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Posts Tagged ‘spirituality’

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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The Liberal Catholic Church was the denomination I was brought up in.  I understood that it was originally a Dutch Protestant Church, and that it was linked to the Theosophical Society (T.S.).  In both Christchurch and Auckland the Church used the T.S. premises for its services, until the Auckland congregation built their own church in Grafton in 1964.

Liberal Catholic Church of St Francis, Grafton Auckland. Taken 2014.

The N.Z. Church states that it aims at combining the traditional form of worship – with its stately form of ritual, its deep mysticism and its abiding witness to the reality of sacramental grace – with the widest measure of intellectual liberty and respect for the individual conscience.  Both the Church and the T.S. were an important part of my mother’s life, and as a child I usually accompanied her to Sunday service.  I loved the incense and the chanting, and still do.  When I returned to Christchurch in the late 1980s the Church here was still operational and I went a few times, especially near Mother’s birthday.  However by this time the congregation had shrunk to just a few.  Having a particular interest in various forms of the Goddess I was intrigued to find an invocation to Mary was now included, and nuns from the nearby Anglican convent were involved in this part.  Sadly the T.S. building where Christchurch services were held was demolished in the earthquakes and as far as I’m aware there is no longer a Liberal Catholic congregation in this city.

In my Primary School years the Church, or possibly the T.S., had a junior section, known as the Order of the Round Table, and I remember taking part in a ritual which involved bread and salt.

My mother was deeply involved in the T.S. whose motto is There is no religion higher than truth, and she had a keen interest in Eastern religions and esoteric philosophies.  She was also a member of the Co-Freemasons, attending rituals where she wore a long white gown and a special apron.  I’ve talked about this to a male Mason who was adamant there was no such lodge and only men could be Masons, but I know this is not correct, and there is a website for the Eastern Order of International Co-Freemasonry in New Zealand.

When I was about eight my mother extravagantly ordered a pair of Kirlian glasses.  These were supposed to enable you to see auras.  She got me to stand naked while she scanned my aura, but I don’t think she had much success.  Mother was always fascinated by the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe, and we went together to hear George Adamski, who claimed to have had contact with Venusians, speak when he visited Christchurch.  The only thing I remember about his talk was my fascination with his accent which led him to pronounce ‘the earth’ as ‘te ert’.

After we’d moved to Auckland Mother took me to experience church services of various denominations.  I think this was to enable me to make up my own mind as to which form of religion might suit me.  One Sunday we went to the Spiritualist Church where a Scottish medium gave messages from people who had died.  Mother told me she’d done something similar after my father died and had got a message saying it was all a lot of tommyrot, which she said was exactly the word he would have used.

This medium told me I would soon be taking a long trip (this was not long before my first visit to Australia).  I was given a message from someone who said “You don’t know me, but ask them about Elizabeth”.  Mother told me afterwards that Elizabeth was her pet name for her own mother who had died before I was born.  I was convinced by this, but had no desire for further messages.

In 1962 Mother built a home on leasehold land in the Theosophical enclave at Mt St John in Epsom.  Here we were surrounded by people of similar values and interests.  Until 1959 there had been an alternative school there, run on Montessori/type lines, but this had now gone, and most of the neighbours were older people.

From at least the 1960s Mother regularly practised yoga and was a vegetarian before either of these were popular, and for many years she audited the books of the national Vegetarian Society pro bono.

Mother next to Swami Karanunanda, Yoga Weekend, Oratia, March 1970.  Photo: Auckland Star

Wide range religion was habitual
and left me with a love of ritual

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This is the season of Last Light, Halloween, Samhain, and yet the colours are so rich and golden it seems almost impossible that winter is near.  The daily sunshine comes directly through the windows, highlighting the need for window-washing, but who can be bothered with mundane chores when out-of-doors is so beguiling?

Autumn colour #1 (Small)

It is the dying time of year, and in the last week two acquaintances have died.  I am reminded that the day I finished paid employment was the 23rd anniversary of the day my brother died.  This is the time when the veil between the worlds is thin.  We remember our beloved dead and the wisdom they left with us.

