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Sacred Space 

click to enlarge Evan Pritchard leads a workshop on the sacred power of water on February 4 at Mirabai Books. (Image provided)
  • Evan Pritchard leads a workshop on the sacred power of water on February 4 at Mirabai Books. (Image provided)
It’s fitting that Evan Pritchard should lead a workshop about the importance of rivers to spiritual well-being. He’s a specialist on the history of the Algonquin people and their geography, producing colored maps of Native American territories that show how they split up the land along the Hudson River. A philosophy professor at Marist and visiting scholar at other academic institutions, Pritchard became an “expert source” for post September 11 national media because of his book, Native New York. And on the day I met with him, his car was packed with dried sweetgrass, a sharply sweet-smelling reed that grows along riverbanks and symbolizes purity of spirit in some Native American cultures.

Pritchard has shifted the focus of his studies and is now looking more deeply at water and rivers, which he calls the cradles of civilization—and spirituality. In his workshop at Mirabai Books in Woodstock on February 4, "The Hudson Valley: A Cradle of World Consciousness," Pritchard plans to discuss water and its importance to most religions throughout the world. For the Algonquins, the river was literally a lifestream—they fished and drank from and canoed on the Hudson and its tributaries. Waterfalls have particular value, both practically and spiritually.

“Waterfalls are considered places of power. They embody the power of the Earth and power of the spirit,” Pritchard says. “I think everybody senses the spirituality of the waterfalls, but they say, ‘Nah, it must be because of the Pocahontas cartoon.’ But no, it’s always been that way. Waterfalls are very important.”

Pritchard’s workshop is part of a series Mirabai’s owners started in 2001, inviting different spiritual thinkers to share their thoughts with others in a participatory setting. Pritchard’s ideas fit the bookstore’s workshop series, says Jeff Cuiule, who owns Mirabai with his wife, Audrey Cusson. Cuiule tries to craft the series to touch on both local and global themes, to explore a variety of spiritual ideas.

Cuiule started the series about six years ago. The workshops sometimes serve regular customers and sometimes bring new ones into the store, whose L-shaped space is crammed with spiritual books from all over the world. Events take place in an open gallery space behind the shop.

“We’ve held well over 300 workshops in that space. I believe the energy in that room is wild, because so many good things have happened there,” Cuiule says.

Pritchard plans to bring his own ritual to the space. He hasn’t quite decided how, but he plans to use something to bring a concrete understanding of the importance of water to people who participate. It’s a connection that’s easy to inject into a routine, he says.

He thinks that with a spiritual connection to the river, people are more likely to keep it clean, preserving it for future generations. “At any time you can go out and just get close to the river,” he says. “Most people should get in a rowboat or canoe and just get out on the river.”

Pritchard's workshop will take place on February 4 from 2 to 4 pm at Mirabai Books in Woodstock. (845) 679-2100; www.mirabai.com.

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