Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Exciting changes are in the works:  

EarthSpirit Voices is moving 

to a new online home!

As of May 1 we have a new address (, a new editor (Sarah Twichell), and a new look.  We expect our content to be of similarly high quality and also more frequent as we move into this next phase of sharing who the EarthSpirit Community is online. You can subscribe to Voices by visiting our new site and clicking the "Follow" button on the right hand side of the page.  

If you are part of the EarthSpirit Community and are interested in contributing to EarthSpirit Voices, we would love to hear from you! Send your ideas to Sarah at and she will get back to you.

Many thanks to Eric Arthen, who developed this current site and who has been maintaining and editing Voices for the last four years.
We'll see you later today at the new EarthSpirit Voices!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

My First Handfasting

by Andras Corban-Arthen

Exactly 40 years ago, in 1973, I performed my very first handfasting. I had originally learned about this traditional European marriage ceremony from my teachers, who had told me about handfastings (or “left-handed marriages,” as they were sometimes called) in Scotland, how they differed from Christian nuptials in both concept and form, and how they were still clandestinely practiced by some in Gaelic-speaking communities in the Highlands. And I had recently attended two such ceremonies, the religious weddings of pagan friends who subsequently legalized their marriages before a justice of the peace. The possibility that I might be called upon to officiate a handfasting any time soon, however, had not even crossed my mind.

Ginny was a friend from work. She had been assigned to show me around the library on my first day there, and we had taken an immediate liking to each other. We were about the same age, had a very similar sense of humor, and quickly discovered that we shared the same political views about some of the important causes of the day – the Civil Rights movement, Women’s Liberation, Gay Liberation, and, of course, the Vietnam War. And, certainly not least, we were both diehard Red Sox fans.

Ginny was very blunt-spoken, and readily used four-letter words, a habit for which she had been reprimanded by her boss a few times. There was something very “tomboyish” about her, and I remember her telling me that one of the reasons she had applied for her job was that she wouldn’t have to wear a dress to work every day.

We started having lunch together frequently, and once in a while would go for a couple of beers after work. As we became closer, I eventually felt enough trust to confide in her about my being pagan; she thought it was odd, but interesting, and the subject would occasionally come up in our conversations.

One day, as we got together for drinks after work, we were joined by Betsy, Ginny’s roommate of several years. Ginny and Betsy had become friends in high school and attended the same college, where they originally began living together, and had continued doing so after graduation. It turned out that Ginny had told her roommate about my paganism, and Betsy had become very interested and wanted to meet me to talk about it.

Betsy and I hit it off as quickly as Ginny and I had, and we enjoyed a very pleasant but brief conversation because of time constraints. Ginny suggested that I have dinner with them at their place the following week, so we could talk some more; she mentioned that I’d be in for a treat, since Betsy was a wonderful cook.

That certainly proved to be the case, and as we talked about paganism after dinner in their tidy, plant-filled North Cambridge apartment, the two of them sat on the sofa opposite me. At some point, Ginny matter-of-factly reached over and pulled Betsy close to her, and we continued talking as the two of them snuggled on the couch. A little later, during a lull in the conversation, they casually kissed.

While that might not raise too many eyebrows nowadays, back then it was a very different story – people of the same sex simply didn’t engage in open displays of romantic affection toward each other. At that point in my life, the only times I had ever seen two women kiss on the lips were in a couple of European art films, but never in the flesh. I imagine, in retrospect, that if I had watched two women I didn’t know kissing like that in public, I might have felt somewhat uncomfortable; ­­­for all my avowed support of Gay Liberation in principle, I really didn’t have much actual experience with gay people.

But I knew Betsy and Ginny, and it was very obvious that they shared a very deep bond of love, friendship and affection, so their intimacies didn’t faze me at all – they felt natural, normal, right. If anything, I was glad that they were comfortable enough to be themselves around me.

They came out to me then, and we spent the rest of the evening talking about their lives, their love for and bond with each other, the struggles they’d had to face dealing with family and friends, and those they kept encountering with neighbors and at work.

And we talked about the pain – the pain of rejection and marginalization, of not being accepted for who they were; the pain caused by prejudice, by discrimination, by not being able to marry and live normal lives like most people; the pain of having to deny and hide their beautiful love every day of their lives. Tears flowed, we held each other, and from that moment became a lot closer; over time, I came to experience even more the depth of their love for one another, the strength of their commitment.

Months later, Ginny and Betsy told me that they had decided to get married. They knew there was no way they could legally do so, but they wanted, at the very least, to have some sort of unofficial ceremony, some spiritual affirmation and blessing of their relationship. They approached the minister of one of their family’s churches, but he turned them down. Over the next few months they tried churches of other denominations, only to meet with similar results.

They eventually pinned their hopes on the minister of a local Unitarian-Universalist congregation, someone they’d met at a friend’s wedding; they suspected he was gay, and felt that he, of all people, might be willing to marry them. He turned out, in fact, to be very sympathetic, but also apologetic – he wished he could perform the ceremony, he’d told them, but he was too afraid of losing his job if word ever got out. They were heartbroken.

Then, one day, Betsy showed up at my library at the time I usually went on coffee break, and asked if she could talk to me. She had just remembered my telling her about the pagan handfastings I’d attended, and a light bulb had gone off in her head. Could I – would I – perform a handfasting for them? She took me completely by surprise: the thought had not even occurred to me, as it obviously hadn’t to them until that moment.

After regaining my composure, I had to think a bit – I was just in my early twenties, and had only been on my path for four years, so what she was asking was a bit daunting. I finally told her that I could not remember anything in all my training that raised objections to the marriage of two people who clearly were in love and wanted to ceremonialize their commitment to each other.

