a number of times. No wonder she had this thing about wanting her present children close by. Some additional images came of other lifetimes, other horrific purges, but they felt more speculative on her own. She also had some flashes about people in her present life who might have been in some of those, but not knowing what to do with these thoughts she tucked them into the back of her mind where they still lay.

Mostly she had walked around feeling like she was in two worlds at once. The normal everyday one where dinner must be fixed and they watched a funny movie and she brushed her teeth. And then the numinous one – a momentous new sense of herself stretching back through the ages. A parallel universe that was very real and affecting her physically. Was it only the gorgeous sunny spring weather and the bursting wild flowers on the Mountain that made everything so crystalline and poignant? Her back was spewing images, vibrating, shimmering. Achingly alive with a mind of its own.

One of the most vivid after-impressions was that there had been a promise from the Goddess as Ursula called out for help during the chase. The promise seemed to be that the ancient ways would return and that she would have a hand in remembering them and live to see them active in another life…. This life…. She had held on to that assurance in the ensuing years since the uncovering of that past life in the Healing Circle and others on Stella’s and Chloe’s tables.

It was partly on this experience that she now based her assurance to Thea and others that they were recovering the old skills with the additional curriculum of learning how to live in small groups in harmony and understanding. “We are remembering our connections to the earth itself and to all beings, two-legged, six-legged, stone, tree, and star,” she said aloud to the things in the store now glowing with the intensity of her vision of the past and of the future. “I have a part to play and I will not have lived this pain or died these deaths (and how many more) in vain. Blessed Be.”


It was only a little later as Ursula was unpacking boxes that the bell on the door at Bear Essentials tinkled and Ursula looked up to see one of the young women come into the store. “Hullo, Rhea. What can I do for you?”

“I’ve been thinking about the grounding you did at Illahee School the other day. It helped a lot of the kids. In fact, it helped me. I’ve heard about grounding but I never really knew what it meant beyond some sort of connection with the earth…. Umm…. I’m wondering if you would be willing to teach a class for grownups about this stuff.”

“Funny you should ask. I’ve had a couple of requests for just such a thing and have decided to do a combined psychic skills and ritual class. Thea is interested. Do you know her? She’s the painter who moved into town this summer.”

“I’ve seen her around. I know that Janna and Mariposa would be interested. Were you thinking monthly?”

“I was thinking weekly so we can build consistent energy. I have Thursday evenings free after yoga ends at 5:45. Would 7 pm on Thursdays work for you?”

“It would be perfect. Can we start it immediately? For some reason I’m feeling some urgency about this.”

“I don’t see why not. You seem to be my final nudge. The less time I have to worry about it the better. I’ll put a message out on the AOK list and we’ll see who else is interested and how it wants to evolve. I’m thinking we might even take on some of the seasonal rituals. I know the old hands would love to have some relief from that responsibility.”

Rhea looked excited. “Oh and I wanted to tell you a story that came out of that grounding you taught at school. First of all we decided as a group – both kids and teachers – that we no longer give “time outs” but ask each other to take some time to “get grounded.” So the other day, one of the younger boys, an intriguingly spacey sort, was unable to settle to anything. Celeste sent him off to get grounded. He went up into the loft and didn’t return for a long time. Didn’t come back and didn’t come back. When he finally reappeared in a very calm state, he whispered into Celeste’s ear, ‘It really takes a long time to get to the center of the earth.’ What do you suppose he was seeing?”

“That is truly lovely. Thank you so much for telling me. Perhaps someday we’ll hear the details of his journey from him.”

After Rhea left, Ursula shook her head in disbelief. “Okay, Spirit, Bear, Whoever. You’re kicking my butt good now. I guess there is no more time to dally about getting all this stuff out.” She sat down at her computer before she could second guess herself, typed for a minute and then firmly clicked “Send.”

From: aok@ nekelew.net

To: Undisclosed Recipients

Subject: Greenwitch Magic 101

Reply to: Ursula@nekelew.net

I am starting a class on Magical Basics to be held Thursday evenings from 7-9 pm at my house on Mountain Lane. I’m thinking for starters we’ll cover techniques of grounding, calling circles, using your healing hands, clearing space, smudging, creating altars, doing ritual and setting intention. You’ll have a chance to help at the seasonal community rituals and will also gain skills to help with your personal journey.

