Tag Archives: Hill of Tara

On Tara Hill in the Well of the Storyteller

The Storyteller continues her tale. We wonder whether Elspeth’s heart which speaks of dread, of grief, tells true.

As soon as the morning light awakens them both, the younger woman cries out in longing and despair. “My bairn! My bairn! Are the men returned yet? Have they found him?”

Before Elspeth can answer, Michael comes in the door. His expression of defeat, of sorrow, is all the answer she needs. “We looked everywhere. Along the cliff path and in the fields to either side all the way to where the high hills rise. We questioned every passer-by and stopped at each croft to ask. But none has seen a bairn or heard of one being found.” Slowly he raises his head, looks directly into the eyes of the young woman as he gathers courage. His voice is as gentle now as if he were speaking to a tiny child. “You’ve had a bad fall and a shock. Are you certain you didn’t just dream of a bairn?”

Her look at him holds strength like steel. “My bairn lives. I shall go now to find him.”
She has gained strength with her night’s sleep, and once she has eaten the bowl of porridge Elspeth prepares for her, nothing can prevent her leaving.

Still, Elspeth begs, “Please. Stay here with us. You have no one. We will be your family.”

But the young woman looks at her and at Michael. “Thank you both for your kindness. I must find my child. When I have him once more in my arms, I shall return to you.”

What shall I tell you of the days and nights that followed? She walks the dusty roads until darkness and exhaustion draw her to a hayrick or beneath a tree to sleep a few hours. Asking. Asking. Everyone she meets. Knocking on the door of every croft. “Have you seen a bairn? A baby boy? Close on a year old? Eyes the blue of night skies, hair like the flame of the setting sun?”

On the evening of the seventh day, weary beyond telling, she comes upon a small band of gypsies cooking their evening meal of rabbit stew over an open fire.

091025_JB_ 0009

The sadness in the eyes of the young woman touches their hearts. She is soon seated among them, offered a bowl of stew while one of the young gypsy girls bathes her swollen bleeding feet in a basin of cool spring water.

When the woman has recovered herself, she tells them her story, asks her question, “Have you seen a bairn…?”

The gypsies assure her they have only their own dark-eyed babies.
“But do not despair,” says the oldest man. “In seven days’ time, we leave for a great encampment of our people high in the hills. At that gathering will be an ancient crone, blessed with the sight. If anyone can know where your bairn is to be found, it will be she herself. Stay here for the week to rest; travel with us to speak with her.”

This morsel of hope brings back the colour to her cheeks. As the gypsy men take out their violins to play the sweet sad songs of their race, her heart begins to warm, to beat in rhythm to their music.

At the end of the seven days, made strong with music and rest, with fire and friendship and plentiful food, she sets off with the gypsies. On the third day, they reach the great encampment. As soon as her new friends have set up their camp, one of the young lads is instructed to lead her to where the ancient one always makes her fire.

An old old woman is sitting very still on a bench beside an open fire. The young woman sees her milky eyes and realizes with a shock that the crone is blind. But, sensing her presence, the ancient one, in a voice of surprising youth and sweetness, invites the younger woman to sit by her side on the bench. She lifts the young woman’s nearest hand into her own gnarled ones and holds it in silence. Then she asks, “What great sorrow brings you here?”

The young woman’s story pours forth like a rain-fed spring as the old one listens. The crone rises, feels for a clay pot that stands near the bench, withdraws from it a handful of herbs. These she tosses on the fire and the young woman sees that the cailleach is not completely blind, for she is peering intently now at shapes in the rising smoke. After a time, she returns to the younger one’s side, takes her hand once more in her own, breathes deeply and says, “Prepare yourself for great sorrow. Your bairn has been taken by the Sidh folk. They have taken him into their gathering, the Sidhean, where they are electing the new king to rule them for the next hundred years. What goes into the Sidhean does not come out.”

The young woman feels the blood leave her heart. “But the gypsies who brought me here promised me that you had great powers. Surely you can recover my child.”

“Yes. I have great powers. But my powers go back only as far as the dawn of humankind. The power of the Sidh folk is far more ancient than mine. I cannot undo what they have done.”

“Then give me some of your herbs that I may die, for I have nothing left to live for.”

At these words, the old one grasps her hand more firmly. “There may yet be a way. Allow me to think on this while the encampment lasts. Come to me in seven days’ time and I may have thought of something.”

All week, the young woman waits. Hope plays upon the strings of her heart as the gypsies’ bows play upon their violins. But between the notes and beneath the strings, grief and terror clutch at her.

On Tara Hill in the Well of the Storyteller

tara-at-dusk-95486_207x136

The Hill of Tara at  Dusk

In our earlier session we arrived together in the Well of the Storyteller on Tara Hill. She is about to tell us an ancient tale of desire and longing, but first she invites us to settle in:

Lean back against the rock wall. Let it embrace you, body and spirit. Close your eyes. Relax all tension in your body. Breathe deeply. Now, I shall begin.

