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An Irish Pilgrimage

 

Over the Rainbow – An Irish Pilgrimage

 

a sharing with friends known and unknown

about the recovery of pilgrimage 

 

      by Alastair McIntosh

 

 

First published in The Trumpeter: Journal of Ecosophy, 11:3, Summer 1994, Victoria, Canada, pp. 131-135. A subsequent 1996 article in The Trumpeter follows on for this paper ("Community, Spirit, Place") and addresses Celtic shamanism and cultural psychotherapy. When these were first written in the mid-1990's I felt that they were too radical to publish in Scotland, though the editor of the Edinburgh Review would have been willing to carry them. I think that dynamic has now changed or at least, my willingness to be expressive in these ways has.

 

 

Secularity

 

Well, I'm now back in circulation after being on Holy Pilgrimage in Ireland with Tom Forsyth. For those of you who don't know him, Tom lives on the remote West Highland peninsula of Scoraig with about seventy others. They have chosen to have no road access so you either walk four miles round a mountain, or cross a mile of sea loch. Each home has its own wind generator for electricity. Sometimes it gets dubbed "Shangri-la" because it so obviously isn't and is. Visitors can be a mixed blessing, some being dubbed the "Bonglais", which is to say, the Anglais, Ecossais, and so on but those out only for "bon" vacances -  shoulders bongling with cameras and binoculars which dangle in the way of contributing to hard work.

 

Tom was one of the early settlers there. He grows potatoes, trees and cows, does stonework, boatwork and retreats, watches more television than the caricature might admit and participates in friendships, interpersonal conflicts and many other fascinating realities that make for "professional" life on a croft smallholding. "Give me any day a bit of Scoraig hatred than Findhorn love and light", he's drily fond of saying. "At least you know it's genuine". And of course, the halo around such places as Scoraig, Findhorn, Iona, Samye Ling and even the Centre for Human Ecolgy illuminates in direct proportion to distance.

 

Both Tom and I have, in the past, worked for the ecumenical Iona Community and draw deeply on Christian roots. But we equally relish what, especially up North in Scotland, is still often seen as heresy: interfaith sharing and not just stolid "dialogue"; the femininity of God ... (I mean, I want Her as lover or not at all ... to hell with all this "jealous Father" heavy trip); and prophetic witness on socio-ecological justice, confronting those structural evils which lead us away from our Selves. Aye - "Deliver us from evil"; deliver us from inauthenticity. Pretty hot shaman was old J.C..

 

When Tom and I first met up over his proposal to challenge feudal land ownership on the Isle of Eigg, one of the visions he shared was the importance of the Celtic edge of Scotland as a place of pilgrimage. Up to the time of the Reformation in Scotland, holy pilgrimage was very popular - rather like Ireland where, I once read, anything up to a third of the population could be on pilgrimage at the same time. Anyhow, as the Scottish Parliament came under the censorious hand of protestantism it recognised that too many holy-days were bad for the work ethic, and colluded with the established church to ban pilgrimage on account of its Catholic associations. Now, many generations later, Tom's Iona and Rajneesh influenced thinking was that we maybe need a concept of "secular pilgrimage", a special version for those who would be scared off by holiness.

 

 

Virginality

 

Anyhow, we had no such inhibitions as we headed off in a VW Polo for Ireland this summer of '93. The word, "holy", derives from the Old German for "whole". And that's what we were after - the whole experience. So, Holy Pilgrimage here we come - travelling, of course, under the guidance of the Queen of the Faeries, known otherwise as the GCM or, throughout all Ireland - the BVM.

 

-  GCM? BVM?  - The Great Cosmic Mother; Blessed Virgin Mary ‑ "Mother of God; Queen of Heaven"! It's such fun when you overcome inhibitions and really get into the Goddess right to the depths of her Christian and pagan roots combined.... Oh, and you think I'm being frivolous? Not worthy of having been moved through lila to the academy from where I'm currently writing? Well, you're maybe right about the latter; but certainly not about the frivolity. Get this on "pagan" Celtic and Christian connections! It's about the Celtic triune - the triple god/ess of life/death/rebirth; maiden/mother/crone. I found it in Peter Berresford Ellis's authoritative "Dictionary of Celtic Mythology"  (Constable, 1992, p. 208).

 

            Triads: ... Three and three-times-three permeate Celtic philosophy and art. Hilary, who became bishop of Poitiers in A.D. 350, is regarded as the first native Celt to become an outstanding force in the Christian movement. His greatest work was De Trinitate, defining the concept of a Holy Trinity, which is now so integral to Christian belief. As a Celt, Hilary was imbued with the mystical traditions of the triune god (sic), and, therefore, the trinity in Christian tradition owes its origin more to Celtic concepts than to Judaic-Greco philosophies.

