Bethroot Gwynn graduated from Duke University and Union Theological Seminary. She lives on women’s land in the forests of Southern Oregon, where she has been writing, growing food, making theater and ritual since 1976. She has taught, directed, and performed Personal Theater for Women, crafting experience into physical symbol and personal myth. Her first theater production was Feathers in My Mind, an autobiographical play. She created several one-woman performance pieces, including Theaterwoman, Immaculate Decision, and A Mind Play — celebrating lesbian-feminism and Goddess spirituality at conferences, festivals and other venues. She directed some of her students in two performance pieces —Pieces of Truth, and Childtracks and Amazon Wings, and created an ensemble piece called Women: The Longest Revolution — A Performance Documentary.
Her poetry and essays have been published in WomanSpirit, Manzanita Quarterly, MoonSeed, Sinister Wisdom, The Poetry of Sex, and other publications. Bethroot is a longtime editor of We’Moon: Gaia Rhythms for Womyn, and her writing is featured regularly in the We’Moon datebook. She published a chapbook in 1990 — Under the Heartstone: Poems from a Lesbian Love Spell. In 2018, We’Moon published a collection of her work — PreacherWoman for the Goddess: Poems, Invocations, Plays and Other Holy Writ.
For those readers who may be unfamiliar, what is We’Moon?
We’Moon is a unique datebook, graced with art and writing submitted from women all over the world. It reflects a spirituality that honors Earth/Moon/Sun/Stars — and Woman. Gaia, the primal mother earth Goddess in Greco-Roman mythology, interacts with her celestial neighbors every day, and We’Moon keeps track of those actual rhythms. It is a daily/weekly calendar and appointment book packed with astrological, lunar and Sun-seasonal information. It’s also a book of devotions: sacred space where women share written and artistic inspirations from their life-experiences, their love and concern for the world, their delight at saying Goddess! out loud as a name for divine energy. “We’Moon” = we of the moon, we whose bodies cycle in Moon rhythm.
We like to say that “If Mother Earth needed a datebook, She would choose We’Moon.” There is really nothing quite like it. I’m thinking of it as a spiritual Rorschach: there is something for you to be gifted by, depending on what you are looking for. Thousands of folks rely on We’Moon for its detailed astrological and lunar data. Every day’s calendar space includes lunar phases and detailed astrological entries (the movement of the Sun through the signs of the Zodiac, planetary travels through those signs: aspects, transits, ingresses, etc.). This information is important for people who take sky activities into account as they make plans and write in their appointments and seek to understand unseen multiplicities in their lives. Insightful articles by women in the Introduction and Appendix serve as a primer for deeper explorations of astrology, eclipses, Tarot, herbs, and the solar cycle of seasons.
Others are more drawn to We’Moon’s poetic and artistic qualities. For some it’s like a spirit-filled coffee table book; opening to any week may reveal an oracle of color and verse that offers guidance and wisdom. I’ll say more about We’Moon magic shortly.
The We’Moon calendar honors eight Holy Days: the two solstices and two equinoxes marked by how the Sun and Earth play with each other and create seasons — and the four in-between, cross-quarter days from the Celtic calendar: Imbolc (Candlemas), Beltane (May Day), Lammas, Samhain (Hallowmas). Each holyday receives a double page spread of art and writing, and each year a gifted writer accents our travel through this Wheel of the Year.
Every year the datebook has a theme, a touchstone to inspire our contributors and our organizing of the material we receive. For the past 21 years, our annual theme has been drawn from a card in Tarot’s Major Arcana. We’Moon 2020 spins off from the Judgment card, #20, and proclaims Wake Up Call as the thematic clarion. And within the datebook there are always 13 Moons or chapters, from one New Moon to the next, with art and writing threaded through the daily/weekly pages, following a sub-theme of that year’s wider focus.
In order to give readers a bit of a sample of what one would find in the We’Moon datebook, would you share a few favorite pieces?
Enough talking about the book already!
Let’s look at a couple of actual pages from We’Moon 2020.
Here is a poem by Lorraine Schein, companioned by an art piece from Sudie Raskusin. It is on page 77 and is part of Moon IV Awakened Woman.
