I’m on a month-long sabbatical from work. I’m taking a couple of weeks in the Isle of Man to start and then will be wrapping things up in Iceland. A few people were skeptical of my itinerary: “What are you going to do for two weeks in Mann?” Truthfully, I didn’t know. Now that I’m here, though, I think I’ll have trouble doing everything I want in just two weeks’ time.
The Isle of Man has a plethora of history. It was occupied variously by Gaels, Vikings, the English, and the Scottish. This all gives rise to an unique cultural milieu, and the landscape and buildings reflect this historical variability.
Mann is also a mythic place, said to be the home of the Irish sea god, Manannán mac Lir, who resides at South Barrule:
Manannan beg va Mac y Leirr / Shen yn chied er ec row rieau ee; / Agh myr share oddym’s cur-my-ner, / Cha row eh hene agh An-chreestee. / Cha nee lesh e Chliwe ren eh ee reayll / Cha nee lesh e Hideyn, my lesh a Vhow; / Agh tra aikagh eh Lhuiugys troailt / Oallagh eh ee, my geayrt, lesh Kay.
Little Manannan was a son of Leirr; he was the first that ever had it [the island]; but as I can best conceive, he was himself a heathen. It was not with the sword he kept it, neither with arrows nor bow, but when he would see ships sailing he would cover it round with fog.The Dublin Review 57, 54.
Indeed, as our plane from Gatwick approached Mann, I noticed a dense, low-hanging fog blanketed the island. It didn’t seem to extended into the sea at all; it hung just above the land. It was as if Manannán were displaying his cloak and wrapping the island in an obfuscated slumber. I wish I had snapped a picture of this, but I didn’t have the window seat and thought the sleeping lady next to me may find my reach over her face rude.
I can see why Manannán would be so fond of the island: it is gorgeous. The temperature is quite mild and even throughout the year (at least compared to the Midwest, which swings drastically). The beaches are juxtaposed to large hills, whose tops pierce the clouds. At dusk, a cool, sea-made fog will frequently come across the island.
There is a humble blend of modern life and old customs, such you may find in other old Celtic lands, like Cornwall or west Ireland. Along with this comes an awareness and appreciation for the island’s mythical past. There are a number of buildings and statues dedicated in name to Manannán and modern interpolations of mythography popup here and there.
One of the more well-known places in Mann (at least as far as Witchcraft goes), is the Castletown Mill. Cecil Williamson set up his Witch Museum here, which Gerald Gardner later took over. The museum closed in the 70’s, but the Mill still stands and has been converted into housing. You can read more about the mythology and history of the Mill here: Witch mythology of the Mill, History of the Mill. As for the history and current public climate of Witchcraft on the island, professor Hutton gave a nice overview some years ago.
So far, my favorite place has been the Braaid. This site contains ruins from the Iron Age through the Viking Age. The coalescence of Celtic and Viking structures tell and interesting story. The older ruins are those of an Iron Age roundhouse–once thought to be a ceremonial circle of stones, this has since been discredited. Nevertheless, stones in a circle are natural power containers, and, being of Cornish blood, I do love me some stone circles.
We went for an evening hike to the Braaid yesterday. I plopped myself in the middle off the roundhouse ruins. Instantly everything around me was hushed, and I could feel that ‘pastured’ feeling you get inside stone circles. It was a fabulous place to meditate, to sit looking upon the darkening hills and open myself to commune with my gods, the land, and the Self.