For three days Aké had seen nothing but a sea of dunes, featureless and seemingly endless under the searing sun. He was becoming weary and very low on water, but, on this morning something had caught his attention. He was standing atop a high crest and through eyes half closed against the light and distance was watching an area of turbulence on the horizon, far off to the north and east. He was seeing something moving, rippling in and out of vision. Around it the desert was a blur, the boundary between sky and land become smudged and flattened into a single darkening tone. But, as curious as it appeared to him, Aké felt this mystery to be the least of his troubles. Having no choice but to find the oasis that he and his mentor Pemba had set out for, his initiation had thrown him into a struggle for survival.
He had taken to walking between first and last light for only as long as he dared, stopping to rest and sheltering as best he could at the height of the day. He knew to use the sun and stars to navigate, and he knew how to move silently and quickly at night, Pemba had instructed him in these things, but, to Aké it was impossible to tell if he was nearer his goal or not. He might as well have been going round in circles. In fact Aké had come face to face with the true nature of his challenge – only through fully opening up and using the connection between his personal medicine and the beings of the otherworlds would he survive. This is how it was with initiation, and with good reason.
Just how close Aké was to his goal only the hawk hovering far above him could see. But, the desert can be full of deceptions and, at any moment, even an experienced traveller can be led astray by the forces at large in that vast wilderness……
……Pemba heared soft footsteps approaching. Pulling his mind’s eye from the burning sky he looked up in time to see Tuq stepping into the shade of the ancient palms. He squatted beside Pemba, an expectant look on his travel worn face.
“Ahhh, I knew you would not disappoint Pemba….you never do…”, said Tuq turning to survey the oasis with a satisfied smile.
It was not enough to fool Pemba – he could sense the tension in the tall northerner. “You make me sound like a horse trader Tuq”, he said, needling his old friend.
Tuq made a sour face and gestured over his shoulder. “Did he see you?”
Pemba considered a moment.
“My shadow crossed his path, briefly, but….”
“……ahahhh! So, you are losing your touch old man!”, said Tuq slapping the sand with a laugh.
“Then again, he might be exceptional…”, Pemba continued. The laughter fell from from Tuq’s face and he gave Pemba a sharp look. His piercing blue eyes cut like a laser, but, Pemba smiled and placed his hand on Tuq’s shoulder.
“I promise, he is….”, he added.
Tuq unconsciously stroked the long straggley hair of his sunbleached beard.
“Then we had better make ready for the young master…..he’ll have to be exceptional if he’s going to fulfill your promise”, he said, fixing Pemba with his stare again, “we are all relying on it”. He was right to be nervous. Much would be determined with Aké’s arrival and the moment he and Tuq finally confronted each other. But, the north-man smiled ruefully and with a shrug rose to his feet, seemingly putting his concerns to one side.
“Come on, old man, you’ll ferment under this sun if you sit here much longer”, and, offering him his hand, he pulled Pemba to his feet.
For all his abrupt manners and hidden thinking Pemba liked Tuq. It was true, he could be as hard to read as the sea of mysterious symbols that covered his body. As they walked back towards the circle of tents Pemba remembered how they had met. It had been further north, up by the Plateau of the Painted Rocks, the people’s old meeting place. Arune the Far-Seer, Pemba’s own teacher, had brought him there to learn of their deep past……on their arrival they had found Tuq, tending mint tea over a fire, as if he had been waiting for them. Arune saw it as a sign that the spirits were intervening, but, to what ends neither the old seer nor his ward were able to foretell. However, in the course of time Tuq’s appearance had taken on a deeper significance.
Having come into our midst out of nowhere, so many seasons ago, the mystery surrounding old Tuq was more than skin deep. He was both familiar and alien, recognised now as one of the far-seers, but, one whose skills and gifts were rooted in a very different soil. And, in the course of time, it was this crucial fact that helped us understand how lucky we were to have such a shrewd ally amongst us, for Tuq brought one factor into our midst that mattered above all others now – he knew the ways of the People of the Dead.
Now, the future and the past were pulling together on all our paths and this place, the hidden oasis, was the crossroads at which they would finally converge. It would be Aké’s task to remember not only his own path to the oasis, but, that of Tuq as well, for their fates had long been tied unto each other.
Aké felt the soft sand beneath him shift as he came to the crest of yet another dune. Beads of sweat dripped from his brow and stung his eyes. The horizon shimmered with seductive visions rippling at the edge of sight. He strained to see through the illusion, unsure of what was real. The eastern horizon looked for all the world as if it were moving towards him. And, were those trees, or some whim of the light and heat, a trick of the Djinn?
He had heard the elders talk of those powerful spirit beings who inhabited the wild places. In their knowledge the Djinn were older than the Earth and had come to this place with the Ancients, the life-bringers and first colonisers of this planet. But, the Djinn were also known as demanding teachers, impartial to the ways of humans, giving favour according to laws known only to themselves. The elders had sung of such things.
As he gazed into the distance a memory arose in Aké’s mind of a song he had once heard his mother singing, an origins song. It was through the gift of the Djinn, the song related, that the people learned to travel beyond the known. Since the beginning it had been the challenge of initiates to follow the ghost paths laid by the Djinn through the mirages that haunted this endlessly shifting and trackless land. As the words of the song came back to him they also reminded Aké of their darker side, of how the Djinn spoke in riddles and that, in this place, the sun’s fingers would try to find their way into the traveller’s mind and ply it away from the body and its senses. He began to understand why this song was associated with initiation – it was itself a riddle, filled with riddles.
However, as Aké remembered the voice of his mother he began to feel as though the memory held an important message, a vital piece of information, a key. He wondered if it was something that would help him find his way to the oasis.
In that moment Aké was rocked by a sharp jolt beneath his feet, followed by another and another, and a sound, so deep it was more felt than heard. It felt like a movement in the belly of the great earth spirit. A violent kick took Aké’s feet from beneath him and he fell, tumbling down the face of the dune.
He slid slowly to a halt and lay clutching at the fragile stillness, waiting…..and then he tasted it, a faint vibration at back of his throat. It was an unmistakable earthy taste that seemed to register in his very bones as its subtle musky scent played with his senses. Water.
Pemba stopped midstep, a look of puzzlement on his face.
“What is it old man, spirits got your back again….” Tuq teased his friend, giving Pemba a knowing smile.
But, Tuq quickly put his joking aside when he saw that Pemba’s face was a study of concentration.
“Did you feel it” Pemba said meeting Tuq’s eyes. He turned again to survey the sky beyond the palms. “I could have sworn…..”
Tuq’s eyes narrowed as he followed Pemba’s gaze. At that moment Demuz, the chief seer of the Blue Desert Tribe came out of the low entrance to her tent and called Pemba’s name. She strode purposefully towards them, her long indigo robe swirling behind her. She was quickly followed by a much younger woman, Demuz’ protégé Sapha. She joined her mentor just in time to hear the old woman begin speaking to the two men.
“Well, it appears your apprentice has company Pemba”, the old woman said, raising an eyebrow. Pemba looked from Demuz to Tuq and turned once again to look beyond the palm trees.
“Earth spirit….by the feel of it” he said under his breath.
“Mmmm…perhaps”, said Demuz, giving her apprentice a conspiratorial smile, “and then again….”
Pemba dropped his gaze. “Strange, the sky shows no signs and the trees remain still” he said, voicing his thoughts.
“Sapha, show our brothers what you saw in your dreaming just now”, the old woman said, giving her protégé a nod of encouragement.
Tuq and Pemba turned to look at the young woman. Sapha returned their gaze and then, squatting to smooth out an area of sand, drew a series of signs with her finger, finishing it off by enclosing the design within a circle. She looked up briefly and then began adding a second set of heiroglyphs, this time enclosing the pattern in a tent shape. Dividing the two designs she drew a deep line. She paused and, satisfied with her work, raised her eyes to look at Tuq…..by his expression he obviously knew what some of the signs meant.
Slowly squatting down to examine the patterns more closely, Tuq glanced at Sapha then pulled back his sleeve to reveal his right arm. One of the signs in the circle was identical to marks tattooed just below his elbow. Sapha nodded and pointed with her chin to the marks on his arm and then to the desert beyond the palm trees.
The young mute seer suddenly swept her hand across the design enclosed by the circle, scooped up a handful of the sand and threw it skywards with a look of alarm. Tuq’s face became grave with concern.
“We must send him warning”, he said, “he’s walking into a trap”.
“But, we cannot interfere Tuq”, Pemba said as he dropped to one knee, looking intently at the remaining design. “The spirits will either help Aké, or…..”
“…or our fate will be decided for us,” broke in the old woman, her face inscrutible and stern, “along with his!”
She had spoken the truth, and the two men knew it. Pemba, however, touched one of the designs in the tent shape and looked to Sapha.
“This is the sign of the water spirit, is it not, according to the language of the Blue tribes, and this….” he pointed at the design next to it, “….what is this?”
“It is the sign of the unkown Pemba…that which can neither be seen nor be foreseen. Your ward has company….but, we cannot tell if it is benevolent or not. It seems to be leading him both to the safety of the oasis and directly into the heart of danger. An unexpected challenge has been set for him…..” Demuz said, driving home the point.
Pemba stood and took a few steps towards the palms. His eyes half closed he scanned the sky and reached out with his mind. Far off beyond the trees the plaintive cry of a hawk was barely audible, but, it was enough for Pemba to relax his shoulders slightly and let out a sigh. Silently he returned the call to his spirit ally and waited.
Aké was sure that he was being watched. He looked around, quickly surveying the valley and the crests of the dunes above. There was no-one in sight, but, the feeling would not go away. He rose from his haunches and, dusting himself off from the fall, suddenly felt the bulge of the water gourd beneath Pembas blanket. A strange thought entered his mind and he quickly took out the gourd. It did not make any sense, as he would be literally pouring away the precious liquid, but, he had the strongest urge to make an offering of water to the spirit in this place. He took the stopper from the gourd and hesitated, searching for words to accompany the offering.
He poured a little water from the gourd into his cupped hand and, with eyes closed, spoke his thoughts into the clear cool liquid. Then, after offering the water his breath, he let it trickle between his fingers. A nebula of small craters appeared at Aké’s feet as the water seeped quickly into the soft sand. Gazing at the pattern as he returned the stopper to the gourd he began to realise – there was something in that pattern.
He reached behind his back for the divining bag and unwound the thong that bound its neck. Reaching in, Aké’s fingers touched upon something hard and spherical. He carefully eased it out of the bag. It was a seed pod, of the kind used by the dancers in his village as a rattle. With a swift flick of his wrist it released a crisp sigh. The sound brought an indistinct image briefly into Aké’s mind. He gave the pod another shake, and another, and as he listened each shake of the rattle began to merge into one flowing sound. In his mind he saw a dancing ribbon of dark energy, sparkling like water as it moved, but, through it he could see the pattern made by the water he had offered. The sound of the rattle swirled about him and the image began to shimmer, just like the mirages at the desert’s far edge. Aké increased the rhythm and within the vision a turquoise pool emerged, surrounded by swaying trees. He could see low dark tents and something indistinct that was moving towards him very quickly. Before he knew it a strange looking face thrust itself before him in the vision. He fell backwards, dropping the rattle and divining bag, and lay on his back gasping.
The face had not just startled him, there was something about it that was unusual, alien, but more than that…..he felt he knew it. No, that was not it – it knew him. A knot of fear pulled at his stomach and, with it, the feeling of being watched returned. He knew that he was not alone.
A shout rang out from the far edge of the oasis quickly followed by a gust of warm wind that set the palms swaying. Another gust sent them dancing, their long leaves hissing, as if shaken by an invisible hand.
“Habūb!” came the cry again.
“By the spirits”, said Tuq under his breath. He glanced at Pemba, but, the old diviner was still and silent, looking to the west in the direction of Aké.
“Your ward will have his mettle tested”, said Demuz, coming to his side.
But, Pemba said nothing, his gaze focused on something far above the horizon.
After a moment he turned to Demuz, a resigned look cast upon his face. He breathed in, his lips pursed, and gave a slow nod. He knew full well what this would mean for Aké.
“We shall see”, was all he said, “we shall see…”
The shadows began to soften and melt into the sand as Aké picked himself up and quickly gathered the diviner’s bag and rattle. The air began to shift, a fine veil of dust washing over the water marks at his feet. But, Aké’s attention was now fixed on the eastern horizon. Beyond the dunes the air was becoming dull and heavy, an opaque blanket obscuring the skies. He had never seen its like, but, it told him enough – he must find shelter. A strong gust of wind stung his face as the desert around him began to shift and scurry.
Then he saw it. A great wall of billowing sand was rushing towards him, rising up into the sky beyond the dunes. He turned to run, searching for a place to hide. Just as he came to a bend in the dunes he heard the roar of the wind at his back. Aké’s instincts took over and he sprinted as he had never done before. Then something snagged his foot and he went flying, tumbling over a hard and unforgiving shape buried in the sand. He had dropped the diviner’s bag and, turning to look over his shoulder, a sharp pain shot through his ribs. The wall of sand was nearly upon him, but, it was then that he saw what had tripped him up. A thin sinuous tendril covered in barbs snaked up out of the sand, like one of the forest vines on which the seed pod rattles grew, and beneath it was an unatural shadow. The divining bag sat at its edge. He scrambled back towards it and, just as his hands reached the bag, he felt the sand beneath him give way. The sky disappeared and a chaotic maelstrom of howling wind and dust swallowed the desert and Aké whole.
