a place for current conversations
Blether One, May, 2020
~Power, Humility and Grace~
It’s 1996. I’m holding keys to the early Scottish Colourists Stanley Cursiter’s Ancestral cottage on a street where streets are sea water in Stromness, Orkney. I’ve been gifted a few weeks here by one of his Descendants. It is a true gift to stay in such an inspiring art gallery of a home and feel the impact of his art in my body cells and blood veins taking me deeper into exploring ancient living lands, stories and writing.
One such exploration is on the Island of Hoy.
Taking the ferry where two seas meet in swell to Orkney from Scotland, l first see land again through mist, Hoy. High time-carved cliffs emerge through slow haze; land so old l can imagine dinosaurs coming into view. I know in my bones l must go to Hoy.
It’s just after midsummer, the daylight is the longest l’ve known being so far North, only a fraction of dark at night. I’m landing on Hoy from a much smaller ferryboat. Not many people, but still l want to walk off-track and saunter over the higher cliffs; be as close as possible to the ancient cliffs l saw when first arriving. I feel my heart racing with anticipation as l walk up hill. As l near the cliff top not yet seeing views across the sea, l feel a presence…a big bird flies towards me from behind, silent wings swooping above my head. I find myself ducking my head down in surprise as my heart misses a beat as l carry on my way. Another big bird swoops down this time from before me and l watch it coming closer. It swoops just above my head again before lifting, Then another. I see a nest on the ground with eggs. Whichever way l walk is another nest. Another Great Skua takes a dive at me, lifting her/himself just above my head. Oh, l realize l have wandered into the Great Skua’s nesting ground; l’m in the wrong place. l learn there are places humans don’t go….and what do l do now that l’m in the wrong place.
Indeed, l’m now in the middle of the wrong place. Whichever way l go l’m going to meet another nest, and do; and meet another Great Skua, l do. Realizing l’m in their territory l decide to turn and face each one as they descend towards me. I look them in the eyes speaking my deep apology, acknowledging them. It’s extraordinary to look these fierce creatures in the eyes, gazing fully into one another. As they come closer, l place my hands together like a prayer and bow my head to them in deep apology. Each time they descend, they also rise from just above my head without harming me at all. Believe me, the fierce power in these ones as they defend their nest is so great that it feels they could choose otherwise if they wanted. It is fair to say they ‘had me’.
It is impossible to say how long this goes on for, first hearing silent sounds of gliding wings, a kind of felt sensed attunement in my body, a way of knowing which direction the bird is coming from. Each time becomes more a gift of humility and grace, as if something happens between us like a wonder and celebration as l gaze on the magnificence of these ones: solid, a flash of white-strip feathered wide wing span, gaze of piercing focus eyes; a hook beak. I realize yet again that humans are not the only ones who know deep intimacy as l feel the depth of intimacy in these birds and between us, as if they too are experiencing awareness of something in me; a presence of fierce intimacy and love force in life.
These ones still live in me. They continue to guide me when l slow down enough to watch where l place my feet; when l remember l’m walking on Holy ground, which is all life, a prayer with the ‘more-than-human’ world.
Blether 2 November, 2020
The Cailleach, Ben Cruachan and The Hollow Mountain
And so it is,
one way or another,
that the breath humans have created,
that humans are breathing,
is being extinguished
and is extinguishing the breath of the world. (...)
Wendy Robertson Fyfe
I love mountains in Alba/Scotland through November; the depth of life colour in the dank leaf-rotting and moss boggy stench as water erupts from orifices into burns streaming down into rivers and lochs edged with moss and lichen laden oak with golden bracken afoot astonishes. Sometimes there’s so much water it fills dips in mountain tops before spilling over into edge falls. The earthy smells cannot be bought in spray bottles in supermarkets in Spring, or indeed, any time. I feel my breath returning.
Today l‘m with Ben Cruachan in Argyll and Bute not far from Oban. l’m walking up the steep way, straight up is how it feels in my Lockdown body. I first met Ben Cruachan in 1991, nearly thirty years ago. One day that year l went both inside the mountain, here also known as The Hollow Mountain, and then sauntered outside up.Today the sun peeps through clouds much of the short day as l cross a threshold burn. I'm not sauntering up quite as lightly as l did all those years ago, sometimes slowly up the steep rocky path past heather, between hazel, ancient oak and silver birch to the music of the Falls of Cruachan descending to my left and the song of the buzzard above in the soft breeze. The Gaelic name Cruachan though, means ‘hardening’, noun. The mountain is sometimes referred to as ‘stacks’, conical, ‘mountain of peaks’. I remember walking with two of these peaks a summer evening in 1991.