From Moon VI Earth Answers, we are sharing here a poem from Cindy Ruda, and art by Rachel Houseman. You can see that this page has no daily calendar space. It is part of the Moon Page VI spread, accompanying the title page for that Moon chapter.
I chose these selections as examples of the now provocative, now reverent material that We’Moon publishes. There are clearly political stirrings among We’Moon writers and artists. We hear impassioned alarm about the state of the world, offerings of hope about building global community. Sometimes there is quirky relief, wit to shake us up. And we also get to bow in gratitude for the prayers and paens that remind us of benevolence at the heart of reality.
How do these contributions of art and writing come about? How are they gathered and chosen?
This part of the story is quite remarkable. There are other astrological moon calendars, a few dedicated to women. What makes W’e’Moon so unusual, I believe, is this wave of art and writing submissions every year — more than 3000, from 400-500 women around the world. From that treasure trove, approximately 150 pieces of art, and 150 writings, wind up in the datebook. The wave comes in response to the Call for Contributions that we send out in the spring, spinning an invitation based on our chosen theme and a bevy of questions to spark creative impulses: what imaginative uplift, visions of truth might women create from their pens and paintbrushes, keyboards and cameras?
“We” who gather this rich material together are a staff of 7 women, most based in Southern Oregon, a mix of full- and part-time employees with years of longevity among us. We’Moon staff are sometimes a little bonkers about what year we are in. Calendar-makers have to be far ahead of the game. Right now in mid-March we are selling/using We’Moon 2020; We’Moon 2021 was sent to the printer last week, and we’ve just completed and released the Call for We’Moon 2022.
Those thousands of submissions will come in over the summer. And here is Part 2 of We’Moon’s unlike-any-other-datebook story: a democratic layer of women’s community participation in the process of selecting art and writing. In September, women are invited to join us to review the material, at about a dozen Selection Circles held in different parts of the region. Each piece of art/writing has an easy rating code on the back, and women come together in these small “study halls” to register their druthers about the material — about 200 participants in all. The final circle, held in Ashland, also includes feedback about possible covers, and Moon theme subjects. We’Moon staff spend months in fall and winter reviewing the materials, firming up Moon theme clusters, choosing and placing art and writing on calendar pages of the next We’Moon, changing our minds 300 times. We consult the circle druthers for advice as we go along. We also go searching for additional pieces if crucial topics need more focus than we find in the mix of submissions.
And women’s community participation comes full circle in the fall when we hold an Unveiling in Ashland of the new We’Moon. This is a public-invited event where local area contributors of art & writing in the brand-new datebook share their work. The Unveilings are vibrant with creativity, resonant with appreciation and celebration.
What are the origins of We’Moon? How did it begin?
The story of how We’Moon came about is a fascinating tale. You can read about it in detail in an exquisite book: In the Spirit of We’Moon. It’s a 30 Year Anthology of Art and Writing from We’Moon 1981-2011. The anthology is narrated by Musawa, co-founder of the datebook and owner of We’Moon Company. She was there from the beginning!
We’Moon began as part of the late 20th century feminist revolution, the lesbian back-to-the-land movement, the emergence of eco-feminism, and the rebirth of Goddess spirituality. The datebook’s actual birth began on women’s land in Denmark, where 50-60 lesbians were living close to the earth, creating community, and exploring spiritual connections with each other and with natural earth-sky cycles. Astrology became a common language among these women from different countries, speaking different native languages. I’ve heard it said that, for instance, the Libras might cook dinner together, or the Pisces women do a harvest day. Their natal astrological charts hung in the living room and deepened their fun and wonder with each other and the cosmos.
Suddenly, the land was commandeered by a corporation, and this nurturing experimental community had to disband and separate. Musawa and Nada, her then-partner, in diaspora, took on creating a novel way for these women to stay connected: We’Moon! “Faced with loss of our home base, we turned to the Moon, Sun and stars to keep us in touch with ourselves, each other and the Earth’s cycles” (Musawa, In the Spirit of We’Moon, p. 24).
The first We’Moon was wee: a pocket-sized astrological moon calendar for 1981-82, hand-written in five languages. Copies traveled around Europe in backpacks and travel bags, creating a new kind of community, one in which women could turn the page and know that other women, wherever located, were greeting the same sun, dancing under the same full moon, in the same cyclic rhythm. The Libras and Pisces and other signs could continue to be in cosmic communion. And women could sense their dreams and struggles connected even at a distance.