Demuz’ tent had become a dark cave, its eastern walls bulging inwards with the force of the wind. The sound was deafening and no-one spoke. Pemba sat with his eyes closed close to the entrance as Demuz and Sapha checked the tent’s inner supports. Tuq had gone to check on the animals and other tents. Pemba was waiting to secure the entrance flap when he returned.
Time stretched out in a seemingly endless moment and in the chaos beyond the walls of the tent everything lost its form. Within, the diviners waited for Tuq, but, he did not come.
Pemba looked to the two women and had to shout to make himself heard. “I am going to look for him”.
“Tuq will be safe, in another tent….” Demuz reassured Pemba, ” he is no stranger to the desert”.
But, Pemba was uncertain. A gut feeling told him that all was not well. Tuq should have returned long before now. He knew that what Sapha had shown them had revealed more to Tuq than he had had time to say. He closed his eyes again and reached out with his mind to his spirit ally.
The desert below the hawk had become a churning mass of clouds, engulfing the oasis and the dunes beyond. Pemba bid the hawk look to the west but his vision revealed no break in the turmoil. Amidst the desert storm there was nothing to be done but to sit it out. But, there was something strange at work here. Within the roar of the wind Pemba thought he could hear voices. The old diviner listened intently, trying to make out what was being said. After a moment he opened his eyes and moved from the entrance to sit with the two women. He leaned in close to Demuz to make his voice heard.
“This is no ordinary storm”, he said, “there is something in its midst, I can hear it”.
Demuz closed her eyes and concentrated her mind on the sounds that surrounded the tent.
“It is how it is sometimes Pemba”, she said, her eyes still closed, “you are right though, I feel it too.” She opened her eyes and looked to her apprentice. “Sapha, was this what you saw in your dreaming?”
Sapha put her hand to her ear and nodded in confirmation. She leant over to retrieve her divining bag and drew a small tablet of stone from it. Reaching into her robe she produced small pouch and pulling a finger of charcoal from it drew two symbols on the stone. They were identical to the symbols that Tuq had recognised, one of which he had tattooed on his arm. This one was shaped like a thin triangular pinnacle with a wavey line emerging vertically from its point, a second horizontal one snaking across the middle of the symbol. She looked intently at the two old diviners.
Both Demuz and Pemba knew what this symbol signified, but, the other was unknown to Pemba. He pointed at it with his chin, an enquiring look on his face.
“That is a symbol that belongs to the People of the Dead, Pemba”, Demuz said with a grave look. “It is old, but not of the age of our own language which we have carried from the beginning. We know that its origins are tied up with the desert, but, its meaning is elusive….save the fact that it has destruction at its heart. There are few that can say more”. The symbol took the form of a central disc with three wide rays radiating from it.
Aké had pulled Pemba’s blanket around him and lay curled up beneath it in a shallow hollow, the storm raging over him. The wind swirled violently around him tugging at the blanket. He was breathing hard, the air above him thick with dust and noise, and the pain in his ribs was beginning to gnaw at his mind. For a brief moment he thought that he could hear someone calling through the storm, but, he reassured himself that it must be another of the desert’s illusions.
For a young boy on his way to becoming a man, being brought up in the savannah and forests, there were no memories to draw upon that would tell him what to do in this situation. It was entirely alien to him. He tried to think but the chaos that surrounded him made it impossible – he could only wait it out and hope. But, as he lay there holding on to the blanket with all his might, another sense within him began to emerge. His mind began to still and a curious calmness enfolded him. Aké listened more deeply and this time he was certain of it – from the heart of the wind a voice was calling him.
He heard his name, as if coming from a great distance, and then it was swallowed up in a multitude of voices that spoke in a tongue he did not recognise. The voices rose and fell, coming in waves, increasing with each pulse until a continuous chant seemed to almost drown out the wind itself. The strange face he had seen in his vision of the oasis appeared briefly in his mind again and immediately the chanting ceased. He could not tell if it was his mind playing a trick but a powerful deep voice suddenly said a single word. “Moqsula!”
And then, as if the word had cast a spell upon the storm the wind began to calm. Within a few minutes all was deathly still and silent.
Aké lay there, motionless, not knowing if he had fallen into a vision or not. He felt Pemba’s blanket resting on his body and slowly released his grip on it. Lifting a corner her peered tentatively from beneath it, his eyes widening at what he saw. Where there had been nothing but soft sand he now saw red earthy ground dappled with patches of gravel and rock streaked with dust. He listened carefully before throwing off the blanket and looking around. The valley was unrecognisable. The dunes around him had now closed off the valley forming an ampitheatre in the shape of a teardrop but at its centre was a flat area of open ground. Then he looked again at what had tripped him up.
A long post was bent over towards him, almost touching the ground. It terminated in a curious flat triangular form, looking for all the world like a totem with a tent shaped head. He could not tell what the post and its head piece were made of, but, it was smooth and shiny at its edges. He noticed that the corners of the head were twisted reminding Aké of a tent flap caught by the wind, as if frozen in time. Around the pole a length of the barbed vine snaked in a loose spiral and reached up over the triangle ending in the snag that had caught his foot. The post was embedded in a hard edged lump of smooth rock, only it was unlike any rock Aké had ever seen before. Whatever it was it had given him crucial protection and where he had huddled the sand still lay. It formed a nest in the shape of his body stretched into a long thin rippling dune by the wind.
He gingerly rose to his feet and found that his ribs had stopped aching, not even a twinge. If that was not curious enough, when Aké saw the other side of the triangle he caught his breath. A very peculiar symbol covered its surface and the sight of it made him feel suddenly anxious…..a central disc in black, three wide rays fanning out from it amidst a bright yellow field, with a black border following the edge of the triangle.
Pemba and Demuz were staring at each other, unsure of what they were hearing. The storm had subsided, but, with a suddenness that defied their senses. Sapha was already rising to open the tent flap before either of the elders spoke. It had become unnaturally quiet.
“Take care now Sapha”, said Demuz slowly rising to her feet, “whatever that was it was not like any habūb I have ever known….”
“I must find Tuq” said Pemba as he came to the tent flap. Sapha lifted it for him and he stepped slowly out. He was greeted by a brilliant light under clear deep blue skies, and the oasis was surprisingly unchanged to his eyes. People were emerging from their tents, the animals were shaking off the dust, and going from tent to tent Pemba asked if Tuq had been with them during the storm. No-one had seen him. Pemba strode to the western edge of the oasis and surveyed the desert, but, there was no sign of Tuq.
Aké ran his hand over the surface of the pole and found it smooth, hard and surpisingly cool under his fingers – and, it shone in the sunlight. He gently touched one of the barbs on the vine, but, this was like no living plant, or, he felt, ever had been living. It was as hard as the pole and wickedly sharp.
At that moment a noise behind him made Aké jump and he spun on his heal to see a tall man dressed in the dark robe of a desert dweller standing at the crest of the dune. The stranger raised his hand and called out.
Aké felt a wave of relief course through him at the sound of his name, but, when the stranger began descending the face of the dune he quickly gathered up his belongings and turned to put the post between himself and the stranger. When he turned back the man was no longer in sight.
Aké blinked and shook his head, but, the valley was deserted.
“I must be dreaming”, he muttered to himself and waited a moment, half expecting the stranger to suddenly rematerialise. But, he was alone again, and, checking to see that he had all his belongings, he began to climb the dune towards the place he had seen the stranger. When he reached the crest his confusion deepened as he could find no tracks in the sand. He glanced around and then looked briefly back at the curious totem. There was no-one to be seen, but, it was then that he saw something that made his heart leap. A green line rippled just beyond the dunes in the middle distance. “Those are treetops….” he exclaimed with sudden surprise. He rubbed his eyes, but, it was no illusion. “The oasis!”
The young initiate now had no doubt about his direction and broke into an urgent stride in the direction of the green streak amidst the dunes. As he walked he began to notice how everything seemed unusually clear, as if radiating with its own light. He stopped momentarily to look down at his feet and saw the sand sliding away, looking for all the world like gold dust. He knelt down and ran his fingers over its surface. It felt like sand, but, he could see every particle with astonishing clarity and for a moment became mesmerised by its beauty.
Something had happened to him and he realised that he was not only seeing things differently but was hearing and feeling all around him in an unusually sensitive way. He could hear the golden grains of sand as he shifted his feet, whispering softly as it fell away. Everything had become so immediate, as if it were all a part of him, intimately connected with him through his feelings. But, when he connected with his feelings they too began to shift, like the golden sand, reforming themselves into a sense of fullness and solidity he had never experienced before. He felt bigger, much bigger than before, as though he had grown beyond his skin and was being touched by all that surrounded him. He almost had a sense of seeing through someone elses eyes….or something elses.
As he moved the world moved with him and flooded his senses with an ecstatic feeling of belonging. Whatever it was that had happened to Aké he found a great joy accompanying each new sensation. Then it occured to him – this joy was not his alone. He felt held, supported by a great energy field that surged through his body and, at the heart of that energy an even stronger sense was beginning to emerge. The sense of belonging was deepening into a sense of knowing. It was almost as if he understood the sand, the clear radiant sky, the rippling shapes within the desert – the world was speaking to him.
Aké picked up his pace and felt a rush of elation as he crested the next dune and saw once again the green ripple of treetops, much closer now. He felt weightless as he rushed down the dune and effortlessly crested the next, and the next. He was sure he must be very close now, that this must be the last ridge of sand before the oasis revealed itself, but, as he was nearing the top he heard a voice, coming from far above….the cry of a hawk.
Aké looked up in time to see a small speck high above the desert moving swiftly away beyond the crest. He scrambled up the steep slope, but, was stopped in his tracks when someone called out. Standing on the crest a short way off to his left was the stranger.
‘Chenge and the Spider’ & ‘Riddles Within Riddles’ © Rob Purday 2013-16
She gathered the night about her as the Sun set. The lodge was wreathed in brilliant light as the solar disc descended, but, within, Her work was just beginning. Stillness wrapped a cloak of darkness around the wise woman as she knelt to speak with the ancestral spirits at the hearth stone. She felt for the warm heart of embers at the core of their shrine, the sacred fire. She listened for the song they were singing……and, slowly kindling the flame, the song began to work its magic and issue from her mouth. The spirits came, luminous orbs of blue and quick-fire red, and Her heart glowed with their presence. As the last rays of daylight died away and cloaked the land in mystery, she let the song fade back into silence and smiled. It was time……
…..many moons ago I had awoken beneath a bower of wysteria to find Magpie Woman, the old mother Aluna, tending this very same fire. It was the beginning of my journey with her, but, how I had come to be there was a mystery ~ all I knew was that, the night before, the spirits of the fire had called me into the heart of their realm as grandmother had opened the ancestral dream path. Our village had been blessed by her coming, but, as we soon found out, she had also given the people fair warning. She had come to us in the midst of a long journey, searching for those who would follow and learn her ways, but, it was fire of a different kind that had set her off on the search. She was carrying a precious treasure to safety and, as the moons passed, she began to tell me the story.
“……we were a peaceful people, carrying a long memory of who we were and where we had come from, my daughter. The first glimmer of news that this was to change had come from the star-dreamers, the spirits of the ancestral sky fires had given them the signs. The Puridai, our tribal great grandmother, who oversaw the affairs of all the clans, called to council all the surrounding settlements and it was decided that together, as a people, we must leave early for our winter strongholds. Each would make their way to the hills above the plains – from there we would be able to keep watch in safety.
“….we knew the world we inhabited was changing, we had seen the stars moving by different paths. It was a subtle thing at first, speaking only to the eyes of the far-seers and star dreamers, but, the omens began to build. It was the time of the Spider Moon and the trees were turning red and gold at the beginning of their own journey to dream with the heart of the Earth Mother. She had been generous to us that year and provided us with food and skins enough to last well beyond our time at the strongholds, but, it was this very generosity that alerted the Alunas. The Mother always provides for what is coming….the Alunas agreed, this would be a long hard winter.”
Magpie Woman’s ways, like all the Alunas, always held the people at their heart, so, I was puzzled and had asked, “why did you leave, grandmother, did something send you out of the village….?” Her eyes looked into the far distance as She recounted Her journey.
“We had seen great flocks of migrating birds travelling south, so many in numbers that the sound of their wings and cries travelled before them. But, we first heard news of other travellers when the far-seers told of people coming over the high passes, many people, they had said, carrying their villages with them…..and, once they began arriving, the seeing of the Aluna’s was confirmed. The northerners told us of dangerous spirits abroad in the land, of a creeping fog, freezing everything in its path, that was spreading across the plains to the north. They had heard strange sounds carried on the wind, groaning and deep drumming, as though the Mother too was pulling Herself up by the roots. Their hunters had met with the people of the far north, people who always came south following the migrating herds as the Moons became brighter than the day, but, they to were travelling much further south than was known within the living memory of the people. And, as their news came to our council fires the dreaming itself began to change, and within this we were gifted with a warning…..the Earth Mother was drawing a mantle about herself, as if preparing to enter the long sleep of the winter dreamers.”
