Fairies

The second thread of my journey was to enter the magical world of the fairies. Nature spirits are integral to the stories and land of enchanted Scotland. It doesn’t take much imagination to see and feel the magic all around. The landscape lends itself to the dream state and entry to other worlds. The pristine beauty of the land with streams through yellow-flower meadows, ancient stone walls, ferns and dark hemlock forests is the backdrop for our fairy tales, our childhood stories come to life. So let me tell you some tales and visit the places of our dreams.

The first visit to the land of the fairies began my second day in Scotland. I arrived early to get over jet lag and visit some long lost friends in the Borderlands just south of Edinburgh. In this part of Scotland is the location for the wonderful tale of Thomas the Rhymer. Thomas was a 13th century laird who went with the Queen of Faeries to her world for 7 years. When he returned he had the gift of prophecy and it is said that he eventually left again with the Queen and was never heard from again. So off I went to find the stone that marked his encounter with the Queen. Up a narrow road near the town of Melrose, famous for its ruined Abbey, is a small marker with the story. Just a bit further on foot is the stone where Thomas first encountered the Queen of the Faeries and a nearby marker for the place where Thomas gave his prophesies. If only I could find this same magic and meet the Queen. I looked out over the lovely landscape and knew the fairy world was very close. I had tea just down the road by the last bit of Thomas’ house—the Rhymer Tower. Sir Walter Scott elaborated on this story in poem and Washington Irving used Thomas’ tale to inspire his story of Rip Van Winkle.

Marker for Thomas’ encounter with the Faerie Queen

13th century Rhymer Tower

My next encounter with the fairy worlds of Scotland was a few days later at Blair Castle just north of Edinburgh in Perthshire. This beautiful white castle was first started in 1269 and has over the centuries become an iconic part of Highland landscape and culture. In fact the day I was there the Atholl clan was having their annual highland games which meant lots of handsome men in kilts, a joy not lost on a bus full of women. Several centuries ago the nature spirits of the land came to the Atholl brothers and requested that they plant trees. So the brothers not only planted trees all over their extensive lands but planted a forest of exotic trees next to the castle. Oh My!!! This enchanted forest of giants was alive and powerful. When I entered their world I left my own and walked into another realm. The sound, feel, smell, sight of these beings was overwhelming. I wandered down the path amongst ancient trees so much taller than in the part of the world where I live. The cool breeze whispering in the trees perfectly conveyed the songs of happy birds mixed with the melody of the babbling brook. I really need some new words—magic and enchantment just aren’t good enough anymore. Definitely on the “return to soon” list. Oh and there is also a walled garden with ponds and bridges, nesting swans and cygnets—-ahhhh.

 

The fairy world reigns supreme on the Isle of Skye. I was still in total bliss from my time at Callanish when I took the ferry to the Isle of Skye and soon arrived at the Faerie Glen. The land contours form a miniature world of green mounds, tiny lake and low stone walls. If you can’t find your way to the nether world here you haven’t tried. I followed a mother sheep and her twins over the top of a small hill down to a saddle where I found an enchanted playground. Humans have built cairns and labyrinths into the landscape to form an interactive garden with nature spirits. Time stood still as I walked a labyrinth on the side of the hill and added a stone to a cairn. I chased lambs and just stood in awe of the subtle beauty of the green grass covering gentle hills rolling down to a pristine lake. I left fulfilled and joyful for my time in the land of the Faerie Glen.

Just a bit farther down the road on Skye is Dunvegan Castle, the 13th century home of the McLeod clan. Around 1500, a Fairy Tower was added to look over the inlet of Loch Dunvegan and the small islands with seal colonies. On the day I was there the sun was shining and the islands were fully illuminated with the warm, bright light. I kept looking out the windows of the castle to the seal islands and thought how lucky I was to be there at that particular moment, to be part of this history and see what the lairds saw for centuries. On the wall in the castle is The Fairy Flag, a mysterious flag of silk that was said to originally to be a gift from the fairies to guard the infant children of the castle. The fairy flag is said to lose its powers if unfurled more than three times, so far it has been used twice to enlist the fairy world to save the castle. I wandered the informal gardens that were in full bloom. The enchanted land has a waterfall and paths leading down to the loch where you can get a boat to go see the seals close up.

Looking out to the seal islands from Dunvegan Castle

After we left Dunvegan Castle we made one final fairy stop at the Fairy Bridge where often a phantom piper can be heard playing mournful tunes. I walked down the side of the bridge to the little stream the trickled through flower meadow and over small rocks. It didn’t take any imagination to see where fairies could hide along the soft bank. I didn’t cross the bridge because there is a chance you can enter the realm of the fairies and I was on my way to the Holy Isle of Iona and I had things to do—maybe next time.

