Book Review: The Meaning of Mary Magdalene

magdalenebookIt took me some months to read Cynthia Bourgeault’s book on Mary Magdalene. Not because I was slogging through mud, just the opposite. It contains such richness that I read just a few pages in each sitting to give passages time to digest. There are many books out there giving evidence, laying down arguments for and against, as well as historical references on the identity of Mary Magdalene and her role relative to Jesus and the apostles. This book goes deeper and harvests the fruit in a down-to-earth, often humorous, way. No stuffiness here.

The points for us today rest in the title of the book – The Meaning of Mary Magdalene – where we can understand the true significance of who she was, the effect she had then and what her spirit carries through time. Consider that, in 2017, the Dalai Lama said women playing a key role in this century would ensure peace and “promote basic human values of compassion and love.” Truly this is what we need.

Central here is the Gospel of Mary Magdalene discovered in an antiquities market by a German collector in the late 1800s. It essentially languished until it was published in German in 1955, then in English in the mid 1970s. It is but 19 pages, essentially of dialogue, with pages 1-6 and 11-14 missing. Bourgeault also draws heavily on the Gospel of Thomas and Gospel of Philip from the Nag Hammadi findings, which she says are of the same “spiritual stream” as the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. These three gnostic gospels were not controlled by the politics of the time, as the sanctioned New Testament. The author does make reference to statements in the New Testament, but this is more to get beneath the surface of what was stated or inferred and how it balances out with the the gnostic writings.

However Mary and Jesus met, whether or not they were married in the everyday sense, it is clear they were joined in a holy, sacred marriage as part of a conscious path. Each was equally important to the other in the process of deepening, equality, love and integrity in service of wholeness and purity of heart. They entrusted each other – created the safe haven – to do the shadow work necessary to deliver them. Reading here we sense the intensity in which it all took place, an alchemical process of transmutation to something greater than either could be on their own. This in the midst and mess of humanness, but not all. There is also the imaginal realm, another dimension where chaos is swept aside and the light gets in.

I also appreciated the attention given to kenosis in so many paragraphs. Twenty years ago I used that word to name the work I do and still abide by it.

Kenosis comes from the Greek verb kenosein, which means to empty oneself…

self-emptying is the touchstone, the core reality underlying every moment…

The letting go of kenosis is actually closer to letting be…

first and foremost a visionary tool…its primary focus is to cleanse the lens of perception…

the direct gateway into a divine reality that can be immediately experienced as both compassionate and infinitely generous…

I originally began reading The Meaning of Mary Magdalene as a deepening for my [now recent] spiritual travel program in Provence where Mary figured prominently. By preparing in this way, it took me to places I hadn’t previously been in meaning and depth when I actually walked the land once more where she also put her feet.

This is an important book for our times.

Available in print, e-book and audiobook on Amazon and widely elsewhere.

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To Be Caught

I had the overwhelming pull to get out on the land. To place my feet solidly and walk. To be conscious of placing each footstep. I did…for some miles. I found it imperative. That – even though I was exhausted, arriving home just the night before from a very long journey. Writing now, a few days later, I recognize – by surrendering to that draw – I began my integration process, and I hold a new awareness.

I was summoned by the wild land where I live – not some random thought of my mind. Having learned what I’d learned in the land over the ocean, Re-entry required this physical act. It’s about engagement, like introducing a new friend to an old one who needed no explanation when both had claimed me. Neither were jealous, and I’d allowed myself to be caught. Somehow this recognition has further solidified my grounding. The giving over. Surrendering. Whatever you want to call it, know that it had nothing to do with the mind and everything to do with the heart.

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We sat in circle, having settled into this spacious, high-ceilinged room in a 16th century building, now a small family-run hotel in Arles. I began to lay some initial groundwork for entry into our journey in Provence. I talked to the women about the land. There are certain places in the world that hold a form of magic. Hard to articulate, it comes out through its attraction and what it produces. Provence is one of those places. To feel such depth, it must be welcomed through pure immersion. As that happens, it touches aspects of ourselves we didn’t know existed. Then we can begin to understand the beauty the Provençal land produces, attraction to artists, other makers…and the currents that brought Mary Magdalene, Mary Jacobi, Mary Solomé and Sarah – also known as Sara-la-Kali, adopted by the Romani people as their patron saint – to land on its shores.* We can also begin to sense its effect on us.

I acknowledged the controversy surrounding Mary Magdalene’s role, who Sarah may have been and the question of whether they and the other Marys had been there at all. I invited the women to sweep it all away – all that chattering distraction – and just be present to what their own experiences tell them.

The next day we drove to the small Camargue village of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer where the Marys and Sarah landed. We were to visit Notre Dame de la Mer. This is the church venerating Sarah, Mary Solomé and Mary Jacobi who chose to live there.  It holds their relics and has an underground crypt especially designated to Sarah. It’s said many healings have taken place through prayers that are left.

This is sacred ground. To enter carelessly doesn’t do it justice. We first went to the shoreline where I invited the women to find their place, connect with the land and put themselves back in time, to the time when the boat rode the waves onto the beach. Some were overcome there. Others as we went through the doorway of the church. Some while leaving their prayers with Sarah. Not one was untouched.

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Saint Sarah’s crypt in Notre Dame de la Mer, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Photo: Carla Woody.

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Stained glass window above the main altar in the Basilica of Mary Magdalene, St. Maximin. Photo: Carla Woody.

