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A few posts ago, I talked about my hesitance to work with a rattle during a trance exercise suggested in a book.  Something about the context didn’t feel right to me.  It just wasn’t for me. Well, I attended the Central New York Pagan Pride Day on September 17th and had an opportunity to try a rattle as I danced in a drum circle.  It happened by chance – I was merely trying to encourage my daughter to try something and join me in the dance.

After the fact, I researched the instrument and found that it’s called an ekpiri rattle.  It was comprised of a wooden handle and various hard shells strung around it.  It made a satisfying woody rattle.  It’s apparently a common instrument in Ghana.

As the drummers worked their magic, I danced with my daughter and some old friends in the circle.  I won’t say that I went into any sort of deep trance – certainly not the kind I experienced at a Wellspring drum circle a few years ago – but I did find it remarkably easy to release worries and feel connected with the moment.  I have a vivid memory of looking up at the tall oak tree above the circle.  I admired it as I spiraled below, playing that beautiful African instrument.

As I rattled and focused on the oak here and there, inspiration struck – why not make a rattle in a more Druidic context?  I imagine utilizing wood found in Celtic lore- perhaps apple to represent sweetness and the Otherworld, or rowan for protection?  I imagine the percussive sound coming from acorn caps strung about the wood.  And this is leading me to research rattles and their ritual uses in European cultures.  Perhaps I should revisit my bell wand?

This could be the start of something personally transformative…  My trance studies are once more meeting with my casual love of dance while also appealing to my creative side.

 

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2014 Maypole – Photo by Tara Loughborough, 2014

Northern Rivers celebrated its second Bealtaine together on May 10th.  The skies, which had been full of rain clouds, became pleasant and even sunny.  Perfect Maypole weather!  What a blessing!

I’ve never found evidence that the ancient Celts celebrated the holiday with a Maypole, but it’s become such an important part of the modern celebration.  My first exposure to the living Pagan community was on a Bealtaine.  My would-be friends and teachers danced a Maypole. My first visit to Muin Mound Grove was on Bealtaine.  Again, my would-be friends and teachers danced the Maypole.  It has become a sort of personal “Pagan birthday” since I lack the memory of any other concrete day in my early years of exploration.  Dancing the Maypole awakens my inner sense of whimsy and fun.  My husband and I annually kiss each other as we dance, inspired by the flirtatious nature of the custom.  This year, my ribbon broke shortly after I started, but I still laughed and circled with the others as one of our very talented members played his bagpipes.  At the end, I tied my ribbon around the bottom with the others.  Our dance sends our wishes of fertility into the land.  It is prayer in motion.

More traditional among the Irish was jumping the Bealtaine bonfire for luck and healing.  This was our magical working during the ritual.  I also prepared a candle in a lantern for those uncomfortable jumping the actual bonfire.   As we chanted, most of the women and children jumped the candle (I held Bee while we went together).  Most of the men and one lady jumped the actual fire pit which was spectacular to watch!

Songs were sun, praise was spoken, and offerings were poured, sprinkled, and hung around the fire and the clootie tree near the stone circle.  It was our first ritual outdoors since the hard winter hit Northern NY.  My goodness, it felt wonderful to be out there at the circle again…  Welcome May!

Clootie Tree – Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014

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An image of the main ritual , a Keltrian Druid rite, from the Central New York Pagan Pride Day, 2012.  Photo by Weretoad.

We woke and dressed just before sunrise.  It was going to be a long day.  Skip and Sharon Ellison, the keepers of Muin Mound Grove, very generously offered us hospitality in their camper the previous night.  We fell asleep to the music of heavy rain and, indeed, the ground was still moist when we emerged, ready to travel to Liverpool, NY.  This year, my grove decided it would be fun to work together and show what our artisans are capable of, vend some wares, and provide information on ADF and Druidism.  When we arrived at the Long Branch Park in Liverpool, we immediately got to work setting up a massive tent.  I displayed my dolls, Phoenix hung her jewelry, and we showcased some of Dragonfly and Willow’s work.  Soon we were joined by other grove members, old and new.  It turned out to be a really fabulous day.

Snake Dance from the CNYPPD, 2012 – Photo by Weretoad

The festivities began and ended with a spiraling snake dance and very, very casual Wiccan rite.  I found myself swept away in a whiplash of joyful energy as we careened over the hills, through the tall oaks, and around the vendor tents.  Laughing, grinning, and even tumbling down the grass, we joyfully welcomed a beautiful day full of learning, music, ritual, and camaraderie.

