Teaching Astronomy and Sacred Circle Dance

This was originally written in writing group on Monday, October 2, 2023. Then I did a lot of editing and adding material since I hadn’t had time to finish.

Today is Beltane, it seems an appropriate time to publish this.

I was talking with some friends about our work and vocation, and one of them asked me if I taught folk dance and astronomy to prove that I was a good person, or intelligent.  I realized that the truth was my motivation was because I loved folk dance and astronomy, and loved sharing them with people who wanted to learn. 

I have a degree in Astronomy, and was asked to teach a course for the School for Lifelong Learning back in the 80’s. SLL offered a degree program for adults who had finished High School, but never gone to college. When they hired me, my boss said I could teach the class as it was described in the University of New Hampshire Catalog, or I could make up my own. They wanted a science without math. I said I would make up my own, and it would be Astronomical Observation from the Sun Dagger to Newton.

The most important assignment was the observing notebook: to go out every day, morning and evening, and write down what you see. The notebook was 50% of the grade, but some people’s notebooks were enough better to get extra points. There was the woman who counted sunspots, that’s a very useful task that amateurs can do and send their results to an agency that can use them.  The man who started tracking the Galilean satellites of Jupiter, there are four and they can be seen through a good pair of binoculars.  The dyslexic who couldn’t write much in his observing notebook but when I asked questions to see what he understood, he had clearly done the work.  The cop who would write 0200 hours and then wax poetic about the night sky.  I gave extra points for special projects like the sunspots and the Moons of Jupiter. In fact, what would usually happen is one third of the class would get B’s, one-third would get A’s, and then there was the third who got more than 100 points.  What do you give them?  So I bought little gold star Christmas tree ornaments to give them and called them my gold star students.  I remember one of  them wrote me a note saying “Thank you for an interest that I will enjoy for the rest of my life.”

Then there was teaching Sacred Circle Dance at Neskaya.  Sacred Circle Dance is based on the recognition that the traditional folk dances have a spiritual dimension.  I had already been doing folk dance in Brunswick, Maine, loved it, and took a tape of my favorites when I moved to Franconia and started teaching a small group there.  I remember thinking in Brunswick that I went to Wednesday  folk dance the way other people went to church.  Then someone told me they were doing Sacred Circle Dance on the green in Danville as part of the Dowsers Convention at the time of the equinox.  What’s that, I said and went.  They were doing dances I already knew around a centerpiece with a candle and some flowers.  Well, I thought, I already knew that.  What had happened was that Bernard Wosien had a collection of folk dances that he said had esoteric meaning.  He was looking for a community to give them to.  He went to a conference at Findhorn, and people there thought it was a great idea, took the dances, and started making up new ones.  I went and did the first training with Peter Vallance from Findhorn in this country.  I was lucky that I already knew how to teach folk dance.

It’s so clear that Astronomy and Sacred Dance are my vocation.  I love teaching, I teach with enthusiasm, my whole concern is not to look smart, but to get the material across. I know that I have inspired a lot of people to love these things that I love.

I even managed to get them together in a workshop called “Dancing the Sacred Calendar.”  The Cross-Quarter Days: Beltane, Lammas, Samhain, and Imbolc, occur when the sun arrives at the moon’s standstill, an event that is easily indicated at Stonehenge, by the relationship between the Trilithons in a horseshoe in the center, and the outer ring of stones connected by lintels. It’s because of this alignment at Stonehenge that I believe the Cross-Quarter days are not halfway between Equinox and solstice, but are in fact when the sun arrived at the moon’s standstill, although no one else talks about this. Dancing the Sacred Calendar involved a twenty-four hour period, during which we danced three dances for each holiday every three hours. We started with Summer Solstice at noon on Saturday, and ended with Beltane at 9AM on Sunday. It involved getting up at midnight to dance Winter Solstice, and 3AM to dance Imbolc. I also talked about the background during times in between dancing. I really enjoyed teaching it because it brought the two important parts of my life together.

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