|[Sacred Hoop: Issue 65 2009]
In June 2007 I had the opportunity of visiting the beautiful city of Graz in Southern Austria, I was there not for a holiday but to attend a conference on the effects of war on the human soul. I don't think there was anything that quite prepared me for those three days up in the Austrian mountains.
Looking back I think it ought to have been sponsored by Kleenex, as the amount of tears that were shed could have easily started a downhill stream! None of the thirty-six attendees realised the depths to which we were about to be opened up.
The conference was organised by the ‘International Deep Memory Association', and the main presenter for the conference was Ed Tick.
We started by discussing in small groups what effects war had had on us as individuals. What struck me was how we all have been affected indirectly.
In my own case it was two generations back when my grandfathers had been involved in World War Two. My mother never really met her father until she was two or three years old. The impact of this strange man coming to live in her home, who was caught up in his own thoughts and feelings, ultimately had an effect on the way she related to him and her future relationships with men.
It was only when I sat and talked about it did I start to realise how it had affected my own life. This was even before I started to look at my father's side of the family.
Ed went on to explain that he renames the common symptom of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) given to those suffering the trials of war, 'Post Traumatic Soul Disorder', for it is literally a trauma to the soul to have to be involved with the killing or destruction of other human beings for the sake of power or oil.
He told us that we can learn a lot about how to look after our heroes and warriors simply by watching how the great buffalo herds deal with their own wounded heroes. When a buffalo herd is attacked, they immediately form a circle which has different layers: the outer circle has the older bulls, the second inner circle has the next youngest and each inner circle gets younger. In the very centre you will find the females and the calves.
After the danger and attack has cleared, the circles open up and take into the centre any buffalo that may have been wounded or simply exhausted. They are then protected and welcomed back as heroes.
Human beings, being more advanced and compassionate than animals, build military hospitals in the centre of communities, and welcome home their soldiers and help them integrate back into society - don't we?
He explained about the ancient tribal traditions he works with, about soul loss and more importantly soul retrieval, about how he takes veterans back to Vietnam to help them reclaim the parts they left behind in the midst of slaughter and destruction. He explained how, for many, there is no one to talk to about the recurring nightmares of the tormented faces of their dead buddies and sights such as children lying dead.
The final part of the conference was to create a healing ceremony to call home all the lost souls that are still wandering, lost in their own kind of living hell, and never welcomed home. Ceremonies like this are used by numerous non-Western cultures for welcoming home their war dead, so that their souls can come home to rest.
We were asked to become the 'voice' for any lost soul that was ready to come home, and divided into two circles, the outer circle would hold and support those people in the inner circle who were voicing the souls of those being welcomed back.
I had a healthy scepticism, so I was taken by surprise by the strong sense of a group of spirit soldiers from all the wars standing behind my left shoulder.
I thought to myself ‘I’m happy to support the people in the middle, but not to actually be part of the inner circle.' I thought if I ignored the spirits, the ceremony would start, and someone else would help them. But it was not to be, for an hour or so passed and the spirit soldiers were still there - in fact, more had joined them.
As I connected with the spirits more, I realised that there was something quite specific about all these men: it was that they had never been welcomed home as heroes or acknowledged openly as comrades because of their sexual identity.
I was shocked, to say the least, but by now there was an ever growing number of military men from different wars from around the world standing palpably behind me.
With such a group I felt even more resistant, as I wasn't sure I could speak this out loud in front of the other members of the conference. I was feeling very uncomfortable and even contemplated leaving the ceremony completely. But then I realised that if I entered the inner circle and gave all these men a voice, it would help them, and that by not entering I would be indirectly supporting the homophobic prejudice that is in the world today.
The experience then became overwhelming; the grief and sadness combined with the anger of not being seen or welcomed home was immense. Whilst I was giving voice to all their pain, I had a sense that I was observing myself, listening and watching, thinking "Where is all this coming from?"
For me, the strongest proof that what I had experienced was 'real' came as the ceremony was closing. We all stood in one big circle to symbolise the integration of the lost souls, and everyone had their eyes closed. But being a little curious, I opened mine to have a look around. I was shocked at what I saw; for standing in front of me, as clear as day, was an army captain in full Second World War uniform. I have sensed the presence of souls before, but have rarely seen them physically, as clearly as that captain stood there. Behind him stood line upon line of men from all wars in all different styles of uniforms.
The captain stepped forward and looked me directly in the eyes, and as he did so he raised his arm and saluted me. At the same time so did all the men behind him. It was, as I understood it, their way of saying 'thank you' and to let me know they were home. Then they disappeared.
I felt, and still feel honoured today to have taken part in such a healing ceremony.
When I got home I did some research on the internet to see if I could find out more about this subject. I came across information about a museum in San Francisco that recently held an exhibition about gay men in the military. Part of the exhibition was the story of a pilot in the US Air Force called Leonard Matlovich, who died in 1988. His words seem to sum up our current state of affairs. It is very often the lone voice who speaks the words of thousands.
"When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one".
To Leonard Matlovich, and all those that I had the great privilege of welcoming home as heroes, and to all those who have never been acknowledged,
I say 'welcome home and thank you.’