Beauty, music, bellydance, the Dark Goddess, Nature, magick, ritual-theatre, death and love.

compendium of Aepril's communications on art, beauty, bellydance, the dark, faery tale, nature, magick, ritual, theatre, death and love. The talk of a priestess and shaman of the Dark Goddess.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Winslow Farm Animal Sanctuary

On Friday, Mike and I went to Winslow Farm Animal Sanctuary.

I've wanted to visit ever since I saw a spotlight on the place on NECN; it showed a peaceful place full of love for the rescued animals that resided there. Located in Norton, MA, Winslow cares for goats, horses, cats, dogs, peacocks, pigs, geese, doves, chickens, turtles, donkeys, lamas, alpacas, sheep, emus---all rescues, often from horrendous conditions. On the NECN feature, classical music played throughout the 16 acre sanctuary. On the day that I visited, the music of choice was Native American flute, encouraging serenity and healing.

Sturbridge with Goat

I of course fell in love with just about everyone I met. One of my first encounters was with a sheep named Sturbridge. Friendly and outgoing, he walked along with us on our tour of the farm. A lover of food and lots of it, he asked us a few times about maybe helping him out with some extra goodies. He later got into a scuffle with staff in the cat sanctuary when he tried to help himself to cat food. Hey, the goats were in there with the cats, why not him, too? "Out, Sturbridge!"

But wait...Why were the goats in the cat sanctuary? Well, as it happens, one of the goats was born there before it was a place for cats. He felt comfortable in this little house, so the goat stays.

This is the way it is throughout the Sanctuary: dogs hanging out with peacocks, cats with goats, lamas with geese, horses with emus. And more than amicably. In fact, many cross species friendships develop---for instance, one miniature horse loves the emus and enjoys walking with them side by side. They are quite a couple.

 Apparently there is always something new and surprising in the relationships between the residents. At one point we witnessed two doves sitting on the back of a peacock. Just hanging there. At the time we happened to be chatting with Debra, the modern St Francis who built the farm and has cared non-stop for these creatures for 25 years; when this happened between the birds, even she marveled and said she'd never seen that before. A sign of peace and beauty maybe.

Peacock on goat house

Not all is peace though. We did happen to witness a comedic duel between two emus. Well, OK, comedic to us, but serious business for the birds! The emus get along throughout the rest of the year, but come summer, watch out! It's mating season, and although there are no females at the farm to fight over, they still intend to keep their toe claws sharp and duke it out over territory. See video of staff breaking up the fisticuffs (no one got hurt!)

Emu video:

Many of the stories are very sad. Like the ones who were nearly starved to death, or beaten, or lost limbs due to abuse or neglect. Some have psychological scars that are difficult to heal. A beautiful white cat named Spirit was left in a cage for 1 year with no room to move. When he was brought to the Sanctuary, he walked in circles for months, not sure how to use open space, not wanting to ever stop walking, not wanting to ever be confined again.

But these are survivors. A motley crew of the Goddess's creatures who got another chance and have taken it. Debra tries to find suitable happy homes for all before taking them into the Sanctuary; in this way she can keep the Sanctuary going for those who can't be placed elsewhere. But really, this is THE place to be for healing if you've got wings or four legs. Pandy the sheep dog, greeted us at the door, ready for action. At 13, she is so well cared for that she still loves the chase a pine-cone over and over to exhaustion.

Pandy (left)

The staff is all volunteer. The Sanctuary is run on fundraising and donations. They are also funded on admission fees ($7). Consider visiting :
Winslow Farm

37 Eddy Street
Norton, MA 02766-3513
(508) 285-6451

Monday, July 25, 2011

I miss being a forest witch

I miss being a forest witch!

(Right after I wrote the above statement, a cacophony of crows and jays began calling! I love corvids!)

I love Salem, don't get me wrong. Witch City, indeed! But it's a suburb. I am wishing for more breathing room again. I would love more isolation, more room to be with the forest, listening and working and playing in it.

I've lived like this before...years ago. And while I don't want to be so far away as to give up the artistic and social culture that more populated places have to offer, I miss the voices and quiet of the woods.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Prayer of St Francis, Patron saint of animals, nature, and the environment

I was reminded of The Prayer of St Francis as Mike and I stood by a statue of St Francis last night. It was a beautiful summer night, and our thoughts, as they often do, turned to Coda. Standing next to the Protector of animals and nature, my thoughts also turned to the animal sanctuary I hope to create someday.

The Prayer of St Francis was a consolation to me when Coda died almost 3 years ago. (St Francis's wolf died of old age, too.)

It is also a reminder to me that no matter how despairing I may feel about the health of the planet and cruelty toward animals (so-called "domestic and wild), it is my internal peace and the quality of my own heart and thoughts that will bring healing magick into the world. Staying centered in a loving heart best equips me to help and heal. I WILL be able to give more creatures a place to call home. Coda will help guide me, as will St Francis.

