Travel Experiences

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: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Book Review – Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London

A flâneur, the masculine version of the French word designating one who wanders aimlessly for pleasure or to incorporate what is seen into artworks and writing, invariably a male of means, leaves out the possibility for a female to do the same. It first came into use in the 19th century. The feminine version flâneuse didn’t make an appearance for a very long time, the obvious reason that such behavior went against social mores. Working class women would have had access to the street but limited to certain areas—and never given to just meandering.

When my friend Linda Sohner mentioned she was reading Flâneuse, I thought—of course—women rarely ventured out of the confines of their homes back then except perhaps escorted by an “appropriate” companion, usually a older family member, husband or maid. Or, if strolling alone, were often harassed and saddled with a questionable reputation. A rare few would have had the freedom to walk solo in cities or travel alone to far-flung, often remote places. Only in the last fifty years is it more common. I don’t forget those who came before me…so I can have the freedom to flâner as I so enjoy.

This book features those explorers and adventurers. That’s what they must be called. What we may now take for granted was once uncharted waters. Such a timely reading in the midst of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, and just after the Women’s March. Females were kept under wraps in so many ways that, when it began to shift, it was those, in that first flush, that took the initial steps, who must be applauded. Their courage or maybe the “arrogance” to show that they were just done with it all…those “things that just weren’t done.”

The book opens with how these women wanted to be seen or unseen in public spaces. Did they want to merge with the shadows or stand out in the crowd to make a statement? That question may still valid to any of us but typically unconscious. During those prior times, as suggested, it would have been at the forefront.

Against the backdrop of their time, city, political atmosphere and personal struggles, Laura Elkin features writers Jean Rhys, Virginia Woolf and George Sand—my personal inspiration since my 20s—filmmakers Sophia Calle and Agnes Varda. Then she adds her own present-era experiences showing what is different and what of the past remains the same.

It also points out a trend: No matter the gender or socio-economic status, the art of walking with all it brings—and freedom of movement—is again becoming increasingly lost to us.

I found the book quite interesting and learned some things I didn’t know. One amusing example: In France, a law against cross-dressing was introduced in the early 1800s, to keep women in their place. George Sand was never arrested for her blatant disregard, and the law remains on the books.

Flâneuse was named a New York Times Notable Book of 2017. Available in print, ebook and audio at Amazon and elsewhere.

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My Annual Pause, 2017: Tuscany Part II

When I left you in Part I, I was leaving Florence to venture farther into Tuscany and sequester for a ten-day intensive to study with artist Serena Barton. I landed just outside Contignano, one of those tiny hilltop villages sprinkled throughout the region, as part of the group of eight. La Montalla, which held our rooms, common area, dining room, kitchen and studio, is actually a renovated 16th century farmhouse, the kind where family and farm animals cohabited under one roof. Not so today, of course. I could just imagine what it must have been like back then, where the family lodged and the cows, pigs and what have you bedded down.

Owners Giuseppe and Paola welcomed us as though we were family, and collaborated beautifully with Lisa Statkus who put fine detail to our time in Tuscany. We lacked for nothing. Lisa and Serena put their heads together and gauged when we all needed a pause from our artwork in order to soak up the richness that is Tuscany. I’m sharing just a few photos to give at least a sense of my experience.

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Fountain of the World in Siena’s main square.

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The stunning 14th century cathedral in Orvieto, Umbria Region.

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Lucious figs from one of the plentiful outdoor fruit and vegetable stands.

I can’t say enough about the cuisine and freshness of the food. Plus, I ate more pasta than I probably have in twenty years…with no ill effects whatsoever. At home I avoid it. I can only guess that my lack of symptoms is due to the wheat being GMO-free, local and organic. One day the baker came out of retirement to make (way too much) pizza from scratch in the old brick oven that is something like three hundred years old. It was extraordinary. Needless to say, leftover pizza was an option for breakfast, too.

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Martino making our pizza from scratch start to finish.

Resident cats Ernesto and Blackie visited us in the studio, curled up in some of our rooms and were otherwise consistently on hand. That made it feel like home even more so.

 

 

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Blackie sunning himself.

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Ernesto at dawn the day I left.

