The Author's Corner
Latest CD Release
Garden of Mysteries
Women's Rites, Women's Mysteries:
TWPT: What was it that initially drew you to Wicca and when was it that you knew for sure that this was the spiritual path that you should be on?
RB: When I was a young girl I always found spirituality in nature. I read as much as I could find on mythology and fairy tales that feed my imagination and spirit. As I entered my teens I began writing poetry to the moon, and to the Goddess. There were few books on the subject of the Goddess and what I embraced as my private religion. As I matured eventually as a musician and collector of the old songs (the balladry of the British Isles and North America) I found myself searching constantly for the embedded folklore stored in these songs and stories. In the study of folklore, the metaphors and symbols all lead to our pagan past. I also found my first teacher, Shekhinah Mountainwater (of blessed memory), in the early 1970’s and with her and a small group of women, we studied together weekly for a year and a day. At that time we didn’t use the word “Wicca” or Witchcraft. It was Goddess spirituality, and it was a rich and wonderful time of exploring our spirituality, the values of feminism, and our muse-inspired selves. I met Z Budapest in 1976, and was 1. What was it that initially drew eventually initiated into The Susan B. Coven #1, in Los Angeles, California.
TWPT: What kind of spiritual experiences had you had prior to discovering Wicca and was there a major shift in your thinking for you to start walking the Wiccan path? Or not. Why?
RB: I had many spiritual experiences during my childhood, as many of us do, and then forget, or move onto more worldly things. I nurtured by imagination constantly, and journeyed into rocks, trees, and animals on an almost daily basis. I didn’t think of it as anything extraordinary, and my parents never objected.
TWPT: Were there any books that you remember as being helpful or influential as you started to explore the Wiccan path?
RB: In the early days (the late 1960’s and early 1970’s) there were only a few books out that I came across. They were not about Wicca, but about the Goddess and Her many faces. The first was The White Goddess by Robert Graves. This was given to me by one of my close friends in High School who happened to be Starhawk’s younger brother. Other books at the time were written by Jungians, like Esther Harding’s, Women’s Mysteries, and Erich Neuman’s The Great Mother. In the mid-1970?s Z Budapest wrote The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries, and there was nothing at all like it at that time. Itis an extraordinary thing to be living in a time when there are so many resources available for seekers.
TWPT: You are currently an ordained Dianic High Priestess. Was the Dianic path your main focus from the beginning or did you come to discover that further along?
RB: I came to the Dianic path pretty much at the beginning. Even my first teacher Shekhinah Mountainwater was Goddess-centered and woman-focused. I have learned alot from studying other Wiccan traditions, and really appreciate the diversity in how we as human beings can find a place of resonance with our experience of the Divine. I have been inspired greatly over the years by Caitlin Matthews, Carolyn Hillyer, Monica Sjoo (of blessed memory), and RJ Stewart.
TWPT: Tell me about some of your initial encounters with the Wiccan community at large. Were they what you expected?
RB: Since my initial encounters with the Wiccan community really came after my ordination in 1980, I remember having a humorous awakening to the different realities at my first pagan gathering of mixed traditions. Coming from a feminist spiritual tradition originating out of the late 1970’s, my initial naïve expectations were that all witches would be vegetarians, feminist, and egalitarianin their personal interactions.
TWPT: Some people have assumed the Dianic tradition as being anti-male or sexist. How do you respond to that?
RB: Most often this attitude of “anti-male or sexist” comes from misunderstanding what the Dianic tradition actually is, and who the tradition is intended to serve. It is a sad fact that in the sexist culture wherein we live and practice our religion, that to be “for” women, is too often assumed to be “against” men. Simply put, our tradition is not about men or the male experience, whether it be male physical life cycle events or the male experience of living in the dominant culture and its influence on who they are. Those are men’s mysteries. Therefore, Dianics simply do not focus on the God and what is specifically male in nature. He is understood to be a sacred variation of Her and included in the Goddess, as our beloved daughters and sons are contained within the wombs of women.
