We commonly expect healing to arrive from the future — from a doctor’s prescription we’ll have in hand after an upcoming appointment, from an outpatient procedure in a clinic, from a series of therapy sessions or an interval of exercises.
We don’t expect healing to lie in the past, waiting for us to recognize it.
The historian-mythographer Geoffrey of Monmouth (1100-1155), whose glorious Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) blends history and legend almost seamlessly, is one primary source for the Arthurian legend. In the Eighth Book of this magnum opus, also gives us an early glimpse of legends about Stonehenge, supplying a foundation, however wobbly, for the idea that the stones originated in Ireland — or even further afield.
If we follow Geoffrey, in fact, the impetus behind Stonehenge is the desire for a war memorial:
The sight of the place where the dead lay made the king [Aurelius Ambrosius], who was of a compassionate temper, shed tears, and at last enter upon thoughts, what kind of monument to erect upon it. For he thought something ought to be done to perpetuate the memory of that piece of ground, which was honoured with the bodies of so many noble patriots, that died for their country [in the fighting against Hengist]. — Historia, Bk. 8, 10.
Unable to find among his own builders and engineers the technical ability to construct what he envisions, the king seeks out Merlin and asks for his help:
Merlin made answer:
Mysteries of this kind are not to be revealed but when there is the greatest necessity for it. If I should pretend to utter them for ostentation or diversion, the spirit that instructs me would be silent, and would leave me when I should have occasion for it. … [But] if you are desirous to honour the burying-place of these men with an everlasting monument, send for the Giant’s Dance, which is in Killare, a mountain in Ireland. For there is a structure of stones there, which none of this age could raise, without a profound knowledge of the mechanical arts. They are stones of a vast magnitude and wonderful quality; and if they can be placed here, as they are there, round this spot of ground, they will stand forever.
Merlin is, of course, just the person to manage this feat. The Giant’s Dance comes east to the plains of Salisbury, to “stand forever”. But wait — Merlin hasn’t finished. There’s more. The stones themselves are charmed, and of a provenance far from their apparently temporary Irish resting-place. Merlin declares:
They are mystical stones, and of a medicinal virtue. The giants of old brought them from the farthest coast of Africa, and placed them in Ireland, while they inhabited that country. Their design in this was to make baths in them, when they should be taken with any illness. For their method was to wash the stones, and put their sick into the water, which infallibly cured them. With the like success they cured wounds also, adding only the application of some herbs. There is not a stone there which has not some healing virtue. — Historia, Bk. 8, 11.
We seek for future cures, while the Merlins of our spiritual history attempt to alert us to sources of healing all around us. There is not a stone there which has not some healing virtue.
How many healings casually happen to me all the time? A scratch scabs over and even the mark fades with time. A cold passes and I recover, the hacking cough subsiding to a tickle and then to nothing. The purging of food poisoning wracks me and wrings me out, but my temperature control eventually leaves fevers and chills behind, I regain my appetite, and the memory of the nausea and dizziness and malaise slowly withdraws.
If we want the marvelous, the cause and occasion must match the healing outcome. The ordinary will not do: Mysteries of this kind are not to be revealed but when there is the greatest necessity for it.
What do we require? A wise guide and that guide’s counsel, certainly. But more: the conjunction of the potential and the place where it needs to be founded. The stones must be brought to a specific location for the desired result … if they can be placed here, as they are there …
It’s significant that the stones do not remain in Ireland. While giants placed them there for their own purposes, it takes human agency to bring them to their final location. Almost as if they had been waiting all along for human awareness to catch up to them, to finish their journey.
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I don’t need to disdain modern medicine to avail myself of ancient healing. We do need the latter. Modern medicine often does an excellent job alleviating symptoms, but leaves the deeper roots of the problem untouched, often because invisible, underground. The taproot of an illness or other problem may nourish itself in causes invisible to a materialist eye. I may continue to feed its source even as I claim to long for healing. Why else is it, in our modern and supposedly healthier age, that so many Americans — more than ever before — rely on prescriptions (link to Harvard University studies) against anxiety, depression, insomnia, and so on? The stats have made headlines, but no one wants to address the root cause, because it’s sunk in the rich darkness of our cultural blindspots.
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I add to my practice a henge-meditation. We needn’t bother ourselves to make any such claim as “Druids built Stonehenge” to make use of the spiritual dynamic it offers as a source of healing. Merlin sets the precedent: Stonehenge-as-symbol, in Geoffrey’s telling is older than its present home in southern England anyway. Not its origin but its power is what we need. Magic thrives when our intent makes the occasion a necessity: our focus is single and sharp not from force of will but from desire, emotion, need, want, hope, imagination, planning and preparation, ritual foundation, and love.
If I don’t move the stones here, their virtue can’t find me. Inner work is just as necessary as finding the right doctor, the proper regimen, the appropriate treatment.
Curious that the words of Jesus fit here so well: “The stone which the builders reject has become the cornerstone”. There is not a stone there which has not some healing virtue.
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Image: Geoffrey of Monmouth; Merlin.
[Here’s the second half of a topic begun in the previous post.]
In the way the universe moves, as soon as I focus on health and healing, results come back from blood-work a few weeks past. The naturopath I consult phones me to share the data, and the numbers aren’t altogether positive. We agree to some diet, exercise and supplement changes, and a follow-up blood-draw in three months to see whether some of the more worrisome numbers are a blip or part of a concerning trend.