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Joseph Campbell

Pacifica

Joseph Campbell Library, Pacifica

I was 26 and a new mother when I decided I wanted to be an Episcopalian. I liked the local parish so I had a meeting with the priest to talk about joining the church. We talked about my childhood church and it’s very literal interpretation of the Bible. The priest then said something I will never forget that rocked my world. “You know the Bible is a myth.” Holy Cow! What? Everything stopped in that instant as the foundation of my world view cracked wide open. I barely knew what a myth was, in my narrow world novels, fairy tales, myths and Santa were lies and not allowed. The priest told me to read Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth. I read the book but didn’t understand it much, I had no context for the stories or concepts but I knew it was important. It took me an entire year to just wrap my mind around the idea that the Bible was not literal. The stories began touching my heart instead of baffling my brain.

I kept going to church and joined a book club and slowly, stone by stone, dismantled the cosmology of my childhood. When my world view lay in pieces all around me I started to rebuild with the good from my old life but now with the new materials. I read more mythology, Jung and archetypes, and novels. Each new book lead to the next and I spent all my spare time building a new and expanded paradigm that was much more open with plenty of room to grow.

I kept reading Joseph Campbell and watched The Power of Myth. I listen to interviews and kept a copy of Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion in the side pocket of my car. When I had a few minutes waiting in the school pick-up line or for ballet to finish, I would read the wise words. The book was tattered and coffee stained, underlined and loved. The myths, gods and goddesses became an important part of my life. When I went to Egypt for the first time, I knew little of the history but a great deal of the cosmology, I went to live the myths and stand before the gods. I was on the heroine’s journey.

Joseph Campbell was a professor at Sarah Lawrence College and wrote about universal themes of mythologies in all cultures. His book The Hero with a Thousand Faces has been very influential in our modern culture and the ideas helped create new myths for our time. Luke Skywalker is a classic mythological hero that bravely journeyed to the unknown to recover his lost self and bring back the wisdom for his society.

In mid-March I was traveling home from Alabama listening to some tapes of Michael Toms’ 1979 interview of Joseph Campbell. I had those tapes for many years and was going to listen to them one more time. I nearly had to pull over, on those tapes where exactly the validation I was needing about some materials I was working on about alchemy. Alchemy is not a subject usually associated with Joseph Campbell but there it was, an interview from nearly 40 years ago, perfect in that moment. The timeless quality of Joseph Campbell’s work is an indication of the deep universal Truths he was able to convey to the world. His work become new again as I grew and could hear it on a new level.

Two weeks later I was in southern California and had a day free to “follow my bliss” as Joseph Campbell so famously taught. I headed up the coast to just below Santa Barbara to Pacifica Graduate Institute and the Joseph Campbell Library. Nestled in a beautiful garden of a campus was a small library that holds all of Joseph Campbell’s personal books. Usually only accessible a few hours a week, the archivist happened to be free so he ushered me into a small dark room with bookshelves from floor to ceiling and a few display cases in the middle. I started to ask questions about alchemy and the librarian got on an old wooden ladder and pulled down a book. It was Carl Jung’s book on alchemy, Mysterium Conjunctionis. In it was Joseph Campbell’s prolific and very tidy underlining and notes. In front of me, under my fingertips was the meeting of two great minds. I turned the pages and read passages and notes and breathed in the magic of those two men who together restored the mythical journey to our modern world. Their work has restored the magic and mystery to my barren, literal life.

I spent a blissful hour and a half in that library, looking at the books that influenced such a great mind. There was an entire shelf of books on the Grail legend, some of them hundreds of years old. I saw his personal copy of his first book and a copy of The Joseph Campbell Companion with its familiar cover. In the display case were some of his favorite artifacts of ancient deity and a small metal ruler he used for underlining. Joseph was once asked if he meditated, he replied “no I underline.”

The Joseph Campbell Foundation   http://www.jcf.org

Pacifica Graduate Institute  www.pacifica.edu

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California Poppys,  Pacifica

Helen Keller

 

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Ivy Green, Tuscumbia Alabama

When on a pilgrimage it is best to let serendipity be your guide. I initially planned to go directly home after visiting the Ave Maria Grotto but at the hotel was a flier for Helen Keller’s childhood home. Looking on the map I realized that it was only a little over an hour north of Cullman, Alabama and I could easily fit it in to the afternoon before heading back to Tennessee.

