The Crucible of Place

~Land as a Vessel of Our Intention

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And so long as you haven’t experienced this:

to die and so to grow,

you are only a troubled guest

on the dark Earth
— Goethe

My time spent in the woods and wilderness has been my greatest teacher, mentor, spiritual guide and therapist. It's what heals me and where I feel contact with a reality beyond the dullness of superficial reality. I am fortunate enough to live in a relatively wild place that is a habitat of extreme temperatures, rainforest amounts of rain and snow fall, and an array of untamed wonderments that exist within an immense vastness of trees, hills, mountains, rivers, streams and lakes. It is here that I have not only grown to learn the beauty of putting roots deep into the soils of family, friends, community and love of place, but also where I have evolved the focus of my soul's practice as a wandering pilgrim, a colonial exile, and devotee to the divine mystery. 

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My meditation, prayer and daily ritual involve regular walks, hikes, kayaks and plant gathering excursions that lead me along the trails, fields, ravines and waterways where I live. The land has become the temple of my worship, the point of access where I connect with what some might define as God, Creator, the Great Mystery, what the alchemists regarded as Nature(capital N), and I consider to be the pure substance from which the origins and dimensions of creation exist freed from human and societal coercion and control .

The land is my guru. It is where I meet my soul, my breath, my own existence and clear evidence of the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. It's where I repeat my mantra. It's where I cry, lay down my burdens and sometimes my head. It where I give thanks and rejoice. I make offerings to the water and the plants and the faery folk. It's the place where my hands feel around for rocks and stones that speak even if it's a language that I have forgotten. It's where I gather shards of old colonial pottery. It's where I sit with my spine pressed against the trunk of an Eastern Hemlock and feel myself expand upward, out,  and down simultaneously as my boundaries of separation dissolve. It's where I submerse myself in silence.I have received infinite benefit from the generosity and compassion of the soils and molten, mycelial layers below me that have always risen to collect the beat of my pulse and echo it back again through the winds to my heart, soul and mind each time it has descended into footfall upon the surface. It's where I walk the same trails over and over and over and am always, always in ever greater and greater awe of the beauty, the sweet or spicy or earthy scents of the seasons, the sound of water rumbling along it's well worn trail, the impending cries of the crows, and me, wow, me, I am a part of all of this. We all are.

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I recently listened to a wonderful broadcast by the amazing and brilliant dreamworker Toko-pa Turner about the concept of commitment as a vessel of our intention and a method of manifesting our dreams. You can sign up to listen to it HERE. In this video she discusses the old alchemical method of transmutation as it symbolically corresponds to the processes of the human psyche, our dreams and the individuation of the soul. To actualize this process it is necessary to create a vessel of intention that the practitioners of the Old Ways sometimes called a crucible. This is a sealed vessel that contains the base elemental nature of matter where it can be restrained enough to allow the processes of transformation. The crucible is sealed which sets boundaries and limits that exclude any quality that is either unnecessary, distracting, or an impediment to  the liberation of the beauty, genius, creativity or gold of the substance.

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When we design a crucible of vessel of intention out of discipline, practice and devotion to our life place it becomes a tool to developing our individual relationship with providence and the raw materials of the soul as well as a structure that holds our own hopes, aspirations, and highest potential for alignment with the resilient beauty and healing power of nature's cycles, rhythms and inherent medicine. When we are called to a path of self-actualization, consciousness, and psychic integration we are required to come to terms with many uncomfortable and, sometimes, unfamiliar aspects of ourselves and, usually(unless we were raised in some rare utopian society by highly enlightened beings), some deeply traumatic wounds. A strong, consistent, and focused intention along with repeated and concerted effort becomes a crucible and is capable of containing and facilitating our uninitiated energies much like a mentor assists and holds space for the development of our unique skill. The land, our love for it, our longing for connection to it and our awareness of it's great gifts can be such a mentor.

"This Art is noble, brief, and easy. It requires one thing, which everybody knows. It is in many things, yet it is one thing. It is found everywhere, yet it is most precious. You must fix it and tame it in the fire ; you must make it rise, and again descend."

