Monthly Archives: November 2011
In June 326 BC two great armies faced each other at Hydaspes in what is now Pakistan. On the one side the Greeks, Afghans, Egyptians and Persians of Alexander the Great with an unbeaten army consisting of archers, heavy foot with 18ft long pikes, light and heavy cavalry. On the other side King Porus with an army equal to that of Alexander but boasting over 100 war elephants to strike terror into the attackers.
Alexander’s men, having conquered most of the known world and become rich and powerful were tired of fighting and only presented themselves to the battle field out of loyalty to their leader. Their hearts were not in it any more. As the battle reached a climax the forces of Alexander started to buckle and retreat. Desperate to keep up the initiative of attack, Alexander charged forward alone on his great war-horse Bucephalus.
The Greeks seeing their fearless commander attacking alone would eventually throw themselves back into the heat of battle in his support, but for this moment in time, one man and one horse charged alone against a mighty army. Being honourable, the King of the opposing forces rushed forwards to meet Alexander one to one, riding upon his mighty war elephant. As the two men closed the distance between them and finally faced each other, Bucephalus Alexander’s horse and the Purus’s elephant both reared in defiant challenge to each other.
The horse was dwarfed by the mighty elephant.
This scene was captured perfectly in a 2004 film ‘Alexander’. I was watching the prequel to this movie and saw this moment of history represented in film for the first time. I was immediately struck with horror and grief. When my girlfriend arrived home from work she found me still puffy faced and unable to speak. The horror that had filled me in that instant was the realization of the effect of our wars upon these noble animals, these innocents, whom we drag into the violent hell of our own making.
No horse should have to face an elephant in battle, neither should they be forced to charge into cannon and machine gun fire, or to contend with the smell of blood and smoke whilst dying screams of horses and men surround them.
In the world war one alone it is thought that 8 million horses perished.
Even to a human child we can communicate what is going on, we can explain and reassure. The animals that serve us as we involve them into our madness can only rely upon their trust in us.
It is not only horses and elephants that suffer in our war; it is also dolphins, dogs, donkeys, mules, camels, pigeons and hawks. These are the direct victims of our actions. Imagine the collateral casualties of war among domestic pets and farm animals driven to heart failure by fear during the bombing of cities. Consider the wildlife burned and destroyed as we tear apart whole landscapes.
Millions of small animals have been killed in biological and chemical warfare experiments.
It is an irony that Alexander’s horse went down in history as one of the bravest warrior spirits of all time alongside his master, yet when he was first found, this great beast was afraid even of his own shadow. What Bucephalus had endured throughout his life he did for love of his master, but it was not in his original nature. It was his sacrifice to the man he trusted. Bacephalus died on the battlefield that day, most likely from a burst heart.
The Druid knows that animals are no different to men in spirit. We are all earth’s children. We pride ourselves on our intelligence and use of tools, but few people can compare to animals in our courage and nobility of service to others.
Our Celtic ancestors used horses to pull chariots into battle but they used no cavalry since the horse was considered too sacred to expose to such risks in battle, our knights would dismount and go forward without their horses in order to fight. They were less discerning when it came to their wolf hounds, bred to hunt and fight with the families of men. Perhaps it was because these animals descend from the wolf, and hence are of hunter/warrior kind themselves, that made the war dog acceptable to the Celtic tribes.
As deeply ugly as the use of animals in warfare is I am under no illusions about the lengths that any of us might go to when our lives or those of our families are concerned. When push comes to shove we are pre programmed by our nature to throw every weapon we have available at the task of survival. Humans are unlikely to stop using animals in our wars. What we can do, in time of peace is look at better alternatives to the use of these innocents, and to be mindful of the eternal shame that their suffering brings down upon our race.
If I had my way, every new Prime Minister or Head of State upon taking power should be made to walk alone through the war graves of their nation to let the waste of war sink in before they are allowed to make any decisions on our behalf.
When on 11am, on the 11th of November every year our war dead are remembered in Great Britain, I would personally like to remember and keep in my heart alongside the people whose lives were cut short, the animals also. For the animals who’s service and loyalty to humanity has exposed them to the most violent destructive and terrifying aspect of our nature, I would encourage everyone to wear a purple poppy (symbol of the animal war dead) in November 2012.
Ancient tradition in the modern age
Much has been written about the Druids. Most writers draw upon accounts from ancient Roman and Greek writers, all of which are coloured by the cultural and political perspectives of the observer. These accounts do not tell our whole story, just as they are not always accurate.
I would like to share with you my view from a personal perspective. I have 34 years experience as a Druid in the Field and Forest. I live just as much as a part of the modern world as the ancient.
