Ancient Rituals and a Modern Valkyrie

100_0117As I write I can hear soft rain falling, punctuated by the larger sounds of drips from overloaded leaves, and the swishing of the sea on the rocks below. The pink-breasted doves are cooing contentedly, bringing a sense of peace– all eleven of them,  who now enjoy two free meals a day. It feels as though the village is in rest and recovery.

 A few days ago a man died just beyond our village boundaries. He was the Maori chief and landowner for this area, and had great mana. He was a noble, handsome man respected by everyone, and had a striking, beautiful Pakeha (European) wife, whose dignity and courage matched his. Their marriage was a triumph; she accepted and lived by the local Maori customs, as well as keeping her own integrity, and creating a life of art and culture, warmth, and hospitality. She introduced visitors to the long, empty, pale gold beaches on their land, edged by the rolling blue Pacific; and she kept a herd of nearly a hundred horses, for tourists and locals to ride. She worked hard the way only those whose lives are committed to the wellbeing of horses will know.

 The chief was buried at the Maori marae, which lies across the harbour from where we live. The marae is the spiritual centre of Maori life, and the tangihanga – the funeral – is the most important ceremonial that takes place there, taking precedence over every other activity. The body lies on the marae for at least two days before the day of the funeral, and is rarely left alone. Friends, family and members of the tribe come from near and far, dressed in black, and the women often wearing green leaves in mourning wreathes around their heads. They look wonderful. They will talk and sing to the person lying there, recalling both good and bad things about them, laughing, joking – all expressions of grief are encouraged and accepted.

 The person who has passéd is commanded to return to the ancestral homelands, Hawaiki,  by way of ‘the spirit’s journey’ –  te rerenga wairua . Close kin do not speak. On the last night, the ‘night of ending’, the pō whakamutunga, the mourners hold a vigil and the coffin is closed. Then either at night or dawn on the third day, the funeral service is conducted, and when the burial rites are complete, a hakati – feast – is served. Everyone who attends brings their share, or gifts called koha.

 And when it’s over, the home of the dead one is ritually cleansed with songs, chants and prayers called a karakia and desanctified with food and drink, in a ceremony called takahi whare – ‘trampling the house’. That night, the pō whakangahau  – ‘night of entertainment’ – is a night of relaxation and rest. And after these powerful and therapeutic rituals  the widow or widower is not left alone for several nights following.

 So when our chiefly neighbour died, mourners travelled from all over the country, including the famous and powerful, to participate in the tangi. The ceremonies on the last day took from ten in the morning to four in the afternoon. At the same time, another villager died. He too was a distinguished man, a Pakeha, but he had no children and no family. He wanted no ceremony or funeral. ‘So we can’t say goodbye,’ sorrowed an old, old friend…

 While this has been going on, I’ve joined for the first time, the annual village winter ritual of having the flu, and as the second week dragged on found myself irritated that I couldn’t even have flu to myself, but had to start nursing my husband as well. Late last night after a second bad fall, I couldn’t move him, so called out the Volunteer Fire Brigade, the local version of guardian angels. It took three of them to get him off the floor, and I then began a chase after the ambulance to hospital an hour’s drive away. Leaving him to be diagnosed and pumped full of drugs, I drove home to bed at three thirty in the morning.

As I made the most of this drama to the statuesque and very beautiful young woman who comes to clean, I asked how her week had gone. Not as exciting as yours, she disclaimed modestly, before regaling me with the story of her horses. She has two. This particular night she had joined friends at a farewell fancy dress party, and worn, she told me, a glittering sequinned body stocking for the first time in her life, accessorised with a net skirt covered in sequins. As the party raged, she received a text saying her horses were loose, and had last been seen galloping in the sea at a nearby village.

After several nerve-racking hours, with reports of them all over the place, she finally ran them to earth in another bay. Abandoning her car, she rode bare – back on one, leading the other by a halter, body stocking glowing in the moonlight, sequins glinting, and net skirt billowing in the wind. ‘I was just glad no police ever clapped eyes on me,’ she said, ‘they’d have thought I was high on something!’

I wish I’d seen her, a magnificent, glowing Valkyrie beneath the shifting clouds and silver moon. As we laughed there was a knock on the door, and there was one of the firemen from last night come to see how I was, one of many others , family, friends, neighbours who’d rung or enquired how we all were.

