Since ancient times, mystery schools have existed in almost all cultures offering initiatory pathways to awakening, self development, and wisdom embodiment. Today, while pretty much everything we’d ever want to know is literally at our fingertips, modern day mystery schools offer a way for individuals to access something that cannot simply be googled or learned from mainstream education. They offer tools for accessing our inner-knowing and truth, initiatory experiences that allow for deep transformation, and community that supports embodiment of the wisdom that is revealed. Though many different mystery schools are active today, it’s been my experience that the right one will find you in perfect timing.
I found myself on the path of the priestess about four years ago, after taking Ashley Turner’s Urban Priestess yoga workshop in Chicago. It was not only a yoga workshop, but a weekend of ritual, sisterhood, and honoring the Sacred Feminine. After that, I was inspired to read the Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, and learned of the ancient feminine mystery schools of Arthurian times, feeling connected to the rituals that honor the cycle of the moon and the wheel of the year as well as the devotion and trust embodied in the ways of the priestess. For the next couple years, I continued on my path, learning about goddesses of different wisdom traditions, taking part in rituals to honor the cycle of the moon, gathering with sisters in prayer and ceremony, and singing my praises to the Divine Feminine in all her forms.
This past September, I took the next step on my priestess path and joined the Urban Priestess Mystery School with high priestesses Ashley Turner and Sianna Sherman. Under the guise of a yearlong online course, this program/mystery school has been an invaluable resource and guide for me these past few months and has allowed me to feel more aligned with my path and my truth than ever before. It has given me a new, crystal clear framework for continuously receiving the teachings of the sacred feminine, remembering the ancient ways of living in harmony with nature (even while living in the city), reclaiming my power and gifts as a woman, living them out in my day-to-day life, and sharing them with others. Rooted in the wisdom of Celtic and Avalonian tradition, the Urban Priestess Mystery School moves through the wheel of the year, aligning with the astrological calendar and the rhythm of the seasons, and dives deep into the 12 archetypes of the priestess as the Earth moves around the Sun. For each archetype, the course provides an abundance of articles, videos, and live webinars to explore the many expressions of the Divine Feminine. We explore mythology, ritual, self-inquiry and shadow work, integration, and manifestation. Ashley and Sianna not only share these teachings, but they show up fully and vulnerably, showing us what it means to embody the wisdom on this path with authenticity, humility, and compassion.
My aim for this blog is to give you a glimpse into my journey through the first three archetypes of the wheel of the priestess: the Queen of Death, the Wise Woman, and the Midwife. Each section includes a song I wrote as well <3
Queen of Death - Scorpio - Shadow and Transformation
Let me tell you: this mystery school does not mess around. After getting an overview of the ways of the priestess and the wheel of the year, we began our descent straight down into the underworld of darkness, shadow, and transformation. This, of course, is not on accident, as Samhain, marking the beginning of the darkest eighth of the year before the Sun returns on the Winter Solstice, is considered the Celtic new year, and like all true initiations, becoming a priestess requires death and rebirth. But truly, what a beautiful way to begin. Descending into the depths of my shadow - all the parts of myself that I am ashamed of, all that I try to hide both from myself and others, all that I am afraid of - allowed me to become intimate with the parts of myself that are most difficult to love and helped me learn to embrace, rather than avoid, these places within me most fertile for transformation. Through meditations in the dark, early hours of the morning, I felt the meaning of the phrase “the tomb is the womb.” I sat silently with the hindu goddess Kali looking back at me, blood dripping out of her mouth and a necklace of human heads around her, and felt beauty in her power of destruction. I looked into the face of the black Madonna, seeing the holiness in her scarred cheeks. I allowed myself to feel the chaos happening in the world and released the need to always make others think I had it together. I listened closely to my inner voice and knew in my heart that it was time to step away from my relationship with my partner who I had built a life with over the past six years. I received the courage and clarity I needed to initiate our uncoupling process and moved through those difficult days with the inner-knowing that all life originates from darkness. I came to love the Queen of Death and her fierce medicine that cuts through illusion and allows deep transformation to occur. However, I was also very relieved when it was time to move onto Wise Woman archetype!
