We need new pathways in the mythic realm, new ways to publicly dramatize our learnings and our passions. Here is one example of what can be done. Portia Cornell and Wilderness Sarchild live in North Canton, CT.
EARTH FESTIVALS ARE SPRINGING UP spontaneously throughout the United States. For many people, these celebrations at the equinoxes and solstices bring us closer to our spiritual source than conventional religious worship. Earth festivals express a reverence for the Earth Mother as a primary source of power. They express the spirit of cultures where women play a major role in upholding the quality of life and offer redress to our contemporary religious and political practices where the masculine is so weighted. Often the festivals are spread grass-roots style by word of mouth. During the past few years, we have found ourselves turning to community earth festivals as a means of spiritual strengthening and renewal, and as a vehicle for the despair and empowerment work developed by Joanna Macy (see her book, Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age, (Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1983)).
Despair and empowerment work is based on the observation that current planetary threats are so overwhelming that people close down and don’t allow themselves to look at the dangers. This work creates a context for persons to share their personal feelings about these threats, to be listened to caringly by others and thereby experience caring for the earth and rejoin the web of life.
Earth festivals, repeated in an annual cycle, offer communities a means to participate responsibly in the web of life. In worship, praise and invocation they connect persons to all the vegetable, mineral and life forms and offer personal transformation out of despair over the condition of the environment and the threat of nuclear disaster. Most important, they draw persons together with the community of the earth and empower them to nurture and protect the Life they love. We felt that through a public enactment of ancient rituals not only did we have a vehicle to express our concern, but as in ancient ceremonies, we could empower ourselves to be agents in the transformation of life on earth.
In 1983 we first thought of using a trio of large goddess puppets in earth festivals with the theme of despair and empowerment work. These goddess puppets had been created by Anna Dembska in 1978 for her practice of earth rituals in Northampton, Massachusetts. We held a caucus on earth ceremonies at the March ’84 Interhelp Intensive for Despair and Empowerment Workshop Leaders at Interface in Boston and began working on the idea. We found a seed of truth connecting the ancient renewal rituals and the work of Interhelp. We saw that planetary healing for large groups might be possible through the use of the puppets.
The puppets are representations of the Goddesses of the ancient Greek Eleusinian Mysteries which were enacted seasonally prior to 1,000 B.C. They are depictions of Demeter, the mother, Persephone, the daughter, and a face mask of Hecate, the crone. They were created by Anna to be worn on the shoulders so that they tower above the crowd. When one is costumed in these puppets, one becomes bigger than life and mythological in one’s personal dimensions.
The three puppets represent the three-fold nature of the goddess that appears throughout early religions: Persephone the maiden stands for innocence and hope; Demeter the mother stands for maturity and bounty; Hecate the crone stands for transformation and change. They are all equally significant in the great cycle of life. They are continuous, each a part of the other, oneness in its three manifestations, repeating, repeating, repeating.
To add a broader spiritual significance to the ritual, we devised a medicine wheel/life cycle chart drawing on early European and native American spiritual concepts. As we studied the life cycle chart, we saw Persephone coming from the East, as she embodied spring, affirmation, hope and innocence. Demeter seemed to certainly belong in the South. In her manifestation she was a mature, passionate, and empowered woman. Hecate belonged to the West as it slithered into the North and carried the transformation into the wisdom we come to in despair work. In the deep quietness of the North, the mystery was contained and later we represented this as a pregnant woman. In the medicine wheel, we noticed the cycle of despair work: moving through one’s life with hope, manifestation, despair, transformation and back to hope.
Crowd participation in despair and empowerment work with the puppets was first done in Hartford, Connecticut on the spring equinox, 1984. It was enacted again in Brewster, Massachusetts, on the summer solstice of the same year. During that summer the puppets participated in a Hiroshima Day Vigil in Provincetown, a "Taking Heart in the Nuclear Age" celebration at Rowe Camp, Massachusetts, and a psychic and wholistic Health Fair opening ceremony in Provincetown. In the fall at the equinox they were first introduced into a church at the Unitarian Church service in Brewster, Massachusetts. Though each earth ritual was uniquely suited to the nature of the circumstances, the common thread in them all was that Persephone, Demeter, and Hecate act as otherworldly consultants, calling to us to benevolently hear our concerns and share in our common story.
Towering over the crowd, the puppets have a dramatic, evocative power. They seem like emissaries from another world. More than human, they are present and available, yet at the same time very magical. When they arrive; it is as if an alien or a god has blessed the space they enter. Persephone dances into the circle from the East and speaks to those gathered around: "I am Persephone, the daughter. I come from the East, the place of the rising sun… I bring you hope… I am filled with hope: hope for a world at peace, hope for no one to be hungry or homeless, hope for the healing of our Earth Mother. Tell me brothers and sisters, what in your lives gives you hope today?"
And she receives a response from the crowd such as " . . . having a baby . . . ice cream . . . Geraldine Ferraro . . . sunshine . . . New Zealand . . . "
Demeter walks boldly in from the South: "Hello, I am Demeter, the mother. I come from the South, a place of the full power of the sun. I am abundant and powerful. You are abundant and powerful. With your help I bring change. With your help I can bring peace. Tell me what in your life makes you feel powerful?"
And Demeter receives from her following: " . . . Singing makes me feel powerful . . . climbing the fence at the army depot . . . growing a garden . . . taking care of my body . . . speaking my own truth."
Folks look to the West and watch the painstakingly slow entrance of Hecate. "I am Hecate, the crone. I come from the West, place of the setting sun. I mourn the destruction of our Mother Earth . . . I am afraid of nuclear bombs . . . I’m angry that our Earth’s children and their children may die before they are born . . . I carry your despair in my heart . . . Listen to me children for I am wise and I know that it is good to feel our despair . . . for in the expression of our feelings is released our common love for each other, our collective hope and power. Come mourn with me. What in your life gives you despair?"
And the people cry out, " . . . I might never get the chance to have a child . . . I’m afraid to die . . . I have cancer . . . more and more whales beach themselves . . . a nuclear holocaust . . . the news, what I hear on the news about Ethiopian children starving. . . "
In the North a pregnant woman speaks of transformation and rebirth. She walks the weary participants around the medicine wheel having them meditate at the East with Persephone, on the importance of their hope; at the South with Demeter on the importance of their power; at the West with Hecate on the importance of their despair. Her group walk around the circle demonstrates how within each of us there are feelings of hope, power, and despair for the times we live in. It is good and right that we feel and share these feelings, acknowledging them publicly we heal ourselves, our collective and our planet.
Our deepest impulses have been to make the crying out and expressions of caring for the planet we live on together done openly and publicly. We know that in our hearts we are all reverberating to planetary pain. We want to "go public" with that pain. We want to dare to ask people to strip themselves of their modesty and their illusions that they are separate. We want to do this together. We want to make this experience available to anyone who might wander into an Earth Festival. We want to express this through the time- honored earth festivals we know. The puppets are the carriers of these earth rites. The form of these rites is ever-growing, ever-changing, as new people enter into the matrix of their ritual lives. They have returned to Earth to heal her in her time of pain. As we stand together in a circle, one hundred people or more, our feet on the earth, our heads blown by the wind, warmed by the sun, we are unafraid to come home to what is true:
We are all one planet, all one people of earth.
All one planet, sharing her living, her dying, her birth.