Thursday 6 October 2016

Voyage to the West

Jennie looked at Cai. 'And where is this Court of yours? How do you get home?'
'I am home.' Cai grinned at her look of confusion. 'First, we walk back with you back to Carston. From there, well, let's just say it's not far. Logria never is. Under the leaves, in the reflections of a pond, you might just see it.'
He waved his hand vaguely at the winter country below them, at the farms and woods and the traffic on a distant road. 'Logria is out there,' he said.

Catherine Fisher, Fintan's Tower (1991)


The notion of Albion (or Logria, as it's called here) as a hidden reality underpinning daily life is one that stirs and stimulates the imagination. Several place-names and sites across Britain have become associated in the popular mind with this 'secret country'. One thinks of Tintagel, for instance, or Glastonbury Tor, or Avebury, or the White Horse of Uffington.

For myself, it is a particular train journey which is most emblematic of Logria - from Newcastle to Liverpool, from East to West, from the courts of the morning to the couch of the setting sun, from the North Sea and the banks of the Tyne to the mouth of the Mersey and the Irish Sea.

We begin on Tyneside. England's north-eastern seaboard looks out towards Scandinavia, calling to mind the successive waves of Viking raids, invasions and settlements that bedevilled Northumbria between 787 and 1066. As we proceed westward, a number of different but inter-linked Englands emerge, starting with the England of Christendom and the Ages of Faith, given such outstanding embodiment in the Medieval splendour of Durham and York Cathedrals. Next come the twin industrial powerhouses of Leeds and Manchester, separated by the Pennines, that stark and spectacular mountain range, the 'backbone of England' and the heartland of the formidable Brigantes tribe in the age of the Roman Conquest and the lost Ninth Legion that set out to subdue the Celts and disappeared without trace in the mists of the North.

At the westernmost edge of our journey, the train clatters through the tunnels on the approach to Liverpool Lime Street. Sunlight flickers on the moss-lined walls from narrow slits of bridges overhead. The world, between the bridges, turns shadowy and dim. My reflection stares back at me, pale and luminous in the darkened window. Then, just like that, it vanishes, rendered invisible by the brightness of the station, spreading out around us like a rough-hewn open air theatre. The city beyond, with its vivid sunsets, artistic flair, and princely (if sometimes shabby) air, has a faintly Otherworldly feel, not fully of a piece, it seems, with the country before the tunnels. Just as Newcastle looks out onto the Norse world, so Liverpool turns towards Wales rather than England, towards Ireland and the Western Ocean; as far as the Isles of the Blessed, those mysterious realms at the rim of the world, where this level of reality ends and the next begins.

The veil between the worlds is thin in Liverpool. It is a numinous place, a Celtic place, an in-between place, yet as vital a piece in Albion's mosaic as all the rest - Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds, the Pennines, and the Cathedrals of Durham and York, which find their echo and reflection in Liverpool's pair of twentieth-century Cathedrals. And it's this symmetry and symbolism which makes the journey what it is for me - this multi-faceted slice of national life and history - following the day from sunrise to sunset, from the sea-road to Asgard to the great white ship that sails every night for Tir-Na-Nog.

Whenever I set out on this this voyage, you see, I sense the existence of the underlying pattern behind these varied aspects of Albion's story. Sensing is one thing, however, piercing the veil another. To perceive the pattern as a whole, to recognise and comprehend the deeper reality - to name it and articulate it - that would be to unveil and usher into the light of day the hidden meaning and purpose of this island Kingdom. The return of the Holy Grail to Logres would be one way of describing it. The maverick English prophet John Michell suggests another:

'The answer, when it comes, takes the form of a revelation. That does not mean a god or a UFO descending, but something that enters minds just when it is needed. Basically it is a pattern or a codification of number, and as you study it you realise that it is the pattern of creation and the human mind.' (Confessions of a Radical Traditionalist, 2005, p.285)

Michell's understanding is true, certainly for himself and maybe for others, but not for everyone. Each  of us experiences reality in a form and manner unique to ourselves and our own characteristics. As a lover of the word, for example, I suspect that the revelation might appear in the form of a narrative - a story, perhaps, or a speech, song, poem or play. Shakespeare came close to expressing it, I think. As did Blake. So too, in a different key, did Winston Churchill. But the right word - or the right combination of words - is yet to come. That will be the 'something' that enters our minds when we most need it. 

I feel its approach though, its growing presence and strength, as the train rolls out of Lime Street and the lamps shine like silver moons in the dusk. Two station staff, a man and a woman, stand talking at the end of the platform. The man says something, then points to the sky. They look up, as do I, but it's no good, not for me, because we're back in the tunnels and it's dark again except for my reflection gazing back at me in the window. Then it comes - the revelation - or something like it - on the far side of my face - golden letters in a flowing script, standing out distinctly against the greeny black of the tunnel wall. There isn't much to see. A handful of lines, nothing more. Barely a paragraph. The train gathers speed and I catch a couple of words: 'Wasteland' and 'waters'. There's a 'when' and a 'tree' and a 'King' too. Then it's gone and we're out of the tunnels, rounding the curve of the engine sheds, past the city walls and into the country beyond.

The moment has passed; the vision departed. But I don't feel downhearted; not in the slightest. I smile and sit back. 'Logria is out there,' I say to myself, as the train rattles on through the night, towards the eastern coast and the return - nearer with every turn of the wheel - of the renewed, rejuvenated Sun and - I know it in my heart now - the rebirth and restoration of this holy land.


Simon said...

Thank you for this piece, John! It is lovely.

John Fitzgerald said...

Thanks Simon. Glad you liked it. All the very best, jf