Yesterday we had the students from our college courses over for breakfast and class. The idea was to settle in together for a few hours of teaching by the fire, something we try to do each semester. The day was in the upper thirties and changeable, showers of snow or rain, then periods of sun.
Jennie is teaching an introductory art therapy class and I am teaching a seminar that explored ideas and practices falling under the rubric of shamanism. The question we have been asking ourselves for weeks is, “How do we draw these ideas together?” We were still working this out late Friday evening. My class had spent time exploring the medicine wheel with Alicia Daniel earlier in the term, and I was concerned not to duplicate that.
As usually happens, the answer came in spite of our fretting. We began by creating a medicine wheel. I interjected various creation stories that shed light on the meaning of the wheel, introducing the practice of the wheel to students who were not at all familiar with it while attempting to deepening the knowledge of more advanced students. I told about the story of Falling Woman and the creation of Turtle Island. The students, of course, wanted to know why her husband wanted to replace her with another wife; he pushed her into the abyss, resulting in her fall to Earth. Then we discuss the journey of anaerobic bacteria from dominant organisms to endangered species, then to mitochondria. Without them, we would have no oxygen, nor could we utilize the oxygen that is now available. Those tiny organisms have shaped life on our deep blue Planet.
Students were then invited to explore the wheel, discovering where they might stand in their life’s travel around the circle. We spoke together about the directions, and the ways all of creation is interconnected, and we dependent on all beings and the Creator. Finally, students were encouraged to identify something in their experience they were ready to let go of, and to notice what draws them into the next part of their lives.
This served as a transition into the fire ceremony. I told the story of Coyote stealing fire, then we explained our debt to Grandfather Fire, invoked him and the directions, and fed the fire. This opened the doorway for a bit of humor as my face was too close to the open wood stove, and when I tossed vodka onto the flames, fire reached out to me. Fortunately, my eyebrows were not singed, and everyone got a good chuckle. I like to remind folks at ceremony that laughter is sacred.
We concluded the ceremony by inviting students to feed their giveaways to Grandfather. Each wrote down that which they wished to be free of, and slowly, thoughtfully gave it to the fire. Then Jennie introduced the idea of the mandala, inviting each student to revisit and explore the medicine wheel before creating a mandala representing the path ahead. The students settled into a profoundly focused time, quietly sharing art materials, a period of introspection that resulted in a diversity of visual forms. After some conversation about the mandalas and the journeys they might represent, Jennie brought out our copy of Jung’s Red Book, cautioning students to wash their pastel covered hands before touching it. We closed the altar and the ceremony, and the students sat together excitedly pouring over the paintings in the book.
It was a good day. After the students left Jennie and I sat by the fire and talked about our deep pleasure and gratefulness at having the opportunity to perform ceremony. This gathering with our students seemed a good transition into Thanksgiving week.
Last night a cold front passed through, issuing in frigid air and the first measurable snow of the winter.