Ancestry discoveries – well, *that’s* interesting!

My Eurogenes K13 breakdown - high level

My Eurogenes K13 breakdown – high level

I’ve had to give up most coffee and all chocolate, because of migraine headaches.

No, I’m not happy about it. The headaches are so much better, but cutting back on those was not my first choice.

I don’t drink alcohol, I don’t smoke anything, and aside from work, I’m running out of vices. Happily, GEDmatch.com has stepped in to fill that vice void.

GEDmatch is a wondrous thing — I can’t stop laughing about how amazing it is. Very simply, you upload your raw DNA data (that you get from Ancestry.com or 23andme.com or some other ancestry DNA service). In a matter of minutes, they parse it all out to tell you what populations your DNA comes from. I’ve spent more hours than I can count, combing through the results. And wonder of wonders, they now have a spreadsheet feature(!) that shows you the “Oracle” breakdown of all your source populations.

That shows you breakdowns by source populations in more detail. The Oracle results show you distances and percentages and the Oracle-4 results give you even more detail around source populations.

You can even choose to see your chromosome makeups.

I ran the numbers the other day, and under the MDLP calculations, I came away with 662 different populations. I studied the list, which was chock-full of all kinds of surprises (including LOTS of Subsaharan Africa DNA). However, it seemed like it might be more “enthusiastic” than is prudent. After a bit more reading online, I discovered that MDLP is not quite as reliable as I’d like. And the Eurogenes calculator was more reliable.

So, of course I re-ran my data through Eurogenes (K13), and I came away with 204 source populations, which seemed more reasonable. But still — all those surprises… including DNA from some of the earliest genomes sequenced, ever. Chances are, we all can trace our DNA back to 7,000 year-old caveman remains with both European and African DNA, but it’s super-cool to see myself connected to that, no matter how distant the connection may be.

The thing that strikes me, as I comb the list of all these DNA influences, is that many of the assumptions I’ve made about my heritage could use some updating. I turned the corner on 50 years, almost a year ago, and I’m thinking more and more about my legacy — what I’ll leave behind me in this world, both while I’m walking around here, and after I’m gone. I’m also thinking about those who have come before me… to see what they may have “left” to me, in terms of personality and character.

I know some are skeptical about the concept of  “cellular memory”, however, intergenerational effects are recognized in terms of emotional resilience and mental health. Plus, recent research has actually shown that daughters inherit corticolimbic circuit attributes from their mothers, and since the biological line from mother to daughter is unbroken, then for sure, women in particular can trace their roots back in a very personal way. Men, too, I’m sure. I just don’t have the research on hand, just now.

I know of one DNA test that looks at mitochondrial DNA — which is passed through the matrilineal line. I think there are patrilineal DNA analyses out there, too — possibly from the same company? And you can trace back your matrilineal heritage, waaaaayyyy back. A friend of mine did that once, and it was very cool hearing about who her foremothers were.

As for me, I’m going to have to do more digging. There are all kinds of surprises in there, for someone who’s always thought of herself in terms of being west-central European — French, German, Italian, Swiss, with a bit of English thrown in for good measure — and not much else.

Turns out, this is my heritage:

Admix Results (sorted):

# Population Percent
1 North_Atlantic 45.35
2 Baltic 21.39
3 West_Med 15.66
4 West_Asian 8.51
5 East_Med 7.49

204 populations found.
13 components mode.

The Baltic, West Asian, and Eastern Mediterranean are big surprises.

And when I dig into the 204 distinct populations, I find a whole lot of surprises. Including many, many Siberian influences, and Eastern European sources, many from along the Volga river. And then there’s the Brahmin from Uttar Pradesh. And Papua. Maasai. Yoruba.

How very cool is that?

And so the quest commences.

The Voice of Night – Rise of the Nazis

steinwiesen-germanyI dreamed I lived in a small city in mid-1930s Germany, and the Nazi party was on the rise. Inflation was high, as was unemployment, and all around people were becoming more and more uncertain about their futures. I was a young woman in this dream — a young lesbian in a waning relationship — and the circumstances around me seemed to mirror the decay of my own connection. There was general discontent, fear, and anxiety about the precariousness of everyday life. No one had enough to eat, and everyone was looking for something certain to hang onto. The Nazis sensed this and members were pasting their party posters and placards everywhere people could see.

It made me nervous. The brown shirts and the Nazi Youth intimidated everyone. They would stop people on the street and interrogate or humiliate them publicly. Deep down inside, I knew something was desperately wrong and that I needed to get out of the country, but nobody else seemed to notice that anything was amiss. They just went on with their everyday lives, nervous, scowling and uncertain, but not opposing the efforts of this new, extreme political party.

I wanted to leave, but I couldn’t. In the city where I lived, was Sarah, a woman who was my ex-lover, and I still cared very deeply about her. We had long since become little more than friends, but we kept in touch, saw each other regularly, and were very loyal to one another in friendship.

Yet, she was even more loyal to another. It was her lover who’d preceded me in her life. If Sarah and I were close, she and Marta, her previous ex, were even closer. Sarah was still desperately in love with Marta (which had been the main reason she and I had broken up in the first place), and she spent every spare moment with her. She waited on her, hand and foot and was like a puppy dog with her, following her every move, hanging on her every word and deed, making herself available whenever Marta said she needed her, always putting her needs second to what Marta wanted from her. They were still closely hooked into one another, and that was to be Sarah’s undoing.

Politically and socially, things were getting worse and worse. The personal intimidation had turned to outright terrorism against “enemies of the people.” I tried to talk to people about the changes happening. Stores were firebombed, people were arrested and taken away, but everybody was terrified of going against the new party and no one would listen to me when I spoke up in passing conversations.

I had to do something, though. When talking to people in public proved fruitless, I tried to approach them privately. I went into the public baths and health spas and tried speaking to people when they were relaxed and (I hoped) open to new ideas. But when I suggested there might be something wrong with the way things were, people just looked at me as though I were crazy, turned away and ignored me. They were in a daze, and while they said they didn’t think anything was wrong, the whites of their eyes showed, and they were pale with fear and dread.

But not everyone was apathetic or frozen by their fears. Every day, people were leaving in a steady stream from the train station in town. The train cars pulling out for other European cities were packed with people carrying what they could of their personal possessions in boxes tied with string. They were silent and mournful, almost catatonic, yet at least the ones leaving had a spark of survival instinct in their eyes.