First and foremost, the path of the Druid is one of service.
I believe that prospective Druids of the past were selected from an early age as being people with special gifts. These gifts would include being able to live in several worlds or realities simultaneously and the ability to approach situations and problems from many angles. These young people would undergo years of arduous training designed to eliminate all who lacked the necessary qualities, after all, you cannot bring out and develop that which is not already in some form present.
The accomplished Druid was essentially one who could read the sacred landscape in all its cycles, interpret its mysteries and translate it for those in the temporal World. The druid was able to communicate with other realms and seek their guidance. The Druids communicated between the tribes, made connections, brought with the peace and learning. The Druids were also in close contact with the Gods (The Great Ones), the Sidhe (a semi-divine elder race), the intelligent spirit inherent in nature and the old ones (ancestors).
In modern times few people can meet the challenges required to be Druids in the model of our ancestors. This is regrettable because in this time of ecological, economic and political crisis Druids have never been needed more.
We might be saved from failing in our sacred duty (to preserve the balance of nature and the wellbeing of our people) by a gift of the modern age. With the use of the internet we can achieve interconnectedness between Peoples and cultures far removed by geography and culture. Many old cultures are now putting to use this technology in order to connect and to share ancestral wisdom with others. This process appears to have taken on a life of its own recently.
If we can trust in our collective destinies then perhaps we can help to guide humanity away from self-destruction. Much of what we do as species are unsustainable and stretches natural resources to breaking point. If this continues it will cause unnecessary suffering to all life forms.
The Druid path has always been a hard one, which is why we were named from the oak [or duir/dwr in Gaelic, from where we get Durability].
We will need all our wisdom and strength in the coming times, together with both our ancient and modern gifts.
Leaving the village behind us our coach trundled a few miles further across the plain until we abruptly turned left and approached a farmstead. The farm was made up of small single story dwellings with mud walls and thatched roofs. We were no longer in a 21st century setting, clearly this is the traditional way of living in the mountains that has changed little over thousands of years.
It was explained to me that this is the family home of a great Aymara teacher. There was a time before Bolivia had an indigenous government when Aymara culture, language and traditions were treated as undesirable and inferior to imported colonial Spanish ways. During this time the old ways endured but the wise ones became ever fewer. In this story of the farm, If I remember correctly how it was told to me, the young Fernando was driving along the dusty road to Tiwanaku when he came across an old man at the side of the road. The old man was weeping.
Stopping to see what was the matter, Fernando asked ‘Grandfather, why do you weep?’. The old man replied ‘I am a master of the old ways of the Aymara, I have nine sons, but no students’. Many of the young generation saw their futures in abandoning the mountains and traditional ways to seek their fortune in the city. The old man’s wisdom would die with him, and that is why he wept.
Fernando smiled at the old man and said ‘Grandfather this is not so, for you now have one student’. And so Fernando and others stayed to learn from this old man, who’s teaching and strength gave new life to the Aymara people.
He died, but still once every year on winter solstice, the Sariri clan gather at the farm where the teachers Widow and daughters still live. His spirit is in this place they say. I had observed to Kate how all the Aymara stand feet apart, square on and hands by the side, looking directly at you. This posture carries neither hostile nor passive energy, it is simply grounded and strong. I was later to learn that this way of standing is an ancient tradition, the survival of which owes much to this teacher.
We put our sleeping bags and kit into a small barn which would be accommodation for the community tonight. A flag pole was erected nearby with a great multi colored flag, it must have been 3 meters by two in size and I thought that this flag was beautiful.
Tiwanaku tour and Ceremony
There were many more Sarari at the Farm than I had met at the Garden in La Paz, but by now many of the faces were familiar and friendly towards Kate and I. We did not have long to settle however. One of our three coaches was about to leave for the great Tiwanaku temple itself. Tiwanaku we discovered is closed to everyone on Solstice eve, however the Director of the temple turned out in person to let us in and to show us around personally.
There are three temples in the complex. There is a sky temple, an earth temple and an ancestor temple. The sky temple is perched upon a ridge, the earth temple is on level ground, the ancestor temple is sunken into the earth. Unlike Stonehenge, the three temples are not arranged into circles, but instead are laid out as huge rectangles. The alignments to the sun are the same though.
There is a raised platform in the center of the earth temple where offerings are made. The temple is larger than the stone circle of Stonehenge. The trilithon entrance ways are deeper and more precisely engineered than those of Stonehenge. The stone has regular sides, right angles, smooth faces. The wall of the temple is made of stones arranged as a wall between standing stones that are rough cut and similar to the sarcens of Stonehenge. Intuition tells me that these are the oldest features of this temple, the wall filling in between the standing stones coming later.
