Something I’ve been discovering lately, after reading The Gatherings, is that I in fact have an indigenous soul, and an indigenous spirituality. I realized that the traditional folk dances are indigenous, they come from people who had lived for generations on the same land.
This post is made up from excerpts from earlier posts (with links to the earlier posts) with some summations and additions.
Folk Dance as “Experiential Worship”
When I was living in Brunswick Maine in 1975, I found out that there was a local folkdance group that met Wednesday nights. I went and loved it. A synchronicity happened that first night, a woman came in with a record under her arm and wanted to teach a simple dance. We lined up shoulder to shoulder. It was 3 steps moving to the left, arms go down, and 3 steps in place, arms come up. The music started with bagpipes and immediately I was on a moor in Scotland with a bonfire and a full moon rising. Dottie wound us into the tight spiral at the end. It turned out the music was by Alan Stivell, a harpist from Brittany. I had never heard of Brittany, but I immediately realized that this was the music and dance of my Celtic ancestors (Scots and Irish.) I had always envied the Greeks and the Israelis their ethnic music and dance, and now I found my own ethnic heritage. Within a very few years I traveled to Brittany and went to a number of “fest-noz”, night festivals, with a band and 100 people dancing in long lines. A whole part of myself woke up and rejoiced.
In 1988, a friend told me that there was going to be “Sacred Circle Dancing” on the green in Danville Vermont, to celebrate the Fall Equinox. “Sacred Circle Dancing, what’s that?” So I went and found a circle of people doing a dance I already knew, around a centerpiece made of a scarf, a candle, a bowl of water, and a feather. Well of course! I already knew the traditional dances carried sacred energy, but here it was being acknowledged.
Thinking about having this person wake up in me. She is both me and not me, she is huge, she is a flame, a fountain, she has wings, and my life is dedicated to her service. Is she my soul? God? She seems much bigger than I ever imagined my soul to be, and at the same time she is much more personal and unique to me than I could ever imagine God.
The work that we do together is the geomantic healing of the planet earth. I know the timing of the festivals and the steps of the dances, and the placement of the stones. And I am part of that company of human beings who have chosen to take the abuse of the planet into our own bodies and heal it there. Such a feeling of stepping into my heritage, little things making sudden sense, all the pieces of my life falling into place.
This was written in 1989. At that time I still had no idea that I was dealing with PTSD. Once I was able to accept that I had been traumatized in infancy, I realized that trauma is a shamanic initiation.
Francis Weller describes the difference between trauma and initiation.
From a talk published in Kosmos Journal:
In any true initiatory process, there’s three things that happen. First, there’s a severance from the world that you once knew. Then there’s a radical alteration in your sense of identity. And then there’s a profound realization that you can never go back to the world that was. In true initiation, you don’t want to go back to the world that was. Initiation is meant to escort you into a wider, more inclusive, participatory, sacred cosmos.
Trauma, on the other hand, has the inverse effect. The same three things happen. There’s a severance from the world. There’s a radical alteration of the identity and in a sense, you cannot go back to what was. But what trauma does to the psyche is it reduces it down to a singularity. I become cut off and severed from that sense of being engaged with a wider and more encompassing sense of identity. I become isolated in the cosmos. If you talk to anybody who’s gone through trauma, that’s the effect that it has on the body and on the psyche. You are torn out of that sense of being a part of the cosmos.
Weller describes the container:
What distinguishes these two things is initiation, what I call the contained encounter with death. The containment was provided by the community, by the elders, by the ancestors, by the rituals, by the space itself. In a sense, you are initiated into a place, not into abstraction. You are actually initiated into the ground beneath your feet. Those are the five things that provided a containment field for that encounter with death, because all initiations require some kind of encounter with death.
Reading this, I realize that Neskaya is a container for initiation. It totally amazes me that I somehow knew what was needed and created it deliberately. Perhaps it was my indigenous soul that knew, that led me to folk dance, that woke up when I did my first Celtic dance, that sent me to Brittany where I actually danced with a hundred Bretons in a field with live music and a full moon rising. My indigenous soul that said “Let’s build it!” of the dance hall/dojo my husband and I talked about. The design, a twelve sided figure made into an 8-sided one by extending the first and third sides, that mirrored the Cross-Quarter days of the Old Nature Religion of Western Europe… which I only realized when I wanted to teach a workshop called “Dancing the Sacred Calendar.”
Neskaya Movement Arts Center was designed as “sacred space” for movement disciplines that are also spiritual practices.
In the belief that everything is connected to everything else, and that if humans are to survive the current planetary crisis, we need to recognize that we are a part of the natural world, Neskaya offers ways of celebrating our place in the natural world thru seasonal celebrations. In the belief that one of the ways to end war is to make our differences a reason for celebrating rather than fighting, we do dances from around the world. In times of crisis, we dance to support everyone in finding the best way out. At the time of the fighting in Kosovo, we did dances from Kosovo, Albania, and Serbia as a prayer for this region to heal its differences. We do “Red Rain,” played by musicians from Greece, Turkey and Armenia, as a prayer for peace between cultures that have been fighting each other for generations.
Our mission is to promote inner happiness, healthy social connections and world peace through the practice of celebrating our differences. By offering such activities as Sacred Circle Dance and Yoga we want to heal the divisions between soul and body, between people of different cultural backgrounds and between human beings and the material body of our planet.