I knew of the winter dreamers, from stories told by our elders that had been passed down from long ago…..but, in our lands the people had seen few signs of such great change; I wanted to know if such change was coming to us all…..Magpie Woman reassured me that such change was not the threat, it had always been known within the traditions carried by the rememberers, but, protecting the dreaming was Her concern. She had made Her journey, following the songs of the land, as her spirits instructed Her….
“A man of the plains north of the mountains, one of the spirit seers named Bear Walking, entered our campment at that time and shared his medicines with us….I will never forget the news he brought to us. The land beyond the mountains had fallen out of balance and people were dying, especially the young and old, and some had disappeared altogether, leaving no trace…..he told us that, while his seeing remained strong, his medicines had begun to lose their power and after the advice of his totem, the Great Bear, had decided to follow the birds and leave his lands. He had struck out with only the company of his trusted spirits……in the dreaming, he had discovered, many of the totems had advised the same and he wondered if this might account for some of the missing people…..he suggested I do the same……”
Magpie Woman must have caught my thoughts all too easily for she quickly reached over and took up my hands,
“….do not be affeared my daughter, those people did the very thing they knew would protect the people first, and trusted the spirits to look after themselves….whether their bodies perished or not, they took to the spirit road alive and in full possession of their minds and hearts, and travel there still….such things are in our kenning…..”
She had let her words sink in and waited for my response. I had no inkling of the meaning of these words at that time and soon the questions came. I sensed that this was somehow connected with the treasure she was guarding and pressed her, “but, is that how you came to our village, grandmother?” My question brought a smile to the wisened face of my mentor….
“…..yes, that is why you are here my daughter, you know how to ask the right questions and, at the right time, you too will find your own answers…..”
I felt a pang of disappointment, wanting the answers now, but, it soon passed when she picked up the thread of her story again.
“…..I had taken Bear Walking’s advice and received an answer in kind ~ my path lay south, and, like him, I was to carry the heart of the village to safety. His totem holds council with the Mother through the winter dreaming and She had spoken through the Great Bear. We follow the path of spirit and accepting their guidance is at the core of our ways, my daughter….it is our way.” She let out a deep sigh. “You will learn, it is the very reason I am here, to make sure that you understand…..”
In the months that followed Magpie Woman taught me the ancient ways of healing that the Great Mother had provided for us, the use of plants, preparations and the protocols surrounding them, how the plants and animals each had their own song, and when to use them, and when not….She had instructed me in the art of tracking, both through the reading of worldly signs and through senses that the plants themselves opened up through their use. We walked the land gathering all we needed to feed ourselves, both in kenning and in body, and slowly I began to understand that She was leading me into deeper and more intimate relationships with the world into which I had been born. She had been preparing me, without my knowing it, for our journey. And, She was wily….She had been observing everything, so that, when the time came, She would know which allies could help me on my own path and, through this, when I would be ready…..but, for what? I was about to find out ~ the time had come!
After nine moons the world in which I walked had become very different to the one I had grown up in, amongst the familiar smells, sights and sounds of my village. I had been free to visit with the poeple and bring gifts, healing salves and soft skins, and even talked of the pathway of learning itself. But, one morning I had seen an augery, a host of black Cranes flying south had passed just above the pines that lined the shore where I had been gathering shellfish, and, amidst their cries and the sweeping sound of their wings I had heard the call of grandmother’s own bird, the Magpie, laughing and cackling in the tree-tops, just as I had heard them on the night that Magpie Woman had first come to our village ~ sensing the turn in the road, a more urgent feeling emerged in my heart, that I should visit with my clan once more….on telling of the Cranes and Magpies and hearing my concerns I was surprised to see Magpie Woman smile with delight.
“Well, you are right my daughter, and I am pleased….you are learning fast! You are seeing clearly with your heart, beyond this time and, yes, the moment is upon us….we must leave this land very soon. Go, to your people and give them your leave daughter; neither you nor I can say when you will return and this you must also tell them….ask for their blessings. On dark moon we open a new road…..”
It had been so easy until now, and I had become wrapped in a sense of security as I learned the medicine ways, but, the reality of this journey had suddenly come home….and, I knew this was the end of the beginning. I was now either to follow this path into the unkown or leave it for good. Grandmother’s story had itself been preparation for this moment. She had told me much, but, what had happened after she had left her village, she had never fully disclosed to me.
“Come to the lodge after darkness has fallen, daughter ~ the waning moon is folding her dark robes about her and we must work with her to open a crack in the worlds. Now, go and make peace with those you love.”
It was not until I had entered the village under the midday sun that I knew where my choice would take me ~ and, it came as a surprise to myself to hear the words coming from my lips, but, as I told my family of my intent to follow the path and continue my journey with Magpie Woman, where-ever it may lead, I knew with an uncanny certainty, for all the tears and sadness that our farewells brought, that it was the right choice. As the Sun dipped towards the horizon and I began to leave the village I heard footsteps on the path behind ~ under the bows of the forest at the edge of the village I turned to find the women’s chief elder running to catch up, a bundle in her arms.
“Wait young one….wait….before you make an old woman lose her breath….”
She came to my side and, taking a moment to compose herself, smiled as she held the bundle before me. “It is a part of the path you are upon…..we have been careful to hold it in your stead since Magpie Woman took you under her wing…..we knew this day would come. Now a part of this village must travel with you into the world, an ancient talisman, that came to us as it is now coming to you…..”
I was suddenly filled with questions, but, She bid me not to unwrap the bundle until I had returned to Magpie Woman. As I held the skin-wrapped bundle, darkened with oil and quite damp to the touch, it began to radiate with warmth and for all the world felt as if it were a living being.
I looked from the bundle to the old woman and she nodded, saying….”yes, it is a mystery, but, one the grandmother will know and understand ~ She may well be surprised, however, when she finds out what we have given to you.” And, smiling, she reached into the folds of her wrap and pulled out a small pouch of white fur.
“This, I have been making for you these nine Moons……just as the elder mother of our village made one for me when I was your age…..She will protect you on your journey. Here let me put the pouch safe in your robe….”
The beautiful soft fur pouch tucked safely away, the old woman, leaning in close to kiss my cheeks, raised her eyebrows and said, “….well, go on my girl….you have a date with your destiny……” and, as she turned and walked slowly back down the forest path, called out…..”fair you well, young one…..blessed be, blessed be…..”
As I came to the lodge, the Sun spreading a ruby and emerald blanket across the sky, I found Magpie Woman emerging from the low doorway, singing one of her medicine songs…..She looked me up and down, taking in the bundle with a raised eyebrow, and bid me follow as the night wrapped its dark robe about the land…..
The smell of juniper and sweet resin mingled with the smokey air within the lodge and a feint glow nestled in the hearth at its centre, barely illuminating the smooth river stones that surrounded it. I sat at the hearth side, as grandmother bid me, and watched as She gathered up her own medicine bundle from the back of the lodge.
“I first met with the Puridai of your village when we were both fresh from our initiation path, daughter ~ she is a carrier of women’s medicines that are sacred to all the peoples and is a wise woman in the ways of the Moon. It is good that she gave you her blessing…..”
I had not known that the two old women were kin in spirit, let alone that they knew each other, but, I also wondered how Magpie Woman had known that it was the women’s chief elder who had made her gifting to me, but, coming to the fire and placing her bundle at its side, She continued….
“….yes, I too was surpised when I saw her face in the circle on the night I arrived…..it was a good sign, one I had not foreseen, but, such is the way of things…..”
She had pulled down the flap on the lodge entrance and brought a small clay lamp of tallow and woven nettle wick to the fire side. With a strand of straw She kindled a flame from the fire’s embers and soon the little lamp cast a luminous glow in our midst.
“This gift is precious that you now carry, of that you can be assured….but, before you open it…..”, taking her divination bag from her bundle,“….lets just see who else is with us this night. Once again the spirits will be our guides…..”
She unwound the leather strap and let the fine tanned skin fall away, smoothing it out upon the floor between us. In the midst of the skin was a small mound of strange objects – I gazed in wonder at them as they slowly revealed their shapes. There was an assortment of bones, some bleached and white as the sickle Moon, others blackened by fire and burnished with age, and, amongst these I began to pick out more ambiguous shapes, stones perhaps, shells or polished pieces of wood…..Magpie woman smudged them with juniper smoke and said…..
“Take up the bones, my daughter, and let me remove those you do not gather…..then cast them onto the skin”
She began to hum a simple melody as I placed my hands on the bones and, scooping up a handful, held them above the skin. She swept the remainder up and put them in the folds of her lap. Her song washed over me and small blue iridescent sparks of light flew swiftly around my hands. I let the bones fall…..the old woman leaned in, singing to the bones as she began to search amongst them for signs.
“Ahhh, white deer running…..jumps the waters……keeps her feet dry……finds her clan…..under the sign of the Sky Bear, under cloak of night…..”
Her words enfolded in the melody, the bones shimmered and I felt something move deep within, a memory in the shape of a feeling, as She continued….
“….the fire of the ancestors is guiding you dear, a red bone with a star stone…..a far journey led by starlight……there’s an offering in this, see there….”
Her boney finger pointed at a small bead of polished red wood. The bundle that I had been given flashed into my mind.
“Willow mother…..holds you fair…..ocean brother, brings you there…..a gathering of crows and and ravens, a council fire in the Mother’s haven…..”, and, with this She stopped and gently pushed a stout finger bone aside, and looking up, said….” see this, shoulder blade of the Mole – she sets a seed within your kenning, fireseed, from the Mother’s body – sister Mole is the Bear’s teacher my dear, and she is resting beneath him here…….you are carrying a great responsibility!….perhaps we should see what the Puridai has given you my daughter. I have a feeling there is more to this seed than meets my old eyes!”
I reached for the oiled skin bundle and brought it to my lap. After a moment I felt a warmth radiating from its interior…..the moment felt familiar, like an old, long forgotten memory emerging.
“The augeries are clear”, the grandmother said, “this journey will take you to a very special place, there will be a moot there, under earth and dark sky, many people, keepers of the laws and ways, medicines and spirits….we will journey from the Bay of Willows, following the ocean path……this is a journey that will take us far beyond my own lands, a journey to a land I have known of, but, never undertaken…..something is being returned to the land, held in safety and kept for those who come after us……and, you are blessed by the running deer……”
She held me with a powerful gaze of deep love and I watched as she seemed to settle into her body, as if a thousand Moons of fatigue were being lifted from her shoulders, “….I have heard something of this land, the land of the running deer…..it has roots as old as ours, but, the winds and signs speak another tongue in that place……it is good, it is good…….yes, the land of the White Deer…..now, I am wondering if this gift you have been entrusted with is what I hope it is”
Magpie woman nodded at the bundle in my lap. It had become quite warm and, as I gently unwrapped its leathers, a dry heat began to emerge from its heart…..a layer of compacted wild strawberry leaves concealed an inner wrapping of skin that had been coated with a dark sticky unguent that looked like tar mixed with sand, losely closed about the mystery at its heart. The rich aroma of pitch and charcoal suddenly rose from the bundle as a bright red nugget became visible in its midst.
“Ahhh, yes! This is no small matter my daughter…..and, we must be careful to keep it alive, for you are holding the heart of your village…..”
I gasped at these words, and felt the weight of them settle upon my own heart.
“….by the fires of the ancestors, the spirits have spoken and you are truly blessed ~ do you know what this is child?”
I knew it was hot, that, were I to touch it, it would almost certainly burn my skin, but…..just what in its nature it was, I had no clue.
“Take a good look daughter and then wrap this precious bundle carefully a moment. It must not be allowed to cool too much…”
The glowing light and warmth of the fiery kernel in my hands seemed to whisper, ancient soothing words, and I watched entranced as small bursts of orange light pulsed from beneath its surface. I felt soft waves of sound, words I did not recognise, breathing into me and in that moment saw a circle of people in a great lodge, moving slowly around a mighty Oak that grew at its center. Branches grew around me and tawny feathers covered my hands as I looked down from the crown of the great tree…..then, with the sound of Magpie Woman’s voice, the image receded and we were once again sitting by the hearth of our little lodge….
“Good, it is speaking to you……this my dear is a talisman of the ancient fire, the first fire, and I wouldn’t wonder if your Puridai, waiting for a day such as this, has kept a small part of her in her own keeping, its sister…..she meant you to have it from the first night, I now know……wise old bird!” She nodded gently for me to close up the wrappings again and said, “I will teach you of its nature, for it is unknown to all but those who carry and tend such a talisman, and….”, She reached over to the fire and stirred its embers, “…there, can you see….this is the heart of my own village….she lives on yet, her own sister still kept by our Puridai ~ this is one of the treasures I have been carrying. I too have been entrusted with its well-being…..”
Within the heart of the embers I could see a ball of fierce carnelian light, embedded within the glowing coals. I wondered how this had come to be ~ that we were both carrying these precious things was surely not by any foreseeable design. But, my question was answered almost as I thought it….
“We are guided by the spirits my dear, even though we may not know it…..every turn in the path is known to them, far into time and across the lands….but, this is the medicine of the Great Mother herself at work. She is calling us to bring her inner light to safety.”
