How beautiful they are…the Lordly Ones who dwell in the Hills….
I climbed Sliabh na mBan recently, home to the women of Feimheinn and the sídhe of Bodb Derg….grandfather of the Children of Lir…the white swans. This area of Tipperary is called Magh Feimhein and the wide plain that stretches beneath the mountain is sacred. The stories of this area all involve women or are centered around women, from otherworldly women that enchant mortals to an all female race to the summit. I climbed the Mountain of Women to meet the land and to gather what gifts were presented.
One of my dear friends is getting married in June. A gift I want to bestow, (as all good Faery Godmothers should have something to offer), is fertility. I was certainly blessed with it and the land I reside on is rich with it. As I set out on this pilgrimage, for sacred journey it was, I held my friend and her partner in my heart, and I listened… for what the land might offer.
The day was gorgeous. This spring the Cailleach has kept a hold, either not wishing to depart or not quit finished with us. The days have been cold and gray but the morning I left for my climb the sun shone bright; Gráinne full and strong in the sky. Which is interesting… because one of the stories of this area tells of Gráinne winning a foot race to the summit of the mountain against women from other counties, for the prize of Fionn as husband. (Grainne means sun and Fionn is a nickname that means white or bright) It definitely felt propitious and I tingled with anticipation.
The path to the summit takes you first through a thick forest of pine. It was cool and dark. My eyes spied something gleaming white in the underbrush. Bone, tossed in a pattern I couldn’t read. The first gate is often surrender. I made my offerings, thanking the land for Her gift. There were forgotten dwellings, strange stone walls, and tumbled stone in the dark. I felt immediately welcome and the place delighted me. So much so, that I was reluctant to leave it.
I emerged from the forest onto heath, a moonscape under the white light of the sun. The light is different here. I don’t know enough about the latitude and how that affects the refraction of light but I can see it and feel it. When the sun shines full it is a white, bleaching feeling. The land, perpetually covered in low cloud mist that sometimes appears and other times does not, is turned to haze when the temperatures rise. I have noticed that sunrise is a warm, golden hue, often clear and gorgeous. But once the sun rises above a certain angle the cloud suddenly, as if by magic, becomes visible. They were obviously there all along, the white wool clouds of Her cloak, but not until the light shines through them above a precise angle do they reveal themselves. This magic trick comes into play again when the temperatures reach 20 Celsius. It might be a blue sky day, with not a thread of Her cloak visible, then suddenly…. White Filmy Gossamer.
The ascent was hard. My breathing labored and I thought of childbirth. Up, up, up. When I thought my heart would explode I stopped, turned, and let the sun fall full on my face as I drank in the view. Stunning. Stretched out for miles were fertile fields. The image of my dear friends danced perpetually in my mind. I was climbing for myself, and I was climbing for them. I don’t know how many times I had to stop, but they were frequent. The nearer the top I got, the more frequent my breaks became. I felt as though my legs were lead. At one point I sat, dismayed and afraid I couldn’t make it. Maybe ¾ of the way up it seemed too much. Two crows flew overhead, laughing.
“Yes, I know. I’m a foolish sight, aren’t I. We silly humans have forgotten how to be two legged animals. I’m sure your ancestors saw many a person skip up this ‘hill’.”
There was a small monument along the path, written in Irish and Ogham with a delicate image carved onto the top. I paused long here, sinking down into the land.
“Who are you?”
As I began my trek again under the blazing sun I felt the sweat run down my back. I thought of my friend, and the beads of perspiration that will gather on her brow during labor. Mór Mumhan, whose valleys are so rich, whose estuaries drip with fecundity, whose round belly and breasts are nourishing, and whose vengeance is fierce against those who would harm her children. Great Munster! Full of song and the poetry of great deeds.
“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”
I labored up the mountain, a poppet for my friend. Life sized doll. My body laboring as her body will. I wanted to cry, “I can’t do this!”
“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”
And, as all long struggles eventually do…. At last, I reached the end. The summit stretched before me. Ravens soared. A cairn loomed ahead. I held my rock, for you always add a rock. It’s respectful. Beautiful nipple atop a full breast. I was a child come for succor, come to drink of the fertility of this land… Munster the Great. I sat at the base of the cairn, my head resting on a large boulder. I closed my eyes and listened to the secrets of the wind. Shadows watched and eyes were on me. I looked up to see a Raven hovering just above me. We saw each other. Then she glided back out of sight on the wind.
I spent as long as possible on the summit, drinking in the 360 views, trying to memorize the shapes of the surrounding hills, straining to hear their voices. When I finally began my descent, on the ground was an object, long, slim, and perfect to hold in my hand. I grasped it firmly, like a strong cock. It was into this I let pour all the energy and dream and thought and toil. I held it all the way down, allowing the day to drain into it.
They dance with white shapely arms,
the women of Feimhein,
Singing of the riches under the Hill
for great is the warrior who holds it.