And so it was that on a gloriously sunny but chilly spring morning, a small group of us gathered in a secluded part of a large public park in Brookline, surrounded by pines, to celebrate the handfasting of my two friends. It was a bittersweet event: Ginny’s mother was there, as were two of Betsy’s sisters; the rest of their families had adamantly refused to attend. Just a few close friends completed the party, twelve to fifteen people altogether, but what we lacked in size, we more than made up for in spirit.

We blessed them with mead. We blessed them with rose petals. I took the multi-colored cord they had brought and wrapped it around their joined hands. They each tied a knot while saying their vows to one another, looking deeply into each other’s eyes, the smiles on their faces more radiant than the sun. I tied the third knot on behalf of their family and friends, and pronounced them handfasted in marriage.

As the rest of us offered them our good wishes for their life ahead, I remember hoping that, one day, they would be able to renew those vows in a ceremony that would finally legitimize the marriage which took place that day; not because some legal piece of paper would make their relationship any more meaningful or real, but simply because the love which they had for each other deserved to be untainted – in any way at all – from ever being considered second-class.

I lost track of my two friends over the years, but they have been very present in my mind lately, as the U.S. Supreme Court begins to hear arguments regarding two cases that could decide the future of same-sex marriage in this country. Let us hope that the justices will put aside political and religious ideology, and rule in favor of freedom and equality under the law.

The measure of freedom lies in the ability to make choices; and whom we decide to love and share the rest of our lives with, is one of the most important choices we can ever make. In a truly free society, everyone should be able to make that choice equally, with equal rights and responsibilities – whether we choose someone of a different race or religion, or of the same sex; or whether we choose to share our lives with one other person, or with several.

I am proud to live in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriages have been legal for almost a decade, the first state in the Union to take such a step. As I think of Ginny and Betsy, I can’t help but wonder if they stayed together living here throughout all these years.

I’d like to imagine that they did, and that they stood in line at the courthouse in 2004 to be among the first to take advantage of the changed law, to finally legalize their marriage. And I’d like to imagine them now, two older women sitting close to each other on the couch at their home, tightly clasping their ring-bedecked hands while gazing fondly at the thin, multicolored cord hanging over their front door, the cord that we bound together forty years ago.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Shadow and Brightness

Leaf by dancingwolfgrrl
I went to a pagan workshop in another state last month.  In it, we were led in a beautiful guided meditation that brought us to a pool, where we met and interacted with our shadows and our brightness.  Afterwards, the facilitators asked for comments, and every single person, including me, said that they were more comfortable with their shadows.

Shadows, I admit, are one of the things I love about my spiritual traditions.  Throughout the Pagan movement, I see people standing up and acknowledging the power in our anger, our guilt, our sexuality, our sensuality, even our deaths – all of the parts of our lives and our selves that are too often denied or ignored in mainstream Western culture.  It took me years to learn how to be really angry, and I value those lessons deeply.   (A wise man told me that I would have to scream to do this.  I told him I didn’t want to scream, which was true, but he was right.) But my experience at that workshop made me think about what we’re still excluding.

Taking on my shadow side felt to me like courage and power in ways that I knew how to identify.  I thought I have to be brave and face your fear and do it anyway.  Just do it!  is a style of engagement whose virtues are sung from billboards worldwide.  Often, its siren song helps me to avoid thinking of myself as a victim when in fact, I just don’t like any of my choices, and that is no small gift.

But for me, engaging my brightness is a much more difficult endeavor.  My brightness holds my most tender parts: my openness, my willingness, my yielding, my yearning to see and be seen, to love and be loved.  Even to write those words on a page is vulnerable.  To try to feel them as fully as I learned to feel my anger sometimes seems impossible.

And yet, I find that this, too, is courage and power.  Much of the deepest magic I have known comes from being able to stay with a practice or an experience that is uncomfortable, choosing not to set myself against it, but to make space for and breathe into it.  The feeling of discomfort, I’ve learned, is the feeling of possibility shifting inside me, looking for a new shape to settle in.  I always have the option to make a choice and shut down that potential, and I often do so, just to make myself more comfortable, but sometimes I try to make a different choice.  I don’t get up from my chair when the writing gets tough, or throw my camera in the lake after the 500th completely boring photo.  I say “that sounds so hard” to a struggling friend instead of changing the topic, and I mean it.  I go back to my practice, again and again.

This is the challenge brightness offers: how far are you willing to open? To what are you willing to yield?  I dare you.  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Taking Flight

by Oriana Miller

Shhhhhh   Can you hear that?

There’s a keening just outside your door!
Does it make you fear me?
Or do you choose to look upon the pinking autumn sky?

Shhh Can you hear that?

There’s a rhythm on the waters edge!
Does it make you feel alive?
Or do you look for a mossy ledge upon which you may lie?

Shhh Can you hear that?

Such a clicka clacking in the air!
Does it help you to see me?
Or do you trust yourself to take that leap and begin to fly?

Shhhh Can you hear that?

There’s a silence in the herding.
Does it make you feel their strength?
Or do you need to search for me and look into my eye?

Don’t shy back or fear what lies ahead
But step out with the greatest pride.
For you must remember your Twilight story
About how the Reindeer are forever by your side.

