My Spring Equinox Pilgrimage--
Camping and Ceremony with the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers and 400 Amazing Women

A friend told me about the 3-day Spring Equinox gathering for women with the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers, camping by a river in Arizona about 1/2 hour south of Sedona, doing ceremony at Montezuma Well (a sacred site with a huge spring in the desert) for the waters of the world. 

It sounded GREAT, but....

Traveling from Iowa to Arizona loaded with camping equipment and suitcase(s)?  [Hmmmm....]  How COLD does it get at night?  Down into the 20s??? [YIKES!!]  Do I have the time for this? [NO!]  Do I have the money? [NO!]  Am I crazy?  [Well, MAYBE...]

To make a long story short, with the generous support of the inspired friend, I undertook the pilgrimage.  Through the event's Facebook page, I met a young woman going to the gathering from Minneapolis.  We met up and took the train from Fort Madison IA to Flagstaff AZ--a 29 hour journey.

In Flagstaff, we rented a car and drove to the event, stopping in fabulous Sedona for lunch.

My Main Take-Aways [OK to skip this section if you just want to absorb the flavor of the event from the story and photos!]

The experience as a whole was quite transformative, and I doubt that many of us know the full extent of the effect of the Gathering--whether on our world at this time or on us as individuals. 

Nevertheless, in case you don't have time to enjoy my full photo-report, I will share my major conscious take-aways from the Gathering here:

  • The commitment and dedication modeled by the Grandmothers is awe-inspiring.  They are RELENTLESS in their dedication to their role in supporting our world family in these challenging times, as well as to their roles in serving their own people. 

    To get to the Gathering, the Grandmothers from Amazonia, for example, had to travel 3 days by dugout canoe, followed by 2 days over primitive roads to get to a place where they could fly out of the bush to an airport with connections to North America.  Grandmother Bernadette traveled all the way from Gabon, in West Africa.

    While acknowledging the challenges of extensive travel with health challenges at age 89, Grandmother Agnes commented something to the effect that, "You will not catch me moanin' and cryin' and snottin' around!  I have people to meet and a message to give.  I thank God for every day that I am able to do my work."

    Around these gracious and gorgeous elders, it quickly became clear to me that I have NOTHING to complain about when I consider my own challenges with developing a new vocation as a healthy 65-year-old woman!

  • Across all of their cultures, they have a deep, personal, moment-by-moment relationship with Nature.  They communicate with and express appreciation for the animals, the plants, the sun, the moon, and the elements.  They derive tremendous strength from Nature and Mother Earth.

  • They respect the power of prayer and ceremony.

  • They orient themselves to the cardinal directions. (I particularly tuned into this because of my 15-year immersion in architectural design and consulting based on the ancient system of Vedic Architecture.  Attunement to the cardinal directions is pretty much universal among indigenous cultures.)

  • They honor and feel connected with their ancestors.

  • Quite a high percentage of the participants were indigenous women.  The atmosphere at the Gathering was open, loving, fun, and harmonious.  Yet, I witnessed a number of interactions that made it clear to me that healing between the whites and the indigenous people of the Americas is still needed.

    My interest in family constellation therapy--a powerful healing modality that addresses unresolved ancestral issues--was reignited. 
    (More about this later.)

    Contemplating this on the long train ride home, I became aware that much of our dominant culture's separation from Nature, climate change denial, hypermaterialism, etc. may derive from unconscious guilt over the genocide of the indigenous peoples.  We descendants of immigrants to the Americas now own and benefit from the vast majority of the land and resources of our continent--and the cost of this benefit to our predecessors is mainly unacknowledged.

  • I came away wanting to inspire at least 13 women from my home town of Fairfield, Iowa to attend the next Gathering with me, September 4-7 in Spearfish, South Dakota, near the Oglala Lakota reservation in the Black Hills.

Now for an illustrated story of the Gathering [with big THANKS to the sisters who shared their photos]!

All of us who came in cars had to park in a lot behind this gas station (far left in photo below).  There we registered and then loaded into vans for the short ride to our camp site at Soda Springs Ranch.

We unloaded our luggage from the van and set up our tents.  Everything was very well organized.  Paths between rows of tents were marked with solar lights.

Our little "tent city" was in a grassy field next to some woods on the banks of Beaver Creek.  We could hear the waters flowing nearby.

Just west of the tent city, the meeting and ceremony area had been prepared.  There was a white canopy with a sound system set up for the Grandmothers.

The Grandmothers are elderly, and some have difficulty getting around easily.  Each travels with a younger family member or other assistant. The second row of chairs was for the Grandmothers' assistants.

