The Isle of Apples

The Isle of Apples

I’m in Glastonbury, the historic site of Avalon, mists, magic—the isle of apples, the real-world counterpart of that mythic place where souls go after death, to walk in the orchards of the Goddess and grow young again.

In a break from my workshop, I check my email and learn that my dear friend Keyawis has died. Keyawis—Estherelke Kaplan, had a bad fall a few weeks ago and injured her spinal cord. We’ve been praying for her, doing magic, sending her energy, and hoping against hope—but in the end her injuries were too severe.

Keyawis loved life, and lived it fully. Part mystic, part Jewish mother, she leaves behind a loving husband, children and grandchildren. Keyawis moved in many circles, from the powerful to the wild. She had a great sense of beauty and created beautiful environments around her, was a gracious hostess who generated a sense of ease and grace. But she was also plagued with poor health, illnesses and old pain that sent her on a journey of healing. Keyawis had a deep spirituality that drew from many sources, from the Judaism of her ancestors to Native American healers, herbalists, and the odd Witch (that would be me.)

Kewayis was a generous woman, who gave unstintingly to friends and causes that she supported. She funded scholarships for our Earth Activist Trainings and our travelling Permibus. But what I will miss most is her emotional generosity, her personal warmth and support and her sympathetic ear. When she believed in a cause, she threw herself into it, worked hard to weave the connections and bring on board any help or expertise she couldn’t herself offer. I think of our last conversation: I had an impulse to call her and share a piece of personal good news. She gave me one of the greatest gifts of friendship—sheer, unbridled joy and happiness at sharing my good fortune.

Just a couple short weeks ago, she suffered a bad fall, injuring her spinal cord severely. For many long days, all her friends were praying and sending healing her way. I was teaching a very intensive course, but we sent her energy and I spent much time meditating on her, sending her love as our students worked or sang or celebrated. I began to feel like that love and healing was almost a devotional practice. The more love I sent, the more love I felt. In spite of the grief and horror at what had happened to her, I felt joyous, almost blissful, in contact with her spirit.

In spite of all the prayers, the damage was too great. Keyawis chose to let go rather than to live on life-support, with no hope for recovery or quality of life. She faced death with the same grace and courage with which she lived, and died surrounded by loving friends and family.

It seems fitting that I learned of her death in Glastonbury, right before leading a ceremony at Chalice Well. The Well is an ancient sacred place. Its iron-rich waters have healing powers, and then leave a red stain where they flow, the menstrual blood of the earth Goddess. Above the well looms the Tor, the high hill where priestesses of the Goddess once trained on the island above the flooded marshes of the flat lands below. Now the marshes are drained, but apples still grown in the garden that surrounds the well. People have worshiped here for thousands of years, and this is one Pagan sacred place that remains, tended and cared for, the land held in trust, a magical garden surrounding the flowing waters.

At the well’s head, we gather, singing and chanting, raising healing energy. I ask the group for support, and sing the song we sing for the dead in Reclaiming’s Spiral Dance. I wrote the words some years ago to an ancient Scottish lament:

“Weaver, weaver weave her thread,
Whole and strong into your web.
Healer, healer, heal our pain,
In love may she return again.”

I’m singing the third verse:

“May you find the hidden way,
Beyond the gates of night and day,
To that sweet land where apples grow,
And endless healing waters flow.”

Apple trees flank the hillsides of the garden. The waters of the well flow, on and on. This is the place, truly. I hope the Otherworld is as beautiful as this, and that the song in this magical spot helps to guide her over. Friendship and love do not end with death. They transmute. The ones we love become part of us, as this water becomes part of us as we drink it in, tasting cold iron on our tongues. I am blessed to have known Keyawis. Her passing leaves a great hole in the world, but her warmth and generosity live on in each of us who love and mourn her.

13 comments to The Isle of Apples

  • Mia

    Dear Starhawk,

    I am very sorry for the loss of your friend in this world. keyawis sounds like someone I would have loved to meet.

    I will say my version of a safe crossing prayer for her and send healing for all of you who will miss her.

    May you find all the comfort you need in the trees, the water, the mist and the mystery.

    Peace & Blessings,

  • My heart goes out to you, Starhawk, as you experience the loss of your friend. I am grateful for your story of Keyawis. As we sent her energy in class, I felt her receive it, and use it for what she needed. Love to her all her family.

  • I am so sorry to hear about Keyawis. We shared some meaningful time together at an EAT a couple of years ago. In love may she return again…if she wants to.

  • andre.a

    Dear Starhawk,

    On a personal level I’m truly sorry about your loss and I share your grief, although I have hardly known Estherelke Kaplan. You are right “Her passing leaves a great hole in the world, but her warmth and generosity live on in each of us who love and mourn her.”

    Many who knew her in Toronto would probably say however, that she has in fact lived an active Jewish life in all its spiritual dimensions and not simply drew “from the Judaism of her ancestors”. (Although I realise that minimising the richness of the Jewish aspect of her life, could help your own credibility with certain people.)

    Glastonbury and Estherelke’s life and work, very much reminds me of Asphodel Long, one of the founding grandmothers of the British Goddess movement. With great ease Asphodel reconciled a strong Jewish identity with the women’s spirituality movement and the Matriarchy Research and Reclaim Network, etc.

    At her funeral just over 4 years ago, on the altar there was water from the Chalice Well at Glastonbury, a place that meant so much to Asphodel and the Jewish Prayer, the Mourners’ Kaddish was recited in Hebrew.

    I have no doubt, the very same prayer will be heard at the funeral of Estherelke Kaplan.

  • My sympathy to you and all her friends and family in your loss, Starhawk, and every blessing to Keyawis on her way. May her memory be for a blessing.

  • Star, I was very sorry to hear of the passing of Kewayis.
    I only met her a few times when you were here in Toronto, but I did feel all that generousity I spoke about. ‘May she return in love again’.
    Much love, Colette

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  • Liz Schulman

    I speak to Keyawis each day. She is still very much a part of my life and I hope always will be. She was always a guide and inspiration to me. I am a better person becuase of her. I also read you eulogy often and it gives me comfort. I know she is honored to have you eulogize her. Please write me what is happening with your work. I was in the car when you told her your exciting news and she did literally schreek with joy. She loved and admored you so much. Are you going to be in the Buffalo area. If so let me know so I can come see you. Sending love, Liz

  • My sympathy to you and all her friends and family in your loss, Starhawk, and every blessing to Keyawis on her way. May her memory be for a blessing.

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