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The Blood is in the Land
Article ID: 14758
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When I was a kid I suffered frequent nightmares. Some are still vivid now even decades later. Many children have bad dreams of the normal kind. I know I had a few when I was very young, but an event when I was just short of six seems to have been a catalyst for more than the usual things children experience.
In the summer of 1969, I came down with chickenpox. I had it for nearly two weeks and ran a very high fever. My mom said at one point my fever spiked at over 104 degrees and she put me in a bathtub full of ice to cool me down. I have no memory of that. In my delirium, I also took a walk out of my bunk bed and concussed myself. These days I’d certainly have been given a quick trip to hospital, but that was over 40 years ago and things were different then. I’m pretty sure that I was a lot sicker than even my worried parents knew. What I do remember even now are some of the hallucinations and something else. I had my first out of body experience. It seems a door opened during those weeks that only partly closed afterwards. Along with out of body experiences, I had dreams for years later, but now they were more focused on a specific topic.
Over the years, my night world has often had dreams that I’ve felt were from another life or lives. Of course, most of my dreams are about the concerns of the day and the nonsensical junk that clutters my everyday mind. Only once in a while do they reach to something deeper, more profound. For whatever reasons, I have always been tried to listen to what my dreams tell me, and perhaps because of the kinds of dreams I’ve had I’ve also had more glimpses into the world of the other side of the veil. Perhaps this is why Samhain has always been the celebration that means the most to me.
Samhain represents the dark and the light on the night of crossroads. For me, it has also been a night to honor the past, and my ties to things in the past that matter to me. I’ve always felt we relate to our land in a reciprocal relationship between the land and its people. It is also about the history embedded in the land we live in. In the USA, we treat the Civil War as a pivotal event in our national history and this year marks the start of the 150th anniversary of that era. The sesquicentennial is a historic event of some import.
On Samhain, we honor both the present and what is in the past. It was during these years so much that formed our modern world came into being. Here’s an example: One person whose life affects anyone with a love of the environment was a young Scottish immigrant engineer. John Muir was working in a factory during the Civil War when an accident nearly blinded him. He vowed that if he got his sight back to change his life’s course from the study of scientific marvels to what he referred to as the study of God’s grand cathedral of wildness. John Muir became vagabond naturalist and evolved into an environmentalist. He eventually became the spiritual father of the environmental movement and National Park Service.
During this time, narrow notions of what constituted human rights changed. The Civil War was a dreadful war that may only have partly been fought over the issue of slavery. Yet, it contained the seeds of equality for all people and genders in future generations. With the enfranchisement of the African-American population, women and other minorities followed steadily over the succeeding decades. Nearly 1/3 of the total male population of the generation died as result of the conflict.
Séances and other forms of mediums to communicate with the deceased became extremely popular after the conflict and continued for decades afterwards. One can even make a case that the spiritualism craze then seeded the ground for the modern Pagan revival and all it entails.
Who says “New Age” is all that new?
In other ways as well, I see the events of a century and a half past still affect us daily. As the famous literary author William Faulkner put it, ‘We are our history’. So many issues, such as civil rights, the role of our place in the environment, our relationship to our civil government and its role in our lives, and values of an urbanized vs. rural lifestyle are all rooted in issues going back over a century and a half. When I study history I am amazed that so many contemporary issues have mirrors that go back to the 19th century and even further. We may filter the issues through a lens made of our contemporary society, but perennial issues do not go away. They are the human issues that have made us what we are, for good or ill, and they connect us across the past and present in this land we live in.
We and the land we live in are kin to each other. It is our human culture, it is the way that our environment intertwines with us, and it is the way that the land brings us into touch with the universal. As John Muir said, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world”. On the esoteric side, this is best expressed in the whole idea of past lives.
Like many others, I have always had a strong conviction that we live multiple lives. Raymond Moody’s landmark book likens the recall of a past life to the paper underneath of a pad of paper that has been written on. A little bit underneath can be read through on the following pages even if the top is now torn off and discarded. My own dream memories were like that, a few moments of witnessed clarity about something I experienced outside of this lifetime. They are just little bits of often-traumatic experience recalled in the middle of dreaming. It did turn me into quite the history buff, though sometimes the reading of it sent shivers down my back as I‘d find bland words on a page matched the memory of what my dream memory said it was to be there.
Just in case you’re wondering, none of my dream memories ever said anything about me being important in any way. (I’ve also had plenty of those normal dreams with me flying or shooting lightning bolts from my hands.) No, these dreams involved things experiencing things of a past time and place. I can remember the look of a side-wheel steamer making a full head of steam driving towards me. I can remember riding in a train and the view of a familiar city skyline, but made of brick and wood, and marching over a improvised bridge in a driving rain while flood waters made the floor beneath shiver and groan. Sometimes it was just an emotional moment that was passed on with a clarity that transcended my present lifetime.
Nevertheless, I very much live a normal life in most ways. Each of us lives our own lives in this time and place in our own unique manner. There is an all too human paradox here. Our past may affect our present life, but you simply cannot relive a past life, only be influenced by it so some extent. History notwithstanding, I’ve often wondered how many of us alive today are unconsciously going through the motions of a past life in their present one. I must not be the only one. Every esoteric convention I’ve ever attended is full of psychics (some real, some charlatans) offering to find out about your past life (s) and what it all means.
