Voyages from I to Thou.

Location: Skellig Michel, Ireland

Friday, January 28, 2005

Oran's 3 days and nights

Their Kingdom is in the North, under the Fir-Chlisneach, the Dancing Men, as the Hebrideans call the polar aurora. They are always young there. Their bodies are white as the wild swan, their hair yellow as honey, their eyes blue as ice. Their feet leave no mark on the snow. The women are white as milk, with eyes like sloes, and lips like red rowans. They fight with shadows, and are glad; but the shadows are not shadows to them. The Shee slay great numbers at the full moon, but never hunt on moonless nights, or at the rising of the moon, or when the dew is falling. Their lances are made of reeds that glitter like shafts of ice, and it is ill for a mortal to find one of these lances, for it is tipped with the salt of a wave that no living thing has touched, neither the wailing mew nor the finned sgAdan nor his tribe, nor the narwhal. There are no men of the human clans there, and no shores, and the tides are forbidden.

Long ago one of the monks of Columba sailed there. He sailed for thrice seven days till he lost the rocks of the north; and for thrice thirty days, till Iceland in the south was like a small bluebell in a great grey plain; and for thrice three years among bergs. For the first three years the finned things of the sea brought him food; for the second three years he knew the kindness of the creatures of the air; in the last three years angels fed him. He lived among the Sidhe for three hundred years. When he came back to Iona, he was asked where he had been all that long night since evensong to matins. The monks had sought him everywhere, and at dawn had found him lying in the hollow of the long wave that washes Iona on the north. He laughed at that, and said he had been on the tops of the billows for nine years and three months and twenty-one days, and for three hundred years had lived among a deathless people. He had drunk sweet ale every day, and every day had known love among flowers and green bushes, and at dusk had sung old beautiful forgotten songs, and with star-flame had lit strange fires, and at the full of the moon had gone forth laughing to slay. It was heaven, there, under the Lights of the North. When he was asked how that people might be known, he said that away from there they had a cold, cold hand, a cold, still voice, and cold ice-blue eyes. They had four cities at the four ends of the green diamond that is the world. That in the north was made of earth; that in the east, of air; that in the south, of fire; that in the west, of water. In the middle of the green diamond that is the world is the Glen of Precious Stones. It is in the shape of a heart, and glows like a ruby, though all stones and gems are there. It is there the S9dhe go to refresh their deathless life.

The holy monks said that this kingdom was certainly Ifurin, the Gaelic Hell. So they put their comrade alive in a grave in the sand, and stamped the sand down upon his head, and sang hymns so that mayhap even yet his soul might be saved, or, at least, that when he went back to that place he might remember other songs than those sung by the milk-white women with eyes like sloes and lips red as rowans. "Tell that honey-mouthed cruel people they are in Hell," said the abbot, and give them my ban and my curse unless they will cease laughing and loving sinfully and slaying with bright lances, and will come out of their secret places and be baptized."

They have not yet come.

This adventurer of the dreaming mind is another Oran, that fabulous Oran of whom the later Columban legends tell. I think that other Orans go out, even yet, to the Country of the Sidhe. But few come again. It must be hard to find that glen at the heart of the green diamond that is the world; but, when found, harder to return by the way one came.

- Fiona Macleod, Iona


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