Gaian Soul

Earth-Centered Practices for Everyday Mystics, Healers, & Creatives

Turn the Wheel toward Hope

in Right Action, Winter Solstice, Yule

Dark Madonna & Daughter by Joanna Powell Colbert

Blessed Solstice to you & yours.

On this shortest day of the year, we celebrate the ancient rhythm: Dawn is born from the womb of the darkest night. On this day, so the legends tell us, the Great Mother gives birth to the Child of Wonder.

Many of us are experiencing despair, depression, and fear over the current political scene. We may be troubled as well by events in our personal lives. This past week, I’ve been listening to audio books and podcasts as I sit at my drawing table working on new pieces of art. I often return to a talk on the Fourfold Way that cross-cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien gave about fifteen years ago.

“Whenever you’re disheartened or dispirited or depressed in indigenous cultures,” Dr. Arrien says, “they may ask you one of four questions:

When in your life did you stop singing?

When in your life did you stop dancing?

When in your life did you stop being enchanted by stories,
particularly your own life story?

When in your life did you start being uncomfortable
with the sweet territory of silence?”

She goes on to say in her classic book The Fourfold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer and Visionary that “it has long been recognized that these healing salves [singing, dancing, story, silence] reawaken and sustain the divine child within us and return to us the qualities of wonder, hope, and awe.”

Let’s not reduce these wise words to a pretty graphic meme to post on social media.

Let’s live these words.

On this day, let us sing, dance, tell our stories, and sit comfortably in sweet silence.

On this day, let us turn the Wheel once again toward hope.

Entering the Dark, Sacred Silence

in Spiritual Practice, Wheel of the Year

seal skull, shells

While on retreat two weeks ago, I went for a contemplative beach walk. I found 9 upturned clam shells filled with sand and water; part of a moon snail shell with the spiral intact; and the skull of a seal, tangled up in kelp at the high tide line. With the Gaian Tarot 9 of Water / Cups in mind, and Dr. E’s telling of the story of “Sealskin, Soulskin,”* it seemed an answer to my question of “what’s next?” As I follow the spiral of inner and outer unfolding, following the phases of the moon, there is a time for activism and a time for withdrawal, each nourishing the other.

Season of Darkness and Light’s Return

These are the darkest weeks of the year, literally, as the days grow shorter in the northern hemisphere until the tide turns at Winter Solstice. I had set my intention months ago to “go dark” for the winter, withdrawing from most of my online teaching and social media participation and all events, so that I can focus on my ongoing art and writing projects instead. I still plan to do that, to tend my own soul’s fire as well as guiding others. But I’m now adding a layer of activism onto those plans of going dark.

I am financially supporting organizations I believe in, signing petitions, and making phone calls, as many of you are. I am not going to go to Standing Rock in person, but it my honor and privilege to support several friends who have been or will be traveling there. (If you would like to financially support the water protectors of Standing Rock, here is a good place to do that.)

Two Kinds of Silence

One of the hallmarks of the winter season is silence. In light of some recent comments on social media, I think it’s important to understand that there are two kinds of silence. There is the silence that ignores injustice, when we turn our heads to look away so that we can’t be held responsible. That is the kind of silence that is no longer an option.

But there is also the deep, nurturing silence that arises when we turn off our phones, turn off the TV and the radio, turn off the external distractions that keep us overstimulated. When we sink into the deep silence of our souls through ceremony, or walks in nature, or listening to music, or dancing, or making art or a thousand other ways to nurture our souls … that kind of silence heals us, nourishes us, and fuels us to get back in the game.

Each of us has to make our own decision of how we want to respond to the results of the US election, of how to add activism of one sort or another to our already busy, overstressed lives. I trust you to look into your own heart, and to hear the voice of guidance and inner wisdom. You will find your own way, as I am finding mine.

May we each find our own sealskins, and follow the call of our souls, each in our own way. Blessed be.

*The seal brings to mind the story of the selkie in “Sealskin, Soulskin,” as told by Clarissa Pinkola Estés in Women Who Run With the Wolves. It’s the story of a woman who has lost her sense of self, her intuition, her purpose, and her creativity (symbolized by the sealskin) — and how she follows the call that leads her back to it. She recovers her soulskin, her own deep instinctual wisdom.

(Parts of this blog post were originally published in an e-letter I sent out last week.)

After the Election, Four Questions

in Circle Way, Community, Right Action


Yesterday I gathered a few friends together in my living room to practice the Circle Way and hold a wisdom council on the topic of the election. I am convinced that gathering together in person and not just online is critical to the healing of our spirits and the healing of our nation. I offer these questions to you in the hope that you too may want to call a circle of intentional conversation with a few friends or neighbors. The questions are:

In the aftermath of the US election … 

1 – What do I fear? 
2 – What gives me hope?
3 – How can I communicate peacefully with those who hold a different point of view?
4 – What can I do now, and in the months and years to come, to make a difference?

