From the hills of Tara we headed to Galway. By the time we arrived, we were both completely exhausted. The hotel we were staying in was lovely, but wouldn’t you know it the restaurant was completely booked, so we had to eat in the Bar area which had bar food menu and different chef and kitchen. We were so exhausted that the thought of driving back into town to try to find a restaurant where we would have any luck finding decent food was more than we could take, so we stayed in the bar and had some of the very worst food we have ever eaten. Of course, knowing we were coming to Ireland after all, so far we had actually been pretty lucky in the food department. But this night was the epitome of, “Oh, yes, not everyone actually knows what good food actually tastes like” because this chef obviously had a different version of good food than we have. They were truly very nice and really wanted to help us which was quite kind, but in the words of Milena’s brother Pietro (who happens to be a wonderful cook and co-owns a great restaurant in Notting Hill, London) this meal was “A DISASTER DARLING!” Luckily for us, they made up for it with finding us a decent tasting and cheap bottle of wine of which we drank two so as to forget the dinner’s taste.
The next day, I told Milena (who was dealing with a wee bit of a hangover and was trying very hard to wake up) to drive us by the grocery store in town, so we could get things to make a salad for our day (having been inspired by the food the night before.) We were very lucky to not only find a few salad things, but also found an organic mix of ground flax, pumpkin, and sesame seeds; some tofu; and some garlic-infused olive oil! Now, we were once again happy travelers. Off on our next adventure we went. We headed off to Maeve’s Cairn in Sligo County.
And once again, we found that there were no signs helping us find our way. In the Lonely Planet Guide, Maeve’s Cairn is called Knocknarea Cairn because that is also what it is called in Ireland. Only those who have studied the ancient stories would know it as Maeve’s Cairn. It is believed that here was buried the very powerful and important Queen Maeve who ruled like a King, and who was called into being in the lineage of the ancient Goddess Maeve.
In the Lonely Planet Guide, it says that you leave the town of Sligo headed towards Carrowmore and then follow the signs. Only problem… there were no signs. We drove around for a while before pulling into a gas station to see if someone could help us. I had to ask three people before I found someone who had even heard of Knocknarea, and it is only a few kilometers away. Once again, it shows how effectively anything that has to do with the Pagans—and especially having nothing to do with Churches, Abbeys, or Castles—has been disappeared. So with semi-understandable directions, we head off on our way. And again, as we close in, we find, there are still no signs at all for Knocknarea. Luckily, with the bits of information I was able to piece together from the Lonely Planet Guide, along with following my intuition, we weaved our way through back roads until finally there was one—count them one, not two, not three, but one—sign to Knocknarea. A little further down the winding road we find a non-descript parking area off to the side and pull over in the midst of rain that is beginning to come down rather hard. We look at each other and smile. I ask Milena, “Ready?” “Ready,” she says. We put on our rain jackets, pull out our umbrellas, and step out into the wet and cold.
As we prepare to head up a rocky path, up a rather large hill (the Lonely Planet Guide had warned us it is about a 45 minute trek uphill) a car full of elder ladies pulls up, and one leans out and asks if it is passable. I told her by foot but not by car. She replied, “The woman back aways told us, that it is like a river in places, and you need Wellies if you are to walk it.” I replied, “Well, we have no Wellies, but we are going to go for it anyway.” The woman looked worried and rolled up her window. We never did see those women again. I think the thought for them of trekking up the hill through mud, muck, pouring rain, and sopping feet was a bit more than they had bargained for. But Milena and I, we knew we had to at least give it a try, and so up we started.
It was very funny for me to be using an umbrella while hiking, but as my whole life is in disarray in a storage unit in the East Bay of San Francisco, California, I could not find my wonderful heavy-duty rain jacket and pants, so I had to rely on my umbrella and the kindness of Milena’s family for the jacket I was wearing which is made for traveling about town with an umbrella and not for hiking up a rather steep hill with rain pummeling. But, nevertheless, up we started umbrellas and all.
Water was indeed cascading down the rocky trail, in some places pooling up so deep that we had to tip-toe across, balancing on rocks, hoping not to slip and fall in to the deeper water. The trail was bordered by cows, sheep, and blackberry bushes—all of which seem a vital part of the Ireland landscape. Along the way we found a few berries ripe enough to eat which we promptly did, and to the cows and sheep giving us the wary eye, we told them they did not need to fear us, as being vegans, we had zero desire to eat them.
Also, along the way, sadly, there was a lot of litter, so doing as I always do, I started to pick it up, shoving it into various pockets. It broke my heart to see how much trash was along this trail. How is it, that people can be so disrespectful, disgusting, and dirty? I would think that at some point I would become numb to this, and often times I wish I was, but it never ceases to impact me how profoundly disconnected we are as a species. So, I pick up each piece, large and small, as an offering of gratitude to Maeve.
The rain only intensified as we hike, as did the wind the higher we climb. After about 15 minutes, I realize that my lower back is soaking wet and my pants are getting increasingly heavy as they too soak up water and begin to sag down (ah, yes, this is why one is supposed to wear a belt.) After about another 15 minutes, I completely give up on my feet as well, as every step squishes and oozes water. By this point, Milena’s umbrella has started flipping inside out frequently from the gusting winds. And then, somewhere about this time, an Irishman in shorts, running shoes, and listening to music in his earphones comes running down the hill. Running! This trail is rocky, very uneven, and very wet, and he’s using it for exercise! Oh, how funny, the juxtapositions of worlds can be.
