alchemy

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Integration (or, ‘Reflections from Twilight Covening’)

Published October 15, 2013 by ireneglasse

I walk around feeling like a few different people.  I know that’s the case for a lot of folks–we have faces we wear when we’re at work, faces when we’re at home, faces we wear with our extended families…we all do this to a greater or lesser extent.  For me, it’s uncomfortable.  And perhaps it’s because my faces are at extremes.  Reconciling the metal-head Valkyrie with the encouraging, motivating yoga teacher with the pagan-priestess-labyrinth-facilitating-tarot-reader with the gardening-food-preserving-cooks-dinner-every-night-domestic-goddess is difficult.  People who know me as one face don’t always know the others.  And sometimes those worlds collide in front of people, and it’s always a little odd.  ‘I didn’t know you were in a band!’  ‘You teach YOGA?  Really?  You don’t seem the type.’  ‘Why do you know so much about plants?’

I’ve been trying to think of a way, of ways, to merge my different masks into one face for months now.  Into a more authentic, truthful self.  As ever in my path, I’m trying to find the center: the kernel of truth at the heart of a larger picture.

This year at Twilight Covening (no relation to sparkly vampires – previous post on that here), I was a part of Camel Clan, a yoga-based clan.  I participated in the yoga clan at the retreat two years ago.  Coming back as a yoga teacher was a simply amazing experience.  My clan leaders were kind and generous enough to offer teaching opportunities to me; to allow me to assist in some practices.  And I discovered something.  Teaching yoga, in a Pagan environment, where the Priestess and Yogi become the same person, is amazing.  It’s fulfilling beyond words.  I have a few things I truly love to do: teach, explore spirituality, and express creativity.  I find ways to do those things in almost every aspect of my life.  And they all came together in one little group of people, and it was harmonious, beautiful, grounding and uplifting all at once.  I fell back in love with yoga, back in love with mysticism.  And I hadn’t even realized I was getting a little cynical again.

I know I can’t replicate the conditions of Twilight Covening.  It’s a specialized environment, and things are possible there that are not in more mundane spaces.  But now I know that integration can happen.  That I can take two, or three, or maybe all, of my faces and have them come together fluidly.  It takes greater honesty.  It takes greater attention.  And it will continue to take a lot of work.

So my intention for my winter Work is integration.  I know that I can integrate my yoga practice with my spirituality now (the Ayurvedic philosophies I’ve been taught and my own spiritual path were having a bit of a tug-of-war), and that’s where I intend to begin.  I have a yoga sadhana (a time period dedicated to a yoga practice with a particular goal) waiting for me anyway.  It’s time.

My other intention is honesty.  Some of the layers I was able to loosen a bit showed me that I’m still afraid of myself.  I’m afraid you won’t love me if I tell you the truth.  I’m afraid you’ll reject me, and that I’ll be left alone.  And I need you.  I need your love and friendship and company.  I am tribal: I need my blessed community.  But I haven’t trusted you enough.  I haven’t trusted myself enough.  And that is the other thing that must change.  It’ll be bumpy.  I hide a lot of things.  Being completely authentic is hard for me.  But I will try.  And I hope you will be patient as the layers come together.

In South Korea earlier this year, a Buddhist nun read my character, my individual nature, at a Temple Stay.  She told me I am a torch.  That it is my path to shine, and that torches do more than just illuminate–they also inspire.  And I find her words surfacing from memory again now.

I hold flickering candles.  May they come together into one light.

 

 

 

 

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Twilight Covening

Published July 16, 2013 by ireneglasse

I try not to push my own ideas and experiences on other people.  Don’t get me wrong–if you ask me what I think of something, I’ll tell you the truth.  But I don’t like telling other people what to do.  We’re all so different, so varied, so unique in our needs and perspectives, that pushing my solutions on another person could be as useful as trying to put out a fire with a can of gasoline.