~From alchemical text; The New Pearl of Great Price: A Treatise Concerning the Treasure and Most Precious Stone of the Philosophers or the Method and Procedure of the Divine Art, FIRST PUBLISHED BY JANUS LACINIUS, THE CALABRIAN, 1577 -1583

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images  An alchemist hunched over his crucible; an assistant reads him a recipe, watched by an onlooker; the alchemist's wife weeps in the dim background, a baby clasped to her breast. Coloured lithograph by Bouvier, 1830, after J. Steen. By: Jan Havicksz Steenafter: BouvierPublished: January 1830

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images An alchemist hunched over his crucible; an assistant reads him a recipe, watched by an onlooker; the alchemist's wife weeps in the dim background, a baby clasped to her breast. Coloured lithograph by Bouvier, 1830, after J. Steen. By: Jan Havicksz Steenafter: BouvierPublished: January 1830

When the land becomes our crucible it becomes the vessel where we may release the unattached roots of our indigenous souls. Souls that may have been uprooted and torn asunder by war, famine, emigration, exile and invasion. The relationship we build within the strong, encompassing embrace of the Earth is what sows our human capacity for attachment and love  the more than human, wild landscape within which we dwell. When we extract our human potential to be shaped by place, ecosystem, and bioregion we initiate and invite a contract that grounds us in a reciprocal interchange that confers a rich veins of nutrient dense source energy. The land we love becomes, as mythic author Charles de Lint calls it, the forest of our heart. Contained within this vessel are all the ways in which we stay focused and steadfast in our actions and resolve to be present, aware and constant in our practice that may include the  observation of natural patterns, preservation of wild places, and attendance to eco-awareness into own explicit consciousness as well as the consciousness of others that we may have contact and influence.

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There are many ancient spiritual traditions that even designed physical structures to mark the boundaries of geographical locations that were perceived to convey a particularly powerful energy and could offer the opportunity for divine connection between humans and the spirit in nature. The Celtic people were one major cultural and ethnic group known for their sacred hills and forts where communities of druids, bards, and practitioners of the holy. This approach did not change after Christianization but was integrated into Celtic Christian doctrine with monastic and ascetic prayer, ritual and practice being strongly attached to place and nature.

"In pre-Christian systems of magical thought, nature was not opposed to humankind or perceived as alien. Nature was all-embracing, permeated with powerful forces, and human beings were included in it. Human interaction with the rest of nature was so complete that people were, in a sense, unable to look at it from outside. They would have felt themselves to be embedded in the power of the cosmos and therefore sought to follow its eternal rhythm." Philip Sheldrake, Living Between Worlds



Later, after Christianization, sacred places were maintained and honored often enclosed by monastic walls and the the stone fences that surround burial grounds. This was derived from a land-based cosmology where the people perceived their gods to be alive and embodied within all matter as opposed to a god that died and was alive in a distant, disembodied location. The landscape and the entirety of the world was inspirited and so the demarcation or sacred places were intended to protect, preserve and define, as would a crucible, sacred ritual sites and spiritual communities. In Sheldrake's book, he describes how the circular enclosures were built to not only replicate the cyclical nature of the cosmos, but to provide a vessel of "privileged space where a particular vision of the world could be lived out."  It is within the landscape and upon the land that our perceived version of reality can be expressed and, when we unite that with the variation and differences between physical, geographical formulations, we embark on a apprenticeship with the spirit within matter and the eternal pulse of the world before us When we know the nature of our world, we know the nature of our selves and,when  combined, offers up a unique point of reference that has never before and will never again be re-created and accessible to the greater community. 



Whether our intentions are spiritual, practical, psychological or ecological, we can live in committed devotion to our life-places. This means even in our modern, global, industrialized world. Wild places certainly emit a quintessential energy that may be more accessible than in an urban area, but even cities have a wildness and natural rhythm that we can attune to. Cities are well worthy of our love, prayer, and focused discipline and may be in need of this more than other bioregions. Our practice and intentions can include an array of activities from meditation, ritual, farming, wildlife conservation and learning or teaching survival skills. The crucible is what holds our consistent effort and liberates our unique gifts so that they may find their own niche in the ecology of the present as well as the legacy that our work here will leave for the future generations.