Suggested payment is $10 per class but the Begging Bowl will accept any amount. More will help cover costs for those who can pay little or nothing. Trades are also a possibility.



Ursula’s Morning

After her husband Charley headed off for early morning yoga, Ursula Goodwin-Brown sat in the hot tub looking out into the tiny meadow she insisted on keeping natural for the fairies. Not that she could see them herself, but she had a strong sense they were there, confirmed by visiting Scots from the magical Findhorn garden who came through once years ago and told her they always left a piece of their lands wild for the plant spirits. Her kids thought it was cool that she’d never stopped believing in fairies…. her daughters did anyway. Her sons never mentioned it.

She loved it that the thirty square feet or so was always filled with tall grasses in various stages of green and brown. During the summer the pinky purples of wild mallow and foxglove mixed with daisies, cat’s eye, and pearly everlasting to dance among the salmonberry and thimbleberry shoots trying to get a hold. Besides pulling the latter two out (they had plenty of license to grow elsewhere on the hill), her gardening mostly consisted of moving the flowers back uphill from where they’d migrated into the paths.

This autumn morning spider webs stretched from every possible spike of grass in her meadow, each with its maker in the middle. “There must be fifty of them,” she marveled as her eyes kept catching sight of more. “All sizes and turned every which way. Grandmother Spider is weaving her magic again.”

But the marvel was just beginning. As Ursula watched, the sun rose over the top of the forest uphill, bathing her in its misty God-rays like the blessing of a loving Grandfather. She could feel the gifts of light and love bestowed on the world every single day. No wonder the ancients had worshipped that beaming, life-giving orb. No wonder they had bowed and prayed at dawn for it to reappear. No wonder they had played flute, pipes, rattle or drums to welcome and ensure the sun’s rising each morning. “How lazy we are, not to take that care. To not even notice…. Certainly not to thank. We just assume….”

Now the webs sparkled with diamonds encircling the spiders like planets. Dazzled, she tuned into a chit-chit-chittering all around her and caught sight of dozens of finches, still in their golden summer hue, as well as chickadees, warblers and little brown wrens darting about in ecstasy at the edge of the meadow. Their flitting dislodged last night’s raindrops from the Sitka spruce and hemlock branches in delicate golden showers, while the birds themselves became translucent angels for that instant when they swooped sideways to the streaming light. She whooped in joy at the spectacle, her heart pounding.

As her focus shifted back and forth she realized that the huge sword ferns next to the tub and on into the woods were backlit as well. The moiré patterns of layered spider webs against ranks of fern fronds was dizzying, so much so that even as she gloried in the beauty of the scene, she could feel her mind slipping from the present into a trancey state…. The glorious morning…. faded…. like a movie…. back to a painful winter when she had seemed to be failing Grandmother Spider as a weaver of community webs.…


….Watching the few people present at the monthly Networking Potluck earnestly placing their colored sticky dots to prioritize the dutifully brainstormed lists of ideas for moving the community forward, Ursula had been swept with a feeling of desolation. The meager showing seemed to bode ill for the Big Project’s chances of success. Did that mean that she and Pia and Molly would have to work even harder to get things off the ground? Where was everybody? A few years before when particularly nasty political shit was going down in the outside world, people had rallied and there had been a burst of involvement from all quarters. “Think globally and act locally” had taken on new pizzazz. Commitment flared. Even nonpolitical June and Celeste had gotten involved for a while and a cadre of young people had taken leadership roles, galvanizing inspired projects. Ursula thought of that time as their Glory Days. No task had seemed too daunting, whether it was a protest against old growth timber cuts, a day care center start up, or a play about the demise of the salmon that integrated spiritual ceremony with activist passion. Would that it didn’t take a sense of crisis to bring people out of the woodwork.

