We are reawakening to the value of initiation, to the value of a particular act or occasion which marks the passing from one state of consciousness to another, or from one age to another order of maturity.
Many of us are finding that through our learning, or through the technical aspects of our culture, we are becoming extremely competent in some areas of our growth, and yet often we find ourselves behaving in infantile or emotionally immature ways in other areas of our lives. Sometimes where it counts most--in the opening in our hearts. And in the growth of our souls, Sacred territory. The realms of initiation.
There are places on the planet which are sacred. Many of these places of power have long been associated with initiation. Almost invariably they are places of great natural beauty, unspoiled since they have always been venerated. Landscape and initiation can function together as we re-enchant our world.
One such place is in the foothills of the Pyrenees, the strange and wild mountains which separate France from Spain, and centered around the small hilltop village of Rennes-le-Chateau. Much has been written and talked about in contemporary occult circles, mainly European, but seeping over to America in such forms as Holy Blood, Holy Grail and the more recent tome, Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco.
Too much easily can be said of such a place. It is far more appropriate for those who are interested in such things, and ready for them, to take themselves to sacred places and to explore the quality and the magic of the landscape, to experience their own initiations and open to their next adventures.
I have been fortunate enough to have been guided to this place of sacred territory at least half a dozen times in the last decade. For me it has been through following a spiritual heritage which appears to include a reincarnational pattern that I have come to know as “Cathar consciousness.”
I am not alone. There are large numbers of people, mainly young, some say as many as 30,000, who have been gathering once again in these mountainous villages, many of them holding memories or having dreams of their lifetimes as Cathars, in that same environment, in the 12th and 13th centuries.
On one of my trips, rightly pilgrimages, to this region of the Aude valley, in a sacred place called in French, Lavaldieu, which can be translated either as the Valley, or the Veil of God, I met one of these people. A fine young woman whom I have called Jessie, although that is not her given name.
She had been drawn down from Denmark or Holland, magnetized by the Cathar trail, and living in the region for several years, never quite knowing fully what she was doing there, but at the same time unwilling to leave. She had tried to move away, three or four times, but had always been thrown back by the tides of life, to those desolate and magnificent mountains.
She was a wonderful soul; strong yet flexible, clothed in a tall, upright body, with a clear well-balanced face, to me ravishingly beautiful, with eyes that smiled the purest of cornflower blue.
This is her story. One of them anyway, which she told me coming as muse in yet another form of consciousness--the kind of creative intensity which yields from such an initiation.
VALLEY OF INITIATION
by Jessie St. A
It had been a long drive through the gathering twilight. Klaus was strangely silent, pulling the car abruptly around sinuous mountain curves.
I suppose we’d both been more disappointed than we cared to admit when we were told the night’s filming had been canceled. A big Hollywood film crew had just arrived in Carcasson, drawn by the massive stone walls encircling the town and its sense of medieval romance. Klaus and I signed up as extras, hoping the additional and unexpected cash would cover some of the improvements he was making to our cottage. But the star, a monster in this case, had to be flown back to England with a severe case of skin rash. The hot South of France sun had got to him, fused his Frankenstein mask to his face, and the entire project was halted for the week.
So this left us both with an evening to explore the beautiful, wild countryside--perhaps we would stumble on some new secret. The Aude valley is such a land of secrets! Generations of desperate people burrowing into the mountains, hiding all most precious to them in the profuse limestone caves.
Tales too of Mary Magdalene, settling here with some companions after the disastrous events of the crucifixion; the great Visigoth cities and of the times of prosperity and relative security. Then the coming of the Templars, bringing with them no doubt, the treasures of the Temple of Solomon. And all this lost under one of the most appalling tragedies in the last millennium, the brutal suppression and eventual extermination of the Cathars, the Perfected Ones.
The landscape reflected all of this, the glories and the intense sadness. Possibly it was this feeling echoing from each valley and rockface which so quieted Klaus, hunched now over the wheel, his nut-brown face clenched tight.
He’s a good man, I reminded myself. Stolid and practical and although we’d had our explosions over the past two years, we’d always been able to settle them and clear the air.
Neither of us talked as we approached the village of Rennes-le-Chateau, both lost in our own thoughts. A broad, rose sunset flooded the smokey hills with silence. We turned off the narrow, bending road which led up to the minute hilltop village, and rattled down an even smaller lane, scattering stones under our wheels.
It was then I received my first premonition. It was so fleeting, so ephemeral, I barely discerned it from the landscape over which it appeared superimposed. Just a pair of eyes, of cornflower blue eyes. As if the hills and valleys had, for a long, lingering moment, gathered themselves into one coherent form, and watched me.
