What is true fear?
I sat outside of a cave, its dark throat beckoning with the tiny voice of cave crickets. My challenge, assigned to me by the Arch Druid, to enter alone. Once inside, I was to find the deepest recess of the cavern and read ‘There were Giants’ from the first of the Druidic Chronicles, aided only by the light of a pale Fire globe of blue light.
Since childhood, I have long imagined what, if anything, may happen if ever I were to dare the Druidic initiation. The tradition has, for time immemorial, been the first step in achieving any real authority over the shades of stone and sea.
The shades of stone and sea? Beings? Giants, fabled to inhabit Britain before its colonization?
The Druid Chronicle offered only one vague clue to the results of the endeavor.
“For an out of this world experience, read There Were Giants in a cave by the light of your Palen Tan, and as an extra measure try reciting the first ancient Welsh Spell of Making.”
My son, fourteen, accompanied me on my adventure to the hills of rural Nashville where an uncharted cave awaited us, and my potential initiation.
The cave was one that my older brother had discovered along a country highway with some friends of his, and he had passed down the secret location to me. I had explored it as a teenager with friends, but never alone.
There had always been the possibility of one day returning for my initiation, but would it still be there after more than twenty years?
My latest novel is shaping up to be a fictional story about King Arthur and his adventures in the Otherworld at the hand of his mentor, Merlyn. I thought, this would make a prime opportunity to get a photograph for the book cover, so my son and I decided to prepare by fashioning our own robes for the event.
What could be a better cover photo than a live action re-creation of Douglas Monroe’s 21 Lessons of Merlyn? We fashioned Ashton’s out of forest green, as Ovydd’s wear that color to represent new growth upwards like that of the powerful trees. Mine, I fashioned out of brown, as I was coming to this initiation long overdue, like an ancient tree which had grown still and needed some water.
It is a well-established fact, that when working in a spiritual space, individualism is important if you want something to carry any real meaning; dare I say power? So we picked our fabrics ourselves.
My five-year old daughter helped us with our chalk outlines, and my sixteen year-old daughter helped cut the fabric to size. Even our four-year-old got in on the action! Then we brought our materials to a local seamstress who was excited to hem them up for us.
After getting our robes fashioned, securing our plane tickets, and getting my Aunt to agree to lodge us for two nights, I went to the real work of giving this initiation the best chance at success.
I knew that the first quest of mastery was centered around the eradication of fear in its many forms. As a child, simply overcoming the fear of the dark, and entering a deep cavern alone would be fear enough to suffice such an initiation! But, I was forty-years-old and hardly afraid of the dark.
What fear was it that I was trying to snuff out?
As I went about searching for the perfect cobalt jar or globe that I could fashion a Palen Tan from, I kept telling myself, “That one is too big, or that one is too small, or that one is not dark enough…”
I was determined to get the perfect specimen. But why?
Perhaps, I had uncovered the fear that was hiding in the dark corners of my mind.
It was a deep fear and one that many men of faith have had to overcome in their own spiritual journeys. My most intense fear was that nothing would happen at all!
With that discovery, I decided to work even more furiously. I determined to do everything in my power to make the situation perfect for an out of this world event to occur. I began by considering the date that I would be at the cave entrance, which turned out to be a Friday, dead center of the new to full-moon cycle.
With that knowledge, I could start associating spiritual items, incenses, and events.
Because the moon cycle would be a time in-between, I thought it best to enter the cave at sunset (twilight, also being a time between).
I found that Friday had a whole course of things associated with it. Copper, for instance, I had learned from Sadghuru, is the natural vessel to drink water from. And, remembering that the cave had a waterfall in the back chamber, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to buy a chalice, which I might one-day use as one of my symbols of mastery.
There are four symbols of mastery in the Pheryllt system and I had thus far failed to create any of them. At the time, the copper chalice, was just part of my plan on taking a holy sacrament, like someone in church would do. A bit of water, a bit of bread. My own touch to the initiation process, as I and my family have been avid church goers since our marriage.
The next item associated with Friday was the emerald. As I had been collecting precious stones over the past year, I happened to have an emerald that I was very proud of, hiding in my collection. I put the little jewel in a container and packed it in my carry on.
The final thing I saw associated with my journey was the ‘F’ Lydian scale. I have very little experience in music and was uncertain where the emerald or the scale would come into play, but I kept those things in mind, confident that the purpose would become clear.
What was I up to? Why was I so pressed to get all of these details right?
It was fear, working inside of me. But I wasn’t going to let it get the best of me. I was determined not to leave out a single detail, so that when I emerged from that cave, successful or not, I KNEW that I gave it every chance possible.