They were the few among the many, though, for not everyone had the courage to leave. Many chose to stay, immobilized by fear, or too attached to their lives there, to go anywhere. They couldn’t imagine life anywhere else, and couldn’t stand the thought of getting out.

They were the saddest of all. They knew something was desperately wrong in the country, and wanted so much to leave. But they had high-ranking positions in society, or they had tenure at the university. Or they had loved ones whom they couldn’t bear to leave. Passing along the street, I often heard conversations between people who were torn between leaving and staying — those who wanted everyone to leave were fighting a losing battle against those who vaguely knew they could be in danger, but were too invested in their present way of life to make a move.

Among those was my ex, Sarah, who knew something was up, but was still in love with Marta. Night after night, I would go to her house after work and try to talk sense to her. I threatened, I begged, I insisted, I reasoned. She needed to get out, because things were bad, very bad, and we would surely be taken away, being lesbians. But she wouldn’t listen to me. She couldn’t leave her Marta, who saw nothing wrong with what was happening, had a good position teaching at the university, and didn’t feel particularly threatened by the political upheaval around her.

I was despondent, on the verge of despair. But one day, I found a compatriot who knew there was something desperately wrong going on. He was a dark-complected Jewish intellectual who had the same suspicions I did, and was as ignored as I was, by people he tried to talk to. We both knew something awful was happening and we had to do something. No amount of talking to strangers or approaching people we cared about helped, and we both felt as though we were losing our minds. It was as though it weren’t even happening in anyone else’s lives. But at least we had each other for company and confidence.

In an attempt to better understand what was happening, we decided we needed to get a closer look at these Nazi characters. So one night, we met in a deserted part of town, wearing long dark raincoats and set out to spy on a political rally that was scheduled for that night. It was taking place out on the ramparts of a remaining portion of the city’s medieval wall, and we had a great vantage point at the base of the wall. It was dark there, and an alley led back to better lighted streets.

We crept as close as we could to the grandstand, and spied on the Nazis. We had a great view of the “inner sanctum”, the circle of key players who were planning, even that night, their next political move. We overheard them talking about shipping people off to camps — it would happen soon. Horrified, we looked at each other and whispered we had to get out of town right away.

Then one of the goons heard us talking, and looked down into the alley and shone a spotlight around us. Barely ducking out of the beam’s reach in time, we ran down the alley, splashing through a culvert filled with water, and sticking as close to the building walls beside us to hide from the spotlights the guards were shining after us.

We split up, and agreed to meet the next day to discuss our next move. We both knew it was past time for talking. It was time to take action.

The next day, we met on a park bench and discussed the situation under our breath, while pretending to read newspapers. My friend wanted to leave the country right away and wanted me to come, too. He said, “There’s no time left. If we don’t get out now, we’ll both be lost. They’re closing the border in another day or two, and you heard what they plan to do with Jews like me and lesbians like you.”

But I said I wouldn’t leave without Sarah. I couldn’t just leave her. Not like that.

He argued and argued, as loudly as he could under the circumstances.

But I knew he was right. At last, I agreed to go talk to Sarah and see if she would come with me. “It might take another week to convince her,” I said.

“But we don’t have another week,” he insisted. He was leaving the next day, and if I chose to stay behind, that was on my head.

I agreed, the situation was bad, and I had to get out too, but not without Sarah. Not without Sarah. He was irate, beside himself. He cursed me for letting a woman come between myself and my safety. But he finally let it go and asked me to see him off at the train station the next day.

I agreed, and we parted ways — neither of us very happy.

I went right over to Sarah’s house. I told her about the rally and what I’d seen, but she wasn’t moved. No matter how I begged her to come with me, she said she wouldn’t leave without Marta. I tried talking sense to her, explaining that soon none of us would be able to leave, and we’d all be hauled off to be killed — or worse.

But she said, although she knew I was right, she wouldn’t leave her ex-lover. Marta needed her, she said, and Marta would die without her.

“You’ll die with her, then,” I said.

“You’re probably right,” she said, but added that if I had to go, I shouldn’t wait for her. “If you need to go, you should. I understand.”

I left her then, angry, frustrated, and finally resolved to get out of the city at all cost.

My friend left the next day from the train station and I saw him off. He said I’d have to come soon, too, or I’d be trapped there with no chance of escape.

I said “I know, but I have to see if I can save Sarah.” I said goodbye one last time, and the train pulled out with him waving goodbye from a crowded window.

Once the train was out of sight, I went and bought my ticket. I went home and decided what I wanted to bring with me, then went to Sarah’s. “I’ll be leaving in the morning,” I said, “and I want you to come with me.”

But she said, “No, I’m too attached to Marta.” She wouldn’t budge.

I begged and threatened and pleaded with her more strongly than every before, almost becoming violent in my frenzy to win her over — get her out of the country with me, no matter what.

Finally she said she would talk to Marta and try to get her to come, too. Then she would escape with me… But only if Marta could come, too.

I was at my wits’ end and agreed. What did I care if Marta was coming along, too? I hated and resented her for driving Sarah and me apart. But I could tolerate her presence, I decided, as long as I knew the woman I still loved was safe. Anything to get out of that place. Anything to escape.

I left then, and said I’d be back later that night to see what she had planned.

But when I returned that night, Sarah said she’d talked to Marta, but she wouldn’t change her mind. Marta had said this was her home and she wasn’t leaving it. She’d worked too long and too hard getting where she was, to just toss it aside in a panic. Sarah told me she wasn’t going to come with me.

I said, “You know how bad things are getting.”

She said she knew, but she couldn’t leave Marta. She was all she had — all either of them had, and she couldn’t part with her. Even if it meant they’d both be killed.

“I have to go,” I said, and went home to finish packing my bags.

Sarah saw me off at the train station the next morning, mournful but resolute. I asked her one last time if she wouldn’t reconsider, but she shook her head. And as my train pulled away, there she was… standing alone on the platform waving goodbye and looking doomed.

The next day, they closed the borders.

The Voice of Night – Return to Power

grizzly-sculptureI dreamed that some leaders in the women’s community where I lived wanted to form a women’s protection network, consisting of some of the most prominent members of their group. Women were being attacked almost nightly in the area, and they wanted to put together a night-watch and prayer-circle network. Their plan was to have a group of choice women to get together in groups of two or three, patrol the areas around endangered women’s homes, watching for intruders and praying for protection. Two of these founding women were my friends — one was a big, gentle, soft-spoken woman from a rough, working-class background, and the other was a slight, intellectual woman from an upper-middle-class family. The third was a local leader in the women’s spiritual community, who led many ceremonies in the area.

