The first movements into spiritually inspired re-embodiment which I discovered came (unsurprisingly) from men, and originated outside the United States. Morihei Ueshiba, the now-deceased creator of aikido, envisioned his martial art through the process of several spiritual awakenings: as a spirit of loving protection which is to protect and cultivate all beings in nature. Ueshiba chose the name aikido deliberately; it translates very roughly as the Art of Peace, or harmony/love (ai) spirit (ki) way (do). The dojo in martial arts is traditionally respected as sacred ground, but aikido takes this a step further: not only is the symbol of aikido the calligraphed circle which denotes the Void, or an almost Buddhist emptiness, but the circle is also enshrined within its physical practice of spiritually-inspired rhythmic motion. Thus, unlike many other martial arts, the advanced aikido practitioner does not meet force with force, but instead gently and usually non-aggressively blends with and redirects the energy of attack, causing it to flow like water to where it is guided. Further, this harmonious perspective is applicable not just in deflecting violence, but throughout all the myriad confrontations of life.

The richness and broad applicability of this spiritual/philosophical perspective is demonstrated in the collection of essays within the 1985 book Aikido and the New Warrior, edited R. Strozzi-Heckler, one of Morihei Ueshiba's students. Heckler is a 6th degree black belt as well as a psychologist and researcher on the mind-body connection in embodied leadership. The essays he chose for the book are excellent examples of how dramatically embodiment through aikido can affect one's quality of life. They range wildly across the board — from several different descriptions of how, when faced with aggressive confrontations, aikido can cause one to embody non-violence as a warrior for peace in "accord with the totality of the universe"; all the way through its applicability — as noted in several of the essays — as a method of healing both physical and emotional. Also included are many personal anecdotes of the life enrichment it offers. These vary just as broadly: from the use of aikido's spiritual and creative embodiment in sports such as baseball or basketball, through personal empowerment in refusing various forms of aggression and turning them into different types of play, to its grounding and balancing results for the practitioner dealing with situations as diverse as child-rearing or caring for a dying parent.

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 Teacher, artist, and art therapist Pat B. Allen exemplifies modern re-embodiment from another standpoint in her Art is a Spiritual Path — one which explicitly links the sacrality of artistic creation with healing of both the individual self, and what Allen refers to as the sacred Soul of the World, which is embodied by all interconnected life on the planet. Through the example of her art therapy classes Allen notes the temporary "death" of the conscious, critical, and effectively disembodied ego or Self, when lost in the truly effortless, playful Eros of creating art while purely present within the moment. This is art for self-reflection and healthy body-mind growth, deliberately subverting the standard social trope of art as consumed product. She believes this to be the natural result of creativity within sacred intentionality, where spirit can most clearly speak through the creation to the artist. Self-healing occurs when the artist sits with the creation and listens for what it has to teach, writing down the learning and consistently engaging in the process of right action as taught by the artistically expressed inner voice. Sharing that learning in ritual performance before a silently witnessing, supportively creative community brings to completion the process of self-healing for both artist and community. Thus she teaches that the process of creating art with conscious intention and witness subversively encourages us towards right action on behalf of the personal soul, the human community, and the Soul of the World.

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 Professor and Brooklyn Arts Council Folk Arts Director Kay Turner presents us with a powerful new ritualizing symbol system for the Divine Feminine in her book: Beautiful Necessity: The Art and Meaning of Women's Altars. The book contains numerous color photographs of women's personal altars, beautifully illustrating Turner's exploration and affirmation of their spiritually connected meaning. In contrast to Carlson's reframing of ancient mythologies, Turner chooses instead to recognize the modern flowering of what she traces as an unbroken line of shared purpose in spiritual and creative feminine expression: from aesthetically inspiring Neolithic goddesses which affirm the bursting vitality of life, through the diminishing onslaught of patriarchy's religiously-expressed and -justified misogyny, into what Turner hopes will be post-patriarchal re-recognition of the ubiquity of feminine sacrality. Turner's book exemplifies this dawning emergence: not all the altars and sacred vessels she discusses are dedicated to a sacred female, but the overwhelming majority are. This is a quietly powerful feminine re-appropriation of both personal spiritual agency, and a traditional ideological core of belief in the interconnection between all things — a feminine sense of religious immanence, which mediates the separation of Self and Other so often forced by masculine religious dogma into opposition rather than complementarity.

These invigorating expressions of feminine devotion — both creative and traditional — are deeply personal. They redefine and transform the subordinating barrier of masculine religious opprobrium into an exaltation of the sacred complementarity of women: as beloved supplicant, as priestess and healer, and as Goddess. Further, as Turner notes, these domestic altars do more than simply revere the classically recognized sacrality of the fertility and fecundity of both woman and the Divine Feminine. They also spiritually express ethical and matrifocal values: family health and generation, creativity and gifting, sacred embodiment of the Divine Feminine, personal autonomy, earth-venerating immanence, and perhaps most importantly, the central role of women in the building and maintenance of relationships — both interpersonal, familial, and intra-community. Turner also deeply expresses the power of relationship-building between women — both as an author sharing her research on the history, creative artistry and beauty, healing properties, and relationality inherent within the crafting of altars — as well as through her dedication of the book itself as an altar or "votive offering" (4, 21). I believe her book very much portrays the birthing and sharing of a new, powerful ritualizing symbol system for the Divine Feminine.

 

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