Interview with Angie Buchanan of Gaia's Womb
Quad City Times
QCT: Tell me about how Gaia's Womb came into being and how you got involved.
AB: Gaia's Womb evolved out of a need for women to come together to discover the Divine Feminine and to connect with each other.I have been involved since the beginning.
QCT: What is your title if you have one, and responsibilities?
AB: I own the organization of Gaia's Womb, but it belongs to all of the women who attend these events, who spend the time with me to talk about what it is they're looking for, what their vision is and how to bring it about. I am fortunate enough to have many friends who believe in the event and who volunteer their time, and contribute their knowledge to make it happen. I am pretty much responsible for everything --from researching and selecting the venues, interviewing and hiring the presenters, and recruiting staff, to the basic design, development, planning and coordinating of the actual event. Oh, and the clean up!
QCT: Tell me about the June 1-2 event.
AB: I am so excited about this particular event! The theme is divination and oracles.It's an opportunity for women to tap into their inherent intuitiveness and to learn some of the practical applications of consulting an oracle. I'm looking forward to having these tools made more understandable, by taking some of the mystery out of them.To remove fear, dispel misunderstandings and allow for individuals to discover that these are in fact viable tools which can be tailored or customized to meet individual needs. In addition to the divination presentations, we'll have singing, drumming and dancing, which always has an interesting effect. When a group of women come together joyously to dance to the beat of a drum, wearing beautiful scarves and jingling belts when the drummers are women and the voices are women ... well all I can say is that it's pure magic. And of course there's always chocolate and feasting.
QCT: Describe the appeal of each presenter. What makes them special?What do you think they have to offer?
AB: Wow! We could be here awhile! I have to say that all three of the presenters at this event have my utmost respect and admiration. These are strong, powerful women of wisdom who have a deep connection and a strong commitment to everything that Gaia's Womb stands for, women who walk their talk. They are each incredibly special in their own ways and what they have to offer, the women of the world need to hear.
Let's start with Selena Fox who has been a leader in the Pagan community for over thirty years.She is the founder and High Priestess of Circle Sanctuary, a nature preserve near Madison, Wisconsin. Among other celebrations Circle sponsors an annual event in Ohio called Pagan Spirit Gathering which attracts hundreds of attendees from all over the world. Selena has represented earth based spiritualities at A Parliament of the Worlds Religions and is internationally recognized for her work to secure first amendment freedoms. She has championed the rights of religious freedom and first amendment protections for all. Freedom of religion means ALL religions. She is a psychotherapist, teacher and writer. Selena comes across as a pleasant and unassuming personality, easy and fascinating to talk to however, she is a super charged, high energy sharply honed, incredibly intelligent virtual font of knowledge, information and inspiration. Her workshop at Gaia's Womb will be on dream crafting. www.circlesanctuary.com
Phyllis Curott is a brilliant and plucky New Yorker with a very matter of fact and practical approach to pretty much everything.She is an attorney, so her style is articulate and leaves few loopholes.She is well educated on her topics and has authored two books, Book of Shadows, published 1998, and Witchcrafting, published 2001. I happen to think that Book of Shadows is one of the most well written and informative pieces of literature for this genre available today. It is the number one resource I direct anyone seeking information about this path to. On a personal level, Phyllis is a concerned and caring woman who is very actively involved and has made herself available for consultation on civil rights and religious discrimination issues. Her workshop at this Gaia's Womb event will be The Goddess Revealed; Exploring the Divine Feminine Through Oracles.
And then there is Helen Bond. Ahhhhh. What can I say about Helen? She is one of those people you just have to experience. Helen's laugh is infectious and no one is immune. Helen uses the rhythms of Africa, cradle of human origin to help us connect with our roots through drumming and dance. Helen herself will tell you that the drum belongs to the woman, it is the first gift our mother ever gives us, the sound of her heartbeat and Helen is in fact a very important part of the pulse, the heartbeat of Gaia's Womb. Wherever and whenever Helen drums, the crowd gathers. Hands itch to pick up a drum and join in, and they do. Hips twitch with a mind of their own and smiles broaden while her voice weaves a tale of Africa that leaves a vivid mind picture of colors and a culture that finds joy in the very experience of life. Drumming is not what Helen does, it is what she is. www.medusadrums.com
QCT: Tell me about the facility you're using.Do you hold all your events there ? Does GW have an office or other space?
AB: The facility we're using is called Pilgrim Park, it's in Princeton, IL. It's a summer camp facility with dorm rooms, meeting halls and dining areas. The grounds are beautiful with woods and foot paths and bridges. We've had our past three Summer Solstice events there however, we never know from year to year where we'll be as I am always on the lookout for the most affordable and functional space to suit the needs of the event. A lot of it has to do with the theme of the event too. For example, the theme of our February 2003 event is Labyrinths and we've obtained a facility in Racine which has an indoor labyrinth. Also, Gaia's Womb is growing and our clientele now includes a number of women from Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio as well as Illinois so it widens the potential for consideration of new venues.