 

So anyway, we set off from Edinburgh and it really was a laugh. We could feel the faeries jumping onto the back bumper as we drove down to the Stranraer ferry. There was very little sense of their presence in Northern Ireland, but as soon as we crossed the border into Donegal the faeries welcomed us with a rainbow brighter than any I've ever seen ‑ so bright that my red/green colour blindness notwithstanding, I was able for the first time to see all the colours.

 

After a night camping in a field near Sligo and visiting Yeat's burial ground, we moved on under the guidance of the faeries heading south. Past a 6.2 Mw wind farm with twenty-two 240Kw and 450Kw aerogenerators at a capital cost of £(pounds)1,000/Kwh, expected lifespan 20 years. They were built beside a 40Mw peat fired power station. The peat was all dug out and there was a massive tangle of bog pine roots ‑ just like a tropical forest after felling ‑ far more extensive and much bigger stumps than one sees in Scotland. Bog oak and yew is found too, though we didn't see any. Like the "Great Forest of Caledon" which once covered two-thirds of Scotland and is now reduced to one percent, radio-carbon dating of the remnants typically comes out at 4,000 to 6,000 years. Nobody is quite sure what happened. The received wisdom was climate change, but then how come parts survived intact? Recent archaeological work in Scotland points to early agriculture and grazing regimes as a possible culprit. That feels more like it.

 

 

Liminality

 

Seeing as I just found out from one of my students (thank you Mary Anna!) what "liminality" means, and as I'm now using it in every context of shape-changing even though it's not in my dictionary, I suppose I'd better say that it derives from the Latin for "threshold", as in "subliminal" - that which is below the threshold of consciousness.

 

So, it's County Mayo, and the faeries stop us by a faerie bridge to brew tea in a faerie dell. Tom goes to set a fire. I gaze into the water. Two men eye me suspiciously, come over, and ask if I'm here to fish. - No. - Do I have a rod? - No, not just now. - Do you ever fish for salmon? - No, though I used to be a ghillie back home on Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.

 

Now, "ghillie" is the Gaelic word for servant. It means particularly a boy or man on a sporting estate whose skill lies with bringing stag carcases off the hill by pony, and in the Zen of gently drifting a boat over a salmon lie, be it in a flat calm or a gale gusting force seven. All ghillies know that it can be mainly their manouvering with oars that lands the fly over the fish. However, being experts in the bardic art of supremely praising overgrown insufferables as part of the Celtic love of refined sarcasm, the Great White Fisher is sent away at the day's end believing any catch to have been all their own prowess; an effort at least comparable with their most famous dawn raid in the Great War or stock exchange.

 

Of course, I generalise here; I ignore the occasional woman or man who was a delight and privilege to be with in more than just the sense of being interesting persons because they were rich or powerful or skilled. I shamelessly but confessedly disregard such exceptions because they do not fit my current literary idiom. And yet the portrayal is, I believe, a valid one on balance. The August 1992 edition of the high society magazine, Harpers & Queen, offers a perfect self-portrait of this shootin' and fishin' establishment who, ever since they forcibly dispersed our communities to their industrial cities and new worlds in the 19th century Clearances, continue to keep most of the Highlands as a private playground.

 

            The international social set hang up their party boots at the end of July and depart for caiques off the Turkish coast, villas in the South of France or huge yachts in Sardinia.  But not the Old Guard British ‑ there's only one choice for them: the Highlands....  There's nothing like Scotland in August for sheer expenditure of physical energy; the grouse moor, the deer and the salmon river claim the chaps during the day, who then heave a lot of whisky down, change into kilt (if they qualify), evening tails (if they don't) and go reeling until dawn with wind‑burnt girls adept at quick changes from muddy tweeds to ballgowns and tartan sashes. There's ... nothing like Scotland for stalking the biggest social game....

 

But what's not hinted at here is the real reason for it all. Secular pilgrimage! Well, not quite what Tom had in mind, but still pilgrimage of a sort. You see, most of the day; most of the fortnight often, is spent on the loch without so much as a rise to the fly. But there's always that possibility. Always the chance of a "take". Unless the concentration of the "Rod" (as the fisher is known) is unwaveringly but restfully focused, the water will swirl to a rise but the split-second opportunity to strike will be missed.

