I have never felt so alien as I did in the desert.
And yet, my trip there may well become part of a pilgrimage that brings me home.
I’d gone to the desert excited to explore it. About a year ago, I flew over the area on my way to a California retreat, followed by Pantheacon. I felt drawn to the desert mountains as I looked out the plane’s window. I wanted so badly to walk that land and experience its energy. A friend gave me a rock she’d collected hiking in New Mexico. I loved its energy.
I made sure that when my sweetie and I ware planning our Vegas vacation that it would include more than walking the strip. I asked a friend who’d lived in Las Vegas for a couple years which areas she’d recommend for connecting with the land. Red Rock Canyon, she said.
We planned a horseback ride for the first day, and a scenic drive with time for meandering along some easy hiking trails for our last day in the area.
The desert was beautiful. The bones of the country are close to the surface in the Mojave. I loved looking at the texture of the mountains, the rocks, the sand, the spiky and determined plants. I reveled in the intense blue of the sky, the breathtaking abundance of stars.
Yet, in spite of my love of the desert’s physical beauty, never before have I felt so unable to connect with the spirits of a place. I opened my consciousness to them in Red Rock Canyon. I stood near a ridge of iron-rich rock, the same iron that flows in our blood. Th e wind blew cold, muting the voices of others who had stopped at the same scenic overlook. I heard the sound of the First Peoples on the wind. I did not understand their words. A tall figure came forth, asked who I was, what I wanted, whether I belonged there.
All that came from my own soul was, “I am from a people of fog and mists. I do not belong here.”
I realized later that his strong, fierce energy was similar to that I felt in a ritual honoring Sekhmet. I also had felt it from a Native American spirit I met in a shamanic workshop. It took many journeys before I received a visual of him. Until then, he was merely a presence of heat and strength. His purpose, he said, was to strengthen my resolve, to get me moving foward, to challenge me to fulfill my life’s purpose.
In the terms of my current spiritual tradition, he was a creature of Fire and Will.
I know of a Feri teacher who asks his students to go to the desert to experience and connect with Fire. Astrologically, I am a creature of water and air. Geographically, I belong to the humid Midwest with its shady forests, grassy meadows, cool streams and wide rivers. By genetic ancestry, English, Irish and Norman French: ocean, fog, mist, bog. I have to go to past lives, and back quite a few, before I connect with people of dry land. And even then, it’s Inanna’s old Sumer, irrigated with Tigris and Euphrates.
The plants growing in the Mojave without irrigation came the closest to teaching me the lesson of Fire. I work with a system that associates Will with Fire. The Joshua trees, the sages, the cactus and the aloes, all spoke that to me. To grow in such adverse conditions, to flourish with only rocks and sandy soil to eat—that is Will. That lesson I am grateful for. I am sure I often will think of those fierce little plants as I work to change my day job, as I struggle with a dry spell in a creative project.
But more than that, the desert and its spirits made me think of the importance of place in our spirituality. In the January Druidcast podcast, Druid priest Kristoffer Hughes spoke about being at a festival in England, and having local Goddess Sabrina of the Severn River ask him why the group had chosen to invoke Ganesha, rather than Her. “I live here,” she pointed out.
I thought of Orion Foxwood, and his lessons that we connect with our ancestors and the Fey through the land. Not only with walking it, and living on it, but through eating the food grown outside our doors and drinking the water that flows through the land we live on.
And I thought about American Gods, which I read recently. I think Neil Gaiman is right that as each ethnic group emigrated to North America, it brought along its God or Gods as it understood them. I have no doubt that some of the Fey came along for the ride as well. And that after enough centuries, those Gods, Goddesses and Fey are a part of the land, too. Or perhaps we connect with the Gods of our people through our bloodlines, and it doesn’t matter where we live. Hughes said in the podcast he thinks we’re capable of connecting and channeling the Gods of our ancestors whether we’re formally trained priests and priestesses or not. Maybe it’s easier if we live in the land that gave those Deities birth. I don’t know.
I do know that my Gods are not the Gods of desert places, and that I am not at home there. I am a creature of fog and mist, of rivers and oceans. I shed some of that saltwater from my eyes as I listened to Kristoffer Hughes talk about connecting with the Gods of our ancestors. I thought of Cerridwen in particular, and how She has stood so often in vision offering me a cup of wine. And that I have drunk from that cup, but not really sat down and talked to her.
I think it is time I did. And it’s funny, really, that I had to travel to a dry place I don’t belong to be ready to listen to a Goddess who’s been waiting for me to come home to a green, well-watered place.