Women's Harvest Celebration
There is frost on the vines and snow on the mountaintops as the women gather to celebrate the beauty and bounty of harvest time, to renew our ages-old commitment to each other and to life, to stand as witness for others and be fully present to ourselves. It is a time of opening, of healing, of insight.
For eighteen years, an evolving group of women has gathered in the mountains of western
This annual gathering, The Women’s Harvest Celebration, is the creation of a gifted therapist and counselor, Dr. Susan Rangitsch, a psychologist who lives and works in
I first heard of Susan’s work through friends in the
For the last few years, Harvest has been held at the Blacktail Ranch in Wolf Creek, Montana. A huge working ranch on the eastern side of the Continental Divide, Blacktail is a beautiful place with craggy mountains and wide, sweeping vistas. Both deer and bear roam the hillsides and come right up to the lodge. Hawks and eagles soar on the wind currents and coyotes howl above the canyons at night. Mountain lions pace the rocky outcroppings and scream their irascible natures into the night sky. And that sky will take your breath away. Miles from even a small town, there is no light pollution whatsoever; the sky is inky black and scattered with an infinity of stars. The Milky Way fairly leaps out of the sky it is so bright. Familiar constellations seem bigger, brighter, closer. Shooting stars flare and die every few minutes, until all my wishes are whispered to them.
In the meadow above the main lodge, there is a beautiful octagon-shaped building called the Hogan. It consists of one large room with a door in the eastern section and windows in each of the seven other sections. Each window looks out upon a slightly different view of mountains, meadows and tall trees, and each is beautiful. A small entry room is attached with space for hanging coats and a cabinet unit holding supplies for tea. The structure has electricity but no running water; there is an outhouse about twenty feet away. It suits the needs of our group perfectly.
There are two dozen women attending Harvest this year. Five of us have worked with Susan for many years and often act as her assistants; we are known as “the teachers.” About half of the women are young, in their twenties and thirties, and half are older, in their fifties and sixties. Some are attending for the first time and some are veterans of many Harvests past. Some come with huge issues to wrestle and some come simply to be in service, to hold space, to witness. We are a kaleidoscope of personalities and natures.
At the center of it all is Susan: leader, teacher, counselor, mentor, friend, holder of the mirror, asker of hard questions, challenger of assumptions, demander of honesty and deep personal integrity. She holds all present to the same high standards she requires of herself, and all rise to that expectation with their best effort. Susan is incredibly intuitive and deeply perceptive to the energies flowing in those around her. It is often amazing to watch her work with an individual in the circle; whether it is a gentle word, a piercing question, or a wrestling match on the floor, she unerringly knows just what is needed.
The rhythm of our days forms quickly. Breakfast is served in the main lodge at 8 am and we gather in the Hogan at 9:30 for the morning circle. At noon we break for lunch and the afternoons are open for a variety of activities: horseback riding, hiking, cave exploring, sleeping in the sun, journal writing, beading and craft making, meditation, yoga, massage/body work. Sometimes there is a late afternoon circle from 4 to 6, sometimes not. Dinner is at 6 and evening circle begins at 7:30 or 8 and lasts until around 10. After the evening circle some women go immediately to bed, some stay up for hours talking and visiting.
The entire experience of Harvest is about living in spiritual community with openness, honesty and loving kindness towards one another. The time in circle is about working out the issues we all have in our daily lives, both large and small. Difficulties with child-rearing, problems within marriages, poor or failed relationships, issues with self esteem, the challenge of shutting down our internal self-criticism with which we nag ourselves constantly. The issues which come up are universal to women’s experience, and often painful to the individual woman struggling with them. Sometimes with tears and sometimes with laughter, each woman’s story is heard. The work she needs to do is supported. She may be quite shaken by what transpires, but she inevitably leaves the circle feeling stronger and with a clearer vision of her path.
Women come to Harvest from all different religions and spiritual traditions. Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Pagan, Agnostic, Atheist have all been present, and all are honored. Susan draws from many different spiritual disciplines in guiding the prayers, meditations and activities of the group.
The final evening is one of joyous celebration. Women come to the circle dressed in their best finery and wearing a party mood. There is a tradition of a small gift exchange known as Giveaway; if someone’s story has touched you, if you have been impressed with someone’s work to deal with her issues, if someone has shown you a special kindness as you have worked with your own issues, it is appropriate to give her a small token—something which is meaningful to you, and which will therefore become meaningful to her. The process of Giveaway is often accompanied by many hugs, kisses and tears.
The final circle often has dancing and drumming as a part of it. Youthful energies run high and want an outlet for exuberance. This year’s circle contained a number of young women who are excellent dancers, their bodies lithe and limber and their movement an expression of pure joy. It brought tears to my eyes to watch them.
The Women’s Harvest Celebration is for me a most blessed event. It is a brief time spent in spiritual community with a loving and supportive circle of women, shepherded by a caring, sensitive and intuitive leader. It enriches my life immeasurably to be there and I will see to it that my attendance does not falter again.
For more information regarding Women's Harvest Celebration and other programs by Susan Rangitsch, please see her website: www.integritas-inspire.com.