Sealed by the Desert: How Dark and Light Earth Mother Brought Me Peace
by Janice Van Cleve
I had to pray. Never had I felt the need to pray more strongly than I did right then. The confluence of personal emotions and the raw beauty of the sacred space in which I found myself demanded it. I had to connect with spirit and find center.
My emotional energy came largely from the breakup. Nine months had passed, and the wounds were still raw. We broke off abruptly, then tried counseling, then made those achingly painful attempts to rebuild a friendship in the looming shadow of the broken love. It was a failure that acted itself out over and over during that summer like repeatedly scratching a scab before it could heal. I needed healing, and to do that I needed to get off this downward spiral. I needed a change of scene. So when my friends invited me to visit them in San Antonio, I accepted.
Their own relationship was none too smooth. They fought all the time and shared very little sex or even tenderness. Yet they were building a lasting relationship. From the advantage of being a disinterested third party, I was able to observe them and their friends with a bit of objectivity. I concluded that spiritual support seemed to be one thing working in their favor. They shared spiritual values and the same higher power, which served to unite them even if they were miles apart in the mundane world. Social support seemed equally important. They had a tight-knit network of couples who modeled, expected and affirmed staying together even through the difficult times. I suspected that this was because Texas was a toxic environment for lesbians and gays. Having a partner to fight with was better than having no partner at all, and finding a new one was more difficult than in Seattle. Finally, of course, they had the shared responsibility for a house and a mortgage. Nothing unites or divides like money.
Being objective about them helped me be objective about myself. My ex and I did not share spiritual values, did not have the same friends and lived apart. In this quiet retreat in Texas, I was able to see what was right in front of my face back home. Yet the last two years had not been a mistake. I learned that I could be loved. She learned that she could be respected. These were the gifts we were bound to bring to each other. The gifts were delivered. Mission accomplished. It was never in the cards that we would fill all of each other’s needs. Our roles in each other’s lives were completed. Now it was time to go our separate ways, enriched for our next mission.
It was all well and good to realize the fact intellectually, but I needed to bring spirit to that realization. I needed to pray, but this place didn’t feel right. It was a small bedroom in somebody else’s house in a mediocre suburb of San Antonio, and I had none of my tools. Besides, the energy was wrong here with all the bickering. I needed to be alone in the wild. I needed to be out there where air and earth, fire and water were exposed and tangible. I bid my friends good-bye and flew to Carlsbad, New Mexico, to visit the caverns. Carlsbad Caverns captured my imagination as far back as my childhood and I had visited them in wonder and awe two years previously. I knew it was the place I needed to be. And there I went.
Late on the day I arrived, the late afternoon sun cast an orange fire on the dry hills beyond the Pecos. Small patches of green flanked the river as it meandered down through the dusty plains to the Rio Grande, far to the south. Behind me, the Guadalupe Mountains began to gather purple shadows beneath their stony brows, just as my own shadow began to fall across the pavement of the visitor center parking lot. Soon it would be dusk. The bats would be swarming out of the caves like a fluttering blizzard to scoop up their dinners of insects down in the valley.
It had been a full day. Many and various were the adventures I had pursued in the chambers below. I had booked myself on ranger tours to explore caves that most tourists don’t get to see. My lantern cast weird shadows in Left Hand Cave, and I marveled at “soda straws” and perfectly round puddle marbles in Lower Caves. I even squeezed through Murdock’s Pinch, which is a long horizontal crawl so narrow that I had to keep my head sideways and propel myself with no more than my elbows and toes! Wonderful as these adventures were, they were dwarfed by the enveloping majesty of sitting alone in the darkness of the Big Room and hearing the echoes of far off drips from the ceiling high above hitting some distant formation as they have for millennia beyond reckoning. I can’t think of any place on earth that would feel more like the womb of Dark Earth Mother.
There was peace in the Big Room and an ageless quiet, but I could not pray there, either. The presence of Goddess was too deep and dark and ancient in that place for me. My little Gemini air spirit felt oppressed and crushed. It was all I could do to sit for a while and absorb Her intense, enveloping totality. When I had experienced all that I was able to hold, I took the elevator to the surface.
That’s how I found myself outside in the parking lot with this huge compelling need to pray. With no real direction in mind, I walked across the pavement and stepped over the edging. The rough, stony roof of Captain’s Reef is sparsely clothed in scrub, sagebrush, various cactuses and spiky yucca plants. The view is expansive, and the sky is open and broad. I breathed in the fresh air that was more attuned to my spirit than the cave and started out through the desert flora toward the plateau’s edge.
There, I found a bare rock space that was like a floor, surrounded by cacti and a number of tall, spindly branches of some leafless bush. I gathered a few stones and made a circle, and sat in their midst. The warmth of the sun-baked rock seeped into me. The life energies of the wild plants around me was vibrant enough almost to hear with my ears. I tuned my inner energies to their symphony and listened to the hum of busy insects finishing up their day’s activities. The gentle breeze washed over me, around me and through me. Here was the place I could pray.
I connected with the four directions and with earth and sky. I opened up my soul to the universe and allowed my body to live in the moment in these surroundings without any mental or social controls. Here in the wild, I was open to magick. I felt my mundane world and its cares break up like a desert mirage, and I came face to face with the reality of sun, sand and sky. The raw wind of spirit ripped through me, and I became one with it.
Who knows how long or short I traveled in that space before I caught sight of a preying mantis. So wrapped up was I in my past, I had not noticed her sitting motionless on a cactus in front of me. In her serrated arms, she clutched a grasshopper, and as I watched, I could see her contentedly munching away with no cares in the world except with the task in front of her. I could not imagine that she cared much for what happened yesterday, or even remembered it. Nor do I think she worried much about tomorrow. Only today mattered, and a fat grasshopper was enough.
Ordinarily, I would have observed this as a little slice of nature and stuffed in away in my trivia collector. This time, however, I was open to hear the message of the Goddess in the wild. Through that preying mantis, content in the moment, She worked her magick. She moved my heart and passion to feel the transformation of letting go, which I had only intellectualized before. She brought spirit to my realization, and in that moment I was free. I breathed in the fresh air and felt relief and rebirth.
I wanted to take with me a symbol of the magick that had happened on that rock. I opened my hand, and as I did so, my attention was drawn to a small stone. It was a rough piece of limestone, about two inches long, and flat on one side. On it, I could make out the image of a face. It smiled at me. I took it for the smile of Light Earth Mother and thanked Her. She was teaching me that letting go is a death of sorts, but through letting go, I would move on to new life. I accepted Her token.
The sun disappeared behind the mountains, and the bats went screaming out into the night. I drove back into town for a whopping steak dinner. Praying in the desert is hungry business!
Janice Van Cleve keeps that limestone on her altar as a symbol of death. Next to it, she keeps an ocean seashell as a symbol of life. They represent different moments in the eternal cycle of life, death and rebirth.