Monday, July 26, 2021

 

The circle is an ancient and universal symbol of unity, sacredness, wholeness, infinity, the goddess, female power, and the sun. A Goddess circle is often a small sisterhood of intimate support accompanied by a moon-cycle ceremony. It may also be a full-fledged religion that recognizes the sacred unity of all things. All goddess circles cherish nature as exemplified in the symbol of the GreatMother.

The Goddess Immanent

Immanence is a theory of divine presence. It proposes that the spiritual world permeates the material world. In many Goddess circles, the goal is to awaken to the awareness that woman is the Goddess immanent, incarnate. In embodying and celebrating our sacredness, we find sexual and psychological healing, power, and purpose.

Drawing Down the Moon
"Drawing Down the Moon” © Winter Ross

[Read: “Women’s Circles: A Sacred Space to Celebrate the Divine Feminine.”]

Starhawk, one of the founders of Reclaiming, a modern witchcraft tradition that combines the Goddess movement with feminism and political activism, describes immanence in her classic book, The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religions of the Great Goddess:

“The Goddess falls in love with Herself, drawing forth her own emanation, which takes on a life of its own. Love of self for self is the creative force of the universe. Desire is the primal energy, and that energy is erotic: the attraction of lover to beloved, of planet to star, the lust of electron for proton. Love is the glue that holds the world together.”

A Tale of Two Circles

Two women's stories illustrate the differences one may find in Goddess circles. Their stories are personal but also highlight the very real challenges of our current culture.

A Mystic Mama Balances Joy & Trauma

Tanya Blacklight, who lives on Colorado’s Western Slope, calls herself a “mystic mama.” Her circles and services include ceremonies and classes for all ages. She may offer self-defense classes for elementary-school girls, coming-of-age ceremonies for middle schoolers, sacred sexuality discussions for teenagers, temple dancing for moms, or just hold a fun party where everyone dresses in red for a new-moon potluck.

Blacklight has choreographed dances set in the stunning landscapes of her home place, recruiting community members to move through orchards and deserts in celebration of earth and to protest fracking.

But along with the joy and service she brings to the North Fork Valley, the work is not without its shadow side. Indeed, Blacklight speaks of the spiral of the Goddess as a left-hand path that leads directly to work with trauma, birth, blood, controversy, and warriorship. Of Native American and Hispanic descent, she is always conscious of being brown in a white town. Asked by family members not to use the word “goddess” in her advertising—because the region is primarily Christian and politically conservative—she has had to describe her work as “feminine empowerment.” When the global Red Tent movement was criticized for excluding transgendered women, Blacklight opened her groups to anyone self-identifying as female.

“I came to this work through my own effort to heal from sexual trauma,” she says. “I studied Taoism and tantra, but my greatest teachers have been my own two daughters. They’ve taught me so much!” She says she’d like to see support circles for girls and women in every community. “We need one on every block!”

Buffalo Goddess Grapples With European Roots

Rea Beaubien is a ceremonialist on the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. Initiated twenty years ago as a road woman in the Native American Church, she has paid her dues. She has held medicine ceremonies as far away as Florida, Mexico, and England and was often invited to sing at Sun Dances and Lakota healing rituals. As she began to move away from partnering with her medicine man husband into her own leadership, she was inspired by the teachings of White Buffalo Calf Woman, the giver of the sacred pipe to the Lakota people. Her first women’s circle was called Buffalo Goddess and she taught traditional songs and prayers.

Beaubien also mentions the difficulty of surfing the waves of social change and opinion. Despite some Ojibwe genes, she is undeniably white, with blond hair and blue eyes. “What was once cultural appreciation is now seen as cultural appropriation,” she says sadly.

[Read: “Black Women’s Healing Circles.”]

This has led her to meditate on her European ancestral roots. In turn, her Goddess circles have begun to reflect more of those ancient earth-based religions. Covid brought in the altar of Persephone, the Queen of Hades and daughter of Demeter, the Goddess of the Harvest.

"Empowerment of the Divine Feminine is occurring globally through community Goddess circles," she says. "What I refer to as 'Age of Ma' has been rekindled for all living, loving beings to play their part in our shared (R)evolution. Going back to our roots, Mother Earth is our altar, water our transformative guide, fire our source for inspiration and courage, and air our connection to spirit through each breath. Some of us no longer know the ancient ways in our lineages so we look to traditions that have been preserved where there are commonalities, to rebirth ceremonies and rites as we hear teachings from Spirit."