 

Now, where have you heard this kind of talk before? That's right! It was not for nothing that I hinted at Zen and the Ghillie's Art. We're talking Wu Wei here - doing without doing very much. You see, for the city stressed, battle traumatised, wealth-weary Rod; for the type who needs always to look purposeful but actually craves rest, the fishing rod is nothing less than a shamanic World Tree. It connects the earthbound soul with that higher reality, the relative aliveness of which is made incarnate through the totem salmon, the Celtic fish of wisdom. Thus it is that every flick of the rod; every rhythmic prostration of the wrist; every cast upon the dappled water is - a mantra.

 

Suddenly a dorsal fin breaks liminality. Black flash zips through ripple's trough. He takes, often, often, often, when least expected. Mindfulness rewarded, barb strikes piscean bony jaw and He "runs", leaps, fresh-run silver about to bear down liberatingly on taught line tailsmacked. "Drop the rod!" I yell. Tense, worried for a fraction, knowning that temporary slackness of trace alone had just prevented linesnap of loss. Aware too that I'm as excited by the hunt as the Rod. Physiologists do now say that fish have pain systems like us. Unease, outvoted by adrenalin.

 

Light tackle is used to "give the fish a chance". The more expert the Rod, the lower the breaking strain they boast - ten pounds normal, eight pounds on sunny days, and I've even seen them drop to five. "Give the fish a chance", they like to think, echoing similar propriations from the Bank's boardroom, or IMF, or Whitehall, or the playing fields of Eton where such "sport" won Waterloo. But usually in such low breaking-strain ranks, fate plays cruel. The dosage, appearing gentle, is merely better calibrated; less visible on a calm day.

 

When He can be reeled in towards the boat rolled over on his side like a submissive lapdog, you know he's "spent", "played out". The net or gaff slips under, and you can tell it's a He by the beaked jaw, "a fine cock salmon, Sir ... or sometimes, Madam". A sharp blow to the head with a leaded weight, the "priest", dispatches last rites ... it was in anticipation of this that one of the famous Hardy brothers would always fish wearing a black tie, endearingly "to show respect". Sometimes, the Continentals especially, dip a finger into blood seeping from nostril, catch it running along the clinker cleavage, and smear it between their eyes. I'd do it too, just to join in the spirit of things ... and we ghillie's would see one another like this and think, "so you've got one of those types today, have you?"

 

Is any further confirmation of necrotic totemism required? Well, I did suggest it was secular pilgrimage "of a sort".

 

"We could never understand why they would come up in their Rolls Royces, make such a hue and cry about it all, and be so cruel in the way they would take a fish", says my friend, Dr Donald Murray, who was born some seventy years ago in a traditional black house and remembers well the old days. After all, we would all gladly take a fish from loch, river or six fathoms of ocean. But the object was to get it in the pot as efficiently as possible; not to "play" it in this loaded lila parody.

 

But I have yet to come to what, for us, was the important bit of the story. It was customary for the adulating ghillie to be provided with a "wee dram". The expression pertains, always, of course, to whisky, which, please note, is not only golden, being spiritus of the alchemical still, but even translates direct from Gaelic as  - the "Water of Life".

 

Now, most things in life get bigger as they get older. The converse is true of a "wee dram", especially as Great White Fishers are renowned for their meanness. And here lies the rationale of the ghillie's bardic praise-eloquence to which I earlier referred. Here too is why, around the bothy fire at night, we ghillies would measure the success of the day not in the poundage of fish. Oh no - that was their reference point. Success for us was calibrated by a much more noble criterion. Our concern was for the Water. Specifically, with how far the hip-flask's golden gush had been liberated from that doleful adjective, "wee".

 

Anyhow, I've been deviating from my main story a little, but such is what pilgrimage is for. It allows space for the sedimentation of life to be shaken up and resettle in new strata of meaning. And you're allowed to do that, especially when standing over the keystane of a faerie bridge observing that the straight and narrow road goes in one direction, but the current - she takes quite a different route.

 

I often get a negative reaction from someone or other when I tell tales of ghillieing days. They'd prefer to think that such things don't happen, or that people with my sort of concerns weren't involved. Again, pilgrimage helps draw out the contradictions and loose ends of our lives. Some of these might be pregnant for reconciliation. Others stay untidy, but not to be ignored. If it is true as some Buddhists that we are all "perfected beings", then these are roughnesses in the diamond body.

 

A keystane - the wedge-shaped rock in the middle of a bridge that holds both sides together. These two Irishmen have brought me to a testing point now. - Oh, so you used to be a ghillie, says one, his poised interest vying with my presumption of suspicion in his voice. - Then what flies did you use?

