Women and Spirituality Conference Mankato – Lisa Spiral Besnett

UofMN Mankato Student Union

UofMN Mankato Student Union

October 12-13, the weekend of the 32nd Annual Women and Spirituality Conference in Mankato, Minnesota.  We walk into a typical registration table, sign in and collect our name tags and conference materials.  The schedule, changes and cancellations, a copy of the October edition of the Minnesota Women’s Press magazine and maps – lots of maps.

Entering the Auditorium

Entering the Auditorium

The doors to the auditorium open and everything changes.  We walk in through banners that read: “I Enter In Perfect Love And Perfect Trust.”  The air is charged as people find seats.  There is much waving and greeting as women find friends they haven’t seen since the year before.  Business announcements are made, the staff and University thanked and then we are told “Welcome to our ritual led by Treewommon and an assortment of witches to honor the Goddess and the Sacred Elements.”  The opening ceremony is begun.

The directions are called, East and Air, South and Fire, West and Water, North and Earth, and Center.  Puppets representing the directions are paraded in and presented in turn, each carried by a woman who is also a representative of woman aging through the stages of life.  The maidens, the mother, the crone, and the hag.  The Goddess Herself, named as Bridget and carrying a banner with symbols of many Goddesses representing Center, Spirit, and Community.  The audience joins in the familiar chant and the Conference is off and running.

Creating Sacred Space

Creating Sacred Space

This conference is sponsored by the Gender and Women’s Studies Department at the University of Minnesota, Mankato.   Cindy Veldhuisen, the Business Manager for the Conference, told me that there were about 540 attendees this year.  This is up from last year.

Some of the reason for the increase in attendance can likely be attributed to this year’s keynote speaker, Starhawk.  This is Starhawk’s third appearance as keynote speaker for the Woman & Spirituality conference.  She draws attendees from across the five state area as well as from the east coast, Colorado and Canada.  Many of the women I spoke with who were familiar with Starhawk were also alumni of the Diana’s Grove Witch Camp.

Starhawk is often mistaken as the public face of Reclaiming, and indeed she was one of the co-founders of the original collective in San Francisco.  But her focus, especially in recent years, has been on Earth Activist Training .  She is teaching permaculture techniques to small communities throughout the world.  She’s just returned from an training in Palestine.

One of the things Starhawk talked about in her keynote address was “frame”.  How we choose to frame things affects how we see them, how we interpret the information.  She told about her first visit to the region as part of a Hebrew Class trip in her teens.  They pointed out that the Israeli side of the Jordan was green and lush and the Palistinian side was all brown and dry.

Starhawk and Spiral

Starhawk and Spiral

Since then Starhawk has come to realize that the Israeli’s control 80-90% of the ground water in the region.  She also knows that the Palestinians have been practicing sustainable agriculture in the area for thousands of years.  They feed their people without using much water at all.  Yes, it’s not as lush or green.  The base systems are fig trees, almonds and olives.  It’s a style of agriculture that sustains the soil and the ecosystem.

Permaculture respects those systems and uses modern tools with historically successful techniques to rejuvenate the soils and sustain the crops.  It is this concept of rejuvenation that Starhawk feels is at the core of the Pagan spirituality.  She suspects it is this philosophy that the consumer culture finds threatening.

There was a slide show about the devolution of the Bird Goddess.  There is strength in those postures of resistance, the stances of the neolithic and paleolithic statues.  Starhawk suggested that the Harpies, the Crones, the Witches as well as the guardian Angels all come to our collective consciousness from those early Bird Goddesses.  She reminded us that Harpies harp.  They point out the things that need fixing, and keep at it until those things get fixed.  She encouraged the conference goers, when they’re in the mood pick a fight, to get on the phone and call their congressmen.  Starhawk blogs about this connection between Paganism and politics at www.starhawksblog.org.

