In the previous post, you read Rick's impressions on his first visit to Israel in…
2. The Maid
3. The Soldier
7. Who’s Who
8. Street Kids
10. The Bank
12. The White Gecko
15. Israel Part 1
16. Israel Part 2
17. Israel Part 3
A strange and personal tale of Qumran.
Our final visit in Israel was to the ruins of the once thriving Essene Community at Qumran, close by the Red Sea. For me this was the highlight of our time in Israel but to understand why I need to take us back six years earlier to 1993.
In that year I completed a three stage course on a colour therapy system called Aura Soma. It was my friend, the late Bianca Pace, who insisted I study this modality. When I met her, Bianca owned The Crystal Gallery in The Rocks in Sydney, Australia. A child immigrant to Australia, Bianca came from Sicily. Her parents were smart. They sent their three children to elocution lessons to ensure they would not sound like immigrants but would fit into cultured society. Bianca was the eldest child, a five planet Scorpio who knew exactly what she was about and with the intelligence and dedication to get where she was going and create what she wanted. She also had that legendary Scorpio sting, going from generous to scathing in a heartbeat but when she decided someone was worth it, she was a great friend. She felt that understanding colour (from a more esoteric perspective) was an essential component of my path in life. On a section of shelves in her beautiful shop were small rectangular bottles of coloured liquids, a healing modality called Aura Soma.
How the Aura Soma products came about is a fascinating story. A women called Vicki Wall, was born in England in 1918 into an Hasidic Jewish family. Her Father was a Rabbi and her Mother died when Vicki was very young. Her stepmother was straight out of Cinderella, mean and cruel. From childhood, Vicki could see the coloured aura surrounding people’s physical bodies. It was a talent that was severely frowned upon and discouraged by the adults around her. In 1984, at the age of 66, she suffered haemorrhages of her eyes, which left her blind but she still had her auric sight. She was ‘instructed’ by an inner voice, which she believed to be her long decreased father’s, to mix various substances together to create the range that was to become Aura Soma. Vicki’s intriguing story is available from Inner Traditions: Aura-Soma: Self-Discovery Through Color by Vicky Wall. (By strange coincidence, Inner Traditions, a USA company is now also the publisher of my most recent book, DEVA.)
The first Aura-Soma workshop in the Southern Hemisphere was held in a house west of Sydney in 1992, an event Bianca insisted I attend. The Aura Soma products are primarily small rectangular glass bottles, known as Balance Bottles. They contain stunningly beautiful liquids made from organic plant ingredients, infused with healing properties. At this first of three workshops, the bottles were set up on a tapering circular tower where they caught the light coming through a nearby window. Seeing them for the first time as I walked into that room was like immersing my mind in a most beautiful and intricate kaleidoscope of colour and light. In the Aura Soma range today, there are over one hundred bottles of different colour combinations; a few of a single colour, but mostly, two colours that, until shaken, float one on top of the other due to the oil content of one of the colours. After shaking the bottle, which blends the colours together, the liquid is applied to areas of the body according to the nearest chakra associated with the physical, emotional or mental condition they are intended to balance. Chakras are wheels of energy that can be seen by those with etheric vision. According to Wikipedia, “The modern Western chakra system arose from multiple sources, starting in the 1880s, followed by Sir John Woodroffe’s 1919 book The Serpent Power, and Charles W. Leadbeater’s 1927 book The Chakras, which introduced the seven rainbow colours for the chakras.”
I did that first Aura Soma course and the following year, 1993, completed Parts Two and Three. As an artist, I was intrigued to learn more about the relationship of colour to parts of the human body and what centres are stimulated by particular colours and with what effects. I got the qualification but it was never my intention to become an Aura Soma practitioner.
During one of the session breaks in Part Two of the training, a woman called Val offered me one of her ‘sessions’. In a gathering such as this, there were many people who were professionally engaged in various alternative therapies. Not one to turn down a free treat of this kind with someone I trusted, I happily agreed, lay down on the carpeted floor and closed my eyes. Within a few minutes my reality was transformed as Val ‘sent’ my mind down a tunnel of light and asked me what I saw at the end. It was such a clear image, I can still see it in my mind’s eye today; a statue of a lion made of gold, a vivid image which, though it was stationery and a ‘statue’, felt alive.
“What do you see?” asked Val.
“The Lion of Judea,” my mouth replied, while a supposedly ‘rational’ part of my brain said, “What? Where did that answer come from? What’s the Lion of Judea?” It turned out that the Lion was the symbol of the Tribe of Judah and later adopted by Christianity as referring to Jesus. Now, whether the seed of that knowledge was planted in my brain decades earlier at Sunday School or Bible Class I can neither attest to nor deny. It certainly had not rung any conscious bells.