Life and death, laughter and rain… the village is breathing, the rhythm of the sea encircles us, the in-breath and the out-breath of the universe continues, the heart-beat of life and death still pulses. The ancient rituals ease the transitions, the soft rain cleanses and refreshes; we are in rest and recovery, and the unknown road still stretches mistily ahead for us all. ‘We may not be taken up and transported to our journey’s end, but must travel thither on foot, traversing the whole distance…’ And in this small world we live in, we know we are in good company.

 Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Wanting something light and easy, I found an old recipe for ten minute cheese soufflés. Separate the eggs and yolks of two eggs, and mix the yolks with salt, pepper, a pinch of cayenne and a little mustard. Mix in two dessertsps of grated cheddar cheese, and then fold in gently the whipped egg whites. Fill two thirds of well greased individual soufflé or ovenproof dishes, and bake in a hot oven for six to eight minutes until well risen and golden brown. Serve at once. This amount makes three to four small soufflés. I’m thinking they’d be a nice easy first course for dinner with friends.

Food for Thought

I loved this foodie thought from writer Lawrence Durrell ( 1912 -1990): ‘The whole Mediterranean.. all of it seems to rise in the sour pungent smell of these black olives between the teeth. A taste older than meat, older than wine. A taste as old as cold water.’             Just reading these words makes me feel the heat, smell the scent of thyme and rosemary, and long to savour some strong red local wine beside a lapis lazuli sea….

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53 Comments

Filed under cookery/recipes, culture, great days, life and death, life/style, love, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized, village life

53 responses to “Ancient Rituals and a Modern Valkyrie

  1. You have a great ability to find stories in the everyday as well as the extraordinary. The chief and your domestic help came alive for me as did the 11 doves.

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  2. Oh, Valerie – there is a strong rhythm, a heartbeat that echoes throughout our mountains, oceans, valleys and streams. I feel it in the quiet hours of the early morning; it helps me drift off to sleep as the night moves in. These words were especially meaningful to me today….

    ” The ancient rituals ease the transitions, the soft rain cleanses and refreshes; we are in rest and recovery, and the unknown road still stretches mistily ahead for us all.”

    When you walk the unknown road, it is good to have a kindred spirit nearby…

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    • What beautiful words, Rebecca, thank you, I just loved reading your comment…
      Yes, and our company of bloggers has added a whole new dimension to companionship and kindred spirits,, hasn’t it…

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      • We are never alone, are we? Our lives connect as we move throughout time and space. Hugs!

        “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”
        ― Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey

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  3. talesfromthelou

    Very lovely Valerie. The death ritual reminds me of the Tibetan rituals where the body is attended to for a period of time. The Tibetan Book of the Dead says we linger for a little while adjusting to the new reality of the death state.

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  4. To hark back to your post The Real Dalai Lama and ”I smiled, stepped towards him, stuck out my hand to shake his, and heard myself say: “How d’you do, we haven’t met, I’m Valerie …” ; at the time I meant to say how this ritual of greeting and naming is always the most wonderfully reassuring moment when St John’s, or their equivalent, appears on one’s doorstep/accident scene. It is not a matter of simply politeness. It touches on our deep need for the reassurance of ancient rituals. With the rescuers, it is their calm, their orderly appearance, their gentle but firm language that carry us through the ‘crisis’, the ‘unknown’ moment. I am glad there is this place in our lives for ritual, for traditions, for greeting and for leaving; for a calling home, and for feasting and for celebrating life and laughing. Rest well and I am glad you and your husband are in good hands. Your Valkyrie sounds as though she could cope with anything.

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    • What a simply beautiful comment, Gallivanta… your thoughtful words are such a gift… I shall think about them.
      The celebrating and the laughing goes on here… my friend and I, forsaking our sick husbands, have been drinking Prince George’s health in some very fine champagne, washed down with some delicious little nibbles – someone had to ……as I’m sure you’ll agree !!!!

