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The Women in the Woods: Part 1

Disclaimer: This blog contains strong language, adult themes and controversial opinions.

I want to tell you a story; a true story that unfolded with such mythological perfection that I still shake my head in awe when I think about it. The story plays out over the course two intense weekends that were spaced six months apart. Are you in? Excellent. Here it goes:

For the past several years, my best friend Tracey and I have facilitated weekend-long women's retreats. We call these weekends Goddess Retreats and they happen on or around the Equinox; one in Autumn and one in the Spring. Women from all walks of life attend these weekend offerings. With knowledge and ancestral memory of the burning times, we appreciate that we can openly invite women to safely gather without fear of retribution, so they may check in with themselves and each other in a setting away from the expectations and pressures of life. And yes, away from men.

I've often fielded questions and debunked myths and far-fetched imaginings from some of our lesser enlightened men regarding what goes on during these weekends. A few of the more clueless assumptions include; running around in sexy negligees having pillow fights, conspiring to kill men, practicing black magic, one brilliant fellow even snarkily referred to our gatherings as 'dildo camp'. Yes, he did.

All of the women at these gatherings have men in their lives that they love deeply; fathers, husbands, brothers and sons. Some women need to grieve the loss of a significant man. Some need support as they painfully untangle themselves from a dangerous relationship; some are madly in love with a man and want to gush about it. No matter the circumstance, all are held safely and lovingly in the supportive crucible of Tracey's yurt. Despite the suppositions of some who don't know, these focus of these weekends is not man hating or plans to violently overthrow the patriarch. Except for this one time...

It was October 2016, our fall retreat. My plan was to teach about The Maenads; the followers of the Greek god Dionysus. According to myth, women who resisted the influence of Dionysus (freedom, revelry, wildness, pleasure) were tormented and driven mad by the original bad boy himself. The Maenads did not struggle against the inevitable call of Big D. They held their private rituals and ceremonies in the woods. They drank wine, danced all night and celebrated themselves as women. They harmed nobody. That is, unless some poor unsuspecting fool tried to interfere or impose their dogma on the women. These intruders were torn to pieces. I thought this to be a lovely theme for the weekend; relevant and interesting.

For a craft, each woman was to fashion a Thyrsus; a staff tied with ribbons and topped with a pine cone. A symbol of prosperity, fertility and pleasure. Not a dildo- a staff. Jeez. Grow up, wouldja?

Saturday brought us a beautiful Autumn day and we decided to take a moderate hike to a nearby waterfall that we often visit with camp participants. The waterfall is located at the end of a mile and a half deeply rutted trail frequented by pickup trucks and ATV's. We put on our hiking shoes and headed out.

As we're walking, the subject of the impending election came up. He who shall not be named had just been outed as a bonafide pussy grabber and frankly, most of us were furious. We hatefully mocked the notion of such an administration. How could it be possible? An openly admitted molester? In the White House? We trekked on, grumbling and seething, eyes downcast to avoid tripping on the rough terrain. We came to a half acre clearing that boasts a hunting camp. The camp was currently vacant but as we walked by, we found terrifying evidence of recent activity. There, on a flat piece of PVC, was the image of a woman with her arms over her head. She had bullet holes in her face and chest. It was a target.

Horrified, we asked one another, "What should we do?" because some primordial nerve had been hit, hard; and we felt like we had to do something. My heart raced and I felt fingernails of rage scraping the inside of my throat. I wanted to leave an angry letter for the hunters. Another woman wanted to post a picture of the target on Facebook. We decided to just put the target face down and move on. However, when we arrived at the waterfall we found more disconcerning debris. The whole site was littered with broken glass and cigarette butts. Those fuckers. Don't they know we bring children here? Why can't they see that this place is sacred?

I had yet to do my talk about the Maenads but I was feeling pretty ready to whip this group into a frenzy and seek some vengeance. We stood in a circle and breathed, I angrily commented that I felt we needed to do something other than flip over a piece of plastic. Tracey gave me a look that warned I might be getting ready to cross a line. True enough. I looked at the other women and saw that some of them were eyeing me warily. Their wide eyes said "Please don't rock the boat, I didn't sign up for this." I reigned in my intense indignance and tried to steady my breathing. Just then, two young men on dirt bikes raced down the embankment and tore right through our circle; spraying dirt and rocks. I looked at Tracey, angry tears rising, "Why do they hate us so much?"

We walked slowly back to the retreat center. We drifted into groups of two or three; talking quietly. Some women walked solo, alone with her thoughts.

By that evening, we had put the waterfall incident behind us (or buried it, as we often do). I gave my Maenad talk without incident of provoking homicide and it was well received. Each women designed and crafted a beautiful Thyrsus. Some were long, some short-some had ribbons, some had glitter; each as unique as the woman who made it. At our wine ceremony, we waved our wands and laughed. We danced and sang. We passed around a vessel filled with folded slips of paper inscripted with quotes about pleasure and read them aloud to the group. All appeared to be well.

In the early morning hours, the peaceful harmony of the woods was split open by a very loud, intrusive noise. Some of the women said they saw that a pickup truck had come up the private circular driveway, blared their horn for a few seconds and drove away. Apparently, the waterfall incident had not been left behind after all.

To be continued...

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