Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Moving with Myth

In ritual embodiment, we connect with the archetypes in order to integrate their characteristics into our selves - for inspiration, healing, problem-solving, creativity, or just personal growth.  Several keys give us access to the archetypes, such as the mythic tales and legends told about them, and the artistic interpretation of these myths in sculpture and painting.  These serve as springboards for a wonderful journey & creative process that unfolds in a ritual embodiment session.

I have always sought ways to bridge the archetypes to embodiment and movement; to open them up as sources of inspiration for dancers and non-dancers and to mine their rich psychic content.  I like to joke around that my ritual embodiment work flows from the same spirit as childhood dress-up.  When we dressed up in our mothers' finery and jewels, we felt grown-up, glamorous, more powerful.  The same goes for ritual embodiment.

We "try on" the Goddess' persona in creative phases ranging from group construction of Her shrine to ritual adornment in Her colors, scents and accessories.  All this preparation signals to the psyche that the stage is set for much deeper work.

In mythic tales of Artemis and Athena, we meet the "helper" aspects of two mighty Goddesses who come to the aid of mortals in extreme circumstances.  Artemis is a champion of women, illustrated in the story of the princess Iphigenia.  About to be sacrificed by her father King Agamemnon for the safe passage of his fleet, her mother pleads with her to flee. Instead, Iphigenia accepts her fate for the good of her people, and at the moment of sacrifice, Artemis appears "Deusa ex Machina" and whisks Iphigenia away to safety.  Athena is called the "champion of heroes" and appears with alternative strategies and magical tools to help heroes outsmart their foes.  She counselled Perseus to use her shield as a mirror which let him kill Medusa without looking directly at her, and tells the exhausted Herakles to use one of the Nemean lion's own claws to kill it.

So I ask participants to think of something in their lives for which they are making great sacrifices and to bring that to Artemis.  I lead them through ritual dance sequences evocative of the Goddess' physical traits and actions.  Instinct is awakened through animal sequences and deeply rhythmic, shamanic music. Metaphorical bow and arrow in hands, I ask them to think of how they want to "make their mark" and to ask the Goddess to steady their aim, sharpen their focus, and add Her strength to the release of willpower.  I ask the participants to stand tall in their power with Athena, credited with the invention of the chariot.  I invite women to dance the dynamics of the chariot with me.  Powerful, heroic music drives our motions - the summoning and directing of great forces to an ultimate goal.  What great dreams, plans, visions do they want to achieve? Which forces must they harness?  How cathartic is that battle-cry?  How sweet is victory? 

It all manifests in a session of Ritual Embodiment.  The music, the myths, the movements, the costumes, the dreams, the possibilities that open up in a ritual state. Our sessions culminate in Goddess Photography, whereby women get a chance to create a Goddess portrait of themselves embodying the Goddess and crystallizing the effects of the intensive in their very own work of art, reflecting to themselves, the Goddess and the world the changed they underwent throughout the Ritual Embodiment sessions.  When you begin to move with the myths, the myths begin to move with you.  When you begin to embody the Goddess, She will also embody you, and a part of Her will stay with you forever. 

Sacha channeling mighty Athena
Nicola channeling instinctual Artemis

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Lessons from Dance for Life

All the arts are windows into the Divine Nature. Practicing an art form gives us a language, a lyric or a landscape for our unique reflections of the Divine.
The art of the dance is the most embodied of all art forms.  The artist and work of art are most inseparable in the dance, in which channel, process, product and inspiration are made visible and keenly felt.
When we dance, when we truly dance, we become Masters of Presence. All parts of ourselves are called to manifest through our moving bodies. We become whole, if even for the brief eternity of the dance.  The power of this art form is often overlooked, because it is frequently dismissed as frivolous or ornamental by mainstream culture. At least, the public is aware of the health benefits of dance, yet there is so much more.
The dance teaches us to be fully present, aware, switched-on and tuned into our creativity as it unfolds in the here and now.  It teaches us to be centered, yet radiant; fully aware of the power of our limbs, breath and gestures to affect the world around us.  It teaches us to reach for a version of ourselves much closer to the gods; that part of us more closely attuned to the vibrations of Divine Nature.
Dance can imitate life, or it can mirror the ascension of the soul and express the evolutionary pathway of the dancer as she dances into a realm where she embodies a “self greater than all selves” to quote Isadora Duncan. Her dance can be rooted, or it can soar into the aether, or both.  It can flow through worlds, bridging her soul’s message through her resonant body to her audience.  It can burn with a radiant passion, enveloping all present in an alchemical fire.  And it can retract, pulling her Self, her Universe, her galaxies all into that deep core that she knows very well, because she visits it on a daily basis.
As one of the most primal forms of ritual, our ancestors danced to contact the Earth, the elements, each other and the Cosmos.  They spun and spiralled like galaxies and stamped like wild herds.  They joined hands and hearts to re-create the Sacred Hearth. They danced to heal, and now more than ever, the healing power of Dance is re-emerging.  It heals us by giving us maps to ourselves.  It heals by giving us direct access to ourselves and ways to master ourselves.  It opens our inner eyes and ears, pricks up our senses and tunes up our subtle intelligence. 
By awakening our own sense of rhythm, we gain access to the cosmic rhythms that rule all of existence.  By awakening our own sense of harmony, we embody the harmonic aspirations we long to manifest in our lives. By moving with authentic purpose, we allow our Divine Soul to speak in the material world, bringing its message that much closer to manifestation.
The body and soul already have a close relationship.  It’s the ego, afraid of being judged or “doing it wrong” that suggests that you “can’t” dance.  If you feel this way, I suggest you turn up the volume on a raucous song from your youth and let it all go. Flail, headbang, spin, shake, stamp!! Let your body speak freely, and your soul will soon join the conversation.  Give your ego a chance to purge through submerging in the sweaty cauldron of cathartic, healing movement.  Let the music take you to the brink of ecstasy, throw yourself into the vortex and let yourself melt and be re-composed. 
And see how you feel afterward, purified and forged anew.  Everything you need to set in motion is already moving within you.  Your Divine Nature is waiting on the other side of ego for your invitation to dance.  

"Dancer" (from the book Twilights of Love by the late Brazilian poet Sidney Tenucci, which I translated into English) 

If I dance among moments
And their loves and rhythms cross my soul,
Always, I am something more than body,
Something that exceeds humors,
Chants – and loves themselves.
I am air, ethereal and shining brightly,
A fulgent, spinning atom.
I am finally something of my own,
A winged, flying gift,
In the presence of God

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

My Deity is a Dancer - Embodying the Divine in the Great Cosmic Dance

When I was an immigrant kid growing up in Chicago, my mother was very religious, and we attended the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.  I was a good little disciple and follower, and truly believed that a canned-goods drive was better than trick-or-treating on Halloween.  At least for a while, I did.

