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Horses and the Mystical Path
The Celtic Way of Expanding the Human Soul
By Adele von Rüst McCormick, Marlena Deborah McCormick, Thomas E. McCormick
New World LibraryCopyright © 2004 Adele von Rüst McCormick, Marlena Deborah McCormick, and Thomas E. McCormick
All rights reserved.
Discovering Our Source
The horse and rider are elemental. They ride at the heart of the wind of God.
— J. Philip Newell
The core concepts in this book were born many years ago while we were traveling in Scotland. We were on our way to the Isle of Mull in the Scottish Hebrides, where we were going to visit the thirteenth-century McCormick castle, the home of our Scottish ancestors. As we ventured toward the town of Oban, we took a detour and got lost in the countryside, which was lush with wild heather adorning the emerald hills. The horizon was ablaze with purple, shrouded by an ephemeral mist. We were awed by the beauty of this rugged highland terrain, and any impatience we had with the detour quickly vanished.
After traveling for many miles, we came upon a wide meadow, where we were forced to stop. The road continued, but we were surrounded by a sea of Scottish sheep, a strange, curious, and adorable lot. They had long shaggy coats and curled horns and were larger than sheep we were familiar with back in the United States. The sheep began sniffing and licking the car and refused to get out of the way. Seeing that it was impossible to move, we finally turned off the engine. We then opened the car doors and prepared to move the animals out of our path, but to our amazement they started flooding into our car. Within moments we had big woolly sheep in every nook and cranny of the vehicle. We thought we might be spending the night literally counting sheep because there was no one in sight to help us move our woolly friends. We took a deep breath and accepted the fact that there was nothing for us to do but succumb to the animals' advances and make friends with them.
Then from out of the mist came the voice of a man with a heavy Scottish brogue. He let out a roar, laughing heartily as he came to the top of the hill and saw our predicament. Hearing his voice, we jumped, since we'd not seen even a sign of another human being for miles.
As this Scottish shepherd approached us, he waved his crook with his gnarled hands and said to the sheep, "You found them!" After this brief exchange with his sheep, he turned to us and said, "My sheep tell me you are on the path. They want to go home with you, but I told them you live a long way from our hillside village. They know you are unusual people."
Our first thought was, What path could he possibly be talking about? All we knew for certain was that we were delayed, tired, and at a dead end.
In his heavy accent, the shepherd asked what we needed. We explained that besides being waylaid by his sheep, we were lost. We had taken a detour and had somehow gotten off the road. He smiled and said, "You're not lost. You've come to the right place. I have been waiting for you. My sheep informed me you were coming. Please stay and have something to eat. I will send you on your way tomorrow."
Intrigued by his hospitality and playful demeanor, we accepted his offer.
That night we were put up as his guests in his tiny village. We conversed with our host long into the wee hours of the night. He told us stories about the Celts in the Hebrides, opening our eyes to a way of life we had never imagined until that moment. After a long and full evening of robust conversation, laughter, and a meal, we collapsed in our beds while the Scottish shepherd continued tending his sheep. In fact, we never caught this wise man taking a wink. He possessed boundless energy and a gentle radiance, though he seemed to be eternally awake, always with one eye open watching his beloved sheep.
To this day we remember him vividly — a kind, wise old man with a twinkle in his eye, who told us stories of Celtic saints and Celtic healings. He assured us that one day we would find ourselves on a spiritual journey and our lives would be very different than they had been up till then.
We didn't take his predictions seriously at the time, for we were busy with our careers and gave little attention to other matters. Eventually, though, that encounter with the shepherd would come to haunt us, his wisdom seeming to follow us like a benevolent presence.
Upon returning to the States, we discovered that we hadn't even known our friend's name. When we spoke of him, we called him "the shepherd."
Years passed, and the encounter fell from our minds, but true to the old man's prophecies, we found ourselves on a spiritual journey, encountering divinity in many forms and guises. We became completely absorbed in the horse business and spent many years using these beautiful creatures in a therapeutic way to help emotionally troubled humans. Messages of a spiritual nature were often communicated to us through our conversations with these ordinary people, but they were particularly strong in our relationships with our horses.
Then one day, while dealing with a tragic injury to one of our horses, we suddenly recalled our encounter with the old shepherd, years before, on the back road in Scotland. Until that day, we had tucked away, somewhere deep in our consciousness, the stories of seemingly magical healings the shepherd had told us.
