Personal Essay

Rites Of Passage – Part 5

By Gaia Woolf-Nightingall

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Suddenly, I found myself at the bottom of a sloping heather moorland, sandwiched between a multitude of crowded dark trees, they stood like sentries on either side of the moor, their depth unknowable to me. A bright sheen of light floated atop the dense heather, illuminated by the bright full moon overhead.

I felt a sudden sense of panic, I was alone in the middle of a stormy forest, in the darkness, lost, I had never climbed this far up the valley before, even in the daylight, and for a brief moment I cursed at my own folly and lack of forethought, typical me.

My instinctual self took command at once and I felt my body twist and contort much like the trees around me were. I was ready to point my feet in the direction I had just come from, poised to just run back down the hill to the valley floor, fire bender, and safety.

I hesitated and then I heard the faint sound of my younger self calling out to me. I needed to trust, I stilled my mind and listened. I listened to the sounds of winds and to the silence of the moon in the sky. I called to the ground beneath my feet and I felt the pulsing rhythm of the air swirling around me, I knew I was not alone, nor had I ever been.

I turned back to face the moorland, shaking with anticipation, I asked aloud, “please friends, guide me, I am here, I am listening, I trust you and I am open.” Time appeared to stand still, but the whirling sounds of the air filled my ears, its candescent song kept on playing.

At first, I was not sure of what I seeing with my eyes, an image was coming into view, and out from the haze of the bright night sky, everything became clear.

A double line of very small, yet very bright, shiny lights were illuminating a narrow winding dirt pathway, that was curling up through the center of the heather field. I caught my breath, let go of the fear and hesitation, and moved forward.

Trusting to the creatures of the night who had heard my call, I ascended up through the moorland, my lower legs brushed against the bristling short branches of the heather as I went. I felt elated! I followed, closely between the lights and, within a few short moments I reached the top of a plateau where the pathway leveled out. I found myself stood at the top of the Eastern side of the Glen of Downs on another dirt trail lit only by the dim haze of moonlight.

Directly in front of me was the darkening forest once again, as thick and intimidating as it had been before, and to the left and right of my body the trail disappeared off into the blackness of the night. I was unsure of which direction to take, and so once again I called out for assistance.

Directly the lights again appeared, but this time only to my left. Without past hesitation or doubt, I followed, until abruptly the lights disappeared, and once again the icy chill of fear began to rise up my back. I furiously shook my head in multiple directions searching, and it was only then that I noticed positioned directly in front of my feet, a dark cavernous looking entrance between a bank of parted trees. I held my breath, said a small prayer of gratitude to the land, and ventured into the darkness.

My eyes took just a few moments to adjust to the darkness, before I saw to my right, as if out of a fairy tale, was a little blue tarpaulin ‘bender’, nestled in the dark hedgerow, silent and welcoming, this was to be my new home!

I clambered inside shaking with relief and quickly lit the makeshift stove inside. More thankful than I can say to my elemental friends, who would unbeknownst to me, and from that moment on would be the closest companions of my watch.

My time in the Glen of the Downs was a defining point in my life, not only was I incredibly privileged to have been part of the protection detail of an ancient and rare woodland. But through this action, I had once again reconnected with my friends, the Elemental Spirits of the land, and once again learned to trust in their guidance and kinship. My earliest teachings had never been far from side.

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us”- J. R. R. Tolkien

It was in the Summer of my thirty-fifth year, that  I returned to the rare and indefinable beauty of the Welsh landscape. I returned now with my partner Dominic, whom I had met in the Glen of the Downs, our very young daughter Shekhinah and an assortment of beloved animal companions.

It is an ancient and powerful emotion that stirs from within, as you birth your firstborn child. Deep from within the recesses of ancestral memory, you are cast into an acute sense of timeless understanding, perhaps for the first time, of the true nature of love. Thoughts stream uncontrollably through your mind, buffeted by the winds of both doubt and fear. But when you look deep into the eyes of your child for the first time, you can see the soul of the universe made conscious, joy and peace enfolds you. You know that you were chosen to be their first Earth-bound guide, and you are humbled. Your heart drowns in the knowledge that only a mother can understand, and always there is an implacable drive to nurture and protect.

