Trance to the Shining Isle

Trance to the Isle of Apples

My major role in the Spiral Dance this year—aside from the various roles I’ve played for months, like helping with media, going to meetings, organizing, soothing ruffled feathers, making videos and answering numerous emails—my role once the dance begins is to lead the trance, together with my friend and housemate Rose May Dance, and our young friend Julian Litauer-Chen.  Julian, who is twelve, is joining us because this year being our thirtieth anniversary, we are pairing up elders with youngsters as part of our commitment to passing the tradition on.  Mary Ellen Donald will drum for us, the chorus and some of the Turning Earth singers will weave in and out, and my brother Mark Simos is coming out and will fiddle for us. 

 Teens in chorus

The trance is an inward journey, to the Isle of Apples, the land of Youth, the Shining Isle—the mythical place souls go to after death.  In Wiccan mythology, death is not an ending, but a transformation to a new state.  Witches go neither to hell nor heaven, but to the Land of Youth, where  we walk with the Goddess beneath the trees that are in flower, bud, and fruit all at the same time, reviewing our life and its lessons and planning our next one.  There we remain until we grow young enough to be reborn.

Making that journey together in ritual is a way of practicing for the death that each one of us will eventually face.   The way to the Isle becomes familiar to us in life, and so in death we don’t have to be afraid or confused.


The snake is a symbol of rebirth: Kathleen Graham rehearses with her familiars.

The snake is a symbol of rebirth: Kathleen Graham rehearses with her familiars.


Do I really believe this?  Yes and no.  I’m not a Pagan literalist.  But I do believe that this poetic imagery expresses a deeper truth, one that our minds can only grasp in symbols.  When I have priestessed a death, no matter how hard the passage, at the end comes a moment of lightness and release, a radiant and joyful opening.

I recently read My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor.  Taylor is a neuroanatomist who suffered a major stroke that, for a time, destroyed almost all her left-brain, rational thought, memory and control.  In the midst of an experience that makes me shudder with horror to think about, she reports feeling a sense of bliss and peace.  With the left brain offline, and all boundaries gone, she felt one with everything, connected, held and loved.

I’ve seen some of my elderly relatives, when near death, almost glow with a transcendent light—as if beneath the ego and the personality lies a radiant ground. 

Maybe that’s the true meaning of the Shining Isle…

“You warriors, here your battles are over,

You workers, here your tasks are done,

You who are hurt, here find healing,

You who are weary, here find rest,

For this is the Land of Youth, the Shining Isle, the Isle of Apples,

Here is all that ever was, none are forgotten,

All that has passed comes round again,

For here, what is remembered, lives.”

The Shining Isle

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