If I were to find out that all of this, all of this childish attachment to Real Magic, were just smoke, then I was going to be certain beyond a shadow of doubt. No more ‘What if the environment weren’t right? What if the spell was pronounced wrong?’…
No more What ifs…
Our flight landed in Nashville Thursday afternoon. I was tired from working a night shift, and Delta only gave us one free carry-on a piece, so my Palen Tan, candles, and lantern, all had to be shipped to my Aunt’s prior. I hoped they had arrived on time.
When we arrived at Aunt Millie’s house, all our shipped things were there, waiting to be unpacked. My cousin Micah, was also there and she had a variety of small musical instruments that she offered me to choose from in order to play my Lydian scale.
I was still uncertain and inexperienced in that regard so we turned our attention to preparing the copper chalice. I had thought it would be rare if we could somehow fashion the emerald to the copper chalice in an attempt to make the cup ‘my own’.
My cousin brought down a soldering kit and my son went to work with it. Two-hours later he had melded the precious stone to the vessel and left his own personal mark of craftsmanship on it for me.
What a rare treasure!
We carefully unpacked all the glass items and put them together. The lantern, the Palen Tan, and the chalice were soon all ready. We got a rope from the garage to aid in climbing down into the antechamber and had purchased some small headlamps. Everything went into the bag for the following day’s expedition.
My son went to bed and the other three of us stayed up late into the night discussing what I expected to come of our adventure.
At one-point in the night, Millie’s stepson David came home from work and I discovered he had a Master’s in music. He was quick to be helpful explaining what the Lydian scale was and how it was to be played or sung, should I choose to do either.
They produced a handheld electric tuner that I could play a succession of notes with just the push of a button! That went into my bag with a scrap of paper notated with the proper F Lydian Scale.
I was ready.
Sunset was at 8pm.
We left the house at six.
Millie dropped off two robed druids on the edge of a country highway where there was no close or apparent place to park. It was a fifty-five mph zone, so we exited with a brief thank you and started our attempt to quickly make our way off of the road.
The road was skirted with steep embankments. To the North, where our destination lay, was a twelve foot wall of brambles, loose slate, and trees growing at impossible angles. To the South, a sheer drop of two hundred feet to a river.
In order not to get caught by a passing highway patrolmen, my son and I had to climb the Northern embankment with much speed! I was burdened with a sack full of fragile objects and glass lanterns, while he was burdened with a sedentary lifestyle. Both of us were burdened with wizard robes!
“Who’s stupid idea was it to hike in dresses?” yelled Ashton struggling.
Once, as father and son, we had conquered the challenging climb and progressed to less threatening angles, we realized that we had a half-mile hike along the overgrown ridge to reach the cavern entrance. This I endured through much of my son’s bickering. Insults and complaints disguising his discomfort in daring many spider webs, rodents, and poisonous leafy tendrils.
Yet, finally, our work paid off. At first, peeking from over the ridge, and then coming into full view, was the entrance. Immediately, I felt that I was in the company of an old friend.
My son was still struggling 100 yards back and I was giving him the signal that I had found it. A shrill bird whistle.
I climbed up to the entrance and sat down on the ledge, producing my wooden pipe from my bag. There was still forty-five minutes to sunset and I had brought a fitting pastime.
When my son arrived, I saw that twinkle in his eyes that makes every good adventure worth it. Smoking my pipe, with a mixture of golden pipes, mint, and chamomile, I smiled to him while I readied myself for the task at hand.
There was a point when my son was about to start blaring his Spotify playlist as he settled on the ledge, and I had to remind him that I was on a spiritual retreat. Respectfully, and with reconsideration, he put his phone away and engaged with me in some spiritual conversation.
As I listened to his philosophy on right and wrong, heaven and hell, I began to develop a strong respect for the youth’s heart and soul. It brought me back to the memory of myself at his age and helped me see how far we grow away from knowledge and truth when we fail to constantly pursue it. He was exactly where he was suppose to be on his spiritual journey!
I was very proud!
My son had tied off the rope and thrown it down into the pitfall which leads into the antechamber of the cavern. With a hug and a promise, I left my son on the cliff’s edge and ventured into the abyss.
The climb was a bit difficult with the fragile contents of my backpack, but I descended successfully.
Ducking under a low stone at the bottom of the chute, I found myself standing in the huge antechamber. There I took off my pack and began rummaging, wondering if I should proceed under only the light of the Palen Tan. This I found was impossible and hazardous. So I packed my things back away, and decided to scout out my perfect spot for the reading beforehand.
I slid down a gentle slope and under an outcrop of rock. This widened out until the cave was a massive cathedral with ceilings so high you couldn’t guess. To my right was a cluster of stalagmites that had grown up in the shape of a chair and table. How convenient!
Above the table hung a rope, browned and aged, as if someone once had been here in this fashion before. My Palen Tan was just asking to be hung on the lowest knot! I took a mental note.
