Travels with Penelope

Travel, Food, Wine, Spirituality and Everything Else

Category: Ritual (page 2 of 2)

January 6, 2016 The Epiphany: Goose, Eggslut, Gjusta, The Rose

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On Christmas I generally cook a goose. That I do may raise the eyebrows of some of you who know my penchant for vegan food, but I cook for non-vegans and the last thing they want, as I found out several years back, is tofurky for Christmas. In the past several years as I mentioned in a previous post, my food intake has gone from veggie to vegan to raw, to pescatarian, back to vegan with a few exceptions, eggs, goat and sheep cheeses among them. Early on in this evolution, I would moralize not necessarily vocally,  but in my thoughts about the benefits of vegetarianism to the health of humans and the planet.

During a night on the desert in Egypt in 2003 a month before the Iraqi war, my internal moralizing was deeply challenged… Continue reading

December 7, 2015 Fields of Blood


Following the Thanksgiving rituals and the conclusion of visits from umpteen out of town family members I finally found time to get back to my Portuguese journal. But when I tried to write, I found myself with an unusual case of writer’s block. Poor Portugal. Feeling sick from the recent events in Paris and more senseless killings that followed, I had to put pen aside while I tried to make some sense of it all. There is no excuse for the killings, but I felt I needed to come to some kind of helpful, personal understanding about the events.

A few days into my processing I passed by The Avid Reader, a longstanding Davis, independent bookstore. In the window I noted Fields of Blood, by Karen Armstrong. While I did not find the title appealing, I have found Armstrong’s writings incredibly informative. A Ted prize winner among others, she has been called “one of the greatest writers on religion…” I entered the bookstore, perused her book and purchased it. Shortly, I settled into my favorite reading spot. After reading the introduction, I felt grateful that the book had landed in my path at this particular time. I have never recommended a book on this blog, but in this case I cannot but do so.

Check it out if you wish….

Oct. 22, 2015 Hanging Out With a Saint



In preparing for Portugal, I decided to follow the example of the itinerant pilgrim in The Way….and select a practice that would help me to stay centered through the hustle and bustle of travel. I chose a Tibetan practice I had learned from a monk several years back. And like the “Jesus Prayer,“ it is meant to be done “unceasingly.”

Other than reserving a room at the Art Inn, having made no other plans, I opened myself to wandering the streets with the practice in mind. We began the pilgrimage by hiking the stairs near the Art Inn to Alfama the heart of the old historical district. Continue reading

December 15, 2014 The German Toy





As I begin this post the rain goddess along with Father Christmas is responding to our chanting and drumming. We had four inches of rain in Davis in one day, not counting what came after dark. In forty years I have never seen so much accumulate in twenty four hours. Other areas such as up in the Sierra foothills, were blessed with eight. Lake Shasta climbed five inches. Perhaps the worst California drought in 1200 years is meeting its demise as the weatherman predicts that more rain is on its way.

I cannot remember how or when I became a devoted tree hugger. When my batteries need recharging I throw my arms around one of my favorite trees. Not only do trees energize me, they are great conduits through which I receive love from Mother Earth. Some of my best friends are trees. I find it no wonder that they have played a significant role in the lives of humans throughout history.

It’s that time of year when we focus on their importance. We beautify  them with ornaments and lights, and give them a special place in our home.




The annual ritual with the Christmas tree derives from ever so many ancient customs. Pre-dating the tree is an old belief in the magical powers of evergreens. The Druids (the educated and sometimes religious Celtic Gauls among others) for example, held that the leaves of holly were signs that the sun would never desert them. In ancient Rome greens graced the houses for the festival of Saturn, the god of agriculture as protection against evil spirits.

While the evergreen fir tree has been used in pagan and Christian rituals for over a thousand years, no one quite knows for sure when it was first used as a Christmas tree. The first documented case was in the town square of Riga the capital of Latvia in 1510. A plaque commemorates the tree in eight languages as the first New Year tree.

