I wrote the article, An Unexpected Journey – There and Back Again, all of eighteen months ago, back in May, 2020. This, as everyone other than my friends and family in Queensland will remember, was during the first round of Covid lockdowns. In this article I compared the feeling of being flung into an unpredictable and somewhat disturbing situation, to the old Irish stories of sudden and unexpected transfers to that ‘Otherworld’ of myth.
In May 2020, that sudden change was surprising, even a bit scary, but I think most of us regarded it as a temporary hiatus. We were expecting ‘normal service to be resumed as soon as possible’.
Now my son, who generally takes a hyper-rational outlook to statistics, informed me to expect the acute stage of the pandemic to be with us for around two years minimum. It was not something that I wanted to hear in May 2020 although, as a historian, I should have had a pretty good idea of the wave patterns encountered in historical pandemics.
I wrote that article at Bealtaine. It is now Samhain, an ideal season for reflection being both the end and the beginning of the ancient Irish agricultural year. It is a perfect time for looking into a mirror, through a mirror, or just for noticing and acknowledging that space ‘in between’.
I can’t help feeling that we stand in this ‘in between’ place now. We are trying to return to the familiar working world, yet, here in Ireland, we are also awaiting the peak of the Covid fourth wave and infections stand as high as the moment we entered into the deepest seclusion last January. However, we cannot just step back into that ‘Otherworld’ again, not now. We find ourselves living with our borderland situation whether we feel safe or not.
As I wrote in that Bealtaine article, ‘No-one ever returns, unchanged, from that Otherworld.’ This remains true although some return with gifts and treasures while others find themselves bearing wounds and scars. What I did not emphasise enough, back then, is that many find themselves returning to a world that appears to have radically changed. They may even find themselves returning to what seems like another time or location.
Looking back on my Bealtaine 2020 article I am certain that I was also writing to support and re-assure myself. I continue to have been one of the fortunate ones.
I have certainly been offered gifts and treasures during that long ‘Otherworld’ sojourn. I have been spending the last year and a half, designing multimedia programmes, creating online workshops and interactive story-telling sessions for schools, libraries and heritage groups. I have even managed to meet a long-held wish to set up a modern schools’ Óenach. The first was in October / November 2020 with a much bigger event in October 2021 and still ongoing . True, they are virtual Óenachs, (no chariots,) but this has allowed far more schools to get involved.
The Schools’ Óenach project will be the topic of a future post.
I have found myself rapidly acquiring, at least, almost adequate skills in filming and video editing and discovering methods that help to break that Zoom fourth wall. Yes, you can still run drama sessions through a camera!
After I receiving my ‘jabs’ back at the close of May I was very excited. However, my down-to-earth and ‘eternally wise’ daughter warned me that it would not change things very much. The delta variant proved her correct, of course, and yet there were still positives. It is still not possible to make primary school visits but, now I give workshops from home, I am no longer limited to schools in my locality. I may find myself racing off to a school in Donegal in the morning and Athenry in the afternoon. Sadly, Queensland, Australia, is still a long way from letting me in to visit my family and my three grandchildren. Virtual visits to them are far less satisfying.
The Biggest changes
It seems that the Story Archaeology podcast is one of those things finding itself in a different position. New, dynamic ways of working, developed during the pandemic, have offered Isolde some great opportunities and new fields of exciting work have opened up for her. She is now busy with many fresh projects.
Working alongside Isolde for so many years has been both a privilege and a pleasure. I have studied world mythology for most of my life and have been deeply interested in Irish stories for more years than I would wish to count but I am not a philologist. I never imagined that I might have the chance to be working from newly translated texts. In story Archaeology podcast exploration, it was always Isolde who would do the digging. Our ‘small finds trays’ were often full with the most exciting and productive philological treasures. But philological fieldwork is both demanding and time consuming, and so Story Archaeology has to change.
The website is not going to disappear. It still provides a rich archive of resources that I use, all the time, in my work and that will be continue to be available to all our many friends.
So, What Comes Next?
