Sometimes, looking back after years, I am startled to see a map that leads to an outcome I would never have dreamed. The route is never the super highway one but is oddly disjointed, with little mapping points popping up here and there and long lapses when the road might seem lost.
Perhaps I stopped at an all-consuming job or dallied with divorce, or mixed in a major life map like raising a child. But then I can see how a theme picks its way through the landscape, and I am dimly aware that under the surface of events, things are happening that are not entirely of my doing. It has been so with this work I am now undertaking, as I begin a blog with and about Barbara Thomas, the Woman on the Mountain.
I met Barbara some 30 years ago. At first, it was not so much the woman who attracted me as it was the sacred amphitheater I discovered on the mountain. It seemed magical, the tall no-nonsense redwoods mixing with the curved mature madrones, and both cheered from below by a sprinkling of deciduous trees and shrubs, filmy and delicate—an interweaving of different sensibilities that allowed a special spirit to filter through the space. Barbara and Jim Thomas owned the amphitheater and Barbara led sacred circle dances there.
Coming from the other side of the mountain, from the jangle of Silicon Valley and the flurry of my daily life, I relished the dancing: simple steps repeated over and over, until my feet knew them and my body could lose itself in the haunting music and the ancient passed-down wisdom of movement dedicated to heaven and earth. And yet, I went to the dances only a few times through the years.
In 2005, when an old friend and I had both left the Waldorf school at the same time, we chose the amphitheater as the place to hold a labyrinth ceremony. With other friends we laid the Chartres form in forest debris and 1,000 tea lights.
Years before, when our daughters were in 7th grade, we had done a rite of passage ceremony for them, learning a series of songs and dances created by the Waldorf school’s eurythmy accompanist, Joan McMillan. Her beautiful music and lyrics carried us this time too: “A magic dwells in each beginning, encircling us and teaching us to live” and “Set your feet to the path for there is no scanother way.”
Barbara was there with us that night, and at the end she declared that the fire spirits had never been so pleased or felt so acknowledged. A few weeks later, in appreciation (a more timid soul than Barbara might have vetoed the candles as a fire hazard), I brought her a photograph of the ceremony and we had our first real conversation.
I started doing small retreats at the guest cottage, spending hours in the amphitheater alone, in the rain, early in the morning, at night, sitting in tree hollows, gazing, longing, doing my best to honor the energy I felt there. I have always wanted to see angels and elementals, and I knew this must be one of their portals.
I had also formed a belief through the years that such clairvoyance or “second sight” was not my gift or my task in this lifetime. Nevertheless, this belief did not keep me from feeling a sense of loss that I had no palpable access to the extra-sensory realms I have solidly supported for so long.
On my retreats I would always visit Barbara, and she began telling me about her long-cultivated relationships with the nature spirits on her land. What grew in me was the consideration that, like other forms of spiritual discipline, the back-and-forth communication she described was a practice and a process, not a propensity that one either does or does not have. My acceptance that such “bells and whistles” were not for me shifted to questions: Why not me? Why not anyone who is willing to do the work? And therefore, why hadn’t I so far been willing or able to do the work successfully?
About a year ago, I went down to the amphitheater after a conversation with Barbara and decided to put this new possibility to a test. I lay down on the ground and declared: I’m not going to leave until I have a message from one of you elementals! It was a warm day and I loved being there with the sun dappling through the tree branches; I could wait. After a short time, the line came into my head: Go home and talk to your own elementals! I laughed, because, indeed, at the moment I am living in an ensouled place myself—another one of those portals—and it made eminent sense to start there. Still, definitive success on my own turf has eluded me, and so I am pleased that Barbara, the amphitheater and its nature spirits are now coming into my life in a new, more purposeful way.