Musawa brought We’Moon back to the US in the late 1980s when she returned to the women’s land she had founded in Oregon, and after some bumps on the publishing road, production of the annual We’Moon datebook grew in the 1990s to become a cottage industry for the residents of We’Moon Land. Over time, the datebook flourished as a channel for women’s creativity, an everyday anchor for connection with earth rhythms, and a touchstone for Goddess celebration. New technologies made it possible to expand circulation and develop new products: greeting cards and a wall calendar; the In the Spirit of We’Moon Anthology; The Last Wild Witch, a children’s book authored by Starhawk & illustrated by Lindy Kehoe; and in more recent years, my own book of poems, PreacherWoman for the Goddess; a Spanish language edition of the datebook; and — coming out in fall 2020, A We’Moon Tarot!
Production shifted to Southern Oregon in 2007, and We’Moon made itself at home again in the hands of countrywomen, several of us living on lands in the area, working at We’Moon’s hub.
What challenges has We’Moon faced in its 40 years of publication? What challenges does it face currently?
Challenges? For sure! Small independent publishers don’t have an easy time of it, and the ups and downs of business cycles always involve taking risks.
A dramatic setback occurred in 2001 when the Main House at We’Moon Land burned down, taking with it the We’Moon offices with reams of records and documents, art and archives, production capacity. A magical story emerged from the ashes. Four of us had just completed choosing the art and writing for the 2002 datebook. The notebook where we had recorded our choices was destroyed, as was every piece of writing submitted for the 2002 datebook. How could we make a new We’Moon? We sat together for hours and days, and we entered into the sacred realm of collective Memory. A scrap of phrase would come to someone, a fleeting image would partner it in someone else’s mind, and Voila! we would restore the visual, the verbal, page by page. We wound up recalling art and writing for all but about 3 out of 153 pages; charred release forms helped us re-find our contributors. That We’Moon of 2002, Priestessing the Planet, remains one of my favorites.
Not every challenge has an inner magical story. But We’Moon continues to defy the odds. Think of it: here is a hard copy daily planner made of paper — how quaint! — in an age when digital information and interaction are the yardsticks by which millions of people measure, record, plan their every day. We’Moon swims upstream in the roiling river of electronic media. And our natural home among other feminist publishers and booksellers has shrunk drastically. 13 feminist bookstores remain in the US and Canada. In the 1980s, there were as many as 350; by 1992, less than 100. The same sharp decline has affected feminist presses and publishers. The big fish have eaten the small fry; Amazon and the big box stores have snapped up the alternative books market. Even the big publishing houses have had to scramble to stay viable in an age when print media has become archaic in many quarters. And feminism has become backlashed into disfavor, as though misogyny and abuse of women had been vanquished, as though women’s empowerment had been fully achieved.
We’Moon has continued to offer itself as a Challenge: to a mainstream clogged with sexist, racist detritus from an imperial and patriarchal system of control by white, Western, male power. Yes, an astrological lunar calendar can do this! And women have continued to discover and adore this publication. Hard copy or not, We’Moon has 50,000 customers buying products, 80,000 followers on facebook. We know that there are thousands of women hungry for an electronic version of the datebook. We’ll get there, when the budget can support such an enormous expense. But meantime, what a hoot that we are thriving! For that matter, thousands know that there is nothing like running your hands over the smooth full color pages of exquisitely designed artistry that Says Something!
That print vs. digital edge nudges a generational challenge. We’Moon came of age among women like myself now in our elder years. It will survive only if younger generations of women reach out and claim it. That is happening to some extent. Our staff group has some mixed generations, and that makes for vigorous instruction for us all. We see women of different ages at Selection Circles, and at the annual Unveiling. But there are a great many grey-haired crones at these gatherings. We’Moon has outreach work to do among the mothers and maidens. We know that some younger women are submitting their art. Edgy images are arriving, a modern flair that takes risk. Reflection of risky times, an edgy world.