I have come here this time to honour, praise, give offerings and celebrate the Cailleach. Ben Cruachan, as l mentioned in my last Newsletters, is one of the known seats of the Cailleach. In one story it is said that she made the mountains when dropping boulders from her basket whilst walking over the land. Other stories have her shaping the mountains and lands with her magic hammer. It is also said that she cared for a magic well here ensuring it was covered by a stone slab at night to stop it flooding the world. One day she fell asleep and the well overflowed through the Pass of Brander creating Loch Awe causing much death and destruction on the way.
I love these old rich myths that entangle the human and ‘more-than-human’ world of life and death in a wider, more expansive Earth Community. It’s like alive Celtic knotwork lines; a reminder of life’s holographic reciprocity in breathing movement and as we extinguish taking lines for a walk the movement stops too; the knotwork reduces by extinctions until the few remaining lines unravel......maybe describing where we find ourselves today. Maybe such myths of Awe knot and knit us together as a way of remembering, caring about all life on Earth. What if these myths of land, Goddesses and Gods, and people do indeed speak of the deep integral relationships between us, all beings, of a communion that truly matters and brings the land, including humans, to death and life anew; inviting us into ways of being in, surrendering to, a bigger conversation with powerful bigger natural forces. Historically in Scotland the Goddesses and Gods are not glorified but rather emerged organically over eons through people's direct experience and passed by voice through generations.
Now though, we have the story of Cruachan Power Station, a feat of ingenious engineering where a mountain of 450 million years has been blasted from the inside, a cavern with four great turbines turning water into electricity rather than wine; turning the dark into light in place of slow, dense, heartbeat granite. 15 men died during the ten year construction during 1950’s/60’s. The Falls of Cruachan are not as they used to fall. One might say the ‘well become reservoir’ is now dammed; the Cailleach just has a few lines in the beginnings history of the Power Station. None of the local people l spoke with (at distance) had heard of her. I wonder who or what else might be dammed and the impact of such a damming destruction-construction. The Power Station history speaks of her story as ‘wrongdoing’ but not of her power or honouring her, the mountain, or water; just object, extraction, profit. There is no word of a deeper kind of service. Here she is referred to as one of her names, Mag Moullach (elevated, top, crown, peak) as water is now pumped back up the mountain from Loch Awe and dammed-in whilst the land itself has pylons and concrete. The inside is hollow and, in places, with pumped in air to breath. The Sunday Post (21 Nov 20), states water:
"is stored there until the National Grid demands extra electrical capacity – say, at the end of a TV show when millions of kettles are switched on – when it’s discharged to provide power."
I’m here today after hearing the call of Cailleach again, l've learned to listen. The ascent continues to rise so steeply in places that l do not see beyond the next few boulders. Sometimes l find myself clambering, realizing how out of intimacy with the mountains l have become over these lockdown months away from them. I have missed them. Sometimes when l look back from the boulders now l see rain beams falling from the clouds over Loch Awe in the distance.
For now, l am here with hardening rock, softening in to my climb in places of mud and wet leaves. I am struck by the timing; our dis-alignment with the land, Cailleach and Pan (Pan, another l have been in conversation with for 30 years), these ones who tend and shape the land, including humans, often in fierce ways, have been demonised, repressed, in the shadow. For me they are expressions of the sacred dark feminine and dark masculine land, nature-based, dark in the sense of Mystery as in the dark matter of the Cosmos.
It’s as if these ones are reshaping us back into alignment through the Pan demic (Pan broken) or our hollow inner lives, the hollow humans so many of us are feeling now that our rich inner lives within a wider dreaming entanglement has also been extracted; now trying to fill through t.v. and other addictions which means a greater need for electricity one way or another and so it goes round; until we turn towards our longing. Meanwhile the Power Station in the hollow mountain filled with engineering has Green Tourism awards and promotes Biodiversity.
As l go deeper hugging the path of the waterfall and this mountain l call the Cailleach by name offering serpentine from Iona’s Atlantic tides, dried red rose hearts, speak my poetry of Cailleach and the ‘Others’, offer whatever song notes want to be uttered from my body reed mouth, give thanks. As l do so it’s as if the Cailleach herself becomes more present. I'm always surprised when such a thing happens, in awe. Suddenly l’m feeling deep grief, what we have done to the land, to ourselves, to the Cailleach in this sacred place. I offer tears.