A few days later at the Basilica of Mary Magdalene in the village of St. Maximin, where her relics rest, the pilgrimage continued as did the effect. Before we began the long climb up to Mary’s Grotto on St. Baume, I suggested we pause again to put ourselves through time, ultimately to the time Mary would have climbed this mountain herself. There would have been little path, if any, the forest completely wild, full of feral life we no longer see there. I walked slowly, noticing the stillness of the woods save periodic songbirds and the conversation of others climbing ahead.

I found Mary’s Grotto as I had in my other times there. I wiped away the chapel and altars that had been placed for worship. Instead, listening to the sounds of dripping water, feeling the damp and sensing her presence. Being still.

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Saint Mary Magdalene’s Grotto at St. Baume. Photo: Carla Woody.

Taking a different trail down, it was rocky, more steep, sometimes slippery from previous rains. Much like life. I paid attention to where I placed my feet. Somehow, I felt the place impressing itself upon me. Or maybe it was an exchange.

♦♦♦

Within the safe haven of circles, I invite travelers to share their personal experiences: insights, questions, struggles, if they wish. Not for others to resolve or analyze but to witness. Witnessing is a sacred role we fulfill for each other. It brings things to earth rather than flying around in the ether. In this way, each one’s process is acknowledged as significant and supports an evolutionary unfolding.

When we close our circle at the end, I speak to them on the elements of Re-entry, a phase of the journey that is quite real and continues, sometimes for months or longer. It’s about integration. Something that naturally occurs to bring our learnings to bear upon life at home. Best approached with eyes wide open and embraced, I lead them through a recapitulation of our times together suggesting they pay attention to what comes to the forefront to be carried home. Sometimes words escape us, seeds still germinating. But – always – we feel the presence of something growing.

There were two facets from our immersion in Provence that featured prominently for me this time, at least what I was aware of in the moment. I voiced them. The first was the way the people of Provence spoke about the Marys and Sarah. It was matter of fact. There was no engaging in the controversy flying around elsewhere in academia, religious entities, or popular media. They had existed there, celebrated annually on hallowed ground through festivals and the churches built to them. They are solidly implanted in Provençal cultural memory. The land holds them.

My take-away:

There will always be detractors and distractors. Focus on what you know to be true and hold it in your soul.

The second had to do with the colors in the land and how they’re reflected throughout Provence in the food, art, architecture and geniality of the people. Ochres, blues and greens. They made me happy and something more I can’t yet give words to. I vowed they would find more of a place in my home.

My take-away:

When something touches you deeply, bring it into your home. It’s a visible reminder of what’s become a part of you. We don’t leave things behind. They dwell within the sanctuary of our Core.

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Mt. Sainte-Victoire outside Aix-en-Provence. Photo: Carla Woody.

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Windmill in the village of Goult. Photo: Carla Woody.

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Architecture, Aix-en-Provence. Photo: Carla Woody.

 ♦♦♦

When we journey in foreign lands, we leave the familiar behind. We enter places that are waiting to be known, many of them for us to re-engage with aspects we’ve forgotten.

Western people don’t belong to the land – unless born into a culture that supports it, or consciously becoming part of it over time. It means being present. To disregard the urge to move on too quickly. It means to linger. It means to return, to know it even more so. To surrender and let go of thoughts that take up space.

Only then can we be caught.

Only then can the secrets that we knew all along be divulged.

*****

* Mary Solomé was the mother of apostles James the Greater and John. Mary Jacobi was the mother of apostles James the Younger (or Lesser) and Joseph. Sarah is said to be the daughter of Mary Magdalene and Jesus, in other circles the Egyptian servant to one of the Marys. Also know there are stories of others in the boat including Lazarus, Martha and Maximin. I’m writing of those who are acknowledged in the places we went.

*****

There were so many elements that made up our spiritual travel in Provence. I already know I will be writing more…in appreciation. This is just the first blush.

 

 

 

Categories: Contemplative Life, Global Consciousness, Sacred Reciprocity, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Book Review: The Books of Athabaskan Native Velma Wallis

Velma Wallis was born of the Athabaskan people in a small village in remote Alaska. She grew up in the traditional way and heard the oral history of her tribe and others in the region through her mother. She’s documented two of those through Two Old Women and Bird Girl and the Man Who Followed the Sun.

TwoOldWomenTwo Old Women tells of two elders who had lost their usefulness, often falling into complaining in the face of decline. As tradition holds, the duty of providing for them fell to their extended family and others of the tribe, which they did. But the tribe fell upon hard times. Food was almost nonexistent and some successive winters brutal. Finally, the chief made a decision, when the tribe departed in search for a more hospitable home, the two old women were left behind in favor of tribal survival. This meant they were leaving the elders to a certain death. Two Old Women discloses the internal conflict many of the tribe experienced and the process of the women as they faced a fate they did not choose, and the unexpected outcomes.

BirdGirlBird Girl and the Man Who Followed the Sun is about a girl and boy, living in separate camps of the Gwich’in people. Neither fit in. At a young age, Bird Girl’s father had taught her to hunt and roam along with her brothers. Having tasted that freedom, she took no interest in the never-ending burden of women’s work or taking a husband. Finally pushed to fall in line, she chose to leave home to make her way on her own.

The boy Dagoo was told about The Land of the Sun somewhere to the south where the sun shone all the time, and it was warm, unlike the frozen ground where he lived. His elders said that some of their people had gone in search for this place but turned back, while others went on and never returned. Dagoo was compelled to wander, to explore what potentials may be had beyond the small confines of tribal expectations and limited grounds. After being given an ultimatum to conform, he left in search of The Land of the Sun.