Wise Woman - Sagittarius - Aging and Wisdom
As the sun entered Sagittarius, we called in the archetype of the Wise Woman, who symbolizes higher knowledge, the wisdom of our elders, the quest for truth, patience, and acceptance. My heart and mind were so nourished by the transmissions received from the goddess Sophia, Grandmother Spider, White Buffalo Calf Woman, and other feminine beacons of deep wisdom. I felt the serenity of being at peace with all that is, as it is, with full gratitude and trust. Two big shifts happened to me during this time. First, I realized the importance of connecting with my blood ancestors, especially my grandmothers and great grandmothers. I printed photos of my two grandmothers and my four great-grandmothers and placed them on my altar. While I had a relationship with both of my grandmothers when I was younger, I didn’t know much about my great-grandmothers. I learned and spoke their full names and found out exactly where in Europe they were from; and therefore, where I am from. I felt them here with me as I sat at my altar each morning and asked for guidance for what I was going through in my life. I connected to my Irish/Celtic roots by reading Anam Cara by John O’Donahue and realized that many of the mystical teachings I cherished from Eastern, shamanic, and Native American traditions were also present in my own ancestral lines. I even decided to take a trip to Ireland later this year to visit the land of my ancestors and journey to sacred sites there. Second, I felt a major shift in how I experienced the time of year around the Winter Solstice. Like many people, I had become disillusioned with what Christmas has become in our culture: the consumerism, the very un-eco-friendly decorations, Christianity being forced upon native peoples and all the violence involved around it, the stress of having the “perfect” family gatherings centered around the overconsumption of food and alcohol, and the unconscious participation in it all without asking why. However, this year more than ever before, I felt so connected to the celebration of the Winter Solstice and honoring this precious time of the return of the sun. I learned much about the Pagan roots of many Christmas traditions and chose to participate in them in a way that was meaningful for me. On Christmas eve, I was inspired to go to the woods and take in the beauty and wisdom of nature, everything still and covered in white snow. Overall, I’d say I at least doubled my wisdom over this month. :-P
Midwife - Capricorn - Career and Finance
As the sun moved into Capricorn, we celebrated the return of the light and welcomed in 2018 with new intentions and goals. The earthy Capricorn supports career, structure, dharma, money, and abundance, and I was definitely feeling ambitious, focused, and dedicated to creating a prosperous and successful year with the Global Purpose Movement, the project for which I work as event manager. However, the year definitely didn’t start out as planned, and I found myself having a mini meltdown. Our first meetings of the year, which I hoped would send us smoothly forward into planning a year of purposeful events, were filled with uncertainty, miscommunication, disorganization, and frustration (at least for me). To make things more complicated, my boss unexpectedly announced that he was taking a sabbatical, leaving the rest of the team and I feeling uncertain about the year ahead. This stress brought me face-to-face with the shadow side of the Midwife: I became aggressive, rigid, and overly controlling in my attempts to try to get our team organized and start manifesting our events and projects. I was overly critical of myself and others, I was detached from my emotions, and I was operating from a place of fear of failure, rather than a place of trust and abundance. At the same time, I decided it was time for me to move out of the apartment I share with my former partner, and the uncertainty of where I would be living come February and my inability, despite my best attempts, to control the actions of other people in this process pushed me right to edge. I was exhausted, full of anxiety and doubt, and ready to give up. So, to say the least, it wasn’t exactly the beautiful and abundant start to the year I was hoping for, at least not at first glance. However, looking back now from the place of the Visionary (the next archetype in the wheel of the year), it was the start to the year that I needed, and the Midwife was there to coach me through the difficult birthing process. As I prayed at my altar each morning, she reminded me how to stay grounded when the winds blows strong, how to be graceful under immense pressure, how to move slowly and steadily through transformation, how to hold space for my shadow to arise so that it can be transmuted. One day when my worry and doubt was at its worse, the course guided me through an invocation of Lakshmi, Hindu goddess of abundance, and I felt my entire being shift into a state of joy and abundance for all the beauty and prosperity in my life. I also received the Midwife’s tool of the pendulum, which has been a surprisingly reliable guide for working through uncertainty and difficult decisions. In addition, I took a deep dive into examining my relationship to money and received lots of practical guidance for managing finances and engaging in conscious business practices. After an arduous, yet deeply transformative month, I am happy to say that I am feeling abundant and grounded as I begin the journey of opening my third eye with the Visionary archetype of Aquarius.