(painting by Starwind, photo by Jennette Carter)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Rev. Richard Ravish

by Deirdre Pulgram Arthen
We are saddened by the news that our long-time friend Richard Ravish died in Salem Massachusetts on Saturday morning 9/15 at the age of 59. It is a true loss to many of us and we send our love and condolences to his wife Gypsy, his daughter Asherah and his stepdaughter Kitoto.
Richard and his wife Gypsy (Amy), who Andras and I handfasted many, many years ago, have been leaders in the Salem Wiccan and occult communities for 30 years. Richard was a Wiccan high priest – the Magus of the Temple of Nine Wells ATC, a public congregation in Salem and high priest of the coven of Akhelarre.  He was a Freemason, Thelmic and Enochian magician, a Rosicrucian and a Hermetic initiate. He lived fully out of his spiritual practice and gave generously of himself to many as teacher, priest and chaplain.   
Richard was a designer of magical tools, was proprietor of the store, Nu Aeon, creator of the gallery Cosmic Connection – both in Salem, and together he and Gypsy were the owners of White Light Pentacles/Sacred Spirit Products Inc.
May his spirit fly free. May his family and loved ones find peace, in time.
Blessings to all.
You can find a full obituary and memorial details here at Salem News.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Interview with Andras Arthen on PaganNewswire Collective

by Kate Greenough Richardson

Andras Corban Arthen
Andras has been traveling a great deal lately. His recent travels in Europe were part of the groundwork for a book he is writing, which will lay out and expand upon the material he's been teaching in recent workshops. Andras has been studying the survival of remnants of pre-Christian practices and beliefs which we as Pagans can draw upon and learn from. He has been contacting people he first talked to long before this project was clear in his mind, to get their permission to be included in the book.

At the Sacred Harvest Festival in Minnesota Aug. 6-12, Andras will be presenting a series of workshops. In advance of this festival, Nels Linde of the Pagan newswire Collective - Minnesota Bureau did a very good interview with Andras, which gives a sense of the projects he's working on in between the times we may see him at our own gatherings. It's a wide ranging overview, and ends with a challenge to our own communities to consider how we can articulate our Pagan perspective, and from that stance engage with world issues and with people of other faiths.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Earth Father

by Starwind

We sing of the Mother
The Nourishment
The Beauty
But lately
I am reminded
Of the Earth Father

While the Mother rages
In storms
In Change
In all the ways of nature

It is the Father that reminds us
To be Stable in the midst of change
To be Still in the midst of fury
To protect the gifts
The Beauty
The Nourishment
In times of stormy rages

Shelter from the storm
Bedrock to rest upon
Teller of stories
Wisdom Keeper

Yes, Earth Father speaks to us
A different language
If we are still within

(in memory of Chet Sawyer)

Friday, May 18, 2012


by Katie Birdi
The world is (among other things) a cycle of give and take. We breathe out, the plants breathe in. The plants breathe out, we breathe in. Offering doesn’t have to be about sacrifice. It can be joyful gratitude for the bounty we are surrounded by, a connection with our prayers, a gift of service, and the passion we are compelled to express.

My offerings come in cycles, as a part of my daily practice. I offer something daily, weekly, monthly… and they connect me to different rhythms in my life. Daily, I offer my breath to the plants, keenly aware that their existence, and my own, is locked in an elegant (covalent) bond. Weekly, I offer a bowl of rice to the spirits of the land I live on in respect and gratitude for the Unseen Ones that populate this place with me. Monthly, I donate newborn and preemie hats (knitted with love) to the local hospital. Every other month, I also head downstairs to donate a pint of my blood, a very physical offering, and one of my favorites. I give thanks that I am healthy and strong, watching my blood flow out of my body, and wish with each drop that whoever receives my blood also be healthy and strong. I do my best to stay open and aware, and I give other offerings as they seem appropriate. I do my best to do it with a clean, clear heart, and with respect and honor to the world which is my home and family. One of my favorites is to leave nuts in the holes of trees. I will do this to give thanks, sometimes in supplication, and sometimes just because it feels right to do.

Offerings come in many forms. Gifts of service are particularly humbling to me. I have friends who host gatherings, musical performances, and I have one friend who consistently does the dishes after a group meal. What an amazing, oft overlooked offering! I am touched each time a person holds the door for me, offers water to a dog that needs it, chooses to ride a bike instead of drive a car, or offers to help someone change a flat tire. Recognizing these offerings makes each moment of my life sweeter.

My son turned two in February of this year, and we enjoy frequent walks in the woods. I am so glad to have the opportunity to show him all the wonders that the world so passionately expresses. I was dismayed at first, that my son was most fascinated by the trash he would find in the forest. Running past a snail, a fallen tree, a pine cone and a forest of fiddleheads, he triumphantly points his finger at a smashed plastic cup and its blue straw, sticking up pathetically from the wreckage. “Bwoo! Bwoo!” he says, looking for affirmation that he has correctly identified the color of this amazing thing he’s found in the forest. “Yes, blue” I say, proud that my son is developing in language, awareness, and ability. I’m also dismayed that the forest I’ve brought my son to, hoping to teach him about the sacredness of the Earth, is filled with trash.

It occurs to me that the trash I’m surrounded by is an offering. The people who have left these offerings have shown, with their actions, how much they value the Body of the Earth. What are you offering? Is it the best of who you are and what you have to give? If offerings are a prayer, what are you praying with? What sorts of unspoken things are you saying to the world and your community with your habits? If the only offerings we make are the convenient offerings of coffee cups, wasted food, and misprinted copies, we invite similar energy into our lives. Take a moment. Take a breath. Take only what you need, and give of yourself in return.

I do my best to help my son learn the vital lesson of the Thank You letter. Gratitude is something I wish to nurture in his nature. I do my best to teach him that an Intentional Offering isn’t always a thing. Sometimes it’s money, food or goods, but sometimes it’s an offering of time, skill, or consideration. Sometimes it means inconveniencing ourselves for the good of the World. Carry a reusable water bottle. Enjoy your reusable mug. What do you “throw away” on a daily basis? Where does it really go?

