The wood so softly singing
In a language strange to hear
And the song it sings will find you
As the twilight draws you near


Tunnels and Secret Passages

In the cliffs along the coast of Cardigan Bay there is a deep gash through the rock known as the ‘Monks’ Cave’. It is difficult to get to except from a boat as the tide comes right up to the cliffs and to walk along the beach would be to risk getting cut off before you could get back again. But it’s possible to see it from above, where the coastal path passes an opening allowing you to look down into it and to hear the waves rushing in at high tide, near the remnant ancient oak woodland of Penderi which clings to the cliff edge. But why is it called the ‘Monks’ Cave’? Legend has it that a secret passage runs from the cave inland to the medieval monastery at Strata Florida. This lies more or less due south-east of the cave in a straight line, but the tunnel would have to be nearly fifteen miles long to get there. There are many such legends of tunnels to or from abbeys, castles, prehistoric monuments and other such places; from sea caves to significant sites inland; from wells or springs feeding underground water courses; to caves under hills where treasure is buried or heroic figures like Arthur lie sleeping biding their time to awaken.

On the other side of Wales on the border with Shropshire is a place called ‘The Giant’s Grave’ beneath a site where a cromlech once stood. Although the place was reputed to contain treasure, legend has it that those looking for it have either disappeared or died in the attempt. On the other side of the same hill a legend tells of a blind fiddler from the village of Llanmynech who wandered into the ‘Ogo’ (Welsh for cave) and was never seen again, though the sounds of a fiddle playing could be heard deep below the cellar of the village inn. It was said that he had been captured to play for the fairy folk.

So one explanation of such tunnels is that they are ways to the Otherworld, either underground or somewhere under the sea or on an unseen island off the coast. Sometimes these legends are linked to leats of old mine workings or other underground constructions. Visiting such places such as the Roman gold mines at Dolaucothi which I went into recently often evokes memories of passages traversed in meditations or path workings which in turn resonate with some of the great stories of visits to the Netherworld such as that recounted in Virgil’s Aeneid.

I have a definite sense of the memory of a tunnel under the cliffs near where I live which I have walked through in the past, but which is now closed. But I don’t know where it is. Did I dream these walks and the subsequent closure of the tunnel? I really don’t know. But images of the tunnel and the place where it emerges into woodland are clear in my mind. Legends, dreams, psychic journeys, winding ways into the Otherworld : tunnels persist in the cognitive landscape.


The Lost Mother

There was a young girl called Jane whose mother had died and her father kept her in the house and didn’t like her to go out without him for fear, at first, that she might come to harm but as she grew older, in case she might meet someone and leave him to live alone. So she would sit in her room and talk to an imaginary friend called John. Now her father soon became jealous of John and forbade her from talking to him, so she could only have whispered conversations with him at night, speaking into her pillow as she drifted off to sleep to meet him in her dreams….

……. There was John, knocking on the door and asking her father if she could come out with him.
No! said her father.
Yes! said John pushing her father aside and taking her hand to lead her away from the house……

The  beginning of the dream was always the same, time after time. John was always so assertive and she was always so decisive in taking his hand and stepping past her father. But after that the dream never developed in the same way. Sometimes they went to a large space and danced, sometimes he bought her beautiful clothes to wear. But at other times he led her into a dark forest and took out a long knife, or she was made to do things against her will. Other times they just walked down the road into the mist.

Jane began to be unsure of John and wondered what these dreams meant. In some ways he was no different from her father but in other ways he seemed her only hope of getting away from him. Sitting quietly in her room one evening she felt a presence in the room with her and thought it must be John, but the voice was not John’s voice. It was a woman’s voice, soft and gentle but also firm and admonishing saying 
“What’s to be done my dear, this will never do”. 
As she listened to the voice she felt a pull away from everything she knew and everything she wished for and she knew that she only had to reply for the conversation to take her away but she could not reply and the woman’s voice faded as she drew away.
The next night as she sat sipping a hot drink with her father she heard the voice again and looked fearfully over at him but he had not heard it saying 
“What’s to be done my dear, this will never do”
But again she did not reply. 

Later she spoke to John in whispers as she drifted off to sleep and then, in her dream, they walked under some trees by a wide river that was flowing in a fast torrent and on the torrent came a boat and in it was the woman. Jane knew it was the same woman though she had only heard her voice up to now. She had long flowing silver hair that was the water of the river and a billowing cloak that was the boat. John wanted to lead her away from the river then, under the trees where it was dark and the woman would not see them. But the woman called to her to jump into the boat. Jane didn’t know what to do. John was calling her. The woman was calling her and she seemed for a moment to be suspended between them. The trees were dark, but they were a place to hide. The river was rushing on, and she thought for a moment about where it might be rushing to. She looked out at the woman drawing level with her 
”Who are you?” she asked. 
The woman held out her hand then and Jane had her answer. They were swept away from John. From her father. From the dream which was not a dream except that it had held her like a dream so she could not escape from it. The river rushed on through the world. A world without her father. Without John. Without her mother, but she was always there, as John had been, now she was talking to her. Now she came and went as she pleased, and no-one prevented her from going out and when she did she always knew where she was going. Except when she stepped out into the river and was wrapped in the boat’s cloak and was enclosed in the silver hair and listened to the whispers telling who she was and how much she was loved. So when she stepped freely off again her life with her father, with John and with anyone else she chose could go on untroubled.