Because I was vending, and I didn’t want to leave my husband alone too long*, I only attended one workshop – “The Tribal Origins of Sacred and Folk Music with John Hartford.”  I’m glad that was the one I picked.  He demonstrated several instruments and discussed the evolution of tribal music.  I also learned some interesting things about Celtic instruments that I didn’t know before.

I was very interested in attending the main ritual.  It was lead by a Keltrian Druid grove from the Syracuse area.  The Henge of Keltria seems more private than ADF, so while I was aware of this grove’s existence, I had never seen them or their rites before.  Having grown out of ADF, I was curious to compare styles.   There were some awkward moments in the rite, but I feel it was entirely due to being such a massive ritual.  They are very difficult to lead!  My favorite parts were the tartans worn by the members (showed a sense of community), their attention to lore, and their method of “recreating the cosmos.”  My new friend from the North Country, RavynStar, came and we discussed some ideas for the North Country Druidic Study Group.

Space set aside for a simple healing rite on the edge of Onondaga Lake.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2012.

As the afternoon waned, our Senior Druid lead us to the edge of the park where the land met the Onondaga Lake, one of the most polluted lakes in the country.  There, we partook in a simple healing rite.  We offered song, spring water, and seeds to the local wildlife.  We took care not to offer anything that would cause further pollution.  The Senior Druid told the story of the lake which nearly moved me to tears.  The omens spoke of further work to restore this body of water and the land.  This poignant, quiet ritual was probably the most meaningful part of the festival to me.

Other highlights included hooping, drumming, and a belly dance performance by Adi Shakti.

My friend Parallax shows me her moves at the CNPPD, 2012 – Photo by Grey Catsidhe
My friend Jen joins the ranks of Adi Shakti and their annual performance at the CNYPPD, 2012.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe

As a vendor, I was pretty successful.  I felt comfortable taking some of the money I earned and shopping for Winter Solstice gifts.  Although it was a sunny day, the chill in the air whispered of winter.  The wheel is turning, and Pagan Pride Day always ushers in the Autumn Equinox.  It was fun to gather with other like-minded individuals, including old friends who I hardly ever get to see, and my grovemates.  The memory will comfort me when this region’s Cailleach spreads her cloak of blizzards, isolating us until the thaw.

 

 

* Bless my husband.  He gave his entire day to helping me vend without any complaint.  I’m a very lucky gal!

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“So, what is a Druid doing belly dance for?” you may be wondering.  “Shouldn’t you be doing céilí?”

Well, first of all… a modern Druid can dance however she wants!

Second… I never seem to be able to find a céilí class that is convenient for me.   Or find one at all.  When I lived in the Mohawk Valley, I was lucky enough to try céilí dancing once at a workshop.  It was a lot of fun and I would have gladly taken the class but something came up with work or college…  There are step dancing classes here in the North Country but they’re for wee ones and teenagers.  I’ve emailed about adult classes but never heard a response.  C’est la vie.

Third… belly dance is amazing!  To be honest, I would rather belly dance than just about anything else…  (Although I would still like to learn some ballroom and, yes, more céilí.)

I first became interested in belly dance in high school.  I obtained one of those “kits” at Barnes & Nobel.  You know – the themed boxes that have books with supplies in them.  In this case, it was a red and yellow box with a book about belly dance, a somewhat low-quality DVD, some silly body stickers, and a pair of zils.  I practiced in my room and had the worst posture ever.

In my freshman year of college, I broke up with my first boyfriend.  It was really upsetting to me and did a number on my confidence.  It was around this time that I became very spiritual.  Paganism became a much bigger part of my life.  The time I used to spend talking to my boyfriend went to reading about Wicca, practicing magic, finding other Pagans…  It helped my heart heal.  Belly dance was the other cure.  I remember finding out about a local class, stepping into that studio for the first time, and feeling so welcomed.  Back then, I was moving from eclectic Wicca to a really shallow exploration of Kemetics.  When I was younger, the Egyptian Goddess Bast was my patroness and she was very dear to me.  Finding a studio that focused on Egyptian style belly dance seemed like just the thing.  Hell, Bast was all over that place physically and spiritually.  Here were women of all shapes, ages, and sizes moving seductively and feeling beautiful and confident!  It was here that I really learned how to feel music, to dance, and to love me.  It was in belly dance that I started to feel sexy and desirable again.

