As I head out on this solstice afternoon for a Women's Council by the ocean to explore more ways to be with and hold space for the overwhelming concerns of our world, I am reflecting with gratitude on the Reweaving the World retreat at Loving Earth Sanctuary six weeks ago. Along with guest teachers Gloria Wilson and Kate Jaffe I led a group of sacred grievers and weavers into this unknown territory to feel our way through tenderly together. Together we offered songs of grief and gratitude for our devastated, sacred, and mysterious world, spinning the stories of our lives in the dark and weaving prayers of new visions. We remembered the unique gifts we were each born to bring into this world and engaged in deep conversation with the Others.
The land at Loving Earth Sanctuary is wounded. The native Salinans who lived in harmony with this land for thousands of years are long gone, as is the once diverse and abundant landscape that was carefully cultivated and protected by their wise management and maintenance of the natural fire-cycles of this ecosystem. Over many generations the non-native grasses and cattle, introduced by those who did not know how to listen and had forgotten how to hold all life as sacred, have choked out the perennial native grasses, and most of the springs and creeks that once ran long into the year have dried up. The land shivers with the echoes of human suffering that is the sickening legacy of colonization, along with those of the condors, elk, and grizzly bear who once roamed these hills and are also gone.
We came here to grieve the wounds of this place, and of our Earth and all the precious life she has birthed, and of all the loss and suffering we sense is coming. We came with sufficient humility to not really know whether there is any use for our grief, knowing only that by bearing witness and connecting with the sorrows of our world, and making what beauty we could in the midst of darkness we could at least fill our hearts with the kind of presence, resilience, and courage that the world is so thirsty for in these times. And still we wondered. What to do. What to do. So we brought that also. We brought our shame, rage, guilt, despair, overwhelm, and powerlessness. We brought our longing to find ways to repair and restore, heal and strengthen, love and bless, and offer something, anything, that might make some sense in this world overflowing with unimaginable horrors and impossible tasks.
We spoke to the land. We asked for her guidance. She spoke back to us in many ways.
On the first day, after pouring our songs and prayers and tears deep into the Earth, I told the old story of a village that was divided in two after one half of the village had crossed the river in search of greener pastures and a great thunderstorm had come through widening the river and inviting the crocodiles to swim downstream. I told of the bird that had no song of its own who lived in the forest and who heard and then carried the songs of the divided villagers back and forth across the river, bringing the village back together again through the power of song.
After the echo of our singing had faded away under the canopy of blue oaks, it was the Birds that broke the sweet silence surrounding us. And here we are still, I heard them say, flying back and forth over this wide river of life filled with many dangers and deep places. Can you hear us still singing? Can you hear us singing songs of love and longing to you so that you may remember how to be a village again? We need you to listen to us, I heard them say. We need you to remember how to speak to us. We need you to listen to each other, they said. And to learn new ways to speak.
Listen, said the Birds. And you will remember.
Later that day, as we sat around the fire-pit with our grief bundles harvested from the land, we worked with hand spindles, fire-boards, and tinder bundles as we prepared to learn the old ways of awakening fire from friction while Gloria told a story of how humans found fire. While one person took the part of the hunter, and another took the part of fire, two others drummed for dramatic effect and the story was brought to life with great enthusiasm. And at the precise point in the story where the hunter held up the imaginary rabbit he had harvested with his bow as food for the people, Rabbit herself came hopping out of the grass to join us and sat on her haunches looking at us all.
Closer came Rabbit, and closer still. Any closer and she would have joined our circle. To come forward so boldly during a loud and animated telling of this story, we knew to listen. When telling stories of the sacrifice of our people for yours, Rabbit said, we ask that you acknowledge our loss. We ask that you remember all the sacrifices that we and others have made to nourish you and your ancestors so that each of you could be here today. We ask that you weave the stories of all the lives that have been given to feed you over the generations into your grief bundles, said Rabbit. And we ask that you learn how to nourish your bodies in a sacred and ethical way in these times of great suffering.
Listen, said Rabbit. And you will remember.
The next day as we sat around the fire brewing native dyes of Toyon, Black Walnut, and Acorn and offering handfuls of raw wool roving to the cauldrons, and the alchemy of fire, air, water, and revealed the secret pigments in these plants, we shared stories of times when the heat of life had cracked us open to reveal previously hidden gifts. And as we shared new visions of ways to care for and contribute to our world, we spun out threads of grief and gratitude from sacredly harvested Churro and Cormo wool into roughly wound skeins of yarn on wooden drop spindles.
