Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Scotland 2013: Sanaigmore: Spiritual Lessons from a SciFi Novel?

Recently, I wrote this on my Facebook page:

“During the last days I have been asking myself repeatedly: what has been drawing me to Islay (and, no, it is not the whiskey, pleasant as that has been)? The answer I found is quite surprising. Many years ago, I read the scifi novel Diamond Mask, by Julian May, which for an important part takes place right here, on Islay. This novel is number two in a trilogy, that basically is about humanity's struggle to achieve spiritual and mental maturity within a galactic setting. I have always found this "Galactic Milieu Trilogy" extremely compelling, but never gave it any further thought, until coming here. I visited many of the places she describes in this book (which was absolutely thrilling!) and by being there it gradually started to become clear that there are some important spiritual lessons for me locked away in those books, which I now will have to uncover”.

Indeed, Sanaigmore is featured quite prominently in the Galactic Milieu novels, first in “Intervention” as the birthplace of metapsychic pioneer Jamie MacGregor and later in “Diamond Mask” as the hiding place of the antagonist creature “Hydra”. It is located at the northern tip of the Rhinns of Islay and it is only accessible by a long and narrow (and bumpy) single track road. It is not even a village; a monument, some self-catering cottages, the very interesting Outback Art gallery-annex-coffeeshop, some ruins and that’s it. Yet the landscape is absolutely stunning: the bluffs of the Tòn Mhòr, to the left the Glen Tuath and beautiful Sanaigmore Bay and its beach. It is a very peaceful and lonely place and very spiritually charged, but that could also have been my imagination. Actually a lot like Julian May describes it!
 I am taking a walk, I simply need to commune in quiet with this place, so , in spite of warnings about a bull in the fields, I go up to the ruined farmhouse and then down again till I reach the beach. There I sit down on a rock, close my eyes and prepare to meditate, the question in my mind being: “I am here. What do you want to tell me?”. While I am performing the usual preparation exercise I am gradually becoming aware how quiet this place is. The sound of the waves, sea birds, the wind, it all seems to cancel out until I seem surrounded by utter silence.

Then I realize that a voice is speaking to me. The genius loci (spirit of the place)?. Some inner voice? It does not matter, because it tells me the answer to my question. “I am here because what drew me here has the answer to this question”. I ask for clarification and get: ”What drew you here is an account of one of many possible destinies for all of humanity. Fictional it is, but in that imagined world are buried some seeds of real messages for humanity. It is up to you to find those seeds and study them to determine their merit, if you so wish. You needed to experience the reality of some of that fiction in order to appreciate and acknowledge the reality of such seeds, so you can start looking for them. Without your coming here, you would never entertain the idea that “The Galactic Mileu” could be more than just an idle fantasy. It is a myth and myths are there to teach us”.
I stand up and thank whoever spirit for communicating this to me and file these messages for future use. Back home, I decide to reread this series, and indeed, almost in the first book I catch a clue and a link to ‘real life’ : a casual referral to “The Phenomenon of Man” by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin on whose ideas Julian May’s vision of humanity’s future is loosely based. Teilhard describes evolution as a process that leads to increasing complexity, culminating in the unification of consciousness. Now there’s an interesting link to modern magic and the teachings of the Western Mystery Tradition! Funny, how a visit to a remote part of a Hebridean island can trigger such effects!

Friday, 6 September 2013

Scotland 2013: Whiskey: the Spirit of the Land!


Whiskey! If I am cynical, that is what most tourists are coming to Islay for! This island is worldwide famous for its quality whiskey’s. Currently, there are eight major distilleries on Islay and all of them offer quite extensive opportunities for visitors to get acquainted with their products. I love whiskey, mostly the single malts, and I am particularly a fan of what I call “whiskey with character and attitude”. I enjoy the quite peaty Islay malts such as Laphroaig, Ardbeg and Lagavulin, but I also love the softer varieties such as Bunnahabhain or Bruichladdich. So, a large portion of our stay on Islay has been devoted to visiting the places where these delights are made.

