T h e   L i g h t   o f   A l b a

A retreat in the wide and breathtaking landscape of Scotland with its stunning mountains, mysterious lochs, old pine woods, and roaring waterfalls. Where ancient oaks and yews call us for a few days of wandering, losing all sense of time and space and slowing down. We ventured deep into the land of what the Romans called the ‘Caledonians’, a tribe of wild Picts who seemed to be unconquerable. To be initiated on the mighty Sídh Chailleann, to be crowned in Gleann Líomhann, to be rooted in the past by the Fortingall yew, to be cloaked by the Birnam oak, to be washed clear by the Hermitage waterfall and inspired by the salmon's persistence to return home.

Een retraite in het weidse en adembenemende lanschap van Schotland, met haar ontzagwekkende bergen, mysterieuze meren, oude dennenbossen en daverende watervallen. Eeuwenoude eiken en taxussen nodigen ons uit om voor enkele dagen los van tijd en ruimte te verdwalen, te vertragen. We trokken diep in het land van wat de Romeinen de 'Caledoniërs' noemden, een stam van wilde Picten die onoverwinnelijk leken. Om te worden ingewijd op de machtige Sídhe Chaillean, gekroond in Gleann Líomhann, geworteld in het verleden door de taxus van Fortingall, ommanteld door de Birnam eik, schoongespoeld door de Hermitage waterval en geïnspireerd door de volharding van de zalm om terug te keren naar zijn oorsprong.

Led by Eva De Groote, Eva Peeters and Helen McGinn
Photos & texts by Eva Peeters
Written impression 'Barmhartige Bergen' by Eva De Groote in Flemish on www.evadegroote.be

The Story of Myrddin Wyllt

My name is Myrddin. But you will know me as Merlin. I am high king of South Wales, well-respected and honoured by my people. For I am a righteous king, with a deep love not only for my people but for all living beings in my kingdom.

I am also a prophet. As long as I have known, I have been able to cross the boundaries to the otherworld. I saw visions and gained wisdom from creatures and beings both wondrous and plain. Sometimes I sit with an ant who carefully answers my deepest questions. On other occasions I am greeted by an army of dark spirits with long, black hair covering their eyes and mouths. All shouting at once so I have to concentrate on capturing as many words as possible. It takes me days, even weeks afterwards to write down every word I can recall.

Many a chieftain come to me for my prophecies. Many a time have I been able to advise them wisely based on what I had seen and learned on the other side of the veil. And many a time did they proudly ignore my advice to find nothing but disaster awaiting their wretched souls. How men can be so headstrong and foolish! Their minds made up long in advance, they still come to seek my advice, only to lay it beside them when it doesn’t suit their ambitions. Which it seldom does. Thus fulfilling my prophecy, the often horrible visions I tried to convey to them - to no avail.

I am tired. I am worn out. My bruised soul can take no more of these atrocities - no more wars, bloody swords and severed bodies. No more weeping children and burning villages. No more envy and gold rush. I can’t sleep nor find any rest among my kin. A constant rushing of blood tortures my ears as if I’m standing under a waterfall of tears. All joy has leaked out of me and I weep myself asleep. O great goddess, mother of the earth, I can take no more.

And so I have left my castle this morning. Early, when the land was still covered with thick mists and the deer were quietly grazing the meadow on the edge of the woods. I have left for good. I’m heading north, to return to your womb, Cailleach, and let myself be cradled by your arms covered in soft wolfskin. To hear your song from the mouths of a thousand birds right before sunrise. To feel the joyous rays of sunlight caressing my skin and be washed by showers of mild autumn rain. I’m leaving this place of sorrow and woe, of greed and might, for it cannot be my fate to be among fools and suffering while there is such bliss to be found elsewhere.

A shadow dances in the woods. High shrills pierce through the damp air – excitement, pure joy. I realize it is my own shadow, they are my own shrills. I am dancing around wildly, rolling over the musky forest floor, humming with the bees, tasting roots and leaves. I have long forgotten my name. But sometimes I catch whispers from far-away villages, fragments of sentences and returning names like Myrddin Wyllt.
And it is forgotten again.
For I am one with the earth. I am immersed in nature. When a wolf howls, it is me who is howling. When birds sing, it is me who is singing. And the soft moss under your feet, is my skin you are feeling. You might see before you a man with a stiff grey beard and a coat of goatskin. But this is merely a body, a vehicle. It is not me. I am not here. I am everywhere. I don’t see you, standing before me. I am you. I am the woods and the sun and the moon. I am the wind and the flowers and the fire destroying it all. I am a dead deer, rotting away between the rocks. And happy for it, happy! Now leave me be. Don’t speak to me of the world I was once part of, I have nothing to say to you. I am well. This is where I belong.

I lie shivering under my many coats. In the darkest of caves. As close as I could be to the warmth of the great goddess. I am wailing, begging for her to put her arms around me and protect me from this cold. This loneliness. And the few memories of my loved ones that have been haunting me of late. But the Cailleach is no longer benign and has turned her harsh winter face on me. It says: ‘There is a time for warmth and a time for cold, a time for solitude and a time for company, a time for stillness and a time for action. I cannot forever be the loving young mother, holding her child to her breast. Every season requires another one of my faces. I will now wipe clean every slate; crushing, flooding, burning - no compassion! We are all subject to the cycle of life, of seasons, of tides. One cannot be without the other. Plant your roots deep into the earth, and you will rise from any storm, from any season.’
Her cold breath withdraws. Reluctantly I get up. One foot leads the other.

And so I am returning to my people. My time in the woods has come to an end. I will take up my role on this earth, in this era, as Merlin, the prophet, the king. But never again will I lose my way back to the woods, to honour the goddess and receive the blessing of her cleansing fire and purifying water. I will rule with my two feet rooted in the earth’s wisdom.
I am Merlin of the Woods, and I greet you.