Miracle Plays performed outside churches in medieval times may have had a relationship to the Christmas tree. December 24 was the feast of Adam and Eve in the Church calendar. Paradise trees representing the Garden of Eden were paraded around town before the play. About the same time the production of passion plays that presented the Cross-as the tree of life spread from Germany throughout Europe. When the plays died out the tradition of the tree continued in a wider context and the Christmas tree custom, as we know it began to take shape

In the late 1800’s my grandfather immigrated from England to America. He had quite a surprise on the first Christmas he spent with his in-laws. When he went to the Western Pennsylvania farm of his new bride’s parents for the holidays he was amazed to see that a tree played such a major role in the Christmas festivities. I am told that he referred to it as “the German toy”.




In his homeland outside of court circles, the tree did not make much of an appearance until 1922, and then mainly in the homes of German merchants residing around Manchester. Charles Dickens wrote a glowing account of a Christmas tree he had seen for a magazine article he wrote in 1850. From then on his fellow British including my grandfather referred to the tree as the “German toy.”

“I have been looking on, this evening, at a merry company of children assembled round that pretty German toy, a Christmas tree. The tree was planted in the middle of a great round table, and towered high…It was brilliantly lighted by a multitude of little tapers…sparkled and glittered with bright objects. There were rosy-cheeked dolls hiding behind green leaves…real watches (with movable hands, at least, and an endless capacity of being wound up) dangling from innumerable twigs. French polished tables…and other articles of domestic furniture (wonderfully made of tin) perched among boughs…jolly, broad-faced little men…their heads took off, and showed them to be full of sugarplums; there were fiddles…trinkets for the elder girls…baskets and pin cushions…guns and swords…witches…to tell fortunes;…tee totems, humming tops, pen wipers, smelling bottles, conversation cards, bouquet holders, real fruit made artificially dazzling with gold leaf; imitation apples, pears, walnuts crammed with surprises; in short as a pretty child delightedly whispered to another pretty child, her bosom friend, “There was everything, and more.”

“…some of the diamond eyes admiring it” Dickens continues, “set me thinking how all the trees that grow and all the things that come into existence on the earth, have their wild adornments at that well remembered time.”




While the practice of honoring and decorating trees traverses many traditions, it is through the German immigrants to Pennsylvania that the Christmas tree custom took root in America. By the time Grandpa arrived in America the Christmas tree having made faster progress than in England was well on it’s way to becoming the very core of the Christmas celebration, not only in Pennsylvania, but throughout the country as well. By 1900 one in five American families had a Christmas tree and by 1910 nearly all children had a tree at home. Only in small, isolated towns in the South and West were trees somewhat scarce until after 1915. But even then, community-hall or church trees were common.




The lighting of the community Christmas trees in downtowns across the country follow a tradition first established in 1909 in Pasadena, California when a decorated a tree with outdoor lights was placed in the center of town. A community tree appeared in Madison Square Park in 1912 and in Philadelphia the next year with a tree in Independence Square. President Calvin Coolidge established the national tree-lighting ceremony in 1923.

Before my grandfather arrived on the scene my great grandparents had been quick to take on the custom of the Christmas tree from their German immigrant neighbors. Great-Grandpa staked out his tree in the late Fall while walnut-ting then chopped it down a few days before Christmas. My father who spent his childhood Christmases on the farm recounted that the tree set up in the middle of the parlor, was loaded with popcorn balls, candies, nuts and fruits-such as oranges from California, small toys and a dollar bill nestled in the boughs for each of the children.

If Dickens were observing Christmas 2014, he would note the same sparkling, diamond eyed children, young and old gathered round a tree likely set up in the great room where a vaulted ceiling can accommodate at least ten feet of height. Brilliantly lit with indoor lights, it is covered with an amazing array of ornaments from stores such as Target, and Macy’s. At its base are gifts many of which were still in the mind of the universe at the time Dickens described the German toy. Wrapped in colorful boxes we find computers, cell phones, television wrist watches, I-pads, gift certificates from Nordie’s or foodie restaurants, Legos, Coravins, and maybe a bike.