The challenge for We’Moon about racial and cultural diversity is acute and rich with opportunity. We’Moon was born into a multicultural and international cradle and had especially strong and enduring connections with women in the UK and Germany (a German language datebook was published for many years until 2016). Although there are Women of Color who have been We’Moon devotees and contributors all along, We’Moon’s cultural bases have for the most part been Euro-centric. That we use the Celtic Holy Day calendar reflects our kinship with Dianic Wicca and European pagan traditions.
We’Moon culture has always been eagerly open to participation from Women of Color, but the demographics and the geographies of unconscious racism have surely been a part of We’Moon’s history. We are actively committed to interrupt these patterns, working with some Women of Color to reach out in their communities and among indigenous women, seeking contributions of art and writing, and participants in Selection Circles. We particularly seek art that represents people of color created by women artists of color. The pages of We’Moon 2020 and 2021 reflect this work: a new harvest of multicultural offerings, and a more comprehensive weave of the We’Moon web.
The international story shifted enormously in 2018 with the publication of a Spanish edition of We’Moon, involving a far-flung multi-national team of translators. We hope that new marketing alliances can support this more global outreach. And: of the 150 contributors in We’Moon 2020, 35 are from countries outside the US. Yes, most are English-speaking. But the web does reach wider and wider. My favorite proofing task is to take a careful spin through the biographic notes in the We’Moon Appendix. It is fascinating to read about the varieties of women world-wide who are practicing their creativity, healing arts, Goddess devotions, earth-tending.
We’Moon has clearly meant a great deal to a great many women. What need does We’Moon fill? How does We’Moon impact women’s lives?
How would we know how to answer this question? The anecdotes give us some information, the stories that filter in through love notes, phone order conversations, appreciative emails. I was near the shipping office a few weeks ago and heard about this plea: “Please rush my order. I can’t live without you!”
I know a woman who gathers all her many years of We’Moons around her every Holy Day and makes it part of her ritual to call in We’Moon wisdom and inspiration from the Equinoxes and Solstices of the past.
Often women call or write looking for a particular piece of art or poem that touched them years ago. They remember and hold onto those deeply meaningful inspirations long after the year has closed. One woman spoke of saving an old We’Moon for years; there was a specific poem that moved her, and she wound up reading it aloud as she spread her mother’s ashes. And then there is the classic remark from a reader who called We’Moon “Church in a purse.” That one says it all.
Stepping back, I see that We’Moon gives women a chance to speak and listen to one another. There is a community of discourse, a town hall of spiritual conversation as women reflect, write, paint, unload, share at deeply personal levels. In a time of social dislocation, vitriol on the digital airwaves, planetary degradation, unabated violence — and now pestilence! — it is comforting to turn the page and be bathed by another woman’s wisdom in these unnerving times. Maybe she helps me sleep; maybe she inspires me to plan a march of resistance. We don’t know precisely how women respond to each other’s work. We know there is a world wide web that pulses among women as we share the common ground of Earth rhythm and the blanket of sky.
For decades you have been involved in artistic and creative endeavours in the Oregon women’s community. How did you come to be involved with We’Moon and how have you contributed to We’Moon over the years?
I don’t remember when I first encountered We’Moon, but it was definitely on my Goddess-loving path. I was on land in Southern Oregon in the late ’80s, creating ceremony and feminist theater, when Musawa was introducing We’Moon to women’s land communities and inviting participation in the annual datebook project. I attended and hosted some Selection Circles (we called them Weaving Circles in those days, a more imaginative title but baffling to literalists).
My more formal, staff relationship with We’Moon began in the winter of 1996-97. Women at We’Moon Land were beginning work on the 1998 datebook. The Tarot card offering theme guidance was The Crone; Wise We’Moon Ways was to be the theme of We’Moon 1998. Those in the staff group looked around at each other and decided they needed a woman older than they were to be working on the datebook and its invocation of Crone magic. They asked me to be the honorary Crone that year — I was only 55! — and to be a Special Editor for that issue. That was 24 years ago, and I am still called Special Editor for We’Moon.
Some of my tasks remain the same: I work with the submitted art and writing after “the cream has risen to the top” in the Selection Circles process. We call this my “broody hen” stage: I go through the material, sometimes diving into the “reject” boxes to see what jewels may be hiding there. Often they do sparkle. I let art and writing find each other and can frequently suggest pairings of words and images. Some other staff women are beginning to take on some of the broody hen work. I am Really a Crone now, and we want to be realistic about generational succession for We’Moon’s long term future.
