As I have gotten older, I find I am drawn more to non-anthropomorphic, inexpressable-in-words, nature, and everyday focused visions of the Divine. Whereas before my spiritual practice involved more rituals and circles, unusually indoors, with others, now I more often engage in solo quiet contemplation, outside in the wild when I can. I think more about ways of being rather than ways of doing and more about the small messages I want to leave to generations to come instead of major accomplishments. I feel as if I am contracting in towards the center of the spiral of my spiritual journey.
All over the world, very ancient cave art includes hand prints made by painting or blowing ochre around a hand or putting ochre on a hand and pressing it to the wall. Research has shown that about 75% of these were made by women, making them a very early form of feminist art. I wonder if some of them might have been made by women who had transformations and thoughts similar to mine. Here is a poem in the voice of such a woman.
When I first crouched low, crawling into the
cave chamber, a young woman led to her first ceremony,
I was in awe of sacred sister animals running along the walls
in the torchlight. Relentless chants and drums, my village in trance.
Today I am alone, inching towards my destination, my body
aching, knees bleeding, in silence. I carry no one but myself.
I am not an artist who paints the beasts who fall in sacrifice that we may live,
Or the shape-shifters who travel between our realm and the spirits,
whose handprints are here to be seen and touched with honor.
But I have tucked some ochre in my leather pouch and I press my hand to the wall and, with my mouth, spray
blood red around it.
I will make my hand’s image a little different from the others.
It will look like a tree. It will, in some lights, make you think of a bird.
One finger will bend like a snake crawling among the grass.
I will move my hand like my body as it breathes
So whoever sees its smeared outline will know that the person
who made this hand was once alive.
I have only seen my face in the water, blurry and swiftly disappeared,
though my lover tells me I am still pleasing.
But I can see my hair and my hands
and I know that I am reaching the moment of life
when my body grows withered and fragile,
and one day soon I will lay down and never again rise with the sun.
I want the people from the future who discover my handprint to know that
when I walked out of my shelter in the morning
you could not see the blue of the sky for the clouds of birds.
The meadow air made us drunk with the perfume of spring blossoms.
Hives of bees buzzed around my head but never stung.
The land quaked with the stampede of reindeer herds.
I want the people from the future who discover my hand to know that
I have dug into the soil for roots in wrathful hunger.
I have carefully arranged the still bodies of lovers, mother,
father, sons, daughters, friends, almost everyone I have ever loved.
I have awakened at dawn and been unable to rise so many tears have covered my face and so much agony has my body suffered.
But still, these trials have only made the other mornings more precious.
Who knows what the future will hold? One day the reindeer may leave the land
and not return. The people may no longer revere She Who Created Them
and instead cry out unheard to craven hollowness
that will never answer with gentle, warm rain and
the songs of the trees in the wind.
Our bones may crumble unburied and no one will call to me as their ancestor
in times of both despair and merrymaking.
So I will sit here for a moment until the ochre is set
and play on my flute so magically made for me
by my grandchild from the wing of a vulture.
The celebrated ones who made the other hands have long stories and songs
to tell of spirits and creation and life’s endless tasks.
Their rituals here last for days and are marvelous for those who experience them.
But now I see only what is in front of me.
I leave my handprint to remind you, people from the future,
who stumble into this place of sanctuary, that
Your world is beautiful. You are loved.
Carolyn Lee Boyd is a writer, student drummer, and herb and native plant gardener who lives in New England. Her essays, short stories, memoirs, reviews, and poetry have been published in, among others, Feminism and Religion, Return to Mago E-Magazine, Sagewoman, The Goddess Pages, Matrifocus, and The Beltane Papers, and various anthologies. She would love for you to visit her at her website, www.goddessinateapot.com where you can find some of her free e-books to download.
Image: Prehistoric negative hand print from Pech Merle Cave in Le Lot, France. Public domain.