The world Down There is invisible now. A thick drape of cloud has descended, leaving only a crown of rock-ribbed summits, and us Up Here dallying with the unicorns and dragons. I haven’t been Down for a week, reclused as I am on my hill. And as the days thaw one into another, the magic amplifies. Deepens. Thickens. Flowers pop all over the dirt like Gaian stars. Wild horses appear and disappear. Cow bells chime, bees buzz, and butterflies flutter awake.
The woods beckon me closer, brimming with spirits. They brush over my lips and through my hair. “This is the Other World”, they murmur. “Do you remember us? Do you remember here?”
And somewhere I do remember being small and rummaging between tree trunks, sensing spells and auras and other worlds. Later I also remember them saying it was nonsense. Make believe. Just my imagination. I remember them telling me to focus on real things, like money in the bank and a career.
As I wander through the hazels and hawthorns, the spirits wind about me like incense smoke, and for no good reason at all I feel safe. It's all going to be OK. Because although the system is the one looking more and more make-believe today, the gaping cracks in our world are doors. Openings to another place where things happen in the most mysterious ways.
As I peer through the copse, I see I've stepped across the threshold. “Welcome home,” the wood spirits sing. “Welcome home.” Suddenly I realise, this isn't the other world. That is. The haste and panic and insecurity are in my imagination. The magic is the one that’s real.
“Stay calm. Don’t panic. Focus.” he said. “It is vital now, as vital as life herself.”
It was my Power Ash that spoke. Each ash on my land intones differently. One grants healing. One emits peace. One brushes the roof of my cabaña like an old friend. I’ve always known the Power Ash was the energetic centre of the land. He is a manifester, and when I form a vision beneath his sylvan crown, anything can happen.
Sometimes I refer to this ash as a he. Sometimes as a she. But the Power Ash is pangender. He embodies that alchemical fusion of male and female, of spirit and earth that makes the unbelievable materialise.
It was under this tree that I sat before I bought this land. That biting winters’ day two years ago, sunlight carving new worlds out of the landscape, the ash nudged me to put in a final offer. I ran my hand over the magical lattice on his trunk, and inhaled the potential. Half an hour later in the town below, I bumped into the owner of this land, who then oddly accepted my proposal.
It is the Power Ash that I sit with every time I build. And he always says the same thing. “You are power. You can have whatever you want. Make it happen.” Then he whispers the next one or two steps to me. And I follow them. When I do it’s easy. Thus I create a new world.
So naturally it was the Power Ash I ran to when I watched the forests burning. The beautiful creatures burning. Because suddenly I was burning too. There is only so much horror a human can hold before she bursts. And late one night I ripped at the seams. Hence, in pyjamas and hat, I climbed out of my hut and onto my land. Gasping at the freezing air, I stumbled past the barn, through the nettles and grasses, down to the rocks and the ash. The moon was exactly yin yang, casting enough light for me to make out the mountain ridges, but enough darkness to sequester the crevasses.
His boughs were held aloft invoking the sky, while his roots dug deep to the source. “Stay calm, as though your life depends on it,” The Power Ash said. “Panic and anguish will destroy you. Focus on your reality, not someone else’s. Your power is here and now, not there or then.”
The moon held my world in her gaze, and I felt myself stretch into the dirt. “Keep your vision clear. Listen. Take the next step. Then envision and listen again.”
The air thickened gently about me, the darkness pulled so taut you could break it just by tapping on it. An owl warbled from the hazel wood next door, and I felt it. The land turning toward me. All eyes were on me now. “We are power,” the ash said. “And Earth is calling on you to express it.”
Leaves brown and mushy fill the grass. Summer’s work is done. And I know now I will never go back. To the deadlands of the ‘normal’ world, which is anything but. Humans in concrete cages, sucking up drudge hour after hour. The rising tide of boredom. The desperation to fill the void scratching so deeply at souls, they willingly plug themselves into an app to avoid it.