They approached me about joining in, but I said no, I didn’t want to take part. I didn’t want to have anything to do with most of the women who were involved — I didn’t know them well enough to trust them, and I wasn’t sure what their intentions were. I certainly didn’t want them praying for me, either, when I wasn’t sure what their spiritual paths were, how they would go about praying for me, or even what they would pray for. I said I didn’t want to be involved, and they’d have to find others to join up with them.

I still hung out with two of the women, though. And one afternoon, the three of us were sitting down in a thicket in the middle of the woods and talking about this and that – nothing in particular. Suddenly, we heard a noise and looked up. Above the line of underbrush, we saw the head of a bear coming towards us. We were frightened, thinking it might come after us, and we agreed to make animal-like noises, so it wouldn’t be frightened if it came across us. We just wanted to let it know we were there, so it wouldn’t spook and attack us out of surprise.

When we made the noises, the bear’s head moved off in another direction, but after a minute, we could see the passer-by wasn’t a bear at all. It was a white man carrying the skeletal body of a bear. The bones were all showing, but the hair and skull were still intact, giving the body an eerie look. The three of us stopped making noises and crouched down in the thicket till the man passed.

Then, after a few moments, a young Native American man came along and found us. He asked if we’d seen anyone pass by. We told him we’d just seen a white man go by, carrying a bear. He said that man had stolen the local tribe’s totem, and he had to be stopped. His tribe had to get the bear back.

We said we would help, but he said, No the tribe had to do it by themselves. We told him where we’d seen the man go, and how long it had been since he’d passed. He thanked us and moved on, tracking the white man. We three women broke up and went our separate ways.

Some time passed. I heard that the tribe members had found the man who had stolen their bear — he was going to sell it in his curio shop and wouldn’t return it, even when the whole tribe approached him and demanded it back. He was intent on getting a good price for it and refused to even think about parting with the bear.

A legal battle ensued. The local papers ran articles about how the tribe was suing the white man and fighting hard to get their bear back. It was scandalous and divided the area where the tribe lived — some people thought the tribe should have it back, some thought they should pay the white man a decent price, and the rest thought “to the winner go the spoils” and insisted the white man had every right to sell the bear, since that was how he made his living.

Eventually, the tribe won. There was a big ceremony on the front steps of town hall in a nearby village, where the mayor of the town handed the bear back to tribal leaders.

But the tribe won more than their totem. Their settlement also included several hundred acres of land that had been stolen from them, hundreds of years before, the robbery of which was documented in many of the newspaper articles about the tribe’s losses that were published over the years.

They got their bear and they got (some of) their land back. It was an unexpected, though overdue, success, and they withdrew to their rightful homelands, where they built a town of their own. They placed the bear in the center of that new town and began celebrating with age-old ceremonies and dances they’d been denied for over a century.

GEDmyth – Digging into the past with GEDmatch.com

My Dodecad V3 Admixture Proportions – some of it’s surprising.

Some who know me are aware that I’m big into genealogy. I come from a fairly connected extended family who have mostly kept in touch with each other, and my relatives have done a fair amount of family history research. History never gets boring for me, and when it has to do with my own lineage, so much the better.

When I was living in Germany from 1985-87, I spent the holidays with my distant relatives in Rohrbach-am-Hahn as well as Freiburg im Breisgau. I’ve also done a fair amount of reading about European history (since that’s where I always assumed that my heritage sprang from), and I’ve collected sufficient details about the gyrations of the European continent, to make sense of things and better place myself in the context of history.

Fascinating.

So, of course, I plunged into Ancestry.com. Traced one line back to a certain “Knight of the Goat”, while others terminated on battlefields in long-forgotten England. And I had my DNA analyzed. That was interesting… albeit a little high-level for my tastes.

What really lit my fire was when I discovered GEDmatch.com.

GEDmatch basically lets you analyze your raw DNA data (from Ancestry or 123-and-me, or some other source) and break it down to see where all you’re really from. It’s free. And it’s maintained by some extremely smart people who provide a lot of explanations and documentation for their own approaches to analysis.

As it turns out, my assumptions about being German-Swiss-Italian-French aren’t entirely accurate. There’s a whole lot of other DNA in there, from places I never – ever – expected to hail from.

Biggest surprise was the  Balochi bloodline. Balochi?! I had to look that one up.

More on that later.

Individual populations aside, the thing that fascinates me, is knowing that I’ve got (give or take) 662 different global populations represented in my DNA. And interestingly, Sub-Saharan Africa has the most frequent presence. Seriously, I need to look up all these people and learn more about them. I’ve got DNA from Pygmies, Kongo, Borneo… even indigenous peoples of Taiwan… and Mixtec. Whoah – I studied them at university. That’s wild… Oh, and of course there’s all the northeastern European stock. Apparently, Ukraine has a strong presence, according to one test. And Bulgaria. And a fair amount of Roma. The Roma piece probably explains a bit about me.

Now, all these different tests have a way of producing slightly different results, so you have to take it with a grain of salt. There’s a lot of overlap, however some results do not synch with each other, so you have to just treat it as a collective work-in-progress. The most valuable thing to me, is how your understanding of who you are and how you’re connected to everyone else can shift from having just a general knowledge that you’re not only from one place, and one place alone.

With 662 different populations represented in my double helix, I clearly have a lot of biological ties to a lot of different peoples. Even folks in the Arctic. And parts of West Asia that I never knew existed — Balochistan, for instance. I’m apparently 16% Balochi. How about that.

I’ll be writing a lot more on this over the coming weeks, and posting my genetic breakdowns, according to different calculators. It’s not only fascinating and stimulating for me to see where my heritage lies, but it’s also got me thinking about all the different ways we fashion the stories, the myths, of our lives… and so derive meaning from the lot of it.

In the end, we’re a lot more connected than we think. And figuring out just how that happens, is one of the things that keeps the wheels in this head turning.

How fun!

GEDMyth – GEDmatch.com Population Spreadsheet for Dodecad V3

Here’s a list of all the populations associated with my DNA using the Dodecad V3 calculator. Not in order of importance or prevalence – just more or less there.

This is a short list, compared to another I ran earlier that showed 662 different populations, but it’s fun reading, in any case.

