The ritual of cleansing oneself with water to begin anew is an old one.

From the seemingly simple act of taking a shower to the tradition of baptising a baby, water is seen as a nurturing source of life and a cyclical element. Its passage through the world, be it fresh or saltwater, is a constant variable that changes, connects, intersects, and forever maneuvers the way the human race develops. After all, fertile crescents and oases could not exist without water; nor could humans flourish the way that they have.

We began Day Two in the misty morning of October the 26th, breaking fast and heading out to the megalithic sites of Carrowmore. The clouds rolled back to open a brief window to a blue sky, just above the largest of the sites of anthropological [and archaeological, though that was not our focus here, as guide Michael Roberts was kind enough to remind us] excavation, before it closed once more. It seemed to be a godly wink down at the travelers about to experience another [literal] element of renewal: Irish rain. 

As we stood on the fields and reflected on the things that came before, we listened to Michael's melodic voice carrying us away to a time of communal understanding, tribal equality, and the lore of mountains made immortal by tales of their chieftains. It was there we heard the first mention of water, really -- how ice carved out a home for the first ancient peoples of the land we stood on, melted, but stayed in the memories of those who told stories and built altars to whomever they so believed in that ran with the blood of animals given with thanks to the gods for their lives.

Blood is another parallel to water [a literal parallel--it was another legend that said the Druid defeated the Warrior in Ireland, way back, and when the Warrior was laid low by the Druid, the Druid turned the Warrior's blood to water for the rivers]. In stories of Christ, it was said He turned water into wine; and later, the wine became symbolic of being His blood a person drank for communion. Another cleansing. A renewal. It is the life source of any animal on earth, much like the systems of water are the Earth's lifeblood. Arteries flow, and the Earth is sculpted by their gentle insistence to best suit the way the water wishes to move. So the ancients built altars to run with gratitude, and moved with the flowing of time.

They moved so fluidly, in fact, that it was reflected in their beliefs regarding reincarnation. Just as the water cycle recalls rain to the sky via evaporation, then sends it back to earth once more with condensation, so does the soul [in ancient tradition, according to Michael Roberts] return to the world in a new form.

Spherical in literal and metaphorical elements, the peoples of Carrowmore's sites would shape stones to perfectly round orbs and wear them around their necks [if they were a person of some important skill, such as an artisan or wise-person] after reaching a certain age. As they aged further, it was believed their souls would slowly trickle into the stone, and that stone [a soul-stone, to be precise] would be passed down post-mortem [and bone-fire, or bonfire, of the deceased, then a washing (yes, more water!)] to a young woman of the family's next generation who would then become pregnant, give birth, and that child was believed to be the soul of the deceased coming back to the living to continue their journey -- by starting anew.

All of this and more washed over us as we stood on a hill overlooking ancient stacks of stones -- accompanied by a wash of soft drizzle that seemed sent by Maeve herself [as she hid behind her "skirts," as Michael so referred -- a layer of mist through which her cairn could sometimes be glimpsed, stones stacked high and proud against the gusting winds of Knocknarea].

Water, as aforementioned, moves in cycles. It is believed by anthropologists that cycles, or circles, are a feminine symbol -- whereas structures, or specifically standing objects, were more masculine. This is also reflected in water as it is a giver of life. Those of the Carrowmore area believed, back in the day [7,000 years or so, depending on who you ask] in a feminine deity--as theirs was a life-giving land rich with soil and rain. A mother, a goddess, who was there to give life back to the land.

This we also found at the Holy Well we visited, albeit skewed by a different set of religious beliefs -- the message was much the same: one of healing and change. It was a place of respite, of quiet prayer, solitude, and a sense of great peace. There were places at which one could light candles, to dip one's hand in the liquid and bless oneself, and places to lay prayers in the trees. It was at the point I saw the trees full of rosaries, lost loved ones, ribbons, and writing that I myself welled up with water and cried. Not quite a lake of tears, but a stream of my own. A release, somehow, that told me I was not alone in how I'd been feeling regarding the state of our world of late.

[Michael Roberts had pointed out that it was interesting to see how the trees filled up with prayers and messages during times of worldly unease -- to see the holly weighed down by so many emotions really hit home.]

After we parted ways with the man of the land and lore who all but disappeared into the mist [so subtle and unassuming was his exit], we left for our last watery place of the day, moving in threes as Celtic lore suggests doing, a triskelion of our own completing its second cycle.

Fowley Falls was a hidden gem of rushing rivers and falling waters that all but burst for joy out and across their stones, filling the world with the song of the wilderness as it leapt forth through the surrounding forest. The first thing I did, in fact, upon seeing it, was laugh along in amazement -- a stark contrast from the tears shed at the Holy Well earlier. It was an entirely different piece of emotional movement -- one of pure freedom and weightlessness. It was refreshing to be there -- rejuvenating.

Inhaling the damp earth, its vague cinnamon afterscent, and the crisp freshness of leaves, I took a moment at each point along the path that I could and thought about what Trish had said before starting the journey -- reading passages from John O'Donohue's book regarding the element around which this entry is based. "I would love to live as a river flows," said O'Donohue, "carried away by the surprise of its own unfolding."

I have surprised myself by being here. It is . . . very difficult for me to let go of control, sometimes. To be [to pardon a pun] out of my element. At many times, I am structured, I am ritualistic, I am ingrained like the ground to follow certain protocol. But as one should not [and sometimes cannot] control the movement of the water, one must adapt to work with the flow of whatever's happening around oneself. Erosion will happen whether you like it or not, so it's best to erode with the current than to break down faster trying to work against it. To be shaped by the river of time is fine -- the shape the waters of life gives you has a message.

There is something to be learned in everything. A drop of knowledge to a sea of learning can mean the difference between drought and streams when the sun is high and the weather unkind. Sometimes it's essential to simply sit back and study the reflection of the world through a stream that catches the sky. Circling [see what I did there?] back to the Druid that Michael Roberts mentioned . . . they worked to solve their differences through discussion, rather than the defeated Warrior, who tried to settle their scores with war and destruction -- one can only hope the world will cycle back in that direction sometime soon.

One can hear the discussion of the rivers as they whisper and bubble up and sigh through the nine sacred trees of Fowley Falls. One need only look around to see that there are places in our world that need help, not further hindrance. Water, the source of life, is constantly threatened by stubbornness and the warring nature of certain ideals. I won't get into all that, but I will simply say that nature is always trying to talk to us. To guide us, when we hit walls we don't know how to get around.

Sometimes you can find answers down the lane, or, more likely, across the ocean. Take the journey.

Or, more in fitting with our theme: Don't just dip a toe in.

Take the plunge and bathe in new life.

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Tags: Living History, celtic, folklore, memoirs, myths, pilgrimage, samhain, seasons, tours, tradition, More…travel, travelogue, west


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