This will be a long one so strap yourself in.
The last few days have been quite an adventure. What kind of a holiday would it be without glitches? My computer ran out of juice, my adapter is fried, and I broke the underwire on my bra all in the last 3 days! Ha. Needless to say, there will be no pics of my own taking in this entry.
Since last I wrote, I’ve basically put in 3 full days of travel by ferry-bus-ferry-train-bus-ferry to get from Iona to the island of Lewis in the northwest of Scotland. These bunch of islands I am now on make up the Outer Hebriddes. Iona and Mull are in the Inner Hebriddes. Although the Scottish Citylink Buses are cheaper and faster, I decided to take Scotrail from Oban to Fort William. The train ride is breathtaking with views you simply don’t get on a bus. They’ve cut the rail lines into mountain faces and they go over rivers in some cases taking passengers through the wilderness of the Western Highlands. On that ride, I saw stag (Scottish antlered deer), horses, sheep, eagles, and hairy coos (native Highland cows).
I’d never seen a stag before. Their presence, stature, and agility are remarkable. They are truly noble animals and I can see why so many Celtic shamans have used their antlers to call forth their medicine or ‘wisdom’ over the centuries. I’ve been reading “Fire in the Head: Shamanism and the Celtic Spirit” by Tom Cowan. This book was suggested to me by my Scottish friend, Stewart. I’ve just finished reading about the function of a shaman and pagan rituals and how these were demonized by Christianity in order to bring people on board. For example, the pagan Horned God who represented wisdom, the hunt, and fertility was turned into the devil by Christian officials as a way to dissuade people from doing ceremony and honouring him. So Satan is often pictured with horns but the Horned God is not evil. Without the Horned God, the people go hungry and new life is not created. Tom Cowan says:
“As so often happens, strangers to a culture are blinded by their own values and assumptions and fail to appreciate what the native population holds dear. It is easy to destroy what we either misunderstand or do not understand.”
Tom talks about nature as being ‘ensouled’- a lovely word meaning that it is alive, has its own consciousness, and is able to give humans counsel if we ask. Shamans in all traditions know this and communicate with the natural world through ceremony, singing, drumming, dancing, and journeying- to name a few. Tom Cowan quotes a Huichol shaman from Mexico named Matsuwa:
“Many people are so caught up in their own little lives that they do not send up their love to the sun, out to the ocean, and into the earth. Doing ceremony to honour the elements brings life force into us; it keeps our hearts sweet with Divine influence.”
Indeed, without the elements, humans would not be able to survive. There is a lot to be grateful for in nature. Tom goes on to say:
“We have lost the ability to even imagine a culture that lives by the belief that human consciousness can participate in the natural world and that the natural world responds to the will of human consciousness…This is the ordinary consciousness of the shaman…[he/she] sees and understands a different reality than we do today.”
So I guess it is safe to say that the shamanic portion of my trip has started…
When I arrived in Fort William after an 8 hour travel day, I was ready to eat and go to bed. Little did I know that this town is built on a hill and to get to my hostel, I had to trek upwards in all my gear and in my long underwear! Needless to say, I was hot and sweaty when I got to the top and thankful it wasn’t raining. Because of nearby Ben Nevis (Scotland’s highest peak), this town gets the most rainfall of anywhere in the country. The hostel was smelly and trun by testosterone ridden guys. I am glad I only stayed overnight. Still, the boys were friendly enough and gave me information on how to get to Inverness on bus the following day. Matt even saved me 10 quid.
Inverness is a lovely city in the center of the Highlands. I loved staring out the window at the montains covered in healther that will be blooming in a few weeks turning those hills all sorts of pink, purple, and white hues. There were lots of bogs we drove past as well as the Guiness-beer coloured water of th rivers that flow out of them. I wish I had more time in Inverness but it is not meant to be this time. Besides, I was here a decade ago- ended up singing Fever with a bunch of girls to the patrons at the bar- so it is fair to say we made our mark there!
By yesterday evening, I was in the charming little fishing village of Ullapool. I felt immediately at home and I realized as I took pictures that it reminded me of the fishing villages in Portugal that I’d seen as a 16 year old and fallen in love with. Ullapool is rustic and beautiful. I spent quite a lot of time wandering the beach and watching the ever-changing light on the hills as the clouds rolled past and bits of sunshine peeked through. I had a room to myself that night, which was lovely after the previous night’s bustling hostel.
I am spending my birthday in the city of Stornoway on Lewis after a 3 hour ferry ride from Ullapool this morning. I have happily explored the city and am now heading back to my hostel to cook myself a birthday dinner. Thanks Janine for your lovely card. It was nice to have something to open this morning. I was obedient and waited just as you asked. It was hard though! Happy Birthday to my cousin, Ella who shares the same birth DAY as me.