Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Creating the Women's Goddess Retreat

I wrote previously about my experience of running the Babalon Rising festival for its fifth year. I compared it to a child, grown beyond the scope of my own dreams. It has become something that the community it spawned needs and shapes. Let me then speak of my other child, not yet two years old and only just now developing into what it can be. I am referring to the annual Women's Goddess Retreat, an event that I am very proud to have birthed, and that changed me in ways I never thought possible.

The retreat started as a vision. It came from Hera, who I had no prior working relationship with. I'd read an interview with Tina Fey about her film Mean Girls and the book that inspired it, Queen Bees and Wannabes. It had occurred to me that communities, especially religiously motivated communities thrived only when the women in them worked together to build a place they were spiritually, emotionally, and physically invested in. I had been disheartened by the cliquish gossiping that was going on at my own spiritual home, Our Haven Nature Sanctuary, and I knew that I was as responsible as anyone for the present female animosity there.

My friend Anita, who has always been a great guiding force of growth in my life, had loaned me a book about women on retreat, The Woman's Retreat Book by Jennifer Louden. This book made me hungry -- jealously starving -- for a retreat of my own. I fantasized about a week alone at Crescent Beach, FL with time to write and paint and nap. I told myself that if I could just get away that I'd find the next step on my spiritual journey, and that, like magic, I'd suddenly know exactly what I wanted from my life. No one ever accused me of being an entirely rational creature.

And then Hera showed up. She came in a vision requesting, no, demanding that I put together a women's retreat in her honor. I hadn't really considered the idea of a group retreat before. How could I do the very self-involved navel-gazing that I dreamed of when I was facilitating a group of other women? And what would a retreat centered around Hera look like anyway? I imagined a group of ladies lounging by a pool, fanning themselves with peacock feathers.

Again, Anita had a solution. The retreat would honor Hera, yes, but it would also honor other Goddesses from different cultures around the world. I pinned the number at thirteen Goddesses, for the thirteen lunar cycles of the year. We would hold a circle for each Goddess, during which we would learn a little about Her mythology and worship. We would then invoke that Goddess and share in an activity together designed to teach us a life lesson that Goddess shared. I set the circles at two hours each, and determined that each woman would receive a journal to record her experiences in. This was as much for myself as anyone -- I wanted time to do my share of navel-gazing, after all!

Anita and Laurelei helped me flesh out the group of thirteen. The Goddesses we held circles for were:
  • Shakti ~ The Lessons of Inner Awareness, & Healing Ourselves
  • Diana ~ The Lessons of Owning your Power, & Finding Inner Strength
  • Hera ~ The Lessons of Dignity, Friendship, & Trust
  • Pele ~ The Lessons of Tending the Sacred Fire & Staying Centered
  • Gaia ~ The Lessons of Interconnectedness & Being Present
  • Aphrodite ~ The Lessons of True Beauty & Self-Love
  • Babalon ~ The Lessons of Sexual Freedom & Bottomless Love
  • Hathor ~ The Lessons of Celebration & Sacred Movement
  • Inanna ~ The Lessons of the Shadow-Self & Initiation
  • Brigid ~ The Lessons of Mythic Resonance & Bardic Magick
  • The Triple Goddess ~ The Lessons of Women's Cycles & Change
  • Sophia ~ The Lessons of Inner Wisdom & The Powers of The Sphinx
  • The Great Goddess ~ The Lesson of the Charge of the Goddess
Anita couldn't make it to the actual retreat, so we asked a handful of trusted friends to help present the circles for a few select Goddesses. Gina, our Firepanther, shared Pele's fire with us. Terri, Cricket to her friends, lead us on a mind-expanding trip around Gaia. My beloved friend Mary "Hummingbird" lead a moving circle to Brigid. The remaining Goddesses Laurelei and I divided up to share. Laurelei introduced us to Shakti through the use of mudras to move energy. When we began the yoni mudra our stories began to pour forth along with tears and laughter. If I had any doubts that we wouldn't be doing real internal soul work, they were quickly set aside. Under Laurelei's guidance Diana gave us each our own spiritual weapon of power. She taught us to see how beautiful we are when we share our smile and our love through Aphrodite's mirror. We danced a graceful and joyful circle for Hathor.

I lead circles for Hera, Babalon, Inanna, The Triple Goddess, and Sophia. Hera taught us the lesson that inspired the retreat, how to trust each other. Babalon's sexy energy had us all laughing and purring. I wrote an involved guided meditation for Inanna that lead each of us to embrace our shadow-self, while Laurelei gave us a Jungian tour through the Heroine's Journey. The Triple Goddess came out in full force, and seems to be the guiding presence for the upcoming retreat for this year. Sophia shared with us the powers to Know, to Will, to Dare, and to Keep Silent through a silent portion of the retreat.

Laurelei and I built a shrine in the woods for the Great Goddess. Our circle chanted "Ancient Mother" as women went in pairs to visit the shrine and meet the Great Goddess. When Laurelei and I had our turn we wept for joy and wonder, in spite of the fact that we knew exactly what the "mystery" of the shrine was -- we had placed it there ourselves, after all.

After the retreat I continued to use my journal daily until it was full. It got me writing again, in a way I haven't done in years. My writing inspired me to begin a book, Under Her Aegis, which I am still working on. My writing also lead me to understand my passions, and brought me to a place where I knew I wanted to be a librarian. It even inspired me to start this blog. I felt, after the retreat, as if I had brought something useful and necessary into this world. For the first time in my life I felt like a mother rather than a maiden. I will have no biological children of my own, and this transition was remarkable for me.

This year the Women's Goddess Retreat is changing its form. There are fewer Goddess circles and more time for personal reflection. There are also many rituals designed as rites of passage for several of the women in attendance. These women came forward independently of their own accord asking for rites of croning for themselves, and rites of womaning for their daughters. We are blessed this year with three croning ceremonies and one womaning rite. The retreat is becoming what I hoped it might be, a place for our community of women to come together and work with a common spirit.

The Goddesses for this year are:
  • Hestia ~ The Lessons of Finding Sacred Space & Returning Home
  • Grandmother ~ The Lessons of Inner Awareness, & Moving Energy
  • Brigid ~ The Lessons of Mythic Resonance & Bardic Magick
  • The Morrigan ~ The Lessons of the Warrior Spirit & Healing from Trauma
  • Athena ~ The Lessons of Peacemaking & Deep Wisdom
  • Discordia ~ The Lessons of Celebration & Spontaneity
  • Freya ~ The Lessons of Love & Women's Magic
  • Sedna ~ The Lessons of Role-Shifting & Adaptation
  • The Great Goddess ~ The Lesson of the Ultimate Boon
I will be facilitating the circles for Hestia and, yes of course, Athena. I am especially looking forward to Grandmother's circle, as we will be having an all-women's sweat lodge ceremony in Her honor. Also new this year we will be creating a Goddess quilt from 12x12 inch quilt blocks that each participant bring with her. We will assemble the quilt blocks on site.

I am proud to have brought this retreat into being, and I am nurtured and changed by it in ways I never imagined. Thank you for letting me share some of its magic with you, gentle reader.

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