To Conclude (For Now)
In addition to connecting deeply to each archetype of the priestess, I’m also feeling connected to the overarching rhythms and cycles of nature, from my own sacred moon time to the Pagan sabbats. This week is the celebration of Imbolc, which is the sabbat that is midway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. It is the time when the life force energy of the Earth begins to awaken and the very first signs of Spring begin to emerge. It feels so auspicious to be posting this blog and songs on this day as I feel my inner flame growing stronger again and new energy awakening in myself and in humanity. I offer these words humbly as a way to share the gifts I have received these past three Winter months with so much gratitude for the guidance that has helped me realign with Her sacred rhythms. Aho + Awen <3
This is the first of a series of posts about the major arcana, or trump cards, within the tarot deck. The major arcana are representative of powerful symbols that can cause change in the world. When one of these cards shows up in a reading, it is likely the querent is working with a major transformational change on the path they walk. And yet there is an even deeper meaning within these particular cards. Within these major arcana cards are the processes of manifestation that brings the entire universe into existence. The very same process we all walk in that great adventure of "knowing thyself." Come with us as we traverse the 22 cards of the major arcana.
At the beginning of the great journey through to manifestation we find the Fool. Typically a young man or woman, sometimes even a child, and almost always at the end of a cliff, the adventure from potential energy to full universal manifestation begins here. Symbolic of the great element of Air, that holy energy that is the mediator between Fire and Water, the Fool card is the beginning of a new journey. It is unawakened potential, held back only by fear of change. Symbolic of this fear we find the Fool preparing to step over the cliff and into the chasm, through the doorway into the unconscious mind. The dog barking, or sometimes even seen as a great beast, that strange ego trying to hold them back. Tension and suspense rises as the Fool, despite fear, begins to stare over the edge into the great unknown. Yet it is the sunlight that shines down upon them from behind that they remember they are taking their first steps onto a greater path. The fear vanishes and with pure trust the Fool steps from the safety of the material realm and into the vast secret of the universe.
The fool card has a number of different esoteric and exoteric meanings within. Generally, it is representative of the beginning of a journey. New decisions are being made that can shake up the normal routine. The Fool is symbolic of the element of Air, but not the typical earth based elements. Rather, it is associated with the greater cosmic process of the creation of the universe. In the Qabalah, it is associated with the mother letter of Aleph, which is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It's number is zero as it is the potential for great change, yet has not been awakened yet. When this card comes up in readings great change is afoot. It is time to see which side of this change you are standing.
Close your eyes. Calm the mind, watch the breath. Find yourself standing at a cliffside looking over a great chasm that seemingly goes down and down eternally. Clouds blowing aimlessly prevent you from looking deep into the vastness. Feel the ground with your feet, perhaps even touch it with your hands. Make a wish, calm the mind, and silently step over the edge into the great unknown.
Allow the mind to operate unimpeded by intellectualizing the imagery. Let whatever visions that may arise come to you.
This pretty house that I built
I wanna tear it down, I wanna tear it down
And grow a garden in its place
The kind that grows in outer space
But I don't know how to grow flowers where it is so cold...
I'm tearing down this I house I built
I'm gonna sleep outside under the stars
I'm gonna grow a garden in outer space
With cosmic flowers that shine with grace
I'm not sure yet how they grow, but I will know how when I go...
As I lay outside now among the stars
In this soft bed of astral blossoms
Cosmic roses full of grace
Mother Mary's sweet embrace
Through her love I somehow know how these celestial flowers grow...
And they're everywhere, they're everywhere now, these cosmic roses, they're everywhere...
They're in the gardens
And in the stars
They're even in the pretty houses
They're in this longing
And in the pain
They're in the teardrops
And in the rain
They're in the sunlight
And in the songs
They're in the children
And in the frogs
They're in the learning
All through the night
They're in the darkness
And in the light....
