Note: There is one footnote in this installment.
For an entire fall and long winter the center pole of our dragon shrine, that my son and I erected several years ago, that served as the hub for four strands of prayer-flags, lay on the ground inside a little stone circle in the lower corner of the back yard. When the bottom rotted out last summer, I didn't have the energy to replace it. I just bundled up the flags and brought them inside for the time being, which stretched beyond the winter into late April. Meanwhile up in the woods of the common land, a cedar had fallen around the same time the old center-post fell. (A few cedars try to make it in the woods. Descendants of the cedars that appeared after the great clearing of the forests [150 years ago], they don't do well in shade and are doomed to die young.) When my son was here in early March, with his truck, we transported the cedar to the shrine where it waited patiently for me to get motivated. About a month ago I trimmed the stubs of the branch ends flush, borrowed a drawknife and stripped the trunk of the shaggy bark. The stark beauty of the cedar was as conspicuous as that of a golden-brown woman. Once I had dug the hole I was surprised by how I was able to plant it by myself, given its weight and height (12 feet). It felt good to tie the dragon carving onto the post and attach the prayer flags, to see them waving again in the wind. Prayer flags are designed to hold space in wild mountainous places where the gods dwell, where any number of lesser spirits of adversity also make their home and the wind is almost always blowing. I read that a traditional image for the center of these flags (if not the Buddha) is a powerful horse carrying flaming jewels. The flags may look vulnerable and benign, but they are strong medicine and they are not going anywhere until they are ready, disintegrating and fading and releasing prayer after prayer over the years.
There is a bench on the edge of the stone circle made of cinderblocks holding up a huge slab of gray-blue slate that some students helped carry out of an abandoned quarry on the outskirts of Fairhaven. I don't think anyone has sat there but me. Then again, I may be wrong. There is Steve, the photographer. He and his wife used to stay here when we had our B & B, when his daughter attended the college. He loved our ritual spaces and after they left I would always find little offerings in the medicine circle and on the cairn.
Dragon is coming up in people's dreams. As I have already mentioned, I see Dragon as an elemental spirit and stand in awe of it whenever and however it appears. In the East it is associated with the pearl of wisdom that, in some renderings, it holds in its mouth. This is possibly the origin of the Western projection of its role of guardian of the treasure, which, whatever its hoard represents in Western mythology, it is not wisdom.
I used to imagine that there was a dragon living in Glenn Lake, near Fairhaven. It would fly up when summoned, to soar just above the surface like a giant dragonfly, dipping the tips of its wings into the water to create a wake as it cavorted. (This was around the time I was deep into shamanic training, and still hoping that the nerves around my second chakra would heal.) I have always associated dragon with the solar plexus or the dantian and second chakra. When that chakra was opened, or when I discovered that it was open during self-examinations of the scarred area around my lower belly, that was when dragon began to make its appearances in my life as a force to reckon with and an important power to befriend. When I created the dragon shrine with the stone circle and the flags, dragon stopped showing up. Why? I suspect that when you set aside a place for honoring a spirit, then the spirit can rest or hibernate, instead of irrupting erratically. This is a good thing, in that now you have an established place where you can commune with the spirit and build a relationship, but it is also a way of stepping back from the rawness and vulnerability that characterizes direct contact, such as when I "summoned" dragon at the lake. The same goes for the cairn in the back-field which presides soberly in a faery space offering a place for prayer and contemplation. Like a little bit of Brittany, the cairn occupies the center of a rise where we have allowed golden rod, briars, milkweed and a little crabapple tree to take over except where a path threads from a modest stone gate to circle the cairn.
