Let me start by saying my legs are killing me. Today we walked for 6 hours; up a mountain and back, with very little breaks. My goal when I left the house this morning was to climb to the top of Sleive Gullion, and submerge myself in the lake of the Hag; the Calliagh Berra of Irish mythology.
When I left the house, I had expected we would drive to the beginning of the trail and climb from there. But somehow my husband got the idea in his head that we would just walk from the house we are staying at in Mullagbane, Northern Ireland. When he said this was the plan (he is the directions guy), I immediately questioned his logic, as I could see the mountain off in the distance. I knew it would take us an hour just to get to the trail head. But he was insistent that this was what we should do.
Sleive Gullion is considered the most sacred mountain in Ireland. The name means Mountain of Cuchulain. It is the heart of an ancient volcanic chain in Northern Ireland, which is truly breath taking. The legend around Sleive Gullion speaks of a dispute between Finn Mac Cumhail (finn mccool); an irish hero, and the Hag/Calliagh Berra.
In the story, Finn Mc Cool (an Irish hero) dives into the Calliagh Berra’s lake seeking the love of a beautiful maiden. When he enters the lake he ages rapidly, and his hair turns white. The feeble Finn, comes out of the water to see the fair maiden is really an old hag. After a bit of persuasion, Finn is able to convince the Calliagh to return his youth, but she leaves his hair white.
There are some good versions of the story out there, if you have a love of mythology, simply google The Calliagh Berra’s lake.
Like most stories there is a lot more to it, then the simple trickery of the hag. Some stories tell of Finn’s hunting dog chasing a white stag (considered a magical creature) to the edge of the lake. In short, he crossed the witch, and she was not pleased. I like to point out that she returned his youth, when he threatened to empty her lake, drowning all of Ireland. To me this shows she had great care for the land, and the people of it.
My work as a Druid, and Spiritual adventurer often takes me to such places, places that others may think twice about going to. I do not fear the Hag, for I see her as the crone…the ancient one, the one who sits at the edge of death. She has great wisdom, and demands respect, but her gifts are powerful and filled with wisdom.
When it became clear that I would be heading to Northern Ireland on this trip, I knew that I would climb the mountain. I was also quite convinced that I would need to submerse myself in the water of the lake, facing my fears; not of white hair, but of muck. I truly have a repulsion/fear of mucky water.
Leaving my house for my journey up the mountain, I still held this as my truth. I wore my bathing suit under my clothes, packed a towel and change of clothes in my bag, and mentally prepared myself to face the muck.
We had already walked for about an hour by the time we reached the trails head. The path we took was an old road, probably used as a farm road at some point. It wound back and forth, giving us great views of the surrounding countryside and other mountains that made up the Ring of Cuchulain. It was not particularly steep, but there were ‘poop mines’ to avoid, as sheep and cows had traveled the road as well.
We reached a gated off area, with a step over next to the gate (a small built in ladder), and crossed into what was being used as a grazing land for his animals. It was not really a field, being mostly filled with brush and ragged looking trees. This path was more narrow, and wound back and forth, here and there, but obviously looking like a well trod trail. After crossing the ladder/gate, and walking for about 20 minutes through said poop mines, we came to a most peculiar barricade.
On our side it looked like a downed hawthorn tree, or a heavy stack of hawthorn brush, on the other side it was pallets roped together. I believe the barricade was designed to keep his cows in, because even cows are not stupid enough to plow through a barricade of Hawthorn (thorn is even in the name). But me…I love Hawthorn, in fact I have Hawthorn tattooed on my left shoulder. It is a fairy tree, and a powerful protector.
The barrier was not a deterrent to me, just as the idea of visiting the hag was not scary to me. If you are friends with such beings, you simply know to respect their customs.
Shortly after crossing the barrier the ground exploded in color…as the hillside was literally covered in Heather in various shades of purple. It was deliciously intoxicating, in its vibrancy and I soon began adorning my hat.
The other thing I saw of notice when we got over the barricade, was that we were still in the foothills of the mountain. At this point, I realized that the trip to visit the Calliagh Berra for me at least was one I had to earn. It was not an easy trek, or a quick check in.
We traveled on, and finally met up with the road…yes the road. There is a road that leads almost to the top, from a few towns over. Taking the road gives people the option of getting a fantastic view, and if so choosing…a climb of 30 minutes to the top. Albeit that climb is a steep one.
Where we met the road, we still had a significant walk before the actual climb, but the road was significantly more pleasant then avoiding poop mines and climbing over Hawthorn barricades.
When we got to the parking lot; at the base of the climb, we met up with other travelers. We told them they could go ahead of us, up the goat climb of the mountain, as we would be most likely walking slow, having traveled from Mullugbane. They were actually shocked, and might have thought we were a bit nutty. But such is the way of a spiritual adventurer…
The last bit of the climb was a rocky, goat trail, in which you really had to watch your footing. Stones had been made into stairs, and I did not take a lot of pictures of this part, as I was too busy watching where I tread.
When we were nearly to the top, we saw the travelers we had met in the parking lot on their way down. We spoke for a few minutes on their short stay at the top, and I told them I planned on going into the water. At this point we were really cold, wearing sweaters and rain coats. They explained that it would most certainly be brisk, but little else.
About 3 more minutes into the hike, and the weather completely changed. It went from being just cold to whipping winds, low visibility, and a cold mist that chilled you to the bone. We had reached the cloud cover. At this point, my husband and I decided that I would be a fucking idiot to try and go into the lake, specially seeing we had a 3 hour hike back to our lodging.
By the time we reached the top, there was no way I would even consider it. The cloud cover was so thick, that we couldn’t even see the lake, until the very end of our stay there (after spending time in the Calliagh Berra’s house), when there was a brief break in the cloud cover.
In the Calliagh Berra’s house, I made offerings. She wanted all of the flowers I had gathered on her mountain, as well as the crystals and feathers I had already planned to bring her. I spent time inside her home toning & singing, offering up my voice and energy, in thanks for being able to stand in her energy.
You can watch the video of me singing on my Facebook page… Singing in Calliagh Berras house
After giving our offerings, and spending time in he wild energy, we began our descent down the mountain. At this point my husband said “Well you couldn’t go in the lake, but you needed to make a sacrifice anyways. You had to take the long road, door to door, from our door to hers”.
This is an important factor in Sacred Travel. We can set out with the grandest of intentions, our story laid out of what we plan to do, but in the end it is a journey shared between the one who travels and the gods. It seldom goes according to plan, it is almost always trying, and in the end it is greatly rewarding. Perhaps I never needed to go into the muck, I just had to set out with a dedication that I would, no matter how difficult it would be for me. It was the dedication, the willingness that matters.
Our journey was long, it had a lot of aches and discomforts, but it was something I will now hold as as a deep treasure.
We will try to get to the lake again before we leave the North, but only if weather is permitting, and we will take the car as far to the top as we can. If I never make it into the lake, I will still know that I have been tried by the Calliagh Berra and that I succeeded.
As for today, we are off to the Giant’s Causeway…more work to be done.