Luckily for me, our parents were very involved in the inter-Balkan and Eastern European communities in Chicago, so from time to time, we would visit various Orthodox Churches in the area. Our family sat on an odd religious fence: on Saturdays we would hear about the evils of graven images, jewelry and movie theaters and then on Sundays we would attend epic Greek weddings or Macedonian baptisms, and I would marvel at the gilded, iconic ceremony of it all - the candles, the chanting, and the transcendent smell of frankincense. 

I felt holy breathing it in, like I was somehow imbibing God.  I’ve always burned frankincense when I really want to part the veils between me and God, to ignite my higher faculties into action and to send my intention swirling like the smoke to the realm of the All, carrying the message of my devotion.  It’s powerful stuff, it lingers.  It purifies, it blesses, it reveals.  It invokes.

I loved listening to the chanting, as well.  I loved it when the choir and the Orthodox Priest would chant a “call and response” pattern.  I rolled with the repeated phrases calling on God’s mercy in the ecumenical language of Macedonia. “Gospodi pomiluj, Gospodi pomiluj, Gospodi pomiiiiiiiiiiiiiiluuuuiiijjj!” I found that I would just spontaneously sing them to myself in the days to come while playing in the yard or studying at school. They would pop out of me like bubbles.  The singing made me feel holier in church and when it would “pop” out of me, I would momentarily feel the same way.  It was as if the mystical feeling of the ceremony could reproduce itself on a smaller scale just by my repeating the words. 

Through the religious ceremonies of my ancestors rose a deep groundwater of mystic feelings – feelings of being transported and transformed, of exiting normal time and space and crossing into a spiritual realm.  In my childhood I had many instances of this indescribably blissful feeling, which seemed to have a will of its own.  I felt it in church, but I felt it even more in Nature.  Lying in the grass or spending entire days in treetops, somehow as a kid I used to be able to slip into a meditative stillness in which the minute details of a flower or a line of ants or the morphing shape of a cloud seemed to become a portal into the sacred realm.

But being a Gemini, my wiggliness and curiosity would also get the best of me and send me crashing back into the profane reality of endless questioning. Often, while suffering through interminably long Orthodox ceremonies on my feet, my mind would wander.  I wondered why all the saints had such long faces, for example.  If being close to God was the ultimate goal, then why were all the images so grave? They scared me with their huge foreheads and forlorn expressions and pointy beards.  I thought they looked a lot like vampires.

In the SDA church we had lots of Bible stories and I read and re-read every volume of The Bible Story series by Arthur Maxwell.  I also spent most of my free time reading the boxes and boxes of old National Geographics that we inherited from our Uncle Paul.  Stories about mythology, witch doctors, and indigenous ceremonies fascinated me to no end.  I loved reading about the Aborigines in Australia and how they clapped and stamped their feet and painted their bodies in Dreamtime ceremonies. I wondered if it was possible for me to go to their Dreamtime in my dreams.  The pictures inspired me to paint my own body just like them and to imagine what special kinds of rhythmic clapping and stamping gave access to the Dreamtime.

Being allowed very little social life due to my father’s universal insistence on the word “No”, I found in reading a great escape from life’s ennui, and for the stretch of my elementary school life, I was super content with reading the Bible stories, National Geographic, and my mother’s nursing-school books, especially the ones on anatomy and microbiology.  I read the Bible for fun.  I liked the English of King James, even as an elementary-school kid. I thought it had swagger.  Smite, smote, smitten.  Yaweh was scary, but boy, did those Children of Israel go on some wild adventures!  Biblical tales and legends fed my \l imagination to the bursting point, and I was forever asking “why”, or “what if” in church school, unsatisfied as I was with the universal “have faith” or “thus it is written” platitudes that seemed to be the answer to everything.

I was crazy about King Solomon and all his wisdom and riches.  I would fantasize about being the Queen of Sheba and how I would act when confronting his countenance.  So I draped myself in my mother’s finery with her jewels pinned to my head for a crown, and practiced my queenly walk to his throne room, which I set up in the living room.  I imagined how my glamour would overwhelm him and how I would put him under a spell with my magical dance.  He would wake up stripped of his powers, and I would rule his kingdom as well as mine.  It seemed a much better story than the one in the Good Book.

I often obligated my sisters to act out my biblical fantasies with me, which we never performed for the adults because it would have been considered disrespectful and blasphemous. 

One such fantasy involved the time when King Herod sent out his troops to hunt down the baby Jesus. I had one infant sister, which I would swaddle as the Christ Child.  Our middle sister assumed the role of the Virgin Mary, all draped in bed sheets and scarves from my mother’s closet. I, the oldest, would go into the kitchen and arm myself with the lids of pots and pans and a huge butcher knife as a sword.  Helmeted with a stainless-steel mixing bowl, I would swoop in on the holy Mother and Child and wrest the screaming infant from her terrified embrace.  I had to be quick, because I couldn’t blow my cover. You see, in my version, I was a double agent.  Jesus’ real mom up in heaven never wanted him to be sent down as her husband’s “lamb” to the slaughter, so she decided to rescue him against her husband’s wishes. She sent me undercover as a Roman soldier to kidnap the kid, and bring him safely back to her up in heaven.  In exchange, I would receive a pair of wings and be initiated as an angel. 

To me, God always had a wife.  One of my childhood church questions was about why we never talked about her. I refused to believe what I was told about God being a uniquely male presence.  I didn’t like that; it always made me feel weird, like they were tricking me, or something.  I also didn’t like kneeling to pray.

Actually, I hated kneeling to pray.  I hated the feeling of assumed guilt and groveling that kneeling embodied. Within my staunch Balkan upbringing, we were often punished by being made to kneel on stuff like corn, so kneeling was something that never made me feel holy, just angry and resentful.  I understood that sometimes we pray to acknowledge guilt and ask for forgiveness, but to me, there always seemed to be so many other reasons to pray.   And it seemed to me that in church we only said “Sorry”, “Please”, and “Thank You” to God.  It bored me to no end.  How come we never said “Yay, God!  Let’s play, let’s dance, let’s go crazy together?” Why was the God of the Church always in such a bad mood?  Did he laugh?  Did he dance? If the daughters of Jerusalem were meant to dance for God, then did God “dance back”?  How come we didn’t dance in church?  There was music, after all.

When we were at the SDA Sabbath service, I would sometimes look forward to the singing.  But I didn’t like all the songs we had to sing. I never liked “Amazing Grace”, for example, because I didn’t feel like a wretch.  I liked “Onward Christian Soldiers” because of its marchey rhythm, but then I wondered what we were fighting for, and had to know why, if we were supposed to love one another, were we in a Christian army marching off to war?  

But one morning a special organist visited our church, and we sang “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”. To the spiraling baroque organ motif my tweeny soul took flight, riding the waves of Bach’s opus into heights of pure ecstasy.  I was lifted higher and higher, the words sweet in my mouth and the music causing me to sway uncontrollably in the pew.   All I knew is I wanted to bound into the aisles and start skipping around the pulpit, calling the others to join me in a spirited romp around the holy space. 

