22 Postcards for Utopias Bach: postcard twenty

Rain and forest tomb

The distinction between “Christian” and “pre-Christian” beliefs was very blurred in the early modern period, particularly on a popular level. Many common people … saw no inconsistency in juggling their fairy beliefs alongside their Christian beliefs.               

Emma Wilby (2005 op. cit. p. 97).

When MacKinlay was about eighty-eight he was sitting beside Loch Treig looking out of the window and sighed. His daughter was looking after him and asked what was wrong. He told her he saw as beautiful a stag as he’d ever seen and was troubled that he couldn’t shoot at it. She said to ignore it. But instead he asked her to prepare his bow and best arrow. Supporting himself on the window, he drew the bow and let the arrow fly, felling the deer. (The effort almost killed him too). Then he made his final request. Knowing that he’d killed his last stag, he asked his daughter to skin it and prepare the hide so that he could be buried in the deerskin in Cille Choirill. ( It is possible that this choice relates to an older magical practice. William of Malmesbury’s Gesta regum Anglorum, tells of a “witch” ‘known to practice divination, particularly “ancient augury” a form of divination involving birds’, asking that her children ‘sew her corpse into the skin of a stag’ as part of an elaborate attempt to protect it after her death. See Helen Parish (2019) ‘”Paltrie Vermin, Cats, Mise, Toads, and Weasils”: Witches, Familiars, and Human-Animal Interactions in the English Witch Trials’ in Religions 2019, 10/2 https://www.mdpi.com/2077-1444/10/2/134). He told her not to place him on his back, looking up towards the promise of heaven, but facing Loch Treig and the moors where his hope was that his mind would travel every day. A request for an unorthodox burial, made for love of a place with which a poet had a close, life-long relationship. Not the hero’s presumption of Actaeon but a desire to return as one of the deer so closely linked to the Cailleach in folklore, a love of being in the world that echoes the form of spirituality John Cage attributes to Morris Graves?