Thursday, December 22, 2011


As a child Christmas was my favorite time of year. Seeing the houses in the neighborhood decorated, helping my parents decorate our house. Watching my father hang the lights on the outside of the house, my father always insisted on getting the largest tree he could find and singing carols as we added all the decorations to the tree. As a teen, when I got my first job at a Hallmark Store in Lenox Mall, I had a love/hate relationship with Christmas. Because going to work I had to deal with last minute shoppers who were pissed off we didn’t have the exact card they wanted, even though we had had the Christmas cards out for two months prior. It was then that I vowed to do my shopping early in the year, so that by the time December rolls around all I have to do is get stocking stuffers. After three years and six months in that particular environment and almost ten years in retail in general, I became very bitter about the over commercialization of the Holidays. This feels to me to be the ultimate example of American greed, overindulgence and unruly children that the rest of the world dislikes us for. But that is a topic for another day.

I remember when I was a child raised in a Pentecostal household; it was drilled into my head that Christmas is not about how many presents are under the tree, but about the birth of Jesus Christ. Although I could never understand what a pine tree had to do with the birth of a baby, but I didn’t really question it. I knew not to expect a mountain of gifts because it may not always be possible. (This was also the time of year I was taught the value of a dollar.) Of course my parents tried to spoil me whenever they could. So naturally when I would wake up Christmas morning I would find, what seemed my little eyes, a ton of presents and an overflowing stocking. As I got older and harder to shop for, the prizes (as my in-laws like to call them) were fewer but still pretty awesome, and I was happy to have gotten anything at all.

The last Christmas I spent with my parents before they split was in 2004. I was a sophomore in college and the economy was taking its turn south. The prosperity my father had experienced as a contractor in the previous years was dwindling fast. It had been a really rough year and at the time I didn’t know how hard my parents were struggling to make ends meet. I remember talking to my parents on the pay phone in the breezeway, and hearing the hesitation in my mother’s voice when she was telling me about the money situation. How they were having a hard time getting the rest of my tuition for the up-coming semester. I knew they felt terrible about it. So, I told them not to worry, the college had been there for 120 years and wasn’t going anywhere. I could always go back to school, and that Christmas was just another day. I don’t need a shower of gifts to know that they love me. There was a pause on the other line; I could hear the shock in my mother’s voice. She could not believe that I could have said that. To be perfectly honest, once I was old enough to understand the commercialization of Christmas I didn’t want to buy into it anymore. I would much rather hang out with The Krampus then with Santa Claus.

Since then, I have had the honor of spending Christmas with my friends, roommates and their families. This has really revived my holiday spirit, seeing how kind and willing they are to welcome me into their homes and family traditions is a truly heartwarming experience. I have been doing some searching over the years, trying to find where my spiritual heart lies. Yuletide / Winter Solstice is a time to fill the house with warming scents of cinnamon and ginger, as bake cookies, breads and pies, to share with family and friends. Of course there may still be a prize or two under the tree! whichever one you celebrate, I hope everyone has a fantastic Holiday Season!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Video Blog #11: Terra Mysterium's Winter Gala

Terra Mysterium presents a series of behind-the-scenes videos exploring who we are and our creative process.

This week, our company presents our 2011 Winter Gala benefit: a special Yuletide performance of our Snow Queen version of "Betwixt & Between: A Journey into Faery."  Meet your hosts, the Fae, share in the Faery Feast, and share in our community.

Have any questions you'd like answered in a future video? Leave them in comments. We hope you enjoy the video!

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Inner Harvest

It’s just after Samhain, but not yet Yule; the leaves are all but gone from the trees, their life force moving down into the earth and inward into themselves. Down and inward to sleep, heal and rejuvenate, the trees in their perfect way herald the beginnings of Dream Time.

Contemplative and introspective, this in-between time at the end of Harvest is one of readying and reflection. In the quiet and stillness that comes after the feasting; in the moment after taking stock and stocking up, preparing for the coming cold and dark of winter, lies an opportunity to reflect on where we’ve been the past year – and what we have now as a result. Provisioned with this priceless knowledge, we begin to playfully visualize possibilities for our future.

We take the time to look truthfully at what remains of the season’s harvest; what is actually there must take us into – and sustain us through – our Dream Time. Questions arise that might prove uncomfortable, but are nonetheless realistic: is what we’ve harvested enough to get us through? Are its final seeds strong and plentiful, that we may place our trust in them to grow, when planted, into what we hope they will be? We must be honest with ourselves in our assessments; always remembering that it is our own judgment – and not those of others – that will prove the most reliable. It is a private time; rewarding in its teaching and renewing in its promise.

At the end of this season we, in time with the trees, go inward to perform our Inner Harvest. We take the joys, trials and memories of the past year and wrap them lovingly, comfortingly around us as we anticipate the possibility found in our dreams, sparked by the inspiration of starlit crystal night skies. We find faith in what we’ve gathered, and hope in our Dream Time.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Season of Giving

As a community, we speak often of Energy Exchange.

Terra Mysterium's Winter Gala BenefitIn art, as I touched upon earlier, meaning emerges from the exchange between the artist and the audience. Art is not created in a vacuum, and arguably can’t be, as that interchange between an artist’s vision and intent, and the history, experience, and perception an audience member brings to her viewing, are both vital components of the end result.

Beyond meaning, this energy exchange goes even further. Artists create because they can’t not create. Bringing meaning into the world through art is their mission in life, and they cannot be satisfied with a life that excludes this. Without their art a restlessness would drive them; no matter what “day job” they maintain to pay the bills, their evenings and weekends are filled with creation. Passion drives them, and art and meaning are what they contribute to community and to the world. This is our community service.

We also speak about sustainability.

Speaking of Energy Exchange: in physics, there is the law of Conservation of Energy, a consequence of which is that it’s impossible to create something from nothing. The same could be said of art; it doesn’t pop into being spontaneously and instantaneously, but comes about from the artist’s personal investment of time, energy, thought, emotions, and materials. Artists pour a lot of themselves into their work in order to bring meaning to the world; and they do it because this is the gift that they have to give to the world.

