Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A gathering (or two) of goddesses

One festival helps you get in touch with your inner goddess, the other takes you on seven 'out-of-the-box' adventures

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In 2010, they summoned the lusty warrior spirit of Freya, fair-haired Norse goddess of love and fertility.

In 2011, they invoked the life-giving lunar energies of Isis, raven-haired Egyptian goddess of motherhood and magic.

This year, organizers of the third-annual Manitoba Goddess Festival are making a hook-nosed, hunchbacked old hag the symbolic guest of honour at their three-day celebration of the divine feminine.

You might know her as the evil, child-eating witch from Hansel and Gretel but she is Baba Yaga, Slavic crone goddess of death and transformation. And she wants you to get in touch with your dark side.

"She's the grandmother figure who doesn't let you get away with stuff," says Jolie Lesperance, co-organizer of the arts and culture festival -- only one of its kind in Canada -- taking place this weekend on a St. Norbert farm.

"She's the one who says 'Open the door to the skeletons in your closet and look at them and acknowledge that your darkness is a part of your light and you need to bring the two together to bring yourself to wholeness.'"

Festival-goers will have plenty of opportunities for inner exploration -- as well as outer expression -- with a full slate of ceremonies, workshops, performers and speakers aimed at building transformative, spiritual and creative community.

And as Lesperance makes clear, you need not possess a pair of X chromosomes in order to get your goddess on.

The festival is meant to be an open and safe environment in which to honour the divine feminine, she says, which does not pertain to gender so much as those qualities -- intuition, receptivity, nurturance -- typically associated with females but which we all have.

"Honouring the divine feminine does not conflict with the divine masculine," says Lesperance. "It's just about bringing our humanity back into balance. So the female needs to be honoured, because for so long we've lived in a patriarchal structure."

Goddess worship is an ancient and integral part of human spirituality. Long before the patriarchal religions began to suppress women, goddesses -- the feminine aspect of all things, in fact -- was considered sacred. The Virgin Mary is the most famous goddess here in the West.

The underlying philosophy is that if both women and men awaken and embrace their inner feminine power, the world will be a much more balanced and harmonious place.

The festival was conceived with a plan to honour a different female deity each year, and to celebrate the goddess in all her facets and forms -- maiden, mother and crone, light and dark.

Baba Yaga is all about the latter.

In Slavic folklore, she flies around in a giant mortar, using a pestle to row through the air and broom made of human hair to sweep away any signs of her passing. She lives in the darkest recess of the primeval forest in a hut that stands on a pair of chicken legs and twirls and whirl as it pleases. Her teeth of made of iron -- for eating children.

But for those willing to undertake the heroine's journey depicted in the Russian fairytale Vasilisa the Beautiful -- kind of a female version of Joseph Campbell's model - Baba Yaga is the wise and evolved guide.

She is said to embody the "wild woman," and through her, we also face the dark and wild aspects of ourselves, Lesperance says.

Festival participants will be able to connect with her transformative, healing energies at Baba Yaga's Hut -- "a personal transformative space for shadow work."

They'll also be able to explore and celebrate their own divine -- and wild -- feminine nature at a broom-making workshop and an interactive storytelling workshop, by singing in a goddess choir, participating in an aromatic chakra meditation and learning how to harness the healing power of plants and create rituals.

The festival kicks off at 4 p.m. Friday. At 11 p.m., participants will be invited to write down on a piece of paper an aspect of themselves that no longer serves their higher purpose and burn it in Baba Yaga's sacred fire for transformation. Closing ceremonies take place at noon on Sept. 3.

These Goddesses are fearless

Not all goddesses are female deities who lived in ancient times. Some are modern-day, female mortals who just happen to have a divine sense of adventure.

If that sounds like you -- an open-minded, gutsy and energetic woman over 30 who prefers to write her own myth -- you may want to sign up for Maureen Scurfield's Fall Goddess Adventures.

The series of seven weekly sessions will take participants on educational, experiential, "out-of-the-box" adventures where they boldly go where they've never gone before.

That might be a Bollywood dance class, zip-lining in the Pembina Valley, a psychic reading, a visit to a Hindu temple, a Q & A with a dominatrix or creating psychedelic explosions in the sky with Archangel Fireworks.

"I decided it had to be something that took women a little bit out of their comfort zones," says Scurfield (a.k.a. Miss Lonelyhearts), who started offering the classes in 2008. This year there will be two separate groups: on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They're open to women who are single, married or anything in between.

The new pantheon of Winnipeg goddesses can look forward to activities such as black-light glow archery, recording a demo in a real music studio, an urban car rally, milking goats, ultragliding in Steinbach, learning about aphrodisiacs and Q & As with people of, um, "unusual sexual lifestyles."

There's only one rule: "You don't have to do every activity we learn about, but you do have to learn all about it and support all the goddess sisters who try it," the head goddess says.

White flowing robes and floral headdress not required.

"The thing about being a goddess is nothing to do with how you look or what you wear -- you can come in your nurse's uniform," Scurfield says, "but it has to do with how you treat the other women in the group. We try to be 100 per cent supportive of each other."

Fall Goddess Adventures are $199 for the seven weeks, plus occasional event fees.

For more information, call 474-1116.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 28, 2012 C1

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