Tag Archives: the fianna

Dying to Live

Surrendering all I have to hold
I am finally held fast, safe in your arms

Falling free from every familiar foundation
I am firmly rooted, your enduring love, solid ground

Without a mirror of my own
I am slowly recovering pieces of restored reflection

Finding myself radiantly shining
The light in me revealing vast seas of deep shadow

Solemnly, I sift through memory’s rubble, cities of shame
Struggling to recognize my strengths, strewn among ruins

My grief turns the soil for each seed of growing
I have watered them all with my tears

Tattered wrappings, every wound unwound
Each emerging, red and raw, soothed in silence

Undone, unraveled, unwoven
I have only the whispered hintings at wholeness

With tender care, I am turned transparent
Trusting and trembling in the dark of unknowing

Now the reverent hush of stillness
Rest in the soft light, gentle, mending

Now passing through the sunless shelter
Pursued by my panic, though always protected

Now crossing the burning sands
Rekindling resilience, forgotten flames of anger

Now stirring as storms and streams
Leaping through lightning, relearning languages of laughter

And together, we will fly on wings of sorrow and solace
Grey and green

Who Are You?

Hold nothing back, you have no need to hide
Hold out your hands, you have no need to defend
Let go and live wild, you have no need to doubt
Let go and breathe, you have no need to fear

Stand equal to the defenders of dreams, protectors of truth, guardians of growing
Stand strong among the streaming stars that set your soul alight with wonder
And even when all you feel inside are division and despair
Show me the light of you, for this is who you are

Kindle the kindness that shame forbids you to share
With the one whose worth it tries to mar
Yes, that one, daring to dance despite history’s horrors
Blazing the beauty of you, every moment

Show me how you are learning to trust
With the gentle grace grown in the soil of sorrow
Show me how you are finding self-compassion
While fighting fiercely to own your own strength

Show me the spark that shines through the dark at the heart of you
Beneath the beliefs that still barricade you from belonging
Tell me of the tenderness you touch after trembling
And the tears that turned terror to triumph

Stand in the fire that melts chains and burns burdens
False foundations fall, timber tumbles, so many ruins crumbling
Flames fill and surround you, radiance reshaping shadow
Show me the sunlight soaring in your eyes

Stay _ A Poem for the Journey

Stay with the waves, like the ocean you breathe
These are threads of your life, a cocoon that we weave

Stay present and watchful in the vigil you’re keeping
For dormant fears, they will rise, dreamed without sleeping

Stay alert to the storm that you stir with your hands
As you strive for control, to shape life’s shifting sands

Stay open, though around you dissolves much that you’ve known
There’s no need to struggle, we carry you as our own

Stay right where you are, and no matter how far you’ve run
When you return to yourself, you’ll be found, we will come

Stay for the joy in remembering the song
And all our rejoicing, you’ve come home, you belong

Stay for the soaring, and the rest still unnamed
Stay and discover who you are when untamed

Stay, though before you the forge-fires burn
Claim your place at the center, match our strength, it’s your turn

Stay though the flames leap across through your skin
They will sear fear and shame, mend you whole from within

Stay to meet gently each moment unfolding
There is always compassion behind any challenge worth holding

Stay while your light rearranges, unwinds
Though it may seem that shadows are all that you find

Stay curious, and welcome each one eye to eye
You can never cease shining, but you might forget why

Stay your hand, your self-hatred and anger aren’t yours
Dare the mudflats of memory, there you’ll find who it’s for

Stay strong, though for days you’ve been eclipsed in long hours
Dazed in grey silences gone secret and sour

Stay with us, you are trembling with terror to speak
You are held safe in love, find the answers you seek

Stay in the dance, patterned shadows and light
You are learning your wholeness, both the day and the night

**********

You are learning the pathway within to a door
That opens in stillness, go inside and step through
It is there you remember you are worth fighting for
And to do that, you must be the one worth surrendering to

How We Fight

Wild One 101
From Ciarán of Ailbhe’s Nine

Some learn to become indifferent to pain until they fight without thought. They learn how to lose themselves (their ability to feel, the essence of who they are, their sense of being) in order to win. The cost of this is high, for the selves they defend are the very same they so easily abandoned. Their eyes go vacant or hard or unseeing. They are trained to deny much of their own human being, and so likewise cannot see those they fall as flesh and blood and bone. They choose an inner death before their life is ended, believing it makes them better able to survive. It is unknown what continues to exist after such a fight is done, even in a victory.

