clear and pure
carrying the spirit of the generations.
The Healing Power of Stories
Hominids have been storytellers probably since the first Neanderthal hunter told his tribe about how he had killed a mammoth. In indigenous cultures, stories in the form of myth carry the history of the form of the landscape (as, for example, in the tales of the Australian Aboriginal people’s Dreamtime). They may tell of times when animals were attended to as sentient beings both by other animals and by humans and when rivers, rocks, earth and sky were ensouled.
The Odyssey and the Iliad, the Epic of Gilgamesh and the legends of the Mabinogion all began life as oral tellings handed down through generations before finally being recorded on tablets of clay or skins of vellum. In some communities, such as the various Traveller groups, this tradition persisted until very recently, typified by the storyteller Duncan Williamson, who died in 2007 and has been called "possibly the most extraordinary tradition-bearer of the whole Traveller tribe" for the great number of stories he knew and preserved in his memory.
But generally, with the advent of modernity, and in particular the invention of printing, stories were less and less heard around campfires and from the mouths of Bards. Instead, stories were more and more read in private. Coming into the present, we increasingly view our stories in films, and participate in their telling via video games. We have a deep need for stories but it is ever more commonly satisfied by the (often) meretricious productions of film studios, TV channels and the tabloid press.
The stories that many of us consume now in the privacy of our homes and in the disconnection of online community reflect and reinforce the prevailing culture of neo-liberal capitalism. We still have myths but these are now myths of the primacy of Gross Domestic Product, the righteous struggle of Competition where the most ruthless Price-Slasher wins and the power of the great god Market – the god no-one has seen, yet all feel the effects as s/he decides the worth of everything in terms of how much profit it makes for a small number of people. Consumerism is the great Emperor of all it surveys.
But the world and its inhabitants, human and other, are not being served by these stories. Many, of course, are still entranced by the pixels and print that tell the orthodoxies of the current social and economic order. But people are increasingly waking from the dreams spun by these narratives into the bleak realities of social inequalities, trashed environments, oceans full of plastic and catastrophically chaotic weather patterns.
I am a storyteller and as others have eloquently said we need a new story. George Monbiot, among others, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xDKth-qS8Jk) has put the case for a story of human altruism and co-operation to replace the myth of neo-liberalism. I believe we also need to recover old stories and create new ones about deep connection to nature and the landscape. How can we save what we do not feel connected to? I know the narratives that currently beguile us cannot be swept away overnight. But as a Druid, dedicated to love of earth, sea and sky, I have decided to make a start.
Honouring the Water Spirits
May this water run free
May it pass through many beings
And always return to source.
May this be forever so.
So it was that on 9th January I waited at the River Brue Rehabilitation Board, the room candlelit and decorated, for people to arrive for what I had described on the flyers as “an evening of stories and conversation …”
Glastonbury, open as it is to new ideas and spiritual approaches, felt like an excellent place to be beginning my work. In particular the RBRB, thanks to Bruce Garrard’s five years of working with the River Brue by writing about it, walking along it, meditating and praying for it, would surely contribute its own power to my efforts.
It’s a small venue but by the time I was ready to begin, the room was packed – and not only with my friends but also with people who had come with a sense of curiosity after seeing a flyer.
Since my impulse comes out of my spiritual path I began by creating a circle in which we could all be removed from the concerns of the world. In the centre of this circle was a small altar with a hazel branch overhanging a bowl of water drawn from both the Red and White Springs.
I began with Philip Larkin’s poem, Water https://www.poeticous.com/philip-larkin/water-if-i-were-called-in to cut against the feeling that seeing water as sacred is archaic and nostalgic. (Philip Larkin was one of the most curmudgeonly poets of the 20th Century but if even he felt water had a sacredness …) Then followed a myth about Rain from the Pygmy people.
I acknowledged beings that have been said to inhabit water by telling the Grimms’ The Nixie of the Mill Pond.
Over refreshments, the participants were invited to talk to each other and later share some stories from their lives about times they had spent on or near water. A particularly memorable one of these was an account of kayaking with an eighty-year-old mother in the falling snow.
Then I came to the mysterious Grail story, The Elucidation, that seems to have been written as a preface to Chrétien de Troyes’ Perceval https://www.ancienttexts.org/library/celtic/ctexts/elucidation.html) and tells of the desecration of the Wells and the creation of The Wasteland. A story for our times if ever there was one.
Finally, using pencils, I asked everyone to write a blessing for water on tear-drop shaped pieces of paper and hang them on the hazel branch. Everyone received in return a hazel nut (from the tree that overhangs my house in Avalon). In explanation of this I described the Irish myth of the Well of Segais where nine magic hazel trees overhang a pool. Five great salmon swim in the pool, biting the nuts in half. The salmon absorb the wisdom in the kernels and the husks go floating down five streams to bring knowledge to humanity – though for this knowledge to be soulful they must visit the pool where the salmon swim, the Well of Inspiration.
Then it was time to open the circle and return to the world.
Rippling Out Always
The Kingfishers that fly between the banks are very hard to see.
Like the power of the river the unseen moves
even though we do not know
I promised I would take the water that had been blessed and pour it into the River Brue to lend the essence of those blessings (some of which you have been reading as you have read this piece) to this sadly damaged river.
The droplet-shaped papers with the blessings written on were a harder problem. When I transcribed them I saw that each was written differently, some in spirals, some in curving lines, some in haiku form, so the material form was part of the blessing. I shall burn them reverently and place the ashes also in the river.
Finally, I hope this evening may make its mark on the world by people telling their friends what they did on that night, and that it may encourage each individual to visit their nearest source of living water, be with it and consider what needs to be done for it – even if only picking up a plastic bottle lying by the bank.
the rain that nourishes them and the seas they flow into.
All life touched by them shall honour them.