As the sun slowly descended below the peaks of the Isle of Rum the land enters into the gloaming. At this point of the wheel of the year, just passed Beltane and approaching summer solstice, twilight in these north western latitudes of Scotland lasts for many hours after the sun goes down.
Twilight paints the land in her true colors for at this time we leave everyday reality behind and shift into this lingering time which is not quite day and not quite night. As we shift between the worlds the mountains and hills take on their magical, mythic forms.
Scotland’s ancient spirituality was born out of this time and on the Hebridean island of Eigg the magic of twilight is tangible. I am most happy in these thin places, places where ordinary reality and the other world overlap. Having grown up in Scotland but with more Irish family than Scottish I’ve always felt a between-ness, not quite belonging here or there – an in between person and twilight has always been my most favorite time of day.
The Cailleach is the oldest deity of Scotland, she is older than the very hills. To find her you need to search under layers of myth, her stories have been rewritten and embellished often to tell very different stories. One evening after the sun had set on Eigg I headed down to visit Sidhean na Cailleach (the Hill of the Cailleach). As humans we can often assume we are always welcome in these sacred places but on that evening as I headed over the sheep seemed very skittish and were all running this way and that. I came too near some geese that were also making a racket.
There was a slight feeling that obviously it was me that was upsetting them but I also read that I wasn’t quite so welcome, so I took the hint and decided not to visit where I wasn’t welcome. Instead I found another old one who let me sit by here as we enjoyed the magic of the twilight.
On walking on the Singing Sands beach whose sands when dry, crunch underfoot, I came across a cliff face wall with a wonderful eye hole. This is the eye of the Cailleach who is often described as having a great third eye in the center of her forehead. Looking through the eye here worn away by wind and water allows us the sight of the hag – to see through the lies and injustices this world carries out. To see through the Cailleach’s eye is to see things as they really are!
Back home (near Loch Lomond) there are many supernatural tales throughout Scotland. The small village of Aberfoyle has a wonderful tale of the Reverend Robert Kirk who was taken away by the faries.
The tree which provided the portal to the realm of fairy holds many clooties, strips of cloth and items petitioning the fairies for a wish.
Throughout May the woods are carpeted with bluebells which are also called fairy bells.
On coming home from Eigg I sought out the wild places. It’s in these high places our wild selves naturally come alive. It seems the goal of our modern world to dumb us down with pills and consumption and keep us busy in petty rivalry and yet in wild places our wild self comes alive as our intuition is heightened, our senses awake and often we sense the knowing that the land is sacred and every living thing is interconnected.
On one climb which took me high above Loch Lomond I found myself questioning my pilgrimage of searching for the old ones. I had forgotten how steep the climb was as although it was tough going up it was even tougher (on knees) on the descent down. It was a great day in which you encounter lots of weather in just a few hours – there was sun, rain, hail and then back to sun again. As my knees protested at the steepness in descending, which is far harsher on the knees than climbing up I questioned what the heck I was doing in searching for these old ones. Just because I’m in Scotland I was doubting coming any closer to this ancient deer goddess – and just as I had formed the question I looked down and there in front of me in the middle of the path was an antler!