Come now along the dirt path winding upwards towards Tara’s height. Push open the wooden gate, built to keep the sheep inside. Like the ancient circular ditch, gouged four metres deep into solid rock, surrounded by great wooden palisades, the protective fencing of Tara is meant to hold the good spirits within as much as to prevent the bad spirits from entering.
aerial view of Tara Hill, County Meath, Ireland
Inside the gate, we choose a direction that is south and east, turning to the left.
Just beyond that hedge, on the eastern slope, is one of Tara’s wells, so old that when it was documented in the Tenth Century AD, it was already ancient in oral tradition. Over the millennia, it has borne many names. At one time, it was called the Healer, later the Dark Eye. One of its names, Well of the White Cow, associated it with the Fertility Goddess. More recently, it has been known as Cormac’s Well and Saint Patrick’s Well.
This is the well we enter now.
There is a ritual to follow. First, we remove our shoes. This is a sign of respect for the sacred presence we are approaching. It is also a practical consideration. Shoes are heavy and can make our return to the surface more difficult. We’ll also need the agility of our toes for the downward climb and the ascent afterwards. The mouth of the well is encircled by stones, each laid in its place with such care that they seem always to have been together, like a community of friends, melded into a solid surround.
Now, get a good grasp on the stones at the top of the well. Feel for finger-holds until your hands are securely rooted, then let your body drop into the well so that, still hanging by your hands, you are immersed waist deep in the clear dark water. Next, scrabble with your toes along the stones nearest your feet until their grip feels secure.
Don’t be afraid. I’m right here beside you, both of us clinging frog-like to the inner wall of the well.
Now breathe deeply. Fill your lungs.
The plunge will be sudden and deep.
Let go. Fingers. Toes. Anxiety. Fear. Even, and especially, expectation. Drop down.
Darkness enfolds us. Silence, deeper that any we have ever known. Water holds us as it did before our birth. We are safe.
The descent is slower now, our body’s weight balanced by the weight of the water. No longer plunging, we are now drifting downwards. Down. Down. Still further down.
Our hands brush against the stone walls of the well. Suddenly, the stones on one side vanish and we flow with the water into an open channel, a birth canal. With a rush, we are carried forward, dropped into a pool. Just beyond the pool, we see a dusty red rock cavern, lit by the faintest sliver of light from somewhere high on the walls.
Swim across the pool. Pull yourself up and out onto the rocky ledge. Notice that we are both immediately dry; neither skin, nor clothing, nor hair show signs of our watery descent. We feel refreshed, as though we’ve just wakened from a sweet afternoon nap.
And we are not alone. The Storyteller will have questions to ask you. She will want to know what you are seeking. Be clear. She does not like vagueness, as I have learned to my cost. Nor will she spare you any of her time if you lack passion. Only a deep desire will win you her attention and her assistance.
If you are blessed (as I was) she will offer you her companionship, her love, her support and her guidance for all the days of your life. If that is your deep desire. But do not bother to ask her name, who she is. She will not tell you.
She is already here, resting against a large, smooth rock. She is wrapped in a cloak of Irish wool in dark purple tones. The cloak’s hood partially hides her face, giving a sense of a shadowy, not-quite-real presence. She appears to be tall, slender, neither young nor old. Strength, compassion, wisdom emanate from her, glow from her eyes.
She gestures towards a place in the darkness, signing that we are to sit, but from this moment on, hers will be the only voice we hear.
Storyteller: You are welcome. I’ve been expecting you. I see that you have not
come alone. These must be the friends you have spoken about, the ones you wished me to meet. You want me to tell a story of the Irish people, the ancient Celts? Who they were, how they understood the earth, their lives, and the otherworld. Ahhhhh…
She pauses, gazing at each of us, as though to read our hearts.
Then it must be a love story, a story of desire and longing, for haven’t I taught you that it all begins with desire and longing? It must be a story with music and poetry, with laughter and beauty, with loss and suffering and … transformation.
This is the ancient Irish tale of “The Wooing of Etain”. Are you ready for the gift it brings ?