Cosmic roses full of grace
In our Mother's sweet embrace <3
The Spring Equinox..
Here to thaw our bones so we can awaken to the light as well as to the darkness, recognizing and embracing the beauty of them both.
As I am gifted the vision of greater light and the capacity for greater love, I become more aware of my ignorance and the ways I continually surrender to anxiety and need for the approval of others..
And I am grateful for this chance to be deep in my own darkness while feeling the presence of a voice that is continually reminding me to love unconditionally and offering me glimpses of reassurance.
While the beauty of warmth and springtime approaches us..
Let us feel the strength to continue embracing all the parts of ourselves that are broken, aching, and longing for numbness..
Let us feel it all, so that we may know that much more love and compassion..
So that our roots grow deep into the dark, dense Earth and our branches can grow higher than we know..
Let us learn to be vulnerable and become authentic teachers just by letting others see that we have chosen to do the difficult work of opening to our own darkness and letting it shine..
As the flowers begin to bloom..
Let’s celebrate together the magic of continuous rebirth, the intelligence of nature, and the beauty of new life..
Remember that we are a part of it..
Be humbled by the magnificence of it..
And feel the immense gratitude so great that it can't even be expressed when we really realize the sacredness of it..
Thank you Pachamama, for teaching us so much..
Thank you for our lives..
Continue to bestow your love and compassion upon us and bless this point in what we call time of balance, new beginnings, and open horizons..
We pray for your waters to be clear, for your air to be pure, for your trees to grow tall, and for your heart to burn with the fire of love for our children's children's children's children and beyond..
Wishing you love, peace, and clarity this Spring Equinox!
Wishing you all a season of peace, love, and mindfulness as we continue this beautiful transformation into 2016! To celebrate, we are hosting the second installment in the Continuum Series - The Winter Continuum: An Evening of Art, Music, & Magic. On January 15th, we will gather at Live Work Yoga in Wicker Park to celebrate the winter through intentional music and video art by the talented Alex Sokol, Brock Alter, Rich Logan, and Sweet Aum's very own Bryan Alvarez. Join us as we journey through darkness towards light, laugh through sorrow towards happiness, and dance through cold towards warmth.
The Winter Continuum
Where: Live Work Yoga (1470 N. Milwaukee)
When: Friday, Jan 15th at 7 pm
Who: Music and Art by Alex Sokol, Brock Alter, Rich Logan, and Bryan Alvarez
Suggested Donation: $10
We are also gearing up for a one-month journey to Brazil on January 25th until the end of February to deepen our connection to the Divine through the power of music, nature, and adventure! We are so grateful for this chance to explore and learn in a culture that we've been feeling very connected with over the past few years! We are excited to bring new insights, rituals, and MUSIC back to Chicago and share them with you through our yoga classes and events!
Blessings to you all this season, wherever you find yourselves!
So much love,
Carly and Bryan
A daily thanksgiving inspired by the Onondaga Nation, Haudenosaunee
GREETINGS and THANKS
to each other as people
TO THE EARTH
mother of all
greetings & thanks
to all the waters
WATERFALLS & RAIN
RIVERS & OCEANS
greetings & thanks
to all the
GREETINGS & THANKS
the grains and greens
BEANS & BERRIES
as one we send thanks
to FOOD PLANTS
of the world
and their keepers
GREETINGS & THANKS
TO ALL ANIMALS
& their teachings
greetings & thanks
for shelter & shade
fruit & beauty
greetings & thanks
TO ALL BIRDS
large and small
joyful greetings and thanks
and from the four directions
THE FOUR WINDS
thank you for purifying the air we breathe and giving us strength
our grandfathers in the sky
We hear your voices
GREETINGS & THANKS
and now THE SUN
for the light of a new day
and all the fires of life
GREETINGS & THANKS
to the oldest grandmother
leader of women
all over the world
AND THE STARS
for their mystery, beauty, & guidance
GREETINGS & THANKS
TO OUR TEACHERS
from all times
reminding us how to live in harmony
GREETINGS & THANKS
AND FOR ALL
the gifts of creation
for all the love around us
GREETINGS & THANKS
and for that which is forgetten
WE END OUR WORDS
NOW OUR MINDS ARE ONE
The season of the harvest is upon us...
