Welcome to Soundings! The blogsite of Caitlín Matthews.

Exploring Myth, Divination and the Western Mysteries.

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Wednesday 22 December 2010

Midwinter Stillpoint

I sit and write at fall of dark.  Outside, all is white from the freshly fallen snow upon the earlier snow that lies ghostly over every bush, tree and building.  The stillpoint that is the fulcrum of the year, the stillness from which our energy arises is here with us and I honour it with remembrance

From here on we enter into the magical intercalary days that our year-making ancestors had left over from their division of the year into months and days.  In these days out of time, the magic and myth of the first creators is remembered.

Across megalithic Europe and here in Britain and Ireland, the chambered monuments with their long sun-seeking tunnels, conduct the first or the last rays of the midwinter sun into their depths to awaken the ancestral bone-ash and waft it into immortality.  At Maeshowe in Orkney and at Newgrange in Ireland, the ancestral dust is rising as I write.  Ancestralization of the dead was a two stage business in ancient past: first the initial burial or cremation with the loss and mourning and then, months later, the gathering up of the bones or cremated ash into another place of honour so that they might rise up collectively from their human state into their ancestral condition. 

In these magical days, the animal ancestors also come to visit us in the many disguisings that take place across Europe from now until the loosening of winter’s grip in February.  Animal disguising, where the guardian animals come out to walk and dance the streets, still happens here in Britain.  The hobby horses, straw bears and other spirits come to knock on our doors and remind us that the wild is our ancestor too and that our instinctive cunning, our lust to be in union with another of our kind, our ancient wisdom memory are inheritances that we share from the animals.

What tales do you tell at Midwinter?  What are the legends and stories that keep faith with your spirit?  I mean the original, deep core stories that arise from our oral memory and not the media-driven images of tv or film.  If you lost electrical power now and had to tell a story, what story would it be?

The Christmas preparations and holiday travel often displace the stillpoint at which we refresh ourselves.  So we go on through the holidays void and lacking in energy because we forgot to stop too.  Even when we are on holiday, there is little stillness and too much stimulus.

If you are missing the stillpoint of Midwinter because you are rushed, distracted and hassled, here is a way of returning to yourself, a small meditation whose results will always be helpful to you and whose results will please you.

* What is the place that gives you strength?
* What is the gift you share/inherit from ancestors?
* What is the blessing you were born to deliver?

Consider your answers and find symbols for each – easy to remember ones that are significent and original to yourself. Visualise the place symbol as being beneath your feet.  Feel the symbol of the ancestral gift as if in the core of your body.  Be aware of the blessing symbol as a crown, head-band, or guiding symbol over head.  Whenever you feel scattered, you too can return to the Midwinter stillpoint and centre your souls – yes, we have more than one soul.  (See my Psychic Shield (in USA) which is called Psychic Protection Handbook in UK for more on our different souls.)

I sit in the grey darkness now as the last light leaves.  The sky is reflective of the earth-bound snow.  It is still and silent everywhere.  I am going to turn off my computer to rest now, as I shall rest during the twelve days that mark my own still point.