The Dianic tradition centers around what we call “women’s mysteries”, and is a goddess- and female-centered, woman-identified, earth-based, feminist denomination of the Wiccan religion. These mysteries include the five blood mysteries of our birth, menarche, giving birth/lactation, menopause, and death. Our rites also include other essential physical, emotional, and psychic passages that only women can experience by being born female, and empowering ourselves by becoming conscious about how growing up in a patriarchal culture affects our daily lives and female identity. With our spiritual focus and ritual practices being with, for, and about women’s experience of living and the many ways that our female bodies inform our life experiences, our tradition explores and celebrates female embodiment as a sacred source of creativity, oracular inspiration and power that is sourced literally from our very cells.
Dianic rituals celebrate the mythic cycle of the Goddess in the earth’s seasonal cycles of birth, death, and regeneration. Our seasonal holy days focus on the mythic cycles of the Goddess alone as she eternally transforms and shapeshifts throughout the year. Her seasonal dance of transformation becomes a metaphor for the cycle of women’s lives as they correspond and overlap with women’s own life-cycle transitions. Dianic seasonal themes are not based on an exclusively heterosexual fertility cycle, as most other Wiccan traditions are, and therefore are inclusive of all women.
TWPT: What do you see as the benefits of women-only spiritual practice, and women-centered spirituality,for individuals, the pagan community, and society as a whole?
RB: From the beginning of its contemporary practice in the early 1970’s, the Dianic Wiccan tradition has inspired rituals that are intended to help women heal from, and counter the effects of, misogynistic, patriarchal social institutions and religions. I believe that this is ultimately empowering since Dianic practice has, in my experience, inspired many women to exercise the power of choice with greater clarity and to take greater responsibility for their lives and their extended communities.
Within Dianic rites, the focus is on each woman’s own experience, opinions, ideas, and feelings. Women have the opportunity to discover their true selves, apart from the constraints of the dominant culture. I have often experienced women go through an adjustment period, having never before considered prioritizing or focusing on their own thoughts, feelings, and ideas. Since our tradition is not based on a duality concept within ourselves or in our cosmology, but rather on becoming “whole unto ourselves” like the goddess Diana, a woman is encouraged to seek a sacred wholeness. This does not mean that she is isolated. Instead, the goal of living is to feel complete within herself, not looking for completion through another person, but the possibility of connection through wholeness.
Often Dianic rites center on ritualizing cycles of the female body. When the spiritual experience is embodied in the women who are participating in a ritual, a fundamental intention of Dianic tradition can be realized: to re-sanctify the female body as a manifestation of the Goddess, the source from which all things emerge and return. Lesbians and bisexual women, who may need to heal from internalized homophobia as well as the other aspects of misogyny, can experience positive transformation within a spiritual tradition that says the body of a woman who loves women is holy. Through the embodied spiritual experience of the Goddess, heterosexual women can heal from internalized misogyny and homophobia, reaching greater depths of self-love, love and appreciation for all women, compassion, and personal power. All of these areas are of great benefit to an individual person, and the extended communities in which we live.
I hope to live in a time where the mysteries embedded in our similarities and differences can be respected and appreciated for how they support an individuals journey to health, joy, and wholeness.
TWPT: Was writing something that you've always done or wanted to do in your creative life?
RB: I had always found poetry and music to be my connection to the Muse. Sitting down to write was not something I would just do. I would wait for Her to tell me what She wanted me to write. I would in effect, take dictation. I wish that I was a prolific writer like some people I know! In deciding to write my women’s ritual making book, WOMEN’S RITES, WOMEN'S MYSTERIES: Intuitive Ritual Creation (Llewellyn, 2007), I entered into a very different type of writing process than I had ever done previously. I both enjoyed the process as often as I was challenged by it. It was the hardest thing I had ever done, and in many ways the most satisfying. I am very happy with how it turned out and the overwhelming response to the people that have been working with the material.
TWPT: I was reading on your website that you inherited Z Budapest's Los Angeles ministry. Tell me about your relationship with Z Budapest and how it came to be that you were the one to whom this ministry came to?
