My Journey to Gaia's Womb
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Article ID: 8620
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 3,843
Times Read: 9,467
Posted: July 25th. 2004
Times Viewed: 9,467
Location: Princeton, IL
Event Date(s): June 3rd to June 8th, 2004
(written by Shekhinah Mountainwater) My life has been a journey with the Muse. I have experienced Her as my inspiration, a Goddess-Source of ecstatic vision, discovery of beauty, awakening to truth, the rush to the guitar or the typewriter to capture Her when She appears...the soar of song making me feel joyfully sung...the exquisite dance of words that become poems...the astonishing birth of an image on a page that becomes a tarot card or altar icon...the mythic revelation that becomes transforming ceremony...the connections She makes through this astonishment and soaring to my sisters' Muses. So that ultimately our Musings become circles of shared inspiration, shared power, shared ecstasy.
I have dedicated my life to Her. Like Sappho and Isadora I have lived in devotion to this Goddess of many names. She is also Aphrodite, the liminal passions of sacred love (Summer Solstice). She is the Faery Queen, the darksome deeps of magic (Autumn Equinox). To celebrate Her Muse aspect annually, I have declared February 1st and 2nd as Her holiday, giving this time a variation on Her name, Musea (mu-ZAY-uh). In recent years I have felt a strong pull to the Celtic Goddess Brigid, She Who is widely celebrated as Muse at this season. I sense deep correlations here, between the Season, the Goddesses, and the Mystery.
It isn't always easy to live in full-time service to the Muse. Our society does not necessarily encourage this, and most sisters are wounded in this aspect of our spirits. Some of us, like myself, have fought long and hard to stay on Her path. Some of us have been the lucky ones who still bloom with Her flowers of inspiration, who still manage to find the time and the energy to devote to our creativity. Many more have been forced by our lives and the responsibilities of our lives to give up our creativity, or "postpone" it indefinitely. I pray often to my Muse for the strength, energy and discipline to keep Her alive in me despite the resistance.
Yet I have experienced so many magical times when She came through loud and clear, when Her powers flowed for all to see and feel and hear. Sometimes She will break through even the most solid of patriarchal restrictions, and show up in the most unexpected fields - as She has with the advent of Harry Potter or the appearance of genius street musicians. And sometimes She will show up in the most usual settings...a concert hall or theatre or film. But She can always show up in a circle of loving sisters, when we "hear each other into being," as Sonia Johnson says...when we honor and adore each and every creative voice. Such circles are rare. I have worked to help create many of them, but have long wished there were more priestesses out there who understood.
And so it was cosmically synchronous that Angie Buchanan of Gaia's Womb in the Chicago Illinois area called to invite me to a weekend women's gathering called Becoming the Muse. I have just returned home from this amazing and astonishing experience, now searching for words to describe what we shared...
Interestingly, powerful magical and transformative events were happening that same weekend around the planet and around the universe. Venus has been doing her dance with the sun, closer to Mother Earth than She has been in hundreds of years. There was a shift in consciousness that weekend that was channeled through Becoming the Muse, and through countless other huge and tiny gatherings around the globe. Gay Pride was happening in Santa Cruz, my hometown. Reclaiming the Commons has been happening in several places around the US. Thousands of folks at home have been supporting the Reclaiming efforts with magical activism. Protestors have been gathering on Georgia Sea Island to demonstrate human concerns in the face of military might and administrative governmental corruption. The death of Ronald Reagan marked the end of an era and the beginning of the new. It feels to me like something opened in our energy field and in our collective consciousness...an archetypal awakening has occurred. Her influence is everywhere.
Becoming the Muse was brainstormed and dreamed up by Angie and her friend Teresa, supported and manifested with the help of many sisters in the Gaia's Womb community. Everything in the weekend was framed by these brilliant and profound women to invite and nurture the creative expression of each woman there.
It was a great honor to be asked to bring my songs and chants to this event, and as I discovered, a transformative epiphany for me as much as for the sisters who shared that space with me. The weekend was more than just have lunch, go to a workshop. Each sister was encouraged to "be still within" and access her inner Muse; each was taken on a rite of passage to affirm and uncover her own deep powers of creativity and genius. Heart connections and open communication were constant throughout, and the feeling of caring community enfolded us all.
