Elyn Aviva traveled to Malta to experience sunrise at the 5,500-year-old Mnajdra Temple on the day of spring equinox. Unexpected insights are revealed when the event wasn’t the sacred experience she’d anticipated.
Not everyone celebrates their 80th birthday alone in the wilderness for four days and four nights . But that's exactly what writer Nancy King elected to do when she signed up for a spiritual Vision Quest. Discover how she manages to tamp down fear and ready herself for the woods as she prepares for the big event.
Mary Ann Treger is a talker. When she's not talking, she's texting or emailing or surfing social media sites. Being connected is her cocaine. Even alone at home, political pundits yak on the television in the background. So why would this motor-mouthed writer go cold turkey and sign up for a silent retreat in an isolated abbey where shutting-up is the numero uno requirement? Read on...
Pendeen Fogou wasn’t a very prepossessing site. To reach it, the three of us—my husband, Gary, our guide, Cheryl Straffon, and I—had to unfasten three rusty metal gates to venture ever deeper into a farmer’s cattle yard. The broken concrete beneath our feet was covered with several layers of dried (or drying) cow manure. Cattle were lowing and resting in their own muck in the nearby pens.
Our goal was a six-foot-tall stone structure with tall grasses and weeds growing out of the top and a yawning opening in one wall. Before we could enter the site, we had one more obstruction: a detached farm gate, which the three of us hauled over to one side.
Bending low, we followed Cheryl down a steep, stone-lined passage deep into the earth. I was grateful I had my hiking staffs to help keep me from slipping. At the bottom, the rocky passage leveled out. My flashlight illuminated moss-covered granite walls and ceiling, the large stones carefully placed to construct the fogou. Pronounced “foo-goo,” it’s a Cornish word that means “cave,” and it refers to a human-made underground cavern.
Unkempt little bodies jump from stone to stone. Lithe and agile. Darting now towards, then away from the never-ending stream of tourists flowing over the raised wooden causeways of Beng Mealea. They claim the messy jumble of unrestored stones of this temple, 40 kilometres east of Angkor, on the ancient royal way, as their playground. Nearly nine centuries of heat and humidity have played havoc with the precise placement of the blue sandstone blocks. Gone is the former wealth and glory of the mighty Khmer Empire. In its place poverty reigns.
At each consecutive temple I visit they keep buzzing around me in swarms. Irritating little mosquitoes. Sometimes noisy and persistent, other times quiet and watchful. Even if I try, I cannot seem to avoid their persistent onslaught. “Lady! Lady!” Dirty little hands push tacky souvenirs I don’t want in my direction. I am determined not to make eye contact. I don’t want to see them. “Only one dolla!” I hasten my pace, and keep my face stern. I focus on the beauty and splendour of the temple in front of me. They give up, and turn their attention to their next victim.
Musing at Scorhill Stone Circle, England
We trudged up the bleak hill, brown and barren. My husband, Gary, and I were hiking with a small group in desolate, wild Dartmoor National Park to a place we’d never been, following a faint path through the moor, a track barely visible in the water-logged, peaty soil. Our guide informed us that people can easily lose their way on the moors—experienced hikers, skilled in reading maps, disappear, their bodies found years later.
by Elyn Aviva
Join me on a journey into the unknown, where what you think you know melts away and is replaced by something something bigger.
For decades I have been drawn to sacred sites and powerful places, drawn to go on pilgrimage across France and Spain, drawn to place my feet in the footsteps of if not my ancestors then of the ancestors of spirit who have traveled these paths before me. Like iron pulled toward a magnet, I have sought out well- and little-known places of power ancient stone circles, half-buried dolmens, ruined Romanesque chapels, spire-topped inspiring cathedrals, thick forests, hidden holy wells, dark sacred caves. Seeking I knew not what, going I knew not why, except that I was driven by a simple but all-consuming question: What are these places? I think I hoped that, by going to enough of them, I would find the answer.
The first time I knew I was in a very powerful place was when I saw the alignments at Carnac in Brittany, France. My husband, Gary, and I had driven through the flat Breton maritime pine forest toward the coast. The nearly straight road reached a crossroad and there, behind green metal fencing, were rows of large, upright stones, some as tall as a person, stretching in rows as far as the eye can see. Brakes screeching, we pulled over. I jumped out and ran across the lane, twining my fingers through the barrier to get as close as I could. What were they? Who put them here? What purpose did they serve?
by Elyn Aviva
Join me on a journey into the unknown, where what you think you know melts away and is replaced by something—something “bigger.”
For decades I have been drawn to sacred sites and powerful places, drawn to go on pilgrimage across France and Spain, drawn to place my feet in the footsteps of if not my ancestors then of the ancestors of spirit who have traveled these paths before me. Like iron pulled toward a magnet, I have sought out well- and little-known places of power—ancient stone circles, half-buried dolmens, ruined Romanesque chapels, spire-topped inspiring cathedrals, thick forests, hidden holy wells, dark sacred caves. Seeking I knew not what, going I knew not why, except that I was driven by a simple but all-consuming question: “What are these places?” I think I hoped that, by going to enough of them, I would find the answer.
