To look into Cear’s eyes was to stare into your own soul.
Once upon a time…
there was child born into the world of dreams. They say she left the womb dreaming and continued to dream for a hundred days and nights after. By then she knew the lives of everyone in her village, even their best kept secrets. It is for that reason people said she always saw with a true eye. Her keen sight was so strong even the most adept, habitual liar would fall dumb before her. That or he would confess every lie he had ever told, yammering so haphazardly he looked like he was juggling a dozen tongues in his mouth.
A young girl like this is bound to have a strange childhood. Her Father was a king, and as king could make every manner of accommodations for her, but she had little interest in worldly things. At first she spent much of her time trying to figure out if she was dreaming or awake, and sometimes she even had difficulty staying in either place. She would disappear for days at a time only to re-appear suddenly beneath a tree or by a stream, still talking to someone she’d left behind in the dream world.
Much to her parent’s consternation, her childhood was free from many of the limits we all take for granted. What could you do to reign in a girl who had free access to everyone’s dreams? She formed bonds in the dream world with creatures we have no words for here. They recognized a power in her, they respected her, even shared secrets with her. One of her favorites teachings was how to change her shape at will. Many of her people, the Tuatha De Dannan, had the magic to cast the spell of a new shape using a Druids wand, but only she knew how to call forth a new shape from her own soul. She practiced this and many other skills with a delight peculiar to gifted children.
The years rolled by and she matured into a bright young woman, but as the fullness of her maidenhood approached she began to get nervous. She knew what would be required of her, what her own heart was beginning to long for. Her days of living between two worlds would be numbered, she would have the challenges of motherhood and possibly even that of ruling, weighing down her days. She knew one thing for certain; it was not her way to be ordinary, she would not consent to a life of endless limitations.
With the growth of her fears also came a deep soul knowing, pushing its way up from inside. She’d learned long ago not to force things, it was the way of the dream world to trust and allow things to blossom in their own time. There was a way, there was always a way, the soul knows. It finally came to her on Samhain’s eve while she lay on her favorite hill by the lake near her home. Gazing up at the moon she felt her soul blossom within her belly, becoming so bright it enveloped her. As it faded away she realized she had transformed into a Swan.
This would be her way to strike a balance between the worlds, between her responsibility and her freedom. Each Samhain she would change her form, one year a Swan the next a human, back and forth year after year. Her time as the Swan would give her access to all worlds, embodying the life of her soul, her time as a woman would root her in family, in home and hearth so central to her people. She would honor the new year, each year, by sacrificing one way of living for another.
Pleased with this solution she rolled her great feathered belly forward, resting on her newly webbed feet. As she waddled down to the shore, launching into the quiet waters she thought, “I’ll have to visit father in his dreams tonight to tell him about this. He won’t be pleased, but that’s fine.”
A woman’s way…
Much is known about one small event in Cear Ibormeith’s life: the dream world courtship of her intended Angus, the many who died because of his quest to find her, and of course their eventual partnering. Angus wasted away for over a year, haunted by his dream visits from Cear, deeply in love and unable to find her in this world. His is a lovers/hero’s tale, sort of. He was a man not driven by courage but by yearning, many risked all and died for his quest. It is, unfortunately, so typical of our era to remember the small portion of a woman’s life in which she found and married a man, as if this were the most important thing she had done with all her days. Angus was important to be sure, but not THAT important.
Cear had so many adventures, was so very not ordinary, touched so many lives, perhaps it was her choice that most of those stories were relegated to the dream world. She threaded together uncounted lives in her time there. She had many more dream-descendents than the children she gave birth to. Her dream-family embraces many generations, many continents, many ages. I know a little bit about one small branch of that tree, you see I count myself as one of her many dream-descendents.
Dreaming of the Sidhe…
Once upon a time there was a young boy who lived in fear of his Father. It wasn’t that his father hit him, which he did with the back of his hand, even knocking him down sometimes. People said he hit more than most but not as much as some, but the boy wasn’t afraid of that. What really scared him was the sound of his Fathers voice when he was most angry, and the words he would say:
“You get yourself down to your room now or I WILL BREAK YOUR NECK!”
He was so young, and the Father so angry, that the boy thought his Father would make good on his threat one day. In fact his own Mother made sure he knew of the danger he was living in.
“If you don’t start listening to me I will tell your Father and he will KILL you when he gets home!”
Day after day they would visit him with these threats, the boy came to believe both of them. He grew certain his life would be cut short. When someone got angry he began to tremble and ran to hide in the corner by the piano, crushing himself up against the wall. It felt good to be held so tight by their lumbering house. He would spend hours avoiding his Father, running from one hiding place to the other or finding new excuses to play outside beside the old brick two story home.
But you can’t hide from your dreams, everyone must sleep. He became haunted by a singular nightmare. It always began with the boy floating high in the sky looking down on the place where they lived. He watched his Father kill first his brother and sister, and then finally his Mother. It was at this moment the boy returned to his broken body, held together by casts and slings, incapable of moving, behind a tall fence in their yard. His father shattered the fence with an ax as he stormed at him. Then, just as the heavy blade was blocking out the sun, descending on him, the boy woke up on the floor. It didn’t matter if he was at home, visiting at a friends, or on the top bunk of a two story bed. He always awoke from that dream with his body propelling him into the air escaping his fathers murderous rage.
