Now is the time to clothe ourselves in our true authority. Act your age. Every particle in every atom of every cell in our body goes back to the primal flaring forth of space and time. In that sense you are as old as the universe, with an age of about 14 billion years. This current body of yours has been being prepared for this moment by Earth for some 4 billion years, so you have an absolute right to step forward and act on Earth’s behalf. – Joanna Macy, my root teacher
My guide, Adam Zalewski, picked me up in Prague to hit the road for rural Bohemia and then on to Poland to go to my ancestral villages and meet with living relatives. Adam is great and if anyone wants to do Polish genealogy work, I will gladly introduce you. He is open, kind, professional, knowledgeable and a serious history buff, catching me up on ten centuries of Polish history as we drive.
Having just explored the human culture of my Bohemian roots, it was time to go into deep time, to connect with the living body of Earth. To go back into the lineage of land and tree, caverns and stone. To touch the Birch trees that whispered to them. To pay homage to the moss and the lichen. To remember the Moravian cave dwellers and give praise to the magma. To listen to what my ecological ancestors have to teach me.
We started in Bohemian Paradise, northeast of Prague, where 500 million years ago, there was the opening of Rheic Ocean and some intense volcanic activity. Sediments of Cretaceous sea creatures created foundations of sandstone rocks that now tower high into the sky, shaped by water and wind. As we walked amongst these giants, I whispered greetings of love. Stone masonry runs deep in my family lineage and I’ve always had an affinity for pressing my body against large stones and boulders. These ones sparked awe as I craned my neck back to see them. I offered them a song, one that I learned from Melanie deMoore at Thrive, “I will be your standing stone. I will stand by you.” I thought of you all, and how I can better stand by and with you through these times.
I also admired the spellcraft of the lichen beings below, making soil and habitat for the rest of us. Lichen are polysymbiotic organisms, made up of multiple creatures, such as algae, cyanobacteria, fungi and yeast and they all work together. Lichen are able to survive where most of us don’t stand a chance. They exist by bringing together two or more life forms that need each other to thrive. In doing so, they create more abundant life where it wouldn’t normally be found. May we learn from the lichen how to center relationships, work well with others and create the conditions for all life to thrive.
Adam and I then made our way to the Sedlec Ossuary, or the small medieval gothic Bone church, in the small town of Kutna Hora. Since the title of this blog is Altar of the Bones, I thought I had to go. An article about the place said this: “It all goes back to 1278 when the King of Bohemia sent the abbot of the Sedlec Cistercian Monastery to Jerusalem. When the abbot came back he brought with himself a jar of soil from the Golgotha, that was known as the “Holy Soil”. Soon people from all over the places desired to be buried in Sedlec, thus the cemetery there had to be expanded. After 1511, the task of exhuming skeletons and stacking their bones in the chapel was given to a half-blind monk. The bones stayed there for centuries till 1870 when a woodcarver named Frantisek Rint was appointed to place the bones in order.“
And so the woodcarver decorated the chapel with the bones of 40,000 ancestors who died in the 15th century, during the Black Death pandemic and Hussite wars. He placed them into a chandelier which contains at least one of every bone in the human body, and made pyramids and garlands of skulls and femurs. I stood quietly for a moment, in the middle of this bone altar, contemplating deep time and death. I took some deep long breaths and felt the bones of my feet, sensing into my own skull that will also slowly decay some day. I put down some salt and sacred herbs for all of the ancestors here and for all those who have crossed over from pandemics and war.
The next day, Adam and I made our way to the Moravian caves. This is where I entered into the deepest of deep time. Where limestone and magma and Devonian conglomerate formed rockbeds of quartz and sea fossils and calcareous sludge.
Where water has slipped down through cave structures for centuries, picking up minerals along the way. This water drip drip drips, forming stalactites that grow ten centimeters every ten thousand years. These ancestors know slow.
Over 400 millions of years ago, white Devonian limestone was eroded by water from rain, rivers and brooks to form aquatic underground rivers. Where dripstones live, still rising from drops of water falling from the cave growing upwards in times when caribous ran free and the Magdalenian hunters lived in this cave. Where prehistoric animal hunters, the jaw of a Neanderthal child, and bones and teeth of animals such as the cave bear, European cave lion, hyena, woolly rhinoceros, mammoth, bison, aurochs, musk ox, leopard, wolverine, reindeer and elk have been found in the sediments of the cave. Where shaded karst canyons and sunlit lakes spring up from within the mysterious Machocha abyss. I nearly lost my mind from the beauty of being so deep inside the cavernous body of our mother.
And then we looped our way back through miles of Birch tree forest, where all of the trunks have eyes. These trees that watch you, watching them.
And so I watched them with all my heart, enjoying the secret embraces of birch bark and the loving ways they share information, communicating through their mycelial networks and roots.
The spark of a Rilke poem came to me…
If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.
And so I made a prayer to surrender to earth’s intelligence. I made a prayer for these these ancient breath keepers, these wise ones who pour life through all of our lungs.
I offered them my breath in return.
Now it can dawn on us: we are our world knowing itself.
We can relinquish our separateness.
We can come home again.
– Joanna Macy