A Cauldron at the Center of the Spiral

#2 Reflections on The Weaving in Casco, Maine (September 27-28, 2013)

Given that the earth, through and through, is an awakened being of which we are one, we “in and of the earth” are cocreators from one moment to the next, mutually influencing each other.

We look around, from the dust and the crawlers at our feet, outward and outward past sight beyond the birch trees, these nearby trees where tiny red spiders live and work out of sight under the bark, and then far far beyond them into the horizons of imagination.  Everything we see, ourselves included, are descendants of our ancestors.  The trees are descendants, and they have ancestors.  Every bird, bug, microbe and fissure in the rocks fed by the rains and the ice has ancestors.  We are surrounded by ancestors; they live in our blood; they thrum with the falling rain; they whisper on the wind, stories from afar of loves, decays, brokenness and hopes.   Who we have become, all of nature in tandem, has arrived here with ancestors humming in our veins, still crafting this bark, this stone, this flesh, this howl of coyotes, this arroyo in the desert.  They sing from our bones:  just as the Hebrews carried the bones of Joseph from Egypt, so our ancestors sing to us, and so one day we will join them.  Their history morphs into ours and will change again down, down, down.  We are both the gateway to the past (if we will take the journey) and the threshold to tomorrow, from the original song of creation, through its variations in rhythm and melody, unto singers who have yet to be born.   One day, surely!, we will be the ancestors our descendants trace in their blood.  What, then, will be the songs your bones will sing to them?  Are you listening to those songs and learning them now, to take with you into the cradling earth?

The stanzas of a song I wrote for my lover:

1.  The tide that washes clean the shore / Will scour and clean my soul / The licking waves dissolve my skin / And wash away the toll.  /  I see the soft horizon dawn / As gold on mountain’s blackest ridge / The singing of my quick’ning heart / From wren’s nest on the ledge.

2.  A distant bell rings near the well / Where water blesses thirst / The earth wraps me in moist’ning prayer / My death and my rebirth. /  I hear the quiet humming tunes / That lay their notes in shadow’s hand / A pillow where I’ll lay my head / And pass into the land.

(reprise of second half of melody:)  My footfall midst the mustard fields / Implants my trust in broad hillside / For this the land will surely be / My husband and my bride.

3.  My lover sits beside my grave / Wherein my body lies / He listens for my bones to sing / For surely songs will rise. / He hears the simple haunting songs / My bones had learned before I died / That I might meet and comfort him / Before himself shall die.

Which leads me to the Cauldron at the Center of the Spiral.

We woke before sunrise to stuttering attempts on the shofar, until one solid tone thrilled the damp morning and got us out of bed.  The stone spiral was waiting.  We gathered in a circle around it.  One by one, we walked the three complete circles into the center where the cauldron was waiting.  What each of us did is our own journey.  For me, as I walked inward, I sloughed off bits of unnecessary thoughts to clear the way as best as I could.  My hands were flapping comically like a raven clumsily slipping into human form.  When I stood before the cauldron, my knees buckled and I knelt before it.  It was filled with water, seemingly brackish from the color of the inner surface.  I slid both of my hands in at once.  And then the marvel happened.

As my hands slid into the water, I felt it as two actions:  icy cold wetness, and the water actively gripping my flesh.  The more I slid in my hands, the more the water grabbed ahold of me, thickly coating my skin with more than water.  I was being coated with intent to take me.  Deeper and deeper, until my fingers reached the bottom, the icy mind of winter pulled me into itself.  And I thought how fortunate that this cauldron is small.  Had it been a big one, such as I imagine Ceridwen’s Cauldron, it would have pulled me in entirely until it had embraced me in its icy womb, from which I am not sure how I would have emerged….sputtering no doubt, like the shofar, gasping for air and warmth….a rebirth into this world of a pagan circle in the Maine hills of autumn.  But as I pulled my hands out to disentangle me from the cauldron’s intentions, I was aware of the teachings in those powerful, old stories in Wales and Ireland, that the cauldrons can give life and wisdom.  And that therefore those cauldron stories ought to be remembered as at the fundament of our ancient people’s lives and have active memory at the foundations of our own.

But all of those cauldron stories also tell of a price to be made in exchange.  As I walked out the spiral to greet the now risen sun, I was aware that the cauldron of the dark lady had made a claim on me, and that the ancestors were pulling me into themselves and their wisdom, and welcoming me home into the earth.  And this is the first voice I can give to that experience, and perhaps the last.  The dark lady had once before claimed everything from me, and she will again.  Now I know.

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