But, no.  That impulse had to be subjugated deep into the recesses of my being, squashed but not squandered. It would have scandalised my elders, after my private fantasy became my refuge.  The music of Bach filled my mind with visions of a beautiful Temple, filled with frankincense, candles, and beautifully robed people dancing in a big spiral.  I imagined that the angels would hover over us, spiraling downward while we spiraled upward to meet them.  “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord”, the Bible said, but in reality we never made truly joyful NOISE unto the Lord; we mostly made mournful noises of puritanical contrition and begging.

I always felt like the way to pray to God was with my arms raised heavenward, like a child wanting to be picked up by an adult.  I felt like God wanted that from us, too, in spite of how angry and resentful the Church insisted He was.  One night in a fit of childhood insomnia,  I got up and went to the window.  As I drew aside the curtains, the clouds parted over a full moon so incredibly bright that its cool light rays washed all over my face and pajamas and made me feel like I had been painted with a special glowing paint that God used for newly-minted angels.  I closed my eyes but could still feel the moon’s rays permeating me and filling me with a clean, liquid light that began to make me feel lighter than air. From the heavens came the sound of singing so sweet and crystalline, that it almost made me cry.  It was calling me.  I stretched my little arms out and up, into the moonbeam, into God’s embrace, with the angel song and the cool breeze lifting me higher and higher. I felt suffused with cool, liquid light. I was melting in the most wonderful way, swirling around the night sky, now overflowing with stars, now blissfully oblivious.  Surely this was the lap of God.  Surely, this bliss is what we seek when we pray.  I was so sure it was.  I’ve never forgotten that night, and I’ve never lost the conviction it brought that bliss is the purest, most noble blessing of all.

Around those years, vivid images of a majestic Jade Temple filled my dreams. It had fountains, grottoes, and a multi-tiered Great Hall where beautifully robed beings would gather for grand ceremonies with angelic music.  It was green and black, with waterfall pools, moss-covered rocks and precious jade altars where these beings would rest and talk to each other as I passed through, mute with  wonder and lost in the indescribable feeling of bliss brimming over.  It has stayed with me my entire life, appearing and re-appearing in my dreams and moments of flashing insight.  Sometimes the Temple is really earthy, sometimes it’s intergalactic, and sometimes it’sboth.  But it is always the feeling that I get from it – an increasingly clear and vibrant ecstasy.  An overwhelming, contented feeling of having returned to a sacred place outside of time/space, a paradoxical state deep inside myself yet cosmic in its proportions. 

As puberty hit, I found that I would recourse to that deep, cosmic place within myself more than ever – it was the only place I could go where my father was powerless to “forbid” it.  To the extent that my awkward body began to bloom outward, my parents seemed increasingly determined to fence me in and cut me off from what they saw as evil and decadent American mainstream culture.  My question “Why not?” was always met with “Because I say so”, so I would pout off to my room and get lost in a book or shimmy up a tree and go into a nature-trance.

In church, I became even more annoying as I insisted on questioning what hadn’t ever made sense in the first place. I just wasn’t satisfied with “having faith” any more. I wanted to know where God came from, and why fossils are older than the Bible’s creation story.  I began to question God’s apparent addiction to punishing people, and to ask why he did things like “harden Pharaoh’s heart” in order to make Egypt suffer increasingly cruel plagues.  Why did Job have to suffer so much because of some stupid bet between God the Devil?  If betting was gambling and gambling led to hellfire and brimstone, then why did HE get to do it? I began to have increasingly uneasy feelings that I was being tricked. Lied to.  Something wasn’t right, and I began to dream of re-writing the Bible; imagining how the stories would turn out had I been their author.

As my yearning for freedom clashed ever more with my parents’ determination to deny it to me, I began to act out at school.  I was now in a public middle school, since my parents could no longer afford the conservative SDA church school.  There was a jukebox in the lunchroom, and the kids would play songs like “Misty Mountain Hop” by Led Zeppelin or “Tom Sawyer” by Rush. Rock music!  Oh my God, I had discovered “that devil’s music” to my mother’s utter horror, and it was the bomb! It detonated the force of my repressed inner yearnings; exploding them into rebellion and activating a new level of curiosity about the world and my place in it.

At about thirteen, I also discovered marijuana and LSD.  I began to trip quite regularly – why not? I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything, so as long as I was confined to my room while my peers went to school plays and basketball games, I was determined to have some fun.  With Jim Morrison urging me to “Break on Through”, I melted my mind with microdots and locked my door and painted bizarre paintings on canvas and on my own body while jumping around my room like Captain Willard from “Apocalypse Now”. 

I banged my head, pumping my fists to Deep Purple and Black Sabbath while my mother pounded on the door and shrieked in protest of the “devil’s music”.  I didn’t care.  Her opinion, my father’s ridiculous rules, and all my unanswered questions were all melting with me.  With psychedelic drugs and rock music, I had found an escape hatch, and the way out was in. I dove deeply into myself, surfing cosmic waves of extraordinary chaos – beauty and terror dancing with each other in the vast expanse of my soul.  I swallowed colors and saw sounds and painted dreamtime paintings all over my room.  

Church was becoming a thing of the past.  My family was crumbling, and even my  mother’s religious fervor began to flag with divorce looming and the familial atmosphere growing more and more volatile.  My own spiritual feelings were intensifying as my psychedelic experiments took on the inspiration of Carlos Castaneda,  Joseph Campbell, and my new interest in Wicca through authors like Starhawk and Janet and Stewart Farrar.  Connections began to reveal themselves between shamanism, the Dreamtime, Wicca, rock music and my acid journeys to the center of my mind. There was a different way to God, and it had nothing to do with the church’s doctrines.  God and his wife, the Goddess, were our supernal, loving parents, and they lived in the Jade Temple of my dreams.  They danced – with each other, with us, with Jim Morrison, Mescalito, and the Hero with a Thousand Faces.  In my cloistered adolescence, I was finally howling bullshit on the world with all the fervor of a wrongly-convicted inmate.

One summer, at the age of 17, I managed to escape the house to attend my first rock concert, Aerosmith.  It was an intense initiation - a crashing, wild, ecstatic ride on the energy of the crowd, the speakers, the wailing guitars, and the screaming vocals.  The band members were gods and their instruments hammered us into a pulp of seething matter, pumping fists into the air and losing ourselves in the group ecstasy and miasma of weed smoke.  This was the world I wanted to be in – free, moving, dancing, sweating it all out with my lighter in the air.  When my father found out I had gone to the concert, I was severely punished and he redoubled his efforts to incarcerate me.  But I was nearing my breaking point, and rebellion kicked into high gear.

Sneaking out at night and truancy by day became my delinquent modus, and everyone was on my case, including my compassionate high school counselor.  I managed to pull good grades in spite of my low attendance, but this only seemed to enrage my captors more.  My father’s abuse was turning more and more physical, and I began to fight back until it became clear I would have to leave home for good to find my own way.  So I got a series of shit jobs and began to go to college. 

