Broadcast July 3, 2022
Featuring: Kaitlin Ilya Wolf and Sara Carter
In this podcast, Kaitlin Ilya Wolf discusses how creating a cycle of annual seasonal rituals helps Earthaven ecovillagers sink into the cycles around us and within us to become a part of this land. She then shares the parts of a ritual, challenges of facilitating ritual at Earthaven, and offers tips for rituals for people who don’t have a community or piece of land to connect with.
Welcome to the Earthaven Ecovillage podcast, where we meet people and hear ideas contributing to Earthaven ecovillage’s living laboratory for a sustainable human future. In this episode, our host Sara Carter talks with Kaitlin Ilya Wolf about how ritual helps us connect as a community.
We’re recording this on a beautiful summer day in Earthaven’s village center pavilion. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping.
I’ve lived here at Earthaven for almost 15 years now, with my husband. Actually, my husband and I met here at Earthaven and got married here. I am a priestess of cycles. I’m an ordained minister, and I’ve been leading rituals here at Earthaven for a long time; pretty much since I first got to Earthaven and also working with SpiritWalker Orb here at Earthaven, which is the group that organizes rituals. I’ve been leading ritual here and working with other people to help us sink into the cycles here through ritual.
In our larger culture at Earthaven, we use the words “place-based living” a lot. Robin Wall Kimmerer takes that a step further, and she speaks about becoming naturalized to a place. I think of you in having a big role for us as far as creating culture here goes with ceremony and with ritual. Can you tell us about what that looks like for you and how that concept moves through you?
That’s the biggest part of a lot of our work here at Earthaven. In many different ways, physically, spiritually, energetically, emotionally, intellectually, working to naturalize ourselves. I think that’s a really great way to put it, to really become part of the land that we live with. The way I work is through ceremony and ritual — really sinking into the cycles around us and within us to become a part of this land.
At Earthaven, we have a cycle of rituals through the year. We celebrate the solstices and equinoxes and the cross-quarter days as a community. We have specific rituals that we’ve built over the years, created together, and they look similar to each other. We just had the summer solstice. We have a specific ritual for that that looks similar every year, but it also changes. So, it’s both sinking into that rhythm of the year, remembering where we are in the year, in the solar cycle. It also can change and morph through time and our work naturalizing ourselves with this land. Really sinking into these rhythms is a long-term process.
A lot of us really feel like cultural orphans. Coming to this way of living can be really difficult. And there’s a lot of finding our way. It can be really hard. And so finding our way together and sinking into the cycles can really help us define that. And it takes time, though. It takes time to really let ourselves be together and let ourselves learn from the land.
I think a lot of us feel like the wider culture, mainstream culture, has left us longing for more connection; more connection with other human beings, more connection with the land, more connection with ourselves. And a lot of our own cultural knowledge has been erased. We all come from indigenous roots. Every human being has ancestors who are indigenous to a place in this world. And a lot of us feel a longing for that connection, of being connected to a place, connected to a tribe of some way. And a lot of the knowledge that our own ancestors had has been erased. And so there’s a lot of ways that a lot of us are trying to reclaim that and reclaim a certain way of living.
There’s lots we can learn from indigenous peoples that exist now. And also, really claiming our own heritage is important and claiming that all of us have connection with land. I speak about this, it’s touchy because the issue of cultural appropriation is real. And that’s something I work with a lot in trying to be respectful and, especially if I’m doing anything with other people, always knowing that I have permission to use anything, especially if it’s of a culture that exists now.
And so it’s been really important to me to learn from indigenous peoples that exist now, but also to learn my own heritage, learn the practices that come from my own ancestry and to find new ways to find new ways for all of us to reclaim ourselves as human beings connected with the earth.
There are many different ways people hold the word “ritual.” When I say ritual, I mean being in a specific place, creating a container for sacred space, and holding a specific intention. Usually there’s raising of energy and it’s about connecting between the worlds. Creating a sacred container lets you can reach inside yourself, reach other spirits, other worlds. There’s lots of different ways to talk about this and different people hold it in different ways. So, usually in a ritual there will be a beginning that you create that container in some way. And there are many different ways to do this.
