Mending this tattered human cloak made from particles of ancestral memories quilted together. Tiny stitches nearly invisible; colorful patches of flowers and the ears of cats lying in wait; embroidered whispers woven into the edges. Mending a life brings in past and welcomes future. This mending is a healing journey. No new clothes unworn; seek the softness of frayed memories upon skin and breathe in the stone-washed shimmer of a resilience not easily wrapped around bones and flesh. Goddess spoke to these women through the stains and strains of life. Like tangled roots reaching down into the hidden caves, the fingers of ancestors – old crooked knuckles move in rhythm with unlined plump digits – touch and soothe, plucking loose threads and darning raggedy connections, bringing the pieces together again.
I go out in the morning and stand barefoot on the rocky earth, place my palms upon a massive tree trunk, close my eyes, and breathe in the essence of the land. In exchange, I feel the breath of the land touching my skin with molecules of leaves its passed through, whispering in my ears of its travels near and far, dancing into my nasal cavities the scents of distant memories. The rough bark of the aged tree is like an old farmer’s hands, having toiled and stood firm through the cycles of life, nearing the end of its own but yearning to share its wisdom if only someone would listen.
My family has lived in the Missouri Ozarks for over 150 years, not in this exact location where I am now, but an hour or so further north on flatter land. I’ve been gone from this landscape for more than 40 years, only recently returned. Most of my ancestors arrived from every early colony up and down the eastern seaboard, and traveled across a wide swath of the eastern United States; we also have drops of indigenous blood, married into along the way. So, while I have often felt strong links to various landscapes in my country, connections that go beyond “an aesthetic appreciation” (despite American Indian scholar Vine Deloria arguing against this ability in non-Indians to have a spiritual resonance with this land), I am enjoying the ease with which I am becoming reacquainted with the Ozarks and her unique landscape, and I have no doubt that my ancestors’ spirits are assisting me in this journey.
Some of these ancestors came from Ireland, Scotland, and even Wales; places where their own roots had become inseparable from those of the land and I can imagine the pain they must have felt in being “exiled” (as the Irish say about those who for economic or other reasons felt forced to leave their homeland in order to survive), their roots to the land cut after hundreds, even thousands of years. The writer Patricia Monaghan says, in her book The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog: The Landscape of Celtic Myth and Spirit, that, there in the Ireland of her roots, “human consciousness has met the land’s consciousness,” and this is my own current path of American exploration. Not just to know the landscape as, for instance, this is a Black Oak, and this is a wild Grape Vine; or that some plants here are new arrivals and non-natives, while others are ancient offspring. Rather, how all sink their roots into the same soil to be nurtured. As do I, seeking to to know the land as part of my blood and bones and soul.
These “mystic encounters with the land” are difficult to describe; Monaghan says that she has “heard elusive inaudible music singing forth from land that is wild but nevertheless deeply known by humanity” and I know what she means. What might be our inaudible conversation with the conscious land? How might our healing be mutual?
A new morning practice encourages me to wander into the patterns of Celtic women’s spirituality, to honor my ancestors and meet them at the hearth where we all come to join hearts and minds in a covenant of belonging. Blessings well up to keep me conscious of gifts received and reminders to share my abundance.
First thing in the morning, light the flame, a signal of conscious awareness; last thing at night, honor the dimming of glow in the house where shadows merge and reign upon our sanctuary, a blanket of dark protection. Here are the tethers of life, the wicks of gratitude and love; where once were coals upon a central fireplace, now a candle represents the resurrection off hearth-keeping as a sacred vocation, even when only an act of diminutive devotion.
Some of my ancestors came from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and the English borderlands. Those who have studied their life-ways and myths or legends remind us that, “They can show us how to do ordinary things in a spirit of celebration that comes from a sense of being connected with the flow of humanity, the life energies.”
I wrote a while back about my personal and unique path to tending the hearth fire. My relationship to hearth and home is in continual transformation as I explore the mysteries of life. It is said that, “the household fire was more than a practical convenience … it was a reminder of the flame of life, of the need to rekindle basic energies every day of our lives, to keep in touch with our inner life force and avoid apathy and coldness in ourselves or towards others.” When I light my candle, this remembering is a portion of the context in which I see the flickering and feel it within myself.
Quotes are from Power of Raven, Wisdom of Serpent: Celtic Women’s Spirituality by Norah Jones.
Enmeshed within the roots of time, of ancestors so far in the distant past that we are only mists to one another, we are merely the memories we access through the rhythms of Mother Earth and the songs on the wind that sound like birds but are the voices of words strung together like berries on a bush that are eaten now as their cousins were then.
Within the palm of my hand, out of the shallow cup of darkness emerges the light of morning and illuminates the way forward so that I can hear the wisdom of She Who Is All. I stare at the star and know my own heart for within mine is Hers and theirs and ours. I don’t think there is any way to let go, to forget the ancestors because they dwell within bone and sinew; even if skin and hair pretend to be someone else, when I close my eyes, sink into the earth, I feel our relatedness and experience our inseparability.
Can you imagine if we open to conscious access of the origins of our species? And then go just a little further to swimming in Her womb among the kindred that swim in our present? Were the trees in the mountains once seaweed of ocean valleys? We are all related, our blood the same as sea — we remain salt and water, bleeding life into life and beyond death. The roots are snakes shedding their skin and the hawk flies once and leaves a feather upon the trail for me to find and put in my hair as I follow the crumbs of ancestors thinking I am on my own.
Am I going backwards through time? Am I the ancestral spirit who led me to this moment of acknowledgment to hold the soul of she who birthed me into a hole lined with flowers? How and why do we reject our spiritual ancestry in preference for physical genetics? We are energy beings and souls emerging into bodies of form. Could we have chosen to live a unique code each incarnation? I resonate with this beyond-form wisdom as Truth. Another lesson in the journey backward and forward through time? I have no child this lifetime but it doesn’t mean anything because I am all forms in many lives — I am gender free and role fulfilling and species unlimited as I move through being the ancestor and knowing the ancestor. How do we honor all life if we cling to physical as relation instead of knowing all Spirit as ancestor? We are each of us the child and the mother, the dove and the tortoise, the whale and the antelope, the shell and the stone, the scorpion and the hummingbird sipping its nectar from flower and energy that is the vital force invisible yet more real than the rock from the depths of the earth that holds the billions of years old fossil of a creature whose spiral reflects the Truth of all life infinite. I am the dirt, black and rich and thick with power holding the song of planet and stars that sparkle within me like the endless space beyond my perception. Is it possible to know ourselves as infinite? Beyond my ancestry from a continent I’ve never touched?
When I walked the African Art Village — an unexpected surprise at the Tucson Gem Show — my heart pounded to an unfamiliar pattern that welcome me, exciting and more vigorous than that of my every day life. I look into the black and I see me; I look into the light and there I am again. No difference. I am related to all of life past present and future in this single moment.
I posted elsewhere — Deep Within — about the Tucson Gem Show. The lovely bronze figurine shown in the above photo was purchased at the African Art Village.
*** I call my little book-reading figurine Aja. She represents the West African Goddess of the forest and herbs, a goddess of healing and teaching this knowledge to others. The following description is from Auset’s The Goddess Guide: Exploring the Attributes and Correspondences of the Divine Feminine:
“Aja: West African goddess of forests. Aja is worshipped throughout Nigeria and in the New World Yoruban tradition as a wise woman and healer. She rules over forests, woodlands, and the medicinal herbs found within them. She teaches herb lore to her followers, ensuring their physical and spiritual health.”
The artist of the figurine is: Kofi Awudu Ouedraogo