Prayers in the Wind

“The Ancient Ones clearly saw what was coming and with complete devotion and love made prayers for us. Their words were sent out into the cosmos so that someday we would catch up to them.”

I found this to be a surprisingly common theme throughout hunter-gatherer shamanism. Those old spirit handlers seemed to have an extraordinary reach into what we call the future. They seemed to have uncanny foresight into the demise of their own people and the impending doom of our planet. I can’t imagine what these Old Timers must have had to cultivate, or the degree of dedication required to be able to see so remarkably far beyond their own lives.

 One of my single favorite soliloquies is far more recent than my work generally portrays, the third century. The words are purportedly those of the Bard, Ossian:

 “Such were the words of the Bards in the days of song; when the King heard the music of the harps and the tales of other times. The chiefs gathered from all their hills, and heard the lovely sound. They praised the voice of Cona, the first among a thousand bards.” Again, “Sit thou on the heath, O Bard! And let us hear thy voice. It is pleasant as the gale of spring, the sighs on the hunter’s ear, when he wakens from dreams of joy, and has heard the music of the spirits of the hill. The music of Cardil was like the memory of joys that are past, pleasant, and mournful to the soul. The ghosts of departed Bards heard it. “My life,” exclaimed Fingal, “shall be one stream of light to Bards of other times.” Cathmor cried, “Loose the Bards. Their voices shall be heard in other ages, when the Kings of Temora have failed.”

 The third century brought a catastrophic end to paganism in the UK in as much it was forced to go entirely underground at the very least. I think this statement by Ossian suggests that such practices, while ending, had been a way of life for millennia and it is our good fortune to be left with such a jewel of a looking glass.

The entire statement is profound, enveloping dreams, spirits and ancestors. What strikes me however is the collapse of time in the lines “…shall be one stream of light to Bards of other times” and “Their voices shall be heard in other ages”; prayers conveyed through song, carried on the wind.

Each of us has a comfortable means of finding affirmation about dreams, visitations, inklings, and even suspicions. You might turn to history; others might find affirmation in mythology, even physics. I seek affirmation from ethnobotany because I believe that if the Old Timers held a particular conviction I would re-discover the plants that they once entreated to help accomplish their goals. I have never been disappointed. In this case, I was looking for the vehicles. Certainly mind-altering species such as Datura and Agaric could be thought of as vehicles. But what species might have been vehicles for sending prayers out onto the wind?

I couldn’t even guess how many species I found indigenous to the British Isles alone that complimented songs and voices. Some were simply tonics but others were far more formidable. Many afforded protections against the theft of songs and voices by spirits determined to thwart intention. There are plants directly associated with ritual songs and prayers that kept singers strong and alert during long ceremonies. I found an inordinate number of species entreated for insuring that prayers did indeed get conveyed on the wind, far too numerous to list here. They have however been catalogued in The Compendium for Spirit Handling, now being published on my website as a blog. But I do have some personal favorites.

A surprising selection of species went into making flutes and whistles including birch (Betula), pine (Pinus), willow (Salix), deergrass (Scirpus), blackthorn (Prunus), box (Buxus), juniper (Juniperus), elder (Sambucus), and shavegrass (Equisetum). I seriously doubt that the choice was made randomly given that each of these species has unique magical properties. I believe that a species was chosen specifically for the intent of the prayer.

Alder (Alnus) was enormously intriguing to me. Flutes and whistles sound like the songs of seagulls and it was believed that seagulls were the ones that called the wind. Consequently, alder flutes and whistles were used to conjure the wind. Its an easy leap of imagination that while spirit handlers were making prayers for us, flute players using alder flutes created the vehicle on which those prayers were conveyed.

But if I had to choose one it would have to be reedgrass (Phragmites). Reedgrass flutes were believed capable of playing the wind’s messages. Even when reedgrass rustled in the wind its wisdom was dispensed into the cosmos. We have only to sit and listen. Reedgrass was tied to both inner strength and inner depth. It conveys the secrets of withstanding life’s challenges and imparts the spirit of endurance. Reedgrass provides a sense of direction, and teaches that flexibility and adaptability are the keys to survival and longevity. It is thought to vibrate in rhythm with the forces of the universe. I believe that reedgrass might well have been the species of choice for putting those prayers out onto the wind for us.

I will leave you with the epilogue of Ancestral Airs: The Seedbearers.

“ I am Moondog, kin to the Twilight Women, Greihound Bard. I stand with the Ancient Ones. I am your Ancestor and reached into the Unborn to insure that you would know your people. From I am standing you are a great distance from me, deep in that world. It is hard to grasp that Gobetween is from your world as well, that she lives among you now, and yet stands at my side six thousand years before you were born. This speaks eloquently of the success of my dreamloop, does it not? She is the trophy, the resurrection of the dust that contains the history of our people.

This was no accident or nothing like an unexpected find during a treasure hunt. Long annihilated the men of antiquity made certain their stories would be told not from relics or bones but from hearts and minds. And when she comes home for good she will carry the message back to us that the power that destroyed our people has run its course. It is no more.

But I am also very much alive, all around you everyday. And I am not alone. Spirit Handlers from all ages and all walks of life have done the same thing. In every breeze is contained the songs of our lives. The soft melodies in the leaders of trees are our dreams. We put our prayers on the edges of the wind so that one day you would hear the whispered secrets of your own people. In every fragrant stir of needles you will find our love and the hope that our descendents will know the beauty of the mystery as we have. We made these prayers for you. The song that carries you into stillness as you listen to water flowing over rocks in a shallow stream, is our voice. When you sit at the fire searching for an understanding of an awareness you can’t reach, touch us, we sit at your side. We are not fantasies. We are the memories of your people. We stand in the shadows, in the twilight, in the songs of the Earth Mother. We are the perfume of the forest, in the rustle of rushes, and the shiver of leaves. We are the blinding light of fall against a deep blue sky. As you squint and shield your eyes in that moment we touch you and you remember. When your soul rejoices to the first snow that sensation is the songs of your relatives celebrating the return of the dreamtime. In those moments when nothing else exists beyond your beating heart and your deep rhythmic breath you are your Ancestors and we are you. Every inch of soil blanketing the Earth Mother contains the essence of your people. You might no longer hunt or gather but you did once and you do remember it. This is not someone else’s history it is yours, woven into the fabric of who you are. In that way I have become you.”




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Responses to “Prayers in the Wind”

  1. Please give me your definition of a “Spirit-Handler”. I am not sure after all I have read exactly what you are saying it implies. I just want to make sure I am understanding.

    Love Shadow!

    • Spirit handler is a term I prefer to use in place of the word shaman. Tribal cultures often believe that bad behavior, unfortunate circumstances, things like that are caused by spirits and victims require ritual exorcism. But it should be recognized that they also believe that we live in such a way as to provide a cozy place in which such spirits like to live. So if we behave badly we create a ‘habitat’ for an unwelcome spirit.

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