Forty Shades of Magic: A hitchhiker’s guide to some of Ireland’s Ancient Stones and Whispers: Part One
by Jim Malachi
On the evening of February 12th, 2006, I conducted a shamanic drumming ceremony in honor of the Imbolc Full Moon. Imbolc, the Celtic Cross Quarter Festival, celebrates the end of Winter and the first signs of Spring's emerging life force. It is personified by the Maiden aspect of the Triple Goddess. The Willow, one of the trees of Imbolc, is associated with the Moon, water and deep feelings. I wove several wreaths out of willow whips and gave them to friends. I also constructed a small "nest" out of the whips for a "swan gourd" which had darkened as it dried and which I had recently decorated in honor of The Faery Queen Morgan le Fay.
As the moon rose, I stood within a small circle of willow whips which I had laid out on the floor, beating my drum, shaking my rattle and waiting for a vision.
Suddenly a woman's face appeared before me. It was a beautiful face. I simply surrendered and "fell" into it as if it were a cloud. I emerged on the other side overlooking the most lush and intensely green landscape I'd ever seen in my life (forty shades at least). I soared over deep emerald mountains, valleys and forests eventually coming to rest outside a circle of large stones approximately thirty feet in diameter. A woman dressed in a black hooded robe waited for me inside the circle. She indicated to me that I should enter and sit against one of the stones opposite Her. I did as I was told. She never took Her eyes off of me. Like Her long hair and clothing, Her piercing eyes were as dark as a raven's wing against the night sky. I felt as if She were looking right through me, carefully examining every hidden and private part of me. I felt completely exposed to Her burning gaze and yet somehow I never felt threatened by Her in any way.
Soon, a small group of young people joined us. They began to dance around the circle, weaving in and out of the stones in much the same way that I wove my willow in the making of the Imbolc wreaths. I watched them perform an ancient ritual in the center of the circle; a ritual honoring Spring and its budding life force. It was obviously a very old pagan ceremony, the details of which I will not go into. Suffice it to say, from time to time I would glance at the mysterious hooded figure who sat across the circle from me to see Her reaction. She never looked at the others. She never took Her eyes away from me. She only watched to see my reaction, and yet I never once felt uncomfortable. Mostly I felt honored to have been invited by Her to witness the rite.
Eventually the ceremony concluded and She and I were off to a new location. This time it was the sea. We stood together, knee-deep in the crashing, foaming surf which thundered against the rocks and lashed the glistening beaches around us. The bottom of Her cloak floated in the undulating waves around Her knees and became soaked and heavy with the sea. She didn't seem to mind. Her skin was as white as the foam. She stared deep into my eyes and without ever moving Her lips, She sang this song to me:
"You and I are One
You and I are Eternal
You see the world through My Eyes and I through yours
We are Spirit and Nature living together."
She then made it very clear to me that I was to come to Her, that I was to look for Her in the Stones of Erinn's Isle. She provided no clues as to where to look or gave any indication of Stones of Erinn's Isle. She provided no clues as to where to look or gave any indication of who She was, only that I was to come. She told me that I would "know" the circle once I'd found it.
During the weeks that followed, I was plagued with doubts about my sanity whenever I even considered actually committing to such an undertaking. It would be expensive, I was by no means "wealthy". There would be difficulties to overcome, considerable planning and research. Hell, I didn't even speak "Irish", and I certainly didn't know anyone who lived there. Most of my musician friends who had visited Ireland returned with lots of stories about "fiddle music and pubs". No one seemed to know much about the ancient stone circles or the identity of the Phantom Priestess who had appeared to me in a vision and summoned me to Her far off Isle.