As the little rosy-cheeked child remarked in Dickens’ experience, “There will be everything and more,” around the Christmas tree. So, tis the time, to turn our attention from torture, immigration issues, money scandals, polarizing politics and with the children turn our attention to fantasy, magic, wonder, to the other side of the human condition, and celebrate the winter festival.















October 3, 2014 Madonna della Bruna






As we traveled through Sardinia, Matera and Bologna last summer, I discovered a country rich with on-going annual festivals many of which date back thousands of years. Some have become major tourist attractions as with the Mamuthones mentioned in an earlier post.

When we stayed in Matera in July we had the opportunity to witness the annual three-day festival celebrated in honor of the Madonna della Bruna. Historical and legendary accounts give an interesting background for the festival.

The legend recounts that in a time long past, a peasant woman agreed to escort a mysterious woman to Matera. When the carriage bearing the woman arrived in Matera the woman had disappeared, leaving a statue and a letter to the local bishop in her place. The letter claimed that she was the Virgin Mary. The bishop honored the letter and had the statue carried around the Piazza del Duomo (duomo is the Italian word for cathedral) three times. She became the protector of Matera. Today the statue is carried around three times in the same way on the evening of the third day of the festival.

The historical account says that in 1389 Pope Urban IV determined that the annual date for the celebration of the festival the Madonna della Bruna would be July 2. An interesting history preceded the Pope’s call. July 2 from the tenth century on became the day for the celebration of the Visitation the name given to the story recounted in the Gospel of Luke. Mary, pregnant with Jesus does a charitable act and goes to see her cousin Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist. Just what two women friends, let along cousins would do if simultaneously pregnant! Urban also elevated the Visitation date to give it a place on the Roman liturgical calendar about the same time he established the date for the celebration of the Madonna della Bruna. Matera had celebrated the Visitation on July 2, long before Urban formally appointed the Madonna her role.

Prior to the celebration we know that antequated rituals to honor the earth mother goddess long celebrated through out Italy were assimilated from the fifth century on into Christian expressions. That the stories and legends surrounding them are/were real or delusional seems less important than their mythical significance.

So, whether rite of earth mother, celebration of the Visitation or  arrival of the legendary woman in a carriage, I was not prepared for the magnitude of the current day event. The shock of being knocked out of sleep by a loud cannon at 6:00 am on the first day of a tridium led me to my computer as well as to locals for a history lesson.

Marked with celebrations and festivities going on all over Matera the tridium caps on the evening of July 2. That night we witnessed colorful, loud spectacle with a secret float central to an ethereal performance that ended in an explosion of fireworks the likes of which I have never seen. (Fireworks From Matera can be viewed in an earlier post.)

The upper part of town, above the old sassis is where most of the events took place. In the week previous, elaborate decorations are constructed around and in the streets leading to the Piazza. Before the first day my partner and I took this all in, not because we were trying to, but because we happened on it as we strolled through the area looking for a place to eat, checking out shops and scouring the museums. We also encountered women from Africa doing exotic hairstyles along open-street salons and a giant street market that catered to the event.


















Chalk street drawings are part of the rituals.






On the third morning, the Madonna statue was taken from the cathedral, put into the float and transported to another church away from the piazza. We witnessed an afternoon filled with revelry, concerts, followed by an evening meal, and as dark descended the beginning of the culmination.

In the evening invited to the home of some friends of Tim and Chris we ate buffet style-a little like Italian take-out, but made by the attendees. As travelers passing through my partner and I sans personal kitchen, took wine as our contribution to the meal. Surprised, our gracious hostess assured us that our gesture was appreciated, but not necessary.

After the meal we climbed up the stairs of the five story house to the rooftop that overlooked the Piazza, the place where the tour of the Madonna’s float and ritual would conclude. We had the equivalent of box seats for the spectacle. The friends and relatives of the hosts gathered at the balcony edge in full view. Since it was our first time, our host pushed us up front so that we would not miss anything.






For more than an hour we observed the scene on the plaza from the rooftop.


