RB: I met Z Budapest when I was 23 years old. I went to see a play that she had written at The Women’s Building in downtown Los Angeles. It was called, Rise of the Fates, and it was a very funny spoof on patriarchal religion, feminist spirituality, and the Goddess. I began to attend rituals that were open to the Los Angeles women’s community, and began to know the women involved. In late1979, Z decided to move from Los Angeles to Oakland, and ask me if I would continue the work that she started. I said I would, and it was a yes that changed the course of my life. She said that she chose me because of my music, my spiritual background, dedication, and that I “attracted people”.
TWPT: You seem to have a duality to your creative side in that you are an author and you are a musician. Tell me about the musical side of Ruth Barrett how that started and how that melds together with the writing and teaching that you do.
RB: I don’t see my music and teaching as a duality, but rather as different ways of expressing what I want to share with the world. Music and song is my favorite way, and the intensive teaching evolved over time. Now I do more teaching than music. In 1980, I musically partnered with another dulcimer player, a woman named Cyntia Smith, and were recorded our first album together called Aeolus, in 1981. We were performed primarily traditional folk music with a focus on woman in traditional songs and songs that we wrote that were “out” pagan in nature. We were one of the handful of pioneering pagan musicians to record pagan music. The others were Kay Gardner, Gwydion, Selena Fox and Jim Alan, and Lady Isadora.
Cyntia and I recorded and performed together for twenty years. When I left California in 2000, our musical partnership ended, and we now perform separately as soloists or with other musicians. We recorded six albums together.
I feel that I teach best when I can bring an experience of the Goddess to my listeners. When I can give them sounds and words that can take them on a journey into nature, their sacred selves, and into Her. I consider it part of my activism to create more beauty. Now, with 10 CD’s later, it is amazing to look back to the beginning when there was so little for a budding witch-let!When I entered my 40’s (I’m now 54years old), it became very important to me to begin to think about what is it I want to leave behind after I’m gone. Our stories, our wisdom, what keeps us inspired and alive, participating in the healing of the world, became a primary focus in my life. This is why I wrote my book and recorded my most recent music projects, THE YEAR IS A DANCING WOMAN Goddess Chants, Songs, and Invocations for the Wheel of the Year, Vols. 1 & 2, and Garden of Mysteries (www.dancingtreemusic.com). Garden of Mysteries was released this past February, and I have to say that it’s the best thing I’ve ever done! I’ve been fortunate enough to be joined by some incredible musicians, including my talented daughter, Amanda Barrett (of The Ditty Bops). This CD features traditional folk music, original songs by some of my favorite songwriters, as well as my own contributions. The songs on this CD all share a common thread. They are about encounters with magic and mystery - be it with a lover, an Otherworld being, a goddess, a transition into a new state of be-ing, or the Earth Herself.
TWPT: When was it that you can remember first starting work on what would become Women's Rites, Women's Mysteries and did you have in mind at that point the scope of what you wanted to cover in the book?
RB: I began preparations for writing my book over 12 years ago when I started recording some of my classes and transcribing the information. I wanted to de-mystify the process of designing ritual in detail for personal and group needs and celebrations, as well as provide information not previously included in books on the her-story and cosmology of Dianic tradition. I wanted to discuss the role involved with ritual facilitation and give my opinions about the priestess path.
TWPT: Were there any books that covered the subject matter that you wanted to include in your book and was this some of the motivation behind why you wanted to write Women's Rites, Women's Mysteries?
RB: With the exception of a very basic ritual work book I had seen, I was very disappointed by books that included ritual. Most were what I call the “cook book” variety or highly scripted ceremonies or rituals that did not make space or take into consideration an individual or group’s creative and spontaneous experiences. I wanted to write a book that would be able to assist individuals and groups to access her/their inner knowing and bring it forward out of her/their deep mind and then develop it.
TWPT: In one of your previous answers you said that you enjoyed writing and were also challenged by it. What was it about the creation of Women's Rites, Women’s Mysteries,that you found challenging? And what was it that you found enjoyable while you were writing it?
