Serene Conneeley, author of Seven Sacred Sites: Magical Journeys That Will Change Your Life is an Australian writer, healer and witch with a fascination for history, travel, ritual and the myth and magic of ancient places and cultures. Serene has travelled to some of the most beautiful places on earth, and taken sacred plant medicine with shamans in the Amazon jungle, explored her inner priestess in the mystical isle of Avalon in Glastonbury, meditated in Egypt’s Great Pyramid on the morning of the summer solstice, connected with the volcano goddess in the island paradise of Hawaii, danced within the sacred circle of Stonehenge in the British Isles, walked in the footsteps of kings and queens on the Camino pilgrimage across Spain, and explored the powerful earth energy of Uluru with Anangu elders.
Serene has shared the story behind her book, below.
What inspired you to write Seven Sacred Sites?
Over the years I’ve done some travelling (it was the way I stayed sane while living in a crazy share house in Newtown) to some of the most beautiful and sacred places on earth. I was drawn to the significant sites of ancient cultures and civilisations, to the gentle lands of the Celts where druids and priestesses harnessed the power of the earth, to stone circles and monuments that have watched for thousands of years as humanity learned and grew and changed and moved forward (or, some would say, moved backward). I spent time with witches and shamans in these places, learning about ritual, ceremony, healing methods and history. And I spent even more time alone, walking in nature, soaking up sunsets and moon rises and earth energy, tuning in to my own heart, my own past, my own self. I had a sense of spiritual connection there, and was healed and transformed. I had deep realisations about myself and my life, and I took the time to reflect on what was important to me, what I wanted in life, to listen to my dreams and my heart. Being in these places changed me a little.
I didn’t think my adventures were that unusual, but when I would send emails home — after taking “drugs” deep in the Amazon, or hiking through ancient volcanoes to connect with the goddess, or doing a ritual inside the Great Pyramid — my friends were amazed, and several suggested I write a book about my travels.
It seemed I had a knack for immersing myself in a place and finding out what lay beneath it. Perhaps it was because I usually travelled alone. Maybe, as a writer, I see things differently or try to find what?s hidden. And maybe most people would rather experience the nightlife of Paris than get dirty doing ancient rituals with medicine men in the jungle or celebrating Lughnasadh at dawn, shivering and alone in a cold and misty Irish field in the middle of nowhere.
And so your book was born?
This is the book I was searching for but never found before I set out with my backpack to explore the world. I love the Lonely Planet guides because they have great practical information, but I also wanted to know the spiritual power of each place, its magical history, the way the energies of the earth felt there and how it would open me up to the world and activate change within me. So while I wrote stories about the incredible, magical, sometimes spooky, always life-changing experiences I had, there are also sections on why other people go to each place, the spiritual purpose of visiting, what each person will get out of it.
What are the seven sacred sites?
Machu Picchu and the Amazon, Peru, where you’ll experience spiritual rebirth deep within the lush jungles and old stone ruins where shamans still perform millennia-old rituals
The sacred Isle of Avalon, Glastonbury, England, where you can immerse yourself in the magic of the priestesses and attune yourself to the beating heart of the earth.
The pyramids and temples of Ancient Egypt, a place to let the essence of the divine flow through you as you walk in the shadow of the monuments of the pharaohs.
The Aloha State, Hawaii, USA, where you?ll feel your soul being cleansed by the fiery and passionate volcanic energy of these beautiful tropical islands.
The mystical circle of Stonehenge, England, where you can unlock the secrets within these iconic stones and connect to the power and wisdom of the cosmos.
The Camino, northern Spain, which is a life-changing journey to find your true self, letting the energies of this ancient pilgrimage path open your heart and transform your soul.
Uluru and the Red Centre, Australia, where you will absorb the power of this long-revered monolith and the vibrations of the desert landscape that surrounds it.
Did you have any scary experiences?
The most harrowing experience was in the jungles of Peru, taking ayahuasca, the sacred plant medicine of the shamans, as the moon became full and our group lost all grip on reality. It’s known as the vine of death, and is a tool to help students metaphorically die then be reborn. And they are right. Over the three nights we performed the ceremony, I had terrifying visions (and some nice ones) and some truly frightening realisations. I really did feel as though I was dying, but it was ultimately very healing. That’s why the book opens in Peru, not just because it was my first overseas adventure, but because it was the place where I cast off my old self and began to emerge as more truly myself.
Which story do your readers connect the most with?