Bird Girl and the Man Who Followed the Sun is about the need to belong, and the choices and consequences of rejecting what doesn’t fit.

Both books are about the meaning and pressures of tribal community and historical, territorial violence between tribes as well as first experiences with European intruders. Told in a straightforward manner, they are impactful eye openers that caused me to consider the choices I have taken in my own life.

Available on Amazon and some public libraries.

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As Good Things Come to Pass

With things the way they have been for a while now…when offensive acts strike at my core values…when I find myself becoming so incensed by it all that I’m distracted and even feel sick or paralyzed…I know it’s time to step back and take stock. I know it’s time to note in what ways my life has meaning, how my own thoughts and actions matter and contribute to the beauty of the world.

Recently a good friend shared on social media Spiritual Integrity and Preservation, a 2014 article I’d written. It brought me back – front and center – to the intent that navigates the path that chose me. Acknowledgement is an important aspect of staying on track. It’s good to know where I’ve been, to draw it around me like a cloak, to shelter me and strengthen intent in the midst of the fire storm…and then keep on going.

That article was a celebration of sorts for a dream I didn’t know I had when it all began. When the dream grounded itself into reality, don’t be fooled into thinking I knew where it would lead. I had no concept at the time. I just trusted the energy it contained and somehow knew to follow it. I had to because it wouldn’t be denied, and things began to fall into place.

I believe we all have such compelling dreams living in our hearts. One just for each of us…waiting for us to say yes to the invitation. To grab it and go.

The article I refer to has to do with the work of Kenosis Spirit Keepers, the nonprofit extension of Kenosis. It tracks the evolutionary process of the work, going back to 2007, in helping to preserve Indigenous traditions. When my friend posted on social media, it caused me to look at what else has happened since 2014.

It brought back some wonderful memories. In 2016, I sponsored a second pilgrimage from Bolivia all the way to the high altitude Q’ero village of Ccochamocco in the Peruvian Andes, finally ending in Cusco. It was a very special journey bringing Q’ero, Maya, Hopi and Aymara Wisdom Keepers together and participants from across the US. In that journey one of the Elder spokespersons for the Hopi religious leader accompanied us to further validate the discovery by Hopi Marvin Lalo the previous year of the Hopi migration petroglyph on a huge slab at Puma Punku next to Tiwanaku in Bolivia. This has great significance if you realize the story of Hopi migration paths from South America previously existed only in Hopi oral history.

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A powerful despacho ceremony with Q’ero, Aymara, Hopi and Maya on the Bolivian waters of Lake Titicaca on the way to the Island of the Moon, where Inka priestesses engaged in the Great Mystery.

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Q’ero friends are offering a despacho ceremony in respect to the land and its spirits, asking permission before we descend to Tiwanaku.

It’s also caused me to look to the future. In January 2019, we are sponsoring Eli PaintedCrow of Yaqui-Maya heritage to accompany us to Guatemala and Mexico for the Maya spiritual travel program. While Eli has had direct access to her Yaqui traditions, she knew nothing of her Maya lineage. When I discovered this, I invited her. I can in no way project any outcomes, but Eli has a son and grandson. I’m guessing it will be important for her to tell them of the strong, proud people they hold in their blood.

Because I’m right upon another important anniversary, I’m sharing Spiritual Integrity and Preservation here. It will link to two other articles – The Last Spirit Keeper and The Ninth Evolution of the Spirit Keepers Journey (with video) –  that complete the history.

In 2009 an important tradition began, first started by Hopi elder Harold Joseph who accepted an invitation to accompany me on my spiritual travel program Entering the Maya Mysteries. As his religious leader’s emissary, the purpose was to reconnect with relations, those from Hopi migration paths…

Don Antonio Martinez and Harold Joseph

Don Antonio Martinez and Harold Joseph at the Lacandón Maya village of Najá in 2009.

 …The intent I hold for spiritual travel has remained the same from the start. It is not to co-opt Indigenous traditions. It is to offer respect through our presence and to hold space that these sacred ways continue…If in the process we visitors are deeply touched—and we are—we bring this difference home. Who we are in the world is influenced…and felt by our families, friends and communities. Core spiritual elements are strengthened…

Read more.

With many thanks to Linda Sohner who started me on this odyssey of remembrance.

***

For more information on spiritual travel programs to Hopi, Peru, Guatemala and Mexico, go here. For more on the work of Kenosis Spirit Keepers, go here.

 

 

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Liminal

FranceCezanneRefuge2bWhen I was in my late thirties, I became certain that something big was on my personal horizon. I had no idea what it was but just knew it was out there waiting…and would change the very fabric of my life. I remained open to discovering what was in store because it was so compelling. But in another way…scary. It contained uncertainty. A few years passed when suddenly the threshold appeared. It happened quickly. It was palpable. I was standing before it, and all looked so much brighter on the other side…even though I still couldn’t make out exactly what was there.

I had entered liminal space, the territory that holds the material and imaginal worlds equally…until they come together as one. Once done, you can step blithely through the threshold, never looking back. To do so necessarily involves un-grounding, prying your feet off the soil you’d known in order to set the stage for a wider life. It’s uncomfortable. Depending on your nature, it can be downright anxiety producing. Then those internal looping messages start to roll and can be incessant as they attempt to keep you tethered to where you were. They may get their reinforcements from external sources as well.

