Sunday, May 15, 2011

Practicing Paganism

by Morwen Two Feathers
Like a lot of other people, I got laid off during this last recession. When it came it was a blow, though I realized later I could have see it coming if I was looking. It was autumn, just past Equinox, time to slow down, turn inward, and that I did. Looking back, I saw that I had been seriously out of synch for a couple of years. My creativity had slowed to a crawl, and even in the warm growing season I’d felt curiously stagnant. Time for attunement.

When I first began to walk the pagan path more than 30 years ago, I was driven by a desire to connect with the sacredness I’d always felt in the woods. Although my studies in psychology, sociology and anthropology gave me a deep appreciation for the power of symbol, story, metaphor, and community ritual, I was not so interested in Deity or ceremonial magic. My investigations led me to a series of practices that were designed to align my life’s energy to the systemic cycles of the earth, moon, and sun. I found that careful attention and an intention to align myself with the cycles of the seasons and the moon, along with the life cycles of the animals and plants in my environment, helped me keep my life in perspective. And when I was attuned to the natural world in this way, the Universe delivered an endless stream of good fortune and synchronicity into my lap. I could not articulate any scientifically acceptable reason for this, but it worked out that way nonetheless.

It is easy to fall out of practice under stress, and the last couple of years have been filled with stresses including aging parents, a child hitting the teenage years, a changing primary relationship, and conflicts at work, not to mention my own dance with menopause. I just felt I didn’t have time or energy to stick with my daily meditations and attunements. As my practice slipped, though, my beliefs didn’t. I thought I was just as connected as always, until I was shocked awake by a layoff notice. And even then it took a winter of forced hibernation to make me realize just how disconnected I had become.

Nearly all the choices I make in my life are grounded in my pagan beliefs, including my volunteer work on sustainability in my town as well as my choice to seek work in the nonprofit sector, my consumption habits, my parenting, and more. Yet being forced to stop and take stock has made me realize that for me paganism is more a practice than a set of beliefs. And an interesting thing happened when I began practicing attunement again. Spring Equinox came, and I could feel the sap rising in the trees and in my own soul. And after months of sending out resumes with nary a peep in response, a week after Equinox I was contacted and asked to apply for three different jobs in one day. As I write this it’s still in process and I’m not sure where I’ll end up. But it’s good to feel the energy moving again, and to know that practice, not belief, is the key.

Attunement Practice for Connecting with Food:

With your plate of food in front of you, come to inner stillness. Meditate on the source of each ingredient in your meal. Where was it grown? How did it get to your table? Be aware that all food comes from the Earth, and ultimately from the Sun, the source of all energy on our planet. Be thankful for all the human hands that brought the food from its origins to your plate.
“Mother Earth, bless this food.
Fruit of your body, fruit of your womb.”
Enjoy your meal mindfully. Over time you may find your choices of what to eat shift. Listen to your inner wisdom.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Deep Peace: Ten Years of Inspiration

by Susan Curewitz Arthen

"Peace in my heart
Peace between our hearts
Peace at the heart of the world"*

I am Susan, mother of Elizabeth, godmother of Isobel, daughter of Mary, grand-daughter of Sarah and Ann and I have spent the last ten Mother's Day holidays celebrating with a Deep Peace ritual at the EarthSpirit Peace Cairn in Western Massachusetts.

In 2001 I was inspired to reclaim the origin of Mother's Day after listening to a radio broadcast on NPR (National Public Radio). This holiday was the creation of Julia Ward Howe, abolitionist, feminist and author of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, who issued a Mother's Day Proclamation in 1870 (below). She was outraged at the Franco-Prussian war, and felt that women needed to be called to action. Julia believed that if all mothers had a day off from their labors, they would find a way to make peace happen in the world. Although the holiday was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson, it has clearly turned into something quite different from her vision. Hallmark cards, breakfast in bed and a new toaster oven replaced a radical call to change the world.

My personal feelings about Mother's Day have been quite mixed. The holiday has always felt contrived to me; a day to honor those who Mother sounds wonderful, but there are the other 364 days where the reality of mothering is dismissed and undervalued and when, as a mother, I felt dismissed and undervalued as well. When I learned of the original intent of the holiday, I felt an immediate and urgent need to bring it to light within my own community, to share the passion and inspiration it fed in me. And all women, whether or not they have given birth, are welcome to Deep Peace. When Julia Ward Howe was alive, most women were mothers and that is not the case today.

My inspiration deepened after a workshop that Deirdre Pulgram-Arthen and I did at Rites of Spring, also in 2000, about the EarthSpirit Peace Cairn. She said, "Before we can make peace happen in the world, we need to find and commit to peace in our lives." And so, Deep Peace was born. Every Mother's Day, a group of women meet at the Peace Cairn; we share our female lineage, and open our hearts to peace with chant and movement. Then we each go off for some time for personal reflection. Some clear the ground around the Cairn, some sit by the stream or at the point where two streams join, and all of us seek what we want to honor in the coming year to bring peace into our lives. We often make a talisman to remind us of the commitment, and when we gather again by the Cairn we speak our commitments and also offer the story of any stones we may be adding to the mound. The richness of what is shared there often enriches me as much as any personal conclusions that I have come to, and I am amazed, honored and grateful at the willingness of the women to be so open.

Having the Peace Cairn as the location for the ritual was serendipitous. Or maybe not. The Cairn was offered as EarthSpirit's gift to the 1999 Council for the Parliament of the World's Religions in answer to the challenge offered there --- what were we going to do when the Parliament was over, what actions were we going to take in the world? Since then, the Cairn has grown from just a few stones to a mound; a Peace Pole was donated several years later with the words "May peace prevail on Earth" in four languages, one on each side. They are English, Gaelic, a Native American language and Pawprints, honoring those whose spirits dwell here. Visitors to the EarthSpirit Center are encouraged to bring stones for the Cairn: stones from their own land, stones from their travels. The stones that are brought to the Cairn create a web of connection to the places they have come from, and are blessed and nourished in many ways. The Deep Peace ritual is one way of sending our intentions back out through that web and into the world.

Some years the ritual is small --- a handful of women --- and some years it is bigger. The last few years, we have deepened the event by including Stand for Peace, sponsored by Julia's Voice, a group of "mothers and others" also working to "Take Back Mother's Day and honor Julia Ward Howe", and thus expanding the energy going out through that web as well.

One notable year, we had several pairs of mothers and daughters and I was moved to tears when I asked Lucia, Deirdre's mother and the oldest woman present, to start the lineage naming. It fed a need for multi-generational sharing that I did not know I contained. Every year brings a challenge, an answer, no small amount of camaraderie and joy, and, of course, delicious food sharing at the end.

My wish for this year is that others also begin to create Deep Peace moments wherever they are on Mother's Day in addition to any traditional celebrations; take some time for yourself, connect to the Deep Peace ritual, connect to the Stand for Peace event, open to what will bring you peace in the coming year, and feel the strength of our power and intent. "Arise, the women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts…"

Mother's Day Proclamation, by Julia Ward Howe, 1870
Arise, the women of this day!
Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of fears!
Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies.
Our husbands shall not come to us reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."
From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says, "Disarm, disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice!" Blood does not wipe out dishonor nor violence indicate possession. As great men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.

Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, and each bearing after her own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And at the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

*(Deep Peace chant, at top, © Copper Fox)