The light fades. The rains come. Soon, the mists from the sea will sweep over the hills of this city, heralding the coming of winter. And all those things I thought I had time for ebb away, dropped from hands clinging too tightly and suddenly relaxed from exhaustion. All the grand designs, the epic plans?
Like Taliesin fleeing Ceridwen–eventually, the hunted must stop. The summer must fade, the light must dim, and night must sweep over the world.
It’s been a year since I left on pilgrimage, and events from it have haunted my mind relentlessly. Of all of them, the one that I’ve had the most trouble understanding was my journey up a druid mountain. I’d had a vision months before of Bran and ravens over a valley, and someone had told me in a dream where I was to go to find it, or I’d recognized the place when I saw it named, or some combination of the two (dreams and visions get fuzzy over time).
Last year this time, I’d come down from that mountain, Menez Hom, a bit disappointed with myself. I hadn’t hiked all the way to the top–I’d gotten to one of the other hills instead, near a shrine to a dead musician surrounded by heather. I slept in a three-way crossroads, staring at the moon shrouded by clouds dripping rain on my unsheltered, dream-drunk body.
Earlier that day I’d hiked 12 hours, carrying pretty much everything I owned at the time (except my tent, which I’d left at my main camp to hold my spot). About 50 pounds worth of stuff, and 5 gallons of water, and tea–up a settled druid mountain where Maponos and Brighid/Brigantia were worshiped before the Christians came.
I maybe should have taken a few days to explore, or maybe not have drank with hot Breton men the night before if I’d wanted to get to the top. And, of course, I’d thought I needed to get to the top. That’s what you’re supposed to do, right? Give up your home and life and set out by yourself over an ocean and walk ancient cobbled streets to the foot of a mountain you’d had visions of and then go to the very top, yeah?
I’d taken a wrong turn on one of the trails, one that made the journey three times as long as it should have been. The path I took instead wended its way along streams, past ancient stone farmhouses, through a few tiny villages with some of the strangest folk I’ve ever encountered. I walked along a road and passed an old man with long black hair. There were runes (Elder Futhark) cut into the pavement for some bizarre reason, and I stared at them as he hobbled his way past me. His nod unnerved me–it was neither friendly nor challenging. I saw him again in a dream a few nights later. Some spirit was attempting to broker a deal between us–I would take his place, and he could finally leave.
(I said no.)
I remember the point when I’d realised the sun was setting and I had several more miles to go. There’d been storm clouds all afternoon and evening, and I hadn’t brought my tent. Also, I was hungry, exhausted. I threw down my pack in a crossroads bordered by cornfields and went walking, hard, to try to find a cromlech or dolmen or at least something ancient to sleep by. I’d hiked all that way to find something sacred–it seemed pathetic to not make it to the top without camping by standing stones.
There were no standing stones nearby, just the grave of a violinist surrounded by heather in bloom. He’d been the musician for one of the chapels nearby, and when he’d died (according to the engravings), the people he’d played for built a garden of heather to remember him. It was awfully gorgeous, but it didn’t seem right to sleep there. He was a Christian, after all.
Dejected, I made my way back to my pack. I would sleep in a crossroads after tea and dinner, and maybe never tell anyone how I’d taken a wrong turn and not gotten to the top.
I was so exhausted, more than I remember myself ever being at any other time, but I most remember despair. I wouldn’t make it to the top, despite having gone so far, and the fatigue of my body felt like revolt and betrayal.
Lightening had flashed across the sky, which added fear to my despair. I remember standing in a small patch of low gorse to catch one last glimpse the evening light with the intent to scream, to rage against my failure and the coming storm and night of sleeplessness in the rain..
But looking out over the expanse below me, I caught a glimpse of the river Aulne (‘Alder,’ in French), and saw the precise valley I’d seen in my vision months before. The same place, the same vantage, the same gathering storm clouds.
After dinner and tea and short prayers to gods I wasn’t sure I was on quite good relations with, I slept. Or, sort of slept. I dreamt, but I think my eyes were open. I’d close them and still see the moon.
I still don’t fully know who talked to me that night. She was awfully impatient with me about something I’d forgotten how to do. She’d shown me how to build a wall to defend a temple, and I’d forgotten, or wasn’t doing it fast enough. She was all sea fury and foam, cloaked in green and blue, a sense of shells, old but hardly frail.
I wandered down the hill the next morning silently, and the end of the path leading off the mountain into the nearby town was blocked by a hen, pecking at seeds.
I hope I’ve never given the impression I know more than anyone else, particularly about this gods-stuff. It’s all visions and vivid dreams and whispers that hardly make sense until much later, often after I’ve finally given up trying to understand some particular mystery, a few times after it’s too late to do anything with that knowledge. I suspect I struggle a bit too much in certain directions, attempt too often to get to the top of some mountain when all I really needed to do was sleep in a crossroads and know what giving-in means, what comprehending the limits of human capacity leads to.
The peak of a mountain is only its peak. One does not need to conquer it to know it, anymore than one must dive to the deepest depths of the ocean to comprehend the sea.
And speaking of ocean–yesterday, I was in a ritual for Mabon with other Druids. At some point, we were surrounded by ocean mist, mist I saw so thoroughly that I did not care if others saw it. And in the mists stood the dead, outside our circle. They were there, I was certain, but a year ago, before Menez Hom, I would never have trusted my own certainty.
But being around others in ritual means you don’t have to rely on your own certainty. It wasn’t an ancestor ritual, but someone afterwards says, “the ancestors are pleased–I saw them gather around us.” And then my lover, who’d joined as a guest, told me of feeling the gathering shapes of others just outside the circle. I don’t know if they saw the ocean mist rise up to surround us, but I do not think this matters. The dead were there.
I’m still not sure what they want, and I really, really wish I knew what She meant about the fortifications, the wall around the temple. There was some coming onslaught, and we weren’t ready.