A big part of my work is refining the 13 Moon themes and clustering the art and writing thematically. When our “Creatrix” group meetings begin, I’m bringing rough draft possibilities for how this voluminous amount of material can be organized. We meet in the fall making tentative art and writing placements, and then refine our choices weeks later during another stretch of meetings.
Meantime, feature articles from astrologers, the Holy Day writer and others who write for the Introduction to the datebook are coming in. My inner grammarian is joyfully released into this job. I get to be precise about semi-colons and commas, except for the exceptions.
A particular gift has evolved in my work with We’Moon which I both offer and am blessed by. Each year, I create the Invocation for next year’s We’Moon: a poem/prayer that summons Goddess energies specific to the datebook’s guiding theme. I get to prowl around online discovering arcane Goddesses from many parts of the world, Goddesses rarely known of outside the culture in which they are or were honored. And then, it turns out, I know how to pray out loud. My priestess vocation speaks up. My sister editors help burnish the language; we word-wrestle with sacred expression. The Summons resounds — printed in the Call for Contributions and in the Datebook, read aloud at Selection Circles and the Unveiling. Those Goddesses show up! They serve as Muses for the work that fills We’Moon. They travel the world and touch women with power, love, magic, compassion, imperatives, hope.
Would you describe your journey toward earth-based/goddess spirituality? Where does your spiritual vision come from and what does it mean to you?
I don’t think I can speak to these questions any more clearly than I did in the Introduction to the PreacherWoman for the Goddess book. So here are some excerpts from that writing:
https://wemoon.ws/products/preacher-woman-for-the-goddess PreacherWoman for the Goddess front cover art
“Dancing with Lightning” ©Deshria 2006 https://www.deshria.com/
“I come from a long line of back-country Protestant ministers, and something in the inheritance must have stuck because I wound up in theological seminary in the mid-1960s — drawn to passionate conversations about the great Life/Death questions and the socio-political revolutions at hand. But when my revolution came — the Lesbian-Feminist one — I was done with patriarchal religions. I was on fire with female-centered spirituality and joined other women to create women’s lands as Sanctuary for empowerment and imagination; to make art, culture and community devoted to a spirited embrace of earth-life and celebrating the Female as Holy. The domination of divine metaphor by male deity was Over!
There is no simple switch here from patriarchal God to a matriarchal version of Chief Deity … In theological terms, we veer toward immanence: divine spirit infuses all existence — the far reaches of cosmos, the inner quantum depths, the immaterial mysteries of consciousness, time, energy. And when we reach for imagery to reflect the Inexpressible, it is high time we look into the mirror. There you are. There I am. All the varieties of us. Woman. Holy.”
And from my apologia for the Spirit that inhabits my work as a creator/performer of Personal Theater: “The Spirit of Theater/The Theater of Spirit”
“Theater is a way of Opening. Ritual is a way of Opening …
We Beat the Drums.
We Call In the Gods and Goddesses. Make a Joyful Noise in the House of the Lord …
In Theater, as in expressive worship,
We imagine. And most important: we embody what we imagine …
We pretend that we can even speak about the Ineffable. — God? …
We can really only point to The Divine.
All we have is metaphor. And that is Perfect for Theater! …
My calling is to redress the balance of the last 5000-50,000 years, when divine metaphor has been occupied by male deity. It is long past time for Her to take focus. I am Her Priestess.
Theaterwoman, serving the Goddess MetaPhora.
I have enactments for you–In Her Honor.”
I would love to hear your thoughts on these questions taken directly from the We’Moon website. “Where and how are womyn transforming the dominant world order, and reclaiming Herstory? What is happening as more womyn move into power? What is the priority work on your To-Do list as an empowered woman?”
We are at the cusp of extraordinary change in the world as more and more women take power in their lives, in their communities, on the world stage. Sexual abuse and violence are called out as never before. Powerful male predators are brought down. Women fly airplanes, repair space stations, push research at the edges of scientific inquiry, govern (some) countries.