As a college kid, I got into the moshpits. I had a LOT of rage to burn, and it was against all gears in the Machine.  The system, the patriarchy, my parents’ myopic traditionalism, the glass ceiling, sexism, racism, planned obsolescence, the rape of Planet Earth, the cops, and Com-Ed.  I blindly hacked it all to bits and threw it into the forge of boiling magma.  I just knew I had to be in that vortex.  I had to sweat out the toxic remnants of an abusive childhood and adolescence and had to punch out my fears and insecurities and illusions in the swirl of the Chaos. 

I hadn’t been to church in years by college, as it was still relegated to the “bullshit” pile along with my father’s harshness and my mother’s martyrdom.  I had gone the path of Wicca and was flowering in its Goddess-affirming, earth-loving spirituality.  My sanctuaries were now oak groves and sacred fire circles. Our group celebrated the Goddess shamanically - drumming and chanting and swirling around the Beltane fires, losing ourselves, finding ourselves, transforming ourselves.  We ate mushrooms and drank tea and I dreamed of the Jade Temple being in the here and now.  I was expanding and contracting at the same time, closing my eyes tightly in the sweat lodge only to find myself shattering into the cosmic nebulae within.  It was a time when I was fiercely reclaiming the Feminine, and the Jade Temple now appeared to me as earthy as ever, with its womblike grottoes and cool green tones.

Although I left the States and my group, I never left Wicca. I just took it on the road with me and have integrated its lore and rituals into my daily life.  I love how open and generous the Goddess is – how embracing and enfolding and comforting Her presence.  She is God’s wife, that force I always knew existed and that the church had tried so hard to negate out of me.  She brought the joy to the power of God, she gave form to his force.  Together they were the essence of Creation, and as I matured sexually, I could sense that lovemaking was indeed a  ceremony in reverence of their divine ecstatic union.  I began to see that ecstasy is everywhere.  In a lover’s passionate embrace, in the still curve of the Earth’s surface, in the crashing tempest over the waters.  

I’ll never forget the time in my early twenties when my posse and I decided to go out for soul-food to quell the remnants of a rollicking night of drinking and dancing. We were a motley little coven in black biker jackets and we were starving and hung over with necks sore from head-banging.  So we headed over to Chicago’s south side to a greasy spoon called Gladys’ Luncheonette for the soul-food buffet.  Over smothered chicken, greens, mac & cheese, peach cobbler, and hot links, we chattered and marveled at the feathered hats and sequined skullcaps of the church-going ladies in the tiny but crowded canteen.  One of them slipped us a flyer about an “afternoon jam session” at a nearby Baptist church.  A still, small voice inside me said “Go!” so in spite of all my Gen-X anti-patriarchal, feminist, anti-organized religion college-kid attitudes, I went.

Inside, after years of not being in the pews, I sat toward the back and waited for the service to begin.  The front of the church was set up with a whole slew of musical instruments, guitars, drums, amps, and metals.  The choir filed in and the pastor took the pulpit and asked for the Lord’s blessing.  Then he picked up his trumpet and began to blast a session of southern spiritual Jazz that I had never before heard in my life.  The band accompanied him as he racked the intensity up and down – now playing, now singing, now playing and dancing, now just singing and clapping his hands. All around me people were swaying in the aisles, arms thrown heavenward with looks of ecstasy on their faces.  Can I get a witness?  I threw off my leather jacket and jumped into it.  I praised the Lord Jesus again, I walked on water and sang along with the choir on the banks of the River Jordan.  I let it all go.  I let this preacher-shaman take the wheel and lead me along the paths of glorious celebration for his name’s sake.  We were making a joyful noise unto the Lord, singing and dancing and celebrating in church just like I had dreamed we could as a child. 

Somehow, things came full circle that day.  I felt Jesus in my chest like a beautiful golden light radiating outward and illuminating the idea that it was all good with God. That in that small church, in the rolling, resounding jazz ceremony, God revealed His own infinite capacity for joy and celebration.  That He was NOT this angry, punishing patriarch that we had to rebel against – no, that was my earthly father, and that day it dawned on me just how much I had conflated the two.  The Book and the Church had done God wrong– they tried to take something beyond definition and tried to define it and scare us into believing their way about it.  In the process, they cut us off from our true spirits and our blissful capacity for holy celebration.  This God too, had been cut off – from his Beloved, from his joy, from OUR joy, our hearts and trust, and his own bliss. 

It was in that Baptist Jazz ceremony that it finally dawned on me that God, Goddess, the Great Spirit, whatever the mysterious Divine Force is called, must be danced.  It must be felt, imbibed, embodied, and this same bliss was what the ancients knew to be the portal to the Divine.  The dance of the daughters of Jerusalem was the dance of the Cosmos and of the great cycles of our lives.  “All the gods are one,” said the Merlin from The Mists of Avalon.  No definition, no category, no label or group could ever again tell me who or what God was.  In my spontaneous and honest surrender to the music, I had tapped a cleansing, healing bliss that overflowed my heart like a cup running over.  With arms raised heavenward like a child wanting to be picked up, I found myself once again in the lap of God. It was good to be home.

Friday, October 7, 2016

My foreword to the Brazilian release of "Sacred Woman, Sacred Dance".

Here is the English-language version of the Foreword I wrote for this amazing book that has opened Sacred Dance to so many women in the world. Here is its original cover you may recognize:

I hope you enjoy this essay on Women's Sacred Dance.  It's a topic so close to my heart and I was honoured to be asked to write about what it means to me.  The book was only just released last month and there has been so much positive commentary rolling in that felt moved to share with english speakers.

  "A Dança do Sagrado Feminino" - the Brazilian Portuguese edition of 
Iris Stewart's
 "Sacred Woman, Sacred Dance" 
by Paola Blanton

Nothing is more magical than a story whose time has come.  There is something of Divine Providence in the timing, the moment we pick up a book, or the moment it jumps out at us.  A lifetime in the Arts and Mysteries has shown me that the stories our souls seek are also looking for us.  They reach to us through the pages of history, the arts, and through the collective stirrings of our group-soul. They call us to the well of sacred memory where our deepest dreams lie in wait for the flash of recognition, that moment of resonance that moves the entire being with an inspiration too sublime for words.  We dive in and discover that it’s the right story, at the right moment in history, at the precise right moment in our lives.

To open a book and find that the writer’s journey is our own journey fills us with feelings of kinship, serendipity, and yes – Divine Providence that comes with meeting a fellow traveler.  Someone who has wandered the same paths as us, who has rich knowledge to share that can help us along our way.  That was how I felt when I first picked up SWSD, and that is how I imagine you will feel now that you have taken the first step into the marvelous world that is waiting for you.

The idea of women’s Sacred Dance Ritual is quite ancient, as Iris Stewart demonstrates in these pages, but only in recent decades has it come into focus, especially in the West. One of its first harbingers, Isadora Duncan, proclaimed her vision of the Dancer of the Future as a dancing priestess who would bring forth a new humanist reality to a world bereft of Beauty and Truth.

