Friday, February 11, 2011

Beth "Bone Blossom" Saunders

I am saddened to be writing about the passing of my old Holy Terrors coven sister, Bone Blossom (Ardath Elizabeth Saunders Stanford). We were very close for many years, yet in recent years we had less frequent contact. She had been ill for some time, and the last I heard from her in late October, she spoke of having been very ill but having just turned the corner and begun to recover. Since then she underwent emergency abdominal surgery, then died last night in ICU of a stroke as she was being weaned from a respirator. I'm comforted to know that her husband, Jim, and sons Silas (now Renzo) and Guthrie were with her during her final hours.

Born on the Winter Solstice of 1948 in Little Rock, Arkansas, Bone often spoke of her love for the crystals to be found in Mount Ida. She attended Carleton College in Minnesota, and later landed, with her two sons, in San Francisco, which is where our paths crossed. She became close friends with another psychonaut like herself, Terrence McKenna. She traveled often to Colombia, where she conceived her elder son Silas, and to other parts of South America to learn native weaving techniques and to explore native spiritual practices on their lands, particularly those involving entheogens.

We met in a class created by Starhawk and, IIRC, Lauren Liebling, called The Iron Pentacle, the first of its kind, in around 1979. Several people in that class joined together to form a coven we called Holy Terrors.[1] The four years during which we met every single Tuesday night, plus for sabbats and Reclaiming open rituals -- public rituals were a new thing in those days -- profoundly shaped the Witches we all became. Bone, along with Sophia Sparks, Cerridwen Fallingstar,[2] and myself, formed the nucleus of Holy Terrors.

Soon Bone followed her heart to Middletown, Connecticut, where she continued teaching what she had learned. A coven with the wonderful name of Ouroborous Isis Gnosis formed as a result of that teaching. I had the pleasure of meeting many of its members at CoG's MerryMeet in Amherst, MA, in 2006.

In the early '80s, Bone and Anna Korn co-taught a wonderful course in herbs and plants. In addition to learning specific plants and their uses for healing, dyeing, and such, we went on local herb walks and we created potions and salves and dyed eggs with natural dyes.

Bone had a huge loom in her living room upon which she wove all manner of wonderful cloth. For the direct action at Lawrence Livermore Labs at the maybe Brigit of 198? she created an open weaving into which demonstrators wove flowers, photographs, and other things; then we stretched the web across the road to the lab. It was for this demonstration that Starhawk wrote the chant, "We are the flow, we are the ebb, we are the weavers, we are the web."[CORRECTION] As we sang, a group of policemen on motorcycles tried to destroy the web by driving through it. Well, you know how strong webs are. Instead of rending the web, the cops became entangled in it. Our late friend Sequoia approached the officers and with profuse apologies tried to disentangle the cops, and their guns, from the weaving. Eventually we managed to toss the weaving over the fence separating lab property from the rest of Livermore, where it was charged to do its work.

For one Midsummer action at Livermore, Bone and I took lots of home-fried chicken and other food and designer coffee, with linens for the picnic table, to the park where the direct activists were camping. That night we burned a glorious wicker man. I especially remember Sequoia and me stripped to the waist, sweating, and dancing up the fire that was baking the sacred loaf.[3] Bone and I had young children at home so we weren't planning to be arrested; we came to do magic outside lab property and to support those who risked arrest.

At the very first MerryMeet[4] in 1981, CoG produced, at Rodeo Beach, we Holy Terrors offered a ritual as our contribution to the event. Called the Wheel of the Year, it featured one HT for each of the eight sabbats, with Meg Granito leading in introductory meditation and my late husband, Rod Wolfer, drumming. Needless to say, our Bone was the Hag of Winter.[5]

In 1984, at Harbin Hot Spring, California, where MerryMeet was produced by Glenn Turner as the first Ancient Ways Festival[6], Bone, Sharon Devlin,[7] and I created a ritual we called "Kali, the Terrible Mother, and Other Dark Goddesses." The reason I know it was in 1984 is because that's the year Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was released, and that film was one of the instigations for our doing the ritual. All three of us are devotées of the Dark Mother. Sharon in particular was offended at the portrayal of Kali in that movie. We decided She needed a proper revival.

We set the rite out in a triangle around a bonfire under old oaks in the middle of a meadow at the witching hour of midnight. Sean Folsom accompanied us for parts of the ritual on a thighbone trumpet. The late Paul Ehrhorn beat a huge Middle Eastern drum.

We began with Bone, dressed in white, leading celebrants into trance by evoking many bone-white goddesses, like Skadi. As she spoke, I carried an iron cauldron from person to person and had them reach inside and take a bone. (Bone had gotten lots of animal bones from a butcher.) They held these bones while she spoke.

