by Vicki Noble
MatriFocus, a Cross-Quarterly Web Zine for Goddess Women Near & Far
As a Goddess-honoring feminist woman whose shamanistic awakening in 1976 included strong bodily sensations and sensitivities, I have been especially interested in ancient practices of perceiving energies and forces through the body ("clairsentience").
Ancient people who built stone circles, round temples, mounds and other earthworks apparently were experts in the practices of channeling (receiving, registering, and transmitting) energies through the physical body, similar perhaps to what contemporary witches have called "drawing down the Moon." The frequent analogies that ancient and tribal peoples have made between formations in the sky (such as the Milky Way) and terrestrial configurations (e.g. a river such as the Amazon or Yangtze) leads me to believe that they were relying on a fusion of several perceptive functions at once, rather than simply using the cognitive or visual senses as we so often tend to do.
This blending suits me well, as my own awakenings have turned out to be so starkly physical while at the same time totally transformative on spiritual and psychological levels. For example, I have written at length about my original visionary experiences in the late 1970's, in which, during the first one, I simultaneously experienced the yogic phenomenon of "kundalini rising," along with spontaneous astral projection, hearing a distinct voice, and receiving reincarnational information that when verified proved to be true. When several months later I realized all this in a moment of integration, this realization precipitated an even more intense visionary experience in which a dramatic transmission of "dharma teachings" occurred through the visual, symbolic channel, while I and another person present experienced supernatural physical phenomena occurring in the room at the same time. In both experiences, the presence of unadulterated Great Bliss was paramount.
Not long after these two dramatic episodes, my precognitive senses were activated through dreams, one strong example of which was my "big dream" (on Hallowe'en, 1979) of a volcano erupting near my home in northern California. As I have discussed in earlier writings, during the following spring of 1980, a boil emerged on my back causing me intense pain for 6 days, at the end of which time I mentioned that it "felt like a volcano ready to erupt." The next day Mt. St. Helens (in nearby Oregon) erupted, and so did my boil, leading me to entitle a chapter in my 1991 book, Shakti Woman, "Her body is my body," in an effort to express this shocking and sudden illumination of our ultimate physical embeddedness as cells in the body of the Earth Mother.
Given this history, it's not really surprising that in my travels to ancient sites of Goddess worship around the planet, I frequently experience the sites through these physical channels more strongly than the intellectual, visual, or rational functions. In fact the physical energies often push through my pictures or thoughts about a place, showing me something more profound or genuinely "real" through the sensations and activities in my body, which override the processes of thought taking place in my mind.
For this reason more than any other, it is imperative--if possible--for me to visit a place in the flesh, rather than trying to understand it from afar through books, stories, articles, or pictures. To hear or read, for example, that the stone temples of Malta were built "in the image of a woman," is one thing; to stand in the center of the round womb-rooms and vaginal entrance of such an ancient stone structure is quite another.
One level of this kind of pilgrimage is simply to re-enact whatever rituals and formulas the ancients used, as far as we know about a place from the folklore, history, mythology, archaeology, anthropology, and ehnography.
For instance, when Jennifer Berezan and I took a group of women in Britain to do ritual at the famous "Men A Tol" in Devon (a circular standing stone with a hole in the center), the whole group climbed through the stone one at a time, while the others chanted and prayed, as we knew had been done since ancient times to promote abundance, fertility, safe childbirth, and the healing of physical, mental, and emotional dis-ease. We even passed a baby through the hole, as we had read about in the traditional folklore. Much of the ritual work we do on Goddess pilgrimages is in this form of sacred mimicry, in hopes of contacting or "accessing" some of the same earth energies and forces that we know our ancestors felt from the oral and written traditions left to us.
