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Archive for the ‘Rituals & Spirituality’ Category

Spring Equinox altar

It was pure pleasure to celebrate the Spring Equinox today with the Stone Circle Interfaith Community. Level Two protocols made it a little more difficult but the facilitators took every care to ensure we were all comfortable with the arrangements.

Each person introduced themself and spoke about what spring means to them. I was glad to have the opportunity to mention the fact that today is Suffrage Day.

Many beautiful and inspiring words were said. I just wish I could remember more of them. At one stage we gave “eye hugs”, good practice for when masks need to be worn, and were invited to remember that whenever we look into someone’s eyes we are looking at a person who is loved by the divine spirit.

The many challenges that are being faced around the world were acknowledged and we were led in a meditation to send loving-kindness out across the globe and the universe.

Song, dance, and story were part of this ritual which was spiritually strengthening and sustaining.

We spoke of spring with care and love
which honoured earth and worlds above

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A group of women gathered last weekend to support a friend whose mother had recently died. We were each asked to bring something that reminded us of a woman no longer with us, who had been important in our life, and to share something about her.

Because I’d recently been writing a vignette about my political experiences the woman I chose was Janet McVeagh, Co-Leader of the Values Party during the 1980s. Today at my writing class we were asked to briefly write a paean, a creative work expressing praise, and I again thought of Janet.

She was an empowering inspiration to many of us, a true friend with whom I shared laughter and tears. We never lived in the same city, and we met just a few times each year. Often at Values Party national meetings we shared a room and would talk into the wee small hours. I can remember one gathering at our Auckland home where I abandoned the marital bed for a sleeping bag on the lounge floor so as not to waste any precious moments in her company.

In those pre-email days we kept contact through cards and phone calls. One day during a local body campaign Janet left an answerphone message to say that she was “off to Paris with Adam”. I wondered who this new man could be, and later found she’d gone with a peace group called ATOM, all part of her work to make the world a better place.

Sadly Janet died at the end of 2004, but she is someone I will always remember with fond love. In my garden the Raspberry Ice miniature rose is a lasting memento.

I can’t too highly sing her praise
she raised my life in many ways

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Deepest Day

For me the Winter Solstice today is a day of depth. It’s when we go inside, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

This is the time to let go of what is no longer necessary, and to make room for hope. The autumn leaves have been raked up and spring bulbs are starting to show through the soil.

I have creative ideas bubbling under the surface just waiting for expression.

Yesterday I took part in a beautiful solstice ritual with the Stone Circle Interfaith Community. Today I will meet with my small ritual group to mark the shortest day. Yesterday was dull and rainy, but today the sun is shining. That’s definitely hopeful.

The Solstice is delightfully expressed in this poem by Pelham Swinton Moffat.

When days are darkest
          the earth enshrines
the seeds of summer’s birth

The spirit of love
          is a light that shines
deep in the darkness of earth

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What a pleasure it was today to celebrate the Autumn Equinox with the Stonecircle Interspiritual Community. I’d never before visited this group who embrace the Interfaith vision of oneness, and strive to live this inclusivity in loving and compassionate service to all. They affirm the universal truths that underly all spiritual paths – love and unity – and I was happy to find a number of old friends there.

The altar held an abundant harvest, and on the wall hung flags of many faiths.

Equinox altar
Flags of many faiths

We entered in silence to a circle with music, We are we and we are one, then were gently led through a ritual with opportunities to share personal insights, time for reflection, and a delightful dance.

Followed by a shared lunch, this was a celebration that nourished my pagan soul, and I look forward to being part of this group again.

The Autumn Equinox was shared
within a group who truly cared

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This time of year, Lughnasad, is traditionally the time when maturity moves into ageing. Most of our group have given up the paid work which used to be a significant part of our identity, and today we contemplated what our purpose might be for our remaining years.

We cast the circle by naming our mother and how old she was when she died, or her current age if she is still alive. I suggested this because I recently heard that it’s hard for women to imagine living longer than their mothers.

Then we sat quietly, with eyes closed, and considered each of the four elements. Earth is related to the physical body and we thought about what we need to do to maintain good physical health. Air is related to the intellect and we considered what we each need to do to keep our brain active and working. Fire is related to the spirit and we contemplated what we need to maintain a sense of awe and connection with a higher power. Water symbolises emotions, and we mused on what we need to stay emotionally healthy and maintain good relationships.

Element symbols for planned actions

Each woman then took a small drawstring bag and placed in it symbols of the actions she planned. There was an opportunity to share one thing each hopes to achieve over the next year.

I read On Aging by Maya Angelou:

When you see me sitting quietly,
Like a sack left on the shelf,
Don’t think I need your chattering.
I’m listening to myself.
Hold! Stop! Don’t pity me!
Hold! Stop your sympathy!
Understanding if you got it,
Otherwise I’ll do without it!
When my bones are stiff and aching,
And my feet won’t climb the stair,
I will only ask one favor:
Don’t bring me no rocking chair.
When you see me walking, stumbling,
Don’t study and get it wrong.
‘Cause tired don’t mean lazy
And every goodbye ain’t gone.
I’m the same person I was back then,
A little less hair, a little less chin,
A lot less lungs and much less wind.
But ain’t I lucky I can still breathe in.