From The Book of Ancestral Welcome – a book in progress, by Caitlín Matthews

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Ancestral Roots

The source of my interest in things ancestral is probably not much different from your own.  Curiosity, fascination and a love of history were on one side. On the other was a sense that ancestors were mysterious.  My mother didn’t grow up with her birth family, having been fostered on a childless aunt when she was only 6 weeks old.  She grew up with a child’s bewildered sense of abandonment at an act whose purpose and motivation still remained unknown until her death 85 years later. I subsequently grew up knowing only my father’s large family, appreciating my paternal grandparents where everyone gathered on Saturday afternoons at their house to argue about politics and sport, never religion. But I knew that I had another heritage somewhere and was missing something vital. Throughout my teenage years I wanted to get my mother’s family for her and for me. I finally tracked down my aunts and uncles, and arranged a family reunion, being mystified when my mother and they failed to bond.  Too much acrimony, division and lack of nurture had flowed under that bridge, I realize now.
But besides that family mystery, I had a sense of ancestors as something greater than my immediate relatives.  I experienced ancestors everywhere, feeling a kinship with the rolling hills of the South Downs, with the sea, with animals and trees.  Children have no tribe and are able to make friends with beings and people of all kinds and ages: I never lost that sense.  There were also dimly sensed beings, human ancestors who seemed to be observing me.  I would catch sight of them at the edge of sleep and dream, in quiet moments. I didn’t know then what to do about them or how to be with them; I didn’t fully understand what or who they were.  They carried a great power but, because power and fear are the two sides of one coin, I was simultaneously attracted by their power and repulsed by my own fear.  Their attention seemed to grow stronger as I went through puberty, as if I were becoming important to them in some way, making me feel doubly uncomfortable and embarrassed.
Despite this, ancestors kept showing up and finally I had to really look at them.  The surprising thing was that when I did focus on them, rather than my usual glance and look away, that strength began to flow towards me, a strength that was the kind of strong love crowds demonstrate towards a winning competitor.  This was simply astonishing.  What had I done to disserve this attention?  After all, I had grown up in a family where no-one was praised or honoured, where achievement was diminished by slighting criticism, where love was not demonstrated by signs of affection but by distancing jocularity, so I was overwhelmed with gratitude.      
Looking back, I can see now that the ancestral birthright that should have come to my mother and thence to me had been somehow thwarted by her own childhood abandonment and by the family rift that resulted.  But the ancestors didn’t want me just to bask in their approval, they wanted me to work hard to discover and use the ancestral legacy for others.
Like all unskilled folk, I didn’t always get it right, mostly because I had not been raised in culture in which the ancestors were a normal part of daily life.  A pump that has been long disused is bound to have some rust in it before the water flows clear. My early attempts to teach ancestral traditions were hampered by my own lack of preparedness. There were many things still impeding my full understanding of the ancestors, including the problems of tribalism and partiality which keep human beings separate from each other, locked in a rivalry and competitiveness that .  I had yet to find and understand the language and strategies by which 20th century people could be led to their ancestors without fear.  I hadn’t realized just how high a wall separated Western culture and values from ancestral values, and so I stumbled about a bit.  I hope that I didn’t harm or disable anyone’s attempts to draw near to their ancestors. If so, then may this book make good my errors.
          Along the way I met many people who helped shape my understanding both those of indigenous cultures whose humility and ease around the ancestors was a lesson in itself, and those teachers whose examples were models of ancestral tolerance and humility.  We can learn from anyone and anything, and I was really paying attention to the signs wherever I found them. I have not arrived at a perfect understanding of the ancestors, but then, they are always free to remind and teach me more when I need a new lesson.
          Now I know that I can pray to the ancestors to help and support me and that I can show my gratitude to them in a number of ways: with my songs, with offerings, with thankfulness, including them and all who are yet to come in a thousand different acts of grace.  One of the most powerful ways of learning from the ancestors for me has been the vigil: getting up in the middle of the night and just sitting with them. That has taught me more than anything else and I recommend it as the quick route to understanding.  The privilege of the ancestral vigil, especially when you are perplexed and needing wisdom, is overwhelmingly humbling.
          All prayer for the ancestors is as a waymark and blessing, not only to them but to those who are still lost upon the road, seeking their ancestral home.  The ancient ancestral hearth and our own hearth are the same place. When we welcome the ancestors home, we ourselves cease to feel abandoned and so we come home too.

Caitlín Matthews

Caitlín’s new book Celtic Wisdom Oracle: Oracle Cards for Ancestral Wisdom and Guidance (Watkins) comes out in Spring 2011: it opens resourceful ways to work with ancestry, whether you are of Celtic derivation or not. See http://www.hallowquest.org.uk/