That said, I do have one full endorsement for those of you on the Earth-centered-spirituality Path.  Go to Twilight Covening.  Don’t worry, it has nothing to do with sparkly vampires.  The name refers to the transition between light and darkness, and has been the title of the festival since 1986.  Twilight Covening is a retreat in Massachusetts, and a beautifully intense one.  I’m going again this year, and it will be my fourth year attending.  I’ve pasted my reflections from previous years below.  Read them.  And then go register.  It’ll do you a world of good.

I’ll begin with the reflections from my first year attending, since this particular missive explains a bit about how Twilight runs.

October 13th, 2010

This is for the Pagans, or those of you who have been curious about some of the Pagan stuff I do.  Everyone else, these are not the droids you’re looking for.

This past weekend (Friday-Monday), I attended Twilight Covening in Massachusetts for the first time.  It’s a four day spiritual retreat for those on the Pagan path and this past Covening was its 25th year.

There are a lot of things from this past weekend that I’m still processing and am not ready to talk about yet.  Maybe I never will be.  Some things there are no words for.  So what I’m going to try to do is tell you about the space, the environment that Twilight creates and envelops you in.  Perhaps that will be enough to give you an idea of what’s happening up North.

Imagine four days of ritual space.  The ritual begins in the evening on Friday, when everyone arrives.  The initial circle is formed, the energy spreads out.  And the energy…  There are around 200 people there.  Every single one is there because they have chosen to devote four days to intense spiritual, emotional and psychological work. Imagine ritual space infused by the focus of our most committed practitioners.  And that those committed practitioners stand to the right and left of you, holding your hands.

Now we add to that.  That ritual space is constantly actively held.  At all times, a Clan (usually 6-18 people) is actively concentrating on maintaining the spiritual connection of the space.  They lend their energy to help your connection, to help you focus, to help you on your path.  At. All. Times.  Night or day, you are energetically guarded, enhanced and protected by a team of dedicated energy workers.  Even while you sleep, they help you stay attuned.

Now we add to that.  Everyone is there because they want to work as hard as you do.  Everyone is there because they are actively trying to improve themselves, to heal, to connect, to grow.  So everyone you talk to is sharing a lot of the same things you are going through.  Everyone there wants you to succeed.  The people you interact with honor your trust.  They listen when you share your insecurities, your fears, your weaknesses, and do not trivialize or brush off.  Instead, they try to find ways to help you.  They pray and laugh and weep with you.  They help you find ways to lower your shields and to reach out in ways you didn’t know you could.

Now we add to that.  Your specific Clan is even closer to your own path.  Clans are small–the largest I saw was maybe 18 people.  They are led by one or two facilitators–some of the most accomplished Priests and Priestesses our tribe has to offer.  The Clan you are in is specific in its focus.  The people closest to you not only share your goal of working on your spirituality, but they share some of the specifics of that goal.  You eat, sleep and work with your Clan.  You share and learn from each other.  You hold each other while you cry, you raise energy together, you joyously witness the steps each Clan member takes forward because you know just how hard they were to take.  You’ve been taking those steps yourself.

Now we add to that.  The space that you are in is breathtaking in natural beauty.  You’re on top of a mountain in the Berkshires.  There is no light pollution, so the sky at night is a sea of stars.  The trees are in a full autumnal riot of color and their vibrant tones are reflected in the lake.  There are boulders and tall pines, towering oaks and birds singing.  There are spaces for quiet reflection, there are spaces for intimate conversation, there are spaces for group work.  There are even spaces for silliness.  Mirth, after all, is the counterpoint to Reverence.

These words can only capture a fragment of what that space feels like.  I wish I could give you the memory of that feeling.  I wish I could cover the world with it.

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that you should go.  If you’re on the Pagan path, if you’re working on your spirituality, Go.  Set aside those days for next year now.  Start setting aside the money now.  Go.  Please Go.  You probably need this as much or more than I did.  And I needed it.  I needed it the way a rose needs the sunlight.

Go to Twilight with me next year.  Our tribe has built something beautiful in Massachusetts.  You should feel it, too.

Reflections from my second year: October 11th, 2011

Some days are all about Gratitude.  Today is a day like that.