Funnily enough, the story that seems to affect people who’ve read the book the most vividly is the one about swimming with dolphins in Hawaii. It’s a section about joy, and I’ve been told that just reading it makes people laugh out loud and be filled with the sense of happiness and peace that comes from interacting with these beautiful creatures. Hawaii is a dramatic, chaotic, primal and passionate place, full of volcanic power and the energy of new land being created, but it is also a light, joyful, magical place of rainbows and butterflies and wide smiles, and the incredible spirit of aloha, the attitude of unconditional love and acceptance that is the guiding principle of the Hawaiians for living in harmony with each other and the earth.
Do you have a favourite place?
I love them all for different reasons, but the place I go back to again and again is the little town of Glastonbury, southwest of London, which is where the priestesses practised their healing arts, the druids worshipped nature, the Christians built the first church in England and King Arthur was reputed to have lived. The first time I went there, and sat by the sacred well and climbed the mystical Tor, I felt such an immense sense of homecoming. It’s the place that most deeply touches my soul, where I have most learned and grown and been nurtured and healed. I’ve stayed there for weeks at a time, in little self-contained cottages or B&Bs, wandering the gentle green slopes, celebrating the seasonal festivals alone and with others, twisting my way into the ancient labyrinth and the many layers of my own psyche, dreaming in the shade of the ancient oaks, and slipping through the enchanted mists to the Otherworld that lies there, touching the seams of the modern world but somehow still apart. It’s a truly magical place, and the one that I chose for my honeymoon because it was the one I wanted to share with my husband and that one that reflects my soul and represents the heart to me.
What makes this book different to a travel guide?
While it is a travel book, and explains what makes these places sacred, when to go and how to get there, the history of each site, the rituals that were performed there, their cultural and magical significance and the way they initiate growth and learning in all visitors, just as importantly it’s about how to attain the state of grace and sacredness inspired by each place without leaving home.
Not everyone can — or wants to — travel around the world, but the lessons and energy of each of these sacred sites can be accessed from anywhere. You don’t have to go to Peru or Uluru to understand the wisdom of the earth and the environmental consciousness we all need to tap in to if this planet is to survive — it’s within us all, if we’re open to it. And you don’t have to walk eight hundred kilometres along the Camino in Spain to make a pilgrimage to your inner self or learn to let go — you can do that in your own backyard. So along with the travelogue and the stories of adventure, there are sections on shamanism and druidry, Hawaiian and Egyptian gods and goddesses, the seasonal celebrations of the Wheel of the Year and how to incorporate them into your life, Aboriginal wisdom and legend, developing your intuition and psychic powers, drawing on magical and medicinal herbalism for healing and insight, as well as exercises that will help you absorb the energy of each place.
I wanted this book to send readers on a journey to the most beautiful places on the planet as well as to the deepest, most sacred places within their heart and soul, and open them up to the magic of the universe, within and without.
What do you hope people will get out of it?
I think it’s important that people realise you don’t have to be a professional psychic or a spiritual teacher or someone who channels angels to experience the sacredness of these places. Too many people fear that nothing happened or they aren’t spiritual enough or their feelings aren’t valid if they don’t start speaking in tongues or communicate with a spirit or see god himself sitting in a stone circle, but that’s not true.
The energy of the earth at these places changes everyone, and whether it happens in a cloud of clairvoyant rainbow sparkles or on a much more subtle level doesn’t matter. Everyone’s experience is important and significant.
I also think taking time out of your busy life to hope, dream and reflect is vital to happiness and health. Whether you do that by relaxing in a bubble bath, meditating, walking around your own neighbourhood or travelling across the world doesn’t matter, it’s the time and space you create that is important.
I had to go away to find this peace, because I shared a house and worked crazy hours, and even if I took time off I was still working, still stressing about deadlines and what not. But other people can achieve this at home.
The energy of these sacred places does help the process unfold, but the book is as much about the inner search for peace, happiness and spiritual connection as it is about outer travel. As the poet Yeats said, the only journey worth taking is the journey within. I hope that whether readers travel overseas or connect to the energy of a foreign place from home, they will start to see the world with new eyes, allow the beauty and magic of this enchanted planet to open them up to their own truths, and most importantly that they will discover the sacredness of their own self.
Seven Sacred Sites: Magical Journeys That Will Change Your Life is Serene’s first book. Part adventure story, part history, part travel guide, part spiritual search, it will take you on a journey around the world — and deep within your own soul. Order your copy at Serene’s website.