We are shown carved statues of men covered in symbols, some of which are understood and relate to time, others which still await rediscovered meaning. We descend to the outside via seven steps to reach a place where priests underwent testing. Part of this testing would be to sit in an underground cell with just a small hole above for light food and water. Alone in here for up to 30 days the priests would receive understanding and achieve mastery over their fears or else I imagine it would be awful for them.
We were then led to the ancestors temple. We waited at the top of steps, seven again, down which we descended to face a central statue. Our Aymara hosts formed a circle around this statue and together we held ceremony. In this ceremony we were introduced to the ancestors. This was making history, for never have Stonehenge Druids and the Amauta held ceremony together at Tiwanaku.
Fernando told us how we must stand, by ancient tradition. I asked him how he could be certain that this was the correct way. He replied ‘Look at the statue, the ancestor shows you how’, and sure enough, the statue in front of us was standing just so, with right hand over the heart, and left over the belly. This way, Fernando explained our energy is balanced and circulates correctly. I adapted my stance to match that of the statue and sure enough I felt immediately grounded and balanced. It works.
Embedded in the outer walls of the ancestor temple are very accurate sculptures of men’s faces. Some are worn away by time but many are not. This temple which is at least 1500 years old and probably very much older. What is very strange is that contains the faces of Europeans, Africans, Mongolians etc. It is not up for debate that our ancestors had visual contact long before we are supposed to have had by modern histories, the evidence here is absolute.
The questions are only how and when?
Seeing this so soon after my intuition at ‘the village’ that our ancestors had been here once before again left me feeling a strong sense of confused wonder.
I asked Fernando how often the Sariri worship in the temple of the ancestors. ‘Not often’ he replied, ‘this, with you, is our first time. Normally this place is too special even to allow us in here’. The full sense of the high honor with which the Aymara, Amautas, Tiwanaku Management were gifting to their Druid guests was starting to sink in. Some of the Aymara had moist eyes after our time in the very sacred temple of the ancestors was over. The sun was setting, Kate and I grabbed some photo’s.
Tiwanaku has some elements that are very familiar to the Druid and some elements that are less so. In the temple of the ancestors , both our people’s belong and may feel welcome by the spirits of the place.
The Farm Ceremony
Back at the farm, now in the dark, we arrived just in time for yet another community ceremony and offering around the fire. Kate and I were given ‘honored position’ and we broke Walnuts into the sugar offering. This time in front of a larger group we were grateful for having been through this before at the garden ceremony. Our hosts must have realized that among peoples it’s the failure to follow simple ‘taken for granted’ protocols that make inevitable judgments about quality, class or good manners of visitors.
I was so grateful also for Jaun and Veronica Pablos explaining how to eat, drink and greet Aymara style when we first arrived in La Paz. The Garden ceremony had also been a good preparation, observing the wonderful Mama Eulalia taught us much.
For all the small differences between our ceremonies it is remarkable how many features we share in common. For example the Aymara circle anti clockwise (sunwise) for the south, with the south pole representing the cardinal direction for Mother Earth. In the north we circle clockwise (sunwise) in ceremony and look to our pole (North) as representing the Earth. Both groups stand in a circle for ceremony, and dance in circles.
It was now time for everyone to get some rest and ride out a very cold night. We all gathered in the barn. Trying to get some sleep, I could not immediately do so. Every few minutes of the last 24 hours had brought me vivid new experiences and my head wanted to make sense of everything. I listened to old people talking and laughing somewhere in the darkness. Clearly old friends and kin forever, these people reminded me of my own grand-parents.
Little children had built tents and dens to sleep in and from these came the sounds of giggling chatter. The young and the old all sleep crammed in together, as a clan, ‘a community’. In my sleeping bag I was warm and comfortable and waiting to sleep on this hard mud floor in a mud-walled barn on a farm in the land of the sky, and it was there that I finally understood that word ‘community’. It was here, around me.
This circle of people belong with each other, choose to be with each other, and love each other.
This is deeper than the western understanding of the word. These are the children of Pachumama.
I wanted to cry for what we have lost in Britain. We had this once, yet it has slipped away from our grasp especially throughout the 20th century. It is what our hearts still seek. It is the hole within. We need our community, it validates who we are and it completes us. From far away I might be, but Druids are children of the Goddess too, and here this community enfolded me with a warmth beyond my imagining. I was truly happy.
Dash back to Tiwanaku
By around three in the morning the banter in the Barn had died down to the sounds of around 60 people sleeping. The temperature had dropped to around -10 degrees. I had just managed to fall asleep. Click Click, Click Click! Arghhh I struggled to wake. Someone was banging two sticks together right next to my ear! ‘Wake up’ they said ‘it is time for you to go to Tiwanaku, the car is waiting’. Kate, Tina and I reluctantly dragged ourselves free of the relative warmth of our sleeping bags and made our way to the car which I assumed was our taxi.