I went into denial, I became depressed, I lost my faith, found it and lost it again; several times in fact before it was all said and done. She was insistent. She would not leave me alone. "Why do you wait", She would whisper in my ear whenever I was alone. I knew I would not be able to rest until I made a decision one way or another. I had been checking airline ticket prices on the Expedia.com website for several weeks. Fares were hovering uncomfortably around $1,100.00-$1,200.00 round trip. Keep in mind, this trip was going to take place during the peak of "high season" when EVERYTHING in Ireland is priced "way over the top". Then one Saturday afternoon in March, I happened to check the website and noticed an unbelievable round trip offer of $800.00 from Portland, Oregon to Dublin and back departing in the middle of June 2006 and returning mid-August. There it was! Right in front of me on the screen! The "improbable dream ticket". Now I had no choice, I knew the low price would not be available forever. I either had to "act" then and there or "walk away" from Her invitation. I guess I always knew in my heart that I would never actually refuse to oblige Her request, I just needed a good excuse to finally "commit". This was my golden opportunity and so I purchased the ticket. As it turned out, if I had waited until the next day I would have lost my chance for the low price as the fares were back up over $1,000.00 again.
After that, She seemed to be pleased with my decision as I was no longer subjected to Her incessant pressure. I found some excellent books online; field-guides to stone circles and sacred sites of Ireland. I devoured the material in the ensuing months in preparation for my trip, and in doing so, it became increasingly clear to me that I was being called on another sacred pilgrimage. By whom, I did not know, but this became less important as time passed. I was to undertake this "walk-about" in order to visit sacred sites of Ireland's ancient past and write down whatever it was that I heard "whispered" there. My two month-long search for this Dark Mistress would lead me on an excursion throughout Ireland from the Beara Peninsula in the south to County Sligo in the northwest. I had spent the previous summer in Southern England visiting crop circles and stone circles and had kept a journal in which I'd written about many of the things that had been "spoken" to me in those sacred temples. So in some ways I felt that I had been "groomed" for this task and felt privileged to have been chosen for the assignment.
I've been doing a good deal of writing in this past year, much of it fragmentary and poetic prose. But I am also currently writing a novel, In All Ways, which I can only describe as a work of Spiritual Eroticism. I am seldom inclined to write rhymed verse, in fact I can honestly say that I am NEVER inclined to compose rhymed verse. However, in an effort to put into words my reasons for once again "dropping everything" and heading off to some distant land for the summer; to have a printed response that I could hand to my friends by way of explanation when they finally got around to asking me the inevitable question, "Why on earth are you going to Ireland? I thought you were Polish?" I wrote the following poem and I am including it here. Perhaps it will shed further light on any of the "why's and wherefores" that I have inadvertently left in shadow in this introduction to my journal.
Mistress of the Stones and Sea
what is it You want from me?
I do not even know Your name
yet I fear and love You just the same.
Bewitching me upon that night
in dreams beneath the Full Moon’s light.
You spoke to me without a word,
Your eyes were all I ever heard:
"I await you on the Isle of Sidhe
in the lush green wood and violent sea.
Search for Me among the Stones,
the buried shards and ancient bones."
You led me to a sacred ring
we watched their heated Rite of Spring,
then hastened to the churning sea
You never took Your eyes off me.
Knee-deep we stood where all around us
waves battered rocks but never found us.
echoes of these simple lines
still resonate in my heart and mind:
"You and I are One
You and I are Eternal
You see the world through My eyes and I through yours
We are Spirit and Nature living together"-
So I come to You as requested
all my Trust severely tested.
Leaving behind the life I know
to sit where holy waters flow.
To write the ancient whispers spoken
keeping sacred ties unbroken.
I’ll walk through forty shades of green
and all the colors in between
to find You there among the Stones
and buried shards and ancient bones-
Part 1. The Southwest
June 15th Thursday:
So sue me, but I have to say my early morning arrival in Dublin was decidedly "anti-climactic". Perhaps my expectations were unusually high. Whatever the reason, I found the city as a whole to be remarkably "unremarkable", and I could not wait to head out of there and into the countryside where I belonged. Nowhere near as large as London, but possessing a certain ponderous "metropolitan weight" that its citizens appeared to be doing their best to bear gracefully; Dublin is "progressing" as is all of Ireland at an alarming rate. I have been led to believe that Ireland is now the fastest growing country in all of Europe. The increase in Dublin's gang and drug related crime seems to substantiate this claim. I get the feeling that Ireland has always been a place of extremely "high vibration" and intense energy, even in ancient times. But it was obvious to me that people's coping strategies are now being tested like never before. The widely prevalent and traditional addictions to alcohol and tobacco no longer seem to be "doing the trick".
