Passing through portals I am met by six legged creatures, and my father’s voice whispers to me through the wind, ‘No wonder you’ve always loved mystery.’ Ancient ancestors call my name and their songs are heard through the rushing wind, pelting rain, flowing river and pulsing air. ‘Welcome home,’ they cry.
I’ve returned from my pilgrimage journey to Galway, Ireland. Magic, mystery, laughter, holy and sacred thresholds called, beckoned and danced their way into my imagination and soul. My Dad’s voice whispered, echoed and sang within my mind. He passed away seven years ago, yet his presence was so real, felt and tangible within me as I journeyed to the land of his ancestors – the Heaney tribe. I was there with my fellow pilgrims over the remarkable time of year known as Samhain (pronounced Sow-en), Oct. 31.
This ancient Gaelic festival marks the end of the old cycle and the beginning of the new. It is both a time of death and the promise of re-birth. It is a time in which the veil is considered thin, a ‘liminal space’, where myth and story claim that spirits and ancestors could easily make their journey into our world. It marks the beginning of winter, an invitation to welcome in both the dark and silence and pay attention to what might be whispered to the soul during this season.
Visiting Brigit’s garden in Roscahill County was a deeply moving experience. We took our ‘souls for a stroll’ as we wandered the gardens, each representing one of the Celtic festivals: Samhain, Imbolc, Bealtaine and Lughnasa. As it was Samhain, we practiced a ritual together: writing down something we would like to let go of, a desire to lay something to rest, and then buried our written words in the leaves at the foot of the oak tree. Practicing together the ancient ritual of ‘toning’ was both magical and holy as our voices blended and mingled into the cool misty air.
That evening I was joined by others as we feasted on Thai food (I know, somewhat of an oxymoron, but it was well priced, family style and fabulous!) and then took our contemplative, soul pondering, laughter filled hearts to the edge of the River Corrib. We joined our thoughts and prayers in memories of ancestors, tenderness of loved ones and lit up the dark of the night with our two burning candles on the edge of a metal trash can. What? Wait a minute you ask.
The wind was gusting, our candles weren’t able to stay alight, so over to an alcove we went. When traveling as a pilgrim it is essential that one not take yourself too seriously. It was out of the wind, we could light our candles and continue our own organic sacramental Samhain practice. A fellow pilgrim had recently completed her journey on the Camino de Santiago and we held her journey alight as she burned a piece of a fleece jacket she had worn for the duration of her pilgrimage, and then released it into the trash can. It was an honor and privilege to share this ceremony with her. We then danced to our hearts content as ‘Happy’ played out of Kayce’s iphone and passers by walked far to the sides of us as we closed our evening festival.
We journeyed outside the city of Galway with hikes in the Burren and visits to St. Colman’s hermitage and holy well. Our tribe of pilgrims gathered in the ancient ruins of Corcomroe Abbey, prayed to the elements and four corners of the earth at Cong Abbey and walked in silence through the forest. I paused and reflected on my mortality at Kilmacduagh Abbey, feeling the souls of many who have gone before me through standing upon ancient stones and green grass – covered land.
We ferried to Inis Mor and walked with the felt presence of ancient monks at St. Ciaran’s and St. Enda’s monasteries, gazing out over the wild landscape of the Aran Islands. I walked the prom in Galway with two brave souls as we leaned our heads down into the wind and pelting rain, stood out over the edges of the ‘diving board’ on the Atlantic and walked back in awe and wonder as the wind blew dry upon our backs.
I went to Ireland with few expectations, having simply paid attention to the stirring in my belly to say ‘yes.’ I remain in awe and wonder at my time there and can’t quite put into words all that feels simultaneously bubbling, grounding and rooting within my soul. I have a sense that more words, stories and poems are resting in the dark of my imagination, simply waiting to be birthed.
I laughed, sang, and danced my way through the pedestrian zone in Galway, developed a fondness for Guinness, made new friends, and once again had my heart broken open. I cried and danced as the trio of musicians in the pub asked if it would be alright if they honored my Dad’s memory, his name and mine, as they sang and played an old Scottish tune. It was indeed a grand soft time.
What spaces and places are calling you to pilgrimage?
Consider joining Kayce Hughlett and I on our next Urban Paris Pilgrimage: Where Sole Greets Soul, May 9 – 16, 2015.