Angie Buchanan, who called and hosted me for the weekend, is amazing to me. She is a priestess, administrator, activist, hypnotherapist, massage practitioner, ex-cop, community-building Pagan sister, with a heart as big and warm as Gaia, who supports women's voices and creativity. Angie has been speaking extensively at interfaith groups nationally, and is now on her way to the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions gathering in Barcelona Spain, the biggest interfaith conference in the world. Pagans and Wiccans have participated in Parliament events since 1993. However, Angie is the first Pagan to have ever been elected to serve on the Board of Trustees for the organization. She is a changer right on the nerve button of social change, a wonderful bridge between folks of the mainstream world and pioneer-types like myself. She is helping to make Goddess-awareness and woman-positive attitudes a part of everyday life.
On the drive home from the airport the magic began. Angie explained her concept for the Saturday night ritual, to be held in the labyrinth. She said she wanted me to be the Muse at the center, holding up a mirror to each woman as she arrived. I was delighted because I happen to have a chant and a bit of ceremony that coincides beautifully with Angie's vision:
I met this Crone with an apple and a mirror I described circles I'd led in the past in which we would be chanting the above words while I went round to each woman holding up a mirror and inviting them to take a bite of apple...
She said she'd shake those blues for me
She said take these with you when you get to the crossroads
Taste the wisdom and yourself you will see,
Taste the wisdom and yourself you will see...
"I'm getting chills," said Angie, driving. We decided to use the last part of the chant, and Angie declared that she would have to get some apples. I love when synchronicities happen! Then I remembered my labyrinth chant:
Into the labyrinth we are led Angie adopted this chant immediately. She asked me to teach it during the afternoon workshop, so that it would be familiar to the sisters for the ritual that night. Without revealing to them that they would be using it for this, or what else was planned for them. Yes! I understand so well the element of surprise in ritual initiations - again that flash of recognition, a sister who frames ritual in ways so similar to my own.
Ariadne give us the Thread
Seven twists and seven turns
To the center my heart yearns
Fire water earth and air
Open your heart and you'll be there...
The magic continued with a midnight trip to the movies, to see the showing of the new Harry Potter film, along with a big group of Angie's friends. What fun! I loved the film but that is a topic for another place and time. It was wonderful to be informal with Angie and her gang of Witchy friends, to feel welcomed, and to relish together the crazy wonders of Harry Potter. And Buckbeak!
Next morning we packed up, loaded the car with piles of practical and magical stuff, and drove off to the Pilgrim Park retreat center where our weekend gathering was to take place. This beautiful center is owned by a Christian church group. "They love us," Angie exclaimed, as we wound through highways flanked in bright green. Times are really changing, I thought. There was a time when they were burning us at the stake.
I marveled at the peace and loveliness of Pilgrim Park. The grounds are truly park-like with many majestic trees and gently sloping grasslands. A labyrinth had been laid, with pathways made of stones. The main building where we slept, dined, and held our indoor events was spacious and airy. We had comfortable rooms and bathrooms enough for all; camping too, out on the grass beneath the trees; a huge dining room and fully staffed kitchen and best of all, a glorious chapel room for rituals and workshops. The chapel was eight-sided with tall peaked picture windows that looked out on the lush green outside, and so made an ideal space for circling. An altar graced the wall opposite the entry door, with a compelling Pre-Raphaelite painting of Sappho as the keynote image overlooking all. Below her were graceful draperies and tiered surfaces for women to place their sacred objects, many of which were already in place. I learned later that the painting of Sappho was placed over the cross that normally commands the room. What gracious and understanding hosts, I thought.
There was a vending area on the lower level where women displayed their magical wares. Above in the lounge were couches and chairs for relaxing, and more tables displaying donated items for a silent auction. Monies from this were gathered to help finance Angie's trip to Barcelona.
