A Story From The Heart(h): The Two Cave-Dwelling Fae

20190830 THE STORY OF THE TWO CAVE DWELLING FAE A STORY FROM THE HEARTH

There are some fire-side stories and chats that are so memorable, and worth re-telling many years later. The ancients, those ancient Celts and Druids, pagans, Christians, tribes people and others knew the value of story to teach, inform, question and to take us into deep places. I remember a story from my childhood that had a profound effect on me (and hopefully on you, in the re-telling).

‘Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.’ (Sue Monk Kidd)

The fire crackled in the hearth. I was, then, just a wee lad, perhaps six or seven years of age, and was huddled probably a bit closer to the fire that was best for me. One side of me seemed cold, one side of me, I could feel, warming a bit too much. My face was hot and I’m sure had became reddened. I moved a little further away from the fire, as the logs in the hearth glowed, cracked, crackled, broke and fell an inch or two.

Fyrgevraec – pronounced feer-ye-brak – is such a wonderful old English word. It describes in timeless and ancient tones what that fire was doing – crackling, snapping and breaking up with a sharp sound in that hearth. Those ancient words hark back to mysterious times, as did the story I was told by my grandmother that evening.

As I half closed my eyes, as I sat by that hearth of yesteryear, my imagination run riot, as she told a story, a parable:

There were once two fae, old fairies, more like crones, really, she said, who each lived in a cave – one cave was on the eastern side of the valley, one lived in a cave on the western side of the valley.

The fae who lived in the cave on the eastern side of the valley was a real charmer, she could talk the hind legs off a donkey my grandmother said. She was old, but dressed gaily, in an ancient-future sort of way and her long-flowing robe-like dress would always ruffle as if a wind was blowing, even if no wind was present! Very mysterious. Very intriguing.

People would visit her when the moon was full – she wouldn’t accept guests at any other time – and when they gave her some food, she would ask them, ‘past’ or ‘future’?. Her gift? She had a reputation of putting the past into perspective or giving assurances about the future. So they said.

She was very popular. The better quality the food or the more food she was given so the better were her ancient or future assurances. Ofcourse, people came to see her, mainly,  if they were ill or had family upsets, and would ask her what, in their past, had caused this.

She would give them a ragged stone with a word scratched on it, and that would be the reason for their illness or family problem, or indeed any other problem or challenge they were facing. Oh so they thought.. Ofcourse, one word etched onto a stone didn’t give much detail, and so most people who visited her were non-plussed and none the wiser. But, they felt they had tried.

Sadly, there illnesses or family upset or other challenge continued, but there was always the next full moon coming when they could visit her again, and again and again, with more and more food, and get more information about the past or future, perhaps.

‘Nothing distracts one from one’s true purpose in life more than following the crowd mentality.’ (Edmond Mbiaka)

The fae who lived in the cave on the western side of the valley was softly spoken, almost shy, and stammered somewhat. She, too, was old, as old as the cave itself some said. She dressed in contemporary clothes, and her dress had that washed-out look, and sported a patch or two on the dresses elbow or where her knees were.

She accepted guests at any time, and rather than demand food from guests as a fee for her services, she always laid on a lavish meal for them at no charge whatsoever. Her gift was of speaking about the present. She would give guests a rock with a word etched onto it – the word was always the same, it was the word ‘now’;  and over the meal would lovingly share with them what it meant.

People would visit her if they had an illness or family upset or some other challenge, but only a few, a very few people would visit. The few who visited her always left buoyed up, some knew what to do next – whether it was a call to action or patience and endurance. – and many lives were changed.

On most occasions she would look across at the small nearby town and cry that only a very few would visit her. It wasn’t that she was lonely – after all she was a fae and as old as the cave, and a thousand years to her was like an hour to us – it was just that she was upset that so many were troubled, and yet she had the answer for them.