The first time I knew I was in a very powerful place was when I saw the alignments at Carnac in Brittany, France. My husband, Gary, and I had driven through the flat Breton maritime pine forest toward the coast. The nearly straight road reached a crossroad—and there, behind green metal fencing, were rows of large, upright stones, some as tall as a person, stretching in rows as far as the eye can see. Brakes screeching, we pulled over. I jumped out and ran across the lane, twining my fingers through the barrier to get as close as I could. What were they? Who put them here? What purpose did they serve?
by Atreyee Gupta
The first time my father took me to the island of Oahu, it was not to see the popular beaches. Instead we went straight to the interior of the Hawaiian isle where dense wilderness overtakes the landscape, creating a virescence that leaps out at the eye in full three-dimensional glory. It was a capital sight for me, an immediate opening up of my senses to the wonder of nature’s artwork. Ever since, immersing myself in Oahu’s jungle trails has been a necessity, an addiction I cannot deny.
For my father, whose own parents had taken him as a child to the depths of the Wai’anae Mountains, Oahu’s wild heart was the key that unlocked his soul, bringing him back to himself. Our hikes exploring Waimea Valley or the Hau’ula trails were times, he explained, for us to look into our hearts and see the best of ourselves reflected in the natural world. “Know yourself,” was a phrase he often quoted to me on our jaunts.
Silently crossing burbling streams or making our way deeper into the Ko’olau Range, we kept our senses alert for the sounds of bark and nuts crunching beneath our feet, the quick flash of a red-crested cardinal as it dove into the branches, the whiff of delicate perfume from rose apple blossoms. Our speechless rambles were only broken with peremptory whispers as my father identified the cheerful yellow amakihi swaying on a limb, the fiery red stamens of a flowering myrtle as it quivered in the breeze, or the discovered tributary of a tiny silver runnel. My time with him was spent not on discussions about my future or his past, but on total absorption of Oahu’s natural paradise. Everything else, he claimed, was secondary.
by Elyn Aviva
I never thought I’d fall in love again. And certainly not with a building! Yet there I was, heart pounding, eyes damp at the sight of her.
Funny how the first few times I’d seen her, I never felt this “hit” of passionate connection. But that’s often how love strikes us, isn’t it? Not much interest at first—but then, Pow! Like a thunderbolt.
The first few times I’d seen her, she was just an object. A place to visit. A Gothic cathedral, begun in 1175, added to over the centuries, still standing more or less intact, which is a miracle in itself. Described as “the most poetic of the English cathedrals,” she is the central attraction in Wells, Somerset, “the smallest city in England,” or so the tourist brochure proclaims.
My husband, Gary, and I had visited Wells Cathedral several times, entering her, like so many other casual visitors, without (figuratively) even wiping our shoes. We had admired her carved columns and the delicate, repeating Tree of Life pattern painted on the distant ceilings. We had appreciated the acoustics in her octagonal chapter house and watched the colorful wooden figures on the nearly 700-year old astronomical clock go through their paces on the hour and quarter hours. We had marveled at the graceful scissor arches constructed out of two pointed arches, one facing up, one down, that brace the four sides of the heavy central tower. We had walked around her grounds to get a glimpse of St. Andrew’s Holy Well, framed like a picture postcard in a rectangular opening in a high stone wall.
She was so vivacious and charismatic that I went up and introduced myself after the talk she gave. When I told her I was from St. Louis, she immediately asked, “Have you ever been to Cahokia Mounds?” “Well, my kids went on school trips... I’ve been meaning to go since they built the new visitor’s center...,” I muttered my reply. “You have to go,” she urged. “It’s one of the most wonderful, inspiring Native American sites in all of North America. Promise me you’ll go.” “Sure,” I said.
I met Judie in October 2009 when she spoke at a retreat for the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College at the lovely Tamaya Resort north of Albuquerque. Judie and I had an instant rapport, and, when we met for lunch in Santa Fe a week or so later, she again pressed us to go to Cahokia Mounds. Again we promised. But life intervenes, and by the time we returned to Santa Fe the following summer and called Judie to get together, we still hadn’t gone.
by Elyn Aviva
The news rippled through our group like a breeze through a wheat field: a crop circle had just been spotted! According to a crop circle blog, it had appeared only two days earlier, on the side of Windmill Hill, close to Avebury, in southern England. We were told it was still fresh and relatively untrammeled. Even better news was that we were nearby, since our group was visiting sacred sites in the area—including Stonehenge, Glastonbury, and Avebury, site of the largest stone circle in the UK.
Crop formations usually occur in fields of ripe cereal grains. They appear all over the world but are most prevalent during July and August in the Wiltshire district of southern England. The complex patterns range in size from just a few feet across to over 900 feet, although the average is about 200-300 feet in diameter, and they vary in elements from a few to over 400. The designs may be circular (hence “crop circle”) or based on other geometrical forms (hence “crop formation”).
They are controversial. Some researchers believe they are encoded messages from either Gaia/Earth or ET/the Cosmos; others believe they are hoaxes perpetrated by tricksters. They may be a relatively recent occurrence, first documented in 1976 in the UK, or they may be much, much older. I’d been reading about them for years, but I’d never seen one—and never walked inside of one. I was excited at the prospect.