Now, whiskey to me is not something ‘to drink’, it is something to savour slowly, let it work its magic in your mouth and nostrils. It is an experience. A good single malt contains the spirit of the land, the water, the soil and the sun, and it contains the spirit of the people who made it. The term ‘spirit’ is used for the final product that flows from the ‘spirit still’: the raw product that after maturation in wooden casks becomes the product so many love. And if you taste that and compare it with the final product (as we have done several times), it really contains the spirit of what is to come after ten years or so.
The production of whiskey is a fascinating process which is overall very much the same for each distillery but is also very different for each in its details. Things like mash times and temperatures (extracting the sugars from the malt), fermentation times, distillation set-ups and the actual ‘cuts’ are all different and, according to most, contribute significantly to the character of the product.
The whole process also has many links to alchemy as the method to produce the spirit is virtually the same as the procedure that is used to isolate a plant’s Mercury. In the case of whiskey, though, the volatile Sulphur, which is highly individual and a reflection of all the various things that make each distillery unique, is also distilled together with the alcohol (Mercury). The “new make” (what flows from the still) does not taste or smell like pure ethanol, there are all sorts of components in it as well: phenols and esters predominantly. Those are then combined with the alchemical Salt, which in this case is found in the wood of the cask. That “fixes” the volatiles and turns them into the finished product.

The result? The “exalted” essence of “the land” where it was made and matured, brought about by the love, dedication and devotion of the people performing this alchemy. I noticed that my appreciation for the Islay malts has deepened since my stay. These “land spirits” now trigger a deep connection with land itself, which I built by consciously contacting this land while I was there. I mentioned such contacts also at the Kildalton Cross, here is another example. This time in drinkable form!
Slàinte mhath!      

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Scotland 2013: Blessed be at the Kildalton Cross, Isle of Islay

A few miles up the single track road that leads away from the three southernmost distilleries on Islay (Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg), stands an old derelict church and to its side, the best-preserved Celtic Cross of Britain. We are in the parish of Kildalton (from Gaelic Cill Daltain, “Church of the Foster Son”) and on the maps and signs, this place is referred to as the “Kildalton Cross”. It is a lonely place, and even though there are still scattered people living in this area, it is quiet and peaceful when we are here.
Before I investigate the church and the cross, I take a little walk away from the monuments, and soon I find myself in the midst of the countryside with no one visible around. And then it hits me, a sense of such complete belonging here and now at this place that tears fill my eyes and the only thought in my mind is one of extreme and utter happiness. A “peak moment”, if there ever was one. This is something that happens to me frequently, but only at certain places. Very often it happens at ‘places of significance” like the Egyptian Pyramids, the Borobudur in Indonesia or the Grand Canyon in the USA. But in Scotland, it can strike anywhere, as I have noticed this phenomenon many many times. It feels at that moment as if the land itself is talking to me, directly into my soul. Have I been here in a previous life, perhaps? Who knows?

When this “special communion with the land” has subsided, I walk back and start exploring the roofless church and the cross itself. A plaque tells me it is from the 9th Century C.E., so with that in the back of my mind, I am completely astonished how beautifully well preserved it is. And then I notice the similarity of this cross with the symbol that I am wearing today: what I call an “elemental” cross as it depicts a magical circle with the four elements in it. It is almost an exact copy of the upper half of the Kildalton Cross.
And I notice something else: in the centre of the cross is a tiny flower chiseled out, and it looks suspiciously like a rose. The Rosy Cross is a very important and potent spiritual symbol, connected to things like Balance, Divine Love, Grace and Mercy. I am quite excited to find this symbol of Divine Grace here in the countryside as it gives me a key to what the land might have been “telling” me before. And if that weren’t enough, some good soul has put some boxes with cakes and implements for coffee or tea on a picnic table, with an honesty box underneath and with a sign to help ourselves to a “Coffee at the Cross”. This is still a blessed spot and it is great to see people continue this blessing. After a coffee and some reminiscing, we return to Ardbeg for our tour there, but all the time I feel touched by a higher being…until the complimentary dram, that is!