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Into the Lodge...Into the Cauldron
I lay in the darkness, held by my friends arms, and died, and died, and died again; through pain and blood, through accident, and old age. Through lifetime after lifetime I saw glimpses pieces of myself, live, love, suffer horribly from my choices and the choices of others and be faced again and again with the mortality and fragility of the human form and the infinity of the soul. At the point of surrender my Goddess asks..."Do you understand? You are not this body..." At the point of understanding, of acknowledgement, the Ravens descend and rend what is left of me to pieces...
Many years before...My first experience of the Sweat Lodge was at a very young age, perhaps five years old? My parents were hippies, but they were also truly mystics in their own way. I was allowed to stay in the Lodge for only a short while, but the memory has stayed with me...something ancient, something primal...The heat, the darkness, the shadow of faces lit only by the glow of the coals, stirred something in me even then...
As I grew up and pursued my own spiritual path, that memory and other childhood and teen experiences drove me from the Methodist and then Eastern Traditions I had grown up with, to explore first the Native American spiritual traditions, then on to Wicca and the Goddess Traditions , and finally to find my heart's home in Celtic Paganism and Shamanism. Through this search one element remained constant...I came back time and again to the Sweat Lodge as a means of deep healing and transformation.
As I delved deeper into my Celtic Roots and the Shamanic traditions there, I stumbled across articles referring to ancient Celtic Sweat Lodges, and then finally had the great gift of experiencing one at Druid Camp in Forest of Dean, on the Edge of Wales in 2004. Up until that point I had been dependent on Native American tradition and ceremony (particularly Lakota Sioux) to be the foundation of my of sweat lodges. This had been a great base and starting point, but I felt deeply that while I had Native blood, (Cherokee and Blackfoot) that I did not have the cultural immersion and deep connections to those traditions. Though as I have studied both Celtic and Native traditions, again and again I struck by the similarity between them. (Please understand I am making vast generalizations for the sake of this article with the full awareness that Native American Traditions vary vastly and widely based on tribal and geographical distinctions.)
Over the past couple years in both my studies and work with my students, I have come back around again and again to the Celtic image of the Cauldron as a symbol for deep transformation. Like the Sweat Lodge, the Cauldron is a place of rebirth, both the womb and the the tomb, to such a degree that there are examples of individuals being buried in a fetal position inside large cauldrons or cauldron shaped vessels, as well as smaller such vessels being crematory urns. The Cauldron also symbolizes the womb of creation, of the combining of various elements into something new, of transformation of the spirit...Reading, meditating and journeying with the image of the Cauldron, it began to strike me that it symbolized very deeply the same processes I had gone through so many times in the sweat lodge.
There are many cauldrons spoken of in Celtic tradition, Bran's Cauldron which would bring about rebirth of the slain, Cerridwen's Cauldron which was the source of infinite knowledge and transformation, the Cauldron of Annwn which brings both knowledge and transformation. As with Bran's Cauldron, to which the bodies of the dead were given overnight, to be reborn whole and well in the morning, I have gone many times into the sweat lodge, hurt, injured, in pain, on or on the edge of death on a soul level, and then have died in the lodge; the power of the heat , the darkness, the presence of my Deities and Ancestors have pushed me over the edge of surrender, to be transformed and born anew. And as with those ancient Celtic warriors silenced by the Cauldron, I too have struggled with being able to put into words the power of the experiences and have often been struck mute, unable to quantify or do justice to the ineffable.
So too as with Cerridwen's Cauldron, I have received knowledge within the lodge, far beyond the limit's of the physical world, been changed utterly by the burn and heat of it's knowledge. And like Taliesin learned that my soul is not limited to this body, but has been many forms, has lived many lives, has died and been reborn countless times.
The lodge, like the Cauldron does not suffer fools, those who cannot take the heat, face themselves and their own mortality often flee when faced with themselves. As did the young German man who entered the lodge with arrogance and ended up fleeing barefoot down the road into the desert afterward, unable to come to terms in the moment with the depth of the experience, unable to come to terms with himself...
The Lodge and the Cauldron call us to face ourselves, our light and our shadow, our strength and our fragility, our mortality and the infinity of our souls. They become the crucibles of the recreation and rebirth of our spirits.
...And so hours later I emerged, crawled from the womb of the Lodge, the Cauldron, to lie naked, weak and new as an infant on the grass and stare up into the heavens...the stars spinning above me like Arianrhod's wheel...Struck dumb, unable to speak of the wonder, and terror, and beauty, and magic of the experience...utterly changed by the ineffable.
About the author:
Lilly Weichberger is a Healer and Teacher in the Celtic Shamanic tradition. Called by the spirits at a young age, and spirit taught she offers Shamanic Healing, Divination, and Teaching deeply inspired by Celtic tradition.
She works with students both individually and through group classes and workshops, both locally and across the country to help individuals find and strengthen their power and their own unique connection the Earth and to the Divine. Her teaching focuses on a synthesis of Shamanism, Magic, and Celtic Spirituality to help bring individuals into a more direct and personal relationship with the Divine in whatever form is most appropriate to them.
Lilly currently lives and teaches in Flagstaff, Az.