But we learn to fight with our aliveness. The power within us forged in the fire of feeling. Our eyes are clear and wakeful, whether full of sorrow or laughter– compassion and passion being as they are two sides of a soul. We live our humanity fervent and full. We see each other eye to eye, and in the defending of all people, recognize ourselves in all we meet. No one is immune to suffering or grief. But the cries that we utter are always our own, whether of joy or of pain, and always the radiance burning inside. And when we fall, we blaze out each like a pulsing star, a heart that dared to beat with love, until the last spark fades from who we are.

***************
My own thoughts:

I’ve been having a very hard time putting anything into words regarding how I feel about living in a nation that seems to have been swallowed up by fear, prejudice, hatred and greed, perhaps in reverse order. Reading the news is like downing a glass of pesticides every morning and then trying to go about my day hoping I won’t experience any side effects. I’ve been paralyzed by a sense of hopelessness, grief-stricken, incredibly angry, tentatively resolved into taking action, terrified, and sometimes daring to dream all in a day. I’m a philosopher who spent more than a decade learning the rules of reason: all that flooding of feeling recently often leaves me reeling. I’m still trying to learn how to effectively take action without shutting down.

I used to be an avid advocate for the rights of children. I used to daily defend my right to full inclusion, equal access to education, acceptance and regard. And, whenever someone ever suggested to me that my perseverance made me a fighter, I’d be sure to defend my definite opinion to the contrary. To me, the purpose of advocacy was to build bridges, while the purpose of fighting was to burn bridges and erect walls, and the winner would be the fastest. I thought advocacy was strategic and thoughtful, but fighting was inherently destructive and usually violent. Advocacy resolved conflicts, fighting created them. That was a lot of black and white thinking.

We’re now faced with a situation in this country where our supposed leaders want to build walls, and the most effective way to resist is to fight: for compassion rather than hatred, for freedom over fear, for dialogue over discrimination, for human rights, for healthcare, for immigrants and their families, for people rather than profits and for healing rather than division.

I believe now that when people used to tell me I was a fighter, I honestly had no idea what they meant by that. I am discovering that I have so much to learn, unlearn, and relearn.

I am learning how compassion is as fierce as it is gentle, and is more powerful than fear, stronger than the deepest shame. I’m learning how wholeness is always in each of us, and that division is only as effective as the deception behind its appearance. I’m gradually accepting the fact that maybe, perhaps, I know how to fight for myself and for others… I just need to learn a new paradigm for how to go about it more effectively. I’m learning to trust more, to listen more, and to share, speak up, more.

I am not finding sharing these thoughts to be easy for me, at all. But I’m starting with where I am at, and that’s enough for now. I’m sure there will be many more insights from my ancient family to post as well, as I keep learning, so I will be sharing more from them here, too.

Sadhbh Speaks

Golden tresses spill, a cascade of sun-soaked tears,
And you await homecoming, forever at the threshold of the world.
In the song of silent empty hands, you grieve alone.

The waterfall roars your screams from world to world,
A thousand tumbled beads still rippling with the shimmers of last light’s touch,
Golden tresses spilling a cascade of sun-soaked tears.

I wept such tears once, as the eagle flew far beyond the sky,
Before shadows eclipsed an abandoned sun, or my screams died in singing silence.
If only I’d awaited homecoming, forever at the threshold of the world.

Dear hearth-daughter I never knew, we keen for our deer ones the same.
If you turned just once to look behind you, would you know me by my sad doe eyes?
Your family aches to fill your empty hands with love. There is no need to grieve alone.

***

Photo from Jane Dougherty’s now quite past poetry challenge from way back on the first of June. Check out her blog and all the entries which made it both on time and in the official round-up, Silent Cascade Poetry Entries. We were supposed to use the above poetry form and the words cascade, eagle, tresses, abandon, and rippling. This poem has been in my head in several different versions for the past two weeks but I have fallen seriously behind in all things blogospheric (yes, that’s a real word … starting now!) I’ll keep attempting to catch up again.

The Mill

Mill Photo

Lugach fixed his son with a soul-piercing stare. “I entrusted her to you for no more than half a sun’s climb, Cormac. Where is she!” Seeing the pain threatening to engulf his fathers face was almost worse than the hot waves of shame, flooding him with his countless failures. He felt like he had been a disappointment to his father from the day he was born. Now he would be hated. He shoved the clawing animal of guilt and grief back into its iron-barred cage in his heart. To his horror, he was not quite under control when he spoke. That was the way with him, good, but not good enough. “Lost.” It was a choked whisper. Dazed, he shook himself violently, as if from a nightmare that would not give him up.

“Lost?!” his father roared. “May you find her or die trying!”

