Tag Archives: travel

What’s a Beguine?

Let’s find out! I visited Bruges recently and share some of my photos below.

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The beguinage at Bruges (Belgium)

The 12th and 13th centuries were characterized by renewed religious fervor. New spiritual pathways emerged. Some of them were seen as heretical (like the Cathars), while others were tolerated. Franciscans and Dominicans came into existence to reorder the Church from the inside out. The beguines emerged as one of the most original spiritual pathways and they endured for hundreds of years. They can also be viewed as the first feminists.

The beguines appeared at the end of the 12th century. These women initially came from the poorer classes and sought a life of faith without taking formal vows. At first, small groups located themselves in urban settings near hospitals or abbeys. They dedicated themselves to prayer and contemplation, but worked in their communities caring for the sick. The beguines were a conundrum and a challenge to the social order. Free from the male dominance of a husband or spiritual director, the beguine was an independent entity. Her freedom also required she support herself by working. This beguine structure for the first time opened a religious path for poor women who previously had no access to it. Nuns came from wealthy classes and bought their way into the life through large dowries, impossible for poor women.

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There is controversy over where the first beguine community was, but we know the movement spread quickly from Flanders through Italy, France, Poland, and Hungry. Over time a communal lifestyle prevailed and took hold. The beguines lived in a beguinage that functioned as a predominantly independent community, with rights and the ability to own property. Women often sought work in the thriving textile industries of their cities. By 1240, most of the beguines in the south of Flanders were living in communities surrounded by walls, where the door was closed at night creating its own version of a monastic center. The beguines had no founder and adopted no universal rule. There was no central authority. Each beguinage was a separately functioning entity, and this was sometimes a strength and sometimes a weakness.

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Not surprisingly, beguine communities were the subject of much concern for the Church. The movement ran counter to the power structure and heresy was often a concern, but two papal bulls in the 13th century did support the movement. But it was not enough. Some beguines were burned for heresy while others received protection. By the 14th century, the beguines were suffering. They were subject to inquisitional authorities, and some beguinages closed losing their assets while others were absorbed into traditional monastic orders. Some beguinages persisted through the Protestant Reformation and the French Revolution, but only a few survived into the 20th century. These were clustered in Belgium including the one at Bruges.

I’ve been to several former beguinages in the Low Countries now. They are always peaceful, contemplative places. From these places, there are still echoes of women wanting spiritual space and a place in the world. Sauve Garde.

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Read more:

The Beguines:Women in Search of Sanctity Within Freedom -Silvana Panciera

The Wisdom of the Beguines- Laura Swan

Meister Eckhart and the Beguine Mystics– Bernard McGinn

Owl Killers– Karen Maitland (fiction), starts and ends at the Bruges beguinage

Sisters Between-Molly Connally (fiction)

 

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Abbey at Villers (Belgium)

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This was a Cistercian abbey founded in 1146 and active until the French revolution. It reached its height and fame in the 13th Century. It’s estimated that as many as one hundred monks and three hundred lay brothers lived here. Sleeping and eating accommodations were separate for the two groups. You can walk the tight passageways from the dormitories to the church, visit the rooms where they held meetings and stored holy books and vestments. The church remains a beautiful structure even in ruin.

The Cistercian order was known for its dedication to a life of manual labor and self-sufficiency. Abbeys supported themselves through agriculture and ale-brewing. This abbey had massive land holdings throughout the region.

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Winter Solstice at Stonehenge

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I’ve always hated my birthday. December 21 falls too close to Christmas for it ever to have been celebrated like a normal birthday. As a child I can remember (and remember vividly) the one and only birthday party where I had neighbor kids over. The rest of the time, birthdays were small family events squeezed in among the hubbub of Christmas. Not fun and not special. That coupled with the yearly reminder from my mother that I was born on the darkest day of the year did much to cement my feelings of apathy about my solar return. For a few years, I moved the event to January hoping for a better outcome. But there was no escaping it.