I got home late last night from Twilight Covening, a four day spiritual retreat for those of us on paths of Earth based spirituality.  It was my second year attending the retreat and as ever, I find myself struggling to put into words the beauty and depth of the experience.  The overriding emotion, the greatest arc and simplest expression I can find within my thoughts, is Gratitude.

I am grateful for the Space.  For the trees as they slip into their autumn colors, for the deep blue of the lake, for the rushing of the streams that race down the mountain to meet it.  I am grateful for the boulders warmed by the sun and silvered in moonlight.  I am grateful for the open fields of soft grass where we stand in circle, create labyrinths in flour, spread out our yoga mats or simply lie down to recharge our solar batteries.  I am grateful for the quiet of the northern forest, and the way it gently reaches out to soothe our senses.

I am grateful for the Community.

For the circle of Elders who somehow felt the call in the wind from those of us who wander.  Pagans do not have Churches.  We do not have sprawling infrastructures to support us.  In many cases, we walk almost totally alone.  If we’re lucky, we have some friends to share the path with.  If we’re lucky, we somehow manage to find our way.  And now I know that we are lucky, for the hearts at the center of EarthSpirit felt the song inside our wandering souls, and made a space in which to sing it.  The love and work and joy and energy our Elders put into the retreat is a palpable force, reaching out to embrace all the drifting leaves the autumn blows in.

For the Clan Leaders who choose to spend four days in service to the Twilight community as a group, and specifically to a small group on a particular, focused path.  These wonderful people, some of the best and brightest Priests, Priestesses, Shamans, Yogis and Pathworkers our community has to offer, wait for us with open arms.  They embrace us as we walk in, help us shed the layers of dust, pain, sorrow and stress we carry.  They wrap us in their attention and guide us.  They hold a lantern to light our way.  They hold our hands as we take the first steps.  They share our triumphs, our baby steps into a better place.  They love us and teach us.  They celebrate and grieve with us.  And they do this out of a desire to serve, to help, to midwife transformation in others.

For all of the attendees of Twilight Covening.  We come from our jobs, from our families and stresses.  We come from places of joy, places of work, places of pain.  We come from all over the country.  And we join hands and hearts.  We raise our voices together in song and chant.  We eat and talk and laugh together.  We share our paths with each other.  We marvel at each other’s stories, and at the lights that come on inside ourselves when we realize that we are not alone.  We travel into ritual together, into altered states.  We journey, we work.  And we become a family through that process.  Whether we smile, grieve, pathwork or meditate, we do it in the spiritual and often physical embrace of our family.  Of the Twilight Tribe.

I am grateful for the Experience.  For the moments that dance in my memory, that illuminate and warm.  They will feed me this winter.  They will carry me into Spring.  They will dance with me in Summer, and they will follow me back to Twilight next year, to collect more threads for the tapestry.

I am grateful for Fires in which we burn the things that hold us back.  I am grateful for the drums that echo, for the flames in the night, for the stars that see our work.  I am grateful to release, and to then turn about and push energy toward the releasing of others.

I am grateful for the soft, sweet chanting in a space for Dreams.  For the music of harp and flute, for a place to come to stillness.  I am grateful for the inner quiet, and for a chance to foster that quiet in others.

I am grateful for Ritual.  For the passage through a waking dream.  For learning, and growing, and flowing.  I am grateful for the transformation of pain into joy.  Of walking in darkness alone to walking toward a fire on a moonlit field where dancers spin, singers weave their voices in song and healing flows like water.

I am grateful for Celebration.  For dancing for hours beneath that almost-full moon.  For feeling so much joy, so much love, so much connection, that the only way to express it is to dance.

I am grateful for Twilight Covening.  For the thousand little and big things that make it what it is.  For the dozens of people who work to create a space of Mystery.  For the light that burns so brightly inside me for having been there.

And so it is with these words that I close.  Come with me next year.  The door that you are seeking exists.  The path beyond it is real and is waiting for you.  And the forest where that path begins?

It’s at Twilight Covening.