Ursula sighed. The fledglings – so active and eager at that time – weren’t coming to gatherings much anymore. Neither the rituals nor the stirring-the-pot meetings like this one. Of course, Caliente and others were involved with their farmsteads – truly the important groundwork that boded well for the long term. But what would happen to the organizational side in coming years as Ursula’s generation aged and died off? Did none of the young people have time for being on boards or getting new things going? Was that process just too old hat?

Ursula had slipped outside that night to sit on the steps and watch the quiet street. Everything was taking so very long. She ached for a deeper connection. To have all her own four chicks around her at fire-lit healing sessions like the Kalahari Bushmen that Brad Keeney wrote about…. Tribe…. People dancing their sorrows, their worries, their ills. Elders and shamans touching Spirit on behalf of the whole or of an ailing individual. Did she need such a dance right how? Did they all need it? How could it ever be pulled together? “Always the practical thinker,” she thought ruefully. “My natal Capricorn moon waves its weary administrative wand.”

There was no moon that February night and no stars either, the sky being overcast. But she knew it was the Dark of the Moon – time to plant seeds. Wasn’t that what they were trying to do at this potluck? How could seeds grow with only the labor of the valiant, stalwart few? She wanted all her kids here – all the community’s young. So many were off gallivanting. It was appropriate she knew. “Yea even important,” she chided herself. “They need to have a wider experience so that if they are eventually to return to their roots here they will know what they are choosing and what they are giving up. Plus be able to bring back experience to share.” Odyssey Years. She’d had that certainly. That’s how she and Charley had landed here. She hugged her blue chenille shawl more tightly around her shoulders. How could she reconcile that knowledge with this deep inner longing for being a granny in a hut with other grannies…. Pounding grain together…. Working on clay cooking pots like Malidoma Somé described…. Gossiping…. Counseling…

She had felt herself falling into a trance as that image took hold in her mind’s eye. Was it somewhere else or in her own future? Was it a past life of hers or a collective memory? It didn’t matter. Her belly filled with the emotions of it and soon the very smells…. dry sunbaked soil, cardamom, cumin…. Giggling with her compatriots. Crinkly dark skin. Weathered faces. Skilled hands…. The pursing of worried lips as they talked about the village…. Someone was stepping outside their marriage and might need a little talking to. One of the fledglings was itchy for a new adventure. Maybe he could be sent to the city with the next load of trade goods. Whose back was hurting and what was she stiffly holding back from? The stories went round and round. Some revelations were greeted with shouts of laughter and ribald teasing.

“Your old man can still get it up, eh?”

“Hee hee.”

“Mine can’t. I’ve got the hots for that tallest young, handsome one!”

“Me too. That green wife of his better watch out.”

Other bits made their grizzled heads shake. Who could take a particular teen aside and teach her about things her mother wasn’t bothering with? Were the men ready for the returning warrior’s cleanse? Whose turn was it to lead the vision quest training process? Better call a dance to lighten up that quarrel between adjacent villages.

These old ones were full of vinegar still and honored for the wealth of their experience. Kali Ma-like, they knew when to cut and when to comfort. Kwan Yin-like, they were available to enfold a child, tender advice to the lovelorn, and facilitate the taking on of a needed skill.

“Had it ever gotten stifling?” wondered the Ursula on the steps and the Ursula in the hot tub. “Probably.” Old customs had begun to cramp and not everyone was wise all the time. “Are there people involved?!” She could hear Pia Rosen’s voice in her head with just the right ironical tone.

“But we’re full of new ideas. We’re inventing. We’re re-membering the tribe. Finding the pieces. We are touching into the old ways – the shamanic knowings….”

…. In her mind’s eye she danced around a blazing fire under a starry sky in that tribal time, her body glowing and prickling with healing energy. Hands so hot that the sparks might have been from her or from the fire. She placed them on the temples of a friend who was grieving the loss of a parent and then on the low back and belly of a woman with a challenging pregnancy. She hugged another dancer and together they swayed with the ecstasy of energy flow, belly to belly. Turning, they both encircled the hips of an arthritic visitor. Voices around them toned and hummed, rising and falling with rhythms uncharted and undirected. Drums and rattles added to the rising chi of the group. She whirled and swooped – now a goldfinch, now an eagle. Was that an ordinary dog or was it Coyote behind the man sitting cross-legged with a child in his lap? Antlered Elk rose tall and ghostly, shadowing the circle. Was a fellow dancer turning into a jaguar? Certainly snaky energy was rising in that one across the way….

