One of the primary intentions of our recent six-week pilgrimage, first to Scotland and then to Ireland, was to visit EarthSpirit sanctuaries in these ensouled landscapes. We hoped to find portals to the Otherworld in order to contact renewing, healing, transformative energies for us all, and especially for some friends with cancer. I wanted to learn how to enter the field of divinity, the aliveness of the EarthSpirit world’s interpenetrating energies with awareness and respect. Interested in both geology and in our ancestors’ spiritual relationship with Rock, I knew this quest would involve a deeper meeting with rock beings in their many forms.
When we arrived at a stone circle in southwest Ireland (whose Gaelic name means Edges of the Field) we were moved by the familiar experience of seeing that the circle overlooks a vast, beautiful landscape. Most stone circles seem to be in places of expansive power, part of a whole sacred landscape. To the north were the lovely Paps of Anu, the pair of breast-shaped hills, both over 2,000 feet high, named after Anu/Aine, the primary local fertility goddess of the region, or after Anu/Danu, ancient mother goddess of the supernatural beings, the Tuatha De Danann. The summits of both hills have Neolithic cairns, which look exactly like erect nipples. This c. 1,500 BC stone circle would have drawn upon the power of the still-pervasive earlier mythology of the land as the Mother’s body. But today the tops of the hills were veiled in low, milky clouds, and we could only long for them to be revealed.
It was early September, and glorious purple heathers and golden native gorse clothed the land. We entered through a gate, glad to see that the circle was protected from cows, which can topple ancient stones by rubbing up against them. This nine-stone circle (originally eleven), one of the largest in an area full of small Bronze-Age stone circles, felt beautifully complete in its landscape and complete in itself, but, on the surface, not as magnificent as some of the other circles we have visited. In the middle were two milky quartz rocks.
After praying for a while in the circle, we returned to our car and were checking the map when a red car pulled up beside us, and a man knocked on the window. When we rolled it down he asked if we were lost. We said no, we were just visiting the stone circle. “By the way,” my husband, David, asked, “are you the caretaker?” “Yes.” “Thank you for your care of it, it’s wonderful.” The farmer, whose name we learned is Francie, said, “Do you know there’s a white stone in there that’s an energy point?” “No.” “Come, I’ll show you.” Back inside the circle, he said, “A lot of diviners, dowsers, have come here, and they say it’s on an energy line. It’s the only band of quartz around here. People come for healing. It’s a healing stone, especially for cancer. The quartz is like a battery. This one is in the ground and the one beside it is the cap, like this,” he said, replacing it. “You take the cap off and stand on the other one in your bare feet.”
We talked for two hours as he told us about how the relationships between the soils and plants and animals are all upset, now that the old ways are gone. “The new, bigger breeds of cows disturb the soil. The old Kerry cows’ milk was more like sheep’s milk, which the human body can digest. People have trouble digesting the fats of butter and cheese from the new cows.” But the old breeds of sheep had the increased microactivity that made their milk digestible. That’s why he’s raising the old breeds.
And he talked about the plants. “The new pine plantations acidify the soil and water,” he said, “and kill the fish. Donkeys won’t drink from pools near those foreign trees.” Sheep eat the heather in winter and the low “soft gorse” in springtime, he told us, but they can’t eat the tall, invasive gorse, which is outcompeting the native gorse and the other native trees and shrubs, such as the mountain ash. “See those red rowan berries, the migrating birds eat them. They are the highest in vitamin C, and they kill bird viruses.” The rushes brought into the land for torches and wicks are invasive. He cuts them to let the native rushes come back, which are good for the mountain ponies. “Ponies were the best grazers for these mountains. That’s why I’m breeding ponies.” The web of relationships was being re-spun right before my eyes!
He pointed to the tall, native summer grass and said, “Every animal eats this, or used to. It’s what naturally grows best everywhere in these hills. Burning it in winter or spring fertilizes the earth; it seeds best after burning.” But now non-native grasses are grown and artificially fertilized. As he was about to leave he added, seemingly as an afterthought, “Oh, and the Kerry cows ate the magic mushrooms. Drinking their milk caused dreaming. That’s where the songs and stories came from, and seeing the fairies. The storytellers are gone now. Maybe you’ll go see the Hag of Beara and have a dream tonight.” When he mentioned the Cailleach, the shaper of the land, by her local name, he waved his arm as if she was right over there. “She was the most powerful woman in Ireland,” he said. (We did later visit her, high up on a cliff overlooking the ocean.)
