Thursday, January 31, 2008

La Fheile Bhride

Imbolc is my favourite festival. The days are noticeably longer. The earth stirs. The first signs of Spring are evident. There are snowdrops everywhere. The greening has begun. Bhride is once more abroad and will bless the hearth and the home of all those who make Her welcome. May you make Her welcome and may She bring healing and protection all the year long.


Friday, January 25, 2008

Mointeach gun Mhuileann - Moorland without Turbines

The Isle of Lewis in the Hebrides is home to the stunning sacred landscape that surrounds the Calanais standing stones. Looking over the moorland from Calanais you cannot fail to see Cailleach na Mointeach (the old woman of the moors) a recumbent landscape Goddess often known as the Sleeping Beauty. Every 19 years the moon rises from the Sleeping Beauty's womb, travels along her body and passes through the Calanais stones. The moorland itself is one of the most important peatland areas in Brighid's Isles and a haven for wildlife.

In 2004 plans were put forward to build the UK's largest onshore wind farm on the peatlands of Lewis. The plans proposed the construction of 234 turbines along with their supporting infrastructure. This was reduced to 181 turbines when the plan was revived in 2006. The hope was that the 181 turbines would provide renewable energy to 425,000 homes and also provide new employment opportunities for the remote island.

Campaigners are concerned that the wind farm would cause severe irreversible damage to the peatland. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds are concerned about the impact on the habitat of important populations of eagles and black throated divers. A survey of the people for whom the island is home showed that 41% supported the wind farm and 40% opposed it.

Opinion is clearly divided. One member of the Scottish Natural Heritage Board famously said, "If it comes to renewable energy or the rape of the countryside, I am for the rape of the counryside."

In February 2007 councillors on the local council voted 18 to 8 in favour of the wind farm but the final decision rests with the Scottish Government. Today the BBC's Gaelic news service, Radio nan Gaidheal, has announced that Scottish Government ministers are, "minded to refuse" the 181 turbine scheme because of environmental concerns. It is now up to the developer to respond with any new evidence for the wind farm before a final decision is made.

I would love to know what readers of this blog feel as the issues are complicated. As a sacred goddess landscape Lewis is second to none and any development close to Calanais or the Sleeping Beauty would have a huge impact. Deep within me there is something that cries out, this must not happen. On the other hand like any goddess loving person I am aware of the importance of renewable energy, particularly in a country which is once more contemplating following the nuclear option. And of those who live on the Island there will certainly be many who echo another local councillor's comment, "They must make clear what the vision is for the islands. Are we to become an environmental museum? Is any development at all to be allowed in the Western Isles? Clearly the young of Lewis need to feel they have a future on the Island for if they leave for the cities of the mainland a vibrant gaelic speaking culture may itself be in jeopardy.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

And the bird sang

This morning I settled down for some quiet meditative time. Very soon the sound of a single bird singing drifted through the window. My first rather selfish thought was that the quiet had been broken but then the song was strangely beautiful. Soon the song became the focus of my meditation. I have no way of knowing what it must be like to be a bird. Yet the bird's song was entering my heart. 
Then the thought struck me. This bird was being utterly true to itself. It was singing its own song. It was singing with all the grace and beauty, talent and gifts at its disposal. It was proclaiming its life to the world. I am here, alive, in this place, on this morning and it is good, it is very good.
Surely this is what the Goddess asks of us all. That we sing our own song, dance our own dance of life. That we do it with grace and beauty. That we are thankful for our gifts, for our freedom. That we rejoice in the present moment and the present place - not only because they are all we have - but because they are very good.
And so I thanked the bird for all she had shown me and my heart flew.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Ghosts on a lazy Sunday afternoon

Lazy Sunday afternoons sometimes lead to idly watching odd programmes on the Television. For as long as I can remember there has been a community hymn singing show called Songs of Praise. Not the sort of programme I would normally watch but the programme also focuses on local communities and yesterday the programme came from Orkney. Now I have a long standing love affair with the sacred landscape of Orkney and so I watched the programme hoping to see a little of those beautiful islands.

During the programme the presenters went to Isbister Cairn, sometimes called, The Tomb of the Eagles. Outside the Cairn there was a discussion about the coming of Christianity to Orkney. Sometimes statements can be breathtaking like:

We have no idea just when Christianity first came to Orkney but we can imagine how the people must have felt when they were rescued from the darkness of their lives.

I just cannot begin to express how misleading this is. To begin with there is a huge span of time between the building of the Isbister Cairn and the first stirrings of Christianity on Orkney. The cairn was constructed around 3000 bce so there is a gap of some 3,500 years - almost twice as long as Christianity has existed. There is simply no connection between the people who built the cairn and the people who encountered the first Christian missionaries other than their common humanity.

More importantly there is plenty of evidence to show that life on Neolithic Orkney was good and probably much better than for most of the time Christianity has held sway.

Orkney is a treasure house of Neolithic sacred landscape. The people who built the many stone circles and cairns were clearly well fed, well housed, highly skilled and had both the time and the energy to give to ritual.

The hymns for Songs of Praise were sung in St. Magnus' Cathedral, a beautiful stone built ritual building. No one would call this Cathedral a tomb even though it is full of memorials to the dead, intimations of death and even the bones of St. Magnus himself. No, for all this the cathedral is a place for the living. My guess is that the many stone cairns of Orkney were also places for the living, for festival and ritual, and for being at one with the ancestors, for seeking their guidance and protection in a very similar way to which Christians ask for the guidance and protection of the saints, who though dead are seen to be very much alive. To put it simply there is nothing new under the Orkney sky, cairn and cathedral fit the same human need.

Today we have our own darkness, exploitation, war, torture, inequality, hierarchy... need I go on.

Comparing our own society, modelled on patriarchal faith, with that of Neolithic Orkney does not show us up at all well. Just who is living in darkness.

The Neolithic village of Skara Brae was continually inhabited for over 600 years. In all that time no one seems to have seen any need to build any fortifications. In all that time no one seems to have seen any need to proclaim his or her status by building a bigger house. Indeed all the houses were built and then rebuilt to the same spacious plan. This was a nurturing, highly  stable community that probably only ended with the later emergence of a ruling male elite that ultimately led to the darkness of our own society.

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