Before setting out, our guide, Jude Currivan, showed us a tantalizing diagram of the crop formation. It looked like a huge, blunt-ended sword, pale gold cut into the middle of a field of dark ripe grain. Jude promptly christened it “Excalibur” and called it “the sword of truth.”
The sword blade was composed of 16 overlapping circles. Each overlap formed a geometrical figure called a vesica piscis or mandorla, which is often found in sacred art. Extending through the center of the circular handle and out the top were 10 circles in increasing and decreasing sizes. The handle incorporated both a disk (representing the sun?) and a crescent (representing the moon?).
by Elyn Aviva
We were on Malta, a tiny island at the crossroads of the Mediterranean, within sight on a clear day of Sicily and Mount Etna, and we were confused.
Since our first day on the island, Gary (my husband) and I had been experiencing generalized confusion. For example, we had been told that everyone spoke English—after all, Malta had been an English colony for over 150 years—but street signs were unpronounceable, and our taxi driver didn’t seem to understand a word we said. He replied to our frantic queries in something that sounded like a mixture of Arabic and Italian. And it turns out it was. Sort of. Maltese is a Semitic language, brought by Phoenician settlers 3000+ years ago, so it sounds vaguely Arabic. And because Italy has had such a pervasive influence on Malta—in part because of proximity, and in part because for decades the only television channels available were Italian—Italian words and cuisine are prevalent.
But our linguistic confusion was superficial. Much more confusing were the temples, the fat ladies, and the cart ruts. We had come to Malta to see the massive Neolithic stone temples, recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. Some of them date back 5,500 years—or maybe 10,000 or 12,000 years, depending on whom you believe. Ggantija, on Malta’s tiny neighbor island Gozo, is thought to be the second oldest temple in the world, after Göbekli Tepe in Turkey. It predates the pyramids by millennia. Some writers believe the Maltese temples are oriented to astrological alignments that existed 12,000 years ago, not 5,500—and might even have been built by extraterrestrials.
Where can we find holiness?
Sometimes I feel like I am in a grand hide-and-seek game with the Creator. Just when I think I’ve found the deepest of the deep, He escapes me. Just when I’ve found the perfect light, the right sound, the special spot for a spiritual experience, a hiccup or sneeze ruins the instant.
Then again, moments in life occasionally arrange themselves to create spontaneous experiences that become life-long memories with deep teachings that touch the soul. They sneak up on you like the first warm smell of Spring that subtly tickles your nose. You have to stop to make sure they really happened. To miss these moments would be to miss the juiciest slices of life.
In 1994, I had just moved from Los Angeles to Scottsdale, Arizona. The Northridge earthquake shook up more than the foundations of my West L.A. town home. I was shaken to my very core. I wanted out. I had been blinded by too much show biz (I had been a writer on a hit show), too much disappointment (I was off the hit show and didn’t bag another staff position), and I was finally tiring of too much life in and out of the Hollywood fishbowl.
by Elyn Aviva
We were savoring our after-dinner espressos at Llys Meddyg, a “restaurant with rooms,” in Newport, Pembrokeshire, Wales, when my cell phone rang. I looked at it suspiciously.
During the week we had stayed at Llys Meddyg the cell phone had never functioned inside the hotel. There simply wasn’t any signal. To make a phone call, I had to walk down the street waving it in the air until gradually the bars started showing up.
The phone kept ringing. I answered it and heard a woman’s voice, speaking rapidly. “Hi, this is Winifred. I hear you’re going to write about my land. If you write about my land, you’d better get it right!”
“Hello,” I replied. “How’d you hear about us?”
“My friend David told me. When can we meet?”
The phone suddenly cut out. I ran outside the restaurant and down the street, looking for a signal. One bar, two bars, three. I tried to return the call. It rang once and Winifred answered.
“Sorry, we lost the connection.” I said.
“It’s because of all the volcanic rock in the Preselis. It interferes with cell phone transmissions.”
“So that’s why!” I exclaimed. “I wondered.”
Cautiously, my husband Gary, our friend Michael, and I followed a nearly invisible path through the fog and up the side of Loughcrew hill, just before sunrise. A huge crow—perhaps a raven—flew by, its wings flapping loudly in semi-darkness. We were heading to the ridge top to see a twice-a-year spectacle: the rays of the equinox sunrise penetrating the passageway of Cairn T, a 5,500-year-old megalithic tomb situated 52 miles northwest of Dublin. The equinoxes, which occur around March 21 and September 21, are the two times of year when the days and nights are of equal length.
Distant drumming drifted through the swirling mist, along with the faint sound of voices. Others had reached the site before us. Soon we arrived at the top. A large mound of mist-sparkled green grass and rocks, Cairn T looked like an immense, squat mushroom, partly encircled with huge kerbstones. A number of ruined, exposed stone chambers and tumbled stones were scattered over the hillside. Clumps of people milled around, seeking shelter, chanting, or sharing mugs of steaming coffee and pieces of cake. The event had the mixed flavor of a class reunion and a revival meeting.