This picture was taken in early spring last year, just as the world began to warm itself in the pale sunlight. The place was Pilton, a little village near Glastonbury with a legendary history as big as a heart. It is here, the stories tell us, that Joseph of Arimathea landed on a trading visit to the Isles of Tin, bringing with him a boy… his nephew, say some… whose name was Jesus.
None know the truth of that story, though historically it is possible. There is ample evidence for the trade and it is not the only such legend in Albion. It gives credence to the other legend of Joseph that says that after the crucifixion, he brought the story of the resurrection to these Isles, landing, once again, in the shadow of the Tor… bringing word and a Vessel to Avalon.
I hover between a natural scepticism and a desire to accept. So many of the most ancient tales were bent to serve Christianity in its early days, turning the sacred knowledge of the old gods into the hagiographies of fictitious saints or tying their miracles to the hills of the Fae and the healing wells of the goddess, robbing them of their true lineage. I am not a Christian in the orthodox sense; I belong to no church but serve what I conceive of being perhaps better termed the Cosmic Christ. Yet I am also a child of these Isles and rooted in the land, and there is a warmth and simplicity in these old tales of the Child whose feet walked these blessed shores that makes me choose to believe that there is something in them; something that speaks to the heart rather than to the logical mind. As such, perhaps subjective truth is a matter of choice or faith.
Looking down the valley in the photograph towards the Tor, you can trace the ancient waterway, now no more than a stream, that once brought ships to safe harbour at Pilton. The channel remains, deep and wide and the eye of the mind can trace the outlines of moorings and see the bustle of a small trading port. Seeing the land open itself in this way somehow permits belief.
The trees were bare of everything but the balls of mistletoe that would soon be hidden by exuberant spring. The brilliant young green would cover them, hiding from view the ancient orbs, sacred to those who walked the earth long before Christianity reached our shores. The mistletoe lives upon the branches, its seeds rooting and drawing sustenance and life from roots other than its own so that it may flower, fruit and set future seeds, colonising the trees. Not unlike the story that was brought to these shores so long ago.
The mistletoe is hidden for most of the year, covered by the leaves of its host. You only get occasional glimpses of its presence… and only if you are looking. Yet, when the world is bleak and cold and the branches raise skeletal fingers to the sun, it is there… a plant that has been sacred since time immemorial, and which has come to be a symbol of peace.
Here too I find an echo of a faith that is seldom broadcast, perhaps, but which is there in the darkest of times. It does not belong to any particular denomination or religion…it may not even have a name… it is the faith of the heart that turns towards something greater when the shadows fall. In those moments seeds are planted in the soul that may find a place to grow. It does not need logic, facts or explanations. It does not need dogma or teachings… those are for the exoteric world. The heart knows no logic and faith is not rooted in religion… it is an unruly and invasive tendril that winds through the soul. And when it is free to grow wild, then it is beautiful.
The red cross on the white shield of St. George is made up of red scales like the scales of the red dragon that wakes at the foot of St Michael’s Spear.
The red cross on the breast of St. George’s white breast-plate is made up of red scales like the scales of the red dragon whose forked tongue licks the root of St Michael’s Spear.
…And since when did the Archangel Michael become a Saint anyway?
Since the wings from the dragon subdued by St George became the self-same wings unfurling from his shoulder-blades.
Red as blood in the fight the fiery dragon rises
Pinioned and led, fled from earth to pole.
A posited pole that starry spear… arrowing straight to light… eddying out… to and fro… back and forth… body and soul… to soul.
For the sight of the night pole leads to the flight of the light soul.
In passion fled…red to red…unbled.
A bright, spear point fed…
to the dragon, bred.
The Triad of Albion is now Live on Amazon.
THE INITIATE ~ HEART OF ALBION ~ GIANTS DANCE
Don and Wen, two founding members of a new Esoteric School, meet to explore an ancient sacred site, as a prelude to the School’s opening event.
The new School is based upon a psychological, nine-fold, system and operates under the aegis of the Hawk of Horus.
The trip does not unfold as planned.
Instead, Don and Wen, apparently guided by a plethora of birds, embark upon a journey that will lead them through a maze of spiritual symbolism, to magical mysteries and the elusive figure of the ‘Ninth Knight’.
The Initiate is the story of a journey beyond the realms of our accustomed normality.
It is a true story told in a fictional manner.
In just such a way did the Bards of old hide in the legends and deeds of folk heroes, the deeper truths of existence for those ‘with eyes to see and ears to hear’.
“From heart to head a lay, from head to heart the way…”
Now imagine that the lens of the camera captures a magical light in soft blues and misty greens and gold. A light that seems to have no cause in physical reality. What would you do? If you were open to the possibility of deeper realities, perhaps you would wish to explore this strange phenomenon… something two people came to know as ‘sacred chromatography’.
As the veils thin and waver, time shifts and the present is peopled with shadowy figures of the past, weaving their tales through a quest for understanding and opening wide the doors of perception…
Between Rosemarkie and Fortrose, on the shores of the Black Isle, north of Inverness, there is a promontory named Channonry Point. It projects out into the Moray Firth in such a way that the local population of some sixty bottlenose dolphins take delight in swimming in the rapid tidal races just off its rocky shore.
We had just missed them (wrong state of the tide) when I spotted the notice board describing Pale Kenneth…. Suddenly there was something more interesting than the disappointment of missing the bottlenoses.
His name was Coinneach Odhar which means ‘Pale Kenneth’. But the real meaning is ‘sallow’, an older and more historically charged description of a ‘fey’ person. Coinneach Odhar, then, is Kenneth the Sallow.