Often here at Earthaven and in the ways I have learned, we will call in the directions. We’ll call in the east, south, west and north. Here at Earthaven, we’ll also call in above and below and center. Calling in the directions to witness us in our rite and hold us in that container can be really powerful, especially when you have a practice of doing this at the beginning and end of your ritual. It helps you as a human being to get in a rhythm and teach yourself to switch your gears, to sink into yourself, to sink into your connection with around you. Having some kind of practice that you begin and end each ritual with, whatever that looks like for you, can be really powerful if you continue to do it and continue to teach yourself that that is the cue your body knows.
The middle of the ritual can also look like many things. It’s hard to talk so generally because ritual looks like so many different things. I work with larger groups, smaller groups, and individuals. There are common things in all these rituals and they all look very differently. So, often in our group, like I said, we’ll begin with calling in the directions and we’ll state the intention of the ritual. And then we usually have a group meditation to begin with, to connect all of ourselves together. And then we’ll go into the practice of the ritual. And like I said, for the different holidays, the different rituals, that will all look differently. But it’s always about raising energy of some kind or enacting a practice to connect with the energy that’s going on in the land around us at that time, especially for the solar cycle rituals.
We just celebrated summer solstice, which is the height of the sun. It’s the longest day of the year. For that ritual every year we have a drum and dance circle. First, we gather together and light our fire and call in the directions and have a meditation where we really sink in to this longest day.
Solstice also means to be still because when the sun rises and sets throughout the year, it moves along the horizon. During the solstice it looks like it’s rising and setting in the same place for three days and so the word solstice means to stand still and so during our ritual this year we took a moment to really sink into that, to be standing still within the height of your power and really sinking into the energy of that and what is to come for the rest of the summer.
Then we have a blessing of the community with nine sacred herbs. Nine different people bring nine different herbs and ask for different blessings on the community (lavender for beauty, rose for love, cronewort for wisdom, comfrey for abundance, yarrow for health, rosemary for awareness, motherwort for family, thyme for serenity, and St. John’s/Jane’s wort for magic) and offer them to the fire. We raise some energy and continue into drumming and dancing throughout the night, knowing that all of the energy we’re raising through the drumming and dancing is contributing to that calling in the blessings for our community. It always feels really appropriate to be drumming and dancing on the summer solstice. This is an ancient tradition, it’s one of the fire holidays.
The next morning, usually on the actual day of the solstice, we’ll meet to sing up the sunrise. We have a fire and say prayers and welcome the sunrise. We sing up the sun for all the solstices and equinoxes in the year.
For the summer solstice we also have an annual work party that we’ve been having for many years. We gather together at our swimming hole every year usually on the weekend closest to the solstice. We have many creeks that run through the land here at Earthaven and there’s one spot that we call the swimming hole. At this work party we work to deepen a little area. We call it the swimming hole but it’s really more of a dunking hole and often throughout the year, rains will come and it’ll get filled in so then every year at this time we go and deepen a spot, work on the steps, build a little wall to keep a little area a little deeper, and beautify the area, work on tending that area. It’s a really fun work party everyone getting in the creek together and it feels really good to really embody something that way in a ritual. It is its own mutual in a way. We gather every year together and do the same thing and tend to our spaces.
There’s a few different times throughout the year that we’re really working towards connecting yearly tasks in the village with the holidays and building that together to really embody the cycle in our bodies as well. More than just gathering to celebrate in ritual, also tending the land and tending different aspects of our village life together as a community.
Another holiday that we celebrate is called Imbolc. It’s at the beginning of February. We also have a few things that we do that are tending different aspects of our village life. We have a ritual where we gather together to tend our council hall altar, and for the few weeks before that, all of the altars and shrines and sacred spaces around the whole community are tended in different ways by different people. In this way, we’re making sure that all of these alters are getting tended at least once a year. These are alters are in public spaces and were created by different people for different reasons. Many of us work every year at Imbolc to tend them. And then we gather together to all tend the Council Hall altar, our main village altar.
We also have a tool blessing around Imbolc, where we gather together for a full day. At Earthaven, we have community tools that we all share and can check out and use. And on this day, we gather together at the tool shed. We call it the storage barn. We tend to the tools all day, cleaning them and sharpening them, and then at the end of the day, have a big tool blessing, giving thanks for all of the tools that help us live the lives we live.