I’m guessing this sampling would whet your appetite for a trip of your own. I did want to mention one particular place in case you get to Montepulciano. It’s a little hole in the wall along Via Ricci. Libreria Magnanet holds floor to ceiling treasures. Antique books and stacks of pages that are possible to purchase. I could have stayed there all day poking around, and the (surprisingly) young-ish man behind the desk would have happily accommodated it. He looked the part of the bibliophile who perhaps had been there as long as the books. As it was, I found three gems in the piles that I decided I must have. He wrote out the authentication certificate in longhand, which was only proper, noting the line drawings of Psyche, Venus and Jupiter dated to 1834. More than likely I’ll incorporate them into some artwork.

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Gleaned from my treasure hunt at Libreria Magnanet.

I suppose this is actually a three-part article. To read about my pilgrimage studying oil and cold wax, which includes more examples of what I created, hop on over to my art blog to read A Tuscany September. An art intensive with Serena Barton is more than learning about art…

 

Thus ends my Annual Pause for 2017. I came away inspired, renewed…and further convinced there’s absolutely no doubt that such time set aside like this, just for myself, is of utmost importance.

 

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My Annual Pause, 2017: Tuscany Part I

Florence-3-lowThe white-haired server smiled at me in recognition after raising his eyebrows. He probably didn’t see visitors return much. But I was back at Trattoria Cribari on Piazza Santo Spirito, a little more than a hole in the wall, because I learned that not all bruschetta and gelato are created equal. Plus, it was around the corner from the airbnb place I’d rented–perfect for my needs–and they didn’t mind how long I stayed tucked just inside the open doorway watching the human world go by outside. Something of an education, a pastime I’d forgotten I enjoy.

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Florence-7-lowI love the work I do, a destiny of sorts that fell into my lap over time. I find there’s reciprocal value in it. I can’t imagine I’ll ever turn away. But. And. It requires a lot of energy. Sometimes a pause is required. Rather than leaving The Pause to chance, I made a commitment that I’d set aside time–and make it special–on an annual basis. A time when I had no responsibilities to anyone but myself. A time to rejuvenate. To experience something new or revisit something beloved. To read. To walk. To write. To learn. To create. To meditate. To talk to strangers or be silent with my own musings. To do things I love. In the past I’ve taken the mini-pause, sporadically–a camping trip here, a short road trip there as I could squeeze it in. Oh, I do all those things in my daily life I listed above–but not without interruption.

In 2015 I made the first declaration by walking the Camino de Santiago, which turned out to be quite the odyssey. I’m still integrating. My Pause in 2016 was equally memorable but in a different way. I studied with master beadists Nancy Josephson and Jan Huling, who show regularly in museums and galleries in the US and Europe. I had no way of knowing when I was drawn to Puerto Vallarta for this express purpose, that I’d be catapulted into a whole new territory of artwork. One that still won’t leave me alone.

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Florence-6-lowThis year it’s Italy. This is my last night in Florence. I’ve wandered the streets, churches, museums and gardens for four days. I’ve appreciated the architecture, sense of history, the locals, the visitors. The bustle is sometimes a bit much for me, and being on top of my neighbors… I’m not used to it, living out in the boonies in solitude as I do much of the time. But the live piano music coming through a window as I walked down the street and the saxophone just next door have stirred something in me.

I’m taking all this with me as I travel farther into Tuscany where, over 10 days, I’ll be studying with an oil and cold wax artist. An old art form, I’ve worked with this medium for a few years and greatly appreciate its multi-layered depth and versatility. I want to go deeper.

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Our Visible Wings

I came across the inspirational short Invisible Wings when it was first featured on Karma Tube in 2015 and have watched it several times since. It touches a soft spot in me. It opens my heart, and I feel the flow of my own life moving through me. It generates reflection and gratitude…all channeled through the words of a 65-year-old tea seller named Vijayan against visually beautiful backdrops.

His use of the metaphor ‘journey’ in the film is important as well as the way he validates it. A bona fide journey isn’t over smooth ground but fraught with challenges along the way. If we meet those obstacles eye-to-eye, it encourages our growth, nurtures the spirit and frees our dreams…to manifest. If we don’t, it harnesses the soul.

