I will tell you of one among many origins of the story of Niamh, eyes like pearls, sea green, spun from the land of the young, that world which rendered our anguish and fight for survival well met in a peace that passes the understanding of mortal minds. I will tell you of the future time beyond my time when our tale was woven from tattered threads of what was left, fragments of tapestries of past to present, those same sung songs spilled inky black on page, to form the bounded shapes of words which history horded for itself and refused to relinquish completely to a culture we would neither recognize nor survive, had any of us really found ourselves transported, being all that we are, to that future time all of a sudden.
Long before the loamy clay of our sacred land was covered in the smog of exhaust from cars and the blasts from train horns and spotted with sprawling malls, paved with pebbles mixed with tar to muffle the mighty heartbeat of the earth, long before tales of a new god of the sky who tamed the wild hearts of those who dared be their own masters, the landscape breathed clean and clear, and the veil between the worlds came as near as the waves are to the shore. It was that a person could reach through the mist between in either direction, so that each could wander there, or here, and such journeys were to some extent expected, and understood.
It was on such a journey that she Manannán’s daughter, sea born, radiant bright, bridged from shore to shore the two worlds by her love and called out a name of an age, through which ran our wild ones in the flash of a moment, so that the fierce and fragile lessons in our living of it might withstand the test of time. For there was nothing then forgotten, and the tide had yet to turn.
And as Taliesin crossed the sea like a wise salmon to cradle the land in the soul’s own songs, so too would I, Oisín, one mortal soul, a representative of a passing age, forge at the turning of every opposite a steadfast bond between my world and hers of the golden hair, land and sea, heart and will, man and woman, time and eternity. For my name does not matter, and could have been any name, any one. I am the centuries and the song, I am the bones shaped from the marrow of time, enthralled with the breathtaking beauty of every world.
As Rhiannon speeds her horse across the sky to guide the sun, uniting the middle world with the land of stars, so does Niamh speed her white mare over the clouds of billowing sea, her golden tresses trailing behind her, whipped by the wind, leading the cycles of light that brighten the way between ending and becoming. It was said that the earth heard her calling, and in the fog I heard whispered my own name, and there I was leaping up behind her, the child of sea itself, and we thought we could stride together across centuries, and see the gaps between our worlds disappear.
But many people began to turn their eyes away from the rocks and the trees, and the sea and the sky, stranded where they used to belong, unsure whether home lay in the land or the heavens. They lost track of the way their footsteps matched the rhythm of the seasons, and forgot how to move lightly across the land, forgot that the earth held them in her arms and could provide all they needed if only they had respect, could remember who they are. And the more that was forgotten of the old ways, the harder it became to hold another from another world, and I, who was of the physical world, built from it, born from it, knew that soon the time would come, when not I, nor anyone after me, would walk between the worlds unaided, as sure as I knew waves could never break without a sea strand.
Of the love that Niamh and I shared, a bond between worlds, it would not survive such a separation. Nothing, no one can. Had we but known we would soon be separated, love torn from love, not even to have a glimpse of one another’s faces across the wasteland of the forgotten, would we have done any differently? Who among us in the midst of living out loud their majestic, wondrous spark of being, could honestly predict the keening of souls parted from their origins, ignorant during life of that truth of rebirth that quells the fear of death and loss.
And afterward, when my story was told, pulled into the generations where saints saved all but the gods, it was said I died an ancient one, aged by more than two hundred years since I crossed over. It was the age itself that died, that which was carried by the people of my time, our beliefs, our ways, unintelligible to some, threatening to others.
Now the landscape was blind, it no longer kept watch quietly in the night like a mother for her children. No more was earth dynamic and alive but inanimate, decreed so by the new god believed to have dominion over the earth, and later generations adopted this sense of power for themselves. The hills were just hills, and the pool beneath the nine hazel trees no longer held the same mystery to those who passed it by.
It is from our sorrows, not our joys, that the story is usually told. But now, the tide turns again. Again I travel past the ninth wave, passed the reckoning of the spinners of dreams, through the watery caves of the unborn, and the last current of change carries us toward the dawn on the horizon ahead.
Within each of us stands the door of the otherworld, the only wild frontier left to dare, hidden in the landscape of bone, the last undying love out of whose arms we cannot be borne away or uprooted and torn, or undone like the ruins of the ancestors’ dwelling places. Up to each of us, too, to gather the fragile memories, and piece by piece, gently, carefully, fervently, bridge a new way, until the worlds are brought together whole. Then take up again the threads, child of the land and sea and stars, for once more our worlds are merging, and a new story must be told, with which to sunder separation, overrunning its torrents of terror like a landscape finally left to flourish in its own way, wild and unruly, untamed, unforgotten, cherished and shining, a song like the one not sung for over a thousand years, the chords rewandered, the words rewoven, shimmering through a life you spin of many moments into the future, to live full out and make your own.
This was, at least initially, inspired by Damh the Bard’s song, “Iron From Stone,” though the song is about a totally different story.
Iron From Stone Lyrics by Damh the Bard