One thing I’m still learning about, and will probably continue to, is finding commonality within a village that doesn’t have a shared religion. Here at Earthaven, there’s many different people who practice different kinds of spiritualities and religions, and yet I really feel like having some kind of spirituality in common is important. I feel it’s really important to have some things we can share to sink into these cycles and to sink into village life on a spiritual level together. The one thing we do have in common is the land. Everyone here has a deep devotion to connecting with the land and tending the land, serving the land, connecting with the spirits of this land. So, that’s one of the things in the community rituals that a lot of us are always continuing to work with — finding ways to be together in ritual as a community that are general enough for everyone who comes from different spiritual traditions, general enough to all feel welcome ,and feel like it is theirs, and also specific enough so it’s real, because if you get too general with ritual, it’s meaningless.
I think continued practice, through these cycles, through coming together every year and having rituals that we come back to at each holiday, has really helped us as a community to find this place where we can meet in the middle together, knowing that what we all have in common is our connection with this land. We all have our own ways to personally connect spiritually with the land and with each other, but having chosen to be here in this place, in this community, with this land, we do have that in common. The cycles of this land are within all of us because of that.
I’m trained as a priestess and an herbalist. I’ve studied with Susun Weed in a Shamanic herbal apprenticeship, which really helped change my paradigm and really connect with the earth. I’ve also trained with Temple of Diana, a Dianic women’s church, international church. I’ve trained with them and am an ordained minister through Temple of Diana. I’ve also studied with Martin Prechtel in his school in New Mexico, learning the spiritual traditions and history of the world. And I’ve studied with other people. Those are my main teachers. Linda Conroy was my first. I like to mention her as well, herbal mentor and helping me connect with the land. And since being here at Earthaven, while studying with other people, I think my main teacher is the people, the community here at Earthaven and connecting with the land.
One of the other things I do here at Earthaven is lead the Red Tent, which is a women’s circle or women’s group. We meet at a space here at Earthaven monthly celebrating our cycles.
I also facilitate personal ritual. Anyone who is wanting some kind of ritual in their life, which could be a rite of passage, honoring something that they’re going through, some kind of transformation, it can look like many different things. If we really embrace personal ritual in our lives, the rituals can be sign posts throughout our life. When people feel they need support in that, I have a process I can lead people with, either to facilitate it or help them create their own ritual, they would facilitate themselves.
There are lots of different ways people are gathering together and sinking into different cycles. Here at Earthaven, as I mentioned, the Red Tent, with women gathering monthly. There are people that gather weekly for a Shabbat ritual and dinner. There is weekly meditation that someone leads, and there’s men’s groups and women’s groups that are meeting regularly throughout the land. There’s a lot of different individuals and groups here at Earthaven that are all working towards sinking into cycles and sinking into the land and really weaving the web of our community together many different ways.
Even if you’re not living on specific land that you feel connected to, we all live in this world that has specific cycles. Really tuning into the cycles around you, whatever they are, the yearly cycle, as we’ve talked about, the monthly cycle of the moon or the cycles of your life, is a good start.
And I would encourage you to really hold intention with that, to think about what these cycles might mean for you and your life and to really hold strong intention when you sit with those cycles and enact ritual in whatever way that looks like for you.
I think holding a specific intention is a strong base, and it’s really important for any ritual. Think about why you are doing this and what are you hoping to get out of it. Think about what you hope to feel or do after this ritual. Are you hoping to feel a certain way? Are you hoping to bring some kind of transformation into your life? Are you hoping to connect with the land? Connecting with the land or cycle can be enough. For example, “My intention is to connect with these cycles.” Just holding that can help you focus during a mutual.
In a way, it feels like ritual is a way for us to focus ourselves and to connect, as I’ve already said, to connect with other humans, to connect with the land, with the earth, connect with ourselves. And ritual is a way to have a container for that focus and to have a way to keep coming back to it. Our bodies are made for ritual. I believe our human bodies remember things and when we enact them in a ritualized way, we can go much deeper. And I feel that ritual, however that looks for you, is a way to connect and keep coming back to that connection. I feel as human beings, that is what we’re here to do — to connect in all the different ways that that means.
Kaitlyn’s website is priestessofcycles.com.