Finally, the paper mache float pulled by donkeys and carrying the Madonna  appeared.  As she reached the plaza populated to the max with locals and tourists, a full troop of uniformed knights of Santa Maria della Bruna riding tall, flower bedecked stallions, a parade of Roman clerics from the Archbishop’s court dressed in full religious regalia, and a band accompanied her float.















The float made the customary three rounds. Following, the Madonna was taken out of the float and carried back to the church from which she had been taken earlier.



















Then something strange happened. The US is not the only country that is witness to the militarization of its local police. A swath of carabinieri, dressed in military gear surrounded the float to escort it to the edge of the Piazza where the people as is the annual custom would destroy it. For this police oversight is called in. It is believed that if one obtains a piece of the float it will give protection for the following year. As the scramble for the pieces was about to begin the slow roving scene moved a little out of our purview.

But all was not lost! We climbed back down the stairs to watch the conclusion on local television.










The screen showed a crowd turned mob. It reminded me of beer bloated fans screaming and yelling while watching the Super Bowl.

As I witnessed the spectacle I wondered if in earlier years the energetic aggressive forms of destruction that occurred at the peak of the celebration were present then as now. The police tried to maintain the revelers at bay until the float reached its destination. Several men taunted police and vied with one another to be the first to get on the float. A scuffle ensued. I had been told earlier that this was not a place to be as it became rough and ready, and injuries occur. On the small television screen I witnessed sacred go profane! A reveler broke through the barrier followed by several others and began to tear the float apart. The Madonna had been honored, the aggressors had conquered. At that moment my fellow spectators cheered



















The annual ritual concluded, we thanked our guests and made our way back to the hotel. As we desscended down the steps through the sassis into the old part of Matera many people moved along with us. I wrongly assumed that they were returning home. When we reached the hotel, we prepared for bed and retired for the night. With shutter and window open a plethora of stars quivering across the night sky illuminated our room. Street lamps flickered on the plaza next to the hotel. Silent darkness filled the ravine. All quiet, we nodded off to the goddess of sleep.

Thirty minutes later, from the deep of sleep, I was roused from bed. BOOM! Shocked, I dragged myself over to the window and peered out. Fireworks. In my groggy state I thought the fourth had arrived a day early. The dark ravine had turned into a cauldron of light and color. The locals that accompanied us on the walk back to the hotel stood along the cliffs above the ravine watching the kaleidoscopic sky pummeled with rounds of fireworks for forty-five minutes. Until 1:30 am my partner and I took turns sitting on the windowsill watching the conclusion to the festival of the Madonna della Bruna



April 24, 2014 Holy Day in the City


A friend wrote and asked if I was going to maintain silence from noon to three on Good Friday.

“Sort of,” I responded.

At the peak of the three hours I would be on a plane from the OC to San Francisco, reflecting on the twists and turns of life as I frequently do on short flights. As it turned out my participation in the rituals of the three-day tridium preceding Easter gone down the tube of ancient history barely crossed my mind on the flight itself.

Nor were signs of such as evident when I arrived at the city by the bay. The presence of the bunny, decorated eggs, chocolates, pastries and colorful bonnets illustrated the mind of the general public on the hallowed holiday. While a well-filled Easter basket failed to show up at my hotel door, I was not bereft. In fact, during the two days in SF my transcendental basket ranneth over with grace lingering from the love ritual celebrated on Maundy Thursday.

Originally, we decided to go to the “city,” because the Harbor View, a Klimpton Hotel, offered a special. The special was so good it made the two nights special, but I am hesitant to return to the HV. Clean, well-appointed, friendly staff were all in place, and a beautiful view of the Bay Bridge, but when I wanted cozy chairs that provide a place where I could put up my feet and get on my computer; there were none to be found. With coffee available only in the lobby, my poor partner had to make a run first thing out of bed! To make matters worse no croissants, cronuts or juice were available. Cellophane wrapped, overly sweet Danish would have served.


