Up here in Hutland in the peaks of northern Spain, all is pretty much as it always has been, except perhaps that I haven’t heard an aeroplane for a while. The clouds bubble and froth over the humped back of the sierra, the trees are budding, and the vole is still eating my root vegetables, no matter where I hide them. The two of us seem to be playing a muddier version of The Crystal Maze. I am the hapless contestant endlessly solving puzzles, and the vole is Richard O’Brien complete with sarcasm (at least I’m pretty sure he is mocking me).
If you don’t know much about voles, let me introduce you. The vole is a deceptively cute, long-toothed rodent, like a large hamster. It digs tunnels underground and gnaws (nay destroys) anything with a root on it. It is apparently an endangered species, though how is hard for me to work out. Either my vole is peculiarly genius, or (as I believe) they are in fact all hiding en masse below ground, just waiting for human civilisation to collapse when they’re going to surge out from their burrows, decimate the world’s carrots, and undertake global vole domination.
Their time may or may not be now.
Yes. Although my land exists in an alternate reality, I can nonetheless sense something going on down there in the valleys. There’s a stillness I can’t quite put my finger on. A silence. A gap that nature is breathtakingly fast to fill. As you know, I’m living in Spain, one of the COVID-19 epicentres. We are on tight lockdown, and our collective house arrest has been extended to God only knows when.
When I’m up in my stone and mud world, exploring the spirit woods, foraging for plantains, and defending myself against parsnip munching rodents, the drama unfolding all feels rather theoretical. Until I venture down to the town, which I have to once a week to buy in supplies.
Down there in the asphalt zone, I’m rattled sharply out of my reverie by that other reality. Streets that usually bustle and buzz and grate on my nerves, are deserted. Grilles are down. Doors are closed. It’s a permanent siesta. Pretty much the only people to be seen are the mask-wearing infantry of truly necessary workers. Yes, it’s all become crystal clear now hasn’t it, who we really need and who we don’t: cleaners, waste disposal workers, and food vendors are the only people out on the streets who aren’t scurrying nervously in the direction of a supermarket.
As I said a while back, there’s a great levelling going on.
Shelf-stackers are suddenly more respected than premier league footballers. Nurses and doctors are applauded in their apartment blocks when they finally arrive home. Who cares about some makeup-slathered celeb right now? Or a bunch of self-satisfied (and vaguely creepy) film directors at the Oscars? Investment bankers? Stock brokers? Sorry guys, you have been far too irrelevant for far too long, and that’s being generous.
As I take in this alien new world, it computes. Something big is happening down here. Oh, the irony though. That an entity so small you need a microscope to see it is causing this much havoc is very appropriate. Note how the virus spreads particularly fast among the world’s elites, apparently more partial to people who fly, and those who shake lots of hands. It’s raging through the wealthiest and most “economically productive” zones with not much indication of stopping.
A tiny infectious agent has managed in weeks what no environmental lobby or politician has achieved in my entire lifetime. Flights are grounded the world over. Traffic has all but stopped. And everyone is grounded at home with plenty of time to think about how vulnerable they are in the arms of The System, how from one day to the next food can disappear from shelves, and basic freedoms like walking are snatched away. Through the silence, the birds are singing and the bees are buzzing like never before. Not even the Great Attenborough himself could have achieved such an impact.
Finally (thank God!) I’m back in my car, watching the dystopian streets disappear in my rear view mirror. There’s a chill still lingering at the back of my neck though, as I climb the long, steep mountain sides. But with each twist and turn the “normal” world becomes more ethereal, while my world of myth and magic solidifies. I pass through the last village at the top of the hill, the final outpost before the tarmac disintegrates. Everyone is out in the street, music is playing, and the locals are beaming. Spain’s rural folk and villages have long been downtrodden and forgotten in a world which is obsessed with “modernising”. They too are now having their moment. Suddenly the village is the place to be. The town is for ghosts.
Return to the fairy tale
Rumbling on, I press for home. Jolting over the hilltops, I pass the usual rabble of cows wandering nonchalantly around as though they own the place. The great snow-encrusted Picos rise out of the clouds like the Mountains of Lune. A falcon swoops in front of my windshield. Fay primroses twirl along the track. Eminent rock councils push through the grass now, posturing in huddles. In a month or two they will disappear behind the emerald veil, when the verdure unfurls once more.
This fairy tale has been my reality for a while now. A reality that has been relegated to the forgotten backrooms of the mainstream human mind for a long, long while. First the religions stamped on it. Then the philosophers. Then the scientists. Until the only place you could slip out from the suffocating throttle of the manufactured modern age was far off into the forests, or high up in the mountains, anywhere where humans and their noise and tech weren’t.
Yet we were hungering for it. The popularity of the fantasy genre in the 21st century and the gospels of the new age were indicative of the people’s thirst for magic and wonder in an arrogant, unimaginative, and frankly boring society. A civilisation built on outdated assumptions that are now crumbling faster than icebergs in the Arctic. “We are in control. The economy must always grow. Tech and machines will solve all the problems. The only reality is material reality. If you follow the rules and be good, Father Establishment will take care of you.” How frail and hollow the bragging authorities sound now.
The Levelling is here. The Gods have thrown the game pieces aloft, and who knows where they will land? In weeks the system that was so impossible for us to dismantle, is shuddering. The hologram is flickering. Doors have opened all over the fabric of consciousness, and each of us will walk through one of them. The impoverished ghosts who still believe happiness lies in attempting to dominate others will no doubt hold shady doors to shiny new cages ajar. The frightened and addicted will no doubt gamely enter them, wanting to trust – as they always do (sigh) – anyone but themselves. Ultimately it will come down to how much faith we have in ourselves, our planet, and our intuition, as to where we move next and which kind of reality we create. Because that’s what it’s about.
For too long humans have wandered lost around realities as though they were beyond their control. For too long they have believed the scammy insurance brokers of the established order, and sold their real power for a lie. But it’s all up for grabs now, eh? So are we going back into the fold? Or are we treading into the forest? No doubt there’ll be a different reality for each of us. There always is.
A message from behind the door of enchantment
Yes the doors are many. This is a message from behind mine. It’s a bit of a rickety old thing, gnarled, handmade, and possibly a little under-engineered, but with plenty of character nonetheless. I invite you to have a look for that door, because it’s the enchanted one. The soul door. The door behind which the currency isn’t banknotes, but energy, vision, and truth. No one is going to promise to save you behind this door, because no one who walks through it needs saving. It’s the gateway of the witches and wizards, the mages and the sorcerers, and it’s out there in the woods, by the sides of streams, in the mountains and the sea caves. Any human can locate this portal and we all hold enough power to walk through it, because this door, and the world behind it are Gaian.
Yes the Levelling is here. Now that the smoke of the great industrial engine has dissipated, we have the time and clarity to find our own way to another more enchanted reality, the one we are sovereign of. Better to leave the meaningless tat and false promises of security, and take what’s truly ours. For those of us who suffered under the old ways, whose more imaginative heads have been held under the surface by the boot of materialism, we are blessed to be here and now. It really is our time.
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Atulya K Bingham
"Reality meets fantasy, myth, dirt and poetry. I'm hooked!" Jodie Harburt, Multitude of Ones.