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A visit to the windswept and mysterious Orkney Islands
reawakens Louise Gilmore to the sacredness of water.
m standing by a wild sea, amid
the low, storm-blown hills of
Orkney. The fields are thickly
carpeted with vivid green
grass or purple heather, moulded
over strange mounds and ridges, with
occasional massive stones protruding
like fossilised exclamation marks. The
wind drives icy needles of rain into my
face. In a sudden shaft of sun, reflections
from the sea dance like flames on the
rocks. It seems so familiar, but I can't think
why.This group of islands north of Scotland
is bristling with ancient remains. Five
thousand years ago, Stone Age tribes
fought the harsh weather to manhandle
huge slabs of stone onto their ends in
mysterious alignments or perfect circles.
The elusive tattooed race, the Picts,
left the so called "symbol stones", carved
with animals, birds and geometric designs,
whose purpose can only be guessed at
Vikings raided from the north and
battles for control raged for centuries
between Norway and Scotland. What today
seems a remote and isolated place was
once a centre of power.
Before I go there, I set up a shamanic
ceremony for guidance. What should be
my intention as I approach this ancient
place? A sprit wind sweeps in and I am
told to bring back sacred water, which will
teach me new things. Really? Water?
I do some research and my mind gets
busy. Water is the source of all life. It covers
71% of the earth's surface and makes up
around 60% of the adult human body.
Symbolically, it represents purification,
birth and rebirth. It is indispensable to
initiations in most cultures. Among some
shamanic groups, water represents the
power of manifestation. It is the element
most related to our emotional life. And
then there's Dr Masaru Emoto's work
showing that water can hold the imprint of
human emotions and intentions.
The ancient Orcadians had a deep
connection with water that came naturally
from a homeland surrounded and
intersected by vast and powerful seas,
feared for their currents and whirlpools.
There are many fresh water springs
and wells on Orkney. The early peoples
saw them as magical: waters that could
heal or curse. They believed that spirits,
fairies or trows (mischievous goblin-like
creatures) lived in their depths and that
the old gods hid there when Christianity
drove them away from their mounds.
Some springs could foretell the future by
making mysterious noises or changing
Can I believe, like the Picts, that lakes
are hallowed gateways to the otherworld?
Or that the ever changing space between
high and low tide is a place of trans-
formation, crossed nightly by mermaids
or seals that shed their skins to become
human for a while?
In the urbanised world, our sense of
the sacredness of water has largely been
lost. We take for granted that we can turn
on our taps or swim in a clean sea. But the
tragic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has
forced us to face the dire consequences
of our carelessness that may continue for
For some reason, I'm being sensitised
to water -- perhaps even invited to help
with this crisis from my own limited
perspective and place in the world. I
decide that I could dedicate myself to the
re-enchantment of water.
I will collect water with an intention that is:
● aligned with Spirit
● free of any attachment to the outcome
That's settled, but why do I feel so
anxious? It's not as simple as it sounds.
There are many questions. What level
of intention can influence Spirit and by
how much? How can I know the scale of
just one intention? Could a small intention
of mine create a major upset down the
line, like the metaphor of the butterfly
flapping its wings in the rainforest that
sets off a tornado at the Equator?
Helpful people advise me to simply
trust, but somehow I can't. All my ideas
seem superficial. A philosophy website
admits, "We are pretty much in the
dark about the character of the concept
(intention)." I find myself facing a vast
empty space, only knowing that I must
not fill it with too much thinking or I
risk losing the deeper teaching.
Surely there's no harm in holding
to the idea of finding a sacred well and
taking some water -- for the greater good
I remind myself, hastily.
On Orkney, there's certainly no
shortage of ancient wells and I begin to
The first, Login's Well, is on the main
street of the pretty grey stone township
of Stromness, historically the last port
for ships about to sail the fierce Atlantic
Ocean. Many ships took on water here,
including Captain Cook's Discovery and
John Franklin's ill fated expedition to seek
the North West Passage in 1845, as well as
generations of North Sea fishermen.
But... Login's Well was sealed in 1931.
No water for me here.
Another Stromness well was Haleyhole
(or Holy Hole). For centuries, pilgrims
came in droves hoping its miraculous
water would cure whatever ailed them.
Walking the Ring of Brodgar in the fine rain.
Louise Gilmore on the Viking shelf.
The Ring of Brodgar with the lightning stone in
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