Iona and the Dream
The tiny Island of Iona lies off the western coast of Scotland, immediately to the southwest of the Isle of Mull. Even though small, at less than four square miles, Iona's influence through history has stood at odds with its size, being called "The cradle of Christianity in the Western Highlands." The Island was settled first in the time of myths, before written history had found its way to the British Isles. Legends suggest it was considered a Holy site long before Columba and Oran ever walked there, a place where the veil between the worlds was thin and ancient energies pulsed just below the surface.
Bill Cohea, Jr., first came to Iona on pilgrimage, touring spiritual centers in Europe at the end of trip for a conference in 1957, and was immediately captivated by its rugged charm. He would say that this visit was the, "Beginning of my dance with Myth, Mystery, and the awesome unknowable." Bill would return to the Island ten years later in 1967 for another conference hosted by George MacLeod at his spiritual community on Iona. Growing weary of the rigors of the formal meeting schedule Bill again felt the pull of the ancient spirit of Iona. As he would later tell it in his book, From the Beginning To the Beginning (Bill's Blue Book),
"One afternoon, we were given a break, and I decided to wander off. Typically, if you want to prepare for Iona's whimsies, you need to don your raincoat and then take it off every twenty minutes, because it rains, and then the sun comes out -- and then it rains again. Suitably equipped, I started walking toward Dun-I (the tallest hill on the island). About halfway up its slope, I felt totally exhausted. So I laid my coat down right there on the side of the mountain and fell asleep.
As I slept, I had a dream...a vision, if you will...one of surrealistic intensity. I saw all around me a circle of standing stones very close together. Behind them was another circle--and even more circles behind that one. The stones were advancing in a way that felt menacing. They began pressing in closer and closer until they were totally surrounding me. The nearer they got, the more frightened I became.
When they got so close that I was afraid I could no longer breathe, I realized that they had no faces--there were just rags or pieces of cloths blowing around their supposed heads. At that moment, those in the innermost circle bent forward and looked directly at me.
At first, I was horrified. But then I realized that all I felt from them was love. And, in an indescribable moment, I was overwhelmed by feeling of love and awe for these great beings.
And then I woke up. I looked around and realized or remembered there were no standing stones left on the side of Dun-I. In fact, there were no standing stones on the island of Iona at all. I sat there a while, stunned. When eventually I stood up, I was shaking."
Bill left Iona uncertain of what to do with the dream he experienced, and returned to the unrest of the summer of 1967 in Chicago. He would voyage again to Iona to celebrate his 50th birthday in 1977 and to, "Take a sabbatical from my theological/philosophical struggles." There he would have another profound spiritual encounter with an archetypal energy, who he identified as the Guardian of the North Wind. Bill returned once again to the U.S. and wrestled with the meaning of what he had experienced on Iona at Casa Colum, his newly dedicated home in the Pocono Mountains of eastern Pennsylvania. Over the next two years, he would meet the man who would be his partner in the spiritual unfolding on the slopes of Blue Mountain, return to Iona twice more, and continue to seek communion with those energies/stones he had first met in 1967.
Bill would voyage to Iona many more times throughout the rest of his life, drawing spiritual inspiration and solace from his time there. As he would write many years after he first stepped off of the boat onto the shore of Iona,
"Iona was my voyage to the Other World, where dreams and visions shattered my realities. There, I encountered and gave hospitality to archetypal energies. I now realize that to traffic in this process is to be alchemized into an ever-new creation."