I’ve written much and will write more about ancient and ancestral connections. Today I want to share information about a series of gatherings to deepen our personal connections to those energies…and that wisdom. Would love to have you join us if you are called. If you are interested, email me for registration and more information. Thanks so much!
It’s all energy and it’s all about energy. From ancient times to this time, when we encounter stories and writings of spirituality and mysticism they are generally offering wisdom about how to receive, hold, shift, and share energy. The energy we are and the energy that flows through the world around us.
This morning in the Dharma session of my spiritual community, we were given this visualization mantra. Beautiful words for this time in our wounded nation. Words to shift the energy. Because we can.
In this tumultuous time we remember and honor the ancestral wisdom that can ground us in the vision of who we are as a people. Not ancient wisdom. The wisdom of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Langston Hughes. Powerful voices for this time. For all time.
Let America Be America Again Langston Hughes
Let America be America again. Let it be the dream it used to be. Let it be the pioneer on the plain Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed— Let it be that great strong land of love Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath, But opportunity is real, and life is free, Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me, Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart, I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars. I am the red man driven from the land, I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek— And finding only the same old stupid plan Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope, Tangled in that ancient endless chain Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land! Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need! Of work the men! Of take the pay! Of owning everything for one’s own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil. I am the worker sold to the machine. I am the Negro, servant to you all. I am the people, humble, hungry, mean— Hungry yet today despite the dream. Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers! I am the man who never got ahead, The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream In the Old World while still a serf of kings, Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true, That even yet its mighty daring sings In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned That’s made America the land it has become. O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas In search of what I meant to be my home— For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore, And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea, And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came To build a “homeland of the free.”
Who said the free? Not me? Surely not me? The millions on relief today? The millions shot down when we strike? The millions who have nothing for our pay? For all the dreams we’ve dreamed And all the songs we’ve sung And all the hopes we’ve held And all the flags we’ve hung, The millions who have nothing for our pay— Except the dream that’s almost dead today.
O, let America be America again— The land that never has been yet— And yet must be—the land where every man is free. The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME— Who made America, Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain, Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain, Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose— The steel of freedom does not stain. From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives, We must take back our land again, America!
O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath— America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death, The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies, We, the people, must redeem The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers. The mountains and the endless plain— All, all the stretch of these great green states— And make America again!
I’ve never been interested in English history beyond our own revolutionary war and an exploration of the horrors the English inflicted on the Irish. So I didn’t anticipate writing more than the one post on the Mother Goose nursery rhymes. But then there was a second. And then I found this. It is chillingly reflective of where we are as a nation right now.
The history behind this social commentary and political satire takes us back 1513 and the Anglo-French war that marked the effective end of Catholic Europe’s influence on England’s internal politics. Henry VIII had decided to invade France, largely for personal glory. His intention was to create a realm, church, and empire subject only to him.
Anticipating a long siege because of the rainy weather and being aware of the propaganda effect, he lodged his officers in colorful tents and had built for himself an impressive and luxurious pavilion.
When weather permitted, English troops attacked with an artillery force that threw the French advance into a state of chaos. Woefully unprepared, the French calvary galloped away with such speed that the battle became known as the Battle of the Spurs. However it wasn’t the defeat as much as the story Henry promulgated about his victory that changed the tide of events. As the propaganda of his new role as a formidable power spread and took hold, European countries quickly adopted a laissez-faire attitude and hands-off policy regarding England. Just as the French had fled from the battlefield, other European countries fled from any notion of confrontation, cowed by the idea of themselves also being defeated by the English. And so, one by one, the dominoes fell.
Did it all really begin with the want of a horseshoe nail? We’ll never know. But whatever the chain of events, the chain of for-the-want-ofs, for France the kingdom lost was their national pride. For the Roman Catholic Church, the kingdom lost was England.
And now. In this time in our nation. We are watching how the dominoes are falling and wondering which kingdoms will be lost. I have hope that our nation will survive in tact with our founding and guiding principles of equality and justice. I also have a strong sense that we must mind the nails.
Freedom of speech. It’s a basic right in our nation and one so implicit in who we are as a people that we can easily take it for granted. Freedom of speech is embedded in our culture. But in other times and cultures this wasn’t always the case and in some cultures it’s not true even today. When it’s dangerous to critique and criticize those in power, people don’t stop commenting. They just shape their commentary differently. In early England they often chose a simple poetic meter as in this Mother Goose nursery rhyme.
Mistress Mary refers to Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII. Also known as Mad Mary, this Catholic queen gained a reputation for executing Protestant loyalists. The garden in this rhyme refers to an ever expanding graveyard of the queen’s victims. Silver bells and cockleshells are euphemisms for instruments of torture. Maids refers to a beheading instrument called The Maiden that came into common use before the guillotine and was apparently a favorite of Mary’s.
