Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Story of a Stone

I have been taking an online course through Edx called Spirituality and Sensuality: Sacred Objects in Religious Settings.  The course is an undergraduate Religious Studies class from a professor at Hamilton College a liberal arts college in Clinton, New York.  There are 4500 students from all over the world enrolled in this free course, which makes it even more interesting than it might be otherwise.  Last week, we were asked to write about a stone (or stones) in our environment and the significance that stone has had on people, including ourselves.  Now that the grading for the week is complete, I thought I would share what I wrote here.  Enjoy!

The Freya-Stone
This stone stands next to a picnic area on Piestewa Peak in Phoenix, Arizona. Taller than a person, it somewhat resembles a veiled woman with her arms held close in front of her. This is her home, on the mountainside below the trails. The park is part of the Phoenix Mountains, with rock formations that rangers say are relatively young -- 14 million years. This particular rock stands near a picnic ramada that for many years was used by the local Pagan community for gatherings and community meals. Memorial Sumbles were held for those who died, with much "huzzah!" and a toss-back of mead, first into the throat and then at the rock along with a memory of the loved one who passed. Though not a gravestone placed over the dead like those in the cemetery, this stone still stands over the spirit of those who crossed over; holding the bits of memories spoken in reverence and love. When children were present, they found this rock to be a welcome climbing-spot while they awaited the end of a ritual and the call to the table for the sharing of food.

A number of years ago, a small group of Pagan women gathered near this stone, sometimes together and sometimes individually. They took to calling this rock the Freya-Stone after the Nordic goddess of love, beauty, and death. They spoke to her, and in some way not unlike Annie Dillard's neighbor, hoped to teach her to talk, to answer them when they brought their prayers to her, taking small pebbles into their hands and holding them, praying their questions. Releasing their tears of loneliness, abuse, and self-degradation, they laid the stones on the small shelf of rock where it seems like her hands come together. After their prayers they would share a nibble of bread, a bit of cheese, a few grapes, and a mug of mead, completing their prayers with the "amen" of the splash: thick, dark honey-wine against the Freya-Stone.

One of those women found true love and had her wedding beside the Freya-Stone. Another found self-respect and freedom. The third? Well, she who had also been in abuse and then emptiness found that she had been truly loved for many years. Soon she, too, was wed to a friend she had not known had loved her for so long. In that, she also found her own power, to forge a life beside him.

It is often said by archaeologists and anthropologists that one cannot walk across the desert southwest even a little bit without encountering the remains of Native American life. The lost Anasazi left behind sherds of pottery, broken stones, ancient baked agave, an ingenious canal system, and perhaps the spirits of the Pueblo ancestors. There is no indication that this stone has ever been more than a beautiful, large stone on the side of a beautiful mountain. Yet, gatherings of people of many descents found themselves worshiping near her, sometimes in the company of cougars. Decidedly, three Euro-American women felt a great power in this stone, and to this day the ones who are still living feel the call to visit her once in awhile, and remember.

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