Personal Myths

Dun Scaith, Skye
The Castle of Scathach on the Isle of Skye

We’ve always imagined what our future might look like, as individuals, and as a species. Whole genres of literature have been created out of our need to know what we might become. We need to explore our possibilities before we can create them. In the century before we ventured into space we took flight in our imagination, and the passion that was ignited in the hearts of people like Robert Goddard led them to do the work that led to the rockets that took us to  Moon

Looking at our own lives from different points of view can likewise be useful in understanding who we are, and where we want to go. You can make this journey in writing, or in song, You can likewise draw or paint it. It’s a valuable exercise, however you choose to do it, for it takes you deeper within, and can lead you places you had never imagined you would go. This is how mythic writing helped me travel to the lands of my ancestors.

Back in 2012, I was facing turning fifty. Born and raised in California, I’d never traveled off the continent of North America. The only other country I’d ever been to was Canada. In a country like the United States, this isn’t unusual. Most of us are hundreds of miles from the border of Canada or Mexico. In many of the larger Western states, it isn’t unusual to be a hundred miles or more from the border of the next state. I had always wanted to travel, but had never had the means to do much of it. I decided to make the means. I couldn’t justify taking from our living expenses, as I’d be going and my partner wouldn’t. So I turned to my music. I’d been a busker at the Renaissance Faire in my twenties and thirties. When the Black Point site had been lost, I’d given it up. I decided to try my luck in the transit stations. I discovered that I could make at least ten dollars an hour doing this, and Chris Guillebeau’s travel hacking course made me realize that airfare wasn’t the insurmountable obstacle I thought it was. I thought it might take me a year or two, but I was determined to go, so my days off became busking days. With some unexpected help from my father, I made that first trip, and the year after, a second one. I’m working on a third one now, and another project as well.

I got, and am continuing to get, a lot more than experiences in the lands of my ancestors, though. My own journey is becoming clearer, and I’m writing more songs than I ever have in my life. One of the tools I used to create the trips is a mythic version of my travels. Placing my story in mythic time is something I’ve been doing for years. Here’s a portion of that ongoing tale:

It came into the Hero’s mind to travel to the land of her ancestors. She had little gold and fewer prospects, but she had sung in the streets in her youth and she still remembered the old songs. She picked up her drum and her basket and set herself to earn the money in the Caverns of Travel. The journey would be short, but the distance vast, and the price to fly across the Eastern Sea on metal wings was dear indeed. What would she do when she got there? Where would she stay? She knew no one, had never been so far from her home, but no matter. She began the task, and with a purse of gold her sire tossed into her basket, she was on her way much sooner than she had hoped to be. A shaft of sunlight came through the glass and fell across her as the metal bird touched the Land of Albion. She gave silent thanks, for she knew her feet had found the path at last.

In Albion she met the Druids of Anderida, friendly folk full of wisdom and hospitality. Together they sang around the great leaping fire and shared all that they had. There, before Arianrhod, the Hero shed her name and her former life and became a Bard.

The Hero become Bard had traveled to Albion to find her ancestors, but she had found the Land instead, and new connections to it, and to the folk who lived there. Her few songs became many, and many more, and she sang them into forms that would last well beyond her, if people found them worthy to do so. She sang of the wonderful, terrible, pivotal age she lived in, and created choruses memorable and easy to join in on because music creates connection, and spreads joy, and many voices were needed to change the doom that was rushing towards the folk of all lands. Her words likewise spoke of connection between the people, the Land, Sky, and Sea, the trees and the birds and all beings, for humanity had forgotten that all of us are one greater being, as a single human is likewise a collection of smaller beings joined together in the song of life, cooperating in the dance and nourishing each other. 

What would your life look like, told in mythic terms? How could you find the means of expressing the pattern of your life in this way? This is a tool that may or may not fit your hand and your inclinations, but it is there to be picked up if you feel so inclined. We are all the heroes of our own story. This is as it should be. If we just remember that every other person in the world has a life as rich and precious to them as our own, we can use this tool to grow wise, rather than insufferable.

You don’t have to have a plan to get to the future, but it helps to know where you want to go. I thought I was going to Scotland to get the song of Scathach. We had a great adventure together, but it was really Cerridwen I went there to see, and to Cerridwen I will return.

The Stones Whispered “Connection”

The Stones at Calanais
The Stones at Calanais

The stones whispered “connection” to me. It took a while. A whole year, and the answer came from a different place entirely. Stones are like that. They just exist at a slower pace. Their connection spans the earth, through the crust of the planet. Sea, Sky, Land, from the changes that occur in the space of a deep breath at the planetary timescale, to the eons-long drift of the continents. One year I stood silent and listening at Calanais, the next, at Long Meg, I heard.

We have a hard time listening, we humans. There is so much to be heard around us that the subtle gets drowned out. The night sky is dimmed by our lights, the soundscape of the planet dulled by our sounds. Answers that come softly and slowly over time are often missed, with all the distractions of daily life. Luckily for us, the conversation the universe is having with us is never over. We just have to get quiet enough to hear it. The plants on a hillside will tell you where the water is, if you take the time to look. What do the weeds in your yard tell you about the soil? Are there crickets in your neighborhood? Where do the birds gather? More importantly, what does each small nudge of awareness say deep inside you?

Spending time in the same place has rooted me in it. I was born in the San Francisco Bay Area, and have never really left it. Truly, where you have done your living is the measure of your life’s connection to land. I have watched the land change here, returning to the same places year after year. The trees that formed the back of the grove at Mt. Tam are fallen now, returning to the land. Trees that were seedlings when I first came here are now taller than I am.