And, at last, this past year’s thoughts.  October 10th, 2012

The nights grow longer, and for those of us within Earth-centric spiritual practices, the year is winding down.  Thoughts are of endings–the final gathering of summer’s gifts from the garden, the last outdoor rituals and festivals, the thinning Veil around us.  The voices of the Ancestors and Spirits grow stronger.  We prepare for work, for the inner journey of the dark season.  Walk beneath the open skies to hear the song yourself.

Listen to the trees.  The green world calls out, the pulse of life thumping through the rough cloak of bark at your touch.  Place your hands upon their bodies.  Feel the vibration of the autumn wind passing through upper branches.  Close your eyes and listen.  They hum, sway and sing a song of Time.  Feel that tide pulling you in, pulling toward darkness.  Breathe.  Follow the song down into their roots, spreading out beneath you.  Let the wave wash over you.  The endless current of roots to crown to roots, the slow drawing-in of sap for the winter.  The trees are Centering.  Feel the balance of an inward shift.  Sink.

Listen to the rocks.  There is a bliss in the quiet stones, gently humming with a sound both bright and low.  A stillness carries up from their secret hearts, passing into the warm hands resting on their craggy surfaces.  Feel them.  An echo touches the human caress, passes into you.  Hear their endless song of dark to light to dark.  Sink in.  Lean against the boulders.  Breathe.  Let the pulse take you deep into the ground.  Feel the turning, the tilting of the Earth.  The song of winter coming, the song of darkness lives in the ore beneath your hands.

Listen to the night.  Let the cloak of the long shadow wrap around you.  Hear the wind sing, the calls of the night animals, the crackle of footsteps on dry leaves.  Lean into the coming quiet and feel your heart beating warmth into the cool air.  Turn within.  You see, you hum as well.  A rhythmic song crackling with both the fire and frailty of our human shells.  Listen.  Let the endless cycle of heart to limbs to heart take you deeper.  Breathe.  Feel your song turning you inward, gathering closer to the light within, the candle in the night.

Listen to the Song.  The eternal hymn of Time.  This is the family we share, these vibrations the language we all speak.  The song of the forest, of the mountains, of the Earth.  Of yourself.

Listen.  Let the music take you deeper.

Dissolve.

Sacred Space Conference – Breaking through the Wiccan Wall

Published March 15, 2013 by ireneglasse
chrispenczak

Irene, Chris Penczak and Robin

I think Chris Penczak put it best – we all eventually hit the Wiccan Wall.  Although there are a ton of resources for beginners, when it comes to intermediate to advanced-level Pagan studies, the river of knowledge begins to resemble a stream, sometimes slowing to the barest trickle of knowledge.  How many books on the Wheel of the Year can you read without getting bored?  How many new Tarot spreads can you try before you begin to think to yourself ‘there must be something more than this?’  I’m as prone to the Wall as any of us.  I’ve been on this Path for seventeen years now and I find it harder and harder to find new concepts to illuminate my spirituality, new perspectives to inhabit, new ways to find depth and connection.

As a result of that, I am beyond grateful for the Sacred Space Conference.  Specifically aimed at intermediate to advanced practitioners, Sacred Space draws together a truly gifted group of presenters.  They come from an impressively varied background–we have established authors who are bravely breaking new ground, ritual practitioners from every path imaginable (Reconstructionist, Shamanic, British Traditionalist, Chaos Magick…you name it, it was probably there), and luminary Priests and Priestesses who have sought out new connections to Spirit and brought that knowledge back with them.  The only downside to the conference is that I do not own a time turner!  There were several times during Sacred Space when I wished to be in more than one place at one time.  The bevvy of fascinating topics was almost overwhelming.

It was my first year at the conference, and I will definitely go back next year.  Along with the wonderful offerings on the workshop and ritual front, the whole things runs smoothly.  As a festival organizer, I have a deep respect and admiration for the people who can run such an undertaking so fluidly.  Events ran on time in the locations they were scheduled for without disruption or confusion–I believe that alone constitutes some sort of Pagan miracle.  One of the Board members mentioned in a workshop that the Powers That Be behind Sacred Space do not sit on any other boards for any other events–their sole focus is on this one.  And it shows.  I felt safe and comfortable at every turn.  At any point when I did need to talk to a volunteer or ask a question, the staff were kind and quick to find me an answer.  It was a joy to see a Pagan machine tick along so well.