Population

  1. Adygei
  2. Altai
  3. Armenian
  4. Armenians_16
  5. Ashkenazi
  6. Ashkenazy_Jews
  7. Assyrian
  8. ASW
  9. Azerbaijan_Jews
  10. Balkans
  11. Balochi
  12. Bedouin
  13. Belorussian
  14. Biaka_Pygmies
  15. Bnei_Menashe_Jews
  16. Brahui
  17. British
  18. British_Isles
  19. Burusho
  20. Buryat
  21. C_Italian
  22. Cambodians
  23. CEU
  24. CHB
  25. CHD
  26. Chinese
  27. CHS
  28. Chukchi_11
  29. Chuvashs_16
  30. Cochin_Jews
  31. Cornwall
  32. Cypriots
  33. Dai
  34. Daur
  35. Dolgan
  36. Druze
  37. Dutch
  38. East_African
  39. Egyptans
  40. Ethiopian_Jews
  41. Ethiopians
  42. Evenk_15
  43. FIN
  44. Finnish
  45. French
  46. French_Basque
  47. French
  48. Georgia_Jews
  49. Georgians
  50. German
  51. GIH
  52. Greek
  53. Han
  54. Hazara
  55. Hezhen
  56. Hungarians
  57. IBS
  58. Indian
  59. INS
  60. Iranian
  61. Iranian_Jews
  62. Iranians
  63. Iraq_Jews
  64. Irish
  65. Japanese
  66. Japanese
  67. Jordanians_19
  68. Algeria
  69. Bamoun
  70. BiakaPygmy
  71. JPT
  72. Kalash
  73. Kent
  74. Korean
  75. Koryak_15
  76. Kurd
  77. Lahu
  78. Lebanese
  79. Lezgins
  80. Lithuanian
  81. Lithuanians
  82. LWK
  83. Makrani
  84. Mandenka
  85. MAS
  86. Mbuti_Pygmies
  87. Miaozu
  88. Mixed_Germanic
  89. Mixed_Slav
  90. MKK
  91. Mongol
  92. Mongola
  93. Moroccans
  94. Morocco_Jews
  95. Mozabite
  96. N_Italian
  97. Naxi
  98. Nganassan_12
  99. North_African
  100. North_Italian
  101. North_Kannadi
  102. Norwegian
  103. O_Italian
  104. Orcadian
  105. Orkney
  106. Oroqen
  107. Palestinian
  108. Pathan
  109. Polish
  110. Portuguese
  111. Romanians_14
  112. Russian
  113. Russian
  114. S_Italian
  115. S_Italian_Sicilian
  116. Samaritians
  117. San
  118. Sardinian
  119. Saudis
  120. Selkup
  121. Sephardic_Jews
  122. She
  123. Sicilian
  124. Sindhi
  125. Spaniards
  126. Spanish
  127. Swedish
  128. Syrians
  129. TSI
  130. Tu
  131. Tujia
  132. Turkish
  133. Turks
  134. Tuscan
  135. Tuva
  136. Uygur
  137. Uzbekistan_Jews
  138. Uzbeks
  139. Xibo
  140. Yakut
  141. Yemen_Jews
  142. Yemenese
  143. Yizu
  144. Yoruba
  145. YRI
  146. Yukagir
  147. Argyll
  148. Brong
  149. Bulala
  150. Egypt
  151. Fang
  152. Fulani
  153. HADZA
  154. Hausa
  155. Igbo
  156. Kaba
  157. Kongo
  158. Libya
  159. Luhya
  160. Maasai
  161. Mada
  162. Mandenka
  163. MbutiPygmy
  164. Morocco_N
  165. Morocco_S
  166. Mozabite
  167. Sahara_OCC
  168. SAN_NB
  169. SAN_SA
  170. SANDAWE
  171. TUNISIA
  172. Tuscan
  173. Xhosa
  174. Yoruba
  175. !Kung
  176. Alur
  177. AP_Brahmin
  178. AP_Madiga
  179. AP_Mala
  180. Bambaran
  181. Buryat
  182. Dogon
  183. Hema
  184. Iban
  185. Irula
  186. Khmer_Cambodian
  187. Kurd
  188. Kyrgyzstani
  189. Luhya
  190. N._European
  191. Nepalese
  192. Nguni
  193. Pakistani
  194. Pedi
  195. Pygmy
  196. Slovenian
  197. Sotho_Tswana
  198. Stalskoe
  199. Thai
  200. TN_Brahmin
  201. TN_Dalit
  202. Tuscan
  203. Urkarah
  204. Vietnamese
  205. Aonaga
  206. Bhil
  207. Chenchu
  208. Hallaki
  209. Kamsali
  210. Kashmiri_Pandit
  211. Kharia
  212. Kurumba
  213. Lodi
  214. Madiga
  215. Mala
  216. Meghawal
  217. Naidu
  218. Nysha
  219. Sahariya
  220. Santhal
  221. Satnami
  222. Siddi
  223. Srivastava
  224. Tharu
  225. Vaish
  226. Velama
  227. Vysya

The Voice of Night – The Water Tree

dead-treeI dreamed one night of desert and flood. I dreamed that I lived in a city up on a hill in the midst of an enormous desert that stretched out for miles on all sides. All I could see when I looked beyond the city, was sand, dotted here and there by the woeful skeletons of dead trees.

In my dream, I set out on a business trip that would take me on foot across the desert to another city. I had to attend a vital meeting, and I undertook my journey with intense purpose. It wore my best business suit, had an expensive attaché case in hand, and I looked every bit the part of a successful, influential businesswoman.

As I walked, I was surrounded by hundreds of fellow travelers who were complete strangers. Some walked, some rode horses or donkeys, but all were on congenial terms. We talked, we gossiped, we traded jokes and stories, a gregarious gaggle of business travelers. We’d heard a rumor that rain was coming, but none of us took it that seriously. We discussed it amongst ourselves, but none of us knew for sure if the rain would come.

Two days into our trek, a rider on horseback joined our throng from the city we had left. He said a big rain was indeed coming, and we’d have to turn back now, if we wanted to make it back home safely. Some turned back, but others of us kept on. I continued, unconcerned by the natural threat. After all, I had business to attend to.

Before long, rain started to fall. Gently, at first, then coming down harder, it doused us and caused more of my fellow travelers to turn back. In two’s and three’s, they decided to postpone their plans and trickled back home.

Soon, I was the only one en route to my destination across the desert. When I looked behind me, I could see a steady stream of travelers surging back to the city. I thought they were all being alarmist — they must not have important business to attend to. At least, not as important as mine.

I, for one, was not to be deterred. I’d set out on this journey with good reason, and no rain or wind would stop me. I was crossing this desert on business, and I meant business. But the rain didn’t care. It poured down on me in a hail of wet bullets, and the desert that hadn’t seen rain for months began to fill up like a lake.