Over a century ago, she prophesied the arrival of the Dancer of the Future – not a dancer in the patriarchal, reductive sense of performing entertainer, but a living work of art and channel for the divine force of inspiration: 

“The Dancer of the Future will be one whose body and soul have grown so harmoniously together that the natural language of that soul will have become the movement of the body…[She] will belong not to a nation, but to all humanity…[she will dance] in the form of woman in her greatest and purest expression. From all parts of her body shall shine forth radiant intelligence, bringing to the world the message of the thoughts and aspirations of thousands of women.  She shall dance the freedom of woman… [She will be] the free spirit who will inhabit the body of New Woman – the highest intelligence in the freest body!” (Duncan, Art of the Dance 62-63)

The seeds sown by this prophetic vision are sprouting all over the planet as women awaken to the call of the Goddess and respond to Her invitation to the sacred dance.  As women join the dance, they are finding that it leads to a temple of timeless wisdom in which past, present, and future meld into an eternal now; a fullness of presence that heals body, mind, spirit, and community.

Iris Stewart’s book is more than just an invitation to this dance.  It is a glittering timeline of our ancient dances and dancers; a gallery of the cultures and individuals who have kept the dance alive in the secret quarters of the feminine soul for so long.  Every page is a treasure trove of inspiration, whether from the customs of other cultures, historical artifacts, or Stewart’s heartfelt prose.

Published at the groundswell of the Information Age in the year 2000, SWSD came as a map into the sacred dance for women all over the world.  More than ever, we could follow our hearts, dreams, and longings with the freedom of research that came with the internet.  Doors were opening, paradigms crashing, and borders disappearing.

Women anywhere could type the keywords “Sacred”, “Feminine”, and “Dance” and within seconds encounter a wealth of knowledge, wisdom, and inspiration on the topic.  With the spiraling increase in Goddess consciousness in the twentieth century, it became possible to widen our quest across continents and cultures and find that women were dancing the Goddess everywhere.  When SWSD came out, it showed that we’d been at it for a long, long time, and that its roots were much deeper than we may have thought.

Those same keywords led me to the book in 2003.  I had been increasingly ritualizing my own dance practice, and had begun to look beyond choreography and technique in order to listen to my yearning for deeper meaning and transcendent experience through dance.  Although I was an established Oriental dancer, I was profoundly moved to search my way through nature, metaphors, myths, and a long personal history with Goddess ritual.  I just knew that putting them together could reveal a Divine motive and method for the Dance. When I opened SWSD, it was an illuminating flash of lightning, a synapse jumping from writer to reader.  It would become a catalyst for the personal revolution I had initiated by searching for the sacred in the dance.

I began to reflect upon the moments in my life when I had felt transcendent, healing ecstasy; those moments when I dissolved into the All and exchanged my ego for my soul.  I saw that the most cathartic and healing rituals had always involved some type of movement, whether it was in the Umbanda rites of my adopted Brazil or the shamanic retreats and Wiccan drum circles I had frequented in the States.  Ecstasy – duende – is there to be accessed, and the path to the spirit descends first through the body.

I remembered my turbulent college years with the weight of a full class load and three part-time jobs on my shoulders.  I should have gone crazy were it not for the moshpits of industrial and punk rock.  I remembered how I would surrender to the chaotic spiraling of bodies as the driving drums and screaming guitars exorcised my angst and left me bathed in cathartic sweat. Time would stop.  I would enter a liminal state of being where I was myself and not myself at the same time.  All the other kids around me – we were one.  Punching the air, banging our heads, and spiraling around each other, we transmuted our youthful anxiety into pure exuberance. 

This period of reflection drew me full circle to my Balkan roots and sparked a renaissance of the Balkan dance tradition in my practice and repertory.  I remembered how I felt as a young child in the circle dances of my people, my Macedonian tribe.  A resonant cellular memory evoked the feeling of unity – feet in rhythmic synchrony, hands joining hearts in a spiraling dance that went way deeper than ethnic identity.  When I re-joined that dance as an adult, I realized this was the dance of the Earth – her cycles, her bounty, and her magnetism.  To the big, goat-skinned “tapan” drums, reed zurli (mizmars) and sheep-skin bagpipes, I sink into the soul of my people, the land, and generations of racial memory that form the bedrock of my being. 

It had all been there all along, like a pile of tinder waiting for the spark that was SWSD.  It’s one of the primary strengths of the book – its ability to fire the imagination and to trigger the recognition of hidden likenesses between the dance and the universe.   Rhythms and forms “become sacred as the beauty of movement communicates the divine ideal. In sacred dance, one is found and used by the soul of nature, the energies of which are perceived rhythmically as the continuous dance of life and form.” – (Stewart, 5)

She reminds us that rhythm and form were essential to the ancients in their quest for union with the “deity and the cosmic flow”, which magnifies the  significance of universal patterns and forms like spirals that characterize so many sacred dances.  I had spiraled back through the dances of my youth and childhood and was now ready to spiral forward as the book brought forth two women who would become my greatest teachers: Isadora Duncan and Gabrielle Roth.

Over the decade I’ve spent studying both of these visionaries, I’ve come to identify closely with the timeless revelations that they’ve brought to the world.  Both women danced their prayers in the knowledge that the body is the temple of the soul and that the soul is the gateway to the Divine.
Isadora sought to open the pathway between soul and body through a moving dialogue that transcends the stifling paradigms of our times and brings about a new, universal humanism. Inspired as she was by the Greek ideal, she went back in time to unearth the principles inherent to the Greek understanding of  universal laws.  She was able to translate the laws of harmony, proportion, and perpetual motion into a mytho-poetry of form and movement whose beauty married art, science and philosophy in a totally new way.  Through her articulation of her sublime vision, she embodied the inspirational force of her historical moment.  Even her untimely death was mytho-poetic.  The prophetess had realized her mission, leaving behind a transcendent body of work that would inspire generations to come and light the way to the Dancer of the Future.  Nothing like a story whose time had come!

Gabrielle proposed a map to the territory between body and soul, calling that which Isadora called the “Dancer of the Future” by the simple name ‘ecstasy’. “…an egoless, timeless state of being.  It’s a state of total alignment and unity.  Unity of body, heart, mind, soul, and spirit.  It is what we need to heal our psychic dismemberment.” (2) She invited us to “follow the body like a map into a deeper sense of self” (17) guided by the five rhythms of the soul.  Five rhythms, five modes of being that ascend, peak and descend like a wave or a story, each dance its own journey, its own alchemical process. 

Ultimately that is what the Dance of the Sacred Feminine is all about – a transformative process of overcoming the ego and quieting the rational mind in order to connect to Source energy in a healing state of resonant bliss.  With the aid of the visions and maps of great teachers, we enter into our own states of resonance, where we expand our perceptions toward the Infinite and merge with the very dance of the Cosmos.  There, the perpetual flow of healing Light fills us and uses us as the instrument of truth and beauty. This is the Elixir that integrates and brings a sacred wholeness not only to individuals, but to their communities.  And the chalice that offers the Elixir is Woman.