This comes at a cost. If a person has value, then so does her time, her ideas, and her energy. And more mundanely, materials and resources cost money. Rehearsal and performance space, costumes, props, time invested in crafting and rehearsing a song that cannot be invested in paid work, postcards, travel, lodging. Many people may be unaware that our performers almost never get paid for performing. Our ticket sales cover the cost of mounting the show; if there is anything left over, it may amount to $20 each – for six weeks of rehearsal and two to five performances. Festival performances are typically unpaid, which we bring as our service and contribution to our community. Our performers may even be required to pay for our own travel, lodging, and entry fees; and for some of us, it is an impossible, unsustainable financial burden... especially at this moment in history.

The Winter Gala

Terra Mysterium's Winter Gala Benefit
On December 3 we will bring you an evening of community, entertainment, and – we hope you agree – meaning, as an Energy Exchange with our community to create a sustainable model of bringing art and meaning into the world. Like many small performance companies, we rely on community support for our continued existence. We want to continue to bring you the art that you love; to do that we need to do so in a sustainable way, one that can draw from a company fund for operating expenses, instead of relying on insufficient personal resources. We hope you will support us. Your ticket purchase now not only pays for an evening’s entertainment, but continued festival performances, stage shows, songwriting, and the sharing of meaning.

We give you our passion because we love it, we need to, we can’t not. Please help us continue to do so.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Slowing Time

Fall is one of my favorite seasons. The colors of the leaves, the crispness in the air, warm scents of cinnamon, ginger and clove. The promise of pumpkin or sweet potato pies set my soul (and inner child) aglow with blissful giddiness. I find that this is when I turn back and assess the previous months of the year, what goals I had set up for myself and what did I actually accomplish and how will I achieve the rest. I feel very reflective this time of year, not just because this is the month of my birth and emergence into this world, but because this is the time that we stop and think of all the things that we are most thankful for. We can step outside of ourselves and really take a good hard look at our lives. How much we are able to achieve in a year's time. To truly appreciate our families, friends, jobs, homes, social experiences and all of the people and things in our lives that we take for granted.

One of these things for me personally is time. I always think that I will have time and yet I find that am always floundering, wondering where the time went to. I realized this when I had said to a friend “How is it November already, wasn’t it July two weeks ago?” “How did I miss three months?” “Time is flying by.” This is when I realize what a fast-paced world we live in. My hardest lesson with this was 3 years ago, when a good friend of mine's sister was struggling with breast cancer. She had been diagnosed in January, she had surgery, and then started chemotherapy. Unfortunately, the chemo was doing more harm than good. She wasn’t responding well to treatment. 

I was at work one day, my friend was meeting her family for dinner after her shift. I saw all of them gathering outside of the store, and thought I should go out say hello and give her a hug. But the store got busy and I figured I would see them later. A day later my friend informed me that her sister had passed during the night. On the day of their mother’s birthday who had passed away a few years previously. While I had dealt with death before, this time was different. I had an opportunity to say goodbye and I didn’t take it because I thought I had time. This past Samhain this event reminded me of the brevity of life and the slippery eel of time. I feel that she shared that lesson with me 3 years later. To appreciate the loved ones in your life while you can, to not take the life we have on this earth for granted. 

So, spending time with those we care about, and staying in touch with old friends (and new ones) is an important thing. It is something we should think about all the time. Not just at the holiday season and yet every year at this time, I find myself thinking about the people who might have slipped through the cracks in my life. The important message of the holidays is to slow down and enjoy your family and friends, spending quality time with your loved ones. So try not to get too stressed over finding the “perfect” present. Give a homemade handcrafted gift from the heart, a plate of cookies, a thoughtful handmade card. Or if you feel you should purchase something, try to support your community by shopping locally this holiday season. Enjoy the time you have, for the future is not promised.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


Terra Mysterium is so pleased to announce that The Chicago College of Healing Arts, located at 1622 West Devon (View a Map) will be hosting A Special Yuletide Benefit Performance of our very popular, Snow Queen Version of Betwixt and Between, a Journey into Faery  

On Saturday, December 3, 2011 at 7:00 PM.

We are also sharing with you a Silent Auction with an array of tantalizing items.

There will also be a delectable Faery Feast!  Sample treats from our Wood Elf, Will-o-the-Wisp, Woodwose, Green Man, Undine and Sprite.

We also have a very special surprise awaiting you!

Amy Christensen and Shannah Lessa have been working hard on a brand-new Terra Mysterium script for 2012 in the Steampunk StyleBenefit Guests will be the first to preview this thrilling alchemical show filled with mystery, dark romance and transmutation.

There is Limited Seating!

RSVP today to secure your entrance into our Faery World.

General Admission: $30.00
Be our Guest for Betwixt and Between, Peruse our Silent Auction, and Enjoy our Faery Feast

Notable Admission: $40.00
Be our Guest for Betwixt and Between, Peruse our Silent Auction, and Enjoy our Faery Feast with Red or White Wine Personally Served to you by one of our Fae

VIP Admission: $50.00
Be our Guest for Betwixt and Between, Peruse our Silent Auction, Enjoy our Faery Feast with Red or White Wine Personally Served to you by one of our Fae, and take home with you a Special Souvenir Package with gifts from Each of our Fae

Reservations with Payment must be received by November 30, 2011

Payment Options:

Use PayPal Now with the Links Below!
Yes!  I RSVP with Purchase of General Admission Tickets

Yes!  I RSVP with Purchase of Notable Admission Tickets

Yes!  I RSVP with Purchase of VIP Admission with my Faery Souvenir Package

I would like to become a Terra Mysterium Sponsor:
I choose to be an Initiate with my Gift of $25.00

I choose to be a Magician with my Gift of $50.00

I choose to be an Adept with my Gift of $75.00

I choose to be an Ipisissimus with my Gift of $100.00

If you would prefer to send a check or money order, please send us a note with the number and levels of Admissions and send to Terra Mysterium c/o to:
Matthew Ellenwood, Artistic Director
4318 North Sheridan Road, Apartment 2A
Chicago, Illinois, 60613-1455

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What is Spiritual Art?

What is spiritual art?  In a way, it’s an odd question for me to answer.  When your worldview incorporates the idea that all things are a manifestation of the Divine, and are thus Divine themselves, there is literally no act that is not spiritual.  The stumbling block that I think many people have – myself included, often enough – is remembering to be aware of the spiritual nature of the act.  We get busy, we’re worried about work or bills, and while we may go through the motions of a daily practice, sometimes we forget to be aware of what it means.