But there’s another part that clearly knows the old ways no longer seem right. Stick with it and know this is a part of the process. In fact, the internal and external messages often exacerbate before they flame out and dissipate.

Even so, the new landscape hasn’t made itself quite visible yet. In this transition, the imaginal realm is your great ally. I tell people I’m working with to pay considerable attention to their dreams during these times, to inexplicable visionary experiences and insights that swim up from some place you can’t name to land solidly in your lap out of the clear blue. This is the great gift of bonding with your Core Self, learning to trust metaphoric or literal messages as guidance. Creating clarity is key at this point. The imaginal world is your friend. When you know – and recognize you know –  a foundation starts to form.

In reality, the threshold didn’t appear suddenly. Coming to readiness is a required piece, getting unseated enough to wake up and discover it’s time to move. Life is happening without you. Readiness isn’t necessarily a smooth trajectory but may involve dancing back and forth until the call is just too insistent to ignore.

Rites of passage aren’t prevalent in Western culture. Whatever may once have existed has been forgotten or downplayed. Know what I’ve been discussing is a rite of passage. Call it so. The time when you are no longer who you were but who you’re becoming. This particular rite is completed when you step through the threshold and fall into the next iteration of your life.

If what I’ve written here sounds all too familiar…and you recognize you’re smack in the middle of it, just name it. You’re in liminal space. It’s sacred. Treat it so. Getting to a place of full knowing – recognizing connection with the unseen world that is more real than what your logical mind would have you believe – is integral to this rite of passage. You’re not alone in your experiences.

Here I am nearly three decades later, having recently passed a milestone birthday, looking back over the years I have thus lived. While the big rite of passage occurred all those years ago, putting me on the path I’ve been on ever since, there have been smaller rites along the way. They further aligned me to my intent. Be thankful when you sense your own threshold coming steadfastly toward you. I bless all of mine.

 

 

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Book Review: Mariette in Ecstasy

Mariette-in-EcstasyMost books reach a logical conclusion. After I finished Mariette in Ecstasy, I just sat there attempting to sort through what I even felt. Stunned in some ways, I suppose. Mystified to say the least. But then, the subject matter of this book deals with the interface between religious mysticism and human nature. A pat answer rarely rests in either.

Since early adolescence Mariette Baptiste feels a draw, the need for direct connection with her savior. By the time she enters the convent at seventeen as a postulate, her practices toward that end are well grounded. Many hours of meditation, prayer or other types of spiritual cultivation can make the veil quite thin. She soon goes into trance regularly, professes to speak directly to Jesus and bleeds from great holes in the hands, feet and side.  At the same time, she seems to be stalked by demons.

The author offers quite believable elements in the life of a stigmatic, not only the passion, and suffering but also – surprisingly – eroticism.

Beyond this are other complications. Mariette comes from privilege, and she’s quite pretty. She enters a modest convent in upstate New York in 1906 and severely disrupts its placid life. This is where human nature comes in. The full range of reaction comes out in spades. There are the suspicions, jealousies, hidden agendas, intrigue, attraction, sexual fantasies and worship…wrapped around religious life.

All of this interspersed against the backdrop of the daily tasks, masses and foreshadowing of Mariette’s interrogation.

Rather than a novel, it could just as well be a narrative nonfiction account of religious fervor and typical convent life. Well researched, sometimes graphic, it was provocative and held all the necessary components of a good mystery.

I find it remarkable that the same author who wrote Desperadoes and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford would also write Mariette in Ecstasy.

I found my copy at the public library. It’s also available at Amazon.

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Film Review: The Cave of Forgotten Dreams

In 1994, local cavers Christian Hillaire, Eliette Brunel-Deschamps and Jean-Marie Chauvet discovered a previously unknown cave with extraordinarily preserved, ancient rock art. The cave is located in the Ardèche region of southern France. In 1998, a small team, headed by Dr. Jean Clottes, began research and Carbon 14 dated the art to 30,000-33,000 years old.

Chauvet Cave is about five hours to the east from where I was during June in the Dordogne region, the particular section called the Périgord Noir. This is where I was so fortunate to experience two caves with very limited access, Les Combarelles and Font-de-Gaume, and was simply overcome. A couple of people, whose names have slipped my memory, then suggested I see the documentary The Cave of Forgotten Dreams done by Werner Herzog on the Chauvet Cave. If any who directed me are reading this review, I thank you profusely.

cave of forgotten dreamsHerzog managed to produce a film that gives a visceral sense of another such hallowed space. Contained in the Chauvet site, home to cave bears, also rest antiquities – indeed lineage bearers, all that remains from the perceptions and sacred expressions of Paleolithic artists.

The team allowed to enter was quite small, some researchers and a few filmmakers, and only for limited times. They could touch nothing of the interior, walking on a carefully protected passageway alone. Remembering how overwhelmed I was when entering 10,000-year-old sites, I could only imagine the condensed energy of one 20,000 years older. One young scientist was interviewed and spoke of how, after working in the cave for five days straight, he found it so powerful he had to take a break to absorb it all.

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Panel of lions. Source: The Bradshaw Foundation.

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Fighting rhinos and four horses. Source: The Bradshaw Foundation.

There were so many similarities to my own visit to such sites in the Périgord Noir, although mine were but a snippet. The awe as to the sophisticated renderings and talent. How they translated movement and power of their subjects. How the very place seemed alive. This was so especially in the sweeping scene of images filmed purposefully in silence. I will confess it brought tears to my eyes.