It turns out many nursery rhymes have a similar back story of being the way people, without the ability to read or write, relied on an oral tradition to share and comment on the actions of those in power. And when necessary, for fear of losing one’s head, this oral tradition was cloaked in camouflage.
Those in power have always had the power of the pen to shape the stories of history. I’ve written much about this dynamic in Irish history when Catholic monks recorded and in the process rewrote much of Ireland’s chronological and mythological history. Yes. Those easily accessible stories are important but it’s equally important to remember that those are not the only stories and not the whole story. For the whole story can come to us through something as seemingly innocuous as a children’s rhyme. These are the people’s stories. These are the stories, the threads of truth, that enrich the tapestry and our understanding of what has gone before.
Stories become embedded in our culture long after their original meaning has faded in the mists of time. Ring Around The Rosie. It’s generally thought this rhyme can be traced back to the Great Plague of 1665. The plague caused a high fever and a ring shaped rash, the smell of which they tried to cover up by placing herbs and spices in their pockets. Ashes, ashes, is the American version of the English which was A-tishoo!, A-tishoo!, a reference to the sneezing fit people had right before they died…or fell down.
There are other interpretations. But this one seems most accurate and is certainly germane to this time of covid. Story, song, and rhyme. Long before Twitter and Facebook, this was their social media. This is how the stories were preserved and handed down even after 350 years. Today this nursery rhyme may seem benign. But the power and perseverance of our stories can be dangerous.
Right now in this nation we are dealing with a story that has been told over and over and over for the last five years. And although not in rhyme, the chants of lock them up and stop the steal have become embedded in the culture of an alarming number of Americans. The chants may not be around in 350 years, but their presence in this time is perpetuating armed violence and sedition. And it’s painfully clear that this story of a stolen election is not going away, despite all evidence to the contrary. Despite the number of court cases rejected by even the Supreme Court.
This is the power of the story. As we hear the stories of anger and hate and, at their root, white supremacy, must create a stronger and more powerful narrative of love and equality and social justice. A story that will last 350 years. And we must work to embed that story in our culture. Or we will all fall down.
Note: I created this post yesterday morning and after the coup attempt yesterday wondered about posting it today. Yet it seems the events yesterday just underscore how little honor there is in our current leadership…and how critically we need it restored.
Glaine ár gcroí Purity of our hearts. Neart ár ngéag Strength of our limbs. Beart de réir ár mbriatharAction to match our speech. The three mottoes of the Fianna
While I haven’t researched the genesis of the honor codes by which the soldiers guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, they echo legends of ancient Ireland. The Fianna were an elite warrior guild who stood as protectors of the established Gaelic order. They supported the high-king and upheld the values and ethics of their warrior-code, protecting the people and defending the land as and when occasion, or principle, demanded it.
But they were more than just good fighters. The Fianna was at once a warriors’ training academy and a heroes’ guild. Members were required to be of the highest intellectual calibre, skilled in poetry, music, genealogies, and the histories of the lands and their peoples. The tough trials and tests one had to undergo made sure only the best men of Ireland made their ranks.
The path to becoming a member of the Fianna was one of transformative initiation, and the decision to join was not one to be taken lightly. For once you became a member of the Fianna you were a member for life. A ceremony of both legal and symbolic significance occurs once a man has passed the trials of initiation and is ready to take his final steps in joining the guild — it meant stepping away from his family as his primary legal and social support unit and turning instead to his new clan, the Fianna. In a sense, joining the Fianna would be like joining the priesthood. It signified a complete transformation of the initiate from lowly man to noble warrior.
The first requirement for joining the Fianna was one that tested a man’s intellect. Before physical prowess and strength, Fianna hopefuls had to know the twelve books of poetry – which recorded the histories, genealogies, and legends of Ireland.
Next, his sprinting is tested — given the headstart of one tree he must evade a team of pursuers through a think forest and escape unharmed; during the chase, he must be so agile that not a single braid of his hair comes loose by hanging branches, and so lightfooted that he breaks no withered branches underfoot. Then his jumping and ducking is tested —he must bound over the branches of trees that are the same height as his head from the ground, and stoop under branches as low as his knee without leaving a trembling branch behind him. Finally, while running at full speed, he must remove a thorn from his foot without slowing his pace.
Once he has successfully passed all tests and received the assent of his family he accepts the Four geasa (an obligation or prohibition magically imposed on a person) of Fenian Chivalry: 1. He shall marry his wife without portion — choosing her for her manners and her virtues. 2. He shall be gentle with all women. 3. He shall never reserve to himself anything which another person stands in need of. 4. He shall stand and fight against all odds, as far as nine to one.
Daunting. And yes, the stuff of myth and legend. But that is how wisdom is passed down to us. Through stories that counsel us how to be in right relationship with the sacred, the Earth, and in community. To paraphrase Yeats, all we know comes from this.
