Balleyboley Forest, Ireland
May 1 (Beltane), 1971
As the sun burned low on the morning’s horizon on that day many years ago at dawn on Beltane, the girl—barefoot, her lithe yet shapely form covered just barely in a white dress cut low in the front and extending to mid-thigh—stepped gingerly through the stillness of yellow grass in a field speckled with multicolored flowers, her skin Celtic-pale against the greening bristle of early springtime, and her hair matching the sultry, simmering fire of that May’s first crimson sunrise.
She looked twenty-something, but physical appearance can’t always be trusted when a seemingly ageless body secretly holds an ancient soul. She moved with graceful purpose, the grass bending firm yet yielding under her pink un-calloused soles, the supple reeds brushing gently against her smooth and tensing calves as she headed towards the moss-covered shadows of Balleyboley Forest. She seemed hauntingly ethereal: an embodied specter of the morning; a seeming reincarnation of yesterday—old in past memory yet totally new in the novelty of another wakening dawn. As she bent to pick a brilliant Irish lily, red and pink and alive, she simultaneously brushed a balmy cascade of cherry-rouge hair from her face and stood back up, holding the fragile stem and silk-like petals in the soft grip of her delicate palm. She would take that symbol of the living world with her as a keepsake into the dense and forbidding foliage that stretched ahead for many, many miles, well beyond the jagged inky border of meadow-becomes-woods that she had just now reached.
She disappeared under the canopy of oak and elm and spruce, veering right by forty-five or fifty degrees rather than continuing straight-on, in order to avoid the ill-humors that emanated from the unmentionable one’s tree, penetrating at least a mile in every direction and creating a circumferential radius of palpable terror. She shivered to think of the sinister timber: dead but inexplicably thriving, leaning with ominous brown and grey over the yawning abyss that gaped with an absent presence at its base, where a demon’s lazy eye peered through the brittle roots, waiting patiently to be awakened so its prey could be sucked into the passage that led directly to Hell. Her journey would lead her, just a few miles ahead, to a very different tree, where hope and life seemed to always triumph over despair and death.
The air, humid with the breath of pine and poplar, lightened noticeably as she put some distance between her and the dark one’s rancid sphere of influence, getting closer, pace by pace, to her destination: Daghda’s energy-providing oak, the source of life for all of Earth, forgotten long ago by human-kind but known still to Aine and her enigmatic people. As she picked her way through the mulch of earthy groundcover, a raven crowed, sending a flock of nervous sparrows out of the limbs and leaves where they were hiding. She followed their aerial trajectory, the line of flight ‘up above’ coincidentally corresponding in direction to her walking-path ‘down below’, until she finally arrived at the massive trunk, where she dutifully placed the lily tenderly on the ground near an exposed root that was much wider than both of her legs combined—a gift, perhaps, or maybe more of an offering: her humble request for access. After a moment, she laid both palms on the bark, knowing precisely where to touch; and magically, her whispered plea was answered with solid-becomes-air, revealing winding stairs descending into darkness that would lead, she knew, into a cavern of light, at the very bottom. She had been here before, had said the same prayer, and had opened the same passage, many times before. Now she would enter—the standard routine.
She let her clothes fall to the ground so the life-force would see her as she actually was—the traditional protocol when she came here as one of the chosen few, required to leave all things ‘human’ behind when given access to the mysterious entity that pulsed and throbbed below, in perfect sync with the vitality of the very earth itself. She followed the hidden passageway downward, stepping carefully with naked feet on rhizome-covered steps into the bowels of the burrowing tubers of Daghda’s oak tree, the purity of her intentions as exposed as the innocence of her stunning nudity, her eyelids closed over still-seeing emerald, descending deeper and deeper, her fingers a delicate caress on the twisting and diving cellulose cables. She slid like solid vapor along the buried and leafless ivy, her breath soft and calm as she inhaled the damp richness of the tree’s earthy atmosphere, becoming one with Daghda’s woody core. Finally, she reached the glowing cavern at the center of the tree’s root-entwined innards with a heady sigh; and in response, the portal that called itself Daghda, taking up more than half of the grotto’s floor and the entire far wall, quietly stirred and came to life.