 

My memory trawls back to those, not-very-right-on days ... and yet, it was employment, a fun job for a youth, and remains so for many with less choice in life than I have now. - Well, depending on the weather conditions, Hairy Mary tubes, Stoat's Tail, Black Pennel, Butchers, Blue Zulu, Claret and Grouse. Why? - Well well, we're ghillies too! he said, waxing a smile of professional recognition to break the cultivated tension.

 

- Ah, I retorted, - so you thought we were here to poach! - No, he laughs - we were just thinking that if you had a rod we'd have a cast ourselves while you were brewing up. - But, you're not watchers on this water? - Oh no, we've got our own water....

 

This doesn't fit. - You're ghillies, and you've got your own water?

 

 

Dys/functionality

 

And then an amazing story unfolded from this Bobby Bashford about the community in which he lives at Bangor Erris, Co. Mayo. A few years ago they'd had a big meeting to decide what to do about the fact that their village was dying from depopulation and lack of opportunity for the young. They recognised that their only real asset was the excellent salmon river and loch which had long been in the hands of an English "sporting" syndicate. These people would come over from London to fish, their posh cars filled with supermarket provisions, leaving nothing behind in the local economy.

 

The community decided to go for bust. They raised £(pounds)8,000  amongst themselves for legal costs. With it they dragged the syndicate to the highest court in Ireland, challenging the goodness of their title over what had been, long ago before colonial dispossession, the community's own fishing rights.

 

As this tale unwove, Tom and I told of the Scottish landowning situation: one where 80% of our private land is owned by 0.08% of the population - many of them actually Swiss, Arabic, American, English and whatever. We told of our work in setting up the Isle of Eigg Trust, where a Hebridean island community is gradually finding its voice again after 150 years of landlords working out their psychodynamic dysfunctionalities in a small place on a people they have distorted and nearly broken. Like many Irish, Bobby and his friend were amazed to hear of what we accept in Scotland. They suggested that we shoot the landlords or at least burn their lodges down. I mutter something about my Quaker pacifism, but allow satyagraha to stay on the back burner of Tom's fire as we enjoy the conviviality of tea.

 

Bobby went on to describe how, after they'd got their river back, life had returned to the community. Now they employed themselves as ghillies at £(pounds)50 a day, and had visitors stay, not in fancy castles or lodges, but in local bed and breakfasts. As a result, a once dying community is now thriving, not just because of the new tourist related jobs, but because the confidence of getting control of their own place has had all sorts of spin offs in terms of empowerment.

 

We told how Mr Schellenberg, the incumbent Laird of Eigg, has said that if Scots got their own land back then communities would just split apart by infighting. Bobby said that such shit within a community is inevitable when the lid gets lifted after so many years of, at best, paternalism. But most people just want to have their say. Accordingly, in Bangor Erris it is imperative that he, as chairperson of the community association, serves as a lightening conductor. He lets all the criticism be fired at him and the committee, but then records only views of which the exponents would be proud when the minutes are read back in the pub the next night. I asked if such censorship caused comment: "Oh no", he said, "people like to have their good ideas reflected back, but they never want to hear their own shit".

 

 

Communality

 

By day two we'd made it to the Aran Islands off central west Ireland to stay with Dara Moloy and Tess Harper at the Celtic Christian community they've established there. (As with many of these communities they say, of course, that it isn't a community. Like Scoraig, I sense it's to avoid setting themselves up for idealised expectations). Tom and I had met them 3 years ago at the Glasgow conference on "No Life Without Roots". I hadn't realised that Dara was a Catholic priest until the Islanders gave us a ferry discount because we were going to see "Fr Moloy". We spent 3 days there, helping them compile their journal, the Aisling, with articles by people like Radford Reuther, Illich and Panikkar, and lots of really good stuff on Celtic spirituality. Dara said he was content to be called a druid as well as a priest because he considers the druidic tradition to be "our Old Testament". This theme recurred on our travels.

 

I felt challenged by the degree of poverty taken on by Debbie, one of the Aisling community members. After a year camping in the wilderness on Iona, she'd come there with no possessions that she wouldn't be happy to give away, and eager to learn as much as she could from Tom about eating wild plants so she could live from the land as a hermit. Tom showed her how to build an anchorage (as in anchoress) out of stone. Part of her simple living has been refusing to sign on for welfare benefits, even if it meant odd days going hungry. I felt really comfortably complacent and middle class! I found this and other things about the seriousness of their commitment curiously draining of energy. I think it was because I was deeply weary from overwork and the series of major campaigns on the Gulf war with GulfWatch, Eigg and the land ownership debate and most recently, the superquarry issues - all probable "loser" campaigns in which the role was one of witness more likely than "winner". So I suppose that part of me wasn't wanting to be materially challenged - an interesting experience as I often seem to challenge others on lifestyle. Tom, I must say, got really inspired by it all.

