I had been drawn here, to the River Boyne, and I knew not why. I only knew that Ireland always felt like a land of living magic, an emerald place defying explanation.
The Boyne orients herself on the map haphazardly, flowing in bends and eddies. Unbelievably, she almost perfectly mirrors the Milky Way above. In the curve of her bend lie the great temples of indigenous Irish spirituality: Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth- ancient astrological temples aligned to the stars.
In the morning she looks shy, blushing like she’s not quite ready to wake up and be seen yet, frosted pink with sunrise. I watch her ceaselessly flowing, hundreds of gallons per second. She’s a fierce river. Myth tells us that Ireland’s Boyne River originated in the Well of Wisdom. According to legend, a grove of nine hazel trees stands in the center of the otherworld, and in this grove there is a mystical well of great power.
The legend goes that Boann was the wife of Nechtan, who owned the Well of Wisdom. Nechtan’s well was guarded by three cup bearers, who were the only ones allowed to visit the well. A grove of nine sacred hazel trees surrounded this well, which contained a powerful and mysterious fiery water, so powerful that myth goes it could burn eyes out of any who gazes into it.
In the well swam the Salmon of Wisdom, and it said that anyone who eats the Salmon of Wisdom receives the blessings of ‘Imbas’, the the mystical power of poetic inspiration and prophesy arising from the well’s waters.
Though forbidden by her husband, Boann was curious about the well, and in defiance went up to this forbidden well and walked around it three times. The well cover burst open, causing the water to violently rush forth, blinding her and chasing her to the sea. She was smashed against the rocks, ripped to pieces. The water dismembered the goddess, she lost an arm, and a leg, and ultimately her life before she became the river. She flowed out into the world as the Boyne River, the new body of the goddess.
The tale left me bitter. Something was lost. The oral tale translated by the monks into written word must’ve lost its esoteric meaning; its mystical underpinning. A forbidding, then a punishment. It sounded like a half-truth, something lost in translation.
There was something hidden, a truth more archetypical, more metaphysical and astronomical, some metaphor written in the cosmos, that was long forgotten. I felt sure of it. A mystery hidden, locked away in secret. Something stolen from deep inside me. A pearl from within my womb. I felt it missing, aching for it.
I wander the valley in the bend of the River Boyne, visiting the temples. Newgrange, with its quartz, overpowers my senses. I feel faint, the spiritual energy so strong. Dowth, with its winter solstice alignment, and Knowth, with its equinox alignments, complete the picture of an Earthen calendar; a cosmic landscape slowing forming in my mind’s eye.
I walk the Earth, the sun and moon my guide, green rhythm and birdsong permeating my heart. I lay on the green hills surrounding the riverbank, look out at the haze of emerald and yellow and almost remember my ancestresses living here. Something deep inside wanted to remember, to become itself, and I did my best to let it pour out.
I go to sleep next to the river. The purple glint of winter sunset on frost enraptured me, the river’s moods mirroring the changing sky. Where was Boann’s truth hidden? Was it written in the stone circles, illuminated by sun and moon? Was it written in Venus’ transit across the evening sky, was it in the hawthorn’s blooms? Was it in the wells?
‘The true story, show me in my dreams….’ I ask her.
I fade into dreamland, and see Boann peering out from her castle. I see her striding towards the garden, determined to sip from the well, filled with a thirst for life so great it could only be slaked by the Well of Wisdom itself. Determined for sovereignty, she wanted to know what the salmon in the well tasted like. She wanted something more.
The water rose up, like in the tale, and as the water overcame her she merged with it to become the river itself. For a moment, I flowed with Boann, first as a salmon, silvery and strong, then as a swan. I shifted from one shape to the next. Salmon, swan, seashell, silicate and sand, shapeshifting into the river’s endless life forms. Boann rose up like a great wave, winked, then sank back beneath the surface, swans and salmon gliding and darting in her wake.
I wake up from my dreaming, and look out at moon glint on the river’s surface. I understood a little better. Her death was symbolic. She, like a Celtic heroine, met death valiantly. She knew it was only a rebirth into something bigger. And never for a moment did she look back at the castle; her gilded cage. She was the original shapeshifter, the woman shaman. Her actions expressed a deeper truth: you cannot control feminine life force. No, the feminine bursts forth, breaking all chains that would hold it, like lichen breaking rock.
I related to her. A dark river flowed through my heart. I would die for one sip of fresh green truth from the well, too.
I felt like a wolf, in exile, wandering the banks of the Boyne a spiritual refugee, a follower of the lost sacred feminine, looking for red berries under winter frost to survive, my paw still dragging around an old trap I had only half broken loose from. It crippled me. In the first dawning of goddess consciousness, I feel even more like I am wandering a wasteland, made up of stories told to shape an Untruth.
Beyond the veil was a silky, safe place, but I could only get through the veil if I left consensus reality, shapeshifted into a mermaid, sailing through the sea of stars with a whale waltzing beside me, holding the key to the high feminine libraries of truth. Each star a pearl of forgotten wisdom from the living temple. I sailed in there, I sailed away from consensus reality, and was called mad. So I sunk beneath the waves again, into the belly of the waltzing whale, to wait. To wait for the time to rise, with a knowing smile, for when the truth of the feminine could be accepted once more.
My spirit was longing for freedom. Take me home, Bo, I pleaded, staring into her depths.
Boann rises up from the river, salmon swirling around her. She frightened me, she looked wild eyed, giant. Maybe she resented me raging on her banks, seeking her out of her slumber in the riverbed.
