You’d think someone would have said something….
Instead, I found myself in a state of shock travelling across the prairies…THE PRAIRIES….surrounding Chartres. My emotions and senses were in an uproar….But – this was surely Home? This 180 degrees of sky – the fields, some newly ploughed and ready for the imminent fluffy coverlet of winter, some with their brilliant green growth of winter wheat – or was it rye? Wait just a minute! This is France, not Manitoba…. …..Breathe, Dawn….breathe…..
Whoa….! WHAT did that sign just say? Maison de la Beauce? Relais de la Beauce? WHAT !
So…it turns out that Chartres Cathedral, that wonder of which I have heard and read so much, was erected amongst the vast northern plains of France in a region called La Beauce. (For those who don’t know, my farm is situated in a region of Quebec called La Beauce …)
Nobody bothered to tell me…..
I arrived, therefore, before the great Cathedral, already prepared for anything the Universe had in store….
First, we walked around the outside of the structure. There are 12 portals – 3 on each of 4 sides… The north entrance is called the Portal of the Initiates ….These were symbols I knew from the human body and the Medicine Wheel – I felt on familiar ground.
It was the strangest thing….This immense cathedral is entered through the western portal through a narrow door, then immediately another narrow door….only one person can enter at a time….Perhaps it was the greyness of the day that contributed also to the sense of darkness within – I had the overwhelming sense of entering a sweatlodge….You know how sometimes the inside of a sweat seems to expand and you feel in the centre of a vast sacred space, with an unclear sense of what is inside and what is outside of yourself ? This is how I felt inside Chartres Cathedral….
One enters in the West, bringing the learning and experiences accumulated of this incarnation – the programming of this particular round of existence. The first thing one encounters is the Labyrinth etched into the floor, brilliant in its perfection as a symbol for the patterns which we trace and retrace throughout our lives – the patterns bequeathed us by our ancestors which we repeat blindly, usually until we have suffered about enough, thank you! and decide that there must be some other way…..
Remember the Guardian of the West – Bear Spirit? She has gathered Life throughout the Spring and Summer, and turns in the Autumn – (West- time) to enter her cave, to go Inside – to digest the Life she has lived and make it part of her. This is where we are now in the year -cycle….We are asked to move Inside ourselves, to reflect upon the Life we have gathered, to see the patterns we have woven and to know that they are what we have learned…We are asked to assume responsibility for this Life, to take the reins in our own hands, which enables us to then choose to walk back out of our caves in the springtime with eyes wide open, choosing perhaps a less-worn path….
This same process is available to the initiate in Chartres Cathedral…..
Continuing inward, past the Labyrinth, one approaches 4 great pillars supporting a central vault – an energetic axis mundi at the centre of which an altar has recently been placed (to stop people from sitting there to meditate, says Tim !). 37 feet to the top of the dome, 37 feet downwards underneath the floor to a pool in the crypt below – a crypt where the “Virgin Beneath the Earth” has been worshipped through the mists of time…..
How often have you heard in our meditations: “The human being with belly, heart and mind open becomes as a pillar of Light – a river of Life – anchoring a new planetary reality “? As Above, so Below, with Humanity in the privileged position at the Centre, uniting both….
The central pillars are perfectly aligned to the cardinal points. We have walked from the Outside along the long path just south of west, and now pass the western pillar (the autumn equinox, in the year -cycle) on our voyage to the North Portal.
Here, on the outside of the building, there are statues of Initiates – examples of those who have come before us and also chosen the way of Spirit and Wisdom: Melchizedek, Abraham and Isaac, Moses, Isaiah, Simeon, John the Baptist, Elijah & Elisha….
But seen from the Inside, the central figure of the stained glass windows of the Initiates is the Magdalene….a beautiful and quite obviously Black Madonna….the feminine principle at the centre and foundation of our coming Home to Spirit….
Do you recall the guardians of the Northern Medicine Gate? Buffalo and Moose Spirits hold the energy and teachings of this direction, reminding us to open ourselves in gratitude to the wisdom of those who have come before us and to the guidance of the dimensions of Spirit…
Here, in the dark of Wintertime, we are able to touch our own inner depths …The seed of our intention to know Ourselves transforms and begins to put down roots. We summon the courage for the solitary descent into the unknown of our own Caves, our bellies, and at first stand trembling before a flickering flame of Faith, enveloped in darkness. As we breathe Life and Light into this flame, it grows and warms us – we begin to see clearly the contours and definition of this place.
We carry our consciousness into hidden, secret spots; we open padlocked coffers in musty corners; we open the closet and look under the bed to face the Monsters there… With the uncovering of each secret shame, the voices of our ancestors can be heard, their beliefs and teachings unravelled and understood.
Acknowledging and honouring these voices – our Roots – and replacing resentment and shame with gratitude, is the work of this time and energy.
Knowing that we do not betray our ancestors and traditions by not blindly replicating them, we can choose to give thanks for all that has been lived and often suffered – all that has been done so that we do not have to do it again….Our roots are our foundation – from here we grow ever toward the Light…..
Within Chartres Cathedral, we move back towards the Centre and pass the north pillar (the winter solstice) to move toward the Eastern Portal.