Of course, at times our lack of experience and naiveté become all too obvious, as we push off from the basic rituals and abandon ourselves to the presence of invisible and unpredictable vibrational energies which we are not accustomed to housing in our bodies. On the same trip in England, for instance, our whole group climbed up onto a large "cromlech" or "dolmen" (standing stones with a huge flat table-top stone arranged on top of them). A splendid wind was blowing, and we were quite high up, and clearly it went to our heads. As we quickly became exhilarated with ecstatic chanting and singing, and from the simple closeness of such strong elemental forces, a woman suddenly leapt off the stone and landed safely on the ground below. After her, the rest of us naturally followed suit-without a single rational thought having time to assert itself inside the enchanted spontaneity of the moment. The last woman to jump broke her ankle. Fortunately for us (given the all-too physical reality of liability, lawsuits, and so on), she reported that in the moment before she leapt, she knew she was going to injure herself but simply could not refrain from jumping.
Sometimes the physical and vibrational earth energies of a place manage to assert themselves, even if we have not yet deliberately created a ritual vehicle or form for their manifestation. It is often as if the primal power of a place insists on revealing itself or making a display, even when we are otherwise preoccupied with our Western intellectual approaches to the site.
My most striking memory of this happening was on my first visit to the Greek site of Delphi, home of the oracular priestess called "Pythia," whose ecstatic trances and prophetic pronouncements were famous all over the ancient world. A dragon supposedly guarded the mountain entrance to the "Cave of the Nymphs," where the earliest oracle to Gaia had been established when it was brought from Crete to the mainland around 1200 B.C.E. The priestess was described as first breathing some kind of magical "vapors" that arose from a "cleft in the rocks" over which she sat on a tripod in order to receive and transmit her visions.
Since it was the first time either of us--my co -- leader, Demetra George, and I -- had visited this ancient site, we had arranged in advance for a guide to meet us and take us around the ruins. The guide, a middle-aged Greek man, had a booming deep base voice and an extreme fascination with the military campaigns associated with the site during the later Classical times.
As he spoke to our group of thirty-five women gathered around him in a circle, going on about this battle and that war, and what offerings were brought to Delphi from which country in exchange for which oracles of ultimate victory or loss, I felt myself drifting away. My gaze was drawn to the landscape, beautiful beyond words -- forested mountains and deep valleys, with mists rising up from the valley floor to where we sat under an even steeper mountain that rose up behind us.
As I glanced up toward the top of the mountain, I saw that it split in two, forming what looked distinctly like a "cleft," reminding me that the Corycian Cave (where we were scheduled to do ritual together the following day) was hidden up there somewhere.
I started free-associating that the "vapors" rising up from the valley below might be those mentioned in the ancient texts, and the cleft in the mountainside, whose exact location had bewildered scholars over the years, could just possibly be that utilized by the oracular mouthpiece, Pythia, the snake priestess herself.
As this thought was forming itself in my mind, a powerful impulse to laugh began to rise uncontrollably from my belly, threatening to disrupt the orderly tour group in an unruly and inappropriate way. I slipped away from the group and sat myself down on a nearby stone wall, looking out into the distance over the lower part of the site, and trembling -- I couldn't stop weeping and laughing, and my body shook with powerful "kundalini" energy in some kind of memory dance. Down below the site, coming gradually into focus, stood the round white "tholos" temple of Athena that long predated the area where we currently sat in "Apollo's precinct."
Later that day, our
already large group grew to fifty when a boatload of female pilgrims from
an Olivia women's cruise landed at the site and (many of them friends
of ours from the Bay Area) joined us. Although we gathered at the round
temple of Athena, we were forbidden by the guard (on account of official
Greek government protocols) to hold hands, sing, or do ritual around the
exquisite marble ruin. However, discerning from his demeanor that he might
actually be sympathetic to our cause, we told him we were an international
group of women who loved Athena, gave him a monetary contribution, and
implored him to allow us to worship her there in some way. In one of those
rare and spontaneous miracles of sacred group travel, which seemed somehow
in my mind linked with my earlier ecstatic experience of laughing and
crying, he let us enter the olive grove (sacred to Athena) and perform
our ritual -- but only after we waited until the last tour bus had vacated