I appreciate all the ideas and the wisdom that emerged from the circle yesterday. Sometimes just sitting with the questions and knowing you’re not alone in asking, is enough.

If you’re not familiar with circle process, you can read about it at The Circle Way website as well as in the book The Circle Way: A Leader in Every Chair by Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea.

A few key things to remember:

  • Make a sacred center (a lighted candle works well).
  • Use a talking piece.
  • Do a check-in before the rounds of questions.
  • Speak with intention and listen with attention.
  • Hold confidentiality.
  • Everyone tends to the well-being of the circle.

Complete guidelines for calling a circle of intentional conversation can be found here.

I personally resonate with the simple, elegant answer that Elizabeth Warren gave to Rachel Maddow when Rachel asked her what those of us who are despondent over the election results can do. Elizabeth asked us to 1) Volunteer for a cause of our choice and 2) Stay connected to each other.

Calling circles of intentional conversation in our neighborhoods is a great way to stay connected.

And I would add:

Know when it’s time to take action and when it’s time to retreat in order to replenish. Activism is critical now, more than ever, and so is self-care.

As part of my own self-care, I’m practicing the following “lovingkindness” meditation:

May I be well and happy. May I be blessed. 
May those I love be well and happy. May they be blessed.
May those I do not know be well and happy. May they be blessed.
May my opponents be well and happy. May they be blessed.
May all beings be well and happy. May they be blessed.

Aldermarsh Farewell

in Grief, Nature Connection, Retreat

Procession. Photo by Karen Karlovich.

It didn’t feel like goodbye.

I was told in July that the 86-year-old owner of the sacred land of Aldermarsh Retreat Center would be selling it, and that all retreats for 2017 and beyond were cancelled.

When I first received the news, the shock was like a punch in the gut. I went out and sat in the garden to ground and center, feeling like I had been told a loved one had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. I went through all the stages of grief: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, acceptance, and back again, cycling though each stage over and over again.

Prayer flags and the serpentine path through the marsh.

Prayer flags and the serpentine path through the marsh.

Aldermarsh has been a spiritual home for me for seven years. It is sacred land where I have called circles and participated in circles called by others, communed with the land, and gathered sisters and brothers on retreat. The land there has held us and nurtured us as we pursued our creative paths, received teachings, experienced epiphanies and breakthroughs, listened to the quiet voice of the land, and came together in sacred — if ephemeral — community.

Arwen communes with Grandmother Fir.

Arwen communes with Grandmother Fir.

For six weeks or more after receiving the news, I searched for another retreat center in western Washington that would meet my criteria. I had a long list. It was difficult to find a place that would work as well as Aldermarsh for us. I had several false starts until I found a retreat center on 52 acres in the foothills of the North Cascades. We will be there in March and October of 2017, and will hold ceremony on the land as soon as we arrive in order to begin to build a relationship with this new land.

Poem by Ellen Lorenzi-Prince, spirit doll by Ali Erickson.

Poem by Ellen Lorenzi-Prince, spirit doll by Ali Erickson.

Many of us who love Aldermarsh have been praying and working magic for new owners to arrive who will, first of all, keep the land as sacred; and secondly keep it open as a retreat center. Some of our seers have said we will be back there on retreat; others have said we won’t. Perhaps the land is just taking a needed “sacred pause.” Perhaps the new owners will have different plans. We have heard that an organic farm school will be on the land, which means it will be well-cared-for. But, as of this writing, nothing is settled.

Douglas fir resin and artemisia.

Douglas fir cone dripping with resin and fragrant artemisia. Gifts from the land.

But I do trust that the sacred land of Aldermarsh is sovereign, from the guardian Fir in the meadow, to her heart in the center of the marsh, to her womb in the warm, dark, cordwood sauna. “The land’s going to do what the land’s going to do,” said a friend.

Grandmother Fir, Marsh House, Medicine Wheel on a rainy day. Photo by Karen Karlovich.

Grandmother Fir, Marsh House, meadow, and medicine wheel on a rainy day.
Photo by Karen Karlovich.

This retreat was the tenth retreat I have hosted at Aldermarsh, the number of the Wheel of Fortune in the tarot’s Major Arcana. The Wheel card always means change, often Big Change. In the Gaian Tarot, the Minor Tens are all cards of transition: the old is passing away, but the new has not yet been made clear.

Making spirit dolls

Making spirit dolls with great hilarity.

Two spirit dolls in progress.

Two spirit dolls in progress.

Full moon rise over Marsh House.

Full moonrise over Marsh House. Photo by Jennifer Lucero-Earle.

And so, as eighteen women gathered at Aldermarsh over the past week, we sat in circle council, calling in all those who came to past retreats. We made spirit dolls, absorbed teaching about the Dark Goddess from Ellen Lorenzi-Prince, walked the beach and woods and meadows, delighted in the full moon’s rise and the coyotes’ howl, feasted on delicious food, laughed and cried, and danced the Dark Goddesses — those who know grief and loss — into manifestation.