Time was short because it would not be all that long before the sun rise. Our car sped along the road to Tiwanaku, overtaking cars, vans and coaches of pilgrims also on their way there. We came up behind a car that wasn’t letting us pass and the taxi driver sounded a police siren. I thought this very funny as the offending car pulled over to let us pass. Only after we arrived at the Temple compound passing through the armed guards did I realize that we were in an unmarked Police car. We had arrived at the high security entrance used by officials.
Still half asleep we were led into the earth temple where chairs had been arranged in a great semicircle around 20 rows deep around the altar platform. To our left was a platform for the media. As the total darkness gave way to pre sunrise dawn we were told to sit in the front row, just left of centre. The places to our left and behind us filled with people. I started to introduce myself to my neighbors only to discover that they were all Ambassadors. The closest to the front and centre were the most honored of these guests.
The Aymara Amautas arrived in traditional costume with drums and music and after standing in formation before the altar they seated to the right. Media with big TV cameras gathered on the platform. The sky grew lighter.
White helmeted soldiers stood in line facing the assembled crowd, whilst very tough looking and armed, they were not rude. The sky took on the blue pink of a sky just five minutes from sunrise. The earth temple contained us, the media, probably 500 Amauta and around 100 Ambassadors. We could now see the sky temple and surrounding ridges which were crammed full with people, perhaps 40000 waited outside for the sunrise.
Suddenly great drums sounded from the distance, trumpets sounded and people unseen beyond the temple walls started to cheer. To this sound of approaching drums Bolivian flags at the corners of the temple slowly rose to fly proudly atop their masts and through the trilithon gate below a procession of Amouta, military escort and the Bolivian president with his ministers walked toward us and seated themselves in the centre of the semi-circle.
Evo Morales stood just a few government ministers to my right. The Amauta leaders formed a line in front of the President. Men and women of great wisdom and authority. One walked over to me. He asked if we would like to take part in the offering ceremony. If I had said yes, then our pictures would have gone out world-wide, but I realized in that instant that this is a moment that belongs to the Amautas. It was very generous to ask, but in front of their president and their gods, this ceremony needed to be done correctly.
I thanked him but said ‘this honor belongs to the Amauta’.
After the offerings were made and smoke rose into the newborn sky with the wishes of the Aymara people carried with it, I was asked to step forward to meet the president, Kate and Tina in line behind me.
At this point I was presented with a situation for which life had not prepared me. Nothing in my childhood, college, university, druid or professional life told me what to do when confronted with the president of a sovereign nation surrounded by his ministers and a very capable looking armed security force. I looked at the man in his uniform of office, and extended my hand.
In Britain we might shake hands and say ‘Good Morning Mr Prime Minister, delighted to meet you, I am…’ and that would be it, but the Sariri had taught me their traditional greeting which starts with firmly holding the right hand with eye contact, an embrace like a bit like a bear hug, and second hand shake with a bow. This is how the President of Bolivia, first American indigenous president, Eco champion and people’s hero was greeted by the tall Druid in front of him:
Grab hand…“Hello Mr President, I am Frank Somers from the Stonehenge Druids, it is a pleasure and an honor to be here and to meet you!” BIG HUG (President now enveloped in Druid robes), Grab hand, Bow, JaJalia!! I hoped Kate and Tina behind me knew what to do. I fairly sure that this was not the correct formal way to greet this great man, but at least it was sincere.
Back in our semi-circle I could see people flooding in to the temple, at sunrise the people may enter.
A tap on my shoulder, it was our friend from the British Embassy, big smile and telling us that we’ve positively represented the relationship between Britain and Bolivia by our visit. It warms my heart to think that Druids, so much ridiculed and abused back home, are suddenly being recognized for our worth in this way. Kate loses her camera in the crush of people who make their way to the altar platform.
One of the Amauta priests came and hugged both Kate and I, posed for tourists with us, and left us in no doubt as to the warmth of our welcome.
Sadly with Kate’s camera now lost, we had no photo’s of this event.
Return to the farm for feast and dance
We were then taken by unmarked Police car back to the farm. The Sariri had laid out a feast of eggs and tubers on a blanket. Each brings what they can. No-one knows who has provided much or little, each may consume whatever they need. This is community. It is a circle of blessing. We eat.
