Down Down Deeper And Down

By Bernie Bell

Robert MacFarlane has done it again  – and this time, has pulled together so much, so very very much, into one, monumental book.

The inside of the cover, describes the book as

“an epic exploration of the Earth’s underworlds as they exist in myth, literature, memory and the land itself..

………………………………….Underland marks a new turn in MacFarlane’s long-term mapping of the relations of landscape and the human heart.”

And that just about describes it – it’s an exploration, or journey, into the varied underworlds of our world, and of our selves.

Underland Robert MacFarlane

Reading ‘Underland’, prompts me to present to Orkney News readers, a mixture of bits & pieces about the underworld, and our relationship to it.  There are many, many references to these ideas, right through time, literature, religions and ways of seeing.

I’ll begin with a, relatively recent, poem by my friend Wendy.  She wrote this in 2010, when the Chilean miners were stuck down the mine, and everyone was trying to help them, and they showed such spirit.   Wendy sees the light in the darkness.

Deep Down

The earth is bleeding,

a deep puncture wound,

beyond reach of any surgeon’s hand,

gushing, thick, black viscous gore,

sickly slick, spreading,

more and more,

contaminating, clogging,

sticking to all

it touches.


Small figures and crafts

scamper round the carnage,

like frantic ants,

whose homely mound

has been kicked,

burst open and

spread over the ground,

desperate to save

their babies.


Chemically sprayed ,

the multiplying masses

are scattered

by wind and wave,

detergents disseminate

in swirling current,

no healing coagulates

can naturally stave

the process.


Pathetic attempts

to stem the flow

repeatedly fail,

but, eventually, slow

then stop

the breach,

the cost, we know

will continue

to grow.


Thousands of miles,

across sea and land,

high in the mountains,

deep underground,

another drama unfolds

to the world

a message of hope

cries out to be heard:

we 33 are OK in the shelter.


Forget exploration,

forget exploitation,

here’s something more precious

to find,

a conduit, a channel,

a tunnel of light,

struck down through the earth,

on the tide

of human spirit


A beam, a beacon

shining so bright,

it banishes the darkness,

puts fear to flight;

with faith

and patient dignity,

in the face

of such plight:

we, the 33, have returned.


Two giant conglomerations

technological stratifications,

one drilling, through greed and pain,

one bringing to life, again,

death and life,

so closely matched,

desperate drilling,

down and down,

the need is great,

a powerful draw,

below the ocean,

beneath the ground;

a question

hangs over us,



Did we listen

have we heard

something shifting

conscience stirred?


Remember the dead,

remember those saved,

pray that Humanity

will emerge from the cave,

and step


the light.

Wendy Alford             October 2010

Wendy’s poem puts me in mind of ‘The Silver Chair’, from the ’Narnia’ series by C.S. Lewis, the storyline of which presents the idea that people, whether heroic figures, or ordinary folk, have to sometimes go into the ‘Underworld’ – ‘go through hell’ – to learn and build who they are, to come out the other side, stronger or more complete. An individual has to go into the underworld, to ….learn, develop, lose some things, ‘gain’ some things

I sent Wendy’s poem, to Fred Turner , as he, also, is very interested in time, futures, pasts, present, linking and mixing, journeys by future people, into their ‘past’, and by past people into their ‘future’, etc.  Whether through ‘death’ – is the Prince’s drugged sleep, in The Silver Chair’  a form of ‘death’? – or some other form of journey through the ‘Underworld’, through which we learn, or should learn, as in Wendy’s poem. Fred reminded me of many examples of this idea – the stories of Orpheus,  Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Homer, who takes his Odysseus down into the land of shades, Virgil, whose Aeneas follows Odysseus in Book VI of the Aeneid,  Dante, for whom Virgil himself became a guide in the Inferno,  and so on.

And there’s the journey through the underworld in Philip Pullman’s ‘Dark Materials’ trilogy.

As a variation on the theme – there’s Mine Howe – a man-made ‘underworld’ ……….

And two, natural, extra-ordinary Scottish caves which are accessible to the public – Smoo Cave, Durness in Sutherland

Smoo Cave Bell

And, on/in/under Orkney – inside The Gloup,  Deerness – you’re on the water, under the earth, and under the stone.  It is another world.