Running … running … who had moved him? … When had the running begun? As if from a great distance, he watched his body run. Die trying… if only he could do that, it might make his father proud.

Now far from the roundhouse door, down the steep rugged path… he was headed toward the mill… the mill his father built along with his new life after he left the fianna. Cormac used to hate that mill. Now it was a refuge, one of the only places to be alone.

Today it was not his thoughts that sent him sprinting to the roar of the wheel and the grind of the stones. It was not even the resentment he had at not being given the same choice for a future that his father had. It was a dread, an unnamable loss that tore at him now.

Lost, she was lost…

He’d been playing “hide to find” with her when the runner arrived from a far off settlement, on the business of trade with his father. But his father wasn’t there, and so it was up to him to provide hospitality.

He’d left her for a moment among the clusters of trees with no concern. His sister knew the woods like the back of her hand. Besides, at five summers old, she shouldn’t always need to be supervised.

The last thing he had said to her was, “Don’t wander outside the trees.” The last thing he’d heard was her birdsong of laughter as she enacted some imaginary game.

The sound of pounding feet that were not his own brought Cormac unceremoniously back to the present. He thought that running full ahead might keep him from the pain, but now it sliced through him again, sharper than a spear.

The mill, he had to get to the mill. Tears threatened to fall, and crying was as good as forbidden. He was not so far now… but whoever was coming this way was having no trouble gaining on him. Had he been spotted? Quickly, he moved sideways, then dashed behind a thick clump of trees where he could remain hidden, while keeping an eye on the road.

Lost … she was lost …

“Mac Lugach!” the voice shouting his name too close to the sheltering trees provoked a cold panic, even while he recognized the speaker. It was Aodh, Caoilte’s eldest. . Since when did his friends provoke terror in him, he wondered? But he dare not question the extent of his ability to fall short of every social expectation. He held his silence close as death.

“Cormac,” Aodh questioned quietly, having soundlessly covered the space between them. He was too good. Of course he was.

They belonged to the same cohort, and yet Cormac could not meet Aodh’s searching eyes. He turned away in shame, but not before Aodh saw the tracks of tears on his face. He wished he could disappear. He prepared for the inevitable mocking that didn’t come. Instead, Aodh just stood there quietly, regarding him with a genuine concern.

“Something isn’t right with you. What is it, man?”

What was it. Cormac searched in the growing fog for the words that seemed to shrink into shadow, frightened by the glaring light of truth. “Lost … the mill … lost…”

“Look, man,” Aodh said after thinking for a while. “If it’s the mill you’re wanting to get to, let me come with you.”

“Why are you here?” the question was sudden, and Cormac immediately regretted its harshness.

“Your father sent for us to search for…”

That was enough. Could his father not trust his own son? Apparently not. And there were others?

he was back on the trail now, moving … parting the shadowed words and the fog, pounding the anger into the ground, aware only vaguely of Aodh’s presence beside him. He was too dazed to care, but not too numb to drown the panic rising in him like a tide. Lost … he had lost her.

***

They found the body floating near the mill. She had not yet learned to swim. Between them they carried her, back up the path from where they had come, to break the news no parent is ever prepared to hear.

Behind them, as the sky began to darken, one light could still be seen. It glowed soft and shimmering, just above the mill. It has never disappeared.

Sue’s Photo Challenge

The Representatives of an Age _ Ailbhe’s Experience

The figure in white blazes before us, brighter than any sunrise I have ever witnessed. Even the glints of gold and gentle red of the nascent sun, reaching out as it did over the earth to tentatively touch, then entwine with the blues and greens of moving sea does not compare. Awe befalls me, and I raise my hands in an overwhelming impulse to honor such a one.

There is no gender to this individual. They tower above our tallest men, but the height strangely does not distance them from us. It is their eyes, I realize, burning with a quiet compassion, which draw us each into welcome, as if to reassure us of the intent of friendship despite the harshness of their almost searing light.

“Come.” It is not a voice, but a gesture, one which we recognize immediately as our own. Fionn, who is not accustomed to being commanded to do anything, is, I notice with some relief, returning the greeting. Still, we can all see his bafflement, mixed with curiosity, and the emotion passes through us like a wave. This is the way of emotions in the world beyond the world, and now is no exception. We share more than we ever thought possible, let alone desirable, for here very little is left in hiding.