But my favorite was the women. I met Teresa, who works closely with Angie arranging the many rituals of Gaia's Womb, a powerful red-haired Faery Witch, who helped lead the group of about 40 women through various adventures throughout the weekend. So many wonderful sisters came up to me for hugs and greetings, asking me if I needed anything, eager to offer support or help. I schmoozed and hung out with women of all ages, shapes, sizes, and backgrounds, all so openhearted, all so eager to experience communion with each other and with Spirit. I could see that Gaia's Womb is a strong community in and around the Chicago area, with connections in surrounding states as well. Members are there for each other in daily life and personal rites of passage, in community activism, as well as on these special occasions. This is the stuff healthy societies are made of.
Two presenters were featured for the weekend: myself, offering a workshop of singing and chanting, and Judy Piazza, a rhythm therapist, drummer, and instrumentalist. Judy arrived later on Friday night, having driven a long ways from her home in another state. Over the ensuing two days and nights we made a special connection and recognition for each other's gifts.
Friday evening we had an opening ritual in the chapel, which spun the energy for the weekend. Angie introduced our theme "Becoming the Muse," encouraging women to look deep within and open to their innate creativity. The circle was cast for the duration, to be opened on Sunday morning before our final departure.
I was glad to be a part of both the opening and closing circles, to help create the continuum. Later Angie told me that was one of the things she hoped for in these gatherings; that everyone would connect and participate throughout. I could see that she and I were on the same wavelength about building magical community...and Teresa as well. Their ritual-theatre approach to ceremony resonated with me, too. I felt as though we had all been trained in the same ancient temple...
Saturday morning was Judy's workshop. I was unable to attend the whole event, unfortunately, but I did come in for the beginning as Judy taught everyone an invocation to Sarasvati, Hindu Muse of India. I felt we awakened Her presence that morning, as Judy strode like a fierce angel around the center of the circle with her instrument, drawing us all in to the cry "Sarasvati, Sarasvati..." Women's voices sang out strong, and many played on the beautiful drums and rattles they or Judy had brought. It was such a blessing to work with these women after Judy, who catalyzed them to open their voices and spirits, to receive the songs and chants I brought the more deeply. In retrospect I can see how both our offerings were integral to the overall journey of the weekend. We were all there to open, create, express, release the barriers and wounds to our inner Muse that patriarchy has planted in us, to heal and reclaim our sacred powers of inspiration.
I began the afternoon workshop with the Ma chant and the Rainbow Cone Meditation. We chanted the sound of Ma, on and on, with higher and higher notes, up through the chakras, spinning rainbow colors as we went, creating the Cone. I swirled round the center as women stood and held the rim, held each other, eyes closed, mouths open in the oldest invocation. When the last Ma faded, we held the vibrating silence that followed...deafening.
I spoke of discovering the Ma chant back in the early 70s when I was finding Goddess, living in the California redwoods in a yurt with my children, and circling there with my first Goddess sisters. I think the Ma was surfacing from deep within the psyches of many women around the world at that time. Now She is chanted everywhere.
Next I shared the Faery Invocation, which I love to use for inviting these beings to join us, invoking the elements, and at the same time casting a pentacle-shaped circle. It's very simple and easy to learn, and soon sisters were singing full and with harmonies too! We called the faeries and they came.
Air Faeries, Air Faeries Repeat the same for Fire Faeries, Earth Faeries, Water Faeries, and Spirit Faeries.
If it be thy delight
Please come and be in our circle tonight
At the end of the ritual you can sing:
Water Faeries, Water Faeries And if it's daytime you can sing:
It was such a delight
Thank you for being in our circle tonight
Come and play I'm still looking for a good rhyme for the conclusion of a daytime circle - any ideas?
Please come and be in our circle today
We then sang thrillingly, with strong chords and rhythms, the declaration of the casting:
The circle is cast, the spell is made fast And we were off. What a glorious afternoon we spent, singing our hearts and souls out, sharing the joy. We did many kinds of chants - some for magic:
Only the good can enter herein
The magic is made so let it begin...
Make for yourself a power spot Some for affirming women:
Bring you a spoon and a cooking pot
Bring air, bring fire, bring water, bring earth
And you a new universe will birth...
As I love the Goddess, so I love myself And some for the ritual later (though I didn't tell). We even did my outrageous ballad Cerridwen's Brew, call and response style, complete with movement and gestures! I had hesitated to do it, wondering if it might be a bit too radical for this group, but the women loved it.