Gradually, the water level rose to my waist, and I thought perhaps I should seek shelter. But the city was too far behind me to reach now. The water would get too deep to ford on foot before I was halfway there. I was getting tired, slogging through the wind and water, and I looked around for help.

About a mile off in the distance, I spotted a large tree. Dead, with no leaves and only a few branches, it reached some 50 feet into the air — salvation. I splashed towards it, and when I reached its trunk, I clambered into the branches and sat there, looking around me in disgust. I had my best, most expensive business clothes on, and they were well on their way to ruin. I was undoubtedly going to miss my meeting. I nestled back into the crotch of the tree and wondered how long it would take till I could be on my way again.

Days passed.

The rain continued to fall and the waterline rose.

I was forced to climb up to the farthest ends of the branches, as water lapped at my feet. But farther up the tree, there was no crook to sit in, and the bark was too slippery from rain to let me sit astride a branch. So I had to hang. I threw both arms and legs around the highest branch above the water and held on for dear life.

For three weeks, I dangled from that single branch, clutching it with my arms and legs above the rising water surface. Soon, there was barely a two-foot space between the water and the branch I clung to. I knew that if I loosened my grip, the wind would tear me away from my safety, and the boiling sea would swallow me. If I let myself do anything but clutch the limb tightly between my arms and legs, I was lost.

And so I hung there. Suspended above a roiling sea peppered with pellets of incessant rain. My arms and legs, unaccustomed to such strain, cramped and creaked and complained. Every few hours, I adjusted my position a little. Shifting my weight, I’d stretch out whichever arm or leg was failing and flex it, extend, flex, until the cramps disappeared or at least subsided.

And I did not sleep. The sun rose and set (I thought) behind the ashen-clouded sky, but I gave up counting how many times after the fifth day or so. At the start of my trial, I’d thought my exile would last a day or two at the most. How long could this rain keep up? But when that day or two (and then a week) came and went with no signs of the rain subsiding, I quit counting the hours and days. My only thoughts were of survival.

Fearing I’d fall asleep and plunge to my death by drowning, I stayed awake out of sheer will power. I ran thoughts deliberately through my head — every thought, new or old, I could muster — turning them over in my head, processing, processing, processing… When tired, I dwelled on episodes that had once enraged me, my anger jolting me awake. When anxious, I dwelled on scenes that had once comforted me. And when weak and despairing, I dwelled on simple pleasures I’d once known, and those memories refreshed me.

I came up with a hundred answers to every question that entered my semi-conscious mind, and still found room for more. I rehashed every love, every hate, every fight, every resolution, I’d ever experienced, and then granted them new consequences, new conclusions, both ideal and horrific. I lived my life over, a thousand times in review, making the “could have been’s” realities in that world of the inconceivable. No stone was left unturned in my mind, and I laughed, cried, swore and blessed, like a maniac. If anyone had seen me then, they’d have thought me mad — unless they’d considered my circumstances. Then they would have seen how sane I really was.

For weeks on end, aching and exhausted, I was the sanest I’d ever been. My fine clothes were rags hanging limp off my lean and wiry frame. My hair hung in greasy strands, streaming with rainwater. All there was, was me, my demons, my angels. There was no pressing business, there were no professional obligations. I was alone with my soul for the first time in my life, and as frightening or dismaying that acquaintance was at times, it was clean and pure and genuine. I had no pretenses left, no illusions, no preconceptions. And when I looked at the sea below me, I saw my reflection clearly in the rain-pocked surface. At times, I wished the flood would continue forever, that I could remain there until eternity, lost in my short life and dead to everyone but my very alive self.

But that was not to be. After weeks of seemingly endless rain, the clouds suddenly receded and burned away under the emerging sun. The golden disc cleared all clouds from the heavens and beat down on me with terrifying intensity. My clothes, soaked for weeks and disintegrating, dried within an hour, and my body began to parch. While it was raining, I’d been able to open my mouth for a few minutes, and I’d had a drink in no time. But suddenly there was no fresh water cascading down, only brackish soup beneath me.

I was seized with fear. What would happen, if I drank the water below me? I’d surely become ill, my guts boiling and shriveling with disease as I hung there, helpless, at the mercy of the sun.

For a day, I refused to try it.

Then unbearable thirst set in. I was faced with the choice between the possibility of dying by the act of my own hand or the certainty of death by the inactivity of my own hand. I envisioned a search party finding my body in the tree, when the waters had been entirely sucked back into earth and sky, just a skeleton dried and shrunken, disparaged even by vultures. Dead from thirst, while water had sizzled and boiled under the sun, all around me. “Silly girl,” they’d say, and then break my arms and legs to get me down from that tree. Or they’d simply let me hang there in the wind as a lesson to any who would pass that way again without heeding weather warnings.

With that, I reached down to the water, dipped in my cupped hand, and quenched my thirst. Splashing water onto my dried and cracking skin, I had no hopes in mind, no prayers on my lips to save me from my potential destruction. Either way, I might be dead, but if I was going to die, I’d rather it be by my own hand, than out of reluctance to take a risk.

Yet the dreaded sickness never set in. Although brackish and stale-smelling, the water did not make me ill. Each day, I drank and bathed as much as I pleased. And each day I had to reach lower to get to the water. The sun was evaporating the sea as quickly as the sky had unleashed it on the land. When I couldn’t hang from my arms and legs and reach the water, I swung both legs parallel and hung from my knees to reach the water. Back and forth I swung on that tree, as I’d done so many times as a child in other trees. I swung by my arms, too — by two, even one. My limbs had grown tough and strong from weeks of dangling, but I didn’t fully realize it until I began to stretch them out. Then, encouraged by the new power I felt in my muscles, I ventured back and forth along the limb I’d clung to for so long, exploring the limited range of that extension of my own self.

The lower the water level sank, the more branches of the tree were freed from its grasp. But the branches that emerged were soft and rotted, so I broke them off the trunk with mighty kicks of my legs. They fell into the brine and sank, and I wondered how the trunk itself had fared. It was spongy on the surface, but it still held. It gave slightly with the high, blistering winds that raked the desert/sea’s surface, but it held.

The last week in that tree, I played.

I swung and dangled and danced on the wind, feeling my muscles strengthen even more with my activity. Many times, I became overtired and my whole body ached, but this was nothing new. After weeks of this, I had become so accustomed to weariness and pain, I actually felt more comfortable when it set in.