Do you feel the transition, the transformation, and the abundance all at once?
We call upon the Spirit of the West, the direction of water, of surrender, of opening to receive...
May we feel our emotional waters deeply and flow through them without getting swept away...
May we keep learning how to surrender more deeply to the flow of the universe, the changing of the seasons, the transformation we are undergoing as a society, as a planet..
Allow us to open our eyes to the immense abundance around us, the gifts of Mother Earth, the love in all things...let us open our hearts wider to receive all that surrounds us fully and with infinite gratitude..
Teach us how to trust in the steady flow of the river and release our grasping and our fears..
Please show us the way to surrender the mind to the stillness and wisdom within all creation..
Sending our love and our gratitude to you, setting sun, for showing us the beauty in letting go..
Let us rejoice in this transition to cooler days and darker nights, celebrating the cycles and rhythms of this existence...
Grant us the ability to slow down and begin our journey within once again...
We bless you Spirit of the West, and we ask for your blessing during this time of transformation.
I feel the feminine elements earth and water in my body, mind, and soul.
I simply observe and hold space for all that moves through me.
I know I am whole and complete even as I journey through sadness, anger, fear, and doubt.
I honor the traditions of my family while I strive to live according to my own truth.
I am grateful and accepting of my life exactly as it is but am open to new opportunities and abundance.
I am not afraid to say no to the demands of others or to say yes to adventures with uncertain outcomes.
I fully embrace stillness and patience even while I flow through constant movement and change.
I set realistic goals but my dreams are vibrant and I truly believe anything is possible.
I surround that which does not seem to change with compassion as I let go of guilt and shame.
I acknowledge the return of old behavioral patterns as a sign that I am becoming more open and approaching a breakthrough.
I release control and trust in the ebb and flow of the tides.
I cherish all that I hold dear in my life while accepting that all things must pass.
I work steadily with confidence while surrendering all that I am to the altar of Love.
I am open, receptive, infinite, and sacred.
I am earth and water,
Pure love and beauty,
Growing deep roots as I flow on and on and on...
With so many different styles of yoga these days, conflict and criticism seem to be running rampant among yoga practitioners. In today's fast-pasted world, what has yoga become? Does true yoga still exist?
If you ask people about their thoughts on different types of yoga in the US, you'll find many different answers.
Some will speak honestly and earnestly of the healing power of practicing yoga. You will hear stories from diverse individuals about how yoga changed their life and helped them overcome challenges of all kinds: addiction, disease, depression, etc. On the other hand, many people will express disillusionment with the trendy yoga scene of wealthy Westerners going to yoga studios with their Lululemon clothes and getting dressed up to go to fancy release-parties for magazines with thin, blonde models on the cover.
While many people will speak of practicing yoga in studios, others will talk about organizations that bring yoga to community centers, prisons, hospitals, and rehab centers. While some people praise yoga studios as sanctuaries and places of respite from the noisy city, others will say, "We don't need any more yoga teachers to teach in yoga studios, we need them out in the community where yoga is needed most."
Look on Facebook and Instagram and you will see stunning photos and videos of challenging physical poses. You may even hear about the debate of whether or not yoga practitioners should be posting these on social media. Some will tell you these photos and videos of people with perfect bodies cause comparison and shame, set unrealistic expectations for others, and miss the point of what yoga is all about: that yoga is an internal and personal journey that doesn't need to be flaunted or shared with all your Facebook friends. Others will speak of being inspired and moved by others' posting their own personal yoga journeys online.
One student will say that some yoga studios are losing touch with the rich tradition of yoga practices like pranayama, mantras, and meditation and making it all about getting a physical workout. Yet another person will criticize traditional studios for trying too hard to adopt Eastern traditions and worship Hindu gods instead of integrating yoga into their own Western culture.
You'll hear one person talk about how their physically-demanding yoga practice is keeping their body young and healthy. Another person will tell you how pushing too hard to achieve advanced postures has led to injury and chronic pain.
