My specialty is small group rituals and retreats for women. However, a primary reason behind having women-only rituals at this point in my life is purely logistical. I find it nearly impossible to have a complete “retreat” experience with kids also present! Someone has to take care of the kids during said retreats…hence, single-sex rituals/ceremonies often make the most sense for my local community. However, shorter and simpler rituals are possible with kids, though they have a completely different feel and even function and so that energetic output needs to be balanced with the renewal and restoration we often need as parents, mothers, and women.
Woodspriestess: Exploring the intersection between Nature, the Goddess, art, and poetry.
Listening to the woods, to the stones, to Gaia, and to women...
In the woods behind my house rest a collection of nine large flat rocks. Daily, I walk down to these “priestess rocks” for some sacred time alone to pray, meditate, consider, and be. Often, while in this space, I open my mouth and poetry comes out. I’ve come to see this experience as "theapoetics"—experiencing the Goddess through direct “revelation,” framed in language. As Stanley Hopper originally described in the 1970’s, it is possible to “…replace theology, the rationalistic interpretation of belief, with theopoetics, finding God[dess] through poetry and fiction, which neither wither before modern science nor conflict with the complexity of what we know now to be the self.” Theapoetics might also be described, “as a means of engaging language and perception in such a way that one enters into a radical relation with the divine, the other, and the creation in which all occurs.”
Molly is author of Womanrunes: a guide to their use and interpretation (based on the work of Shekhinah Mountainwater) as well as The Red Tent Resource Kit. She writes about thealogy, nature, practical priestessing, and the goddess at her http://goddesspriestess.com. Molly and and her husband Mark co-create original birth art jewelry, figurines, and goddess pendants at Brigid’s Grove (http://brigidsgrove.com).
Cynthia Eller in Living in the Lap of the Goddess notes that, “some spiritual feminists say that having a divine mother is a way of compensating for the frailties of human mothers, giving women a more perfect mother…” This is not actually true for me; I’m fortunate enough to have an excellent human mother. I am more liable to see myself as a mother reflected in the empowering imagery of the Goddess as mother than I am to feel “mothered” by Her—I feel like she affirms my worth and value in my own maternal role. She gives me strength and inspiration to be a better mother to my children. In this way, I then agree with the hope of spiritual feminists that, “this great mother goddess will have a transformative effect upon the social valuation of motherhood.” (Eller, p. 143)
“What do you know of the negative associations with the word Witch? How do you feel about the fact that so many witches were persecuted and burned in medieval times? Would you like to see witches and Goddess-religion made acceptable in today’s society?”
–Shekhinah Mountainwater, Ariadne’s Thread
While perhaps the answers to these questions seem very obvious when posted to a blog on a forum called Witches and Pagans, to many women interested in women's circles and Red Tents they are significant ones. And, they are very relevant to priestesses like me who work with the general public, rather than specifically pagan-identified groups, for Red Tent Circles and other gatherings. It is important to turn over and acknowledge the ways in which the word "witch" can be used to oppress people or to stifle their curiosity and personal expression as well as even prevent involvement with the work you offer.
This year I began a small study group using the book Ariadne’s Thread. I’ve wanted to work through this book with a group of women for years and it finally is working out to do so. One of the topics of our first meeting is the fear many women have of the word “witch.” This comes up in the Red Tent and Practical Priestessing classes I teach also. Indeed, when I plan Red Tent events, though I do use goddess imagery and I am extremely goddess-oriented in my personal spirituality, I am careful not to include the word “goddess” in the chants or rituals, because I want to make sure to speak to the womanspirit within all of us, rather than being associated with any one framework of belief. Red Tent spaces have the ability to transcend any particular belief system and welcome women of many backgrounds, inclinations, and beliefs. They aren’t specifically “Goddess circles,” though they honor the divine feminine through their very being.
When planning a ritual involving children, I always have to remind myself to keep it short and simple! Just in time for Spring Equinox, I’d like to share the simple ritual of spring welcome that is perfect for family or a small group of friends. This ritual is designed to be done at night around a campfire and to be followed by a drum circle, but can easily be adapted to day time (perhaps with a fresh flower mandala to gather around instead of a fire). It can take place anytime between March 21 and May 1 and still feel seasonally appropriate.
We’ve already explored why we pass the rattle during a women’s circle, but what about how to make your own rattle…
Why use a gourd?
Gourds are natural musical instruments that have more than 10,000 years of history, spanning multiple continents and uncountable cultures. Evidence from the Smithsonian is that gourds were the first domesticated crop ever grown in the Americas, probably cultivated by women as water containers. The origination of the gourds still grown today is in Africa, where seeds were then transported to Asia and then from Asia to the Americas by Paleoindian peoples who crossed the Bering Strait and originally colonized the Americas. I was curious to know if gourds have any specific association with ancient goddess traditions in addition to their association with modern-day women’s spirituality, but I have not been able to find specific information on the subject. However, I was inspired to read this small paragraph, suggesting that gourds represent the womb of the Earth Mother herself and that using them to create rattles, creates “intentional womb prayer vessels.”
—Shekhinah Mountainwater, Ariadne’s Thread
Why pass the rattle at a women’s circle*?
Passing the rattle gives each woman in the circle an equal voice and an equal opportunity to be heard. The woman who has the rattle, has the “floor” and the other women in the circle give her their full attention. In spontaneous or non-organized groups of friends, we are all aware that not everyone experiences an equal opportunity to be heard. This can be due to personality type and preference as well as to simple logistics (such as presence of one’s children), but also due to people with larger voices or presences dominating the setting and the verbal landscape. In hierarchical and patriarchal settings, individual women’s voices may be actively silenced, oppressed, or dominated.