…Cara: If we can’t trust the written word what can we trust?
Bugs settles at the West and Cara at the East.
Bugs: Vertical Polarity!
OL SONUF VAORSAGI GOHO IADA BALTA.
ELEXARPEH COMANANU TABITOM. ZODAKARA,
EKA ZODAKARE OD ZODAMERANU. ODO KIKLE
QAA PIAP PIAMOEL OD VAOAN.
Bugs: (Addressing the Companions) Don’t say what this is but if anyone does know what it is please raise your hands. (If any hands are raised to each of those who raised their hands) – Just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Do you know what it means? (if so) – Please don’t take part in the next bit. So, everyone else. Those of you who feel that this piece holds power, raise your hands. (If any hands are raised) Would anyone like to expand on that? Would anyone like to categorise how that made them feel. In a general way was that feeling Good or Bad? We’ll come back to this…
Cara: But first…
Cara walks to the central altar and removes the cover from the Top Hat and Ears, lifting out the rabbit ears in time honoured fashion they are revealed to be part of two rabbit masks…
Bugs: For those with ears to hear…
Bugs walks to the central altar. Cara hands one of the rabbit masks to Bugs (Black) and keeping the other for herself (White) they both don them.
Cara (now wearing a white rabbit mask) … A story about rabbits…
Bugs:(now wearing a black rabbit mask) … ‘What’s up Doc!’
Bugs explains that the cards have two inscriptions, one on either side but that the companions must not turn the cards over to read the second inscription until directed to do so by the utterance of the ‘Trigger’ word- ‘Carrots’ as Cara hands out the cards. After handing out the cards Cara returns to the central altar. Bugs and Cara circle the altar and then Bugs retreats to the east, while Cara retreats to the west.
TO EACH READ, IN TURN, WHILE CIRCLING…
Bugs… The primroses were over…
The May sunset was red in clouds, and there was still half an hour to twilight.
The dry slope was dotted with rabbits…
Here and there one sat upright on an ant-heap and looked about:
nose to the wind.
The blackbird, singing undisturbed on the outskirts of the wood, gave lie to their caution.
There was nothing to alarm the peace of the warren.
Cara… At the top of the bank where the blackbird sang was a group of holes hidden by brambles.
In the green half-light, at the mouth of one of these holes, sat two rabbits side by side.
The larger of the two came out of the hole, slipped along the bank, hopped down into the ditch and then ambled up into the field…
A few moments later the smaller rabbit followed.
The first rabbit stopped in a sunny patch and scratched an ear with rapid movements of a hind-leg.
He looked as though he knew how to take care of himself.
There was a shrewd, buoyant air about him as he sat up, looked round and rubbed both front paws over his nose.
Once satisfied that all was well he laid back his ears and set to work on the grass.
His companion seemed less at ease.
He was small, with wide eyes and a way of raising and turning his head which suggested a sort of ceaseless nervous tension.
His nose moved continually and when a bumble-bee flew, humming, to a thistle bloom behind him he jumped and spun round with a start…
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…
I never really got contentment. “Are you happy?” I once asked a friend. “No, but I am content,” was his reply. To me, it wasn’t enough. It seemed like accepting some kind of mediocrity. I was young then and life was lived in all the vivid hues of passion. Emotion ran sky high or hit the depths… the times in between were bland, a mere waiting for the next rise and fall of the rollercoaster.
Emotions, back then, were all sharp-edged, like a cubist painting… and like such works, always disassembling the object of them to examine them from every angle. Some of the edges were so sharp you would bleed if you touched them… but you were alive. There were no in-between days of grey and dun.
A little older and the days took on a greater realism. The consequences of action and reaction were more direct as the responsibilities of adulthood were revealed in stark detail. Like looking in the mirror, these days reflected back at you only what you projected into them. The colours were still sharp; the detail and emotion clear… all the edges well-defined. A delineated life, with specific duties… niches for the fragmented self that is required by the roles demanded by the varied aspects of a society that likes to label everything.
But even that changed, morphing into abstraction where the lines and stark hues threw everything into question and the secure assumptions of youth that had flown direct as arrows suddenly seemed to realise that infinity is not a straight line. Stubbornly held beliefs were taken out of the strongbox and held up to the Light. Some were found to be tarnished, others broken, some simply too outmoded to be of any pertinent use. Yet there is a freedom in that de-cluttering of heart and mind, a simplicity that leaves much open to interpretation and, like a gallery, the fewer you hold on to, the more you can begin to appreciate what remains in all its glory.