The urgent question of the hour, where are we going?, shows itself soon enough. We are now standing in what appears to be a large stadium. Well, I think appreciatively, there are hundreds of us to accommodate, yes, but not having bodies, we certainly do not take up much space. Why the strange room with ornate columns, mosaic tiling, and mysterious figures carved on stone walls? This is, we understand, more to give us some sense of familiarity than anything else. On that count, it is failing miserably. Personally, I find myself fighting against a feeling of confinement and a desperate need for trees.

“Looks like they had a group go through here who liked Greek architecture and no one has rearranged the appearance,” Caoilte observes, a bemused look crossing his face. The two of us have walked in together, of course. “This would put us right off in the physical world.”

“Undoubtedly,” I agree, “We’re not in that world, and yet details should still be important.” I mutter this last bit, half to myself, then add, “It would be easy enough for us to change it…” But at that moment, the white figure is quieting us down and gesturing toward a large table like structure in the middle of the room for us to gather around. Like almost everything in this world, it is made of light and song.

The unintended insult is quickly forgotten as excitement takes over. What will it be like to return to the physical world? Will we get to plan any of the next life? Will we get to take on different relationships to each other? I glance at Caoilte and hope the answer to that last question is no. He winks at me mischievously in return.

I notice that we have once again instinctively taken up our usual rankings by authority, though in fact the concept means little now. Presently, the androgynous figure looks up as if to speak, and a great hush falls on us, and we stand expectantly, very still.

“It has come to our attention,” proclaims the figure, “That an unforeseen, unprecedented circumstance has occurred, which is necessarily going to change the trajectory of your soul group.”

We remain motionless at this unexpected announcement, except for our eyes. The atmosphere has perceptibly shifted into one of wariness. I find myself tracking the expressions crossing the figure’s somewhat obscured face, conceiving multiple plans of action as I do so, in case action is necessary. Unaware of what even the normal procedures are, I can only gauge the possibilities and hope this is enough to do well by those in my charge. I do what I know how to do: prepare to act for the well-being of the group, but most importantly ensure the safety of my nine. They are standing behind me and waiting for me to take the lead.

The figure continues, presumably ignoring the sudden tension. “Many of you now represent an age, and so we cannot proceed as usual. All across your homeland, and soon beyond, people are telling and retelling the stories of your lives, and you are so a part of the myths and legends of these people that you have helped shape life long after you were living it.”

We move. If the others felt anything like me, moving is inevitable. We’re staring at each other in bewilderment, our surprise mixed with frustrated confusion. Order breaks into a frenetic flurry of questions. What in the world does this mean? Who started this?” “When did this happen, and we not even knowing it? For goodness sake, why?

I think out to the group, “But we were just living, how is this possible?” I merely receive more dismay as an answer. This is a possibility that escaped all of us, it seems. Our experiences, somehow made meaningful to the passing of an entire age? But certainly, we were nothing special, no more or less equal to any other group of souls who pass through the living of a physical life, were we not?

And then fortunately Fionn has our charge, and is speaking. “How can this be? I can no longer speak for the whole of us without question, but what you’re saying is too outlandish to believe. With all due respect to you, Bright One, of course. If this is an honor, we have done naught to deserve it. In life we had only done what was necessary. Many of us lived and failed to live by our truth. Yes, there were times when we lived with courage and honor and the like; everyone can live this way. We have also made countless mistakes. I doubt any one of us had no regrets upon death. If it is true what you say, that these people think such of us, they are most wrongly directed in doing so.”

“They should look inward to themselves instead for what they seek,” Oisín adds, quietly.

The androgynous figure looks truly sympathetic. Their opinion, all things considered, aligns with our own, but I can already see there is little that any of us can do. In silence, the illuminated one draws out a kind of window through which we can view simulated visuals of the many stories being told of us. It is a bit like a hologram. “It is only right that you confirm my words for yourselves,” the figure concludes, stepping back and holding out their hands. And whether this is meant to reinforce the vast nature of the point or simply attempt a placating posture it is hard to say. It is also no longer important, for everything we counted on as being ordinary has changed.

In Between Lives: Ailbhe’s Experience

Some come to this world beyond with eager wonder, the need for resting, the joy of homecoming. I, however, fought fiercely for my life, even after it was very obviously ending. The illness was wasting my body away, but this only had the opposite effect on my tenacity of spirit. I had too much to lose, too much more to do. I suppose I died in battle, but not the kind I wanted to be remembered by. I didn’t win, of course. But I didn’t know any better not to try.

Until Mairin joined me, I was a spirit haunted by the living ones, by the stories I read in their eyes before mine drew closed against the day. But she was not long in arriving, in a way, we were all reunited quite quickly, and this was beyond joy for us.

