Forest Archery and Talking About Death: Moments in the Devotion and Community of a CAYA Priestess

by Gwen

I’m in two cults, or religious affinity circles, within CAYA, and I had awesome and fulfilling experiences with both recently.  I wanted to share the joy and meaning of these two different moments in the life of this CAYA priestess.

The Sisters of the Huntress, dedicated to Artemis and Diana, do almost everything in the woods.  It feels amazing to have a pack of awesome women who are down for putting the earth back in earth-based spirituality and following our Lady into Her wild places.  In September we made offerings of nuts, Greek olives, and water to Her and to the trees of the forest, and then headed into the woods for a day of archery and camaraderie—and our annual business meeting, held during a snack break on the trail.   I learned archery as a young Girl Scout, and it feels very right to be doing it again now as a religious act of a devotee of Artemis, among other devotees.  I’m not very good (yet!) but that’s not the point.  The bow and arrow and the company of sisters and forest bring me closer to my Goddess: not the lightning bolt of complete communion, but rather the sustained joy of hiking with a beloved old friend on a trail my feet know by heart.

This is me and my bow, ten minutes after our business meeting was concluded under a nearby tree.  I’m just sayin’.

This is me and my bow, ten minutes after our business meeting was concluded under a nearby tree.  I’m just sayin’.

And in the realm of Hekate, Torch-Bearer who lights the way for the dead, last month I had the privilege of leading Her Strophalos worship circle at the Sacred Well.  (The circle is allied with the CAYA Crossroads of Hekate cult.)  We processed Her statue to its honored place at the circle’s center, called in the crossroads of the realms of earth, sea, and sky, and invited Her allies of snake, horse, and hound.  All who wished, made offerings of red wine, olive bread, fig cookies.  And then I led a modification of an exercise I learned in my chaplaincy training in which all participants think concretely about their priority concerns regarding their own inevitable deaths.  (You can find an online version of the original exercise, Go Wish, here.)  I invite each of you to think about it too as you read this.  During contemplation and discussion, everyone narrowed down the things they expect to most care about when they are dying: freedom from pain or anxiety?  Ease of breathing?  Being clean?  Trusting one’s nurse or doctor?  Having family or friends present?  Having one’s financial affairs arranged?  Making peace within damaged relationships?  Having an advocate who clearly understands one’s wishes and values?  Having prayer, religious music, or ritual at one’s bedside?  Prolonging life with feeding tubes, IVs, or other measures (under what circumstances, for how long)?  We reviewed together the importance of communicating these desires to our loved ones so that when the time comes (hopefully a long way off for most of us, but guaranteed to every living thing) we have the kind of death we would want to have.  I’m a hospice chaplain, and I’ve seen the family-breaking fights and heart-rending physical pain that can happen when people don’t make their wishes known ahead of time.  After a discussion, we closed with divination and gratitudes to the Goddess and Her present allies.

Each CAYA cult is different, as each deity and each devotee are different.  I’m grateful to be part of a community that enthusiastically embraces such a diversity of expression of worship and love for the divine.  How do you live your devotion and your relationships with God/ess/es, ancestors, and allies?  As we swiftly approach Samhain, the honoring of the dead and for many of us, the turning of the year, it’s an opportunity for contemplation, evaluation, and celebration.  Blessed Be!

Ritual Adventures with the Sisters of the Huntress

by Gwen 

On Friday night, I had the joy of leading a ritual adventure on behalf of the Sisters of the Huntress in Tilden Park in Berkeley.  Due to various life circumstances (some quite last-minute), my Sisters were unable to attend, and I missed them sorely.  (We will do this again, I promise myself.)  Artemis’s wild moonlit woods magic happened nonetheless.

CAYA’s priestx Melissa Ra Karit and aspirant Lynda Lou, my sister, a friend, and I began with a chanted invocation and annointing blessings.  As I donned my antler-handle athame, blessed to Artemis, a pair of deer emerged from the woods to eye us and then silently move on.  It was one of those moments when my breath stops a little and my heart soars in communion.

We spent the first hour cleaning up trash from woodland picnic sites as a devotional act.  We laughed over the particularly Pagan pre-ritual experience of standing in a store looking at displays of items--potential food offerings, herbal essential oils, candles, and so on--and asking our gods, “Alright, what do you want?”  We groaned about some picnickers’ decision to celebrate by scattering a site with improbable amounts of plasticized confetti.  As the sun began to set in earnest, we gathered at a trailhead beside the last picnic area and prepared ourselves for a dusk-to-moonlight ritual hike.

We filled a container with creek water and added a few drops of sacred Artemis oil, and walked silently into the woods.  Around us the night sounds were wakening--birds settling in, insects humming, unseen mammals rustling in the brush.  We paused at great bay laurels and redwoods, offering greetings in prayer and in scattered nuts, dried apricots, Greek olives, and the blessed water.  The growing dark and rising half-moon found us all perched in--or under, in a cave formed where hollow trunk and roots arc--a spreading laurel whose branches could comfortably host a scout meeting.  The moon was bright enough to walk by with only occasional flashlight checks.  I watched steady shadows cast by Her silver-blue light--mine, my companions’, the trees’.

We circled together in a broad grassy field bathed in moonlight.  We honored the directions and the Huntress Herself with more offerings, and one by one spoke gratitudes and petitions to Her with libations of the sacred water.  My friend frolicked wildly.  Several of us plopped down, grasses waving high overhead and moon and stars higher still.

At last we returned through the dark woods, pausing to talk quietly or admire the gleam of moonlight on the creek’s surface.  We lingered over a final circle, sharing gratitudes and blessings, before piling into my car and returning to civilization… with a little more holy wildness in our hearts.