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Read the first two chapters after the blurb …
What happens when a woman meets a giant statue of a cat, two Volcano Goddesses, her ancestors, Spirit Allies, Elemental beings, and has a whole lot of really scary and weird adventures?
There were times I froze, bled, burned, raged, and cried. My life, my past, the shadows, and the shining moments, all the things I believed defined me, were challenged, until nothing but a truth, my Truth, remained.
Part memoir, part Shamanic adventure, part guidebook, Prelude is the story of my quest to confront my monsters, uncover my true Name, and understand that I lived in just a tiny corner of a much vaster Cosmos.
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Prelude – The Gaining of Shamanic Wisdom – Chapters 1 & 2
1 – Embarkation
It’s been a while since I undertook these adventures, but the things I learned, those that were obvious to me at the time and those that took a little longer to understand, are touchstones for how I choose to live my life today.
My home these days is in British Columbia, Canada, but back then I lived in Sydney on the east coast of Australia, and I was running late …
… Sydney’s public transport system wasn’t half bad if you wanted to travel from the suburbs to the center of the city, in a fairly straight line. I on the other hand, needed to traverse three suburbs diagonally, so I had to co-ordinate my bus schedules with a precision that probably only existed in my mind.
My last bus pulled out of one end of the transit loop just as I arrived in my second-to-last bus at the other. I walked for six blocks, most of them, thankfully, downhill, found the right building, and the room where I needed to be.
I sat down on the only empty chair left and prepared to embark upon the unknowable. My concern that I might be too late and interrupt all sorts of otherworldly goings-ons vanished. The lights dimmed and my first ever Journey began.
I’m not going to go into the mechanics of shifting into a trance state. There are many variations, but stripped of dogma and theatrics, all they need to do is get our conscious mind to have a bit of a holiday. After that, we all have our own unique multi-hued experience.
Nicely relaxed and grounded, I metaphorically sat inside my head twiddling my metaphorical thumbs and wondered when something, anything, out of the ordinary might begin. Betwixt that thought and whatever the next one was going to be, my body began to change shape.
At first I felt all squishy around the middle and then my torso stretched up as though it had suddenly turned to rubber. I could have touched the ceiling above me without any effort.
The closest I can come to describing what it felt like was the weightlessness at the apex of a swing when, for a moment, you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if you let go you would soar off into the clouds and never have to come down again.
Was I disconcerted? Certainly. Who wouldn’t be? But not scared. My fear had been shifted to one side. (temporarily, as it turned out) Not having any previous experiences to judge it against, I simply accepted the elongation as something that was supposed to happen in a meditative state, and as soon as I did that my awareness of the strange physical sensations in my body evaporated and I was … elsewhere.
Metaphor time. If all the realms beyond this mortal physical one are like marbles in a bag, the ‘elsewhere’ I’d ended up in was one of the spaces between the marbles, hereafter known as the Gap Between the Worlds, a way-station that contained the possibility of everything, and nothing at all. Out of this nothingness, a bunch of gnarled roots swirled into being and flowed smoothly into the trunk of a tree. Branches grew out from the trunk and spread into the massive canopy of an ancient Moreton Bay fig tree.
Awash with awe I reached out and almost reverently touched the bark. It was real. I smiled as its roughness caressed the edges of my fingertips. This all felt so, right, like I’d been waiting for it all my life.
One of the great Old Wives Tales is that small country towns and rural backwoods often produce offspring with itchy feet, restless minds, and a passion for adventures.
Although I was born in England, my parents, and I, of course, emigrated to Australia when I was two, so my adventure really began in a tin shack on the banks of a creek in the harsh untidy Australian bush.
As I progressed through the first decade of my life and became aware of the wild bushland that was my backyard, I sensed something all around me that, although sleeping until I grew into adulthood, felt safe to my innocent child-Self. There wasn’t much in my indoors world that was safe, so I escaped to the bush as often as I could.
I always wanted to know the layers of ‘why’, about everything, and to see beyond the horizon. I never really liked school though, all it did was keep my nose firmly buried in books of rote material, and exams. So, I left school as soon as I could, (14, and some months) and got a job. Not a very fancy one mind you, but I earned enough to live on, just. I left that job and found another. I learned how to survive. I lied about my age and got a better job with better pay. All the while, keeping my eye out for that next horizon.
The townships around where I grew up were quite famous for their early colonial architecture, particularly the churches, and in my teens I began investigating these monolithic sandstone manifestations of religion to see if they could answer my rebelliously agonizing questions of Life, Sexuality, the Universe, and Everything.