“What has the Lion got to tell you?” asked Val.
Straight away, the lion was gone and I found myself standing in a crowded room with other men. Yes, I was definitely a man! Each of us was dressed in robes of coarse cotton. Mine was a muddy brown. While everyone was dressed in a small selection of different colours, no garment had more than one colour that I could see. The simple cloth shifts were not bright or fine, rather they were what we would describe today as ‘serviceable’. The room was quite a lot long longer than it was wide with a floor of stone slabs. I was facing what was obviously the front because across that short end of the room, there was a slightly raised platform across its width.
On this platform were several large wooden chairs, occupied by men of obvious importance though their robes were no more luxurious than anyone else’s. I was standing to the right of the room not far from the raised platform and was experiencing a feeling of deep dread. The atmosphere in the room was uncomfortable to say the least. There was a hubbub of heated debate around me. I knew I was just a part of this congregation, and of low rank, no one of particular importance but the person I was felt fearful, and his heart was full of an awful dread. I knew exactly what was going on in this room.
“What’s happening?” asked Val.
“It’s the discussion before the trial of Jesus,” I replied.
“Who do you want to talk to about this?”
Without hesitation I replied, “The Master.”
Thereupon my mind was filled with an extraordinary golden light that replaced the scene before me. At first, very, very briefly I saw the shape of a face but it was quickly gone and I felt the overwhelming Christ presence as an all pervasive golden light that was Love itself. I have no idea how long it lasted. Val did not speak any more and when I came back to the present she was still kneeling silently beside me, hands on her lap.
I should mention at this point that despite years of attendance at Sunday School and later Bible Class, I have never thought of myself as a ‘Christian’ and I had often argued with the earnest young teacher of the teenagers’ ‘Bible Class’. My ‘faith’ is not in religion but in an acceptance of a greater power behind Life and the Cosmos, both physical and subtle.
Now there was a gap of a working week between the second stage of the Aura Soma teaching and the third and final course, to be held at the same venue in the Blue Mountains that following weekend. During that gap week, I stayed with my good friend Gale, who was also attending the course. She is a New Zealander but she was living in Sydney at that time. Gale had a part-time job so I had time on my own on the days that she was working. She said, “I think you’d enjoy this book I bought recently. It’s got a lot about the Essenes in it.” Now the Essenes were a Jewish sect based at Qumran in Palestine, that I had recently learned about through the Aura Soma course. Until this Aura Soma course I had never heard of them and even then knew only that they were a separatist sect of men who wore white clothing. Today, we have the internet to inform us (or disabuse us) and accordingly, Qumran is described as ‘an archaeological site in the Occupied West Bank managed by Israel’s Qumran National Park located on a dry marl plateau about 1.5 km from the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea.’
‘The Essenes’ says an internet article, ‘were a separatist group, some of whom formed an ascetic monastic community and retreated to the wilderness of Judea. They shared material possessions and occupied themselves with disciplined study, worship, and work. They practised ritual immersion and ate their meals communally.’ There are interesting articles on Qumran which you can access on the internet.
I’d never heard of this sect until these Aura Soma workshops, where one of the bottles was called The Essene Bottle. It is bottle number 11, that is, the eleventh to be created by Vicky Wall and its colours are Clear over Pink. Coincidentally, my birthday is on the 29th day of the month, which in numerology is the number 11, known, since the time of the Ancient Greeks as a ‘Master number’ along with 22 and 33. (In numerology the two numbers are added together, hence 29 is 2+9=11.)
So, it was the week between the second and third Aura Soma courses and I was staying with my friend, Gale. She had recently purchased a book called Jesus the Man by Barbara Thiering, a book which caused something of a stir among theologians and historians at the time of its release. It put forward a case that Jesus had been, for a time, part of or associated with the Essene Community that was based close to the Dead Sea in Palestine. Gale believed she had been a scribe at that time in history, a job that required perfection in what was written. She credited her current life dyslexia to the stress of having had to take down that writing perfectly, without error or correction. Gale suggested I start reading Thiering’s book during that week I was staying with her. I found it fascinating and when I got to a description of the buildings at the Essenes centre at Qumran, it really got my attention. It described a long room with a raised platform at one end where the community’s ‘officials’ sat.
I stared at the book in shock. Then I began to argue with myself, saying, “But the Essenes wore white and in my experience, everyone was dressed in coloured robes.” When I returned to the book, a little further on it said that this was a communal meeting room and in it, the men wore robes coloured according to their rank.
