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…and the ecstatic dance between dark and light.

On Sunday, 20 March, we went for a hike. It was equinox, a day when the hours of dark and light are perfectly in balance. It is a day when the warm eye of the sun peers into a rounded tumulus, nestled lovingly atop a rise in county Meath. The backstone in Cairn T at Loughcrew suggests a secret. A voice from the past whispers on the wind and my heart strains to understand.

We did not arrive in time to wait hungrily for the light. It was cloudy that day and the winter gray blanket was snuggled tightly near the earth. We did, however, walk all four Hills of The Witch. The day was mild and the countryside, oh so peaceful.

The sacredness of this landscape is palpable. Miles away these sites are visible. They keep watch over the surrounding townlands, villages, and fields. The swelling hills speak to me of a woman’s body. The undulations both nurturing and substantial. I shift into an altered state of mind here.

The names tell us the neolithic people may have been of this same opinion. The entire complex of four hills is collectively known as Sliabh na Caillí, (Mountains of the Hag). They line up in a roughly W – E alignment, spreading over 4km. Beginning in the W is Carnbane (Carn na Ban ~White Hill), then to Sliabh Rua (Red Hill) [which some call Carrigbrack ~ starry rock], then Belrath (name according to Rhys, 1901 ~ possibly meaning bright fort?) where the Hags Chair sits aligned to the pole star, and finally poor Patrickstown, whose name is forgotten, who holds the precious calendar stone.

As we walked the hills I was thankful for the increasing light. The winter was hard for me. This is the first time I’ve lived through a winter where darkness descended by 4pm and what passed for day time was cold and gray. I struggled with bouts of depression and often longed to return to my beloved sunny Texas.

I also mused on the many King making tales of ancient Irish myth. When a strong young man who sought the kingship would encounter an old and ugly Hag, wandering alone in the wilds. If he helped her, embraced her, kissed her ugly lips and held her withered body as he made love to her…she would transform into a voluptuous young beauty who granted him sovereignty.

I’ve been reading Professor Ó Crualaoich’s book, “The Book of The Cailleach, stories of the wise-woman healer”. He posits that the folktales here, retold year after year by local storytellers, were a sort of community therapy, where “the emotional distress of the afflicted victim is subjected in story to the kind of transference and transaction that enables a degree of resolution of the distress in a cathartic acknowledgment of, and in a partial insight into the origin and significance of the affliction.” Winter is a good time for storytelling. David Abram, in his sensational book “The Spell of the Sensuous”, talks about the Koyukon tribe who tell “distant time” stories in the late fall and winter. He says that scholars of native lore have found this to be almost a rule. That the most sacred stories are only told at night and only during the winter.

The green land I call Ireland has an older name. Éire. A goddess. The land is feminine. In the winter “Her bones grow old in wintery cold, She wraps Her cloak around Her.” It is hard to love Her then, when the day is short, sunlight scarce, and the land bleak. But the very survival of a people depends of loving Her. Survival depends on remembering…that the Sun will return. The flowers will bloom. The lambs will be born. The trees will leaf and the days will grow long, full of luscious fruits and bird song. An abundant land once more.

The stories are taking on a whole new meaning for me. Where are the storytellers? They are needed in this world now, more than ever.

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