Although I found them all wanting I tried to believe their dogma, probably in a sort of a spiritual desperation, seeing as it was the only form of spirituality available to me at the time, but I rebelled at the blatant separatism (among many, many ‘isms’), that each belief system or creed taught. I had the ridiculous experience of one of these religions offering to ‘cure’ me because I was a lesbian. As if such a wondrous gift was ever in need of ‘curing!’
In spite of a childhood of adult-imposed terrors, the agonies of adolescence where I knew I was different and fearing I was the only one in the whole wide world, and the longings of young adulthood, I still believed beyond any doubt that there was something waiting for me out there. Something that was magical and wonderful, and once I found it I would never be the same, ever again. Until I found it, or it found me, I accepted the drift of my life.
I wasn’t bored though. I tried all sorts of new experiences, experimented with love and lust, consciousness altering substances, and the myriad philosophical and political paradoxes of the adult world.
All that changed one day in my early twenties when I discovered a sport that set my heart on fire! Finally, I KNEW what I’d been waiting for. I mapped out my path with a discipline that would’ve brought a tear to the eye of the most cynical coach. I planned to progress through the amateur rankings, play professionally, then become the best in the world. This was my destiny, and I dedicated my every, well almost every, waking moment to that goal. (The trophies from that era are long gone, but I still have the memories safely tucked away, to be taken out now and then and looked upon fondly)
I couldn’t afford the luxury of a car when every cent I earned seemed to disappear into training for my dream, so I rode a motorbike. It was cheap, it was fun, and gave me a sense of freedom and safety. None of the ghosts of my past ever caught up with me on the road.
My favorite time to go for long rides was at night. I would ramble along country roads empty of human life but so full of the energy that rises out of the Earth once the sun sets. I traveled along backroads that flowed like rivers of pure moonlight as they meandered across endless dark plains. That made sudden twists into, through, and out of, shadow dappled villages, then soared high into the mountains, over high peaks and down steep mountain passes to the valleys below.
Sometimes I’d pull over into a lookout above a town. All those beautiful fairy lights, innocent in the distance. In summer, the scent of flowers and freshly mown grass would waft up to me, and in winter, wood fires would cast lazy tendrils of aromatic smoke through the chilly air.
One evening I was idling my way home through a rugged landscape of gorges and steep twisted roads when I was suddenly blinded by the glare of on-coming headlights. I was smashed off my motorbike and my dream of athletic stardom ended in a trail of broken bits of motorbike, and a butchered knee.
My time as a ‘biker’ was done, I would never ride again, but I never regretted a single moment. If I’d been in a car that night I surely would have died in a head-on collision. My faithful two-wheeled companion allowed me to maneuver enough to save my life.
During the 5 weeks (and one day – but who’s counting) I was in hospital, Sister Morphine and her relatively less intense siblings, numbed my emotional turmoil and physical pain so that I could at least think clearly.
I lay in that hospital bed with my leg swathed in bandages from my ankle to my thigh, knowing I had come to within moments and millimeters of not being alive at all. The unmistakable nausea-inducing smell of mortifying flesh wafted up from my wounds every time the dressings on my leg were changed, and I wondered if I would have a leg to stand on at the end of it all. (after five surgeries the outcome was a little more hopeful. I eventually ended up with half a knee, held together with stables and other assorted hardware, that worked half the time)
In one overwhelming swell of an unstoppable tide, I relinquished all my athletic dreams, and hopes, and fantasies, and faced the beginning of my Search again.
This epiphany, thanks to the Morphine Gang, only happened at an intellectual level. It took a while for it to percolate through to my other levels of Awareness, and a lot longer for me to accept it way down deep in my psyche, in that place where we hide all our secrets, even the ones we keep from ourselves. For many years, whenever I saw myself in my dreams, I would always have two good knees. I’d wake up and get out of bed without thinking and I’d either catch myself just in the nick of time or fall flat on my face. Both of which resulted in a great deal of pain and agony, accompanied by very loud swearwords. When I finally appeared in my dreams with my damaged knee it was, in a strange kind of a way, a relief.
So, there I was, flat on my back in hospital with my emotions numbed almost out of existence and looking for the answer to WHY … WHY DID THIS HAVE TO HAPPEN NOW?
It was obvious I would never be that world famous … ahem, world-class, athlete, but the rest of my body still functioned as it should and I would be able to walk upright, eventually. (the only other injury I sustained was a broken big toe. There’s irony for you) I had been given the gift of experiencing the passion of Knowing, of understanding at a very deep level in my Spirit, what being on a Life-path felt like. I just hadn’t picked the right one. All I had to do then, (‘all’ … hah! Yeah, right) was find out what my Path truly was.
