If a magical creature, one of legend or the lore of (y)our ancestors, were to reveal itself to you, would you tell others; or would you keep the revelation to yourself?
This question has been on my mind as I have turned my attention to the Cailleach. She is said to guard her own – the deer in particular can count on her, but other wild creatures as well. In this regard, she seems to me more akin to the Brown Man than the Bodach. It would surprise me little if magical creatures of legend were not also under her protection. If we believe in gods, why not in magical creatures of all kinds, as well? But for many – I would wager the majority of Westerners – these creatures are truly relegated to legend and myth. As the logic goes, if they exist, why are they not more commonly seen? Some people answer this question with an explanation of inherent shyness in such creatures; while others state quite self-assuredly that if they haven’t been seen, it is because they do not exist. For such folks, the lack of evidence in the archaeological record supports this. There are other answers, other explanations, as well … for something that so many people have never knowingly seen, it seems as though the topic still generates a lot of energy in our society!
Well, I would offer another possible explanation to the pot. But first, I would like to discuss something I’ve seen more than once in film, a theme we consider to be entertaining (or else it wouldn’t sell so well). That theme is as follows: the ‘protagonist’ (usually a white, Westerner type of person … often child or woman) finds his or herself either lost in the wilderness or guided into it (by non-white indigenous guides); where we stumble across the existence of a creature of legend. Our protagonist is amazed, and in most cases finds a way to befriend said creature. Befriend or not, when the protagonist is ‘rescued’ and brought back to ‘civilization,’ the first thing that happens is that others are made aware of the existence of the creature of legend. Someone then takes it into their head to capitalize on the situation, and sets out to capture or kill. Inadvertently, the creature of legend either reveals itself or reveals its rage in an attempt to save the person it befriended. The ‘solution’ of society is usually the same, and everyone is happy that a monster was not permitted to keep running amok in Manhattan, or where ever else the story takes place. In other variations, the creature of legend survives; but must first be ‘saved’ from our own society by a few enlightened people (often children). If this is an over-sized gorilla, or a long-necked alien from outer space, or also animals who have taken a lost one of ours as their own and are killed when we ‘rescue’ said lost one, the question remains: if you were a creature of legend, would you set out to reveal yourself to our society?
This is where my afore-mentioned explanation comes in: if you were a deity whose charge, among other things, was to look after the safety of creatures of legend, would you not also try to keep their existence secret? Perhaps, as you saw a religious culture develop that considered such creatures to be the ‘work of the devil,’ you might see fit to bring these creatures behind a veil, where they could live but not be seen by most. Now we are arriving at the question of morality and ethics I began this post with. If such a creature were to reveal itself to you – if a deity were to permit you to see through the veil, or even allow you to pass through it for a short time – would you describe this experience to others; or would you see your responsibility as one where you should safeguard what has been shared with you?
I’m not sure the question is as easy to answer as it may seem at first glance. In our world, Paganism is on the rise – more and more people want to see what has been described to us by others, more and more people are learning ways to Journey and interact beyond the Veil, and there are probably a lot of people who would argue that ‘proof’ of this kind of thing would change the world into a better place. That would be a tough corner to see around – such people could very well be right, and they could be disastrously wrong. If you are a Pagan, there almost seems to be a pressure on you to describe your own interactions with magical beings … and surely fellow Pagans could be trusted not to betray your experiences and exploit them to their advantage, right?
Then there are the Icelanders, who will not permit ground to be broken for new buildings until the local land spirits have been duly consulted and permission is given by them to build. To some of them, not all to be sure, the land spirits are a given – they do not live behind a veil, they are to be interacted with. There is something special about this, in that the existence of the land spirits is not something that needs proving in Iceland; and rather than exploit them, capture them and slap them in a zoo and wait for tourist money to start rolling in, they are respected and allowed to carry on with their lives unhindered. Could it be that if more societies would make the change to this way of looking at things, where the creatures of legend and wilderness alike would be not only acknowledged and believed in, but also allowed to live unhindered and unfettered, that we might (as a society) begin to relive the state of wonder that I think separates the Pagans of old from their converted descendants? Iceland has modernity – in some ways, Iceland enjoys a level of modernity that other parts of the world can truly envy – it is therefore not modernity and technology that is baneful to a sense of wonder. It is a breaking with the sacred trust, I think, that has caused this veil to go up. Our tendency to exploit to ruinous levels the world around us, to betray the trust of our wild brothers and sisters – the animals and plants of our world – and our sense of owning the world without being willing to own our responsibility to it. I think these things have caused us to lose our sense of wonder, have caused us to not see the magic that exists all around us. There is the real possibility that the Veil is not around them, that it is around us instead.
So, if you were entrusted enough to be allowed, even for a few moments, to see beyond the Veil – and even perhaps given the awesome power to prove what you saw (many of us now carry around cameras, for example) – would you take the risk of sharing this with others? Or would you risk the judgement of your peers, that you did not share with them something vital and magical when you had the chance to do so? As you can see, this could easily be a question with no real right or wrong answer – the rightness or wrongness might lie within your motivation, rather than in your response itself – but I think it is one we should ask ourselves as we encroach closer and closer on a veil that had a good reason to be put up.