11/08/2015 by syrbal-labrys
Today is the 13th anniversary of the public opening of the Walk of the Fallen Memorial Labyrinth. On this day in 2003, a blazing fire was built in the family fire-pit, a table in the house was laden with edibles, and about 20 guests followed my first formal steps around the seven-circuit Cretan labyrinth that I built from August to October that year. When I built it, I was largely outraged and shattered by George W. Bush merrily announcing, on May 1st, the “mission accomplished” in Iraq. In honestly, the nigh forgotten war in Afghanistan was barely on my radar at that time.
While I thought trying to bomb a nearly medieval country, Afghanistan, back to the stone age was a stupid way of avenging the victims of Osama bin Laden; I could somewhat understand the impulse. Iraq, however, stuck me as a costly, crazy lie-engendered fiasco from the word go. So, maddened to see Bush swaggering in his flight suit and acting as if he had single-handedly won the war; I planned to build a war memorial for what I was certain would one day be a very unpopular war indeed.
A bloody waste of lives, it became as I worked in the hottest months of our Nor’west summer, tears of grief and fury washing down my cheeks with my sweat. Working there, the air seemed full of urgent whispers, and sensations of other hands than my own lifting the heavier stones. I finished before the name-carved central stone was done at the quarry. It felt like more than a mere war memorial when I first walked those stones, testing the walkability. Standing at the still empty center, it felt like a howling void loomed into some other plane.
A frightening perception came to me: that what really lived at the heart of the Walk was a gateway to a beyond I would never be able to be certain about — a step away from life, from reason, from reality. Tentatively reaching my hand into that space, even at midday in the autumnal sunshine, my hand felt cold as if some unseen wind washed across it. I told myself to stop being imaginative. My imagination and perceptions told me to fuck off.
The picture at the upper right of the blog-page was taken on that opening night — luminarias for every soldier killed in Iraq to that date. There were around four hundred names inscribed on paper bags carefully filled with sand and candles. It took all the hours of the afternoon, while worrying about rain, to place and light those luminarias. Guests walked, a bugler played taps. Around food, inside out of the rain that began just as the outdoor ceremonies concluded, people drew me aside and told me what they perceived there.
One woman told me she looked at the outer ring as she walked, and was shocked to see the bottom tier of a stadium — but raising her eyes she saw it rising like a giant stone amphitheater, going up and up. In those ringed rows were men in uniform — but the uniforms of ages, she said — wild kilts, Roman armor; my mind stopped hearing coherently then. I shook myself and walked away, feeling a bit like “Wart” in the “Sword in the Stone” as I murmured to myself, “I thought it was a waaar memorial.”
Another guest told me he felt it was difficult to walk and before I could apologize to him for the rough stone-laying, he said he felt like he was moving through a crowded room of people he could not see. That was the most common thing said to me that night. One woman, looking very embarrassed, asked me if I had pictures of any of the men who had died and named a young man. I asked her if she knew him, and she answered in the negative but said she suddenly had made one of the turns and found a young man standing right in front of her. His face seared into her memory, and when he vanished she looked down at the name on the candle-illuminated bag at her feet. I found the CNN site on my computer and searched the name; of course she identified the photo as the man she saw and we both shuddered.
One can be pagan and still a skeptic, still unwilling to believe just “any old thing”. But in the thirteen years since laying four tons of stone in my back yard? I’ve grown more accustomed to things I simply cannot explain to myself. That night, all those years ago, long after the guests left I fell into an exhausted sleep. And I dreamt vividly, of a great hall full of long tables full of people eating and drinking, laughing and singing. Above me an impossibly high roof loomed into darkness that seemed starlit. I was not a guest there at that joy; I was carrying trays of beer and mead and stronger drink. My arms ached and my feet hurt. Going down the narrow ways between the tables, every so often, a young man or woman would suddenly jump up from their bench-seat and embrace me enthusiastically. Or they would shake my hand, smiling and thanking me for something I had no idea about in the dream.
On November 9th, 2003, I woke with my arms aching and cramping and the dream a thundering memory. I described it to my eldest son — who was away in the military at the time. He told me the hall sounded like a legend — the legend of a great hall in Asgard, owned by Freyja — the “many seated” hall where the queen of the Valkyries welcomed the dead whom she claimed from battle. I shivered precisely on cue, but have called the heart of my labyrinth “Freyja’s Gate” ever since.
Thirteen years later? Every walk when names of the dead come to me, I read the names and pour an oblation there. Many walks have evoked faces in my mind, sometimes I even see a figure in military dress at my garden gate and startle out of all proportion. No matter how often it happens, I am always startled and sure I am losing my mind. Once or twice the palpable sensation of a hand taking my own fingers in a willing grip.
When I walk there, from the first step, a sense of deep calm enfolds me. I would say it is a more than normal calm; a calm I did not expect since I built the place in a fever of anger and pain. But no matter how upset the day’s news, no matter what names of troops lost for lies and foolishness, the footfall on the sandstone there brings a sudden stillness like the eye of a hurricane. I cannot explain the things that happen there, to me or to others. There are very few others these days, of course.
Tonight I will walk there again at dusk. November 8th, on old pagan calendars is noted as the festival of the “Manes” — spirits of the underworld in the old Roman religion. In Celtic traditions, it is said to be the date on which Gwynn ap Nudd, lord of the faerie (and underworld?) kingdom, flings open his gates. He is said to reside at the hill of Glastonbury in England.
I have ever said that in dreams and mystic moments (that I’d as soon not acknowledge) that Gwynn comes to me in guise of the antlered Herne because it amuses him. If there are deities, I’ve ever maintained that they do not answer prayers or intercede in human events. But I’ve never said they don’t “play” with us from time to time, or attempt to inspire us to our better “lights”.
So, it makes my mouth take a wry smile to think how restless I’ve been for 48 hours now, either sleepless or mad with wild dreams — as the 13th anniversary came upon me, just as I am contemplating again, another magical effort associated with the Glastonbury Tor. For it is said that from an astral temple beneath that hill, the witches of England fought their own Battle of Britain as Hitler tried to break the defenses of the Royal Air Force! On the first anniversary under an eclipsed moon, a man who had flown in the Battle of Britain walked those stones and wept in my arms for those who died.
Even an old skeptic has to wonder what full circle is met on a thirteenth anniversary? After all, some systems of time keeping made 13 months a year – like thirteen full moons that can be seen in that year. The ring of constellations that count as the Zodiac used to be counted as thirteen as well. Somehow, this turn of the year at my Samhain felt significant. So, as the light fails and the November rain falls, I will walk again…and contemplate belief and disbelief, magic and mundane lives, and what possibilities for change will light my new year.