All this from a man many may overlook: the owner of a small stall in India where he pours tea, his wife Mohana working beside him. They appear to have little in the way most would see them. But Vijayan carries a dream— to travel the world, to open his heart and mind to other lands and ways of living—and his wife shares that dream. They have traveled the globe. Even though, at the start of their marriage, she’d never been out of her own hometown.

It takes courage to face the Unknown, to step out of your comfort zone. But the comfort zone so quickly widens when you do…no matter that others think you’re crazy or try to hold you back. There is so much beauty to be experienced when you ignore those who remain in the corral.

Whether you take the initiative to make life happen or sit back and let life happen to you, it’s a choice—even if you don’t think the latter is. And while the title of this tribute to Vijayan and Mohana is called Invisible Wings, the wings any of us wear are visible and how we wear them: fully extended, clutched to the side, or somewhere in-between. Others easily see them if they pay attention. And we ourselves can feel them.

Nothing is more valuable than the felt presence of your own unleashed spirit, intimacy with family and friends…and a life fully lived…however you travel. I’m sharing this little film here—short in time but saying so much—with intent that it brings to you the sweetness and consideration it has for me.

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The Perfect Order of Unexpected Music

My friend Oscar and I are in Paris for a brief respite before heading south in a few days to walk the Camino de Santiago. Today we ventured out of town via train. I was looking forward to returning to Barbizon, the picturesque village tucked in next to the Fontainebleau Forest where artists like Rousseau, Millet, Corot and others painted and made up the Barbizon School. I didn’t take into account the complications of getting there without a car, particularly the last leg which indicated we’d likely be stuck there for the night. So, quite disappointed I decided we’d better go back. We arrived at Gare de Lyon, one of Paris’ train hubs, and did some people-watching for a while before heading down the stairs to the metro. 

  
I commented to Oscar there used to be musicians playing in the metro. We hadn’t seen any since we’d been there, and I missed it. Half a beat later I heard strains of music, dashed around the corner…and what are the chances?  A bit of real-life déjà vu. As if on cue, the musical ensemble Classique Metropolitain struck up Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major just as they did in 2008 when friends and I stumbled upon them in Place des Vosges. The  unexpected music made my spirits soar immediately as it did back then, the time and place anchored in my memory.
   

     

Disappointment forgotten. How often is it that we’re able to relive life’s small pleasures that aren’t so small?

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To see the original post on Unexpected Music with You Tube video of Classique Metropolitain, go here.
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Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage infers travel, a journey undertaken with intent—not as a lark, although fun can be a part of it. Sometimes the mission is known ahead. Or it’s discovered along the way. Just as true, it may only be in hindsight, a lengthy time passed from the conclusion, that all comes into focus. Ah, there’s the reason I went…

One thing is certain. It’s a passage made with holy purpose, and you must leave the homeland in order for the pilgrimage to occur. I’m using the word ‘holy’ for a reason. It’s a term people usually back away from because of its connotations, often for the same reasons ‘pilgrimage’ is given wide berth. Here I’m using both for common purpose, giving them due because they take us to a place we normally don’t dwell.

To undertake a pilgrimage, your soul must come through, reaching out from that core level. It’s a call to engage, go deeper. It’s a yearning to venture into the unknown. Some conclusion is sought. It’s time to step beyond a threshold, out of the status quo.

Your soul is offering the invitation. But it’s your everyday self that has to accept it at some level because…

 You’re offering yourself up to a foreign land…

Little is likely to be what you’re used to…

There’s certain to be physical, emotional or mental discomfort—maybe all three!

And it’s through such radical departure that you discover what you’re made of—sometimes quite the surprise. As a result, you’re enlivened. Your constructs are stretched. You’re taken beyond your limits. Your new world emerges.

Sometimes folks attempt to fool themselves into it by saying such things as:

 I’m expected to do it.

I’m here to support my spouse…friend…(fill in the blank).

That’s a place I always wanted to visit.

 Whatever it takes to get you there is fine. In the end, there will be certain recognition for most:

 This is spiritual travel. And it’s pure medicine.