When we go shopping, my son has his own, toddler-sized reusable shopping bag, and his own toddler-sized water bottle. Children learn by imitating adult behavior, and as Mama carries a reusable bottle & shopping bags (offerings of consideration), he needs one of his own. One of his first chores was to help Mama sort the recycling. We talk about reducing, reusing, and recycling every day. The concepts are clearer to him now than the words are when he says them, and I am a Proud Mama…and now our walks in the woods include a bag for the trash we find, which we sort for recycling later.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

a safe home for antelope

by Steve Trombulak

Continuing from previous post the future of my people’s musical traditions, developing a captive breeding program for antelope in Kopeyia might be a way to help retain Ewe musical traditions. “Hey, how hard can it be?”

Since then, the three of us have worked to bring this program to life. After Emmanuel returned to Ghana, he identified some land adjacent to the Center on which the facility could be built and engaged the participation of a friend, a man named Christian, with construction experience to act as general contractor for the facility. Christian lives in the city of Ho, which lies about two hours north of Kopeyia and is in the region where hunters can still find antelope, so he also began the task of developing contacts within the community of hunters there, which we would rely on in the months to come.

Joss and I, for our parts, began to raise the funds necessary to begin the construction as well as to do the necessary research on the antelope themselves, particularly on their breeding behavior and husbandry needs. Joss produced a video about the project, which we used to raise the first round of funding through Kickstarter, a web-based service that allows people with ideas for creative projects to reach out to others who are interested in supporting worthy causes. Many of you reading this now are among the almost 100 people who contributed to the project, called “To Make the Drums Sing.” We raised almost $4,000, which went entirely to support the initial phases of construction. (You can still see the video on the Kickstarter site, although it is now closed to contributions.)

I spent my time trying to learn everything I could about antelope and captive breeding. I found myself at a bit of a disadvantage in this because my professional experience has been largely focused on wildlife in North America, and I don’t have any previous field experience with the species involved. I was confident that domestication and captive breeding of antelope would be possible; not only had others done this successfully with some species, but antelope are in the same group of mammals (the family Bovidae) that include goats, sheep, and cattle, which are perhaps the most successful forms of domestic livestock in the world.

But even though it was possible, it was also possible to do it wrong. I knew that we wouldn’t have the money for long-term experimentation; we needed to start the project with as much information as we possibly could.

Language proved to be a major barrier. Emmanuel and Christian could only express their knowledge of what species we wanted to raise in Ewe. My ability to review the published literature and seek advice from zoo professionals required that I know the species names in English or their Latin genus-species binomials. It took several months of emails and phone calls throughout North America and Africa to find a wildlife biologist with enough fluency in both English and Ewe to help us make the translations. (It later turned out that, even then, the translations were not entirely accurate, but at least I had somewhere to begin.)

In early December, Joss and I finally left for Kopeyia to start the construction of the facility and the collection of the antelope. Bearing the fruits of our fundraising and research efforts, we arrived near the start of the dry season, a short window of time during which construction would not be hampered by rains and the antelope would be (relatively) easy to catch. There was no time to waste.

During the month that we were there and the following month after we had to return to the U.S., the project moved forward out of its purely conceptual phase. Several threads to the project were launched almost simultaneously, each of which was an integral part of the whole.

  • A mason was hired to construct several hundred concrete blocks, approximately 16 x 8 x 4 inches. The blocks were constructed on-site, in Emmanuel’s family compound for extra security, which required the delivery of truck loads of sand, bags of cement, and the corralling of several workman whose services were in great demand throughout the rapidly developing region.
  • The trenches for the facility’s foundation, 100 by 100 feet square, were cleared and excavated to a depth of about 16 inches. Through brick hard clay. By hand. With old and less-than-optimal picks, shovels, and axes. Primarily by the drumming teachers at the Center. Needless to say, this took us several days.
  • The cement blocks were transported from the compound out to the construction site (again, by hand, but this time by the member’s of the local school’s soccer team) and laid to build a foundation three blocks high. Nine-foot lengths of galvanized pipe were then embedded in the foundation to serve as the upright supports for chain link fence that, together with razor wire for security and palm fronds for privacy, created the facility’s walls.
  • A 40-foot deep, 8-inch wide well was dug and outfitted with a pump to provide a constant source of freshwater to the antelope. To ensure the security of the pump, which had to be imported at some expense from Togo, the well was dug inside Emmanuel’s compound. The well was dug (you guessed it) by hand. It took two men six days to auger down through the clay, using connected 10-foot lengths of pipe to drill down to the water table. A trench then had to be dug to pipe the water from the well out to a concrete water hole constructed in the antelope facility.
  • A hunters’ cooperative was formed based in the city of Ho. As you might imagine, hunting is traditionally (a) a solitary activity, taking place within traditional hunting grounds that are exclusive and hereditary for each hunter, and (b) oriented toward the killing of the animals. We were asking the hunters to do something entirely new; we wanted them to capture the antelope alive and in healthy condition. Because this would require the use of a very large net (which we created from a used fishing net, 180 x 12 feet), no single hunter would be able to handle the operation on his own. To be successful, they would need to work together, cooperatively deciding when and where to work, how to manage the net, and how to share the profits.
The facility is now finished, complete with shelters and landscaping. And on February 16th, the first antelope, a baby bushbuck, was introduced into it. Emmanuel named her Dzidefo, which in Ewe means “confidence.” Since then, a few other antelope have joined her, all feeding on cast-off plant material from farm fields, such as cassava leaves and coconut husks, which are known to be favored foods.

The spark that was originally ignited is now a small flame.

Much remains to be done, of course. More antelope need to be added to the program. It has proven harder to capture a critical number of the Maxwell’s duiker, the species that we think will be the easiest to raise and breed. Time still remains in the dry season to meet our target for the year, so efforts at capture continue. We also need to secure on-going funding to hire permanent staff for care and security. In addition, the regional paramount chief, Torgbui Fitsi, has asked us to consider ways to develop an educational program that will link the facility with the public schools in the region.