Despite the “growing pains”, Dubliners somehow still managed to be, for the most part, VERY friendly. It is not exactly one of the easier cities for a stranger to find his or her way around in, some of the street's names change with every new block. Generally, I found most people helpful and willing to provide me with directions to the various places I wished to visit within the city proper. Eventually, I came to rest in an area known as Temple Bar. This particular section of Dublin, near the University, is the heartbeat of the city's traditional music scene. My favorite pub of all was Oliver St. Gogarty's. Each Thursday evening, a group of musicians unpretentiously occupies a table near the door and begins playing into the night from the midst of the lively crowd which soon gathers around them. In stark contrast, American bands seem to require placement high on risers in the center of the room, swathed in an artificial halo of fancy colored lights. Perhaps it helps them feel that they are playing better than they actually are. Who knows? I must admit I have never been a huge fan of traditional Irish music, but there I stood, sober as a post, with tears streaming down my cheeks. The irresistible "Spirit" of the music was completely unexpected and overwhelming. I realized that this was the very spirit that I had come such a long way to find in Ireland's ancient stones. I never expected to be so thoroughly cleansed in such a seemingly dank and spiritless place. “Fiddle-musi and Pubs”, perhaps there was something to this after all. I was now forced to re-evaluate my initial prejudices regarding what a foreigner may or may not expect to find in a city like Dublin.
Later that same evening...
For some unexplainable reason I feel compelled to write down how I am feeling today on this, my first day in Ireland. How it feels to know absolutely no one in this entire country. How travel weary and discouraged I am at this point in my journey. I suppose that at some point in the future, near the end of my two months here, I will be grateful to be able to look back on this early entry and know what I was feeling in the beginning. Who knows what I'll feel like then? What effect the time and the land and the spirit and the stones will have on me. What sort of person I will be as I look back on these lines written on the 15th of June? What will I be thinking? How will I have changed? What will the "future me" have to say to this person who sits alone here in this quiet B&B in Clontarf just outside Dublin, fervently scratching sentence fragments onto his notepad in the middle of the night? What words of advice or encouragement would I wish to send back?
I am reminded of the "Death" one almost always experiences just prior to "Awakening". Death and Disillusionment.
To be perfectly honest, I am afraid of how I will be changed by this place. I am afraid of what might be happening to me!
Friday June 16th:
Somehow, I managed to lose the pen that I used to make last night's journal entry. I suppose that it is just as well, for along with the pen and the ink which it contained, I seem to have lost some of the weariness and doubt which had been muting my spirits. Today's accomplishments have introduced a fresh new sense of "mastery" of my surroundings and this feeling of familiarity with the streets of Dublin has been uplifting. I am also finding myself to be more understanding of the plight of the city's inhabitants. They are simply doing their best to survive in an incredibly toxic environment. I have survived by learning the whereabouts of some of my favorite "foreign city staples". For instance, I now possess a Dublin Public Library card which enables me to access the internet free of charge in either of their downtown locations. I am now able, if need be, to provide directions to the main Post Office or the train station from just about anywhere in town. I have a favorite pub and cheap eatery in Temple Bar. And I am getting pretty handy with the local busses. I even purchased my train ticket to Cork for tomorrow morning. So, it is with a renewed sense of optimism that I wrap up this Dublin leg of my journey and prepare to set off for Ireland's "Rebel Land", the lush and beautiful southwest.
