As I hang the laundry back home, I remember how just 24 hours earlier I arrived back on the beach after an incredible time at the ancestral burial mound where I spend the night in ceremony at the Autumn Equinox.
Ile Carn is a neolithic passage grave on a small tidal island in Finisterre, Brittany. I had visited there the summer before, and found that the other world was strongly accessible. When places become very touristy, like Stonehenge or Mont St. Michel, it sometimes appears as if the spirits retreat and the potency of the place thins. I asked them then if I could come back for ceremony, and when the answer was yes, I promised to return.
So here I was, on the Autumn Equinox, or Mabon. This is a time of balance, when the days and nights are equally long. A time in which the harvest has been gathered and we can start to prepare for a time of gestation and growing in the dark womb of winter, before the light is reborn again next year. My personal aim was three fold: I wanted to celebrate this year, especially to give thanks for my life, which had been on a precarious knife-edge earlier in May. I also wanted to ask for guidance for both my budding business and for my academic work in terms of re-discovering our own indigeneity in the west.
Like any ceremony, my time on the island consisted of three parts: arrival, liminal space, return. I arrived there just after low tide on Saturday. After a while, the lone fisherman and three more people and their dog left. Slowly but surely it was as if, on the rising tide, the place drifted away from shore, disappearing into the Other World. I could still see houses and people on the main land, and hear some passing cars, yet it seemed like I was far away. Perhaps not quite as far as Tir nan Og, the celtic ‘land behind the ninth wave’, but far enough from the human world and all its requirements, that I could be with and immerse myself in the land, the ocean and the presence of spirits and the ancestors.
It is quite magical, when you create time to actually watch the tides come in and go out fully. To question, at first, if you are imagining it – did that rock really disappear just now? And to see how the changes are the fastest in the 3rd and 4th hour when the water comes in (or goes out) with triple the speed as it does close to high or low tide.
I opened the liminal space within the mound, lighting some candles, preparing the sacred dome, calling for guidance and support. Then I did five rounds of prayers. First I prayed towards the mystery, and its manifestation in myriads of gods and goddesses – I imagine it must be tricky, being a god or goddess when people no longer ‘believe’ in you or honour your practice…
Then I reached out to the ancestors. In my experience there are many different types of ancestors including: concrete ancestors from our family line or community of people who have passed away, and similarly the concrete ancestors of people who geographically lived in a specific place (in this case Finisterre). I also think our ancestors include those from cultures we are connected to through our DNA (even if we might not have a concrete connection to them in this life). Really, this connects all of us back to the very first life on earth, so the ancestors can offer us an awareness of truly global community. Perhaps less tangibly, I finally connect to a lineage of spiritual ancestors – what types of ‘soul family’ do we feel related to, inspired by?
Thirdly, I connected to communities of human and other-than-human people in these socially, politically and environmentally challenging times. That they find grace and strength to face any current or future hardship, and that they may always remember they belong. No-one exists in isolation and together we truly are stronger.
Fourthly, I prayed for others. Ten people had shared asked me beforehand to take specific prayers to the ceremony on their behalf. As I sat there, drumming in the dark, it was such a privilege to speak your words of hope, love and longing for strength, healing, and guidance. Thank you for trusting me with them. I imagined they were carried up on the burning incense and reached the place where they were heard. I asked that you may feel the reverberation and manifestation of your prayers in the very essence of your being.
Finally, I prayed for self. To find the strength, despite any fears, worries, physical pain, and the certainty of dying, to receive this great gift of life as an incredible opportunity. To live this particular window of human life experience in the – potentially eternal – growth process of our souls as divinely engineered ‘perfection’ – because I believe that for the soul’s education nothing is ever imperfect. In the simple Spanish one-word prayer by Clarisse Pinkola Estés ‘Enséñame’ or ‘Please show me. Please teach me…’ **)
I went outside again, and danced and sang into the night. The many apparently ‘magical coincidences’ strengthened my belief that when we care to show up, the universe does too. When we care enough to craft time away from the everyday, to return to the wild, to reconnect with spirit, to fast, to rest during the night on an uneven slab of stone, then too the universe meets us. It meets us with beauty, incredible sights for the physical eyes, with poetry for the heart, and with precision in terms of the symbolic ‘answers’ we receive to our questions, our pleas, our prayers.
It was time to return. The tides would only allow me to leave at a specific moment when it was still dark. I made my way over the still-wet slippery seaweeds praying for sureness of foot. I slipped once, when I let my mind wander ahead to breakfast. I paused, came back to this precious moment, and then the clouds parted and my path was lit by the waning moon. I could see Orion, Ursa Major, and I think Venus. The way back was equally part of this deep medicine time as all the rest.
It was early, the world was still asleep. I put my pack down on the beach, and danced in the liminal and tidal zone of night slowly becoming day on the shore… One by one, the lighthouses across the cost flickered out until they are needed again during the next dark. This little whacky wild seed of inspiration is with me as I hang my laundry outside, on a misty September morning… The answers, images and guidance I received during this time are too personal to share here. But I know that you can access the same place of other knowing, whoever and wherever you are.
*) Jack Kornfield (2000) After the ecstasy, the laundry. How the heart grows wise on the spiritual path London: Bantam Books.
**) Pinkola Estés, C. (2011), page 191: Untie the Strong Woman: Blessed Mother’s Immaculate Love for the Wild Soul. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, Inc.
Eline Kieft has danced from a young age, including rigorous classical and contemporary training to become a professional dancer. She explored indigenous ways of knowing through her studies in Anthropology (BA, MA). During her PhD in Dance at Roehampton University, London, she looked at dance as a modality for healing and spirituality, including embodied epistemologies and shamanic techniques. Eline currently works at the Centre for Dance Research (C-DaRE) at Coventry University. She is a long-term shamanic practitioner and student of Jonathan Horwitz, as well as a Movement Medicine teacher, an approach for contemporary shamanic improvised dance. Finally, Eline is founder of Clover Trail, which offers soulful journeys to integrate the sacred into the everyday, and create your own meaningful and personalised art of living (mostly in France and UK). www.elinekieft.com and www.clover-trail.com.