Category Archives: Narnia

All that Lies Between: From the Centre to the Margins (and back again)

“…all that lies between the lamp-post and the great castle of Cair Paravel…”

The shrine at Healy Pass, Co. Cork, Ireland (which overlooks quite a view...) Photo by Meredith Desmond

The shrine at Healy Pass, Co. Cork, Ireland (which overlooks quite a view…) Photo by Meredith Desmond

The Healy Pass, built to transport food across the  mountains between Cork and Kerry during the famine. Photo by Dulaman.

The Healy Pass, built to transport food (and coffins) across the mountains between Cork and Kerry during the famine. Photo by Dulaman.

There are the people who seek the centre.

And then there those who are happiest on the margins, out in the wild.

In my re-exploration of Christianity, I’m making an on-again off-again attempt to understand the Christian story from a new viewpoint, from the light of the wild places on the edge. There are many problems I’m having with this, as a polytheistic Pagan. In Christian theology, the Christian God is shown as owning all things and drawing all things to himself. There’s really no other way to see him, except at the Centre.

There are echoes of the margins in the Christian story/ies too. But I’m still thinking that a lot of these are found in the lived-out stories of those who sought the wild Christ, more than in the story of God himself.

Statue of St Brendan the Navigator, Bantry Bay, Co. Cork

Statue of St Brendan the Navigator, Bantry Bay, Co. Cork

St Brendan leaves Ireland in a little boat, and the myth echoes back after him: he reached America, pushed onwards by faith, courage and the other members of his small community who came with him. Is this a tale based on the older Irish myths of imramma, or was a real Brendan inspired by those stories to go out to sea? Does it matter? He is a patron of the margins. This is a man who, if he didn’t personally know my wild goddess, was driven forward from the edge of her land by her wild spirit. For the love of his own wild God.

Jonathan Woolley has been talking on Gods and Radicals about reclaiming the story of Narnia, from the edges and the margins, from the ordinary world, not the great hierarchy of Lewis’s obsession. Like him, I’m not looking for some great castle of Cair Paravel – the institutions and the ordered religion and the power of the state. I seek the magic on the margins, out in the wild woods. Trees my only companions, a dim lamp-post my only light. Out where my wild goddess brings snow and storms across the mountains. I can keep trying to house myself in a church, but I find myself called out to the shore again soon enough. I can keep trying to live in a castle, but I’m always drawn back into the woods. Is there a wild Christ here too? I’m not sure yet. But if I ever find him, it will be out here, where I live.

Mist that hangs like silk
Soaking in the rain
Trees that rise like ghosts
Bearing people’s names
And a sea that takes me
Where I do not know
But I gladly go

Shrouded in the sweetest grass
I’ve ever known
This my earthly bed
My beloved home
But the voice that calls me
To the far away
I can only trust every word you say

And here I am
Out on the edge of the world
With You, With You

– Iona, ‘Edge of the World’, song based on the story of St Brendan’s voyage

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The Wood Between the Worlds

Wood Between the Worlds by Victoria Thorndale

Wood Between the Worlds by Victoria Thorndale

This is the space between Worlds.
The light is ageless and strange.
Dark pools the portals, those many Connla’s Wells,
doorways to Other places.

Here no river of fate can flow.
A hundred World Trees whisper to each other.
Yggdrassil’s branches touch those of a brother Tree
and somewhere on an alien landscape, a strange man looks up and shivers.

Slowly, the drip-drip-drip plays out a timeless, tuneless lullaby.
You drift…
deeper into this place where Nothing happens.
The ground is so soft, so silent.
Just a few minutes more.
Forget who you are.

You can walk with the Great Ones here,
the stilled Forces behind time and tide —
But you might rather not.
They pass the pools and stare into them.
Sometimes they reach in and stir the waters,
and smile.

From here you can look down and watch
a thousand lives woven into the great pattern,
a thousand existences beginning and ending in a moment.
And you far away from it all.

Dark pools the portals.
But which leads where?
It has been a long time, and no time,
and you can no longer find the lock for your golden key.

 

With thanks to CS Lewis and The Magician’s Nephew.


Polly the Sensible, and a Map for the Journey

“Stop,” said Polly. “Aren’t we going to mark this pool?”
They stared at each other and turned quite white as they realised the dreadful thing that Digory had just been going to do. For there were any number of pools in the wood, and the pools were all alike and the trees were all alike, so that if they had once left behind the pool that led to our own world without making some sort of landmark, the chances would have been a hundred to one against their ever finding it again.

– The Magician’s Nephew

She was quite as brave as he about some dangers (wasps, for instance), but she was not so interested in finding out things nobody had ever heard of before; for Digory was the sort of person who wants to know everything, and when he grew up he became the famous Professor Kirke who comes into other books.

– The Magician’s Nephew

Polly is a very sensible adventurer. Reluctant, literally pushed into her Otherworldly adventures, she retains her good sense throughout.1 She knows to mark out the way home, when Digory would rather just jump into the next world and not worry about getting back. She would rather not ring the mystical bell that, though she doesn’t know it, is there to wake the ancient kings and queens in the ancient hall, for she looks on the face of Jadis and knows that this isn’t someone to mess with just for the Adventure of it. But she also knows when it’s time to take a risk to fix the chaos they’ve created. Her good sense relates, for me, to the ADF virtues of Wisdom and Vision.

I need my myths and metaphors to be very accessible to me personally. There are a lot concepts I’m planning to explore through the Narnia stories over the coming year – concepts that I’ve previously had trouble with. Winter Queens and seasonal cycles. Battles. Sovereignty. Magic that plays with space and time. Journeying in the Otherworld. Appreciating both sides of an apparently black-and-white issue, and appreciating gods and spirits that have been cast in the mould called ‘evil’. These are concepts I have difficulty relating to, in a ‘basic Pagan’ myth set, and that I need new perspectives on. I’m sure there will be many others, too, as I go.

Some people like their guides to the Otherworld to come in the form of modern step-by-step-journeying-for-idiots guidebooks, or ancient irrelevant tomes. Some people insist that their myths are hard-boiled: overcooked, and set to last a long time, but ending up fairly tasteless and cold. I have long taken my wisdom from wherever I find it, and I find it in a lot of disparate places.

But still… Narnia. Often not popular, seen as indoctrination.

But still… ‘pop culture Paganism’, as it’s dismissively called.

What if I could reclaim both these things, for myself? What if, like Polly, I could choose the sensible option? No, it might not make me a famous professor-adventurer when I’m old. By which I mean, it might not earn the respect of my ancient-myth-researching peers. But it might just save my life – or my faith. Or my hope. Or my love.

You might have noticed that I’ve been exploring the Wood Between the Worlds as a starting-point for Otherworldly journeying. I’m also working with the concept of the White Witch as a Snow Queen/Faery Queen type, the keeper of wisdom and magical secrets – with whom you have to be very careful, like the bean feasa/fairy doctors had to be careful with their own Otherworldly guides. And I’m working through the stories to see what the characters have to teach me. Like Polly, and her Good Sense in the face of an irresistible journey.

A Map for the Journey. Worth no more or less than ancient myths. Just as full of unease, and difficulty, and compromise, and the need to keep shifting perspective.

May the Forces that echo through every myth, ancient and modern, teach me new lessons.

And may Polly the Sensible teach me that Sense is more important even than Adventure. For without it, the great Adventure can end very abruptly.

1: I dislike the term ‘common sense’, since that was always something I didn’t find easy to develop, thanks to my Asperger’s. But good sense – now that’s something worth working on.


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