Rhea Dances

She Dances

After her conversation with Ursula at Bear Essentials, Rhea bicycled straight to the barn at Benden Farm, making the mile plus in record time. The classic wooden structure at the bottom of the hill from the house seemed blessedly empty of people at the moment. She breathed in its characteristic smells of straw and animal feed and walked in past the small tractor and its attachments, plus assorted carpenter and garden tools. Most of the latter were hung neatly on the wall in their appointed places as Carlos was a stickler for orderliness (“You’d think he had Swiss blood,” Cali often quipped). But a few were jumbled against the wall as if someone had just left them recently. She listened for activity outside and didn’t hear anything but someone could be just around the corner. No matter. Not at all inclined to linger in the working part of the barn, she wound her way up the intricately decorative spiral staircase – welded by Johan when he was first getting going.

In contrast to the tidiness below, the huge upstairs loft was a creative jumble. Soft couches draped with India prints and old blankets lined the walls joined by colorfully painted booths garnered from a restaurant remodel. A low stage at one end held a drum kit, a marimba and a pair of conga drums in stands. Other percussion toys, as well as a tuba and two trumpets were jumbled here and there. Instrument cases indicated more musical riches, as did an appropriately battered upright piano. There was even a pull down projector screen that bespoke evenings curled up in the couches watching movies.

Colorful banners and an earth flag dangled from the rafters. Huge paintings in very different styles hung on the walls and there was a partly finished mural on the floor in the west corner that looked like a new group effort. A few beer bottles and cider jugs indicated another recent use of the space. Rhea smiled at the memory of that evening. It had been fun adding Uri’s amazing didge playing to their eclectic mix.

She wasn’t much of a musician so the instruments didn’t call her but she made a beeline for the sound system. After a few minute’s search, she found what she was looking for among the jumble of CD’s on and under the table. Loreena McKennitt. The Visit. When she was at the store she hadn’t consciously noticed it, but riding home she realized that Ursula had been playing “Tango to Evora” – the theme music to the Burning Times films a bunch of them had watched together last year at Halloween. If she was going to take Ursula’s witchy class – for that’s how she thought of it – then she needed to come to terms with the fear in her body over the thought of exposing herself in that group – or to the community at large. To do this was taking a big step in owning what she had known about herself ever since weeping over those movies.

She slipped the CD into the player and that song on repeat. Taking a deep breath, she stood quietly as the music began to fill her. Shivers washed along her spine when the wordless female voice began. Good. Rhea had learned that shivers meant she was on the right track. An image from the film ran through her mind: a lone figure playing a violin on a hill top. Rooted there, strong in her convictions about her wisewoman self. Strong in her memories. Then and now.

With the thought of those generations – eons – of strength, Rhea began to feel herself as a tree, roots going down, branchy arms beginning to wave, trunk swaying. Thank goodness she’d learned about grounding from Ursula the other day at Illahee. Rooted, she could face the music – literally – and begin to dance.

Another image from the film flooded her: a woman, cape flowing, wending her way down the narrow alley of a medieval stone town. Her terror of hounding persecutors was palpable and Rhea took it in. Owned it. Re-membered it in her own body. Darting here and there in this familiar modern setting she knew the feeling of being chased, even as she was driven by her need to counsel a sick old one, tend to a woman in labor, heal a neighbor child’s infection. Her basket of salving herbs was on her arm, she had only to get in the door…. this time. Yet inevitably another alley and another door awaited. New fears and new betrayals.

Soon the fires burned and screams filled Rhea’s being. Her own. Her friends. She choked and moaned until shrieking, her body whirled and dashed, seeking refuge and other times. Yet, still the beleaguered images came. A dark-skinned Romany woman in ancient India. Men on horseback swooping viciously. The colonial village of Salem, Massachusetts. Neighbors shrieking. Fingers pointing. Priests and sanctimonious ministers torturing, condemning.

Dance the pain. Dance it out…. Swooping and swirling in the storm, treelike, to bend but not to break. Promises of future success…. Was now the time? Here at the beginning of the 21st Century. This life, these people. Could they betray again? Possibly….

As terror threatened to well again, there was a sound at the top of the stair and two men appeared. Rhea gasped and, still the grips of the dance, flung herself towards them in a fury. A tall African-American man – dark brown skin and curly dreaded mop bouncing – and a slim Asian with features blurred by Russian and Mongol parentage.

Yet their stance was open and their expressions warming enough that the steam went out of her engine. Panting she slowed and then bowed as with a look at each other, the men dropped their bags and danced towards her. The music swelled again.

Fingers touched lightly. “Arlo and Uri.” She breathed their names, turning slowly in a circle as they wove a dance around her, their maleness softened by their need for her to feel safe and loved.

Soon she let herself go again as new images whirled past her. African villages where the wisewoman was honored. Asian steppes where the drummers were women. Arawak healers in the Amazon jungles searching out and brewing the powerful vision medicines throughout the ages and doing it still, sharing their skill and lore with seekers from the north.

All were part of their world’s heritage. If these dear men were any evidence, the times truly were changing. The ancient ways were re-emerging even into this dominant, increasingly tortured culture. She knew she could trust these men and the women around her. Rhea blinked…. For Cali was here too now and Carlos. Jay and Fern. Ariel.

Circling, they all joined hands. Someone had changed the music. No longer a lone tree or a solo beleaguered witch, she was in a safe circle of beloved souls, triumphantly dancing their new world into being.


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.



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.”