Across a small pool of water there was another dais that I thought would be perfect to set my handheld lantern on. That would better illuminate the chamber when it came time to read. I made my way carefully past these perfect sentinels, and skirted a deadly pitfall in order to head toward the back of the catacombs, where I knew there was a natural spring and waterfall I could bathe in before my religious work.
After some difficult navigation, I heard and then saw the beautiful clear pool and falling water that fed it. I simply stood and took in the huge undertaking which I had already began. All of my glass had thus far survived. I was alone in the back of an ancient catacomb of stone. Before me was a natural shower.
I quickly de-robed.
I had the foresight to wear a shirt and shorts of natural hemp under my robes and nothing more. I wanted my bath to act like a baptism, like any other holy initiation for centuries past. I stripped down to only my tabi boots; socks with a rigid sole, which would allow me to wade safely out into the waterfall.
As the crisp, cool water fell over my shoulders, all those cold showers, which I had been disciplining myself with, finally paid off.
I was a caveman! Showering in God’s untouched life-giving water.
Druidic Prose came to me; young years finally remembered, and I sang it thrice over. A grown caveman, singing in the shower with joy!
To bathe in the waters of life,
To wash off the non-human,
I come in self-annihilation and the grandeur of inspiration!
…and then I realized I was living the spirit of the prose. A poem, so deeply embedded, the meaning of which I had never known, until now!
After being sure I was thoroughly drenched (as taught to me by my Navy Seal Instructor) I emerged from my freezing natural shower, with a smile, not a single shiver on the skin.
I put on my natural breeches and tunic, and then my robe, and then I started back toward the spot in the cave that I knew was destined for my self-initiation.
Carefully, I lit the small blue hand lantern and placed it on the dais as I passed, imagining how ancient it would look once my headlamp was turned off.
I set my bag down by the stone table and chair and began setting the contents out on the table to organize them.
I put my leather pipe bag on the rock; an activity to keep me company when I got around to reading. I carefully removed the Palen Tan and lit a small black tea light in its belly. Then I stretched up above the table to hook it on a knot. The rope being right there still baffles me when I think on it!
Then I rummaged in the bag for anything I might have forgotten and produced the electric tuner along with Daniel’s educated reference to the recommended scale. I placed them in arm’s reach. But then, I saw the chalice glimmer from inside the bag. I had forgotten about the chalice!
The biscuit, which I had reverently eaten outside of the cave while I waited, was suppose to be accompanied by water from the falls as a sacrament. But, I had forgotten to fill the chalice with the falling water. Which was the only water (freshly filtered) I dared to drink. So I took up the chalice and again began the treacherous climb back to the waterfall.
I stood there at the base of the falls, at the time of sunset and with my copper vessel that my son had spent hours crafting for me; a genuine emerald soldered into the base and his mark of craftsmanship on the rim. I just looked at the majestic natural pool for a moment wondering what I was really doing here with this cup.
I skirted the outside of the falls and made my way behind the sheet of water so that I could reach out with the cup and fill it.
With both hands I put the copper vessel under the most steady stream of falling water and it began to fill. Quickly at first, but then, after the level had raised, just an inch, something magical happened.
The copper chalice began to take the water more slowly.
Ever so slowly, the cup filled to the halfway point, and then…
The water fell from above and splashed constantly in the small pool contained by solid copper, but the water level failed to raise!
‘It has a hole in it,’ I thought. But no, it was solid copper!
The water continued to fall in with no result…
‘It’s splashing out as it hits,’ I thought tilting the vessel this way and that to be sure it wasn’t just a trick of the light.
The vessel took the water, but still remained half-full…
My eyes grew as wide as saucers.
‘I’m witnessing a miracle!’ I thought and took my gaze from the cup and peered out through the thin silver sheet of water at the darkness in utter awe.
I looked back at a cup still only half full. I tossed the water out into the pool. An empty chalice.
I started again.
Up and up the water rose, and then it stopped halfway!
“I’m witnessing a miracle!” I finally declared.
I lifted the chalice up above my head in reverence and got caught in a thought about the Holy Grail.
‘Maybe this is the amount of water I am meant to drink from the cup as communion,’ I thought. And then I thought, ‘What if this is the fountain of youth?’
I gazed up at the miraculous thing in my grip and decided I was meant to drink this water, as it was gifted to me by God. I put it to my lips and drank.
Nectar of the Gods.
And then for no other reason than to witness the miracle again I put the cup under the steady stream and watched again in awe, this time counting one-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand, all the way to ten one-thousand and a tear threatened to fall from the corner of my eye as the miracle held fast.
Thanking God for life itself, I took the half-full cup with me and balanced it carefully back along the treacherous trail to where I had set-up my actual initiation to begin.
When I reached the sanctuary I fell into a steady calm. The sight of my two blue lanterns, the music, and the book awaiting me reminded me of how I might set up to entertain my children. With a little story telling and music.