The old storytellers may be gone, but I have come to think of these kinds of encounters in Ireland that invariably appear suddenly to show the way, as the visitations of fairies, this time a farmer fairy. I felt like I had just experienced a dream of the earth, this landscape’s dreaming.
From what I know of ecology, this all rang true, so I was inclined to trust his knowledge of the white stone, too. After saying good-bye, we went back into the circle, and I stood on the small quartz boulder in my bare feet as instructed, facing the altar stone. Immediately my feet and legs began to shake, on and on. Then my right hand, uncontrollably, then pelvis, torso. I almost felt like I couldn’t stand it, that I’d shake apart or explode. I tried to not resist the energy. I had moments of thinking my mind should be helping to direct the process somehow, but the message of the stone was, “No, just let me do my work.” Tears came, surrender. Each time I would ask for the healing vibrations to extend to our friends, the shaking would increase. I prayed to stop getting in the way and just allow the healing energies to come through. My whole body continued to shake. I didn’t know when or how it would stop.
Finally there was a lessening. I got down, and we went outside the gate and found four more small pieces of quartz that seemed to want to join us. I got back up on the boulder, immediately shaking again, praying for this healing energy from the Mother to go to our friends and into the quartz pieces, so we could take the healing properties back home with us to them. Then I felt a profound peace. I knew it was over and I could get down. I felt totally cleaned out, as if I had been through an internal washing machine, rocked into molecules and squeezed out. We walked around the circle three times, sunwise, laying hands on each stone, grounding, grounding, grounding. Having nothing else with us to give, we left a few of our hairs as offerings, expressing great gratitude. Oh, the circle looked so beautiful now. David said, “Yes, it looks more alive!”
A few days after we got back home David read me a new research article published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology about psilocybin’s mystical experience-causing properties. I learned that “magic mushroom” is the actual common name of the potent Irish species. It’s quite possible, likely even, that Francie gestured to them and, being so small, we didn’t see them. They grow in just such naturally cow-fertilized grassy uplands as those we were standing in, and it would have been the right season, autumn. They would be an ecological feature of the sacred landscape story he was telling, past and present, not an “afterthought.” It also explains his reference to dreams, as the research showed that they produce “a pattern of activity that resembled ‘dream sleep.’”
The Cailleach is the ancient hag-goddess of the cairns, sacred mounds of stone, the dwelling places (sí) of the aos sí, the people of the goddess Danu, who retreated underground and became the fairies, spirits of nature. Wise-woman, healer, the Cailleach watches over dreams. I am fascinated reading about the ritual uses of white quartz in Irish archeomythology, namely that these clocha geala, ‘shining stones,’ are associated with the sí, the ancestors, and with healing. Researching other stone circles in southwest Ireland to visit on our next trip, within minutes we find four more with quartz boulders in the middle. Are they all on energy lines?
I continue to work with the piece of quartz I kept for myself. It seems pleased to connect us back to the healing stone, to the Mother, and it continues to shake me. It is teaching me how to approach it respectfully, how to join with it ritually, how to honor its aliveness, so it can do its connecting work. It is teaching me how to relate more deeply with the quartz outcrops, remnants of an ancient volcano, here on our land. I am a novice. This will be a gradual learning process. Today, the stone taught me to wash it with some drops of holy water. Yes, water I’d brought home from the Holy Well of St. Brigid in Kildare would do nicely. When I washed the stone, it seemed to brighten joyfully. Then I was told to wrap it in a cloth. I found one that reminded me of the yellow and green gorse that Francie so admired, and tied it with a gold ribbon in honor of milky quartz’s common association with veins of gold. I am thankful for this portal to the Healing Mother.
Having witnessed our ancestors’ profound connections to Rock at ancient sites all over the UK and Ireland, we received this encounter as a gift of healing straight from the Magic, the Mystery that is still so close at hand in the lrish land. My dream is that we can again learn to listen respectfully to the wise conversations between the plants and animals and rocks, and to the stories of the Old Ones wherever we live, so that we may all share awareness of sacred landscape as a field interwoven with healing energies.
The Livestock Conservancy says that the rare “Kerry cattle are indigenous to Ireland and are one of the oldest European breeds of cattle…. The Kerry descends from the ancient, fine-boned, black Celtic cattle that occupied this area at the time of Caesar’s invasion of Britain…. The globules of butterfat in the milk are smaller than those from most dairy breeds, making the milk more easily digestible by people.” https://livestockconservancy.org/index.php/heritage/internal/kerry