I had to leave for a time to get a different perspective on home. Even a month caused me to see my land with new eyes. Returning from Albion allowed me to see two different Octobers, side by side. Green grass and gold, rushing waters and dry creekbeds. The smell of home is much stronger after a journey elsewhere. I was fortunate to have two trips, almost exactly a year apart, to the same place. I was able to spend time walking through the same Welsh forest, and come back to the same place in California at the same season.

Forest Path
Forest Path, Llyn Tegid, Wales

The first thing I noticed was the smell. High notes singing in my head, the smell of dry grass, oak and bay laurel. Powdery and golden in my nose, the incense of summer in California, it builds as the months without water pass, enduring until the returning rains wash it from the air and replace it with the crystal smell of water.  As I walked farther down the trail, I was embraced by the forest coolness. Brown redwood needles underfoot, gold to copper, and the darkness in their groves. The huge trees towered over me. It was so different from the Welsh faerie forest, some large trees but most of the trees I saw there would be dwarfed by these redwoods. I stood in the middle of a city, but here beside the barely running creek the last remnants of the forest reigned.

Forest Path, Redwood Bowl, California
Forest Path, Redwood Bowl, California

I took a number of walks after each trip, to talk to the forest and to look for the connections between this place and the ones 5,000 miles away. It’s as if I’m walking through an Albion newly discovered, the forests still, if not intact, large enough to lose oneself in, given a little imagination. This land might have looked like primeval home to the Northern Europeans, who followed the Spanish, who both wrested this land from the First Peoples. There are place names reminiscent of Scotland, the town of Inverness, and Ben Lomond down south. Now that I have seen a bit of Scotland I understand why. The rocky, craggy shores of California were once part of a great temperate rain forest that stretched across the northern hemisphere, and remains of it still can be found. I chase fog, and in December, when what turn out to be the only heavy rains of that year arrive, I wander through our local redwoods and see the scarlet amanitas appear.

Amanita, Redwood Bowl, California
Amanita, Redwood Bowl, California

We have remnants of forests, Albion has years of human habitation. Waves of it, leaving traces everywhere. Stone circles abound. What were they for? At Calanais, I was sure I didn’t know. Now, I know something they can teach us today. It took many hands, and many years to create these places. They seem to serve no purpose in keeping us alive–no food, no shelter, few remnants of human habitation from the time of their building. Their building was a cooperative effort, connecting their builders together, and the land as well.

We humans right now are as connected as we’ve ever been–and as far apart. We turn people not like us into the grinning masks of our worst fears, yet I can get online and speak to my friends across the Atlantic in the time it takes us to check our messages. We humans have had a few moments of spectacular cooperation–the International Space Station and the founding of the UN being two that loom large in my mind, but we have also often left our most vulnerable to die. We have access to the rest of the world, on demand, but we don’t have a connection to it. In order to have a connection with people, you have to spend time with them. Working on a project together will create this. Working on something that will benefit people you will never see, your descendants, for example, or our world, is the task I think we’re all called to do right now. We have all lived close to five millennia since the first of these circles were built, and we are distanced from the daily lives of their builders in ways that make it easy to idealize lives lived in partnership with the earth. It is easy to forget that ancient peoples did these things because they had no choice, their culture drawing its strength from working in ways that let them harness the strength of the land they lived in, their technology having to be based on an awareness of how natural cycles worked because they did not have the strength or knowledge to do otherwise.

Now, we’ve achieved power enough as a species to do as we please–for a while. We forgot, however, that we live in a closed system. This planet and what it is made of is all we have. If we exceed the natural cycles of life, by unlocking carbon from the land and sending it into the sky, with no provision for returning it to the land, we literally change the face of the earth, determining what can live, and where. We are doing this with little thought, as we can’t see the faces of the future. The pace of change is accelerating, but for so long it has been gradual, taking generations to pick up speed enough to be seen as a real series of events rather than just a series of measurements taken. It’s as if we climbed behind the wheel of a bus, drunk, and let off the brake. The bus has been rolling, slowly gathering speed, and we are fast reaching the edge of a cliff. If we assume responsibility equal to our power, in effect, apply what we already know as a brake, we could slow the speed of the changes, and learn how to work in harmony with the rest of the beings we share this planet with. As the builders of the circles of stone did, millennia ago.

I walked the hills above my home until I came upon a rock that felt like Long Meg. When I sit there and let the stillness creep into me, I can feel my connection. A year and more have passed since I set my back against Meg, but the rocks of California remember.

Standing Stone, California
Standing Stone, California

Sacred Waters

A wonderful take on sacred waters in Albion–amazing the things you can run across by chance.

Singing Head

A recurrent theme in my explorations over the last few years is that of sacred waters. Waters rising from the ground in springs and wells carry a sense of the riches of the dark underworld coming into consciousness. Still waters in a lake or pond echo calm perception. The roaring, tumbling waters of the rivers and sea show irresistible strength.

I live in a watery place between the River Thames and River Mole. I’m surrounded by reservoirs, and all the land has been worked over the centuries to drain and channel the waters. I suspect that a few thousand years ago this would all have been marsh land, reedbeds and gravel banks threaded by streams and pools.

Rivers

A few years ago I was inspired to begin tracing the River Mole to its source, as much to learn its song as to see the sights. I haven’t got all that far yet, but I’m enjoying the…

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