I promised Kathy from Lake Superior Spirit that I would blog about my weekend attending and presenting at the Women & Spirituality Conference at the University of Minnesota Mankato. Now my blog is late and I’m still struggling with what to write. It’s not that I have nothing to say, it’s that I have too much. My brain needs an editor.
I love this conference. I don’t know why, but no matter how much or how little I participate, no matter how open or jaded my approach I seem to leave a little stronger than when I came. There is something special about women gathering to talk about Spirituality. There is something binding, bonding, supportive that comes simply from being in the presence of women. It’s the break from being a Mom. It’s the autumn weather and being “on campus”. It’s seeing old friends, unexpectedly. It’s finding out that the world is small and you really do know the friend of your friend.
There is so much to do at this conference. So many choices. I told one of my fellow participants that the reason I present is it immediately eliminates all the choices in that session slot. It’s easier. At this conference, this year, there was one workshop in particular I’m so glad I managed to attend. It was titled “Circle of Life – Seven Generations of Healing”
There are a lot of reasons I went to this particular workshop. The most compelling one was that my friend Judy is friends with the presenter. Judy has been trying to get me to contact Rmay for a few months. When I said I was going to the conference Judy said that Rmay was doing a workshop around her “Grandmother chairs.” She told me, “I have no idea what the workshop will be but you HAVE to see those chairs.”
So I found the workshop on the schedule, looked for an alternative choice in the same building and stuck my head in to meet Rmay and see the chairs. Of course I recognized Rmay (who I may have known by Mary or may just have known by sight) and she recognized that I was familiar as well. And the chairs………..
Rmay Rivard is an artist and she took on a project to explore her relationship to the women whose mitochondrial DNA she shares, her maternal lineage. She dumpster dived for wicker chairs, coated them with plaster bandage painted them white and waited. She used her intuition, her divination skills, her pendulum and decorated a chair for herself, her mother, her grandmother, her great-grandmother, her great-great-grandmother and so on seven generations back. For most of these women she had very little to go on. She didn’t even know their names. Still the chairs became shrines, and many of them came to the conference.
We were invited to sit in a circle of Rmay’s ancestors. We were told the stories of the chairs and the stories of some of these women began to unfold. We also shared our own stories of our female ancestors, calling them to join us in the circle by sharing their names and stories. We did meditations connecting us to our past and to our future generations of women sharing our DNA. We were invited to trust our intuition and to continue this work.
I can not explain how powerful, how moving and how incredible this experience was for me, and for most of the women in the room. We had a sense of knowing Rmay’s grandmothers, as though we’d been brought over for tea and introduced. We had a sense, hints, of knowing our own grandmothers as people, as women. We saw them in our visions in their childhood and as young mothers. We saw that they had struggles in their lives that made their difficult behaviors make more sense. Several women also saw their children and grandchildren and were called to know the grandmothers to share their stories further down the generational line.
I’ve been to a lot of silent suppers and meditations for honoring the dead and connecting with the ancestors. This was remarkable even in that context. There is a power in this art, in these chairs and (I do say in my book that invocation encourages invocation) the visceral presence of Rmay’s grandmothers made our own more present as well. Even the stories about creating the art added to the magic and the mystery.
Rmay talked about the polka dot pattern on one of the chairs. After the chair was finished Rmay’s sister found a photo (in black and white) of this grandmother. In the photo she is wearing a skirt in the same polka dot pattern as Rmay painted on the chair. There is the story of Rmay using a pendulum to find dates while building another chair and her sister (on ancestry.com) finding the dates, and therefore the name of the grandmother.
In the end we sat in a meditative posture and held our ancestors, past and future, in unconditional love. This is the healing that the workshop title refers to. Unconditional love and acceptance across the generations heals our family, and ourselves, in the very cells – the mitochondrial DNA – that we share.
I also wrote an article about the conference for the Pagan News Collective if you want to check that out.