Crone in Corrogue: Wild Wisdom of the Elder Years

Glorying in the elder years, a time of spirituality, service and some serious sacred activism

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Mabon Musings

Posted by on in SageWoman Blogs

Autumn, or fall, equinox marks the anniversary of my moving to Ireland sixteen years ago. This was my third country move and each Mabon I fall into a contemplative mood regarding my peripatetic life. The first move was at age three months. Reading an article this morning by Mary Condren in Celtic Threads I had a bit of an 'Ah ha!' moment. 

Even as a child I felt outside in my homeland. In fact, as an eleven or twelve year old, I penned (with Quink and quill made from a seagull feather), a gnomic little poem called 'The Exile.' I felt suffocated in my native country, surreally out of place, not belonging. Logically, this didn't make sense. In my mother's lineage- Dutch adventurers and English Quakers - family had made their home in North America since early colonial days. Louisa May Alcott, author of Eight Cousins, is an eighth cousin according to

Still, from childhood I had the itch to leave. It felt like a fault line within me. There was a cataclism and somehow I had wound up on some differant continental shelf from everyone else. In 1978 I looked out at the Pacific Ocean and there was a whisper within that I needed the North Atlantic and Europe. Then fate delivered my opportunity. I left for London and only, very briefly, looked back.

In reading Condren's essay this morning I learned about the Celtic 'white martrydom' of self-exile.  Early Christian monks, also known as peregrini, set themselves aside from homeplace and kindred ties "for the sake of their soul." Then the flash of insight came. I had had a sense of internal exile, the miasma of isolation and existential un-belonging. My unquiet soul quit the USA for the sake of my soul. I recalled how one counsellor, also an American ex-pat, said to me that somehow 'here' felt more expansive and free than 'there'. In sacrificing close ties from a blameless family, I set out to explore the distant and foreign shores of my own consciousness.

Perhaps it was pre-ordained. Be careful how you name your children! I was baptized Barbara, meaning foreigner or stranger, the barbarian at the gates. I am Barbara the Third in my family lineage. My Great-grandmother, Barbara Apollonia, emigrated from southern Germany with her husband August, six-year old daughter Barbara and toddler Kaethe.  Barbara the Second, my Grandma Smith, married a native New Yorker and had a Queens accent. But she never completely lost the mother tongue because her father never quite mastered English.

It makes me wonder what it is like to wander streets where everyone is rushing past speaking a language that is not native tongue. That must be true exile.  It is not what I have experienced. I have had to navigate new dialects and re-tune my ear to all manner of regional accent. Ostensibly, I live in a bi-lingual country, but I am not handicapped by not speaking Irish.

By exchanging close kindred for my 'white martyrdom' I have been offered the land Herself. This metanoia appeared with a real shock as I stood on the deck of a ferry heading for port on the Antrim coastline in Northern Ireland. It was as if the foggy fingertips of the Land Herself reached out and said, "I'll have her." That was Christmas 1980. That siren call kept sounding over two decades until I again disembarked, cat carrier in hand, from a ferry in Belfast at Fall Equinox in 2001.

The Land, in the end, has offered me that sense of belonging. I am still a blow-in, that term Irish use for the non-indigenous. But th Land seemed to want me and claimed me heart and soul.

I realise we live in a time when many migrants go into to exile for sanctuary to simply survive the bombs, bullets,missiles, drones and IEDs. I am very aware that my own 'exile' is a bit of a first world white person's privelage. But soul survival is also an acute need. If soul sickness becomes chronic, the environment it occupies becomes toxic.

There is a saying in 12 step programmes that a friend shared, which is 'keep your side of the street clean.'  But what if you cannot find the brush and the bucket? What happens then? A street full of litter, pain,ugliness - now that is both hard to live in and bear.  Especially if others are saying that the street is fine, beautiful in fact, no problems here. That cognitive dissonance is what kills a soul in a drip-drip-drip of corrosion day upon day.

Not everyone can leave or get out, as I did. I would never espouse political disengagement because that is throwing away the one tool where you might get the whole street to come to some concensus regarding the dirt, litter and pollution and the level of 'fineness' people have with it.

But it can be important to disengage in other ways, especially from those kin that would kill your soul, bit by bit, in small and large daily assaults on your integrity. That might mean keeping differant company. That might mean unplugging from screen media. That might mean choosing reading material carefully.

Most importantly, it means resolving not to give your soul away. "Seek beauty to its lair," advises Arundhati Roy.

It can help to connect with others, but groups can also sometimes demand that you give your soul away in order to belong. So, rather than formal groups, perhaps kindred souls will begin to cluster around your life like beautiful butterflies of transformation and soul survival. Kind souls make good kindred. With them you can bake cakes, make art, sit in silence outdoors, share stories over Stone Soup. With kind souls you can find shelter and a place of belonging, to find rootedness and strength.

The white martyrdom of exile for the sake of the soul demanded that I leave safety for the unknown, leaving behind familial and homeplace roots. In sojourning 'in mercy', my soul has found new kin. I have formed many connections with other kind souls, some in exile, some still at home, but all seeking that peace of belonging.

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Bee Smith has enjoyed a long relationship with SageWoman as a contributor, columnist and blogger. She lives in the Republic of Ireland, teaches creative writing and is a member of the Irish Art Council's Writers in Prisons panel. She is the author of "Brigid's Way: Celtic Reflections on the Divine Feminine."    


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