Remember this is narrative art. The narrator pointed out two sets of lions. In one, the obviously male lion was courting a female who was not ready to accept his advances. She growled at him. In the other, the female had agreed, shown as snuggling the side of the male.

I highly recommend this film for those who wish to gain a new respect and appreciation of our ancient ancestors, and for art enthusiasts who want to trace influences on much later, modern artists.

As an aside, I noted in research elsewhere that when the age of the Chauvet Cave rock art came out, it was contested by those who insisted on adhering to their outdated, ego-entrenched conjectures. This also happened with the Altamira cave in northern Spain. Altamira itself was found by a local hunter in 1868. He told Marcelino Sanz de Sautola, an amateur archeologist who owned the land. In 1879, he began excavation, but it was his young daughter Maria who actually discovered the cave paintings. When Sanz de Sautola attempted to take the findings public, suggesting the art was 10,000 years old, he was declared a fraud and the paintings fake by those of the same ilk mentioned above, plus the Catholic Church. He suffered the effects of public humiliation until his death. Posthumously some twenty years later, he was recognized for his achievements, the age of Altamara cave art not 10,000 but 35,000 years old. An account is given in the little known film Finding Altamira, which can be viewed on Netflix.

The Cave of Forgotten Dreams is available on Netflix and has also been uploaded by viewers onto You Tube. One hour, 35 minutes.

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The Great Unsettling

Maybe you’ve been in the same place or still are. I started experiencing a sense of generalized, underlying dread. Like waiting for the other shoe to drop. A kind of existential angst…over which it felt like I had no control. For months, I awoke in the morning and steeled myself to face the day. What new outrage would be presented? How do I navigate the low-level grief – or overwhelming waves of sadness and righteous anger – and be able to function reasonably in my everyday life? My energy was sapped by some stealthy foe.

Then I realized I’d started to grow numb to what occurred…and that’s not healthy. That would only indicate that it was becoming submerged to the point of becoming the norm.

That isn’t who I am or how I choose to live my life. I can pinpoint exactly when it began – and it turns out I haven’t been alone.

Oh, I’ve been through the intensity of the Dark Night of the Soul, thrashing around in the invisible landscape, and came out the other side. You can read about those years in my book Standing Stark. That’s not what this is about. Nor is it about all the times I stood at the threshold – restless for change – sensing, but not seeing, the next realignment of my life. Those times I actively chose. Those were personal. As much as any of us have any control whatsoever, I felt as though I was the rider of that horse who, in partnership, would take me where I was meant to go.

After the many months, I finally determined I’d relinquished the reins and wasn’t on the horse at all. In shock, I’d allowed myself to be thrown off by a dangerous runaway, out of control, underbelly completely visible.

Here’s what makes this different: This challenge was delivered at the meta level. It affects the world community and our collective future.

***

In June, I was in France for the month, the last leg two nights in Toulouse. A little rest before the long flight home. I was walking along the river when I glanced back toward the Pont Neuf bridge and saw the most curious thing. There at the edge of the circular opening between the piers closest to this side of the bridge sat a figure, its legs dangling over the edge. A red devil. At first I thought it was someone dressed in costume, maybe a street performer. I snapped a photo and posted it on my Facebook timeline, jokingly labeling it The Entrance to the Underworld. A closer look – and the fact it hadn’t moved the next day – determined it to be a fixture.

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Overnight I’d done some research and learned of Notre Dame de la Daurade, less than ten minutes from my hotel, that contained a Black Madonna. Excitedly, I struck out the next day. I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t noticed the church previously when it was located along the river, quite close to Pont Neuf. Then I saw why. It was a blocky building, looking more like a Masonic Temple or maybe part of the art school whose walls adjoined it. Plus, it was partially hidden by fences and restoration equipment. But the front door was open. So I entered.

The inside walls were shrouded in dirty draping, dust everywhere, building materials scattered on the floor. No pews. Nothing really. Not what I expected. The few workmen I saw paid me no mind. It took me a minute to get my bearings. I knew the Black Madonna was supposed to be in the southern transept and picked my way through. I was about to go through a small opening in the drapery that segmented the back part when a man, probably the one in charge, told me I couldn’t be there. I attempted to talk him into it, “Even for a moment?” But he was firm.

Disappointed, I turned to go. I was nearly out the front door when I felt a strong pull coming from my right. I paused to look around to see if the coast was clear…then followed the energy. That’s where I found her. She was stuffed into a dark niche, stripped of her finery, behind tall iron bars, a padlock barring entrance. It seemed so disrespectful. A couple of candles burned just outside. I stayed for a long time. If anyone saw me, they let me be.

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Something bothered me. The only things of significance I took away from Toulouse were that devil – on which I could find no information online – and the Black Madonna. It just didn’t sit right with me. So I sat with it for several days through the first few days I was home. It hit me.

The devil guarding the gate. The Black Madonna and child locked up. Held hostage. Renovation.

I’m one for metaphors. When I’m involved in deep spiritual inquiry, that’s where my mind tends to go. This, coupled with all the environmental upheavals across the planet, brought me to focus. It’s not like I didn’t know this at some level. Now it’s no longer hidden. I’ve got it.

This is shadow work. We’re all being called to it: collectively and individually.

We’re being asked to consider:

  • In what ways we argue for our limitations;
  • The call to re-examine our cultural norms;
  • The willingness to avert our eyes;
  • The act of unconsciously filtering because we can’t contain it all.
  • How we perpetuate implicit bias.

