We were headed across Ireland to have dinner with Anthony Murphy, author and archaeoastronomer. Arguably one of the best things I did in Ireland this summer and well worth the thirteen hour investment. Actually, I was driving and Jack was navigating. Ostensively to avoid the three dollar toll on the cross country motorway, but clearly to afford Jack the opportunity to gaze out the window at ringforts as we passed through the countryside. He makes this drive frequently, but never as a passenger.
And he observed loads of them. I would later learn that there are an estimated 45,000 ringforts in Ireland. Add to that 3,000 holy wells, 1,400 cairn temples and 234 stone circles. Add to that numerous but uncounted standing stones, dolmans and remains of stone sweat lodges. For a small country, Ireland has a massive number of megalithic and ancient sacred sites. Small by comparison I suppose. In terms of square miles it’s about the size of the state of Maine and half the size of Washington state.
When Dennis lit the fire it almost exploded into flame. We looked at each other silently. This was going to be a hot lodge. The circle of women gathered around the fire had come to this sweat lodge ceremony to burn away their collective past and forge a new beginning. They were ready for this work and clearly so was the fire. The power of their shared intention had created the invitation. It would be a hot lodge.
People often ask me how hot the lodges are. While I moderate the heat through working with the fire, stones and water, the heart fire each individual brings to the ceremony impacts and influences their personal experience of the heat. And it is this heart fire that holds the possibility and promise of sacred transformation.
Our divine and sacred nature always holds a deep desire for greater expression whether we consciously know it or name it. When we step into an opportunity to embrace and nurture this divine spark it can burst into a fire of sacred passion, a fire that can catch us unaware and off guard. Such was the experience of a beautiful woman in a lodge a few weeks ago. She came to this, her first, lodge at the urging of others and with the intention of simply ‘doing’ a lodge. But her spirit came with an entirely different agenda and, as a lodge-keeper sister would say, she was cracked wide open.
In her words she was changed forever. Weeks later she still holds the deep peace, grounding and spiritual knowing she opened to in the lodge. She names that day as the best of her life, surpassed only by the birth of her two children. That day when she opened to the transformational power and healing of her heart fire.
This transformation is available to each of us. Our spirits are always ready. The question is whether we will call our heart fire to life.
The men sang as they walked in procession from the campsite to the ceremonial grounds. We were lined up waiting for them. They told us later that as they approached they couldn’t recognize us, couldn’t distinguish us one from another. Not surprising, I suppose. We were wearing every piece of clothing we had with us and were wrapped in blankets and sleeping bags. Sacred lumps of the divine feminine, they called us.
The men arrived to dance, sing and pray throughout the day as we women had danced, sang and prayed throughout the night in the high deserts of Idaho. And it had been cold. The lamp oil had frozen solid in the lighted tiki torches that circled the dance ground and so we danced by starlight, moccasined feet on frosty ground.
Singing and dancing and praying. It’s what we do in this spiritual community, this sacred tribe. We sing and dance and pray throughout the year and every fall equinox we gather together for days of ceremony. Sometimes in sleet and snow, and winds and rains that threaten to carry away our tents. Sometimes in temperatures over 100 degrees farenheit. Sometimes in lightening and thunderstorms when there is no space of waiting or counting between the thunder booms and lightening flashes.
For each event there is much preparation. Some years each of us making thousands of prayer ties to decorate the ceremonial grounds. Some years folding thousands of paper cranes with a prayer written inside each bird. Every year creating sacred songs and dances. Creating ceremony. It’s what we do in this spiritual community, this sacred tribe.
We pray for the people and especially the children of the world. We pray for the Earth and all life. We pray for an awakening to Spirit Truth, that the divine spark within every human being on this planet will shine a great light of love, joy and peace.
We know our prayers, our vision for a better world, will not be fully realized in our lifetime. But still we sing and dance and pray. It’s what we do. Woven together through our shared values and experiences, our weaving is tight and strong. It’s who we are, this spiritual community, this sacred and tenacious tribe. As is the way and weaving of any true tribe.