 

In the Irish Times while on Aran we saw a full page article with lots of pictures of lovely hippies and tipees at the Rainbow Festival. It even quoted local people saying how great it all was - "you couldn't meet a nicer bunch of people". It implied the festival had finished and I wished I'd been able to go.

 

 

Spirality

 

On to Galway. I wander into a restaurant under the guidance of the faeries and a calm bearded man catches my eye. I ask if I can sit down with him and he welcomes me. He's a white Jamaican. We immediately get talking about the manicure of lawns. He lives at "Paradise Green" so I tell him about "Crystal Green" in the rainbow region of Australia where I was working with John Seed and other rainforest people. I ask him how come we'd so quickly got onto such an abtruse subject. He says it's in the countenance. He gives me his address in Jamaca - an invitation to to come anytime and stay at his family hotel, throwing clippings onto the great steaming cosmic compost heap.

 

The faeries then move me to a health food shop. I'm overjoyed to see a flier about the Rainbow Gathering, indicating that the festival is still on. We head off the next day to the Sleive Bloom Mountains right in the middle of Ireland.

 

A big sign says "Welcome Home". Rainbow signs are all over the place ‑ no drugs or alcohol or electronic music; no shitting near rivers; yes to fun and acoustic music and being totally yourself and sharing. Les Dreamwalker welcomes us at the car park area, two miles from where the main site is. We sit down and are instantly at home. A black woman borrows my drum and I play whistle. We drink tea; case the joint. Things like caffeine are acceptable in moderation. Then this guy starts talking about being at Scoraig in Scotland. At first we think he must be trying it on, not knowning Tom's from there. But he was ‑ he'd been at the Solstice festival. Small world, and Les gets excited because they want to scout Scotland for a location for the next British Rainbow. Scoraig's in the running.

 

I feel drawn to Gehan, a woman with long dark hair and a kind face. What is it about her? Do I know her from somewhere and there's a prior affinity? Later, after the Dongas Tribe invite me to give a rave on superquarries, she comes up to me and it turns out that she belongs to the Faslane peace camp. We had seen each other when the first Trident submarine arrived last October, again at the Scoraig Festival, and had corresponded when she was running the anti- Skye Bridge campaign. Later, Gehan was to start up Earth First! in Scotland. Their debut demo was to make an outstanding contribution to market information needed by an international conference of the superquarry industry meeting in Edinburgh. Seventy delegates - everyone from the lawyers to the explosives manufacturers had paid £(pounds)160 each to be sitting there when fifty EF!s moved in with their "Mountains not Motorways" banner. Sticks of Edinburgh Rock (a candy) were handed out, to the admonition, "Here's the only f'ing rock you're going to get from Scotland".

 

Amazing! And all that round just the first Rainbow campfire! We move up the valley and pitch tents at the main site. Tom's been going on about harnessing the serpent power, the kundalini. And we've been struck by all the grottos we've been seeing throughout Ireland to the BVM. Often the Virgin is standing inside the grotto, so we've started looking beyond her sanitised piety and seeing her as the Earth Goddess, Mother of God, Queen of Heaven, Queen of the Faeries; the Virgin in the sense of an empowered woman in full charge of her own being and sexuality; the Cosmic Lover. We've been stopping at various Marian shrines and paying our respects. Anyway, we pitch our tents and find that just across the river is a well. Typical Irish, there's a framed picture of the BVM by it. And amazing ‑ wrapped around her legs is a serpent. Her heel rests on its head, controlling the kundalini; not killing it. I name it the Well of Our Lady of the Perpetual Serpent. (Later I was to find there is a statue to the same Virgin in the Catholic Church on the Isle of Eigg.) I think of Dara saying that wells are sacred because, going back to druidic times, they were seen as the opening in the Earth from which goodness came; water symbolising the Spirit. An Irish custom is to walk clockwise three times round such wells saying Hail Mary ‑ representative, he suggested, of the sun going round the earth. The old Irish, he said, could see the Godhead behind such things as the sun and the moon; we need to recover such vision ‑ a pagan Christianity.