Interestingly, from the bottom of the hill, you can not actually see the top, and every time, I got to the point on the hill where I thought surely we must be close to the top, there would be another ledge and more to climb. I am not good with steep climbs because of my hip problems and my lungs, and now I have added to that healing from surgery on both of my feet. Increasingly, I was laughing inside, knowing that this was indeed a pilgrimage, and it reminded me quite a bit of my hike to Luna—only without all the weight in a pack on my back. I also loved how the weather had gotten increasingly more intense on our journey into the past of Knowth, then Tara, and now Maeve. It seemed so fitting somehow.
Finally, short of breath and very wet, we crest the top of the mountain to see the HUGE rock cairn growing in front of us as we neared it. Maeve’s Cairn! And then, around it, we see the rock formations of other burial sites as well. At the top, the wind really whips! And it grows as we begin to circle the stone mound picking up even more trash caught and shoved within the rocks. We look out and can see for miles upon miles, kilometers upon kilometers in every direction. The view is possibly more breathtaking than the wind!
I am in awe. The deep silence that permeated me in Tara returns and deepens. Again, I feel profound power washing over me, humbling me. I slowly walk around the cairn allowing it all to seep in, stopping on occasion to place my hand on a stone, close my eyes, and feel myself transported back thousands and thousands of years. There are more paths leading up to the very top of the Cairn, but for whatever reasons, it felt disrespectful to me to climb up on the top—something about it seemed like that is the human thing—to want to conquer, to say look what I did. For me, I wanted to allow Maeve her grandness—her right to be held in esteem. Milena and I walked among some of the other paths at the top of the hill and then prepared to head back down. I returned to Maeve’s Cairn for one final moment. I walked up to the stones, knelt down, placed my hands on the rocks and began to pray. As I did, the tears that had been at the back of my eyes for the last two days spilled over melding with the rain. My whole life, I have longed for and searched out strong, powerful women to have as role models. My whole life, I have hungered to know of and experience the traditions that hold women as equally powerful and important as men. I have hungered to know of and experience the traditions that believe in and honor the Divine Feminine. And I here, I finally am, touching, feeling, and experiencing that of which my heart and soul have cried out for so long.
I know for some it would seem very funny that a pile of rocks could touch me so deeply, but it did. As I headed back down the mountain, the wind and rain were whipping even more. Milena’s umbrella had basically given up at this point, so I folded mine down to be in solidarity with her. And besides, by this point, the only thing thing my umbrella was still keeping dry was my face and shoulders. I started laughing and told Milena how appropriate it seemed to me that the Queen and Goddess would be so unruly! I thought to myself of the saying, “Well behaved women rarely make history.” Ah, yes, in order to claim Her-story in the patriarchal dominant histories, a lady must indeed be unruly and wild! And then, laughing even harder, I told Milena that it felt like we were being baptized by the Goddess!
As we hiked back down the hill, I continued on telling the story of how when I was about 8 years old, my father baptized me in a pond in Lewisberry, Pennsylvania. And how, many years later, when I was in my twenty’s or so, my Mom and I had an interesting conversation about that day. My Mom said, “But Julia, you took many classes about Baptism in Church before you decided to get baptized. You got baptized by your own free will. I responded to her, “Well, Mom, I chose to get baptized because all I had been taught was the Christian traditions and beliefs, so in the very small world view that I had, it absolutely made sense to get baptized. You never taught me or exposed me to anything but Christianity.” I went on to tell her that, “Had I known then, what I know now, I wouldn’t have gotten baptized that day, I just would have gone swimming!|” But now, as I slipped and skipped my way back down the hill of Maeve’s Cairn, this—now this—felt like the kind of Baptism that I could definitely relate to and was definitely choosing of my own free will having a much bigger world view.
As we were hiking down, I looked back every so often to see Maeve’s Cairn receding behind the dips in the hill until it completely disappeared from site. It is indeed a magical place—one you have to be committed to seeing—with all of your senses.
We return to the car and strip off our soaking wet clothes, and wriggling into dry ones, laugh and exclaim over yet another amazing experience we have just had. I pull out the ingredients for the salad and prepare it in my stainless steel tin, using my to-go-ware utensils. It is one of the best salads either one of us have ever eaten—and not because of the ingredients—but because of the journey, the pilgrimage, the shift in our beings.
I went up that hill one way, I came down another. Thank you Maeve, the Queen, the Goddess, for the Baptism, for the journey, for the experience. Another profoundly transformational experience in my life.
The journey is always as important as the destination. Since the journey, in the moment, is all we have, in the moment, the journey is even more important than the destination. Reaching the top of Maeve’s Cairn, descending again, dealing with the steepness, the wind, and the rain—all of these are really part of the longer journey called my life. None of us truly know what the destination is. But it is in moments like these, that I remember yet again, how deeply and humbly grateful I am to get to be on this journey.
Love and Gratitude,