It is twilight on the moors as the eastern sky inhales, drawing away the day’s light, leaving a trail of rose madder and lavender on the sides of the far hills. Two of the Irish faery folk, the Sidh, now long vanished from our Isle, are walking along the path that skirts the cliff at the sea’s edge. One of them spies something ahead of her on the path and her greedy eyes glisten with the hope of gain. A bundle of clothes—perhaps finery—dropped by a traveller? She reaches down, her grasping fingers surprised by the weight. She opens the bundle, and cries out, “a bairn, a human bairn!”

The Sidh women look at one another, instantly united in one wicked resolve. “What no one is claimin’ is ours for the takin’.”

They hurry off, heedless of the cries of the baby now clutched to the finder’s thin breasts.

Almost all light has vanished as a coracle passes directly beneath the spot where the theft has just occurred. Michael and Niall are tired from their day’s fishing in the next cove, eager to be home to their families, their firesides, with the day’s catch. Niall plies the oars in the small boat, but it is Michael in the bow who spots the dark shape halfway up the side of the cliff. “Look up there, Niall. Is that someone trapped on the shelf – there, part way up the cliff?”

But Niall is weary, would rather not know, “Sure, ‘tis only a shadow, Michael. Or perhaps an animal resting.”

“Niall, how could we be sure ‘tis not some poor soul, fallen from the cliff above and injured? And how could we be going home to our own firesides, leaving someone there. Row to shore!”

Reluctantly, Niall turns the coracle towards the rocky cove and the bit of dry land that passes for shore. They secure the boat, scrabble their careful way up the cliff face, reaching for secure hand-holds, testing their weight on each jutting ledge with a tentative foot. When they reach the wide ledge where they’d spotted the shapes, they find a woman.

“Is she dead, Michael?” Niall’s whisper is filled with dread.

“No, but fainted or perhaps knocked unconscious by her fall. Here, take my cloak. Help me wrap her for the trip down to the boat.”

With tenderness, the two men make their careful way downwards, lay the still-unconscious woman in the bottom of their coracle. By the time they reach the cove near their own village, full darkness has risen to extinguish all outer light. The woman has not stirred.

Guided by the firelight that shines through the open window of Michael’s croft, they make their way to the door where Michael’s wife Elspeth, in one swift movement, lifts the woman into her arms and places her gently on the hearth rug beside the fire. “Quick, Michael, ladle some soup from the cauldron above the fire. Try to get her to swallow a little of it.”

The heat of the fire and the few drops of hot soup bring the woman to full wakefulness. She looks at Michael and his wife, and then around the small room as her eyes widen in terror. “My bairn! Where is my wee bairn?”

Elspeth looks at her husband. He shakes his head. “Prepare yourself for great sorrow,” she says to the younger woman. “There was no bairn with you when my husband and his friend found you.”

“You’d fallen from the cliff above,” Michael adds. “You might have died.”

But the young woman takes no comfort in her own survival. “My baby! He is all I have, for his father is dead. I placed him beside a gorse bush on the path, and went to find water for us both.” And already she has begun to stand as she says, “I must go to find him.”

Michael places a firm hand on her shoulder, preventing her from rising. “You’ll find nothing in this black night. Rest now, and at first light, Niall and I will call the men of village together to organize a proper search. We’ll walk back along the road that meets the cliff path. We’ll find your bairn. Never fear.”

But when he sees the anguish on the woman’s face, Michael reads her thought. How could a bairn survive alone at night? There are animals…

“I’ll get Niall and two lanterns. We’ll go now.”

Elspeth gives the woman more soup, laced with something to make her sleep, murmuring assurances that soon she’ll be holding her baby in her arms. But Elspeth hears another song deep in her own heart, a song of dread, of grief.

to be continued……

On the Hill of Tara…part two

Last week, I began sharing my own journey with the Sophia presence. I took you to Tara Hill, County Meath, Ireland, promising you would meet someone within a Holy Well on Tara. Now we are ready to enter that well.  

There is a ritual to follow. First, we remove our shoes. This is both a sign of respect for the sacred presence we are approaching, and 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 as secure as your fingers feel above them.

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 have just wakened from a sweet afternoon nap.

And we are not alone.

She is already here, sitting just a short distance from us, resting against a large, smooth rock. She gestures towards a place where we too may sit, a smooth area of stone with secure back rest. We settle in.

She is wrapped in a wool cloak of midnight blue, faintly patterned with stars. 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.

I have brought you here to meet her. She 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.

For now, just sit here beside me. Listen to my conversation with her. When you feel ready, speak to her. Don’t worry about how you’ll know when the time is right. She’ll know. She’ll ask you why you have come.

Relax. Listen. She is speaking to me.
Welcome to the well of presence. I’ve been expecting you. I see that you have not come alone.

You told me that I would recognize when the time came for me to share with others what you have been teaching me. The time is now. I am sure of it.”

Good. How do you wish to begin?

“I’ve thought about this for a while. As I remember it, each of your deep teachings came to me through an ancient tale. I want to retrace with you the journey you and I have made together along the road of ancient story. I’ve created an opening so that those who are ready may travel the way with us. I hope you will be the Storyteller.”

Would you like to choose the first story?

“It must be a story of desire and longing. Every journey, as you have taught me, begins with longing. Will you tell us the story of The Stolen Bairn and the Sidh?”

( to be continued)

Photo shows Tara Hill at Dusk

tara-at-dusk-95486_207x136