The nature of feminine energy is to flow, connect, and transmit.  We resonate with the great flowing cycles of Earth and Cosmos as the cyclical creatures we are.  Isadora Duncan put into words what the ancients had known for millenia – that woman is a “link in the great cosmic chain, and her movement must be one with the great movement which runs through the Universe.” (Duncan 68) It is no surprise, then, that with Goddess consciousness cycling back into focus, that her sacred, healing dance is also embracing us in its spiraling bliss. Many energies are moving around at this moment in history.  We need to connect as many bodies, hearts, and souls to the source of Light in order to harmonize to the victory of the good.

In her chapter on transcendent and ecstatic dance, Stewart writes about how energy moves through the participants, uniting them and invoking the presence of something greater, contagious and elevating, that catalyzes the loss of ego and quells the fear of separateness that are our greatest barriers to ecstasy.  With these barriers surmounted, hearts begin to open and trust grows, allowing the group energy to elevate in vibration and be directed toward positive goals such as the restoration of balance and peace.  To me, this is the most urgent message of the book, and the clarion call to action for the worldwide community of dancing feminine souls.

The process of women’s emancipation in the last century has brought with it an erosion of many traditional platforms for women’s community.  In capitalist societies characterized by the division of labor, we no longer bond over the harvest, canning, quilting, childcare, or handicrafts like our grandmothers did.  We live increasingly compartmentalized lives of social and psychic dismemberment within the chaotic reality of the rat-race. 

Timetables, deadlines, traffic, corruption, and the soul-sucking repetition of tasks and daily chores have strangled our ability to seek or feel ecstasy.  Our lives are still largely immersed in patriarchal narratives in which we swim like fish unaware of the waters that contain them.  Women everywhere default to the tactics of the patriarchy as they struggle to make ends meet in what is still fundamentally a man’s world.  Among our most corrosive inheritances is the shadow of competition.

While in some spheres, competition is a tool of evolution, in others, it is the insistent intrusion of the ego where the ego has no place. SWSD amply demonstrates that the path to the Goddess’ healing bliss must surmount the dense obstacle of ego in order to obtain the Elixir.  This is true of intrapersonal healing, where we must get out of our own way and put our illusions of identity aside if we are to gain access to our authentic souls.  It is true of interpersonal healing, where we must exercise compassion and empathy in order to foster harmony in our relationships and communities.  And it is true of transpersonal healing, where we expand our consciousness and drop our containers and labels in order to surrender to the cosmic flow.

This multi-faceted healing is the gift of the Sacred Feminine Dance.  Its mission is to overcome personal and interpersonal barriers in order to unite us with the awe-inspiring spirit that moves the dance – the Goddess.  It challenges us to purify our motives for dancing and to raise our vision to a new platform for women’s community – one in which mutual respect and joy form the antidote to the social and psychic dismemberment of our times.  Just as our ancestors instinctively danced their healing, we will consciously reclaim our instincts and authenticity in the dance. Within that dance of eternal now, we instinctively know that the dance of the past is the dance of the future, and of all times.  And the future has arrived.

What more fertile ground for the dance of the future than the land of the future, Brazil? With its lush natural bounty and syncretistic traditions, it is already firmly rooted in rich archetypal foundations.  From the undulating grace and power of Iemanja’s waves to the sensuous ecstasy of Oxum’s rushing waterfalls to the whirling majesty of Oya’s spiraling storms, it is clear that the dance of the Goddess is already here.  I have had the honor of dancing the Goddess with my Brazilian sisters in Nature’s bosom many times, and it is always an immensely healing experience.

Brazil’s iconic song, “Garota de Ipanema”, is a lyrical tribute to the living, moving, dancing Goddess at her most sacred place, the beach.  The seashore is the birthplace of Venus, the realm of Iemanja, and the hearth of Brazilian life. The poet sings his Muse’s embodiment of nature’s beauty and compares her sensuous gait to the rhythmic swaying of the ocean’s waves.  Sensuality is a hallmark of life here in this land of vibrant, open-hearted people.

Yet the sensual and lyrical also cast long shadows.  Brazil is not an easy place to be a woman, as we exist in a mainstream culture with deeply rooted machismo.  One of the most insidious ways in which this ruling paradigm wounds the soul of women is through the unachievable expectations of the competitive cult of body image that has come to symbolize Brazil in the world’s imagination.  It is a force whose toxicity many Brazilian women have begun to resist – this idea that we are never pretty enough, skinny enough, sexual enough, or young enough. 

This exacerbates the deep socioeconomic rift between women, as its external signifiers tend to immediately classify and separate people. With the host of social and economic inequalities already plaguing this country, women cannot consciously accept another level of “otherness” that insists on pitting us against each other in spite and envy.  We have more serious battles to fight in the cause of our dignity and humanity.

Because the assault starts early.  The sinister beat and pornographic lyrics of “carioca funk” music, for example, drill its message of naked misogyny and degradation into our young girls, telling them they are nothing more than “bitches” reduced to their body parts and ability to service lust.  This is deep wounding disguised as pop culture, which infects the soul of woman by convincing her that degradation is sexy and desirable so that she is more susceptible to violation.

The common thread in all these examples is the scarring they cause around beauty, the body, sex, and dance culture.  They all feed into each other and form barriers to an authentic relationship between women, their bodies, each other, and the dance.  People no longer live in their bodies as it is, but women have extra layers of alienation from self due to a toxic zeitgeist.  So our work is cut out for us.  In order to gather women into the dance, we must transform it into a platform for healing energies that will encourage them to love and respect their dancing bodies and celebrate the beauty of all dancing souls.  We must fight against the prevailing stereotypes that alienate body from soul by opening the sacred dance to women of all ages, sizes, races, and walks of life.

I reflect that Brazil’s most iconic natural feature, the mighty Mother Amazon, is named after a mythic race of warrior women, and it resonates deeply with my view of Brazilian women as women of power.  They are in a special position to catalyze the multi-level healing that is the purpose of sacred feminine dance.  In addition to their special relationships to to nature and rhythm, they are also culturally plugged into spiritual traditions like Umbanda where rhythm and spirit are old friends.  In a land where mediumship resonates deeply in the collective psyche, they are particularly ready to receive and transmit the healing message of the Goddess through dance. 

Because the time is now.  There is lots of work to be done and lots of healing light and love to be danced into existence.  We must reclaim our birthright to the sacred dance and we must honor the awesome power and responsibility that comes with it. We must heed the cries of Mother Earth and reunite our rhythms to Hers in an vital exchange of energy.  May it elevate our consciousness and deepen our reverence for this planet that sustains and inspires us with its grandeur.

We must support each other during these chaotic, uncertain times and help each other dance our way through them. It is time to open our hearts to our sisters and invite them to a new dynamic where trust, kinship and joy replace competition, separateness and envy.  Let the dance be to us what Iris Stewart called “a window to the Universal, satisfying the thirst that is in all of our souls.” (Stewart 217) At this moment in history, with so many paradigms shifting and so much turbulent change surrounding us, let the thirst of our souls lead us to the source of truth and beauty that heals everything it touches. 

