By John Cantwell
“This is for you” Martha said as she handed me a red, black, white and yellow bracelet. “It was made for those who danced at last year’s Lakota Sundance Festival, you might like to wear it”. We had met at a recent international gathering of shamanic practitioners here in Ireland, there were shamans from all over; Alaska, Canada, Australia, England, North America and of course, Ireland. Martha is of Native American blood and she is a pipe carrier in their White Buffalo tradition. Choosing my right wrist to hold this colourful treasure, I noticed words and a motif indented into the bracelet, “Honour The Circle” and beside these words a circle divided into four exact quarters by an equilateral cross. “How beautiful, thank you Martha”, I replied. We got to talking about the Circle Of Life as honoured by her tribe and I enjoyed hearing of their Medicine Wheel, the architecture of the shaman’s training that comes from a timeless Ancestral origin. We shared our knowledge of other Medicine Wheels from other nations in the Americas and we enjoyed comparing the great diversity among them and their ultimate similarity that life’s mystery is cherished as a never ending circle, constantly turning around the four directions of the universe providing opportunities for connection and oneness, power and wisdom. “Tell me about the Medicine Wheels in Ireland?” Martha asked. I was hoping she would ask, so I smiled, knowing we had an imminent lunch break and said, “let’s go to Newgrange”.
We stood gazing at the great oval entrance stone engraved in multiple, connected spirals. “We have Medicine Spirals here” I offered, which prompted us to identify the many physical spirals in our world that inspire how we hold the creation and mystery of life. The very origin of our local universe, the span of the Milky Way through the telescope is a spiral, the coiling in the helix of our DNA under the microscope is a spiral, we had fun lobbing as many others as we could into our conversation. “So your Ancestors taught you the Medicine Spiral” Martha observed, “I’d like to hear about one, so that I can honour the tradition of your land”. I paused, knowing we could plunder free time during tomorrow’s lunch break, “I’d be delighted to, let’s listen to the Ancestors tomorrow, on the Hill Of Tara”. The next day, in this sacred valley and on this sacred hill, site of one of our oldest creation myths, here was the perfect place to explore a Medicine Spiral. As we walked towards the Lia Fail (Stone Of Destiny) at the highest point on the hill and place of tremendous 360 degree vision, I began an opening to Martha’s request, by asking her to stand at the Lia Fail and face Northwards.
Before you enter the Medicine Spiral, know that it will bring many things, ancient remembering, healing of old wounds, challenges to know the truth in your light and dark natures, joyous breakthroughs, responsibility for immense innate personal power, receiving of wisdom, deep belonging in Nature, revelation. Are you awake to these realities? It is a courageous journey, a Medicine Spiral is not for the faint-hearted.
Martha nodded a “yes”.
As you walk into the North, ask Mother Earth for three stones to carry with you. Start your Spiral by knowing the element of Earth, walk into the energies of winter that comes to this island from the Arctic in the North. Open your heart to An Cailleach, let Grandmother Earth in all her force teach you. Winter and New Year, the true start of the growing season, all begin at Samhain. Walk through the thin veils between the worlds at this time to receive and give healing to your Ancestors. Swim with the wisdom of An Bradán-the salmon, the oldest archetype of our tradition and learn what seeds of your becoming need to be sown at this time.
Be fearless as you are directed to safely enter the darkness of your shadow nature by the darkness of winter. In that dark space you will net unexpected energies to grow in power of the highest ethics and integrity. Let the three stones you are holding become for you, these seeds. Wrap these stones/seeds in a precious cloth as you learn to create the healing medicine bundle of the shaman, the ‘mála naofa’ (‘sacred bag’).
Hear the story of the first healing bundle, ‘An Corr Builg’ (‘Crane Bag’) grown by the Sea God, Manannan Mac Lir and let your Medicine Spiral journey be grounded in that myth and a fresh telling of it through your unique experiences, at the same time. Receive the first Deasghnátha, the initial rites of the shaman that bring energies of lightening and protection into your physical and auric bodies.