I placed the heart of the village at the hearth side and, as I leant over, did not notice as the small white fur pouch tumbled from my wraps. I had forgotten all about it, but, when I looked up Magpie Woman was looking directly at me,
“Well, I think you may have another secret to unfold daughter……”, she said, her eyebrows raised as she dropped her gaze to the ground in front of me. My eyes widened and I caught my tongue as I realised what had happened.
“Oh…yes, this…..the Puridai gave this to me as well….”, I involuntarily picked up the white fur pouch and held it to my chest. “I had almost forgotten…..”
Magpie Woman had a knowing look on her face as she said, “…and….”
I smiled a little sheepishly as I nodded and quickly began to unfasten the bone clasp. A gasp escaped my lips as a gleam of white appeared inside…
“…..grandmother…..its”, but I could not finish as a wave of deep longing suddenly engulfed me and, as I slowly pulled the precious object from its pouch, a tear rolled down my cheek…..in my hand was a perfect carving of the Mother, her rounded belly and swollen breasts beautifully carved in creamy white ivory, her legs coming to a single point beneath her.
Magpie Woman nodded slowly and drew a deep breath……
“Your task, my daughter, is greater than I thought…..come, bring the Heart of your Village to the fire and let it join with my own…..and, the Mother….keep Her next your skin….one day She will find her Earth, and you will….”, but, Magpie Woman hesitated as a bright blue luminous orb of light hung momentarily in the air between us. Puckering her chin as She considered the spirit’s intervention, she said, “….well, that too, it seems, will be revealed when the time is right!”
…….find out what happens as the journey takes Magpie Woman and her young ward to the Land of the Running Deer, in the third and final part of the story, as the light of the inner Sun, the Heart of the Mother, returns to the world…..
Image of Gaia : Mother Earth Dreaming, Susan Seddon Boulet
The first part of this story, ‘Dancing in the Dark’, can be found here……
“……..I leave no trace…..shadowless, I see all…..I am the eye in the Sun……”
It was the silence that awoke him. There had been voices, rising and falling, reverberating as one sound, but, far off and indistinct, like a crowded market place heard as if from a hill top high above. The sound breathed, rising like a flock of birds on waves of warm air, before sinking back into the earth like rain on parched ground. Then, suddenly, there was silence.
The first thing Ake felt was soft fine sand between his fingers. He opened his eyes and blinked rapidly in the scorching white light. Then he saw it. Resting on the back of his hand, an iridescent blue dragonfly. It was larger than any he had seen before and was so shockingly beautiful that, in that moment, Ake wondered if he was still dreaming….until, the wondrous insect bobbed slightly and, quickly hovering away over his head, was lost to sight.
He turned, craning his neck, trying to follow the dragonfly’s flight, but, it had disappeared over the crest of the dune……then, all at once, it hit Ake. He was surrounded by sand, nestled in a hollow near the top of a sweeping crescent. He leapt to his feet, confused and more than a little frightened.
‘Where am I……..!?’ he spoke out loud. There was no answer……
‘How did I get here?! Where is Pemba…..?’
But, he was alone. And this place, it was so hot……he felt the sun on his back, beginning to burn. His eyes began to smart with salt tears and Ake felt his toes curl as a wave of fear rose up through his body. But, the feeling of something against the side of his foot made him gasp.
He jumped involuntarily and, looking down, saw that his head had been resting on the diviners bag, Pemba’s red woollen blanket folded neatly underneath it. He was momentarily reassured and, shaking his head with a sigh, he bent down to touch the precious talismans. But, the sound from Ake’s dream was still fresh in his mind and, with it, he remembered the dragonfly. It had been there on his hand when he had opened his eyes, he was sure of it, but, for a brief moment he wondered if a part of his dream had leaked into the daylight. The sudden compulsion to follow the insect’s flight pulled him out of his thoughts and he crawled on all fours towards the crest of the dune. When he reached the top the sight that met his young eyes was unlike any Ake had ever seen before.
An ocean of sand stretched as far as he could see, majestic and terrifying. Ake had a sense that it was not too long after sunrise, but, even though the sun was not high in the sky, the light and heat was intense. He’d never before left the savanah and the land surrounding him was completely alien to Ake. He turned slowly, surveying the parched horizon. Rippling away as far as he could see seemingly endless shimmering golden dunes were cut with deep shadows. Off to what he guessed was the north the pattern of the dunes was interrupted by a wider valley, but, Ake could see no trees or shrubs anywhere that might give him shade. There was not a living thing to be seen.
But, the dragonfly……there must be water nearby, and……he struggled with a half forgotten memory that wanted to emerge…..he was sure that he had heard someone talking about dragonflies only a few days ago. Ake shook his head and, confronted with the silence of the vastness surrounding him, suddenly felt the need to call out.
The sound of his voice in the midst of the vast desert only made him feel smaller and more alone. A tear ran down his cheek and he absent mindedly caught it with the tip of his tongue. Suddenly very thirsty, he retraced his steps, knelt by the divining bag and carefully felt beneath the blanket. The sand below was deliciously cool and soon his fingers felt the stone like smoothness of the drinking gourd. ‘Just a sip now, brother Ake…’ he heard Pemba’s voice in his mind.
‘Pemba’, he said softly as he put the stopper back in the gourd and tied it securely.
It may have been the taste of the clear spring water that triggered his memory, or perhaps it was the thought of Pemba’s advice, but, Ake suddenly remembered where he had heard about the dragonflies. It was Pemba himself who had told him. He had been recounting his own journey to the oasis as a young man. This had been a part of Pemba’s own initiation, but, initiation was far from Ake’s mind in that moment – the oasis was the meeting place Pemba had said they must travel to and medicine people from all directions would be gathering there.
The thought of the meeting was curiously re-assuring to Ake. It almost made sense of his being here, surrounded by desert. But, he had no recollection of the journey that had brought him! And, where was he? Was he close to the oasis – he must at least try and find out.
Gathering up the diviner’s bag, shaking out and refolding the blanket, he returned to the top of the dune and tried to decide on the best direction to go in. He looked back at where he had been sleeping. There were no footprints, save his own, but, he could not see a trail telling which direction he might have come from either.
It was instinct that said he must move, and, since it did not look as though Pemba had been there, he felt there was no choice. Ake looked down the face of the dune below. This was the direction he had last seen the dragonfly heading towards, and so, he carefully began to descend into its shadow. The sand was quite cool out of the sunlight, and he relished the feeling of it around his feet as it seemed to freshen his mind. Just as he came to the bottom of the slope he had another realisation. They had been in the Spider Mother’s cave when Pemba had begun talking about the meeting and had told Ake about the magical beauty of the oasis. He stopped in his tracks and thought hard……
….slowly the memory came back to him and, with it, a strong feeling that he should head north.
Just at that moment a movement to his left caught his attention. At first he put it off as a trick of the light, a passing shadow, but, there it was again. Some ten feet away, and running straight towards him, was a beetle. No bigger than his thumb and very dark against the sand, the beetle came to within two feet of Ake and stopped. He leant towards it and, quite naturally, said ‘hello, little one’. A shimmer of dark green iridescence glanced off the beetle’s shell. ‘Do you know where the dragonfly went’ he thought, half to himself, half asking the little creature.
The beetle waved its antennae, seemingly in response, and, after a moment, began digging a hole in the sand. That was it! Images quickly flashed across his mind as Ake felt a wave of recognition and the memory of the day Pemba had talked about the oasis came flooding back…..
……before he knew it, his minds-eye opened wide, Ake was back in the Grandmother Spider’s cave. They had gone to her shrine.
With the spider’s help the night before, Ake had found the secret cave that housed her shrine. It had been the second evening of his grandfather’s funeral and he had been given his true name, as a part of his heritage. The other part of that precious gift was his grandfather’s divining bag. He could not resist opening it, and that was when it had all begun. But, he was sure that it was his grandfather’s doing that he was now on the path of initiation, following the Spider Mother’s path. She had led him to her shrine safely, but, the night had also revealed the great danger now threatening his people. Pemba had revealed the strange object to him that he and his grandfather had found on the edge of the desert and he recalled with a wince Pemba’s description of its owners, the People of the Dead. But, with his mentor close by, high up in the escarpment where the ancestors are buried, he had felt safe and protected from the storm that had raged over the land that night.
Sleep had taken him quickly and, at first light, he had awoken to find the Spider’s Cave still and calm. The storm had passed, erased with the dawning day, but, Pemba was nowhere to be seen. He had left a small pile of freshly picked fruit next to the fire’s simmering ashes. After splashing cool water from the gourd upon his face and hands, he had picked a couple of small green fruit from the pile and made his way to the cave entrance to greet the day.
A subtle mist was rising from the plains as the world emerged from its night journey. Above, in the growing light a pair of cranes flew out of the south and, high above the caves, sent a plaintive cry to the world below. An orange white shaft of light spilled over the horizon, the treetops below Ake’s perch at the cave entrance suddenly becoming adorned with a golden brilliance.
In those first few moments he had sat in awe of the beauty that flooded his senses, oblivious to the events of the previous night. This was the world he knew, comforting in its familiarity. As he heard the calling cranes and watched them fly overhead the thought crossed Ake’s mind that he too would soon be travelling north. Pemba had told him that a meeting of the medicine people had been called at a hidden oasis, deep in the desert, and they were bound to go. The path of Ake’s initiation was inextricably interwoven with the journey. He felt his heart flutter briefly as the memories returned of his grandfather, the dreams that had called him to this place, and the unfathomably strange object that Pemba and Grandfather Ake had found….the day suddenly took on a different dimension, became an horizonless field of uncertainty and questions. The People of the Dead! Who were they, what were they, how had this all come to be – Ake struggled to confront the reality that was now challenging his world. The world he knew was itself being called into question……
“I can see that you are beginning to wake up…..”
The voice came from behind Ake, but, the familiar tones of his guardian and mentor quickly washed away the uneasy feeling that had begun to gnaw at his belly…..and Pemba’s words seemed to be asking for a response. But, Ake could find none, save a smile and outstretched arms as he turned to meet his old friend. A hug when troubled with doubts is always good medicine, but, Pemba could tell that his protege was also beginning to feel the veils of innocence fall away. It was always like this. Initiation was a never ending affair in this world.
Pemba sat beside his young ward and nodded in recognition of the task ahead……
“I took the path into the desert once, when I was, well, not much older than yourself, younger brother…..it was a journey that your grandfather and I had to make, as a part of our own initiation.” He looked off towards the glowing horizon. “There is a place in the heart of that vastness that is filled with birdsong….tall palms line a pool of fresh clear tourquoise water, so sweet and refreshing to taste, and dragonflies hover and dart like mischevious spirits at its heart. Who would believe such beauty could be found in the midst of the desert heat. Being there is like being under a delicious spell within a dream……”
Pemba’s words cast their own magic in Ake’s imagination and seemed to cleanse his heart of its burdens. He began to relax as the world below returned to his sight and added its own beauty to the vision Pemba was spinning.
“We must prepare before we set off to find that place……I’ve made an offering at the Spider’s shrine to open our path, but, you must do the same before we leave. Come….this too is a special place…..”, and Pemba smiled impishly as he rose, offering a hand to Ake…..that smile was infectious and, jumping to his feet, Ake followed his mentor towards the back of the cave and the crack in the rock.
He watched as Pemba picked up a half burned stub of cut wood from the fire-pit, and, briefly stirring the embers with its charcoaled end, let it rest a moment in the glowing ash, then, lifting it close to his mouth, he blew on it. The branch radiated a warm red and orange light and, with a second breath, a small dancing flame emerged from its tip. Pemba tilted the little torch and encouraged the flame to grow slightly. Satisfied with the result, the old diviner turned with a nod to follow and, holding the torch before him, eased into the fissure in the rock…..
“…..this will serve to light the short way to the other side Ake…..its quite easy, c’mon…”, Pemba’s voice echoed uncannily from within the rock.
Ake could see Pemba ahead of him in dark silhouette as he entered the crack. The rock was smooth at his sides, as if an age of watery hands had sculpted it, and the narrow floor of the fissure was softened with a sediment of silt and small stones…..
After following Pemba for a few seconds, his breath held and his heart beating in anticipation, Ake saw his mentors outline merge with the rock off to the right….yet he could still see the soft glow of the torch ahead. Hurrying to catch up he came to the point where the crack in the rock turned a sharp corner and then continued straight for a few steps. He saw Pemba disappear once more as the passage-way turned again, this time to the left. A cool breath of wind brushed Ake’s cheeks as he turned the second corner. The floor of the passage tilted sharply downwards and levelled out about ten steps ahead.
As he approached the bottom of the incline the back of Pemba’s legs became visible ahead, but, Ake had not anticipated what was to meet his eyes once he arrived at his mentor’s side! A ledge that ran off to the left and right formed the lip of an immense chasm echoing with his footfall as Ake came to its edge. A diffuse light radiated down from an invisible source in the roof of the vast chamber giving a soft luminescence to the rocks below. It took Ake’s breath away as he took in the sight. Every few moments a small droplet of water fell from the ceiling of the cave, each a luminous pearl free-falling in space. Ake then became aware of a gentle sussurus in the background. Somewhere, far beneath them, off in an unseen part of the mountain, an underground river was in full speight……
” …..the shrine is down there Ake….” Pemba whispered, taking a step closer to the edge of the ledge, gesturing with his chin for Ake to take a look. Ake tentatively peered into the chasms depths……but, before he could decide what exactly he was supposed to be seeing, by way of a shrine, Pemba turned to face him and, bringing his face closer, looked over Ake’s shoulder and quietly said, “the way down is behind you, along the ledge….let me go first”.