Kenneth was a 17th century seer from the Hebridean island of Lewis who came to work at Brahan (Bra’an) Castle near Dingwall, about ten miles from where the dolphins swim though the tidal races at Channonary Point.
He is portrayed in a slightly comic fashion on the information board, but, having looked into this, I suspect this carries some cultural sarcasm…
The ‘seer’, literally ‘see-er’ had possession of a ‘second sight’ – whereby the holder could see two worlds at once; the normal and the inner, more supernatural. The second sight was viewed in Scottish history as more of a curse than a blessing.
Local legends say that Kenneth the Sallow’s mother was responsible for his second sight. She was passing through a graveyard one night when the ghost of a Danish princess appeared before her, intent on returning to her grave. Kenneth’s mother demanded that, in return for her free passage, she should pay her a tribute. She asked that her son be given the magical sight. Later that day, Kenneth the Sallow found a small stone with a hole in – through which he would look and see the ‘second world’.
“Ah, take patience with the lad for he has the Sight and it is a terrible affliction.”
Exercising this ability, the man known by then as the Brahan Seer, or Coinneach Odhar saw visions that came unbidden by day or night. His prophesies were viewed as impressive and accurate, and his fame spread… Some of these prophesies are still quoted to this day
The Brahan estate, where Kenneth worked, was the seat of the Seaforth chieftains, from somewhere around 1675. These became powerful families with great authority and wealth.
Some of Kenneth’s prophetic visions that came true in the years following his death include the Battle of Culloden (1745), which he uttered at the site, and his words were recorded. “Oh! Drumossie, thy bleak moor shall, ere many generations have passed away, be stained with the best blood of the Highlands. Glad am I that I will not see the day, for it will be a fearful period; heads will be lopped off by the score, and no mercy shall be shown or quarter given on either side.”
Kenneth the Sallow’s other prophesies include:
⁃ The joining of the lochs in the Great Glen. This was accomplished by the construction of the Caledonian Canal in the 19th Century.
⁃ He talked of great black, bridleless horses, belching fire and steam, drawing lines of carriages through the glens. More than 200 years later, railways were built through the Highlands.
⁃ North Sea oil was foretold : “A black rain will bring riches to Aberdeen”
⁃ He even told of the day when Scotland would again have its own parliament. He said this would come when men could walk ‘dry shod’ from England to France. The opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994 was followed by the opening of the first Scottish Parliament since 1707
⁃ He said that “Streams of fire and water would run beneath the streets of Inverness and into every house… Gas and water pipes were laid in the 19th century.
⁃ Pointing to a field far from seashore, loch or river, he said that a ship would anchor there one day. “A village with four churches will get another spire,” said Coinneach, “and a ship will come from the sky and moor at it.” This happened in 1932 when an airship made an emergency landing and was tied up to the spire of the new church.
⁃ “The sheep shall eat the men” During the Highland Clearances, families were driven from the Highlands by the landowners and the land they farmed was given over to the grazing of sheep.
At the height of his fame and powers, Odhar made a fateful prediction which would ultimately cost him his life. Isabella, wife of the Earl of Seaforth, asked for his advice. It appears she wanted assurances of the true nature of her husband’s visit to Paris. Sallow Kenneth reassured her that the Earl was in good health but would not be drawn further.
The enraged Countess Isabella demanded that he tell her everything or she would have him killed. Kenneth said that her husband was with another woman, fairer than herself, and then he foretold the end of the Seaforth line, with the last heir being deaf and dumb…
The truth is written in Scotland’s history.
Francis Humberston Mackenzie, deaf and dumb from scarlet fever as a child, inherited the title in 1783. He had four children who died prematurely.The line, indeed, came to an end.
Countess Isabella was so incensed by this, she had Kenneth the Sallow seized and thrown head-first into a barrel of boiling tar.
But the actual history may have been different, though the legend of Sallow Kenneth is a firm part of Scotlands traditions. There is no record of a Coinneach Odhar ever having existed in the Highlands during the the 17th century.
But there is in the 16th century…
Parliamentary records from 1577 show that two writs were issued for the arrest of a ‘principle enchanter’ known as Coinneach Odhar. He was reputedly a gypsy known to supply poison. His skills were purchased by a Catherine Ross, who sought to remove the rivals to the inheritance she wanted for her sons. It was said she had already paid for the skills of over twenty witches, each of whom had each failed.
The records show that many of the witches were caught and burnt – Scotland had a terrible reputation for witchcraft, something that terrified many of its kings. What happened to Coinneach remains a mystery. If he was caught it is likely that he too would have been burnt, which reflects the later legend that he was killed in a spiked tar barrel.
Was this legend transplanted a hundred years into the future?
But what is the link with the lighthouse and the dolphins at Chanonry Point, near Fortrose, the place where our story began?
There is a stone slab at Chanonry Point that is said to mark the spot where Sallow Kenneth died. The inscription reads: “This stone commemorates the legend of Coinneach Odhar better known as the BRAHAN SEER – Many of his prophesies were fulfilled and tradition holds that his untimely death by burning in tar followed his final prophecy of the doom of the House of Seaforth.”
Were these two different people or the same? Perhaps the 16th century Coinneach was the grandfather of the Brahan Seer?
Whatever the truth, these legends, and the prophesies they bear, are set as stone in Scottish lore. One prophesy carries particular resonance.
An important Pictish stone, the Eagle Stone, stands in Strathpeffer, Ross-shire. The Seer predicted that if the stone fell down three times, then Loch Ussie would flood the valley below so that ships could sail to Strathpeffer.
The stone has fallen down twice: apparently it is now set in concrete, indicating that the legend of Sallow Kenneth continues to hold sway in these parts…