from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Monday, 15 June 2015

plus ça change

I've been silent here because there are so many significant things happening in my life at the moment for which I seem to have no words. I've barely sat down to write creatively, either, in months now – a somewhat frightening state of affairs, but next month that will be challenged. I hope.

TM and I have been walking in my favourite forest in Brittany, dense as it is with history, legend and story. This place has been a major node, let's say, on my inner map for maybe thirty years, and is twinned with my family's home town, just to anchor me further.

One of the things I love about this forest is that it reminds me of the magical Wistman's Wood (possibly from Wisht Maen, or Wise/Sacred Stone) on Dartmoor, except that this forest is about 2000 times bigger, and the rocks and trees themselves Goliaths to Wistman's Lilliputians (to mix my metaphors). 

And I have a new project there, of which more anon.

It's a long and snaking path we all live; one that does not succumb to reason or planning (thank goodness), and proceeds in great loops and spirals, bringing us back to the same or similar places, literally but also metaphorically, where we meet ourselves again in deeper ways.

Brittany has been part of my consciousness, my psychic reality, all my life. I come from a minority culture with its own language, as have my family from forever: in our case a little tribe from the very far West of the British Isles, in Cornwall. We share with Wales, the Isle of Man and Brittany a Brythonic tongue (the Scots and Irish share variants on the Goidelic branch of the Celtic language). 

My father was very immersed in Brythonic Celtic culture. My own later passion for its myths, legends, pre/history, megaliths and language informed my switch, on arrival at Cambridge University, from English to Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, where I specialised in the latter, plus mediaeval French (and the Picts). (As it happens, I also feared that to study English at a time when my creativity wasn't yet properly formed would prove an inhibiting factor on creative expression ever after – a theory that's been borne out by friends' experiences.)

So, although I don't speak Cornish at all fluently except in the sense of picking out words and place-names, I did learn Middle Welsh. When I am in Brittany, cousin-culture, not only am I also home, in a way, but I can also understand many of the words and place-names.

One of the loops took me to the high Pyrenees in my very early 20s. This period, echoed later in the same place, brought me what I can only describe as three 'out of body' experiences which have undoubtedly shaped my life and my consciousness since. Also out of these experiences grew my first novel, Imago, a novel about the persecution of the Cathars in the 13th century.

But that's not where I'm going here. One of the periods in the Pyrenees was a winter spent in a big old mas, or farm, become commune, right on the French border with Spain. Three miles from the nearest road, we also had to walk a half mile to fetch water from the spring, and we grew or milked our own livelihood.

During that winter, which in some ways was hard, my back inexplicably gave out (I say inexplicably, but in fact I had fractured three vertebrae as a child, with temporary paralysis of one leg. However, I'd not had any trouble since it healed.) For a few weeks I was completely bedridden, in pain, cold, and with nothing to do. One day, a couple of the communards carried me down the mountain on a kind of stretcher thing made of coats and ash branches (this also figures in Imago). 

A little lower down there lived an old man amongst a small farm of cherry trees and bees (I know this sounds like a fairy tale, and in some ways it was). He turned me over, laid his hands on my lower back, and after ten minutes I got up and walked back up the hill.

Things happen. I've never forgotten.

Nor have I forgotten that one communard, a Breton guy called Jean-Yves, during the time I was bedridden came every afternoon with Breton books, some of them cartoon books, to teach me Breton. Afternoon by afternoon my grasp of the language and my affection for the Breton who was kind enough to give me an hour every day, and by extension the Breton people as a whole, grew.

So, loop on loop, my life has brought me back to a place where France in general and Brittany in particular is claiming a significant part of my life again, thirty years after – I haven't talked of this – it first loomed on my horizon as being my own personal Isle of Ys (not just the Isle of Ys that is also connected with Brittany in the collective and mythological consciousness of the Bretons), before it then sank without trace.

If all that's enigmatic, so be it. It's worth tracing the way our lives loop back on themselves though – we can learn a lot from the similarities of aspects of our inner lives, no matter how much the outer expression and times are divergent. Repeating patterns have something to say of the soul and its purposes, I think.


  1. Looping the loop. I find that in my life there are loops, too. And the more open to intuition I can be, the better the experience. I love the sound of that forest in Brittany. The healer in the Pyrenees also sounds familiar. Here, they have 'endereiters' (make-righters, or bone men) who do magic and ask for no payment. It is a gift.

  2. Veronica, lovely to hear. Thank you. I love the sound of the endereiters - healers are shamans, basically, I believe. I forgot to mention that le monsieur in the Pyrenees didn't charge. It is indeed a gift.

  3. A fascinating story of healing and mysticism, Roselle. I remember the allusions to your experiences in both your novels. Ever since reading AS Byatt's Possession I've wanted to visit that Breton forest. I think you once said it was your forest.
    The myth of The Isle Ys rang bells, literally. It made me think of Debussy's piano Prelude, La Cathedral Engloutie, so I checked Wikipedia and sure enough it was based on said Myth:

    'This piece is based on an ancient Breton myth in which a cathedral, submerged underwater off the coast of the Island of Ys, rises up from the sea on clear mornings when the water is transparent. Sounds can be heard of priests chanting, bells chiming, and the organ playing, from across the sea. . . . Debussy uses certain harmonies to allude to the plot of the legend, in the style of musical symbolism.'

    You can listen to it on YouTube but you're likely know it already.

    I can strongly relate to the way life loops back and forth and around. Something to do with my longing for northern landscapes which always feel like home even though I know very few people there now. I'm sure it's influenced by archetypal childhood dreams of travelling through forest to mountains, ice and water which in turn was influenced by my grandparents' exodus from Baltic Lithuania to Yorkshire. I always wanted to end up in the north again but moving there seems suddenly unrealistic. All that energy needed to forge an entry, a sense of belonging to a new community of people? I do believe that even the most reclusive, self-sufficient person needs that. And so we dither and put off deciding.
    Talking of communities, though, it's great to be back on the blog!
    Thank you as ever, Roselle.
    M x

  4. The soul does indeed have its purposes, Roselle, and it's so good that you are staying true to all this. Love and blessings.xx

  5. Lindsay, how lovely to know that you're reading this. Thank you for your care. Rxx

  6. Miriam, it's very good to have you back in the blogosphere and its community! Your comments are always thoughtful and interesting; and strangely (or not, really) since writing that blog I've had a very strong desire to pick up 'Possession' again - what a tour de force that novel is.

    I'm very interested in the lost lands below the waters - there's a blog in the making on that. I was brought up on the North Devon coast (we arrived there from Cornwall when I was 5 or 6), and Saunton Sands had the same local legend.

    Does one have to move phsyically, I wonder? The imaginal life is so strong and just as real. However, I find it helps enormously to be immersed in a land with which one resonates deeply, personally.

    More to say in an email soon - as you will have gathered there are big things happening here and I'm behind with work, so love to both for the minute.



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