The rock-wall arched overhead and small stones tumbled off the ledge as they picked their way along, gradually descending – Ake caught sight of the twisted shapes of roots hanging from the ceiling of the cave, as if emerging from dark clouds…..then he realised! The whole ceiling was covered in spider’ s webs, waving in diaphanous films, like smoke hanging in night air. The atmosphere closed in and, all around them, Ake felt the presence of a thousand unseen eyes, watching their every move.
“You must be careful here…” Pemba said in hushed tones, turning to face Ake. He had his hand resting on one of the two cut ends of a massive forked branch that rested on the rim of the ledge and disappeared below. It was a ladder, like those that led to the drying and curing platforms in the village, each step a wedge deeply cut into the wood. Pemba let the torch rest on the ground and reached downwards with a foot, facing the rock-wall – he did not look at Ake, or pick up the torch, as his head slowly disappeared below the rim.
The branch held firm against the rock with its own weight and Ake tried to imagine that he was simply climbing down from a drying platform, returning to the ground below – but, he had not expected the ladder to be so long, and to begin flaring out as he descended. He wanted to look around, but, dare not stop……and then his feet touched solid rock.
Still holding the ladder with one hand he turned to find Pemba staring at him with hawk like eyes in the gathering darkness. Without a word or gesture, Pemba turned again and, following an invisible trail, confidently walked away, slowly descending into the half light. They had arrived at a shallow concave plateau that Ake quickly realised was the top of a massive boulder…..hurrying after Pemba he found that there was a path that wound its way amongst a jumble of monolithic slabs of rock, some looking for all the world like the silhouettes of giant sleeping animals. As they descended deeper into the pit of the cave the rocks became smoother, more like river stones…..and Ake became aware of the sound of the underground torrent, rising like the voices and cries of an uncountable host – the memory of his grandfathers dream message, its vision of the ocean of souls flashed across his mind. He felt himself being drawn towards its shores…….
Two strong hands grasped Ake’s shoulders and the obsidian light of two shining eyes peered with a penetrating intensity into his own. Pemba raised a finger to his lips, making a firm sign to remain absolutely quiet, slowly letting his finger fall away – the sight momentarily pulled Ake out of his vision. Pemba nodded briefly and, stepping to one side, gestured to Ake to go first.
Ahead, the pathway levelled out and then seemed to come to a halt against a wall of pitch darkness. This signalled another fissure, a cave entrance within the cave. He heard Pemba following as he slowly entered the subterranean night, his eyes scanning the darkness before him.
The hard rock beneath Ake’s feet gave way to soft fine sand and, stretching out his hands in front of him, he edged slowly forward. He began to make out very feint filaments of colour in the air ahead, but, was it a trick of the dark, a play of some inner vision that he could not put a shape or form to? He paused and strained with all his senses to find some clue as to how to go forward. A fast moving streak of green light cut across his field of vision and he suppressed a gasp as the memory flashed across his mind of the spider’s luminous thread from the previous night. Then all was still.
It was at that moment that Ake realised that he was not only standing in the midst of impenetrable darkness, but, it had become totally silent. The seering doubt of his confusion span him instinctively on his heels, and then he did gasp. He did not see the way back to the chasm as he had expected he would, instead, there was no light, anywhere. For a moment it was as if every external sense of the world, save the feeling of sand beneath his feet, had become extinguished and Ake, his head spinning with disorientation, slumped onto to the soft sand in a faint.
In the moment that he came round, Ake wondered if he was indeed awake. He blinked but there was no change to the darkness. He reached out with his hand to prop himself up, but, instead of finding sand beneath his palm he briefly layed his hand on something soft….his hand recoiled. Then he recognised the feeling that his fingers had registered…it was the divining bag. He had forgotten all about it…..but, how had it gotten here. Pemba. It must have been put there earlier by Pemba…..
He reached for the bag and, sitting up, drew it to his chest and let the comforting feeling of its familiarity fold around his heart.
The voice came like a finely settling rain of dust upon his ears…….
“See…..my little one……”
The rush of doubt that Ake felt on hearing the voice slowly gave way to a rising fire of recognition in his belly…….he knew that voice.
“It has been so long, beautiful child…..my Chenge…..see……”
Ake suddenly felt his throat constrict and he sucked in a breath, holding it as the memory rose upon a tide of emotion…….
A soft shuffling, just a few feet away to his side, pulled his head around……but he could see nothing.
“Mama….is that you….I cant see you…..”
“I am safe little one…….”
Ake hardly dared move, but, this time the voice was infront of him, and closer. The green luminous thread re-emerged before his eyes and began turning about itself, making circles and spirals that left vapour trails of cold mist in the pitch darkness. Slowly they wove a shape in the air and became an oval of softly shimmering light.
Eyes appeared, a nose and mouth, rounded cheeks, forming a face…..and then Ake knew. He was gazing in total disbelief at the face of his mother!
“I have a message for you, my little one……”
Ake was transfixed. He would so have loved to run into his mothers arms, but, there was…..only her face before him.
“Mama…….mama, what has happened…..is it really you?!”
“Listen to the Spider Mother, Chenge…..she is helping you…….I am far away, but…..we will meet again…..follow her thread, little one……”
“We will meet again, Mama? But, when….where are you……what has happened to you?”
“Look for the tall one, the white one, he bears a sign……follow the thread, little one…..”
At the mention of the ‘white one’ Ake’s heart recoiled and a feeling he had never felt before welled up in his belly. It asked him to do something, anything, to bring his mother back.
“The white one mama? Surely you don’t mean one of the people of the dead…..!”
“He bears a sign…..you will know it……follow, little one…..my Chenge….”
And with this the face began to dissolve before Ake’s eyes.
Ake heard his voice echo softly as the face slipped away into darkness. He began to weep and clutched the diviner’s bag as if it were the last memory of a world he had once known. Another soft shuffling sound broke across his grief and, suddenly realising that he could once more hear the sound of the rushing river, he jumped to his feet. But, the darkness remained.
The flash of green light cut swiftly across his eyes and left a single thread of mist suspended in the air. A thin crack of brilliant white emerged from the mist and grew into a vertical fissure in the pitch darkness that surrounded him. The crack widened and Ake could see a movement in its midst…..a figure was walking towards him. He recognised the shoulders and face of his mentor, Pemba.
“This place is the Spider’s shrine, younger brother……Ake?”
Ake was unsure of what he was seeing, he did not know whether to trust his senses.
“Ake?….what have you seen.”
The concern in Pemba’s voice was strangely reassuring and Ake felt his shoulders relax a little, the weight of the diviners bag now helping the world to solidify about him.
Pemba stopped a few steps away and cocked his head, staring at the bag……
“Well……” he seemed lost for words as he stepped closer, raising his hand to point at the diviner’s bag clutched to Ake’s chest.
“The day is full of surprises……this is most unusual….but, a good sign…..heh”
Pemba looked at Ake’s face with a soft concern. Laying his hands on Ake’s shoulders he said, “Come, tell me what happened…..we have an offering to make, but, you look as though…..”
“It was Mama, Pemba….she was here, I saw her and….she spoke to me”
“Spoke to you?!” The surprise in Pembas voice could not be disguised. The old diviner considered a moment and then, reaching behind his back for the drinking gourd he was carrying, he led Ake by the arm to the side of the cave. Ake realised that he could see the interior of the subterranean chamber quite clearly now. They were in a small oval cavity that reminded Ake of the adobe huts in which the families of his village lived. The walls were smooth and appeared to have a coating of fine clay. The back of the chamber was feintly illuminated from its entrance, but, surprisingly, Ake could see that the underground room was entirely empty.
As they rested their backs against the wall, Pemba caught the look of confusion on Ake’s face.
“I will explain…..all in good time, but….what did your mother tell you, younger brother, tell me what you want to”
Ake related everything that had happened from the moment that he had set foot into the darkness and, as his mentor listened, Pemba gave a nod at everything he heard. When Ake had come to the end of his account they sat in silence for a moment and then, offering the gourd to his young ward, Pemba let out a sigh…..
“It seems the Spider Mother has given to you a gift, brother Ake, and a gift of no small importance – I will tell you just why I am saying this after we have made the offering, if you can wait…..” and, at this Pemba rose to his feet.
A tender smile greeted Ake’s eyes as he looked up.
“….and, we must make it a special gift in return for her kindness, eh?”
Ake was surpised in the next moment to see Pemba scooping handfulls of sand to the side from the floor of the subterranian room – he was close to its center and the sand was dry, sliding slowly back in on itself. But, soon, Pemba’s hand scraped against a solid surface. He brushed the sand aside to reveal a large round circle of stone with a wedge shaped notch cut out of its edge. Pemba carefully placed his hand into the gap and with a strong pull lifted the stone away, flipping it onto its back, revealing a smaller perfectly round hole beneath……
“Bring the divining bag over Ake” he said, as he brushed the sand clean from the edge of the hole. “Now…..see what comes out” he said gesturing with his chin towards the bag…..
“…..go on, don’t be afraid…..theres something in there we need”.
Ake unwound the strap from the neck of the bag and cautiously put his hand inside. The feeling of soft fur met Ake’s fingers and, feeling his way down the sides, he found several smaller leather bags nestled together. He looked to Pemba……
Gripping the neck of one of the small bags he slowly eased it out…..it was no bigger than his fist and dyed a very dark blue that reminded Ake of the night sky.
“Ahhh…..now open it”, said Pemba, obviously intrigued at the choice.
The binding was old, but, once Ake had eased it away, a sharp odour emerged instantly from the bag, making Ake’s nose twitch.
“Take one pinch” Pemba instructed, watching carefully as his protege reached in with his thumb and fore-fingers. He pulled out a small quantity of pitch black powder, just like charcoal dust, but, very slightly oily to the touch.
“This is ‘black snuff’, though amongst the Spider people it is known as ‘night medicine’. It is one of the most valuable healing preparations we make, amongst the diviners, that is. It is for use only by those who have knowledge of its effects. Without that knowledge it is simply charcoal, to the unknowing. It seems I’ll be teaching you how to make it very soon,” Pemba said with an approving nod. Ake tried to look more closely, without dropping any of the powder.
“Is this what I am to give to the Spider mother, Pemba?”
“Well, it looks like you are being called upon to make this medicine a sign of gratitude to her, yes, but…..it needs a special song to accompany it……”
Ake looked questioningly at his mentor…….but, Pemba simply raised his eyebrows, smiling with a little nod…..
“But, which song should I sing…..?”
“Think of where we are going….and what has just happened here….then let it come out, sing it……and, remember, say thank-you to the Grandmother Spider”
Ake liked to sing, it came naturally to him, especially when he was busy with something that took time….but, he had never tried to make a song out of things that had not happened yet, or feelings as strong and deep as those that the memory of his mother had brought up in him. Then, without warning, as he was pondering these things, a single syllable of sound escaped his lips…..and before he knew it a melody was springing up in him. It seemed to accompany the images that drifted through his mind.
“Sing it into the ‘night medicine’ Ake, then give the medicine to the hole….but, keep singing until the song has run its course.”
The melody arose with a slow dignity from Ake and into the ‘night medicine’. He felt its power gently flowing through him at first, then he began swaying his body from side to side. For a moment it was as if he was sitting in the middle of a small boat on a rolling expanse of water. Stars appeared above him following the motion of the boat. He closed his eyes and let the melody pour into the night medicine. He felt his hand release the black powder into the darkness at his feet…..the song grew stronger.
A gust of wind swept strands of hair around his cheek and he opened his eyes……the stars above remained, swirling around a tall stout pole that extended above him. There was a triangular sheet of ochre skins attached to its top and bottom and Ake quickly realised he was speeding over the water in a hide covered boat, like the ones he had seen in the Lake People’s village.
“You must listen to the stars, let them give their stories to you, brother Ake,” a powerful voice sounded behind him.
Ake spun round to find his grandfather sitting at the stern, his strong old hands holding the end of a steering paddle, his eyes staring towards the heavens….for a moment Ake was speechless.
“….they will take you beyond the horizon and return you safely home.”
“Look!” And the old man pointed over Ake’s shoulder, his eyes widening.
Ake glanced involuntarily in the direction his grandfather had pointed. In that instant a single star suddenly expanded and sent out a blinding flash that stunned Ake. For a moment he could see nothing but white light. Then shapes slowly began to emerge, blurred and vague at first, and there was a tickling feeling on his cheek.
Ake shook his head and caught site of the small green iridescent beetle just as it disappeared beneath the sand. There was a sound like many voices speaking very fast, as if heard from a long way off……then the dragonfly darted over his head and stopped in mid-air just an arms length in front of Ake.
He had been lying on the cool sand, but, for how long! Where the beetle had been there was now a small conical mound of sand. It must have been only an eyeblink, yet, he felt as though it were an eternity. The dragonfly turned on its centre and a second later sped off down the valley between the dunes.