At dawn we had gone out to feed the horses, as was our habit, and to our horror we saw that Maximo, our beautiful healing horse, had something seriously wrong with his eye. In fact, we couldn't even see the eye, which seemed to have disappeared into his head. Maximo was in obvious pain. We immediately called our veterinarian, who came out to our place, examined the horse, and reported that the eye had been sucked up into the socket. Her most immediate concern was infection. She medicated Maximo and left, planning to return the following morning to perform a follow-up procedure. We were distressed and in pain ourselves. It was then that our memory of the old shepherd came back to us. We recalled his stories of healing along with the vivid details of how those healings were performed.
We called upon God, within and without. We visualized a loving, healing light within us, in our hands and in Maximo. We then tenderly placed our hands over his injured eye and called upon God in all of us to take over. Just as the shepherd had described, what we experienced was a "Thy will be done" sort of ritual. If healing were to occur, it would come from a much higher source than ourselves.
Following our prayer ritual, we ended our day with Maximo and went home. We continued the healing ritual with a meditative prayer that the wise old Scotsman had taught us.
The next morning the vet arrived promptly at 7 A.M. She examined Maximo, and to her astonishment she found the eye had returned to normal. It was completely healed! We were overjoyed as Maximo gazed back at us with both his healthy eyes; it was as though the old Scotsman was also looking back at us through those eyes, smiling. In time we would discover that not only had Maximo's eye been healed, but something within us had been healed as well.
Following this event, we knew for certain that we had experienced something quite extraordinary. We had encountered a reality beyond our own senses, witnessing firsthand the powers of what we would come to call the regenerative source that is rooted in all of life. This experience opened our minds to the tremendous potential available to all of us. Yet it also made us aware that we could not fully know this source unless we lived passionately and were willing to look within. Like so many others in modern life, we had had our doubts about this other reality. But now it was quite clear to us that we needed to trust ourselves to read the signs, to learn to understand the hidden language of the heart. Somehow we knew that it would be only through firsthand encounters that we would begin to know the ineffable source of that invisible reality. Now it was time to put what we'd learned into practice.
We became increasingly aware of an important shift in our approach to life. We were no longer pursuing spirituality; rather, we were awakened to the divine mystery, the invisible world of meaning and connectedness. Our horses, as our messengers or animal guides, led us along this intriguing path, and over time, we would watch as they guided countless others to experience more expansive realms of consciousness. More and more, we sensed the shamanic influence of the wise old shepherd we'd met in Scotland, whose gentle presence now followed our every step as we met others on the road and shared our experiences.
Others on the Road
Our psychospiritual journey began with our work as psychotherapists treating severely emotionally disturbed people. Then we brought in our horses as healing partners. While our experiences with patients planted the seeds of our eventual change, our deepening involvement with horses encouraged us to nurture those seeds, and we began to experience a more mysterious side to life.
Through running our equine programs, we began to hear stories about other people's remarkable encounters with horses. People from a wide cross-section of careers and professions reported that they had met spirit horses. They described horses that live between the visible and invisible worlds, traveling back and forth between these worlds according to the needs of the humans in their lives. These interactions with spirit horses could be as subtle as a gentle breeze or as aggressive as a hammer blow. But they were always distinct and unforgettable.
What we began to observe is that the horse instinctively knows how and when to introduce humans to the unexpected and to the challenges of surprises and new difficulties. The horse becomes not only a soothing friend but a provocative adversary — what Celtic shamans call an anam cara, or "soul friend," in Gaelic. It is this combination of soothing our doubts and fears and challenging our entrenched behaviors and beliefs that epitomizes the role of the anam cara. With laserlike precision, the horse easily assumes the role of soul friend, disturbing our comfort by frustrating our demands, withdrawing its compliance, becoming hard to handle, or shocking our rigid and deterministic minds. Thus, the horse is capable of opening doors of awareness that stretch the bounds of human consciousness.
Over the years we've been privileged to witness this special relationship between horses and their human counterparts many times. For example, there's the story of Laurie, who had been diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer, only to discover another tumor several years later. When the second tumor was found, Laurie was immediately scheduled for emergency surgery. She was terrified, since she did not know what the doctors would find once the surgery began. Laurie and her husband prayed that the tumor would be operable and had not metastasized. However, both were secretly pessimistic. They had heard that when a tumor of this kind returns, it is usually a death sentence. Laurie was only forty-five years old and newly married. Understandably, her husband, Mark, was also terrified, fearing he would lose her.
Mark was a kind and responsible man but had trouble relaxing and enjoying himself. He had a somewhat pessimistic view of life, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Whenever life went smoothly, he felt a sense of dread, fearing that a catastrophe would surely follow. Having had cancer once, Laurie had been reluctant to marry, but Mark had bravely insisted he could handle whatever came up. Now, as he faced the harsh realities of Laurie's prognosis, he did not feel so valiant. He withdrew emotionally and became increasingly uncommunicative, which was his way of dulling his anguish.