It is hard to quantify time in the space beyond solid things, where there is growing and changing but no yesterday or tomorrow. But the time does come when we are to start getting ready to experience the adventure of another lifetime. I am grateful and overwhelmed with excitement for this.

***

We are gathered together about a fire that does not burn, a silent glow flitting about shimmering faces. I reach out and take Mairin’s hand. Our hands do not meet, but intertwine, fall together, weave into one another.

All around me, the intentions and feelings of others shine bright against the pale red sky. They form a web of wordlessness which is instantly understood. This is the way of speaking without any need for language and the limits it places on expression.

I am thinking about the world I left behind, where there are rivers and wild boars and hunting and crying and trees and beer, and passion, and hunger and sorrow and dancing and shouting and running . . . and that solidity I continue to try to touch, that I am not quite used to living without.

None of us feel we have had enough of the world, of moving and living and breathing and knowing the beauty and sorrow and joy and somber reflection which is all living out loud. There is much more to experience. There is growing old: most of us have not done so before. There is growing and learning new things, and, I probably mentioned this before but, there’s beer. I mean, I miss food, and eating, a lot.

I miss sunrises and singing the song of the dawn to a real dawn. I miss screaming and climbing trees. I miss knocking out anyone in my charge who is causing trouble and even miss their causing the trouble in the first place. I’m glad I don’t have to sleep, but miss curling up on a sleeping roll, or even on the hardpacked ground close to the smell of earth and rooted things. I miss all sorts of things,. I’m ready to try my hand at more.

As the day wanes around us, I take notice of the children chasing each other through a field of grasses not far off, and I consider that as much as I enjoy watching them, I could do another life without having children of my own. Taking care of a nine is need enough for responsibility, children are far less capable of feeding themselves. Also children demand a particular kind of patience. I’d have to be able to reconcile myself to many hours of inaction where I’d simply be holding them, and learn to tolerate getting spit up on. Then one day I’d have to provide the means to secure their future. I ran from my future as a child. What’s the point of bringing someone into the world, then demanding she not be who she was born to become?

In this place beyond time, I have reconciled with my birth family. But even now, I hardly spend time with any of them, my sister Mairin being the exception of course. My family is here all around me, laughing and sharing stories, dreaming into being our next try at living. I look out at the fields that sway for miles, full of wildflowers and wilder children. They are not so different, I realize, from the dreams forming shape and dancing in our eyes. Wild ones and our children.

Hill of Tara Part 2 _ Ireland, 2015

“A’Ma,” the old name pierces through the humming of my bones, as if someone were insistently trying to call me back from some precipice of ancient time over which I might slip out of sight. I stand at the back of a group of at least twenty-five tourists, at the summit of the Hill of Tara. The tour guide is speaking about the Tomb of the Hostages, and how archaeologists believe Tara was probably more of a ceremonial site for the inauguration of kings than the actual dwelling place of any of the high kings themselves.

It’s probably rude, but I ignore her. Archaeological theories simply pale in comparison to my own bone-deep knowing of a very different Tara, a place on which an entire king’s fort stood, which could, when necessary, house over a hundred tens of people.

“A’Ma.” Softer now, the voice parts my thoughts, a mind of its own, diffusing some of the memories, and I take notice, finally stirred enough out of my distant reverie to respond. Moved by the old name of endearment, I look to my right, my eyes falling on the only person who ever spoke that name to me when I was alive, 1800 years ago.

“Ailbhe, sister,” I say excitedly, silently, our conversation as it so often does carrying on through thoughts, intention, images, and feelings. I send her the intention full of feeling, “I am so glad you are here to share this experience with me.” And I am very glad indeed. My immediate family simply would not understand why this place holds such meaning to me, and why I feel the way I do, being here.

“Right now you are more Mairin than Éilis,” she observes, glancing at me thoughtfully.

This makes me a bit uncomfortable. Can she see passed my thoughts which contain my words? Does she see that I have been lost in an ancient reflection? How much of that reflection am I prepared to share? For I was taken, suddenly, back into the days when my name was Mairin, when I was a bandraoi who knew the healing powers of herbs, who protected my people against the unseen and could see the light in all living ones. My memories were not so much of events as feelings, and I felt the way Mairin often felt at Tara, uncertain about her legitimacy and own merits to be present at such a kingly place, haunted by the guilt, almost successfully buried, of abandoning her birth family, and terrified of forever being lost behind the shadow of her sister. The awe and wonder at standing in the boundaries of such a sacred place was there; so was the misgivings of a girl, born a middle child, who disappointed her parents for the second time by leaving her family and a life of a land-owner’s daughter to train as a druid.

