Sunday, July 1, 2007

A Random Thread - Bagpipes in the Woods


Think of someone you parted from. Parted from not well. In anger or disappointment.
Think of your last mental photograph of that person. Now imagine one of the best days you ever spent together. Pull it up, upload it, change the page, and there it is, a snapshot in your memory album. Find another one - one of those best days. Re-weave the story.

It’s one of those days, ambrosia, green, the green breath of the trees, the green pulse of the river flowing by me as I ride my bicycle, green, potent, living, the green heart of the Earth beating its rhythm of Summer.

Spiderwoman threw me a random thread that pierced my heart in the midst of all this Beauty, as I rode my bike by the river. And suddenly a whole passage of my life streamed open before me, a thread, a ribbon, a summer that passed..........a story, and a little bit about places and times that “speak to the earth”.

Bagpipes in the woods.

Ok, bagpipes may not do it for everyone.

But the sound of bagpipes well played, ebbing and keening and calling from somewhere in the trees, can bring forth the flavor, the essence, the sounds of another time, and another mind. Not just Scotland (although Scotland and its history is fascinating enough), but a time much farther back, a “pagan” time of standing stones that marked the starry heavens and solstices with amazing accuracy, and power places, “Temanos” places, where people went, following the circular logic of nature, to petition the gods, to participate in the great fertility, to bury their dead to be reborn in the great tomb that was also a womb, to seek vision - to, in effect, speak to the Earth. Is it not possible to think of the artifacts of the ancients, which we so love without understanding at all, as such?

“No peasants were these, but calm and cunning wizards,
Tracing the Dragon Lines, and Stellar Gravities,

Of Nuada, and Shining Lugh of the Garden,
And the shadow lit, mare-faced, owl-faced, cat-faced Queen
Who whistles and whirls her hounds and ravens……….
Older yet and lovelier far, this Mystery,
And I will not forget.”1

Twenty years ago I spent my gypsy summers at the Renaissance Faire in New York, and I was in love with Kerry McNeil, who came from Glencoe, Scotland, and played the bagpipes with such feeling you had to dance, or follow him like the Pied Piper, wondering where he would lead you, or sometimes, you had to cry.

Kerry was a true master of his art. By master, I mean his instrument had become a part of his body, his voice, his larynx, it vibrated and beat and sang and sourced right out of his heart. In some ways, it was his true voice, because in other ways Kerry was unable to speak. Things he couldn't say to me, to himself, to the world he felt like an anachronism in..........all these things and more were eloquent and came to vivid life when he played the pipes.

Bagpipes were used, of course, to herald soldiers marching to battle, to scare the hell out of their opponents no doubt. Their keening wail can be the voice of pure lamentation as well, wailing and calling for lost comrades. Or exhaultant celebrations, an exuberant dance of weddings and the springtime of life.

But what many do not know is that bagpipes, with their unique deep vibration, are a very ancient instrument that predates the Church in Great Britain, an instrument that predates the invasions of the Danes, Saxons, Romans, and probably even the Celts. Capable of striking a resonance with the heart, they have been used to open the "heart chakra", and hence, to clear, sanctify, and invoke in ritual or prayer. Like Tibetan bowls, or chanting the Ohm, bagpipes can change consciousness. Just as drumming together is a means to weave synergy, the roots of the bagpipe are ceremonial, meant to create resonance between tribal members at the level of the heart.

Above the beautiful Fairgrounds, where I was blessed to spend every summer for 7 years, was a rather steep hill. At the top of the hill, on granite shelf, was an ancient circle of stones. Huge stones, a few out of alignment, probably because of the passage of time, and in the center of this circle, a large stone with much white quartz in it and a few crystalline veins. New England and New York have many, many such places that mark ceremonial centers. Or perhaps places with particular energies, or perhaps in dedication to the “spirit of place”, the powers living there. 2

At any rate, a long time ago people came there, laid the stones, and prayed. We “Rennies” came there as well, and called the place “Spirit Mountain” because of its heightened energies, mystery, and the stories of strange experiences people had there. I myself spent a night on “Spirit Mountain”, and remember waking in the night to see the rocks glowing purple, and light illuminating some of the stones. Judith, who camped with me, went to pray to find a mate. Come to think of it, she did get married about a year later.

I remember being with a group that summer who were making a blessing for the Faire on opening day. Kerry walked around and around us with his pipe, making a kind of vibrational “container” for us to generate energy. I also remember several times, that summer, distinctly hearing the sound of bagpipes in places where they could not possibly be. I began to think, not without justification, it was Kerry’s way of greeting me.

I think I'll always see Kerry standing there in his kilt - always a lonely figure, at the end of the day, talking to the trees and reverently bidding the sun goodnight with his music - whenever I hear bagpipes.

I found a poem I wrote for him, after, almost, the last time I saw him. I never showed it to him. But it’s not a bad poem, and I feel like copying it here. A thread, a bright summer, a heart opening to the beauty of it all, and I thank Kerry for the memory, wherever he may be.


The road twists before me
a white line, a black stream:
Hello and Goodbye
live in the same house

On a whim, I stop for coffee
in Scotland, Pa.
and write in my journal:

"Kiss the joy as it flies
and live in eternity's sunrise"

Thank you, William Blake,
For small comfort.

I am driving west now
where the sun before me
continues to set.

A painting I once saw comes to mind
two hands lying, side by side,
not touching
a kind of moving electricity
holding them
and apart

from somewhere in the area of my chest
a secret electricity expands behind me
like a ribbon in the wind,
a silver cord
crossing the Pokanos,
the Catskills,
Crossing mountains,
oceans, lifetimes.

1 Misc. quotes from “5 Denials on Merlin’s Grave”, by Robin Williamson. Who, in fact, Kerry introduced me to, and I have treasured every word from the Bard’s mouth ever since.

2 for information, I recommend looking up “America’s Stonehenge”. Or America B.C. by Barry Fell, or Manitou, by Mavor and Dix. Also, the New England Archeological Research Association (NEARA). Also, anything by Sig Lonegren, formerly of Goddard College, on the geomantic sites of New England.

For that matter, I recommend many books from the 1980’s that addressed earth energies, geomancy, Gaianism, and “spirit of place”. Their message is more important than ever, and it is disturbing to me that such books are not to be seen much anymore. Among them: EARTHMIND by Deveraux, Steele, and Kubrin. EARTH MEMORY, by Paul Deveraux. SACRED PLACES, by James Swan, and DIALOGUES WITH THE LIVING EARTH by James and Roberta Swan.

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