Gaian Soul

Earth Wisdom Tarot Sacred Art

Return to Aldermarsh

in Nature Connection, Retreat


One year ago, my retreatants and I said farewell to Aldermarsh, the beloved retreat center on Whidbey Island, Washington, where we have been gathering twice a year for the past six years. Energetically, it didn’t feel like a final goodbye, but we had been told it was. And so we grieved, held ceremony, and wrote love letters to the land.

And She came back to us.

One year later, new owners and new stewards are holding the center of Aldermarsh Retreat Center. It is thriving as a non-profit retreat center, and I have already booked 3 retreats for 2018. One of the stewards told me that she could hear and feel great peals of joy reverberating from Marsh House and the Main House during our retreat.

We have loved the land, and She loved us right back.

(I posted the following photos on Instagram each day of the retreat.)

flowers and fir

Tuesday: Grateful beyond words to be back at Aldermarsh. The land recognizes us and welcomes us home. Tomorrow we call the circle!


Tuesday: The theme of this week’s Gaian Soul Retreat is “Herbcraft: Mysteries of Cedar and Rose.” When I bent down to lay my offering of sweetgrass at the base of Grandmother Fir, I saw others had already left offerings … of cedar and rose. Of course they did. #thelandisalive

morning mist

Wednesday: Good morning, mist in the meadow. Good morning, waning moon. Hush.

arriving 1

Wednesday: The circle is gathering!

arriving 2

Wednesday: Circle is growing! Big laughs and hugs and grins as each woman arrives …


Thursday: A day of herb crafting with guest teacher Latisha Guthrie. Exploring the mysteries of Cedar and Rose on a plant walk.

latisha teaching

Thursday: Latisha taught us to connect with the plants in silent communion, in making bundles, cedar oil, and cedar salve.

Latisha smiling

Thursday: Making cedar salve. Full hearts.


Friday: I love watching the altar grow, as every day we notice and honor all that is sacred.

sea dance

Friday: Walking the sacred waters. Yesterday we communed with woods and meadows, today we commune with the sea.


Friday: Across the threshold, we enter the silence, and practice the art of noticing.


Friday: Time to play with the wind spirits on the shores of Useless Bay!


Friday: We made rosaries of rowan berries, elderberries, corn, rose hips and beads. These rosaries are ephemeral, like a sand painting. Eventually they will crumble, but our prayers will live on.

pie and salad

Saturday afternoon downtime brought chocolate pecan bourbon pie, cashew ice cream, and … salad! Some women!

serpentine path to the temple

Saturday night: We walked the serpentine path at sunset, slipping between the worlds, entering the Temple of the Green Ones. And inside: Holy. Holy. Holy.

Two of the women at this retreat came from storm-wrecked Houston. Others came with damaged-but-healing bodies or weary spirits. We know we are privileged beyond belief to step outside of time for a few days, away from the responsibilities of our everyday lives, to fill the well of our creativity and spiritual practice. We will each return to our own work, our own part in mending the web of life, whatever our part may be. We retreat to connect with nature, to make sacred art, and to share our hearts with our sisters, so that we are better able to do the hard work of healing the world.

“The moral covenant of reciprocity calls us to honor our responsibilities for all we have been given, for all that we have taken. It’s our turn now, long overdue. Let us hold a giveaway for Mother Earth, spread our blankets out for her and pile them high with gifts of our own making. Imagine the books, the paintings, the poems, the clever machines, the compassionate acts, the transcendent ideas, the perfect tools. The fierce defense of all that has been given. Gifts of mind, hands, heart, voice, and vision all offered up on behalf of the earth. Whatever our gift, we are called to give it and to dance for the renewal of the world.

In return for the privilege of breath.”

— Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

My friend Cari Ferraro wrote this beautiful post about her experience on retreat with us. I appreciate it more than I can say.

Would you like to retreat with me? I have a new plan for 2018 and beyond. Because the March and September retreats sell out so quickly, they are now limited to retreat alumni or by application. A new yearly retreat is dedicated to foundational practices and is designed for those who have not retreated with me before. If you want to be among the first to hear when registration opens for the retreats, please sign up on the Early Bird List. Thank you.

Musings on a Lammas Evening

in Wheel of the Year

Sweet summer. Almost every day this season, in the late afternoon when the shadows lengthen, the sun is strong, and the sunflowers face west . . . almost every day at this time I put down the colored pencils and the work-in-progress, and I go out to the herb garden. I nestle down in the dirt right next to Rosemary and Goldenrod and Sage and Lemon Verbena and Sweetgrass and Oregano and Mint and Comfrey and Motherwort and Lavender and Echinacea and Poppy and Thyme, and my newest resident, the sweet and potent Tulsi. I run my hands over their leaves until my hands are stained with their scents and my spirit is intoxicated by the fragrance. I don’t weed, I don’t water, I don’t harvest. I just sit with them, and admire them, and listen to them. I am restored, and my hope is that the gift and the offering of the attention I give them is restorative to them as well.

