Of Visions Changes and Community
By Andras Corban Arthen
Nestled among the rolling hills of western Massachusetts there is a place bounded by streams, with woods of hemlock, of maple and of birch, and stretches of green meadow with apple trees and berry bushes and gardens with flowers of many kinds. Atop a hill, a fire blazes inside a ring of stones, its sparks cavorting across the midnight sky to join the twinkling canopy of stars. Drums pound, voices sing, shadows dance; a large black dog watches with unblinking eyes. A slender, tall and branchless tree stands all alone, sheathed in an intricate web of many-colored ribbons. Dawn stirs awake, a hawk flies overhead.
This place is home to a family, to a community of people linked together not by blood but by belief inspired by the power of ancient ways to build a bridge of hope and of intent toward the future. And to this place many people come - - to learn, to teach, to heal, to build, to change and shape, to dream. Seeds sprout, gates open; the glowing tendrils of a shimmering web reach out across the land to other places, to other beings, seeking kinship, seeking balance restored. The gurgle of the streams carries a song; the trees join with the wind in atavistic dance; the standing stones, with measured, silent voices fell a story older than humankind, older than time itself. The call is sent, the ancient powers come.
Approximately twenty-five years ago, I saw this as I gazed into a small, crackling fire while camping at the foot of Mt. Katahdin, in northern Maine. I wasn't quite sure what it meant - I didn't know then of any such place or even where to begin to look for it. But what I saw in the heart of that campfire was so compelling and so vivid that I committed myself, then and there, to find it or to make it happen. Several years later, when Deirdre came along, it quickly became apparent that we shared a similar sense of direction, and, when we founded EardiSpirit in 1980, that vision of land and of conununity became an integral part of our plans for the organization.
Ten years later, our work and EarthSpirit as an organization had grown to the point where we felt it was not only appropriate, but in fact necessary, for us to find land on which to establish an actual community and some sort of conference/retreat center. At that point, the scope of EarthSpirit's programs included several open rituals a year, both in the greater Boston area and in western Mass.; the ESC Newsletter; our joumal, FireHeart; MoonCircle, our monthly study group, as well as special interest groups for women, men, and children, and for Pagans in recovery; the monthly EarthSpirit Coffeehouse; and we had become increasingly involved in interfaith networking and had just started MotherTongue, our ritual performance group.
In addition, Deirdre and I, through CCR, were organizing four large gatherings a year; Deirdre was maintaining a private counseling practice which mostly involved Pagan clients; and I was teaching four classes a week in Boston and one monthly in western Mass., and had begun to travel fairly extensively, lecturing and giving workshops in other parts of the country. And this was just our public work; beyond it, we were overseeing the training and work of seven covens and attempting to be parents to two small children.
We neither could nor wanted to maintain that kind of load; clearly, we had reached the limit of what we could do without the grounding of a permanent and suitable location to serve as our foundation, some type of center through which to focus our work, and an actual physical community to support and further that work.
We formulated a plan to this end, and early in 1991, I wrote an open letter to everyone connected with EarthSpirit as a way to initiate some discussion regarding the land project, and as a feeler to help us determine how it would be best to proceed. In that letter, which was published in these pages, I explained our current situation, presented some of our ideas regarding this project, and invited our members and friends to explore various ways in which we could make it happen. Since none of us were wealthy, it seemed that the quickest way to raise the capital needed was for many people to contribute relatively small amounts of money to the enterprise. Our main question was whether there would be enough interest, resources and trust among the community at large to make this manifest.
After gauging the reactions to my proposal over several issues of the Newsletter and the various private messages we received, it became obvious that:
1) there was a small number of respondents who either thought the land project was a bad idea, or had a good deal of mistrust regarding how the proposal would be implemented, or were willing to lend support, financial or otherwise, but to something considerably different from what we were proposing; 2) a somewhat larger number of respondents who were very much in favor of the project, but had neither the financial resources nor the energy to contribute toward its implementation; and 3) the most common response, which was simply no response at all. We could not but conclude that, in order to manifest our vision, we would have to resort to Plan B.
In my letter I had outlined some of the various options we were considering. While our first choice was to implement the land project with the involvement of the community at large, our second choice - should the first one prove unworkable - was to make it happen with a smaller group of people as a private venture. Since that smaller group would likely include most of the people at the core of EarthSpirit, however, and since such a project would involve a great deal of time and energy, I noted in the letter that this option would require us to radically cut back on the programs and services we were offering, at least until such time as the land project became manifest.
Over the past five years, this is precisely what we've had to do. We have dropped one of the gatherings and some of the open rituals, FireHeart, and all of the special interest groups; the Coffeehouse has only been held sporadically, and the Newsletter had to be scaled back. We have also had to curtail the amount of time previously invested in MotherTongue rehearsals and performances, and I have radically cut back on my teaching and lecturing, outside of the occasional workshop or conference presentation. As a result, I'm sure that a great many of you, especially those who've been around for a while, have probably been wondering what's become of EarthSpirit.
I am happy to report that, since last Fall, a group of us has been living in community at Glenwood Farm, in the hills of western Massachusetts, a place that looks and feels strikingly like the one I saw in the fire so long ago. The land encompasses 130 meadows and woods, with a few streams, a pond, and several buildings. We own the land privately - EarthSpirit as an oganization was not involved in the transaction. (When I say that we own the land, I should make it clear that our perspective, influenced as it is by our spiritual practices, is that the very notion of humans "owning" the Earth is absurd - as the song well puts it, "you cannot own the land, the land owns you." But since the rules of the game called "society" define our relationship to the land as "ownership", we don't mind playing along.
We expect, over the next couple of years, not only to resume some of the programs, publications, and services that we have offered in the past, but also to develop a small Pagan-based conference center in our new home and to start hosting some of our programs here. We intend to continue our activities in the greater Boston area, and at the same time look forward to greater interaction with our members and friends in western Mass., New York, Vermont and Connecticut, as well as those from other parts of the country as we begin to travel and teach again.
The past few years, and especially the time we have spent on the land since the Fall, have given us some clear indications of where we need to go with our work, and of the changes we have to make in order to get there. We have some exciting plans and interesting prospects ahead of us, and we'll let you know about them as they begin to manifest.
I would also like to take a moment to thank, on behalf of all of us. all of the EarthSpirit members who have been especially instrumental in keeping the organization going as our core group focused on finding land, especially Jerrie Hildebrand, Cheryl Leonard, Deborah Ann Light, Whispering Deer, Tak & Connie, Kim Powell, Ted & Alice Thibodeau, and Brenna Huntington.
Please note the following address changes:
The EarthSpirit Community
Center for Community Resources (CCR)
Our new phone number is (413) 238-4240, and our new fax line is (413) 238-7785. Our old address, P. 0. Box 365, Medford, MA 02155, and phone number (617) 395-1023 are still good, though we're not able to pick up the mail or get our messages there with regularity, so if you want to reach us, please do so at the new address & number above, and if you can, please pass the word to others who might be interested in this information.
In closing, we very much look forward to seeing many of you at Rites of Spring (it's hard to believe we're in our nineteenth year) and hope to also see you some time at Glenwood Farm!