Enter the Green Man, singing ancient songs of Spring. Thanks for this comment, Chalazon. You are right, or rite, on. For this is the very essence of the Green Man and Wild Man featured in the National Geographic article referenced in my last post. Wild in the sense of being of and associated with nature and the natural world, both plant and animal. Green Man is always a glory of plant life and generally horned, honoring the stag or ram. He is both potent and powerful. Too powerful and too popular, it turned out, for the christian clergy.
Try as they did, they were not able to purge Green Man from the spirituality, culture, traditions or very psyche of the people. Finding themselves on the horns of a dilemma, figuratively and literally, they set out to change the story. And they were good at stories. Ceding to popular belief of a divine mystery and mysticism surrounding Green Man, they created the story of his being a fallen angel. This was the same strategy used for the Tuatha Dé Danann of Ireland which I wrote about in an earlier post, A Tragic Solution. The moniker of fallen angel shifted to devil and as his story changed so did his image, especially in Christian art like this painting on the right from the 16th century. The plants are gone but the horns remain.
It was only a matter of time before beloved Green Man turned from green to red – though fortunately not for everyone.
They become bears, stags and devils.
They evoke death but bestow fertile life.
They live in the modern era, but they summon old traditions.
A primal heart still beats in Europe.
Paging through the latest issue of National Geographic I was delighted to read these opening words to an article on Europe’s Wild Men. After my Easter post, Eggs, Rabbits & Resurrection, I wasn’t surprised to receive emails with links to writings of similar sentiment. After all, there is a considerable awareness of this pagan heritage. I was, however, a bit surprised to receive this writing of similar sentiment in the National Geographic. The article is excellent, the photos are stunning. The story is all about the ancient traditions of welcoming the fertility of Spring and how many of those traditions are still alive in Spain, Portugal, Austria, Italy, the Czech Republic, Romania, France, Poland, Switzerland, Germany, Scotland, and Bulgaria. Although not mentioned in this article these traditions live on in Ireland as well.
One might well wonder, as does the article, at the sanity of grown men…and now apparently women although that has not always been the tradition…wandering around in these costumes. One might wonder just how much they believe that costumes and rituals have the power to banish evil and end winter. As one mask traditions scholar quoted in the article says, Modern life tells them not to. But they remain open to the possibility that the old ways run deep.
With over seventy posts I’m still new to the whole world of blogging. One thing I find fascinating is being able to look at information about where readers live and what they are reading. Two posts in particular have garnered more attention than others. One about Ben Bulben, Ben Bulben Speaks, continues to receive many views long after the December posting of it. I can glean that most of these views are from Ireland which is understandable since that same title is also the name of an event happening in May.
Attention for another post is more intriguing. No Hats. No Rabbits, has been viewed around the world. I can see that in early viewings folks found this post through searching for ‘pulling rabbits out of hats’. However recently there are no search terms associated with views of this post which seems to indicated folks are going directly to the post, perhaps having been referred by a friend. Fascinating. This is the post in which I share information on the true nature of magic, insights received from my spiritual teachers.
So from all of this I have created a story that there are folks around the world searching for magic. Yes, it’s a story. But it works for me. And I hope that in reading the post they find that searching for magic isn’t necessary… for it’s really very close at hand. Even though, as has been said, the longest journey is the one from the head to the heart – and I would argue the soul as well – magic, true magic, is very close at hand.
I love chocolate. Fortunately our mother was not keen on decorating hard boiled eggs so Easter was always one of my favorite holidays.
However I could never reconcile the intensity of crucifixion, death and resurrection with the whimsy of bunnies with baskets. Without any explanation or conversation about this in my family or church, the two fell into a strange co-existence with no apparent relationship beyond a shared Sunday celebration. And that was another mystery. While other holidays land on the same date every year, Easter Sunday hops all over the calendar.
I would discover much later in life that Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. Dates based entirely on cycles of the sun and moon. Entirely pagan. I can totally understand why neither parents nor pastor sat us down to explain the finer points of the holiday since the themes of eggs, rabbits, and resurrection all have deep roots in Earth based spirituality with traditions and celebrations reaching back hundreds if not thousands of years before christianity.
The calculation of Easter was long a sore point with the Catholic Church. With celestial dating and fertility rites – enter the rabbit – of the holiday firmly rooted in Ireland the holy church worked hard to expunge all of it. It was a topic hotly debated at the Synod of Whitby in 664. However on this issue they weren’t successful.
