By Jhenah Telyndru
And you who seek to know Me, know that the seeking and yearning will avail you not, unless you know the Mystery: for if that which you seek, you find not within your self, you will never find it without. – From The Charge of the Goddess, Doreen Valiente
The human desire to touch that which is sacred has been a driving force throughout human history. From the first cave paintings deep in the womb of Mother Earth to the grand cathedrals built over sacred sites throughout Europe, there is a sense that there are places on this planet that are somehow set apart from the mundane world, and through them, a connection can be made with the Divine. There are many factors that draw us to these sacred places; among them are associations with important religious events or persons, historical and mythological significance, and ancestral traditions of reverence. While the Divine, in reality, exists nowhere but within each one of us, I have felt the draw to make pilgrimage several times in my life. What I have found has often not been what I expected, but always exactly what I had been looking for.
My first pilgrimage was a journey to my spiritual home, back in the summer of 1991. I was meeting some sisters from the States in Glastonbury UK; we had all, appropriately enough, traveled alone to the small market town so sacred to those of Avalon. I will never forget my first glimpse of the Tor from the double-decker bus that carried me from London’s Victoria Station. Weaving in and out of view behind tall hedgerows and hairpin turns, the terraced slopes of the Tor — even at a distance — moved me to deep wrenching sobs of grief, and joy and remembrance. What a sight I must have been after finally arriving at the bus stop in Glastonbury, carrying my bag on my back and trying to find the address on Benedict Street — where we had rented a flat — through the prisimed vision of my tears. At last, I dropped my pack and fell into the arms of my sisters, our tears mingling together after springing forth anew, as we each were touched by the great power and inner call which had brought us across the ocean to the site of Ancient Avalon.
Interestingly enough, while we had traveled from America to connect with the Goddess and the hallowed landscape of the Pagan Celts, many of the Glastonbury residents we encountered during our five-week stay were themselves following a Native American Shamanic path. To further the irony, we were joined one night in our chanting circle in the tower on the Tor by another group of Goddess-women – traveling together from the United States. This further illustration of the apparent blur of the boundaries of heritage and spiritual calling is something I often meditate upon. What defines what is sacred to us? That which we are taught as children? Our genetic or cultural inheritance? The essence of spirit in the land we inhabit? I find, in examining my own situation, that there is no one answer to this question.
I grew up in the cultural melting pot that is New York City, where I have encountered every flavor of culture and religion imaginable. After doing some travel in Europe, I am struck by the unique situation most Americans are in. A nation of immigrants, the United States is only just over 200 years old – an infant nation in comparison to the antiquity of European, Asian and African cultures. Most immigrants to the United States will retain their cultural traditions for a few generations, and then find themselves homogenized into an American “culture,” with very little memory even of where they come from. For example, my husband is part English, Irish, Dutch, German and Native American. His father’s side of the family came over on the Mayflower, and his mother’s immigrated to the US from Ireland so long ago, they have no remembrance of the Old World. It is perhaps for this reason that Americans seeking spiritual paths will look to Native American cultures and to the East, for these are still intact, for the most part, and take the place of their own lost heritages.
I am a first generation American; my father immigrated to the United States from Italy when he was 10 years old. I actually have more family living in Italy than I do in the US. I am a full-blooded Italian from both sides of my family, and have been fortunate to be exposed to Italian language and culture (and cooking!) my entire life. I remember my maternal grandmother’s little charms to remove the evil eye (mal occhio), and the “passing of the head” energy work she would do to bring down fevers and soothe colicky babies. Roman Catholicism was very important on both sides of my family, and I enthusiastically participated in the life passages provided within the context of the church
When I heard the voice of the Goddess, however, She called me to walk a Celtic path. Indo-European common ancestors and the fact that the Celts once dominated most of Europe aside, I haven’t a drop in me of what we would today consider Celtic blood — but this means nothing to me in light of the way this culture moves me. Celtic music fills my soul with a brilliance I cannot describe; the art and knotwork draw me to places I’ve never been; the history and lore are part of me in a way I cannot explain, and the land itself causes my heart to beat with a sense of wholeness I cannot find elsewhere. I have done years of past life regression work, but even without it, I would know that I am part of that Celtic tapestry in a way that transcends the flesh my soul presently wears. I am, as Marion Bowman coined, a Cardiac Celt; I feel it is more than genetics that makes one Celtic. I think it is a matter of what is in our souls. Immersion in Celtic culture, spirituality and essence is what truly defines Celticism for me, and I’ve never been barred from the Ways because of the blood in my veins.
This is not to say that blood plays no part in the inner call. In 1997, I was traveling with my family through Italy … a land I have come to dearly love. I had the fortune this trip, after visiting most of the major Italian cities and tourist spots, of returning to my father’s hometown, a small village called Monteverde (Green Mountain) poised on the top of a mountain in the Apennines. This had once been a holding of a feudal lord, and the ruins of the castle still stand at the pinnacle of the mountain. I loved standing up there with the winds blowing through my hair, looking down over the red-tiled roofs of the town my father loves so much, surrounded by a panorama of ancient pristine mountains. What a different, yet equally profound, experience than standing on the crest of the Tor. This would be the culmination of what had become my second spiritual pilgrimage, to the land of my foremothers.
Our visit coincided with the festival of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the biggest feast day of the year. The younger generations and everyone who had moved from this small town to the big cities return to Monteverde during this important festa, to reenact the old traditions and reunite with kith and kin. The town was electric with anticipation as the Church of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel – the closest to the peak of the mountain of the town’s five churches — finished its service. I did not attend the mass in the small church, but rather stayed at a cousin’s home whose balconies overlooked the church’s square. When the bells began to ring, I stood outside looking over the masses of people who had gathered in the piazza to wait. The bells of the other churches began to peal in unison, and soon, the doors swung open… Ah! What a beautiful sight!
Carried on the shoulders of twelve men dressed in robes, came a ship, decorated with live flowers. In its prow was an almost life-sized statue of the Blessed Mother, resplendent with gold embroidered gowns made of precious materials and long, curled hair. A golden crown graced her head, and She carried Her similarly crowned infant in Her arms.
Behind Her was another structure, this one carried by young girls in white dresses, also bedecked with flowers. White streamers splayed out around the structure from its apex, each being held with loving reverence by still more young girls, very much like a portable Maypole.
I was speechless as this unfolded before me, very much aware of the layers of symbolism and the antiquity of the ceremony. Tears began to fall down my face as I heard Her say, “I am also here. I have never truly been forgotten.” I was filled with such joy as I watched the procession move through the square and begin to wind through the narrow cobblestone streets of the town, followed by droves of church fathers, a band and hundreds of revelers. The Lady would be carried through every road in the village, bestowing fertility and abundance. She would encircle all of Monteverde with Her grace and protection, before returning to Her place of honor above the altar of Her namesake church. That night would be a great feast of food, music and dancing in the square.
They know Her still, my father’s people. I thought I would go to Italy to connect with the Roman Goddesses in their old shrines and temples, but instead found the Universal Mother who has many names and guises and seen the greater Truth beyond all truths. Avalon will always be the home and soul-place of my heart. But having glimpsed the Divine Paradox of Her nature, I can say that while my flesh family does not hail from the misty isles of the North, but rather the rich earth of the Sun drenched Mediterranean, they still Celebrate the Goddess who is Many and One.
For behold, I have been with you from the beginning, and I am That which is attained at the end of desire. – From The Charge of the Goddess, Doreen Valiente