All art can be considered spiritual, as it is a reflection of the artist, her nature, and the Divinity of her nature.  But sometimes that awareness – called “mindfulness” by Buddhists and psychologists – is forgotten.

Mindfulness is a powerful thing. It is built into behavioral therapies to cultivate emotional self-awareness; self-awareness allows for the application of specific coping skills; and this can transform a person’s relationships with other people, by transforming a person’s relationship with herself.  It is, in itself, a form of magic.

Mindfulness gives intuition more freedom to sift and drift and stumble upon insight.  It gives us access to the things we forget about ourselves.  It can slow breathing, relax the body, and reduce stress by instilling a sense of calm.  Trance and journey-work begin by mindfully turning our awareness inward, to the physical processes of our body (breathing, heartbeat), and to the happenings of the mind.

Mindfulness deepens our connection to meaning. And just like art becomes the intersection of the vision of the artist, and the perspective of the audience, so does spiritual art create a shared meaning.  Which can be deepened by approaching it, as creator or viewer, with mindfulness.

By approaching our performances with this conscious and conscientious awareness, Terra Mysterium strives to create an elevated and stronger sense of the meaning of what we do.  In the creating, writing, composing, choreographing, rehearsing, performing, we strive to be mindful of the intent, of what we wish to communicate and how we wish to entertain.  Our creative acts may already be sacred, but remembering that they are is the drive behind crafting spiritual performance.

The other half is you, the audience. Hopefully we inspire you to meet us at that intersection of our vision and your perspective with mindfulness.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Video Blog #10: International Collaboration

Terra Mysterium presents a series of behind-the-scenes videos exploring who we are and our creative process.

This week, Petrucia Finkler shares the challenges and joys of creating with TM while half a world away.

Have any questions you'd like answered in a future video? Leave them in comments. We hope you enjoy the video!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Video Blog #9: Play Development and Script Writing

Terra Mysterium presents a series of behind-the-scenes videos exploring who we are and our creative process.

This week, Petrucia Finkler shares our creative process for collaboratively developing and writing plays.

Have any questions you'd like answered in a future video? Leave them in comments. We hope you enjoy the video!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Samhain: Change and Renewal

The Wheel turns with the steadfastness of Earth; the breath of Air; the spirit of Fire; the passion of Water and the purpose of Spirit. It brings us once again to the Third Harvest – Samhain – a time to let go of the past, reflect and prepare in the present, and take ownership of the future.

Samhain lies on the edge of cyclical time; along with Bealtaine, it sits just outside of it, at a vantage point on the Wheel of the Year where Past, Present and Future are all visible. Samhain is a point of dissolution; it’s ending gateway a preparation for the new made manifest in the present – in the now.

The Cycle of Birth, Death and Rebirth is a familiar mystery to the darktime of Samhain. As Samhain represents the moment of simultaneous change in the Cycle, heralding endings and beginnings, it also signifies the Eternal Purpose: the promise of potential for change and renewal.

Samhain, 2008 – SLW

When all of us in Terra Mysterium decided several months ago to coordinate a calendar rotation for our blog posts, I was already thinking about my October contribution. It seemed an important one; weighty and significant in that, for our community, Samhaintide is the pinnacle of our seasonal observances; it is our New Year – our annual death and rebirth, bursting with passionate culmination and potential. It also marks the time for me in a personal way, through a memory in which my own magickal practice continues to teach me the greatest lesson of my life.

So, I find this opportunity to blog a happy one; it is my chance to return to and remember with reverence a time, only three years ago, when I had a very real brush with mortal death. In September 2008, a quick, potent and devastatingly efficient pneumonia found its way into my lungs through a hole in my Spirit, and brought me to my knees in a stunning realization that my core magickal belief in the power of Connection and Transformation through Intention is indeed an indisputable one. I was reminded, brutally, of my responsibility of Bringing into Being.

By October of that year, during a month-long convalescence alone, I realized that my experiences gained through my illness were sublimely timed. As I slowly healed, I wrote a Samhain ritual for my then-temple members, and against the warnings of my dear friends that I was still physically weak, officiated at the event. It was important that I make manifest my experience in the hopes that by sharing it, I would help others to understand the sometimes frightening, yet wonderful potency of this time.

And as I write this today, I am grateful once again for that chance. I am blessed with a reminder each year at Samhain, which allows me to remember that in this lifetime, I must continually strive to understand the importance of staying on task – in accordance with a personal responsibility to manifest change and renewal.

The Promise of Death – and Life – are woven into each moment. Samhain gives us a unique opportunity to employ the miracles of each to enrich our own life experience.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Costume Imagry

It’s the beginning of the holiday season. It’s that beautiful time of year when the air turns crisp and scents of apple pie drifts on the wind. Our clothing changes towards cozy sweaters and outfits for the upcoming festivities, this seems to fuel the pulse of the world; for even the trees are putting on their party clothes. Don’t you know that they have a party before their long winter sleep? They get pretty wild, the trees. We clean up traces of their dresses for days after their celebration.

The way we dress makes a powerful statement as to who we are. Even the trees are aware of this when they pull out their stops with their “look at me!” leaves in sultry autumn colors. When we walk into a room full of people, unconsciously everything from our color choice and the shapes we have combined come together to help people form an opinion. Our clothes have an answer for a question that hasn’t yet been asked.

Especially in the finite world of a stage performance, a character’s clothes are specifically important. A costume designer has to consider carefully the message the overall image conveys to the audience. Like any art, costuming does have to have fluidity. A true artist must attempt to voice a message in the most boisterous tone, while allowing the audience their own vision. Different individuals, with unique set of circumstances will have different interpretations of the same art form.

Color is particularly open to interpretation. Green is a color particularly favored by Terra Mysterium. With connotations of growing things, images of spring and the environment around us, it is easy to see why green is a favorite for shows featuring the spirits of nature. Green can also imply abundance and vitality as a reference to vast flowing green fields. Did you know though, that in some Eastern philosophy, the power center (most commonly referred to as a chakra) over your heart is green? If your circumstances include this, the color green might suggest love or vulnerability. We can also be “green with envy.” Which suggests that green can be associated with darkness and the more dangerous. This, in Terra Mysterium shows about the unpredictable tendency of nature, is perhaps an appropriate message to convey.

