Home' Nova National : August 2010 Contents novamagazine.com.au
© NOVA AUGUST 2010
Its location is lost today and the only
reminder is a sign marking Hellihole Road.
I keep searching.
Near the north coast village of Birsay,
I find St Magnus Well, named after the
Norse Earl Magnus Erlendsson who
became a Christian saint after his murder
in 1115. This water was believed to have
especially powerful healing properties,
because the remains of St Magnus were
washed in it.
But...it is covered with a grid of strong
iron bars. I tell myself to lighten up -- hold
the intention, let go of the outcome -- but
my desire to have the "right" water feels
as rigid as the bars.
Just offshore is the Broch of Birsay,
a tiny island, cut off twice each day when
the tide comes in, that guards the place
where the Atlantic Ocean meets the North
Sea. It's a wild and lonely spot. Around
1500 years ago, the Picts found a spring
of pure, sweet water bubbling from a
seemingly impossible place on the island's
sloping hillside. For a race that venerated
water, this was a sure sign of its sacred
qualities. They dug a cylindrical hole and
carefully lined it with rounded beach
stones in order to contain and tame the
gushing water that they venerated.
I locate the well in the ruins of a
Viking village that continued to use it long
after the original well diggers had gone.
It is covered with a fitted slab of stone. I
carefully, and a bit guiltily, lift the stone and
peer inside. The handiwork is beautiful
in its simplicity and strong enough to last
through the centuries.
But... it has been filled with earth to
within a metre of the top so the clear
and magical spring can no longer bubble
up. I have to content myself with a quick
photo before I gently replace the stone.
It seems no accident that all the sacred
wells are sealed or blocked at this time
when pollution and climate change are
such tangible reminders of our failure
of honour the planet and her life-giving
I lie on a soft grass-topped ledge built
by a Viking and try to open a space in my
heart where the intention of Spirit can be
heard. A raw wind picks up, reminding
me of the sprit wind. I feel exposed and
vulnerable, at the mercy of the wind gods.
That also feels strangely appropriate. I'm
touching in to the way that the ancient
inhabitants had to face this climate
without warm hotel rooms and high-tech
jackets. Finally, the cold forces me to take
shelter. Spirit has decided that ancient
wells are not for me.
I make my way across the island to
the Ring of Brodgar, a huge Neolithic
stone circle, standing on a narrow strip of
land with a wide, shallow lake on either
side and low hills all around. It's a magical
crater, where earth, water and sky meet.
The great stones, solid for centuries, mock
the agitated racing of my mind.
continued page 31
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