“You must to come to the Teepee. You will come to the Teepee,” Meredith states. Meredith, is a boisterous pal with the sloppy heart of a Labrador. She is already texting my email address to the hostess, because I am coming, that’s it. “It’s on the full moon, of course.”
“Naturally.” I reply. The full moon is a big night in Los Angeles; land of a million new-age ceremonies and healing rituals. There’s always something pagan going on. “Will drugs be involved?” I asked.
“What?!” Meredith laughed and sputtered. Her surprise surprised me. One wants to know how to dress for these things, after all. Will we be hiking? Swimming? Doing yoga asanas? Vomiting? She assured me nothing stronger than cabernet would be consumed that night, which suited me just fine.
We met at Lorna’s groovy Spanish house on Franklin Canyon. Lorna has been holding “Circling Ceremonies” in her back yard for over a decade. She has two young children who were being tucked in by a nanny, and a husband who clearly worked successfully at something. Lorna was lithe and earthy, pampered and poised. We were a group of eight women, between the ages, of twenty-four to… well… as I looked around I saw I found myself in the startling position of being the eldest of the group. Traditionally I have usually been the youngest in a group, but tonight’s full moon seems to have tipped me over into a new category. The eager, shining faces of the unmarried girls and new mothers turned toward me in respect and I found myself, suddenly, in the Full Crone position—an asana for the doomed.
The ladies shared stories from past teepee experiences, as they sipped from a bottle Full Moon wine from Trader Joe’s. When all were assembled, Lorna asked us to please prepare to enter the teepee. We lined up on her patio, waiting our turn to be smudged by our hostess. As she wafted sage smoke over me and whispered blessings I looked up at the moon. It was perfectly chalked on a blackboard sky.
The teepee sat between a barbeque and a composter. We kicked off our shoes, stooped, then crawled into the dark, conical inner world. We seated ourselves in a circle on soft cushions. The teepee’s ceiling was draped in silky fabrics. A constellation of candles, burned between us on a waxy pedestal, sending a curl of perfumed smoke up through the open apex of the roof.
The ceremonial props were as familiar as my shopping list for Vons. Hank of sage for smudging? Check. Handmade, crystal-encrusted, bling-y talking stick? Check. List of intentions? Check. This ceremony looked like it would be very basic—a little burning of paper, some brave sharing, perhaps some gentle crying.
Though I am a cynical New Yorker by birth, the truth is, after almost twenty-five years in Los Angeles, I believe in this shit. When I do my inventory I have to say I have become a Los Angeles cliché—a new-age, self-helper. I’m like Tony Robbins in “Annie Hall” when he’s snapping his hood visor in place. Slightly superstitious, more than a little ridiculous. Oxygen bar? Sure. High colonic? But of course. I have gone native.
I have done it all in my time here: I have ‘shroomed among the sepia rocks of Joshua Tree, schvitzed in a kiva in Burbank, sipped Ayuhuasca in West Los Angeles and twelve-stepped with the best of them. There are a thousand ways to grow your soul in Los Angeles and I have tried them all. I do it because it helps. In fact, I think it may actually be working. Lately I have a serenity I have never known before. But maybe that’s just a function of growing older.
I thought of my bretheren, the thousands of people across Los Angeles, who at this same moment were gathering in hot tubs and pup tents, lining up crystals and chanting, negotiating precipitous canyon trails in a bid to get closer to the moon.
It’s easy for New Yorkers to roll their eyes at Angelenos—I know because I used to do it. Most of the rituals we enact here in Los Angeles are a miasma of mysticism. We co-opt from Native American, Buddhist, and Hindu traditions and shamelessly bastardize them. We sprinkle Big Book slogans into our small talk, fondle our mezuzahs, repeat our mantras, and push all this wisdom and spirituality through the distinctly American sieve of feminism and self-empowerment. What emerges is a kind of spiritual paste—good for spackling broken souls back together. But many of us transplanted Angelenos are here because our tribes back home are hopelessly broken and we don't know how to be. We have rejected the faith of our families and seek to make sense of our human experience.
This teepee ceremony feels both tribal and Jungian. It has a whiff of witchcraft and just a soupcon of Steinem. It’s “Dances With Wolves” meets “Thelma and Louise” by way of “Practical Magic” (but without the hair extensions). We are WOMYN and we don’t need no stinkin’ men here. At the pee break we check our cell phones to see if the husbands have called with news of our children.
Lorna passed pens and paper around the Circle, and told us to make a list of the things we wanted to get rid of. The younger women set to their task eagerly, scribbling long lists of their character defects. I have made dozens of these lists myself, but on this night I sat with my pen hovering over the blank sheet of paper. Any complaints I had would be nitpicking, at this point. I wrote down a single word, so I would have something to burn.
We went around the circle, and resolved to let go of hurts, rivalries, addictions and self-doubt. As each woman recited her list she lit her scrap of paper and burned it in the metal ashtray that was passed around the circle. By the time it got to me the ashtray was so full of sage leaves and half-burned regrets I worried that my scrap of paper would ignite the lot and I would start a fire in the tinder-dry canyon. The word I burned that night was “Fear.”
A coyote’s lone yowl threaded through the night like surgical stitches, and it was immediately answered by the pack. They were all around us. A chill rippled through the circle and we laughed and hugged our chenille throws more tightly around ourselves. A Chumash woman would think of the coyotes as spirit guides sent to take us into another the world beyond this one, our brave companions. But I am born of the Manhattan tribe, come of age in the lowlands Los Angelenos, and when I hear the hungry call of brother coyote I can only think, Ladies, hide your purse dogs.
We emerged from the teepee renewed and grateful. At, at the core of our spiritual exercise was an impulse so tender and human that it filled us all with collective peace, relief and joy. The moon had done for us what it has always done for humans across eons: it has caused us to gather together and form a tribe, if only for an evening.