The color red too, also provides multiple messages. It is without question a power color, an anchor.

In the gothic world, enamored of death, black is the favored color. However it was the deep passionate shade of the pomegranate which took center stage in Finding Eluesis. Partly because Terra Mysterium wanted to make a statement about the passion between Persephone and Hades, rather than getting caught up in a dark depiction of the Underworld. Red can also symbolize profound joy.

Shape, is also symbolic. Terra Mysterium is particularly fond of more historic lines. The forms of the Renaissance era which are flowing and constricted at the same time fit our perceptions of those unpredictable nature spirits of which we are so fond. Though truth be told, Terra Mysterium is currently enamored of the Steampunk movement. There is something decidedly alluring about Victorian era clothing done in modern leather and metal. These costumes ask a question: what is being repressed and hidden? And, what is desired?

Truly our hope through our entire art form is to reflect our questions on our audience.

What are you hiding?

What is your secret desire? 

Did you think about that when you got dressed this morning?

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Importance of Pagan Pride

On September 17th, over 500 people attended the Greater Chicago Pagan Pride day gathering at Pleasant Home in Oak Park, IL. According to the facebook group, over 1118 pounds of food were donated during the day and gratefully collected by the Greater Food Depository. A shout-out to Terra Mysterium’s Amy Christensen for making the arrangements with the Greater Food Depository. If you weren’t able to attend the event, please make a donation here "donate."

Gregory Brewer and his team should be praised for their work in creating a memorable day, and offering our community a chance to connect, learn, listen, and find joy together.

Pagan Pride owes its name, and beginnings, to Gay Pride events. Like Gay Pride, it is a time to embrace a public identity as a Pagan, to educate the general public about our various faiths/traditions/beliefs, and to gather in camaraderie. Unlike Gay Pride, Pagan Pride goes a step further by adding a charity component to the event.

Pagan Pride is celebrated around the Autumnal Equinox, which is a time of abundance, harvest, and balance. In the spirit of the indigenous peoples of this land, we offer thanks for the gifts of the Earth, and share them with our greater community. For those not familiar with Pagan Pride I refer you to the following from the National Organization's website:

Statement of Purpose: The Pagan Pride Project is a non-profit organization. The primary purposes of this corporation shall be the advancement of religion and elimination of prejudice and discrimination based on religious beliefs.

Mission Statement: The mission of the Pagan Pride Project is to foster pride in Pagan identity through education, activism, charity and community.
  • Air: Education
    We're never going to be able to practice our spiritual paths openly if we don't give the public accurate information about what we do and do not do.
  • Fire: Activism
    People aren't necessarily going to go out of their way to find out what Pagans really do. We have to have the courage to act on our convictions and do what we need to do.
  • Water: Charity
    We know that what we do returns to us. We need to demonstrate this by offering compassion to our communities where it is needed. When we share our own abundance, we show that we trust the Gods to share abundance with us in return.
  • Earth: Community
    We're never going to be able to practice openly if we don't know anyone else in our local Pagan communities. We need to weave networking webs in our cities, in our towns, in our rural areas. We need these webs to support one another. That support will also show those who would restrict our practice that we are not just a few isolated wackos, but are a growing congregation of people who adhere to a faith that, while different, is as valid as their own.
The language used above perfectly demonstrates the activist/earthy roots of contemporary Paganism.

So why is Pagan Pride important? All too often people and organizations get bogged down by their day-to-day operations and individual concerns. Add to that the following:
· that Pagan and Earth/Nature based religious traditions are all too often misrepresented in the media,

· that we must chose to either to “come out” everyday of our lives, or to hide in fear of constant discovery and suffer the potential loss of jobs, housing, etc,

· that the community endlessly debates with itself the minutia of the various philosophies, theologies, cosmologies, and all other "–gies" that make up these faiths. We even debate what to call the community itself

· that groups and individuals are harassed for their beliefs by uninformed hate-speak. Take a look at the New Apostolic Reformation’s ideas about Native Americans

The end result is that it can all feel very isolating, especially if you are a Pagan living in a small town ("The Small Town Pagan's Survival Guide: How to Thrive in Any Community by Bronwyn Forbes). Connecting in a community that honors diversity, pluralism, and the presence of the sacred in nature is a very powerful remedy.

Pagan Pride allows everyone to connect with not only those of a like mind, but with the greater community. Many people who attend may have never experienced a public ritual, or had exposure to these faith traditions. There is a great deal of education available for newcomers and the curious. On the whole, Pagans are a gregarious, and enthusiastic bunch who love to share thoughts with those who take a genuine interest. Let us make sure that the face we present to the greater community is welcoming, well informed, and “comfortable in our own skin.”

However, we have a lot of work to do. Let us be even better informed, better organized, and speak out for our liberties. This is why Pagan Pride is so important. We must not hide from the world, and we must help each other. Let us also ally ourselves with other minority faiths to work together for our right to practice our religions in peace, freely, as the founding fathers intended. Let us embrace pluralism and the acceptance of different religions, worldviews, and philosophies. We must also fight against any groups who seek to limit pluralism and the freedom to practice religion.

Take, for instance, this group. Click on “51 Days of Reformation Intercession” to see the prayer schedule and intent. Beginning on October 3rd and ending November 22nd, a group of neo-Pentacostal Christians will be exorcising the United States of America of “Pagan influence” one state at a time in the reverse order of the adoption of Statehood. They will culminate in Washington District of Columbia on 11/11/11 to overthrow the “Goddess”of Columbia (Liberty), and institute the title: Washington District of Christ. Their goal is to establish Christian law as supreme in a land that is pluralistic by law, and the intent of the founding fathers. For more on Dominionism, click here.

It can be very easy to dismiss these folks as extremist crackpots, but I point you to the powerful book “Contemporary Paganism: Minority Religions in a Majoritarian America” by Carol Barner-Barry which effectively demonstrates what minority religions suffer legally due to the prejudices, and arrogance of majoritarian American religious beliefs. The text shows how badly our rights to freely practice our religions are being eroded away without our awareness. Have your non Pagan friends read it too, so that they can also engage the world around them in a more just manner.