After a visit to the bookstore at the Grotto and a stop by the ATM, I headed north to Tuscumbia, Alabama, in the northwest corner of the state. The rolling hills and white trees, bright sunshine and bucolic farms passed quickly and I was soon in the charming old southern town. Ivy Green, the home of Colonel and Mrs. Arthur Keller sat on the edge of town, built in 1830, originally on a 640 acre plantation and one of the first homes in the area.

Ivy Green has always been in the Keller family and still has much of the original furniture and beautiful worn pine floors. One of the rooms has been turned into a mini museum and the back porch is the even tinier reception area. There are still 10 acres surrounding the house, kitchen and summer home.

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Helen Keller was born in 1880 at Ivy Green, and was perfectly healthy until around 19 months old when she developed a fever that left her deaf and blind. Her parents took her to many doctors who could not provide any answers until a meeting with Alexander Graham Bell who suggested they find a teacher for young Helen instead of a cure. The Perkins Institute for the Blind sent one of their former students, Anne Sullivan, only 20, to be Helen’s teacher. The first month of Anne’s time with Helen has been immortalized by the play The Miracle Worker; the 1962 movie adaptation won numerous Academy awards. According to the docent at Ivy Green, it is a very accurate depiction of those first difficult weeks when Helen, 6, who had no language or manners, resisted this intruder into her dark, silent world.

Finally after a month Helen had a breakthrough and realized that the shapes Anne was making into her hand were words, that there was a way to communicate. It is such a remarkable story of victory for both Anne and Helen, now an integral part of the history of the United States and a triumph of the human spirit. Helen was the first deaf/blind person to earn a college degree and went on to have a career writing and lecturing around the world. This little girl who had no language went on to use language brilliantly.

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I have known this story all of my life and now was so excited to be visiting the place Helen broke through her world of darkness and silence to give incredible light and inspiration. I loved seeing the dining room where this wild little girl was tamed, the tiny house where Anne had long days to get Helen to accept her and the simple water pump where Helen learned her first word. This is a place of hope for all of us that with love and perseverance we can over come the toughest challenges and open our hearts to love.

The best and most beautiful things in the world can not be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart. —-Helen Keller

I headed home across northern Alabama, through Huntsville, past the rockets at the Space Center, along the beautiful lakes, all while listening to the words of the mythologist Joseph Campbell. More cassette tapes that had interviews from 1979 but contained answers I was looking for. Recordings made so long ago but perfectly important that day. It had been a full day of happiness and inspiration from two dear souls, Helen and Bother Joseph, that overcame so much to leave us all their bright light. It was also the first anniversary of my father’s passing. He would have loved my little adventure. I arrived home late that night and opened my computer to check on some emails when my father’s picture popped up in the corner as a facebook notice. “Do you know Millard Smith”. I said “yes I do!” A sweet message that he was OK and all was right with the world.

The Magic Flute

 

It was time for a change. For many years my holiday celebrations always included Nutcracker and A Christmas Carol. I’ve seen them both many times. When I hear the Nutcracker music I can practically dance the choreography. I can now quote whole passages from A Christmas Carol. So instead of The Nutcracker I spent a delightful afternoon watching a very fanciful version of Mozart’s The Magic Flute thanks to the Metropolitan Opera in HD broadcast. Next week I’m going to see The Sound of Music performed by a touring Broadway company. Neither of these productions you would call Christmasy but I like them and they are joyful and fun.

I’ve loved opera for many years now and I go to the Metropolitan Opera HD live broadcasts regularly. http://www.metopera.org/Season/In-Cinemas/ It is kind of a hobby that doesn’t take up room in my house. I also get to see operas that aren’t possible for our local opera to stage. Opera takes all of the arts and combines them into one amazing expression of the human condition. The talent and dedication it takes to stage an opera combine with the genius of the composer, making it a brilliant presentation of our highest potential. OK, I know in grand opera the heroine must die in the end. That is the rule but fortunately there are happy of operas like The Magic Flute. No Kleenex needed for the final scene.

The music of The Magic Flute is spectacular, the sets and staging in the Met’s current production are phantasmagorical. There are some of the most famous arias in all of opera. But here is what makes it so fun for us pilgrims: it is an Egyptian initiation opera, I bet you didn’t see that coming. I was so shocked the first time I found out many years ago. Mozart was a Freemason and he put many of the ideals and symbolism of Masonry into his work.

First there is the clash between light and dark, the Queen of the Night and the High Priest Sarastro represent this polarity. It is hard for the hero and heroine, Tamino and Pamina to even find out who is telling the truth. Ultimately they end up in the Temple of the High Priest where he prays to Isis and Osiris to protect them on their journey through fire (courage) and water (endurance) initiations to make them worthy of love. Three spirits guide them on this journey advising them to be patient and courageous in the quest for truth and love. The magic flute that Tamino is gifted by Sarastro helps guide him and keeps him in harmony with his quest. In the end truth and love prevail and the Queen of the Night is conquered.

