Saturday, November 5, 2016

Adventures in Ireland

   I travel a fair amount, and usually by the end of a trip I am more than ready to come home.  Sleep in my own bed and cuddle with the cat.  But Ireland was different.  We had an amazing group of people on the Seeking the Great Queen pilgrimage.  I was honored to share ritual space with them, meet new friends, connect with old ones, and serve as the Morrigan’s priestess.  Our co-facilitator Morgan Daimler was awesome as always, sharing the old stories, as well as other assorted fairy doctors services.  Vyviane Armstrong who organized the trip (I highly recommend her and Land Sea Sky for any trips you want to go on or want to plan) was our fearless leader, and I can’t say enough how amazing she was or how truly amazing the whole experience was.  So watching the land of Ireland fall away as the plane took off on the last day was incredibly sad.     

  I am still processing some of my experiences.  Where do I even start? Being in the Cave of Cats on the eve of Samhain was one of the most moving experiences with the Queen that I’ve ever had. Ironically we were greeted at the Cave of Cats by the most adorable kitten, Minky, who pounced and played with us.  The cave looks quite small in all the pictures I’ve seen, but the cave is actually quite big once you reach the natural cavern below the manmade area.  I probably should have been scared shitless. Once we turned the flashlights off we stood in pitch blackness for most of the time.  It was disorientating to open my eyes and it be just as dark as when they were closed.  It almost gives one the feeling of being blind, yet it didn’t bother me at all.  I felt deep connection and euphoria.  I reaffirmed vows.  I could have stayed down there forever and been quite happy.  
Cave of Cats

Minky the Guardian of Cruachan

  Then there were the carins of Carrowkeel.  We hiked up to the summit while mist surrounded us and made it look like we stood on a floating island in the sky.  The cairns were more rugged then the pristinely restored Newgrange, and yet it made them far more beautiful.  And the energy was welcoming.  Emain Macha and the Hill of Tara resonated with me more than I expected.  Standing on the Hill of Ward, and participating in the ritual, on Samhain was amazing.  A good chunk of the 2000 people there weren’t even Pagans, yet despite their religious leanings there was a very strong sense that being on the hill was important.  They were standing in a place that was holy to their ancestors, on a holy night. An old man at one point wanted to light a candle he held from the ritual fire. Another older gentleman insisted on staying out in the cold to see the ceremony, even though his grandson insisted it was too cold to be outside. It really didn’t matter that they were not Pagan, this was part of their heritage.  And you could tell it was deeply important to them.     

Cairn at Carrowkeel

  It really struck me how important the sites we visited still were to the people who lived there.  CĂșchulain’s stone stands in the middle of a field.  A field that is still farmed.  And somewhere there is a farmer who has to put up with tourists coming through his field to see that stone.  A farmer who has to plant around that stone and assumably run machinery around it as well.  I’m not sure that would happen in the US.  It would be so much easier for that farmer to remove that stone, regardless of the historical/spiritual value.  And if it was in this country, sadly I don’t think that stone would still be standing in that field.    

  One of the experiences that struck me the most was visiting the Ogulla triple spring.  Ironically it was not a site that I connected with strongly.  At least not in the way one would expect.  The day before the pilgrimage officially began we visited both of Brighid’s wells in Kildare, and I felt a strong connection to them.  But this was different. The well was clogged with overgrown weeds. Although we could see the water flowing away through a stone channel it was hard to see the springs themselves. We were asked to clear out a handful of the weeds before we left as a way to care for this sacred place.  We ended up doing far more than that.  Did I mention how awesome our pilgrims were? 
Clearing the weeds and the springs afterwards 

  People waded in the mud and tore up the weeds clogging the springs.  We piled armfuls of the floating water plants behind a stone wall, and it soon piled higher than the wall itself.  We pulled up garbage, CDs, tea lights, a dead rose bush complete with plastic pot, and all sorts of things out of the water.  We cut off all manner of insane things that people tied to the branches of the tree over the springs. FYI do not tie things that aren’t biodegradable to a tree.  The synthetic ribbons, hair ties, among other things that people tie on rag trees more often than not are killing the trees.  Soon the springs were actually visible with all the growth cleared away.  The water moved easily, and there was a very good feeling coming from the space.  Our guide for the day, Lora O’Brien, told us that people usually only took a single obligatory handful of weeds, and that we had gone above and beyond.  Afterwards more than one person mentioned that the experience of caring for the well was quite profound for them.  While Pagans in general are more mindful of caring for the earth, in general we go to a sacred or natural place, perhaps leave a small offering and of course expect to receive something profound.  We expect to be given something.  The take, take, take, mindset of modern life even finds its way into Paganism. Doing the work, caring for this place was a deeply rewarding experience. And no I didn’t have any profound visions or messages from this place in particular.  Yet it was one of my favorite things about the trip.