I left the small town behind and moved to Sydney (Australia) and figured out how to survive in the Big Smoke, which incidentally kick-started my political education as a woman in a capitalist patriarchal society. I got scared, I got angry, I got radical, I got even. I indulged in one-night-stands, flings, and a couple of full-on, flat-out relationships. I got into collectives and consensus, and women’s peace camps and the anti-nuclear protest movement. I even got to play guitar in Sydney Town Hall on International Women’s day. I read Mary Daly, Kate Millett, Diane Stein, Starhawk, Monica Sjoo, Dale Spender, Vicki Noble, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, and many, many others. I found in those books, and living that life, the answers to so many aspects of my question, just not the final piece.
I’d started studying architecture at University. (why architecture? Long story, for another time) If there’s a more secular bastion of intellectual patriarchal endeavor, I’ve yet to come across it. However, for a high-school drop-out simply getting in to University was a great achievement. Along with the ups and downs of my first semester, (because I was never one to do things by halves) I was also deep in the painful end of a relationship.
In the midst of all this turmoil a friend told me about a meditation group. I thought, why not, it might help me find some balance in my chaotic life, (I’m a Libran, we don’t like chaos, at least not that sort of chaos) and maybe even help me find what I was looking for.
2 – A Question Of Survival
As I stood by the Morton Bay fig tree, a large almost weightless ebony ball about the size of a volleyball appeared in my hands. Some irreverent part of my mind looked at it and thought, surely not a crystal ball, but as I gazed deep into its depths, not quite taking the whole thing as seriously as perhaps I ought, vague shapes shimmered and flared inside it.
As each one took on a more defined form, what they represented became clear to me. The remnants of my stress at running late looked like a mini lightning strike. An odd-looking jiggly thing off to one side was the tough week I’d had at work. Another shape was my University workload. Another one was my dying-of-a-thousand-cuts relationship. My health, finances, aspects of my everyday life, all things it wasn’t appropriate to take with me on my Journey, captured in miniature.
The tree was the perfect place to leave all that dross, to be collected on my way back if I so chose. I carefully lodged my ebony ball in a comfortable little nook between two branches of the tree, and feeling much lighter, took a deep breath.
My perception shifted and I found myself looking down on a sea of long rolling sand dunes in shades of yellows and browns, stretching out in all directions. No trees, grasses, or visible life anywhere. The air around me smelled crisp and cold, rather than the hot and dusty desert sirocco I’d expected. On soft silent wings, (which I had no idea how to work or how they got there) I glided across the sky for what seemed to be forever but eventually the dunes ended where they dipped down to meet the gentle tidal surge of an emerald green ocean.
I stood at the edge of the sand and faced the sea that, like the desert behind me, extended in hypnotic rolling swells as far as I could see. My wings returned from whence they came, and I waited. Not much else I could do, really.
Something caught my eye and I walked along the shore toward a wooden rowboat, aged by wind and tide, that had beached itself. I pushed the boat back into the water and although I could see no means of propulsion, off I sailed, across the sea to the opposite shore, which looked exactly the same as the one I’d just left. Sand dunes rose above the narrow beach and I wondered if I’d just gone around in a circle. My wings unfurled as I walked away from the boat, and at the top of the first dune I took flight and soared across the sand.
The twin spires of an oddly shaped building appeared at the edge of the horizon, and grew taller and odder as I approached.
I was starting to feel, not exactly tired, but edgy. The part of me that firmly believed in the reality of three dimensions and the familiarity and safety contained therein, was having a bit of a terse conversation with the part of me that was just as convinced that everything I was currently experiencing was real too.
As I drew closer to the building it took on a very specific shape. Long sweeping planes and cunning tight corners flowed into the curves of a seven-story high statue of a very elegant looking Siamese cat, with her front feet tucked together and her tail draped neatly over the tops of them. My internal discussion stuttered to a halt.
“Of course it’s a giant Siamese cat,” I said to myself. “What else would it be?” I really hoped I wouldn’t hear any other opinions. My ‘edgy’ feeling had invited ‘punchy’ to the party.
The front of the statue towered above me like an overhanging cliff. I touched down near one of the giant toes and a doorway opened up in front of me. My wings disappeared again and I lost the memory of them. (at least until I recorded my Journey later that evening in my notebook) With a shrug of fatalistic acceptance I stepped forward. The opening wasn’t very wide, but the scale of the statue was so massive that just one toe left ample headroom.
The opening closed behind me without a sound, slowly cutting off the light from outside until I was shrouded in utter darkness. It wasn’t just ordinary darkness, where the sun is temporarily over on the other side of the planet, this was a complete absence of even the concept of light.
