Into The Woods
(originally posted January 2016: maidensmotherscrones.blogger.com)
While this post is not specifically about women’s spirituality it is something that recently came up and I felt compelled to write about. I hope you find it informative and that it sparks some intelligent discussion. Blessed Be.
Recently, a conversation came up between myself and a close friend about the misconceptions or rather, a possible lack of understanding of the difference between a Retreat and a Pagan Festival. It came about after several Facebook postings that clearly demonstrated that some of the posters really had no idea what a Retreat was supposed to be about. Miriam-Webster defines Retreat as follows:
Full Definition of retreat:
1 a (1): an act or process of withdrawing especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable (2): the process of receding from a position or state attained <the retreat of a glacier>
B (1): the usually forced withdrawal of troops from an enemy or from an advanced position (2): a signal for retreating
C (1): a signal given by bugle at the beginning of a military flag-lowering ceremony (2): a
military flag-lowering ceremony
2: a place of privacy or safety: refuge
3: a period of group withdrawal for prayer, meditation, study, or instruction under a director
Retreat in the sense we are talking about is a time of group withdrawal, in privacy and safety, for the purposes of prayer, meditation, study and ritual all under the instruction of a director, or leader/Priestess. A festival on the other and is more of a gathering of a larger group of people and is more focused on celebration. It is defined by Miriam-Webster as: noun | fes·ti·val |
Simple Definition of festival
1 : a special time or event when people gather to celebrate something
2 : an organized series of performances
Full Definition of festival
1a : a time of celebration marked by special observances
b : feast
2 : an often periodic celebration or program of events or entertainment having a specified focus <a daffodil festival> <a Greek festival>
3: gaiety, conviviality
While there are certainly spiritual aspects to any pagan festival, there are also other events and the focus is not usually on connecting with the divine in an intimate way for the whole festival. Whereas, a Retreat is solely focused on the connection to the divine in one form or another depending on the theme chosen by the group hosting the event. So in an attempt to further illustrate the difference I decided to share my experiences at the Morrigan’s Call Retreats in the hopes that it will adequately demonstrate to those interested in attending a retreat what they can expect from one.
In June 2014 I was stressed out, knee deep in massage school, buried in bills and seriously depressed. I had spent the previous year dealing with the emotional turmoil that was my ex-husband as he faced death and dying. Truthfully, I had spent the last 30 years of my life dealing with him as both his wife and ex-wife. It was draining to say the least. So, this is the state I was in when the opportunity to go to the first Morrigan’s Call retreat was presented to me. I should say that before this, I had been a practicing solitary for pretty much my whole life. I had mentors with whom I had corresponded with over the years, a small coven that came and went in the span of a year, and had recently begun networking online with the Morrigu’s Daughter’s. Having only known some of the people in this online group through the internet, I was contemplating going to the retreat which would be within driving distance for me. I hemmed and hawed over going for weeks. It was a terrifying thought to go off somewhere I didn’t know with a group of people I didn’t know. I felt in my gut I should do it but my head had plenty of excuses. I made the final decision to go and let my intuition lead me only two days before the retreat. I informed my children where I was going and that cell service would probably be nonexistent there (we would be on a mountain in Massachusetts) and that they should call for help if I didn’t return by Monday. This was my state of mind as I set off for Temenos in Massachusetts for the first Morrigan’s Call retreat. I was going out into the woods to spend my weekend with 30 something strangers I had never met before in my life. It turned out to be the best decision I made in my life.
For those who have never been to a retreat before let me explain, I really had no idea what to expect except that it would be for me, a weekend of communing with nature, gaining a closer relationship with the Goddess the Morrigan and some introspection. Little did I know how much introspection! Nor was I prepared for the depth and impact of the rituals planned for that weekend. I knew it would be a test for me in many ways. I had no idea how much of a test. To begin with the area we were lodging at is a camping grounds up on a mountain in Massachusetts. No cell service, no electricity, no toilets and spring water for showering. I chose to tent not realizing; 1) it would be cold as hell in June at night, and 2) Bears. Others had wisely chosen to rent the cabins that were available or to get a cot in the main lodge house. This weekend was a test physically as well as spiritually. It began with hauling all our stuff from our cars up to the camping areas. Then the park ranger gave a rousing pep talk about the safety rules on the mountain and what one should do if you thought you were being hunted by a bear. Yes, I said “hunted”. Afterward our leader, Stephanie Woodfield, gathered everyone up and we set out through the woods to the temple. There prayers, dedications and offerings to the Morrigan in her different aspects were given and to the Dagda as well. This for me was pivotal. It was in this moment that I felt it, that sudden realization that I was indeed in the right place at the right time. Over the course of the rest of the weekend one thing built upon the next, each individual ritual was more profound than the one before it, all culminating on the last day to the overwhelming feeling of belonging. I had for the first time in many years found kindred souls. I had found my center, my own spiritual spark was reignited. In the woods, on a mountain in Massachusetts with 30 some odd strangers I had found my tribe.
That weekend was an ending and a beginning for me. In taking that trip, making that leap out of my comfort zone I had taken the first step on a new path. I was making the conscious decision to leave my old life behind and try something new. It was exactly what a retreat is meant to be, a time to reflect, look inward and find yourself. I just happened to find a whole new community along with myself. This weekend was the catalyst for a myriad of changes in the coming year. I can honestly say that one year had made my life completely different. As I sat in workshops for the second Morrigan’s Call retreat this past June I was in awe of just how much had changed. Of course the Goddess isn’t finished with me yet, and this year is yet another test for me personally on many other levels. Each of these retreats has opened up for me another aspect of spirituality I had not thought possible before. Maybe it’s me, maybe it’s the leaders and Priestesses leading our rituals, maybe it’s the community itself, as this particular Goddess has picked quite an interesting and dedicated group of people from so many different walks of life. What I do know is that going to a spiritual retreat and immersing yourself in your beliefs and practices whatever they may be is an experience like no other. Not better or worse, but an experience unto itself. If taken with the intent of connecting with the divine and without expectations, it can be life altering as I can attest to now. Without that first retreat I would not be who I am today. Without it I am a depressed, overweight, shy, quiet, introverted middle aged woman who’s been broken and beaten down by life’s experiences. Still searching for my center, my spark, my Tribe. As I prepare for the next Morrigan’s Call retreat in June 2016, I struggle at the moment to integrate the gifts I have received spiritually from this last retreat and utilize them in my life and in the way the Goddess intends for me, while at the same time I am excited for the prospect of who I will become.
This in my opinion, is everything a retreat should be and I encourage anyone with inclination to really connect with deity, to consider attending one. Festivals are awesome. I love and plan to continue to attend many pagan festivals in the years to come. But, a retreat is something different, something that can be life altering if you go with a completely open mind. I highly recommend it.