“I’m called into my body”: Dancing the Cailleachan

Through the windows of the Old Lab movement studio at Summer Hall, I can see day give way to evening, darkness quietly shifting amongst twitching leaves on the trees outside. There have been strong gales all day, and it’s getting dark early now, orange street light eerily seeping in past undulating branches and through the dust coated sash windows. It’s Thursday night, we are rehearsing for Samhuinn.

My focus shifts, I watch people moving laboriously through space inside the old lab. “Lightning strikes”, a voice cracks through the room. One of our GO’s is talking us through the Butoh dance. I’m called into my body. Muscles tensed, hands clenched, the image of electricity running through all our extremities, we all start trembling under the held tension. Some of us have melted into one another, pushing, shifting, shapes draped over shapes, abstract forms quivering in space. The strain builds, and we are held in place, invisible string attached to the crowns of our heads. And then, one by one, we drop, the string cut, we buckle and sink to the ground. Heavy breathing breaks the focused silence.

After one of our rehearsals, I sat down in my room, took out my inks and started painting. I was feeling in awe and in love and inspired by the intensity of investment, the energy coming across within the Cailleachan. I simply had to put it on a page, as I was struggling to make sense of my deep experiences in a more conscious capacity.

Cailleachan by Seobhan Hope

This Samhuinn feels special. We have all come together to grow, and it’s been an electrifying experience so far. I am amazed day by day at how much being part of this cycle, and the fire society has helped shape my life in countless happy ways.

I grew up away from Scotland, but have always been conscious of a pull back to this country, the country of my father and my father’s father. When I moved to the city three years ago, I was a stranger to all, including myself, and I think I was craving community, to be a part of something creative, a space to push boundaries in, a group that accepts diversity and celebrates life and death and the course of nature. I came to join art college, but to my surprise, I found what I was looking for much more in my spare time. I found it within the Beltane Fire Society, and my journeys through Beltane and Samhuinn each year, though all kaleidoscopically different, have brought me closer to what feels natural and real.

This Autumn, I made the choice to enter into the journey of the Cailleachan.

I joined the group because I think a deep part of me understood from the beginning that I would be able to gleam truths and experience my body and myself in ways that would escape the reaches of language or conscious thought. I had hopes of meeting catharsis through movement, and embrace, through ritual, the cyclical nature of life.

There are many shadows in my past and present, and here was a chance to explore both the limits and the possibilities of my body and mind, of allowing play and admitting the impossible, of moving through trauma, of balancing contradictions and most frighteningly to me, there was the opportunity of a welcome, of peaceful acquiescence of darkness and death. I have shed layers of masks in the last weeks, I have learned so much about myself, and have grown roots in amongst this weird, wonderful, supportive group of people. The Beltane way of meeting, merging through creative dedication, personal process, ritual, celebration and through performance is magical. Our experiences have tied us together, in suffering and in joy, just the way I wish humans came together more often. As Cailleachan, we’ve danced our deaths together, and our births, we have flushed out our ego and have welcomed in winter, we have collapsed and found strength, together. The dance we are creating is grotesque and raw and beautiful, just like myself, and everyone I walk or dance with.

Words by Seobhan Hope

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