Re-storying and belonging –
by Sharon Blackie
“You don’t mess with the Cailleach … she’s our very own Kali, dancing to create. Because it’s not death that she brings to the land with her dancing: it’s the renewal of sleep, the renewal of creativity as the hard bones of winter lay bare all that is inside us. She culls old growth, brings transformation. She’s the guardian of the seed as it builds its strength for the next summer’s growth.
When the long hard days of winter are done, and she begins to tire of her labour, the hills become her resting place, and she sleeps in the hills for longer and longer periods of time. And as she sleeps, at dawn on Imbolc – February 2 – her sister begins to wake. Her sister is Brighid, or Bride: the spring maiden. Bride has a bright green mantle that has been tightly wrapped around her all winter; as she begins to waken, little by little she shrugs off the mantle, and it begins to spread out over the fields and flowers spring up from the place where the mantle rests. Bride looks after the cows and the sheep – but more than that, she inspires poets and storytellers. Until, on August 1 – Lammas – she begins to tire, and she sleeps longer and longer, withdrawing her green mantle as she falls into the deepest sleep of winter. And as she begins to sleep, her sister the Cailleach begins to wake …
And so the cycle goes.
Every morning when I wake up and open the shutters I look out onto one of those silhouetted sleeping forms in the hills. I can see the contours of her face in profile, the rise of her chest and the roundness of her belly. It reminds me that the land is animate in its own way, and that, as explorer of oral traditions Robert Bringhurst tells us, ‘Stories are one of the fundamental ways in which we understand the world … some of the basic constituents of the world.’ It reminds me of the story of Cailleach and Brighid, and so of cycles, and of balance. As I walk our wild and windy headland each morning with the mountains to the east of me and the sea to the west, sometimes I talk to that sleeping form. I tell her my stories, and she tells me hers.
Because the only true stories spring directly from the land. They don’t come from our heads: we’re not talking about sitting down at a computer and making up fiction here, we’re talking about living stories. Alan Garner tells us that such stories are how a nation dreams.
The reality is in the land, in the earth. That’s where the true stories spring from. These are the stories that contribute to our sense of belonging in a place, and belonging springs in good part from understanding the land in all its seasons. Which in turn comes from getting out there and being in it, from understanding some of its history (not just of the people, but of the land itself). From understanding its stories.” © Sharon Blackie
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