And to you, dear reader and fellow traveler, I say there are no coincidences.  The story you were looking for has found you.  In your hands you hold a portal to this well of sacred memory, lovingly prepared by a pioneering, dancing soul who answered the same call as you.  Prepare to be inspired, uplifted, and welcomed home to the dance of the Goddess.  The dance of the past, future, and eternal now.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Pilgrimage – The Mythic Journey to Avalon

Since my early childhood, I’ve been fascinated with mythic places and legends.  Poring over old issues of National Geographic as a school kid, I pointed to pyramids, ruins and temples and vowed that I would go there some day.  The pictures awakened wild imaginings in my mind and opened the gateway to a lifelong love of myth and legend.  As I’ve gone on to make many of these journeys, I’ve found that they compel me – it’s as if there is no choice in the matter.  Something powerful awaits in the journey, something destined to change me forever. 

The call bubbles up, echoing from deep within.  Like the Muses, it whispers to us while littering our paths with signs that point the way.  Casting our soul’s sight over oceans, mountaintops or skylines, we exhale into Destiny. The air thickens with possibility.  Forces conspire, pushing and pulling all at once.  Signs lead to people lead to places and doors open. 

Pilgrimage is an opportunity to make a move, to walk our soul-talk.  It requires a leap of faith to dive into the myths that hold us in their thrall and to drink from the wells of sacred memory whose waters have penetrated vast layers of history and fed the souls of generations.  We go in order to connect to something bigger than ourselves and feel the primordial awe that enflames our whole being.  The trip to the sacred place is a conscious act of evolution; a living metaphor for the intense inner journey as each step of the pilgrimage comes into focus and reveals its sacred purpose.  Things take on mytho-poetic proportions as we enter the Myth and it enters us.

The connections we make with the people, landscape and mythology of the sacred place will bring treasures and blessings we never expected.  But the sacred journey also shapes us with inner and outer challenges.  “Know Thyself” was the injunction of the Delphic Oracle, and as I learned on a pilgrimage to Delphi a decade ago, we also come to be tested. Boundaries will be stretched and  characters forged.  Deep emotions surface, and sometimes we need a hand to hold.

From the moment I’ve set on pilgrimages to places like Glastonbury, Delphi, Macchu Picchu, Giza, and others, I’ve had the joyous good fortune to meet kindred spirits and fellow journeyers who went on to become lifelong friends.  People we meet on our spiritual journeys are our mutual witnesses.  Around the sacred fires, they give us the gift of reflection, energy and support.  Many appear as spiritual midwives destined to help us birth new realizations, be it through an observation, a well-timed word, a dance, a touch, or the spellbound telepathy of a shared epiphany.

We journey to be inspired by great Teachers – those who hold the keys to the Mysteries through maps, songs, stories, dances, processions and ceremonies. They awaken our senses, shaking and shocking us with the awesome beauty and real-life poetry that comes with living the Myth.  Their wisdom feeds our understanding and gives us the chance to become like children, surrendering to trust and guidance.  They take us to the deep caves, mysterious lakes, and summer gardens of our psyches, opening us up to the power of Myth for healing and inspiration. As the mythologist Michael Meade once said at Delphi, “A handful of the sweet waters of Mythos is more precious than an entire ocean of dogma.”  The hands of the great Masters cup those waters to our thirsty lips so that we may drink and revive our souls.

So it is that my soul has thirsted for Glastonbury – Avalon – almost my entire life.  A deep fascination with Britain’s history and mythology started with those National Geographics back in the 70’s when I first arrived as an immigrant child to the U.S.

Castles, stone circles, magic and King Arthur piqued my interest more and more even as my Christian upbringing obliged me to read in secret.  As a teenager, I lost myself in the saga of Morgaine and Viviane at the twilight of the Old Religion.  What was the Tor like?  How did it feel to raise the mists or summon up one’s “Goddess glamour”?  Were the gods really all one, as the Merlin says at the end?  Why did I resonate so deeply with the Morgaine character, yet feel antipathy towards Gwenhwyfar?

My late teens ushered in a lifetime of learning about the Goddess and Her ways.  The Spiral Dance, Drawing Down the Moon, A Witch’s Bible Compleat, and many other books came to light my path and lead me to my first coven.  Celebrating the cycles of Life and Earth and feeling the Mysteries of ancient practice revealed in me a love of ritual and ceremony that have carried over into practically every aspect of my life and work.

Over the decades, I would circle through to the UK via long stints in South America and Asia.  In 2015 came a definitive moment via my friend Carla Cooper, who had hosted my folkloric dance workshops in Somerset in July.  One sunny day, she suggested a jaunt to Glastonbury, and it just so happened to be during the Goddess Conference week.

photo by Marc Cooper, 2015

My first sight of the Tor in the distance sent a shockwave of pure awe through me.  It rose in the distance like a giant lightning rod connecting Earth and Sky and majestically marking “the spot”. The whole day, wandering through the Abbey and taking a brief pass through the Conference, I felt déjà vu.  I couldn’t shake it, nor did I want to. I just had to find a way back to Glastonbury.

And so, over the next year, people and events conspired to make that wish come true.  An invitation to teach at the March 2016 Majma Dance Festival in Glastonbury brought me into contact with many more beautiful dancing souls, who then conspired to open the pathways for me to return to the UK in July of 2016 for an extended teaching trip.

I decided to try and present myself to the Goddess Conference, on the off-chance that they may be interested in having a World Dance Alchemist among them, offering my services as a Melissa and chewing my nails to the bone wondering if I had been too forward in my approach. 

The welcome that I received from dear Amanda Baker felt almost too good to be true.  The warmth and generosity emanating from her emails helped me to trust that this was actually going to happen!  That same week came an offer of housing with the family of Claire Salem, who lives a 20-minute walk from the town square.  Things were settled. I was going! I could hardly contain my excitement.

I was received in the UK by Shirley Griffiths from Newport and Sacha Tremain from Bristol in the month leading up to the Conference, and it turned out to be a perfect preparation for what I would experience in Glastonbury. Both of these wonderful spirit-dancers shared my passion for ancient places and took the time to show me some of Britian’s historic sites.

Shirley shot by Paola
Paola shot by Shirley
The tour began in Wales with Shirley and included inspiring sites such as the ancient Tintern Abbey. A day spent there rendered many laughs and playful portrait images as two dance friends made art in its ancient spaces.  One drizzly afternoon at the Avebury Stone Circles with Sacha fascinated me with and its ancientness.  I felt its energy rising from the ground and traveling along its lines and angles in a powerful current, imposing yet embracing.

Sacha and I then spent a day tromping around in the Gloucestershire forest, where she channeled her inner Artemis while I clicked the portraits.

Sacha shot by Paola
For our Goddess Dance project we journeyed to the temples of Aphrodite and Hera, the archetypes of Lover and Queen that most prominently inspire my work in sacred dance. I was honored to bring my lifework to a group of thirteen ladies – a journey of art, affect, and sacred movement ceremony that inspires and integrates the feminine psyche.

