In this post and the next one, I’d like to share an odd little sequence of synchronicities in my life. They led me to think long and hard about the spiritual path I’ve chosen and how it relates other paths people are following these days.
A little over a month ago, the day before our family set out for South Dakota, I got a phone call from my mother. She was going to ask whether or not I received a book she had mailed me recently, a book about Druidry by Frank MacEowen called The Mist-Filled Path. I said I hadn’t, but I’d heard good things about the book, and I was looking forward to getting it. I should add to that my mother had no idea that we were heading to South Dakota when she sent me the book.
The history of western South Dakota is dominated by the conflict between the Sioux Indians in the US Army. (See this previous post for some further thoughts.) The size of the Indian reservations, the historical markers in the national parks, the majesty of the buffalo, the folk tales woven into the landscape, and the irresistible menace of the sacred Black Hills themselves seemed to whisper stories of holy ground defiled and bloodstained.
We were almost home when I had a very strange dream.
I dreamed that I was part of a Sioux Indian tribe. I was good friends with the chief of the tribe, and also good friends with his wife. In fact, I was deeply in love with his wife. He knew it, and she knew it, but they both knew I would never act on my feelings; so they tolerated it, and probably felt some pity towards me because of it.
There came a time when both the chief and I were away from his wife, and she was killed. I think she was killed by an errant hunter’s arrow. We rushed to her side, but she was dead.
Both of us began to grieve. We lifted her body and began to carry her back to the village. But when we had only gone a few paces, miraculously, she came to life again.
Somehow the chief and I knew that it was our love for her, combined, that had brought her back.
I was so surprised I woke up.
I tried to puzzle this out for a few minutes, and couldn’t get anywhere. Finally I decided to try a meditation and see if I could find some clues with that. Since I had so recently woken up, it was easy to get back into the meditation state. The chief from my dream appeared when I asked for a guide.
I asked him what it was all about, but he just said, “Hold her in your heart. Hold her in your heart.”
That’s as far as I got. It was a lot to think about, what with trying to get the family back home in one piece, so I set the whole episode aside to come back to later.
When I got home, I picked up The Mist-Filled Path. Imagine my surprise to find that a goodly chunk of the book concerns Frank MacEowen’s experiences with the Sioux Indians in South Dakota.
MacEowen’s style of Druidry is heavily influenced by the shamans he’s worked with — American Indian shamans and shamans from other cultures. He works extensively with spirit guides, drumming, and music, in addition to more traditionally druidic practices such as communing with nature, sleeping in ancient Pictish graves, walking the countryside in all weather, and telling fortunes with beer coasters. (Well, maybe that last one isn’t quite so traditional.)
The story of MacEowen’s initiation is a harrowing one, and I don’t want to give it all away here. But a spirit came to him as he lay dying of a terrible illness, and informed him in no uncertain terms that he was to participate in the Sioux Sun Dance the following summer. The Sun Dance can be a terrible ordeal, and MacEowen was afraid; he tried to get out of it a couple of times, but the spirits would not let him go.
The purpose of the Sun Dance (briefly, without doing it justice) is to weaken the veil between the worlds, to permit easier communication between the dancers and the guiding spirits of the ancestors. Dancers see visions of past generations, landscapes as they once were, details of the defining moments in the life of a culture.
MacEowen didn’t really know what to expect. He wasn’t an American Indian, so he suspected he wouldn’t see American Indian ancestors. But he was not prepared to feel the dry hot earth underfoot turning moist and cool; he wasn’t prepared to smell wet turf; he wasn’t prepared for the bone flutes played by the Indians to take on the keening wail of bagpipes. He saw visions of his own ancestors: pioneers in 18th- and 19th-century clothing; half-starved children with their tongues stained green from the grass they tried to eat during the Irish Potato Famine; Scots warriors heading into battle again and again against the English.
Since then his path has been defined by guidance from the spirits of his ancestors and by his own research and study into Celtic spirituality. In the next post, I’ll talk about his take on Celtic spirituality, the utility and morality of mixing different belief systems, and the interpretation of my dream and meditation. (Sorry about the cliff-hanger!)