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Article ID: 11224
Age Group: Adult
Posted: October 8th. 2006
Southeast Women's Herbal Conference
by Diotima Mantineia
"This is why I practice an Earth religion" I thought, fleetingly, as I walked towards the lake, feeling remarkably joyful and connected with the beauty around me. Starhawk had sent 100 or so well-grounded women off to spend a few minutes communing individually with the Earth during her workshop at a breathtakingly lovely campground in Western North Carolina, and I ended up sitting on a rock, with my back against a tree, watching the light play on the water of the lake. Starhawk's workshop on The Earth Path opened the Southeast Women's Herbal Conference for me, and though the women in the workshop were from varying spiritual paths, Starhawk's ritual and experiential honoring of the Earth, the Elements and the Web of Life, while accessible to all, was nonetheless clearly based in her Pagan spiritual path.
The Conference was the second annual, held near my home in the Western North Carolina mountains. I love my adopted home with a deep and fierce love, and the camp at which the Conference was held epitomized for me the beauty and energy of the region. With the added energy of over 400 women joining together to connect with the plants, the Earth, and to hone their healing skills, I knew a deeply transformative weekend was in the cards.
As Starhawk's drumming drew us all back to the circle for more discussion, ritual and sharing about living consciously and in communion with the Earth, I felt a moment of deep gratitude for this place and these women who had come together here in support of the Earth and each other.
While I was in Starhawk's workshop, my friend Byron Ballard was out on an herb walk with Corinna Wood, the director and founder of the Conference, and the proprietor of Red Moon Herbs (www.redmoonherbs.com). Byron, a Witch whose ancestral roots go deep in these mountains, and who grew up with herbs as her primary medicine cabinet, said she had learned more from Corinna in an hour than she had from anyone else in years. This came as no surprise to me, as I had taken workshops with Corinna previously, and her knowledge of plants and herbal medicine is indeed phenomenal.
The mission of the SEWHC is to help women to deepen their connection with the Earth, the plants, each other, and their own bodies. To this end there were 5 or 6 workshop tracks going at once, which included a variety of herb walks, and workshops such as The Wise Woman Tradition, Permaculture, Elixirs and Cordials, Plant Spirit Art, Granny Healers of Latin America, Southern Appalachian Folk Medicine, Plants as Elders, Death and Dying, and Birth as an Altered State.
I took a couple of Herb Walks with Suki Roth (www.herbhaven.com), and found that walking was not really necessary. Suki could have spoken for hours just on the plants we found in a small circle, and my knowledge of our local plants was considerably enriched by her extensive knowledge and shared experience.
The meals were cooked by women volunteers working from the Nourishing Traditions book by Sally Fallon. The food was truly incredible -- even if the programs hadn't been fabulous, I'd go back next year just for the food!
The main ritual was led by Starhawk, and while it was carefully crafted to work for women of many differing spiritual traditions, it still had a distinctly Pagan flavor, with invocations to the Four Elements, and much drumming and dancing (and hootin' and hollerin'!) around a fire, as well as quiet meditation on the Equinox. This was followed by a procession to a field for a spiral dance. The comments I heard later from women who had never experienced this kind of ritual before were quite positive and usually contained the word "Wow!"
I have always admired Starhawk, both for her writings and as someone who walks her talk, so I was glad to finally meet her. I found that in person she carries herself with a quiet authority, but not even a hint of "I'm a famous author" energy. This was nowhere more apparent than in the "Women Take Action" talk she gave on Sunday, where she spoke eloquently of the work she has been involved in during the aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans and discussed the necessity of both the kind of bottom-up organizing she has always advocated and the need for responsive governmental authorities when dealing with large-scale disasters of this sort. She gave advice on how to handle various situations one might encounter as an activist, and also spoke about how being an activist and facilitating change can take a variety of different forms, from large protests to helping build sustainable systems within one's community. Her website, www.starhawk.org contains a wealth of resources for those who are asking "What can I do?"
At the closing circle I felt a bit sad that it was over so quickly, but exhilarated to have met and interacted with so many women who are working closely with the Earth to heal Her and to heal ourselves, our families and our children. There will almost certainly be a third annual SEWHC next year, and if you are a Pagan woman looking for a deep, magical, Earth connecting experience, I can highly recommend it!
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