Of course the keynote speaker is not the whole of the conference.  Over the course of the two days there are also four sessions of  hour and a half workshops offered.  With 30-35 workshops offered in any given session there was a lot of variety to chose from.  Many of the presenters actually offered repeats of their workshops in a second session to make it a little easier for attendees to choose.

The conference spreads over 5 of the campus buildings using classrooms, conference rooms and dance and exercise spaces.  One of these buildings houses the vendor room.  An ample space for several rows of vendors to show their wares.  There were services offered, Reiki and tarot readings, along side the books, jewelry, drums, pottery and garb we often expect.

Red Tent movie

Red Tent movie

Many of the vendors are also presenters, either closing their booths for a workshop session or partnering with a friend.  The filmmaker and distributor of the movie “Things We Don’t Talk About: Women’s Stories from the Red Tent” was one of the women doing double duty.  She actually left her booth to be attended by a neighboring vendor while she screened the movie for conference goers.  This quick and deep friendship, the commonality and trust among women is probably the most common and profound product of this conference.  It’s the reason many women come back year after year.

The closing ritual again presented by Treewommon and friends is bittersweet.  We are introduced to the players.  The maidens have been “attending” this conference all their lives.  Their mother’s met here and have been close kindred for the ten years since.  (“Let that be a warning to you about the friends you make here!” the Priestess teases.)
We sing a powerful chant looking into each others eyes and falling into the arms of friends and strangers around us.  Tears, laughter and hugs are shared.  A spontaneous circle forms so that we can all see and rejoice in the power and beauty of women gathered in harmony and purpose.

The directions thanked and dismissed we are charged to carry this energy, the spirit of the conference home with us.  We are charged to remember what is possible when Women come together.

Dates for next year’s conference have not yet been announced.  To stay up to date on developments or to get on the mailing list go to: http://sbs.mnsu.edu/women/conference or contact the Gender and Women’s Studies Department directly at: 507-389-2077

Lisa Spiral Besnett

Lisa Spiral Besnett is an occasional contributor to PNC.  Her book, Manifest Divinity, is published by Immanion Press and available in paperback or as an ebook at Amazon.com.  Spiral writes a weekly blog where you can read more about her personal experiences living a spiritually aware life.

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Empowerment Training Day for OccupyMPLS

Tuesday, Dec 6th, OccupyMpls sponsored Empowerment Training Day at Walker Church in S. Mpls. It was a day to focus on skill sharing. training, and discussion around the core issues facing OccupyMpls. It was designed to build a respectful and empowering culture within the movement.

Afternoon round table discussions

I participated for a few hours in both the morning and the afternoon. The event had a full schedule from 8am – 5pm.  I arrived about 10am to a room of about 60 people. Starhawk was going over the principals of meeting facilitation and consensus process.  Many present had some experience with these subjects before, and so the depth of the discussion during the presentation was directed at the particular problems facilitating a ‘general assembly’ presented to occupy organizers.

About 10.25 am the meeting was interrupted by an announcement the Plaza security had ‘raided’ the camp earlier that morning as about 8.30am and had taken all unattended items from the Plaza. Several county commissioners phone numbers, who were reported to be meeting Tuesday, distributed and calls were made in rotation as the workshop training continued.

The importance of incorporating core values into the consensus, and general assembly processes was emphasized, as well as the need to select the best decision-making process for each issue the group faced. Consensus Process is not needed for many movement decisions, just the major ones where core values are being defined.

I returned after lunch when open group meetings, now about fifty with many new people, were in progress. Five topics were under discussion at smaller round tables :

  1. Direct Action Strategy
  2. Visioning
  3. General Assemblies
  4. Guideline for “New Norms”
  5. Diversity within the Movement

Each group kept notes on its discussion with the aim of discovering insights, and gleaning items for later general assembly proposal and consideration. Every fifteen minutes or so, the groups paused and people rotated among them as they felt called. I participated in the visioning, direct action, and diversity groups. At the end of the session, spokespersons from each group summarized the discussion and outlined items that deserved further work to integrate the ideas within OccupyMPLS.  A contact person and email  was established for each work group and a sign-up for messaging within each group was posted.

