Earth Wisdom Tarot Sacred Art

Retreating with Mermaid Sisters and La Diosa del Mar

in Mermaids, Retreat, Spirituality

La Diosa del Mar

I’ve returned home from the fifth Gaian Soul Retreat I have hosted at our beloved Aldermarsh Retreat Center on Whidbey Island. I love, love, love this work. This weekend I realized that creating retreat experiences is one of my three art forms, along with writing and making art. On retreat, I hold the container for women to have depth experiences, co-creating the cauldron of transformation with the spirits of the sacred land, the women who answer the call to be present, and the Blessed Mother Herself.

Start the morning with a kiss!

I am so grateful for this life of mine. So privileged to do this work.

I chose a theme of Mermaid Magic for this retreat, honoring the Ocean Mama to whom I am dedicated, known as Yemaya, Salmon Woman, Aphrodite, Mari, Morgan, Tiamat, Thalassa, La Diosa del Mar, Stella Maris Star of the Sea, She Who Watches, and a thousand other names.  As I gathered material for the retreat, I remembered the very first retreat I ever led in September of 1996 at Doe Bay on Orcas Island — a Mermaid Magic Retreat!  I have been devoted to the Ocean Mother for a long, long time. I was reminded that we each walk a spiral path, circling back to things we knew in years past, but at another turn of the spiral, adding depth and nuance to what came before.

Colleen by the shore

We visited Mama Ocean one morning, going off in search of our own siren songs in a silent contemplative walk. (The kind of siren song we were seeking is defined by Kim Antieau in her book Church of the Old Mermaids. It’s “whatever you do that you love completely, or that you think is really you.  Something fluid, beautiful, all yours — and something that contributes to the community in some way. Every Old Mermaid — and every person — has her own siren song.”

cedar, seawater, mermaid treasure

Back at Marsh House, a bowl full of seawater anchored our altar.  I placed the cards of the entire suit of water from the Dark Goddess Tarot around the bowl. I was happy my friend Ellen Lorenzi-Prince, creator of the Dark Goddess Tarot, came to the retreat. In Saturday night’s ceremony, each woman chose a water card, and Ellen spoke with the voice of each Dark Goddess, giving each woman a personal message. Such a gift.

water altar

There was scrumptious, delicious food, created by our kitchen priestess Elaine Nichols and her sous-chef Colleen. One of the women, Molly Rice, brought us wild Alaska salmon that she and her partner caught themselves. She brought pears too, and Elaine gathered apples from the Aldermarsh garden for pear-apple crisp.  We were in heaven with so much succulent food.

Luscious food!

There was the land that welcomed us in so many ways.

Dawn at Aldermarsh

There were massages and tarot play and dancing and story circles and sweating in the hobbit hut sauna.


There was sacred art-making.  This year, we made Ojos de Diosa — Goddess Eyes — in honor of She Who Watches.   As always, the works of art the women make at these retreats knock me out with their power and beauty.

ojos de diosa

I had three moving experiences in the medicine wheel stone circle in one day.

Medicine Wheel, photo by Karen Karlovich

The first time, I led the women in dancing the Dance of Life. I had planned to dance in full sunshine, but because one of the women asked for what she needed (shade), we moved into the shady stone circle instead. And it was profound. Seven rounds of dancing to each of the four directions in turn took about a half hour. It left us all filled to overflowing with peace, spirit, and full hearts. Some of us wept and had to lie down, whole body on the earth, to ground afterwards. That medicine wheel is holding a lot of powerful magic!

Dance of Life, photos by Karen Karlovich

Later that afternoon during quiet time, I wanted to take a nap because I had only slept about four hours the night before. But the weather was so lovely I didn’t want to be inside. So I lay down in the medicine wheel for about an hour. I never fell asleep, but I experienced such deep rest that my fatigue completely vanished. When I rose, I felt a kind of post-massage bliss.

Me in the Medicine Wheel

Near midnight, after sweating, singing, and sharing in the sauna, a few of us went out to the medicine wheel one more time.  Under a canopy of stars, cloaked in darkness, we dropped our towels and danced again. Sheer magic.