While we ate, an Aymara band of Drum and Pipes dancers start to play. Their anticlockwise circle dance tells a story. A shaman blows a horn and earths using a stick to drive off dark spirits. Then the song is of phrase and reply with the pipes. I’m loving this all now and decide to ask if I might join in with my Celtic Bodhran. The Bodhran is a small round drum about 18 inches across but 5inches deep. The Aymara dancers are beating Drums that are massive.
Without any interpreter, the language of musicians being universal, they invite me to join in.
It is not easy. The drum beat follows an irregular pattern. Only after a while do I realize that they strike the drum on the first letter of each word if you were to sing the Aymara lyrics to the song. This is very hard! My Aymara musician friends ask for a go on my small Celtic drum, and laugh and tease each other as they try it. I sense that they wonder why such a tiny drum and beater is used. I explain that a travelling musician or a warrior can carry this drum easily over long distances.
Then I take the Bodhrans bone, and beat one of their big drums with it to a fast Irish beat and rhythm. Looks of amazement pass round the circle, they ‘get it now’ the power of the Celtic technique. We swap gifts and hugs, and the music continues. I dance with the old women and the young, we all dance. I have never been so happy. I completely forgot that I was a visitor among these people and for a few blissful hours I was part of these people and I belonged too.
I believe that Kate felt similarly to myself. It would be very hard for us to part from these people who understand us better than do our own, and for whom the gifts of mother earth to her people do not need explanation or apology. Thinking about that day, five months later, I long to be back among my new brothers and sisters of the Sariri Aymara. I am determined that we will meet again.
La Paz Goodbyes
Back in La Paz Kate and I pack. We have a short time to explore the wool markets and Tina volunteered to take us around. Down narrow streets, hundreds of shops sell the finest wool and leather products dreamed of. We buy gifts, and our money goes a long way. I one shop we meet a lovely girl who remembers us from Tiwanaku. She promises to send pictures.
When we return to the flat of our hosts Wan Paulo and Veronica, we find that many of the Sariri have gathered there bringing with them their pictures to share with us. Fernando records a message for us to take back with our people. Then he embraced Kate and I as his brother and sister, and presented us with a very special flag. This flag, we would later learn, is a symbol of those of Inca decent. In allowing us to carry this flag we acknowledge our ancestors as being brothers.
We were asked to record a message for the Aymara. They asked about the Druids and our beliefs and of what we thought of them and of Tiwanaku. Both Kate and I spoke. When it came to the essence of our message I will leave that for a future post because It is important for our futures, and once again I must discuss this with my Druids first. At last I found the Awen, and for this time spoke with the poetic truth of a Druid, our poor interpreter Tina was in floods of tears and could barely translate as the Awen spoke through me.
In the last minutes before leaving the flat we were told about a visit to La Paz by the Navajo Indigenous people from north America three years ago. They had shared a prophesy with the Amauta that priests of an ancient tradition from Europe who also worship in a great sun temple would come and visit. This would happen within the next few years. When this has come to pass prophesy predicts that the spiritual tribes of rainbow would begin to join up in a great web of wisdom.
We gave our gifts and could hardly see through tearful eyes as one by one, they hug us and say goodbye.
We arrived just a few days earlier as strangers from a far away land and we parted with hearts joined somehow, bonds of friendship made to last lifetimes.
At the airport Kate and I bungle our paper work, and I get stopped at security. A very tough looking inspector asked me to open my bags. Getting increasingly suspicious he asked me to open the woolen bag containing gifts from Fernando. It has two toy alpacas inside which honestly would be as suspicious looking a container as could be imagined. These he removes. Then he takes out a bundle of clothe and slowly unwraps it.
Inside rests the Aymara flag.
He looked at me, he seemed very confused for a few seconds, then suddenly, his entire countenance changed into a broad smile and he said to me in accented English
“Ah YOU are the one who hugged our President! 😀 “
Visiting the mountain region of Bolivia in June, which is their winter, does not need as many precautionary jabs as visiting the lowland rain forests but my arm still felt sore from needles as I arrived at Heathrow airport. The specialist nurse who administered my Jabs a few days earlier had asked me if I had any experience of mountains and altitude. I confidently replied that I had, since I lived in Wales as a student, have flown over the Lake District in a micro-light airplane and skied in the Alps. The nurse had tears in her eyes as she replied through her laughter that these weren’t even proper hills when compared with where I was going.
This, together with the advice from Beatriz Souviron, the Bolivian Ambassador in London to strictly take it very easy for the first two days. This led me to expect that we would feel weak if we tried to exert ourselves before our blood had time to create more red blood cells. My work commitments had limited our trip to a not recommended four days actually in Bolivia. Would this be enough?