Sometimes it’s wild up here in the mountains. Storms ride in and out like highway men holding my stone huts to ransom. There’s no financial certainty in nature. No power or hot water. Wood must be found and cut. I am rarely sitting. But I will never go back to your urban morgues of convenience. Because I’m a woman of the dirt. I drink the stars at night and create worlds by day. I’m alive.
It’s hotter in October than in August. And through the balmy air, the cloud spirits waft. They float in and out of my land as ethereal beings, brushing against my lips, stroking my arms. Sometimes as they cosset me, they speak.
“Don’t listen to anyone,” they say as they massage my heart. “Because no one knows.”
And there under the ash tree, I am resuscitated. The ranting of the world recedes. The inflated opinions and judgements slip underground. I feel my chest again and it tingles with recognition.
It’s the hardest thing for a human to do. We are programmed to absorb the ideas of our peers, to soak up doctrine and culture like flesh and blood blotting paper. The fingers are pointing at all of us now, guilt-tripping us, coercing us into tight pens.
The cloud sylphs weave higher and closer. I see their soft dewy faces smiling. “Don’t listen to to anyone,” they say. “Sense us. Feel us on your skin. Feel the water in your heart and the fire in your womb. Feel the earth beneath you. Holding you. Holding you. Only then can you listen. Only then.”
A thought cluster drifts into me, warm and true. There is no conflict within it, no panic, nor threat. No list of pros and cons. It is simply right. For me. At this particular moment. These are my words. My thoughts. An intercourse between my soul and the planet, birthing a path which is unabashedly mine.
“What can I do for you dear Earth. What? I have no idea how to act.”
“See me as you would like me to be, in your mind and in your heart. How do I look? What are we both aspiring to? Because we are both creating each other here.”
I stop and consider it. The exhaust smoke of the human world dissipates. The war, the grief, the environmental and social disaster. It falls from the planet like rank old clothes, and everything glows in its wake.
How would I like my Earth to be? Closing my eyes, I feel the cloud spirits drawing closer. I see great forests the size of countries dripping with life and colour. Jaguars, butterflies, rainbow iguanas, birds of paradise, parakeets, snakes, secret insects we don’t know exist yet, small mammals and big, our brothers and sisters, all thriving.
As if sensing my gaze, the Great Forest awakens. And I watch in wonder as the canopy spreads. Vines stretch outwards and upwards, while tree roots enmesh themselves below ground. Leafy hands reach into the barren lands, repossessing fields of tree stumps. The dirt squelches, stalks push through and flowers thrust their heads up to bloom.
All becomes pure power and light; a green tide pulling across the plains and hills.
As though hearing my vision, the ears of the forest creatures prick up. The jaguar stands by the river, throws back her head and roars. Life’s unstoppable power surges into everything, from the smallest lizard to the largest sloth. One by one each forest being becomes alert, standing in the light of Gaia. The forest hums as it joins the intention to flourish, to collaborate here on planet Earth. I feel that immense vitality too, pulsing through me, galvanising me.
“Now, what do I do next?” I call to the cloud spirits. “How do I make this happen?” Because I wonder how to get from here to there? From idea to reality.
The wisps gather round me, animated. “Don’t listen to the fearmongers and naysayers, or the media terror,” They boom. There is a swish and a woosh from the ash tree above. “Come to this space each day. Recreate the Great Forest until your imagination is so saturated with it, you are convinced it’s here. Then, only then, will you know what to do next.”
The days pass. It looks easy, but it’s a hard task I’ve been set. Distractions yank at my mind, and digital screens blind my eyes. Images of fires and plastic oceans fill my head, despair and confusion crouching behind them, rubbing their hands in glee. I’m told I should do something. This or that. That imagining does nothing. That visions are for the privileged. That I mustn’t drive, or fly, or move, or breathe, because everything is killing the planet.