The delightful bird catcher Papagano is Tamino’s sidekick through the story and represents our more sensual nature. Papagano is not so interested in Truth and Virtue, in fact he has a bit of trouble with embellishing his story. He is preoccupied with food and finding a cute lady bird catcher. Sarastro gifts him magic bells to help harmonize him with his more earthly destiny. Papagano finds his ideal partner in Papagana and they plan their life together which includes lots of little chicks.

Truth, love, virtue and perseverance are all essential tools our magical characters need for their journey, the same essential tools for our initiation to a life dedicated to our sacred path. The magic flute and bells reminds us that we need to harmonize yourself with these ideals and that will keep us on the path that is taking us to our more enlightened selves.

 

 

Thoth

Thoth Karnak Temple

Thoth in Karnak Temple, Luxor Egypt

Last Monday morning I woke up early and looked at my e-mail.  A friend sent this “Do you want to talk about Thoth?”   That is an interesting way to start the day.   I just posted about Sekhmet the day before.   What was this, ancient Egyptian god week?   But then again in my world every week is Egyptian god week and not a day goes by when I don’t think of Egypt.  So let’s talk about Thoth.

In Egyptian mythology Thoth is the god of writing, law, medicine, math and geometry, scribe of the gods and recorder of time.  His is depicted as a man with the head of an ibis and he has a stylus and tablet in his hands ready to write.   He is very busy keeping things in order and attends the judgment of souls that die in the “weighing of the heart” ceremony.  His symbol is the caduceus, which is now the symbol for doctors and hospitals.   He has so much to do that he has other names and incarnations.   We also know him as Hermes Trismegistus, the great alchemist, and Mercury, messenger of the gods.

Thoth came before written history, bringing humans the skills to write and communicate using the power of words.   He is the counterpart to Ma’at, the goddess of truth and justice and his consort is Seshat, also the goddess of writing and knowledge.

After my first trip to Egypt I become more aware of Thoth and tapped into his energy of learning and wisdom.   On the second trip I bought a tall statue of Thoth at Karnak temple which I placed by my couch where I spend all my time reading.   When I moved last year Thoth was one of the first things I brought with me and he took up residence in the library.

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Like Quan Yin  in my garden waiting for me to find her, Thoth had long been in my new home waiting for me.      I was cleaning the home office of my late father-in-law John and came across a giant and very heavy caduceus that hung on his office building many years ago.    John never threw anything away so this memento of his long and distinguished career lay hidden out of sight.    I thought it was very interesting but I just put it in the basement with the other cool old stuff I had no idea what to do with.

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Caduseus in my Library                            Thoth with Caduseus at Abydos

A few months later I realized what a powerful symbol this was for me; short of a neon sign could anything be more obvious.   I brought the caduceus up to the library and it was in a corner for several more months until I was ready to accept its meaning.   It may originally have been a symbol for the medical profession but now it was my personal sign for the direction my life is taking.   With my dear Egypt friends by my side I hung my caduceus and started calling it the Thoth library, a place for learning the Wisdom of the Ages.

So tomorrow I am going to be talking about Thoth.  I want to let people know that the wisdom of ancient Egypt needs to be remembered and Thoth is here to guide us.   You can hear this interview at http://psychicaccesstalkradio.com/showarchives.html  Feb 6, Thoth, god of wisdom.

Recommended books:

The Secret Teachings of All Ages    Manly P. Hall

The Emerald Tablet; Alchemy for Personal Transformation    Dennis Hauck

Sekhmet

Sekhmet at Kom Ombo

Five years ago today I stood face to face with the mighty Egyptian goddess Sekhmet.  It is quite a story and I think I’m finally ready to tell it.   This weekend is the third anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution and it was Sekhmet that got me a front row seat.  So let’s start with Sekhmet’s story.

The people of the Earth were acting up so the sun god Ra sent the lionheaded goddess Sekhmet to get everyone back in line.    Sekhmet got a little out of hand killing way too many people and so Ra had to figure out a way to stop her.   He laced some beer with drugs and red food coloring then poured it on the ground.   Sekhmet, thinking it was blood, drank the potion and finally stopped her rampage.    She retains her reputation for power and revenge.   Yikes!!