In early November I returned from The Heart of the Andes during which we made a pilgrimage to the Q’ero village of Ccochamocco, perched at 14,300 feet.* Harold Joseph, a Hopi Wisdom Keeper from the village of Shungopavi, Second Mesa, Arizona, was sponsored by Kenosis Spirit Keepers as an emissary for his religious leader Lee Wayne Lomayestewa with a mission to request prayers from the Q’ero community for continuity of threatened Hopi traditions. Harold said, “The Q’ero spiritual leaders make strong prayers!”

There is no road up to the village. In order to get there we sometimes rode on horseback, much of it walking through some of the most beautiful and steep landscape I’ve experienced. Harold stopped a number of places on our journey to give his own prayers and leaving offerings, as well as during despacho ceremony during our time in the village.* We were truly privileged to be part of all of it.

Hopi Harold Joseph (rt) during despacho ceremony with Q'ero spiritual leaders. Photo credit: Sage Garrett.

Hopi Harold Joseph (rt) during despacho ceremony with Q’ero spiritual leaders. Photo credit: Sage Garrett.

The highest point to and from the village is 16,000 feet before descending. On our return, as some of us were already ascending, I began to hear a voice echoing from the valley below, calling forcefully every few minutes. I couldn’t understand the words or see who it was. Later I learned it was Harold giving us all a message that Hopi Spirit Keepers used with each other during times of challenge in the kiva, after many long hours of prayer or enduring inclement weather during ceremonial dances.

Be strong!

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The highest point at 16,000 ft on the pilgrimage to Ccochamocco. Photo credit: Carla Woody.

Return from Q'eros.

Returning from Q’eros. Photo credit: Carla Woody

He said it’s meant to strengthen spiritual warriors, to remind them they’re doing what they’re doing for more than just themselves. They’re doing it for their community and more…for all humanity. I will never forget Harold’s message bouncing from mountain to mountain.

After we were home for a few weeks, Harold sent me a note about our spiritual travel journey: “The effect on my life has been enormous in terms of the spiritual connections that was made in behalf of the Kikmongi.*** The awareness that we are spiritually connected to creators and keepers of life: Katsi. No changes in my life but emphasis on the importance of carrying on my responsibility as a Hopi and its ceremonial practices that rejuvenates life here on Mother Earth and the Universe for future generations.”

Harold Joseph. Photo credit: Sage Garrett

Harold Joseph. Photo credit: Sage Garrett

In early May I will begin walking the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile pilgrimage in northern Spain. My old friend Oscar Panizo is going with me. People ask me why I’m doing such a thing. I can’t honestly give a concrete reason. I just know I’m called to undertake it. The whisper had been hovering in the background for a while, and now is the time.

I also know without a doubt: I will repeatedly hear echoes through time—Harold’s voice encouraging me.

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*The next Heart of the Andes will be October 23-November 5, 2015 and include Bolivia and Peru as a special initiation journey mirroring the path designated by Viracocha, the Incan Creator God. Six Q’ero Spirit Keepers have been invited to accompany us in a pilgrimage that will take them back to their origins. A portion of tuition is tax-deductible to support their sponsorship.

**A despacho is a prayer or blessing bundle made in ceremony by Quechua and Q’ero peoples of the Andes.

*** Kikmongi is Hopi for religious leader.

 

 

Categories: Hopi, Q'ero, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel, Travel Experiences | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Unexpected Developments

Have you ever had a sense that something is bubbling beneath the surface? That you don’t know what it is…but something is getting ready to give birth…to step forward…to unfold? If you focus on it, you recognize there’s an energy building. It’s palpable. And then when it does present itself, you’re taken with the depth of feeling, realizing it’s come through you? If you’re reading my words here, then you’re likely one of those who has experienced this process consciously, perhaps in a variety of forms, and recognized the gift. If you look back in time, you could identify what kickstarted the process.