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2017 turned out to be quite an eye-opening experience living abroad, and in an attempt to take advantage of some once in a life-time opportunities, I thought maybe this year marking my birthday with the rising sun of solstice at Stonehenge would make a memorable birthday. It was!

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The tour bus left London in complete darkness at 4:20 AM and we made our way to the plains of Salisbury where we picked up some light rain. We were given the option of walking 50 minutes to the site or waiting for a shuttle bus. Luckily, the English Heritage organization that controls access to Stonehenge has done this for years and there were plenty of shuttle buses, so we boarded the bus and rode. We were dropped off, in the misty blackness at the edge of a parking lot with hundreds of others. All along the way, my husband and I were looking for the famous stones to orient ourselves but even standing with the crowd, we had no idea in which direction we’d eventually be led.

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Finally, someone from English Heritage ventured by with a flashlight to tell us that they were waiting for some light before they’d open the field for us to go up to the site. When someone asked her where, she gestured to the left behind a wire fence where again we saw nothing. The crowd was animated. In the distance and to the left, drums beat, and a lone bagpipe played. More shuttle buses came and left, and we waited.

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Not long after, the stones were lit on the hill above us and the pasture fence dropped. Stonehenge emerged from the black night on the first morning of winter. Druid drums beat a rhythm as the crowd and I were led through the marshy pasture and up to the historic site. I felt very emotional going up the hill and had to focus on my breathing to circulate the energy. Whether this was a reaction to ley lines, the crowd’s festive spirit, or my own internal work I don’t know, but it was powerful and deep (and Scorpionic?). There was a sense of rightness in this crowd moving up to take back this site.

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By the time I reached the stones, several hundred people were already massed in and around the site. Stonehenge is a relatively small area. The center was held by Druids and pagans who had begun their ceremonies. Eager to join in, my husband and I moved in as close as we could. Our initial position was just outside the center ring. Gradually things began to lighten. We honored the four directions and offered prayers of peace being led by, I believe, a Druid priest. We chanted, sang songs, and summoned the ancestors. It was a festive, lively, and inclusive ceremony. The official sunrise came without notice as the clouds never permitted the sun to shine. Once the ritual part of the gathering had concluded, a group of pagan singers dressed in red streamed into the center of the stones and led the crowd in more songs. After a while, it felt like time to leave and my husband and I walked around the circle. I had a chance to touch some of the stones and walk the grounds of the site.

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One of the most important reasons to visit Stonehenge at one of the solstices is that people are allowed in among the stones and on the grounds. During the rest of the year, tourists are allowed only to walk a paved path behind a barrier around the site. Those restrictions have been in place for some years now to protect the site. Only on limited rare occasions can visitors access and touch the stones (although technically you’re not supposed to, but everyone does).

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Stonehenge is positioned on the top of a gentle hill with a panoramic view of surrounding fields. It’s isolated and unexpected, retaining its mystery. I settled on a fallen stone with some others. Revelers in the distance kept up the party atmosphere as I dropped into a healing mediation with the aid of the beat of a steady drum. It was easy to ground and go deep. I emerged sometime later, cold and stiff. It was time to leave.

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The visit had been characterized by three different phases. First, there had been the emotional climb to the site. The stones themselves and the experience of greeting the solstice was joyous and a shared one. The final phase was solitary, deep, and healing. No bolts of lightening but more a gladness that I’d been there. That this birthday was memorable and special.

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I was surprised that I had not felt more in the way of energy at the site, but then I had done some shielding ahead of our arrival. An unexpected thing happened the next day in London though. While we were waiting to get the underground, I suddenly started running energy that intensified in my palms. This lasted for some time and I think was connected to the previous day’s work. So, I’m keeping an open mind and we’ll see where this goes. Maybe a blog in the future.

