Exploring the F-word in religion at the intersection of scholarship, activism, and community.
Author: Eline Kieft
I'm passionate about tending and mending the soul in everyday life! I offer Qi Gong, courses on embodied spirituality and shamanic techniques, and safe online community spaces away from Facebook, especially through The Art of Thriving Network!
For almost 35 years nature has been my sacred place. As an 8-year old, I started to pray to Mother Earth even though the protestant tradition in which I grew up only recognised ‘God the Father’. I went outside in my inflatable rowing boat to seek solitude (as an only child in a quiet family!) on a small island in the lake of our local park. I practised rowing and walking quietly to not break the sacred silence. I collected herbs to brew infusions in my little thermos flask with boiled water brought from home. I sung to the moon, and danced my love for all creation back through my moving body. Over the last 15 or so years, I spent many days and nights at Neolithic monuments, dreaming in ancestral burial mounds, time traveling in stone circles in Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, England, Ireland and Brittany. This nature-based practice evolved naturally, and later incorporated my training with the Scandinavian Centre for Shamanic Studies and the School of Movement Medicine. Nature is where I reconnect most easily with the Sacred, and listen to the whispers on the great web of life in which all of nature is a great teacher. Nature, for me, is a strong place of prayer, solace, awe, reverence, gratitude, joy, guidance, reconnection, healing and transformation.
A Modern Pilgrimage to the Isle of Lewis & Harris, Part 2
In the previous post of October 14th, I introduced my recent pilgrimage to meet the Goddess, honour the physical and psychological changes that have happened inside me recently. I described the different mountain ranges that resembles the bodies of sleeping women, and an ancient well dedicated to the Celtic goddess Brighde.
If I was traveling over the body of the goddess, the Callanish Standing Stones would be her navel. It seems as if energy is flowing out from there to all edges of the island. The shape of the site resembles a Celtic cross. Unusual is that the site consists of one large, central standing stone, surrounded by 13 stones, and with stone avenues to the cardinal directions. With its solar alignment, paraphrasing Jill Smith, the configuration looks like a cosmic dancer who juggles the sun from east to west. The “arms” are aligned exactly with the sunrise and sunset at this time of year.
Callanish 1, the main stone circle, is connected to 11 other sites across the island, some circles, some solitary standing stones. Together they are called the Callanish Complex. I visited Callanish 1 many times that week, and I was lucky to spend the Autumn Equinox there.
I’ve never come across stones that were so alive and expressive. Light would bounce off differently at different times of the day, accentuating irregularities, dulling, or sharpening edges, emphasising different aspects. I saw lion and wolf heads, young maidens, hooded wanders, gargoyle and dragon-like creatures, dolphins and even a Horned Dancer… Most importantly, it felt like in each of the stone circles in the area (Callanish 1, 2, 3, 4, and 8), there was at least one stone resembling a woman’s body, and I came to think of them as the Grandmother Guardians. They had a real living presence, that became even stronger as the day-visitors disappeared.
Usually there were 2-5 people there, sometimes I found myself alone. The sunset of the Equinox, however, drew many more people. There were about twenty tourists, who were taking snapshots of this magnificent light show, leaning, or pushing against the stones, talking, and giggling. Several professional photographers tried to capture a magical moment. And there were 5-7 fellow pilgrims, whom, like me, would stay long into the night. Everyone was so focused on the sunset, was I the only one who noted the rainbow in the east?
The below images were literally taken a minute apart – rainbow to the east, sunset and silhouettes to the west.
Eventually the tourists and photographers disappeared, and the rest of us gathered at the heart of the circle, in the remains of an ancient burial mound. With African and shamanic drums, a whistle, a singing bowl, an old man tapping his walking stick to the bottom of his tin mug, and some rattles, we improvised a rhythmic invocation to the spirits of the stones. With the rain becoming heavier, I soon found myself alone with the stones. Now I could finally sing, dance, weave between the stones without disrupting anyone, lean into the stones, close my eyes, and pray.
I felt very aware of the ‘balance’ in the year, the point of equally long days and nights. I asked for guidance on balance in my own life: between work and leisure, between doing and resting, between the first and second half of my life, between gathering wood for the fire and sharing it, between birth and death, and how I can better look after my body and energy living with an invisible auto-immune condition in these fast and demanding times.
After the rain departed, the clouds tore open, revealing the clearest and most brilliant night sky I’ve ever seen. The silhouettes of the stones reaching up into the night was truly magnificent. Moving, weaving, pausing, I made my way clockwise around all the 13 stones in the circle. I stood at either side of the stones, outer and inner, and took my place in between them, as if I was a moving stone myself. I reflected on centre and circumference, on axis, on direction, on the wheel of life, turning, turning, turning, turning… and felt connected to similar circles across Europe lighting up in the darkness, as a radiant hub of energy-places.
After having completed my weaving of the circle, by which time I had enjoyed half of my ginger tea for a warm kick, I decided to return to our cottage – also an act of balance. Having a cold already, I did not quite have the proper gear to stay out in the windy and rainy night. My lovely bed was calling! On my way home I saw three deer next to the road. I stopped the car and could be with them for several moments before they wandered off.
I had been so attuned to the rhythms that I woke up well before the alarm. I laid in the comfortable darkness, until it was time to return to the stones to witness the sunrise. My mom came along this time. Again, there were several photographers ready for ‘the moment’ (no tourists at this hour!). I just HAD to dance, and chose my spot at the far western end, out of line of any cameras. A dance of ground, earth, mountain, honouring the mother and my mother, weaving the light, the turn of seasons, changing, praying, calling, giving thanks, celebrating, welcoming, and letting go. Strong, soft, vibrant, still…
Standing against the central menhir, looking east, we finished the last of the ginger tea. So special to be able to share this together. Mother and daughter in a circle of ancient Grandmother Guardians, witnessing the sun rise on a new day. Sacred land, ongoing cycles of time, and a modern-ancient pilgrimage…
It will take many moons to fully digest and integrate the richness of this journey, but I already know this precious experience seeped deep into my bones.
May the magic of the land touch you too, wherever you are.
I’d love to invite you for my series of Embodied Spirituality Masterclasses that are going to start today, 21st October! Have a look if you’re interested in reconnecting body and spirit, re-anointing the body as sacred, nature as a temple, contemporary ceremony and much more… You can still join until Christmas, so don’t worry if you can’t make the first session live, it will be available in replay!
Jill Smith is a deep well of goddess lore on Lewis:
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.
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.