I’ve defined spiritual travel as any time you step outside the usual parameters you set for yourself to experience something that’s out of your norm—whether you choose it with intent or unseen forces push you. Either way it’s about growth. In Spiritual Travel: Destination or Process? I wrote about it this way:

 …Invisible to the naked eye…are myriad ways to be drawn into the deeper journey that define these potentially uncharted waters…enter aspects that: may have no words or audible sound, cannot be held in your hands, your eye can’t get a bead on, can seem ordinary but aren’t. Yet it produces something akin to a lightning strike that splits the rough outer covering and creates an opening, a probable pathway—and a tangible result. There appears a fork in the road inviting decision…

Breakthrough

Breakthrough
©2001 Carla Woody

On March 10, I returned from Hopi and my first spiritual travel program there, only made possible recently—with much gratitude to Hopi Spirit Keeper friends. From opening to closing circle, there was something greater than any there carrying us all. It felt as though another door had opened, some kind of emphasis marking out the great importance of honoring sacred Indigenous ways—now. If I ever had a doubt about the lifework I’ve chosen it was blown out of the water. Such a thing is bigger than any small-minded worry I’ve ever had. Intent gave evidence throughout our time there and unfolds yet in its effect.

An unanticipated gift stood out particularly: permission from Hopi religious leader Lee Wayne Lomayestewa for entry to Prophecy Rock. Such a privilege is not usually granted to outsiders. We all felt the honor, and I’d invited people to sit in meditation and open to whatever was there for them.

One of the travelers had been on a spiritual journey, involving extensive physical travel as well, since major life transitions in 2012. She indicated to me that, while what follows is deeply personal, it’s universal and gave permission to share. Relationship had become foremost in her awareness and the unexpected time at Prophecy Rock became her personal connections in prophecy. Climbing high, up beyond her comfort zone, to find her meditation spot, three figurative “drawings” forged by nature, on weathered rock, spoke to her: “…of prophecy, unity and stages of living and dying…” She said she could form few words to describe the experience, but “…words and song came forth. The experience is etched in my being.” I heard her song floating on the breeze. I tend to think it entered us all.

Since returning home, the group has communicated what continues to unfold for them. There has been talk about clarity and shifts in perception. Deborah Downs of Sedona, Arizona had to get her fingers in the dirt, along with a creative project that came unbidden. Liz Anderson from Prescott said, “…I have been to the Hopi reservation many times, but I have never had the privilege of seeing the petroglyphs or meeting so many fascinating Hopi people…There is a certain quality of the energy on the mesas that gives one the experience of being on truly sacred ground. I had forgotten how powerful this experience can be until this trip…”

Janet Harvey of Asheville, North Carolina said poetry began to pour through her and shared several. Piki Bread, the expressive poem below strikes me as a message about the beauty of simple actions that sustain us over time. They create meaning in life. She mentioned that the physical shape of the lines as they’re shown seemed significant. I told her it reminded me of the backboards worn in some ceremonies by Hopi dancers.

Piki Bread

For my part, I’ve noticed another level of ease appearing in my writing. It comes out as though waiting for me to take the initiative. With my artwork, an uncontrived process began shortly before our time on Hopi and has amplified since.

Testimony

Testimony
Mixed media on gold leafed canvas
©2014 Carla Woody

In the morning I began to sit in meditation near my easel, a different part of my home than habit for my daily ritual. And placement of images, color and symbolism, have been relayed to me during this time in a way I can’t describe except by sharing what I’ve recently produced. These pieces have taken on depth of meaning introduced from somewhere other than me. I don’t claim ownership.

But perhaps the greatest gift came inadvertently from the Hopi Spirit Keepers themselves and expressed directly to me by the group in our closing circle. My Hopi friends opened their hearts, gave us their trust and spoke unequivocally of the real dangers acting against continuity of their sacred traditions. It was poignant.

This is a time to listen and integrate from those who, on a daily basis through their prayers and actions, hold the sacred threads that weave our deeper values. There are many voices to be heard, not just one. Hearing them lends respect and supports continuance. We who hold sacred witness become better for it. It affects us, too. Certainly it eschews any hint of commercialism but is rather something of deeper service. Somehow I have been graced with holding such a precious container. The group reinforced what I already knew but drove the point home succinctly in a way I couldn’t set their message aside.* The work continues.

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*Any of us experience doubt, particularly when we’re called to something. It’s only because we’re called that something steps forward to test intent. When internal conflict is resolved, you step through a threshold.

Note: By participating in our spiritual travel programs you support the ongoing existence of Indigenous wisdom traditions in danger of decimation.