I’m deep in the thick of it. Sorting. I don’t have any answers yet. Just the questions that have been there all along now made plain and visible.

For me, insights come in silence and solitude – in the early morning when all is still and little is fighting for my attention – still fresh from sleep where so much is recycled and put to bed. The way through reveals itself in the aftermath of meditation, in the process of writing or creating artwork, and during the method I use to clear my brain.

Whatever answers finally come are mine and may not be yours. But my deepest hope is that all will hold the core values that nurture the collective. In the meantime, these things I write of here are helping me fine-tune the path I take.

 

Categories: Global Consciousness, Healing, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

Book Review: The Muralist

muralistI read B. A. Shapiro’s bestseller The Art Forger when it came out and enjoyed it immensely. When art is the backdrop against a true-life story, and I can learn something along the way, I’m automatically drawn. So when I stumbled upon her next novel, it was a shoo-in that did not disappoint. Plus, I became aware of shameful things in US history that certainly have been downplayed, but absolutely relevant today. A horrendous part of French history is also enlarged upon beyond what I’d known. These two areas are largely why I’m reviewing this historical novel here.

The storyline is introduced in present-day when art historian Danielle Abrams, working for Christie’s auction house, received boxes of paintings to research and authenticate. Knowledge and gut feeling told her they were likely Abstract Expressionist pieces, potentially pre-WWII. She felt the stirrings of excitement, a possibility arising. Could they be early works of renowned Abstract Expressionists? With that, her thoughts turned toward her great-aunt Alizée Benoit, the family legend and mystery surrounding her. In the first stirrings of WWII, Alizée had moved to New York for the sake of her art, leaving her Jewish family in France. Family stories had it that she somehow became connected with Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and others, little known at the time, and played a significant influence on these giants in the Abstract Expressionism movement and their styles.  But suddenly in 1940 she disappeared. No one knew where or why. Attempts led nowhere and there were whispers of mental illness. Only two of her paintings remained, given to her US family by a patron.

An unexpected find that she believes was somehow connected to her missing great-aunt causes Danielle to undertake her own search to resolve the mystery. We are ushered back to the late 1930s, a couple of years after Alizée’s arrival in New York, as she is making her way in a country critically affected by the Depression. By this time, she is working for Works Progress Administration (WPA) Federal Art Program (FAP) on murals, destined for public sites like government buildings, train stations and the like. She rubs elbows with serious artists of the time, and becomes part of the close-knit group that include those mentioned. The narrative follows Alizée as they work and practically live on top of each other, arguing about art and loving in the midst of uncertain times.

In the meantime, the threat of Hitler becomes more and more real. Alizée’s close and extended Jewish family in Europe enlist her to help them apply for US visas to escape the tyranny as it becomes increasingly dangerous and communications diminish. The one bright point in her life is art and the unforeseen patronage of Eleanor Roosevelt, a champion of the FAP.

Alizée bumps up against block after bureaucratic block in rescuing her family. She learns that Breckinridge Long, the Assistant Secretary of State in President Roosevelt’s administration and an anti-Semite, was actively withholding granting of visas to Jews seeking to escape Nazi Germany, stating they may be criminals and spies. President Roosevelt, for his part, turned his head away from this matter as too politically sensitive.

Rumors of the Vichy government’s collaboration with the Gestapo, police raids in Paris, where her family lived, and transfers to a “holding camp” an hour away by train trickled through. Becoming more and more desperate, Alizée found no recourse but to join a dissident group and take drastic measures.

Danielle’s painstaking search for the fate of Alizée Benoit uncovers answers, piece by perturbing piece, that bring resolution from the past to the present.

B.A. Shapiro was faithful to documentation of the bohemian and sometimes tragic lives of the Abstract Expressionists, WPA/FAP and Eleanor Roosevelt’s support of the arts, which I found quite interesting. More so, she built a poignant story against the terrible landscape of politics, war and genocide of those times…some of which sound all too familiar today.

Here are the facts.

Ultimately, the effect of the immigration policies set by Long’s department was that, during American involvement in the war, ninety percent of the quota places available to immigrants from countries under German and Italian control were never filled. If they had been, an additional 190,000 people could have escaped the atrocities being committed by the Nazis.

Source: Wikipedia.

The Drancy camp was designed to hold 700 people, but at its peak held more than 7,000. There is documented evidence and testimony recounting the brutality of the French guards in Drancy and the harsh conditions imposed on the inmates…upon their arrival, small children were immediately separated from their parents for deportation to the death camps…

Of the 75,000 Jews whom French and German authorities deported from France, more than 67,000 were sent directly from Drancy to Auschwitz… As the Allies were approaching Paris in August 1944, the German officers fled, and the camp was liberated on 17 August when control of the camp was given over to the French Resistance and Swedish diplomat Raoul Nordling…

Source: Wikipedia.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s son James told historian Doris Kearns Goodwin that the greatest regret of his mother’s life was her failure to convince her husband to admit more European refugees to the United States before World War II. Her lament is a warning to all of us.

Source: Salon.com.

The Muralist is available in print, audio and ebook through Amazon and wherever books are sold.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Book Review, Global Consciousness, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

My Annual Pause: Accessible Mystery in the Périgord Noir

I entered the dark, narrow passageway. The temperature dropped considerably from the heat outside. More than that, I was immediately aware of the overwhelming rush of energy I felt through my body. Was it because I was in very close quarters? I’d been in caves before and hadn’t experienced anything of the like. It seemed to vibrate off the very walls and permeate the air, alerting me to sacred space. Something of significance happened here, was resident here. I felt it.