Our family was a noble one in status, but not in character. I still don’t remember why it was so dysfunctional, but I do know our brothers were highly favored, and we girls were to have children and continue our mother’s line: our response to which, jointly, was to remove ourselves as fast as possible. Ailbhe had been the first to walk away, taking what she could carry and steeling into the night, only nine years of age, to journey here to Tara and try her hand at becoming a banfhénnid, a warrior of the fianna. But at the time I was only just turned seven, and never fully understood the why of my sister’s leaving. It was a terrible loss for me to spend my days without her, and despite myself, I would wonder whether she might have stayed a bit longer, had I been a better sister.

By the time we found each other again, I was a full bandraoi and Ailbhe was the rigbanfhénnid of fian 4, she had a nine of her own. I feared all those years of separation could have been enough to distance us, but the love and loyalty we had toward one another as children did not fade with time. And so I chose to serve her community rather than that of our birth family, who had nothing for us, and those years together at Almu were the happiest in my life. … And yet, I always wondered whether my sister influenced my acceptance, and whether I would have qualified on my own. And so, at Tara, I would spend much time fighting a gnawing insecurity I felt surely druids ought not possess.

I can tell that Ailbhe has seen these thoughts and feelings. For an instant, part of me worries she will judge me for it, but I know her well enough to know better. Instead, she looks me in the eye and says, “I was always so proud to be your sister.”

I shoot her a thought that I am going to get emotional and can’t randomly start crying in the middle of a large tour group. Ailbhe breaks out with a knowing sisterly grin: “But that wouldn’t be so bad for you, come to think of it.” Her smile is full of as much mischief as compassion.

Then I have an idea, only in part formed to change the subject. “Do you want me to aspect you?” I ask. She nods in answer. Aspecting, which is also called trance channeling or just channeling, is when you share space with a person from the spirit world. I move my ego/personality consciousness partly out of the way and Ailbhe fills in the rest of the space, so we’re both sharing the same body. I’m about 1/3 present, and she has the rest of the space. I stop trying to hide any thoughts, When you’re sharing a body with someone, neither you nor the person sharing your space can hide anything. This used to be somewhat alarming to me, but now I greatly value sharing such a profound level of honesty.

As Ailbhe goes about sending me feelings of acceptance to quell the growing emotions gripping me from the memories, she also draws our attention to the tour guide. We listen, I, fascinated, Ailbhe both quizzical and reflective, while the guide starts relaying one of the myriad legends of the fianna associated with Tara.

I convey my excitement to Ailbhe about this. “There are many who still remember you, see, there really are.” My comment is in part made in reference to continuing our conversation from the day before, over the surprising frequency with which “pagan Ireland” seems to be represented in tourist audiovisuals almost exclusively with the mention of Cúchulainn, and no one else.

“It’s one of those stories that is not accurate with events,” Ailbhe remarks in reply, “But she does a good job in the telling of it.”

Then a somber stillness steels over her, and I am flooded with an uncanny mixture of gratitude at what is remembered and grief for an era long passed, the recognition of so many inevitable changes since create an inexplicable kind of longing. “What is it Ailbhe,” I ask, concerned.

“Isn’t it strange,” Ailbhe says then, “That today among the tourists gathered at the seat of the ancient high king stand many of our fianna themselves, and of us I myself am looking out through your eyes, embodied in a way wholly unexpected; and then to hear of my own people, being discussed in passed tense. But we are still here. No one considers that we might be very much present now.”

I briefly imagine the possible look that would cross the tour guide’s face if she somehow gazed out toward the crowd and noticed that many of the ones she was speaking about were also gathered here, listening to her. I realize that in such a case she’d most likely be frightened, both by what she was seeing and by the confusion that would set in, having no culturally accepted language in which to articulate the experience so others would understand without judgment. I can tell that Ailbhe certainly knows all of this, and yet there is a part of her still wishing to be seen, not just for who she was, but for who she is. I keep her close to me. “I see you,” I tell her.

For a while we simply stand together silently. The guide has finished her story and goes on with a speech about something, but I am too out of the way to track it consistently. I am aware most of all of how the two of us are standing with the self-assured dignity and grace which Ailbhe has in abundance, and I am still learning to possess.

Then Ailbhe says quietly, “It’s hard for you not to be able to see it, isn’t it, Éilis? It’s not easy for me either, to be looking out of your eyes and not to be able to see all of Ireland expanding out from us.”