Lughnasad is also traditionally the feast of bread, which was long believed to be the one essential food. Salt is identified with the Mother’s primal sea, and is a symbol of rebirth because of its preservative qualities. We each took a piece of bread, dipped it in salt, and while we ate it the group said: “May you be nourished and well-preserved”.

Then we opened the circle and feasted.

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I spent yesterday at “BRAIDED Te Awa Whiria” a day of conversations about spiritual wellbeing in Ōtautahi Christchurch. This was held at the Aldersgate Centre, which is the rebuilt Durham Street Methodist Church. The building is impressively inclusive and sustainable.

Aldersgate window
Sculpture in Aldersgate garden
Real towels in Aldersgate toilets

The day was well-organised with opportunities to listen and to speak.

Many of those at the gathering were people I knew in the past, and it was also good to share the day with two close women friends.

We were shown a definition of spirituality which I felt very comfortable with.

Definition of Spirituality

I appreciated the opportunity to reflect on my own spirituality, which tends to be about connection, with others, with nature, with seasons, and with the Goddess within. I would like to have more ritual and connection in my life, and am unsure where/how to seek this. I no longer want the responsibility of initiating or organising. I miss the Dances of Universal Peace!

We were all asked to bring a symbol that we were happy to leave behind that had meaning for us in relation to spirituality and spiritual health, to go on an art installation. At first I planned to take some small element symbols, then I was inspired to take and leave a card I was given at the time of my initiation into Women’s Mysteries in 1985.

I felt the artwork process could have been given more prominence, rather than being a noisy distraction when we were trying to listen. There were several of us who missed having an opportunity to be involved. A large tent-like structure was put together, with our symbols inside on the floor, but I was a little disappointed with the way they were incorporated. Perhaps this was because so few of the attendees had brought symbols?

Symbols of spirituality

I appreciate the work of the group who organised this day, and the openness of the Methodist hosts, and I look forward to hearing what develops from the day.

Instead of things habitual
we talked of what’s spiritual

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I loved formal ritual-making when I was introduced to it in the mid-1980s.  Groups I’ve been part of have usually shared the creation and facilitation of rituals to mark the different seasons of the year and milestones in people’s lives.  Sometimes I created rituals on my own, and sometimes with others.  The most powerful have often been those that marked personal transitions, such as leaving Auckland, and the death of my mother.  For more personal occasions I have sometimes asked someone else to lead what I’ve planned.  To plan rituals I usually followed the format outlined in Juliet Batten’s book Power From Within.

Soon after coming to Christchurch I joined PLEBS (Plains Exchange and Barter System), a Green dollar exchange where I offered my services as a ritual-maker.  The first person to avail herself of this was a woman who wanted a croning ceremony.

In 1994 I applied to be a marriage celebrant and was turned down.  At that time the criteria for registration were strictly based on geographical area, and there were already plenty of registered celebrants in Christchurch.  In 1997 our local M.P. Tim Barnett asked to nominate me as a Justice of the Peace.  After careful consideration I accepted, partly in the hope that this might help an application for celebrant registration.

In 2003 Mary Hancock offered formal celebrant training in Christchurch for the first time.  I took advantage of this, which built on the practical knowledge and experience I’d gained over the previous twenty years, and I received a Certificate in Celebrant Studies from the Auckland University of Technology.  I again applied to be registered as a marriage celebrant but was told there were already too many independent celebrants in Christchurch, and 88 people on a waiting list.

I then discovered that it was possible to become registered as an organizational celebrant, usually linked with a church.  I enlisted the help of a group of friends, mainly from my ritual group, who shared my spiritual beliefs and were prepared to support me.  We created a set of Guiding Principles, which ten people were prepared to formally subscribe to, and our group which we called Spiritual Spiral was approved by the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) as an Organisation for the purposes of the Marriage Act.  The group then nominated me as a celebrant and in early 2005 I became registered to perform marriages and civil unions.

I stayed quite firmly undeterred
in my quest to be registered.

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Did you know that access to blue space is important for our health and well-being?  Blue space is any visible surface water, which may be the ocean, a river, or a garden water feature – maybe even a bath?  We’ve known for years that having access to green space/trees and vegetation could boost our mental health, but the benefits of blue space are less recognised.

The house in Onehunga where we lived for 16 years had a tiny view of the Manukau Harbour.  It was visible only from the lounge window, but it was a view I always treasured.  From the north windows of our cottage we get a glimpse of the Ōtākaro/Avon River, which I likewise treasure.

Our river view

My weekly beach walks refresh my soul.  I also enjoy the water feature in our garden.  The birds enjoy bathing in it, and Ziggy likes to drink from his ‘mountain pool’.  Water flows everywhere on earth and eventually connects us all.  This idea particularly appeals to me because my daughters live on the other side of the world.  Marion Zimmer Bradley said: All the waters of the world are connected, and where there is water the power of the Goddess flows.