In response to the above, I firmly believe that we need to stop publicly debating differences in theology and embrace pluralism. We need to spend less time explaining our core beliefs, and more time demonstrating that we are concerned citizens and taxpaying workers who are invested in our communities and the work at hand.

As an antidote to the uninformed “sound-bites” of tea-party rhetoric, I recommend that everyone read Barbara A. McGraw’s excellent text “Rediscovering America’s Sacred Ground: Public Religion and Pursuit of the Good in a Pluralistic America.” This book is an enlightened balm for the soul filled with sound history, and the philosophy of the founding fathers, and the time in which they lived and created our country’s governing documents.

Last, we need to continue to create and support art, music, theatre, film, literature, dance, and culture that will embody the ideals we wish to inform the world. We are the land, and we are the World. We do not have dominion over any living being because everything in nature is our kin. Let us work everyday to be better stewards of the Earth, children of Gaia, and the embodiment of the Divine.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Video Blog #8: Terra Mysterium Goes Steampunk, or: Where's Marius?

Terra Mysterium presents a series of behind-the-scenes videos exploring who we are and our creative process.

This week Professor Marius Mandragore pauses from his interdimensional travels to rub elbows with the genteel folk of Steampunk Chicago.

Have any questions you'd like answered in a future video? Leave them in comments. We hope you enjoy the video!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What Terra Mysterium Means To Me

My Journey with Terra Mysterium started in August of last year, as Stage Manager for their production Finding Eleusis, that was part of the first ever Chicago Fringe Festival. During the rehearsal process I was introduced to Viewpoints, which was something I had never heard of prior to working with them. Being new to the whole Viewpoints process I felt kind of strange at first since I was not on the stage interacting with the actors but above them in the booth. However, once I started performing with the group, as part of the ensemble, the exercises made a lot more sense me. Viewpoints truly feels like such a smooth organic road to character development.

This summer I had the privilege to perform with the group at Earth Traditions Oasis, where we performed our three shows Finding Eleusis, Professor Marius Mandragore’s Salon Symposium: Regarding Spirits, Spells and Eldritch Craft, and Betwixt and Between. It was very interesting rehearsing with Viewpoints when rotating between three shows, because in the beginning I wasn’t sure which character a movement was for. Of course the further we got into rehearsals the distinctions became very clear, as my characters in each show would hold and carry themselves so completely different. Delores Dion from Mandragore was the proud student, rigid, by the book, strong and doting on her Professor. An ensemble member of Finding Eleusis making shape with the others, and as Baubo, a boisterous, bawdy, life-of-the-party Goddess of Mirth. And of course as one of the Fae in Betwixt and Between. While it was taxing to have three shows to do during this retreat I have never felt so alive.

One of the many things I love about being in Terra Mysterium is that I have learned so much about ritual theatre, magick, and living sustainably, from our Director Matthew Ellenwood, and Assistant Director Keith Green. Also, that it is an environment in which creativity flows and is encouraged. When revamping Betwixt and Between we were asked to pick a flower and then write a story, about something that flower might have witnessed, that had nothing to do with the main story. I sort of panicked: me write a story to be put in the show and performed for an audience! No way! All of my essays in college left something to be desired, you want people to pay to see something I wrote! 

Calling in a stiff upper lip, I grabbed a pen and a notebook a started to write a story about a sunflower witnessing a family preparing for a neighborhood dinner party. Still uncertain of what I had created, I presented it to the group and to my surprise they liked it. I love that our work is truly a collaboration between all the members. The shows we perform have a little piece of all of us in them. 

Now that I have been with Terra Mysterium for a little over a year, I have created, learned, traveled, and performed with the original members, and I really do feel lucky to have found and been accepted by them. This is a warm, caring, encouraging, spiritually and creatively uplifting group of wonderfully talented people, and I am glad to be a part of them. I can honestly say I have come home, I found my family.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Video Blog #7: Creating Music

Terra Mysterium presents a series of behind-the-scenes videos exploring who we are and our creative process.

This week: a behind-the-scenes look at our rehearsal and collaborative creative process, creating music.

Have any questions you'd like answered in a future video? Leave them in comments. We hope you enjoy the video!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

1000 Words: Kwan Yin, or – A View from the Other Side of the Makeup Brush

It was another cool, late Spring day in Chicago when I opened the door of my Hobbit Hole to cast member Kat O’Connor and Stephen Pettinga, Ruby Sara’s wonderfully talented husband in his guise as Fabulous Photographer-On-Loan. They were there to prep for an early afternoon shoot of the goddess Kwan Yin (and later, Freya) for the 2011 Goddess Calendar Project.

I was asked earlier to apply Kat’s makeup for the shoot, and couldn’t have been happier to oblige. Kat’s eyes are amazing, and proved a wonderful canvas on which to play out my cosmetologist fantasy. The chance to transform our resident “Tiger Lily” into a kinder, gentler feline was a real treat as well.

Kwan Yin by Stephen Pettinga © 2011
Soft. Warm. Pale. With a hint of Asia, please! – is what Kat requested for her makeup. And as I applied those qualities through color and shade upon her face, I worked to bring out the goddess in the woman as well. We talked about Kwan Yin’s beauty and grace; her calm and healing presence. A white cloak (beautifully crafted by Amy Christensen), and a green bottle representing the Water of Life helped transform Kat into this female bodhisattva. The goddess Kwan Yin was indeed present.

Kat is a professional actor and photographer in her own right, so when she suggested a more urban setting for the Kwan Yin photographs, I knew she was on to something. As a goddess of mercy and compassion, I couldn’t think of a better location than Rogers Park in Chicago to honor Kwan Yin’s gifts; her much-needed benevolence was momentarily bestowed upon us brick-and-mortar mortals of the Far North Side. We walked around the corner of the street, and found a venerable Chicago three-flat doorstep to take the pictures.