These are the kinds of things a retreat host cannot plan — it is enchantment woven by the sacred land itself, the women who answer the call, and the cauldron of transformation.

water ceremony

Here’s what Karen Karlovich, who has attended all five retreats, had to say after returning home:

Karen KI love everything about this retreat! The land is magical, it pulls you in and nourishes and grounds you. You feel safe and protected from the outside world. The instant sisterhood of the retreat participants is difficult to explain without being there. A group of kindred hearts all beating together. The atmosphere of acceptance and non-judgement is like being surrounded in a big hug all weekend. We laugh, we cry, we laugh some more. We come from all over, from all walks of life, yet find so many common connections. The conversations are deep and soulful, light and bawdy, and everything in between. There are many of us who keep coming back and it’s like a family reunion, a family of the heart.

And if all that isn’t good enough, we have an amazing chef who spins magic out of vegetables and fruit. We eat like pigs and then come back clamoring for more. I never eat so well as I do at the retreats.

And Latisha Guthrie, who came for the first time, added:

LatishaI was concerned I would not fit in. I am not super pagan or witchy, really. And I don’t know much about goddess spirituality. But the space that is created is so warm and comforting those fears were set to rest right away. Joanna calls women who embody kindness, generosity and love.

The women she gathers are experts in the art of welcoming. Each hostesses in their own right, they are empowered to take up space to share leadership of guiding new folks into the mix with ease. She leads in such a way that asks and encourages others to lead as well. She doesn’t sit at the head of the table, us her humble students. All are welcome to contribute. The community that is created was a new experience for me. For the first time, I felt completely, utterly invited. 

all of us!

We will gather again at Aldermarsh three times in 2015 — in March, with co-teacher Lyn Belisle; in June, with co-teacher James Wells at a retreat for women and men; and again in September.  If you are interested in any of these retreats, please sign up for the Early Bird List, as these retreats have a habit of selling out quickly. Registration for March and June will open soon.  I am always curious to know what lovely people will answer the call!

Thoughtful, sparkling comments. . .

  • James Wells Tue - Sep 16th 2014 10:45 am

    Exquisite. Once the container is in place, so much goodness can flow into it for personal and group nourishment. Thank you for telling us about this delicious experience, Joanna.

    • Joanna Powell Colbert Tue - Sep 16th 2014 10:48 am

      Thank you James! I am looking forward to co-hosting our retreat together in June at Aldermarsh!

  • Marianna (Anna) Hall Tue - Sep 16th 2014 11:26 am

    OH what Joy to see your beautiful and familiar faces! I feel your celebration deep in my bones! Hugs and Kisses to all you amazing Mermaids! The words ‘wish I were there’ do not suffice.

    • Joanna Powell Colbert Tue - Sep 16th 2014 6:18 pm

      Oh Anna! Would be so lovely to be in circle with you again. Love to the SW desert!

  • Shannon McArthur Tue - Sep 16th 2014 12:42 pm

    Oh, I miss you all! Life goes on, and it’s good, but never so good as with my sisters! Beauty blushes in your presence! Bless you as you return to “real” life, until once more we meet, in this world, or next…

    • Joanna Powell Colbert Tue - Sep 16th 2014 6:18 pm

      And blessings back to you, Shannon!

  • Diane Tue - Sep 16th 2014 1:17 pm

    I’m so glad you had a great time! I enjoyed reading this entry: “…we each walk a spiral path, circling back to things we knew in years past, but at another turn of the spiral, adding depth and nuance to what came before” resonates with me at this time especially. It seems I’ve gone back to not one but two interests that I developed nearly 30 years ago! I’m coming back to it as a new person though in many ways…

    • Joanna Powell Colbert Tue - Sep 16th 2014 6:19 pm

      So glad that resonated, Diane. So interesting to go back and revisit old “stuff”, isn’t it?

  • Loran Tue - Sep 16th 2014 5:19 pm

    Finally, I can read a post about one of your retreats and say, “YES! I was there!” It was even more powerful and more magical than I anticipated. The magic has followed me out of the retreat and along the shores I’m traveling, whispering, “Yemaya. Yemaya. Yemaya.”

    I’m filled with reverence and gratitude, too.

    • Joanna Powell Colbert Tue - Sep 16th 2014 6:19 pm

      YES! Loran was there! 🙂 And I’m so glad you were!

  • Maurie Kirschner Thu - Sep 18th 2014 10:52 am

    Oh what magic! I felt transported to that time and space through these words and tears poured over the rims of smiling eyes! Much Much Much love to you Joanna.

    • Joanna Powell Colbert Sun - Sep 21st 2014 7:39 am

      Thank you Maurie – love to you too.