All of this will require financial support, of course, so to increase our ability to raise funds through both public and private sources, we are now in the process of incorporating “The Ghana Antelope Project” as a non-profit organization with the ultimate goal of securing 501(c)3 tax-exempt status with the IRS.

Once that happens, we’ll see just how far this fire can spread.

Hey, how hard can it be?

Monday, April 9, 2012

the future of my people’s musical traditions

by Steve Trombulak
This is a story about a spark of an idea, and an effort to fan it into a fire of positive change.

Last year, one of Josselyne’s teachers from Ghana, Emmanuel Agbeli, was visiting us in Vermont as part of a larger tour she had arranged for him throughout the eastern U.S. Emmanuel is from the Ewe (pronounced Eh-wey or Eh-vey) tribe that inhabits the Volta Region in southeastern Ghana and across the border into neighboring Togo. He is the director of the Dagbe Cultural and Arts Center in the village of Kopeyia, a center founded by his father, Godwin Agbeli. The center has been host to numerous students and scholars from colleges and universities in both the U.S. and Europe, who come to study the music, dance, song, and creative arts of the Ewe people. It was here that Joss began her in-depth study of Ewe music almost 20 years ago.

One evening over dinner, Joss recounted for me and reminded for Emmanuel a story: While in Ghana, she had asked Emmanuel about arranging for the purchase and shipping of antelope skins so that she could repair some of her ensemble’s drums, and he said that he wasn’t sure what he could provide, as the price and even availability of antelope skins had worsened dramatically in the last few years.

He had then gone on to say something that was deeply disturbing: “I do not know what the future of my people’s musical traditions will be.”

To understand his concern, one needs to understand something about the nature of those traditions.

First, as all of the readers of this blog are probably aware, much of African music has a strong emphasis on percussive rhythm. In the Volta Region of Ghana, music is dominated by drums, bells, and shakers, commonly played in ensembles that express both polyrhythmic (= instruments playing different rhythms at the same time) and polymetric (= instruments playing in different meters, such as 4/4 and 12/8, at the same time) characteristics.

Second, drums are headed by skins of various animals, including antelope, goat, and cow. However, the type of skin used is specific for a type of drum due to its timbre. If a drum is headed with a different type of skin, its sound changes, and it cannot fit in to the ensemble in its traditional way.

Third, the Ewe language is tonal. Similar to Mandarin Chinese, the inflected emphasis of how a word is spoken conveys meaning. Take, for example, the word “emmu.” The same letters in the same order can be used to mean either mosquito or water; it all depends on the inflection used when the word is pronounced.

All of these points come together in an overarching truth: The rhythmic musical traditions of the Ewe people involve drums that quite literally speak the Ewe language, each drum in the ensemble speaking a different sentence, and together telling a story that is part of the Ewe’s cultural heritage. Antelope skins are used because they are strong and, more importantly, they produce a variety of melodic tones. If the drums are not headed with antelope, then the drums cannot speak their parts, and if the drums cannot speak their parts, then the story cannot be told.

And the antelope are disappearing.

Through overhunting for food and habitat loss to accommodate increased agricultural production, antelope throughout West Africa, including Ghana, are in decline. Of the 20 species of antelope known to be part of Ghana’s native fauna, one (the red-fronted gazelle) has been eliminated from the region already, and all of the rest but for two are in decline.

It is no wonder that the price and availability of antelope hides has worsened in recent years. And it is no wonder that Emmanuel said, “I do not know what the future of my people’s musical traditions will be.”

It was then that Joss asked her next question, one that would launch the three of us on a journey that would move us between continents, among multiple cultures, and across disciplines as diverse as ethnomusicology, wildlife biology, and non-profit business management. “Well, if antelope populations are declining in the wild, would it be possible to raise them in captivity?”

Cue the quizzical stares in the direction of our house’s resident wildlife biologist. “Well,” I said, “I have no idea, but I can do some research and see what’s known about that kind of project.”

In fact, it turns out that captive breeding of antelope is a well-established practice. Numerous zoos around the world have successfully bred many different species of antelope, including those that would be of interest to the Ewe people, and a handful of wildlife rehabilitation centers in Africa had done the same. In fact, several years ago, the duikers (pronounced di-ker), a group of small antelope species native to Africa, were identified as a promising form of “micro-livestock,” species whose domestication might improve agricultural productivity and food availability.

In theory, then, developing a captive breeding program for antelope in Kopeyia might be a way to help retain Ewe musical traditions. We could capture a handful of antelope in the wild and use them to start a breeding colony in a facility where they could be fed and cared for. Their offspring could provide hides for the cultural center and meat for the local villagers in an on-going basis, all without putting undo pressure on the populations in the wild. All we would have to do is build the facility, find a way to get hunters to capture the initial animals for the colony and deliver them to us alive, hire staff to provide care and feeding for the animals, develop a protocol to ensure their health and promote their reproduction, and raise the funds to do it all on an on-going basis.

As Joss and I are so fond of saying when presented with an interesting idea, “Hey, how hard can it be?”

[Next: Bringing this project to life.]

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Fairy Tale

by Morwen Two Feathers
(photo by Cherrie Corrie)
As soon as I am among the trees I feel at home. The patch of woods behind our house is just large and thick enough to shield me from all view of the surrounding houses. Only the distant sounds of children playing hint that I am not completely alone in the wilderness. I make the rounds, checking to see if any of my fairy houses are occupied. The good smell of clean dirt greets my nose as I carefully clear away the leaves and pine needles that have fallen onto the furniture I constructed of sticks and bark. The skunk cabbages whose tiny shoots I nibbled on just a few weeks ago have unfurled into broad stinky leaves as big as my head. I suspect the fairies are hiding there among the smelly plants, where they know I will not search. I continue my rounds, cleaning up the messes that Mother Nature has made, moving dead tree limbs off the path, brushing pine needles off the boulders, making my way back to the bramble-patch where I will reward myself with the raspberries that are probably ripe by now.