I was in the Vézère Valley in the Dordogne of southwestern France, this section called the Périgord Noir, a lush area of narrow winding roads through thick forests. It’s home to the medieval town of Sarlat-la-Canéda, where I was staying, hidden spots that touch the soul, and a system of caves full of engravings and paintings going back to 23,000 BCE. The area had been declared a UNESCO World Heritage location, but I’d never heard of it. I was there explicitly due to Beebe Bahrami’s book Café Oc that spoke of its richness and accessible mystery. The Périgord Noir came at the end of my Annual Pause, this time a memorable, month-long sojourn in France that took me through Paris and southward to the tiny town of Durfort in the Tarn for an art retreat then on to Sarlat, finally ending in Toulouse. This is the leg I want most to share, particularly since the energy of the region is still resonating so strongly for me.

Hallowed Caves of the Périgord Noir

You have probably heard of Lascaux and maybe Rouffignac. It’s no longer possible to enter Lascaux. Now there’s a sophisticated reproduction to go through instead. To view Rouffignac, tourists board a little train, probably similar to the miners’ train I straddled as a child visiting the salt mines of Salzburg. That’s not the experience I wanted. I wanted to get the real feel of these caves. I wanted to put my feet where ancient ones had, be able to closely examine the expressions and impressions they’d left.

Les Combarelles and Font-de-Gaume were top on my list, and I’d had little hope of actually going. Access was strictly limited to no more than 8 and 12 people at a time, respectively, and just a few opportunities to enter per day. In research, I’d read about people showing up outside the ticket office from 6 AM or before in high season, holding a place in line — for hours — to buy a ticket to go later in the day. I suppose I might have done that.  But I was without a car, and I could find no small group tour to take me.

There’s a bizarre regulation in the region that works against solo travelers. A tour agency must have at a minimum two people to proceed. Don’t ask me why. Finally, I found a taxi-tour service who, due to the way their business was set up, could slip in between the cracks of that ruling and accommodate me with my personal itinerary. Thankfully, Christoph, the owner, was able to wrangle secured entry for me ahead of time. No waiting. His wife Sarissa, my driver that day, told me Christoph had been born in the area. He was part of a group of about forty locals who, having grown up there, felt so strongly about their homeland they’d banded together to ensure quality tourism.

Les Combarelles sat across a green, well back from the road on the other side of an old stone farmhouse. Sarissa was well satisfied to deliver me into the hands of Pascal, who played a part in the conservation effort she’d mentioned. I completed the group, the rest being French, and Pascal began to lay the groundwork for what we were to see beyond. There were two passages, one open to the public. The cave’s entrance was originally excavated by archaeologist Emile Riviere in 1892. However, it was the owner, Monsieur Berniche, who discovered the rock art in 1902. I put myself in his place at that moment and got chills imagining what it must have been like to stumble upon something unexpected…and so obviously old.

Before we entered, everyone had to store anything they were carrying. Nothing could bump the cave walls. Such was their fragility. We were warned not to brush the walls in passing and to watch our heads. The cave floor had been lowered about a foot to provide a bit more access. But still it was close quarters. I had to be alert. The electric light was quite subdued, barely enough to light the way. Somehow the place played with my sensibilities. I wanted to crouch and duck walk, which is what the artists must have done or crawled on hands and knees in places. The engraved images number 600 or more of those thus far discovered, thought to be from 12,000-10,000 BCE, carved at different times.

It wasn’t long before we came across the initial art. It wasn’t merely an image here and there. It was a very long stretch, like herds of animals drawn one over the other or intersecting as though jostling for their place. The cave was active.

I couldn’t begin to imagine how M. Berniche could have known what he was looking at except undecipherable scratches and scrawling. When Pascal waved a hand light over an area, that’s all I saw. It wasn’t until he used his laser light to outline individual animals that my eyes adjusted…and I was amazed. I had expected very simplistic engravings. Most were surprisingly detailed and accurate to life, or a sweeping line suggesting movement. To me, that requires a sophisticated eye.

I anticipated seeing mammoths, bison and reindeer, but not a tiger, horses, bears and rhinos. There were also a few male and female figures. Curiously, the female figures were never anatomically complete. The head or arms were omitted, even breasts. But not grand derrieres, which were always depicted. I have a theory. These omissions were an act of reverence in that, as in some traditions or religions, something so venerated must not be named. The incomplete female images or symbols like vulvas, which also appeared, were ways to allude to the Sacred Feminine, a laying down of prayers for fertility.

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Horse. Courtesy Don’s Maps. Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum).

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Courtesy Don’s Maps. Drawings by Capitan and Breuil, 1902.

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Tiger. Courtesy Don’s Maps. Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum).

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Courtesy Don’s Maps. Drawings by Capitan and Breuil, 1902.

We continued on until our way was blocked. Finally, it wasn’t possible to go farther unless a squeeze beyond on all fours. I was overwhelmed. Really, it was a lot to take in. These were not sterile renderings. I sensed a place of reverence. I could have stayed for a very long time.

We turned to pick our way back in the barely lit passage. I was glad I was second in line, having a time finding my feet. Especially so when the lead disturbed a large bat. It flew up in front of her, like some horror film. We had to duck and swerve.

