This week, on the Aran Islands, is a very different experience than I’d expected. I’ll be honest with you, I’m not sure what I really expected… I’d only heard that we were headed to a tiny island off the island that was the tiny but slightly bigger island that makes up Ireland with very limited wifi or connection to the outside world in general. I wasn’t sure what that meant. I’ve sort of talked a little bit about the weather… by weather of course I mean weather that could be described as windy in the same way that a 20 foot python could be considered a snake. I’ve talked about getting sweaters, and that if you asked me, “Hey, Michael, will you be wearing sweaters at the start of June” I probably would have been all like “only if I want to sweat off those last five pounds.”
But over the past few days we’ve had some very interesting experiences.
I should point out that we were given our own personal Yoda, that is a man that knows just about everything about this Island from the history of it to the mystical creatures that may or may not be living here. His name is Dara, and he used to be a Catholic Priest before becoming a Hermit, and eventually, an Island Guide which sounds more exotic than it actually is. Because this island is cold. WE’ve been over that.
Dara first took us to an old church that is in the back of this property, and gave us a little bit about the history of everything, including the history of religion in Ireland, which was less about Christianity and more about exploring the natural world through supernatural means. Then we walked up the long trudge (and trudge is the only word for it) where we went to Dun Aengus, a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
One of the things he talked about while we were there was using the cliff to realize our sense of smallness in the grand scheme of things. He was right. I stayed up there longer than most people, and I have to say… it’s amazing. The day was cold, windy, and rainy, so it wasn’t an easy trek up the mountain. The rocks were slippery, and if you found the wrong foothold, you’d trip. I don’t want to overplay it, it’s not like we were in any danger; it was just a long trip.
I stayed up there for a little bit, just looking out at the Ocean. I stayed up there, just shutting off my brain and thinking for a little bit. I wish I had more to say about the experience, but I really don’t, actually. It was cleansing. I can’t put it into words. I even took the cheesy picture of my feet dangling off the cliff. That was less spiritual, but still a lot of fun.
But that didn’t prepare me for what happened next.
Dara took us to a bunch of sites across the island where ancient rituals were performed, and he showed us how to perform them. One of them involved tying a ribbon on a tree in order along with something in your heart to help. Another involved walking around a well seven times, each time putting a pebble in a certain location, then blessing yourself with the water in the well. It was an interesting experience. The walk cleared my head, and the act of placing the stone down really helped punctuate what I was thinking. And when I say “Well” I mean natural well that was below the water.
There were other rituals as well, I won’t go into all of them here, because some of them were deeply personal. And they all were sent to the same purpose, to make you more aware of how you interact with the planet in general. He was very much on the idea that we need to honor the earth as we do the divine. It was all very interesting, but it was mostly just the idea of connecting with a very ancient land. I like that idea, that each little ritual is that important. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the idea that a ritual has to be performed a certain way, but the way he explained it, it was just a matter of learning what needed to be done, then doing it for ourselves.
They involved looking at standing stones, and making wishes using a silk scarf. I could describe them all here, but honestly… I’m not going to. They are things that need to be experienced, not described on a blog that concerns itself what wizards end up doing when they all meet up for their annual convention in a fantasy land.
That’s one of the bigger things I’m learning on this trip as opposed to others: Learning to be for myself. Not in a selfish way, mind you, but in a way that reminds me that too often, I do focus on other people. Those rituals were important to me.