“Please prepare me
to be a sanctuary.
Pure and holy
tried and true.
I’ll be a living
Last week, my husband drove our daughter into town to work at her Girl Scout cookie booth and released me to prepare for an all-day Red Tent retreat for my local women’s circle. After I packed my supplies for ritual, I set off on a walk in the deepening, rain-dark twilight. As I walked, I sang a song of sanctuary over and over, until I felt transported into a different type of consciousness, my feet steady on muddy gravel, the leafless branches stark against grey sky, moss and stones gleaming with sharp color against the roadside. A fallen tree absolutely carpeted with enchanting mushrooms caught my eye and invited me off the road and into its arms. As I stood there, feeling as if I had stepped out of ordinary reality and into a “backyard journey,” the spring peepers in the ephemeral pool in our field began their evening chorus. It has been so cold out with below freezing temperatures, snow, and ice for days since first hearing in early March that I actually wondered if they would survive to continue their song.
The next day, I gathered with a circle of powerful women in a log house on a hill, overlooking a deep meadow. The sky was heavy with rain, which tolled sorrowfully and heavily across the landscape. The landscape of being in our circle was also heavy and tearful. Pain and struggle was waiting below the surface of each woman in the circle, waiting, waiting, waiting for a safe space in which to be expressed. It had been three months since we last circled together and it was easy to see how we missed this outlet for expression and connection. After we sang our promise of sanctuary to one another, the tears began, the secrets of our lives were brought forward, and we learned that our shames and our sufferings are not solitary experiences after all. After each woman’s turn with the rattle, we noted that the sky reflected our mood, hanging gray and somber, heavy and full of emotion, wet with tears, overflowing our banks, flooding through us. After each person spoke and a silence of release and relief fell, a shaft of sunlight entered the skylight and gradually the whole room became illuminated as the rain clouds lifted. We scurried outside and turned our faces to the sun. The sky, and our hearts, had each shed a burden and now the light had room to shine.
Later in the afternoon, we received a womb rite transmission from an initiated member of the circle who is training with a Peruvian shaman. As we each spoke these words of healing, hands laid gently on the bellies of our sisters, the wind began to whirl and stir. The logs of the house creaked as if something was trying to enter and at time the whole house seemed to shake. As the last women received their rite, the power flickered and went out. We went outside to the deck, circled anew in the wind, leaves dancing around our heads and in our hair. We whispered affirmations to one another, the words twining in the air and around our faces like threads of floating magic. We then passed through a birth canal of our joined hands whispering, “I believe in you” to each woman as she passed through, re-entering the dimming light of the electricity-dark living room. After singing again, we gathered our belongings, exchanged hugs, and slipped out into the deepening dusk, humbled and awed by the visceral, direct, and responsive presence of the elements within this circle of hands, hearts, and bodies.