Following Bone, I, dressed in red, spoke of many bloodier goddesses, Sharon passed around a skull chalice[8] containing pomegranate juice for each person to take a sip. Many were completely convinced that the cup contained blood.

Finally, Sharon, in black (big surprise), led celebrants deeper into the mysteries of the Dark Mother.

Then we three, all of whose faces had been veiled in our respective colors up to that point, lined up -- Bone, Macha, Sharon -- and, waving our arms up and down holding in our hands Kali's tools of flaying knife, skull, and other implements, swept off our veils, amidst shrieking, blast of thighbone trumpet, thunder of giant drum. We began a Kali chant --

Jai Ma Kali! Jai Ma Kali! Jai Ma Kali! Jai Ma Jai!
Jai Ma Kali! Jai Ma Kali! Jai Ma Kali! Jai Ma Jai!
Jai Ma! Jai Ma! Jai Ma! Jai Ma!
Jai Ma! Jai Ma! Jai Ma! Jai Ma!

over and over again, as each person passed through the tunnel made of our three sets of spread legs and emerged reborn.

After everyone had passed through, we refilled the skull chalice, only this time, in order to facilitate the return of the celebrants to a mundane state of consciousness, we poured in milk and salt. Ick, right? It did the trick.

Oh, the stories I heard afterward from people who participated! Sequoia, who was traveling in India at the time, even heard of it there from someone here. Evidently, it was quite effective. The chant we used has been widely shared around the California Pagan scene and beyond.

In 1987 MerryMeet was again held California, this time at Camp Swig in Saratoga. We were asked to reprise "Kali, the Terrible Mother," except that Sharon had moved and was unable to come, so Bone and I recruited Sequoia to complete our triad. This time Sophia Sparks created a stunning central altar around the bonfire, using lots of bones found in the wild, and we had different musicians. Sequoia had brought home from Bali three demon masks in our three colors.[9] We wore these masks on the backs of our heads, with the veils covering our faces in the front until the time when we unveiled.

When were were dressing for the ritual in the women's shower room, we conscripted a lovely red-haired woman who'd come inside to use the facilities and solicited her help in arranging and fastening our costumes. I remember that in our state of gearing up to perform the rite we were rather demanding. Yet she took it all in good spirits and helped us. Later I learned that our helper was Tarot authority Mary Greer.

By all accounts, this ritual also gave participants a powerful experience. This happened to be during a time when California was being devastated by wildfires. Some people claimed that we should not have performed our ritual because it was exacerbating the fires. Pffft!

Another story about Bone concerns the multicolored weaving she made for magical use in our coven. Mainly, we placed those in need of healing upon the weaving, which we called a magic carpet. One Tuesday night I arrived at coven in a state of agitation. I had just left fighting with my husband at home. My HT sisters insisted I sit upon the magic carpet and chill. We got to some idle chat about Craft names. I had been reading about Macha, and having just been in a state with Rod, I said, "I feel like Macha tonight!" From then on that was what they called me, and it still is.

For some time, when I was living in North Beach and Bone was working nearby on Russian Hill, she would come by most afternoons for coffee and conversation.

There are stories of Bone and some of us other HTs when we went to a Pagan festival in the Oakland Hills produced by the late Gwydion Penderwen and Stephan Abbott.

I could go on and on with stories about things Bone and I shared, but this is plenty to give readers an idea of the woman she was. Besides, some stories cannot be shared publicly.

I invite others who knew Bone to share stories on this blog so all of us may know better the wicked Witch who was Beth Bone Blossom.

My heart goes out to Jim, Silas, Guthrie, Bone's grandson Santino, and all her many, many loved ones who will miss her boney self. In love may she return again.

RHTH, Bone!


[1] We were nine, of whom only six remain alive today. The other departed Holy Terrors are Meg Granito and Judith Johnson.

[2] There is a scene on a beach in Marin County in Cerridwen's book, The Heart of the Fire, describing a shared experience with Bone, me and a few others.

[3] It was at that point that Sequoia finally recognized me as a Witch and not just a legal secretary, so she told me.

[4] CoG had been having annual Grand Councils since its founding in 1975, but its first MerryMeet festival happened the year I joined, 1981.

[5] Somewhere I have a snapshot of the ten of us in costume. I'll try to find it and scan it and publish it here.

[6] Caveat: I remember that Glenn Turner and Greg Harder produced that MM/AW festival, but I'm not entirely sure if it was at that one or a later one when we did this ritual.

[7] See the chapter "Interview with a Modern Witch" in Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon (1979).

[8] Yes, a real human skull, from somewhere in the Himalayas, and a real thighbone trumpet, too. We can save the discussion of the ethics of using such an object for another time.