Like all children, I know the woods are alive. Not just the birds and squirrels and the myriad of insects that crawl and hop and fly in all their fascinating glory, but the woods itself. The trees have personalities, and the rocks appreciate tending. And most of all, there are the fairies. I never imagined them as pretty little girls with wings. By the time I ever saw any pictures like that I’d already had my own first-hand experience with fairies and I knew they aren’t like that. Not that I could tell you what they do look like. They are more of a feeling, really. Much older than those little sprites in the pictures, and a little scary even, because of how much they know everything. They know everything because they are part of everything.

The first time I felt the fairies was in this very same woods, but I’ve felt them lots of times since then. Sometimes you can even feel them in the city. It’s that feeling that happens when you are in certain places and you get a tingle that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Even if there aren’t any people around you just know someone is watching you. I know they can see what I do and it makes me a little more careful.

One time I was playing with my friends in the stream down at the end of the road. Just past the cul de sac there’s a gully where the creek cuts left to right, coming out of a culvert a little ways upstream and winding through mud and scrub into a field way down behind the houses. Across the stream the sandy bank rises steeply to forest. Now it’s summer and there’s hardly a trickle in the ditch, but back then it was spring, there was real flowing water thigh-high in places, and we were on an adventure to see how far downstream we could wade. I was holding my sneakers up high over my head as my bare feet picked my way from rock to rock, feeling the current caress my calves and knees. Behind me I could hear my friends chattering about school. I was in the lead, and was coming to the place that was as far as we had ever been. I looked up at the sun through the trees to see how much time we had, and that’s when I felt it. Between my thighs, the streaming water was suddenly solid, a long black sinuous shape sliding its entire length along my leg as it rode the current down. I gasped, and took a breath to scream when it turned aside into a marshy eddy on the side of the creek, lifted its head and looked right in my eyes. Everything stopped and the hairs on the back of my neck stood straight up. Right then I knew that snake had a soul, just like me.

I could feel the fairies watching me. It was like every leaf and blade of grass and even the clouds were paying attention to see what I would do. I swallowed my scream because I didn’t want them to think I was afraid, or worse, mad at the snake. The moment stretched, my gaze locked with the being in the water. As my friends came splashing up behind me, the snake slid back into the water and disappeared downstream. Time started again. I didn’t tell them what happened, because you just don’t talk out loud about some things.

Sometimes when I am in bed at night, I get a feeling of falling straight up out of my bed and through the ceiling of my room, up past the trees and clouds and even the stars, all the way up into space, into the middle of the big Nothing. Then I see how huge the world is, and how tiny and insignificant I am compared to everything. It makes my stomach jump around just to think about it. When I was smaller I couldn’t make the feeling go away by myself and I had to go snuggle with my mom to make it stop. Now that I’m bigger, I can manage to stay in my bed if I remember to breathe. It’s not easy to breathe when your heart is pounding and your stomach wants to turn your whole body inside out, but it helps when I remind myself about the fairies. Even though they are older than old and part of the hugeness of everything, they notice me so I must mean something.

When I was a very little girl playing outside with my friends, I always thought they felt the fairies too, even though we never talked about it. I just assumed everyone knew they were there. But now we’re getting older and I’m not so sure. My friends don’t want to hang out in the woods anymore, and they would rather talk about boys than listen to birds. So I come to the woods by myself now, to sit on this rock and eat raspberries and listen to the voices of the trees in the wind. I don’t think the fairies are something to grow out of, in fact the older I get, the more important I realize they are. The fairies are the spirits of all there is, and when I listen to them I learn how to treat the world. If other people don’t understand that, then it’s even more urgent that I do. I know my friends think I’m a little weird, and my parents worry that I spend so much time by myself in the woods. But I don’t care. The raspberries are delicious, the chipmunks are amusing, and the trees tell me their secrets in long, whispering verses. And when I remember that snake looking me in the eye I know it is a part of me, just like everything else on this wild and boisterous planet. I feel the fairies smile when I think that. Popping another raspberry into my mouth, I smile back.

[This was originally published in Gaian Voices. Morwen Two Feathers grew up in the Connecticut River valley in Northern CT. Now she lives in the Assabet River watershed in Concord, MA, where she has been known to develop personal relationships with rocks and trees.]

Monday, January 16, 2012

The EarthSpirit Grove

by Kate Greenough Richardson
The EarthSpirit Grove, click for larger image

This year I found myself with enough free time to be able to volunteer to help out in the EarthSpirit office on a weekly basis, which has given me a good look at all the projects and efforts this organization is leading and supporting. One week, Deirdre asked me to help think about a way to visually represent EarthSpirit’s work and its connections within our own community and out to the rest of the world. She had the idea of using something that was more like the living world we connect with, than like an organizational chart. Specifically, something that involved trees.

We listed out all of the projects and connections we could think of, and spent some time sketching on big paper, moving pieces around to see how they grouped together. In the end we came up with the outline for the drawing of the “EarthSpirit Grove” which now hangs in the office, and which was also reproduced in the latest annual newsletter.

In the center is the “Tree of Ground”, the physical home of the organization. This tree represents all the things a healthy organization needs in order to keep going and do the work of its mission. Here is the care of the physical home of EarthSpirit at Glenwood --the sacred sites which need maintenance and care, the community building in the process of upgrading so it can become a more functional and welcoming home for meetings, workshops and retreats. It includes also the office with its computers and phones, and all the routine administrative functions that any non profit has to attend to in order to keep going.

