This Council was held over three days, (12, 13 and 14 September 2003) at Earthworm Housing Co-op, a seven-acre permaculture small holding in Shropshire. The setting and the weather were beautiful! Warm sun, blue skies, woods, flowers, grassy open spaces and smaller enclosed areas all vibrant with life. All the catering was done by the Earthworm team, and was excellent. There were eleven of us - a small group, but it helped create an intimate and quite intense camp.
The camp followed the classic Deep Ecology Council of All Beings workshop program, but with an added ingredient - We used shamanic techniques to deepen the experience and enhance our connection with the more-than-human world. To my knowledge, no Council has been done quite this way before, though we are sure many indigenous peoples have done very similar work for centuries.
Generally, I've explained briefly what the Deep Ecology exercises (all titled in italics) entail. I haven't described the Remembering Journey and Journey into Our Future as their impact partly rests on not knowing what to expect. Full details are provided in the bibliography.
Most people arrived on the Thursday, and shared an evening of food, stories and songs round the fire.
I'd planned to start the workshop on Friday morning with a fairly formal outline of the process we were about to share. But the day before I'd read a very moving story Why The Animals Created Humans, which expresses for me what the Council is all about.
So I told the story as a preamble, and then outlined the work we would be doing together over the next few days.
Next we broke into small groups to share personal experiences of environmental crisis and/or personal empowerment.
I followed this with a Milling excercise. This is designed to create group bonding, and to focus our whole attention (heart, body, and mind) on our relationship with the rest of the natural world.
After the Milling, it was time to begin to open to our sadness by building a Cairn of Mourning.
Three of the group prepared a small stone cairn. We choose 6 flat stones, each about the size of a human head. They were arranged so that they all touched, except for a gap where the missing 7th stone would've been. This represented what we have lost, our separation from nature that has made us incomplete.
We all gathered at the cairn and I explained the purpose - to open to our feelings of loss for some aspect of the natural world, share our grief, and say good-bye to what had passed.
Each person wandered the grounds to consider what they were grieving for and to find something to symbolise it. In their own time, each of us returned to the Cairn. Once we were all assembled, I invited people to place their object on the stones, building a Cairn of Mourning, and to share their sadness.
What followed was one of the most deeply moving rituals I have ever been part of. Obviously all that was spoken there must remain in the circle, but the depth of sharing was profound.
We had lunch after building the Cairn, which helped ground us a little.
I'd planned a simple sharing circle for after lunch, but chose to use the Truth Mandala. I sensed that the Cairn of Mourning had opened up a lot of emotions, and there were feelings still to be expressed. The Truth Mandala was a perfect tool to allow us to explore them.
Anyone can move into the empty circle and using the objects to help them, express their feelings. The rest of the circle remains silently supportive.
After such an intense series of workshops, it was time to shift gear - to begin the process of moving towards hope. We'd built the Cairn of Mourning together to express our sorry. Now we would build the Sweat Lodge together to express our hope.
Building the Lodge took several hours and took us into early evening.
While the Lodge fire burned to heat the sacred stones, we ate our evening meal, and then gathered indoors for the first part of the shamanic work. This began with the Remembering Journey, a pathworking to consciously own our ancient kinship. The pathworking relaxed everyone and prepared them for the Shamanic Drumming Journey which followed immediately afterwards.
The purpose of the Drumming Journey was for each of us to try to connect with whatever being had chosen to speak thorough us in the Council. Some of the group was experienced with shamanic work, while it was fairly new to others. We shared our experiences after the Journey. Some had connected quite strongly, but most had only a vague idea of what being had chosen them. This wasn't unexpected: This was the more experimental aspect of the camp, and we'd allowed time for other Journeys, Trance Dance and whatever shamanic tools were needed to build our connection.
We ended the first day with a Sweat Lodge, which was run by the Earthworm crew. This wasn't intended to be a traditional Lodge, but primarily a tool of purification and to help us with the process of opening to the Spirits.
It was a beautiful night, with clear skies dappled with stars and the Moon just beginning to wane.
After breakfast on Saturday, we gathered to discuss the day ahead. We needed to discuss the Council itself, how the Circle would be cast and how make sure each being could speak without the whole thing degenerating into a cacophony!
We felt that the beings would respect the Council space and each other, so there was no need for a Talking Stick. We used the Dragon style of opening the Circle and inviting the Elements, which is simple, inclusive and suitably physical rather than wordy.
Several key points came out of our discussion: We agreed to have a 'safety mat' outside the Council circle, but inside the ritual Circle. This was simply a blanket with a bowl of salt water and drinking water as a space anyone could retreat to if they felt overwhelmed: Going to the 'safety mat' was a simple way to ask for support.
We all felt it was important to have at least one fully human person in the Council at all times. They would act as witness and scribe, so that all that was said would be recorded. In a typical Council people move to the centre of the circle and remove their masks when they want to take their turn as human witnesses. We had no idea how easy it would be for everyone to shift from carrying the spirit being to being fully human, so left this open. If anyone chose to and felt able, they should remove their spirit mask and move the centre of the circle.