We were driving east at this point, the hulking dragon-mountain of Bugarach, lit by the last of the sun, hunched up on the skyline. An ancient memory stirred in my imagination, and over the stone behemoth flickered the shades of times long passed. I was at this point I knew intuitively that Klaus was taking me to the Valley of Initiation and some deep inner feeling switched to a new gear.
We rounded one last bend and there were the ruins of the Cathar village ahead, set on a small wooded knoll which itself rested in the larger valley. Rearing up to the right side of the track, an enormous ridge like a great worm, slithered towards us over the landscape.
Beyond the ridge a vast bird lay, settled down now into the forested hills, and upon one closed stone eyelid perched the remains of a Cathar castle. It was a primordial place and we both felt it in our bones as we parked the car and silently walked into the ruins. High stone walls buzzed with the final glow of the sun. A row of soft-green chestnut trees, pushing up through the centuries’ rubble, shaded the small courtyard into which we’d turned.
Suddenly, there were the blue eyes again. This time surrounded by wrinkles and a mane of silver hair, and smiling at me from the open door of a Volkswagen bus, parked on the far side of the courtyard. Somehow we knew each other immediately, those eyes and mine, time and movement seeming to slow down as I floated across the space between us. We held each other in our eyes until my legs, weakening under me, slid me down to the floor of the bus and left me half-sitting, half-leaning, against the door.
It was like looking at myself. The same lean, aquiline features, straight nose and gently curved lips; the thin, tanned body under the cotton shirt and white trousers; long, a dancer’s body, like mine.
We murmured to each other, both taken aback by the intensity of the contact. Klaus strolled over to the van and I was surprised and then pleased to find the two men also fell into an immediate and close rapport. Strange, I recall thinking, Klaus had always been so over-protective of me, his natural belligerence inevitably coming out when he felt threatened. But there was something utterly familiar about Michael.
I’d seen it all before somewhere. The economy of movement, as long arms reached around us to gather pitcher and glasses, a pleasant, easy concern for our welfare.
We talked little those first few minutes, allowing ourselves to merge with each other as the light fell and the night sounds started. In the deepening quiet I could more easily hear the whispers of my heart. Come what may I knew I would spend time with this man. I wanted to share his vision, for us to become part of one another’s lives, even if only for a moment. Klaus must have felt the pull too because I could feel the challenge finally rising in him.
“Talk is cheap,” he was saying. “I’ve seen a lot of dreamers coming and going around here, but I’m a practical man and unless a person can actually manifest their dream, all the talk in the world won’t help.”
Michael didn’t jump to his own defense in the way I’d seen among those upon whom Klaus had fixed his beady eye. He simply asked, “And what do you do Klaus, for your artistic soul?”
I saw Klaus rebound into himself at the unexpected interest.
“Well, I love to create with my hands but with all the building work and having to go off to Switzerland for so much of the year...” He caught himself in his own justifications and realizing that Michael was smiling at him, burst into peals of honest laughter.
Miriam, back from the village, joined us in bringing with her bottles of the local beer and the tang of freshly-picked wild cherries. We took the opportunity to move into the small barn which formed one side of the courtyard. Its floor was covered with hay and a gibbous moon hung visible through the open doors. A single candle sputtered in the middle of a makeshift table, the only sound in the great quiet settling over the hills.
We filled the night with conversation. At times Michael and I simply stopped talking and allowed ourselves to join souls. Our eyes would touch, and hold, and go on holding long through that exquisite point of no return. Memories welled to the surface: of feeling vast and spread over the land beneath me; of being the land itself, soft, desert sands and green hills, greeting the sky and the silver sun. Ages long passed, and yet in those moments with Michael lay a reminder of their eternal and accessible reality.
We were together then, exploring our Universe, filling ourselves with wonders we had so unknowingly created. The mountains. Deserts. Rolling forests laid out over gentle, swelling hills. Sunrises and sunsets sprawled beneath us. Beneath us... The focus was becoming clearer. We were climbing up through a gorge, a small river trickling down below and butterflies dancing in our path, the sun low but still hot.
We turned together into a natural clearing culled from the surrounding forest. A source is bubbling from a strangely sculpted stone spout in the form of a dolphin and the water is cool and sweet. We both throw the water over our faces and bodies at the same time, look up and laugh.
“I didn’t know if I was dreaming all this...” We laugh again, neither knowing nor caring to turn to pick the cherries off three perfect trees growing in the meadow behind us. From each tree the fruit tastes slightly different. We walk from one to another sensing the subtle characteristics of each, and in those moments I realize we are being finely tuned for the climb ahead.