And, so, little one, my grandmother asked me: if you had to visit one of those fae who would you visit? Would you visit the one in that eastern cave who could show you a ‘picture’ of the past or future for a fee; or would you visit the one in the western cave who freely spoke of the present?

It was a rhetorical question, and my grandmother answered as quickly as she had asked. Ofcourse, you would visit the fae in the western cave, wouldn’t you? Yes, ofcourse you would. I smiled.

She continued: You see, the fae in the eastern cave, who spoke of the past and future, and who charged a fee, and whose dress would ruffle in a mysterious and seemingly magical way, had no real answers for people. We know that beacause nothing really changed in their lives and they kept coming back again and again and again. They were always looking back into the past or into the distant future to solve their problems.

Now, the fae in the western cave new the richness of her gift, a gift so profound that no money could buy it, and so she offered her services freely to all. Her manner was rather subdued and her dress quite ordinary – no mysterious ‘smoke and mirror’ wind effect with her. But, the few people who visited her obtained satisfaction. To  some she would offer advice to wait and be patient, and to others to act immediately, but her guests always left lifted up and positive. Her give was ‘nowness’.

And my grandmother’s story finished there.

’…now it is high time to awake out of sleep…’ (Romans 13.11b, The Book)

As an aside it is interesting that half way up Moel Siabod (pronounced moil shab-bod), a mountain in Snowdonia, Wales, there is a point where you can look down at both sides of the valley below and just make out what really does look like a cave on one side, and another cave on the other side of the valley slope.

Now, I’m much older and hopefully a little wiser. I can see the appeal in uncertain times of delving into the past for significant answers or seeking the services of those who might predict the future. But, I believe the story my grandmother told me was that looking back and looking forward, in many cases, may not solve our challenges of today. If you want to understand what is happening and to effect change then, I believe, it must be done ‘now’, as the fae who lived in the western cave might inform you if you had visited her.

We only have ‘now’.

Last Wednesday, I got a text that something awful had happened. Forgive me for being ‘political’ (of sorts) for a moment. I had heard the the government intends to close Parliament and stifle debate on a major issue. Putting that issue to one side (and in many senses regardless of peoples differing views on the issue of Brexit as I wish to respect all views (even if I hold my own)), it hurt me to the core that the government of the UK – the Mother of all Parliaments – could do such a thing. I could tell you about past precedents or my future fears, but I realised this was above party politics and something had to be done now, now in ‘the now’. And so, and I hope you forgive me if you have an alternative view, but I had to act in the present – and at my ripe old age I went on my first protest match to College Park, London, and then with others to the Houses of Parliament, then Parliament Square and finally onto Downing Street. Something inside called out, something deep and profound and I had now to respond. And, I responded.

My grandmother was right. Looking back or into the future in many ways solves nothing. It might appear to (and maybe, just maybe, sometimes there is some usefulness),  and it might be very popular, but of those two fae the one who had the greater gift by far was the plain, stammering, somewhat shy fae who spoke of ‘nowness’ and told how it is. We only have ‘now’, this present moment in time to act.

Sometimes we need to act or endure in the present, I felt it was a time for action.

‘Nowness is the sense that we are attuned to what is happening. The past is fiction and the future is a dream, and we are just living on the edge of a razor blade.’ (Chögyam Trungpa)

Which fae would you visit? Which gift would help you more? What do you think?

 

Tales From The Heart(h): The Fae. Mystery & Meaning

20180930 THE FAE MYSTERY & MEANING TALES FROM THE HEARTH

We all love stories. The Ancients, ancient Celts, Druids, Pagans and others also loved to tell stories and parables, and within them, and sometimes they can be the simplest of stories, we can find unspoken secrets and deep truths that benefit and enrich us. Buried treasure awaits the discerning reader.

My grandmother loved to tell me stories. One day, and I must have been about five of six years old, after a long day of playing with friends in the Welsh countryside, after the evening meal, I sat close to the hearth, nestled against her rocking-chair and got comfortable, ready for another story of hers that would transport me who knows where.

‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world…’. Albert Einstein.

She said: There was once a young man who lived by himself in a cottage. It had a thatched roof, a big grandfather clock in the hall, a huge hearth, and in the garden there were so many roses near the house and so many trees at the far end of the garden. Just like this house.

I wondered. Could this be the very house in the story? My childhood imagination ran riot.

She continued. One night, on a night just like this one, the young man heard a noise outside the kitchen door. It was a well-known fact that for country-folk the usual entrance to a house was through the kitchen door and not the front door. The young man opened the kitchen door.

He couldn’t see anyone in the dark, and called out, ‘Who’s there?’. Was he startled?

Oh yes. From the ground, yes the ground a melodic voice replied, ‘It is room that we need to dress our children.’ The young man opened the door fully, and in walked a dozen fae (fairies), incredibly small – about five inches high – and each carried a tiny baby in their arms.

They began to search for an earthen pitcher with water and settled by the hearth with its roaring fire; they remained in the cottage for some hours, washing their infants and adorning themselves. Just before dawn they went away, leaving some money for the young man on the hearth as a reward for his kindness.

After this the young man used to keep the hearth burning all night long, left a vessel of water on the hearth, and bread on the table, each day. He knew he should remove everything made of iron before going to bed, and he knew that these visitations were a secret between him and the fae.

I wondered: would there be any money on the hearth tomorrow morning?

‘To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect.’ Oscar Wild

My grandmother said, the fae would often visit the young man’s cottage at night, and after each visit he found money left for him on the hearth. It happened so often that he was able to give up working, and he lived quite comfortably on the money which he received in return for his hospitality from the Fair Folk.

Some years later he took a lovely young lady from the village to be his wife. Once she had married him she became concerned that the money he seemed to have in abundance was from foul means. But he refused to tell her, and, ofcourse, this made her more inquisitive.

‘I’m worried that you don’t get it honestly,’ she said to him. The young man tried to convince her that there was nothing dishonest about his means of livelihood. She gave him no peace. ‘If I tell you, they’ll never come back and I’ll never get any more money’, he said.

‘Ah,’ she said, ‘then it’s the fairies.’ He admitted that it was the fae, and being somewhat annoyed at revealing the fact, he promptly took himself off the pub for a pint of the finest beer and a smoke of tobacco.

When he returned home that evening, he tended the fire, put out a vessel of water and left bread on the table, but the next morning the water and bread was still there. And, there was no money.

His wife was sitting in the garden, and called to him as she had spied the fae leaving, but by the time he arrived they had gone – never to be seen again.

Sometimes, my grandmother said to me that it shows that hospitality is important, the good deeds are rewarded, and that it is best to keep a secret (unless it is a harmful one).

‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.’ The Book, Hebrews 13:2

Ofcourse, to many people the fae are just make-belief stories. But, perhaps they live on in the just-as-real imaginal realm, and perhaps cross-over into this realm when someone truly believes in them. Or, perhaps the real meaning is in the story about the fae. A moral? What do you think?

Interestingly, in a few day’s time one (or more) of the Cottingley fairy photographs is to be auctioned.

About five photographs were taken in 1917 by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, two young cousins who lived in Cottingley, near Bradford in England. And the photographs showed the girls in the company of the fae. Sir Arthus Conan Doyle and others were convinced the photographs were real and used the photographs at various public events. Public reaction was mixed; some accepted the images as genuine, others believed that they had been faked.

I wonder? Fake photographs or not?

‘Wonder is the heaviest element on the periodic table. Even a tiny fleck of it stops time.’ Diane Ackerman

Many years later the girls, now much older, admitted the photographs were fake, and were cut-outs propped-up with hatpins. However, there’s a twist, as one of the women then changed her mind and said that at least one of the photographs were real evidence of fairy visitation. You can read more about that here.