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Starhawk Visit Schedule : Mon-Tues Dec 5-6th

Monday, December 5, 2011 at 5  PM
Mayday Books, 301 Cedar Ave. (downstairs), West Bank, Minneapolis
”  Empowering Tools for Challenging Times  ”

From Cairo to Wall Street, all over the world people are coming together to create change, organizing without top-down leadership or hierarchies. In thousands of voluntary groups everywhere, people work together to create everything from community gardens to media to new ways of living. Such circles can be enormously creative and empowering, but they can also be cumbersome and frustrating. Yet when they work well, they liberate our imagination and change the world.

In her latest book, The Empowerment Manual, A Guide for Collaborative Groups,  Starhawk draws on four decades of experience in circles and collectives to show us how to foster connection, clear communication and positive power in ourselves and our groups. She is well-known as a global justice activist and organizer, whose award-winning work and writings-translated into many languages-have inspired many to action.  She has lived and worked collectively for thirty years. 

Starhawk will sign copies of The Empowerment Manual and chat with folks informally.

Join us for a potluck.  Bring some food to share.  

Sponsored by OccupyMN; Women Against Military Madness (WAMM); & MN-WEB (Women’s Earth Brigade)

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Tuesday Dec. 6th:

Empowerment Training Day with Starhawk 8am-5pm. 
This day will be focused on trainings and discussion about core issues facing OccupyMpls, to build a respectful and empowering collaborative group throughout the winter.  The day will include an 8-9 a.m. Pancake Breakfast Fundraiser with a presentation from Starhawk. The rest of the day will consist of Facilitation Training, Teach Ins on various topics, and Open Space for discussing core issues facing OccupyMN. All at Walker Church, 3104 16th Ave. So, in south Minneapolis.  Sponsored by OccupyMN/Minneapolis. New website:  OccupyMinnesota.org.

If you would like to host a breakfast table and for questions Contact Malia at kochikaralove@gmail.com .

  • 7am: Prep for Breakfast-Fundraiser.  Table hosts arrive and help set up.
  • 8-9am: Pancake Breakfast Fundraiser.  30 minutes eat & chat.  30 minute presentation, with a short slideshow about OccupyMpls & Occupy around the world, a story or two from Starhawk, and a few testimonies from people involved with OccupyMpls.  Attendees will be asked to contribute what they can to help cover the cost of Starhawk’s plane-fare, and to OccupyMpls’s general fund.
  • 9:30-12pm: Facilitation Training: (All interested in becoming a facilitator for General Assemblies invited!) What is the Art of Facilitation? How do we improve our skills?  What are some current issues with General Assemblies and how can they be addressed?
  • 12-1pm: Lunch
  • 1-2pm and 2-3pm: Teach-ins:  On various topics, including “Anti-Oppression Awareness”; “Economics Unmasked”; “Art and Community Activism”; and more.  (TBA)
  • 3-5pm: Open Space: Discussion on various core issues facing OccupyMpls, including:
  1. What is the relationship of General Assemblies to Direct Actions? / How are we using Direct Actions as a movement? / Is there a framework for input or feedback pre- & post- actions?
  2. Visioning: What is our goal?  Do we have different goals? Are there Affinity-groups?
  3. Structure of General Assemblies: What is Consensus & how does it work?  What is modified consensus & when is that a better option?  What are blocks & how do address inappropriate use of blocking?
  4. Guidelines & Shaping of “New Norms”… how to build a culture at OccupyMpls that is empowering and respectful?  How do we address conflicts, violence and intimidation?
  • Dinner (location TBA)
  • 7-9pm: General Assembly (location TBA) The “GA” is the governing body of the various Occupy movements.

Sponsored by OccupyMN/Minneapolis.