The grassy incline curves up to a grove of pine trees, white rocks fallen from the ridge above lie scattered among the wild flowers and waving grasses. We walk hand-in-hand up through the pines half-wondering whether we’ll stumble on some long-forgotten cave entrance. For this is a Holy Mountain, we know that with every step we take, hollow with the caves in which the Cathars died so long ago, walled in and left to starve by the Inquisition and the avarice of the Northern French nobles.
I know in my heart this is why Michael is bringing me here, to make his own peace with the souls of the devoted Cathars and their Path of Pure Love. With this vision, memories of infinite sadness collapse in on me. In those moments I know the horrors of the Perfected Ones, the sacrificial lambs of a monolithic and autocratic Roman Church, their cries unheeded by an age of despotic cruelty.
The mountain becomes steeper and we separate, first one of us leading, then the other. There is no path, yet every step I take I am aware of others who have stepped here, just so, before. If I miss my balance, even slightly, there is a convenient root or clump of ferns with which to steady myself. Ledges appear at precisely the right intervals, large enough for us to lie back and meet again. The hunched mountains all around and the winding valley opens out the higher we climb.
The sadness drops away as we reach twin white stones. One is carved into a natural throne and when I sit in it and Michael stands beside me, I notice our eyes are on exactly the same level.
Our next surge takes us to the ridge and then it is an easy route along a winding path to the summit. Once again we fall in with each other matching step for step, breath for breath. We bend with the new young wind, pausing to float with seven crows lofted by the evening’s up-drafts to within feet of us, wheeling and dancing with our spirits.
Lighter now, we run and laugh and allow ourselves to be drawn to the very peak of the mountain and sink down, back to back, on a large, flat stone. I feel Michael shift into a lotus sitting position behind me and soon his quiet meditation settles over the valleys outstretched below.
I know myself then as him, and feel the stirrings of a fresh warmth in the base of my spine. The inner and outer realities become one as my body dissolves into the earth beneath me.
The massive creature, the primordial presence upon whom we are perched, is coming to life. The Cathar souls, deep within its entrails, are awakening from their long dream. I turn and wrap Michael in my legs, pouring my vitality into his spine, my fingers moving as if by themselves, to loosen and straighten each vertebra. His eyelids flicker and I hear, with the ears of my spirit, the roar of a forest fire sweeping up through his lean back, to erupt out through the top of his head. I find myself turned and swirled by this energy, which splashes me down like water to a grassy spur where I come to rest lying under a single silver birch. The hot sun has warmed a stone buttress, and the long grass under me feels soft and yielding.
Michael still sits limned against the skyline, a figure of stone on stone. The tolling of a church bell from the valley below echoes up the crags and hangs like a lilting mist over our marriage bed. Michael joins me, now with a guitar in his hands, and leans back against the warm, white rock. We rest there together, allowing the lull in the energies to caress our bodies back into relaxation. It is in these moments that I know how our love is to be sanctified.
A single note curls out from Michael’s guitar, catching in the resonance of the bells. The birch tree flickers in the corner of my eye and my legs stretch and curve with the sound. The pitch of the next note unfurls me, my body caught and supped by the harmonics. I stand. I shiver and I am alive.
I am formed by the music, silver tones cascading through me as I dance, nature spirit for Nature Spirits. Small forms flit among the shadows of nearby trees as the wind and the sounds eddy and whirl me into new considerations.
A deer runs through me. A fox parts the long grasses with its soft snout. Herons tiptoe through shallow fens. Eagles fly in my arms carrying me higher and higher, so at last I can see the mountains lying like enormous beasts in their final repose.
Michael flies me as a kite, his music throbbing up through me, drawing me this way and then that. My body opens, tongues of sound stroke my soul, twin peaks rising in my imagination, pouring spirit fire and holy smoke, entwined in the upward draft. Yet I, forever held by tendrils of sound, bend like a willow against containment.
The earthquake mounts and it is pure harmony. I wrap the flaming angel in my arms and am consumed with joy. The music lures me back, holds me on the edge of ecstasy. I reach down along the filaments of sound... and find, my Self. I know myself in Him, and find my Self.
I give myself finally and totally to the winds of sound. I am all things. I permeate the Universe. I extend on out into the infinite spaces. I know all and am known by all. I fall through time.
I am Inanna. I am Tara. I am Isis. I weep for us all, but now in utter wonderment. I know in this all suffering is made worthwhile and have died and am reborn...
We are both released in those moments of Supreme clarity, Michael and I, traveling hand-in-hand along a trembling thread of sound, until exhausted we tumble back into out bodies, dance and music climaxing together under the single, whispering, silver birch.