Photo Credit: Jethro Tanner
I’m just back from the Kiva, a four-day ceremony of purification and prayer in the flatlands of Cambridgeshire, close to where the Greenwich meridian crosses the ancient Michael and Mary Ley Lines. There were more than 20 indigenous elders – ‘wisdom keepers’ – from round the world, many from Mexico. A huge Plains Indians tipi looked completely at home. The Kiva, a re-activated Hopi tradition, is circular hollow cut into the ground, two metres deep and thirteen metres wide. It is entered barefoot through a gateway down a sloping path. There are shrines in the four directions and at the centre is a raised sacred fire. It’s a focus for offerings, drumming, medicine songs, prayer and thanksgiving.
There were over 100 people. Each day we had the chance to do two temazcal sweat lodges and two Kivas. In between there were talks, music, ceremonies, storytelling and tasty food. The lodges, run in the Mexican or Lakota style, are steeped in song, prayer and sweat. Red-hot stones are placed in a central hole and doused with water, making instant steam. There can be extreme heat. I was pouring sweat. These are purification ceremonies, a chance to sing your heart out, shed toxins, let go of blocks, ask for healing and tune into your timeless self. I was not as hard-core as some and didn’t make the 7am lodge. Even so, three sweats in three days was a first for me. Plenty purification! All praise to the crew who built the lodges, kept the fires going and handled the glowing rocks.
I’d been invited to the Kiva to somehow represent indigenous Britain. All sorts of paradoxes there. Easy to feel ‘imposter syndrome’. But I suppose 30 years immersed in the old stories and sacred landscapes of Britain, and, at the same time, building Cae Mabon (described by OBOD’s Chief Druid as the most druid-like place he knows anywhere), mounts up. Still, in many ways I’m making it up as I go along. I’m responding to a call and being led on a crash course.
Before going into the Kiva the elders are smudged with the smoke of copal incense. Then, with a handful of cedar leaves, we go through the gateway, turn round and walk down into the Earth saying prayers as we offer cedar leaves to each shrine. Who knows what the others are praying for? I hear Pachamama – the Earth Mother – spoken many times. The elements too are named. There are prayers for the health and happiness of family and friends. Perhaps some are for abundant crops and continuing fertility. For myself I pray to the old demigods of these islands, especially those I know in Eryri, northwest Wales. I call to Mabon and Modron; Math and the characters of his domain; Ceridwen and her cauldron; to Merlin and his enduring prophesy. (‘Root and branch will change places,’ he said, ‘and the newness of the thing will seem a miracle’.) I summon Dinas Emrys, a natural cauldron for ‘fiery higher powers’ and an ancient place for communing with the gods. I pray that these ages old Brythonic spirits might awaken and come to guide and bless our endeavours.
These mythic beings swirled through the air in prayer and in tales. I hoped they might somehow land and cross-fertilize with the worldviews of the Earth’s Indigenes, gathered here to gently teach us the error of our ways. There was, perhaps, a small step in that fruitful direction. But more important for us was the indigenous teaching about re-enchanting, re-sacralising the world. This was demonstrated through practises such as praying frequently to greater powers, offering gifts and gratitude, giving and receiving blessings, enveloping all in a warm and generous love. I specially loved the ways of blessing: by a feather wand, like being touched with angel’s wings; by incense smoke, a gift for the nose and the soul; by a floppy wet flower, dipped in holy water; by drops flung from cedar and rosemary entwined, good for healing pains; by two unlit candles, trailed across the body, lighting little fires.
It’s these things – blessings, prayers, song chants, hugs, purifications and offerings – that help to make the world sacred again. And gathering together in a proto tribe. Such ways may come from simpler, agrarian times when life wasn’t as fraught and complicated as it is now. We can’t escape how it is now. But we could do with a dose of ‘simplicity’. Indigenous voices bring many gifts. If we allow it, they will touch our hearts and open us up.
Not so long ago our ancestors in these lands sailed around the world and decimated the indigenous peoples they/we found. We conquered. We destroyed: people and language, culture and life… We were a major source of colonialism. We also kicked off the Industrial Revolution, bringing advances but at the cost of severance from the natural world. We can’t change that. It’s not wise to drown in guilt. But we can do better now. We can learn from our mistakes and look for ways to make amends. Miraculously some Indigenous peoples have survived and are returning to these islands to teach us about the important things in life: like community, reconnecting with Nature and communing with the divine.
The Indigenous people are coming to forgive and to bless us. They are coming to heal, not to harm. They may be just what we need.
Thanks to Brett and Kathy Kellett who made the Kiva happen; to Ben Christie who brought the Wisdom Keepers; and to the Indigenous elders themselves who travelled far to bring us their truth.