“I’m not loosing sight of you this time,” Ake said under his breath and, jumping to his feet, he slung Pemba’s blanket and the diviner’s bag over his shoulder and set off after the iridescent blue being………he did not see the swift shadow that darted away across the sand ahead of him……..
Chenge and the Spider © copyright Rob Purday 2013
The Beetle and the Dragonfly © copyright Rob Purday 2013
Look out for the continuing story of Chenge and the Spider at a new dedicated website launching soon!
The 10 Billion Beats global drumming event of 2012 is this year taking place plumb on the September Equinox – as we move deeper into this time of great transition there could not be a more opportune moment for bringing a powerful wave of peace and goodwill to our home planet. As 2012 comes to completion through the last quarter of the year the calling is in ‘bringing the highest and finest qualities of these momentous times into manifestation’, and this years 10 Billion Beats is an energetic gateway to the harmonious and timely realisation of this call.
We should be under no illusions about the potential of this global drumming event. For a start the timing of this year’s event ties it into the solar cycle aligning the wave with the annular creative cycle of Earth. This gives our drumming an extended reach and potential in time that will accompany us all the way through to the much anticipated 2012 December solstice, and beyond. How far beyond depends on how we work with the energy raised, the quality of consciousness brought to it now, and this includes any intent we bring to the drumming. The timing also brings out 10 Billion Beats syncretic qualities, unifying our diversity and placing the event within the ‘bigger picture’, connecting our drumming with the archetypal qualities of our times…….as the drums call around our Earth, Sun culminates in Virgo and enters Libra, and we celebrate the ripened harvest in the north and the flowering earth in the south. The energies of this time are rich in possibilities.
The Virgo/Libra cusp perfectly expresses a significant station in the human life cycle as well – the transition made by the individual ripened through experience into the sharing of the fruits of wisdom within community. There is a correspondence here between the energies within the earth cycle and the calling that is being asked of us collectively to manifest. This is very much about our transit into maturity as a species and it is in essence perfectly in keeping with the ‘elder’ time, the time of year in which our connections with the cosmos deepen. Within the bigger picture ‘community’ here means both those collectives formed through harmonic resonance and the larger community that extends across time, space and dimensions.
Through alignment with the solar cycle 10 Billion Beats 2012 gives us an opportunity to collectively entrain our inner vibrations with those of the planet, the solar system and the Sun in harmony with the greater cosmic processes at work now. This is about working with energy that generates momentum…….
And, talking of momentum…..last years event attracted approaching a quarter of a million participants and, with numbers increasing year on year, in 10 Billion Beats we could well be seeing the beginnings of an important global healing practice emerging. It has been said that it takes only 8,000 people working together energetically with a shared intent of this nature to manifest the most significant change in the world, change that affects the entire planet, that can have lasting effect for the greater good – last years event saw 25 times that number taking part, with over 200,000 people drumming globally. We should expect this number to increase again this year, and, with this the unity and continuity of the wave increases as well. It may well be too early to say, however, what is emerging in a new form is already a part of a tradition with roots as deep as humanity. We are seeing the emergence, in Martin Prechtel’s words, of ‘new sap in the old tree’. And here, intent is everything…..
IMHO I feel that Carlisle Bergquist and the organisers of 10BB have pitched it just right; there is a global invitation to drum made in the spirit of ‘peace and goodwill’ and the invitation is left open – we bring to it what we each choose……take some time to think on this and the message in the poster. The event offers an opportunity to go far beyond this……
When a group of drummers get together the pulse they create carries a dialogue that speaks the language of the soul. In drumming together we recall an innate gift, as old as humanity, that allows our souls to speak freely with each other within the energetic matrix of Life. Drumming is, in this sense, re-membering. Music motivates at this level, but, when allied with ‘sacred intent’ or when held within the spacial contours of ceremony rhythm and pulse also provides an energetic drive that activates meaning and carries us beyond the physical boundaries we normally experience – when we remember in this context our connectivity carries a restorative as well as a generative ‘soul-making’ dynamic. This itself is a dynamic intrinsic to the Virgo/Libra cusp. At its highest level it is an energy point, like the descendant in the natal chart, of activation within communion.
In the transit from Virgo into Libra we find the culmination of the inner path of individuation transiting into the outer, the initiates path entering into the adepts and our highest levels of achievement becoming shared. These can become naturally nucleated within the collective and this finds symbolic representation in the ‘harvest’. One of the keys to understanding this transition is provided by the Sabian symbols for the degrees that form the cusp, the thirtieth degree of Virgo and the first degree of Libra.
The Sabian for 30 Virgo speaks of the quality of complete focus and it is this that brings about this ‘culmination’, which is akin to the decisive step taken by the initiate at the entrance to the holy ground. Decision of this kind, once made, becomes the backbone of intent. We face these moments of decision at all the major crossroads of our lives, but, if we are to live consciously and with intent, as does the adept, these moments fill our lives. Humanity is at that crucial point and we are being called upon to make the decisive step into adept-hood and maturity. Can we once more recognise our home planet as holy ground……
The Sabian for 1 Libra speaks of the quality of ‘making’ sacred – when living with intent the divine is not simply a given, it is a collaboration and partnership, or better, an affiliation and friendship. How would it be if we rcognised our ‘beloved’ in Nature….perhaps a rhetorical question for this event? The heart is the natural center within our physical frame that regulates the manifestation of this dynamic of connectivity. And, every heart beat echoes this dynamic, literally embodies it – the mutual symbolism of drum and heart beat is a potent reminder to us. Even more so through the evolved part of our beings that we express – there is a richness in the rhythmic cadence of our stride as we ‘walk our talk’ and in the steps of our personal ‘dance of power’ as we mature and let go into the greater rhythms of Life. It is a dance and dialogue built upon experience that can be perfected through pure mindfullness and love, and its realisation is every individual souls gift back to life. If the coming solstice marks a point of transformation it will be realised through our ability to give of this gift, personally within the collective – but, it is also crucial to us building a community capable of transcending and evolving beyond our own limitations.
The planetary affiliations of sign and ruling planet are revealing here too. We normally associate Venus with earth and Mercury with air, yet Mercury is the traditional ruler of Virgo and Venus ruler of Libra – the mutual receptivity of their rulership within the elements mirrors and is expressive of this energy of affiliation and is unique to this particular cusp.
……..as we approach the solstice, following the Sun’s journey from Virgo through Libra, Scorpio and Sagittarius, the energy raised now follows a path of awareness, piercing the veil of the physical, deepening as it creates new connections – permeating the intelligence of the emotional body awareness becomes a power, bringing the opportunity to mature beyond the physical, before entering the spiritual realms of pure intellect and re-birthing from ‘the heart of the world’, the center of all manifestation, into the generative physical realms of Capricorn. The next 13 weeks give us the opportunity to align fully with this process and through the drums affirm an intent that will help us to do so. But, there are yet deeper levels available to work with here.
With the opening of the drumming we find the Moon, corresponding to ‘the People’, conjunct the Great Attractor in mid-Sagittarius. The GA’s influence gives us the view beyond the horizon, the future we dream of in our innermost selves. The seed dreams embedded in the energy of every participant are connected down the line over the 24 hours of the drumming. At close of drumming the Moon conjuncts the Galactic Center and grounds this influx of dreaming through the energies of the cosmic womb. This may be very subtle and esoteric by nature and appeal only to a few, but, even a small percentage of all those drumming can make the difference and it is the power of the essence carried within the dreaming, its qualities rather than quantity that matter most.
Before drumming this year, since it is ‘this’ year, take some time to consider an intent that arises naturally from the cornucopia of your own innate gifts, that arises most strongly in your heart, and that you can give through your drumming, as a gift to the world…..and give it your all…..
see you there!
In Peace, R
The cross-quarter fire festival of Lughnasadh coincides with the midpoint of the traditional Chinese year whose energies this year are symbolised in the Water Dragon. In previous posts I’ve alluded to the connection between the year of the Water Dragon and the Dragon Paths and, in honouring of this, here is a tale spun from the dragon pathways of Albion at this special time of year, a tale in which these energies are subtly woven together.
The following is a true story. It is drawn from experiences and journal notes made some years ago – all the events and dialogues are faithfull to the reality experienced, and, while one or two of the names have been changed, everything else is related exactly as it happened – the images here were taken on the journey and are un-retouched colour prints, taken on film using a battered old Canon SLR that has now gone into retirement – I do have digital fully restored copies of these, but, somehow, here it seemed more fitting to show them in their original state! While the main part of the story centers around Lughnasadh time, its seeds were sown one summer solstice two years before and it is here that the tale begins……
It’d been an opportunity that seemed to arrive with perfect timing. My day job was wearing me thin and I really needed a break – but, the chance came and, one summers morning a few days before solstice, I packed my faithfull green Austin Maxi and set off for California Beach. For all I knew I was heading for a two week retreat, the opportunity to go barefoot, rest from the city madness and to breath again, to keep time once more with earth and stars.
Carol had lent me the use of her ocean-side wooden cabin, nestled in the dunes on the Norfolk coast at the eastern end of the Michael and Mary Ley Line, a place out-of-time where dreaming came naturally….I was familiar with this ley having lived close by Avebury in earlier times and Avebury lies on the exact mid-point of the Michael and Mary line. While living there I’d spent much time working with the land and its energies, exploring its seen and unseen realities, so, I was looking forward to connecting with the dragon paths again, but, I could not have anticipated how the dreamings that came out of this would manifest in time and space…….
Nature heals and the cabin gave safe sanctuary and plenty of time for reflection, and it wasn’t long before the realisation came that I needed change and a new direction. On solstice eve I lit a fire and offered prayers, asking for guidance, a path to follow…….and sometimes dreams slip their clothes and dance amongst us, like wind blown birds and rainbow bespattered spin-drift, spinning sparks rising from red hot embers into the star-struck night……and some reside in the timeless memories of stones…….this night the offerings cast to the winds and consumated in the flames of the solstice fire came back in the clothes of a dream.
‘Be patient and allow the course of things to unfold – ask for a sabbatical – regroup and renew your creative energies – and seek out your guides, they have a plan……’
It took time well beyond the times of this tale before the plan fully came to fruition, but, by the time the seeds had begun germinating, the guides petitioned and their council given, the journey was already underway. The sabbatical marked the threshold and a revolving door swung open upon another world…..
Amongst the guidance received was a map for a journey to be undertaken on the land following an ancient track. This had its beginning at Carn Les Boel, exactly where the other end of the Michael and Mary Line emerged in the land at the very tip of Cornwall in south-west Britain. The journey would unite the seed point of the dreaming at the eastern end of the Michael and Mary ley in Norfolk with the western end of the ley and culminate in Avebury at its balance point.
So it was that, one sparkling morning on Lughnasadh eve, I found myself resting my back against the gatekeeper stone at Carn Les Boel. This stone is, without a doubt, powerful within itself, manifesting a sense of immovable and knowing rootedness that fully conceals the fact that it has been purposefully ‘planted’ at this precise spot to hold a resonant key in place. It is a key that serves the whole of these lands, for, not only does it mark the entry point of the Michael and Mary Line as they emerge from the Atl-antian oceans that surround this ancient shore, but, the stone indicates the initial crossing point of these twin rivers of energy and from there together they weave their dragon path, the ley that draws the path of the Beltane sunlight across old Albion.
At this initial crossing point is a vortex that is, at times, especially potent and complex. The vortex is itself a part of a living energy network, the nature and qualities of which are not fixed but which adjust and change in time – on this journey its energies made itself appear as a living void otherwise filled with an immense broiling ocean of swirling undercurrents, subtle to the physical frame, galvanising to the energy body….!
Within this is a resonant patterning of the different frequency bands within the Michael and Mary lines themselves, these too alter and change the geometric configurations that emerge out of divining the crossing point – and, being living energies, there is intelligence present, one which I found to be benevolent and which does communicate……
As I was walking away from the stone, somewhat bemused by the torque experienced between the physical and non-physical at the vortex, I heard a bird’s piercing call and turned towards its cry…..looking back towards the stone, in the direction of the call, a single flash of light burst from the center top of the gatekeeper stone and sent out a penetrating pinpoint laser-beam of brilliant star-light.
That night another dream came visiting……
I was camped out next to a beautiful old Alder up near Lamorna. Beneath the Alder a large flat stone gave a view through the hedge towards one of the Pipers, these being two 3 meter high granite pillars that are outliers that point directly towards the Merry Maidens stone circle. They are said to have accompanied the maidens in their circle dance and to have been turned to stone for their troubles, but, don’t be fooled – these Pipers, like the circle of sacred women who danced there with the earth and stars, are very much alive.
In the dream someone came and, casting a handfull of pollen in a pillar of light, asked ‘what do you see?’ – I awoke before answering……it was like an invitation, and, pulling the I Ching from my rucksack, I opened a page at random.
Hexagram 35, Prospering…Fire above Earth – “Emerge into the light; advance, be noticed; give and receive gifts……..You will be received by the higher powers three times in a single day”
In the body of this hexagram is the notion of a royal personage, symbolising the higher powers, bestowing gifts in the form many horses following the giving of a divination – auspicious indeed, and horses in the symbolic traditions of the I Ching, as well as the indigenous traditions of Albion, are a symbol of spirited strength in the natural world and are the counterpart of the dragon…..but, the royal visitation was most intriguing.