When Shirley and I were exploring Celtic spirituality a few years back, some very uncanny spaces were opening for us, as if a veil had parted. I started becoming aware of the little people or elementals, the forest people, the faery folk. It wasn't visual, although I have friends who have seen them, it was just the feeling that they were near. This was an odd time spanning a few years, about 13 years ago. We were deeply into our 3-year shamanic training program at Spirit Hollow and the land was waking up to us on several different levels and we weren't always in control of which level we were stepping into. In Celtic shamanism, the land, which anyone who visits Ireland can experience, becomes seductive. It pulls one away from the village into places that, though they aren't that far off the beaten track, exude a magical invitation to the soul, to sit and rest and stay. A friend warned us of this when we were about to head to Ireland with some students. She told us to be on guard or the spirits wouldn't let us leave. We laughed, but she was dead serious. And how right she was! On our last full day in Ireland we chanced upon a semi-circular cove of white sand on the Bara Peninsula where we decided to spend a few hours. The water was Bermuda blue and above the beach was a pasture (unfenced as I recall) where a few golden cows were grazing among large roundish boulders that appeared to have been neatly placed there between outcroppings of ledge. It was a bright dreamy place, very enchanting and lulling. Just when we were talking about leaving, someone spotted some dolphins and seals in the little harbor, so we all stripped down to our underwear and waded out to get closer to them. It's as if Ireland was bating us with every bit of magic it could muster. But the same thing can happen here when you practice Celtic shamanism. It stirs up the magic.
Once when Shirley and I were at a three-day workshop in Pennsylvania on Celtic Shamanism, we were on break and decided to take a walk. On the walk Shirley spotted the skeleton of a deer along the road. She was particularly drawn by the skull. She asked the bones and the spirit of the deer for permission to take the skull. She left an offering and we brought the skull home with us. That evening we agreed to place it on the altar in the middle of the medicine circle. Shirley was away for the evening, so the placing of the skull fell to me. She had argued that the skull should face the eastern quadrant, I countered that it should face south. Since she was the one who found the deer I gave in and placed it facing east. The next morning, after visiting the deer skull, she was angry with me for moving the skull halfway between south and east. I told her I hadn't touched it. Apparently the deer, with its enormous heart, had moved its own skull so there would be peace between us. The point of this story is to show how much alive the skull was as the dwelling place of the deer spirit. I have used the skull many times since then to summon deer, to help in different situations; I have come to see her as a protector of the family heart. Like an anonymous soldier shot in battle, his bones left to molder in a field, this deer spirit's story, up until we found it, was very typical of many deer across the country. It got hit by a car and was left by the road. Shirley and I essentially retrieved its soul by treating it with respect and placing it in our medicine circle; it was grateful, and its gratitude shows.
Another time, we were staying with Shirley's sister in New Jersey outside of Newton. We were on our way to a Celtic workshop with Tom Cowan.  It was after breakfast and we were getting ready to leave when I went outside through the garage to the driveway for a breath of fresh air. When I happened to look across the field in the back of the property there was a green, forested hillock looming out of the mist beyond the field that I knew wasn't supposed to be there. I studied it in detail. (The trees were a dark green and deciduous.) I wanted Shirley to see it but I was afraid that if I moved, it would disappear, so I stood there for a good five minutes taking in the mirage or vision or whatever it was. (The original Druids were the people of the Oak, and the work we were about to engage in was already conjuring the druidic spirit right in the middle of New Jersey.)
When we do this work, the simple, or not so simple truth is, we open to other realities, so it pays to be grounded. If a person isn't grounded I don't recommend pursuing shamanism because it stretches all of our assumptions about reality, and if we cling to the attitude that one-reality-fits-all we are setting ourselves up for a fall. (I have seen psychologists try to splice aspects of shamanism to some psychological framework and it's rather pathetic.) Shamanism can easily devolve into a New Agey brand of generic spirituality with little depth if it isn't respected as an older (prehistoric / timeless) Weltanschauung. If you try to logically explain how the deer skull moved to a different place on the medicine circle (i.e., a wild critter moved it), or make up some explanation for what I really saw that looked like a forested hillock, (You were tired, your eyes were fooled by the lighting, you saw what you wanted to see.) you will never get out of New Jersey (or whatever state you call home) and good luck with that!
One time a young man came over to photograph the cairn for the cover of Healing the Land with Tao. He wanted to get closer to the cairn so I had to tell him that nobody has stepped in the area immediately surrounding the cairn because it is sacred to the elementals. There is only one way to approach the cairn and that is between two pointed standing stones that form the entrance. He didn't listen very well because, when I returned from the house to get something, he was a few steps into the faerie space trying to get his shot. I shouted at him not to take another step and ran back to the house for some whisky, which I handed him with instructions to apologize, ask permission to trespass and make an offering. He did so, and the photo he took is the one on the cover.
 Shamanic practitioner, author of Fire in the Head and Yearning for the Wind.
(Article changed on March 2, 2019 at 14:34)