We spent the week of our conference in County Sligo. This mostly rural area in northwest Ireland was a favorite spot for William Butler Yeats who lived there as a child and returned often for rest, rejuvenation, and inspiration. Our hotel overlooked beautiful Lough Arrow whose islands inspired his much-loved poem, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.”
On Monday, Jungian analysts Tom Elsner and Monika Wikman talked about the symbolism of alchemy which influenced Yeats and Jung. Tuesday morning’s topic was the symbols of Celtic folklore in Yeats’ poems. We were joined by Noirin Ni Riain, a gifted Irish singer and story teller. Her haunting songs and legends, sometimes voiced in her beautiful brogue and sometimes in Gaelic, brought a deeply spiritual Irish magic to our day and week.
The presentations were supplemented with visits to sacred sites. Some are featured in Celtic mythology; others are megalithic tombs from the early Neolithic period. Of special importance to me was Tuesday’s mid-day hike to the summit of Knocknarea (pronounced knock-na-`ray), a 1,073 foot high limestone hill west of Sligo. At the top is a large cairn about 180 feet wide and 33 feet high that probably dates to around 3000 BCE. This impressive monument is known as Maeve’s tomb.
This visit was special to me because Tuesday was my 70th birthday. And because Fred and I had been given the Knocknarea Room at Cromleach Lodge. And because in Celtic mythology, Maeve was the Queen of the fairies and the archetype of the Sacred Feminine, the focus of this blog and my books.
The climb up Knocknarea was less steep than the previous day’s and even had a rocky, mud-free trail. Along the way I showed Monika the small stone I had found to lay on Maeve’s cairn. Smooth and flat, the front side was white and the back was a shiny black. Light and dark, conscious self and unconscious shadow: the integration of opposites, the goal of inner alchemy. I also told her about a dream featuring possum poop that I’d had Sunday night after our arrival. First possum poop. Then on Monday’s hike, sheep poop. What next? You’ll see.
Halfway up the trail my cell phone rang. To my delight it was my daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughters who sang Happy Birthday to me from Florida where it was only 7:30 in the morning! I don’t think I’ll ever manage to take the miracle of cell phones for granted!
Most of us made it to the top this time. Through fog, wind, and misty rain our guide told us about the site. Then, in honor of Queen Maeve, and with a nod to my birthday, Noirin led us in a ritual of celebration and respect for the Sacred Feminine who is our guide through our unconscious depths via creative imagination. In closing, we added our stones to Maeve’s cairn along with our prayers and resolutions about our soul-making work. High on my list was to understand why the symbolism of excrement had appeared in a dream I shared at the Jungian conference where I first met Monika six months ago, and then again on the first night of this one.
An especially lovely birthday gift awaited me back at the parking lot. There, three beautiful horses, one a dapple gray like my beloved horse Shadow, were tied to a fence awaiting their riders from the nearby stable. While I visited with the gray, Fred told Monika about Shadow. When she looked over at us she started to laugh. At first I didn’t understand why, but then she said, “Shadow Behind the Shit House,” and then I got it. The gray horse was tied directly behind a blue porta-potty.
So now it was people poop! We laughed about this for the rest of the conference. With our understanding of the symbolic meaning alchemy attaches to excrement, I was beginning to realize that something significant was going on. Next time I’ll tell you how Tom and Monika’s talks provided more insights about what it was.