Ceremonies and creative workshops, Beaubien notes, "address feelings such as sadness, anxiety, and fear as we dance, sing, feast, write, share feelings, tell stories, play ... . The wild untamed feminine is given a safe place to be free."

How to Find a Goddess Circle

Unless you’re in Boulder or Berkeley, invitations to Goddess circles likely won’t be stapled to telephone poles around town. You won’t find one in the church or support group listings in the newspaper. And if you’re new in town, it’s probably best not to announce your pagan leanings on the local Facebook group. Instead, you’ll use word-of-mouth, or maybe a little magic.

Listen and look for keywords such as Red Tent, new moon gathering, Reclaiming, full moon women’s group, drumming circle, Crone meeting, earth-based spirituality, solstice or equinox celebration, and the earth-cycle holy days: Maybon, Beltain, Lammas, and Samhain.

Ask at the local New Age shop that sells crystals, herbs, and tarot decks. Or check in with a local Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. They recognize animists and have an official group called Covenant of U.U. Pagans (CUUPS). You may find like-minded souls there.

In larger cities, you will find coaches, counselors, and priestesses of various orders advertising therapy sessions, workshops, trainings, and certifications—all for a fee. Can feminine enlightenment and self-esteem be purchased? Certainly, an “energy exchange” should occur between you and any mentor, but look closely at the number of years and classes you’ll be expected to commit to for your priestess diploma.

Which Goddess Circle Is Right for You?

Try out several circles to find one that fits. Are you a gentle Crone seeking the company of other wisdom keepers? Perhaps you’re a new Mother looking for support and friendship in a space where your child is welcome. Or maybe you’re a feisty lover looking for the wild dance. Maiden, Mother, or Crone, you’ll find what you need.

Starhawk gives this advice: “Beware of organizations that proclaim their devotion to the light without embracing, bowing to the dark; for when they idealize half the world, they must devalue the rest.”

Consider creating a healing circle of your own.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Three articles for Spirituality & Health magazine:


"Throwing the Bones: Finding Your Future"

https://www.spiritualityhealth.com/articles/2021/02/05/throwing-the-bones

"The Hoodo Blues"

https://www.spiritualityhealth.com/articles/2021/02/23/the-hoodoo-blues


"The Talking Tree: Science, Myth and Healing"

May, June 2021 print issue: Spirituality & Health magazine


Saturday, October 31, 2020

Freelance Writing

 

Public reading at Elsewhere Studios, Paonia, Colorado, during my artist residency in 2018


Additional portfolios and workshop offerings: 

https://wintersweb.journoportfolio.com/

https://www.facebook.com/ceremonialvisions

Monday, May 25, 2020

What the Covid Lockdown Taught a Loner

by Winter Ross

published in Medium.com

I have read article after article on how devastating pandemic isolation is. The agony of being alone! All the “undiscovered” ways people have found to cope with this problem. Never has extroversion been so debilitating! And personally, I am puzzled; sympathetic, but puzzled. I know there are untold numbers of us introverts, agoraphobics, hemits, HSPs (Highly Sensitive People) and misanthropes whose lives haven’t changed much in these so-called unprecedented times — or even whose lives have become more comfortable in the silence and peace of their places.

It’s a subject for another essay, but I use the term “places” because plenty of people don’t have homes. Every reporter seems to assume that staying “home” is a basic inconvenience rather than a privilege. As a retired woman “Traveller” (British spelling), I get by as a house sitter/pet sitter/artist-in-residence, camping in between gigs. I became a Traveller briefly in my twenties before jobs and kids slowed me down. I picked up the lifestyle again when rent became more than my social security check. Although I live alone, the name fits a lifestyle I refuse to apologize for. The road keeps me sane. There’s something about the neither-here-nor-there escape from stress that keeps me going. But I lack community. I’m often in places where I don’t know anyone. Once, I spent five winter months caring for a house and two cats, binge-watching Netflix because I couldn’t let the wood stove go out in one of the coldest towns in the country. I was glad when spring arrived but it was no big deal. I hadn’t had a television in years so I caught up on this strange culture while I worked on a sci-fi novel. It was a lonely but ok winter, when I look back on it

I must have inherited my loner temperament (please don’t call it a condition) from the grandfather I barely knew. Within 10 minutes of my family’s yearly visit, he’d have escaped upstairs to his study where high-pitched childish voices were muted. He was always kind: teaching me to play checkers on a rainy afternoon, quietly putting together a few pieces of a puzzle with me in the evening. But I saw little of him. Like Grampa, I seem to wear my nervous system on the outside of my skin. Overwhelm has always defined my life. A book he sent me for my thirteenth birthday on alien abduction seemed to explain it. Most of my teenage summer nights were spent writing anguished poetry, looking up at the stars and trying to call in the Mother Ship to please come take me home.