Now feeling very anxious about the journey I was very relieved to find Kate already waiting at the airport. We exchanged a nervous hug and we laughed at the huge pile of luggage that we had with us. Kate and I have been close friends for 20 years and have worked together on our spiritual path and learning. There are few women with as clear an understanding of our tradition, connection with the great goddess, magic and practical application of the sacred feminine as Kate. Although at the airport she had the same transparent mix of excitement and apprehension on her face as I did.
Over the years I have travelled on business across much of Europe and have become comfortable with negotiating airports and arriving in foreign cities. It is enjoyable but there is always at least some sense of the familiar where ever you go within Europe. South America promised to be very different both culturally and in terms of its geography. This was not a business trip or a holiday. This was a leap into the unknown for both Kate and I, the first diplomatic meeting of two ancient spiritualities.
We hoped that the Bolivians and especially the Amauta would like us. We hoped that our knowledge of our own traditions and culture would be adequate to represent our tradition and all those who put faith in us to make this journey. We carried with us the greetings to the people of La Paz from Amesbury town council, and travelled as emissaries not only of our own small Druid grove, but also of the Pagan Federation, OBOD, and Druid Clan of Dana with 30000 members between them. All were placing much trust in Kate and I who were both new to this level of international responsibility.
Our flight would take us from London Heathrow on a short hop to Schiphol in Holland, and from there transported across a very vast Atlantic Ocean to Lima in Peru and finally from Peru to La Paz in Bolivia. Approximately 20 hours after our departure from Heathrow we set foot on Bolivian soil.
Queuing to go through immigration and customs a member of staff asked me if I would like to see a doctor. I declined, feeling a bit tired and weak is not something that should cause a fuss if you are English. They pointed out that the airport had a doctor equipped with oxygen. I don’t want any fuss thought I. Ten minutes later I found myself sitting on my baggage as much as possible and I had a headache like I had been kicked in the head by a horse. Kate was fine.
We were met at the airport by a government liaison to the Amautas council, who after a big hug of greeting sat Kate and I in a car and offered us both coca tea. This really does help with the altitude adjustment. As we descended from the airport to our hosts flat in central La Paz she pointed out the sites. The town is beautiful at night, with lights stretching up the steep valley walls. I was feeling very sick.
In La Paz we were introduced to Juan and Veronica Pablos our young Aymara hosts and they helped with our luggage and settling in to their home. I nearly vomited in the lift up to their flat and was now turning green. Kate was fine. We managed to introduce ourselves and both Kate and I realized that we were very lucky. Our hosts were beautiful people who took time to settle us in and to teach us the basic protocols of Aymara manners which include how to greet and accept food or drink.
This would be essential over the following days but for me it would be 48 hours of gasping for air and feeling like I had the worst childhood flu before I would get much chance.
Where is the air?
20 years a smoker of 20+ cigarettes a day and little exercise meant that I wasn’t ready for life at 20000 ft. Kate on the other hand doesn’t smoke, is almost vegetarian and works outdoors designing and building community gardens. Kate went shopping and dancing in one of La Paz many street celebrations. At this point I was confined to bed and feeling that I might not recover in time for the Solstice. If that happened then I would let everyone down terribly. I was missing my dear sweet low altitude Albion (Britain) where I could breath properly.
At home if I get sick I can reach out to the familiar energy of the sacred home land and feel that energy respond, so speeding recovery. Here I could not yet connect as the song of the land was subtle and different in La Paz. Druid magic was to be no use then, I would just have to wait it out.
On the afternoon of Sunday 19th June, I was finally recovered enough to walk around, although still weak. Our hosts had been very worried about me but as it was now clear that I was recovered Kate and I were invited to a community ceremony of the Sariri clan to be held on a hillside on the outskirts of La Paz. This would be our first chance to meet some of the people who had made our visit possible.
Our destination was a bungalow with a garden overlooking the valley in which La Paz is nestled. Around 50 people of all ages were gathered there in the garden, where gradually we sat ourselves into a circle. We were introduced to our interpreter Tina, originally from Slovakia, Tina now lives in La Paz working as a journalist whilst studying the Aymara.
Three generations of wise women led a community ritual, which initially consisted of a Coca leaf ceremony. The women, with great care, each unfolded a cloth containing Coca leaves. Each cloth we learned has a weave unique to the family which tells of their clan and landscape origins. Male a female leaves would be chosen in equal proportion, usually two of each. The male leaves have a pointed tip, the female have more a rounded body.
The selected leaves would be presented to another guest of the circle in the right hand and accepted with the left hand, as it is believed that this is the direction in which energy will naturally circulate between people. With a little bow of the head, eye contact and a smile, the gifts are exchanged. So many of these gifts were for Kate and I that our cheeks quickly became stuffed full like those of a hamster collecting nuts, as once accepted then one is supposed to place the leaves in the side of the mouth to chew gently.