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      • Oh excellent! I don’t have any champagne in the house so have an extra drink to Prince George on my behalf. And I am very keen to try your latest recipe 🙂

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  5. A fine picture your Valkyrie would have made in the moonlight! I hope you and your hubby are feeling better soon…xo

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  6. A beautiful, beautiful post Valerie. Your world comes alive for me when I read. I hope you both feel better soon

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  7. You have a true gift of transporting your reader in a captivating place. You bring out subjects that would otherwise go unnoticed… I loved your description of rituals in morning, the people, the place they come from and the place you find yourself in. You should think about writing books. I’d be the first one to buy them 🙂

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  8. Thank you so much for your lovely comments and generous thoughts,
    so glad you enjoyed the post…
    Thank you for your encouragement about writing books… great to know you’re interested ! You can read about the last ones I’ve written in the section called How to Buy Valerie’s books….and I hope there will be more… encouragement like yours is worth its weight in gold, thank you

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  9. Dear Valerie,

    For some time I’ve been thinking about your writing and tonight realized that I don’t so much read your words as step into your world to walk a while through the moments you describe. This post was one of your most beautiful. Perhaps this is because I live in Hawaii and understand the power of ancient rituals to heal, or because I have felt the mana that emanates from the land, or maybe because I am ever in thrall, wrapped in the all-encompassing embrace of the sea. Or all three, and entranced by the magic spell you weave when you sit down to write. I am so glad I found you.
    May you and your husband get well and prosper to the soothing rhythms of the village and life.

    Kia ora,

    Doug

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  10. Dear Doug,
    I am so glad you found me, or I found you… not sure which.
    You always respond to whatever I write in a way that thrills me, and makes me feel you understand..
    And as a writer you would know how precious that is…
    I did think you would definitely understand this one, as I knew you would feel as you do about the ancient rituals, the power and energy of the land, and I know how you feel about the sea.
    I love our connection, Love, Valerie

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  11. PS Thank you for your good wishes… my husband is nearly 85 and struggles. I, on the other hand, am feeling a lot better after a glass of champagne !!!

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  12. Dear Valerie,

    I have to echo Doug. You have a way of taking me into your world and holding me there. Not as a prisoner so much but as a willing captive.
    The ritual of visiting and speaking with the deceased drew me in and put me in mind of a totally unrelated (but not so unrelated) incident in my own life. About 20 years ago a dear friend, a local actor/comedian, passed away. His memorial service was a night of celebration with other performers doing stand-up and sketches in Dennis’ honor. It was a night of laughter, tears and remembering a delightfully generous man who never took himself seriously. At his funeral his children took baskets of his favorite candy around to the mourners.
    Your descriptions of the sea caress me like a long-lost lover.
    I hope you’re recovering from your flu. It’s hard to be the caretaker when you’re ill.
    I’m also happy and feel privileged to have finally found you.

    Shalom,

    Rochelle

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    • Dear Rochelle, I do love hearing from you, and feel very touched that you should enjoy my blogs the way you say. Your friend’s farewell sounded wonderful… I love stories like that.. I remember years ago, the father of a friend leaving a very large sum of money to be used in throwing a party to commemorate his life. Lives should be celebrated I feel… Thank you for your best wishes… as I said to Doug a glass of champagne helps! And yes, it’s lovely to have another connection of warmth and friendship, Love Valerie

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  13. Such a rich piece, Valerie. I hope you and your husband have recovered. What an image of that lady who comes to clean on her horse, sequins sparkling! I love how you have woven these stories together with such tender writing.

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  14. I’m sending you and your husband well wishes and hope you both recover quickly. (I wish I could send you some soup!). In the meantime, pamper yourself as much as possible with a good book in bed.

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    • Dear Letizia, your comforting warm thoughts were therapeutic – even soup-like – in themselves… thank you… and yes, a great tome of a book arrived from ABE Books today, to see me through some cosy lie-ins !!!

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  15. Goodness me, they say live continues on regardless of what is happening in your life but man they seem to do it in spades there! A beautiful post of tradition and you believe it unless you saw it stuff. Your friend must have been quite a sight!

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  16. I believe that no matter what happens in your life you have the ability to tell an engrossing and compelling story about the facts of it. I so much look forward to your writings, and wish you and your husband glorious good health.

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    • Dear Ronnie – thank you so much for your lovely comments – I’m so glad you enjoyed the blog… I always have fun writing it !
      Thank you for your good wishes… he’s home from hospital now, and we settle back into normality again – whatever that may be !!!

