Stars in the Marsh and Open Hearts: Brigid’s Feast Retreat

Last Monday, I woke up in my own bed after several days away in the fabled land of Aldermarsh, and I felt a bit lost. Where was the Northwest/Zen-style bedroom? The pure white comforter, the clean wood trim, the woven wall hangings from Thailand and New Mexico? Why was the teapot in the wrong place? Why couldn’t I step outside my door and see the mist creeping up to the garden across the meadow, through the alders, firs, and fruit trees?

Ah, Aldermarsh. You have woven your way into my soul.

The second Gaian Soul Retreat was held on Brigid’s Day weekend, in Her honor, as we hovered on the edge of winter and spring. It was a quieter retreat than last September’s; the gray misty mornings enveloped us in a silence that felt like a magical shapeshifting cloak.

In the afternoons, the sun came out — oh so elusive in a Northwest winter! — and graced us with warmth the color of caramel butter. We pulled off our scarves and sweaters as we created our Spirit Dolls (or Spirit Companions, as one woman calls them) in Marsh House in the afternoons.

At night, the stars twinkled brightly through naked alder branches and were reflected in the waters of the marsh. Stars above, stars below. I spied Orion through the trees and remembered that this constellation was known as Frigga’s Distaff (or Spindle) to the Nordic people. A spinster, spinning the wheel of destiny, instead of a hunter. My friend Helen Farias wrote in the early Beltane Papers years ago that this same constellation may have been known as Brigid to the Celts. And I have seen it that way ever since. Brigid, gracing the winter sky.

Some of the women who were here last September returned again, and I heard more than one say: “I feel like I’ve come home.”

Maybe it was the country kitchen . . .

Or the path through the marsh . . .

Or the quiet elegance of Marsh House, where we gathered together in circle.

Or maybe it was living in the company of women for a few days, women who were all focused on opening their hearts to the land, to Brigid — Goddess of Smithcraft, Healing & Inspiration — and to each other.

The pattern from September held: we consulted the Gaian Tarot cards for illumination and guidance, communed with the nature spirits of the land, held circle council, ate Elaine’s love-filled meals. We sweated in the wood-fired sauna, received massage from Michele, practiced restorative yoga with Constance.

We listened deeply to each other and spoke from our hearts. We made Spirit Companion Dolls. And, as in September, I was stunned at the transformative beauty that emerged from these women’s hands.

One evening around dusk, I made my way alone to Marsh House, through forest pathways, over the serpentine walkway across the marsh, dotted with fairy lights to guide my way.

I was headed to the temple to prepare it for the night’s ceremony honoring Brigid, where a circle of women would make pledges to their own True Paths. For a moment, I paused on the path in the center of the marsh and listened, intently. I could hear coyotes yipping in the distance and the nearby rustle of wings. And I knew I had done this before. Many times. Over and over again. I was the Priestess walking the path, preparing the temple for those who would come. I inhaled deeply. The air shimmered. I embodied She-Who-Was and She-Who-Is and She-Who-Is-Yet-to-Be.

Then the moment shifted, and I continued on to the Marsh Temple.

After the September retreat was over, I felt a great ebullience in my heart, a solid shout of YES! to the Universe.

This time, it was more of an inner settling-in, a knowing in the bones. Yes, this is work I am called to do, as I enter my elder years. 

I received this note a couple of days ago from Karen Karlovich, who attended both retreats:

I have been to many retreats in my life, and for me the Gaian Soul Retreats have been by far the best. I love that the retreats consist of art, tarot, nature, and honor to the Goddess.  

The land there is magic. Standing in the middle of the bridge and peering through the trees in the marsh, listening to the birds and seeing the sun peek between the branches, time stands still — and maybe if you are just still enough, the fairies will show themselves.  Friday night when you could see the stars through the trees was heart stirring. 

Having Elaine there to cook is an added bonus. I can’t rave enough about how delicious everything is that she created for us. The option of a massage is another bonus; Michele has magic in her hands.  

The pace of the retreat is just perfect, plenty of time in between events gives us time to be alone, create, enjoy nature, enjoy each other’s company.  I feel so loved and pampered and at peace when I’m there.   

The camraderie between the women is an awesome thing to behold. The Goddess was palpable in our midst. I tend to be mostly solitary in my worship, not necessarily by choice, but more so as I haven’t seemed to have found my tribe yet, so it’s very special for me to be able to come together in a group like this and feel like I belong. By the end of the retreat I feel full and nourished in body, soul and mind. 

It is my great joy to create the container where magic and transformation can happen.

Blessed be.

14 thoughts on “Stars in the Marsh and Open Hearts: Brigid’s Feast Retreat

  1. Joanna, sounds like you and the others who attended enjoyed the retreat. You and they are transformed. Truly wonderful.

  2. Joanna, this is beautiful. We are all so lucky that you’ve responded to the call to do this work. Thank you for leading the way with grace, compassion, inspiration, beauty, and love.

  3. Dear Joanna, I feel the beauty of this deep in my bones. I remember when you announced that you felt called to hold this space for women to come together and how right it felt for you then. It makes my heart sing knowing that you are honouring that call and being a container for such sacred blessings. The sacredness of women’s circle is so needed. So glad you are doing this beautiful work xxx

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