It’s also a time of transformation, of moving from the old into the new.  I’m experimenting with new routines, setting new goals.  Last night I played cards with a local group.  Today I met with a play reading group at the WEA, where we read a play by Joseph Conrad that was unfamiilar to me.  It’s good to learn new things, and to have such opportunities available in the central city.  I’m enjoying the new freedom and the chance to cycle.

Winter will inevitably come, bringing colder times and the need to stay inside and keep warm.  Until then we can continue to enjoy these golden autumn days.

Autumn colour #3 (Small)

“The winter time is almost nigh
and nature has begun to die.”

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The Summer Solstice is a time of fullness, when we contemplate what we’ve achieved during the year.  Our group met yesterday to do just that and to share our hopes for the year to come.

Solstice Altar

Solstice Altar

In the evening I went to the Transitional Cathedral for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.  Because of my role at Volunteering Canterbury I’d been asked to read one of the lessons, which came from the Prophet Isaiah.  (My only memory of this Prophet is that he had his lips cleansed with a burning coal.)

The juxtaposition of these two rituals reminded me of the Easter Sunday in 2006 when we visited both Salisbury Cathedral and Stonehenge.  It all goes to show that there are many roads to the theosophical Truth.

The actual summer solstice is tomorrow, and today’s forecast is for 33 degrees.  Tomorrow may be longer, but I hope it’s not hotter!

Happy Solstice and Merry Christmas to all my readers.

“Whatever the beliefs you hold
I wish you blessings manifold.”

 

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Medium

Sue Monk Kidd is the author of “The Secret Life of Bees”, and this memoir is partly the story of how she came to write that novel.  And, it’s so much more.  Alternate chapters are written by Sue’s daughter Ann.  The book is about black Madonnas, mothers and daughters, Demeter and Persephone, transitions, and travel to sacred places in Greece and France.  It’s a book that made me stop and contemplate – one that needs to be read experientially.  It’s also partly about synchronicity, and that too was experiential for me.

I happened to visit a friend who happened to tell me that she was reading this book, just the week after I’d finished “The Secret Life of Bees”.  I ordered “Travelling with Pomegranates” from the library and it was immediately available.  At the same time I had a message about the next meeting of the Story Collective which sent me contemplating Greek Goddesses whom I’d not thought about for some time, and who are an integral part of this book.  I think it was all meant to be(e)!

If you’ve read ‘The Secret Life of Bees’ you’ll enjoy reading this.  If you haven’t read that, and you have an interest in women’s self-discovery, you’ll enjoy it too.

“They prayed to Mary as their guide
and found the answers deep inside.”

 

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Today, 10th April, marks thirty years since I was initiated into Women’s Mysteries.   This was at the end of an Auckland University Extension course facilitated by Lea Holford. I’d done Women’s Studies courses before, and had read books, such as “The Paradise Papers”, later known as “When God was a Woman”.  In 1984 I saw Lea’s course advertised, and thought I might go, but left enrolling until just before it started.  I was surprised to find that it was already fully subscribed and I had missed out.  In 1985 I made sure to enrol early.

Lea introduced us to rituals and to many of the ancient Goddesses.  The experiential course culminated in an initiation ritual which had a profound effect on me, and the group which formed after the course became an important part of my spiritual expression and exploration.  Learning about the Goddess added a new dimension to my life.  I saw my place in the world differently, and gained a perspective that’s reflected in everything I do and am.

I helped to organise some large rituals, later taught workshops and courses on Women’s Spirituality, and eventually became a registered marriage celebrant.  Several recent events have reminded me of that early learning.  I took out the initiation card I’d received in 1985 and was intrigued to find the date on it was so close.  It’s satisfying to look back on thirty years of celebration of the seasons and rites of passage.

Initiation card

Initiation card

I wonder how readers of this blog have come to realise/choose their spirituality, and what different paths you may have chosen.

“In sacred circles I have learned
the mysteries for which I yearned.”

 

 

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Today is the fourth anniversary of the most destructive of the Christchurch earthquakes, and I was part of a group which hosted a site for the River of Flowers commemoration at Tautahi Pa/The Bricks, just across the road from my home.