The Gloup Bell

And there’s this…………….

Which prompted the following exchange with Andrew Appleby (aka  The Harry Potter), about a dream which I had – and sleep can be seen as another form of small ‘death’, in which we …travel, and, possibly, learn…………..

Me –  “Last night, I had a strange and interesting dream, the main point of which, appeared to be to tell me, that many things which are happening now, and many things which have happened in the past, including the very distant past, are to do with ‘flashes of light’.  The idea seemed to be that there is archaeological evidence for this, for those who can find it, as the dream included a talk given by Nick Card! and that there is a poem about it ( where do I find that poem?  Am I meant to write it?  I’m no poet).  When I woke up, at first, I couldn’t see the meaning of the dream, apart from this  message about the ‘flashes of light’.  It seemed to be telling me that there are a lot of connections, with the ‘flashes of light’, and about the ‘flashes of light’.  I thought – maybe it’ll become clearer in further dreams?  I hoped so, as it was a very strong dream.

Anyway, then, I checked my emails, to find that my friend Liz, had sent me this short film.  At first, I thought it was just an interesting film about cave systems.  In fact, my first response, was to wonder at all that remains to be discovered, underground and under the sea, while we merrily go ahead, wrecking the surface of this wonderful planet, and wondering if people should even go to these places, or should they be left in peace.  Then, I went to reply to Liz, along those lines, and I was saying how much I like the idea, that the shafts of light, have enabled a little forest to grow, underground, when it came to me, that it could connect with the dream,  in that………………… there are flashes of light, into the darkness of the caves, which have ‘allowed’ new growth to begin, in what was darkness.  But, the roof had to collapse, first.

How about that, then, and it’s relevance to these times?”

Roo –   Subject: Re: Flashes of light

“Just written a long thing about caves. Like the interior of a  recumbent body.

Light flashes… There is a shard from the Ness, which I believe represents light flashing on water.”

Me –   “Firstly, caves.  Mike & I are very keen on caves, from the little ones you find, leading off from a beach, to the great big ones, which people USED TO LIVE IN!!!!!!!  We’ve been to many, and into many, and love them.  And a comparison with the interior of the human body?  with all its cavities and soggy bits,  and, for that matter, the constant temperature which caves tend to have.  Indeed.

And the shard from the Ness!!!!!    Well, well, well.  I’d love to see this shard, with the flash of light on water.

Initially, I thought you might come back with the asteroid/mass extinctions thing, but, as you see, it wasn’t a big ball of flame, and it wasn’t a mass extinction.  It was flashes of light, almost like lightening, somehow influencing what was happening on earth, then – through the time in between – and now.

Maybe, maybeeeeee, there is still something more, to be found at the Ness, along those lines.  The idea definitely seemed to be, that a stone would turn up at the Ness, which would illuminate this dream.  Or, maybe it’s one of those things, that’s slightly askew – when you see something, and it turns out to be so, but a little bit

different.  As I keep telling people, we don’t always see what will be,  sometimes more what may be.

Caves and flashes of light, connections, connections,  connections.”

This exchange took place in 2012, before the E.O.A.S.S.K. was discovered at the Ness of Brodgar…..


This reproduction of the EOASSK by local artist Joan Rodwell, shows the ‘three’ and ‘four’ a-symmetry

– could this be one of the ‘flashes of light’?  The light of knowledge? Knowledge which changed/changes our world?

Consider the Ness, which was very care–fully buried, and is now being un-earthed – possibly at a time when we need to be shown that we are losing our awareness of the ideas and ways of being, which those people were aware of ?

Just playing with ideas.

Another thing I have in my head, is about how much we, humans, are burrowing into the earth.  It was o.k. when it was reasonably superficial, but now, we drill, and blast, and go deeper and deeper…..too much, I think.  There have been examples, where drilling has begun, un-settled the strata, and there are un-stoppable mud or oil flows, as in Wendy’s poem.  Earthquakes happen, where they didn’t used to!  I believe that we’re being too invasive, and we won’t get away with it.  It’s logical, anyway……displace something within  the earth, remove something from within the earth, creating a vacuum, something’s got to give.

Steve Drury, in his ‘Earth-logs’ , describes this much better than I can.

Where are we going?  As a world, a species, and as individuals?

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