QCT: Why do you think there needs to be a space for "women's spirituality?"
AB: Because there is currently an increased awareness among women as to how shut out they are when it comes to the majority of today's mainstream religions. Not only shut out from a personal relationship with the divine, but from each other. This event, like the others before it provides a space for women to come together in a safe environment to connect with each other and to form bonds of sisterhood --complete strangers who at the end of this weekend are strangers no more. They've maybe shared or spoken something never said before and they walk away with life friendships.
There is a companionship that comes from hearing each other's voices, a comfort from gaining the wisdom of our sisters. While here in Gaia's Womb, we are removed from the mundane monotony of every day life,from the television and the glossy magazines, which tell us that our bodies are imperfect and therefore shameful and that growing older is something to fear. We come away from there to a place where multi generations of women gather to talk about what is real, to share women's wisdom and to connect with the divine in our own image. This is a place where a 70 year old woman says "I love being 70 and I wouldn't ever go back."That goes a long way to ease the passage of the 50 year old in the throes of menopause and to open the door for the 16 year old to rapid fire questions she may not have even known she had.
Here, we embrace life, celebrate our likenesses and our differences as we see ourselves in each others eyes. All these pieces are part of the spirituality --Goddess above, below, beside and within, a spirituality that pre-dates much of what is out there in the mainstream today, a path which brings us back to ancient traditions, a time before the patriarchy where the the female was revered and the Earth was sacred. A time when the cycle of life,the phases of the moon, the changing of the seasons, menstruation and of birth and death itself were cause for celebration and something that could be relied upon always. Recognition of the phases of life exclusive to women that a women deals with during her journey through the spiral of life. Women are hungry for that connection.
Women tell me time and time again that this is the most important thing they do for themselves all year. They save up and plan for it. One woman's husband gives it to her as a gift each year because he says she returns so renewed he cannot bear for her to miss. Women typically want to bring their mothers, their sisters, their daughters, even their grandmothers to this magical place where we can all be little girls again. We can giggle and laugh, tell bawdy jokes, sing, dance, and make music. We can play dress up, with tiaras and feather boas or curl up on pillows in front of the fireplace in a flannel nightie and fuzzy slippers. My goal, my motivation in hearing this-- with doing this is to be able to provide this experience more than one time a year. To open the door so that women can access their potential.
QCT: Having said that, tell me about the fall event and the decision to include men.What prompted that? Do you expect resistance from some of the women who typically attend your events?
AB: (laughing) Since the inception of Gaia's Womb there has been a growing amount of, shall we say, subterranean rumbling or crying of foul by the male population. Okay, it's whining. Many of the women who attend Gaia's Womb are partnered with men who share similar spiritual interests, and who often express a feeling of being left out.That is what prompted the decision to hold a mixed gender event. With that in mind, when this year, due to a scheduling glitch, one of our regular presenters, Margot Adler, could not attend the June Solstice event as she has for the past several years she offered to come on an alternate date. Things sort of started to weave together on their own from there.
The theme of the fall event will be The Wheel of the Year and will address the eight quarter and cross quarter days celebrated by people in different ways across various lines of religion and culture. The presenters will be Margot Adler, author of Drawing Down the Moon and Heretic's Heart and correspondent for National Public Radio. Selena Fox will be joining us again, Selena and Margot have been close friends for years. We additionally have the rare privilege of hosting Oberon Zell-Ravenhart, formerly connected with Green Egg magazine and internationally known for his fabulously wonderful sculptures/statuary of mythic images. Oberon's Gaia figure graces our altar at every event.
We struggled with whether to even connect this event to Gaia's Womb but it came together so fast there really wasn't time to do anything else. I don't think there will be any resistance from the women because we are making sure the women's needs are met by expanding to do more women's events and by assuring them that this event is in addition to and will not replace our regular annual women's events.
QCT: How does Gaia's Womb get its funding? Grants, retreat income, private donations?
AB: Gaia's Womb operates on retreat income only.
Interview with Mandy Saven
Final year Journalism student at the London College of Fashion, in London.
1. Please explain why Gaia's Womb came about and what is its main function.
Angie: Gaia's Womb evolved out of a need for women to come together to discover the Divine Feminine and to connect with each other. Its main function is to provide a safe place for that to happen.
2. Please elaborate on the 'rituals' and 'Divine Feminine' (website info) that are part of the Gaia's Womb experience.
Angie: The basic structure of a Gaia’s Womb event is that we come together in sacred space to honor the Divine Feminine and to discover Her in ourselves and in each other. We generally begin with creating that sacred space through the ritual of casting of a circle, calling of the quarters and asking for blessings for the weekend. We ask that the participants remain in the mental and spiritual framework of that space for the duration of the weekend.
