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.