I flipped off my headlamp and let the darkness envelope. As I stood there thinking, the blue lights slowly brought the shapes of the ancient rock to light (for lack of a better word). It was at least enough to get my footing back across the small pool of water to the stone-fashioned table and chair.
I had, thus far, witnessed a miracle and was caught between the exhilarating memory of magic being real, and the now terrifying consideration that my ritual might actually make something physical happen!
I took a seat and realized there was no way I was going to be able to read in such low light and asked myself if a few small black tea lights wouldn’t violate the effort. I decided, since my fear of the dark had been mastered, and no such exclusion of other lighting appeared in the text, I would scatter a few to achieve my goal.
With just the right amount of light, I lit my pipe and opened the book to ‘There Were Giants’.
It had been many years since I had read the chapter. Maybe it was a subconscious knowledge that I would one day undergo this event and I wanted the words to be like new when it came. As I read aloud, they were.
The story was of young Arthur. He was in possession of a magical stone that Merlyn had promised would summon him if he chose to learn the ways of the Druids.
Every few paragraphs, I would stop reading and let my mind wander to that place of fear… The what if nothing happens, and then what if something does?
Now, both outcomes were scary! I was destined to experience fear in one way or another.
But, I was experiencing that fear right alongside the young boy king. Arthur was also afraid. He was scared to loose his stone over the stony crags of Tintagel like Merlyn had instructed. He too, was scared that Merlyn’s promise would end in disappointment. But, he closed his eyes and forced himself to face the truth. He dropped the rock.
I did the same by turning the page to read on. Briefly, I lifted my eyes to the dark and felt something, different. A sense of contentment. Relief.
Arthur nestled into the trunk of a tree to wait on the Wizard’s arrival, as he did not appear in a wisp of smoke like Arthur had imagined. And while he fell fast asleep, something in me awakened. I felt that I was not alone. Something was there with me, and it was listening to the story.
Arthur awoke to Merlyn’s gentle shake. Surprised and happy that his stone had produced the Druid, although not in a timely manner.
But the young man quickly understood when the old Bard told him that Druids are not constrained by time, as it is a fabrication of man. Then, Merlyn offered to take Arthur to the shores below where he could face his own fears in the Giant’s cave.
As they made their way to the entrance Merlyn told Arthur, “Legend has it that once this island was inhabited by a race of giants…”
I thought back to what I had learned from reading Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain. Instantly, came the image of our bravest warriors wrestling those giants in ancient games of sport. Then, the memory of Cog Magog being thrown from the cliffs into the sea.
“…it is said that they fashioned these caves from the Living rock.”
I looked around the cave at the ancient stone.
“Beings,” I said to myself while Understanding slowly began to dawn.
It was then that I realized who had been listening. I read on.
Arthur went on to face his fear in the cave, and awoke the following morning with the magic stone still in his pocket. He was filled with relief that the magic did actually happen, and ran off to attend his morning duties with glee.
To me, magic had already happened. My magical chalice sat, perched on the stone table, still half full of life giving water. And now, I knew the stone was listening. I blew out the tea lights.
While I had its attention it was time to recite the ancient welsh spell of making…
and each time I spoke with more authority, the rock heard!
Ah elfyn todd dwyr syndyn do carig ur fair loo rig noon Oos seereeth ekk safyr too fair eck lyn moore ne krom bore loon!
The spell echoed back to me from the depths, and as the cascade of sound subsided my mind rang out its own questions within,
“What if the beings do come out?”
I started the second recitation, even louder… and my mind answered as the spell exited my lips,
“They are coming out! They are here!”
Echoes of ancient stone rapped down into the depths. My mind screamed internally,
“What if I can’t make them go away?”
And for the final time, the spell came from my lungs, this time in an valiant effort to suppress my inner doubts, my ultimate fear.
The ancient and familiar sounds radiated through the catacombs until I sat comfortably and serene, alone. Or was I?
I picked up my pipe. Smashed a little tobacco and a mixture of golden pipes into the bowl and said, “Now, I am going to strike a match to light my pipe. Try not to be afraid.”
Beings of stone live in the dark. To ask them to come out in the light is like asking a fish to join you for tea out of water…
I crossed my legs and lifted the tuner as I smoked casually.
“I have brought something for you,” I said.
“In fact, I especially got a flash education on the Lydian scale to be sure you would enjoy it when I played. Also, I have brought along some of your favorite things to make you feel more at home. A golden chalice, and an emerald.”
Certain now that I had secured my first symbol of Mastery in the chalice, I began to play the F Lydian scale for those who listened from the shadows.
“Now,” I said, “it is against Druidic doctrine that I allow any other human to touch my symbols of power, but doctrine says nothing about old friends…”
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