There is an ancient belief in the fae, especially in Wales and Ireland, but also elsewhere. The ancients Celts and Druids believed in them (or similar) though descriptions and their names may have changed. But, it seems to me that many people believed in the fae because of the Cottingley photographs and many more wanted to believe. There is a real spiritual hunger and a desire to look behind what we think is real to see the realm beyond. Real or not, the photographs point to a longing for them to be real. I do believe my grandmother believed fervently in the fae. And, what of the meaning behind the story of the fae? Wise men and women, sages throughout the years have told stories and parables to illustrate a truth. It makes you wonder. Doesn’t it?

Could it also be that the photograph(s) about to be auctioned in the UK are part of the same (or similar)  story  that my grandmother told, or just a co-incidence?

‘Never stop wandering into wonder.’ Suzy Kassem

I wonder.

 

Alone With The Alone At The Machair: Poem

20171026 ALONE WITH THE ALONE AT THE MACHAIR POEM

This is one  of several poems inspired by my pilgrimage to those wonderfully ‘thin places’ of the Isle Of Iona (also known as the Isle Of Druids) and the Isle Of Skye – rugged and awesome islands off the west coast of Scotland.

This poem is based on thoughts, feelings and an encounter at the Machair. The Machair is a Scottish/Gaelic word for ‘fertile beach’, and is pronounced ‘makkah’. It is a delightful, part sand-part grassy coastal area on the Isle of Iona with a unique eco-system, and is a windswept and wild,  liminal place, a place of myth and magic, indeed. Things happen here. Visit, and you will not be unchanged.

The weather changes and the blue sea turns white.
Dark clouds speed from the horizon
to where I am standing, and the wind blows a gale.
The light dims.
The tide recedes as a mighty storm approaches.
And I wait.

There was a time when the Voice was heard
speaking words of peace, and love, and hope.
Now the age of neon shines
and a cacophony of sound fills the air.
And I wait.

For a moment I hear murmurs in the wind.
Could it be the sound of martyrs and monks of yesteryear?
Could it be angel-sound, or the gleeful chattering of the fae?
Perhaps it’s the  words of Druids of a bygone age?
And then it’s gone.
And I wait.

The waves crash against mighty rocks
and yet the rocks are unmoved, unchanged.
Gulls  squawk in the distance, but have moved inland.
The wind blows a mournful sigh.
A howling that increases and decreases in volume and pitch.
And I wait.

At the Machair
I am alone with the Alone. I listen.
Could it be that the Voice still speaks
words of peace, and love, and hope?
Love personified, prevails. Surely?
Doesn’t Wisdom cry out to all who listen to her?
I listen but shrill sounds fill my mind.
And I wait.

In a time of plastic
I yearn for that age of myth and magic.
And when all that matters, that is substantial and real
seems, oh so far away,
something calls to me to stop and look.
And in waiting,
I notice that,
ah yes, the tide is turning’.

 

The Tylwyth Teg: Celtic Mythological Creatures

20170829 THE TYLWYTH TEG MYTH AND MEANINGI’m still in London, and though I love the vibrancy of the city and the wonderful mix of people, and yes the cafés , too, I’m missing the wonderful wilderness that is north Wales, especially as today is a somewhat cloudy, yet too-humid-to-be-in-the-city type of day.

But, I’ve located myself in a corner of Bishop’s Park, at the end of a path that leads nowhere and which nestles against a rather fine small lake with a myriad of ‘bullrushes’ and metre-high lake grasses growing along its sides which afford some kind of seclusion. Few venture this way because the path just ends abruptly. But for me, today, it’s wonderful. I’ve been reading for about an hour, and as I sat on a park bench under a willow tree I began to doze a little, and think about the book I was reading.

The book mentioned a creature, the subject of many a story of yesteryear, told by my grandmother, and one that both intrigued me to find out more and yet made me a little apprehenive. I was very young at that time.

It was the story of the Tylwyth Teg (pronounced ‘ter-loo-ith tehg’). It means the ‘fair folk’, and it was the name given to the fae, the fairies of Wales; a name given to them to placate them as they were sometimes responsible for some minor mischief.