Within the space we acknowledge the Divine Feminine either singularly or in Her many manifestations and incarnations as Goddess throughout ancient history. We then conduct workshops, share meals, allow time for shopping at wide selection of vendors with all manner of sparkling and wonderful wares and encourage communication among the women, with each other, with the presenters and the producers of the event.
The main ritual is generally held on Saturday night. It is the signature of a Gaia’s Womb event and consists of elaborate thought, planning and execution. The creation of the right atmosphere helps the women to shift into a state of connectedness with the Divine. The rituals vary greatly, according to the theme of the weekend.
The goal is to create an experience for everyone in attendance where the heart chakra is open the brain waves have shifted and there is the indisputable arrival to a point where one knows, one understands that they are in the presence of something greater than themselves. I see it happen consistently, the magic happens…. it’s an energy, a knowing and that’s about as close as I can come to explaining the manifestation of the Divine Feminine in ritual.
3. How often do you hold events and what determines the theme for them?
Angie: Right now we're up to three weekend retreats per year (February, June & October) and a number of one-day events. The theme is determined in a variety of ways. Sometimes we have an idea of what sort of work we want to accomplish and we will go looking for a presenter to provide education or techniques for that. Other times we will be inspired by someone's work so, we build a whole weekend around her.
4. In your eyes, what qualities do you look for in a female guru/leader to be part of Gaia's Womb?
Angie: I have to say that I don't especially relate to the "guru" term. The women who attend Gaia's Womb are for the most part, not looking for someone to follow and submit or subscribe to. They recognize that they are their own spiritual gurus, Priestesses of themselves, and the Gaia's Womb presenter is there to help enhance their experience, their personal spiritual growth. The qualities I look for in a Gaia's Womb presenter are someone who is able to speak and relate to women of all ages, backgrounds and spiritual paths. I look for presenters who are able to communicate and connect with the women on a personal level, who are willing to invest the time to integrate themselves into the entire weekend and not just do a "hit and run, collect the check" sort of gig. I look for a presenter, who has already acknowledged, recognized and who lives with the Divine Feminine within herself. In reality our presenters certainly have the status in terms of authorship or community reputation however, they are real people bringing real experiences to the group in a way that fleshes out the esoteric stuff, in a way that takes away the ivory tower and allows them to become as much of a participant in the weekend as the women. I look for the presenters like Judy Piazza, or Selena Fox, or Margot Adler or Helen Bond, or Phyllis Curott... who say, "I'm there, I'm committed, I'm excited. Use me!" and who come to me at the end of the weekend and say, "This is real." and I know they're taking something away from it for themselves. I have had a number of those presenters come back to these events as attendees.
5. Where do you get your motivation and inspiration from?
Angie: Actually they are intertwined. My motivation stems from a recognition of and an empathy for the current increased awareness among women as to how shut out they are when it comes to the majority of today's mainstream religions. Not only shut out from a personal relationship with the Divine, but from each other.
My inspiration is born of my personal relationship with the Divine. For me, this is sacred work. The affirmations of that are the moments I have of true serendipity; true synchronicity where things align themselves, the magic happens and suddenly I find myself in the middle of the next event still marveling over how it all came together. It's exciting and wonderful; the power of the inspiration is also what motivates me to continue.
6. Why do you feel it is important to promote female spirituality at the present time?
Angie: I really don't "promote" female spirituality so much as simply make it available for those who are already interested. I do it because I believe if we as a species cannot find a way to restore the masculine/feminine balance to our lives and our spiritual paths we will never heal as a people or a planet. We will never survive religious wars, environmental tragedy or any number of other factors that are contributing to our degeneration and demise.
We're in an age of technology where knowledge is becoming more and more accessible through the Internet and other modalities; hence the world is becoming a smaller place. You have books like the DaVinci Code and The Woman With The Alabaster Jar and Holy Blood Holy Grail and The Jesus Mysteries that are being published, and that are challenging the patriarchal structure. The men in these structures are being forced to either embrace Divinity in its feminine form or accept it on equal terms or they risk the disintegration of their well cherished and firmly held fraternal orders. The fundamentalists, the ones who are resisting do so out of anger and fear.
In the interim, the women need a place to go. Women's spirituality provides a context to flesh out the theories, the philosophy. It gives us a language and rituals that are our own; it is the manifestation of the dialog between women and the Divine Feminine. It gives us a way to make the intangible, tangible, to transform ideologies into something that is real, applicable and able to be integrated into daily life. Also, it works across the board from a religious perspective because even in most mainstream religions, "God" is admittedly genderless so, why not Goddess?
7. Would you agree that female gurus/leaders are a spiritual trend? Is this especially in the US or is it a worldwide phenomenon?
