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Haunted by the Highlands


It is dark as pitch outside of King Haakon’s bar. The Celtic music, drunken slurs and laughter filter out into the night and scatter along the icy boulevards. There are no stars tonight. Heavy gray clouds hover instead and that soggy wetness that permeates all of the United Kingdom in the winter seeps right through my coat. The black swells of the harbor lull me into a trance.

I have been traveling for three months in England, Ireland and Scotland. Late winter is extraordinary in Great Britain; the tourist industry’s throbbing vitality comes to a full stop. People cease running their bed and breakfasts and resume their lives. It’s a great time to submerge yourself deep in Celtic culture. The sky hangs heavy with many shades of gray, fine droplets create a silky mist over lochs and rivers, the Gentian ferns and heather sway to a hypnotic melody in the breeze. There is a timelessness to the highlands…if you stand outside on a quiet night, when the dark encases you and the stars voice their magic, you can hear it. If you close your eyes, you can feel it. This feeling dates a thousand years back and suddenly you know…

You have been here before.

You share a common ancestry. It’s in your blood.

The land has been calling to you in a dream.

An unspoken magic captivates…

You will never leave.

You suddenly believe the myth and the folklore. Faeries, Elves, nymphs, banshees. Mysterious druids in black cloaks. Ritualistic pagan ceremonies by moonlight. You remember.

You feel as though you are at the beginning of all things.

It is this magic that first led me to the Isle of Skye. My journey began in Edinburgh. Edinburgh is a fabulous city, pulsating with culture, a thriving arts scene, punks and hipsters; it’s a hub for young Europeans, Canadians and Australians. Among the free museums that dot the Royal Mile, I remember one exhibit in particular about the Celts.
They were the first settlers and wanderers in Europe. They settled in Ireland, Germany, and Greece. Sadly, they didn’t leave any written records behind. They left only tools. The place where their presence was most strongly felt was in Eastern Europe – the Ukraine, Slovakia and Poland. This is where my people are from. Maybe it’s true that we all share a common ancestry. Maybe it’s true that your bloodlines can be linked to the land of a certain place, time.

This, at least, is what I choose to believe. How else to explain the otherworldly connection I feel to this place?

Eventually I ditch my car and start traveling by foot. Over the eerie moors, beyond the potent lochs, past the moss-covered castles, surrounded by moats, tales of legend, I become a thing of mystery. A figure clad in black. Wraithlike. A wisp of smoke.

Days turn into weeks. Weeks turn into months. I wander.

Finally, I happen upon Faerie Glen.

Shrouded in mist amongst the gently rolling hills, the glen is iconic in this remote area of Scotland. It is believed to be the dwelling place of the faeries, explaining, perhaps, why everything is in miniature. The trees are tiny, the lakes are tiny, even the hills are tiny. There is no geological explanation for this tinyness…it is merely a part of the magic of Scotland.

Baby lambs graze along the fertile meadows. A roe deer makes an appearance.

Settling into the soft moorland grass, I nap for a time. Upon awakening, my senses heighten. It is dusk. Although I feel rested and rejuvenated, I cannot shake the feeling that I, perhaps, am not alone. There is a presence lurking in the distance. A cloaked figure. I have a chance to run, but do not. I wait.

The figure stoops to collect a swath of lady’s-mantle. She wraps it in a piece of cloth and places it within the folds of her cloak. I stand to greet her as she slowly makes her way to me.

In the shadowy grays of dusk, I can just barely make out an oval face with deep lines and stone gray eyes.

We stare at each other across a sea of time.

“Scáthach.” The old crone points a spindly finger at me. “Scáthach.” I am struck dumb.

She gestures to the environs that surround us, “Scáthach?” I nod solemnly.

And she is gone. Back into the mists. Back to the preceding ages.

Back in Edinburgh, the experience haunts my dreams.

I finally visit the Royal Mile Library and search through the Scottish Gaelic dictionary. Scáthach was a female warrior of Celtic folklore. She roamed the highlands, prepared men for battle and made prophesies of the future. They called her The Shadowy One. She had fiery red hair and was a guiding spirit of the Sidhe or…..faeries. I drop my book to the floor. It all becomes so clear.

What has kept me moving from place to place, from job to job, from affair to affair. One word repeats over and over again in my head….devastating. For far too long I have been numb and listless; a drifter, I squander my time, treading water, waiting, always waiting for the right moment….. how else does an artist escape the mundane, the trivial, the depressing truths of life? There was a time when I lived for all that passionate, colorful, cultural, creative. But somewhere along the way, I had lost my path, my direction. My hope.

But now, the fiery-haired Scáthach has made me realize what is possible. She has led me into battle, she has given me the swords to strike down my own apathy and pessimism. She has given me the courage to push boundaries, to do away with convention, to dare to live a life less ordinary. She has prophesied that I do, thankfully, have a future. This, at least, is what I choose to believe.

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