I was getting ready to go to Egypt for the first time when my teacher Page Bryant came to me with an assignment.   “Every full and new moon between 7 and 9 pm, find a quiet place and light a candle and tune into the energy of Sekhmet.”    My first reaction was “Aaaahhhhh,  Sekhmet is mean.  Can’t I have a nice goddess like Hathor or Isis?”    But when Page tells me to do something, I always listen and so for six months I worked on my assignment.   Sometimes I felt her energy and sometimes it was just a nice quiet time, but I did it faithfully.  The month before the trip I decided to look at the moon stages during my time in Egypt.  A new moon and solar eclipse fell on the day we were going to Sekhmet’s chapel at Karnak Temple.  I knew something was up.   This was no accident.

By the time I made it to Karnak Temple in Luxor, it had already been a very intense trip and I had been to five temples.  I was definitely on energetic overload so what was one more.    The group went straight to Sekhmet’s chapel which is off to the side of the complex and out of the main stream of visitors.   This tiny chapel has held the principle Sekhmet statue for 3500 years.  There are  hundreds of statues of Sekhmet around the world but this one is the seat of her power.   I was the last of the group to get into the small, dimly lit room.   There she was, I couldn’t touch her I was in such a stunned state.   I laid a few flowers, a small stone and oil at her feet as an offering and I just stood back to take it all in.  Toward the end of my visit her Egyptian guardian started to take the energy from her and place it on those of us who wanted it.    So that is me in the green shirt waiting to receive her energy.

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That night I saw the pictures.   They were stunning proof the energies we give names and personalities are really there.     There have been claims on the internet that those pictures were taken because of a device running in the chapel but that is not true.   The picture is because of the devotion of those who love and honor the goddess in all her many forms.  I know because I was there.

I call on Sekhmet often when I need courage and protection and help, I know she will be there.   I also know that she has a gentle and loving side protecting those who love the goddess.   I’m reminded of her when my sweet cat Persy climbs in my lap for love.    I’ve seen many of her statues and I always want to hold her hand and thank her.

On Thanksgiving weekend in 2010 some friends came to town and brought me a gift, a giant calendar of pictures of Tutankhamen’s treasures.   January’s picture was of my dear friend Sekhmet, three feet tall and of bright gold.   This calendar was from Germany and not even available in the US but she had found a way to make her presence very clear to me.   I was on the fence about going to Egypt for a third time but, when she showed up in such a unique way, how I could say no.  Six weeks later I was in Egypt when the Revolution broke out.  I was never afraid because I knew I had Sekhmet on my side and she wanted me there.   Thank goodness I listened.

Before you decide that I’ve lost my mind and am an idol worshiper, try to see these stories as  our limited minds trying to grasp the limitless universe.  We use these archetypal gods and goddesses to make sense of these unseen worlds.     They help us understand ourselves and our time on Earth.   Whether we call on goddesses or saints or great deities, the Universe is always there to bring us miracles.

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Sekhmet, German Calendar

 

The Goddess

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Isis the winged Egyptian goddess

Most little girls spend a great deal of time playing princess, at least mine did but what about playing goddess?   I always gave The Goddess equal time with bedtime stories and songs.  I wanted my daughters to see that the Divine was equally feminine.   We even named our cats after goddesses.   Alexandra innocently told her Church of Christ preschool teacher that she loved the Goddess and was immediately gifted a Bible to set her straight.

The Goddesses in Every Woman was the first book I ever read about Greek goddesses and Jungian archetypes.   I was enchanted and amazed that I could be described so exactly using Greek mythology—I had to know more.

Twenty years later the goddesses of the great world mythologies are part of my everyday consciousness.   I have statues of my favorites to remind me of their characteristics that I want to explore and embrace in myself.    When I need courage I call on Athena,  when I’m enjoying beautiful music I think of Hathor,  when I am maternal I see Demeter and Isis in myself, when I need to protect myself Sekhmet is right by my side.

My trips to Egypt were like going to meet these amazing friends and allies in person.    When we study the Goddess and honor the Divine Feminine we bring those stories to life and live the sacred traditions.   When we balance the patriarch society with love for these goddesses we are embracing our own complete self of an integrated masculine and feminine.  A few blog posts ago I wrote how the story of Demeter and Persephone was recreated in my life.   My gallery has a picture of my encounter with the Goddess Sekhmet.  I have another blog post about Athena in Nashville.

Athena, Demeter, Isis, Sekhmet, Hathor, Selu, Brigit, Freyja;   these Goddesses are the names and characteristics of energies that we can use to become whole and grow spiritually. Our human nature relates best to names and faces and so we have gifted our goddess our projections and needs and they gift us back courage and love.  Read up about a goddess in a tradition that calls you, Native American, Egyptian, Celtic, Greek, and Norse.  Think of her as a friend and helper on the spiritual path.  Call on her knowing you are calling those characteristics and strengths in yourself.