 

 

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Well…life in Belgium

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I keep pushing this blog post off into the future hoping that with the passage of time some kind of perspective would give way to a new way of seeing things. I didn’t want to project a bunch of negativity, especially if what is happening is short-lived. It’s been two months now so obviously my feelings and impressions aren’t fleeting. Time for a check in blog and if you were hoping for a sunny, happy go lucky piece- abandon hope here. Once you read this, I won’t be anyone’s envy and you’ll all be glad you have not forsaken your Lazyboy recliner positioned comfortably before your hundreds of TV channels ALL IN ENGLISH!!!! Not that everything is TV. But how many of you can shrug off not having a phone or internet access for a month? My TV options are limited to BBC, CNN Europe, and a few channels that run old American movies. Nothing begins on the hour. We have no idea why. My husband jokes that it’s tied to the bus schedule (and it may be).

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I live in a French quarter on the east side of Brussels that is centered around a Catholic Church built in the 1930s. There’s a quaint town circle that holds a market every Wednesday morning. No joke- that is where I’m supposed to do my grocery shopping if I were living as a Belgian. I think this is a hold over from a bygone era because some of the young families sure seem eager to make use of the handful of VERY NEW supermarkets coming in. I do see a lot of old people at the village markets, but dual income families don’t have time to shop mid-day in the middle of the week. One of the major problems we have here is that stores are not open a lot. Many things close by six or seven on the weekdays and virtually nothing is open on Sunday. Remember the Blue laws (if you’re old enough to remember back to the 70s)? If you’re an American who hasn’t lived like this in forty years, it’s quite an adjustment. From what I understand, Germany and the Netherlands are not like this.

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The house we’re in dates from the 1950s. It has many odd features that have been eye opening. Every room has a door, every door has a key- each unique to the door. The basement has three interior keys and a locking mechanism designed by a former security official for the state of Belgium (absolute truth!). The windows have a tilting mechanism that allows “air from the garden.” Since they have no screens, we can’t even try them because the two cats would be out in an instant.There are heavy privacy shades that roll down over the exterior of the front and back windows. These are like those inner city store security systems you see in sketchy neighborhoods. Since I couldn’t bring my weight machine, these provide my upper arms with a daily work out routine. The staircases in the house are narrow, uncarpeted, and treacherous. Probably the most unique feature (?) to the whole house is the WC (water closet) on the main level. Upon entering the house, to the right (after climbing two stairs) is a small closet- like cubicle that houses a toilet. It is the only bathroom on the main living level and it means that all your visitors get to wash their hands in the kitchen sink. Now this would be okay if this house was a 1600s Dutch canal house before modern sanitation, but really?  The house was built in 1951!!!!

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Anyway, this blog has gone on and could go on rambling over eight weeks of hard earned experience. But I’d better give you all a break.

Here are some  of the things I’d give my eye teeth for (after weeks of searching here’s what we still can’t find):

breakfast sausage (for my husband, any kind)

chicken gravy (any form)

a plastic pitcher (to make iced tea)

ice cube trays

baby oil- gel

81″ length, sheer curtains

a shower curtain

raw hide chews (for the dog, no way am I giving him pig’s ears!!)

loose leaf paper

(all found at your local Walmart)

Future Blog Topics:

Laundry: The Persistent Nightmare

And You Thought You Knew Meat (why something labeled hamburger contains only chicken)

Who is Madam PeePee & Why Do I have to Pay Her?

How to Fry 2 Computers in 8 Weeks: (hey-the IT guy is here and speaks only French)

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FREE: Into the Land of Snows

This is the only time I will be doing this promotion. Get your FREE Kindle copy from Amazon (now through Dec. 10th). Snuggle up by the fire and join Blake as he treks in the Himalayas. Happy holidays to everyone! (We have a house in Brussels and we’re moving in Jan. I’ll join you from Belgium in the new year.)

GRAB YOUR FREE COPY HERE:   https://goo.gl/O6Bvxq

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NOW IN PRINT! Elephants Never Forgotten

 

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Just in time for the holidays.

