Colliding with the Divine
We had been told our whole lives that this was hallowed ground–the place where the Holy met Its creation. This place where our ancestors danced before us and where our children’s children will dance after us. This place within the stone circle up on the hill at the edge of the forest. This hill was our favorite place to play and explore. The five stones were each over 13 feet high, forming a perfect pentagram, and the hill was so high we could see for miles and miles, from seashore to mountainside. The forest, thick and lush with greenery, created all the best hiding spots and provided enough food for the whole village. Even as kids, playing with sticks and stones, we knew this place was special–we knew that God walked there.
The Elders shared stories about times when God spoke to our people through the fire that wouldn’t go out and the wood that never burned up. We listened about how they would dance around the fire, up on the hill, within the stone circle, calling upon our ancestors, the Divine, and even the Goddess of Flame. This connection to the powerful Creator, to infinite Love, would form a palpable current within the pentagram, and it was on this current where they heard the voice of God. It would permeate the entire stone circle, stimulating all five senses, until everyone involved existed on another plane.
Ceremony season was our favorite season. Like our ancestors before us, we held ceremony four times a year. In the springtime, when all of creation was waking from their winter slumber, we celebrated Bealtaine, the season of the fire festival. During the heat of the summer, when the sun shone nearly all day and there was almost no night, we held ceremony for Midsummer. On Samhain, the final harvest of the year, we honored the liminal space between the living and the dead, experiencing our ancestors walking among us. And on the darkest of days, when there was almost no light, we used our own light from the fire that never burned up commemorating Yule. There were other celebrations throughout the year, of course, but only on these high holy days did we speak to God.
The air thick with anticipation, knowing that our village would soon receive a new blessing, we began preparations for the sacred ceremony weeks in advance. Everyone in the village had a job to do. As kids playing in the forest, we collected mushrooms and herbs, laying them in the sun to dry for the ceremonial pipes, while the adults extracted the plant oils, prepped the food, and sewed the sanctified linen. The Elders would go up the hill to pray upon their knees for days on end, vowing to remain silent until the ceremony began. We knew that everything we did was in perfect Love because the Creator’s love was perfect. We offered of ourselves freely and joyously, in order to honor the One who gives blessings. Every lesson and blessing that came from ceremony impacted all of us and, because we are one, all of creation too. These revelations changed how we showed up in the world, impacting our lives in sometimes small but oftentimes massive ways. Sometimes the gift we received was the birth of a healthy bairn, while other times the crops would grow exceptionally tall. Once we even witnessed the revival of one of our most cherished elders who had fallen ill but was raised from the dead.
On the day of the ceremony, each one of us would take turns washing the Elders in the river in the special cleansing ritual, stripping them bare and scrubbing their skin with stones from the river. We would then dip them backwards three times in honor of the ancestors, the Divine, and the Goddess of Flame. After their sacred cleansing, we donned them with holy linen, anointed them with oil, and kissed their feet. Faces covered by a shall, the Elders, holding the torches, led the way through the woods to the edge of the forest and the base of the hill. We chanted the songs of our people–the
songs of olde that lived in our bones–as we approached the top of the hill. Here, the Elders broke their silence as they silenced our chanting, saying, “The time is nigh to hear the message from the Holy Ones. God will speak to us tonight!” It was time to begin.
While we entered the stone circle, the rest of the tribe began to walk the outer ring. Slowly, in a single file, they silently made their way down the hill, ring by ring, circling the hill as they descended. We were chanting now, connecting with our ancestors through our familial songs. We each made our way to our respective standing stone, placing our hands upon it, crying out in holy ecstasy as we felt the electrical pulse of Mother Earth. In unison we turned around and began to walk, in a perfect pentagram, towards the sanctified wood, alight with the fire that never burned out. Kneeling as one, we struck the ground in front of us, forcing our fingers into the flesh of the earth, the dirt seeping under our fingernails. The fire inches from our face, we lit our consecrated ceremonial pipes and breathed in the sacred smoke, letting it fill our lungs, forming a bridge between ourselves and the Goddess of Flame.
Freeing our bodies from the sanctified linen, we used our garments to fan the flames, embracing the heat that enveloped our naked bodies. After everyone descended the hill, we drew our knives and each of us slit our neighbor’s hand. All of us, together, sharing in the blood. We crossed ourselves with it, anointed the other, and walked each to our standing stone. There we splattered the blood upon it in offering, in protection, in connection with the Other World. We rubbed our bodies against the standing stones, allowing their energy to fill our every nerve ending, and we rolled around on the ground, soaking in the smells of the forest. Our chanting grew louder now, drowning out the sounds of the nature surrounding us. We stood, grabbed the nearby drums, and began to move our bodies to the rhythm of our song.
It was like our bodies were on fire, yet we were completely disembodied—here, but also not. As we moved within the stone circle, sweat dripping from our unclad bodies, our vision blurred as the flames grew. We went from stone to stone, weaving between them and returning to the fire, over and over again. Back and forth we danced. The winds were whipping as the air buzzed, but the flames stayed steady. The air within the circle was palpable with heat, electricity, and song. Our bodies glistened, as we danced, our voices in tune with the nature around us, in sync with each other in the circle of stones. As the wind whipped our hair, the leaves swirled about our heads, as if alive themselves. The sacred linen we held was flying through the air, sweeping us upwards with it, giving us the sensation of walking on air.
We were dancing. Dancing like we’ve never danced before. The drums beating in our chests, enticing our bare feet to move. The fire ablaze, standing taller than even the tallest in the tribe. The heat from it stinging our skin as we danced in the nude and chanted the songs of our people louder than ever before. Around and around we went. The intensity nearly overwhelming. Every cell of our bodies alive with electricity. The movement coming from somewhere so deeply within, inspired by something so expansively without, we were no longer on this plane. Our bodies moving but our souls soaring–soaring to somewhere so far beyond ourselves we collided with the Divine. Then we heard it. We actually heard it. It was the voice of the Holy, speaking through The flames that never went out and the wood that never burned up. It was electrifying. It almost wasn’t a sound at all, but a pulsing through our ears. It was the most beautiful thing we’d ever heard, arousing all five senses in ways beyond any human comprehension. It was infinite Love embodied in sound. And God said….
Rev. Sarah Shannon-Wildt serves as the Associate Pastor for Church of the Savior, Austin, TX, focusing on youth, young adult, and LGBTQIA+ ministries. She also works as the Academic Program Coordinator for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Belonging at The University of Texas School of Law and is a Queer Life Coach. She has served the LGBTQIA2+ community in a variety of capacities for over a decade and is a certified sexual assault and domestic violence advocate. Pastor Sarah earned her Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies, emphasizing in International Service and Religion from Grand Valley State University in 2012. In 2016, she graduated with her Master of Divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and was ordained to ministry in 2018.