I personally locked down on March 6, in a friend’s second home, two weeks before the state mandated it. The plan had been to assist my friend when she came through, to take care of her dogs when she traveled. But I found myself there alone actually glorying in the opportunity to simply Be somewhere.

At the beginning, the next door neighbor would stop in with two of his toddlers to chat, escaping briefly the new baby, the constant cartoon network noise and the boredom of no work. His kids drove me crazy. I spent the short time of their visits snatching small antique objects from their hands and locking doors before they could reach the handles. I finally came up with an excuse to end the visits by announcing that there were pins and needles all over the floor from my sewing projects and the place was a child hazard. It was a relief when the neighbor got the hint.

The town never did close down completely, I think. I’m not sure: I only left the house for the early elder-hour grocery shopping and stocked up for weeks, when I did. I made a game of eaking out the leftovers and cutting down to one meal a day if possible. Anything to keep from opening that front door. I realized my introversion was blooming into full-fledged agoraphobia. I made myself go on daily walks on back roads bordering cattle pastures; sewed masks and modeling one myself, forced myself to drive to the Post Office and mail them to far-flung friends on the Navajo Nation. I dragged a ladder out of the garage and painted the trim on my camper red and gold. I’ve spent much of the time fascinated by the news and learning to freelance. Indeed, the neighbor has hired me to write copy for the disinfecting business he’s starting.

Now, eight weeks later, it’s obvious that the sweet confinement in a house to myself, is coming to an end. The dogs have been dropped off here now, so I have company — annoying company that wants me to play with it all the time, smears its wet noses on my freshly showered skin, literally dogs me from room to room and sheds all over the area where I used to do morning yoga. That I can be irritated by a couple obedient, sweet labradors surprises even me. I have become keenly aware of how much humans bother me, too. When walking the dogs, I speed away from lonely people out for a bit of sun, who ask to pet them. I feel guilty, but the call of sanctuary is stronger

I’ve been as influenced as everyone else to indulge in the opportunity for self study and inner awareness that the covid lockdown has provided. But the motivational videos promising to help me change me or help me be me, have finally become tedious. That crap was for my youth when I really cared about why I wasn’t the Pollyanna-Barbie my parents and partners always wanted and a career demanded.

I don’t know what will happen next. Who does? But soon, I’m going to have to pack up, open the front door and drive off in my gypsy camper into the scary world again. I tell myself it will be interesting. Because I’ve made it all the way to old age and I’ve learned to cope with who I truly am. That Mother Ship is probably never going to show up. And I’m ok with that, too.

Winter Ross is probably not the only writer with a listing on Housecarers.com. She gets mail in Colorado, taught writing in New Mexico and after working at a retreat center in Hawai’i, is spending lockdown in Nevada. She is a National Association of Press Women award-winning short story writer and Darkhouse Books author. 

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Walking the Edge of Cultural Appropriation


Published in the March 2020 online journal of the Society of  Shamanic Practitioners

The young man was goth-like, pale and pimply, dressed in a long black coat and lecturing to a circle of listeners at an Earth First! gathering in the western wilderness. The subject of his talk was the cultural appropriation of earth-based spiritual traditions. He had embraced his Wiccan ancestral roots, he raged, and anyone white who strayed into indigenous spirituality was simply politically incorrect, if not morally indefensible. 



With the arrogance of youth and the disrespect to elders that the predominate culture is known for, he had no patience for any of us who had walked the Good Red Road for decades without having checked our “23 and Me”. We were the worst example, he informed us, of oppression, colonialism, appropriation, etc. Guilt descended upon us as he rained the lexicon of radical philosophy down on our heads.

Certainly the lecture started me thinking about why and how, after long spiritual seeking, I had found Great Mystery and the Goddess while sitting on dusty blankets in a dark sweat lodge or peyote meeting. I came up with some answers that he had no interest in hearing, so I turned to another elder for some pleasantly surprising confirmation of my thoughts.