On one side is the “Body Tree”. Here are all the efforts and activities that support and nourish the home community of EarthSpirit. This includes the sort of pastoral care that the elders and adepts among us may do, the individual counseling and readings that help others meet challenging situations and decisions. It also includes the celebrations that bring us together as a community; seasonal rituals both on smaller less formal scale at Glenwood and elsewhere, and more formal open public rituals. And it also includes our major annual gatherings: Feast of Lights, Rites of Spring, and Twilight Covening. This is the tree that feeds our spiritual practices and our sense of community. Here are the models and teachers and co-practitioners that help us find and pursue our path; this is where we find and enliven our spiritual community.

On the other side is the “Tree of Song”, the tree that reaches out in to the world beyond the EarthSpirit community, to add our voice to the chorus so we may be able to bring the insights we gain from our practices and beliefs to the great effort of healing the world. This includes cultural offerings like MotherTongue, EarthSpirit’s own ritual performance group, as well as support of other pagan performers who bring their perspective out to wider audiences. It also includes outreach in writing-- from the EarthSpirit Voices blog to books and articles. One segment of this tree holds the ‘gateways’--places that hold information about EarthSpirit by which people can enter and learn about us. This covers the websites and blog.

On a larger scale, the Tree of Song holds our interfaith work and political activism, both on a formal and informal basis. EarthSpirit supports efforts to have a visible pagan presence in political actions related to concerns we particularly share. Primarily these include environmental concerns, peace work, and the rights of indigenous peoples. We have been instrumental in ensuring that pagans have an active presence and voice in the Parliament of the Worlds Religions, an international interfaith organization which holds regular conventions every 5 years. A group of our youngsters are also involved in Peace Jam, a project that connects kids with Nobel laureates to inspire their sense of responsibility and activism.

The Body Tree is our selves, and the paths and practices that bring us and hold us together as a living community. It’s how we take care of ourselves and each other. The Tree of Song is how we speak of what we know to the greater world, and how we use our skills and strengths to heal the wounds of the world. And the Ground Tree is the structure that makes this all possible in the world, so it’s not just scattered dreaming. Each tree connects with the others, each is a vital part of what EarthSpirit is in the world.

All the trees have roots in our spiritual practice, which is what makes for our distinct perspective. It informs the work we do in the world, and sets the tone and flavor for our community gatherings and rituals. The principles Andras has codified in his Anamanta teachings are the underpinnings of all our work. At the root of the Ground tree, you’ll see the egg representing the Glainn Sidhr order from which the initial inspiration for EarthSpirit arose.

In creating this representation for EarthSpirit’s work, Deirdre hoped it would provide a way for people to get a sense of all the things EarthSpirit is involved in. It gives us a way to pay attention to the whole, but also to pay attention to each tree and branch, to see what may need to be fed or supported, and what may need to be pruned or trimmed back. And also, my personal hope is that this mode of representation shares the sense of vitality and potential that has fed me as I’ve engaged in the work of EarthSpirit.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Thank you all for helping

by Deirdre Pulgram Arthen

It has been another busy year for EarthSpirit, as we have consolidated and expanded our important work in all branches of activity -- thanks, in large part, to many dedicated community members who have made contributions of their time, expertise, goods and funds to support the work of the organization. We are very grateful; we could not do it all without you.

In over thirty years of existence, EarthSpirit has been able to grow into one of the largest pagan organizations in the US, supporting its members with programs and actively engaging in the world on many levels to create change. We’ve done a lot, and we look forward to doing more.

One of the original intentions of EarthSpirit was to build spiritual community through connections. Over the years this has always meant local and regional celebrations and gatherings, publications, performances and classes. By offering programs and leading rituals for other organizations, we build relationships regionally and around the country. Increasingly, EarthSpirit has reached out to its international members to assist in developing community in Europe and Central and South America. We hope to further develop and deepen these efforts in the coming year.

Our web site,, continues to be an entry-point for newcomers as well as a resource for long-time members. Our recent addition of EarthSpirit Voices ( has brought sharing and discussion of spiritual practice into our presence on the Web. We look forward to expanding and improving both of these important communication vehicles in the near future.

In the early 1980s we realized that pagans, given the opportunity, could make meaningful contributions to the interfaith dialogues that were developing both nationally and globally, and that we could also benefit greatly from participation in such forums. Since that time, EarthSpirit has played a major role in helping paganism attain a much greater level of credibility and respect within the interreligious movement. The work that EarthSpirit director, Andras Corban Arthen, has been doing through his service on the board of trustees of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions (CPWR) has been growing. Last November, Andras was sent by the CPWR to Guadalajara, Mexico, as part of the site committee which evaluated that city’s bid to host the 2014 Parliament. While there, he also had the opportunity to meet with many local pagans as well as several indigenous leaders.

In February, Andras went to Chicago to help choose the host city for the 2014 Parliament, which will be Brussels, Belgium. In early May, he was sent back to Guadalajara along with CPWR executive director Dirk Ficca to explore ways to maintain a working relationship with the local group that organized that city’s bid, including a collaboration to develop an interreligious initiative throughout Latin America. As a result of that trip, Andras was asked to serve as the CPWR’s liaison with the Guadalajara group. In addition, Andras was elected again to the CPWR’s executive committee, and was asked to oversee the Parliament’s Ambassadors program, which coordinates several hundred Parliament supporters from all over the world.

The ‘Indians’ of Old Europe, the presentation that Andras has been offering in recent years which places the surviving pagan traditions in the context of Indigenous European spirituality, has been receiving a great deal of favorable attention throughout the interfaith movement, with lots of people telling him how it’s helped them to see paganism in a different light and to take it much more seriously. As a result, he has been receiving many invitations to speak at interfaith and academic events in the U.S. and abroad, including two next year in India and Denmark. Unfortunately, those invitations rarely cover all of the expenses involved, so the only way he is able to attend is through the support and generosity of our community.

