Assumption - Sonnet to Li Ban

Assumption Ceremony. An assumption ceremony in the tradition of the Green Mountain Druid School training is the culmination of three years of training and involves journeying to meet a God or Goddess from any pantheon who steps forward to be assumed. Preparation involves spending time in contemplation, ceremony and synchroncity with the deity who chooses the supplicant. To merge with and co-create ceremony with a deity is a daunting task requiring the ability to deeply commune with the magical realms in a safe way, with humility, curiosity and reverence. This work is a requirement of third year students, supported by the teachers, and is witnessed by first year students in an evening ceremony. 

Li Ban is a pre-christian Goddess of the Irish pantheon of gods and goddesses, originating in Northern Ireland. Li Ban translates to "Paragon" (or Beauty) of Women. She is triple goddess aspect, the maiden and a water oracle. Her tale speaks of a great loss, her guilt at having survived when others did not, her retreat to solitude, and her rebirth as a mermaid of the great Loch Neagh.

To speak too much of the ceremony would take the mystery from it, so instead of explaining what it was like, I share this poem I wrote to the Goddess, Li Ban, who chose me and this photo taken just prior to assumption.

Sonnet to Li Ban

Beneath the lake so wide and deep,
She bowed her head in shame and loss
A grieving heart sank into sleep
And fiery tresses turned to moss.

The curving sky the sun did yield
The silver moon grew full and soft
In the deep her fate felt sealed
Her cry to heaven flew aloft

To know forgiveness and release
From a burden carried not one’s own
Oh Ancient One, maiden of peace
With your grace may love atone. 

The girl burst forth from sorrowed cave,
By bright, iridescent tail and fin and wave.

The Antlered One - Guardian of All Who Journey

The Antlered One, by Laura Smith-Riva

The Antlered One first came to me in the dreams. She is a wise woman, a protector of the pathways, a teacher and a healer. She is the mystic on the other side of my amazon/warrior. She is deeply mysterious and lives in the liminal spaces awaiting those who seek her on the path.

I have encountered her many times on my journey. She came after a dream where a young deer had its antlers brutally cut off by a man. In the dream she offered me the large antlers of an adult deer carved with magical and sacred symbols and images which she had discovered on her land. This moment represented for me the return of that which had been cut off. In so many ways, we cut off sacred and holy parts of ourselves in order to survive in a world filled with traumas and challenges, to fit in, to make do, to take care of others at the expense of ourselves. Our creative life withers and we become like the walking dead, moving through life on a stream of expectation, fear, numbness and unrequited desire all fueled by the many lies we come to believe about ourselves and the world around us. Many will never escape from this inertia, often disguised as a whirling dervish of doing.

Some, however, are called or thrown into the journey, the journey back to soulful life. The Antlered One is waiting. She is a profound archetype with a history dating back to ancient times, perhaps Paleolithic times.   In the Celtic pantheon she is known as Elen of the Trod and her roots trace to northern Wales and a time when humans were in relationship with reindeer there. Female reindeer have horns as do the males. The Celtic god Cernunnos is the male counterpart.

As a Druid, she came to me in a vision. As part of the druidic training of the Green Mountain Durid Order, each grade participant is encourage to journey to and find the inner grove that will support their work. There are three grades: Bard, Ovate and Druid. They roughly correspond to these steps:

  • Opening the Way - reigniting the magical child and rediscovering our creative, magical selves
  • Hunting the Shadow - transforming old conditioning and habits, developing a practice of self-reflection and accountability
  • Being of Service - manifesting one's calling, becoming a guardian of the earth and providing spiritual guidance in one's community
It is a path of spiritual discovery. There are many such paths. This path taps into my own Celtic indigenous ancestry and has offered me the opportunity to work with an animistic approach to spiritualism which allows for direct contact with spirit through the natural world. 

Back to the Antlered One. She came during my Ovate training, appearing first during an inner journey and became part of my Ovate Grove as a supportive ancestral guide. In this inner sanctum, she stood at the gateway entering the grove and as a protector along the way forward in my work. She rubbed red ochre on my belly and breasts, she brushed my flesh with the soft needled branches of the Tamarack. She invited me to lie back in the roots of the great tree and covered me with the softest sheepskin. 

We all need succor on the journey. We all need support. We may find support in the world through family, friends, mentors or others, but the beauty of inner support is that it's always available to us. Building a relationship with this support is so important and must be done during those good times, when we are feeling good. It's like building a muscle. If we don't exercise it how can we expect it to be strong when we need it most?

The Antlered One is timeless and ageless. If you look for her, you may find her in dreams, visions and journeys. She may appear in the synchronicity of the deer on the field, in a shell on the beach or a flower in the wood. She is the keeper of the trod, the protectress of the magical pathways, the healer and the divine spirit of the land who knows the hidden trails and traverses of the true heart. She is the guardian of all who journey. May you receive her.

The Return, by Laura Smith-Riva

Blessed be.

Laura Smith-Riva is a Natural Dreamwork Practitioner from the mysterious Green Mountains of Vermont.

Bringing the Unconscious Conscious

Detail from “Green Pot with Fish” by Laura Smith-Riva

Recently someone posited a question on a depth psychology Facebook page asking how does one let the unconscious become conscious. My immediate thought was Dreamwork. Dreams being a portal into the unconscious, our nightly reveries leak into our awareness the very images, gestures and feelings that support that process.

A preceding question might be, why would we want the unconscious to become conscious? One simple answer is because when we are conscious, we have more choices. When we are unconscious, we are driven by instinct, emotional reactions and habitual conditioning.