I couldn’t tell which way was up, which way was down. I didn’t know where to go, or what to do next. I had entered a place I had no frame of reference for, that was completely beyond the constraints of any divisions of time or measurements of distance as I’d previously understood them. My internal voices continued their discussion, only now they argued about whether I should feel an ordinary garden-variety existential terror, or an outright unadulterated imminent-annihilation terror.
I spent a moment in that unutterable blackness before I realized I was still standing upright. Therefore, it followed that I had to be standing on something. My rational mind was so pleased to have some sort of reality to hang on to it relinquished its terrified death-grip on my throat so I could breathe again.
Breath meant movement and with movement came light. A faint glow, bright enough to see by, emanated from the walls. As I walked along the narrow passage the light faded into blackness behind me and brightened ahead. The walls themselves were covered in long serrated grooves as though something with very big claws had scratched it out of the bare rock.
My eyes easily adjusted to the dimness, so that by the time I reached a circular room at the end of the tunnel, it seemed like I was suddenly buried in an avalanche of brilliant white light. I looked around the perfectly shaped hemisphere and tried to make sense of the alien shaped and forms in it, but all my poor mind could grasp was that the random deep gashes carved into the rock walls had now combined to form a herringbone pattern.
It wasn’t only an intense need for something to hang my sanity on to that led me across the room to touch them, I was genuinely curious too. Up close, I could see that they weren’t cut into the rock anymore, they’d been incised into a clay render, made from the blood of the earth, the first Mother of us all. In some places the clay was still damp, as though it had just been applied to the wall, and in others it was so old and dry I was afraid it would crumble if I breathed on it. I was given to understand, to Know, the entire pattern represented a telling of my life. My past, my present, my unknowable future.
I stared at it so hard my eyes started to water. If I could just decode the pattern I would be able to see the course of my life from its beginning to its end, and beyond. The enormity of being so close to such knowledge set my hands shaking. I was way out of my comfort zone. I suddenly felt cold, ice cold.
A breath of soft humid air brushed across my chilled skin. It had wafted in from a pair of french doors, flung wide open, that had appeared right in the middle of the solid clay wall. They looked as though they’d always been there. Perhaps they had, and I could only see them when I needed to. The doors led out into a small courtyard, nestled between the two front feet of the giant statue.
Everywhere I looked beautiful green growing things caressed my eyes and anointed my flayed emotions like a balm. Giant ferns danced in the warm gentle air, pots trailed emerald vines like tresses of hair, urns on pedestals sported masses of rampantly blooming roses. I could hear water, flowing like a fountain or a waterfall, hidden somewhere just out of sight.
It wasn’t long before I was warm again, and I walked amongst the lush tropical greenery until I came across an ornate wrought iron bench, and gratefully sank down on it. I realized that this potency, this beauty of my ‘interior’ or ‘spirit’ world had always been here and I’d never been able to consciously access it until now. I laughed and cried. I felt sad for all that I’d missed, and elated for all I might find. I wanted to go further, beyond the garden, beyond the sand dunes, to explore just how far this wondrous paradise extended, to venture into who-knows-how-many other magnificent Realms. I wanted to experience it all, all at once. I wanted … I wanted …
A lifetime’s hunger condensed around me. It propelled me to the edge of the garden and up onto the wide stone parapet that market its boundary. I intended to leap off, and then unfurl those mysterious wings that had brought me here, fly away and capture it all, but then I bumped into something large, furry, and immovable.
I looked up, and up, and up.
Her name, she said, was Bast. She cocked her head to one side and glared fiercely down her whiskers at me. One of her gigantic yet perfectly proportioned paws hovered above my head.
“I want to fly,” I shouted at her with my arms outflung. “Give me my wings!”
Bast laughed. Her belly shook with her mirth. “I will catch you and eat you. You will not survive.”
I glanced at a tiny butterfly innocently sipping nectar from a nearby flower. Perhaps I could to fly out as a very small and insignificant butterfly so no-one or no-thing would notice me.
“No,” Bast said. “I will squash you.” Her paw quivered and a claw ruffled my hair. “You are not ready, and you will not survive.”
She was a whole lot bigger than me and seemed so very sure of herself, so with an audible sigh I stepped down off the parapet and conceded her the point.
I returned to the garden, and thence to my physical body.
Exhaustion swept over me like a tidal wave. Just getting up, moving, breathing, took all of my energy, but the more I grounded my Self back in my physical body the more exhilarated I felt. Obviously, there were things I had to learn, but here was a place, a Realm, that could take me as far as I was wiling to go. I felt invincible.