It’s vital that we have blue space
to counteract life’s busy pace

 

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Today is the shortest day of the year, and we can now look forward to seeing a little more light each day, even if the coldest part of winter is still ahead of us.

Matariki star

This year I was lucky to have two winter solstice celebrations.  The first yesterday was a group of nine women who got together for the first time since the rāhui.  We started by acknowledging the fact that Matariki is now visible, and learning the meaning of each of her nine stars.  Then we shared what’s been happening in our lives and what we are looking forward to.

Today a group of seven women met to celebrate the solstice, and again began by hearing the qualities of the nine stars.  We considered what our aspirations might be for the coming year, and made bookmarks depicting these.  My hope is that I can be kind and creative.

I came home to find three emails, each of which require some voluntary work on my part.  Perhaps a good reminder that the winter solstice also marks the beginning of National Volunteer Week.  I might just be kind to myself and leave them to be dealt with tomorrow.

This post finishes with a poem from P. S. Moffat (edited slightly):

When days are darkest
the earth enshrines
the seeds of summer’s birth

The spirit of love
is a light that shines
deep in the darkness of earth

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With dawning feminism I became aware and cynical of the role of the Christian Church in oppressing women.  While I admire and support the basic tenets of Christianity, the operation of the church has often been less than Christian in my opinion.  In the 1970s I was introduced to Broadsheet and became a long-term subscriber.  I took Women’s Studies courses through the Auckland W.E.A., and was encouraged to buy and read The Paradise Papers by Merlin Stone, later re-published as When God Was A Woman.  This book documented how the patriarchy deliberately suppressed female images and symbols over millennia.  I hungrily sought and devoured similar books and discussed my discoveries with friends.

In 1984 Auckland University Continuing Education offered a course on Women’s Spirituality, tutored by Lea Holford.  I dithered, wondering whether this would be for me, and eventually phoned to enrol the week before the course was due to start.  To my surprise it was already full, and I’d missed out.  The next year I made sure to enrol early, and the course was an amazing revelation.  Lea, who came from San Francisco and knew Starhawk, shared knowledge and images that were affirming and wonderful.

There was one man in the course, because at that time the University would not allow gender discrimination in its enrolments.  Several of the students convinced this man that his attendance was not appropriate, and he left.  Many of us wrote to the University to request that such courses be women-only, but I’m not sure what the outcome of this was.

Initiation card

The final session of six included an initiation into Women’s Mysteries.  For me this was profound.  I had a strong sense that I was linking with innumerable women who had similarly experienced the Mysteries over countless years.  I shared this with the woman next to me, and to my surprise she had not had a similar experience.  A group of women from the course agreed that we would meet regularly and share feminist ritual, and thus the group that became Tapestry was born.  Some of us were later involved in organizing a Women’s Spirituality weekend, which was again a profoundly moving experience.  With another woman I facilitated a re-birthing ritual there.  One of the participants told me afterwards that this was especially powerful for her because she was a twin, and the experience this time was uniquely hers.

Juliet Batten offered a W.E.A. course in feminist ritual and I eagerly enrolled for this.  Juliet’s course explored ritual in a more intimate setting, led to an advanced course, and to the formation of the ritual group Cone which I also relished.

By this time I knew I’d be leaving Auckland at the end of 1986, and although it seemed greedy to be in two ritual groups I was keen to gather and enjoy all the experience I could, not knowing whether I’d be able to find similar groups in Christchurch.

Once we’d settled in, I advertised and networked, and found women with similar interests, but no ongoing group until I went with some friends to an Ecumenical Feminist Women’s Conference at Rangi Ruru in 1988, where 150 women gathered for several days.  The majority were or had recently been involved with the Christian Church, but one workshop for pagan women attracted just thirteen – surely an auspicious number.  From this a ritual group was formed.  It’s gone through many incarnations over the years and is still a source of spiritual strength and sisterhood for me and others.

Centrepiece for Summer Solstice 2005

At different times we’ve held large open rituals and joined with other groups.  A North Canterbury group, nurtured by Noreen Penny, co-founder of the Kate Sheppard Women’s Bookshop, was responsible for inviting overseas women to speak and hold workshops, notably Zsuzsanna Budapest and Carol P Christ.

I was pleased on a number of occasions to offer workshops and courses on feminist ritual, sometimes with a friend and sometimes on my own.  Because feminist spirituality was so important to me I was keen to share the experience with others.

All the ritual groups I’ve been involved with have celebrated the eight festivals of the year, solstices, equinoxes, and those in between.  We also celebrate significant birthdays and life events.  Our group’s numbers have declined as some women have moved away, and some have died.  We have not actively sought new members for some time, but it’s good to have occasional glimpses of younger women who are celebrating in their own way.

Image of Ishtar

For me, the experience of women’s spirituality is summed up by this quote from Ntozake Shange: I found god in myself, and I loved her, I loved her fiercely.

 

 

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