These days I have a preference for a more Impressionistic style. I like my edges softer, the detail less focussed. I like to be able to stand back and lose myself in the moment in order to see a bigger picture, full of suggestions and possibilities half-glimpsed; open to the imagination and the emotional whispering of the heart-centred soul. There is something about this time that both softens and excites. I find that I like the lack of definition, the gaps only my heart and mind can fill. Instead of wondering about the name of the artist, I ask instead what message they were trying to convey.
And finally, I know contentment. It is not that there is nothing I could wish had been different. Nor is it that there is no looking back in the knowledge that I could have done things differently… for better or worse… Yet there is an acceptance that everything has its purpose. Like the myriad dots of a pointillist painting, each speck of experience may seem out of place when looked at too closely in time and emotion, yet stand back and the colours of the days blend and merge into something beautiful, understandable and whole, where every scrap of colour is in the perfect place.
There is a new beauty… and it is far from the mediocrity of my youthful disdain. The colours of this new world are deep and rich, their contrasts sing against each other, dark illuminating light. I can see that both are needful and their harmony beautiful. The detail fades in importance; the whole is where the story lies, waiting for our eyes to read it on a wider canvas than the frantic myopia of youth can encompass. The frame of my days holds a beauty only the heart can see and its starry skies are streaked by the fingertips of the creator.
It is snowing again as I write. Have you ever watched a snowstorm and wondered just how many snowflakes were falling? Or how many had ever fallen? A million snowflakes, apparently, will only cover a patch two feet square by ten inches deep. A quarter of the landmass of the planet gets snow every year and how many winters have come and gone since the first snowflake fell? The mind boggles at the sheer impossibility of the number.
Yet, if one could ignore space and time and be everywhere and every-when at once it would, theoretically at least, be possible to count them. Even taking all future snowfalls for the projected lifetime of our planet into consideration, it would be a finite number. There was, once upon a time, a very first snowflake to fall. There will be a last. There would come a point where there were no more snowflakes to count.
Mind boggling as the concept is, the magnitude of that number is probably as close to the idea of infinity as our normal human thoughts can grasp. Yet it is so far short of an infinite number! Scientists calculate that there could be as many as four and a half billion planets similar to earth in the Milky Way galaxy. Each one of those with its own possibility of snowflakes. And it is thought that there are hundreds of billions of other galaxies in the universe. Yet are we sure that there is only one universe? Quantum physicists don’t seem to think so…
Suddenly our infinity of snowflakes seems a little puny compared to the possibilities that exist in this wider reality we but dimly perceive.
We in the UK may consider we get a lot of snow. On the whole, it isn’t a vast amount. A couple of inches can be considered ‘a lot’ in southern counties. The north gets more as a rule. We do have the occasional bad winter, and higher ground is harder hit. But I’ve been to places in Europe where snow meant that roads were cut through it with fifteen foot banks of the stuff on either side. Yet a friend in Malta, not so very far away, has never seen a snowfall.
It is all relative.
We think in terms of personal experience, taking into account, perhaps, what we know from the experience of others. While we are aware of these other realities… such as snowless countries or the ones that get twenty times the volume we do… we behave almost as though we don’t truly believe it. We look out of the window and see a foot of snow as either a wonderland or the end of the world… depending on whether we are going out to play or have to brave the roads. We react to what is in front of our eyes, not what the other possibilities may be. Our survival mechanisms are designed that way perhaps, taking in and processing what needs to be dealt with in the waking world of the moment.
Yet we are also designed in such a way that we can at least conceive of those greater realities. Curiosity, imagination, thoughts, hopes and dreams… through these we touch a different reality every day that has its own inner life for us. These hidden realms may occasionally be populated by apparent impossibilities and within them we may be able to transcend the limitations of physics and experience. We may question the accuracy of the reflected world within this sphere, but we do not doubt the reality of mind and imagination. Through it we access concepts and abstractions that surpass the limiting bounds of physical existence. We create and innovate and can comprehend the mind-boggling at a level and in ways we cannot in ‘real life’.
We cannot count every snowflake ever to fall, but imagination gives us an inner feeling for the infinite. It is so far outside the bounds of direct experience that we may never truly understand it. Maybe we do not need to. But we are able to get a personal picture that represents it for us, whether we look at the ocean from the point of view of a single drop, or see ourselves a pinprick in the vast sea of interstellar space. The mind allows us to form an image, a representation that allows us to ‘know’ at a very intimate level. After all, we live within the matrix of infinity and are intimately woven with it.