 

Music is everywhere. Dance workshops. Rebirthing. Healing. Spiritual teachings. Everyone is smiling and open faced. You can be crazy and nobody minds, like Everton, the black Londoner who since the age of 6 had just wanted to walk around holding a stick meditating on it - so that's what he was doing here; or the American gent who wants to go about with no trousers on. There is constant drumming ‑ really good. I am seized on by a clown who's drawn to my drum and find myself sitting down with this group playing the most amazing music. I look up at their flag and find they're the Dongas Tribe. The Rainbow Festival is billed as a gathering of the tribes of Europe, and I'm mindblown by Dongas because they're the amazing people who've been protesting the motorway rape of Twyford Down in England. I feel I've come home; here's the other end of the Scottish superquarry debate. These people's music is amazing. I'm not surprised the press give them such good write up's. "Dirty hippies", perhaps, but "stardust and golden" too; their songs have the power of prophesy in the full Old Testament sense of naming the principalities and the powers. Hail Mary! Ho hum.

 

Full moon, and I wonder into a tent with great drumming coming out. It's the Earth element people preparing for the midnight ritual of the 4 elements. The air people see my whistles and ask me to join them ‑ they're short of flutes. Worse still, they don't have a tune ‑ they need something primordial, worthy of the ancient ritual of celebrating the moon goddess. I play the A part of Skye Dance, and they're ecstatic ‑ it's just perfect. I teach the tune, and we're off ‑ wheeling, whirling, elementally, spiralling. Devils and Goddesses and a great dancing dragon all spiral ‑ 3,000 hippies and about 1,000 local Irish people, the latter mindblown at the naked and topless dancing of some, but saying it's great. Even the policeman thought it all great. I mean to say, one policeman for all those hippies! He told me he'd had no trouble at all ‑ quieter than usual 'cos the local troublemakers had all come up here, but were prevented by the hippie customs checkpoint from bringing booze in. Rumour had it that the Sarge' was going to paint a rainbow above the copshop.

 

Mealtimes ‑ twice daily the conchs blow. Food gets carried in huge dustbins from cooking areas staffed by whoever helps. Lots of people want to help because, like Ireland and Scotland in the old days, making music and song is integral to the work. The main medicine wheel area is the size of 2 football pitches. A mealtime circle gathers and grows and grows, then starts to spiral until it's 4 rows deep. I count 120 people in one quarter spiral, so there must be some 2,000 people in all. Silence, as we all hold hands. Then singing starts. Earth songs. Goddess songs. The food has now all arrived from the satellite kitchens. The servers have poured mild disinfectant over their hands and are ready. They make an inner circle, blessing the food. Silence again. Then at first it's like bees, then it get's louder, and louder, and then you realise that everyone's joining in the blessing by toning to Om. They call it "saying the Om". The Om reaches crescendo then dies away to silence. Quaker grace. Then all hell breaks loose with wolfhowls and whoops and general joyousness. Everyone sits down and the servers come round with the vegan food. They're followed by minstrels with the Magic Hat. "It's the Magic Hat, the Magic Hat, How about that it's the Magic Hat". And these lovely spiritual clowns laugh and dance about, collecting money from whoever is able to contribute so they can buy the next lot of food. It all works ‑ by magic.

 

Bed at night, dreams, and this great cosmic spiral always starts turning in my mind, rainbow colours. When I get back to Edinburgh I have to give a talk to the Postgraduate Environmental Research Network. The theme is British science policy and research council funding. I'd rashly given the title as "The Emperor Has No Clothes: Let us Paint our Loincloths Rainbow". I've now worked out what I'm going to say. The British government's White Paper on science and technology talks about the need for "key cultural change" to develop a 3-way partnership between the scientific community, government and industry. School curricula must be changed so that children learn to see the importance of science in wealth production, and learn how to do useful, enterprising science. In my mind I contrast this with Socrates in Plato's Timaeus, who saw the role of science as being for "supreme entertainment" so that, in knowing the harmonies of the cosmos, we will better understand the disharmonies of the soul and therefore learn how better to harmonise the soul with the rest of creation.

 

The ghost of the Platonic Socrates spirals up, cup of hemlock prepared for the writers of the White Paper. Doubtless, a few dregs left for me too...! "Be careful!" warned one of my academic superiors after I'd written it up for publication in a journal of environmental philosophy. - Be careful of, what? ... Bouncing around in my mind is the playwright Dennis Potter's existential tautology: "Am I right, or am I right" ... is this "to Hell with it" attitude courage, or merely the reckless arrogance that comes before tripping oneself up? Ego or conviction? I do not know. But just do it anyway; refuse to accept paralysis! Aim to span both groundedness in the "real" world and centredness from deep within. And if ego has gotten out of right proportion; if it is shrouding the clarity of vision which only humility can give - then, damnit: be tripped up! But learn from the falling, and know the grazes to be your gift. Such is how it has to be if you jump into the river's current; if you deviate off the narrow road and perhaps find the stream too strong to swim back.