I could have ended with Les Combarelles. There was so much to digest, and Pascal truly set the stage and helped bring the site to life. But Font-de-Gaume was barely 5 minutes down the road, and I had a ticket.

Apparently, the Périgord Noir experienced a run of discoveries in the early 1900s. While the Grotte Font-de-Gaume was generally known for some time, the local schoolmaster, M. Peyrony, put significance to the rock art after he’d visited Les Combarelles with an archaeologist. These are the most intact examples of polychrome painting, dating back to 16,000 BCE. About 250 paintings are known at this point, but there may be many more covered up by calcite and iron deposits. As an example, scientists were cleaning the cave walls and uncovered a frieze of five bison, the most preserved due to the deposits. There are about 30 paintings the public is able to view, mostly bison. The artists had many times taken advantage of the natural lines and bulges of the cave walls, so that the figures were brought to life in bas relief.

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Bison. Courtesy Don’s Maps. Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum).

Again, I felt the overwhelming energy throughout the time I was in Font-de-Gaume. There’s no mistaking this, too, was hallowed ground. It couldn’t have been more clear than when the young guide stopped talking and allowed silence to prevail.

Then I touched that other realm that was timeless. I wanted to stay.

An Apparition at Redon-Espic

Jeanne Grave was a simple, 14 year-old shepherdess tending her sheep in deep forest at a winding creek blessed with a spring, a stone hut on the banks for shelter. The story goes that in June 1814 the Virgin Mary appeared and spoke to her in Occitan, Jeanne’s native tongue, and gave a message for her to carry.  Jeanne told her parents that “the pretty lady” said everyone must pray and perform penance, to return to the Church, or they would soon die. This during a time of great taxation, famine and pestilence, probably cholera, when many had fallen away from the Catholic Church.

Jeanne immediately carried the Virgin’s message and beseeched her parents, but was ignored. She knocked at the doors in the small village where she lived repeating the Virgin’s words over and over. She was ridiculed. She herself made the return, regularly performing the rosary and receiving communion. Again in July, the Virgin appeared at the spring repeating the message. Her family and villagers continued to treat her with disdain. In October 1814, Jeanne’s parents died. Jeanne followed a month later. Pestilence took many of the people in the community of Castels fulfilling the Virgin’s prediction, the interpretation being punishment was meted out for lack of faith.

During Jeanne’s burial procession a violent storm broke out, but Jeanne’s coffin, its bearers and the candles lighting the way were completely protected, remaining dry. Local people were so taken with this event, they began to gather in the wild place where Jeanne had experienced the apparition. In 1818, with no formal canonical investigation, the Bishopric of Périgueux sanctioned gatherings at a small, isolated Romanesque church, once a convent, named Redon-Espic close to the shepherd’s keep where it all happened. For more than 20 years to present day on the Sunday closest to September 8, the Virgin Mary’s Feast Day, locals gather at night in deep forest and make a candlelit pilgrimage to the church and on to the shepherd’s keep, which has become a shrine. Prayers are given and offerings made on the stone altar on a rise several yards from the site.

Sarissa was surprised when I told her I’d like to visit Redon-Espic. She said it wasn’t really known to outsiders. She knew how to get there because she rode her horse through that forest. As isolated as this place is now, I can only imagine it more so back in the early 19th century. We drove on dirt roads first arriving at the church.

No one was there, and the doors were unlocked. It had recently received a new roof, curiously made with flat rocks. I remarked on it. It turns out that’s the old traditional way, and the renovators held to it. Sarissa told me to also notice how thick the walls were, made that way to protect from marauders who would attempt to destroy it.

It was quite plain inside. Then I noticed a statue, precariously perched on a stand, in a corner near the altar. It was a depiction of Jeanne and her apparition. The Virgin’s head was missing, probably damaged and not intentional. There were two things about it that got my attention. When I walked around the statue, Jeanne’s gaze was slightly off. It slid by the Virgin like she was looking at something just beyond. The other thing had to do with the Virgin’s lack of hands showing. Maybe they were supposed to be draped inside the sleeves. But these looked fairly flat as though empty. I’m not well versed on typical representations, just what I’ve otherwise seen, and could not find any mention of these two things, which were peculiarities to me.

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Statue of Jeanne Grave and the apparition of the Virgin Mary in Notre Dame de Redon-Espic. Photo: Carla Woody.

I sat in a pew to be present to what was there while Sarissa waited for me outside. Our journey continued down a one-lane dirt road. We reached the site of Jeanne’s vision a few minutes later. I was quite taken with the shepherd’s keep transformed into a shrine. In so many ways it reminded me of St. Brigid’s Holy Well in Liscannor, Ireland where I had a powerful experience. While Jeanne’s place didn’t have as many prayers lodged between the stones in the walls, they were there. So were the spring, icons and candles.  Up the small rise on the altar was evidence of past rituals. Again, this was clearly sanctified space. Its use continued to present day. After a while, we could hear a car coming. We left just as the man parked, to give the newcomer privacy. He got out of his vehicle holding flowers.

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Shrine at Redon-Espic. Photo: Carla Woody.

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Inside Jeanne Grave’s shrine. Photo: Carla Woody.

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Prayers left in the shrine. Photo: Carla Woody.

There are places in the world where the land holds something and waits to reveal itself. In truth, it doesn’t take much to recognize the invitation. It does take a willingness to accept the invitation though, to open to what may not be right in front of your face … then linger.

Categories: Gratitude, Spiritual Travel, Travel Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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