She knew full well what came next, since she had been here before. A gentle wind wafted gently from the void, just as she expected, filling her ‘being’ with light, knowledge, and reassurance—intrusive in concept, but not at all threatening in reality. She was accustomed, as well, to the flash of ‘definition’ that materialized like a storybook of implanted images in her subconscious, superseding words and overriding the need for verbal explanation—the instantaneous, complete and thorough understanding of who, and what, the portal called Dagda really was. With trance-like acceptance, she stood naked in the portal’s presence, allowing its memories (which extended backwards and forwards in a spontaneous directionless flow with no discernible point of reference, from here to eternity and back again) to enter her, making her one with the very moment of its self-awareness and the reality of its eventual demise. Time, for Daghda, was not a continuum. Today was inseparable from tomorrow, the past was equivalent to the future, and the present blended with all that had been and would be, moving backwards and forward from the day of the portal’s birth eons and eons ago to that moment beyond comprehension when it would drift into the oblivion of permanent slumber with the final dying atom of the cosmos.
The portal was a ‘living’ thing, inanimate yet conscious, born during the gigantic nuclear conflagration during the first few moments of universal creation. That ‘big bang’ polarized the positive against the negative during a rather short-lived but dramatic separation of unstable energy, during which the portal’s opposites, thrown outward but then pulled back together by violent magnetic coercion, reunited in a blazing implosion of matter and anti-matter, past and future, here and there, plus and minus, everything and nothing. The result of this electrical anomaly was an energy current that stretched for billions and billions of miles, from one end of the universe to the other; and when the cosmic dust settled, two planets were created at either end as a necessary and organic consequence of the portal’s physical creation: Elysium, also called the ‘Otherworld’, on the far side; and Earth, or Terra, at the other. The portal was a life force that permeated air, soil, oceans, and even flesh and blood, in both worlds. It had many names. Some called it Gaea, the Earth Mother, whose maternal force connects life to life; but it was neither man nor woman. Others called it Zeus, Jupiter, Odin, Indrani, Hera, or Isis, its identity conveniently imagined and materialized, through the ages, into a human form, to better facilitate a simplistic understanding of its nebulous and multi-dimensional properties. It was the one and only Daghda: the creator, the maker, the revered one known as Yahweh, Allah, or God. But it had no physical form, of course, because it was just energy.
The portal, formed from the molecules of creation itself, gave life and took it away; nourished and consumed; waxed and waned; and ‘joined’ more than it divided, much like a river flowing from its ‘source’ on Elysium to its ‘terminus’ on Terra, but without directionality. The portal was a ‘waterway’ of pulsing energy with its head in the Otherworld, its feet in this world, and its body extending like a bridge from infinity to infinity. Although she had never been there, Aine saw, in her mind’s green-eyed gaze, the image of Daghda’s massive and rocky ‘skull’, poking through the sand on Elysium’s ocean-side coast, the salty waves lapping at the portal’s entryway in the land of the Ethereals: god-like protégées with the knowledge to navigate the portal’s dangerous rapids and travel at will between worlds, disguised in animal form. And here Aine stood, at the portal’s ‘feet’ in the bowels of Daghda’s ancient oak tree, a willing ‘receptacle’ of immediate insight and a seeker of questions as well as answers on this peaceful spring morning in 1971.
The balance of the universe is in jeopardy, the entity called Daghda whispered deep inside her. The rules of the universe prevent my direct intervention, so I have called you to be my agent in this world, at this time and place; while in the other, the Black Raven awaits but will be summoned later, to finish what you will begin. You must halt the unthinkable, Aine, and prepare for the Elysian bird in the way that I instruct. This is why you are here; but first, feel my pain and understand me fully.