I mention this not to garner any sort of sympathy — I’ve been vague enough here I hope that’s clear — but to consider for a moment a couple of things. I use my life as material because I’m in it. I trust it’s part of our common experience, and countless experiences of feedback prove to me that, mostly, it is. (I reserve just a few quirks as my own indulgences.) From my perspective, we’re all in this life-lab together, here to try things out. I understand my own experience better than anyone else’s, and every writer can’t help but mine autobiography for material, however coy or deflective they may be about that fact when you ask.
So here goes. First, you may call it the merest coincidence that in post 14 in this series I examine health, and the next day medical tests come through, and I take it as part of a divination. The pending results were on my mind, you say, and naturally enough they emerged in a post. Nothing mysterious about it. Well, I don’t know about mystery. (That’s why they call it mystery.) But I’ve found that strikingly few things are “mere coincidence.” The dangers of over-reading such circumstances as “signs” or “spirit communications” or “meaningful data” pale in comparison to missing the opportunities for discovery, growth and change that such events offer. As an unreconstructed animist, I know that everything’s alive (especially rocks, and even more especially Vermont rocks!), everything’s affected and influenced by everything else, and everything talks constantly about it all. I like to join that conversation.
Second, I get to try out my spiritual toolkit, as soon as I remember I have one. (You shouldn’t be surprised at our capacity for ignoring resources already in our hands. We love sympathy, until it gets boring or annoying, and then we often swat it away. I loathe self-pity, and have been known to turn away well-intentioned compassion at every turn.)
I take hawk-guise and soar over the problem or challenge. Below, on the field of my life, personalities and forces and energies can stand out more clearly. As the seer of my own life, I can regroup quite literally. Who and what shall I pair or separate? What lies off the horizon that touches on this moment? What offers itself to me? Where I can I offer myself to others? If I want this clue, this cure, this healing, where I can be a part of such a cure and healing and solution for others? How can I take without giving? Yes, of course. But how I can give without taking? What circles and cycles wait for me to complete them, ones that only I can? Not because I am “special” or “gifted” or “unique,” but simply because I am. I exist, in this place, in this time. The stubbornness of the particular is a clue to meaning, as well as much else of value.
Yes, I’ll even concede that “every problem has a spiritual solution,” if we can also agree that “spiritual” may sometimes mean a warm bath, a glass of wine or mead, time and space for reflection. Sometimes it’s a bit longer than that. I turn and see it’s a whole life-project: part of the reason I seem to be here at all, one of a small set of Big Kahunas, a major theme for this incarnation. Druidry reminds me constantly that this physical world is a vital resource and a field for discovery. With all its pain and uncertainty and possibility and simple pleasure, it’s a toolkit all its own, one of astounding quality and diversity and energy. Herbs, totems, power objects, shrines, wise trees and beasts, spirits, fatigue, rest, hot and cold, the seasons, human physical contact and presence. I could devote (I feel I have devoted) many lives just to exploring these things, never mind the array of things on other levels of reality.
Salmon, Dragon, Bee, companions on the Way, I thank you for your wisdom, and through the transmutations of identity and experience, I offer some wisdom of my own.
So my Druidry goes to work and I find out, a little more, what it can do.
This last September, when my wife and I were visiting friends on our way to the 2014 East Coast Gathering, we stopped in at a community antique shop. Normally I don’t visit such places, but this one, run as a non-profit, drew us in. Though my wife didn’t find the odd weaving item she’s perpetually on the lookout for, shuttle or reed or bundle of heddles that she can often locate used, I met a dragon.
I say “met” because elemental encounters with beasts like dragons are gifts to celebrate. But was this draig-athar, the air dragon I first took it to be? Or maybe draig-teine, the fire dragon? Oh, too much mind, not enough listening.
The right wing was missing. I picked it up. Heavy as earth, and earthbound with that missing wing — probably brass, that fire metal composed of tin — and copper, a water metal. As a candle-holder, also linked with fire. All of them mined from earth. All four elements in one. Candle holder on the top of the head … in Chinese dragon lore, the dragon possesses a chimu, which enables it to fly. As the Han Dynasty scholar Wang Mu observes of the dragon: “Upon his head he has a thing like a broad eminence (a big lump), called chimu. If a dragon has no chimu, he cannot ascend to the sky.”
Let go of labels. But fly without one wing? Transmute! There was my augury, if I wanted one. Don’t let mere appearances decide your reality. Or, to make it short and sweet — fly anyway.
Five dollars lighter (paper standing in for coin — metal again), I carried the dragon from the shop to our car. Back in Vermont, he (she?) sits facing west on a window-sill near where I’m clearing a space for an altar. Just out the window is a thermometer. In other words, there’s enough symbolism here to keep me busy with metaphors and correspondences till both dragon and I dissolve into our component elements, the life force binding us long ago withdrawn.
Struggling with diet and energy levels and an ornery GI tract still sorting itself out after radiation for a prostatectomy? Fly anyway.
A Druidic invitation to see possibility in limitation — the only place we find it. Fly anyway.
A one-winged brass dragon
What I want: “a return to how things used to be.” But what do I need, apparently, among other things? Greater compassion for myself, for others dealing with the body’s trials and challenges. Patience with changes already set in motion. Definitely a stronger capacity not to let mere appearances decide my reality.
That’s all you got?
No. But it’s more than I had.
A fair trade?
Wait and see.
Really? “Wait and see”?!
Can you imagine the missing wing — see it there, mirroring the left one, ready to sweep wide and catch the wind?
So just because you can’t fly in one place, you stop flying in all the others?! Choose again.
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Images: dragon from the Nine Dragons scroll; air dragon from the Druid Animal Oracle — image by Will Worthington; the brass dragon.