In the doorway, the early afternoon light mixed beautifully with shadow. Kat was radiant and reflective in her interpretation of Kwan Yin. Stephen took shot after shot as I lent my set of arms to the goddess; the extra arms representing Kwan Yin’s quest to free as many sentient beings as possible from the bonds of samsara. In this, I think it would be safe to say, “The more arms; the merrier.” Looking back at that day, I found it comforting to know that most goddesses – and some tiger lilies – have a really great sense of humor.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Professor Green’s Musings on Steampunk

My introduction to Steampunk came about with the writing/production/ performance of our show Professor Marius Mandragore’s Salon-Symposium Regarding Spirits, Spells, and Eldritch Craft, which we produced in autumn, 2009. As we were writing it, I remember asking my partner/artistic director Matthew if he thought the sort of odd piece of Victoriana that was emerging would have any sort of appeal to people. He answered: “Oh yes! It’s very Steampunk.” That was the first time I had ever heard the word. Yes, I know, I’m very sheltered.

My first researches into this cultural phenomenon seemed to indicate that Steampunk was where people went when they felt they were too old to go in for Goth anymore – Victorian society, corsets, steam engines, etc. That didn’t seem too bad. After all, being a history professor in my early 40s, having grown up listening to Gilbert and Sullivan, and having a penchant for wearing monocles since the mid 1980s (I actually wore one along with a neck scarf to my high school graduation)[1], it was probably inevitable that I end up somewhere like this anyway. Never being one to let first impressions decide me on anything, however, I decided to dig a little deeper, and found that Steampunk was more than aging Geeks (like me) in frockcoats and tinted sunglasses. It was… is a speculative subculture filled with revolutionary possibility.

According to the (highly recommended!) Steampunk Bible, edited by Jeff Vandermeer and S. J. Chambers, “STEAMPUNK = Mad Scientist Inventor [invention (steam x airship or metal man / baroque stylings) x (pseudo) Victorian setting + progressive or reactionary politics x adventure plot.”[2] Sounds good – plenty of room for unique characters, settings, and social commentary. Sounds like the scene could get pretty radical. How radical, I wondered? I took a look at the first article in Steampunk Magazine, issue 1, entitled “What Then, is Steampunk?” and found the following: “Steampunk is a re-envisioning of the past with the hypertechnological perceptions of the present. Unfortunately, most so-called “steampunk” is simply dressed-up, recreationary nostalgia: the stifling tea-rooms of Victorian imperialists and faded maps of colonial hubris”[3] (My monocle felt a little guilty, but I read on through the end of the article.) “We do not have the luxury of niceties or the possession of politeness; we are rebuilding yesterday to ensure our tomorrow.”[4] Aha!

Here were some of the do-it-yourself, green sensibilities that I, as an earth-based spiritualist, held near and dear. Steampunk Magazine, by the way, is a virtual goldmine for this kind of information. Check out A Steampunk’s Guide to the Apocalypse and you will learn all sorts of interesting skills, including, but not limited to, scavenging, water distillation and filtration, and solar heating. You can access it here. And donate some money while you’re at it – these are good people doing worthwhile work! So Steampunk is not just old Goths in Victorian garb, it is not just airships, it is not just cool wheels and gears, it is a full blown counter-cultural movement with revolutionary overtones (we must never forget the ‘punk’ in Steampunk).

Is there room in Steampunk for magick and the occult? That’s an important question to me – my spiritual and artistic interests are both well-grounded in an understanding of the “occult sciences.” Where does Professor Mandragore and his salon-symposium fit in? Well, to some extent the good professor never quite fits in anywhere. His salon, “itself a mystery of the profound collusion of space and time,” is largely unhinged in time, moving back and forth across the “cosmic strands of magico-potentiality.” [His words not mine.] For all of that, he is definitely possessed of a Steampunk aesthetic, in manners, speech, and dress, and an enlightened worldview that I think would appeal to a good many on the punk spectrum, despite his monocle. It’s not as if magick is absent from the genre, after all. Tim Powers’ The Anubis Gates features a Restoration-era brotherhood devoted to protecting England from harmful sorceries. Ekaterina Sedia’s lovely novel The Alchemy of Stone has not only a female automaton as protagonist, but stone gargoyles, autochthonous nature spirits who helped mortals to create their civilization and who have over the eons become estranged from humanity. If you have not read either of these books, I recommend you run out right now and do so.

Yes, there is room in Steampunk for Professor Mandragore, myself, and many other people with even more radical philosophies and exciting stories to tell. I look forward to watching the movement evolve and to participating directly in that evolution. Right now, however, it is time for a cup of tea and a pipe of tobacco after dinner. Cheers.

[1] I couldn’t find any spats to complete the outfit. More’s the pity; accessories are what make the ensemble.
[2] Jeff Vandermeer and S. J. Chambers, eds., The Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary Airships, Corsets and Goggles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature (New York: Abrams Image, 2011), 9.
[3] Catastrophone Orchestra and Arts Collective (NYC), “What Then is Steampunk? Colonizing the Past so We Can Dream the Future,” Steampunk Magazine 1, 4.
[4] Catastrophone Orchestra and Arts Collective, “What Then is Steampunk,” 5.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Video Blog #6: What is the role of music in our work?

Terra Mysterium presents a series of behind-the-scenes videos exploring who we are and our creative process.

This week: Shannah Lessa discusses the role of music in the work of Terra Mysterium.

Have any questions you'd like answered in a future video? Leave them in comments. We hope you enjoy the video!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Performing at Oasis: Creating Art and Community

Photo of "Finding Eleusis" taken by Angie Buchanan

This past June, the directors and staff of Earth Traditions created a new intensive retreat for the People of the Earth, and named it Oasis. An oasis is a place to refresh the body and mind. It is a central place where the Spirit can find care, and people from great distances can connect to exchange goods, ideas, and commune together in peace. The staff of Earth Traditions made all of the above possible with their tireless efforts.

Photo of "Betwixt and Between" taken by Angie Buchanan

Terra Mysterium was included in the planning process from the start. We wished to present all three of our current touring productions for this community. As a performance troupe, we are currently an itinerant company of storytellers, bards, and myth-makers on the winding road. To be given the gift to perform for a community who would understand our intent was a powerful experience. Our work found a home in the hearts of those who attended Oasis. Many of these people have been long familiar faces, while others became new friends. All were a part of the birth of something new, rich, and powerful.

