Three Realms

spirals4

The blessing of heaven, cloud blessing,
The blessing of earth, fruit blessing,
The blessing of sea, fish blessing.

The first three blessings from The Story of the Finding of Cashel.

There are many ways to organize our view of the world. One that I like is a division of the world into three realms – the sky above, the earth below, and the waters around us. I find this a useful way of picturing things and placing myself in the landscape.

When I’m out in nature I try to become aware of where I am standing – the sky extending above my head into the unknown, the hidden depth of the earth under my feet, and my place on an island, surrounded by sea on all sides. A proper awareness of the three focuses attention on the here-and-now and fosters stillness.

I imagine that in the olden days, when people dug ditches around holy places, it was so that the place would seem more like an island, and so encourage a more direct awareness of the three realms at that place.

It’s also possible to work with each realm individually, exploring its qualities and finding places, stories and objects that resonate with it.

Sky – the realm of light

What are the qualities of light? In the daytime light defines everything around us, the uncertain possibilities of darkness laid to one side. It has a quality of contact at a distance, openness and great space. Look up into the sky and you see a long way. At night you see light from stars and galaxies across the universe. The sun is our main provider of light, energy and warmth, and indirectly food for everything living. High places are the place of light, where we can see far to the horizon.

Holyhead, Anglesey

Waters

The sea is the great water, trackless, powerful, deep and fertile. Its power cannot be resisted. The cycle of water makes mists, rain, lakes, rivers and springs. There is no life without water. It alone bring motion. In the abstract water is flow and balance, a spiral energy, connecting one thing to another. A whirlpool in the sea, a tornado or the spirals of a galaxy are the work of the waters. Sitting by water there is usually sound – waves breaking or the roar of a fast river, or a gurgle, splash or drip. Sometimes a voices can be heard in the sound.

Port of Ness, Isle of Lewis

Earth – the underworld or fields of space

Beneath our feet, the earth is a largely hidden realm of darkness and quiet, and yet it anchors us down, and provides the material for our bodies. We can approach it through caves, and man-made caves such as barrows, cairns and dolmen. Sometimes in the darkness there might be treasures to be found, and strange half-living shapes to be touched. The great classical mystery religions were centred around the descent into the underworld and our life after death. In the abstract, the underworld has a quality of fields – not only the field of gravity that holds the planets in relationship, but the electromagnetic fields which at the smallest scale mediate physical contact, and at the largest scales form the cosmic web which links the galaxies. Its nature is substance and influence.

Porth yr Ogof cave

If you want to work with the three realms, a good starting point is to spend some time in places which resonate with one of the three realms. Maybe find or make an object which can symbolise that realm. Read (or write) stories or poems about the realm. It’s also a good idea to work with all three together. Ask questions. For example, which god or goddess might belong in each realm? How do the three realms work together to make a tree? What in you reflects each of the three?

Working with the Abstract

Nowadays people often favour working with the complexity and variety of nature, rather than the simplicity of the abstract, but in our work we need both.

Mind strives for simplicity. It transforms our complex experience into simpler but perhaps less tangible mental images, thoughts and feelings.

At its deeper levels, beyond the rational and verbal levels, mind works with symbols and archetypes. Rich with meaning and significance, these archetypes are in some sense the pillars of mind, the building blocks of meaning.

Beyond even this, the mind works with the pure abstract – with number and pattern.

One way of working with the abstract is what we now call sacred geometry. Some of the oldest examples of this activity are the 5000-year-old stone balls found in Scotland.

Stone balls, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow (via Wikimedia)

Hundreds of carved stone spheres, roughly three inches in diameter have been found over the years in Scotland. Many form regular polyhedra, and some depict platonic solids, long before the Greeks wrote about them. As to the purpose of the stone balls – no one knows. Perhaps they were used as weights, as dice for oracles, in ball games, or just as ‘prestige objects’. Or maybe the Neolithic people used them as objects of contemplation.

Stone ball from Towie in Aberdeenshire, dated from 3200–2500 BC. (via Wikimedia).

I have a replica of the Towie stone. It has four large knobs on it, each decorated with a different pattern. It forms a tetradedron – a triangular-based pyramid.

All of the stone balls are of a size to fit comfortably in the hands. I sit in the dark with the replica, feeling the shape with my fingertips. After a while it warms from my body heat. I sense the fine patterns of decoration. There is nothing to say about it, except that something in me responds to its shape. I wonder if our ancestors made a similar use of the stone.