On this Holy Sunday we chose to create a silvery side to the lining.  Rather than ordering breakfast up from a local eatery we decided to do a bakery crawl. This was a new one for me; with my kapha body (a Sanskrit word for one of the three Vedic body types) I generally do not indulge in flour carbs.

We exited the hotel to a gorgeous day. At the end of a hilly street sidelined by skyscrapers, we witnessed peeks of sparkling azure water canopied by columnar slices of glistening bridges. The Sun had risen and the beauty it showered was enough to resurrect a tingling joy through out my body.

I carried a list of bakeries I procured from Twentieth Century Café, our first stop, slightly obscured behind non-descript windows and a bit down the street from the heart of Hayes Valley, was every bit twentieth century. The wait people mainly women decked in clothes of the forties and makeup finished off with bright orange and red lipsticks greeted us with large smiles. An assortment of goods, Meyer lemon buchty, cherry rhubarb strudel and sacher torte tempted us from the glass box counter, but we opted for the pink, marshmallow bunnies. Not as a breakfast food, but as a dessert we would take to the dinner to which we had been invited later in the day.

We saved our appetites for the next stop: Sweetmue a new bakery, with Mue (pronounced mew) herself as our hostess. The goods on Mue straight from her website describe how Sweetmue evolved.

“after 10+ years in finance in sf, nyc and then houston, muller decided it was time to move back to the bay area and spend a year doing anything except excel spreadsheets and powerpoint presentations. After a few weeks of winter in Europe, it didn’t take much for her sister to convince Mueller to head back to nyc in the spring and attend the pastry course she always wanted, but never had time to. within the first two classes it was pretty clear that finance was going to be a thing of the past. So after a few months of internship in the east bay and a month-long trip all over asia, the idea for sweetmue was born.

Excel spreadsheets remain a big part of muller’s life. but they are now used for planning and recipe for her little baker in an awesome sf neighbor where muller can share her lifelong love affair for anything sweet!”


Sweetmue was meant to be a ten minute stop, we had miles and a whole list of bakers to visit before we slept, but with the sweetness of Mue in addition to that of her pastries, we dawdled for two hours tasting, conversing (Mue shared a few baking secrets), and when other customers crossed the threshold, engaging.


Finally, happily satisfied and with bags of black sesame and green tea macaroons for more dinner dessert, we left for the next stop.

Mue had recommended b Patesserie. Who was I to argue with one of the new pastry marvels of SF? She warned us that the line at b would be down the street and around the corner. It was not, probably because we arrived about 2 on Easter Sunday.


“Two things you must have,” she advised. “The chocolate chip cookie and the Kouign Amann.”


The latter is a combination croissant and brioche for which b has become famous. We had two of those, a rather late lunch we rationalized, then purchased a bag of peanut butter macaroons and chocolate chip cookies to also take to dinner. The cc cookies were great, but how many chocolate chips can you eat in a lifetime? The peanut butters would be a hit at the dinner party, but Mue’s black sesame subtle as they were would provide the ectasy needed to complete such a blessed day.

Biondivino (don’t you love that name?) is one of the finest, mainly Italian wine shops I have come across, at least in this lifetime. Ceri Smith owner, and also Wine Director for Tosca Cafe was recently named SF Sommelier of the Year by Food and Wine Magazine.



When Ceri and I met to describe the connection we felt she exclaimed, “we were separated at birth.” I was duly complemented as I had arrived at least acouple decades before she. Ceri had invited us to Easter dinner in the shop. She told us she would do most of the cooking with a little potluck to finish it off. I think of Ceri as an Italian wine specialist par excellence, but after experiencing her cooking, I know that she holds in own in this arena as well!


At day’s end, a long one, I counted my proverbial blessings: morning meditation at the bay, beautiful city, sunny weather, divine sweets from some of the finest pastry chefs in the country, an intimate dinner with great minds, rare wines and food, my basket overfloweth!

April 15, 2014 Tahoma

Tourist or Traveler?

In an earlier blog I said that we can all be tourists, but that we are all travelers. Discernment is in knowing the difference. I’ve been thinking about the difference.