Events of this sort give us plenty of things to ponder. Did my session with Val unearth a past-life memory? Possibly. Or was it an event I ‘accessed’ during the session with Val, because of mention of the Essenes in the Aura Soma course even though Val didn’t in any way give suggestions as to where my mind would ‘go’? I had received no prior information about the Essences that suggested to me that they didn’t always wear their white robes as they were always mentioned as wearing white when the topic of their sect came up in the Aura Soma workshops. I knew nothing about them other than these snippets. Had I not seen that passage in Thiering’s book, I would not have thought my experience was of that sect. But the most important take away for me from the experience, was the awful dread that accompanied the discussion in the stone-floored room and then the overwhelming state of Divine Grace that was the ‘Presence of the Master’.
There was another rather strange happening when I returned to New Zealand after the Aura Soma course. I hadn’t had time to finish Thiering’s book before I left Sydney, so I went to a well known independent book shop in Wellington (our capital city) an hour’s drive from our home at the time. The shop was long and narrow with the sales desk near the entrance door. I quietly asked at the counter where I could find the book, ‘Jesus the Man’ and was directed to the far end of the shop where a women was crouching on the floor with her back to me, rearranging books in the lowest shelf as I approached. The floor was carpeted and I’m not a heavy person so I was astonished when, before I reached her and without turning around, the she thrust her arm behind her, holding a copy of ‘Jesus the Man’ that I was seeking. I took it from her and said, “You must be psychic!”
At which she turned to face me, and without rising from her crouch said simply, “I am.”
Now, fast forward six years to Israel 1999…
I think it was the day before we left Israel that we took a bus to Qumran close to the Dead Sea. Qumran is where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947, and is the site of the excavated ruins of the Essene sect’s headquarters that I had seen in that session with Val and read about in Theiring’s book a few days later. There has been much debate amongst scholars as to whether or not Jesus was part of this group, a debate that Theiring’s book brought before a general public. The official brochure I picked up at Qumran tells us that the Essenes were ascetics, a practice described by Wikipedia as ‘characterised by severe self-discipline and abstention from all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons.’ Among the ruined buildings, was a scriptorium, a writing room where presumably they wrote the scrolls that were later found in the caves nearby. However, there is strong opinion today that in fact only a part of the Essenes community separated themselves off into a life of extreme asceticism. For those interested, and in an effort to separate fact from fantasy, I recommend you do a little research of your own, though there are still many unanswered questions.
Building ruins at Qumran
Above: The guidebook described a ‘communal building’, whose dimensions matched the one in my Aura Soma experience of the Assembly Hall six years earlier. Its walls had been smashed down to about a third or less of their original height by the conquering Romans. Standing there, I could see across the jagged edges of the broken wall to the glimmer of the Dead Sea and felt the prickle of what had taken place there centuries earlier. It was so similar to the room I had experienced in that alternate state six years earlier, it is very tempting to claim that it is that same room.
The caves in the surrounding mountains are also believed to have provided hiding places for the community. The official line is that these were only used for sleeping in during emergencies, but my feeling (with no hard evidence whatsoever) is that sleeping in the caves was probably also a regular occurrence. They would have made great ‘retreats’ for those wanting to isolate for solitary meditation. In our family, I’m known for my terror of underground caves and claustrophobic tunnels but in the caves of Qumran, high in the mountains, I felt more than totally at home, I felt very happy, as the photographs attest.
As you can see from my photographs, apart from the occasional thorn bushes, the area is totally barren but the Essenes had a clever system of watercourses to capture run off from the mountains whenever it did rain. For me, Qumran was a blessed relief from the constant noise of cities and the ever-present people. I have often found that I fall in love with a land but could happily do without the human inhabitants and fellow tourists. (A highly egocentric view of course!) It was so good to get out into the wilderness for a while, even though there was the inevitable shop and cafe, and a steady stream of tourist buses. But they only looked at the ruins. We just had to share those wonderful mountains with a few birds; small crows and a species of pretty, pale grey fantail and away from the organised tours, we soon became aware of a prolific insect life, hopping, flying and whirring. Not so barren after all!
The story goes that the finding of the first scrolls happened when a Beduin’s goat fell into one of the caves and it was in the rescue of the goat that the first scrolls were found in a ceramic container. Rick and I spent some pleasant hours behaving like goats ourselves, picking our way, often precariously, along narrow trails and crawling into some of the caves. One ‘cave’ turned out to be a tunnel. Part of the floor had fallen away so we had to crawl across a narrow stone slab to get to the other side. The Dead Sea Scrolls themselves are now housed in the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem, which we had already visited.
As we stood on the roadside at Qumran, waiting alone for a local bus to take us back to our hotel at the end of this wonderful day of exploration, a small deer came out to graze on one of the scraggly bushes close by. We stood still and silent, watching as the beautiful animal ate. Then suddenly, with no warning, it literally disappeared before our eyes as if it had never been there. Seconds later our bus drew up. Our ears had not picked it up but the more sensitive deer most certainly had.