13th April: As local Welsh legend has it, the priest Elidir had chanced upon a tunnel leading to the magical fairy kingdom when he was a boy and had gained access to it, meeting its inhabitants, who welcomed him in. So he made friends with the fairies and regularly returned to visit them…until, one fateful day, temptation overcame him and he stole a magical golden ball from them and took it away though, of course, it was next to useless to him since he had no real idea what it was for. After that, the tunnel vanished and he never saw the fairies again and so the priest lost touch with the very “magic” that inspired him because he had tried to possess and control it…a familiar tale that lies right at the heart of our culture.
There had to be one day on this wonderful trip to Wales that I didn’t feel on quite the same “high” as I had otherwise been on…this was, I realised, what the inner gremlin had been telling me to expect (because we have all made it our habit to expect that bubble to burst when things are going so well…) and so, of course, it happened on the second of our two waterfall trips. First, there was the ghost of a headache and some pain and stiffness in my body when I woke that day (well I’d spent the previous day lying on the boggy earth in the stone circle of Nant Tawr) and I felt all this pain step up its efforts soon after we got to start of the walking route to Lady Falls (Sywd Gwladys), though I really hoped with all my vigour that it didn’t develop into anything.
The pathway following the river that was leading us back into the lower end of the same waterfall territory of Ystradfelte that we had been to earlier that week was as beautiful as ever (and, again, remarkably close to Sarn Helen – the ancient route I explored in my post Journey with Elen: finding my way); yes it was really beautiful, mysterious and so photogenic here. Yet something undeniable felt quite different to that other waterfall walk where I felt like I was on some sort of homecoming; was it just my building headache trying to take my mood over or was I feeling into something else because I just didn’t feel quite so relaxed here, however hard I tried.
By the time we reached Lady Falls themselves, though there were other waterfalls ahead on this route, it was obvious I only had it in me to go this far before turning back to the car as my headache was becoming a migraine now and was really starting to affect my vision and coordination. Right at the entranceway to what should have been an idyllic round pool at the foot of the falls, a recent sheep carcass lay gruesomely visible and very bloodied, caught on branches and rocks at the water’s exit to the main flow of the river; a casualty of the sheer edges high above. It bothered me to see it there and then forced the question why be so melodramatic about what had happened to this one when the same fate (actually, a more pre-meditated, far less natural version of its demise) awaited all those other lambs and sheep we had been admiring on all our walks. It felt like all the worst excesses of humanity’s most tunnel-vision hypocrisy (people choosing only to see what it suits them to see) was thrust right up in my face for me to dwell upon just as I entered what I had pre-imagined would be about as tranquil and sacred a spot as could be before I got here…
It was undoubtably a stunning waterfall, many feet high; tall and elegant like a woman’s robes tumbling down into a serene pool of softly flowing liquid coloured brownish-red by the earth she carries with her. She could have been a goddess standing there in the water, the sun in her hair but, this time, a little aloof like she had been bothered by people before and so turned her back and withdrawn; there was none of the inclusiveness of Snow Falls as the water was too deep to get under her without utterly soaking yourself. Still, I wanted to get much closer and to do this alone, to feel into what these falls were about like having a gentle word in her ear, so I scrambled over wet rocks and perched just to her side, feeling a little apologetic, like I was watching her bathing, invading her turf. Still, it felt like we weren’t quite connecting…she was holding back…and, really we weren’t quite alone (though that hadn’t mattered at Snow Falls, where the crowds only added to the experience) because, high up on a ledge was a couple near enough to be as directly above me as the pebble drops and while I felt put-off by them watching me, I could also feel just how much they wanted me to leave their romantic spot and move on.
Between one thing and another, we didn’t stay all that long; mostly, I was concerned that my pain levels were increasing so rapidly that I might not easily manage the journey back home. The walk back to the car was the one and only time on the holiday that we all felt a little bit “off” with each other, a little irritable and out of sorts. Somehow, my husband had managed to slip spectacularly on a rock right onto his coccyx causing an injury that lasted days – what was it about this place and “falling” – and that was already impacting how fast he could walk. I route-marched my way back along the river, ten paces in front of the others, and was relieved to get back to the car intact enough that, a dose of boswellia and a long drink of water later, my vision cleared sufficiently for me to tackle the long drive back to the cottage.
So, I ask again, what was it about this place; what did its geography so powerfully correlate to that I felt it in all my cells like a reminder of something I didn’t want to hear about anymore? Was it that I felt so utterly done with that stale old Fall of Eden thing now and just wanted to move on from it all; to dump that whole “man finds woman in sublime nature-connected place, man likes place and all its inherent “magic”, man steals magic from woman (but doesn’t understand how it works without woman’s help), woman no longer trusts man, man is disconnected from all that is truly important, man gets angry and bludgeons everyone to death for personal gain and to hide his pain, the garden is no longer a nice place, everyone is unhappy” story. Haven’t we all just lived that one for way too long now and its time to get over it?
Perhaps what I was feeling in my cells here was a metaphor on-loop that the divine feminine had taken a tumble…and the man who pushed her over that edge had lived to rue the day; disconnected from everything including himself. Perhaps the new story that I was really longing to hear now was “the lady fell…but then she stood back up again and we all lived happily together in a whole new world”. Perhaps the young couple at the top of that ledge had been planted there as a gentle reminder of that new possibility.