Spiritual Travel to Peru, Oct 24-Nov 2, 2014: I have been invited to the Q’ero village of Ccochamocco, a real honor and rare opportunity. Tuitions help support: sponsorship of Hopi Elder Harold Joseph on this journey seeking prayers for his people from Q’ero relations; the new Q’ero Ancestral Culture Center and natural medicine clinic; and Grandmother Flordemayo’s seed saving program.

Spiritual Travel to Mexico, Jan 19-29, 2015: Tuitions help support sponsorship of David Mowa, Hopi medicine man, to share traditions with Maya relations; and the humanitarian healing work of Don Sergio Castro in Chiapas, Mexico. This program in final planning and will be uploaded here shortly.

If you’re interested in my artwork entitled Testimony or others, go here. Twenty percent of profits go to support Native traditions through Kenosis Spirit Keepers, the nonprofit arm of Kenosis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Gratitude, Healing, Hopi, Indigenous Wisdom, Spiritual Evolution, Spiritual Travel, Travel Experiences | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Unexpected Music

Place des Vosges

Place des Vosges

We were exploring Le Marais district when I remembered one of my favorite places. Ah yes, just a short distance away. I succeeded in persuading my friends they really must experience the oldest square in Paris. We turned down a side street that opened into Place des Vosges. Its elegant French classical façade spoke to the aristocracy that once lived above the arcades below. It didn’t take much to imagine Victor Hugo striding along anxious to be home to continue penning his novel of the moment. We noticed a bistro just in time for lunch. Salad, cheese, bread and wine somehow tasting so much better than it ever did at home.

Exiting, we started to round the corner that would take us out of the square when we noticed activity across the way under the arches. Some ten or so people setting up—a musical ensemble! We edged closer to watch. A few others began to gather. The discordant sounds of musicians tuning their violins and cellos ensued. And ensued. And ensued. Until finally my friends were getting impatient, wanting to leave. Oh no! Just a few more minutes, I was saying in my head. Feeling the tug of the group, I started to turn away with them.

And in that moment, the cacophony stopped. A split second of silence brought chaos into perfect order as the haunting strains of Pachelbel’s Canon filled the air. The acoustics amplified the notes to such a degree that we were enveloped, rooted in place. The beauty of the moment was overwhelming. I didn’t want to move from that spot. The energy continued to rise as they went on to play Mozart, Bach and Vivaldi. Thankfully, a violinist broke away and began offering CDs. I gladly purchased one and then discovered their name: Classique Metropolitain. What an unexpected gift, an extraordinary dessert, one we wouldn’t have had if we’d not been willing to pause.

Now when I play their recording, especially when I paint, it takes me right back to that split second of perfect order when my spirits soared—to experience it all again, gaining inspiration. Only much later did I discover that Classique Metropolitain regularly frequented metro stations and Place des Vosges playing to passersby, perhaps to lend pleasure to their day.

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On a nearly annual basis, I sponsor a spiritual travel program called Entering the Maya Mysteries in the Chiapas region of Mexico.  I usually go in January and we spend several days in the highlands participating in ritual and religious festivities for San Sebastián. One particular year music was a thread that ran through our time together—sacred and celebratory, vocal and instrumental—something to be expected considering our itinerary. But it was unexpected music, taking the edge off a situation and lifting our spirits or instilling a hush to any tumbling thoughts, that I most savored and have tucked away in that same place where Classique Metropolitain and Place des Vosges reside.

Lalo Ed Adams lives in New Jersey. Some years ago his search for someone going to Piedras Negras brought him to me. He joined our travels, in the process discovering a new name that he wore proudly. On his second trip with me, Lalo came along again wearing the glow I saw develop on the first one. Early on, he brought out a guitar saying he’d learned to play a couple of years ago and now gathered weekly with guitarists back home. During our days staying at El Panchan outside the Palenque ruins, he inched his way from casually playing at our table at Don Mucho’s Restaurant—until fully on stage with microphone and sound system going! I admired his chutzpah and his playing.

One thing about Lalo was that he understood how music can intervene and shift the energy in a moment. We’d been on our way to the Lacandón Jungle village of Najá anticipating the upcoming ceremony with Don Antonio Martinez when the van began to hesitate and sputter. Our driver was worried. “Bad gas,” he said, finally pulling over. We all bailed out; it appeared there would be a long wait while the situation was remedied. It was hot. We were in the middle of nowhere milling around on the side of the road.

