I am once more in Ireland, in Mayo, where my father’s people come from. Grey-black weathered stones still shape walls and openings for windows, but the small church on Achill Island, just off the west coast of Ireland, has long since lost its roof. The June morning is cool, ruffled by soft winds, as we twelve women gather under the slate-grey sky around the stone altar.
We have come here seeking an ancient holy well, dedicated to the early Christian Saint Dymphna, (Dimp / Nah) credited with healings. Dymphna was fleeing from her father, a pagan Irish king, her pathway marked by sacred wells, remnants of a tradition that predates Celtic Christianity. People sought healing at such wells, believed to be the openings of the body of our Mother Earth.
Around that altar, we are standing where women have been, in recent centuries, forbidden to stand. With that awareness, a power moves within us, along with a joy that has no words. One of the women in our group reads a poem by Denise Levertov:
Don’t say, don’t say there is no water
to solace the dryness at our hearts.
I have seen
The fountain springing out of the rock wall
and you drinking there. And I too
before your eyes
found footholds and climbed
to drink the cool water.
The woman of that place, shading her eyes,
frowned as she watched—but not because
she grudged the water,
only because she was waiting
to see we drank our fill and were
Don’t say, don’t say there is no water.
That fountain is there among its scalloped
green and gray stones,
it is still there and always there
with its quiet song and strange power
to spring in us,
up and out through the rock.
With these words still echoing, we walk outdoors, make our way through the old graveyard where in past centuries people from all across the island brought their dead for burial. We find the well of Dymphna on a piece of low ground just metres from the edge of the sea, its small opening protected by a circle of stones. We stand here, ourselves a circle, praying silently for those in need of healing.
Holy Well of Dymphna
One of the women, kneeling to take a photo, discovers a heart-shaped rock, one side deeply carved and creased with lines of breakage, now healed; another picks up a stone with the clear shape of a mother and child. For both these women, the stones hold a reflection of their lives. I walk a little way past the well and see a small silver stream of running water. Without knowing why I feel drawn to do so, I kneel, scoop up water, place it on my forehead, on my heart.
Later that day, I realize with a shiver of wonder that it is the anniversary of my baptism.
This moment marks a sacred beginning. My life becomes interwoven with a presence of love for whom I have no name. My searching will take me back to the ancient days of Ireland, before the Celts arrived there, forward to the spirituality glimpsed by Teilhard de Chardin, to the newly unfolding mysteries of the universe in whose life and powers we share intimately… for these next parts of the story I shall take you back to the Hill of Tara. There is someone there whom you must meet.
Tonight, I follow the thread of the story that began twice seven years ago. Once more I climb Tara’s hill. I feel the same needle pricks of mist against my face, see again the grey shroud of fog that conceals everything except what lies before me: this stone, this sheep, this tussock, this tree. Each arises, disappears, as on that night, the night when I called out to the Old Ones, and no one answered. Now I know the One I seek. I have found the hidden well where she awaits me, and this knowing has transformed my desert into an oasis. This time, I shall call out and be heard. I shall be answered.
Come with me. It is time for us to begin. The one whom we seek allures us with a flow of energy, but to meet her we must first come to stillness. A strong desire for the encounter is our best assurance of being met by the One we seek. She responds to our longing. I cannot tell you her name. I am not certain she has a name. I know her as the Storyteller.
It is through their stories that we will find how the Celts related to the Sacred Presence of Love at the Heart of the Universe. For this storytelling we need someone whose wisdom is as ancient as the lakes and rivers, the rocks and hills of Ireland.