by Eliza Riggs
I tripped upon Four Quarters quite accidentally, by way of advertisement you might say. And reading the Wheel of the Year Calendar provided me with mind’s-eye images of what I might expect. A Hippie Haven in southern Pennsylvania? An Interfaith Sanctuary? A farm? A camp? A commune? I did not know, but I was very curious and whatever Four Quarters turned out to be, I believed was worth exploring. And like anything else, I knew I would have to experience Four Quarters to find its truth.
As a first-time newbie in early 2003, I fully intended to spend as much of my teacher’s summer vacation as I could at Four Quarters. And I was told by the smiling faces at registration that if I did, I would surely be a different person by the end of the season, with “The Season” referring to the Moon Services and events that begin in May with Beltaine and end in late October with Samhain. I listened closely and thought this promise might prove true, but how or to what extent I couldn’t know. I did know that I had already seen a great deal and had done a great deal in my 40 years. I had prided myself in identifying problems, figuring the best solution, and then putting the equation to work. I was skilled at overcoming obstacles, and now it appeared I was obstacle free. I had a good job, nice home, dependable transportation, good friends and many, many cats. But I could see I was lacking something. I hadn’t a clue what that something was or where to find it, or I would have already sought it out. The thing I was lacking was not obvious, although I knew it figured largely in the way I viewed the world. “Unfulfilled” may be the best way to describe the way I felt, and as a teacher I had supposedly the most fulfilling job in the world. I needed answers; answers to questions I didn’t know how to ask.
The season began quietly, yet invitingly with a small Moon Service; the setting beautiful and the people very open. And although I was not overwhelmed by that first Service, it did show me that there were many aspects to the full Four Quarters picture that were not part of my first “mind’s eye” images. My curiosity tweaked, I knew I would continue to attend Moon Services and other Farm events to get a more detailed view of what was happening at Four Quarters. To my benefit, I began spending a fair amount of time at the Farm on weekends and was fortunate enough to quickly realize that the Farm was much more than a Moon Service twice a month. I saw that a Moon Service here and there might be all one person is looking for, just as one big event might satisfy another. But I was looking for more, and was pleased to find a number of people I could communicate with openly about my family, work, religion, and pretty much anything I had an interest in. One of the things I was impressed by was that no one was attempting to impress their beliefs on me. With Four Quarters as an Interfaith Sanctuary, differences and individual thoughts are encouraged. In fact, there is open enjoyment of our differences. And now the season was really beginning.
Drum and Splash was the first event that led me to believe I had tripped upon my spiritual awakening. I certainly did not feel I was at a campground in rural Pennsylvania when I sat at a fire circle surrounded by the beating of African drums and the dancing of feet from many cultures. My previous Independence Day celebrations involved city parks, fireworks, parades, cookouts, and other party favors. In a sense, Drum and Splash was again all of these things. It had a different flavor, however, than any earlier Fourth of July celebration I had attended. The city park became a campground for Interfaith Religions, where people of all backgrounds and all ages are welcome. The fireworks were still fireworks as the bursts of sound turned into explosions of light. The small town parade with its fire trucks and high school bands became a parade of fire dancers and a dragon dancing through the High Meadow of Four Quarters. The cookout with hotdogs and hamburgers became a feast of roasted pig and corn on the cob. And lastly, the party favors I was accustomed to became drummers, dancing, and fire circles. As I look back to this Fourth of July celebration, I must use the words, culture, class, and celebration. I learned a basic concept of, and connection to, the magic of Fire Circle. And I also took a new appreciation for dance, and a knowing that music lives within us even after our feet and our voices go silent. But what really struck me was the incredible work and teamwork that goes on behind the scenes to make an event like this happen. After Drum and Splash at Four Quarters, I was feeling a great respect for the Staff who made this extraordinary experience possible for me.
Espiritu Santo would be the next event I attended, and it had a profound impact upon me. At the onset, I couldn’t see any possible similarities between me, a West Virginia Eliza Doolittle, and the “eggun” whos and the “baba” whats. After the opening Etanna Eggun, or “Light a Candle for Your Ancestors” ceremony, I felt a confusing draw to the religion. It was unlike any organized religious ceremony I had previously witnessed or been a part of. With the scent of cigar smoke and the smell of rum, the Santerians hit their Eggun sticks upon the ground to call upon their departed ancestors. With singing, dancing, and drumming, the Santerians called out to those that went before them. The following day, I attended a friend’s Entrada, where she received her first initiation. I wept as I witnessed true sacrifice and watched as we reverently gave back to the land. I raised my hands in praise as I felt my deceased father touch my soul. As I felt the presence of God as strongly as I had ever felt his presence before, I knew He-She had many faces and forms. As spirit filled the air, I knew my realities were changing.
I felt I was becoming aware as I progressed through my season at Four Quarters. Things were becoming obvious to me, that I had been oblivious to moments earlier. Body Tribal encouraged me to think of human history, my history. Stones, Bones and the heart beat of the Tribe. The ancient history of mankind is certainly nothing new, but it was new to my thoughts. As the celebrants of the main ceremony ritually painted themselves and the drumming and fires got underway, I felt connected to my ancestors of long ago, to their campfires, to their customs, and to their realities. The distance of thousands of years was foreshortened and connections were made. History filled the pages of any art text or social studies course I had studied, but never before had I made the connection to my human history that I made at Body Tribal.
My experience of Stones Rising at Four Quarters is one simple word. Family. I have always been a hard worker, a quality learned from my parents. I have also been very prideful in doing things by myself and found it a weakness to ask for help. The only help I would ever ask for would be from my family, and only in extreme cases. At Stones Rising, and on other occasions at the Farm, I have learned that I can also be a stronger person in asking for help. Again my realities were changing. Where asking for help was a big deal to me, I never considered it to be a weakness in others. But you know what? Strength can be found in imperfection, and a lesson to be learned with age. And how has Stones Rising helped me with this? Think of what one person can do, and imagine what many people can do. And then do it. That is what Stones Rising is about. A 4-ton stone, up a hill, with a rope, in the dark. It sounded impressive enough, and looked impressive to see the 20 odd Stones in a circle. But to be a part of it was worth more money than I had to pay for the mere registration fee. I could have spent 5 times the money going to a therapist, or a spa, or whatever feel-good route I could think of, and not have gotten the personal satisfaction, cleansing, gratification, and spiritual high that I experienced at Stones Rising. I nearly tripped over a tiny spot of a woman who was pulling in front of me. Usually, I don’t like people in my way. I have been a one-woman show and ‘please don’t be in my road.’ But that day, that day at Stones, I was part of a community. That tiny spot of a woman had my heart, as did every puller, onlooker, dancer, and torchbearer. I had a bit part in a major production that weekend, one of my greatest accomplishments, and I did not do it alone.
And as the season is winding down at Four Quarters, I have not only found a new family, but have come to love and respect my original family with a greater conviction. For me, Four Quarters is about family. It is about the family from our past. It is about the family we have been raised with. And it is about the family we become a part of, because of experience and by choosing. Indeed, Four Quarters has not changed me, it has awakened me. At the age of 40, I feel I truly have opened the door to the second half of my life on earth. And as I open the door, the expanse is vast and full of possibilities.