Our time in Ireland is drawing to a close. I asked my spiritual director if there was some place he thought we would be interested in visiting on our trip from Clare in western Ireland to Dublin on the eastern coast. He suggested we visit the Hill of Tara, north of Dublin near the Newgrange burial mound. As we entered the holy grounds I was not prepared for what I would see and feel on this particular day. Mystical experiences arise to the attentive often unawares and without expectation.
The Hill of Tara is one of the most important pre-Christian ceremonial sites known to man, older than Stonehenge. The 5,000 year-old ritual grounds are dominated by two raised ceremonial rings and a nearby burial mound. Pilgrims would travel days using the several spoke like roads leading to the hub of the revered site. Kings, clan leaders, holy men, and women gathered here at the hill offering an amazing 360-degree panoramic view spanning over fifty miles.
Evidently, due to the historic eminence of the Hill of Tara in Neolithic worship, early Christians must have found the need to co-opt the site. A very large statue of St. Patrick stands outside the church grounds marking his legendary visit in the fifth century while the site was still in use by pre-Christians.
The Anglican Church of Ireland conducts an annual worship service on March 17 in the now vacant parish. The three-century-old Christian cemetery is still in use today. I could not help but be reminded of my mother’s burial this past saint’s day.
While Cathy was gathering some literature regarding the historical significance of the site, I was standing outside the church door breathing in the misty air. Shockingly, the name of a nearby headstone grabbed at my heart. My mother’s mother’s name was Allie Pauline Kellett. There on a nearby headstone was the family name. I have been to Ireland four times and visited hundreds of churches and graves and have yet to see the family name. There was the grave marker, including reference to the Irish form of the name, Gillett. I searched the site and found one other such marker. I have no idea if we are related, but it was simply stunning to see the name.
Then we climbed the hill behind the church and walked the ancient ceremonial site. We could feel the waves and hear the voice of ancient rituals blowing over us. Standing atop the center of the grassy ritual platform, it was easy to imagine hundreds of people sprawling along the three rings carved like an amphitheater around the prominent mound elevation.
Returning to the church I saw a standing stone, bearing an etching of the Sheila-na-gig, fifteen feet from the Kellett grave. Earlier, I was so caught up in the family headstone I had not noticed the four-foot standing stone. Gazing at the grave marker, I put my hand on the standing stone. Immediately, dozens of ravens swarmed the air. The centuries old majestic tree looming over the Kellett marker and the standing stone is a rookery. The deafening arrival of so many ravens at just that moment filled my very being with a spiritual emotion I had not felt before this day.
The feeling was like being rooted, grounded, and deeply woven into the fabric of time. The confluence the most ancient standing stone of the Hill of Tara, St. Patrick’s Day and its significance in my life, the Anglican Church, my mother’s family name, and the raven, powerfully and positively overwhelmed my soul. Mystical moments do not happen because we will them into existence. They appear on the horizon of our lives because we are open to the possibility of the divine in a fresh and creative explosion of neo-reality into our soul lives—the anamorphic soul being shaped shifted into true cara.
Priest, pilgrim, writer, alchemist—living into the mystery, the knowledge, and the practice of sacred alchemy. I've walked across Ireland, almost 400 miles of mountains, valleys, forests, and magic. The pilgrimage was a mirror of my life's journey, coach, president, priest. Traveler of the life's struggles—from failure to re-imagination—still walking.