I thought back on the rain-time, then, and rehashed all my thoughts of that time in a new light. I reworded my dreams into lyrics and composed for them tuneless ditties. I howled with dissonant music, relishing the muted effect the water gave my songs — especially when leaned down to scoop water into my singing mouth, onto my dancing body. I knew no time — only play and song. The nights were not nights; they were light variations in my perpetual day. I felt no hunger — it had long since left my life. I was lean and solid, alone and happier than I’d ever been.

I wondered in passing, now and then, what my old friends and colleagues in the city were up to. Had they weathered the storm well? Were they even still alive?

For some reason, I didn’t care. It made not a bit of difference to me. All I cared about, in that grand, rippling expanse, was myself, the tree, the sun and the ever-diminishing waterline. Whether anyone else lived or not was inconsequential. Whether the water would poison me or not, was of equal lack of concern to me. All there was, was my thin, hard-as-rock body, my songs, my thoughts, my perpetual day. My profession was non-existent, my business dealings didn’t hold my attention anymore. Sleep was a memory. There was nothing left of my old life or ways. No God in heaven, no world around me, no wrath of missed appointments, no ambitious hopes for greater power or prestige.

All of that was a distant memory; it no longer existed for me. And I did not think of going back to the city I’d left what seemed like an eternity ago. Nor did I plan to continue my trip to the city I was bound for when the rains had started.

But the sun continued to blaze, and the ground swallowed the sea around me. And soon, from my lofty perch I could see the sand of the desert floor glistening beneath the water. The sea had become clear, as there was nothing left to rot into it — not even debris from this tree.

Then one night, as I was singing and swinging on my branch, I caught sight of a glow on the horizon. It was the city I’d set out from. My old home. It had to be. On an impulse, I let go of the branch for the first time in nearly a month and dropped earthward.

I gasped at the shock of cool water, and then felt the solid thump of the sandy bottom against my back. The sea around me was again at waist level, and I stood on shaky legs for what seemed like the first time ever. I turned and looked towards the horizon — sure enough, the glow was still visible from the ground, if dimmer.

With strong strokes of my arms and less sure strides, I made my way through the waist-deep water towards that light — curious, and at the same time cursing myself for having left my perch and everything that had become the microcosmic world to me. Almost in spite of myself, and without knowing just why, I rushed toward the light, wondering how that city could still be standing after this greedy flood.

I reached the city gates sooner than I’d expected to. The city was on a hill, high above the waterline, and the ground leading up to it was as solid as ever. Two days after I’d dropped from my tree, I marched to the armed guards stationed at the main gate, dripping, clad only in rags, and demanded entrance.

At first the soldiers didn’t know what to make of me. They hadn’t expected anyone to return from that flood. No one was expected to survive it. But I had.

A friend of mine, who was from a prominent family in the city, appeared and ordered the guards to let me in. Then she took me to her family’s home for a bath, clean clothes and a hot dinner. But something else about her house appealed to me even more. Her father was a well-respected cleric in the city, and I was eager to talk to him — to share what I’d learned in my travails, my initiation, with an educated intellectual. He, of all people, I thought, would understand the transformation I’d experienced.

I bathed, put on clean clothes, and had dinner with my friend’s family. Everyone was talkative and wanted to know all about my adventure. Her father, however, was silent, distracted throughout the meal, and disappeared into his study shortly after the main course was served. I didn’t want to be rude to my friend, so I stayed and ate with them — but all the while I was distracted, too, thinking about how I could excuse myself politely and go talk to the cleric.

The others at the table (my friend, her mother, her younger siblings, even the servants) all wanted to know about my experience and were genuinely interested. But I resented the constant questions and kept my answers superficial and evasive. I wanted to save the heavier details for the real expert in the family who made his living off knowing about spiritual and theological things. I had seen some semblance of God in that tree out there. I had come to know deep and mysterious things. What could these simple, uneducated folks around the table know about such matters? I’d just returned from a vision quest, and I wanted to speak to a decidedly spiritual person about my revelations. That person, I thought, was the father, the priest.

When dinner was over, I excused myself abruptly and went to find the priest in his study. His office was a complete library — the walls were covered with bookshelves filled with ancient, pungent, hardbound books, their spines bearing cryptic titles in esoteric alphabets. In the center of the room stood his desk, a huge mahogany intellectual battleship, covered with parchments, books, and an assortment of lamps and writing utensils.

I sat down eagerly in a chair in front of his desk, waiting to get his attention. He didn’t seem particularly eager to speak with me, though, and only reluctantly did he put aside the huge tome he was studying. Sallow, with dark features, he exuded the self-consciousness that most of the prevailing theological ideas of the day were his handiwork. He looked at me without much curiosity, then assumed a ministerial attitude. “You wanted to speak to me?” he said in a superior but conciliatory tone.

I said I did, and proceeded to tell him about my experience in the tree. I recounted what I hadn’t told his family around the dinner table — the deeper things, the thoughts, the feelings, all that had taken place within me, while I’d been suspended from that tree. He sat quietly through my account, as I revealed all the details of my involuntary quest, and I prayed silently that he and I could discuss in-depth the mystical ramifications of my last three weeks.

But when he responded at the end of my tale, it was with theology, not mysticism. He cited chapters and verses of different holy texts he thought applied to my experience. He went to his bookshelves, took out aged volumes, and cross-referenced them with other writings scattered across his desk. He analyzed and reduced my initiatory time to a handful of theological abstractions. And as I sat there, I lost track of what he was saying — I could only watch his mouth move. I could only nod, as he launched into unfathomable intellectual intricacies about my account. He hadn’t been there, he hadn’t lived any of this. He’d been here, safe at home in this musty library, his nose buried in books, taking notes, while I’d been out wrestling with my demons. Notwithstanding, he supplied me with a completely one-sided analysis of my experience, not once allowing me to interject, but demanding with posture, tone and looks, that I sit still and take in his theoretical pronouncements.

The longer he spoke, the more my heart fell. I had hoped to connect with a contemporary who could understand the esoteric intricacies of my time, but I’d found nothing more than an intellectual power-over scenario, wherein I was anything but an equal in his eyes. Held hostage by his attitude, a guest in his home, I simply stopped listing to him and reminded myself that I’d had the experience, and I could trust my own interpretation of it, regardless of what he said or thought about it. I might not have been intimately versed in the intricacies of theological postulation, I might not have even had the right words to articulate my experience. But I knew what I had gone through, I knew what I had learned on a deep and profound level, and no amount of fancy cerebral footwork could take that from me. Maybe this priest had the vocabulary and formal training sufficient to dissect my initiation, but I was the one who had been the initiate.