This post is not intended to be about Disneyland, but that seems to be the place to start. I remember the year it opened; I lived a mere twenty-minute car ride away. Growing up in its shadows, a continuous source of entertainment, the fantasy rides when I was young, the rock n rock bands on Friday nights when I was a teen, Disneyland was the place to enjoy myth, fantasy and illusion. Now, several years later it has the largest cumulative attendance of any theme park in the world. In recent years it has hosted over 16 million guests per year. I have not been there for several decades, but soon I will succumb to its magical draw and take my granddaughter.

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The OC  is no longer known for its rolling orange groves–long gone, but for one of the world’s most famous theme parks. Its long, stretched beaches intermittently broken with hidden nook-like coves for swimming and surfing also draw tourists, and add to its world renown.

What is not so famous, yet OC’s central monumental land-marker visible to all who come to see Disneyland’s Matterhorn, and to those who live behind and beyond the Orange Curtain is Saddle Back Mountain. I grew up in its shadows, too, literally.


It is easy to understand why it is called Saddle Back. Located mid-way along the  Santa Ana Mountains it mimics the front knob, sunken center and raised rump look of an ordinary riding saddle.  Mojeska at 5,496 feet, more northerly and Santiago at 5,689 southerly, are the two peaks that jointly cut a sharp saddle image against a normally azure sky.

People are surprised to learn that OC has a mountain with accessible trails for hiking and biking. Housed in the Cleveland National Forest there are several ways to get to the summit with the sixteen-mile round trip Holy Jim Trail as the most popular. From the top of Santiago due to a conglomeration of microwave and telecommunications antennas that provide radio coverage for most of SoCal, it is impossible to get a 360 view. On must circumnavigate the summit quarter mile by quarter mile for a full-round view.


On a clear day it can be seen from Los Angeles to San Diego. In earlier times, it nurtured migrant workers taking care of the orange orchards that blanketed much of Orange County. Some agriculture remains; most of the OC has given way to development—constructions and freeways. Rising above it all in clear sight the silent patriarch continues to remind the citizens of its presence.


What is it about mountain that draws us unto itself?

For some ancient peoples the earth was like the human body with mountain as backbone and spine. For others mountain was the place where heaven and earth join; home to the gods, it held the space for the meeting place of humans and deities. The indigenous occupants of the oak and chaparal covered hills and valleys around Saddle Back the Serranos, believed in two existences: one above, one below. They were two states that existed together and the rocks, soil, flora and fauna were considered to be the fruits of their union.


The ancient Egyptians routinely revitalized themselves by drawing energy into the body from key sites in natural environments, water bodies, valleys, mountains, moon and stars included, through breath and movement. Mountains were seen as the place to draw in strength.

I learned this simple practice several years ago from a teacher of Egyptian spirituality:

Settle on a place. Point the arms and fingers toward the site. On an exhale and through the tips of the fingers the energy body is sent deeply into the site. The breath is held while the energy body collects energy. On the inhale the galvanized energy body is brought back into the physical body. It is drawn through the curved fingertips, but still pointed in the direction of the site. Finally, the fingertips are placed over the heart and through them the invigorated energy is sent through out the body.

Sound bizarre? Give it a try. I shall never forget the feeling I got from doing the exercise at Sinai in 2003. It felt like Moses and his entire tribe visited upon me!

I have visited several of the sacred mountains of the world, Mt. Shasta, Parnassus, Olympus, Fuji, Rainier, or as the Pacific Northwest Natives call it, Tahoma—the mountain that was God. For some time I had an unfulfilled longing to make the parikrama by circumambulating Mt. Kailash. Recognized through out Asia as the holiest mountain in the world it is regarded as too sacred to climb. Always off in a distant part of my awareness, I used to tell myself I’m not a mountain person, I’m a water person. In spite of my youthful draw to the piscine, the mountain has continued to call me and in growing age I feel more akin to it.