RB: My challenge was to put into words what ritual is designed to transcend. How to you read about energy and expect to know what to do to experience it? For me, ritual is about creating the possibility of transformation. I believe that I have succeeded in giving useful information that people can experiment with and give themselves the training to become excellent ritualists. I wrote my book to address women’s needs, however the same ritual making process can be used by men who wish to design rituals for their personal and group rites.
The other challenge was to write in such a way to address differences in perceptual learning styles. Since books are most always written from the perceptual style of the author, I really made an effort to reach people whose thinking patterns for taking in and sharing information is different than mine. This is a huge body of work that has formed the foundation of my teaching in the past twelve years, and involves understanding the ways our visual, auditory, and kinesthetic modes take us to different states of consciousness. I was blessed to have my life partner, Falcon River work with me to expand my writing and address these differences. She is extensively trained in this field of learning styles.
TWPT: How much did you draw upon your experiences as the High Priestess in the Dianic community for those many years to craft this book to help others create effective ritual?
RB: I drew enormously on my decades of experience of small and very large group rituals, and put that insight into the book. Understanding ritual energetics is vital and either overlooked or not considered important. I include how to work with energy to move yourself and the ritual experience along to achieve your desired result. Some women feel that this is one of the most important part of my book. Knowing how to critically evaluate a ritual experience that can often be so subjective is in one of the chapters called “Every Ritual is a Teacher”.
TWPT: What is the importance of women understanding the seasonal holidays as they correspond to the rituals that are performed and even more to their own personal cycles?
RB: Understanding the Holy Days as the cycle of the Goddess and as they correspond to women’s life cycle events are an integral part of Dianic tradition. It has been healing for women to connect with Goddess through her own
TWPT: Looking back over the creation process both at the beginning and once you had completed the book what would you say the main purpose was in writing this book and do you think that you were able to effectively communicate that purpose through your words?
RB: I really wanted to empower women to meet their own needs for ritual. We are so conditioned to waiting for others to take the lead (including other women) or to wait for someone else to provide a ritual for us. Thus our needs often go unmet. My book is about giving the tools so that any woman can be the one she has been waiting for.
TWPT: Earlier you said that you took over the work of Z Budapest when she moved to Oakland, what was it that you took over from Z and how did that "change the course of your life" over the next 20 years?
RB: I made a vow at my ordination to teach Dianic Craft, and to continue providing public ritual for the seasonal holidays. These are some of the services that Z provided during the early years of the Goddess movement.
TWPT: What advancements were made in the Dianic community during those 20 years that you feel the most proud of (or that made the deepest impressions on you) and what do you see as some of the major issues that you would like to see addressed in the years to come?
RB: After my ordination in 1980, Z handed me $50 with which to purchase some coven tools and said goodbye. As a new and very young Dianic High priestess (I was 27 years old), I was now in the position of teacher and ritualist through my original coven Moon Birch Grove, and faced with a huge challenge after the dust of Z’s departure from Los Angeles settled. Information in Z’s Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries was a place to start, but sparse for my needs, both for ritual and magical practice, and much of the spellwork included there I was not in ethical accord with. I kept referring back to my classes with Shekhinah Mountainwater and what I had learned about Women’s Mysteries as they overlay the seasonal holy days, and the power of sacred theatre. I began to explore both within and outside of the goddess spirituality movement, seeking information from other Wiccan and Craft family traditions. I began to “borrow”, incorporate, and apply these magical practices in a Dianic philosophical context. I brought my own contributions to the content of the tradition through my own style of creativity, music, and intuition. Finally, I came from the perspective that religion should rightly evolve to adapt to social movements.
