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On March 6, 1710, workmen excavating a crypt beneath the nave of the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris discovered a number of carved blocks from a Gallo-Roman votive pillar set up by the Guild of Boatmen some time during the first quarter of the first century CE. By far the most famous image from this pillar shows the head of the Gaulish god Cernunnos, bearded and deer-eared, his antlers hung with torcs.
On March 18, 1314, Jacques de Molay, 23rd and last Grand Master of the order of the Knights Templar, was burned at the stake on an island in the Seine River in Paris. The order had been suppressed, seven years previously, on charges of heresy, including the worship of a mysterious bearded Head. De Molay's last request of his executioners is that they tie him so that he can face the Cathedral of Notre Dame as he burns. They grant his request.
Lore-master Kazi Khosnawas sits under an old walnut tree and tells a story.
Eight generations ago, before the time of Shuragali, Kalasha women wore black beads from Peshawar, but now they favor red beads. Here is why.
Shuragali was staying in the bashali, the Women's House, because she was just about to give birth, but Tiliwari lurked outside, seeking to devour her. (Tiliwari, a cruel being in the shape of a man covered with hair, his mouth red with blood, preys upon pregnant and parturant women.) Shrewd Shuragali enticed him into the bashali and pushed him into the fire, where he burned to death. Ever since then Kalasha women have worn red beads in tribute to her courage and resourcefulness.
This is a local story, says lore-master Kazi Khosnawas. That's how we know it's true.
In my view, one of the most comforting activities one can do after a loved one has passed through the veil is telling stories about the deceased. Stories tell us who we are, where we came from, what we might become. They are our primary teaching tools.
“We're all made of stories. When they finally put us underground, the stories are what will go on. Not forever, perhaps, but for a time. It’s a kind of immortality, I suppose, bounded by limits, it’s true, but then so’s everything.”...
I'm a bit of a currency naturalist: I round bills up, mark them, and release them back into the wild. That even goes for two dollar bills, which many Americans believe are no longer made (they are; in fact, series 2013 is in print now). Because the two is in such low circulation, if you ask for them at the bank like I do, you will see some very old, very well-preserved currency.
Only on a two did I have much of a chance of finding this story. Everything I know for a fact comes from that very bill, which I have pictured here. A two from series 1976, in fairly crisp condition, with a note scrawled across it in black ink. The handwriting crosses over dark portions of the bill's design, there's at least one word crossed out, and it's not very legible in the first place, but this is what I think it reads:...
At a time that was not now and a place that was not here, a woman, Anima, was blessed with a perfect life. She had never been sick, never suffered from hunger or lack of love. She went about her days without any worries or concerns. One day she came upon a young woman hurt and bleeding. The young woman told her tale of suffering at the hands of uncaring people and how she had been left to die. Anima took the young woman home, cared for her and slowly her wounds began to heal.
There came a time when Anima arrived home and found the young woman about to jump into a deep well. Anima pulled her friend from the edge, saving her. She felt frustrated for the first time in her life. She did not know how to help her friend. So Anima took the young woman to the local temple. There she asked the Priestess to help heal her friend of the wounds Anima could not see. The Priestess explained that Anima could leave the young woman at the temple to be cared for. However, if Anima wanted to learn how to heal her friend, she could undergo the temple’s initiation. Anima cared deeply for her friend and consented to the initiation.
On the night of the dark moon, Anima descended into the caves under the temple. There she was undressed, bathed in the waters of the cave and told to follow the stream. As she descended, the Priestesses slapped her face. Shaking and nude Anima was asked if she consented to continue the initiation. Anima consented. She continued through the caves with only the stream to guide her and its water to drink. As she went further, the Priestesses would appear in the darkness to disrupt her sleep or to beat her. After every disruption or beating they asked Anima if she consented to continue. Anima consented.
Finally the hunger, the aching muscles, the lack of sleep, and the fear of the next beating overwhelmed her. Anima came upon a deep pit in the caves and stood at the edge. She did not know how much longer the initiation would be. The stream seemed to continue on without end. She took a deep breath. As she stared into the darkness she saw light to her left. Anima headed towards the light climbing up to reach it. The rocks were sharp and slippery. Bloody, wet and exhausted she emerged from the caves.
The Priestesses stood around her in the light of the full moon. They beckoned her to bathe in the sea. Anima consented. Her wounds stung and she tasted her tears. The Priestesses welcomed her out of the sea with bread and honey. Anima was marked in the middle of her breasts, on her forehead and at the bottom of her back with the sign of Priestess. She traveled back to the temple and found her friend. Anima heard her story, understood her pain and supported her healing. Soon the young woman’s wounds, both seen and unseen, were healed. From then on Anima traveled throughout the lands listening and supporting women in their healing. Her life as Healer and Priestess began.
While debate rages on in other corners of the web about what kinds of Gods we do or don’t believe in, I have been thinking about the way that we worship whatever/whomever we hold dear, sacred, and holy. I decided a series of posts that tackle this question from a deeply personal point of view would be useful to me, and perhaps to a few readers as well. I have also been thinking about shadows, storytelling, and ceremonies-so it seemed natural that I would start there....