Frequenting watering areas, they were said to be small in statue, have golden hair and dress in white. When happy they would spend their time singing and dancing, especially where there was water. Like this lake!

With that book on my lap, and the heat making me sleepy, my eyes half-closed, and I revelled in that half-awake and half-asleep state, not wishing to ‘travel’ too far in either direction. The grasses around the lake end swayed to and fro, some grass strands seemed distrubed by something and bent ,and returned to their almost-upright state. I could detect no animal and I didn’t want to open my eyes fully to be too analytical and come out of that liminal, half-way experience. But, no small insect could make that kind of ‘assualt’ on lake grass, either.

Maybe it was the Tylwyth Teg?

Ofcourse, that’s what they’re called it Wales, but they are ubiquitous and are known by different names. And, they love water – ponds, lakes, puddles and even the water pipes, sinks and showers in your house. You probably have encountered the Tylwyth Teg, or may have one in your house, even without knowing it.

Signs that a Tylwyth Teg is close, according to my late grandmother,  was confusion amongst people, maybe an argument starts for no reason, the loss of keys and spectacles, and just a myriad of odd happenings that are unexplained. Like long, metre-high, pond grass bending for no apprarent reason. It’s their way of having fun.

Each culture in history has its creatures of the unknown, myths and monsters to avoid. To the Greeks it was Scylla and Charybdis – two mythical sea monsters noted by Homer, and to be avoided at all costs. To the ancient Jews it was the Behemoth – a sea monster of gargantuan proportions. And to the Welsh it was, or is, the Tylwyth Teg. Interestingly, have you noticed that water is a common theme throughout?

In that half awake, half asleep daze, and with the heat of the day at it’s hottest, I ‘travelled’ further one way and dozed off completely. The book felt to the stone path with a thud and I woke up with a start. Nothing had changed, and yet something had changed. The  lake grass was still. I had ‘jumped out’ of liminal space and time, and was back in ‘ordinary’ time (as if there is such a thing), and no one or thing was disturbing the lake side now.

As I sat there, having retrieved the book, it occured to me the meaning and value of stories about the Tylwyth Teg. We live in a world, which in many senses is very predictable now that we have a vast amount of scientific data, number-crunching computers and the internet that means I can witnesss things on the other side of the planet in a second (which, when I was a child would have taken hours by wires and radio waves to arrive on the black and white tv set).

And, yet there is a lot we don’t understand. Things seem to go missing around the house, upset or illness or ‘bad’ fortune just seems to come out of the ether, and its as if there’s an invisible hand at work. My grandmother, ofcourse, would say it’s the Tylwyth Teg.

You may not believe in the Tylwyth Teg (or whatever they are called locally) but I draw comfort from those old stories. For they teach that however much we think we know, there is more. However much we plan, some plans will go awry. However much we want always to be happy, life has a habit of ‘kicking us in the solar plexus’ and upsettting us. We always want good news, but sometimes it’s not so good. Ofcourse, life is a mixture of events and emotions, oh but how the tough ones sting. The other lesson the Tylwyth Teg teach us is that mischevoius as they are sometimes, the can be positive and beneficial to – good and sometimes not-so-good, just like some life-events. At the end of the day, we can reason that sometimes we are not at fault. ‘Do you best, and what doesnt work out is the fault of the Tylwyth Teg’, my grandmother would say.

So, who was bending that lake grass and threw my book on the stone path? Ah, a passing Tylwyth Teg, ofcourse.

I’m not sure what is happening in your life right now. But sometimes, just sometimes (and discernment needs to takes place here), sometimes it isn’t our fault but a nearby Tylwyth Teg. And even then, don’t really get upset with the Tylwyth Teg, as its in their nature to be playful or mischiveous, and they’re not always like that, and what seems bad today has a habit of changing…especially when the Tylwyth Teg gets bored of being mischievous or leaves. Take heart. Things change.