Maiden, Mother, Crone

December 27, 2007

November 25, 2006


Maiden, mother, crone: Santa Cruz singer and spiritualist Shekinah Mountainwater leans on friends and family to see her through a dark night of the soul.

by Wallace Baine, Sentinel staff writer

Shekhinah Mountainwater speaks in myths. So, when she’s talking about her year-long battle with uterine cancer, it feels entirely natural to her to summon up an ancient Sumerian myth about a goddess named Inanna who finds herself navigating the Underworld.

"As she’s
traveling, she comes across these gates in which she must pass
through," said the 67-year-old folksinger and spiritualist, "At one
gate, she is asked to give up her jewelry, the next gate her robe and
the next gate her crown, till she’s finally naked."

 For a woman who, for almost 40 years, has been seeking her truth in matriarchal myths as old as human civilization, this is a way to come to grips with an illness that has transformed her life. Long a believer in the power of Eastern modes of healing, she has had to accept Western medical technologies that she has longed feared: surgery, chemotherapy and, perhaps in the near future, radiation.

Convinced by a friend that embracing both East and West is the way to
survival, Mountainwater turned to traditional Western medicine. "I’ve always been this alternative type person — do the herbs, do the magic, get in a circle and ask everybody to visualize me better — and I didn’t want to get surgery or chemo. I was horrified, I was going to have to get my body cut open. But I had to surrender at each gate."

On Dec. 1 and 2, a community of performers and artists are coming together in a show called "Viva Shekhinah," a variety show aimed celebrating the guest of honor. Among the performers will be Miranda Janeschild and her dance company Mir & A Company, singer/songwriter Molly Hartwell, fellow healer and singer Copperwoman, and acclaimed dancer and choreographer Frey Faust, who happens to be Shekhinah Mountainwater’s son.

Mountainwater is a key figure in the history of Santa Cruz’s alternative spiritual culture. She’s a musician and songwriter who emerged early on as a leading proponent of Goddess worship, a parallel discipline of paganism centered on an archetypal feminine world view. She’s the author of "Ariadne’s Thread: A Workbook of Goddess Magic," and she’s led classes and workshops and conducted rituals and tarot-card readings.

Though she’s had many adherents to her teachings, she’s also run into occasional conflict at the hands of everyone from Christians to other pagans.

"There’s always been this impression that I’m anti-male," she said one afternoon in the living room of her Seabright-area home. "I mean, c’mon. How could I be?" With that, she gestures to her son sitting across the table. The 46-year-old Faust has been living abroad for 20 years, but he’s moved back to Santa Cruz to be with his mother during her convalescence. Faust’s impressive resume includes studies from a wide variety of teachers from Marcel Marceau to Merce Cunningham, and has developed his own technique of movement known as the Axis Syllabus.

Shekhinah Mountainwater’s story in Santa Cruz begins back in 1970 when she first moved to area from Los Angeles with her two children, Frey and Angel. The daughter of a Marxist scholar in New York, she grew up amidst the folk-revival era of the early 1960s centered in Greenwich Village. Among her acquaintances were folks such as Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul & Mary.

She eventually moved to Los Angeles where she tried to establish herself as a folksinger. "I used to sit on the sidewalk all day just so I could get a 15-minute slot on Monday night at the Troubadour."

When she moved to Santa Cruz, she, her son and her daughter were a performing trio called the Sybil. She played songs, many of her own composition, while the kids engaged in ecstatic dance. The group got steady work playing at renaissance fairs and other festival events, including the streets of the old Pacific Garden Mall in downtown Santa Cruz.

At the same time, Mountainwater was being drawn deeply into studies of Goddess literature, most notably "The White Goddess," a text that led her to a spiritual a-ha moment.

"When I read that book," she said, "I realized this is what I was here to do, why I had come into this life, to serve the Goddess. It all crystallized around that book."

Soon, she began teaching and leading rituals. A passerby at the Pacific Cultural Center one October several years ago could have seen Mountainwater lead a group of women in a chant, "nine million witches
were burned — never again!," after which the women would break a
symbolic paper chain and burn it in a cauldron.

She kept busy teaching and leading rituals in "Goddess Magic." But as the years wore on, enthusiasm for her work waned in Santa Cruz, she said. "The politics changed, Santa Cruz got more expensive. The goddess movement grew. But a lot of women are doing their own stuff now. They don’t feel they need a teacher, necessarily."

Since her cancer diagnosis, however, she’s re-connected with the movement and discovered a rich community on the Internet.

"It’s been hard, but it’s also been wonderful. It’s the most amazing experience, to have a life-threatening disease. The support, the community around cancer is phenomenal. There’s so much love and compassion to people with cancer."

One of those people crucial to her healing has been her friend, the performer and spiritualist named Copperwoman, who in 2003 was also diagnosed with cancer and has come through the experience alive and
cancer-free.

"I worked on my cancer for a year before trying Western medicine, but my tumors weren’t going away," said Copperwoman, a long-time Santa Cruzan who moved to Garberville in 2000, "Then, I asked myself ‘OK, You want to live?’ So I took the magic into the Western medicine. You’re going to radiate me? Fine, then I’m radiant.

"I’m so excited to be able to be part of this," she added. "Being recovered and being strong again, I think it’s important for people to see a vision of what can happen with healing."

"It’s been very intense and revelatory," said Mountainwater of her year living with cancer. "Sometimes it’s been very scary, but it’s been very healing too".

From the Santa Cruz Sentinel

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