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Kindred Spirit March/April 2010(Extracts )
written by Vicky Crumpton.
--Hiking up the hill, an exuberant and animated Ishtar tells me a bit about herself and informs me that she is an “uplifter”. I don’t take much convincing as I am soon energized by her infectious enthusiasm, and receive a welcome second wind… whilst all the time scouring the undergrowth for forest treasures for suitable mask-making materials.The first stop, on what I am soon to discover is an incredibly full itinerary................
......As I voice my forebodings about my lack of skill, Ishtar directs me, in her fabulous, no nonsense scouse accent to… “Enjoy it and have some fun”… There is no arguing, and I am instantly instilled with a ‘oh why the hell not’ attitude, and wow does it pay off! I don the coin belt that I am handed and copying Ishtar’s snake–like hips as best as I can, I shake my ‘thang’ and grin along with the rest of the girls. It is extraordinary the rush. I feel as Ishtar, so unashamedly sexy and gorgeous, encourages us all to celebrate, love and experience how good it feels to be a woman. We shake, shimmy, wiggle and strut to an array of incredible middle-eastern music. `A switch is flipped on as I actually begin to understand and even revel in my female power.
....................Following Ishtar’s instructions we begin to explore our different female forms. We dance freestyle alone and with different partners portraying ourselves as warriors, coquettish girls, and full-on seductresses, or as Hara insightfully put it “getting in touch with your inner stripper”. It is pretty daunting at first, being told to face a relative stranger and do your sauciest temptress impression… in the medium of dance… but I grit my teeth, put on my best pout and get stuck in, realising by the various empathetic flushed cheeks that we are all in the same place and that this is part of pushing through towards that elusive self-loving feeling. After the dancing, Ishtar involves us in an interesting discussion and quiz on divine female archetypes.
Before I know it two-and-a-half hours have whizzed by and I am exhilarated and amazed at how powerful the experience has been… I skip off with my new friends, bisto-kid style, towards the mouthwatering smells emanating from the main house, where domestic goddess, Celeste is waiting for us with a fantastic home-cooked vegetarian curry. Amid the laughter and chatter I realize that I am in a happy place.
We end the evening with a few well-earned glasses of wine. I flop contentedly on to my double bed drifting off to sleep to the sound of the rest of the girls, laughing and singing. …..Arriving back at the retreat, Ishtar is on a mission. We have lots of fun expressing ourselves in clay, moulding our own goddesses, which we put out to dry in the sun. Next up is belly-dancing veil work and a fabulous burlesque (a Western, more erotic form of belly dance) class. This time we split in to two groups and choreograph a dance each to perform after dinner.
we hand the floor over to the professional. Ishtar is spectacular, and we are completely mesmerized and inspired by her incredible belly dance routine. The camaraderie is brilliant and everyone is up and dancing. Ishtar ends the night on a high.
  When the rest of the group return from a walk up to the nearby ruins, Ishtar begins a trance dance session. This is a primal form of meditation practiced frequently in the Middle East that renders the participant into a powerful state of trance through rhythmic dance and music. Again we work in pairs, taking it in turns to be the carer and the dancer. During this session the dancers are asked the following questions by their partner: ‘Who are you?’ ‘What is your purpose?’ ‘Why are you here?’ Ishtar follows this with a guided meditation, and as a result of the unexpected release of emotion most of us find ourselves a bit tearful.
We wander thoughtfully back to the house where we have lunch and talk about our experiences. Next up in the dynamic schedule is painting our clay goddesses and making masks to wear for the evening. We all sit round the balcony table in the glorious mountain air chatting, drinking tea and having a whale of a time with sequins, leaves, twigs, glue and glitter.
After we finish our satisfying creative outpouring it is time to head to Lourdes, to join the many other visitors on the pilgrims walk. It is a fascinating experience. We each buy a candle from one of the many chintzy ‘religious’ shops and walk to the cathedral where St Bernadette saw the Virgin Mary. Hundreds of candles light up the clear night sky and the energy and spirituality there is magical. Heading back to camp we discuss our ideas about faith and the amazing story behind Lourdes.
Arriving home we light the kindling, don our masks and dance around the fire, whilst Celeste and Hara provide a superb beat on their African drums. This leaves me feeling wonderfully Pagan after having experienced and respectfully walked alongside the full force of the Christian faith. With my time at the retreat at an end, I retire to bed after hugs all round, realising that that I have been well and truly inspired. l set off early on my journey home with wonderful a sense of empowerment, and my new companions; a heightened sense self-awareness and a stirring inner goddess.