Angie: If by trend you mean a passing fad then no, I do not agree that it is a trend. I don’t believe it’s even new! Goddess spirituality has always been present, buried in the political bureaucracy perhaps but present nonetheless. I believe that what is happening today is a long overdue recognition that the qualities of spiritual leadership that have been historically acknowledged in men, have also been present in women. The idea of this can be supported through the examination of past figures such as Sappho, Mary Magdalene, Hildegard Von Bingen, Joan of Arc, and Teresa of Avila, and more recently Mother Teresa, Marija Gimbutas, Gloria Steinham, and Alice Walker. It appears to be a global movement rather than confined to the US. An awakening perhaps influenced by a subconscious acceptance that the current processes, administrations, restrictions and hierarchies are simply not working.
8. Do you feel the 'face' /'identity' of the female guide has changed over the course of time?
Angie: Not really. Perhaps our understanding and acceptance of her face or identity has changed, our context has changed but the basic information remains the same.
9. Do you think women respond better to a woman guru/guide? And how do you feel men are responding?
Angie: That's a complex question that I really don't think I can answer for anyone other than myself and even then it's completely situational. Personally, I respond to the information, the idea and the creativity in presenting it. I think I would respond to information regarding menstruation or childbirth or women's mysteries better if it were presented by a woman, simply because I think *she* would have a better understanding of it than a man would but, I certainly wouldn't lend less credibility or have less of a response to a man presenting on goddess spirituality, archeology or feminine archetypes. I think men are responding positively to female spiritual leadership, especially men who are drawn to women’s spirituality or goddess traditions. The overall sense I get from them is one of relief.
10. Do you feel that mainstream religions aren't offering something that women need and seek through alternative belief systems?
Angie: Absolutely. Mainstream religions are weighted heavily to benefit men. Women are denied the same concessions with regard to ordination; and they are often overlooked in the church hierarchy, being relegated to positions of servitude within the church and within the accepted history of the church. Someone passed me a quote the other day that I think is applicable here.” A shepherd who cares only for the rams won't have a flock for very long," -- Kathleen Pruitt, Bremen, Ga. The best that mainstream religion has had to offer women for the past 2000 years is a patronizing place at the table - in the kitchen. Women are no longer willing to accept that.
11. Besides the religion aspect, it seems as if women are looking to fill a void in some way through something that they can believe in. Would you agree with this statement and why?
Angie: First of all, I see a difference between religion and spirituality. Religion is about doctrine, revealed texts, prophets, structure, hierarchy and outward appearances. Spirituality is what happens inside of you, you own it, it belongs to you, it is your experience and it is as varied and individual as each person engaging it. Other than that, yes I agree women are looking for something to fill the void.
The fact is that women are leaving mainstream religions in droves, unwilling to accept the status quo of being classified as a second rate citizen, unwilling to accept the responsibility for the fall of the human race, unwilling to think of themselves as dirty, and sexually uncontrollable, unwilling to be classified as property. Women are rebelling against a singular, judgmental male deity that requires submission, theirs - to men. This no longer speaks to their reality and the fact that they are now finding out that this is not the way things were originally intended to be, that matrilineal lines and goddess cultures have been twisted and suppressed, even within Judeo/Christianity, that women have been effectively cut out of history, that history has been altered and the reverence for the Divine Feminine discarded, and dismissed, that they've been lied to for centuries by men, who fear their power...yes, women have been searching for something that they can believe in, something that makes sense.
The truth of the matter is that no man, no prophet, no tycoon, no chieftain ever ever came to this Earth plane by any means other than through the body of a woman. Woman mirrors the cycles of nature, of the Earth, which receives the seed, grows, blooms, births and dies. That is the mystery, that is the power of woman and that is what makes her imminently divine. The women and the men who come to the Goddess path are ready to embrace that. The mainstream religions are afraid of it.
12. Can you give me a few details about the next Gaia's Womb event? (date?, cost?, special speakers?) and perhaps mention a future dream of yours for Gaia's Womb and the female spirit!
Angie: The next Gaia's Womb event will be June 4, 5 & 6th, 2004. The theme is "Becoming the Muse" The presenters are Judy Piazza, who will be introducing the frame drum and speaking about the history of women and drumming. Also presenting is Shekhinah Mountainwater who will be teaching Goddess chants and the connection of the sisterhood through voice. It's being held in Princeton, IL, about an hour or so from Chicago. The cost runs $300.00 - $450.00 per person for the weekend, depending on the sort of accommodations selected. We’ll be posting more details at www.GaiasWomb.com.
My dream for the future of Gaia’s Womb would be to have monthly or even weekly events so that women would consistently have a place to call their own. The presence of the female spirit in its human and Divine form is already here. She is the great voice, of the planet, in our hearts and spirits and She is calling. For me, that is not a dream, it is a reality.