Oak trees, oak pews.

The Christians of old had a habit of taking the old tradition and making it theirs. This made it easier to convince the natives that they were on the same page. Sometimes it is the other way around. The natives will acquiesce to the Christians, but secretly keep their old faith.

Look at the Celtic cross. It is a cross superimposed on a circle. The trouble is that the symbol was perfectly fine before the extra lines got added. Originally it was two equal armed lines inside a circle. Think of a plus sign, limited by a circle. The Christians came along and said “Hey, look, we agree!” And they added lines past the circle to make a crucifix.

Trouble is, the symbol means more without the extra lines. The symbol means that we are all connected. It symbolizes the intersection of the divine and the mundane. It symbolizes where spirit meets flesh.

The cross says the same thing, but the cross only appears when Christians have appeared and put it there. The circle cross, or equal armed crosses, appear all over the world and all mean the same thing.

They mean that the divine is with us. This is a holy place. This is a place where God is.

The fact that these different cultures have the same symbol meaning the same thing – that there is something larger than this perceived reality – is pretty amazing. It is even more amazing when you realize that these cultures had no contact with each other. To me this is proof that God exists.

Then there are the Druids. Christians took the oak groves they worshipped in and tore them down. They took the trees and turned them into pews. Instead of a faith that celebrates the Creator in the midst of creation, people were made to sit passively on the very trees that had sheltered them.

Rosary beads are another example. The pre-Christian people used beads for protection. They used amethyst as a ward against drunkenness. They used rock crystal for purity. They used red coral and garnet for similar purposes. Then the Christians came along and said that they are worshipping the stones themselves so they made that a sin. Then when they started using rosaries as a way to measure their prayers, guess what stones were used?

This is no more evident in the Haitian beliefs of Voodoo. They took their gods and folded them into the Catholic saints. They are still worshipping their gods. They just have different names now when the priest comes around.

The old faith gets transformed into the new faith. It gets recycled, reused, repurposed. The old never left, it just changed its face.

On salamanders – part one. (The heat is on.)

I have a tattoo of a salamander on my right shoulder. I got it probably five years ago. It is specifically a Yonahlassee salamander. They only are found on Grandfather Mountain, which is in North Carolina. There are bluets surrounding it, and they grow on Grandfather Mountain in May. That is where my husband and I spent our honeymoon, and when we got married. It is a reminder, and a promise. It is a marker of the past and of the future. But there is even more to it.

I’ve loved the idea of salamander for many years. I was in a medieval re-enactment group and used the salamander as the animal on my device. I guess you could say it is my totem. The salamander may not look scary or fierce, but there are hidden strengths to it. The salamander was a medieval Christian symbol of “strength through adversity” because they thought it walked through fire. They would notice that salamanders would come out of a forest that was on fire, and they would often come out very late after the fire started. They wouldn’t come running out at the beginning of the fire like the rest of the animals did. They also would notice salamanders coming out of a log that had been set on fire in a fireplace, so they also thought that salamanders were born from fire.

Now, science wasn’t a strong suit for medieval Christians. In reality, salamanders sleep a lot of time in rotting logs. They love the moisture and the quiet, and how safe they are. They use the logs to hide from enemies because they can’t be seen in there. So when there is a forest fire, they are often the last to know. They are curled up all snug in that log and they get warm when the fire is going full force. They escape the fire late because they are aware of it late. They can’t exactly run because they have really short legs. I’m sure that a lot of salamanders die trying to escape the forest fire. But, they do have really moist skin so they have a small level of protection from heat.

But the symbolism remains.

I like the idea of them because they are very small but they survive. They make it through the storm. They endure. In the midst of something bad, they don’t run away. I’m reminded of the Hindu image of God called Ganesh. Ganesh has the attributes of an elephant. Instead of walking around obstacles, he walks through them.

Somewhere in the middle of last night I was up again because I was too hot. Middle age will do that to you if you are female. The heat wakes me up. I’ve learned to just get up for a little bit and cool down. These days I write during this time. It is a quiet enough activity that doesn’t wake my husband up or get me so engaged that I can’t go back to sleep. Plus, writing helps get the words out of my head.

In the middle of writing last night I realized that the salamander is a good symbol for this time too. It walks through fire. This fire of perimenopause is pretty annoying, but instead of seeing it as a bad thing, I can use it as a chance to transform myself. I can see it as a sign that I am changing, and becoming a wise woman. This time is a time of growth, of shedding my old self and growing into my new self. Or maybe I need to think of it as the self that was always there, just hidden beneath layers of stuff that was put on me. It is an opportunity to strip down and make a leaner, faster, better me.

I’m thinking of it as if I was going on a journey, and I keep finding out that the more I carry, the shorter the distance I can go. The more I get rid of, the faster I am. The stuff to get rid of isn’t just stuff – it is ideas and old ways of thinking. It is relationships that aren’t healthy. It is anything that doesn’t serve, isn’t useful, and doesn’t work anymore.

In fact, some bits never worked in the first place. Some of it is stuff that was given to me – either real, tangible things, or instead they are ways of thinking – that never worked at all but I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know that there were other choices, and that the person giving them to me wasn’t healthy or healing for me. Not all people who say they are teachers or leaders really are. And everything should be tested. Is it true? Is it helpful? Does it work? Does it fit with other things that I know to be true and helpful?

Sometimes the best teacher is to be found in that still small voice, that quiet moment when you have that “ah-ha!” in the middle of the storm, where it all comes together and makes sense.

I’m becoming grateful for the fire inside, the heat that I’m feeling these days. It is waking me up.