For many, the idea of the infinite is inextricably linked with that of divinity. Here too imagination allows us to form a personal image with its attendant emotions, regardless of the tradition in which we were raised or the path we have chosen. The image we have will be unique, like a snowflake, whether we have chosen to view it with faith, belief or dismissal. Divinity is as impossible to grasp in Its entirety as the idea of the infinite within the mind of the everyday world. Maybe we do not need to. If we accept Its existence in any form, then here too we live within It.
A single snowflake is made by hundreds of individual ice crystals coming together and there are so many different ways in which they can arrange themselves that it is said that no two are alike. Statistically, who knows whether or not it is true? From the billions that have fallen or are yet to fall we have examined, perhaps, a few thousand. It doesn’t really matter. Their delicate beauty is transient and can be destroyed by a breath, transformed back into the element from which it came, not lost, but returning to earth to begin the cycle again.
I wonder sometimes if our thoughts and dreams are not the same, fragile and ephemeral as they are, easily damaged or dissolved by the wrong touch. Perhaps they are not lost altogether but return to their component parts, waiting for us to bring them together again in a design more beautiful than the last.
Yes, I know I have a weirdly wired mind, my sons tell me so frequently….
I stood outside my son’s bedroom, bundled up against the cold that was dropping a few meagre snowflakes on the morning. Camera in hand, I was snapping away happily when I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the window. The double glazing caught a pair of misaligned reflections, within which was caught yet another reflection from the infinity mirror on the far wall. You could see both the garden outside and the inside of the bedroom too; the one indistinguishable from the other to the eye that caught only the two-dimensional image on the glass.
At first glance, the eye saw what the lens sees, a single flat image. It took a few moments for the mind, filled with its knowledge and experience of the three-dimensional world, to begin to tease apart the various overlapping images and make sense of what they eye was seeing. I was conscious of the process and couldn’t help but wonder what someone from a different dimension would make of it. A two-dimensional being would be quite happy with the initial impression. Except that a two-dimensional being wouldn’t be able to distance themselves from the image in order to see it at all…they would, of necessity, be part of it, just as I am part of this image and reality.
What if there was a being that moved through more dimensions that we do? Would our three-dimensional image of the world look just as flat to it as the image on the pane of glass did to me?
Do we really live just within three dimensions though, when time has been posited as a fourth? The softly falling snowflakes were a visual representation of time as I watched them move through space from one place to another. And as I was in those dimensions, watching them, where was the ‘I’ that was able to watch? It cannot be within those nominal four dimensions, for if it were, it would be unable to separate itself from the image in order to observe it.
After proving, to my own satisfaction at least, the necessary existence of the fifth dimension, things got more complicated. While holding a conversation about cats with the son dangling out of his window, I wondered about the fact that the observing consciousness can always observe itself in the process known as infinite regress. Even in that moment, I was aware of the layers of my own consciousness as I chatted about mundane ideas while exploring an inner vision of infinity. And I wondered about the implications of that. I wondered too whether time was simply space observing itself… and if you view space as consciousness, which is far from a new idea, that opens up some intriguing and mind-boggling lines of thought.
While all this was going on, I was looking at the reflections in and through the window. In itself, it was a perfect illustration of both the distorted perception of reality we may have and the many layers it holds. Multiple reflections came together as one image. It is only my experience of those layers of reality that allow me to distinguish between bedroom and garden, inside and outside, mirror, glass and lens. It is only that experience that lets me know what is the image and what is the object.
Without such experience, my mind could not tease apart the various layers as it would not know where to begin. If I had never seen the world before, never learned the rules of its reality, what would I make of it?
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio…” We dismiss such a lot of things simply because they are so far outside our range of experience that we cannot perceive them. If we did see them, we may not recognise them because we don’t know what we are looking at. We have no frame of reference. Even with that simple snapshot of the reflections it is difficult to make out the reality if you don’t know what you are seeing. Is one arm really that much shorter than the other…or is it a trick of perspective? Am I wearing a printed skirt, or is it the bedspread through the glass? Even I can’t guarantee what you will see… and I was there.
Reality goes far beyond what our physical senses can show us. I look out of my window and see the garden next door. Except I don’t. What see in reality is only the fence. Memory fills in the gaps of perception. I know there is a garden beyond the fence. In truth, I know nothing. A sinkhole could have opened in the night and swallowed the garden. The neighbours could have released a pet crocodile onto the lawn. There could be anything beyond the fence. But I do not question my version of reality because it is the vision of my own experience. The oddest thing is that even being aware of how many of the gaps I am filling in by assumption and memory, it changes nothing… except my openness to possibility.
It makes me wonder just how much we do miss or dismiss, both in our dealings with each other and in our observation of reality, simply because we have bounded our acceptance and perception with a wall of experience.