Saddle Back reminds me of not only the cosmic mountain, but of the one spoken of by philosophers and sages, the one within that is eventually climbed by all pilgrims. “So seek the craggy peak in all the dreams on all the maps, through every circled quest, but finally call it by its rightful name…Tahoma.”    (Belden Lane in Landscapes of the Sacred.)


Saddle Back is not Kailash or Fuji, but it is my local mountain and the mountain for the millions who live in the OC. While I may not make it to Kailash in this lifetime, Saddle Back is here and has been for as long as I can remember.

As Ram Dass pointed out many years ago, “Be here now.” Hopefully, I am wiith Saddle Back unbounded by space and time.


April 3, 2014 A Most Unusual Mode of Travel

Another short appointment with the plastic surgeon this week:

“So, today you are playing opera.”

“Yes,” he smiled.

“Today’s choice is much better than the Beethoven. Appeals to and soothes the heart, much better for the doctors office. By the way, I thought about the music of Eric Satie. I think you might like him,” I was about to pontificate, but he stopped me.

“I am not even interested in this,” he countered.

Our connection seemingly dissolving, I grew quiet.

He took out a few stitches then as he cleaned up he surprised me. “What was the name of that musician,” he asked.

“Eric Satie. Google the name, you will find several You Tube videos.”

Pencil and pad in hand he wrote the name down then left the office forgetting to say good-bye.


It made sense that I would have a vision as recounted in the last post, of a universal drum one so large that from the mind’s eye point of view it seemed to fill the heavens. Drums and drumming have been a part of my life for four decades.

The drum is the oldest instrument. For all seasons, times and places, in every culture it has a place. It has been used for ceremony, communication, dance, movement, and travel. Yes, travel, but more about that in a minute.


My first experience with drums happened on a visit to the Taos reservation north of Santa Fe in the mid seventies. While we were making our way around the area I noticed a commercial drum store with various sized frame and ceremonial drums peeking through the windows. At the time a drum seemed the perfect souvenir to take home as a reminder of the New Mexican landscape and its indigenous peoples living along the Rio Grande.I purchased a small ceremonial drum; brought it home knowing intuitively that it should have a place of honor. I could not bring myself to turn it into an end or coffee table as I had seen some do. It sat in my living room silently drumming; I swear I heard it on a regular basis, for the next ten years.

Then, one day a Mohawk shaman walked into my life. During the following year she taught me how the Six Tribe Nation used tobacco in rituals and purification ceremonies, both accompanied by a slow sonorous drumbeat. For her life without a drum was unthinkable. She carried it with her wherever she went. That was when I took to my ceremonial drum, beating slowly, quietly, alone in my living room.


Guyandulas taught me about drumming the heartbeat. Lub-dub, Lub-dub. She explained that when we drum it we develop a feeling of oneness with everything. Everything in the universe from the smallest particle to the largest planet to the stars has a rhythm each thing has a heartbeat. In drumming we become a single being with a single heartbeat. The one note of the heartbeat brings all the discordant notes into harmony and balance.


Later, when studying sound healing I learned about entrainment and how the rhythms of the body can be changed with sound. More powerful rhythmic vibrations of one object can change those less powerful of another object. We know that we can change our brainwaves and heartbeat with sound. Resonance and entrainment are the basis of sound healing. Different brainwave rates correspondence to different states of consciousness based on cycles per second or hertz.

Beta waves…14-20 cycles normal waking

Alpha waves…8-13 daydreaming or meditating Theta waves….

4-7 that is states of deep meditation, sleep and shamanic activity

Delta waves…0.5-3 deep sleep and profound states of meditation and healing.

By changing our brain waves we can induce mystical states. I know this is true from my experiences with drumming. The above also helps to explain why shamans have used drumming as a means of travel through trance for centuries.



