There are times when we know we are in precisely the right place at precisely the right time. Times when we know in the heart not the head that we are doing exactly what we were born to do. Times when the universe feels right. I am blessed with experiencing a number of those times in my life, the most recent of which happened on a beautiful Friday night, September 2005. It is my hope for every one of us to have this experience at least once.
When my friend and I told our co-workers we were spending the weekend at a Goddess Spirituality conference in Wisconsin Dells, they laughed. The Dells is known more for water parks and "family style" fun than for women-centered spiritual gatherings devoted to the Goddess Diana. I admit their laughter and confusion did create a wonderful cartoon in my imagination of witches in windswept gowns and hats, laughing and screaming their way down gigantic waterslides.
The Daughters of the Goddess Gathering, a celebration of 35 years of Dianic tradition, was actually held in an Easter Seals Camp on the outskirts of the town. Pleasantly rustic, but comfortable enough (plenty of showers and toilets) to appease my middle-aged Taurus need for comfort. I was part of the planning committee for the past year and, at the risk of tooting my own horn a good personal horn-tooting could do us all some good! it was an amazing weekend. I met a plethora of wonderful women, flirted shamelessly with most of them, straight or lesbian. Despite my uncomfortable awareness of an insatiable need to complain which has become my latest piece of shadow work and will undoubtably become the topic of a future column I had the most wonderful and homecoming experience.
Women came from all over the country, from Maine to California, from Florida and the Carolinas to Washington state. We were Goddess women from crones to generations X&Y, coming together to learn, to play, to worship, and to understand belonging. There were feminist scholars, musicians, craftswomen. For the first time in remembered herstory, four Dianic High Priestesses played, taught and led ritual together in the same place. Needless to say, a grouping of witches like this would be very intense under any circumstance, but add the element of the Autumn equinox full moon and the scene was set for serious mystical experiences.
Apart from issues with the food - which don't need to be entered into now and some insensitivity toward women with disabilities which I can't explain I enjoyed every single minute I spent at the camp. It wasn't all mystical or deep, but the Friday night concert was without doubt one of the most wonderful moments of my life, thus far. It was a moment when everything was true. I knew myself, the women around me, and the Goddess as brilliant and perfectly right as opposed to nearly right or a little bit right!
Twenty years ago, back when I was a very anti-spiritual lesbian feminist baby butch dyke, I was living on the dole and performing poetry all over the UK. I was the designated MC for most lesbian events in London, including the main stage for Gay Pride. It helped that my girlfriend at that time was the primary producer in town, but nevertheless, for a couple of years there, I was world famous in south London.
November 1988 I came to the US, looking to become rich and famous. After three months, instead of fame I found sobriety. When I got clean and sober, in 1989 I told myself I couldn't just be a spoken word poet any more, I needed to "grow up", become a "proper writer." I needed to become a writer who wrote prose, who submitted and published her work. If I was serious about writing then I needed to become a professional writer.
Over the last year, I have been claiming, or perhaps reclaiming the gift and power of spoken word-magic, by facilitating public ritual. During a committee meeting earlier in the year, I invited myself to be a spoken-word performer in the Friday night opening concert. One of the reasons I slog through committee meetings and bickering email groups is because it earns me access to the planning of events and rituals. I have learnt, over the years working with feminist events, when you are not well known in the wider community, not a big draw, volunteering and being a constant presence is the only way to open closed doors. Also, I am very high maintenance when it comes to food, and being on the committee earns me access to the sacred ground of the camp kitchen.
I had completely forgotten about my spoken-word commitment until the week before the Gathering. What should I do? I remembered a cute cockney poem I wrote, back in England, when Thatcher was in power, and the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp was in full swing. It was a wonderful time to be coming out, a mini-resergence of feminist politics and creativity. I could easily add a couple of lines to make it seasonally spiritual. If I did it in my best cockney accent, half the women in the audience would only understand every other word, which wouldn't matter, because most of them would only be listening to my accent, not my content, anyway! With my cute accent and my friend Harvest drumming to give it a laid-back reggae beat, I was bound to woo the crowd.
For the second piece I choose a much more recent poem, written in a Shakti Yoga class I took in grad school. It had risen from my chest, channeled at the end of the chant. While I cried the rest of the class sat holding space until She was done. I had always wanted to perform it as a spoken-word piece with drummers. It would be a perfect balance of my old and new styles, the boy and the priestess me.
I had never written out the older poem; back then, performed poems didn't always make it to the page. I had to practice like crazy to avoid slipping back to the old words and jumping over the newer, more pc additions. The second poem had never been learnt and I didn't have time to learn it well enough to be comfortable without the words close by.
On Friday evening I was nicely nervous, chi in my belly and buzzing in my heart. The perfect combination to mix with a couple of deep breaths for a present and embodied performance. A couple of times in my life I have gone on stage without this edge of fear and found myself leaving my body midline performances tend to go downhill from there! As my beloved teacher Dianne Connelly loves to say, "Fear is just excitement that hasn't taken a breath yet."
The concert was going to be a round-robin, the performers sitting in a semi-circle, taking turns doing a piece, one after the other for two rounds. The seats were arranged with the drummer Judy Piassa at the one end and me at the other. She was to provide the opening and I was to close and lead into the surprise belly dance performance. In between were to be Middle Eastern drummers and poetry, Celtic folk music, Hawaiian dance, and women's music.
The moment I heard Judy say she was going to be starting with a Hindu chant, I knew it was going to be a great night. As the evening built, I asked the Goddess to be with me when it was my turn to represent Her. The first poem was fun, seemed to go over well, but with the accent it's hard to tell if they were really getting it or simply entranced.
When I stood at the mike for the last time I asked all the drummers on the stage if they would be willing to drum with me. I closed my eyes and invited Her into my body. As I opened my heart and my belly, my body started to sway with the rawness of her kiss. The drummers found the beat from the stamping of my feet. I started with the chant, "Auhmn Shakti Auhmn Shakti Auhmn Shakti Auhmn." Her energy started to spin around the room, pushed and contained by the drummers.
I have imagined this piece performed this way, but this was the first time. I was awed by the privilege of performing with such power-drumming priestesses. The audience joined the chant. First a whisper, then in harmony. I started the poem, dancing with the rhythms, playing with the spaces and the silence. This was heaven. Right here, right now, my heaven.
We built and built, filling the room and the world with Shakti energy. Her pure love filling our hearts, healing us and the world in waves. Witches, women, worshipping, chanting and doing the work, THE work.
We stopped together, feeling the right time without practice or special hand signals. The release sparkled in the silence until our breath in unison blew it out into the universe.
I didn't have any published copies of either poem, but I did add the original of Black Crow, complete with notes and last minute alterations, to the silent auction. The woman who bought it told me that during the poem on Friday night she had released a final piece of grief about the death of someone dear to her. A writer never knows what hunger the words she catches will feed.
May every life have a million moments like this.