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  17. I hope your husband has recovered from his fall and that your flu has much improved. I was quite fascinated with the funeral rituals and customs you described. Sounded like a noble and fitting tribute. What a sight the woman on horseback must have been. Your world is very colorful, Valerie. Wishing you both good health. 🙂

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    • Hello Lynne – good to hear from you… I’m glad you found the Maori rituals interesting, I thought they were intriguingly psychologically therapeutic…Yes, my lovely Valkyrie is quite something !
      Thank you, we are all on the mend …

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  18. Valerie,

    Wow that covered a variety of subjects and all of it so well writen that I can see the picture in my mind.

    I hope your husband is better.

    Sunni

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    • Hello Sunni – glad you enjoyed it… thank you, I collected my husband from the hospital today… and now it’s the long slow recovery !!!! Pneumonia…

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      • Gil

        To start things off, I would say that one thing I ralley love about Criminal Minds are the UNSUBs. Sometimes they’re terrible people and sometimes they don’t want to be doing anything wrong, but they always have a deep unstoppable reason for doing it. I love seeing that reason unfold. I love figuring them out piece by piece and putting the pieces together. Makes me wish I had gone into psychology. The thing I like about casual games is that they are short and sweet. You get an entire story in a compact little package. It’s like watching an episode of a TV show instead of watching a movie. You know I love me some hard-core video games, but they always take so long (sometimes 80-100 hours!). Sometimes you just need a nice 4 hour casual game to get your gaming fix!Yours Truly,Valerie

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  19. Oh, Valerie! I hope by the time you read this that you (yourself) are doing better. Flu is not fun, taking care of an ill person hard and the two together can be terribly overwhelming! I so appreciated your writing of the Maori and the ritual of saying good-bye. It is all so very important.

    My dearest most beloved friend and sister passed away many, many years ago…as she was dying from cancer she expressed the wish to be cremated and flung to far winds on top of a beloved mountain. We all agreed to help her fly. As the time grew nearer she changed her mind and asked to be buried in the cemetery next to all of the other family members–when asked why she said that she would be free anyway, but her children and those who loved her would need a spot to come to find her. A spot for healing of them.

    My heart goes out to you and to your husband. When the time comes for all of us I hope we can be like that sparkling lady riding away on a horse of foam.

    Linda
    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com
    http://deltacountyhistoricalsociety.wordpress.com

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    • Hello LInda
      I hope you got my other message. thank you for this lovely long message… the letting go rituals are so important for everyone, aren;t they… yes, isn;t that a lovely image, riding away in the foam, sparkling from head to foot !!! Let’s do it !!!!

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  20. Even in the rituals of death you bring your village alive, I am always so grateful when I am able to catch up with you here. What wonderful stories of passing, sending to rest.

    Your help? She sounds brilliant!

    I do hope both you and your husband are better now.

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    • Hello Val, thank you for coming to my village ! Yes, isn’t my Valkyrie wonderful ! And thank you, I’m on the mend, and himself is home from hospital with his pneumonia ….everything passes !!!!

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  21. The cheese souffles are lovely. Just made them for a light Sunday lunch. Hope the patient continues to improve. It’s a glorious day here; perhaps you have some of the same.

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  22. I can’t help but wish we had more rituals like those you describe here Valerie, not just at the time of death, but throughout our lives, to help support us. Sadly lacking from modern culture, I think. Thanks for another wonderful (and meaningful) read.

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    • Yes, I know what you mean, Michele… ritual and ceremony help all transitions, and given them meaning and significance that I think we often let slip through our fingers in our hurry these days… Thank you for your unfailing encouragement, dear friend…

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  23. What a wonderful story Valerie. Thanks

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  24. Amy

    Your beautiful post made me think about the “Sound of Water” you wrote that tell stories of life journey and about the inner life…
    Glad to know your husband is home now, hope you are doing well.

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  25. I am still sitting in the waves of inner workings, respecting how the ins and outs of life and death can be so individual in each location. Yet the underpinnings, the underpainting, bring it home to the soul of humanity.

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  26. Valerie. You are so special. Sharing your take on life’s events makes my day every time I read a post. Keep well.

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  27. You live in such a different world! A truly fascinating one, though.
    I wonder if anyone saw the Valkyrie after some overindulgence? Make them join the ranks of total abstainers, for sure.

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