When I arrived in Bologna, Italy and saw the hilltop cathedral towering over the small town, I asked an elderly woman who was passing by, “What’s that?” She batted her eyelashes and gave me a beatific smile, as if she were talking about a beloved grandchild. In broken English, she said, “This where Madonna di San Luca lives. You go. You walk.”
I learned from asking around that the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca (Santuario della Beata Vergine di San Luca) is a historic pilgrimage site for those devoted to the Madonna. To make a pilgrimage to honor the Madonna, you walk up the hill to pay your respects. When I asked at my hotel how I would make such a journey, I was given instructions to walk to the 25 bus, then transfer at the Stazione to the 33 bus, then exit at Via Saragozza and walk to the Sanctuary from there. Cool. Easy enough.
After five days on safari in South Africa with my mother on her “bucket list” trip, I felt inspired to write about my practice of interfacing with nature as an oracle, using my safari experience as an example. I shared my practice with several of the safari guides and park rangers I met, and after speaking to them, I wanted to offer a few more opportunities that can help you spiritualize any experience in nature, whether you’re on safari or just going for a hike in the woods.
For thousands of years, the indigenous people all over the world have used various forms of oracular knowing in order to seek guidance when they’re feeling lost, confused, stuck or off track. What is an oracle? Merriam-Webster defines “oracle” as “a priest or priestess acting as a medium through whom advice or prophecy was sought from the gods in classical antiquity” or “a response or message given by an oracle, especially an ambiguous one.” What if nature can be your oracular priest or priestess, connecting you to the priest or priestess—the part that just knows the answer—inside yourself?
As I left the house for my daily hike, I felt intuitively drawn to hike the South Coast Trail near Muir Beach, but my Mind had other ideas. Mind said, “I want to go to Slide Ranch and see if Amber (the goat) has had her babies yet.” Intuition said, “No, South Coast Trail.” Mind said, "Hrrrumph."
A deep cultural blind spot has recently come into my awareness, and it’s the kind of blind spot that, once you see it, you can’t unsee it. When I was in Bali, I spoke to a Hindu high priest, who is also an indigenous Balinese shaman—a rare combination—and he said that during the Kali Yuga, many blind spots will be revealed, and it is our invitation to just let ourselves see what has been in the shadow, for only then can it be illuminated with healing light. So let us shine light on this pattern and explore it together with curiosity.
This pattern has to do with our relationship to needs, and it plays out in our dynamic between the masculine and the feminine (within ourselves, but also out-picturing in relationships between men and women, as well as playing out in patriarchal systems, like the Western medical system).