There was a landscape I saw in my dreams from my earliest memories, there was a feeling of a place, and when I opened my eyes I could not see it or find it in the world around me. I knew this place was home, a place where my bones felt still, where my pulse connecting with the flow and energy of everything that is.
I stepped foot on the land in my dreams for the first time when I was sixteen. I felt plugged in, right, calibrated, home. My flesh and blood was made of this place, my ancestors sing from beneath me.
I was asked by a native Brit if my connection to the UK was only a romantic notion. I understood where she was coming from, a lived experience of a place is different. Being immersed in the political systems, the economic realities, the mystical is always an arms reach away when the “real” world comes into play. I was happy to have her question me, I was happy to have this opportunity to ask myself this question because the answer reassured me of what I felt to be true: my ancestors made me from the weather and roots of the place as the hundreds if not thousands of years spent treading the same ground cannot be reversed by a less than century old migration. It is valid for me to feel displaced and long for home.
I know that I am not the only one who feels this way. In our family’s migration to the New World we not only lost the land but we lost contact with traditions. New traditions were formed, of course, but using old gods for new land, and implementing new gods in old lands will always leave a vacancy in the hearts of the seekers. We are disconnected, fragmented, alone and grasping for a connection that isn’t quite being made. We have not, until recently, been able to group in the places we migrated to and work through and understand the collective symbolism and experience that sings to us from our ancestors. Our response to this disconnection is pilgrimage, we return back to the 'homeland'. Whether we recognize it as a pilgrimage or not, for some of us there is an inexplicable pull.
Ancestral work is an important part of self-realization and journey work. The value of returning to an ancestral home is that the magick of transformation is more potent, you have the support of the generations that came before you. Which is not to suggest that this work cannot be done elsewhere, with the right reverence and respect we can work with the ancestors of whichever ground we stand on and we can access our own predecessors through ourselves, as we are their living artifacts. We look to amplify our understanding of ourselves and where we have come from, and the land is only one aspect of that work, but it cannot be denied that the feeling of belonging settles an uneasy practitioner into a state of natural magick and flow.
The stories of the Celtic and Native British tradition speak to me. I see myself and my attitudes and values reflected back to me.
My dream, both consciously and unconsciously has always been to merge the stories, landscapes and magick of self-revelation together and to facilitate transformative experience for myself, and then having lived it, use that experience to guide others through their own transformations.
If you ask me, why the UK and Ireland? My answer simply put is, there is nowhere else that would feel right to me. With Otherworld Retreats we are not just leading you through a general practice of yoga and meditation, we want to share and bring to life the stories of the land, and it would not make sense to do that anywhere else.
It’s funny because even though I have been living in Germany for over five years now, I still very strongly feel my Canadian roots. That being said, my Canadian roots don’t run very deep. My mother is only second generation Canadian, my father is third or fourth generation. In the grand scheme of history, my family has barely existed in Canada. And Canadian identity is something that is equally hard to place for many of us. Canada has been described as a mosaic of cultures, where we all make one image together but also exist in our own circles.
As someone who is Caucasian, I have the privilege of being able to access most of my family history but I have also always felt deeply disconnected from it. I knew my mother’s family was Danish and Russian Mennonite and I knew my father’s family was Scottish but that was as far as I had gotten. What really caused me to investigate it more was my spiritual journey. I saw traditions and practices that had been passed down being used by others, and I felt like I was missing something. At first, I was willing to pick and choose what resonated with me, but then I started learning about the ethics of doing so and of cultural appropriation.
When we first began our training in Celtic shamanism, the group had a discussion about why we all chose this path. Elizabeth and I were the only Canadians in the group, and we both mentioned that in some ways this was a homecoming for us - a way to reconnect to our roots. Could we have done this work in Canada? I’m not sure, while I strongly identify as Canadian my roots there are very weak. And personally, I have a very big problem with learning shamanic practices of Indigenous peoples that I have no ancestral connection with. Why? Because I was planning to teach this work one day, and for me to go and learn a practice that I had no real connection to and then profit off of it was problematic. I’m an Aquarius Sun in case this wasn’t obvious, I have a strong (perhaps too strong at times) moral conviction and profiting of a historically disadvantaged culture I didn’t belong to is cultural appropriation.
I felt compelled to go back to my roots, so that is what I did. John and Caitlin Matthews are one of the few teachers who teach only Native British Shamanism (also known as Celtic Shamanism or Geltism). In my search for a teacher or a course, many shamanic teachers also incorporated practices from Native American shamanism which I didn’t feel comfortable with. There are many teachers of Irish shamanism as well but that didn't feel quite right either. While shamanism as a concept and practice exists across the globe, each culture and community has made it their own. I was looking for something as close to what my ancestors may have practiced as I could get.
So I went to the United Kingdom, and I ended up with some guides who were very rooted in the land. My animal guide is the golden eagle, which was once widespread throughout the British Isles, and my spirit guide is the Welsh trickster god Gwydion. Coming back from our first weekend of training, I knew I had to learn more about my family history. In doing so, I discovered a good part of my father’s family is Welsh, and my mother’s family has Scottish ties as well.
And this convoluted story leads us back to why we have chosen to run our retreats in the UK instead of Canada or Germany or Denmark or somewhere else. For me, it has been because it is where I feel most connected to my guides and also where they have told me to go. In organizing and creating Otherworld Retreats, Gwydion in particular has been a massive driving force for me to do this work and to do it in Britain. Working in the United Kingdom and Ireland allows me to connect to my roots in a very physical sense that I have not found elsewhere. There is a calling for us to be there, and to bring others with us as well. It is a way for us to directly connect with our ancestry and foster that connection for you too.
You don’t have to be of Celtic, or Irish or British, heritage to join us, you just have to hear the call like we did. If the land calls to your heart and your soul, then join us won’t you? It’s time.