I was looking forward to presenting this at the Association for Women and Mythology Conference in New Mexico, but unfortunately I have had to cancel because of illness. But I just felt like posting it again anyway................brings back the revelations of that wonderful trip!
Envisioning a Conversant World
By Lauren Raine MFA
""Speak to the Earth and it shall teach thee"
In 2018 I attended a conference on sacred sites and dowsing at Pewsey, in Southern England, called the Gate Keepers Conference (1), an annual conference of dowsers, mythologists, and Earth mysteries researchers who have been investigating sacred sites throughout the United Kingdom, as well as intentional pilgrimage to them, for many years. I also undertook my visit as a personal pilgrimage, visiting in the course of my time in the U.K. Avebury, Silbury Hill, Glastonbury, Arbor Low, and other sites.
My introduction to this adventure took some fortitude. After a 15-hour flight from Los Angeles, I waited in line 2 hours in Customs, then made my way to Paddington Station in London, then to Swindon by train, and finally to Avebury by bus. By the time I stepped off the bus, I was, perhaps, in an altered state of consciousness from utter exhaustion. I stepped from the bus to see, perfectly aligned with my sight, rising from the morning’s mist, the great prehistoric monument of Silbury Hill, the mysterious Omphalos of an ancient world.
When I saw Silbury through the mist, what opened before me was a vision of a time when the entire landscape was the sacred body of the deity, a cyclical mythos of an animated Earth that ensouled and enlivened and enstoried every hill, spring, river and forest within a cosmology of conversant belonging. I will never forget that moment of revelation.
Situated just south of Avebury, Silbury Hill is Europe's tallest prehistoric structure. Michael Dames, in his book THE SILBURY TREASURE (2) demonstrates persuasively that Silbury, like other "Neolithic Harvest Hills" associated with nearby henges and standing stones, literally represented the pregnant belly of the Great Mother, and was associated with a certain time of the agricultural year, in particular, the harvest of July/August.
Silbury Hill is part of the great Avebury ceremonial complex, and has been excavated over the centuries, never once finding the “great chieftain’s treasure” which, Dames points out, it was assumed “must” be there. We now know, at last, that its interior does not hold gold or the bones of a mythic hero king and his unfortunate slaves. Rather, it simply holds grains, turf, and animal bones, with no evidence of human burial at its core. Silbury is also surrounded by a henge or moat, once considerably deeper than it now is, and which would have been full of water, at least at certain times of the year.Dames points out that this henge actually forms the shape of a squatting or birthing woman in profile. He likens the "Goddess form" of the henge to similar ubiquitous Goddess sculptures and sites associated with Cornwall, Ireland, Scotland, the Orkney Islands, the Hebrides, the Isle of Man, Brittany.........as far as the mysterious Temples of Malta, or the barely excavated stone circles of Gobekli Tepe in Turkey.
Why has this interpretation of Silbury never been seen before? Because, Dames points out, to do so one must make a kind of paradigm shift into an alternate view of his-story. “Silbury “Michael Dames writes,
“Conveys a philosophy which is of exceptional relevance to the modern world. Silbury has been reduced to an enigma because of the attempt to impress upon it concepts such as kingship, personal property, and individual male glory. Who put “King Sil” into Silbury? We did, because we wanted him there - a superman chieftain with a super treasure and hundreds of slaves, so vain, so aggressive, so acquisitive, so preoccupied with eternal fame, that he could provide us with a monumental tomb and treasure. All treasure finding attempts have failed because the builders belonged to a society for which such concepts had little importance, or even meaning. And yet, since their compelling priorities are not entirely absent from our values, we can appreciate something of what the original Silsbury treasure was, especially since the future of our own civilization may give us urgency and humility to tender our investigation.” (3)
When I walked the Avebury complex, I experienced the intensification of life force vitality I have come to recognize in places of numinosity and telluric force. There is no doubt in my mind (or body mind) that these sites marked places of intrinsic geomantic power, and that the placement of stones also served to intensify or channel the animating Earth energies present. Sacred landscapes also augment their healing or consciousness elevating properties through the interaction of generations of people with the "spirit of the land” through what researchers such as Paul Deveraux (4) have termed "geomantic reciprocity".
Geomantic reciprocity occurs as human beings bring intentionality and focus to a particular place, making it a holy or sacred place. This communion with place becomes more active as place itself accrues story or mythic power in the memory of the people, and in the memory of the land. Sacred places have both an innate and a developed capacity to bring about altered states of consciousness, especially if people come prepared within the open, liminal state of pilgrimage or ceremony. And myth is the language spoken to engage the numinous presence.