An ash leaf flutters down from above, curled and orange. The tree is a wizard now, seeing things I cannot. Thankfully, I remember the pinch of salt. Because who are these ranting know-alls, telling me to do this and that? And what exactly do they know?
“Don’t listen,” the clouds murmur once more as they circle overhead. “Don’t listen.”
Standing in the centre of my land, I see an eagle drift above. My world is a glorious chlorophyll laden wonder. Mountains rise and fall with such grace it’s hard to believe the destruction they wreaked eons before to be here. A wren peers at me from a branch, and a bumble bee forages in a flower. Squatting in such formidable beauty cracks me open. I can hear the water trickling in the brook below. I see the woodland too, and three stone huts to play with. It’s a blessing this tiny world I’m creating. It’s an honour, not a privilege. It is the gift of being human to create lives and worlds.
As I stand in my mud and rock acreage, I remember imagining this. I remember when it was nothing but an idea; a vision of a more beautiful life. I remember back in the beginning, being lost on the road, searching for a new home, doubting at times it existed. I remember my paltry budget which everyone said was not enough. And then listening to the rocks and the trees until they brought me right here.
I remember wondering how I would make a road, connect water, or repair the walls and the roofs. How can we go from nothing to a new world after all? Yet here I am, in what was once only a figment of my imagination. Here I am.
The cloud spirits lift, and draw closer. I close my eyes and the Great Forests rise before me, a little leafier than before. A jaguar roars. Parakeets squawk. And Gaia shifts into gear.
There are always gateways. And they are integral. Without a door there can be no rooms, no sanctuaries, no inner or outer worlds. Gateways are sacred corridors that prepare us for the transition from one reality to another. On my land high in the picos of northern Spain, Lion Rock is the gate.
For a long time I missed him completely, because the lion is not in the most convenient spot. Reclining as he is behind a morass of sharp-clawed blackberry brambles, he expects some token of effort at least. But there was something about the space, especially at dusk. Something a little viscid, a little dewy about the edges. And I was drawn.
It was a twilight heaving with nimbus when I found myself on the grassy passageway between the two rocks. The hazel tree glimmered in the half-light. I paused because something was going on. Something beyond our ordinary world.
Then I felt the breath on my back. Rock breath. And when I turned I saw him, eyes closed, sleeping like the dead. The Lion in the rock.
He was ancient, gentle, an Aslan of limestone. After watching for a moment or two, I softly placed my hand on his rutted snout, and he began to murmur. “This is the gate to your land,” he said. “When you enter here, you belong. You become us, and we become you. Our earthen threads are woven together again.”
The sun was long gone by now, with the earth exhaling mist. I blinked. Then I stepped between the two rocks, passing through the gate. And there it was; that Other World, the one that hides beneath and beyond. A wonderland of infinite connections and Gaian magic.
The mist thickened into fat droplets. I watched them hit the stones like glass vials smashing on the ground. A metallic insect whirred above my head, a tiny zeppelin from another plane, and as I surveyed my home, I watched the sea holly twist and turn silver.
Swinging round once more, I gazed down, ready to thank the rock. My heart lurched forwards. I blinked to be sure. Because the eye in the rock had opened. The Lion was awake.
My van is a tin ovum. A chilly vacuole in the cell of the land, devoid of hot water and insulation. There's a metallic creak as I open the hatch. A rattle and a shunt. I crack my way out of the shell and into the world, wondering if I’ve made a mistake. The town house was easy after all. Buttons to push. Electricity oozing out of sockets. Machines to do my bidding.
As I tread through the grass stalks, I’m smeared in their juice. My ankle. My toe. My calf. The air is both heavy and light with Gaia’s attar. I inhale it, muscles stretching to thrust me up the slope, dew-sodden and alive.
Morning sun strikes my forehead – an angel’s hand wiping my brow? I reach the summit of my world, and see the hazels in the woods are swinging. There’s a party happening in there. Small feathered things; wrens, thrushes, robins, blackbirds, larks, all twitter and chirp with a passion I’m not sure I’ve ever known. And yet I do know it. Because as the sound waves press into my ears, I become the drum of the land, shaken awake and in time.