As I love myself, so I love the Goddess
As I love the Goddess so I love the earth
As I love the earth so I love the Goddess
As I love the Goddess so I love my sisters
As I love my sisters, so I love myself...
"...well the women had all the world till then This is an authentic Celtic myth about the passing of matriarchal wisdom (Cerridwen's Brew) from the female to the male line of power. I think it is actually a very loving interpretation of the rise of patriarchy, explaining that there are two kinds of men: the good sons who love the Mother, as Affagdu did, and the ungrateful sons who stole the Mysteries and took over. Cerridwen was preparing the Brew for Her Son, but a different line of power intervened, in the form of Gwion, from whom, it was said, descended the lineage of merlins and bards that henceforth embodied the cultural media of their times, spiritual authority, and magical politics.
'Cause the Goddess decided to make some men
And the very first man to get the Brew
Would be Cerridwen's baby Affagdu..."
The Muse of Comedy played a major role throughout the weekend, and there was so much joy and laughter in our workshop. Cerridwen's Brew and many other ridiculous moments brought hilarious transformations. What better way to change the world than with laughter?
As the afternoon progressed we sang rhapsodies to the Goddess, such as Morning Has Broken with some new Goddess lyrics: "Goddess has risen...!" As well as the Labyrinth, and apple and mirror chants. Women requested a repeat of the Faery Invocation for our closing: "It was such a delight/Thank you for being in our circle tonight..." And:
The circle is open, but never broken And we ended with a spiral hug that brought more laughter and howls of celebration. We had soared as one through trancy sounds and awe-inspiring song, and were ready to launch our flight into the magic of the main ritual that night.
Merry meet and merry part
May the love of the Goddess
Live in your heart...
I was filled with such joy. Throughout the hours of the workshop I felt lifted, energized, weightless - a hollow reed through which Her Song sang me. The women's hearts and minds and voices opening like flowers all around me...our sounds vibrating the building, singing in our bones, spinning out to embrace the trees. We were the original sacred choir, singing our praises for the wonder and magic of Creation. How hungry I was for moments such as these...and how rare they still are in society today. Becoming the Muse was a moment of transformation, a few days of the future we are working towards, and creating.
Dinner was served, and then everyone went off to their rooms to garb themselves lavishly for the Rite.
We gathered in the dimly lit chapel, each sitting quietly with our thoughts. Our chant wove through us - "Into the labyrinth we are led..." - as priestesses arrived to escort us, one by one, out into the night. We were guided in trance journey to seek our inner Muse. Sisters were seated upon the earth beneath the trees, each carrying a white votive candle. In the darkness Angie's "other" voice came through, speaking of our divinity, our empowerment, our sacredness, our creativity, our ancient legacy.
Two priestesses escorted me, helping me over the rough earth and then the stones of the labyrinth. I was posted at the center for the remainder of the ritual, seated on or standing before a low throne, baskets of apples and mirrors to either side of me. A votive candle glowed in the center of the apples. I felt like a Lady of Avalon (apple- land), a Priestess at the Well, offering the Apple of Inspiration and the Mirror of Magic to each woman who made it to the Center. This is home, I thought - this is how we lived in the Goddess temples. In a modern retreat space in the Illinois countryside, we were resurrected in our original identities; we were back. I felt as though I was channeling Mnemosyne (nem-AH-sinee), whose name means Memory, Mother of the Muses, and also the original and ageless One Muse, the Great Goddess who Inspires all acts of Creation.
As each woman approached me along the torch-lit labyrinth's pathways, I sat still and upright, holding a mirror facing outward in my left hand, and an apple in the open palm of my right. As she arrived, I arose to welcome and embrace her. I held her mirror up so she could see herself, and offered her a bite of the apple, saying, "Look within and see who you are. Taste the sweetness of Her wisdom as you see...you who are Goddess...you who are the Creator and the Created..." Some women wept...some laughed...some were quietly thoughtful. All, I think were deeply affected. Sometimes I would say other things like, "Don't let them stop you from creating." And, "They will try, but don't you let them." We all received healing of our inner Muses that night.