This movement from North to East, from the depths of the Cave to its opening out to a new life and world, is one of discernment and choice.
It is a symbolic divesting oneself of the old clothes that just don’t fit anymore – the colours aren’t right – the shoes, too tight……What do I wear this time on my way out into the world? How much of my True Self dare I show? How honest can I be – with those around me? with myself? Will I don the same time- worn costume – the same hat, the same mask – so as to not frighten friends and family?
Continuing eastward from the north pillar within Chartres, one immediately meets “Our Lady of the Pillar” (the pillar; the axis mundi; the Tree of Life uniting Heaven and Earth…) – an exquisite and much-revered Black Madonna carved in pearwood and set in an elaborate and densely symbolic shrine. Traditionally, women and children come to pray to this Lady – at least a dozen came in the short time I was there, kneeling in sincere prayer, two at a time before the shrine, often going to lovingly touch Her afterward…..It is clear that the energy of belief has accumulated over the centuries with respect to this statue – this image…
I wondered what was really happening here – was there something else going on?
On either side of the Lady, there are smaller statues of a variety of saints, each below its own intricately carved mandala. There is no symmetry to the mandalas – they seem to be meant to be related to the figures below them. The identifying names under each seem done by someone other than the original artist(s) – the carving seems crude compared to the elegance of the rest. Just to the right of the Lady are supposedly St .Joseph with a baby, and St. Ann with her daughter the young Mary. I felt I was looking at a different Holy Family: Yeshua, Miriam (the Magdalene), and their 2 children. The mandalas above these statues are not repeated anywhere else, and are a flower form of the six- pointed Star of David….
I could go on for pages about the potential heresy (to the Roman Catholic Church, that is) of the rest of the symbols carved around this shrine, and it would just be air and ink….It was the experience of being in the energy of the recognised Divine Feminine that was indescribable.
The Black Madonna is said to represent the Magdalene, and is certainly a Christian version of the pagan Earth Mother. She represents the whole and holy feminine principle, encompassing all that is missing from the representations of Mary, Virgin Queen of the Heavens….She was to be found everywhere in Chartres Cathedral – over 400 images of the Divine Feminine are found in this Templar teaching in stone, created incredibly in 30 years during the 13th century, upon an original Roman temple site which was previously a Druid place of worship….(The statue which was later named the “Virgin Beneath the Earth “ and which dwelt in the crypt at Chartres, was Druid…The present statue is a recent copy of this original) . The Druid temple was situated on a conspicuous mound in the Earth, rising out of miles and miles of prairie – a potent energy plexus in the body of the Mother.
Human cultures have over time shifted their ways of recognising, relating to and celebrating what is present in this place…It remains a potent energy centre in the body of the Mother….
In our movement also around the Medicine Wheel, the path from North to East (during which we sift Ourselves out from what we have learned) must begin with our relationship to the Divine Feminine. Globally, it is past time for us to heal our feelings and beliefs about being in our bodies – the feminine, earthly, material aspect of our Selves.
On October 29 of this year, 13 year-old Asha Ibrahim Dhuhulow was stoned to death in Somalia for having been raped by 3 men, therefore committing adultery according to shariah law. Her murder can not be comfortably assigned to the litany of horrors committed by Others. How many of us have NOT hated our bodies, refused our sexuality, mistreated the Earth or preferred our sons to our daughters and the company of men to the company of women? If it feels right to you, perhaps you could light a candle or say a prayer for Asha Ibrahim, and include in your thoughts those who killed her and those who are tortured by the guilt and powerlessness of not being able to help…
We are bit by bit, thought by thought, freeing ourselves of the enslavement of misogyny….Did you learn that you have to choose between spirit and sexuality? between being good or being wealthy? Between responsibility and self-realisation? We are all in this evolutionary process together, as a species and as a planet….
Creativity, sexuality, sensuality, spirituality – all the different shades of passion are Life reviving memories of a sensation of completion – of Wholeness – and calling us out into the World to find it once again. Through our very skin, that fragile yet resilient border between Life Inside and Life Outside, we can discover how we feel about touching the World. Here, we can be armoured, tough or raw – a battlefield of torn emotions – or supple, permeable and soft – able to welcome with strength and integrity. Becoming aware of all we hold in our skin, the question is: just how do we prepare ourselves to go forth into the World, this time around?
In the West / Autumn, we take the time to stop and really see the lives we are living; the North / Winter is when we understand and become grateful for the wisdom teachings of the Ancestors; the East/Spring holds the potential for rebirth; the South/ Summer is the crowning achievement of self-realisation, of becoming Who We Are.
Early Christian novices would undergo initiation at Chartres Cathedral by entering a door from the outside into the dark of the crypt, just north of west….They would enter the portal of the Old Testament, then be lead around through the east and exit the south portal of the New Testament as initiates, reborn…. This perfectly mirrors the sweatlodge ritual and is a foundation of all human transformation: we die to an old identity, in the darkness/ the womb/ the matrix/ the Earth we are mysteriously transformed, then return to the world /the Light renewed and reborn.
The great Cathedral of Chartres is an awe-inspired celebration of the mystery and honour of human existence as part of this magical Earth….
written in November, 2008
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