EarthSpirit has been committed to young people since the outset. Without engaging and including youth, any community becomes unsustainable. Our mentoring programs, Rites of Passage ceremonies and ongoing activities such as EarthSpirit PeaceJam help those growing up within our community learn from the experience of elders while finding their own voices and means of expression. In the coming year we look forward to continuing and expanding our support for these programs.

In 2011, thanks to our generous donors, we have replaced our sluggish and undependable office computers with new Dells that actually work reliably. What a difference it makes for our office volunteers! We have also begun work to completely revamp our database system using expert volunteers to develop and create a configuration that will greatly improve our ability to stay connected with members across the US and around the world.

As you might imagine, all of this work, in so many areas, requires a significant amount of money to sustain it. Despite the struggling economy over the past few years, our community has been very generous. We have consistently received contributions large and small -- both in the mail and at the auction at Rites of Spring. We appreciate every single one. Please consider increasing your donation to EarthSpirit this year to help us move quickly toward our goals.

We count on you to be a part of the web that holds us together on so many levels. Thank you all for helping EarthSpirit to continue moving forward!

Deirdre Pulgram Arthen, Executive Director

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Winter Court

by Starwind
Gently they move
Silent under star light
Drawing what nourishment they can
From moss, lichen, grass, leaf
Their hooves breaking the frozen snow

Gently they lift their heads
Watching me pass
Barely curious
But obviously concerned

I feel their gentle eyes
I sense their Knowing
The brightness of their spirits
Their sadness that I am sheathed in metal
Instead of running with them

How I wish it was we
Who could remember
To be gentle

How to move
Silent under star light
Drawing what nourishment there is
A gift to us
A gift from Her

In what manner do we Honor
Both Gift and Giver.

Choose wisely.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Journey, Story

by Alison Mee
(photo by Sarah Eaton)
I have my story and I realize, indeed, we each come with our own stories. Sometimes, it is the time for the sharing of stories. But this is not that time. This is the time to look in each others' faces and acknowledge and nod and slip quietly together into the whispering hush of trees, the soft openness of water, the deep slow being of stone.

For thousands of years, our ancestors have used the drum to guide us in and out of shamanic journey. Feeling the drum entwine with the pulse of my blood and the sense of this air against this skin, wraps me in an agreement. I will journey, she will drum. Wherever I go, the drum will follow; wherever I go, I will bring the drum. I will not leave the drum and the drum will not leave me, and however far I journey I will return to the drum. I will allow it to call me home to my tribe when my wandering is done. It is an ancient and sacred trust.

With the drum to keep me safe, I drape my body over the rocks by the water. I am the person in the body on the rock in the water. I am the body on the rock in the water. I am the rock in the water. I am the water, lapping rhythmically against the rock, against the body. I am the bright warm star beaming against the skin. I am but the motion and the rhythm of the lapping. The pattern. The relationship of all these things.

I follow one molecule of water as it exits the lake with the lap, lap, lap, lap, rhythm, to lay on my skin for a moment and then rise up in the warmth of the sun. I fly swirling without destination, without focus or care. No concerns, no attachments, floating freely on the breeze. Time and thought recede. Colors wash away and I am without sight. There is only motion and a relaxed dance with the sky around me, as I rise and fall in response to a thousand different rhythms of connection.

(I am unaware of the passage of time and I am without worded thought.)

Awareness reawakens in the knowing that there is something in the distance calling to me. Don't go further, it says. Don't get lost. Return. Return. Return. Return. It is the drum.

My first conscious act is to resist this return. For several breaths, perhaps, I am in dual awareness. I am both this one molecule of water, on a breeze high above the lake, and I am the woman on the land dipped into the lake's edge. I am aware of the reality that from another perspective, all my story is mostly irrelevant. It's just a story. It's just the way humans are. Daughter? Parent? What does that matter, when I am floating free in an eternal rhythm of change, from liquid to gas, back and again...? What of one particular human existence being a bit shorter than had been hoped? What of hope? It's all as distant to me as the lake would be, diagrammed in a textbook, viewed from my human perspective.

Beckoned gently but firmly by the drum, I slip back into my skin, allowing my bones and blood and eyes to close in on me, the air moving through my throat as it does every moment of every day for years upon years. And as my body comes over me, so, shockingly, as plunging into an icy lake, comes grief, and love, and sorrow... comes knowledge, relationship, and sweet, sweet attachment. I am not a water molecule. I am a huge complex relationship of water molecules in living community with metal and stone and oils and bacteria and all the parts of me. Like a wave flowing gently across an ocean until it hits the shore, I crash into being human again, with tremendous emotion and care for not only all beings of the earth, but for some beings in particular, for no reason other than our blessed human connections.

My story matters. It matters to me. And it should. The shift in perspective serves to allow me to return and feel everything with raw edges, like a child again. I am in the love and the sorrow long before I search around in the recesses of my brain where I keep rational thought, where I use logic, reason and stoic resolve to tell myself everything is OK, to frame my story in some way that is easier to sit with, but diminishes it in the process.

By allowing myself the ecstasy of becoming other, I force myself to seek out my self and when I find me, I embody me, more fully than I had before my journey. I shake off denial and pity to find acceptance and compassion. I am grateful for my form of being, being human. Knowledge that my weeping, laughing, desiring, dreaming, dancing, loving, longing, raging emotions are simply my own perspective, makes them truly all the more precious. I am right where I am supposed to be.

[Editor's note: Thanks to Alison and Dick for sharing their experience as members of the Kodiak Clan this year at Twilight Covening and to Starwind for encouraging them. Do these experiences evoke feelings you would like to share, similar experiences or questions? If so, please contribute your comments.]