Beannacht, Judith – firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: Although information about the Fianna is available from many sources, this writing relied much on information from the Brehon Academy.
Take, if you must, this little bag of dreams; Unloose the cord, and they will wrap you round. W.B. Yeats
Mentioning W.B. Yeats in yesterday’s post brought the following to mind. Lines from a poem he wrote for Augusta Gregory, The Shadowy Waters.
I had not eyes like those enchanted eyes, Yet dreamed that beings happier than men Moved around me in the shadows, and at night My dreams were cloven by voices and by fires; And the images I have woven in this story Moved round me in the voices and the fires, And more I may not write of, for they that cleave The waters of sleep can make a chattering tongue Heavy like stone, their wisdom being half silence. How shall I name you, immortal, mild, proud shadows? I only know that all we know comes from you…
And felt the hillside thronged by souls unseen, Who knew the interest in me, and were keen That man alive should understand man dead. John Masefield
And what I am saying is this: this earth belongs partially to the dead, not to us. We are facing circumstances so complex we simply do not have the chops to fix them ourselves. That’s vanity. When we pay attention to what came before us, ghosts become ancestors, and we have something to work with. Martin Shaw
Martin Shaw is a captivating story teller. One of the best. I had the extraordinary opportunity to hear his stories in person at Thoor Ballylee, the ancient tower where W.B. Yeats lived and wrote for nine years. The tower is just a few minutes from our cottage in Ireland and not far from Coole Park where Yeats often stayed with Augusta Gregory.
From the stories I’ve heard him tell, you can follow him online, he doesn’t often get pointedly political as in this recent post on FB. But I think it’s time for all storytellers and bards and poets to speak out about the vital importance of ancestor connections and ancestral wisdom.
I work a lot with the ancestors now. Both here and in Ireland. Yes, there is something mystically romantic in all this but it’s far beyond some whimsical spiritual adventure. Current circumstances are both complex and critically urgent. And it seems we don’t have the chops to fix them. We need all the help and guidance we can muster. And those who have gone before us, those who are anxious to share the wisdom of past times, are available to us and for us.
The ancestors are here for us through direct connection. They are here for us through the stories that have been told around ancient fires and passed down through the ages. We ignore their counsel and their stories at our great peril.
Stories. As you probably know by now, I love stories. Those I share are primarily hopeful and aspirational, holding the energies of love, joy, peace, and light. But the story I want to share today is one of honor. For not only are those stories important, they seem especially relevant for what’s unfolding in our country right now. Especially as we now hear the saber rattling of possible civil war.
It seems there is and always has been war. Always soldiers. And always stories of war and warriors. For forty five years I have been partnered with and married to a warrior, a veteran of the Vietnam war. Those battle scars will never go away. And in this time of threats of domestic violence and wishful thinking among our electeds that the military would participate, Dennis has mentioned several times the oath he took as a soldier. An oath to defend our constitution. An oath as meaningful for him today as it was when he took it decades ago.
Then this story found me in the last few days. A story of those who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington D.C. A story of honor and dedication to an ideal, a code, an ethic, that is at the very heart of that oath Dennis took long ago. While politicians and even military leaders often choose dubious and even nefarious courses of action, I am struck by the core ethic of integrity and honor that lives in these soldiers. No. I do not like war and never will. But if there must be war and warriors, may the guiding principles of honor prevail. Here is what is required of those who guard the Tomb of the Unknown soldier – twenty-fours hours a day since 1930.
They must commit two years of life to guard the tomb, live in a barracks under the tomb, and cannot drink any alcohol on or off duty for the rest of their lives.
The first six months of duty a guard cannot talk to anyone, nor watch TV. They cannot swear in public for the rest of their lives and cannot disgrace the uniform or the tomb in any way. After two years, the guard is given a wreath pin that is worn on their lapel signifying they served as guard of the tomb. The guard must obey these rules for the rest of their lives or give up the wreath pin. There are no wrinkles, folds or lint on the uniform. Every guard spends five hours a day getting his uniforms ready for guard duty. All off duty time is spent studying the 175 notable people laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. A guard must memorize who they are and where they are interred.
In 2003 as Hurricane Isabelle was approaching Washington DC , the US Senate and House took two days off in anticipation of the storm. Because of the dangers from the hurricane, the military members assigned the duty of guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier were given permission to suspend the assignment. They respectfully declined the offer, ‘No way, Sir!’ Soaked to the skin, marching in the pelting rain of a tropical storm, they said that guarding the Tomb was not just an assignment, it was the highest honor that can be afforded to a serviceperson.
I pray for peace. I will always pray for peace and oppose war. But if there must be war, may it be guided by a code of honor. For there’s not much of that in our wars and military or political leadership these days. Not much at all.