Because misogyny still survives, the glass is both half empty and half full. There are women murdered in the Amazon precisely because they have taken leadership in the environmental movement to protect the forest. (A special feature in We’Moon 2017 honored a number of these women.) Feminists in Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern countries have been killed because they insisted on women’s rights. Femicide — of all archaic brutalities! — is on the rise in Mexico! Thank goodness that the women of Mexico en masse are refusing to tolerate it. Pictures of their marches are on my mental screen as soon as we enter the empowerment discussion. Half empty, Half full. Women marching on International Women’s Day in other countries were attacked — generally by Islamists — for celebrating female power. How can this be? The entrenchment of hatred for women should they defy servitude as sexual and reproductive objects continues to be rigid and virulent, even in the 21st century.
And yet . . . Women Are taking power in public life all over the world. Many parliaments and city councils look different now, with female decision makers actively visible, even and most especially in some third-tier countries. Hospitals, clinics, labs, courtrooms, graduate faculties are staffed by women who did the training and secured their expertise. I’m amazed to see group photographs of US Congresspeople: look at all those women! There were so many articulate women at the microphone during the presidential impeachment hearings.
Ahem . . . . There’s that pesky glass. 75% of the US Congress is still male. 76% is white. We have come so far, and we have so far to go.
Yes, the campaigns to empower women as voters and officeholders, professionals, athletes, scientists are vigorous and successful. And No: girls are still refused education in die hard Islamist regions. Sexual slavery and trafficking of women have not diminished one whit. I believe it is imperative to keep naming the inequities and abuses that women face, to shout them, cry them out.
Feminism in America took a back seat not only because of male backlash, not only because uppity women are maligned, and many women are afraid to be uppity. Feminism faded also because of a classist narcissism: many women who progressed into some semblance of personal power and responsibility forgot their impoverished and mistreated sisters. Careerism and focus on Me inoculated a couple of generations of young women against commitment to collective wellbeing. The early Women’s Liberation Movement insisted: There are No Personal Solutions. Women’s liberation is about collective empowerment. So long as there are women anywhere in the world who are denied liberty, we cannot rest.
We’Moon is part of the Yes — celebrating women’s empowerment — and part of the No — calling out female oppression. How wonderful to affirm women’s rise to power and responsibility for shaping the world we live in! How fiercely we must insist that All of Gaia’s daughters must be free!
Finally, what do you foresee in We’Moon’s future? Any final parting thoughts?
And now, in these very days of March 2020, the global human community shivers with fear. A new biocide targets our species. Pandemic. The Cassandras have long been saying that this day would come. Some dreadful planetary spasm would end life as we know it; we would join the polar bears and snow leopards and tigers and honeybees whom we press toward extinction in a mighty struggle to survive.
What can a lunar astrological calendar do? What can We’Moon offer in such drastic times?
I open the spiral datebook for today, March 17, and this Spring Equinox week. An elegant poem excerpt reads:
” I come up for air
whipping my hair
in an arch of splintered light
and I am humming
raw and incandescent”
(by Meredith Heller)
No matter what, the Sun will arch her light to give us Equal Day, Equal Night on Thursday, Equinox. “The return of spring, time of holy equality,” writes Oak Chezar, our Holy Day writer for 2020. “Walking in the woods, see that trees aren’t isolated individuals. Each one is Forest, Forest, Forest. I walk in the world, and I’m not even me: I am World. Gaze through the mirror. World. World. World.”
We may not be able to gather in person this Equinox. But we are gathered, held in mysterious Balance. And like the women who founded We’Moon, we turn “to the Moon, Sun and stars to keep us in touch with each other and the Earth’s cycles.”
Mary Gently is an aspiring historian based in the Rogue Valley. She recently graduated from Southern Oregon University with a Bachelor’s degree in History and a minor in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies. She graduated Summa Cum Laude with Departmental Honors and is the recipient of the Arthur S. Taylor Award for Outstanding Student in History 2018-2019. She will begin a Ph.D. program in History at Rutgers University in the fall of 2020. Mary enjoys traveling, watching classic movies, and drinking beer.
This blog post was made possible in part by a grant from the Oregon Heritage Commission to Southern Oregon University, to document the Rogue Valley Women’s Movement, 1970-1990.