Lalo Ed Adams

Lalo Ed Adams (2nd from right).
Photo credit: Bob Moore

It didn’t take long before Lalo pulled out his guitar. I finally couldn’t resist. I joined in with what he later called my “vocal chops”—that hadn’t been let loose in years. Some of the others chimed in until we had a plein air concert of sorts going. It turned a difficult situation to a light one full of fun. We continued to find moments to sing, all the way up to our closing dinner when we essentially took over a restaurant, and the other patrons joined our musical frivolity that ranged from “I Shall Be Released” to “Nowhere Man.”

But backtracking a bit, the latter half of our journey we stayed in San Cristóbal de las Casas in the Chiapas highlands. While we were visiting Na Bolom I heard faint notes of piano music and wandered into a room. Beautiful, I thought. Taking note of the pianist but not wanting to disturb, I examined the religious icons in the room. At leaving, I saw a poster announcing Richard Pierce Milner as the current artist-in-residence with evening concerts being held regularly. In the next day when we were in the Maya village of Zinacantán witnessing the raucous festivities for San Sebastián, I noticed the pianist there with a friend. This time I made sure we met and, on a whim, invited him to come with us. We were on our way to Don Xun Calixto’s home above San Juan Chamula where a special ritual awaited us. In return, I joked to Richard, I must have a concert.

Indeed. A few nights later, after the group had flown home, I went back to Na Bolom. At one time, before it had been the home of Frans and Trudy Blom, or a museum, the old hacienda had housed a seminary. One long room still bore reminders of that time, an altar at one end, religious paintings on nearly every inch of wall. But a grand piano at the other end dominated the space.  The only light source was candlelight. I took a seat. Richard began to play. And I was transported.

Richard Pierce Milner

Richard Pierce Milner at Na Bolom.
Photo credit: Carla Woody

Truly, Richard’s compositions are hard to categorize, a blend of neo-classical and crossover jazz as descriptor not at all doing them justice. What do you say about pieces that snatch you up to share a deeply personal journey with the artist? That wend their way through memories of a moment by the sea, a difficult healing process, or tribute to a mentor now passed? That touch on something not often touched? I can only say that Richard exposes his innermost feelings through his music and extends an invitation for listeners to join him. As I write these words, piano solos from his CD entitled Other Ways of Knowing are taking me back to that candlelit time at Na Bolom when I first heard him play.

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 In these times when so much of life is artificially structured, perhaps even constricted, that we can no longer breathe, do moments other than that—should we allow them—create openings. Chance encounters, courage mustered, intuition followed, and willingness to engage possibilities provide a distinct loosening that allows us to take flight. For me, unexpected music, especially when I find it within myself, has been a theme that has provided a springboard.
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   To see what other bloggers have posted in response to the Daily Post Writing Challenge: Moved by Music go here.
Categories: Creativity Strategies, Music Review, Travel Experiences | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

When Hopi Spirits Come to Life: Home Dance at Moenkopi

In July 2009 I was invited by Harold and Char Joseph to Home Dance, the first one in the Hopi village of Moenkopi in 50 years—a very historic event. It’s during this July dance ritual that the Katsina spirits are ushered back to the San Francisco Peaks, the mountain range north of Flagstaff, Arizona, where they live until their return to Hopi in February of each year.*

A friend and I arrived at Moenkopi village outside Tuba City just before dawn. Harold was already leaving home. Moenkopi being Char’s home village, Harold acted as a helper. Normally Harold would have been at Second Mesa’s Shungopavi, already a long time in the kiva, a subterranean chamber reserved for religious rituals, engaged in ceremony in his home village. But this time being quite special he was lending a hand the way relatives do.

The previous night we’d ventured down to the plaza with other family members, carrying chairs, staking out a place in one of several rows already formed. The dirt plaza was long and narrow, enclosed by the original stone homes dating back to the 1870s. I felt like I’d stepped back to another era.

Going Home Shungopavi

Going Home Shungopavi
Oil on canvas
depicting Home Dance.
©2011 Carla Woody

That early morning we sat at the edge of the village with others who had gathered, high on the bluff overlooking the lush cornfields below, a sharp contrast to the red rock cliffs surrounding them. I only discovered later that we actually perched on a kiva. An elder came and asked everyone to move. He slid the wood covering over to reveal its secret and climbed down.