Jennifer Lucero-Earle led us into dancing our Dark Goddesses.

Jennifer led us into dancing our Dark Goddesses.

Feasting! Photo on left by Ali Erickson, photo on right by Jennifer Lucero-Earle.

Feasting! Photo on left by Ali Erickson, photo on right by Jennifer Lucero-Earle.

Grateful for They Who Prepare Our Meals with Great Love. Sous-chef Latisha on the left, chef Elaine on the right.

Grateful for They Who Prepare Our Meals with Great Love.
Sous-chef Latisha on the left, chef Elaine on the right.

We wrote blessings for each other and for the land, and tied paper prayer flags to branches here and there.

Paper prayer flag blessing:

Paper prayer flag blessing by JPC inspired by the Gaian Tarot Seeker card:
“May deep roots protect you, May the river’s flow embrace you,
May the coyote’s yip delight you, May seekers ever find you.”

We wrote love letters to Aldermarsh, then tore the letters up in tiny bits, mixing them into a well of sea water, rain water, gifts from the land, elixir of Aldermarsh, and our tears.

Ellen's love letter to Aldermarsh.

Ellen’s love letter to Aldermarsh.

Sacred well of letters, sea water, rain water, elixir of Aldermarsh, and tears.

Sacred well full of letters, sea water, rain water, elixir of Aldermarsh, and tears.
“Our Lady of Aldermarsh” spirit doll by Lisa Blinn.

On our last morning, the Maiden of the Well led us in procession to the center of the marsh, on the serpentine path, where we stood and sang to the trees and the mud and the frogs and the birds and the deer, a song that came to Latisha in the medicine wheel the day before:

“Walk in beauty, walk in beauty
Sing the frog song, sing the frog song
Lift your soul up with the alders,
And let the land bring you home.”



I anointed each woman with water from the well, whispering “May the Spirit of Aldermarsh be with you always.” Then we poured the water containing our letters, blessings, and tears into the marsh and covered it with cedar boughs. The words that spilled from our hearts are now part of the marsh forever.

Anointing. Photo by Karen Karlovich.

Anointing. Photo by Karen Karlovich.

And still — it didn’t feel like a final goodbye. We all had the sense that the land will be just fine, that “all shall be well.”

Perhaps we will gather there again in circle, and perhaps not. Aldermarsh may live on only in our hearts and dreams.

Looking up to the alders. Photo by Karen Karlovich.

Looking up to the alders. Photo by Karen Karlovich.

But we know we are blessed, for we have known the power and communion of sacred land.

Blessed be.

Grandmother Fir embraces the circle of women.

Grandmother Fir embraces the circle of those who love her,
those present in body and those present in spirit.

The following was posted by Lisa Blinn on Facebook, and speaks more eloquently than I can of the need for retreat and community:

“Until I stepped into the deep, rich, verdant land of Aldermarsh four years ago, there were essential parts of me that I didn’t know existed, dreams that flickered in the recesses of my mind unremembered, and ancestral knowledge that was long forgotten but rooted in the deepest part of my soul. My beloved mentor Joanna called the exactly right women who showed up to do the work every single time to create & hold a powerful, sacred space where we were all safe, seen, and held just as we are, without masks or pretense or fear.

That, my friends, is true magic. The land heals. Sisterhood heals. Laughter heals. Tears heal. Truth heals. Circles heal. For me and my Gaian sisters, Aldermarsh heals.

This time, we came again, new and old, both in person and in prayers, knowing fully that this might have been our last time on the land that we have come to love as heart home. We held council, drew down the moon, loved the land, grieved, laughed, feasted and danced, all through the loving work & guidance of Joanna, EllenJennifer, Elaine and Latisha. Joanna’s beautiful account of our “time out of time” conveys the magic, the joy, and the community more eloquently than I ever could. We are ready for whatever comes next, knowing it is right.

I share this with you for two reasons. First, you must tend your own soul, your own heart in this world of too much. Too much hatred, too much pain, too much division, too much apathy. Taking time for self care, whatever that looks like for you, whether it be a bath, a good book, a retreat, a long walk, reinvigorates and restores your ability to do the hard work that you are called to do in this life. You must replenish your own well in order to be able to quench the needs of others. It’s not selfish or foolish; it’s essential and you, every single one of you, deserve it.

Second, find your community, the one that makes your heart sing and mirrors back everything that is good & right & powerful about YOU. It may be your church or mosque, a book club, a group of old friends that commit to dedicating time with each other each month. If it doesn’t feel right, keep looking. We are living in dangerous and scary times, my friends, and we are all called to act on our values more than ever. Community makes that possible and amplifies your voice. Community supports. Community heals.”