My Burning Times
Oils on Canvas
Written May, 1996
It was my third session with Dana Zia, a healer [now astrologer] who used to use massage as her medium.
On such a lovely sunny day, it was almost a shame to be inside but I was really looking forward to the session – wanting to dig deeper.
In the beginning it felt like a regular massage though she made a couple of comments about all the tight places she was finding in my shoulders – places that had not been tight the previous two sessions. I mentioned various stresses in my life but none of them felt very big and actually I felt I was handling them pretty well. It surprised me that I would be stuffing them in my muscles. Oh well. We chatted about this and that including my still on-going food allergy eruptions (purifications??) and my family’s impending trip to Europe. Suddenly, as she kneaded tight places on my butt she said, “Duh! I know what’s happening I’m getting to a deeper layer.” She explained that the previous two sessions had loosened things up, taken off the superficial shield layer was allowing old stuff to surface for her to reach and deal with.
“Are you going to Scotland?” she asked. I said we weren’t because we wanted to spend more time there than could be managed on this trip. She was silent for a minute and then taking a deep breath, said that she saw me on a meadow, a heath, in a long dress and a basket of herbs on my arm in Scotland in the early 1700’s. “Hmm,” I said, “Well, I’ve always had kind of a thing about Scotland for some reason. In fact, Skye is named in part for the Isle of Skye. We even spelled it with the ‘e’.”
She was working hard now on my butt, the same place that had been so mysteriously sore after my first session. She said she was feeling an ancient injury and that I had had “a bumpy ride.” “Now this could be symbolic,” she said, “But I am getting the feeling that you fell off a cliff somehow and injured yourself. Bump. Bump. You have been carrying a lot of pain here for a long time.”
She worked in silence for a bit and I began to feel a headache centered over my right eye and then waves of nausea. She felt around gingerly with words for a while to see how I was taking what she was leading into but the upshot was that she was seeing me in a past life as a healer/witch woman who was being chased and fell down a cliff. She wasn’t sure if I had died then and I remember thinking that I hoped I had because what the villagers would do to me was much worse. “And it makes sense,” I said. “I declared myself a witch about a year ago.”
But despite saying that, I was very much of two minds about this news – or maybe even three minds. One part of me was saying, “Yay! finally something interesting to work with – some evidence of the weirdly wonderful. It makes perfect sense. Now I know why I’ve been doing all this stuff for so long.” Yet, I was also feeling like I was about to be incredibly sad and that it was going to be hard to bear. There was also a third, a nagging voice that got shushed up pretty quickly, saying, “Don’t get sucked in now, Honey.”
I began to feel tears gathering in my right eye (not the eye that has been so swollen with mysterious food deposits since my allergy cleansing). It was the weirdest feeling, like only one side of my brain could let in the news and my feelings about it. The other side – my left – stayed matter of fact and almost ho hum about it.
But impressions were beginning to come into my mind as well and we began to talk about what we were receiving. For me it was as if I would have a thought or a question like, “I wonder what that would feel like?” and then a bunch of ideas would come into my mind rather like I was writing a story or getting an image for a painting. It was not often very vivid pictures or a screen I was watching or anything like that. More like what I would have called my imagination being very fertile and emotive. When I thought of it like that I would immediately become suspicious of myself. “I’m making it all up.” But at the same time, I had such a strong feeling that I needed to relax and go with this. And certainly there was no denying the increasingly strong feelings I besieged with, both sides of my brain fully engaged by now.
And Dana was egging me on. She would say something and often I had just had a similar thought but hadn’t voiced it yet. “I’m getting something about a baby,” she said early on. And I said, “I was just thinking that I was a midwife. Like maybe a baby died in the natural course of things, but they wanted to blame me.”
One of my first impressions was a strong one that it was people from my own village who were chasing me, not an organized inquisition group. It was a hectic, angry bunch of people who knew me and wanted me to be a scapegoat for something bad that had happened. They were very scared about something – probably a series of hard times – and needed someone to blame. I was reminded of The Crucible – Arthur Miller’s play about the Salem witch hysteria.
“I don’t think you died in the fall. I see torture here… Oh, Lane, lots of torture. Your eyes… They did something to your eyes. They beat you to death. They left you outside. I see the stars.
By this time I was crying hard – snuffling and wiping my nose on a towel she handed me because she was out of tissues. I had a strong sense of lying in a cellar or hay byre, broken and knowing it would get worse and calling out to the Goddess, “Help me. Help me.” I wasn’t angry. I was sad, so sad. I knew it wasn’t really me they were mad at. At one point, after I’d been quiet for a while, I said out loud to Dana, “Forgive them. They know not what they do. ” And I laughed a bit, saying that’s still me – always thinking about the others. But they were so frightened and so angry and imagine how it would feel to be them. Perhaps I had been feeling their pain too which only magnified mine. But betrayed, betrayed. Betrayed by people I had loved and been helping.
“We have a choice here,” Dana said. “We can stop. I can seal this back up, though it won’t go away forever. Or we can deal with it, process it, go deeper into the pain and the images.” It didn’t really seem to me like I had any choice. This was exactly what I have been asking for – from her, from the painting process, from my various groups, all the parts of my life’s changes that have been stepping up in the last few years. “Good” she said firmly, “Let’s go for it.” She lit a candle and changed the music – Celtic – Greensleeves at first – women’s voices.
I suddenly had a strong urge to ask her about my birthmark – the star on my chest that has always been so special to me. Since at least my teens I’ve fantasized that it is an identifying mark of some kind and that someone would recognize me by it. It was the center, the essence of the tunnel/tornado swirl in my “Identity” painting last fall. Recently it has seemed to be fading and I’ve wondered if I no longer need it any more since I am now identifying myself, integrating the various parts of myself. I flipped over onto my back. She held her hands over it and said, of course, she recognized it. It was the mark of the Goddess. “A promise of some kind.” That seemed to fit with my image of calling for help in the hay.