It was Lugh’s day and, through following an intuitive thread it came to mind to visit a very special ancestral site high on the Atlantic coast known as Chun Quoit. Contemplating the quoits location on the map I noticed that it was next to an iron-age settlement, a walled village known as Chun Castle. The connection between the quoit and the castle is speculative as the quoit is neolithic and predates the iron-age settlement by millenia, but, somehow the I Ching’s message seemed to resonate here…..
Chun Quoit’s reputation went before it – reports of lights and sounds heard within its inner space spoke of a living ancestral energy residing there. In approaching Chun the long moorland slope seemed to vibrate with every gust of wind that bright day and as the quoit came into view I could see beyond it the tumble of stones that marked the walls of the castle. Pulled towards the castle entrance way, marked by two upright stones, the village seemed to be held in a silence, listening, waiting….after paying respects to its keepers Chun Quoit called from down the slope. Standing between the gateway stones I heard voices carried upon the wind from below, but, turning to look all around, I could see no-one on the slope of the moors.
The quoit is crowned with a large capstone and gives the impression of an oversized lid to the chamber beneath providing great protection, and, even though the wind this day sang about the cracks between the stones, it was as if held at bay from entering its inner sanctum – this was filled with a sparky atmosphere that fairly crackled with the energy of the crystalline matrix in its granite walls and roof. The earth within seemed hard baked and gritty – and not a place to be approached without invitation, especially if its matrix were to be explored. I decided to go sit a few yards from the quoit and see what transpired. As I was settling down on the grass near to the stones I caught sight of them – a tall man dressed in an army great-coat that flapped in the wind with three children buzzing around him was slowly striding up the long slope of the hill.
Paul told me he was a painter of the lands here-abouts and, after I’d told him I was a carver we quickly fell into a conversation about how we worked and began to discover a common ground. We both had an interest in the ancestral indigenous energies of this land and how these found expression, working through our creativity. While the two youngest of his kids scurried off to explore the ancient secrets of the place amongst the stones he and his eldest produced large sketchbooks from their backpacks and began to gather flowers…..’these are our paints while we’re out and about’ he explained. Using carefully selected flowers for different colours and rubbing them directly onto the paper he showed me how their delicate smears of colour brought an earthy vibrancy alive on the page…it was a method I’d never seen before, some of the colours coming from leaf and petal, others from the pollen the flowers carried. Paul went on to say that these would provide the spectrum of colour from which he would build his studio paintings – it was magical to behold…..
We didn’t mention the quoit, it somehow wasn’t necessary, but, contemplated the colours within the land and the shape-shifting forms of flowing cloud shadows as they swept up the slope towards us in a sea of hazy sunlight. Looking beyond them I could see the ocean and the silhouette of a rugged tor some miles away….’thats Kenidjack, a powerful place on a day like today’ Paul said following my gaze and, gathering up their paintings, he and his kids made ready to move on – we bade our farewells and as they were leaving Paul said ‘you should go see the stone circles down below the tor – yeh, and the view from the tor is quite special too’……
It seemed like I good idea and, as I scanned the land it felt that the tor had a certain pull to it – just then a whisper of sound drifted by on the wind. I couldn’t identify it, but, it seemed to have come from very far away. And there it was again, a scintilation on the edge of hearing, shrill and melodic. This time I felt sure it was nearer, but, what it was I couldn’t quite place. After a few moments it sounded again – it was a tintinabulation of sustained rising pitches, very high, like tiny silver trumpets blowing on the wind, only this time there was no doubt about it – it was coming from the quoit!
The wind sighed around the stones as I stood up and made my way over – and just as I approached, within six feet of the quoit, I heard it again and saw two small specks rising from the edge of the capstone, spiralling around each other and weaving a column of energy. The silver trumpets accompanied their ascent until they burst apart and disappeared. Well, that was odd! I could have sworn they were living sparks of dense quick moving energy – I moved closer. There on the top lip of the capstone were two large wild bees – they were facing each other and, moving as close as I dare without wanting to disturb them, I could see that they were vibrating producing a low humming tone. Slowly they pivoted about a central point, and what was remarkable was that although they rotated first sunwise, then changed direction to moon-wise and back, they always kept their heads pointing towards each other across the diametre of their dance circle and made their moves in complete synchrony.
I’d witnessed the bee’s waggle dance before but never in the wilds and never a shared dance mirrored perfectly between two bees. These two were behaving quite differently from the bees I’d seen in the hives – they were very connected in their energy, clearly communicating at a hightened level……
Suddenly they both rose simultaneously in a vertical spiral from their circle, and there was the sound of the silver trumpets….it was a truly wonderous thing to behold…..and they danced this way in the air until an unseen signal sent them careening off at tangents and seconds later there they were together on a different part of the capstone. Their low humming circle dance unfolded briefly again before they both arose, but, this time they flew off in different directions leaving me breathless and elated, holding onto the quoit as if the wind might pick me up any moment and carry me off into the blustering brilliance of Lugh’s day.
It felt as if a dream of ancient rites was come alive in nature this Lughnasadh….but, the tor beckoned and the wind said ‘move on’…..
I failed to find the stone circles below Kenidjack Tor – sometimes the land conceals such things, as if another calling must first be payed attention to. Climbing the granite outcrop the comfortable looking bowl of a high seat revealed itself near the craggy pinnacle. Settling down to take in the view south and west out over the brimming ocean out beyond the land I caught site of distant islands emerging from just beyond the horizon – it was the Scilly Isles. The sea was alive with white horses and the day was filled with exhilirating dreamlike beauty…..the Scillys are also known as Lyonesse, the name of a rich and fertile land now beneath the sea that once joined the islands to the mainland, and it is said that the islands are the all that remains of a city built upon seven hills by the same name……
‘Beautiful up here isn’t it…’, the voice woke me from my revery, but, I had thought I was alone! Leaning forward I was greeted with the smiling faces of an elderly couple seated in a perfect two seater rocky armchair just below. ‘We didn’t want to disturb you, but, its such a beautiful day to be shared’ the kindly looking woman said…
‘Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t notice you were there or I’d have said hello’ I apologised in turn…they invited me to join them in a cup of tea from their flask and, as we introduced ourselves I mentioned that I’d just come down from Chun Quoit, explaining that I was visiting on the advice of ‘some friends’.
They too were recent arrivals, having retired to Kernow some 5 years ago and had soon discovered this place, one of many favourites in this magical land. It was a shared dream that she a midwife and he a keen gardener had held since the early days of their marraige, to live out their golden years in this special place, and, even though it meant giving up certain things that were dear to them, they had no doubts that it had been the right thing to do – one of those things was bee-keeping.
‘Richard here used to be a avid bee-keeper’ Joan explained…..and, with this, I excitedly told them what I’d witnessed at Chun Quoit and asked Richard if he knew what the wild bees I’d seen were doing.
Richard’s face lit up…’well, it sounds like they were two queens telling each other where the boundaries of their hives had been, quite a rare thing to see, infact, in 40 years of keeping bees I’ve never witnessed it myself……they call the sound they were making ‘Piping’….’
There was no doubting from Richard’s wistful tone what a privilage it was to have been at the queen bees dance, but, he assured me that amongst ‘kept’ bees such things rarely happened, if at all, as the hives were fairly settled in their partnership with humans. Wild hives, however, often disband before winter and regroup to form a new hive – the circle dance was a serious exchange of essential information such that the two hives that the individual queens had and would belong to would not impinge upon each other in the future. It was an honouring of sacred law, kept amongst the bee tribes, the royal prerogative to know and keep to on behalf of their hives, in this way keeping the health of the land alive and secure within the honouring of this sacred natural law.
I had much to chew over as I headed back towards the Merry Maidens and Lamorna….
The circle and the Pipers had come alive in these encounters, reflecting in very real and magical ways the deeply woven mysteries of land and enchantment. The day was beginning to wind down and I wanted to pay my respects and give thanks before settling back to camp.
After parking up at the tent I wandered back over the fields. There was a strange light noticable around them in passing the Pipers and it felt right to not dally but to make a bee-line to the circle. I arrived just as the sun began to set.
Making a circuit of the stones I found a waist high outlying stone to rest against. The intense beauty of the sun as it sank to the horizon cast radial arms of light within the circle and I noticed that on this day from the vantage point of this stone the sun set directly behind the tower of a church that peaked out from a valley a few miles away, directly in line with the center of the circle. The image of the queens describing their circle around its centre flashed into my mind. There was a pull from the center of the Maidens and, as I slowly trod the path of a sunbeam towards their center I saw that a man with several dogs had entered the field and was walking towards them too. We met at the exact midpoint of the Maidens, just as the last rays disappeared and the sky revealed a deeper luminesence.
There was something in the way in which it happened, the time and place, at the sunset of such a day, that gave an appointed feel to our meeting, as if it had unfolded in perfect expectancy. Everything was following a hidden thread through time and space upon which were hung the very qualities and energies necessary to fulfill this meeting at the Merry Maidens.
It was a mystery full of magic, but, it was several days later after travelling the Michael and Mary ley to Glastonbury that the depth of this mystery really began to reveal itself……
The man, who introduced himself as Will, was a stout and earthy character who had, he told me, bred horses in Dorset in the past, but, from what he said he seemed to have deeper roots in the land around old Kernow. He was accompanied by six greyhounds, some dappled, some dark, some light, and five of them were inquisitively exploring the stones and playing around the boundaries of the circle as we spoke – the sixth followed sedately behind and joined us in the center. She was extra-ordinary…..
Will saw me eyeing the dog as she entered the circle….’she’s ‘Queenie” he said, ‘looks after all the others, but, feigns to run around like the young’uns’. Queenie stood with us as we talked and she was unlike any dog I had seen before – not only did she have a dignity and detachment befitting her name that was intense and tangible in some strangely undoglike sense, but, she had red eyes and ears – she exuded an otherworldly aura. ‘Yep, she looks after us all….’ Will said, as if to make sure she knew she was honoured in this.
He asked after my own work and I mentioned how the land here was such a powerful inspiration, bringing a strong feeling of connection with the oldways….Will looked to where the sun was glowing beyond the horizon. ‘Yes, some of the old folk as used to be crafting with the land here’bouts would go along with that. Used to be a fella, fine woodsman and crafter lived down beyond the valley there – give him a piece of timber cut from the local trees and he could tell you which tree, the exact tree mind, that it come from….he were in his eighties as I remember him, when I were a lad.’ Will paused and looked around. ‘Its all changed now tho’, not many folks know the land like they used….the lands changed too, at least as it appears’. There was a sense of knowing in Will’s voice that betrayed a deeper understanding.
Then Will said something that, at first, I could’nt quite take in…..
He cast his hand around the circle of stones and said, ‘I remember the land before these hedges went up and the Maidens used to stand in open moorland. But, that was a long time back, eh Queenie….?’ and, at that Queenie gave a loud snort and slowly set off again. ‘Well, nights coming on and I must get these dogs their walk….goodluck on your journey’, and with that Will set off and followed Queenie, calling the pack to heal as they disappeared beyond the hedges in the falling dusk.
My Journey, as it unravelled, took me further up the Michael and Mary line, stopping off at ancient sites through which the ley’s energy converged and sang, until, some days later I broke off on another pathway and headed for the mountains across the Severn River before returning to the ley at Avebury. The last stop on this leg of the journey tho’ was in Glastonbury, a chance to mull over the events that had unfolded so far – and by chance that day I happened to wander into a bookshop on the highstreet and randomly picked out a book to see what it had to say about it all……it was a history of the folk traditions of the British Isles. I opened the book….
The passage my eyes fell upon sent a shiver through my entire being…….the King of the Underworld, it said, is accompanied by a pack of hounds, and tradition has it that they are greyhounds, but, no ordinary hounds by most accounts as these have red eyes and ears….
It seemed the guides had been spinning their thread in a magical pattern through every event and meeting of this journey and soon I discovered more spinning doorways high up in the mountains in the shapes of menhirs, and amongst caves and hidden valleys that gave way to other pathways connecting this world with the unseen ones. But, there-in lie many other tales….
In truth, everything is deeply intertwined and woven upon these magical skenes, and, in truth, within the meandering rivers of energy of the dragon paths a true and straight track is hidden in plain sight……if we but find the thread and follow…..
Bright Blessings this Lughnasadh!
Divination is at root a communal activity and, in our times, bringing its practice into a circle of shared space can also mean an opportunity for re-discovering just what ‘community’ means, and feels like…
…..it was perhaps one of the most unlikely places to find a scene such as this, but, on this occasion the circle of people, old and young, gathered around the African diviner’s cloth in a small Austrian house on the edge of the mountains, were enacting a communal event that could have been found in traditional villages the world over in a timeless span stretching back to the very roots of humanity. Three people had already been called to sit with the diviner and the readings had been good – everyone was enjoying each other’s company within this communal ritual space, the sharing of news from both this world and the ancestor’s, as well as the knowledge that those particular problems that had been besetting the divinees were infact an important part of a larger plan or perhaps the calling card of a spirit, but, whatever the purpose, were at the very least already known about by the denizens of the unseen worlds, and the diviner’s allies….help is always at hand, if you know where and how to look for it.