The twin forces of art and community creation allow those of us who engage in the work to explore the intersection of culture and mystery so that what fuels us (in the end) is the need to embody a creation of substance. Earth Traditions created a space where everyone could explore deeper magicks, more complex subjects, and find ways to create and invest in community. Far from a festival experience (which can be a wonderful and rewarding experience as well) Oasis was intended as retreat, but, for me personally, it embodied a lovingly crafted challenge. This challenge asked me to examine how I might reinvest, rethink, and reengage in the world around me. As the Pagan, Earth-based, Nature-centered, Dark Green Spirituality movement matures, we need more events like Oasis. We need to gather as a community to share deep knowledge and hard won personal gnosis. While play is essential to the work at hand, we must continue to engage each other in profound and substantial ways that will benefit the land and the people.

Photo of "Professor Marius Mandragore's Salon Symposium" taken by Angie Buchanan

Terra Mysterium is committed to the work of culture creation. We walk in wonder upon and within the “Land of Mystery” that is theatre, storytelling, myth, and magic(k), and life itself. Our works are created to inspire, challenge, and invite the audience to participate with us in the creation of a new culture. The ancient myths are alive and walking though us and with us everyday. When the land, animals, and people around you are no longer seen as commodities but instead as sacred, mysterious, and full of wisdom, then you have made the shift to a place where magic happens, where all possibility exists, and where a tale is being created.

Terra Mysterium would like to give thanks to the staff of Earth Traditions, and to the creators of culture everywhere. We are glad to be a part of this work, and look forward to walking the winding road with you wherever you may be.

1000 Words: The Goddess Hel

Following the He'e'e shoot, we had to travel a bit. Everyone had been sensing the presence of Hel since we began that morning. Shannah in particular was aware of her expressing a strong preference not to be misrepresented. In traditional lore, the Norse goddess Hel is goddess of the underworld, and depicted as half corpse, half living flesh. Death and the underworld aren't these terrible, frightening things; "make me pretty" was the request, and that is what we strove to do.

We drove to a nearby cemetery and wandered around looking for someplace to shoot. All of us stopped at this arcade of mausoleums. It felt right, and it took little discussion to determine we all felt the same way. A flock of crows wheeled overhead. It was sunny but cold that day, so we brought Shannah's coat so she could warm up as needed. It turned out we needn't have bothered; in that space between the mausoleums, headstones, and a stark, barely-budding tree, it was warm and the wind was calm.

Shannah had been anxious about the shoot all morning. She wanted everything to be perfect. We picked a spot next to a crypt with an old iron gate and began slowly. Gradually a calm settled in, and it seemed that Shannah stepped aside as Hel took over.

I look back at these photos and see a vibrancy in her eyes -- a knowing of strange and mysterious things. The woman in front of me becomes ethereal, dark, sensual. She knows who she is and reveals it in glimpses. This is her place, the dead are her people, whom she loves.

She is pretty, and more than that. She no longer moves like Shannah. She no longer looks at me like Shannah. She glides, she whispers, occasionally she smirks. Through it all her eyes shine.

She is a wild thing, untamed, and fierce in her beauty. Death comes for all but she is a gentle, nurturing soul.

We remained in our otherworldly bubble for a time. I don't know how long; it felt suspended and timeless. Other than moving from spot to spot no one said much, because no one needed to. I think we were all listening -- or, more accurately, we were all hearing. We were alone in this still place... at least in the sense of the living. We were all reverent. We thanked the dead for their hospitality as we left.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Some Thoughts about Myth, Part I: What is it Anyway?

Following up on my video interview, a few more thoughts on: What is Myth?

According to the eminent mythologist Walter Burkert, “myth is a traditional tale with secondary, partial reference to something of collective importance.”[1] By traditional, Burkert means that the tale has been told and retold many times until it has become accepted as conventional by audiences. The second part of the definition refers to the myth’s applicability to something of importance to a particular society at a particular point in time.[2] Myths that have no such relevance to contemporaries fade into obscurity over time or are transformed in some way until they become relevant again. When myths do have relevance, however, they become very powerful stuff.

According to Mircea Eliade, the purpose of myth is to explain how and why the world works the way that it does. Myth “tells us how, through the deeds of Supernatural Beings, a reality came into existence, be it the whole of reality, the Cosmos, or only a fragment of reality – an island, a species of plant, a particular kind of human behavior, an institution.”[3] Myth need not necessarily be about the past. It can also have very real contemporary significance as an invigorating force in present-day society. Myths tell the stories of supernatural creatures that represent types of human behavior. When the myth is remembered it recreates the “sacred time” of the ancient past in which time does not move forward, but simply stands still as the world is created.

The tale told by a myth has meaning in a contemporary context as a means of recreating or remaking the world, and bringing things back into a state of balance. In its commonly recognized characters, plotlines, and motifs, myths provide an easily recognizable formula for coming to grips with a difficult present.[4] Moreover, its characters, motifs, and themes are fluid, capable of adopting highly varied forms. Different characters may carry out identical actions that can even have completely different meanings.[5] Thus, myths and fairy tales often change over time, and later versions carry slightly different emphases from earlier versions depending on the needs and wants of the audience, but they can still have relevance to our time.

[1] Walter Burkert, Structure and History in Greek Mythology and Ritual (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1979), 23, n. 5 153.
[2] Burkert, Structure and History, 2, 23.
[3] Mircea Eliade, “Review of Jan de Vries’s Betrachtungen zum Märchen, besonders in seinem Verhältnis zu Heldensage und Mythos (1954),” La Nouvelle Revue Française 48 (1956): 5-6; trans. and cited in Jack Zipes, Fairy Tale as Myth, Myth as Fairy Tale (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1993), 1.
[4] Burkert, Structure and History, 25.
[5] Vladimir Propp, The Morphology of the Folktale, trans. Laurence Scott (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968), 19-20.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Video Blog #5: What is the place of art and spirituality in someone's life?

Terra Mysterium presents a series of behind-the-scenes videos exploring who we are and our creative process.

This week: Amy Christensen discusses how art and spirituality fit into her life.

Have any questions you'd like answered in a future video?  Leave them in comments.  We hope you enjoy the video!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Beauty and Poetry

The raw stuff of religion.

