Monday 11 May 2009
Fairy Visions: Remembrance of a Wise Woman
My family, as I have mentioned elsewhere, have a cottage in Easter Ross in North-East Scotland. We went there every August when I was growing up. Mother and father still go, though I haven’t been with them for several years now. I still think about it though, think about the experiences I had there, the things I did, the things I discovered and the things I learned.
It’s quite remote, deep in the countryside, accessible only down a long dirt track. The only other building nearby is a farmhouse, where I used to go for milk and eggs. It was here that Agnes lived, Old Agnes, as we were in the habit of calling her. I first met her when I was about five and, from the distorted perspective of childhood, she seemed as old as time itself. In retrospect I’m guessing she was somewhere in her seventies.
Anyway, Agnes and I became great friends. I used to sit in her parlour as she told me stories, all sorts of stories; of her life, of the past, of people and of things. There was one occasion that I will never ever forget. With a really serious look she told me that she had seen the ‘Good Folk’ dancing in the woods not far from our cottage and hers. The Good Folk was the name she used for fairies, believing it to be bad luck to use that expression directly. I was absolutely thrilled, because, now seven years old, and on the threshold of disbelief about so many magical things, I still trusted Old Agnes. I asked if I could see them and she told me to look out of my bedroom window that night, but I should keep quiet, telling no-one else.
Have you ever lived in the deep countryside, a remote place, far away from towns, roads and other people? Well, if there is no moonlight, at night the darkness is almost absolute. One can see nothing, nothing at all; just one’s reflection in the window against a dark, dark background. I sat up by my bedroom window that night in my armchair, full of excitement. I waited and waited, seeing nothing but myself for such a long time reflected back in the window and the dark. Then the lights came, little bobbing lights; nothing distinct, just the lights, like flames. There was also, it seemed to me, music like nothing I had ever heard, a mixture of a harp and bells. I stood up so sharply when this started that I banged my knee on the wall just beneath the window.
Mother discovered me in the morning, curled up and asleep in the chair. I wanted to tell her what I had seen, but I was mindful of what Agnes had said. I began to believe that it was just a dream, that I had seen nothing and heard nothing. Perhaps it was; I certainly can’t prove I’d seen anything. All I can say is that when I took off my pyjamas to get dressed my knee, the one I banged on the wall, was slightly bruised, a bruise that had not been there before.
Agnes has been dead for years now. She was a Wise Woman in the traditional sense, that’s how I think of her now. I also like to think that I absorbed some of her spirit. I know I still dream about her from time to time.