July 26, 2013
The fire crackles, contained neatly in its metal fire ring. I watch the flames in their leaping, weaving shapes and shadows before my eyes, telling of tales I cannot quite read, dancing a song I can watch but cannot hear. Above me, the stars are shining somewhere in the night. Night, the closer of the two, presses in on all sides, and moving slowly around the flames to keep away from the smoke I feel I understand what a planet must feel like, orbiting its central star, the only thing keeping it from folding into the blackness of vacuous space.
Most of us have gone to bed. I surmise it might be around 1 in the morning, or later. Only three of us are awake now. I’ve been talking to a young man who claims to be an anarchist but the only label I’ve managed to give him is “obnoxious.” He has invariably been irritating me all night, and I have a headache from talking to him. Fortunately, this is when White Fire walks over and sits down with us, seeking company and the warmth of the flames.
We are several groups of druids camping on an ancient mountain in Southern California, my own Seed Group, and a group from around the mountains in which we’re now gathered. White Fire is a member of the second group.
When he sits down, White fire turns to me and begins a conversation about the otherworld. I’m happy to talk to him. First of all, his voice is quiet and calm, a nice antidote for my headache. Secondly, the man who has been the source of the headache knows nothing about the otherworld, which means I am guaranteed that he will shut up for however long White Fire and I keep on with the conversation. Thirdly, White Fire knows something I do not, many things I do not: I feel it in my bones. I feel in my bones that I must speak to him: now.
“What do you know of the purple fog?” I ask.
“The purple fog is the twilight,” he answers in a way that makes me imagine him saying so with a smile and wandering eyes.
I shiver despite the warmth of the fire. I have written several poems about purple fog, being the twilight, thinking this was a grand metaphor, but never suspected that I could be drawing on an ancient truth, one that now I realized I always knew, if only by an ancient instinct.
We talk for twenty minutes or so about the twilight and the fog.
But I have a more urgent question. One I am a bit terrified to ask. Well, to be honest, I am not afraid of asking the question, but of finally finding an answer. I feel I will in fact finally have an answer tonight. It’s a question that has haunted me since 2010. I can’t let it go, and now I can’t ignore it, even if I tried.
If the question were a child, it would be jumping up and down, tugging on my arm, and squealing incessantly for attention. Fortunately, I have only to deal with the question, and not the image of the impatient toddler it is conjuring in my mind.
“Where in the bardic Gwersu are you at now, White Fire?” I ask for a start.
The order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids,
of which we at the campsite are all a part, is divided into three grades, the bardic grade being the first and the one I am in. Gwers (gwersu plural) is the welsh word for lesson, and our study course contains 48 lessons, gwersu, in the bardic grade. I can’t remember now which number White Fire responds with, but I do a fast calculation and know he must know about what I am about to speak of, since the number he gives is past eight.
“Do you remember reading in gwers 8 about the fianna, and how they’re sleeping in a cave, and someone starts to wake them up, but only gets two thirds done with it before running away in fright and leaving them off pretty miserably?” I ask. My hands are folded much too tightly in my lap, while with an effort I try extremely hard not to conjure the picture of the fianna sleeping in the cave, even though usually I see a picture of the scene my words are conveying at any time whether I am talking about the otherworld or a washing machine. The picture would upset me too much.
“Yeah, I remember that story,” White Fire confirms for me. “Why? What do you want to know?”
I nod, take a deep breath. “What’s happening about it, do you know?” I am shifting around self-consciously, not sure whether I am actually comfortable having this conversation. I’ve never spoken about this with anyone. It’s the kind of thing most people would meet with concern, and perhaps a question about my health or sanity. But I remind myself I am speaking to a fellow traveler on a druid path, and so it is much more likely that I will be taken seriously and heard without a large dose of negative judgment. I continue by way of clarification, “I mean, is anything being done about it? This is a situation that can’t continue, especially if they really are worse off than before. I cant rule out the possibility. What do you know? Is anyone looking for them, are people on this already?” I am thinking to myself that usually I have this conversation about things like global warming or the conflict in the Middle East, or food stamp regulations, or the protection of children. I’m not thinking of this situation much differently, I realize.
“It’s already happening,” White Fire says quietly.
“Oh,” I exclaim half to myself and half to him. My relief is almost tangible. And then a thought suddenly crosses my mind, a question really: I’d said in 2010 that if I ever had a chance, I would finish what was started so that whatever waking needed to happen, I’d help complete the last third. Did I just now stumble onto the chance to do just that, I wonder?
What I do know is that I’m not going to be content to stand by and go about things as usual, leaving what might need to be done to other people. I want, need, to be a part of the solution. I feel quite strongly about this, but if I am honest with myself, I can’t fathom the reason why. Why given so many stories about so many ancient people, would this particular one not only catch my attention but spring me into action? I am sure, only, of the fact that it has.
“What exactly is already happening,” I ask White Fire. “Do you know anyone who has gone to the otherworld to get help from people there? What has been done already?”
“I don’t know,” he admits. “I only know that something is already being done. It’s been going on for a while. People are waking up. It’s happening everywhere. All around us.”