It may be that, in the course of emphasizing the absolutely critical nature of relationship in the spiritual development of our people, the quest for/authentic appreciation of/submergence in all the glorious diversity of the World’s innate Beauty comes in an achingly close second (so much so that they are, in my mind, practically synonymous). Beauty, which is the Subject of poetry, and thus possesses its own language, is that which whispers in the core of my body and makes my heart sigh and laugh and dance - it is that which makes me involuntarily inhale in joy - that holy gasping in the face of something so purely wonderful that your body knows it as true Beauty before you do. The first time I consciously witnessed a perfect example of this was when I was 11 years old.

We had only just moved to Colorado, and that summer the days were particularly hot and we were particularly bored - school hadn’t started yet, and we hadn’t been there long enough to have friends. In order to relieve us all of our growing discontent and the oppressive heat, my mother piled my sister and I into our craptacular minivan and hauled us up into the Rockies to visit a “park” called Estes Park (much to our delight, we promptly discovered that Estes Park, CO is not a park but rather a scenic touristy mountain town, home of the Stanley Hotel, which was the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining). We toodled up the mountainside dutifully watching the creek and looking at the pine trees, and then we rounded a particular turn... and the Luminous World literally unfolded itself in front of us, revealing snow-capped peaks, a golden valley and a sparkling lake. My mother clutched her chest and inhaled sharply, and in a teary, breathy voice cried “Oh!” and then launched into a passionate paean to the mountains that didn’t end for nearly the entire day (we’re on the whole a rather emotional people, my family). I’ve never forgotten that moment. Whenever I think of that mysterious force that some call Awen and some inspiration and many other names (as noted in many books on creativity - the word “inspiration” comes from Latin meaning “to breathe”), that Holy Gasp, that breath that brings with it the fiery wonder of poetry, I think of that moment with my mom, and how the Earth unfurled Herself in that moment of utter Revelation. This is what I mean by Beauty.

I believe that Beauty is a fact of our existence, that it exists independent of our perceiving it, though in also exists in intimate concert with our perception of it (via the precious marvel of our bodily senses), and when this true relationship with Beauty is engaged, Beauty is enhanced, and movement and growth occur in fantastic ways. I believe that Beauty creates and is created. In the practice of my faith I try to make the seeking of Beauty a priority - I may even go so far to say that the pursuit of Beauty is close to the summation of my spiritual journey as a whole. The gods and goddesses are the personifications of the diverse complexity of Beauty in the world - though, of course, this does not always make them safe, or “good” (just as Love is a deeply complicated thing, so is Beauty), or even pretty or nice to look at.

Being pleasant to look at does not necessarily indicate Beauty. Take, for instance, compost - an ingenious, Beautiful, gorgeous, unattractive, gross, icky and glorious process. Decomposition is Beautiful. Death, in itself, is Beautiful (though the methods by which Death is achieved are not always such - while Death may be Beautiful, oppression, torture, murder, genocide, war, all of these are insurmountably Ugly). When I pray, I pray for Beauty. I pray to Beauty. I pray because of Beauty. When Beauty is broken, my heart is broken.

And oh, and for sure, and forever and ever, Beauty is the fountain from which poetry springs:
by Emily Dickinson
I died for beauty, but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.
He questioned softly why I failed?
“For beauty,” I replied.
“And I for truth - the two are one;
We brethren are,” he said.
And so, as kinsmen met a-night,
We talked between the rooms.
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names.

So I would hope that as we all, poets and singers and dreamers and doers, find our paths to Beauty, we might see those pieces of it, whether in simplicity or in complexity, that are our own, and when even our names have been obscured by moss and time and good Death, we rest happy, scattered in and among the Beauty we died within and beneath and through. And for.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Video Blog #4: What is the role of poetry in our work?

Terra Mysterium presents a series of behind-the-scenes videos exploring who we are and our creative process.

This week: What is the role of poetry in the work of Terra Mysterium?

Have any questions you'd like answered in a future video?  Leave them in comments.  We hope you enjoy the video!

Monday, July 11, 2011

1000 Words: The Goddess Project

Sometimes the stories of Terra Mysterium are not told in words. Sometimes it's a moment, an image, a feeling, or a mood. Often our art is visual and fleeting; but sometimes I'm around to capture that moment and preserve it for a little while longer.

In the spring we began a project to develop and produce a Goddess calendar, the Feminine Mysterium, featuring the women of TM embodying 12 different goddesses. As a photographer I'd experienced that transformative connection between shooter and subject before; when it works really well, there's this subtle shift away from the mundane, away from the outside world, and our focus narrows until our interaction becomes a dance between me, her, and our immediate environment.

He'e'e (a Hopi kachina) was the first goddess I photographed. It began as it usually does -- we meet up, we sort out hair and clothing and makeup, we look around the location for the best places to shoot. Yet during this time we were becoming aware of each other, aware of our environment... and aware of something a little bit more. We were relaxed and open and ideas and opportunities seemed to present themselves. Amy, as He'e'e, wished to embody her as an urban warrior-protector; and so here was this rundown industrial building which brought the urban grit together with the warrior grit.

I think this is my favorite image out of the entire shoot. The distressed color and high contrast were a lucky accident, but it lends a bit of extra harshness to the dirty urban feel. Here I am looking at someone who has spent lifetimes in the fighter-protector business. She's no softie and would rather be your guardian than your friend, but she is a loyal guardian. No nonsense, alert even when relaxed, at home in her own body and in the rough neighborhoods she takes it upon herself to watch over.

In a way this communion always happens; and in that way there's always a spiritual element to my art, no matter what I'm doing. Every communion is different, every subtle dance is different, and here I felt privileged to take part in a project where a goddess accepts the invitation to step in and choreograph the dance.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Video Blog #3: What is Myth?

The third in our series of behind-the-scenes videos explores myth and its relationship to our creative process.  What is myth?  How do you define it? How is myth relevant today?

For more information on myth and the people mentioned in this video:

Walter Burkert
John Michael Greer

Have any questions you'd like answered in a future video?  Leave them in comments.  We hope you enjoy the video!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Video Blog #2: What do performers experience in Viewpoints?

This is the second in our series of behind-the-scenes videos exploring who we are and our creative process. In this entry: What do performers experience in Viewpoints? How is it different? How does it affect interaction with other actors?


For more information on the people mentioned in this video:

Viewpoints Training in Chicago:

Have any questions you'd like answered in a future video?  Leave them in comments.  We hope you enjoy the video!