I’m writing this from home in Cymru — wet wet weather here and the last golden hazel leaves make flickering patterns on the kitchen wall in that rare and silent sunlight of a late autumn morning. I’ve been back a week and picking up all the things I lay down to take 4 weeks away. Gratitude that I have such things to pick up — family, work that I love, friendships that sustain and a relationship with a piece of land that grows ever more alluring the wilder it becomes…and yet I’m missing the simplicity of my days wandering and the space to follow this soul thread I’m writing of..
I was questioning why I’m writing this blog now that I’m home– and it feels true in this moment that
the other world
in this world
is to live in your
true inheritance…” (David Whyte)
and so I’m hoping this sharing is a form of companionship to those of you who are also yearning and trying to live in your fullness on this dear green planet at this time.
So, back to Scotland and this long connection with this creature of myth — Cailleach, and where she’s leading me…I’d say I’ve had a few synchronous meetings with places that turned out to be connected with that one that in Scotland is named Cailleach, in Cymru is Ceridwen and she has other names like Baba Yaga in Eastern Europe or Kali the Hindu goddess. Each goddess has their uniqueness and yet all have that same amoral and natural creative and destructive energy.
I have felt her fierce guidance in the learning I most need about hubris — that grandiose response in me (and many of us) when I am not in my wholeness that seeks to make me “one up” on others. I see how this coping strategy maintains the “us and them” paradigm in the little microcosm of my inner world, and also how it has played out macro-scale culturally for centuries with a false superiority being the basis of slavery, patriarchy and human exceptionalism over other species — all of which underpin the dominant culture that has got us to a mass extinction and a climate emergency. Without this belief in the separation and superiority of certain types of humans, (white, male, able bodies etc ), and our species, and with it the “us and them” mindset, we would not be able to exploit other humans or other-than-humans as mere resources…
I noticed I was floundering.. I was floundering in Glen Feshie of the black and white rocked river that flings itself in sweeping white water arcs along the valley bottom, with pine and birch woods for company that were brimming with fungi beginning to decompose — fly agaric that seems, I notice, to like to grow close to ceps ( yum). Spicy smell of rich decay infused the air and this is what I breathed in and what I therefore ingested and became. There are worse places to flounder !
I didn’t know what I was doing — the strategic plan I had when I’d left home was to return to the Corrywreckan whirlpool and Jura to say my “ thankyou” and unconscious “goodbye” to Cailleach.,,but Jura was closed due to Covid. The feeling was like when you’re cycling and you lose power as your chain refuses to move up to the higher gear but also won’t settle back down into the lower gear. This “between gears” feeling is one I’ve been tracking for some years and noticing how I resist staying in that place of not-knowing…how I have leapt to decisions that ended the anxiety of inconclusion.
So my strategic mind was pedalling away, trying to get some plan organised, whilst another part of me spotted myself doing this. So I went for a walk; there’s a quote I love that speaks to this choice — “ perhaps the truth depends upon a walk around the lake” by Wallace Stephens. It has nudged me into habits of connection that I’m cultivating on several occasions, rather than taking a shortcut to a knee jerk reaction to find a solution (any solution!), rather than surrendering to the pause where I can hear the deeper story beneath the anxiety. I lingered, let myself rot down the experiences I’d been having as I waited, listening in to myself and to for something to call.
And then I get a message from a friend who’s reading this blog. It’s a newspaper article about Tigh nam Bodach, In a remote glen (called Glen of the Cailleach) there’s a small stone hut (a sheiling) where the longest running pre-Christian ritual in UK still happens.There are three stones representing Cailleach, her male lover Bodach, and her child, and they are put inside the sheiling for the winter at Samhain and are placed back on the hillside at Beltaine ( May 1st) to ensure fertilty for the glen by the shepherd.
It was Samhain eve when I read the article and I happened to be (relatively) in the vicinity so without me doing anything ( except listen and lovingly quieten the anxious pushy part of me that won’t pause), the chain jumps into gear . I have known about Tigh Nam Bodach and longed to visit, because of it’s ancient tradition and this passion I have to know and live into the unbroken traditions of these islands that bind us” two-leggeds” to them.
Glen Lyon is called the longest, loneliest and loveliest glen. It has been dammed twice and there’s a massive contrast between the wealth of the big house of the estate that “own” the land, with old tall woods surrounding them and the cleared loch sides, treeless except for odd conifer plantations where the folk lived until banished in the clearances. My eyes are constantly seeking for the places where the highlanders would have lived — the sheltered spots with a burn close by and south facing fields. Often I spot the squared base stones of their long houses and send them and their displaced descendants (which may be me or you) some feeling of solidarity and sorrow through remembering.
Parking beneath the Glen Lyon dam, I began the 15km round trip walk just before midday, wanting to share dusk with the Cailleach at the sheiling. …the loch is moving and lapping the banks in cold wind gusts. The sound of water rushing down steep mountainsides fills me and I settle in to the rhythm of undulating track… there are NO trees whatsoever on the first leg of the walk though I see massive roots of stands of felled pines, wizened hard like bone on the shore..
I knew someone once who loved barren hillsides, just said they enjoyed them so much better than woodland. It really shocked me to hear this and after some musing I saw that, for me, that’s the equivalent of saying “ I like the look of a raped woman — can’t explain it, just feels better than an untouched one”. I don’t seem to be able to detach the evaluation of a thing from the way it got to be made. To call something beautiful without considering what it “cost “ seems fragmented. Ends cannot justify means …so if an ornate castle was built with slave money and its fine gardens were created by a slave work force paid a penny a year and lived in hovels then I can’t see beauty — I see suffering..
Along the loch I walk — because is dammed the edge is strange — steep, with no marginal plants to soften the transition from water to earth. Ahead of me sky is full of cloud but with reassuring flashes of blue, whilst behind me the distance view of mountains and woods around the big house disappears into thick mist who’s edges fray with veils of rain showers. I am swallowed by the emptiness ,meeting a fast river that I need to wade through and various burns that I steppy-stone passed. Horned sheep gather and peer from the rocks above me, seemingly unperturbed by this lone human who greeted them.
Walking round the loch end and into the small tributary glen where the sheiling is positioned, westerly wind hit me full force .this sudden meeting felt like a threshold into somewhere “ other” and I felt something within me root down into grit. Wind persists at a breath-stealing strength with gusts every so often that make my walking unsteady. Red deer watch my uneasy passage from the safety of the brow where mountain touches sky and I greet them, Cailleach’s creatures. I am bent over double with my walking stick, and chuckle to myself that this west wind would make a cailleach of anyone as it forces you to walk like an old woman.
Wind grows stronger and I am blown over at one point where it funnels between two hillocks. I had read that Cailleach is known as a weather witch and winds are her speciality. At one point Ishout into the gale in teary frustration, “ I don’t know if I can do what you need me to do, but I will try!” and keep my slow plod going, hunkering down with just my eyes uncovered to the stinging chill.
Finally, the sheiling is in sight and I stagger across sodden ground to crouch before the east facing opening into the small peace out of the force of the storm.
to be continued