The thought flutters quietly into my mind and settles upon a vacant branch: Is the party for me?
What is this bewitchment of the dirt? For it must be a spell. A spirit or djinn. Suddenly I am holding what I thought I’d lost. The magic. The oneness. The precious meaning. Comfort and convenience are one thing. Life is quite another.
I climbed higher. The human world heavy with all its dissatisfaction and addiction, sank below clouds. How glad I was to see it go. Crusty old pine trunks pushed high above me, and I darted between the ancient columns, peering for clues.
Was it the high mountain air? Unpolluted. Pure. Or was it the act of walking itself — the paced exertion — which flung open the windows of my mind? Because all too soon, I was in another world; the other Earth where birds speak, crags grumble, and each rock and root holds meaning.
“Wake up!” The wind shrieked as she slapped my cheeks. And I did.
The track wound higher. Out of the woods and along the mountain back. Anyone could see it was a rite of passage. Yet daylight was on the wane, and the wind was battering my face so ferociously I winced.
Hurrying upwards, I tasted the sharp edge of time on my tongue. Evening was coming, and it was a question of trust now. The path was leading me somewhere, but did I have the faith to follow it this late in the day? Because when darkness fell, the wolves would emerge, and the way would be devoured.
Through bog and gorse, the ground oozed. Sunset’s fingertips dragged along the distant peaks as day’s end yanked her westward. I scrabbled upwards. Onwards. Throughwards.
And then I saw them. The wild horses. Their manes whipped in the wind as they chomped. The four of them held the top of the mountain, as sturdy and sure as gods. A pregnant mare raised her head, mammalian eyes reflecting emotions I knew so well. Here on the other planet Earth, the primordial one we evolved from, you know when you meet an animal guide. You just know.
I sat near the horses while they told me their tales of plodding freedom. And in return I told them mine. We all agreed, there was a meaning to our meeting. A vitality.
“Leave now, or join us forever,” the mare murmured as the gloaming blurred the landscape.
Night’s breath was on my back as I ran. He almost grazed me, though not quite. I reached the car. As I closed the door, magic pushing out of my cheeks and eyes, I saw the grids of the streetlights flicking on down below. They tamed the villages and caged the towns. In dull domesticity.
I left the path. Something drew me aside. Was it the voices of the Celts rising from the boggy ground? Or the battering breath of the wind dragon flapping across the Asturian sky? No matter. I was drawn. By the landscape herself. And I followed her crooked finger. Upward and into the bosk.
One is never disappointed when one heeds the call. For treasure is aplenty, stowed within the contours of the Earth’s body. Under stone. Behind tree. Clattering between the banks of a brook. Perhaps it’s the treasure itself that beckons. Perhaps the gold seeps into the soil weaving glistening trails only instinct can see.
Cold gusts bit into my cheeks. I stopped. Pushing back my hat, I saw clearly. It was an altar. Not that there was a sign. But the presence of the rock, the shimmer of emerald, and the whispers from the pine grove surrounding were explicit.
Few are those who recognise Spain’s Celtic side. Her cooler northern side. Yet Celtic she is. And as I knelt, placing my hands on the rock’s long-chilled hide, something of substance was released.
The word Rune is derived from the root - run or runa meaning whisper or secret. In linguistic terms, runes are the symbolic letters of ancient Germanic alphabets, or even short Norse poems. Runes can be stones inscribed with magical symbols or 'spells too. Welcome to my runes. Are they symbols? Are they poems? Or are they spells? I'll leave it up to you.
Atulya K Bingham is an author, natural builder and lone off-gridder now lost in the hills of northern Spain.
"I consider myself a person who is connected to nature, somebody who respects the earth; this book has me walking through the world with all my senses opened." Emma Blas, editor Her Heart Poetry