We waited, slightly chilled by the light wind. Glancing around me, some of the people were in special dress, the women in beautiful shawls, and a few young girls wore the traditional hairstyle with fluted buns over each ear. There was a low buzz of conversation and greetings. Everyone waited patiently for the sunlight to hit the cornfields below. A number of pick-up trucks were parked to the side of the fields. In my mind, I converted them to horses because a sound was on the breeze that led me into another time and dimension.

At first it was faint but then it grew, rising up as though from the bowels of the earth. A chant that rose and fell, coming from an area of trees near the field. Those around me went quiet in anticipation, eyes glued, fingers pointing. And finally when the light hit the field just so, Katsinam emerged from the copse forming a single line as they began the slow walk up to the village, carrying cornstalks. It seemed like the line had no end. Finally, all Katsinam came into full view from the woods. They numbered 130, give or take.

As we shifted to our seats at the far end of the plaza, Katsinam poured in one-by-one, forming an ellipsis, continuing the chant, making the small repetitive movements that created the dance, virtually right in front of us. The sound of bells and rattles, strapped to each knee, accompanied each step and joined the drone of their voices. Even though sun now heated the air, I got chicken skin.

They gave cornstalks, a symbol of prosperity, to those watching and gifts of fruit and piki, a paper-thin rolled tortilla made from blue corn. The dancing continued. Then it was time for the first round to end. And the Kachinam left the plaza to be sequestered again. They performed at great sacrifice, foregoing food and water in the blistering sun until much later in the day.

But it was now time for the rest of the village to eat. We returned to the Joseph home and feasted on hominy stew and drank strong coffee. When the phone rang, I’d hear them tell the person on the other end, “Come eat!” One of the family members told me, “This is the Hopi way!” Indeed it was. As people poured through the door, they were directed to grab a plate and ladle a good helping.

The Katsinam were to dance eight times that day. Between dances families and friends gathered at homes, many from out of town it being such a special time. Each time food was shared. We were encouraged to nap in the heat of the day—which I did, in a room full of people that felt like family to me even though it was my first time meeting some of them.

How was it that this was the first Home Dance in Moenkopi in 50 years? Many Hopi people have fallen away from the traditions, and the necessary initiations aren’t occurring to support the ceremonies. Shungopavi is the only village that keeps the complete cycle of religious ceremonies unbroken, the elders staunch.

A strong older woman instigated the 2009 Home Dance. Her son was marrying. She wanted to show off the wedding robes of her son’s bride as part of the ritual. Other brides would be able to do the same. Through her commitment the village re-engaged, others coming from elsewhere to support the ceremony, accounting for the large number of Katsinam, a profound example of what determination can do—and for good cause. Traditions take us back to where we began. For my part, an appreciative outsider greatly stirred by the experience, I hope the Home Dance continues in Moenkopi. At this writing, it’s recurred once. That was in 2011.

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*A Katsina is a spirit being of the Pueblo Tribes, an invisible natural force that can be called upon to bestow protection and wellbeing for the village. Katsinam is the plural form. In the Hopi tradition there are approximately 400 different Katsinam, each one different and having a separate purpose. For days prior to religious dances, initiated males enter the kiva and undertake long rituals. When they emerge from the kiva to dance, they are no longer who they were when they entered. Instead, they are the embodiment of these powerful spirit beings, dancing in human form, on the earth.
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I will sponsor Spiritual Travel to Hopi: Sacred Guardians of the World during March 6-9, 2014. This is a rare chance to experience Hopi Spirit Keepers in their homes, hear the ancient stories, visit sacred sites, learn about medicine ways and attend the Night Dances, all that weaves the very identity of the Hopi people as guardians of the world. Only recently is it now possible to be invited to such an experience. It’s only through relationships I’ve developed over a number of years that this program has been born. Join us for this adventure of the spirit! Early registration discount ends November 6. A portion of tuition is tax-deductible to support Kenosis Spirit Keepers’ projects preserving Native traditions.
Categories: cultural interests, Hopi, Indigenous Wisdom, Sacred Reciprocity, Spiritual Travel, Travel Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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