[9] This night she died, Sequoia asked Rev. Jim to find these masks and give them to me, but he didn't find them then and doesn't seem to have found them yet. I promise to put them to good use when they come to me.

[CORRECTION] Here's an example of how the folk process, and individuals' memories, work. Starhawk informs me that she is not the author of the "We are the flow" chant; it was written by the late Shekinah Mountainwater. For two Livermore actions in 1982 Starhawk wrote "Rise With the Fire" and "We Are the Power in Everyone," the latter being for Summer Solstice. My apologies for my mistake.

16 comments:

Reya Mellicker said...

Thank you for this beautiful tribute. No one knows more about the veil, than you.

What is remembered, lives.

Traci said...

Thank you for this Macha. May we honor and remember all our teachers. xoxo Rayna

C said...

I am of Ouroborous Isis Gnosis... we have always held Bone at the heart of our coven... She was our procreatrix...I came to ObIG long after she had returned to California so I feel infinitely fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend time with her when she came east a few years ago. To break bread with members of ObIG and our coven mother was a very special blessing and memory.

One of the legacies she left with our coven is the a non-hierarchical structure. We do not have a high priest or high priestess... Each of us is a 'leaderful' dedicant. That resonates powerfully with the identity of ObIG - we have always been a 'get in there and get your hands dirty' kind of group.

That we still exist nearly 30 years after she came to Connecticut is a powerful testament of the magickal roots she sowed.

May the air carry your spirit gently
May the fire release your soul
May the water cleanse you and wash you clean of pain
May the Earth receive you into the arms of the Mystery
May the Wheel turn again and bring you to rebirth...

Catherine La Forza

Rowan Fairgrove said...

Thank you for the memories. Those were some amazing rituals that the Holy Terrors created. I remember the 1981 ritual at Rodeo Beach very well and that was where Beth and I first became friends. She was a beautiful priestess and a strong woman who brought thoughtful insights and joyous times to me and to many others. May she be born again to love and magic and community.

chuck 2.0 said...

Bone changed my life in the early 80s with her classes on the Spiral Dance philosophy and practice. When those classes ended, we formed Ouroborous, and what a ride it has been ever since. The barakas she gave us has been passed on to many young Witches. Her teachings form the "bones" of our rituals, no matter what the content. She is forever alive in the WORK she did, and our lives she influenced.

Pagan In Paradise said...

Thank You Macha,

It is posts like this that become part of the recorded history of Witchcraft. With no "official" record for the community it is up to Elders like yourself to pass on all that has gone before.

Tonight I will honor this elder and your friend.

Love,

Peter D.

Carol Maltby said...

Your stories and tributes create a feeling of a strong, powerful woman.

For those of us who never met Bone, you've gifted us with a sense of her complexity, the sense of someone whose flowering in your lives was but a small part of someone with deep, deep roots in the wild and in the earth.

We stand with you in your loss. May your memories of Bone, and your passing on of her wisdom resonate through all the worlds.

Anne Hill said...

I remember being thrilled to see Bone at Matt Fox's University of Creation Spirituality in 2000, when we were both pursuing doctorates there. I had met her years earlier at a party at Black Cat (Rose's birthday? Winter Solstice?). Wasn't it you who told me she was at UCS, Macha? It was so great to have someone else from the early Reclaiming milieu there to share the UCS experience with. We definitely felt a kinship.

The last time I saw Beth was at Pantheacon, 1 or 2 years ago. We had an email exchange recently, but I wish I'd stayed in closer touch. Thanks for your wonderful reminiscences, Macha. What is remembered, lives.

Deryl said...

Thank you for this wonderful piece of Herstory. I never had the great pleasure of meeting Bone. Through your words I feel her greatness and hope to meet her in the next existence. The rites you had together and the sharing she and you have done in the community will live forever. One day I plan on visiting the Bay area and hope that I too may experience the spiritual greatness there. Nothing really dies as long as the story remains. Blessing to all those who remain behind for one day you will be reunited.

Deryl Self

Amaya WyntirRayne said...

Wow...as a nurse who just spent her weekend shifts caring for 3 patients in the process of passing on, I must say that your tribute to Bone is amazing. I see life end weekly and how simply it is 'deleted' as a dietary staffer told me...all he does when a pt. passes is look them up in his computer and hit 'delete'--it becomes as if they never existed. Is that really all the pt meant to anybody? If everyone got a beautiful tribute like yours to Bone, life would be truly granted meaning and substance. I feel I know Bone even though I was only born in 1976 myself and am a relatively new witch! What an amazing friend you are! ~and an incredible breath of hope and fresh air to a nurse who is much more accustomed to seeing life snuffed out versus celebrated.

