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Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Origins of Deity

On a mountain top in the Berkshires last week, we were hit with a hail storm beyond belief. One minute, the air was damp and thick with humidity. We were sweaty and dreaming of showers when the rain started. But what happened next was amazing.
The hail began to fall, thudding against the roof of our three-sided rustic cabin. And then we were yelling to be heard over the sound of a million dime-sized pieces of ice falling like a sheet of winter onto our springtime. I can’t be sure how long the hail storm lasted. I was so awed by the magnitude of it as we sat in wonder and worry. It was easily thirty minutes, probably forty, and maybe more. Possibly still, it took less time than it seemed.
I have never seen hail last more than a minute or two. Time stilled as we watched it drop and crest like waves rolling off of the tarp, falling in mounds. My breath hung frosty in the air, which was cold. The ground was white. The animals of the woods were silent.
I had a moment of primal fear that the roof would not hold or that the worst was still to come beneath the pounding onslaught. I wondered what my ancestors might have thought the first time they experienced weather of any magnitude. Would they stare up at the sky and exclaim?
“Why are you doing this?!”
“What do you want from us?!”

Did they name the thing that accosted them? Did they pray to it and beg it to stop as if it had sentience? Did the forces of nature surprise and frighten them into unwanted submission? Did they make offerings to it of food, wealth or dance? Did they mark the end of the storming with what they had been doing to entice it to their will? Did they ritualize that action as the thing that would end the storm, should it come again? Did they hold it as sacred?
Is that how deity began? By separating aspects of our natural world and giving them human faces? By not understanding that sometimes things happen. Not to us. We are part of what is happening. We are not the sun. We are not the center of our world. The earth is the center of our world, just as the sun is the center of the earth’s world. We are the current of time flowing over the earth. We will come and go as deities have come and go within our cultures.
I think about our ancestors and how the way they lived and their spiritual beliefs evolved over time. In my personal practice, much of my discovery has come from moments of need, of reaching out, of reading patterns in the cause and effect.
I sat in awe of the hail, of the forces of nature that came upon us suddenly in a storm of thunder and lightning. I was humbled by my unimportance beneath the storm. I thought of the things that make me fearful, of the shadows that loom over my head.
We survived the hail, and we rebuilt what it destroyed. In these rites of passage, we each hit our walls and we make choices. We survived the days of cold sleeting rain that followed unending. We gathered together and found laughter and joy in the darkness together. And we were together when the rainbow crested the sky as the ice sheeting the ground began to melt and the steam filled the air.
It’s like Brigadoon, I thought, slipping into the mist as winter settled over the mountain. I dreamt of Frost Giants and wooden halls thick with fire and warm drink. I dreamt of my ancestors from the frozen Northlands. And we all carried on, with one eye on the sky above us, lest it open itself again.

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