In the end, I was the ultimate authority on the interpretation of my initiation.

At long last, he finished. And with a self-satisfied smile, he rose, clapped me on the shoulder, and saw me to the door. Then he locked the door behind me, and there was… silence.

I returned to the company of the others, disgruntled. They tried to bring me back into the conversation, but I was distracted by my disappointment and could only answer their eager questions with one- or two-syllable words.

I should have stayed there at the dinner table and talked to them all along, I thought. As simple as their understanding of my adventure seemed to me, it was nevertheless genuine, honest, sincere. And they were interested in hearing it from me, not from a parchment or theological “expert”.

Shaking the last hour in the study from my head, I turned my attention back to my true hosts. We talked with gusto late into the night.

When you get down to it… Where do we find our answers?

dark-forest-dreamThe last two dreams I posted have had a lot of significance for me.

Digging Deep” is very much about digging into the unseen regions of our lives — our psyches, our pasts, our histories… the things and experiences and thoughts and feelings we have buried, in hopes of never finding them again. It’s about taking a deep breath and plunging in, to see what’s there.

Even if it makes us feel sick.

Even if it frightens us.

When we dig, we can find amazing things.

The old woman by my side represents to me the generations up on generations of others who have gone before us, who have done that work — and lived to tell the tale.  They speak to us from their silenced experiences, to remind us — it’s okay. Keep digging.

Digging for what? For the things that we crave… the things that will make us whole. For the things we have pushed away from us, thinking they are too frightening or uncomfortable or even useless, to be much good to us now.

That dream was an excellent reminder, and it gave me a much-needed boost in a time when I needed it. Funny… my dreams often do that.

Reclaiming the Castle” also gave me an incredible boost, at a time when I was doing my best not to lose my cool at a job that was financially necessary, but just murder on my self-esteem. The little software company where I’d written and managed a full documentation set had gotten “dot-bombed” about a decade before everyone else, and I had to take an admin job in the HR department of a major multi-national tech company. Talk about lousy gigs… it was not my finest year. (Then again, it did provide excellent experience, and I ended up turning that sow’s ear into a major silk purse full of money, so it wasn’t a total waste.)

At the time when “Reclaiming the Castle” came to me, I was meditating regularly.  This was around 1994, and I’d just found out about sitting zazen (where you sit motionless and just “be” for extended periods of time). I was also discovering and diving into the works of medieval European women mystics, and liking what I found. Their works meshed nicely with my lifelong fascination with the Holy Grail mythos, and I found traces of that long-beloved mythology in their words.

One of the things that struck me, as I was sitting zazen and reading up on women mystics, was that I was combining traditions from East and West in ways that really complimented each other. At that time, I recall coming across an increasing body of work by  Western writers about Eastern spiritual practices. And I discovered some books that connected both ends of the spiritual practice into a continuous spectrum.

One thing that struck me, however, was an apparent assumption that Eastern practices are somehow better or more elevated than Western ones.  Yoga and meditation and Buddhism were all very popular in the area where Laney and I lived at the time, and there was no lack of talk and instruction on them. And somehow, it seemed that underneath all the instruction was an all-too-eager genuflection to the East — where you can really get enlightened, not just pass your time in a consumption-driven, manic-depressive haze till you drop dead in our industrial, spiritually dessicated wasteland.

And that troubled me.

Because I knew — from my own personal experience — that the Western tradition is anything but spiritually dessicated. Sure, a lot of Westerners have abandoned their faith and their spiritual practices, and there’s been a sh*t-ton of oppression and bloodshed by the Powers That Be to keep people in line with their religion. But the apparent belief that the West has little to offer in the way of enlightenment and spiritual connection seemed, well, fundamentally flawed.

And it struck me that people were really looking in the wrong place (and faulting the wrong things), in hopes of finding their way to the Light they  needed.

It seemed to me — then, and now — that the real source of our despair, our sense of desolation, is that we’ve abandoned our own indigenous paths to Light. We’ve gotten our fill of the standard-issue religious structures, we’ve witnessed the abuses of power and the overthrow of authenticity, and we’ve decided to reject the whole lot. We look elsewhere for answers — never realizing that the fact that we’re not actually “getting” what they offer. Eastern traditions originate elsewhere — from languages and cultures and historical contexts completely different from our own Western ways.

And because of that, we’re never going to fully understand what they mean.

Our translations are flawed — in word and deed — but of course, we never realize it, because we’re the ones doing the translating. Our modes of practice are necessarily going to be completely different in substance and nature from those of the originators. Our measures of whether we’re “getting it” or not are going to be skewed, because what we seek may actually not be what those practices are actually offering.

But because we’re so hungry, so determined, so needy of these things — which are part and parcel of any complete life — we don’t see it.

And in chasing after those “otherly” ways, we lose our connection with our own histories, our own practices, our own paths. That just separates us all the more from what we seek — a sense of connection, a sense of belonging.

Reclaiming the Castle” to me is really about that conflict. Patrick Stewart, to me, represents our Western impulse to boldly go where no one has gone before, and in the process, leaving behind a connection with a valuable, anchoring past. He’s a technological sage, a hyper-modern character, and he is desperately lonely and sad. His soul is depleted, and he knows it.

And he says so. To me, his opinion that herbalists are “the real thing” is a parallel with the parts of our modern selves that look to ways which are more connected with the natural world for relief and solace. “Herbs” can equate with anything in our modern lives that isn’t manufactured, marketed, and tracked. They can be the equivalent of anything we associate with more natural, less artificial approaches to life. Look at all the dollars spent on alternative healthcare and healing modalities. Look at all the money spent on supplements, herbs, and various forms of yoga, not to mention DNA analysis and ancestry research. They’re both connected, as very real needs in the population for approaches that connect us with our own health and well-being, as well as our history.

We know our history is there... we just have to uncover it

We know our history is there… we just have to uncover it

Reclaiming the Castle” isn’t just a treatise in favor of herbalists. It’s a metaphor about how we actually feel about our place(s) in the world — and what we think will save us. And it’s about how, deep within the symbolic forest of the unseen and nearly-forgotten aspects of our lives, we can actually find something there that will bring us back to ourselves.

That dream was an elaboration on “Digging Deep”  — it showed me what can come, when we don’t shy away from our past, when we truly excavate the traditions and practices of those who passed our DNA along to us. I believe that we inherit the orientations, capacities, and capabilities of our ancestors. And I believe that our spiritual practices and traditions become all the more meaningful and potent, when they are aligned with our heritage.