The calculation remains as it always has been as every year Mother Earth demonstrates her fertility and fulfills her promise of life’s resurrection. Her basket is filled with flowers, her rabbits and eggs symbols of celebration. No matter the spiritual tradition, this is a season worthy of celebration.
The great spiritual wheel of Ireland described in the Manor of Tara story (Wheel of Spirit posts) holds a resonance with cosmologies around the world. Cultures define themselves in terms of the ways people perceive the cosmos, their cosmology providing a foundational model for life itself. Because indigenous elders and ancestors who first created these wheels were intimately connected with the Earth this sacred and iconic art of how the universe is put together will reflect Earth elements and aspects.
I have long admired the work, life and writings of Malidoma Patrice Somé. In his book, The Healing Wisdom of Africa: Finding Life Purpose Through Nature, Ritual, and Community, he shares the cosmological wheel of his Dagara tribe.
The medicine wheel of the Dagara people is a symbolic representation of the relationships between the five elements that form the cosmos. Earth is at the center and touches all of the other elements. Water is in the North, opposite Fire, in the South. Mineral lies in the West, and Nature is in the East.
I am always amused when someone comes to one of my ceremonies, experiences my ritual working with the four sacred directions, and then takes me aside to carefully explain how the energies, colors, and attributes I ascribe to the directions are all wrong according to what they have been taught. They most likely wouldn’t appreciate the Dagara medicine wheel either. Variations are as vast as the number of peoples and cultures on this planet. If a wheel invokes the sacred cosmology for people and helps them know and live from their place in the universal web of life, then the layout is perfect.
The stones were translucent orange. As we sat in the dark and watched them being placed one by one in the earth bowl, we knew this lodge would be hot and intense. It was a promise more than fulfilled.
The heat and intensity, as with all sweat lodges, was also a reflection of the spiritual power of the participants and the potency of our purpose – to pray the Metta on this Spring Equinox day that all beings may have fresh clean water to drink, food to eat, a home, and someone to share love with. That they may know their true purpose, be well and happy, and free from suffering.
In the womb cave that is sweat lodge, we began our ceremony by grounding and centering ourselves in the web of all life, our place in the universe. As is the way of lodge ceremonies, we called to and honored the four directions of the sacred Earth wheel. To the East and her knowledge of birth and new beginnings. To the the South and her knowledge of abundance and fullness. To the West and her knowledge of death, release and transformation. To the North and her knowledge of the dream time, of vision and inner wisdom. In this way we stepped into the circle of wholeness and harmony, the place from which sacred unfolding and manifestation is possible.
Whether in a sweat lodge or the Great Hall of Tara, spiritual people throughout time have invoked the power and presence of these great harmonious wheels and circles. Some call them medicine wheels. Some call them mandalas. Some call them sacred hoops. But the intention is the same. To touch and connect with the sublime knowledge and wisdom of the universe. To find our place. To remember who we are. To live in sacred harmony.
Fintan the Wise roared at the assembly, “Why have I been called here!?”
A druid spoke, “There is both a dispute here, O Wise Fintan, as well as a matter of grave concern to each of us. Some of the nobles here have challenged the High King. They feel that the current boundaries of the manor of Tara are too great. Additionally, knowing that such things are arranged based on the ancient knowledge and that similar principles of alignment exist for human life, we have discovered that we are without such knowledge. It is as if our minds are engulfed in a mist. We are told you know of such things.”
Fintan looked into the eyes of the High King and scanned the faces of the nobles, reading their intent, discerning all things that dwelled in their souls. He nodded knowingly and made his way to the judge’s seat. After several moments of silence, he spoke.
“I am Fintan, sone of Bochure. I have been a one-eyed salmon. I have been an eagle. I have been a hawk on the wind. I have been a man of verse. I know of every people who have ever occupied this green land. I have seen the rising and falling of kings like waves on the sea. Ireland was my mother long before she became a kingdom of men, long before her glens and valleys were filled with paltry nobles squabbling over land. When I speak today, I speak for her, and for all that I have seen and been.”
Everyone fell silent for a time. A fire crackled in the center of the room. The wind could be heard blowing outside. Fintan continued. Continue reading →