“Thud!” His back felt solid against the basements cold floor, it was a good feeling.
It turned out that the Father did not kill the boy, or anybody else. It took years for the him to stop hitting and threatening his youngest child, but by then the boy grew old enough to know his Fathers words were only words and he could endure his backhand. Though the old fear still lived in him, he built walls around it, pushed it away, learned to walk through the world as if he was unafraid of even the biggest bully.
The dream stopped coming, he stopped hiding and stayed away from home as much as he could. He was always a little sad but became the kind of man animals sought out for comfort and safety, the kind of man who suffered when he saw suffering in others. Eventually he married a loving woman, together they had a beautiful son who he never hit, never threatened with violence, one who he held close and loved well. His favorite thing to do was to lay down for a nap with him, holding hands until they fell together into a sweet sleep.
A dreaming daughter …
One day a daughter came into their family. She was their fosterling, only a few days old, shaking like a leaf. Taken from her Mother shortly after birth because of violence in her home, she had obviously endured terror, though she had no words to tell anyone about it. Holding this tiny being, weighing less than a basket of eggs, sensing the fear that lived in her, he felt a heavy wave of love overwhelm him.
His wife set about creating a second womb for their newest little one; the most comfortable bedding, the quietest lullaby music, the gentlest warming massage. She would sing to her sweetly every morning, cooing to her as she fed her. At night she laid her down in a bed pressed right up against theirs so she would be cuddled and kept warm.
It was that first night when the babies nightmares announced themselves, though you couldn’t really call them nightmares, and possibly not even belonging to her. He awoke out of a dead sleep to the sound of the most horrified cry he had ever heard. This was no child’s cry, certainly not a newborn’s cry, this was the sound of a grown woman, an expectant mother wailing at the sure knowledge of impending death.
He looked down beside him and saw the strangest sight, it made his bones rattle in his skin: the baby sleeping peacefully, her mouth open and that horrific wail streaming out. The Mothers screams had been so powerful they had imprinted themselves on her unborn daughter, like haunting currents trapped in her cells only released while she slept. Somewhere in the darkness of the night, in the distance of the past, was a pregnant woman overcome with terror, this was the evidence of that moment. Slowly the wail trailed off into the quiet forest that surrounded their home, leaving a ringing silence.
This kept up relentlessly, sometimes twice or even three times a night. The screams traveling through her started to wake the newborn up, frightening her. What was this strange sound coming out of my body? Her sobs choked her breath as the scream trailed off, working her into such a state she could not calm down. Then he would gently roll her into his arms, stand up, press her close to him, holding her like the walls of his childhood home saying over and over again, “Papa got you, Papa got you, Papa got you my littlest one…” until she fell back into the darkness of her own sleep.
It was one of those nights, pacing back and forth with her tears wetting his chest, that he heard himself say something he never believed he would: it was worth it. He realized in that moment that being there for her, being able to understand the fear behind those screams, was worth all the torture he had endured as a child. He was glad he’d gone through that, so he stood a chance of becoming the Father this little one needed, a chance of having the arms she needed to hold her now. As her screams rose into the night his heart opened and his body relaxed. He was the pillow she needed to cry into, the one that would say quietly “yes – is there more? Please, give me all you have, I have room for this, I can let it go for you.”
It took over a year for those screams to finally fade away, and another year for her to laugh in her sleep. He was relentless in being there for her, always first, always ready to receive the screams, to provide the safety he longed for as a child. In the broken silence of those nights he found the carpet of himself, its warmth, underlying all of his actions. He began to feel a wise, solid place of compassion growing vital and alive within. He came to know trust in life, trust in himself more deeply.
Over the years she grew into a happy rough-playing girl. He called her his “little bear” as she had taken to giving those she was close to strong bear-hugs around the neck. It was through their play he became newly aware of the wondrous landscape of his own dreams. On nights when she was cold, or just needing some love, she would crawl between her adopted Momma and Papa, giggling, digging in deeper, nesting her soul within theirs. Her dream laughter came like a healing song for their family. Sleep was a new treasure for all of them, the beginning of a great nights journeying.
He realized that he and his daughter had spaces within them, places in their dream worlds that needed to be filled with something. Its as if their young terrors had created new landscapes in their souls. These weren’t dangerous places, not if you knew how to pay attention to them. They could be places of great play, doorways into other worlds.
It is because of that space the Sidhe were able to visit him in his dreams. They shared with him some of their work in the world, and invited him to join. We all have work to do there, he was given his that night. He followed the breadcrumbs they gave him, leading him first to his Ancestors, then to later Cear Ibormeith and her way of yearly shapeshifting, of bringing ones soul to the world in a powerful way.
That is where his work begins, the daily practice of learning Cear’s way, of learning to shift into a Swan, to embody his tangible soul.