Yesterday I collected the resources for this from Healthy Christchurch, including about 200 flowers which had been generously donated by Moffat’s Flower Company Ltd.  I put the flowers into buckets of water, which sat overnight in my bath.  The bathroom was filled with the divine scent of roses.

Roses in the bathtub

Roses in the bathtub

Before 9am I set up a table on the riverbank with cards (for writing messages of hope) and pens carefully secured inside a plastic bag as it was drizzling.  I realised I needed to also have a sheet of instructions, and went home to organise this.  Looking out the window I saw a man with a bicycle making off with my bag of cards and pens!  I ran out and hailed him, and he returned, explaining that he’d thought someone had left rubbish and he was clearing it away.  I was glad he hadn’t tried to take the table as well.

Before noon I took my five buckets of flowers across and settled down to greet people.  Workers on the river restoration had put a barrier across the water just west of the bridge, and I intended to encourage everyone to go nearer to the bridge to ensure their flowers would float downstream.

River barrier

River barrier

A woman drove up, got out with a bunch of roses, and headed towards the bank above the barrier.  I was ready to make contact if she looked my way, but thought it best not to interrupt her personal commemoration.  After she’d left her roses slowly floated down, accompanied by a posse of ducks.  To my relief they (the roses, not the ducks) found the gap in the barrier and continued on their way under the bridge.

By the time our ceremony started at least 70 people had gathered.  Richard Tankersley, representing Te Runaka ki Otautahi o Kai Tahu, offered a mihi and karakia, speaking about the significance of the area and the date.  At 12.51pm I sounded a gong for two minutes’ silence, after which a piper played a lament.  People then tossed flowers into the river and we watched them float away.

 

Flowers heading downstream

Flowers heading downstream

Afternoon tea at our Community Cottage completed the afternoon’s event, with flowers and cards left by the river until early evening in case others wanted to make a personal commemoration. When I looked at the messages later I found that many had written about remembrance rather than hope.  One person had attached a piece of rosemary “for remembrance”.

Tree of Hope

Tree of Hope

I returned home to find a message from Juliet Batten in Auckland.  She’d been thinking of Christchurch and had created a shrine with roses for this fourth anniversary.

“The local folk were pleased to share
a time where we could show we care.”

 

 

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You may have read the young adult novel “That Was Then . . . . This Is Now” by Susan E Hinton, which was made into a film in 1985.

Today I saw an unattributed post on Facebook which inspired me to take a similar photo in my back garden:

That Was Zen . . . This Is Meow

That Was Zen . . . . . . . . . . This Is Meow

The brick plinth was originally built for a goddess statue which was destroyed in the earthquake.  The Buddha image is one I bought at a garage sale many years ago, and the Bast figure commemorates Blott, the black cat who lived with us when we first bought our cottage.

“Once that was then and this is now.
They’ve transformed to Zen and Meow.”

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A friend is writing a book about inner peace and has asked a number of us to write down for her what inner peace means to us.

I find inner peace when I move into an altered/grounded state. This may be within a ritual, with chanting, music, and/or dancing.  It also happens when I have an opportunity to connect with the natural elements – e.g. walking through a leafy square, beside a river, in the bush, at the beach, or in my own garden.  I just need to be in the open air where there are trees or plants growing.  Warm sunshine and flowing water are an added bonus.

Where do you find inner peace?  At this busy time of year it’s even more essential.

“We all need time to reconnect
to meditate and to reflect.”

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The Autumn Equinox or Mabon is the time of equal day and night when the world is in balance.  It’s a time to reap what we’ve sown, and to give thanks for the harvest.  Traditionally this was a time of rest and celebration after the hard work of gathering the crops.

Our ritual group met to contemplate our own inner harvest, release anything that we no longer need in our life, and consider what new growth we hope for in the spring.

Equinox altar

Equinox altar

 

We finished with a Mabon prayer:

With equal hours of light and darkness
we celebrate the balance of the Equinox and ask the Goddess to bless us.
For all that is bad, there is good.
For that which is despair, there is hope.
For the moments of pain, there are moments of love.
For all that falls, there is the chance to rise again.
May we find balance in our lives
as we find it in our hearts.

Blessed be.

 

 

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