Author and Modern Mystic


Holy Conversations: A Pilgrimage to Iona


The Abbey of Iona

“Behind your image, below your words, above your thoughts, the silence of another world waits.” John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom

Last May, I joined a group of pilgrims from the Washington National Cathedral to spend a week on the holy Isle of Iona off the west coast of Scotland. I wished to experience silence and listen to the stillness.

After spending 20 years as a community activist and leader in government and business, I had a strange and beautiful experience that opened new worlds to me. I was doing a meditation when I had a vision of my father on his knees, asking me to forgive him for committing suicide 23 years before.

My third eye opened, and from that time I have been able to talk with individual spirits and communities of spirits in this world and “on the other side.”  I have sought understanding, healing and compassion for myself and others. This spiritual journey continues.

During the week on Iona, we walked the island, participated in ecumenical services in the abbey and discussed the meaning and history of Celtic spirituality. I also spent time alone in prayer and meditation, sitting in nature.   I listened to the wind howling, the waves crashing, and watched the sun glimmering on the ocean. The very air I breathed was holy, carrying the resonance of 2000 years of prayer by Druids, Celts and Christians.

Here are some journal notes:

Sunday, May 1: Sitting in the hotel’s quiet garden, I feel the leaves on the trees sprouting; the flowers bursting forth with their blossoms, and I hear the chickadees chirping. Surrounded by nature, I feel enlivened, connected and hear the small voice within: “Be still and open to God.”


Quiet Garden, Iona


Monday, May 2: I walk to the middle of the island to meditate in a circle of stone, called the Hermit Cell. In the late 500s, St. Columba (521-597) prayed there regularly.  St. Columba was a monk who left Ireland and settled in Iona in 563. There, he founded and led a monastery on Iona for many years and from this base he evangelized parts of modern day Scotland and northwest England.

With the wind blowing, I enter the circle, sit quietly and listen.


Hermit Cell, Iona

Wednesday, May 4: We walk across Iona and when we reach St. Columba’s Bay, I stop and sit on a boulder by the water’s edge. The sunlight is shining on the ocean and the waves crash and retreat. The wind whistles past my ears; I listen to the stones tumbling across the sand, and the seagulls chat with each other as they dart back and forth. I feel exhilarated and peaceful.

St. Columba’s Bay, Iona

As I leave, I walk the stone labyrinth in silence. Sheep graze on the land nearby. The wind still howls in my ears.

Labyrinth, Iona

Friday, May 6: My last day, I speak with a familiar spirit who fills me with love. After long travels, she tells me she has decided to remain home in Iona.   I ask: why? She responds:

“I draw strength here, strength from the wind, the sea, the smell of the kelp. It is wild here, untamed and splendidly raw. Feel the elements yourself. The birds fly on my currents. I tousle the water and create waves. I send them crashing against the rocks and create great plumes of salt water. Nature is raw here.   I am home.”

I, too, feel at home. Iona is holy, communal, and intimate. I am grateful to share this journey with my fellow pilgrims.


Bay at the Back of the Ocean, Iona

© Susan Beilby Magee, 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Pilgrimage to Scotland: Orkney’s Neolithic Ring of Brodgar and Skara Brae

IMG_0203cropDuring a meditation one morning in Palm Desert, California, I received an invitation to visit the Ring of Brodgar. I had a vision of the stones and noticed white light coming from one of them. I heard:

“You are ancient.” I responded: “I feel it.” “No, really ancient. You carry great sadness for Mother Earth and all life on her. You know that she and all of creation are alive, and you wish to help heal her. First, heal yourself. Leave in the center of the Ring all your sorrow, worries, anger, guilt and shame. We will transmute them. It is time for you to be free—to radiate all that you are—to walk in health, balance, love, compassion, equanimity and joy.”

I quickly added a week to visit the Ring of Brodgar to my plans to join a Washington National Cathedral pilgrimage to the Isle of Iona.

Orkney: An Austere Land, Shaped by Nature’s Elements

IMG_0344On April 26, I fly to Orkney with great anticipation. The sky is grey. I catch a few glimpses of the ocean below. After landing, I drive to Stenness and get my first glimpse of the Ring of Brodgar, a Neolithic circle of stones. No one knows how old it is. The current guess is 4,000 to 4,500 years old.

