celtic spirituality family shamanism story

“I’ve been feeling lately, like so many of my friends, that I’m sitting at an important crossroad. I understand that I need to move forward, but have not really been given the direction yet. So I sit with potential, and that can feel oddly frightening, like you’re pausing at a threshold while something ominous and unknown draws closer.”


Its not easy getting a three year old to deposit chocolate as an offering, especially since she has not completely crammed her mouth full of said chocolate – yet. “Honey, we’re making an offering to a Totoro spirit.” She mouthed “Totoe-woe” with sticky goo dribbling out the side of her chin, nodded and with appropriate gravitas, placed the treat on the end of the fallen chunk of redwood nearest to the flowing water.

ClootieIrelandI shed a little blood getting my daughter, son and dog up the steep muddy hill to the small waterfall I’d been working with for the last few months, but that seems to be par for the course. Whenever I take on something that seems to require a new level of participation, there is the inevitable sliced hand or foot. Not a lot of blood and pain, but enough to remind me to be humble. As I coaxed Bella across the stream, perched on a log, I slipped, slicing open my palm in a few places. Those moments are always so striking, my bright blood against the forest floor. We are all so much more connected than we see.

We came to start our own Clootie tree, to make prayers for healing, tie them to a tree near to the place where I’d been visiting spirits in the Forest. I felt drawn to the spot in the woods, called by the unexpected sound of a waterfall during a hike. Traversing a muddy embankment I came upon an exquisite stone waterfall, born from a single cut of granite half a century ago at least. The winter rains poured down its 12 foot flat face to a pool that tumbled into a pool that tumbled beneath a fallen platform of redwood timber, disappearing into densely packed fallen limbs and branches. The smells and sounds of the forest are especially intense here, mushroom, fern, Earth and Jay call themselves out again and again.

How do you know a place is a “sacred place” where the spirits might gather? After all, every place is of spirit, what makes a spot a place of power? The best word that comes to mind, thinking of this place is – held. Its as if everything, connected to everything, and was more whole, and in a way held by a larger presence. After spending time sitting before the waterfall, letting its sounds penetrate deeply into me, I discovered a bottom most pool beneath the redwood platform. Not easy for me to get to, I’m claustrophobic, but worth the jolts of fear as I crawled into the small darkness and quieted myself to receive what presence might be there. A spirit eventually did make itself known.

Working with this spot reminded me that its good to give the middle-world its due. We can so easily journey to the upper or lower worlds, making quick trips for quick wisdom. In working with these spirits I had to wait, sometimes weeks because of the rains, to make the briefest connections. I believe our ancestors had a more tangible sense of their own souls because they moved and worked in natures time, adding power to the healings they could make and receive. I find more and more that when a shamanic client is not actively engaging their own soul, their healing is much more difficult, proceeds more slowly. When we move at Earth-time, we have an opportunity to learn the language of the forest, ask it new questions. I try to slip into the flow of their dance without being noticed.

After tying small strips of white cloth we made our way through the woods, down to the stream where bare feet waded out as far as they could. The kids energy had changed because they had participated in the life of the forest in a new way. They talked to someone there, someone who may or may not show themselves, may respond to their tied messages, may enjoy their chocolate. They now belonged in a new way, a respectful way.

“Whats up Bella?” Her tail was high and a low growl was slowly making its way out of her throat. She trotted nervously up and down the shore, something was not right. She started barking in fits, lifting her nose into the air, trying to track something. I’ve found its best to take this behavior seriously.

Clootie Crew
After visiting our sacred waterfall.

“OK guys, time to head back home.” Tadg complained, but quickly surrendered when I pointed out Bella’s behavior. “Somethings out there, Bella thinks its a problem, we should go.” The lure of the last remaining bits of chocolate to be had at the car made our exit speedy. In hindsight I wonder if it wasn’t the spirits we visited that day alerting Bella, reminding us the sun was falling, and night in the forest is not to be taken lightly for us outsiders.

Back at the car I felt like I’d gained something, turned a corner, in taking the kids to that spot, made an offering of my own in a way. I also felt like I needed that extra juice, stronger commitment.

I’ve been feeling lately, like so many of my friends, that I’m sitting at an important crossroad. I understand that I need to move forward, but have not really been given the direction yet. So I sit with potential, and that can feel oddly frightening, like you’re pausing at a threshold while something ominous and unknown draws closer.

Its tough sitting there, for some people I know, its excruciating. Their crossroads are balanced over a financial precipice, with old age and health crisis drawing them down. And yet the crossroads insists on its place in their life. They must just be there. The middle-world has its own pace, has its own requirements.

We all want to be Gandalf there, pull out the pipe, smoke a bit and wait until the direction we must travel makes itself known to us. Likely Gandalf had survived so many battles, sat at so many crossroads, he was well educated on their nature, able to be held by betwixt & between spaces effortlessly. That was where he lived in a way, being the gray.

I find myself surrounded by the reminders of the dead as I sit at my crossroads. Both the dead of my youth and the recently departed cohorts from my years of shamanic training (there have been many passings in the last 12 months). Its hard to know if I dragged them here, or if they were waiting for me. They remind me of the mistakes that can be made by lingering here, as well as the successes to be shown by those who moved on through. It is a rich presence, with a gravity that needs to be felt, best not to linger by that shore either – my black dog Bella signals the coming of dusk, we must leave the shores of the dead before nightfall.

I don’t have a pipe or Gandalf’s experience. I get nervous, I worry, I feel all the paultry shame based feelings I can feel. My children teach me here. When children find themselves at a crossroads, with no clear path forward, they say – “lets do something!” Doesn’t matter what, just do something and the magic will follow. For children, all movement is movement forward, all movement takes them into the water to thrash about.

The spirit at my sacred pool asked me for something, a poem. I managed to get this out, after discovering my path across a fast stream wrecked:

My way to your home
is cluttered with storm branches,
but the stream finds a way.
I’ll make these forest bones
into my new path,
and greet you with joy.

I think thats what this crossroad asks of me – to find a way through, to take my lesson from the raging stream, find a way even if it means using the wreckage of an old world to forge a path to the new. Thats what a Clootie tree is about, taking a piece of an old rag you used to wear, hanging it for the spirits to find, asking them to help us find our way forward through whatever suffering we’re sititng in.

I hope, the next time I make my way to that tree, I’ll find a strip of cloth from something you once wore. Blessings to you and yours as you forge ahead.