……the diviner’s cloth was spread in the center of the room and was oriented so that its water quadrant, the place of the spirits of healing, was in the north, where the diviner sat – the divinee would sit opposite, nearest the fire quadrant, the place of the ancestors. Atop the cloth were many objects associated with the quadrants and the diviner’s personal medicine and the cloth itself had a medicine wheel, a cosmic elemental map, painted onto it with representations of the five main elements, the diviners own hands and feet, and various other miscellaneous markings whose meaning contained many mysteries…..at the center of the cloth, covering the earth quadrant, was a pile of cowrey shells with small stones, bones and assorted objects mixed in amongst them. These would spell out the picture, in relation to the elements, that the diviner would read once the divinee had churned them around within the circular medicine wheel at the center of the cloth…..but, there was yet more to this comprehensive healing kit….
….close by and on the cloth the diviner had placed the additional tools and equipment from his medicine bag that wanted to be present. He might not use any of them within this session, as they did not belong directly to the cloth and shell divination practice, but, they were a part of his extended repertoir for seeing into the other worlds and conversing with its inhabitants. Amongst them were a stout natural wooden stick, which could be used in spirit led ‘stick divination’, a small woven basket that looked like a minature beehive and was both the home, shrine and meeting place for two of his main allies, and various organic and man-made objects, shells, roots, coins and bits of bone and hide, amongst other less identifiable material……these could all be called upon, often at the prompting of the spirits, to help the diviner to fine tune and look deeper into the nuances of the reading as things came up, or to see aspects of the situation that the shell divination might not extend to.
Almost everything visible came from the world around, had been aquired by the diviner over the course of time and training and fit comfortably into the diviner’s hide bag, which he could carry with ease slung over his shoulder. This was a practical healing outfit suitable for travel within a global community that, when brought out into our midst, provided a focus of otherworldly and multi-dimensional proportions. Every diviner is a gatekeeper, and those things that did not come from the world around, although they might not ‘look’ particularly out of the ordinary, had infact been gifted or brought back from the otherside of the gateway……
“So…..who’s wanting to come up next” the diviner asked softly, gathering up the shells into a small compact mound at the center of the cloth. He did not look up until there was a movement as my friend made her way to sit in the center of the circle with the ancestors….”I guess I am….” she said, a little self-consciously….
The diviner gestured towards the cloth…..” you know how it goes – using your dominant hand you move the shells within the circle – the women move the shells moon-wise. If I say ‘stop’ you stop, or you stop when you feel to stop……ok, if you are, we’re ready……”.
There was a pause and the circle settled back quietly, expectant at the events about to unfold……the flame of a candle on the house keeper’s altar flickered momentarily as my friend rested her hand on the pile of shells at the center of the cloth. She closed her eyes briefly and then, on the command of some inner impulse, opened them and started moving her hand counter-clockwise in a circle. Shells, stones and bones began to spread outwards and one or two slipped right to the edge of the circular design – this was usually a sign of either something heading for the spirit worlds or something about to arrive from them. Only, my friend’s hand kept on turning and, as it did, shells began to cross the circle’s boundary….a subtle ripple of energy swept through the room.
I knew enough about my friend, her situation and what had brought her here (and I myself had over two decades of experience in the practice of divination at that time) to know that, although the patterns appearing on the cloth might well extend into the spirit realms, here there was something awry about the spread she had produced and the people gathered around were also picking it up. I was watching the diviner carefully – he showed no sign of speaking but his eyes were riveted on the cloth……eventually my friend stopped churning the shells.
There was an audible outbreath from the village circle and a few quiet whistles and exclamations – the diviner scratched his head and raised his eyebrows. Only now was he showing a reaction, and it was as of one slightly befuddled, astounded even, by the complexity and import of what he was seeing….
“Well…….” he paused, as if looking for the right words…..”what….has been going down with you…..!” It was obvious from the distribution of the shells that this person was undergoing some major challenges and it was not the purpose of the reading to find out what they were, at least not on the outside, that would come from her – no, the purpose here was to disclose what was at their root and find ways of responding.
The aim was to help restore balance and ‘optimise’, no matter how difficult or challenging the situation, but, first we all needed to hear it from the horses mouth, so to speak – this was just as important to the communal aspect of the healing as the practical solutions that would come later.
From the way the shells and objects were spread over the center of the cloth, some spilling well beyond the boundaries of the medicine wheel, it was obvious that this person, my friend, was not all here, that parts of her energy had become dislodged and found their way into the spirit realms, which meant that her integrity, inner balance and perhaps, more than likely infact, the fundamental health of her world situation, was seriously out of kilter – her answer would confirm this…..she was suffering breast cancer, it was impinging on her lymph system and, to make matters more difficult, she was looking after her mother, who was in the more advanced stages of the same disease herself. Without going any further into the details surrounding this situation here, like the divinee’s situation itself the level of healing required in this instance was, in the words of the diviner, going to be ‘radical’!
What I found especially interesting about this reading at this point was two aspects of ‘knowledge’ that the divinee and the ‘village’ circle embodied simultaneously…..on the one hand, the village contained some people who were already well versed in the cowrey shell practice of divination they were taking part in, but, they had not been a party to the divinees situation. There were no visible signs of her suffering. However, the tangibility of the reading, its energetic imprint and effect upon the village circle gathered around the cloth was powerfully visceral, even and most notably, before my friend spoke about her plight……the second, and equally important to the veracity of the reading, was that neither she nor I had witnessed this particular kind of cowrey shell reading before – she had no idea that her actions with the shells would send out such a strong signal to the village, nor how clearly their configuration revealed the extent of her problems, let alone their exact nature and the reality of what lay behind them. The reading taking place here was genuine and true.
It was only when the diviner began to open the dialogue between himself, the shells, his spirit allies and the divinee that the way forward began to emerge, but, in this particular instance, it was a tough and demanding process – so much of this person’s energies were becoming scattered beyond the physical worlds. First steps required a cleansing of the ‘wound’, which was as much if not more spiritual than physical, although the physical was pulling the anomoly into manifestation – this required an otherworldly dressing and application of preventative medicines that reached right into the spirit worlds. The radical nature of the healing would, infact, last over a period of 5 years, require many more readings, strong practical remedies (which, for the sake of privacy, integrity and brevity, I will not go into the exact nature of here in detail), but, would eventually lead to complete remission from the disease. Complete and sustained, largely thanks to two things…..
The first was my friends willingness to undergo the full journey, to stay the course, and that rested on the second thing. Besides ‘radical’ responses there were those that provided ‘maintainence’, that kept things in balance and good health. While the former, the ‘radical’ actions this healing required, could only be overseen and facilitated by an experienced and initiated healer, the maintainence work could be undertaken by the patient themselves.
The second thing was that, in the course of undertaking and keeping up this work, my friend discovered that she herself was a healer within this tradition, that she was naturally endowed with connections to the spirit worlds that this diviner’s tradition recognised, facilitated and supported, and she eventually became a fully initiated healer herself in the tradition of Kontombli medicine and divination. I’ll say a bit more about this kind of medicine in due course, over the coming months, but, this was an immensely important part of her journey through illness, a major part of its inner significance, and it was only through the divination itself and her willingness to follow it through that this itself became revealed. How much of what we ‘suffer’ in this world actually represents an opportunity, a signpost or significant shove in the ‘right’ direction, is an important question in our times – most often, we need the assistance of the otherworld, its insights, and the work of diviners and our own divination practices to help us discover this. Its not so much about ‘self-help’ and evolution, as reclaiming the power inherent in our own path and using it in the most appropriate and advantageous ways, for both ours and the community’s ‘greater good’ – the latter two are synonymous.
I wanted to introduce something of this traditional practice firstly through personal anecdote, as I will be writing up readings working with this method of divination here at Owlmirror, using this as a way of exploring some of the fundamentals and principles, the pragmatic as well as esoteric aspects of the diviner’s art, as well as for looking into the current processes and state of things in the world, in much the same way as we do with astrology – this form of cowrey shell based divination works surprisingly well alongside astrology and complements many other paths and practices, from diverse traditions. Secondly, this particular event also marked the beginning of my own practice as a cowrey shell diviner.
The year was 1998…..after practicing astrology, rune-casting, tasseomancy, the I Ching and reading the signs in nature for many years my practice had begun to feel incomplete and slightly out of focus – I came later to realise that, despite all the previous years experience, I had not yet found my own personal center of gravity as a diviner. The pull of that center had begun to become conscious in the early 70’s through encounters out in the land with the ancestral spirits and spirits of nature, particularly in the Atlantic coastal area of North Devon and in Wiltshire in the UK where I had been living. It took a decade of following the twists and turns of the path before I met my first formal teachers and mentors, at which point those encounters became much more interactive and articulated, and I found myself pursuing a training in ‘spirit medicine’.
It felt like a calling, although I was at pains to make something practical of it in the world, and there still remained the feeling that at the back of it all, like a powerful magnetic core was the real center, that I was slowly spiralling in towards, the place that felt like’ home’. Through the next decade I was pulled further into this ‘medicine’ world and I found my old divining practices becoming more like technical variations on this larger theme – the ‘medicine’ work had become ‘life-work’. It wasn’t until finally I arrived in that room in Austria and laid eyes on the divining kit spread at its center that everything changed, came into focus, and the dots all suddenly and, quite ecstatically, joined up – it was an instant recognition, an ancient and familiar feeling, uncanny and so deeply known, beyond any doubt, just as one might recognise loved ones and places one has known in former lives……
……..that moment of recognition was followed by six years of training with the diviner, Malidoma Some, a Dagara elder and shaman from Burkina Faso in West Africa, and through this all the strands of previous training and activity, in medicine traditions, creative work, divination and different modalities of healing, both contemporary western and ancient indigenous, came together and made sense. In that moment was one of the most liberating feelings I had had in my life to that time…..but, as is in the nature of the trials of life by which we truly learn, even this affirmative centering was eventually to become challenged and questioned.
My friend did recover fully into complete remission and I was fortunate to accompany her on the entirety of her journey – I witnessed the immense liberation and burst of life-force that she too experienced in arriving at that moment, when the doctors confirmed what the spirits had already previously revealed to us – the cancer was completely gone……the moment marked a turning point for both of us. A whole series of events was set in motion that would change both our lives, even more radically than this part of the journey had, much more infact, but, thats something that will have to be spoken of another time…….suffice it to say, she pursued her calling within the Dagara tradition and I, largely through the fated intervention of the Kontombli spirits, eventually came to totally rebuild my own life and practice, from the absolute zero point. Hard as it is to convey just what this means, it required most of all that my own work in the world comprise only that which I could truly say ‘belongs’ to me, to this particular ‘spirit having a human experience’.
Divination is a constant resource in helping us to undertake such work on a personal level – I have seen lives changed in profound ways by its intervention, the intervention and advice of the spirits. The stories that people bring back as a result of having taken up and followed through upon that advice are the real reward for such service as the diviner provides – I hope to relate some of these here, but, from this point in I will be including readings working with the shells, as the occasion arises. Unlike astrology, which is a useful vehicle for divination practice, but, which has a utilitarian availability that allows it to be made use of at will, the cowrey shell practice is of itself much more spirit led and comes up almost unfailingly with a ‘certain purpose’ behind each reading. The fact is, as a diviner, the practice can be developed to such an extent that this particular way of working becomes the basis for all divination work, if the path is followed with a full commitment. At its most integrated levels the practice seemingly disappears and becomes the life lived once more, rather than something one does within one’s life…..the implications of this are worth exploring as its effects profound, liberating and ultimately, I would say, bring us home to ourselves.
We will go into the components of the practice, as described and introduced in the above story, in more detail – and the correspondences with other divination practices are many, so, there will also be opportunity to compare and feedback from your own practices as well. The images here show my own working kit, as it was when I was training with Malidoma, and I will be talking about this kit in some depth as well. Over the intervening years it has changed, become more integrated and personal, while retaining the essense of the original. That process of recapitulation, distillation and refinement is key and the kit has become idiosyncratic to my own practice. Within this is the fundamental point – that we can all discover, put together and work with a divination kit (and practice) that is unique to each of us and that this can and does allow us to fully integrate the ways and means of the diviner seamlessly and invisibly into life, such that we can live our purpose in fullness, balance and total integration – such empowerment is, in my humble opinion, more valuable than anything else, both to ourselves and our communities, and supercedes any notion of evolution, collectively or individually.
Within the indigenous community from which this form of cowrey shell divination has arisen the purpose of a person’s life is primary to their identity, health and ability to function within the community – it is the gift that we have come here not only to remember and own, but, to deliver into the community. A divination such as the one in which my friend found her healing also gave her the crucial footing upon the most profound aspects of her own path and, through this, the community was changed, forever – such is the way of the diviner, no matter in which way or at which level we engage with it. It was also the shared knowledge of her predicament amongst all those present at her reading that enabled them to provide the support she needed to make that journey, and, in the course of time that support rippled outwards into larger fields and communities. This came about not least of all as a direct conscequence of her having reclaimed her power and life-force in the process of entering into the wider community of life at the call of spirit. Everything is connected in this way, and we all are both affected by and can benefit from such interventions, especially when they are consciously sourced from the spirit worlds. The transformative and fundamental nature of divination rests on this basis – it is innate within us.