As we spun these yarns of many kinds around the fire, I heard the Elements speak. Listen, said Air, Fire, Earth, and Water. You have come too far out of balance now to go back the way you came. What was given to you freely has now been poisoned by fear and greed. It is time for us to start taking back what was never yours to own. To restore the soul of humanity we ask that you work with us and start giving back those things you thought you could take and have others pay the real cost for. And to do this you must learn again how to be with loss and grief.
Listen, said the Elements. And you will remember.
Later, as I told the story of the weaving contest between the goddess Athena, the daughter of Zeus who created the universe on her eternal loom, and the village girl Arachne whose pride at the unmatchable beauty of her weaving ended in her being transformed into a spider and spending the rest of her days weaving and spinning her web.
In the very moment that I spoke the name of Zeus, the old God of sky and thunder, a sudden hailstorm broke out of the sky. Scooping up our spindles and blankets we ran into the barn and watched the rain and hail pouring down onto our abandoned blankets. You humans have forgotten your place in the circle of things, said the old god of the Sky. We welcome your beauty-making and ask that you spin and weave as much as you are able, but only in service to mending the web and never in service to your pride. Listen to your truthful heart for guidance on this, said the Sky. And remember the power of this world to take all things back.
Listen, said the Sky. And you will remember.
On the last afternoon we began our communal weaving on a handmade loom, sharing more stories to help us remember the unique gifts we each brought in to this life and that are needed to mend what we can of our troubled world. As each person spoke we sang their gifts back to them like the bird in the village who borrowed the songs of others. In singing these life songs to each other we invited all the divided parts inside of us to reconnect across the rivers of fear that we carry inside. As we sang we wove our threads of grief and gratitude along with golden threads of inspiration from a ball of hand spun, hand dyed yarn gifted by Trebbe Johnson, founder of Radical Joy for Hard Times, to guide us through the dark.
Many more messages came during our weekend together. From the poem Michelle wrote the night before that was echoed in the song of the Grandmothers we sang the next morning "Wake up, wake up… Listen, listen…” From Kate’s dog Maya who came forward to play the part of the black dog during my telling of the myth of the old woman whose task it is to weave and reweave the tapestry of life in the cave of knowledge, while stirring her pot of seeds and roots over the oldest fire in the world. And from Hawk who flew over our heads at the precise moment that we all sang out to the ancestors to hear and help us in our longing to heal this world.
In the days afterwards, with only myself and Gilberto left on the land, we planted a pomegranate tree to offer our gratitude. We laid the flowers from our earth altar at the base of the tree and wrapped golden threads around her roots. We sprinkled water that had been blessed throughout the weekend and ash from our sacred fire made from the coming together of native plants and community. We wove Black Sage and Yerba Santa wild harvested from the hills into sacred bundles and tied them with golden threads to be offered as prayerful gifts on my travels north. We ask that you continue to offer your songs of grief and praise to the spirits of the dead, said Pomegranate as we covered her roots. Keep making beauty in the midst of this darkness, and cherish each season of your life, both the fertile and the fallow. For Death and Grief are part of Life and each have gifts for you to bring back to your people.
Listen, said Pomegranate. And you will remember.
Before leaving Gilberto and I offered our prayers of gratitude to the evergreen pomegranate leaves and the unborn seeds of fire that are her sacred fruit. We asked that she bring her gifts of healing, wisdom, and renewal to this land and to the world. We asked her to help us remember the beauty we can each make when we are willing to travel into the dark, pick up the golden thread we came into this world with and allow it to guide us back into the web of life. We know that we are each being asked us to become a brave and strong container for the grief of the world in these times. To bless it, honour it, and alchemize it. To allow it to crack our hearts open and let the light of truth and compassion shine out and illuminate the way for those still lost in the dark.
We are the weavers and we are the web. And when we come together in community to weave together the fibers of our being, both light and dark, into a tapestry of beauty and meaning we are reweaving this world. Whenever we touch the sacred Earth with our naked feet and offer gratitude for this life we have been given we are reweaving this world. Whenever we remember and revive an ancient practice with humility and sincerity and restore the lost connection to our ancestors, we are reweaving this world. While the web may have been broken, each of us can mend the part we touch at any given moment with the golden thread we were born with and that we carry deep within our own hearts.
Listen, says Grandmother Spider. And you will remember.
“What we don’t speak to we don’t understand,
what we don’t understand we fear,
and what we fear we destroy.” ~ John Stokes