I agree, taken somewhat aback by the comment. Usually I think little about what I might be missing with my lack of eyesight, but in this place full of memories, and many visual memories now lost as I have no reference for them, I am feeling bereft. Suddenly I go from being grateful for Ailbhe’s words of comfort to feeling hugely inadequate. Here I am, trying to give Ailbhe the experience of once again being an embodied person at Tara, but I will never be able to give her the whole of the sense of the place she once had.

Ailbhe notices the shift in me immediately. “It’s all right,” she whispers, trying to console my troubled mind, “This experience is more than I ever imagined I would have again. It is more than enough, Éilis. Thank you, I am more than grateful to you.” She pauses, and puts a light around us. The light is made of unconditional acceptance, and slowly I become at peace again. Finally she says, “I should let you have a few more moments up here fully back in yourself before you and the group need to move on.”

She steps out of my space then, and with a radiant white light shining around me, I completely return to myself. I can still see Ailbhe next to me. People are now walking up to touch the Lia fáil, the stone of destiny. Our time to just stand quietly will be over shortly.

Suddenly, Ailbhe reaches out, and takes my hand. With the connection she conveys a picture. Two souls, having been sisters long ago in an ancient age, reunite once again on the hill of Tara to stand at the summit and look out at a country that was once their home but is no longer home to either of them now. No matter that the sisters now live in different worlds. No matter that one has been wandering through lifetimes in search of her origins while the other has spent her existence in the world beyond, representing an age. None of that has ever been enough to keep us apart. Once again, we stand in a place that has always held a deep significance to us, except that now the land beneath and around us has been transformed by the passage of almost two millennia, in a way barely recognizable. Hand in hand we both reclaim and lay to rest an era, safely holding what once was in memory, while restoring to who we are now what of our histories the land once claimed as its own. For one more moment we look into each other’s eyes, brown peering into blue. Then Ailbhe gently lets go of my hand and disappears.

When I finally get to touch the lia fáil, it oddly seems to pail in comparison to that more private experience Ailbhe and I shared. Somewhat to my immense relief, the stone doesn’t make any piercing cries. Thank goodness, I think to myself, half jokingly, that means less responsibility for me. But even while I walk away and start down the descent of the hill, I am struck by the gnawing feeling that I am already on my way to fulfilling a destiny of my own.

Tara: What Might Have Been

There are memories, but they are few and far between. Scattered, broken, some fleeting pictures, some emotions which long ago imbedded themselves within an ancient segment of soul. It is June 14, 2015. Tomorrow we will go to Newgrange, then onto Tara. I’m exstatic about seeing the neolithic stones, but they have left no memorable imprint on me. Tara, on the other hand, with its alluring misted images dancing almost out of reach of conscious recognition, calls me, beckons me from far away with reasons only landscapes know. The following is a story I have woven from threadbare memories, the images and emotions are genuine, but I’ve made up the dialogue and filled in the gaps with guesswork. It is a mere reconstructed approximation of what might have been, 1800 years ago.

***

“Stay where you are!” The booming bellow from the top of the wall startles me for a moment, and I shift into a watchful wariness almost instantly, despite the fact that I’ve known that entrance into Tara would be difficult at best. I freeze.

The unforgiving winds of Samhain howl over the hill, as if it were an insignificant obstacle in the surrounding landscape. The gusts of chill drive a drizzling mist before them, a watery haze too dense to be fog, more of a suspended mass of swirling spray than a genuine rain. Far away, a low moan moves slowly through trees rooted tightly together at the edge of the forest, with its brooding mysteries obscured in darkness.

Before me, the stone wall looms, cast hard and unforgiving in the cold, inertly rising from the loam three persons high, at least five paces thick. Behind it, a ditch runs the perimeter of the hill fort, and though it is hard to make them out, several men besides the one now speaking stand sentry near and at the large imposing gates.

It bothers me that I am more easily scared than my sister. I should have considered I might need to defend myself with more than words. If it comes to that, my roan staff seems hardly appropriate, and besides, my ability to fight is less than rudimentary.

“State your intent. Why come you to Tara?” The voice comes again, hollering to be heard above the din of this dreary day.

“I serve as Bandraoi to Fionn and the people of Dun Alúine. Ailbhe rigbanfhénnid of the fourth nine, is my sister. I come at her suggestion, and the request of the high king who has summoned here the protectors of his people.”