She rose up, swirling with salmon, chasing me with a torrent of water. I am frozen in fear for a moment. THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT? She bellows, as she overcomes me. I try to run from the bank but the river overtakes me. She towers over me in a powerful wave, rising out of the river in the shape of Woman. She grabs me by the throat, lifts me up and dangles me in the air. With a swing of her axe, she begins chopping away at me.
Bits of me fall off in chunks; she severs my limbs, slashing at me. All the tightly clenched, frozen places inside. Pieces falling in, till nothing was left of me but bones. Satisfied, she refashioned me into a mermaid, with a strong silvery tail, chained something heavy to me, and threw me down with such force into the well that I swirled to the bottom, sinking. Disoriented, I looked up to catch a glimpse of sunlight before Boann lifted the stone well cover and began sealing the well.
The light started to fade. I saw the last sliver of sunlight disappear from under the heavy stone. All went black.
I clawed at stone walls, limestone crumbing in pieces under my fingers, breaking my nails ragged. There was no escape. I lay there inert, drifting back and forth, turning paler and paler. I curled my mermaid tail around myself for comfort, and leaned against the cold stone in the dark well.
I longed for a burst of fire in the darkness of psyche, a lit match, but it never came. The deep dark pool in my heart kept flowing. I surrendered to the fury, to the not-nice-ness, the unbridled force of rage of the exiled woman. Why was she exiled? Because she couldn’t live in an image. She remembered her wild ancient freedom. Her unconquerable wild innocence. Why surrender to any authority other than ones own?
In the dark I began to see with my inner eye. I saw the ancient mystery schools, led by high priestesses. I saw the sovereignity goddesses. The herstory behind the lies. I saw ancient goddesses: Tiamet, Nieth, Sekhmet, Pasidae. I saw queens, oracles, and prophetesses, holding the flame of the sacred feminine with their wisdom. The original shamans of this land were females. They lay buried under megaliths and dolmens of the green hills above.
Woman, Boann whispers into my third eye, know thy power, and free thyself.
In the void, the cauldron of the Dark Goddess, there was nowhere to hide. I had to face myself. I had to face my shadow.
Vicious, destructive power was swirling in me, something deeper that wasn’t just me, some primal archetypical force. Primal energies, fury and ferocity, the aspects given in mythologies to unbridled feminine creative forces.
In Celtic shamanism, as well as in alchemy, there is a symbolic death. One must go through a dissolution, a descent into the boiling cauldron of the Dark Goddess, where the meat of our “stories” dissolve, until only the bones remain. We must experience our own annihilation in order to arrive at the truth of our eternal nature. We must meet those aspects of the self that became separated through shame and fear and accept them into the heart without judgement in order to merge with the cosmic mother, in the great void of potential.
In descending into the darkness of the collective shadow of woman, I think of my ancestors, the ones who were called weak and inferior. I think of the women who sang to the moon and gathered mugwort and hawthorn berries, and who burned at the stake for it. The granddaughters of the survivors who knew all along that they are magic, living in a system that doesn’t see them.
Suddenly, I heard someone stamping around the well above. I heard rain drops falling on the well. I looked up. It had started to downpour outside, and drops were falling into the cracks in the cover.
It was a little girl. She had chased a butterfly to the garden around the well, and was stamping her little feet in the puddles. She had prayed for rain, because she loved splashing in those puddles. The little girl, born magic, didn’t know her power. She didn’t know that her wish for rain had caused the downpour. She ran around the well three times, laughing, chasing the butterfly, as free as the wind.
The well cover slipped open and the water poured forth. I rose up, but the water didn’t burst this time. I grabbed her before the flood overtook her, held her tight against my chest and swam with my mermaid tail in swift strong strokes towards a safe lagoon.
I would never let her forget her magic and power. I would do everything I could to ensure that she became sovereign and free.
The real herstory is this: Boann was a daring soul, a freedom seeker. Her myth is a metaphor of metamorphosis. She dropped all fear, doubt, and control, and simply entered into pure existence without boundaries. Her courage brought tremendous transformation.
Now she is the force. She’s the raging river carving the canyon, the waterfall, the wildfire rising. She’s life and death and rebirth. The feminine is the source; the primal mother. She’s the brightest moon in a dark night, leading the way. Diminish her no longer, Boann pleads, throw off the shackles inside, chaining you to untruth. Rewrite the stories.
I see great torrents of cleansing medicine bursting from an Otherworld well, crumbling the old, carrying the dust to the void for a chance at rebirth.
I’ve never lived in a world who saw the Great Mother in the Milky Way, who saw a Goddess in a River, who saw all her different faces in the changing of the moon. I’ve never lived in a world that loved the feminine. But I hope to, yet.
I see one last vision of Boyne before I step away from the well, shed my mermaid tail, and walk back towards Earthly life, with the innocent girl who loves splashing in puddles.
Boann rises up, shimmering blue. “I’m always with you”, she says, “In the flame in your heart”. She hands me a clay bowl filled with rose water, with a small candle floating lit. “Keep this safe within you, in the deepest part, at the bottom of your wellspring.”
My little candle was small, and the flame went out easily, in a gust of dark wind, in ashes from burning embers falling. But I looked out, and saw a million tiny candles all floating on surface of Boyne as she flowed. A million more women lit from within. A million tiny points of light converging on the river, floating together. It was dazzling, each moving with a different hue, twinkling like a rainbow prism. Combined, they lit up the night, illuminating and lighting up the sky in starbursts.
She slips back under the water for the last time as a swan diving, her graceful neck disappearing below the surface. Whenever you need to remember this power, just dip your toe in, she smiles.
Take my hand, and dive in.
Into the Well.
Image: Chalice Well by Angie Latham