When we die, we cross the veil to another place, but then at some point it seems we come back again. Moody’s book was based on some pretty solid science and while scientific method does not claim to provide positive proof, it does put a lot of weight behind the notion that something out there must be going on. So why is this so? What is the weight that calls us back to this world? Or more specifically, why live our lives over sometimes in the very shadow of the land that a past life was lived in? We are supposed to learn something, but what? I will not pretend to have answers here. In any case, I suspect the answers I’d find for myself are not going to be the same ones others would find for themselves. That is how it is meant to be. Perhaps the concept of Karma applies even if I’m sure my understanding of the full Buddhist meaning of the word isn’t complete.
Once or twice in my life, I’ve glimpsed something akin to the divine. Like the Allegory of the Cave first put forth by Plato over two and a half millennium ago, I can only say I saw a dim reflection of what our twisted skein of fate is across this life and others. Is there something more than blood relatives, deeds in past lives, and the very land itself that individually we find ourselves tied to?
As Pagans of various paths, one thing many have in common is a feeling that we owe the land and ourselves to get “it” right this time. I can’t even tell you what “it” is. All I can relate to is the following: This is not some spirit that can be appeased by the performance of any ritual any more than the kissing of saints bones assured the sinner of salvation in the middle ages, or human sacrifice satisfied the Chac Gods of the Aztec. The energy is within the self, be it good or negative. Any ritual must reach that which is within the self before anything beyond that can ever be hoped to be touched.
The genesis of this article on Samhain comes from an event that happened a few years ago. I was at Darkover, a science fiction convention. Every year, they have esoteric activities sponsored as part of the event. I’ve done these a number of times over the years. I’m one of those people who are not consumed with esoteric things, but when the spirit moves me (pun fully intended) , I join in to learn and grow. The programming that year in part was put on by Reverend Rik Fire and his charming wife. It was a dream quest ceremony lasting a few hours. I’m usually wary about ceremonies based on Native American practices since I am very conscious that these are sometimes stolen and modified to suit the user much to the dismay of many Native Americans who feel it is another theft of their culture. However Rik Fire put me at ease with his approach to the ritual and I decided to see what would happen.
Something did happen. As the ritual progressed, I met an animal companion that had recently passed on, and he guided me on to experiences that are hard to put into words. In fact, there were no words spoken to me during almost all of the dream vision, which was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before or since. Much of what I experienced was visual and some of it I still feel too personal to share, but at one point I went to a place I’d visited before near the Susquehanna River. Instead of being in the here and now though, there was a long hall with drumming going on. I think all of the drummers were women, though most were in shadow and more felt than seen.
At one end of the hall there was a fire and a Grandmother sat at its head. I moved towards here into the hall and without words requested a place. Grandmother’s reaction was a look that said: “What have some of my children become!” but a place was given to me, and then she shook a turtle shell rattle, the drumming faded, and the dream vision went on. I saw many bits of lives, flashes of beauty, some of great pain and great happiness and finally one phrase was put into words: “The Blood is in the Land”. Those were the only words spoken during the entire vision. Shortly thereafter, I came back into myself to wonder and be amazed at what had unfolded.
I’ve spent a few years since then trying to figure all this out. I know that some of my dreams (or nightmares) have been tantalizing glimpses into a very turbulent past life in the Civil War era. However, there have been other glimpses of lives as well and not all rooted in the Americas, if I interpret them rightly.
I’m not a member of the great Wannabe tribe. My own ethnic heritage is typical mixed American of mostly European immigrant stock. In appearance, I could have fit in with Leif Ericcson and his crew on a Viking longboat. Indeed, my father’s family got off a ship from Europe shortly after the end of World War II having lost everything worth anything before making a fresh start in the Americas.
On the other hand, mother’s family has branches that go back to the Lenape (Delaware) people. In her home she keeps a print of a photograph taken sometime in middle of the 19th century of her great grandmother. She was a Lenape, born in the 1840s, a powerful figure for many generations of her family and living into my mom’s lifetime. Last Thanksgiving when I went home, I found my mom had rediscovered a gift given to her as a little girl over 70 years before and turned into a shadowbox decoration. It was a string of Wampum, handmade and very, very old. Seeing it had been passed down to her filled me with a sense of awe. This was no trinket, but an ancient tangible tie passed down to her from many generations past. It is a part of me, too.
We are the blood in the land, and our bodies will return to it in time. Samhain returns to us in its own season each year, a timeless thing out of time drawing us to heed the purpose and meaning that dwells on both sides of the veil. Now when I look into the fire on Samhain, I also see meaning and place for my life and those around me. Even on those times when I have tears in my eyes from those special to me I’ve had to part from, I don’t feel a complete sense of loss. When I look into the darkness on the other side that is out of this world I glimpse a faint skein of purpose and completeness, not just darkness, fear and cold oblivion.
May it also be so with you.
Life After Life: the investigation of a phenomenon – survival of bodily death, San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.
(originally published 1975)
The past is never dead. It's not even past.
Allegory of the Cave, Book VII of Plato's, The Republic.
William O. Douglas
Muir of the Mountains
North Star Books, 1994.
Copyright: c. 2011 A. I. Mychalus
Location: New Park, Pennsylvania
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