The young woman has created three gifts of incomparable beauty with which to bargain. Now she sets out for the Sidhean:
By late morning, she has found the doorway in the hillside, although it is almost entirely hidden by overhanging boughs. She finds a hiding place nearby in a cluster of hazelnut bushes, and waits. And waits. And waits.
By late afternoon, her patience is rewarded. A tall woman whose pointed ears and eyes set slantwise in her narrow face mark her clearly as one of the Sidh, is hurrying along towards the hidden door. A latecomer.
The young woman stands quickly, noiselessly. She holds the harp under her arm, slides the cloak around her shoulders to conceal the harp, steps forward directly into the path of the faery woman.
At first there is shock, then anger on the faery’s face. “How dare you, a mortal woman, to come to this place?”
But the young woman is standing just where the sun’s light can catch the glints of gold in the embroidery on the bottom of the cloak. Slowly she turns, casting a spell of loveliness that sucks the very breath out of the Sidh woman.
It takes only a moment for the bargain to be struck.
“Very well. Give me the cloak and you may enter the Sidhean.”
But the young woman is wise. “No. Allow me inside and then you may have the cloak.”
And such is the splendour of the faery woman as she preens herself in the white cloak that no one even notices the mortal woman who enters the great hall of meeting at her side. At the front of the hall, the newly-elected King of the Sidh sits on a great throne carved from a mighty oak tree entirely.
The mortal woman lifts her harp, moves closer to the throne, plays a few notes of such unbearable sweetness that the whole assembly is struck silent.
The King at last speaks to her. “You have a fine harp there, mortal woman, but it wants tuning. Bring it here to me, and I shall tune it for you.”
“No,” she replies. “I have tuned it myself and it suits me well.” She begins to play a melody of such love and longing for her son that the king himself, seated on his throne, weeps.
“Bring that harp here, mortal woman. I should like to buy it.”
“The harp is not for sale,” she says, now playing another darker melody, one in which she pours forth her love for her dead husband as well as for her lost son.
The King can stand no more. He gestures to his servants, whispers something, sends them out of the room. They return, each carrying a great oak barrel. These they empty in front of the mortal woman, one filled with gold pieces, the other with precious jewels: rubies, emeralds, garnets, diamonds, amethysts, sapphires.
But the mortal woman does not even glance down at what is heaped before her. She holds the King’s gaze steadily. “You have here a mortal bairn. Him and him only will I accept in exchange for my harp.”
The King gasps. He has plans for that bairn… then the harp once more sings, and he has no strength to resist. He gives the order to a servant who vanishes, returning in a moment, carrying a baby about one year old, whose eyes are the blue of the night skies, whose hair flames like the setting sun. The bairn has eyes only for his mother, reaching out his arms to her. She allows a servant to take the harp from her hands as she reaches out to receive her child.
At once the harp begins to sing in the hands of the King and such is the sweetness of the music that no one even notices the mortal woman as she walks out of the Sidhean, clutching her child to her heart.
There is always a moment of complete stillness after the Storyteller ends her tale. The stillness allows the story to settle in our hearts, allows us time to notice what it has brought us, for every story holds a gift. Every telling of a tale, no matter how often we may have heard it, brings a fresh gift.
As the silence deepens, I see that you have been touched by this story. I wait longer, giving you time to absorb it, to sense the gift it brings you…….
I see that she is turning her gaze to you. She asks you now:
What gift has the story brought to you?
Take time to answer her questions. I’ll sit near and listen.
What does it teach about the desires of our heart, our deep longings?
What are the lessons related to time, finding the right moment, the long waiting for that moment?
Where do we seek for the resources we need to barter for our heart’s desire?
Who might help us on our journey as we seek?
What does the story say about persons or places or treasures that invite us to be satisfied with something less than our deep heart’s longing?
How might your life change, from this moment, if you choose to honour the deepest longing of your heart?
When I see that the Storyteller has finished her questioning of you, I ask her the question that has been stirring inside me since hearing this story again.
“So many women fear and distrust their own desires, even fear their own bodies in which these desires dwell. What would you say to them?”
Women need to know that they are profoundly loved, that every last part of their being is held in love. My friend, Symeon the New Theologian, from the tenth century of this present era, has words to reflect upon, to take in.
…let yourself receive the one
who is opening to you so deeply
For if we genuinely love him,
we wake up inside Christ’s body…………
and everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged, is in him transformed
and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in His light
we awaken as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.
Remember these words always. Waken as the Beloved each day. Live as the Beloved. See that this will change everything.
When you return, I’ll tell you a story of the deep homeplace where the Beloved dwells within you.
Suddenly she is gone. I see the surprise on your face, but that is her way. We’ll return now to the upper world the way we came. We’ll come back another day for another story.
References: “The Stolen Bairn and the Sidh” is adapted from Kathleen Ragan “Fearless Girls, Wise Women and Beloved Sisters” W.W. Norton and Company, New York, London, 1998
“We Awaken in Christ’s Body” by Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022) translation Stephen Mitchell in “The Enlightened Heart” Harper and Row, New York 1989