 

On returning to Edinburgh ten days later my son, Adam, shows me his copy of Michael Crichton's "Jurassic Park". It falls open at page 284 where Malcolm is speaking: "... (Scientists and technologists) think narrowly and they call it 'being focused' ... Scientists are preoccupied with accomplishment. Discovery, they believe, is inevitable. So they just try to do it first. Even pure scientific discovery is an aggressive, penetrative act. Discovery is always a rape of the natural world. Always. The scientists want it that way. They have to stick their instruments in. They have to leave their mark. They can't just watch and appreciate."

 

Ho hum, I think to myself. Which will have more influence on the kids? Changes in the curriculum to suit business, or Jurassic Park?

 

Socrates, about whose pedagogy I normally have many reservations, nods approvingly. He smiles and, mischievously, winks.

 

 

Women

 

Down to the Dingle peninsula. It's hotching with tourists ‑ not just the backpack type but the rich ones in fancy cars too. Those walking on bikes doubtless count us amongst "the rich ones" and spurn our pollution. We go to this incredible awful Disney cardboard castle hotel just to look round and gloat. A frosty reception from the receptionist. It's aimed at attracting Americans ‑ poor things - being "had", culturally speaking. We decided the faeries had been scared out of Dingle by all this activity. So we left, and headed off via Kerry for the Beara Peninsula in the far South-West. Here the only tourists were right‑on ones ... oh the judgementality of it ... and we made for the Garranes hostel and Buddhist retreat centre which Brendan had recommended as spectacular for its cliff-top location. It was. We were welcomed on announcing the nature of our Holy Pilgrimage. I took part in the chanting that evening while old Tom chatted up a young Austrian woman. Of course, as Chaucer told, this kind of behaviour is part of the very essence of what Holy Pilgrimage is about. The Spirit must have approved because we subsequently kept bumping into her all over the place.

 

Next day we go to the Allihies Folklore Centre. Dierdre McCartin explains that Freirian influenced folklore is the most politically powerful thing she can think of doing, and slightly less violent than the other alternative of bombing London. We spend all day with her and her partner, Charlie Rees. They're mindblowing, and find our stories stimulating too. She used to be a filmmaker with Irish TV, specialising in feminism. She made a film about Mary Daly and then joined the academic staff of City University Dublin. She was too radical in teaching communications, and got pushed out, confirming Mary Daly's view that academia comprises "progressively higher degrees of deterioration of the faculties". We talk Friere on conscientisation; Illich on shadow work and the vernacular; Alice Walker on contradiction and love; and Irish and Scots history and Mary Daly and more Mary Daly intensifying our interoutercourse. And they just love our faeries, though I'm saddened to learn that Spencer (of the Faerie Queen) took part in repressing the Irish and massacring Spanish troops.

 

 

Faeries

 

Driving along just outside Bantry and we see a sign ‑ "Future Forests". We stop. We know the faeries are at it again. I walk up to the first person I see. "Hello ‑ we're on Holy Pilgrimage from Scotland under the guidance of the Queen of the Faeries, known throughout all Ireland as the BVM...." He says, - come right in, and we're there all night. A onetime Oxford philosopher (did you know the Dons keep secret groves which only they have access too?) and our conversation's all about the resurgence of Celtic spirituality, the healing of the Earth through treeplanting, restoring the old tree magic, and theories ‑ all anthropogenic ‑ of how Ireland was deforested. - What I'm trying to do, says Mike Collard, is pull together all sorts of sources which the disciplinarian academics never connected. Pollen analysis cross tabulated with the archaeological record tabulated with the legendary and monastic books of invasions tabulated with social attitudes and folklore.... It all fits, he reckons.

 

Mike continues - The first people left little record since they used only wood. The second wave, until about 5,000 years ago (nb. Marija Gimbutas), built the megalithic sites, and also dwelt in the forest. But then came the Milesian invasions, and they were tree haters. They burnt and cut and grazed, flushing out the habitats of peaceful matrifocal peoples and wolves, eventually near enough destroying all the forest.