 Prayer of St Francis
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bellydance Costuming as Art

I recently read an interview in a national Bellydance mag with a respected and widely sought after Bellydance teacher and performer. When asked for advice she would impart to new dancers, she said (and I paraphrase) that one should spend more money learning the dance via workshops, classes and videos, than on costuming.

As a Bellydance teacher, I agree. Albeit with some reservation.

I agree, if one's main focus is on becoming an excellent Bellydancer. To become a Bellydancer with a capital "b", it takes years of dedication to learning the form, cultural context, history, and traditions of this dance. Correct technique, form and fitness are a must. One must attend shows and events to watch other dancers, and learn the difference between styles. It takes many years of study to become a master, and to find ones own voice.

So what is it that makes me uneasy about this idea that costuming should only come later, AFTER one has become an advanced dancer?

Well, let me tell you a bit about myself. I'm a Bellydancer, but I consider myself to be an Artist first. Bellydance is one medium that I use to express my inner world. (I'm also a musician, actor, poet, and I've been known to paint and sculpt once in a while, too.)

I'm a Shaman. It's my job in this incarnation to interpret the underworld and inner Archetypal landscape to the community. The medium is not the important thing; that's only the vehicle. I'M only the vehicle. It's more about the message; the content. It's about the embodiment of spirit, and communication between the invisibles and the audience.

For me, costuming is a major part of the art, part of the ritual. The making of the costuming is a part of a contemplative practice. Sometimes other people make the costumes for me (I'm bad at sewing) but in this case the envisioning of the costume is the art. What would The Morrigan wear to tell her story? How would She appear? I let Her tell me.

I spend many hours opening myself up to spirit, listening to what I'm being told. I also do a ton of research. Once an archetype talks to me, and I know that I will be performing her, I do my homework and find everything I can about her mythology and history. As a primarily right-brained person, I work with the symbols I find and make connections between them. It is in this way that I create my theatrical persona.

I then become this character. I practice being her. I practice being her walking down the street, etc. She becomes more and more solid this way. Once I hit the stage, I'm as ready as I can be to channel her.

Self-portrait as The Washer at the Ford

So, my orientation toward Bellydance has been different from many. I love this dance for its own sake, deeply and truly. But I do it as an Artist/Shaman first, not as a Bellydancer first. It took me many years to realize that fact fully; with all the pressure to become an expert on Middle Eastern culture, to be fully versed in every bit of dance vocabulary possible, to know all the drum rhythms and their names, to fit into the Bellydance community. I've had quite a journey, and I've learned who I am and who I am not: I am NOT a keeper of tradition, though I am well versed in it. I'm very glad that some people are keepers, but this is not my path. 

Yes, I think that technique and form are paramount to being a master dancer--how else could one tell a story well? My tools need to be effective and sharp, and that means continuing to improve my dance skills, honing my craft, making my work better and better. The more control, elegance and athleticism I can express with my body, the happier the archetype will be to speak through it.

Would I tell my students to work on their dance skills first, and only then spend their money on costuming?

Here's what I would say: If you aspire to be a dancer, you need to know how to dance. It is not OK to hop onstage with a great costume but not be able to dance well. Not if you want to call yourself Bellydancer. Whatever art form you use, you need to hone your craft before you present to the world.

HOWEVER, costuming and creating persona is an art form, too. It needn't come second. Creating costuming can help you find your voice, and give you impetus to learn technique. Beauty loves to show itself. But it requires right timing. Pay close attention to your body and its feelings; it will tell when you are ready. If you create a beautiful costume to wear, give your art what it deserves and dance it well. Or sing it well. Or act it well. If it is your inclination, be an artist on every level you can.

There are many valid approaches. For me, costuming is not decoration on what is essentially technical prowess, nor is it icing on the cake or anything like that. The movement needs to have meaning, the costume does, too. The art is made as a whole.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


I was blessed with the opportunity to spend time with my Grandmother this past week.

Wednesday was her 92nd birthday.

My Grandmother is very sick. Physically worn-out, her body hurts. Her heart is sick with missing my Grandfather; they married when she was just 16. Now she says she is ready to go to God.

I feel helpless. Death and old age! I feel lost about how to give her more comfort, to help her find peace. And I feel angry--at Nature, for having us ever get old. Why this suffering?

The old and sick don't last like this in the wild. Is this elongated aging and dying the price we pay for domestication?

I had the chance to talk with her about our family. I asked her to tell me stories about herself and my Grandfather. I asked about her parents. I asked about my father--what was he like very young? She doesn't like to talk abut herself, but still I recieved her help for my current project of building our family tree.

In her youth, she was charismatic and magical, lovely. She was intense with piercing blue eyes. She worried a lot and cared for everyone. She was popular and charming and liked to drink and laugh. She is the family member from whom I inherited music; a dancer, she and my Grandfather danced together at contests and shows.

My Grandmother is still beautiful.

Great Goddess, Lady Mary, You to whom my Grandmother has prayed over her rosary so many times...please Lady, give her some comfort and peace.