One of the lighter points of the day was that the guy in question, who had clearly been waiting for his moment to impress his lady by taking a naked dip under the falls, must have taken that opportunity just as soon as he thought we had gone because we suddenly heard a kerfuffle from amongst a group of elderly tourists on a coach tour who were just arriving at the pool as we were leaving. “There’s a streaker” one of them shouted and, spinning around, I saw the young chap (now stark naked and cupping “his bits”) dashing wildly through the craggy undergrowth that led back up to his, no doubt, laughing girlfriend at the top. His harmless and quite temporary humiliation was enough for me to feel ‘the lady’ of these falls had got the last laugh and that maybe, just maybe, The Lady Falls were about ready to adopt a new name from now on…at least in my mind.
This is the sixth post in a series written during a week spent in a cottage in Wales in mid-April. In fact, having shared some far-more powerful material in my recent epic post (A walk in the park: healing the biggest wound of all), I wondered whether this small gem of an anecdote had missed its moment.
It was only when I reconsidered the material I originally wrote about our day at Lady Falls that I came to realise how – with beautiful non-linear perfection – the timing of what happened there was even more perfect if published after what I shared in my most recent post…in fact, the healing of a deep, malignant wound that felt like my personal version of the whole, long-running gender standoff in our culture (something my visit to Lady Falls seemed to bring right up to the top of the surface for me, though I hardly realised how much it had triggered me until afterwards) feels like it has been released in me now since the healing-journey I shared in that recent epic. In the new light of what came up for me last week, I have now come to understand the resistance I felt to this beautiful place, in spite of the fact I love waterfalls and had been looking forward to the trip immensely.
In hindsight, I can laugh at the obvious humour in my subconscious (if very tangible!) reaction to the name and the legend surrounding the place because, really, what I was experiencing was a kind of healing crisis…that moment when you feel you have had quite enough of the status quo and want to push through the last remaining agonies to get to the other side. I had reached that point – and I knew it that day – that I had to go through some of the pain, the unsavouriness and grim reality that not everything can seem ideal all of the time in order to get to where I wanted to go and the intense migraine I managed to hold off, which took hold properly that evening, was like a demonstration of this, though it was completely gone by bedtime and hasn’t returned, touch wood, since. We all have to be prepared to step through some unsavoury stuff to make those breakthroughs we long for so badly…though we may be surprised at how quickly we get through it once we realise we have quite “had it” with the status quo that no longer serves us.
Was the legend of Elidir connected to Elen (of my earlier post) in any way, was this red-goddess of the pool surrounded by trees, in fact, Elen (who is so-associated with woodland, with earthy, amber-hued tones and the colour red)? Indeed, Sarn Helen passes very close by on its way through Banwen, close to a village with the intriguing name Seven Sisters (although apparently named after the seven daughters of the founder of the one-time coal mine there). Had this been the overt reference to the Pleiades that I hoped for (and I don’t discount the connection at the synchronistic level) then this would have tied in nicely with the fact the Seven Sisters were the companions of the Goddess Artemis who (along with her Roman equivalent Diana) has associations with Elen through a great deal of shared iconography (discussed in ‘Finding the Deer Goddess” by Caroline Wise in Finding Elen, the Quest for Elen of the Ways which I am currently devouring as the most compulsively fascinating reading). As an interesting aside, I’ve discovered that the Snowdonia range of mountains (adjacent to which Sarn Helen begins its route at Caer Hun, near Conwy) includes mountains called Yr Elen and Elidir Fawr…how interesting that they should so prominently stand (if not quite side by side) as these peaks together. I digress…
The experience I had on our trip to Lady Falls makes far better sense to me now, a month later (given what unfolded next…) and I can appreciate all the poetic beauty of the timing of the trip and my inexplicable reaction to it paired with the particular energy of the place, the local legend, the sweeping cultural story and where I was at that point in my own particular healing journey; a truly multi-dimensional event. It had been predicted to me (by a healer) that my healing would be complete at a waterfall I was destined to visit – though she knew nothing about my imminent trip to Wales. I had assumed that Snow Falls was where this great completion would take place; had never considered that this odd little visit to Lady Falls that felt so disjointed, a little bit less-than, was what she was feeling in to; but out of all its so-called imperfection came the greatest healing impulse of all because it was like an ejection out of the desire to remain, any longer, in that old place where I had felt stuck and tipped over, dispossessed of my power. After that walk, in my full determination to be done with all that, it was the real beginning of claiming my power back. If I had planned it all along, the tongue-in-cheek phrase that suddenly suggested itself as the title to this post – “The Lady Falls…and then she stands back up again” – seemed also to be the most perfect conclusion imaginable for all my most epic sharing of the rawest kind in the previous one. It made me giggle out of all my cells to realise this is exactly what I am doing right now in my life…I am standing back up again.
Humour is the great healer, the leveller and defuser of situations and so the humour injected into the finalé of this escapade, with the naked guy caught-out by his mistimed yet harmless impulse, was enough to suggest that, perhaps, its time for us all to just get over ourselves, our petty differences and old wounds now and to pick ourselves up off the ground – together!
Others posts in this (closely interrelated) series are: