After being depressed all day Sunday, I decided to go on a guided tour yesterday to some Celtic hot spots in the Irish countryside. I joined a small band of tourists, three from Italy, two from Germany, a couple from Washington State, a mother and daughter from Holland via Curacao, and six young college guys from Kansas University. We were led by a wee Dubliner named Eamon, who came prepared with stories and cds of celtic music and U2.
Being somewhat of a Pagan, I thought that going to some iron-age ruins might rustle up some vitality in my listless spirit. But as we stopped at Fourknocks, an ancient burial tomb of the early Pagan people, Mellifont Abbey, the remains of an ancient Cistercian Church and a few other early early Christian sites I was vaguely intrigued, but I didn't get goosebumps or any other kind of strange signs that the my ancient ancestors were speaking to me. I will say, however, that the company of our little traveling band was really enjoyable, and until I discovered that the young men from Kansas were Bush loving, anti-Obama-ites, I was feeling very hopeful about the future of our country with these curious, humble young men in the picture.
After a tourist gouging lunch stop, we headed for the Hills of Tara. This is a spot better seen from a helicopter in that it is the grass covered remains of an iron-age Pagan village. It was the seat of power of the early Celtic peoples. There is a very phallic stone set on the top of the hill that the high kings of Ireland had to embrace while calling out into the wind in order to transition into their reigns. Other than that all that remains is a hill, or series of hills that were man made long ago.
I was sure that as I stepped onto this sacred firmament my whole being would light up, explode with life and synergy. But as I set my foot on the hill, nothing happened. I set off in the direction of what seemed from ground level like a spiral path leading to the High King stone, winding around I approached the royal rock, hugged it just to make sure I wasn't the new king & stood there wondering, just a little, what was wrong with me that I felt no visceral affinity with this ancient place.
I looked around and noticed my group reading plaques and climbing the tomb hill, but my eyes were drawn to two beautiful little trees seemingly outside the encampment. They were two of many trees along the border. They, like the others, were covered in little white flowers. But something about them called to me, so I walked over to them, away from everyone else, away from all the plaques telling me what was historic and important. As I got closer I noticed that these trees had all sorts of things tied to them: scarves, socks, shoelaces, plain old string, bibs, baby clothes. It was utterly mystifying and enchanting at the same time.
I immediately removed the head scarf I was wearing and was going to tie it to the tree. But that didn't seem right for me. Then I heard what I thought was the call to head back to the bus. I panicked. I knew I had to leave something at this spot, but I didn't want to hold up the tired and cold group.
As I stood under and between these two fantastic trees wondering if I should leave my scarf or rip something off my clothing, I noticed that there were all sorts of coins inserted into the nooks and crevices of the trees as well. That's it, I thought. I pulled out a .50€ and jammed it between two branches.
It fell to the ground.
I picked it up and set it carefully and deliberately into the tree. At the same time I said a very hurried, but honest prayer/wish. And then I ran back to the bus, only to discover that I had misinterpreted the call I'd heard, and we had a bit more time. So I went out onto the hills of Tara and took a deep breath and sat for a few minutes with the land.
When I went back to the bus I asked Eamon if he knew the story of the two trees and why there were things tied to it.
He said, "Oh, that's where the Holy Well is. It was custom to tie pieces of clothing that belonged to a sick person to the trees closest to the Holy Well in order to be cured."
Amazed, I said, "But I didn't see any water."
"Well, that's because it is a spring that lies under those two trees. The ancient people believed that the source of the great rivers were Holy sites and so named them after the Pagan goddesses, they were that Holy."
"I didn't leave a piece of clothing, I left a coin."
"Oh, well that works too. You know, it's like an offering."
Indeed, I thought, it was an offering, not to cure a sickness, but as thanks for this beautiful land, thanks for the abundance of opportunities I have had to connect to the people on this planet, to the planet itself. It was an offering to the great goddesses of this ancient land in hopes that I might be lucky enough to continue to open my heart to the beauty of this world and to learn how it is that I might repay my debt, how I might learn to put everything I have been given to use. As trite as it might sound, it was an offering to the Holy Well so that I might learn how it is that I can help make this grand and brilliant world a better place.
My mother asked me on Sunday, after I called her and told her I was depressed and lonely, if I wanted to come home. I said no, but I kinda felt a little like I did.
But then, yesterday, though there were never goosebumps, it must be said that something ancient called out to me and pulled me closer at the Hills of Tara.
Perhaps I am coming closer to the home within myself. This stumble around Europe, this lost feeling of the last few days might just be the right path after all.