“We achieve something akin to this at times in our campfires,” Ursula had thought, her butt beginning to ache on the community center steps. “Our evenings together on rainy winter nights. Drums, voices, wisps of magic. But always there is a holding back. A lack of experience. A lack of custom. A lack of trust, not of each other so much as fear of the seeds inside us. Fear. It always comes down to that doesn’t it?”

Fear of the unknown. Fear of the magic itself. Fear of being thought unscientific and therefore crazy. Fear of shamanic flight. Fear of Power. She’d shivered, feeling her own trepidation gain ascendance, as open as she was. The longing for tribal connection was still there but it had become tempered by her rational self. “It’s too difficult. It’s taking too long. What’s the use? I might as well settle into a lonely granny-hood, family secrets intact.” No outsiders to probe…. no way to heal…. no connection to Grace…. which to her was a link to Source but also a connection to the whole. The Tribe.

There was that word again. She was pretty sure that it actually did “take a village.” That felt right deep in her gut. This was not the era of the hermit, though a few people off in their proverbial or literal caves could send sparking and nurturing energy to the whole. She thought of June with her quiet counseling practice and Nettle Nancy who hardly ever stirred from her wooded cabin on a back creek but who envisioned the world’s healing on a daily basis in her meditations.

However, the bulk of the energy this time around was within group. Joining together, communing. Developing the intimacy and the trust to connect telepathically. Did it have to be such a long slow process? Was it possible for a lightning bolt? A magical moment when a group of them had clarity and were connected…. It seemed like they’d almost gotten there once or twice….

Out of her despair that night, a germ of inspiration for a visioning ritual had flickered in her brain. After several deep yogic shrugs, she’d gone back inside the community center to help put away chairs and tables. The meeting was done. She only half cared about the outcome. The ideas on the brainstorm sheets posted around the room were the same ones voiced in other such forums. Déjà vu all over again. “What will it take to propel us to the next level? To put juice and Spirit into these lists. To take it all out of the theoretical into the real?” They’d accomplished a lot over the years. They could pat themselves on the back. Yet Ursula knew there was something potent missing. Several somethings, no doubt.

Tribe. She could almost taste it. Almost describe it. When could she have it in this life?


While Ursula had been journeying back through a few stages of her community’s development, the late September morning sun had risen higher and the spider webs, though still visible, no longer glowed. The grasses were now a soft gold. “It’s amazing how many different kinds there are. I’ll take some down to the shrine at the store. It would be fitting to honor Demeter, Greek aspect of the Mother – Goddess of the Grains, Bringer of Seasons – whose daughter Persephone heads down in autumn to her underworld lover. Her adventures away are not unlike those of my own four offspring. I must count myself lucky that two have chosen to live here now, thank the Goddess, and one had a baby last spring, making me a real granny (tra la!). But two are far afield and I miss them even though that seems greedy of me. Can I help it that I’m insatiable?”

Grass stems in hand, her petite frame naked and dripping, she stood on the path next to the tub. Turning to each of the Directions, she called aloud, “Thank you, airy East, for the rising sun and the new beginnings that grew out of the revelations of that night of despair at the Mahonia Community Center. Thank you for this new day as well. Help us to create the songs that heal and bring out the best in each of us. May you continue to send us new energy for our endeavors.

“Thank you, fiery South, for the passionate hearts that beat in concord and in conflict, and for the growth that abounds within both states.

“Thank you, watery West, for the deep knowings, memories and dreams that will inform this day, as well as for the Pacific that graces this place. May we listen and be in the flow.

“Thank you, earthy North, for the stories and the power of the Mountain and the rocks and the trees and the creatures, plants and ancestors of this place. May we honor you always and all ways.

“Thanks be to the Above.” She raised her arms high, “and to the Below.” She knelt and touched the earth. “Gaia. And to all our relations. All is well. I am ready for this day, Grandmother Spider, come what may.”