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A living laboratory for a sustainable human future.

Grieving as a Village

by Kimchi Rylander

On November 14 & 15, a cluster of our village family and friends joined over a hundred people in Asheville for a Grief Ritual with Sobonfu Somé, sponsored by the School of Integrated Living (SOIL). Sobonfu is a gifted spiritual teacher from the Dagara tradition of Burkina Faso. This was the second time we were able to work with her.

It was especially enriching this year to share the ritual space with over 20 people from our extended village. We have woven together a life complete with broken dreams, shared losses, the hardships of living together, and the collective longing for a better world.

Sobonfu led the drumming and song that announced it was time to grieve. We created three altars: one for the ancestors, one for forgiveness, and one for grief. Each of us placed something on the grief altar to symbolize our grief. While grievers mourned, witnesses stood near and supported each one, as did the musicians and singers. Together we became a village with specific roles that made the grief ritual as powerful as it was. All in all, the message was—we cannot do this alone.

During the day, some of us reached out to each other, feeling the comfort and safety of being held in another’s arms. Being witnessed as we grieve is a powerful medicine, which breaks the spell of entrenched isolation and separation in modern culture that so often keeps us from reaching out. At the close of the ritual, Mana McLeod and Chris Farmer, both of Earthaven, had the honor of burying the grief bundle. I burst with emotion as the group thanked and welcomed them back in. It left me dreaming of a time when we are all welcomed with the same collective gratitude!

At the close of this ritual, my heart was so open; I felt such gratitude for the experiment called Earthaven.

Kimchi Rylander is an artist, deep ecologist, and permaculture activist who has been Earthaven’s Firekeeper for the last two years. Her grandest artistic endeavor is building a resilient ecovillage with 60 other cultural creatives at Earthaven. When she is not chair caning, you’ll find her in the forest harvesting a fresh batch of nettles and chickweed. Connect with Kimchi by email at

altars, ancestors, grief ritual, Kimchi Rylander, ritual, Sobonfu Somé, SOIL

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