Initiatory Rites

Carolyn North

A kind friend, knowing I was down in the dumps, offered encouragement by sending me a poem by Rumi (Barks version):

Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round
in another form. The child weaned from mother’s milk
now drinks wine and honey mixed.
God’s joy moves from unmarked box to unmarked box,
from cell to cell. As rainwater, down into flowerbed.
As roses, up from ground.
Now it looks like a plate of rice and fish,
now a cliff covered with vines,
now a horse being saddled.
It hides within these,
till one day it cracks them open.

I needed to be reminded of that.

It brought back memories of when I was 47 and in Brittany at the oldest so-called “passage grave” in Europe, Kercado, tucked on a wooded hillside above Carnac, that dates back to at least 5000 B.C. I had seen a picture of the dolmen at Kercado in a book, knew I had to go there, but only learned why when I was there.

It cracked me open.

Standing there on that hillside, I knew this could not be a burial site but was probably an ancient place of initiation. The ‘feel’ was of life, not death. As I come from a culture that does not prepare its young for enlightened adulthood with initiation rituals, I wondered if perhaps I’d been called to Brittany to do my own version. Otherwise how explain the undeniable pull that had brought me across a continent and an ocean to climb this particular hill to this ancient pile of stones?

It was very dark and silent inside the chamber beneath, and the first time I crawled in I was terrified—so scared I crawled back out and got the hell away from there. But I came back the next day and kept coming back, taking it slow, spending hours in the woods each day in preparation for entering the chamber. Alone in the forest I recalled childhood pain and felt old angers surface, yelling out loud or writing furiously in my notebook about the hurts still alive within me. Then I would eat an apple and, taking all the courage I could muster, crawl back into the dark chamber. I would sit in meditation, often singing softly until the massive stones felt like a womb holding me while the fear sat heavy on my heart. I would sing until the fear dissolved into something like peace, or sleep.

It was as if I were dreaming while awake, descending step by step into an internal otherworld where the secrets of life and death and re-birth were gradually being revealed to me.

I began to become aware of things hidden in plain sight, feeling how my beating heart and my breathing lungs formed their own interlinked rhythms. I felt how the metabolic cycles in my body were connected, how they linked with the cycles of trees and plants, wind and rain, night and day, sun and moon and all life in all the worlds seen and unseen. In the deep dark of the chamber where my senses were deprived of light and sound, another more subtle light gradually appeared, revealing a larger world, initiating me into a many-dimensioned, miraculous universe that had always been there, but had been hidden behind the busyness of the material world and thus invisible to my sight.

It had taken an act of deliberate deprivation to see how it worked. I had to get through the chaos of my terror and be willing to face my memories of suffering and sorrow, my longing for love, even the prospect of my own death, before I could see what lay beyond them all.

I have since learned that there are ruins of initiation chambers from ancient civilizations everywhere in the world. Most of them have been called burial sites but they rarely contain human remains. Even the “sarcophagus” in the Great Pyramid at Giza is famously empty.

I wonder a lot about what these ancients knew that we have forgotten—something about a Dark Night of the Soul, a Valley of Death that has to be experienced if we are to grow into enlightened adults who can meet life’s challenges with insight and courage.

For me, it seems to require looking straight into the dark belly of the beast where all is effaced except for my own pounding heart and breath. Though I long for someone to guide and watch out for me, I always seem to do it alone, as if through a glass darkly, face to face with myself.

Alone in a wood facing ancient darkness—facing myself and my fears of the world going crazy around me, the hunger, greed, mayhem, depression, war— I pondered, how do we respond to the horrors of our own time so they do not destroy us?

That time in Brittany was neither the first nor the last time fear forced me to wake up to deeper levels of appreciation for my life and the world I live in, where my inner eyes open and I see that everything cycles, is interconnected with everything else and is ultimately part of one glorious, mysterious, splendid Whole. Everything is part of it—all Time and Space, all ignorance and evil, all life and death, all beings in all the realms trying to learn how to love.

It is happening now as wars heat up around the globe, our government goes even crazier, and we face yet another year of drought in California. The dryness makes it harder and harder for my ailing husband Herb to breathe.

For me, by his side, I feel how every day is a day of grace, how grateful I am for every moment I have with him and the world we have shared for all these years. No matter what happens next in Syria and Palestine, to the oceans and the climate, I know it is all the play of light and dark upon a deeper reality that endures despite our human shenanigans.

What I know is that love literally holds the world together and it is ours to take, whatever else is going on.

To not do so is foolish and not nearly as interesting as looking through the glass darkly and seeing yourself face to face.

Carolyn sends out periodic “Musings on the Passing Scene”; please contact her at carolyn.north[at]gmail[dot]com if you would like to be on her list. Or, visit: or

Image credit: Tumulus Kercado in Carnac, Brittany by Wandering Danny

Carolyn North loves to write and dance, and uses these forms as a vehicle for her work as a healer. She defines her purpose as an aide in making the transition from a materialistic culture to one that recognizes that we are all connected with each other, with the Earth and with the cosmos. Read more about her work at or

Read more about Carolyn North

Comments (3)
  • Carolyn,
    Very meaningful in an age where many believe they can avoid the dark: are entitled to only the light!
    Nita Renfrew

    — Nita renfrew on March 10, 2015

  • It was early morning, before the tourists arrived; climbing up and up to the King’s camber in the great Pyramid at Giza; once there I sat with my back to the “sarcophagus” but it never occured to me that it was anything other than a concentrator of peace and power for communicating better with “the Gods”—later I found out that the most advanced meditative practices are accomplished laying supine. And I reflected that Napoleon received a message there; one that he said his attendant in exile would not believe anyway…so he was silent about it. Thank you for your musings.

    — Amin Dawdy on March 20, 2015

  • For me it was a visit to the Great Zimbabwe Ruins in Africa, sleeping in their shadow though the night I had an inner initiation that moved my soul.

    — Qadira on March 12, 2016

9 March 2015

Tagged Under
love, poetry, meditation, sacred geography, Our Sacred Heritage, gratitude, Rumi, courage, sorrow, longing,
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