I have been learning deep lessons this year about mutuality and reciprocity in human relationships, and in my relationships with the more-than-humans as well, those great and small beings of the natural world. I have been learning about it in conversation with my mentors and in dialogue with my herbcrafting friends. I have been learning about it in the pages of Braiding Sweetgrass.

It’s not a new lesson, for haven’t we been singing “the earth is our mother, she will take care of us; we must take care of her” for decades now? Yet every turn on the spiral takes us ever deeper into the mysteries.

I have spent this Lammas day working — getting very focused and clear about the content for the retreat I will host in September, weaving threads together with my guest teacher and astounded as always at the synergy that happens when we work together, each standing in her own divine connection to Source. I am so moved when I think about this upcoming retreat, and I am deeply grateful for our return to our heart home of Aldermarsh.

I worked a good part of this Lammas day at the drawing table. This new body of work is nearly complete — 58 down, 20 to go. This has been a summer of saying “no” to opportunities and activities that would take me away from getting this project done. It’s been hard and satisfying at the same time.

But it’s Lammas, the festival of the first fruits of the harvest. And so I come out to the garden to pause, to listen and observe, and to come into relationship once again with the Green Ones and the Winged Ones. I give them the gift of my attention and they give me the gift of their beauty.

I have no freshly baked loaf of bread to lay on the altar, no first-cut sheaf of grain. The first fruits of my harvest this year are the work of my mind and heart and hands, and these beloved, fragrant Green Ones growing so beautifully outside my door.

And so I pour out an offering of sweet water into the garden, that will nourish and sustain the Ones who live there, and I offer them (as always) my heart.

My Summer Studio

in Art, Wheel of the Year

Summer Studio

This summer is dedicated to the completion of a major creative project … and this is where you will find me most every day, out on the back deck in my summer studio.  I renew myself from long hours at the drawing table with catnaps in the sun, hanging out with the plant people in my herb garden, and wandering the local beaches.  I’m a bit more active on Instagram and Facebook than I am here on the blog, for now. I hope your summer is bringing you joy and relaxation!

Summer Studio

Capricorn Moon

new sunhat

Talismanic Art … My Favorite Kind

in Art, Spiritual Practice

Gaian Tarot Icon - StarWhile I was away from home over the last few weeks, I found myself pondering the difference between working in colored pencil (as I did in the Gaian Tarot and other pieces), and in my new love, beeswax (encaustic) collage and assemblage, and how both are examples of talismanic, or magical, art. The following Artist’s Statement came pouring out of me, and it strikes me now that it’s a kind of manifesto for transformative art. I hope you like it.

Artist’s Statement ~ Joanna Powell Colbert

In every work of art that I create, whether it is a colored pencil painting or a mixed media collage, I weave in mantras, blessings, spells, and prayers. The music I listen to while making art winds its way into the fabric of the finished piece, as well as the phase of the moon, the season, and the hour of the day. I am conscious of tending the web of life as I play with color, texture, shape, and form.

I most often visit the themes of the Sacred Feminine in myth and folklore, seasonal cycles in nature and in human life, and our beloved Northwest earth and sea. I am fascinated by the rich, archetypal symbolism of the Seeker’s Journey that is found in tarot cards. I brought my love of the natural world to tarot tradition when I created the Gaian Tarot.

When I work with colored pencils, I lay down creamy, waxy layers of rich, transparent color. I inhale the scent of wood shavings from the pencil sharpener, and listen to the picking of acoustic guitar overlaid with sweet harmonies of roots music. I hear the tapping of a woodpecker and the cry of gulls. Pleasure and satisfaction comes in meditative pencil strokes, in the placement of this color against that one, and of small hidden details that delight those who notice them.

Mixed media is messier, quicker, and in some ways even more sensual than drawing with colored pencils. The roughness of clay and recycled sari ribbon, the scent of melted beeswax, the glimmer of gold leaf and iridescent threads, the stain of walnut ink, the weight of stones, driftwood, seed pods, and sea glass picked up on my walks around the island — all these are woven into the piece as I twist and twine them together. Into the making goes the stillness of heron, the scent of wild roses, the hoot of owl, and the muttering of mantras as knots are tied and bundles are wrapped: “May all beings be happy. May all beings be blessed …”

My art is both an offering and a talisman, a touchstone for prayer, possibility, and blessing. Like an ancient icon, it can be a portal to a realm of dream and memory; of half-forgotten, half-remembered glimpses of our true nature.

Art heals. Art opens a door.

For every act of creation is an act of magic.


Brigid 4