Even more so than in Edinburgh, the wind and rain determine my schedule out of doors. I see no trees except one grove that sits in a gully, protected from the wind. Along the horizon, hills are rounded by retreating glacial ice of 10,000 years ago. Wheat-colored fields meet green crofts. Water is everywhere, be it the sea or the lochs. Orkney is an austere land, compelling and beautiful.

The Ring of Brodgar

IMG_0329The Ring sits on a raised, broad land. As I walk up the path towards it, I see the standing stones jutting out of the earth, silhouetted against the sky. Water glimmers on two sides; brown heather fills the center. It is a wide circle, over 300 feet in diameter. Stones, varying from 7 to 15-feet tall, greet me. They have mottled surfaces of varied colors. Twenty-seven of the original 60 remain standing. The circle sits on sacred ground.

I quietly walk around the ring, talking to the stones. I touch them and ask that they enliven and realign themselves in harmony for this time in the 21st century.

These ancient standing stones capture my imagination. Who built them? How were they used? What have they witnessed?


Skara Brae, A 5000-Year-Old Neolithic Village

IMG_0203IMG_0312In 1850 a severe storm hit Scotland and stripped the earth from a large knoll, revealing a village whose homes were sunk into the ground. Named Skara Brae, it sits on the Bay of Skaill. There are 8 stone houses, clustered together, connected by stone paths. In each house a fireplace sits in the middle with two areas for sleeping on opposite sides. A dresser or altar stands across from the entrance, and next to it is a square area dug into the ground to hold water to keep fish and crab fresh. Archeologists believe about 50 people lived in this village over a period of 600 years from 3180 BC to 2500 BC.

I visit it twice.

I feel a connection to these people. “From where did they come,” I ask? “By water, of course.” “Who were they?” I hear: “They are we.”


Impact of the Ring and This Dramatic Landscape


The night before I leave, I return to the Ring for the fourth time. I want to watch the sun set and light the stones against a glowing, orange-red sky. Such beauty! I feel alive. My soul stirs. I feel connected to this land and the ancients.

Having returned home, I carry an image of the Ring at sunset in my mind’s eye. I am more alert to nature–its power and beauty. Orkney’s gifts to me:

I am awake.

I am connected.

I am grateful.

I smile.


Photos © Susan Beilby Magee

© Susan Beilby Magee, 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Pilgrimage to Scotland: Nature’s Vivid Moods


RainbowOverIona2Rainbow Over Iona © Jonathan Hohman

Recently I spent 18 days on pilgrimage to Scotland, visiting Edinburgh, the Orkney Islands and the Isle of Iona. Nature’s elements were in my face: the howling wind, spitting rain, brilliant sun and roiling sea. Magpies and seagulls flew overhead; sheep grazed as their lambs frolicked in the grass.

The changes in the sky were constant. One moment, massive dark clouds rolled across the sky, hiding the brilliant sun; an hour later, gentle grey clouds replaced them, dropping soft raindrops. In the evening, the setting sun bathed the sky in brilliant hues of orange and gold.

The Scots seem chiseled from the volcanic rock that bursts forth like giants seeking the sun. Weathered like the land by nature’s elements, they stand tall. They are proud, powerful, deeply grounded in Mother Earth and connected to all of creation surrounding them.

I once asked an Englishman how the people of a small group of islands, known as Great Britain, ruled an empire. He replied: “Oh, the answer is easy. The Scots did it. Being comfortable in any challenging environment, they went around the world, knew what needed to be done and did it.”

Mother Nature’s changing kaleidoscope is a metaphor for our lives. I am reminded that the only constant is change. She draws a vivid picture of the moods, mysterious rumblings, challenges, breakthroughs and gentleness we experience as we grow and mature. One afternoon after a gentle rain on the Isle of Iona, a full semi-circle rainbow formed across the water. We stood in wonder. Is this not a symbol of the brilliance and harmony we achieve after we have walked through dark storms and emerged into the light? As within, so without.

mageescotland composite

Photos, clockwise from top right: Sheep Grazing, Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh Sunset and Low Tide at Skara Brae © Susan B. Magee

© Susan Beilby Magee, 2016. All Rights Reserved.