I’ll give you some quick bullet-point takeaways from some of the workshops I attended:

  • We need more and better resources for our Clergy.  Clergy burnout is very high, and our Clergy feels under-prepared and under-supported.
  • Always, always, always send magick with love.  Any kind of magick.  Your thoughts and emotions at the moment of sending flavor that energy.  If it’s going to go out and then come back to you, you want it to come back with love.
  • To your higher Will, your entire life is a Ritual.  What kind of magick are you working?
  • Correspondences (herbs, crystals, astrological timing) are like the octaves on a piano.  When you strike one note, the notes above and below can ring out, giving over- and under-tones to the music.  It creates a fuller, more beautiful sound.  And, if one octave is out of your reach emotionally or conceptually, ‘striking’ a lower note of the same octave can begin to open that energy to you.
  • Sacred Space (not the conference) begins within the Self.  It is a place we must find within us first, and then step out from.
  • The creation of Sacred Art echoes down the line.  Every time you see it or interact with it, that is a Sacred act.  It also heals.  When we create from a perspective of Reverence, more than just one gate opens.
  • In meditation, give the chatter-voice something to do.  Rather than try to force it into quiet, make it responsible for the narrative or guide of the meditation.
  • Everyone has an energy they are meant to impart.  It is specific to us as individuals.  One question to ask yourself to help determine yours is ‘What do I do, that I love to do, that I do well, that my community recognizes and appreciates me for?’  The answer is probably not your career, but it *is* closer to your true calling.
  • When working with the Ancestors, you *will* come across some people you don’t like.  Count on it.  But instead of running screaming in the other direction, or burdening yourself down with guilt, commit to face squarely your ancestral inheritance.  Heal its liabilities, revel in its assets, and leave a better legacy for those that follow.  The ‘better’ begins with you.
  • We have our own Mighty Dead.  These ascended souls are many-layered and fall into many different categories, but they are available to us to help our growth.
  • Since we are aware and choose to truly See, we have an obligation to counteract the discord around us.  Magick is good for more than finding a lover or more money.  Expand your thinking.  What confluence of energies is chipping away at our society?  And what can we, energetically, do to help?
  • Culturally, we have the originators of our different Traditions.  We then have the Maintainers–those who kept the traditions as well as they could, even during times of repression.  We are the next phase of that journey–we are the Transformation.  We are combining beliefs in new ways and breaking new ground in spirituality and culture.  We must take care that all the ingredients we add to this soup are healthy for everyone.

These are just snippets–little pieces of a larger, deeper, more beautiful conversation.  I like to look for overriding themes and arcs within a narrative.  If I had to pick one from Sacred Space, it is ‘Deepen.’  The entire conference was geared toward helping you get to a deeper level of the Self, of your Spirituality, of your studies.  At a time when advancements in knowledge and technique can flow slowly and thin, going to Sacred Space was like plunging into a mountain lake.

Some of the concepts I came into contact with at Sacred Space have found immediate flower.  My working partner and I stripped down and then rebuilt our traditional Ostara ritual to reflect that shift in perspective.  Other ideas are still finding homes, and my reading list has doubled.  I feel like the new-turned earth in my garden–ready to grow green as the light returns.  And the hand that did the turning?  That was Sacred Space, and the incredible group of people who came together to present it, the people who came together to learn from it, and the people who left on Sunday with eyes full of fire for the coming season.

Gratitude seems a poor word, so I’ll say this instead:  It’s fucking amazeballs.  You should go next year.

Beltane Alchemy

Published May 7, 2012 by ireneglasse

al·che·my

[al-kuh-mee]

noun, plural al·che·mies for 2.

