by Maya White Sparks, Co-founder of The Spiral Grove
In 1990, Maya White Sparks (then known as Toni White) founded the Spiral Grove with the help of an eclectic group of earth-loving people in Rappahannock County, Virginia, USA. This marked a new level in the evolution of Maya’s spirituality and is part of the story of the evolution of pagan spirituality at the end of the Twentieth century and the beginning of the second millennia.
Maya had moved to the beautiful rural area of Rappahannock County around 1980, shortly after being initiated by a Dianic Coven in Washington, DC. She had learned of the Goddess traditions through the Women’s Movement and during her time in the metro area she had relied on the womb of the Women’s Community for support and for opportunities to practice her spirituality with others. Later, the sparsely populated rural environment of Rappahannock County in the 1980’s provided few opportunities for her to connect with others of like-minded nature spirituality, especially women-only ones. The Goddess was setting the stage for Maya to open up to connecting with men and women of other naturespirit traditions. During a class with one of her spiritual teachers, Carol Osmer-Newhouse, Maya had been advised that she needed to open up more to the concept of universal love. It is in that spirit of universal love that the Grove was founded. It was through her need for others to celebrate with that Maya opened to a new spiritual community, and with these other adventurous souls, has been challenged to honor diversity on new levels
The Grove’s core activity was, and still is, the celebration of yearly nature holidays or “The Wheel of the Year,” in circle rituals, according to various nature-centered spiritual traditions (e.g. Wicca, Celtic Tradition, Native American Tradition, Faery Wicca, Women’s Spirituality, etc.) Toward the end of 1991, the Grove began to publish a quarterly newsletter. The newsletter was originally entitled Spiral Grove News, but the title was changed in 1998 to Close to Mother Earth, a name that was given in a dream to the newsletter’s co-editor, Phenix. This new title made the newsletter more accessible to the community-at-large and has become an important tool for outreach. Many members of our community first learned of the Grove through the newsletter being offered for free in friendly shops (see links page).
As time went on, the Grove community grew. Clergy were ordained and naturespirit practitioners initiated. In 1997, the Grove sponsored it’s first annual Witches’ Faire in order to give members of the Grove a way to educate the community at large about the spiritual origins of Halloween, and to offer their crafts and spiritual services to the community.
In 1998, a core group of people who were attending Grove celebrations felt that they wanted to further articulate and manifest a vision for the Grove. They met at Cellina Rhiannon Whiteflame’s Winchester apartment and created the Grove’s first “Vision Statement.” That statement later was incorporated into the Grove’s first set of Bylaws and Articles of Incorporation (see Membership page on menu) as its purpose and goals:
“To celebrate (i.e. conduct religious services) together at the Nature Holidays and to perform rites of passage (e.g. weddings) with joy, reverence, and mirth.
To create community and safe space.
To provide for healing and the practice of other spiritual arts.
To educate ourselves and others about nature-centered spirituality.
To respect all spiritual paths.”
In 1999, we submitted the initial Articles of Incorporation and By-laws to the Commonwealth of Virginia’s State Corporation Commission to make it clear that Spiral Grove was a “Church of Nature Spirituality,” Unfortunately, the Commonwealth’s Constitution did not allow the incorporation of Churches at that time, our documents were returned to us, and we abandoned the process for the time-being.
Despite this setback, however, the Grove kept growing as a community. Its by-laws and amendments guided the community in living according to the values of harming none and honoring diversity. Quarterly community Councils allowed more people to become involved in the planning of celebrations and other events. Decision-making was made on a consensus basis, that is, all must agree for a decision to be made. The Priestesses and Priest helped people in the Grove community to become more confident in their abilities to actively participate in rituals and to become leaders themselves. New programs were developed, e.g. mentorships for new Naturespirit Practitioners, The Path to Ordination (Training program for clergy; see Initiation & Ordination page on menu), Continuing Education Days, children’s circles of various kinds, a library, Discussion Groups, Workshops, Earth Day Cleanups, Community Gardening, an email list, a website, in-kind donations for those in need, and the annual adoption of a family in need for whom we collect gifts at the Winter Holidays.
It seems that every few years the Grove has been challenged by a major disagreement or personal conflicts. The community has made every effort to mediate differences, to find the higher perspective, to communicate, and to work things out. We try to learn from conflict and have made amendments to our bylaws that were informed by what we were learning. A couple of people left the Grove due to disagreements, but we have survived, become wiser, and maintained a core group that carries on with trying to fulfill the ideals Spirit has set for us. New people continue to join us and many have jumped in to share the load of administrative responsibilities by becoming Leadership Members, Board Members, and walking the Path to Ordination. Others have taken active roles in organizing events and in making beautiful, heartfelt rituals. (Although not everyone can be named here, you will see their names sprinkled throughout our newsletter and website. We hope that everyone feels valued for their contributions to our community.)
Over the past [number of years], with the leadership of the Board and [a past President, Willow Rainbow Crone], the community [took] up the quest to become a non-profit organization. The Grove Council has approved a revised name, mission, and by-laws. The Grove’s Visioning and Manifestation Committee, with the leadership of Cellina Rhiannon Whiteflame and Glasshawk, has been meeting and articulating the many projects the community would like to see, e.g. a self-sustaining, model eco-village to educate people in green living; a spiritual school; interfaith temple; an archives, library, and research center; holistic health education and services; green burials; wildlife preserves, crisis hotline, day care center; art and music programs; elders space that is handicapped accessible; addiction rehabilitation; scholarships; vision quests and other programs for adolescents, etc. In order to accomplish these many things, it is clear that we need to have our own land and Community Center. The latter has become our primary goal to accomplish after gaining non-profit status. After years of not dealing much with the financial side of things, we are now conducting fundraising activities so that we can accomplish our goals. Stay tuned to see how that goes!