An Irish Pilgrimage
Over the Rainbow – An Irish Pilgrimage
sharing with friends known and unknown
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.
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
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.
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..
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
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 -
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
any further confirmation of necrotic totemism required? Well, I did suggest it
was secular pilgrimage "of a sort".
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.
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".
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".
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
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.
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?
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....
doesn't fit. - You're ghillies, and you've got your own water?
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.
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
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.
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
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".
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
‑ 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.
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.
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.
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."
hum, I think to myself. Which will have more influence on the kids? Changes in
the curriculum to suit business, or Jurassic Park?
about whose pedagogy I normally have many reservations, nods approvingly. He
smiles and, mischievously, winks.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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