Starhawk said...

Thanks so much, Macha, for posting these beautiful memories!
Bone Blossom and I taught together many times. When she was on the East Coast, she often organized workshops that we co-led. She had a remarkable ability to work a full-time job, raise her two boys as a single Mom, pursue her creativity and still organize and teach magic and Goddess spirituality. Probably my favorite memory of her was from her initiation: we had sent her down to the beach and told her to wait for us, dressed in full Witches' regalia, cloak and pointy hat. And there she sat, highly visible with quiet aplomb, for several hours since we were, as usual, a bit late.
Your post brings back the excitement and wild creativity of those early years. Bone Blossom was such a big part of it all. I am so deeply saddened by her death, and will hold her memory sweet and sacred. My love to her boys, Silas and Guthrie, her husband Jim and grandson Santino. In love may she return again!

Tara Shakti-Ma said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kyther said...

I am apprecitive of the stories of Beth Bone Bolssom. I have been a friend and lover of hers since 2007 and we enjoyed some rich times together. In our time togther I have heard some of the stories of the time period you describe and I love the detail that you add to my memory of her. When I met her, we were in relationship immediately and I share a deep friendship with her husband Jim. In the last four we shared many adventures and we enhanced each other's lives significantly. As I write this on Sunday evening 2/27, her family and friends are celebrating her life. Spirit guided me to this website at this moment and I am honored to add my piece to the celebration of her life.
Merry meet again,
Kyther

Kyther said...

Hello again. This is to clairfy the deleted post above - by Tara Shakti-Ma. I was on her account when I wrote my piece and didn't realize the title line came up with her name until after I posted. Deleting my post from her account didn't delete the sender line. Sorry for any confusion.
Kyther

Unknown said...

Wow! I must inform all of you who don't know me, that I am sitting here bawling my eyes out. I had been searching for Beth for years now...ever since I lost her when she moved from San Feancisco to Conneticutt in 1980 or so. You see...Beth was my best friend from childhood era in Little Rock. let me explain ---- All of you, I presume, know her well enough that when I speak of some of the things I'm about to speak of, you'll know that I'm for real.

I first met Beth when she was a sophomore at Hall High School, and I was a Junior at Central. We sorta "fell for each other", even though it was forbidden. LOL sounds like her, right? It was that way because I am a Black American. The only way we could talk to each other was she'd call me around 10pm when her parents were asleep. My parents loved her, too, so we talked on the phone. Of course, we'd see each other when we had meetings, or conducted a sit-in. Her brother knew about our friendship. She joined the Arkansas Youth Counsel On Human Relations where I was the chairman. Now, Daisy Bates and company were mentoring us then, but Beth was a real trooper, literally putting her life in danger just being part of the group. Nontheless, we were the best of friends!

Am I surprised that she led the life described here? Hell no! That's who she was...as brilliant as she was, she'd make anything work. Yea, she made a mistake with the South America thingy, but Silas was her biggest joy. I only knew Silas as a young baby boy. I don't know if Silas will remember me, though.

I've been looking for my girl since I got remarried in 1983. I wanted her to share in my joy and happiness. My wife (a Navajo Indian) and I have raised two wonderful children, my youngest just graduating from the United States Naval Academy in May. She also just got married in June on the Navajo reservation in Arizona. I wanted so much to share all of this good fortune with my friend, Beth.

Damn...None of you can know how much I miss my friend...I am so saddened to know she was sick, and has passed. I, too had cancer, and died (for 10 minutes) from a staph infection while undergoing chemo treatment.

Please, if any of you want to share anything about Beth with me, I can be contacted very easily. My name is Kenneth (Ken) Robinson, a 1965 graduate of LR Central, a basketball All-American in high school and college.

Jim, Don't misunderstand this...I loved Beth....I have never loved anyone else as such...She was my friend, forever! If you know BFF, Beth and I invented the concept.

My email addresses are KENROB47@HOTMAIL.COM, ROBENT@WEST.NET and KRR.ROBENT@GMAIL.COM. Hit me up about Beth, and head the email with her name, in case my anti-spam program catches it.

LOVE YOU FOREVER, BETH!!!!

Cybele said...

Cybele said...

I remember Beth from early Reclaiming days with great fondness. I am sad to hear of her passing - I had heard no news of her for years but still feel a thread. I have always thought that Bone Blossom is a beautiful name.

Macha I well recall that Kali ritual at Harbin - it was so powerful for me, drinking in the red and the white in the darkness. I often think of it when musing over rituals. Thank you for your stories about Beth and the Holy Terrors.

"They will remain
when we rreturn
the wind will blow, and the fire will burn:

May her spirit thrive on the Isle of Apples