Bast and I went our separate ways shortly after that.  She is associated with beauty and seductiveness, and I found that in myself through belly dance.  Perhaps she was leading me and initiating me into womanhood.  The woman I was becoming was not a Kemetic priestess, but we made our peace with that.  Life twists and turns.

When I moved to the North Country, there didn’t seem to be any belly dance.  Work, my wedding, and then grad school basically consumed my life.  Now that I have my MA, am comfortably married, and settled in my career, I felt I should look around for belly dance again.  I recently found a studio at St. Lawrence University offering a tribal belly dance workshop and excitedly registered.  I’m so glad I did!  As soon as I walked in, I felt that welcoming spirit.  I was embraced by women of all shapes, colors, ages, and sizes.  We worked together for two hours learning basic belly dance movies and tribal techniques.  I shimmied my hips, snaked my arms, and undulated my whole body.  I felt womanly and alive!  The lady leading the workshop, Ms. Tina, a visiting belly dance instructor, emphasized that tribal belly dance (which originated in America as a blend of traditional styles with other forms of dance) is about women.  It is danced by women for women to celebrate our bodies and our energy – creative, seductive, loving, self-absorbed, sisterly, motherly, and all our many moods.  It’s a time and a place to celebrate our curves, to sweat together, to laugh together, and to feel sexy.

I love it.

The woman who teaches belly dance in St. Lawrence County, Basimah, focuses on Egyptian – my original style.  I’m hoping to take some of her classes in the future.  It’s not céilí but it speaks to my soul.

Plus, I can always combine my favorite form of dance with one of my favorite forms of (very Druidic) music!

And, you know… it comes in handy around drum circles at festivals all over the world. 😀

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Ok, I really need to write about my experiences at Wellspring this year.  It’s taken me long enough.  This is entirely due to the fact that I’m just so busy right now.  I’m taking summer classes three nights a week and am preparing for a craft show next weekend.  I feel terribly behind on my mentoring and DP reviewing…  I’ve somehow been able to keep (mostly) afloat in my Nine Moons work.

So anyway…  on to the squishiness that was Wellspring 2011!  Forgive the disjointedness of this post…  It’s very late/early.

To be entirely honest, I was not all that thrilled about going the entire week before.  The forecast was not promising and I was starting to feel the stress of my current busy schedule.  Once we arrived, I was happy to be there.  It’s wonderful to see so many people that I know from the virtual world of ADF and learn, ritualize, and party with them.  My old friends Parallax and her husband were there.  Weretoad and I were delighted to spend time with them.  I got to know the North East Regional Druid (NERD) more and she is a wonderful, fun, and generous gal!  I talked to some of my fellow Artisans.  Though I did not have time to prepare an entry to the contest, I delighted in the creativity of my guild.  I felt refreshed and full of new inspiration!

Speaking of inspiration, the highlight of the bardic competition was, for me, seeing three of my grove mates participate, including Phoenix’s daughter!  Oh my gosh, that girl has the voice of a Goddess.  It was the second time I heard her sing “Colors of the Wind,” but it still brought tears to my eyes.

Sunday night, during ritual, there was an epic storm.  Weretoad and I were relatively comfortable under our rain ponchos, but everyone else was soaking wet.  It thundered and lightened so much that I worried about getting back to the camp safely.  Hubby and I prayed to Thor and still owe him some ale in return for our safety.

One of my favorite moments occurred after the storm.  Several of us gathered under the large pavilion.  I was in a group of friends and we started to sing random songs.  Eventually others joined us and it turned into a little drum circle (plus an accordion!).  There was much drinking and merriment.

I took a moment to visit the bonfire.  There was another drum circle over there and I delighted in dancing around the fire.  I had an incredibly intense dance-induced trance while there.  I literally felt like something was riding me and making me move.  Again and again, I found myself dangerously close to the fire then flung back as if yanked by a harness.  It was wild…  I’ve never felt that before.  It’s very exhausting.

We met a delightful couple in the hot tub.  They were a few generations older than us and shared some of their traveling adventures.  They weren’t part of ADF but it was a lot of fun to talk to them anyway!  I kind of hope we’ll see them at a future Wellspring.

I sold several of my plushies at Wellspring.  I’m always happy to see them find good homes…

 

So…yeah!  Wellspring turned out to be a fun, if soggy, adventure.

 

Now it’s time for sleep.

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“Tine Bealtaine” by one of my favorite groups – Omnia.

Time to get in the mood for tonight’s Beltaine festivities – the Maypole – the playful dance of fertility, the fires, and the celebration of renewed life!

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