Personal Essay

Rites Of Passage – Part 3

By Gaia Woolf-Nightingall

Part 1, Part 2

An idea formed in my mind, I needed to leave a piece of material on a tree branch as a gift, and so, I ripped a piece of what was, in all honesty, a random piece of cloth from the dress and tied it around one of the lower branches of the tree. As I did so, I gave thanks to the spirit of the tree for guiding me to this sacred and beautiful place.

Now, as is the case with any tale worth telling, the news of Fionnuala’s and my discovery began to spread. The land itself was owned by a wonderful local character named Dai, who had preserved the site over the many years he had owned it and was indeed happy for people to visit there. The story was told far and wide of how Fionnuala and I came to be at the Spring, and as it did, the Spring found its place in local legend. More and more people came to explore the site, sample the waters, and, in turn, leave offerings on the Elder tree.

I stayed with Fionnuala, in her Chalet for several weeks, visiting the Spring during the warm daylight hours and even under the light of an Autumn full moon, where I was transported back across the mists of time to more ancient days, to a time when the Earth, the Air, the Water, and the Sun had been the four pillars of worldly knowledge. I contemplated the question of why I had been guided to this place. No new answers came; there seemed to be nothing more to say.

In the years that followed, I would return to the Spring on occasion, and each time that I did, the spiritual sanctity of the place became more visible to me. The Elder tree overflowed with the many offerings people made over the years, as they came, to take in the waters and make a pilgrimage to this sacred site. In later years still, I would discover that the tradition of hanging cloth offerings on trees near Springs was an ancient tradition of the Celtic peoples of England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland, and the offerings themselves were named ‘clouties.’

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” -W.B. Yeats

In my early twenties, after I had graduated from college. I decided to travel across the Irish sea to the Emerald Isle itself. I had felt a strong draw, a calling, a feeling that I could not quiet inside me, that this was a land that I had to know. And so I left behind my beloved Wales and set off on what would eventually become a decade’s long adventure, full, with the forging of new friendships, the stretching of personal boundaries, and the reaffirmation of my trust in the natural elements of the earth that had thus far sustained my journey.

Ireland is a magical land. No one who has ever visited passed through or called the country their home could ever be in doubt of this one simple truth. A mystical air pervades every nook and crevice. From the very first moment, you catch the fresh scent of a Galway breeze, feast your eyes upon low green moorlands of West Cork, or wander through the ancient Forests of Killarney or even climb the Eastern peaks of the Wicklow Hills, mystique and poetry flow unbound. It is imbued into every tree, every boulder, every granite wall, and craggy shoreline.

Like others the world over, the people of Ireland have faced adversity, but the storms that come have always been weathered, with a singular kind of pride, dignity, and the strong bonds of and kinship.

As the crow flies, the Republic of Ireland lies to the far East of the USA, across the expansive waters of the Atlantic ocean, where it was once believed by the ancient Celtic peoples of the British Isles that the souls of their dear departed hereby entered into the other-world, the realm of eternal life.

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