In response to Mark's behavior, Laurie felt abandoned and vulnerable, not only fearing the disease but now growing increasingly anxious that Mark was withdrawing his love. Laurie cried alone, hiding the truth of what she was feeling. It was a disturbing time for both Mark and Laurie, each silently distraught and secretly fearful of what was ahead.
On the day of Laurie's surgery, Mark stayed with her until she dozed off from the anesthesia. Laurie felt frightened as she watched her husband's face fade away. During the operation Laurie felt no pain, but she heard the doctors talking. The tone of their voices and the words they used made her anxious. They sounded so gloomy and foreboding.
Laurie began to panic, but at that moment a beautiful white winged horse appeared in her mind's eye. It radiated light, and it mesmerized her. In that moment all her terror dissolved, and this majestic creature transported her to a magical world, a place that sparkled and was full of love. Laurie felt herself enveloped in a sensation of complete and utter tranquillity. A white light encircled her and the horse. It was as if they were on a different planet.
As she looked around her, she saw many beautiful horses. They had manes and tails of silver and spun gold. They smiled at her, celebrating her presence, and their joy was truly contagious. Some of the horses grazed, while others played or slept. It was so peaceful and inviting. The fields were full of lush green grass, and there was a cool stream that the horses drank from. Wildflowers colored the landscape. Laurie wanted to sing and laugh. She could have rested with them all day, feeling very much at home in this idyllic place.
The white horse that had brought her to this place then motioned for her to follow, and soon Laurie was back in the operating room. The entire episode took only a moment, and then Laurie woke up with a floating sensation. Her entire body felt warm and tingly. As soon as she opened her eyes, she saw her husband's face and felt confident that the surgery had gone well.
Mark informed Laurie that things were very hopeful. The doctors were delighted because the tumor they had found was small, which was not what they had expected. They had removed the tumor, and tests revealed that the cancer had not metastasized.
Some time later, Laurie confided in Mark, telling him she believed that she had been healed by the white horse.
Much relieved by the doctors' optimistic prognosis and by the deeply healing encounter with the white horse, Laurie and Mark shared their fears with each other. Over time they grew much closer and their relationship matured. They both knew they had been given a second chance, and out of the lessons they took away from this experience, they began to trust and confide in each other.
Over ten years passed, and there was no recurrence of the cancer. Then Laurie and her husband went to visit a horse ranch one Sunday afternoon. They loved getting away and spending time in the country. As they walked across an open field, a large white horse approached Laurie. When she looked up, she gasped. The horse stopped directly in front of her. It was the same horse she'd seen in her vision during her surgery over ten years before! Barely able to hold back her tears of joy and gratitude, Laurie looked up into the horse's face and said, "Thank you!" With that, he tossed his head and galloped gleefully away.
To this day, Laurie is certain this was the animal who had carried her away to that healing kingdom. Now, whenever she needs courage in her daily life, she remembers the white horse and his homeland, the invisible land of love.
Sacred Bonds between Humans and Horses
Throughout history, there have been stories about the powerful bonds established between animals, especially horses, and their human counterparts. Those who experience these bonds often cross an etheric threshold where they encounter the sacred nature of their relationship not just with the animal but with their Source. This was the experience of a friend of ours named Michael.
Michael and his gelding, Commandante, were buddies. Michael had bred and raised him along with other Peruvian horses. Commandante was a love, with the kind of disposition people dream of. He would happily comply with anything Michael asked. He was not only a good sport horse but was game for any adventure. As a result, Michael taught him many tricks and complicated reining techniques, which this equine old soul mastered quickly. By the time he was seven, Commandante was a real performer. Michael and his gelding were doing public exhibitions and enjoying every minute of them.
While practicing one day, Commandante lost his balance. Michael assumed that his horse had stumbled on something, and thought nothing of it. However, within a matter of three months, Commandante was tripping and losing his balance more frequently. Then one day Michael saw this very coordinated horse fall down in the pasture for no apparent reason and struggle to get up.
Soon afterward, Michael called a veterinarian to examine him. Commandante was diagnosed with a rare neurological condition that can be caused by a viral infection. The vet informed Michael that there was no known treatment. Michael was devastated. The vet went on to say that it would only be a matter of time before the horse would hurt himself or fall and injure another animal or person. Those words were a death sentence for the magnificent horse.
Excerpted from Horses and the Mystical Path by Adele von Rüst McCormick, Marlena Deborah McCormick, Thomas E. McCormick. Copyright © 2004 Adele von Rüst McCormick, Marlena Deborah McCormick, and Thomas E. McCormick. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
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