Story Archaeology hasn’t been idle in the last eighteen months. When I was teaching in England back in the 1980’s, I had already become irritated with the fact that it was hard to find anything about Iron Age Celtic Britain that was uncontaminated by Julius Caesar’s personal aggrandising propaganda. I had studied ‘Caesar’s Gallic Wars’ at school, but by the 1980’s became increasingly aware that this text, although largely comprised of tabloid style reports praising his genocidal rampage across Gaul, and sent back to Rome to be read aloud to the crowds in regular instalments, was still maintaining its influence almost 2000 years later
Story Archaeology for Schools
From the 1990’s, working with children here in Ireland, I came to realise that so many of the wonderful stories, first recounted long before the Normans arrived here, were also little known.
Another problem is that without some awareness of pre-Norman societal organisation, much of the story context may be missed or misunderstood. The Irish stories are as exciting as any Marvel hero tale, I think they are far better. What is more important, is that the Irish stories are embedded into a real and recognisable landscape.
During the Pandemic I have been able to reach more classes in schools over a far wider area. Even better, there are now multimedia programmes and plenty of video and audio stories recorded and ready to share. I would now like to start to make sample programmes available to teachers and educators. I may well set up a parallel Patron site to support this goal. My patreon page has been sitting unused a very long time.
I remember, back in the early 90’s, sitting the the Carrick Barrel Store, keeping shop for the Arts Co-op I was involved with. It was a very quiet day so I began to write. In about twenty minutes, with the Shannon flowing outside the window, I wrote my version of ‘The Story of Sinann’. I still have the original hand written draft. I tend to edit heavily. However, this story is almost word for word, identical to the version published on Story Archaeology. Of course, when I first wrote it, I had no access to all the philological research that has altered the relevance of the story and its importance to the topic of story longevity. However, the story stands in its own right. There have been many times when it has acted as a personal reminder to keep going, and flowing.
In the last eighteen months it has been of immense pleasure for me to watch Sinann’s wellspring growing in strength and spread. Though the story of Sinann, I have found myself working with some very unexpected and exciting collaborators. In 2020, I was delighted to find myself working with Professor Ralph Kenna, a theoretical Physicist specialising in the area of statistical physics. He is the author of ‘Myths meets Maths’ Quantitative approaches to ancient narratives. You can read all about Art for Sinann international competition on Story archaeology (link).
Next year the story of Sinann will be a core story for an innovative Art Exhibition in Sydney. I will be putting up information on this project very soon. The installation will be open between March and June 2022, live and on-line. I still have hopes of getting to Queensland in that timeline. If they let me in, I might also be able to make a visit to Sydney. That would be very special.
At the heart of Story Archaeology were the podcast episodes that Isolde and I created together. It is unlikely that any more will be made. I will miss those shared explorations. I have already referred to the rich archive of work to be retained on the site and I would like to build on this useful foundation. I am planning a complete update of the site in a new format that will allow both acess to a valuable achive as well as encouraging new approaches. The rebuild will take a while. will take a while.
For the present, I will be creating regular ‘Chris’ Rambles’. Each of these will be directly connected to a past episode I but will be drawing attention to new connections and discoveries. I am constantly wandering through stories and would love to share a few of the very surprising discoveries I have stumbled over in the last couple of years. Do you know there is a very unexpected connection between Gerardus Mercator, the Flemish cartographer, who developed the cylindrical map projection back in 1569, the rather weird and wacky English alchemist, Dr Dee, and the Lebor Gabála, The Book of Invasions? No, I am not making it up but the story will have to wait for now.
Story Archaeology has been subtitled ‘Conversations on Irish Mythology’,. Although I have changed the subtitle to ‘Stories in the Landscape, I am keen to retain the concept of conversations. Over the years I have had some wonderful online on-going conversations with Story Archaeology friends from New Zealand, Australia, America, Wales, England and many other places. Irish mythology may have been the starting point but it has led to a river ripple flow of interconnections between mythologies of many places. I would love to invite individuals to join me in a conversation on mythology which we can plan together. I will shortly be sending out invitations to invite friends to set uo the first Conversations on ‘Stories in the Landscape’. PLEASE, get in touch with me if you would like to join me for one of these conversations. I hope some of these will launch the newly re-vamped site.
As the river flows who know what new tributaries may be formed or where they will lead?
Chris Samhain 2021