Saturday June 17th:
On a train pitching and rocking southward toward Cork City, the vibrant, emerald ribbon that is the Irish countryside whips past my window in an endless fluttering blur. It is a relief to finally be out of Dublin and away from the congested city life. Breezing through miles of sweet, moist air, one can almost feel the "old Spirit ways", the "ancient energies" stir as they are rudely shaken by this fierce mechanical beast that comes thundering brazenly through their dreamscape. One imagines them uncoiling stiffly from their long sleep in the lush green carpet, stretching skyward in an effort to identify and otherwise thwart the onrush of unfamiliar scents rolling in on their wind.
This is what I traveled all this way to experience. "Her Green Form"! She is with me now, as always, only I can feel Her pulse more strongly out here in the island's interior. I suspect that my approach to my very first Ireland Stone Circle is going to be positively "mind-blowing"! What I find most striking is that even the Irish landscape has its own rebellious nature. The British countryside is, by comparison, far more "well behaved" if my memory of last summer's trip to Wiltshire serves me correctly, more of a neatly manicured patchwork of farmlands. Here, the cattle seem content to graze peacefully in unruly fields of overgrown weeds and wild flowers.
Sunday June 18th:
Derreenataggart Stone Circle
Located just a half hour's stroll up a small country road outside the Castletownbere city limits. This is the very first Stone Circle that I have visited here in Ireland. It was pouring down rain most of the day but the clouds parted just as I left the road and entered into the field where the stones lay. There is an exhilaration that overcomes you at the first sight of the taller stones as they appear from the road. They seem at first glance "alive", giants from some ancient time calling you in for a closer look. The feeling of mounting anticipation is similar to the one you experience as you make your way down the tram lines toward your first crop circle formation. There is a very powerful energy here, and in some ways it is similar to the stone circle of my Imbolc vision. But something deep inside me tells me that this is not that circle. That would come much later. I am strongly affected by the energy within this circle of nine standing stones. Of the original fifteen, three are down and three are missing. The diameter is approximately thirty feet across. It is a nearly perfect circle and on an energetic level, it is very reminiscent of the crop circle formations I visited last year. I find myself standing in what feels like a "dome-shaped" energy field. Like a giant container or vessel of some sort. The vibration here is very "clean" (that is the only word I can think of to describe its still and "uncluttered quality") I spent an hour or two with the stones before leaving to catch the 5:00pm bus back to my hostel in Adrigole.
Later that evening I went for another walk in an unfruitful search for a nearby stone circle which, while it appeared in plain sight on my map, also happened to be on private land, the owner of which made no bones about warning trespassers to KEEP OUT OR ELSE!
I found this to be very frustrating, and while I understand completely that accepting unavoidable disappointments along the way is all part of the "game", I am gradually beginning to suspect that I might be more than just a little crazy to have undertaken such a quest. I think that what I am really wanting is for some sort of "breakthrough" to happen. I long to feel a real "connection" with the source of the ancient voices that summoned me to this remote and unfamiliar place. I have never doubted the fact that I am being "observed" and "guided", but at the same time I am still VERY FRUSTRATED!
Perhaps I am rushing things a bit, (granted, I have only been here a few days) but I have yet to feel "at home" in Ireland. I continue to feel very much an outsider. "I feel somewhat like a lowly tic, a mere insect crawling around Your vast green expanse of a Body".
At first, I simply attributed the uneasiness to the disorientation that accompanies jet lag, and being trapped on a merry-go-round of cities, busses, pollution, shoppers, fast food, second hand smoke, security check-points and all the rest of the civilized human toxins that I came to this Emerald Isle to escape from. Now I realize that what I am really wanting is just a glimmer of that "AAAAhhhhhhhhhh..... moment". That feeling that sweeps over you and conveys to you in unmistakable tones:
"Welcome, we've been waiting for you and we are happy you have come"! . . . Look around you Jim, nothing in your immediate world is 'trying' to be anything that it is not.
Nor is anything in your immediate world trying 'not' to be anything that it is! EVERYTHING around you is ALIVE and simply BEING! Find your own state of effortless "being-not-trying" and the discomfort you are experiencing will disappear.
We are here with you, you need only be here with Us."
All words & images ©Jim Malachi
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