In Celtic lore, eye contact is offered to allow another to know you and reciprocation is expected. In modern western society we struggle to make eye contact with strangers when required to show sincerity at an interview or when listening to show interest and attention. In our society today it is too easy to be accused of staring. Staring can be akin to prying into another’s business or invading their space. No-one will make eye contact with a stranger on the London tube for example.
In all human contact however when two people meet and really look into each others eyes it is an exchange of energy, compatibility and truth. I liked that the Sariri people offered these open windows to themselves through which I saw in them a sense of humor, curiosity, and warmth of bright unclouded spirits. On the evidence of this alone I could decide that the welcome that Kate and I were receiving was genuine, and shared by all.
One of the Aymara leaders, Fernando Huanacuni, arrived and joined the circle unobtrusively. Our interpreter Tina explained that Fernando was a very important leader of the Aymara. I studied him from a distance and how he interacted with others in the group. He appeared shy and certainly did not strut around pushing himself into the forefront of the circle as might some Druid ‘leaders’ that I know. He waited for others to speak to the circle until eventually it was his turn. To this point I had been very impressed by the clear, direct and almost poetic style of the women.
When Fernando started to talk, in Spanish, I realized even without interpretation that this was a great man of spirit. The tone of his voice, the humble yet powerful delivery of clear message of wisdom, the poetic Aymara style of speech yet more impressive through this man. In ancient times a Druid would have learned the art of public speaking, to the point of high art, and I am considered among the most articulate of my present day peers but Fernando is more. I could imagine Jesus Christ or Mohammed or Buddha having a gift like this man.
Then Fernando stated that at long last the Druids had come to visit the Aymara, that we were brothers, and that this was a historic meeting of people’s: And he invited me to stand up and speak.
I knew that even at my very best, which I certainly wasn’t feeling, I could not evoke the same eloquence to match Fernando. I simply spoke from the heart, saying how happy Kate and I were to represent our ancestors and our grove, the orders of OBOD and the Pagan Federation, and finally to greet our brothers and sisters of the Aymara. It was enough thankfully.
Kate was watching closely how the women interacted with their group and each other. The elders let the younger women speak first and have a turn at leading aspects of ceremony. The elder women were respected by all, who hung on their every word and gesture. We could see how the wisest were nurturing the youngest, each of whom had a role and responsibility to the group.
Both Kate and I were offered a ‘healing’ at the bottom of the garden intended to help our spirits recover from a long travel. The details of this I must save for our Druid colleagues, for what transpired was not planned for, and would only be understood by elders of our path. It is sufficient to say that after this event, both the Amauta and the Druids had experienced the energy and power of the other and there was no doubt remaining that we were compatible traditions of great substance. The experience for me was powerful and positive, surprising and life changing.
We were then introduced to the Aymara tradition of ‘offerings’.
In the Druid traditions we have long since ceased to make ceremonial offerings. At least on the surface; we still will gift a poem or a song, or give up a vice, leave wild flowers or ribbons at a sacred place. It is a mere echo of a tradition from times when offerings were perhaps more misguided. The Gods of life have never required us to extinguish life to show appreciation; we believe that they would rather that we appreciate the gift and live life fully. If we should sacrifice anything, it should be our selfishness, ignorance, greed and ego.
Aymara offerings seem to involve the breaking up of sweet stuff very much like icing, and reading from the broken pattern of the sugar some meaning before carefully rearranging the pieces. We never understood the meaning of the reading or the intent of the rearrangement. Kate and I were each honored with a ‘sugar cake’ over which the most senior Amauta fussed for some time. The rest of the community made do with one offering between them.
Wood for a fire had been laid down at the bottom of the garden, overlooking the mountains. As the sun set and dusk deepened rapidly we processed anti clockwise around the firewood with Ladies spilling a gift of alcohol into the wood and gentlemen to the Earth beside it. The sugar cakes were then carried and placed on the top of the firewood with great care not to disturb the arrangement of the pieces. Finally the fire is lit and people sing.
From the other guests to this ceremony, two French, one Spanish and one Mexican we learned that being granted access to something like this from the Sariri clan is the dream of a lifetime and very rare. At around 1am we returned to our hosts flat in the centre of La Paz. There would be a short sleep before the next day (Solstice Eve) and our schedule would be completely full.
At around 7am Kate and I were taken to a TV studio in La Paz. The channel was the equivalent in the UK to the BBC, with their breakfast program watched by most of the country as they awake and start a new day. We were wearing our Druid robes for the interview and were asked about the Druids, Stonehenge, Why we were visiting La Paz etc. From that moment on we were becoming famous.