Sometimes Dana would just hold me from behind. At one point she rubbed my cheekbones and I saw my skull, bashed in, bleached and picked clean by the ravens. I told her I had been hearing ravens calling to me all year. “What are they saying?” she asked. “That I’m on the right track.”
“Were you burned?” At first I thought she was referring to the marks on my arm from my allergy rashes. Then I had a strong image of being burned at the stake. In fact, I had had that image several times in the previous minutes but hadn’t mentioned it. “Not this time.” I said. “Before. Another time they burned me in a square. A city…Maybe in Germany. And my children…” I choked and sobbed on the image of gaping, gasping, screaming faces and finally whispered, “My children had to watch….They didn’t know I had left my body and it wasn’t hurting me any more…. I couldn’t tell them…… It really damaged them.”
“How many?” she asked quietly. I had the impression of many, not all of them mine. Two other women were burned with me. But, “Two or three I think.” How old?” “Seven, a little girl and another girl, I think and a boy.” “Were Skye and Morgan there?” I told her I had a strong impression of Morgan as the littlest girl, but not of Skye at all – which would explain why Morgan is so protective of me and so anti the doing of mystical stuff – “g.o.d. stuff” he used to call it when he was little. I looked for Tom and don’t think he was there.
But suddenly, oddly, out of the blue, I thought of one of the more troubled children at Fire Mountain School. It seemed like she was one of my children – the son – and was one of the later Scottish village mob. It jumped into my head that she was so damaged by it that she went into a place of anger and revenge – trying to stamp it all out – trying not to care anymore. She is still reverberating from those deeds – her karma is still a tangle of pain. It feels like I gave up my children to do the healing, witchy work I needed to do to keep the Good, the Goddess, alive in the world. I neglected them, making a choice for the good of the whole and they had to pay dearly for my choice. It seemed to me that it affected me so that in my Scottish life I chose to come alone. I was left unburied in the heather because I had no one to come to find me. No one else who would have to pay for my deeds. Yet that must not have worked either – I have obviously chosen differently this time. Somehow we’re in this together this time as a family.
Dana held me again from behind as I shook and shivered – my whole body wracked with reaction. It was hard to breathe into my pain this time with yoga breath as my nose was all plugged up by with tears. As we began to wind down and she massaged my feet gently, she talked about letting go of the pain. Now that this is in my consciousness, I don’t have to carry it in my body anymore.
I told her there was a piece of my mind (I tapped my upper left towards the top of my head) that is being very rational and saying I’m making it all up. She said, “No way. Tell that part of your brain that the electricity is coming off you in waves, in tsunamis!” With that there was thunder on the tape and I jumped. I commented that the music, when I had tuned into it, often seemed just right for the moment. When I was most seeing the burning scene, it had crossed my mind that it sounded like just the right background for the “Burning Times” film. “It was that soundtrack,” she said and I gasped.
She warned me to take good care of myself this weekend. “Take a bath filled with flowers. You are wide open,” She said, “and this will continue to roll. Journal it. Paint it. Live with it.” Luckily I really had very little planned for the next few days.
And indeed I have been aching and sore in my body – the same jolts coming when Tom puts any pressure on my butt or holds me close. And he has held me close a lot. This morning he massaged my right shoulder blade over and over as it ached and cramped on our walk. He has been so sweet. I blurted it all out to him as soon as I got home, before I was even in the house. Though I have told no one else so far – this writing is my first attempt at communication with anyone else. I have had moments of sobbing again as well as the physical aches and battered feelings. We’ve talked a lot about our work in the community – our various moments of feeling betrayed (especially Tom) and our commitment to what we are doing. I also think about my many years of planning for escapes and disasters – storing food, thinking about packs, and the like. Knowing that whatever of my activities one picks I’ll be on somebody’s lists if it comes to that again. The fear and the awareness of danger is there in some of my paintings too.
Some new images have come, but they feel more speculative on my own. I wondered if I had been alone without a man in the German burning time – I hadn’t been able to find Tom in the picture when I was working with Dana. Was there someone else? And I had a hit of someone weak with me who had left – maybe a particular old boyfriend? It is tempting to look for everyone in the picture. Was another friend a judge, a priest, an inquisitor? Was Mother one of the children? Was one of my sisters one of the other women?? Were other the other children hers?
The image of the children watching has been the most haunting one so far. It has sent me into sobs a number of times in the last 24 hours. It makes my heart hurt. Dana warned me that one was the most unfinished, the most unsettled – the one she hadn’t been really able to see. I keep coming back to it. And at one point during the night I cried about that Scottish village and what they did when the next woman went into labor after I was gone….or the next child got sick and needed a special herb that only I knew where to find. What did they do then?
But mostly I walk around feeling like I am in two worlds at once. The normal everyday one where dinner must be fixed and we watch a funny movie and I remember to brush my teeth. And then there is this numinous one – this momentous new sense of myself stretching back through the ages. A parallel universe that is all very real and affecting me physically. Is it only the gorgeous crisp sunny weather and the bursting wild flowers on the mountain that make everything so crystalline and poignant? My back is spewing images, vibrating, shimmering. Achingly alive with a mind of its own.
And the promise from the Goddess? The Promise seems to be that the ancient ways will return and that I shall have a hand in them and live to see them, if not this life, then soon. We shall remember how to live in small groups in harmony and understanding. We are already remembering our connections to the earth itself and to all beings, two-legged, six-legged, stone, tree, and star. I have a part to play and I will not have lived this pain or died these deaths (and how many more) in vain.