Over time I developed a core curriculum that provided a sound, consistent magical foundation and practice. This curriculum became the standard Dianic year and a day classes and beyond, at Circle of Aradia in Los Angeles for twenty years, and later for Temple of Diana (a national Dianic organization that I co-founded in 2000). Women who were my students became ritual facilitators for the open community rituals held on most of the Sabbats. Imagine a room full of between 100-200 at times, with 30 ritual facilitators who knew how to work together. Many of these women made incredible contributions of time and energy to creating a large community of creative and caring women. I kept learning and trying new things, working to find better ways to speak and show how women can work magic together. This cauldron in Los Angeles allowed thousands of women to evolve a common magical practice together, a body of practice that has endured and can be passed down to future generations. This is my contribution to the Dianic tradition that I feel I can acknowledge and name. This kind of educational opportunity was rare in most places around the United States, and thus, the Dianic tradition evolved differently elsewhere, more often with emphasis on personal spiritual development rather than on a cohesive group practice and an integrated magical system.
TWPT: What was it that drew you back to Wisconsin when you handed over your work in California to a new High Priestess in 2000?
RB: I had planned on moving out of Los Angeles sometime after my daughter became 18 years old and out on her own. I had been involved with Re-formed Congregation of the Goddess that headquarters in Madison because I affiliated Circle of Aradia as a consecrated circle under their federal protection for several years. Therefore, I knew some of the women in Madision and liked the city. I wanted to live in a slower paced environment and anywhere out of Los Angeles promised a little more peace of mind. However I met who eventually became my life partner at a conference in Wisconsin in 1999, and she was living in the Madison area, so the time was right to re-locate.
TWPT: Tell me about your training program for Dianic clergy that you now work on and the importance of having trained clergy to work within the community?
RB: My partner Falcon River and I created a national Dianic training program called, The Spiral Door Women’s Mystery School of Magick and Ritual Arts. We created it as our dream program mostly focused on teaching ritual and energetic skills for use in the sacred every day and the ritual circle. After women study with us they may develop their own path of spiritual service informed by the skills they’ve learned in our program. Not every woman in the program has the desire to become clergy, but the focus is on making contributions to your local communities in various ways. We have taught Spiral Door programs in Wisconsin, Los Angeles, and Austin. We plan on teaching two more programs starting in 2009 in Madison and Los Angeles.
TWPT: Do you think that music is over looked as something that should be planned for and integrated into ritual more effectively than it is so that it can unlock areas of the spirit that can only be reached through music?
RB: Music is one of the tools that can be consciously used to move energy, change consciousness, or bring about a ritual transition. There are many paths to spirit, and music is one of the most ancient ways, the other being dance. As with all tools, knowing how to craft and wield it with grace is cultivated over time.
TWPT: What kinds of feedback have you received about your book since it was published? Have you been gratified by these responses and are they what you had expected?
RB: The reviews thus far have been very complementary and encouraging. Here are a couple of them:
“If you have anything to do with ritual, buy this book and read it carefully. You won’t find better, more practical information anywhere else.” (SAGEWOMAN MAGAZINE)
“Women’s Rites, Women’s Mysteries is flat out one of the most useful books ever written on ritual. The writing is very clear, the concepts are very understandable and the directions are concise and easy to follow. If you ever want to or engage in ritual– public or private–buy this book!”(THE BELTANE PAPERS)
TWPT: Tell me about the Temple of Diana and some of the work you have been doing there since you went back to Wisconsin.
RB: I continue to teach classes, teach our local Spiral Door program, facilitate public rituals with students and our ordained priestesses, and now we have recently moved west of Madison to the country. Now we have land for outdoor rituals, workshops, and an archery range for modern-day Amazons.
The Temple has ongoing charitable fund raisers for local and national needs, including relief efforts for New Orleans, food drives for food banks, and animal rescue efforts.
TWPT: As far as music and books are concerned do you have more works still inside you that will be coming out eventually?
RB: Yes, there is always more. What is stirring is a book about Goddess spirituality, female embodiment, and our oracular heritage. As for music, I’ve always thought that my last recording project would be my last, and I just released CD number ten. The Muse always decides with me.
TWPT: Thank you Ruth for taking the time to speak to me about your book and the other activities that you are involved with in regards to the community. I wish you much success with your next creative venture whether that be music or another book.