From the TV studio we were taken to the Government buildings in the very center. We admired the Grand former colonial style architecture, as we entered. Armed guards asked to see our passports. We hadn’t brought them with us. This caused a short delay but in a short conversation between our hosts and the security, which I couldn’t follow, we were waved on. Inside this beautiful old building gathered many of the Amauta council. We sat, introduced each other, shared coca leaves and drank tea. This was deeply touching for Kate and I. The wisdom and kindliness of these elders was palpable.
One of the Amauta was a specialist shamanic healer. Kates specialty being plants and healing also, they bonded immediately and if excitement at meeting a kindred spirit could make sparks then there was lightning in the room. We presented the Amauta with our gift, the disc created by Andy and Michelle back in Amesbury depicting the trilithon of Stonehenge surrounded by three hares for the wise tradition of the Goddess. They loved it. Were very keen each to hold it. And had to decide in rapid order who should have the privilege of guarding it for each represented a different people.
It was explained that others of the council were missing because these were from far-flung reaches of Bolivia who could not attend our meeting and be home in time to officiate solstice celebrations. We understood entirely. In the same situation back home we would struggle to muster a fraction of the capable druids on the eve of solstice. That so many had come to greet us and talk with us was a great show of respect to us.
After leaving the government building, still accompanied by our interpreter and guide Tina, and our Amauta medicine man, we went out into the town square. Here hundreds of Aymara were dancing and processing past. Apparently they had gathered to express exasperation with a new law that vehicles traveling to Tiwanaku must be under 15 years old to be more fuel-efficient. Practically every taxi and bus in La Paz is over 15 years old, no-one would be able to get there if the rule were enforced.
We were welcomed by a senior member of the British embassy team in La Pas Claire Demaret, who was kind enough to seek us out and this had the very positive effect of making us feel supported.
Tina took us to her favorite restaurant for lunch which served home-made soup. We still had our Amauta friend the medicine man with us and he pointed at every plant decorating the restaurant and explained to Kate and I its medicinal properties. Kate recognized a couple of the plants from her studies and noted that he was spot on. When I asked him how he would know the properties of a plant, the answer he gave surprised me. In addition to tradition passed down from parent to child, and many years of practice, he could ask a plants spirit with his own spirit and receive the knowledge directly.
I wondered if this is how our own herb lore had originally been derived, with spirit interaction.
The way to Tiwanaku
After rushing down our food we raced across the town centre on foot to the meet the coaches that would take the Sariri Aymara to Tiwanaku. La Paz sits in a crack at the centre of a great plain surrounded by mountains. When it rains seven rivers flow down the streets of La Paz. The journey up the side of the valley to reach the plain took us past the fast expanding ‘Upper La Paz’ to travel across the dusty plain for many miles. Looking out of the window we could see small farms, many with mud walls and thatch roofs. Llama and cattle wandered in the fields of sparse grass.
Inside the coach the community chatted excitedly, sang traditional songs or dozed.
Our first destination would be at a place called ‘the village’. Fernando explained to me that in ancient times only the priests could enter the Tiwanaku temple for winter solstice sunrise. The other pilgrims must stop at a ridge to go no further, and once there was a small village here. It is a special place for the Aymara he said. As our coach trundled to a stop on a ridge over looking a vast plain with three perfect mountains looking like pyramids on the horizon I couldn’t wait to get out of the coach and breathe fresh air.
As soon as I set foot on the soil of ‘the farm’ I was instantly moved to tears with emotion. To explain, this place literally contained a torrent of ‘energy’. It felt to our fey senses something like swimming with dolphins, standing to watch a perfect sun rise, jumping in puddles, watching a spring lamb taking its first steps, Glastonbury tor, Avebury, Tin Tadgel in a storm and Stonehenge all combined. This was the raw wild energy of our Mother Earth in such abundance! I was literally stunned. Fernando seeing the look of emotion on my face wandered over to me. I asked WHAT IS THIS place?
He smiled knowingly and knelt to draw in the dust. He drew the ridge where we stood. The three mountains on the horizon, the three dots for the temples of Tiwanaku behind us.
The sun, he explained, rises up the side of the first mountain at winter solstice, the second at equinox, the third at summer solstice. He drew three lines to show the suns line to where we stood. The drawing in the dust, and this great Tiwanaku landscape, actually draw the universal druid symbol.
I did not know how it might be possible, but in this moment I received a knowing that the ancestors – OUR ANCESTORS – had once visited this place long ago.
More pictures are available to view at: http://www.stonehenge-druids.org/bolivia-2011.html
To be continued in part 3