Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Inaccessible Pinnacle

My love for the liminal places and ancient stories of Brighid's Isles has, of late, led me to a discovery of Celtic Languages. I am currently attending Irish classes and each week the teacher asks us all to tell a story in Irish. I love this, for storytelling is at the heart of community and tradition and I have long held that truth is to be found primarily in story.

I have just finished watching a very special film, Seachd, The Inaccessible Pinnacle. It is the first full length feature film ever to be produced in Scotch Gaelic. The DVD has subtitles in English, Irish and Welsh so it is boon for anyone wanting to increase their vocabulary of Celtic language. But this is also a powerful film in its own right. 

Seachd has an interesting subtitle, Lan fhirinn na sgeoil (truth is in the story). Aonghas is a boy painfully coming to terms with the death of his parents in an accident on a mountain. He and is siblings are raised by their grandparents in the Hebrides. His grandfather is a storyteller. For him, truth, tradition, culture, magic, all that is of value is to be found in story. Throughout the film the grandfather tells powerful ancient tales to the children. Tales that are set against the stunning scenery of the Highlands and Islands. Tales that hold valuable lessons for the children. For Aonghas these tales are merely the distraction of an old man, dead words in an old book. He drifts away from his grandfather and seeks consolation in the "real world". There is a moment when Aonghas argues with his grandfather in English and attempts to run away to Glasgow. 

As a man Aonghas fulfills his wish, moves to Glasgow and makes his way in the world. Then he is called back to the Hebrides where his grandfather is terminally ill in hospital. With what strength he has left the grandfather leaves the hospital with Aonghas and takes him to the mountain where his parent's died, determined that he will not lose the most precious thing a person can have - a place in a living tradition.

On the DVD there is an interview with Aonghas Padraig Caimbeul, the Gaelic writer and poet who plays the grandfather in the film. In this interview Aonghas tells us that every word spoken in Gaelic is a a triumph and a victory, a thing of beauty and strength. Today, there may only be 58,000 people who can speak Scotch Gaelic but every word spoken by them means that the story and the tradition and the culture is part of a living present. He talks about another storyteller who was asked how he remembered oral stories that were so long they took several nights to tell. The storyteller replied that it is easy, just look at the stones of the wall and the whole story is laid out in the stones.

So, in truth, we all learn who we really are, the meaning of life and of death, through the stories we hold in our hearts. Stories make the wisdom of the past active in the present. Stories hold eternal truths that are a stronghold against the worm-tongue words of politicians. A community can be most fully measured by the stories it holds dear.

Today the old stories are very much alive. The Goddesses are once more present in our world through the stories we tell about them. Stories that jump from heart to heart bearing the truth that tells us who we are and secure in who we are we can scale the inaccessible pinnacles of life.

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