I also went to Glastonbury in Somerset as part of my journey to visit the famous Chalice Well. Glastonbury is Avalon - the source of the Arthurian legends, the land of Merlin, Arthur and the Lady of the Lake. Once the hill now called the Tor was surrounded by a lake. During the Middle Ages Glastonbury was the home of the great Gothic Cathedral of Glastonbury and its community of monks, a place of universal pilgrimage. The Cathedral was destroyed by Henry the VIII, and the Abbot executed, after the Abbot refused to leave the Catholic church.
Dowsers Caroline Hoare and Gary Biltcliffe (5) write of the “crossing of the Michael and Mary lines” at the Tor, a prominent point of interest to those investigating Earth energies. The Tor also features a tower, once part of the destroyed Abbey, visible from miles away, that stands atop the famous hill. They also speak of the more mutable “Dragon lines” of serpentine force that weave throughout this highly energized area. Underground springs originate in the area of the Tor, springs that have been renowned for their healing powers since long before the advent of Christianity. Now called the "Red Spring" and the "White Spring”, where these springs emerge, at an underground chamber and at the Chalice Well Garden, are still revered by pilgrims who come to them from around the world. The red color found at the Chalice Well is from iron oxide deposited by the spring. The White Spring deposits calcium, leaving a white residue.
The Avalonian springs are famous as part of the ancient mythic landscape of Avalon…………. but in truth, there are hundreds if not thousands of once revered historical and prehistoric wells and springs throughout the UK, many of them still named for St. Brigit, the ancient Goddess of the Isles of Britannia. The Chalice Garden, for me, is infused with presence, with the Goddess local devotees call the Lady of Avalon. She is the Genus Loci of Avalon, what the Romans called Numina. (6)
The garden of the Chalice Well looked different, as the last time I had visited had been high summer. It was deserted, and I was able to sit before the Well in meditation alone. I took water from the springs to bring home, and then walked around. What popped into my mind, as if I heard it spoken, was odd - the words "Covenant Garden". When one is on a Pilgrimage, it is important to pay attention to whatever occurs, internally or externally. As I walked among winters sleeping apple trees and bright red holly berries, I wondered: what could "covenant garden" mean, and why had I thought of it?
I remembered the name of the English Goddess Coventina. According to Wikipedia,
Coventina was a Romano-British goddess of wells and springs. She is known from multiple inscriptions found at a site in Northumberland County, an area surrounding a wellspring near Carrawburgh on Hadrian’s Wall. (7)
A Triple Goddess of wells and springs was certainly appropriate for the Chalice Springs of Glastonbury. Interestingly, the word Covenant, like "coven", "convening", etc. refers to a gathering of people to reach a harmonious agreement, which can include an agreement that is holy in some way.
Such musings then led me to imagine the famous "Ark of the Covenant", which was said to hold writings and objects of Biblical veneration, as well as containing "God's sustenance for man" which was called Manna. Manna was the food, variously described as different substances or grains, which was provided by God to feed the people. "Manna" has also come to mean a kind of inherent numinous power that may be found in a place or an object.
The Ark of the Covenant, described in the Book of Exodus, was a gold-covered wooden chest containing the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. It also was supposed to contain “a golden jar holding manna, and Aaron's rod, which budded". (8)
Interesting: holy food and a budding rod or tree. The Garden is indeed a "harmonious agreement" between earthly beings of all kinds. And "Manna" is the food provided by the Garden, which I view as the sustaining power of nature. Aaron’s "rod that blooms “could also be seen, from the viewpoint of a feminist mythologist like myself, as a symbol originally belonging to the ancient Hebrew and Middle Eastern Goddess Asherah, who was often represented as a tree. In the days of the Old Testament, She was an important deity, and was represented as a rod, or "Asherah pole”. (9) The practice of carrying "Asherah poles" was apparently fairly common in the early days of the Semite tribes, although the Patriarchs later eliminated this custom, along with the Goddess, as the Hebrew deity became exclusively male.
I reflected that a Garden represents a "Covenant” between human, animal, plant, soil, air, rain, water.......A successful garden is a harmonious Ecosystem in balance with all of its components. A garden thrives through a network of inter-dependant relationships. Trees communicate with each other through a vast underground weaving of roots and fungi. The bees and other pollinators bring new life; the worms, microorganisms and other insects assist in the decay process. And the birds assist in distributing seed as well. Not to mention humans that may plant, sow, admire, and occasionally eat the stray apple or strawberry as well.
It could be said that a Garden is a "Covenant" achieved by many beings to reach a divine agreement. THE GARDEN OF THE COVENANT.