Order through Amazon: goo.gl/EKcVDB

What’s it about?      Jurassic Park meets Micro😉

A hundred years in the future, twelve-year-old Nigella receives a shipment from her deceased grandfather. Her inheritance is a herd of micro-elephants. While a lot of her friends have micro-pets, Nigella is at a loss on how to care for them. Why are her micro-pets so different from everyone else’s? What was her grandfather up to? With the help of her best friend, Kepler, the girls set off on an adventure to discover the truth.

Also available as an ebook.

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Interview on Muse & Ink

The fabulous Heather Rivera and I talk about the writing process.

http://us13.campaign-archive2.com/?u=849323df82516bcc67f6069e8&id=44dcf217ee

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Mystical Life

Nicholas & Helena Roerich

The Spiritual Journey of Two Great Artists & Peacemakers by Ruth A. Drayer

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This was an enjoyable read that followed the lives of Nicholas and Helena Roerich as they fled the Russian revolution traveling the world looking to bring a measure of spirituality and art into everyday life. Although not a name recognized today, Roerich was very well known from the 20s until his death in 1947. He was primarily an artist who left a vast legacy of paintings (most of which remain in Russia). But he was also a bit of a Renaissance man dabbling in archeology, spirituality, travel, and efforts at conservation and world unity. Equally interesting was his wife, Helena, who was a psychic and healer who had contact with some of the Masters known to the Theosophists. She wrote and developed the foundational works of the Agni Yoga practice. Together, they functioned as a spiritually-driven couple who established a school of the arts in New York City in the 1920s.

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Their pursuit of all things spiritual eventually took them into India, China, Mongolia, Tibet, and Siberia. The treks happen at a dangerous time when few Westerners have traveled these regions. They often find themselves in situations they are ill prepared for. As a travelogue, it’s a fascinating journey, but not one many of us would choose. We learn that the Roerichs are in search of signs of the coming of Maitreya (a future Buddha) and interested in establishing a New Country (Shambhala) that has been prophesized. All through the journey, they hear tales about Christ (Issa) having spent time in the East. Although Nicholas’ art is energized by the trek, they don’t seem to find what the Masters are leading them towards. They settle down in northern India.

Nicholas’ next chance for adventure north comes in 1934 when he is asked by the US government to lead an expedition into these regions to find seeds for drought resistant grasses to help recover lands being swallowed by the dust bowl. He agrees, but things don’t go to plan due to political instabilities in the region. Around the same time, Helena maintains a correspondence with FDR.

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Roerich’s lasting legacy is his art and the signing of the Roerich Pact in 1935 by twenty-one nations including the US. The document was signed at the White House to protect artistic and cultural property, especially in times of conflict. Roerich was trained as an artist in Russia but also incorporates his sense of spirit with influences coming from peasant culture, Buddhism, and Theosophy. His work is overwhelmingly mystical.

The Roerich Museum (NYC):   http://www.roerich.org/

Link to Drayer’s book: http://goo.gl/IrxpnP

 

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ELEPHANTS NEVER FORGOTTEN under contract

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I’m happy to announce that my middle-grade novel, entitled Elephants Never Forgotten, is now under contract with MuseItUp Publishing. It’s a science fiction tale that could easily be pitched as Micro meets Jurassic Park. It was written at a time when I was finishing up my work in humane education and it honors the human/animal bond. The book is set for release in the Spring of 2015 as an e-book.

About the book:

A hundred years in the future, eleven-year-old Nigella receives a shipment from her deceased grandfather. Her inheritance is a herd of micro-elephants. While a lot of her friends have micro-pets, Nigella is at a loss on how to care for them. Why are her micro-elephants so different? What was her grandfather up to? In her quest to understand her pets, she learns that there might be a group of wild elephants left in a remote part of Africa. With the help of her best friend, Kepler, the girls set off on an adventure to discover the truth.

 

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