Of course, our Western heritage reaches far, far back… much farther back than the version we’ve been living with for the past 1,500 years or so (give or take). And when we do connect with that — as I did, through exploring ancient women’s mythology, as well as the words of medieval women mystics — the change it can bring to us… well, that’s nothing short of miraculous.

May you dig — and dive — deep. And find all you need… and more.

Strange Bedfellows – Foreword to the 2nd Edition

strange-bedfellows-cover-klIt’s now been over 20 years, since I had this dream in the upstairs loft of a pink house built not so far from my ancestral home. The story at first alarmed me with its scope and detail – who has dreams that are that vivid, that cohesive?

Then it intrigued me.

Then it annoyed me, as I tried to put it down on paper, only to find the pictures defying the use of words.

It took me years to finally get the story told. And all the while, it taught me many valuable lessons.

At first glance, this story might seem like a finger-wagging eco-warrior rant about the excesses of our toxic modern lives… our lust for luxury, our craving for comfort, and all the harm it does to Planet Earth. Indeed, when I awoke from this dream, all those years ago, that’s exactly what I thought it was: A wake-up call to alert us to Change Our Ways Before It’s Too Late… before our last chance to save the earth – and the human race – is gone forever.

And you wouldn’t be wrong to think that’s so. In a way, on the surface, it is very much about exactly that. We say we want to help the earth, but we make poor choices. We say we’re committed to change, but we set unrealistic and unwise priorities, and abandon them when we realize we can’t do it easily. We do things without thinking, and the world around us pays the price for our oblivion.

And yet, there’s something more to this story – something more enduring, something more global. It’s not just about a couple of spoiled, upwardly-mobile professionals who will stop at nothing to satiate their desires for success and luxury. It’s about much more than that. As you read the story in the coming pages, think beyond what’s on the surface. Look deeper into the behaviors and the choices that Paul and Christina make… and if you dare, look for signs of yourself in their shoes, making the same sorts of choices, for the same sorts of reasons, with the resulting consequences.

Your choices – our choices – needn’t only be about upward mobility, status, and prestige, to get us in trouble. They can be as seemingly innocuous as the decision to order takeout, instead of warming up leftovers. And abandoning our commitment to lasting change can be as casual as dismissing a set of New Year’s resolutions, because in February they’re just not as realistic (or fun) as they seemed back in December.

None of our choices are simple, these days. So many of them send ripples we cannot see into the world far beyond us. And it’s difficult to know how best to change course, and why. So, what better time to really think our choices through, really weigh the costs of committing to (or abandoning) them, than at this point in history?

Some say we’ve passed the turning point. I say we still have some turning left in us. But we have to be willing to turn – and stick with it.

The Voice of Night – A House Full of Women

I dreamed of a Victorian house...

I dreamed of a Victorian house…

In a dream, I followed a woman down a street. I knew and respected her in real life, and she was actually something of a role model for me, as one of the most independent women I knew. I tried to catch up with her as we went down the street, but she was always a step or two ahead of me and wasn’t even aware I was following her. Just as I was about to catch up with her, she suddenly turned and went into a house.

The house was an old, white, 2-story Victorian – very ornate, with gingerbread all around the porch, white marble stairs rose up from the street, and a door with very intricately etched glass windowpanes. Inside, it was dark, but as my eyes adjusted, I could make out many, many rooms and a wide staircase that spiralled upwards from the middle of the entryway. The rooms were filled with flowing draperies – sheers, white – that wafted to and fro on a breeze. The whole house was shadowy and filled with women – all of them considerably older than I.

The woman I was following marched right into the house and up the staircase. I tried to catch up with her, but she was ahead of me and out of sight very soon. I looked in each room, trying to locate her, but was only met with the sight of other older women.

Some were middle-aged, talking in pairs and threes. Others, very elderly, white-haried, sat silently, looking out the windows or just meditating. I stumbled up the staircase, looking for my role model, but she was gone. I tiptoed into some of the rooms, following them around to see where they led, but I got confused and ended up in dead ends, with white pillows and drapes all around, confusing me. I tried to stay calm and not panic, but I was frightened and wished I could find the woman I was looking for.

In and out of rooms I went, and the older women there either ignored me totally or eyed me curiously, without saying a word. I tried to approach two women, sitting on a window seat, talking quietly with one another, but when I approached them, they were distant and barely polite. I seemed not to belong there, and I knew it – but I had to find the woman I was following.

I looked around, and I thought I caught sight of her on the staircase, which was visible from nearly every room in the house. I hustled to the landing and looked up, then down, but I only saw sheers drifting to and fro. Frustrated and confused, I decided I’d had enough. I started down the staircase toward the front door to leave. With that, my dream ended.

The Voice of Night – Digging Deep

HermetiaillucensI dreamed one night that I was on my knees, digging in a luminously dark garden with a trowel. An old, wizened, white-haired woman knelt beside me on my right. All around me, it was dark, but yet light at the same time. There was a glow about the place that was both frightening and comforting.

As I dug into the loose, crumbling earth, I started uncovering mealy worms, little grey grubs, then longer worms that were white and blind. Thick and snakelike, they writhed in the hole I was digging and my stomach turned when I looked at them.

I was revolted. I wanted to drop my trowel and leave.

I thought of stopping, but the old woman crouched beside me said I should keep digging and not be afraid. I continued, quelling the churning of my stomach, and the worms got larger and wilder, the deeper I went. The old woman told me to put my hands in the hole I was digging, to run the ground and worms through my fingers. I soon saw that some of the creatures were snakes, and I was horrified, afraid to follow her instructions.

They’ll bite me, I thought fearfully, but I did as she told me. And when I put my hands into the hole, the snakes didn’t harm me. They hardly seemed to notice me, but only wriggled and writhed — never showed signs of attacking or biting me.

Fascinated and still a little afraid, for some time, I reached into the hole, came up with both hands full of earth and worms and snakes, watching them fall through my fingers and run between my palms. Now and then, a shiver would come over me and I’d think about stopping, but the old woman by my side told me not to be afraid, it was alright. I was fascinated by the sight of those creatures, still waiting for them to attack me, but I was never harmed by them. Before long, my fascination took over and I began to enjoy the feel of the snakes and worms and ground in my hands. After running the ground, worms and snakes through my hands for a while, I replaced them in the hole, covered it up, and looked around.

The old woman was gone.