Martha took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “It is asking us to care for ourselves and the world as deeply and wisely as we can, isn’t it? Yet, to know that we are not alone, we have help, our Ancestors, Sacred Spirit Animals, Guides and Teachers. We are always growing.” She took my cue to shift her view clockwise to the East.
The Ancestors of this land did not understand the beginning of the day to be at sunrise, but at dusk, at the coming of darkness and dreamtime. Now as you face the East and the horizon of the sunrise, summon your courage to activate what new life you have dreamt in the North.
The creation myth of Tara tells of the need for death before new life can be known, the Mother Goddess here gave her life in childbirth of her son Lugh, the Sun God. Her corpse, the Earth we stand on, now brings forth abundance for all her living beings, fertilised by the light and heat of her son, Lugh. And so it is for you here in the East, that you need to know Death, in ritual.
Martha turned her head in my direction and recalled an ancient meaning of the word shaman, “one who has died many times”.
The East calls you to identify and to allow die beliefs and conditioning that limit you. The East calls you into a ritualistic Death where you can know the experience of your pure Spirit nature unfettered by a physical body. In this way you can know your Eternal Self in the sea of Infinity. The archetype of the East, An Iolar-the eagle flies with you now, sharing new vision for life and living from the higher perspective of the thermals. Now you can experience that Death of the body cannot amount to Death of your Spirit, bringing you fearlessness as you return to a grounding and full habitation of your physical body. Death nor fear no longer own you. Now you are ready to receive the light of the sun rising and in your way, bring forward abundance into all realms of your life and to the world. As an answer to this, the shaman in the East accepts Deasghnáth na h Airíoch, the ancient rite that activate the Self as a “caretaker of the Earth”, coming forcefully to us from the great Earthkeeper archetype Bríd, (Goddess Brigid). Her energies bring the sense of springtime entering your life and you become intimate with Imbolg, Bríd’s time in the turning of the year. The three stones for your ‘mála naofa’ that you will place there on your East journey will be for your Ancestors, choose them lovingly.
“In your Medicine Spiral, it must be the element of Air, the element of the East that I taste, yes?” said Martha. I confirmed it was so and asked her to once again to step clockwise a quarter of the circle around the Lia Fail to face the South.
Face now the direction from which our summer comes, know the times of Bealtaine and Summer Solstice, where the sun is at its highest. Unsurprisingly, you will work closely with the element of Fire. The fire rituals will illuminate and transform your experience of Time and Space, necessary if you are to truly know The Otherworld, the place of immortal energies. As the East has brought you into the experience of that Self that was never born and can never die, so the South calls you to open innate abilities to navigate that world of non-linear Time, (Tir Na nÓg, literally the land of eternal youth, i.e. no aging). The gift of the South journey to your life is transcendence, a consciousness rising brought by you burning away all that ties your identification to what is mortal about you, in this lifetime. An Nathair-the serpent, archetypal force of the South works with you now as you learn to shed skins of biographical stories that have held you back. On the far side of the South fires, you identify yourself only by your Spirit nature, allowing you to re-enter the physical world with mastery of Time and Space. There is much reward in your experience of lightness and freedom, as one who is no longer bound by stories of the past or present. Now you are prepared to cultivate the cherished ability of the shaman to live at will in ‘invisibility’. Mystical embrace of An Nathair in your South journey, the archetype of the healer and healing, deepens your prowess to do so, for oneself and for the world.
“Are there rites in the South?” asked Martha.
Deasghnáth Na Saoi, the rite of the wisdom keeper are timed for you in the South, a deep energetic activation of Self as pursuer and keeper of truth and wisdom. The ‘osnádúrtha’ (super-natural) energy found at the top of sacred mountains and hills are invoked for these rites, including right here, the Hill Of Tara.
“Of course”, added Martha, “the way of the shaman is a wisdom tradition. I really feel it here”.