Like this, the energy built up to the last ten days of July at the Glastonbury Goddess Conference.  Excited yet apprehensive, I made my way to the first Melissa meeting, where I was immediately put at ease by Brian Harrison’s gentle leadership.  As I met the other Melissas, I was grateful for my experience in festival event work, which prepared me to observe and flow with the group dynamic in a productive way.

Just like so many spiritual journeys, there’s a feeling of living an entire lifetime in one week.  The first day or two feel tentative, and then we start to build connections with people and fall into rhythms until the big climax and heartfelt good-byes. On the day we set up the town hall as the Goddess Temple, I fell into a nice work-groove with Rowan, Pete and Trevor. The entire Melissa team was a joy to be a part of, buzzing around like worker bees and getting things done!

I am immensely grateful to Amanda Baker not only for having the generosity to offer me a spot as a Melissa, but for actually reading my CV and intuiting that she could take a chance on the creative technique that I brought to the table.  She asked me to partner with Sadhu Valakhilyas in constructing a ceremony for the invocation of the fire element, and I was happy to meet him and see that he was also a mover like me!  So it HAD to be a dance!

Our team’s creative sessions were so much fun. We exchanged ideas and fused them into a kinetic dance of invocation. Along with Silva, Sarah, Greg, and Annabel du Boulay who jumped in to drum and teach us some songs, we worked with gesture, music, and fiery movement that charged people up and transformed their personal energy. It was amazing how it all came together, and was such an honor to share music and sequences from my repertory of sacred dance with everyone at the  Conference.  

As a teacher of world dance, I often invoke the spirit of my late folklorist grandfather, Vangel Betinski, who danced the ancient dances of Macedonia.  When I was young, he would train me in the folklore of our people even after I had moved to the States.  “No matter what,” he told me once, “No matter where you go, you will always find your brothers and sisters in the dance.”

And so I did at the Glastonbury Goddess Conference.  As our group welcomed each new influx of participants into the Town Hall for the fire-dance, we jumped and clapped and stamped and sweated and smiled…..and recognized each other in the dance.  Soul to soul, eye to eye, heart to heart.  There is nothing like the power of ritual dance to awaken group spirit and build community.  Fire is outgoing, energizing and transformative energy.  After conducting the fire dance four times that day, my body was exhausted, but my spirit was electrified.

And it would continue to be electrified over and over as the week unfolded, charged to overflowing with the vision, talent, and spiritual generosity of this thriving international Goddess community. The wise words and songs of great Teachers like Starhawk and Alisa Starkweather….the haunting music of Heloise Pilkington or Tiana’s visionary Goddess art….these were just some of the glorious manifestations of Goddess spirit on a daily basis.

Tiana's Goddess Art

But nothing could prepare me for the intense transformational experience of the Mysteries conducted by Kathy Jones and the High Priestesses. Time and again, the ceremonies struck a harmonic convergence of sacred theater, myth, shamanism, art, epiphany, and tribe.  The sound-scapes, physical settings and characterizations of the Lady invoked Her presence with deep resonance that reverberated throughout the sacred week. It was obviously lovingly planned to take people deeper and deeper into the Mysteries of Lady and Land.
The Treasures of Avalon

Water Ceremony
As I followed Kathy and the Priestesses across the sacred topography I dropped into deeply-rooted reverence for Mother Earth.  Walking the land is an act of sacred communion, of physical merging with the deity’s primal body.  A deep draught of the air, a drink from the sacred well, earthing myself in the grasses, jumping and clapping around the sacred fire….

I drank that energy in and sent it through my whole body.  I felt it wrapping each of my cells in a vibrant magnetism.  I envisioned it imprinting itself onto my DNA, charging me with the Lady’s love and purifying me from the inside out.  Then I let it spark outward to my sisters and brothers in the fire ceremony at dusk, envisioning and feeling the whole tribe united in a warm, protective bubble of Goddess light. 

Fire Ceremony
No words or symbols can adequately capture the force of shared affect.  Its immediacy has always led me to dance it, move with it, allow it to move through me. As Isadora Duncan said about her vision of the Dance as Prayer, “If I could speak it, I wouldn’t have to dance it.” Ritual and ceremony give us direct experience of the Divine in a safe container where we are encouraged to experience deeply and wholly.  When the powers of ritual and dance unite, an explosive potential for magic and healing is released.

Taking the magic and healing even further was the 10-hour shamanic journey. Laughing, crying growling, chirping, howling, dancing, screaming, dreaming and knowing....I dove deeply that day.  Deep into the depths of being beyond the ego’s searchlight, I lost myself and found myself.

The voice of Kathy Jones – Master storyteller, shaman, weaver of visions – led us into the sacred topographies of psyche.  Beyond the mists, into the Avalon of soul and collective unconscious, the stories and places and characters gradually brought forth an even deeper sense of a Mother-World – that alternative reality that Kathy spoke about since the beginning of the Conference.

A world in which magic is a lived daily reality.  A world where the past, present and future meld into an Eternal Now blessed by a benevolent, generous Goddess. A world where inspiration, creativity, love and material to spiritual well-being spread their vines and flower over the ruins of our corrosive current world paradigm.

Air Ceremony

During the entire Conference, I felt a growing sense of Mother-World.  I felt it in the embrace of the Melissas and our Queen Bee Amanda Baker. I felt it in the Embodiments of the Lady, welcoming me to Her realm.  I felt it in the voices of the singers, my barges to the Other Side.  I felt it in the dance, swirling with my brothers and sisters.  I felt it in the treasures and gifts I received all week long – a snakeskin, a picture frame, a pendant, a kiss, a key…..a yummy treat prepared by Amanda Reeves.  And I feel it welling up now as I write these words in a café in the middle of chaotic São Paulo.

In the end, I took a workshop with Michelle Patten about responding to the call of the Goddess.  During the meditative journey to Avalon, the Lady gave me a beautiful little key to take with me as a sign of whether or not the path of the Priestess was for me.  In the closing ceremony, we were all given keys, which kind of made me laugh.  But as I continued my journey with my annual pilgrimage to Macedonia, I saw more keys of that type, randomly popping up as if planted by an mysterious force.  

And it is to that force now that I remand my destiny.  I will soon jump off the cliff of an immense life-change, closing a twenty-one year overseas journey and spiraling back to the United States, the land that welcomed me as a tiny immigrant in the 70’s. In this land I hope to re-establish roots nourished by the values of freedom and opportunity and to cultivate the fruits of my lifework as offerings to the Goddess.  I’m scared, but excited and trusting in the signs.

Throughout my wanderings, I'm starting to see that what I seek is also seeking me.  As we spiral ever closer, I can see that every step of the way, even the detours,  are somehow meant to be.  All the places, people, animals, trials, tribulations and triumphs are becoming part of me, chapters in a personal myth leading me to stronger and wiser versions of myself.  Each step I take with trust in a higher purpose lands on sacred ground.  Step by step the story unfolds, rippling outward into a reflection of the Myths that move me.