Again the Goddess filled me with uncanny strength and energy enough to offer every sister a blessing. Thank you, thank you, Angie and Teresa; thank you to all the sisters who were there, who helped to create this magic. One day, perhaps in our lifetimes, there will be such temples again, and ongoing communities filled with empowered, creative, and beloved women. Whenever the priestesses gather to recreate these traditions, we move a little closer to that time.
But the magic was not quite done. Next morning Angie called us together into the chapel for our final event and closing circle. She had arranged a visitation from all nine of the Muses, to offer their wisdom, and receive questions from the "audience."
This was to simulate a radio broadcast, the muses arranged as a panel. Angie had assigned eight of us (the Muse of History was missing) to take the parts. I was asked to be Polyhymnia, Muse of Sacred Song, who is usually seen veiled. (Hmmm... wonder why she picked me to be Polyhymnia???)
Our Muse of Comedy was definitely in charge of the morning. Before we had even begun the program, She was cracking us up with her silly jokes and raucous behavior. Melpomene, the Muse of Tragedy sat next to me with Her box of tissues, periodically bursting into loud sobs and blowing Her nose vociferously. Angie tried very hard to be the sober radio announcer introducing us all, but was, I could see through my veil, rolling in her chair with laughter. I kept trying to be still and mysterious and silent under my veil, but everyone could see that all my draperies were shaking with laughter too.
As each Muse arose to offer Her presentation, she was heckled mercilessly by the crew. It was agreed that the Muse of History was "history," since She had not appeared. When the Muse of Lyric Poetry arose with Her scroll of endless verse, everyone groaned, until Comedy jumped up and neatly tore away the bulk of the poetry, scroll and all. Another Muse with a long cane poked it under our hapless Lyric Muse's toga, exclaiming, "Oh, she's Scottish!" in a clipped British accent. The room was helpless with laughter by this time. When my name, Polyhymnia, was called, I started snoring under my veil, while Judy, the Muse-ical Muse beside me tried desperately to awaken me with nudges and frantic whispers. More waves of belly laughter, me included! I could barely compose myself for my assigned presentation: to read a poem I had written years before, to Mnemosyne.
As I emerged from my voluminous veil I explained groggily to the group that one of its purposes was to allow me to sleep at public functions with no one the wiser. I also explained that I had been sent this poem by a mortal woman poet named Shekhinah, who had written it for "our Mom."
For some reason the room quieted down for the reading of this poem. I was relieved that the wild crew spared me...
By Heart Poem "By Heart" by Shekhinah Mountainwater
Why suddenly in this Solstice dark
Have you been brought to my attention?
Friends send me your painted image
Your face staring out at me
From our common past-
Deep-eyed and knowing
Lips curled in sensual wisdom
Hair rich and wild
Hands poised exquisitely
Holding the Apple and the Flame
I hear your name
Do you remember me
As I re - member thee?
Mother of the Muses
They call you
Yet I recall a time
When you were Mother of us all...
Help this aging poet
To keep thy covenant
To snatch the Magic back
From Oblivion's jaws...
"Try to remember,"
Another poet said
That once the Nine of you were One
That once we knew the thousand lines
Of a thousand epics in thy praise
The Mother Heart
Reminding us again and again
Of Who we are...
Copyright 1989 Santa Cruz, California
Inspired by the Pre-Raphaelite painting "Mnemosyne" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
"Try to remember" quoted from "Les Guerillieres" by Monique Wittig
Hilaria soon took over again, with further muse shenanigans, and then we did our final opening of the circle. We ended in a group huddle, with Angie speaking eloquently from the center, about remembering who and what we are, and the wonderful magic of this weekend. A chant, "We will always remember..." flowed through us all like a sweet wind:
"We will always remember...we will always remember..."
And our ritual was ended.
May our Musings live on! Blessed Be.
Bio: Shekhinah Mountainwater is a foremother of the womanspirit movement, author of Ariadne's Thread, musician, poet, teacher of women's mysteries, creatrix of Shekhinah's Tarot and Womanrunes. She welcomes your inquiries at the email address above.
Location: Reno, Nevada
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