Starhawk to support Occupy Minnesota Dec 5-6th – Interview

Starhawk

StarhawkPagan authorReclaiming Tradition co-founder, and social justice activist will be visiting the Twin Cities in support of the Occupy Minnesota movement next Monday and Tuesday, December 5-6th. Starhawk will be appearing Monday, December 5th at Mayday Books, 301 Cedar Ave S, on the West Bank, Minneapolis from 5-7pm offering a meeting facilitation training session. The Occupy General Assembly begins after  at 7pm at the Occupy Minneapolis site, 300 S. 6th St, Mpls, MN.   This is a fairly spontaneous trip and further details of Tuesday’s schedule and further training opportunities will be updated.

I interviewed Starhawk by phone this morning about Pagans and the Occupy movement.

What do you see as your role for the Occupy movement in Minnesota?

My role with the Occupy groups has been trying to plug-in around training and meeting facilitation. That is where I have the greatest contribution to make, and I have seen the biggest need. Everyone suddenly decided to go out for large consensus in the park, but most people don’t have any training or experience with meeting facilitation. General Assemblies are not the easiest place to start in facilitating a meeting! I have many years of experience with consensus and with different forms of meetings and group process and with democratic and horizontally structured group organizing. I think this type of group is very familiar to us in the Pagan community.

What particular experiences and perspectives might Pagans bring to the Occupy Movement?

What Pagans bring is first, most of us have experience working collaboratively in circles or small groups. That is a form of organizing. We have a basic approach to life, spirituality, to the world, that doesn’t depend on an external authority, No, we are our own authority. Secondly most Pagans learn about energy and awareness, and that is really key in preparing for action and holding and maintaining non-violence in the face of violence. Facilitating a meeting is a lot of watching the energy and moving with the energy. Thirdly, I think we bring an ethic that we are supposed to take care of the Earth, and take care of our people. We are all interconnected. We have to live our lives and shape our society based on those values. That is why the Occupy movement is really exciting.

Occupy Minnesota March

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Well Known Pagans Join in Japan Relief Effort

Several well known Pagans have joined with Peter Dybing in his effort to raise $30,000 to assist victims of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  Selena Fox, Starhawk, Patrick McCullum, T. Thorn Coyle, Anna Rowe, M Macha Nightmare, Star Foster, Jason Pitzl-Waters, Morgana, Ivo Dominguez Jr, Holli S Emore, and Katrina Messenger have all made statements in support of this charity initiative.

Dybing has set up a fundraising page to gather donations from Pagans to send to Doctors Without Borders. This organization has teams on the ground in Japan and is setting up medical treatment centers.  Dybing chose Doctors Without Borders after seeing the great work they did in Haiti to assist earthquake survivors there.  ” I am recommending them due to their level of accomplishment in Haiti saving lives. Additionally, when this organization raised enough funds for its Haiti response it stopped accepting donations. It is important to recognize that organizations have a logistical limit as to how much they can accomplish. By suspending fundraising this organization demonstrated a commitment to spend funds wisely and not just take the opportunity to raise unlimited cash as other large NGO’s did.”

Not only is giving to a charity such as Doctors Without Borders in line with Pagan ethics, it’s a way for Pagans to donate as Pagans and be recognized as such.  If you would like to make a donation, please click this link.

As of press time, just over $14,000 has been raised in the 72 hours since the effort started.  There have been 212 donations with an average donation of just over $55.00. Donations have come primarily from individuals with about 5% coming from organizations.  Peter Dybing says he would like to “encourage people who may not have a lot of money to participate by giving smaller donations of $1.00 – $10.00” (Disclosure:  I have donated to the Japan Relief Effort and as Chair of International Pagan Coming Out Day I have publicized the effort on our facebook feed)

Below is a Press Release by Peter Dybing along with statements of support from Starhawk, Patrick McCullum, T. Thorn Coyle, Anna Rowe, M Macha Nightmare, Star Foster, Jason Pitzl-Waters, Morgana, Ivo Dominguez Jr, Holli S Emore, and Katrina Messenger

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