As I was leaving the Chalice Garden, I saw a tiny metallic heart on the ground. I was going to take it, but then it occurred to me that perhaps someone left it as a token or as an offering, and it wasn't right for me to take it. I put it back on the ground and took a picture. I was amazed to see that the camera showed light surrounding the little shape in the photo! So I took two more, and they came out the same. A Green Heart ………
Perhaps the Earth is Speaking to us all the time, we’ve just forgotten how to listen. I believe there are ways to renew that conversation, to attune we once again to the voice of place, and hence, to see Place once again as sacred. How might we live, how might we act, if we saw the world with such a vision, as both Covenant and Conversation?
"To the native Irish, the literal representation of the country was less important than its poetic dimension. In traditional bardic culture, every place had its legend and its own identity.... what endured was an ongoing conversation with the mythic landscape."
R. F. Foster (10)
In so many areas of the UK the 21st Century can seem like just another layer atop a pentimento of a much older landscape, one that proceeds our short view of history. Of course, this is true everywhere, but it seems so much in evidence there. That "pentimento" visible just below the surface is circular, serpentine, and full of standing stones, henges, magic wells, and ley lines. What, as theologians and "geologians" for the future, might we recover, re-learn and re-invent from it?
With the evolution of monotheism and patriarchal religions that increasingly removed divinity from both nature and the body, and in the past century the rapid rise of industrialization, we have increasingly looked at the world from a "users" point of view. Places with their unique qualities and beauties become "resources" instead of living lands. Renunciate religions have also served to de-sacralize earthly experience, further complicating our crisis. Yet every early culture has insisted that nature is full of intelligence and intelligences that inform, bless, heal, and communicate, often through the multi-dimensional language of myth and altered states of consciousness.
Contemporary Gaia Theory, developed by James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis (10), proposes that the Earth is a living, self-regulating organism, responsive and evolving. If one is sympathetic to Gaia Theory, and the innate interactive intelligence of ecosystems, it follows that everything living is responsive and conversant in some way, in ways both visible and invisible. I believe we need to learn to "speak with the Earth" again, not in some abstract way, but intimately, beneath our well-rooted feet, in our creative hands entwined and webbed among a great planetary collaboration. The "Covenant" of the Garden.
How do we regain our niche in that great “Covenant”? One answer is through “re-mything” culture. Myth is, and always has been, a way for human beings to become intimate with what is ultimately vast, deep, and mysterious. Our experience changes when Place becomes "you" or "Thou" instead of "it". We can renew our conversation, and change our paradigm, by looking back as well as forward, to a time when "nature" was about relationship with the land. Relationship in which cultures, individuals and religions were profoundly embedded as both story and as living metaphor. And some places were places of special power, places of pilgrimage.
References and Notes:
1. The Gatekeeper Trust, “Dreaming the Land – Working with the Consciousness of Nature", Annual Conference 2018, Pewsey, Wiltshire, UK https://gatekeeper.org.uk/2018/05/dreaming-the-land-annual-conference-2018/
2. Dames, Michael: The Silbury Treasure: The Great Goddess Rediscovered, 1976, Thames and Hudson, London
3. Dames, Michael: The Silbury Treasure: The Great Goddess Rediscovered, 1976, Thames and Hudson, London, Page 76
4. Deveraux, Paul: Earthmind: Communicating with the Living World of Gaia,Paul Devereux; John Steele; David Kubrin, 1992, Inner
6. Cambridge English Dictionary (2019):
numen / (ˈnjuːmɛn) /, noun plural -mina (-mɪnə) (An ancient Roman religion) a deity or spirit presiding over a place, a guiding principle, force, or spirit
7. Wikipedia the Free Encyclopedia; “Coventina”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coventina
8. Wikipedia the Free Encyclopedia; “The Ark of the Covenant”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ark_of_the_Covenant
9. An Asherah pole was a sacred pole (or sometimes a tree) that was used in the worship of the Goddess Asherah. The Asherah pole was often mentioned in the Old Testament as one of the ways the Israelites sinned against their God by worshipping other gods. The "Asherah pole" was mentioned in the Judeo/Christian Bible a number of times, including Exodus 34:13 (NIV): "Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles." The Israelites were commanded to destroy any Asherah pole they found - however, it seems that the custom, as well as the worship of Asherah, was absorbed and retained nevertheless by Israelites for a considerable time. For more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asherah_pole
10. Foster, Roy F., Modern Ireland: 1600 - 1972, 1990, Penguin Books, N.Y
11. Lovelock, James with Margulis, Lynn:
Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, 1979, Oxford University Press, Oxford, England.