Opening the Vision
and Walking into Life
A story inside Initiation Rites in Snowdonia, North Wales
by Pip Bondy
Ancient peoples practiced ways to honour and mark important life transitions in Rites of Passage ceremonies. They had the natural knowledge that, in order to grow and mature into life’s mysteries, we need to step through doors that are both inside us and in the natural world. To fulfill our lives responsibilities and be a support to the community we live in, we need to live the truth that we are completely interconnected with every cycle of nature and every blade of grass. That God is not somewhere else, but here and now. Indigenous peoples’ ceremonial rites live on in the land and have done so for thousands of years.
Today, we lack Initiation Rites. You only have to look at young peoples’ difficulties in finding themselves. So many people feel and see that something is missing in our society. Whether we are moving from adolescence to adulthood, or adulthood to elderhood, or making a significant shift in our life situation, ritual can still open the way through form and magic to restore the deep connection needed to keep balance and to survive. It allows our own life and nature to be our teacher and guide, and tragedy and joy to be transformed into the beauty of our way.
Anthropologist Arnold van Gennep first defined the dynamics of the Rites of Passage in 1909. He described this process in three stages; Severance (separation), Threshold (marge), and Incorporation (aggregation). (Van Gennep, 1960).
What is it like to experience ancient ‘Rites of Passage’ in our modern times?
We are gathered together in an isolated old cottage resting in the arms of a sacred oak forest amidst rugged rocks, full of mystery and old tales. A small group of fragile human beings, with inner longings and questions, all wanting some change in life. We have arrived at a stage where some kind of movement needs to take place and are wondering, `Who am I?’ `Which way to go?’ `What is my purpose here on earth?’.
We sit in a circle learning the ordinary practicalities of preparing and obtaining equipment to survive and just ‘be’ for four days and nights with no food, shelter or human company. We bring our physical, emotional and spiritual selves to the surface to drop into the cauldron in the center of our circle – a pot to stir. We speak of our pain and our hopes. At times we are grasping and confused, looking for the places where our life has meaning. We struggle to find clear intent. How deep can we go through the heart of our wound; beneath what we `think’ we are?
We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so to have the life that is waiting for us
Leaving the arms of the sacred oak trees, we venture high into the secrets of Snowdonia: her burial mounds and stone circles lie waiting. We make a base camp, and then one by one each person will move deeper into the land to find his or her place on our beloved Earth. As the West invites the sun to set, we return and gather together round the fire for a last meal. The spirit of night brings her darkness as our hearts fill with the power of deep intent. As dawn breaks each of us leaves base camp. We have made a circle of prayers and as we pass through this threshold, the beauty and pain of each of us is blessed.
Now in Threshold time, we are at one with Earth and nature. All creation mirrors the beings we truly are, and dissolves the boundaries that give the illusion of separation. Powers of wind, rain, and magic mists knock on the door. The great rocks, holding ancient forms, are our teachers. Waterfalls gather their power as the heavenly rain falls into their earthly mouths. The four directions, South, West, North and East, turn full circle, dancing the cycle from sunrise to sunset. Each day is a lifetime, a blessing of dark and light. If you truly stop and open, nothing is left but the truth. This is who I am today!
On the last night of the vigil we `cry for our vision’; travelling through the passage of dark night and feeling the labor pains of birthing, as we look death straight in the eye and die to the past. As dawn breaks and births her day, so are we reborn through our true mother – our beloved Earth.
If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man, as it is, Infinite
As the sun moves higher we arrive back in base camp, in very altered states. Our boundaries have moved; a crack in the ego has opened revealing a new sight, a new vision within.
Now there is a story to be told. The story carries the magic that lives inside our journey of four days and nights with no food, shelter or human company. It tells of how nature spoke and played, how our feelings and memories came through, how our ancestors spoke within us and how we stepped through our boundaries into an expansion of ourselves.
The telling of our story to the elders births us into a new life. The elders reflect back the meaning, treasures and power that are the gifts and lessons learnt. Through these stories, which are our roots and our Initiation, we are validated, heard, loved and blessed. Our souls are `seen’ and our lives experienced in a new way so we can grow in our well being, for the community and ourselves.
The greatest challenge of all is to return to our lives, having stepped through an altered time and space and recovered the power of these ancient rites. We can now manifest and make true our vision; nurture the fire in our heart so it can light our lives. We return to our world with visionary lives now present and alive.
To return again to where I am, I make this journey
What are Initiation Rites, and why should they matter to us today?
I live with this question – “Offering these old ways into our modern world in the hope of what?” I answer:“To give purpose and meaning to the lives we have and to discover that our spirituality is not somewhere else, but right here in our ordinary everyday life. We can experience the exquisite intimacy of beauty and dark that is nature and then to realise it is mirroring the our own true selves.
We can learn to heal the split between sacred and profane. It makes no difference whether we travel deep or stay near the surface; the primal rivers are in our veins as they are in the Earth.
I believe that taking on life with its unknown mystery and responsibilities is the very healing we were born on Earth for. Healing the split between dark and light, good and bad, right and wrong and understanding that we can live the truth of our heart. Going deep into the treasures of our soul and tapping the source – that is our essence. Living the fullness of life, healing the wounds of our families and ancestors and blessing our planet and world we take yet another step. And maybe one new intention, one new threshold crossed, makes one less movement into another war.
Being the midwife to this Ceremony is the greatest gift I could receive. I lay down the bones and structure; then my job is to get out of the way and let the ceremony do its work. I surrender to this process and open to seek the beauty in each soul. I’m in love, in love in the most ancient way; with every aspect of the earth and with the song the Beloved sings through each rock and each tree. The world has become a river of love flowing with life force and spirits. My heart is torn to pieces, opened in a thousand ways with love for the people, the land and the practice; all have become my Beloved.
What God whispered to the rose to make it bloom so beautifully, he shouted to my heart times one hundred