I brought one of the Cailleach corn dolls l made. l spoke of these and their story in my last Newsletter. I want to photograph her on my pilgrimage with the Cailleach and Ben Cruachan. As l photograph the corn doll, something of the Cailleach becomes even more ‘tangible’, like a kind of evocation of her gigantic enormity arriving. Here in this image, one aspect of her, arms held out embracing and creating all life and death. The more places l offer the corn doll, the Cailleach feels more and more alive in the world amongst the moss, stone, bracken, mountain peaks, mud, and hazel branches. I feel a deep YES in my bones and blood, of Her, Here, Remembered, Honoured; feeding the Holy in a different way into the hollow. How would it be if we remember the holy in these unraveling times of the forgetting. What if these small offerings in deep intimate relationship makes a difference? I live as if it does. It’s something l feel in my bones, the bones of the Ancestors and the way Ancestors lived here; how to live into remembering today as a contribution to making possible the Future ones arriving into thriving richness.
Surprisingly, deep within, l hear “Leave it”. Mmmmm…..I was actually looking forward to returning with the doll, taking her to other places. And yet this request-instruction makes so much sense to leave her here as an offering too. The voice is not familiar, is not a voice l know. I’ve spent many years familiarising myself with all my voices (so far), voices of victims, persecutors, rescuers, escapists, addicts, nurturing ones, visionary ones, wild ones, imaginative ones, the muse, innocent sage, voices of my mythos. The voice l just heard is a different voice. I've tended to hear the Cailleach previously through dreams, images, experiences, feelings. It takes a while to discern voices/feelings, their sometimes ingenious engineering ways to survive, fill a hollow; to learn about them all, to know, listen more so that these closed concertina voices can begin to breathe, move, make music hear Other's tunes and nuances; become part of a Cosmic chamber. It’s worth the work to hear such a one too.
I become more aware of the Cailleach herself, now in conversation here as well as other times though not spoken. I am feeling alive and deeply moved in my tender heart, humbled, stopped; feeling softened like the moss, deeply loved and loving. Of course l leave the doll, she, at the roots of a hazel with gold bracken around and a view over Loch Awe.
Before l leave l’m aware of my own age, of a time l will not be walking in these mountains again, moving into old woman. I’m aware of how quickly that last 30 years has gone. I’m not through yet though, and, Mystery willing for a good while, wanting to use time well. I wonder where you might be in 30 years time and how you will use this time? Meanwhile, l feel into Cailleach, be the mountain, feel into the Falls, the gold bracken, ancient oak, wet soft green moss, song of gurgling burns and buzzard, magic hazels, silver birch; put roots down through the 450million year granite rock into the hollow. I shout out loudly:
“The great Cailleach is not dead.”
“The great Cailleach is not dead.”
I hear the words echoing around the mountain stillness….
Meantime, there is talk of building Cruachan 2,
they just need to find a way to make it financially viable.
Maybe it is us humans who have gone to sleep. The words of Rumi come to mind:
"People are going back and forth
across the doorsill where the two worlds touch,
The door is round and open
don't go back to sleep!"
Should you need them, there are some ideas and invitational ways through my writing about how you too might explore and deepen in with your time on the land, here with the Cailleach.
Being intentional with presence and yet open to surprise
Take time, likely continuing years, to know all your voices, approaching a guide who knows about this is a great idea
Cross a Threshold of some kind ie, a path, stick, between trees, step over a burn to mark a beginning of shift of consciousness
Listen deeply, pay attention
Write poems/speak poems out
Sing, improvise…what sounds want to emerge from your human body throat reed mouth at a particular moment
Listen deeply; in fact listen, see, cultivate all senses, feel, imagine, think from your heart
Create/bring offerings (eco-friendly,) even a conscious breathe out of air is a gift
Imagine all beings are animate and in conversation with other beings, including you
Notice what might be becoming tangible/seen where previously untangible/unseen
Who is the one of you walking, the one unique being walking as 'the truth at the centre of the image you were born with', the one conversation only you can have to feed the world in some unique way you are born for; the one Bill Plotkin and Geneen Marie Haugen call Mythopoetic. Make yourself an offering, be the offering.
If you would like to dive more deeply with the Cailleach in ways such as above at this time with a Soul Initiation Guide, here is an opportunity to do so during the Winter Solstice with an immersion: