A Modern Pilgrimage to the Isle of Lewis & Harris, Part 1
For a long time, I felt a soft but insistent tug to go to the Isle of Lewis & Harris, on the west coast of Scotland. Third time lucky, because the trip got cancelled twice due to Covid-19. Even this time was a challenge, with flights being pulled, and airport strikes causing last minute changes. It was as if the Goddess was asking me, “how serious are you about this, daughter?”
Eventually I managed to get to Edinburgh on time, all the way by train from our small sleepy village in France, to catch the connecting flight to the island.
In this post (Part 1), I write about meeting the Triple Goddess in the Land. Part 2: The Stones, focuses on my Equinox ceremony in the Callanish Stone Circle.
Like in Avebury, UK, it feels as if all of Lewis & Harris is a ritual landscape, with about 12 Neolithic monuments in (almost) walking distance from each other, as well as two mountain ranges that resemble the body of a sleeping woman. You can read more about these isles in Judith Shaw’s post earlier this year.
I see a pilgrimage as a conscious journey to a sacred site, with a special purpose that is interwoven with our individual journey through life. My destination was the Callanish Standing Stones, my purpose three-fold.
- Spiritually, I longed to meet the goddess of the isles, and deepen my relationship with the divine feminine. She’s been whispering, calling, dreaming towards me and now I wanted to travel towards her.
- Physically, I experienced quite a few changes in my body this year as I turned 45, and I felt called to do an initiation ritual into the next phase of my life, of young elderhood, welcoming the crone and hag. The trip would be close to my birthday, and a great way to spend a week with my mom.
- Psychologically, I felt a true shift these last few months in daring to step into who I am, no longer hiding behind, apologising for, or adapting to what I think “society” wants to hear from me. I wanted to mark this change in a concrete way.
The Earth Mother
The cottage my mom and I rented for our holiday overlooked the mountain range Cailleach na Mointeach, which means The Old Woman of the Moors in Gaelic (I agree with Jill Smith that there is nothing ‘old’ in her appearance, and that ‘old woman’ probably refers to the time she’s been there!). She is situated with her head to the north, her feet to the south. As you travel across the island, this Sleeping Beauty or Earth Mother, as she is also called, changes shape. In one place, relative to other mountains behind her, she appears pregnant. But even there, she isn’t pregnant all the time: when mist or clouds weave between the different peaks, she’s flat as a maiden. At other times you can’t see her at all, and she entirely disappears behind the veils of time. In this manifestation she taught me about shapeshifting, about the new in the old, the old in the new, and how important it is to stay in motion for different views to open up.
On Harris, the southern part of Lewis/Harris (known for its famous Harris Tweed), is another mountain range, called The Hag Mountain. Whereas her younger counterpart appears softer and rounder, this is an ancient grandmother with sharp cheekbones, and a hollow face, gaunt with shadows. She literally overlooks ‘the coffin path’, across which the dead were carried from the villages to the cemetery for centuries. Was it my imagination or did I see grandfather sleeping not too far off? The land around her is desolate, almost otherworldly, but peaceful. She taught me about forgiveness of self, acceptance of what is, soft surrender to the great ocean of life, into the deep waters of the unconscious, while firmly having a foot in both worlds, and about cackling eccentricity, fully being oneself without apology. There is more to this tale, which I might tell another time!
In the north of Lewis is the ancient Well of Brighde, later christened St. Brigit. It wasn’t signposted, so we had to ask around and were directed over a gate, into a field overlooking the sea. The energy and water were still pristine. To me it always feels magical when water wells up from the earth. It was here that the goddess in her younger form reminded me that her fluid grace is within us even as we grow older. The young bouncy maiden, with youthful innocence and spring in her step, can still jump through flower-filled meadows, with loose hair streaming behind her, as another expression of joyful eccentricity!
So this journey, on a small strip of land in a wide, wide ocean, really felt like the body of the Goddess. She spoke to me in her manifestations as Maiden, Mother and Crone.
At this turning point in my life, I needed her inspiration, encouragement and wisdom from different life stages… Sometimes we can be associated with a life phase that doesn’t quite reflect where we are. Physically, I started to feel the weight of my years and leaning into the Hag or Crone, yet energetically it remains essential to connect with the young and bouncy energy of the Maiden, as well as the fertile creativity of midlife buoyancy.
All week, I tried to be as conscious as I could, conscious of walking on sacred ground, every step a meeting, an ongoing exchange in what I call the Muddy Temple of land and body…
In Part 2 of this post, which will appear on the 21st of October, I’ll tell you about the Equinox at the Standing Stones of Callanish… If any of this ‘speaks’ to you, please check out my Embodied Spirituality Masterclasses that are going to start this month!
Jill Smith is a deep well of goddess lore on Lewis. Among other books she wrote:
- Mother of the Isles (2003)
- The Callanish Dance (2000)
Eline Kieft danced from a young age, including rigorous classical and contemporary training to become a professional dancer. She then studied anthropology, deepening her fascination with worldwide similarities between indigenous traditions regarding intangible aspects of reality and other ways of knowing, including embodied epistemologies and shamanic techniques.
She completed her PhD in dance anthropology at Roehampton University, trained in depth with the Scandinavian Centre for Shamanic Studies and the School of Movement Medicine. Eline worked at the Centre for Dance Research (C-DaRE) at Coventry University for five years, where she created a Somatics Toolkit for Ethnographers, and pioneered soulful academic pedagogy. Her recent book Dancing in the Muddy Temple: A Moving Spirituality of Land and Body was well received as a unique blend of theory and practice and a medicine for our times.
She is now a full-time change-maker and facilitates deep transformation through coaching and courses both online and in person. Her approach The Way of the Wild Soul offers a set of embodied, creative, and spiritual tools to re-connect with inner strength and navigate life’s challenges with confidence.