You might overhear two students talking about how wonderful the rooftop yoga party was last weekend that brought the community together; how a hundred students spent their Friday night in a healthy way by getting their flow on with a DJ and enjoying healthy drinks and food afterwards. You'll hear another couple talking about how they are fed up with over-priced gatherings that are all about exploiting yoga to make a profit and market to yogis who have money and will fall for any product that claims to be healthy.
I have identified to some extent with all of these beliefs about yoga at one point or another. And arguments like these sometimes make me question why I am a yoga teacher. When I look inside myself, however, I continually realize that I believe yoga really is deeper than all of this.
At it's core, yoga means "union" and I have come to understand it as the process of becoming aware of division and conflict within ourselves so that we can release it and move towards wholeness and unity as individuals and as a planet. Since our psyche is a reflection of the world around us, of course there is going to be conflict, judgement, wariness, and division - just look at the conflicts raging in our world today. I've been told by many great teachers and truly believe myself that to heal the world, we must start by doing the inner work to heal ourselves. However, it's not easy to look at our limited beliefs that separate us from others because it causes us to be vulnerable to change and difficult emotions. Often times what we feel the most aversion to outside of ourselves is something that is also present within ourselves.
Anyway you look at it, being judgmental and criticizing how people choose to practice yoga, either vocally or internally, isn't practicing yoga. How can we become aware of these feelings of division and learn to accept individuals on all paths in this life - no matter what yoga means to them at this part of their journey or if they even practice "yoga" at all? How can we have compassion and kindness towards others and still uphold our own personal truths, even when we know our truths may be absurd to someone else?
Just as we move the body in a yoga class to come to greater balance and stillness, is it possible to give our psyches a workout to bring us towards greater wholeness and more integral and holistic truths? Can we allow ourselves to become uncomfortably aware of any judgments, feelings of superiority or separation, and negative emotional reactions towards a particular style of yoga? What if we take ourselves out of our comfort zones to get to know a style of yoga we don't resonate with better? If you are turned off by Instagram asana shots - post one! How does it make you feel? Vulnerable? Afraid others will compare themselves to you? If you are weirded out by Kundalini yoga, pop in for a class or two and be aware of how you feel while you're there. Do you feel any of your old beliefs about what yoga is being threatened?
On our journeys in this embodied life, we are here to learn about what love is, and to do that we also need to learn what love is not. Every experience we have is valuable if it teaches us more about ourselves. We cannot get rid of division and conflict - the closest we can come to Samadhi (enlightenment) in our lifetime is love. The question then becomes: how can we be aware of the conflict and division we are learning to overcome while surrounding ourselves and others with compassion and kindness no matter what we are experiencing?
When all is said and done, what matters is how we choose to allow yoga - however we practice it - affect our lives for the better. How does it support our evolution and journey towards our highest selves? Let us continue to learn from different teachers and texts, challenge our beliefs and values, and keep evolving towards greater love, even if that means journeying through pain and discomfort. Let's keep coming back into balance and searching for what is true to us again and again. And let's practice yoga, whatever it means to us, with our whole hearts.
Before you read further, bring to mind one of your teachers...
Did you think of a person? While we often think of teachers as being human (and there definitely are many great ones out there!), perhaps the greatest teacher of all is nature - it is a mirror that shows us how to return to our natural rhythms and cycles, helping us remember what our minds often cause us to forget - that we are part of an infinite whole of interconnectedness and flow.
Next time you visit Lake Michigan or the Ocean - take some time to connect to your breath and listen to what the water has to teach you. The perfect grace with which she moves and flows. The way she can be sweet and gentle yet strong and powerful. The steady movement of the waves and tides in and out and the way they change with the moon and the weather. The way she dances, reflecting the light of the sun and stars. How does she speak to you?
Water is the great universal cleanser that soothes and heals. When life gets rough, try sitting on the beach and ask the water to wash away your pain and soothe your mind. Allow her to reconnect you to the essence of life - the purity, clarity, and brilliance that we are created from, that is always within us.
Carly and Bryan reflect on riding the waves of living lives of yoga, magick, music, astrology, healing, exploration, love, and continuous rebirth.