Woody, who was leading the Shamanic work, insisted that each of us had made a release agreement with the being we were carrying that it would leave our bodies on request. A bowl of salt water was on hand to help with grounding if required.
The magical and practical dimensions of the Council agreed, we moved to a fun part - The Mirror Walk. For this simple excercise we paired up. One person closed their eyes and was led slowly around the grounds by their partner. The guide would offer something to touch, taste, hear or smell. Occasionally, the guide would gently move their partners head and invite them to open their eyes and 'Look into the mirror' - some wonder of nature that lay before their eyes.
After 15 minutes the pairs swapped over, and the new guide returned the favour.
This was a joyous experience! It was such a sensuous engagement with nature that I suggested that we change the name from The Mirror Walk to Meet the Beloved. As we excitedly shared our experiences over tea it became clear that for some this was a high point of the camp.
Then someone spotted a buzzard high above us. Gliding magnificent in the clear blue sky, the bird seemed to be acknowledging our work. Another buzzard joined it, and together they circled the camp.
Refreshed with tea, and inspired by the blessing of the birds, we returned to the shamanic work. This second journey was intended to help us strengthen our connection to the spirit beings. This time Woody used a rattle to lead the Journey instead of a drum. This worked better for some people so deepened their connection. Then he led another drumming Journey for a few who felt they needed it.
By now we all had at least some idea of what being had chosen to speak through us. Some had met with the being and spoken about the Council, though others had no more than an ineffable connection to whoever or whatever might speak through them.
Now it was time for more fun - the making of the spirit masks! Julieann co-ordinated this, and paint, card, tape and string waited in the shade of a huge old tree. We needed to keep the masks simple because there was no time for anything elaborate. But the results were a wonder! Perhaps the spirits inspired us, as most of us didn't have mask-making experience. Each mask had that purity of simplicity that emerges from focus and connection with deep purpose.
Lunch followed, and the nerves began. I felt the familer butterflies-in-the-stomach that comes before any important event, be it ritual or public talk. It's a powerful apprehension that sharpens my mind and energises my body.
Two of the group had found a site in the woods that they felt was right, and had gone ahead to prepare the space. The rest of us gathered holding our masks in anticipation. One of our guides came back to lead us to the Council site, and as we walked we chanted softly:
"Spirits of the Land, hear me.
The Council space was perfect: A circle of tree stumps awaited us in small clearing in the woods. The late afternoon light lit the leafy earth through the trees. It was still, expectant.
We sat, some on the stumps, others on the ground. I began with a statement of our intent:
"We meet in council because our planet is in trouble; our lives and our ancient ways are endangered. It is fitting that we confer, for there is much now that needs to be said and much that needs to be heard."
We cast a circle together, Dragon style, and invited in those Deities and other beings we felt should be with us.
One of the group had chosen to remain fully human for the first part of the Council, and sat in the centre of the circle. We'd agreed that it was important to always have a human witness to record what was said and acknowledge the word of the beings. The remainder took a moment to prepare and then donned our masks. Woody began to drum.
No individual can recount all that happened in the Council, as we were all trancing at some point. What follows is an account of what each being said, written by one of those who had chosen to be fully human at that point. Different people sat in the centre of the Council to witness and record at various times.
Despite our reservations, the Council format worked beautifully. Several members of the circle took off their masks for some of the time and moved to the centre. The beings honoured each other and the space, listening to each testimony with patience.
The Council came to a natural close. The beings had spoken all they could or wanted to for now, and one by one chose to depart. The Council thanked all who had attended, and slowly we all returned to our human selves.
We shared some food and drink in the circle, and then closed with a dancing chanting farewell and thanks.
Dusk was falling, and thankfully our evening meal was waiting for us - An excellent grounding!
We spent the evening sitting round the fire, some sharing their experience of the Council, some keeping to silence to digest it.
The next morning I led a final guided mediation, the Journey into Our Future. I find this particularly powerful, and it works well to clarify next steps and goals.
Our Closing Ritual was simple and powerful. We stood in a circle around the fire holding our masks. We'd agreed that this didn't need to be in ritually cast circle, for this time and space were sacred and held.
When the moment felt right, each of us gave out masks to the flames, thanking the being that had spoken through it for the honour of carrying them.
To close, Siren led a strong grounding excercise. We gave our thanks to the place and the spirits for our gorgeous food and gorgeous company!
We all feel a need to open the Council again and again, perhaps with new people and different beings: Several beings were sad and angry, and by re-connecting regularly we can move through pain to creative dialogue. A question and answer session was suggested for next time to structure it our interaction and learn how to move forward.
If you would like to be kept informed of future Councils, please contact us.
Carlos Castaneda, 'Tales of Power', Pocket Books, 1992
Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown, 'Coming Back to Life', New Society Publishers, 1998
Joanna Macy, John Seed, Pat Fleming, Arne Naess Thinking
Like a Mountain
Starhawk, 'The Fifth Sacred Thing', Bantam, 1993
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