As I speak, I stare bewildered at my challenger, whose features have suddenly coalesced out of the fog. On the ground, he would stand two hands taller than myself. I cannot see his long, golden braided hair beneath the furs pulled up to shield him from the winds. The presence of the fur cloak is the only sign he does not find me cause for concern, and he shouldn’t, of course. I recognize him instantly as one of my sister’s nine, in fact we’d just been in conversation four hours earlier. But they had all gone in before me, and I, with less standing of my own, found myself outside with the other druids and freemen, waiting my turn to pass through. I know I cannot be welcomed as a friend, even though it is oddly painful to be addressed like a stranger by a member of my adopted household. But, the high king demands formality, and to him I am as much a stranger as any other. I shiver, telling myself that this is definitely because of the cold, rather than the thought of the high king. Once again, I fail at self-deception miserably.

Despite himself, the young fénnid lets a glimmer of recognition spark in his otherwise harsh unyielding eyes. I smile up at him, then, but he has turned to shout something inaudible to an unseen space behind him. Shortly after that, I am allowed inside.

I climb the rugged dips and crannies of the hill, a flurry of activity all about me. There are people standing in groups talking excitedly, mothers comforting crying children, the hurried steps of those rushing by to seek shelter in one of the four halls surrounding the main hall of the high king. Horses stamp hooves and whinny, men and women prepare provisions for tomorrow’s feast. Commotion reigns. The expectant energy of the place palpably buzzes just below what is evident with my five senses. Overwhelmed and in awe, I stop for a while to just take it all in, the sights and the sounds, the smells—and try to imagine approaching this scene tired, hungry, and cold, a girl of merely nine years. How had my sister ever made it passed the wall? But whatever the fire in her that allowed her to journey all that way, I know it is undoubtedly that same internal flame that drives her to excellence so that she now leads a fian of her own.

My sister and I have always adored each other, and the day she slipped away in the dark to leave behind an unwanted destiny and boldly go forth to seek another was one of the most devastating days of my life. I was too young to understand, and to my mind she had simply decided she could live without me. Later I would come to understand that I had very little to do with her decision. When I decided that I, too, did not wish to return to my clan of birth, it was simply a matter of logistics to locate my sister, and apply to be the bandraoi for her community instead. For that brief time we spent together as children, she’d become more family to me than anyone else ever had.

And yet, standing on the hill of Tara, it steels on me again: that gnawing fear that I will only ever exist in the shadow of my sister, that I might never be known by my own deeds, but be tolerated in places such as this out of a duty to hospitality by proxy.

I push these uncharitable thoughts away. I know that when I am lying out in the forest near a stream, breathing in the sky, such petty thoughts don’t matter. They vanish like the smoke they are and leave only truth. I cannot let myself take such things seriously now.

Much later, when I sit in the king’s great hall with the other druids, I still can’t believe I am here. What is more, to my astonishment I find myself temporarily sitting next to Íonnach Mór, the Great Ionian himself, and the high king’s Ollamh.

“Is this your first time in the hall of Tara?” he asks, after we exchange the usual introductions. A look of warmth flickers across his face. His question unnerves me. Do I look that apparently new to kingly feasting halls? Do I seem lost? Have I acted unfavorably? I gather myself to appear far more certain and sure than I feel.

“Yes, my first,” I struggle to find a voice now suddenly shy in front of this man whom I had held in such high esteem from a distance, looking me in the eye. “I’ve been out of training for only a year,” I add, for justification, in case I’m in need of one.

“There is always a first time,” he replies without judgment, to my relief. “Who from among those you have taken up with has sponsored your being here, or have you come representing yourself?”

Still worried about betraying my ignorance by saying something wrong, I gesture toward Fionn, who, with about two thirds of the fianna, has taken up a position along one of the walls, armed and ready to defend the gathering if needed. The rest are out around the grounds.

The Ollamh’s eyes widen in surprise, then he recovers: “Very good!” He exclaims approvingly, “That is no small accomplishment, and in only a year’s time. You have certainly earned your place.”

“Thank you.” I manage, unable to find more words. There are too many emotions crowding out thoughts, and I am too unprepared for this to quiet them into stillness.

“I am glad to have met you, Mairin of Almu,” the Ollamh replies, “I hope my filid will make you most welcome. Then he stands. I am shocked at how tall he is. He rivals some of the tallest men of the fianna in height, towering above me by a head and shoulders, and then some. In fact, at least to me, he is quite imposing, all around. His long flowing black curls simply add to his striking appearance. For a moment, his piercing hazel eyes hold mine in a solemn, yet vibrant gaze.

“It is a great honor, Ollamh,” I answer sincerely, also standing.

As I take my seat again, Íonnach Mór confidently makes his way toward the center of the room. The hall is quieting down, soon we will be brought to order.

Inside, I am beaming,. Feeling more accepted and right in this place, I finally begin to relax and wonder what will happen next.