Genetically, as far as I know, I'm mostly Scottish. My last name, from the Viking word for horse, is common among both the Sioux and Cherokee. Because I'm female, there's no way of knowing if I'm related to John Ross, the first elected Cherokee chief after the Trail of Tears, although I did grow up in his Appalachian neighborhood. The English side of my family probably killed the Scottish side as well as the Massachusetts tribes they encountered after sailing into Plymouth. Who knows? We've been here awhile. All I know is that I love the desert, my theory being that my ancestors suffered too long in rain-drenched kilts. I cringe at the sound of bagpipes. I crave the smell of sage. Sometimes I think about past lives: Wise Women of The Burning Times; the scorned Gypsy fortune teller; the prophecy of Indian souls returning in bodies of The Rainbow Warriors.

To me, “earth-based spirituality” means the actual earth that's been in my teeth and up my nose for most of my adult life even if my ancestor's bones aren't ground into it. It's the land I live on that speaks its spirit to me. And who better to learn the language of that spirit from than those humans who have lived with it for thousands of years? I am grateful, humbled and blessed that the Lakota have been generous with their teaching and invited so many of us Wasichu into the Inipi.
And I am careful, especially in these days of renewed racial hatred and backlash, to stay near the back of any gathering and keep my mouth shut. Yet when I joined the pipe ceremony, unwrapping my own Sundance pipe one dawn at Standing Rock, nobody glared, lectured or gave any indication that I hadn't earned the sacred instrument in my hands. 


A Native American artist I know is so passionate about non-Indian artists making a profit from depicting cultural items in their work, a pot here, a rattle there, the ubiquitous dream catcher sold in every western gas station convenience store, that he got himself kicked out of a gallery for his confrontational complaints. Artists and their romantic attraction to all things Indian is a horse that left the barn a couple hundred years ago. If he was going to be such a purist, I reminded him, then he should stop wearing jeans (invented by a Jew named Levi during the gold rush), stop wearing cowboy boots invented by a white cobbler to fit stirrups on the saddles of horses brought in by the Spanish, not to mention his (the metalwork also a Spanish import) silver Navajo jewelry. French trader's glass beads replaced quill work in the Plains Indian's clothing, jingle dresses wouldn't be the same without tin can lids to curl into jingles, the Pacific Northwest button capes would look pretty different, the Pendleton blanket, the Morning Star quilt, called Star of Bethlehem and Texas Star by it's original colonizing seamstresses. And how could there be Seminole patchwork without sewing machines and cotton cloth? The forged iron pipe tomahawk prized by warriors who had no knowledge of metalworking...I think I wore him down by proving that the creativity of Indian culture incorporated a wonderful ability to appropriate from the oppressor!

Once I tried hard to suss out, to really connect with my ancestral spirituality. I went to Glastonbury (the Sedona of England, I discovered). Although awesome, Stonehenge, Avebury, the Burrows and Tor felt like archeological sites. I shivered with the ambiance of the White Spring but discovered it to be touted as “a tourist attraction in a Victorian pump house.” I can only describe the energy as an amputated limb, cut off long ago by the Church. Despite the attempt at to resuscitate paganism, that's what it felt like: a non-breathing beautiful corpse. Nothing has transfixed me quite like the breath of wind shimmering the leaves of the Sundance Tree.

In my work as a shamanic counselor trained in the very universalist philosophy of the Foundation of Shamanic Studies, I try to avoid using living Native American rituals I've participated in. I'd never consider “pouring a lodge” for instance, or singing spiritual songs outside the ceremonies for which they were meant. But little things creep in: tobacco ties wreath a client for protection; on my altar lies the eagle feather given when I joined the Native American Church; a rattle from Peru; lava from the throat of Pele; clap sticks from Australia,;a small Maori drum; a copy of an Alaskan Yupik spirit catcher...Ancestral tools appear too: candles, a pendulum with Celtic designs, a rune stone. Sometimes “Aho” and “Blessed Be” slip from my lips one after the other during prayer.

As Casteneda's Yaqui sorcerer, Don Juan, told us “All paths are the same: they lead nowhere...Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good.” I'm not going to apologize for my politically incorrect spirituality. When it comes down to it, it's just the “stuff” of religion and dogma – a structure we've invented to try to figure out what we're doing here on Earth, with Life. Our beliefs and rituals are merely an expression of homo sapien's “god gene”. Celebrating diversity, striving for sovereignty are important, but sharing the beauty of our paradigms with each other is more important. That's Aloha, Namaste, Love. Which we all need a lot more of in these shifting days. 


Monday, February 3, 2020

Published by Darkhouse Books

In bookstores soon: What We Talk About When We Talk About It: Variations on the theme of Love. "She Who Hears the Cries of the World", a short story by Winter Ross, appears in this anthology from Dark House Books.