For you now know, the truth, that unsteadily stumbling around in the world before you, is another living soul carrying your fragile heart in their hands.

I had returned now, to the playground of my college days, to manage an Organic farm on the Gower peninsula. The land was owned by an old friend of mine, who had asked me to take over the management of the land, whilst he took an extended sabbatical abroad. He wished to explore the world outside the borders of the Welsh Country and I was excited for and felt able to the task.

But before leaving Ireland, I had decided to take another leap of faith into the unknown and booked for myself a place at a Reclaiming Witch camp, which was slated to take place during the first Summer of my return to the UK.

For the retiring and introverted person that I was, this was a huge step, which would finally. I believed, bring me into the folds of a spiritual community of like-minded individuals. A community who not only believed as I did, that magic flowed through everything in the world, mundane or otherwise. But who also cared deeply, for the very Earth upon which we lived and moved. I in effect was seeking a community of spiritual warriors.

Reclaiming is an American contemporary witchcraft tradition, eclectic and inclusive by design. Its foundational origins are to be found throughout ancient and more modern pagan practices, which include the Anderson Feri tradition, Wicca, Hawaiian spirituality, Celtic faiths, Ecofeminism, and many other liberal Earth-based spiritual paths.

I had been attracted to the ideas of Reclaiming since my late teenage years, ever since I had read a book called ‘The Spiral Dance’ written by an Ecofeminist and witch named Starhawk.

The book had lit a flame within me, a kind of tribal recognition. I felt as though it was time to seek out these kindred spirits. For I had always sensed that there was something that I was not quite getting to.

I believed that the Divine emanated in and through all things. Not as an abstract force, forever unknowable and untouchable until the moment of death. For me Divinity manifested in every piece of DNA in my body, it manifested in the eyes of my daughter. In the grasshopper in the field and in the wind that flowed through the branches of the trees. In essence everything seen and unseen, living and inanimate was sacred. And I was hoping to, at last, find others who like me, believed in this idea of reality, the threads of which were weaved throughout the universe. To me, a deeper truth existed, that we and all life were a part of a whole, dynamic and conscious multiverse, hallowed and worthy of protection and love.

“All living beings are worthy of respect. All are supported by the sacred elements of air, fire, water, and earth. We work to create and sustain communities and cultures that embody our values, that can help to heal the wounds of the earth and her peoples, and that can sustain us and nurture future generations.” -Reclaiming Principles of Unity

When I stepped off the train onto the platform at the small railway station of Castle Cary in Somerset, I had no real comprehension of how my life was about to change, I was heading for the Earth Spirit Center, situated in the small, and extremely quaint English village of Compton Dundon, which lay, approximately 10 miles from the pilgrimage town of Glastonbury. Where, a plethora of seekers would travel to every year, searching for the mystical shores of Avalon, and the mythical resting place of King Arthur. They would come to drink the healing waters of the Chalice well, all the while soaking in the rarefied air of a landscape, carved from ancient legends, that told the tall tales of mystery schools and the knights of old.

This was to be my first Reclaiming Witch camp, I was nervous, terrified actually. Walking through the gates of Earth Spirit felt like crossing through the thin threshold that existed between the worlds, there was a palpable charge to the atmosphere, almost as though, I had once again stepped out of time and space. It was a familiar and comfortable feeling.

I was walking into the Center as a pilgrim, in search of my spiritual family, and seven days later I would leave as a newly minted member of a vibrant magical community. I was walking into the bosom of my Goddess family.

It would not however be until my second Reclaiming camp where I would take a giant step forward towards the gates of my own sovereign self. That I would commence a rite of passage, that spoke to the heart of my experiential world voice. And so, I came to gather, once again, in the glow and warmth of my newfound spiritual family.

“Your true name has the secret power to call you.”? Vera Nazarian   

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