 

We challenged him on the burning theory. We'd not seen charcoal, but he claims it is widespread. He's presently getting his ideas into academic shape to write a book on it all. As for now, nature is cracking. The reason we've seen hardly any butterflies in such rich landscape throughout Ireland is because nature no longer wants to shine. But she's coming back. The faeries are returning, and we are they, with our treeplanting and remythologising. Yes, he too was at the Rainbow Festival, and the pile of trees from his nursery waiting by the gate is going up to the site tomorrow to thank nature for providing the place. And all these hippies are learning treeplanting, and are starting to work with farmers by offering to plant trees free on their land. He asks - Are you a member of the SSSSSS? The "Secret Society for the Subversion of Sitka Spruce Stands"? - What does that do!? - Well, Sitka's fine as a nurse crop, so just wait until there's been some irregular felling or windthrow creating a clearance in a fenced area, and then move in with the acorns. It's magic, and forestry workers these days are getting so enlightened that they just leave the oaks to grow.

 

On to Ian and Lise's Traveller friends, Bev and Del near Cork. Bev is just like Ian ‑ like an older brother. They too were at the Rainbow! I said I'd almost gone up to the Traveller caravans but thought it would be intrusive, and most unlkely they'd know of Ian/Lise's friends ‑ and yet they'd actually been there! Ho hum. Well, if I'd gotten into their camp and been treated as one of the family as Bev said would have been the case, I'd maybe not have connected up with the Dongas, or all the other crazies. Such is pilgrimage.

 

A long phone discussion with Prof Bill Kingston of Dubin Uni. Don't have time to visit, but we have lots of common interests on land and property rights. He tells of his book critiquing Thatcher's rolling back of government in the name of the market, when it is government only that can guarantee markets by enforcing copyright, patents, etc. We agree to collaborate in future, and he's pleased we reckon Scotland has so much to learn from the Irish. I say nothing about Holy Pilgrimage, faeries, or the BVM. After all, this is the Prof of Business Innovation, unlike Tom with whom I'm travelling - Tom who we dub in the Centre for Human Ecology as our very own "Professor" Forsyth of Maieutics (the Socratic art of intellectual midwifery), specialising in ancient philosophy, crofting and the mid-life crisis.

 

- What do you mean by this "Professor" stuff? asks Tom, after sharing with some honours year forestry students about how Plato had established the original university, The Academy, in a grove outside Athens; about why the real academic is one who has both planted their own grove and given the trees crucial aftercare. -What do I mean? Well, I say, "one who professes their vocation" - that's what I mean. - Oh, he replies, - that's OK then.

 

A rush back for the boat. We stop with time we don't have to see Mark, an organic farmer who makes a living off just 3 acres at Dundalk. We have copies of the Aisling from Dara, and a formal apology to deliver him. He's mystified by the latter. Well, we explained, we were sitting in the pub when we see this guy's reading the Cool Aid Acid Test. So Tom get's talking while I play whistle with the band. And he's a Dublin Uni physics student, and he's really isolated because he's discovering the spirituality of physics but nobody in the department will discuss it with him. Tom dons his honourary "professorship" and, having read texts like Penrose's "Emperor's New Mind" etc., starts to really nourish this guy. - How did you start on the way? Tom asks. - Well, the guy says, - when I was at school our RE teacher brought these people over from the Aisling community on Aran. We all pissed around then, but recently we had a reunion and all agreed how much it affected us later in life. We agreed that if we knew where Mark was now we'd want to apologise for not recognising at the time what a wonderful teacher he was.

 

The apology delivered, time had run out. Bypassing Belfast. Rushing for the boat. Hard noise on the highway. Blue light flashing behind. A £(pound)20 fixed penalty from the Royal Ulster Constabulary for doing 70 on a 50mph section of motorway. So much for Mark's parting words - see you take no shit from the Brits! We carry on for the ferry, having now surely missed it by a good half hour, only to be amazed that it has been delayed.

 

We just squeeze on - the last possible vehicle. There is not even enough room left on the rear bumper for the faeries. I stand steadfastly, and with my penny whistle, play the Faerie Dance in salutation out over the immense car deck. Amused tourists clap. We wave the faeries goodbye and, for the time being and inasmuch as one ever does, conclude our Holy Pilgrimage.

 

A full six thousand years had passed. Yet, when we re-emerged on the Scottish side of the Irish Sea from out of that faerie mound disguised as a ferry car deck, we found that human time had advanced by only two weeks.

 

 

                                                  *************************

 

 

Alastair McIntosh is director of the postgraduate Master of Science degree in human ecology at the Centre for Human Ecology, Institute of Ecology and Resource Management, Faculty of Science and Engineering, University of Edinburgh.

 

 

 

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03/03/04

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