The slow steadiness of such a rhythm such as the sound of the heart is the lullaby of the cosmos. Repetive nursery rhymes, Mary Had a Little Lamb that we repeated over and over in our early years mimics the heart’s repetitive sound. Drumming the heartbeat takes us back to the first sound we heard, our mothers heartbeat and it takes us deep into our mother Gaia’s heartbeat. When drumming is done at 72 cycles per minutes for babies, they quiet. As we go deeper into the lub-dub we get in touch with the diastole and the systole, the poetic rhythm of the heart. It opens our consciousness out into enormous, unbounded space and the draws it back into itself.


As the years have passed the walls of my living room became the host for a drum library. The etheric sound is continuous. As said above, the note of the heartbeat brings all the discordant notes into harmony and balance and through vibration it carries from right where I am to the furthest reaches of the universe.



A trip well worth taking.

January 21, 2014 Earthing


I am beginning to see this term in unearthly places. The email I received today from The Montage Resort in Laguna Beach, Calif. for example revealed that it now offers earthing to its guests.

What on earth is earthing?

One night a week men and women gather at The Women’s Center a mile north of The Montage to dance to new age, transcendent music. On an occasion when I joined them for a session a facilitator suggested that the dancers allow their bodies to flow freely with the rhythm of the music, and to get in touch with the earth.  It was a ponderous, meditative evening with each of us wrapped in our own silent thoughts as we slowly and spontaneously glided around the room. On hearing that the Montage was offering earthing, I was convinced that it must be a dance form akin to what I had experienced at The Women’s Center.  Intrigued, I googled earthing.

A number of websites  popped up on my computer screen.  To sum up several, earthing is when a human touches the earth as in taking off his or her shoes to stand or walk on bare feet. I remembered earthing as a young child barely out of diapers. Sharp sheaves of grass poked at my feet as I ran across the lawn trying to catch bees. A few years later I recall grains of hot sand searing my soles as I ran from the protection of my beach towel down to the water’s edge at Laguna Beach and the cooling off as I jumped into the foam salt water.

Some sites spoke of the health benefits of earthing. One claimed that we need the electrical exchange with the earth. Contemporary life, living in cities, working in buildings at desks on computers so it seems, has disconnected us from this exchange.

The website for the Earthing Institute claims that, “Our immune systems function optimally when our bodies have an adequate supply of electrons, which are easily and naturally obtained by barefoot contact with the Earth. Research indicates that electrons from the Earth have anti-oxidant effects that can protect the body from inflammation and its many well-documented health consequences. In situations where barefoot contact with the Earth is impractical, one can use various conductive systems that have been developed for the purpose of reconnecting people to the Earth. An Earthing sheet on a bed or an Earthing mat placed under the bare feet or wrists while using a computer are prime examples.

Along this vein I recall a teaching from one of my Native American teachers. I will call him, He Who Knows What He Sees, taught me that the earth has the capacity to heal our ills and transform our negativities.  “Allow them, he counseled, “to drain through the soles of your feet. The earth will receive those energies and transform them. Follow up by offering gratitude.”

Another site offered twenty-five products the two mentioned above, designed to help with earthing when someone cannot get outside to have a one on one encounter. The items ranged from $19.00 to a far more expensive $259.00.

On request the concierge at The Montage will guide guests to the best earthing walks along the beach. With the mass of distractions that living in a high tech world contains I wonder how many guests would walk in awareness of the sand beneath their feet were it not for the fact that the Montage has organized a program called earthing.

Laguna Beach is an earther’s paradise.  One of the most beautiful ribbons of coastline and energetically powerful in Southern California it has attracted those whose lives afford them the luxury of its resorts and hi-end rentals since back in the day. It is a thriving center for the arts. Spiritual seekers retreat to Laguna to do their walking meditations along its shore. The great yogi Paramahansa Yogananda visited in 1949.

At a workshop I attended in the nineties The Queen of Dreams, Heather Valencia wife of the late Yaqui Chief informed me that in earlier times Native Americans gathered for ceremony in the hollowed out shallow caves along the shoreline of one of Laguna’s breath-taking beaches.  She encouraged me to go seek out that beach and search for the vortex in its caves.  I did just that and found it, but only after three years of searching.

Perhaps there is something to earthing.
















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