1. a form of chemistry and speculative philosophy practiced in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and concerned principally with discovering methods for transmuting baser metals into gold and with finding a universal solvent and an elixir of life.
2. any magical power or process of transmuting a common substance, usually of little value, into a substance of great value.

It is the nature of life to transform.  Living things are a constant growth process–cells replace themselves, size changes, color shifts.  Our outlines flicker and adapt, grow and diminish.  Slowly to our eyes, of course, but we are always in flux.

It is the nature of matter to transform.  Apply the right forces, and rough ore from the heart of the earth becomes sword or plow.  Sand becomes glass.  Wood becomes coal.

It is the nature of spirit to transform.  We pass through trials and wonders on this path, and each high or low point leaves a mark.  We come through the other side as different people.  Our value systems change.  Our outlook is forever altered.  And when we look back, we do not recognize the past self gazing into our own eyes.

It is a simple thing to create a Labyrinth.  A Labyrinth is a sigil in the truest sense of the word–a drawn design that, once etched, has power independent of the hand that drew it.  Labyrinths can be spray-painted on the ground, drawn in the sand, chalked on the driveway. They can be made to last, or made to be ephemeral.

This past weekend, I had the honor of presenting a Labyrinth and Labyrinth workshop at Fertile Ground Gathering, a Beltane festival in Northern Virginia.  The festival takes place in a State Park, so the Labyrinth needed to easily melt away after the weekend.

Robin (my working partner) and I created ours out of 80 pounds of flour, sprinkled in the timeless design of the 7-circuit Cretan or Seed Labyrinth.

It was easy to lose sight of intention as we sweated in that field, slowly walking the curving arms of the Labyrinth, stooped to pour the flour on the ground.  Easy to forget the purpose of the design while we focused on creation in that hot, humid clearing.  Easy to lose sight of the 5000 years of history as I walked, barefoot, across the design again and again, to find sticks and sharp stones that might distract other walkers.

But no matter the creator, or process of creation. The sigil of the Labyrinth is true.  After we’d finished building the Fertile Ground Labyrinth, showered off the sweat and flour and changed, we came back to the field.  I breathed deeply at the entrance and placed my foot upon the path.  And there it was.  That just-below-hearing hum I’ve come to associate with Labyrinths.  That sense of deepening.  As I walked, I felt the knots of the day slipping away.  I felt my consciousness slipping into a dream state.  The moss on the ground was soft beneath my bare feet and muffled my footsteps.  As ever in walks, I passed through thoughts and emotions as well as the turns marked out in flour on the ground.

As one foot fell after another, I found myself walking other Labyrinths in my mind.  My very first one, so like the Fertile Ground Labyrinth: flour in a field.  My home Labyrinth, laid out in brick and earth.  The canvas Chartres Labyrinth we sometimes roll out at the UUCF.  The Dancing Woman Labyrinth.  The creaking wood floor of the Chartres inside the church in which I became a Labyrinth Apprentice.  The sigil holds true, always.  This pattern, this ancient design, connects to a spiritual practice so old that its original name has been lost to the mists of time.

I knelt in the center, in front of the round altarcloth, cauldron and white flowers, and felt myself sinking into that immense sea of time and space.  The wonder of the Labyrinth, the transformation of design to form to spirit, filled my mind.  Labyrinths humble me.  To be a part of a tradition so much older and greater than myself is more Grace than I know what to do with.

To be able to help others into that Grace by creating the sigil and guiding weary souls onto it is equally humbling.  My part is small.  The transformation of a Labyrinth walk can be breathtaking in its scope.  Some walkers found answers to problems.  Some healed.  Some prayed.  One tearful, grateful whisper; “My Mom is here.”

That is the power in the pattern.  The true alchemy.  It is not just the matter in which the Labyrinth is created.  The alchemy is in the spirits that pass through the pattern.

It is the nature of life to transform.  It is the nature of matter to transform.  It is the nature of spirit to transform.

Alchemy.  Flour into spirit.  A miracle small enough to be overlooked and large enough to change a life.

It is the nature of Labyrinths to transform as well.