The three stones you have brought on your South journey to be placed in your mála naofa are invested with the energies of your new found mastery and transcendence, so as to nurture both, sustaining strength and resilience in the face of challenges and fostering insight in the face of mystery.
“You know this South direction has just reminded me of another meaning of the word shaman, “one who is on fire”. Martha said, almost to herself. Once again I asked her to move clockwise a little around the Lia Fail, this time to face West.
“Before you start, I think I see why you call the West the ‘path of passing within’, it’s because we are turning on a spiral, not a wheel? I’m facing West now, but I am also travelling closer to the centre of the spiral by going through the West. Is that right?” Martha ventured. I tried a smile that acknowledged her insight, but that also left room for more.
The West, the horizon of the setting sun, the direction of dusk and the new day, look there now. This is the direction of destiny, where you undergo ritual that allows you see the momentum and direction of your Soul’s journey up to this time and place and beyond. West work asks that you discover if the current path of your Soul is the one for you to live in this lifetime? If it is, learn to embrace it fully. If it is not, the West teaches you how to leap from one Soul path to another. Whichever your outcome, you realise that you are living a life chosen by you, one of destiny and not one chosen for you, a life of fate. One of your three West stones for your almost complete mála naofa will carry the essence of your destiny.
“I’m at the right stone right now” Martha laughed, “too big for a mála though!”
The festival of Lughnasadh synonymous with the West, teaches us to harvest fully for and from our life on Earth. Another West stone will be infused with a key destination of the Medicine Spiral and one cultivated ritualistically, that of ecstasy.
Martha tilted her head to the sun and said, “that is the greatest medicine. We learn that too”.
Deasghnátha Na Réalta, the High Rites Of The Stars are gifted to you in the West, where you come to know our place in the firmament of the universe. The last stone you bring to your mála naofa you will know as your star stone. The immrama of the shaman, the wonder voyages, the visionary journeys into The Otherworld and back again are inspired by the archetypal animal of the West, the deer. As they lead us along ‘the mist filled path’, the stag teaches us the laws of the wild, sacred masculine and the doe, the laws of the wild, sacred feminine. The final stone of your mála naofa is the only one not chosen by you. It is gifted to you by your teacher. It is your lineage stone, the one that carries the energy of the shamanic lineage of this land and island. By stepping through the West on the Medicine Spiral, you pass into and become part of the living lineage of shamans. Appropriately, Water is the element of the West. Completing your mála brings us back to the water, the place of Manannan Mac Lir, source of the first mythic medicine bundle. Now you may wrap your complete mála naofa and carry your healing medicine bundle for your own balance and for that of the world. The shaman of the spiral tradition knows intimately the sacred energies of the trees. He/she knows healing interaction with our luminous neighbours here in the Middle World, Na Sí-the Faerie Kind too.
I stopped there knowing our lunchtime was coming to an end and we needed to return to our international colleagues. “I think I will tell my elders of the Medicine Spiral back home. I really like how your spiral is the same, but different to a wheel. The spiral communicates that your journey is travelling within to the centre of yourself and at the same time outwards into connection with all of creation“, Martha said as we made our way to the car. “Indeed”, I replied, “I like the spiral for teaching us that we are always travelling down into the earth and simultaneously up to the sky for Spiritual nourishment, like on one of those big car front suspension springs.”
On the road back, Martha asked what was the Irish-Gaelic word for ‘shaman’? “You know”, I said, “there isn’t one. And maybe there is a teaching in that”. “That’s alot of invisibility medicine, right there”, she added. I recalled an early teacher of mine who said people will always know your truth by what they feel when you enter the room and that was all the identity you need. As we left the car to join the afternoon session of the international gathering, Martha stopped and thanked me for the “look-see”, as she called it, into a Medicine Spiral. “You’re welcome, I wish I had a bracelet to trade which said “Honour The Spiral”, I replied. “Maybe someone will make them?” Martha suggested. I liked that possibility. I liked it a lot.