The Grandmothers' canopy was right next to a HUGE, ancient White Arizona Sycamore tree that had been named "The Grandmother Tree."  The branches of this tree spread very widely over the ceremony area.

After setting up tents, the women started gathering around the circle for the opening ceremonies.  The tipi was home base to the ceremonial fire keepers.

This was about what 400 women looked like.

Finally, the Grandmothers arrived.  [We were asked not to photograph the Grandmothers or the actual ceremonies.]  The opening ceremonies were amazing, with few dry eyes among those at the Gathering.

First was the Lighting of the Sacred Fire in the center of the ceremony circle.  The circle was marked with twigs and red rose petals and another ring of white flowers.  In the center of the ceremonial circle was a fire pit for the sacred fire.

Then elders from the local Hopi and Yavapai-Apache nations (the tribes of that area in Arizona and at the bottom of the Grand Canyon) spoke words of welcome to the Grandmothers and the participants, who had come from all of the four directions.

Each of the Grandmothers gave a brief welcoming speech.  Many pointed out that the March Equinox is considered the New Year in their culture--the time when snows are melting and new life is springing forth.  They drew an analogy to this time of major transition on Earth and the current revival of ancient wisdom adapted to the needs of our time.

The Food--Fantastic!

After the opening ceremonies, time for dinner!! 

Some artists had made these prayer flags and hung them between some big trees.  People could write their wishes on the flags.  We made our way from the ceremony area to the food tent (in the background of this photo), where tables were set up for all 400 of us.

The food was spectacular, catered by a restaurant called the Chocolate Tree in Sedona.  Everything was super fresh, organic, gluten free, sugar free, and gourmet delicious!

Great food and fellowship!  We were encouraged to bring our own bowl, mug, and eating utensils to minimize the ecological footprint of the Gathering.  We cleaned up at dishwashing stations outside.

After the evening meals, it started getting very cold and dark, and fires were built in fire pits some distance outside the food tent.  The first night we had an informal visit and speech around the campfires from Grandmother Agnes.  Enjoyed conversation, then singing and drumming with Turtle Woman Rising.

Afterward, we went "home" to our tents to settle down for our first night beside Beaver Creek--the coldest one!  I was very fortunate that a dear friend had lent me a high-quality sleeping bag.

Then a beautiful, misty morning--

Many of the photos taken by the sisters came out with unexpected plays of light.

Walk to Montezuma Well for Water Ceremony

A highlight of the Gathering was a major water ceremony at Montezuma Well, a powerful sacred site within easy walking distance of our camp.  It is unique--a massive spring coming up in the middle of the desert--considered by some cultures to be a portal for Quetzalcoatl (a winged serpent figure symbolizing renewal and the bridging of heaven and earth, among other things).  Regardless, it is a remarkable water phenomenon, and the Grandmothers felt that ceremony here would benefit the waters of the earth.

In the photo below, you can see cliff dwellings built into the sides of the well.

To prepare, we had meetings with the Park Rangers, who took their custodianship of the site very seriously.  They advised us to stay on the paths, let them know if we saw any rattlesnakes, and drink plenty of water. 

The Grandmothers had together designed the ceremony.  They wanted representatives at each of the cardinal directions around the Well.  Two of the directions were off limits to tourists, but park rangers accompanied each of the Grandmothers who were designated for those two directions. Some of us would be at the top, on the west facing east and others would be on the east facing west.  Still others would form an "umbilical cord" between the top and the water level, along ancient stone steps that had been carved into the well.

Early Saturday morning, we started walking in Silence along the road between our camp and the Well.

Many of us filled our water bottles in preparation for the trek at the large black tank where you can see the blue light below.  There was no obvious reason for a reflection there.  I guess the water was getting a blessing!

When we arrived at the Well, we took our places in our designated areas.  This was my approximate vantage point, facing east.

More sisters gathered.

A wider perspective on a few of us around the rim of the Well.

Final Notes

Over the course of the weekend, each of the Grandmothers performed or led a ceremony from her culture.  Unexpected events resulted in the emergence of some amazing teachings that are beyond the scope of this journal.  All very simple and deeply human.

The last night we were treated to very moving poetry and music performances.

Some of the sisters stayed up all night weaving these.

Grandmother Rita Long Visitor Holy Dance is hosting the September 4-7 2014 Gathering in Spearfish, South Dakota. 

Please let me know if you are interested in being part of a group of sisters going from Fairfield or otherwise meeting me there!


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