The practice of Natural Dreamwork is to let things happen in the psyche, to engage our imaginations, to revel in the feelings that arise from the dream moments and images even when those feelings may be deep grief, pain, or fear.

And yet every step of the way, we are dogged by the conscious mind that wants to evaluate, negate, judge, control, exhort, admonish, appeal, help, cajole, and otherwise persuade us away. Its objections are prolific, ever constellating and mutating into a more attractive (to the part of ourselves that believes its machinations) version of itself.

So to stay with a powerful image, gesture or feeling that has arisen from our dream practice would seem easy enough in the speaking of it, but like clearing the mind in meditation, it requires practice, patience, and compassion with oneself.

In my current dream, I am with a group of people. Folks are lined up along the bank of a lake. Everyone is learning to fish. My first thought is there are too many lines in the water…lines will get tangled. As I see one person bring up a fish, I think “Pumpkin Seed” (a bony fish, not edible). But then I see that it is a large fat fish, lots of meat. Someone else pulls in a fish and, again, I think Pumpkin Seed. But then I see that this fish is also a large fat white fleshed fish, delicious, lots of meat.

The dream offers me several things. One, the opportunity to see how my mind’s natural tendency is towards impoverishment, looking for the problems. Another opportunity is to feeling into the grief of how this has been true in my life, how this orientation has protected me in some way from disappointments and loss and how I can feel a certain control and sense of anticipation for “when bad things happen”. A wonderful skill for survival perhaps and yet it keeps me in feelings of impoverishment even when this isn’t true in my life today. The dream is provocative in its effort to show me this negative thinking and to offer the gift of the truth for me, which is about the awe and joy of abundance. The dream brings pain as gratitude for the gift of its teaching.

My work is to close my eyes and be with the students learning to fish, to feel the awe of the big fat abundant fish and to notice where in my life when I am living from the place of “Pumpkin Seed”. This is an example of how we can work with the dream to help to bring that which is unconscious, conscious. When I can notice the Pumpkin Seed narrative, I have more of a choice. Perhaps I can shift to be in the anticipation of abundance rather than impoverishment. I may not be able to break from Pumpkin Seed thinking all the time, but I can know and begin to trust more that abundance is possible.

Originally published on The Natural Dream.

Laura Smith-Riva is a Natural Dreamwork Practitioner from the mysterious Green Mountains of Vermont.

When Lion Comes

Lion by Laura Smith-Riva, Oil

There is a solitary lion who walks the landscape of my dreams. He does not roar or snarl. He is silent on padded paws. His eyes are yellow gold and his tawny coat ripples like the surface of a vernal pool.
I see him sometimes when I journey to the grove. Often just out of sight, tracking me. Sometime he sits by the lake, cat paws crossed. He yawns and turns to glance at me as I pass. Languid or bored, he licks his cat paw and cleans his ear.

I shed the last vestiges of a civilized world and sit before the fire on the shores of ancient waters. I inhale the slowly curling smoke of cleansing herbs that have been prepared just for me. An Undine splashes near the shore, sending a rainbow spray of water the lifts my skin in shimmering back arching waves.

When I enter the sacred grove, I am greeted by the old one with the antlered crown. She uses her fingers to paint ochre on my belly and breasts. I receive. She leads me to the temple.

The drum is distant, holding me, containing me, tethering me. I lay on the thick sheep hide inside Mother Tamarack. Her boughs are the bright green of early spring and soft as goose down.
My eyes lift and I see the chrysalis that is me hanging above on the stone lintel. I close my eyes and fall below the drum, below the journey, beyond the grove.

I am a warrior, young, strong and curious. My people are celebrating, the revelry of the harvest moon. The Watcher stands tall, her mature warrior’s gaze lifted toward the distant horizon. She must hold herself above the revelry, listening, watching. I, watch the Watcher.

We see. We see the riders, like distant fire flies etching the darkened landscape, before we hear the thunder of their hooves. Chaos, battle cries. I reach for my weapon. And like a rabbit in a snare I am caught, entangled. Heart beat keeping time with the leaping fires and cries of the wounded ones, I sense the dissolution, the coming, the ending. The Tamarack’s bright green boughs are turned brilliant orange, falling.

There is a solitary lion that roams the dark reaches of my deep. He does not roar or snarl. He rises silently before me, impossibly tall, five cubit, white belly sailing over my head. Black toes, cat paws on my spine, blood welling, sooty tear stained eyes slowly close. Surrender.

When I return, all is quiet in the grove. The Antlered One listens as With down cast eyes, shy, I reveal what I have come to know. She stays firm when I hold onto her, trembling as the snake rises, her breath a small gasp of shared knowing. We are carried deep into the sea, a tsunami lifts us, ecstasy.

There is a solitary lion that lives deep in my heart. His teeth drip with the blood of my thoughts. He is a devout connoisseur of demons, breath stealers, whisperers and ghosts of dead heroes.

Laura Smith-Riva is a Natural Dreamwork Practitioner from the mysterious Green Mountains of Vermont.

Good Company in the Snowy Field

"Holly Berry Deer" by Brenda Thour

There is a moment before the white tail lifts in a short, sharp, shock and she disappears in silent bounds into the forest. In that moment, there is an inquisitiveness, an ears forward fearless gaze. Glistening snow holds the space her hooves once occupied.

An old red fox crosses the field, her broken tail askew. Head down listening, listening to the soft rustling of life beneath the snow. She pauses, still, creeping, still and pounces her headlong abandonment into the deep drift. Coming up short, she trots to the large pine and rolls in the snow.

She is in good company.

Fox, artist unknown