I picture nondescript sleeping people slowly waking up completely, getting to their feet awkwardly, walking into the sunlight, squinting and shading their eyes, attempting to move after being horizontal for an unconscionably long length of time. But I have to erase the picture rather quickly.
Instead, I begin to weigh the likelihoods of various scenarios which I might come to encounter. I allow myself to consider the logical possibility, albeit a small one, that the myth could have more reality in it than anyone would want to believe. In which case, I think fervently to myself, for the sake of the fianna, I hope that such a theoretical possibility can’t physically occur and this particular myth fully lives up to the literal falsehood by which the modern term “myth” is defined. On the other hand, the probability that the story speaks of a profound metaphor is much, much higher, and less cruel, in equal measure.
However, because my philosophically trained mind can’t rule either possibility out wholesale, I have to act. As soon as possible. I don’t know what I’ll do. I don’t know where I’ll have to go to do it, or if I have to go journey to a different world (which for me will be easier since sight won’t get in the way.) I actually know little about the fianna specifically, other than of their importance, but that does not matter either. What matters is their freedom, and if I can do anything at all.
And then White Fire’s words fall into place for me. Of course, I realize, the story is about shifting consciousness. This is about returning to ourselves. Perhaps the myth is meant to show those of us living now how we ourselves are sleeping, numbing ourselves out against pain, persisting rather than existing, going through the motions of living what we are told to become, rather than joining the dance of life as all that we are. If I was not cold despite the heat from the fire and my four layers of clothing, I am now. The person who told the story in the particular way she did in the gwers had not just conveyed the need to wake an ancient group of people: she called us if we would listen to awake to what of them we might find within ourselves.
In 2010 I heard, but I am actively listening now. What would it be to live as an awake person? I yearn to know. I want to wake up, I want to walk into the world tall and sure of my own belonging. I will look within myself first, then, before looking anywhere else. Even so, I have to make sure this is in fact the metaphor and the people in the story are actually okay. They do exist, I think, I am sure of it. And I am also sure that I would try to do what I could to help, rather than run from them. Running just seems so unnecessary, and a waste of time besides.
“Thanks,” I say to White Fire, sincerely, letting go of something I have been worrying over for three years now. I read once that actions define us, shape who we are. The fog of indecision lifts, and then a path is visible ahead, every moment a choice. And when all is said and done, choosing is easier than never making up your mind, no matter how hard the decision. Well, at least for me.
It is several weeks later, one late night back home in Berkeley, that I get the opportunity to be a part of what happens. Trying to take to heart what I’ve learned in the bardic gwers on storytelling, I decide I ought to memorize a story. The best story to memorize, explains the gwers, is one that speaks to you, that you always come back to. There is only one story fitting that description for me right now: the myth in Gwers 8. I set myself to memorizing it. As I go about what needs doing that evening, I recite the story in my head as best I can, and then when I have finished I recite it again. Without thinking, I recite it a third time.
Three is a powerful number, the binding number. I have spoken my intention three times, giving my word to it, but on this night I have forgotten that fact. I’ve got to go grab something out of my room, and that’s all I’m thinking about after I finish the third telling of the story. Concentrating entirely on the practicalities of the moment, I walk through the door distractedly. Halfway across the floor, I jump out of my skin, then try to recover from being startled as quickly as possible. I blink, a few times, bewildered, more than a little in awe of what I see. I don’t move.
There, as clear as day, only about a foot away from me, stand twelve people, in two rows. It’s hard to understand how they managed to fit in the space they are occupying, as they are all quite tall and imposing. They range from 5/8 to 6/5 in height, roughly. They stand very straight, very still. They are all male, and I notice, carry shields with intricate swirling patterns I can’t quite make out or understand, and are wearing large belts with swords hanging from them. They all seem to have chosen to appear as they were in youth, though based on what they are wearing I know they lived a very, very long time ago.
I’m having trouble meeting their eyes, I am more than a little daunted by the idea. But I am not having trouble recognizing them. I am unmistakably looking at twelve fianna warriors, who are now patiently standing in my room. What to do?
I decide the natural response would be to be afraid, but I dismiss the idea. Far from being scared, I realize, I’m excited to see them. First, I am full of relief and something like joy. They can’t very well be sleeping in a cave, I reason, if they’re standing here now. Besides, my thoughts continue, it is just plain rude to fear people I’ve never met before, and haven’t I been waiting three years to talk to them? Somehow I know I have been looking for them as much as they have been looking for me. Now, we have found each other.
And then I realize I am staring. I look quickly at the ground to stop staring, remember that this isn’t polite either, and so, with determination, I look directly into their eyes … and then I can’t recall why I just hadn’t done that in the first place. In pictures I say, “Hello. I’m Éilis. It’s nice to meet you.”
A year has passed since my conversation with White Fire. One incredible, transformative, amazing, mind boggling, awesome, healing, wonderful year has gone by. I started out wanting to help a group of people I barely knew get themselves out of a cave in which they could neither live, nor die. Instead, I found myself reunited with my family, my very ancient family. I walk my journey with them. I am home. I am more myself than ever before. And I will never, ever be the same. And every day as I am living, not persisting, standing tall in the knowing that I so holy belong here and now, I often wonder, as there is so much to wonder at, what now? Whatever it is, there’s no need to wait to find out. It’s already happening, after all.