There’s always much activity in the first couple of days after a course. As well as the usual admin, there’s the electronic bustle of people sharing photos, expressing appreciation, acknowledging achievements and cementing new friendships. This year has been no exception and my ‘Dark Angels Spain’ mailbox has been pinging all day.
There were two particular highlights to this 10th anniversary course. One of them, the unveiling of Alberto German’s sculpture, I mentioned in anticipation last week. In the event it was a moving little ceremony with Alberto, Robin Pilcher, our host and owner of Finca El Tornero, the 10 students, the three of us and a most welcome addition in the person of one of our new associates, Neil Baker.
We stood out in the evening sun as Alberto removed the sheet that had concealed his creation on our arrival, to reveal a metre-high bronze angel with outstretched wings, the sternum shaped like the nib of a fountain pen, and other symbols of literature, wisdom and life worked into the torso, back and front. He made a short speech, then stunned us by producing a second cast, in resin, as a gift for us to bring back to the UK. I’ll leave it to John to post a photograph in his blog this coming Sunday.
The other highlight was the Romeria de La Reina de Los Angeles, the annual pilgrimage to a holy site in the nearby hill village of Alajar. We rose at 5.00 on Tuesday morning to join the cavalcade leaving Aracena for Alajar and walked with them for a couple of hours, till sun-up. The Sierra de Aracena is horse country and many of the pilgrims were mounted, horsemen and women smartly dressed in traditional riding clothes and straw sombreros. Silent shadows in the darkness at the side of the road, groups of them stood like centaurs, ancient and elemental, waiting to join the throng as it passed.
The rest went on foot or in family floats pulled by tractors or vans, the women gorgeous in flamenco dresses with huge flowers in their pulled-back hair. And at the centre of it all, setting the pace, a brilliantly lit shrine decked out in white and silver, drawn by two immense brown-and-white oxen. A single drum beat out a plodding rhythm and a flute piped us along with a reedy tune.
Pilgrimages, bronze angels, Dark Angels … one might be forgiven for thinking that our five days in Spain were a matter of faith. And in a way they were, but not in any religious sense. They were – and always are – about faith in the power of writing and language to lead us to a greater sensitivity to ourselves and our surroundings, to a greater awareness of our humanity.
In the same way, in two weeks’ time, when Sarah and I run our first The Stories We Tell residential course, in Sardinia, it will also be about faith – faith in the power of stories to offer us insights into our own lives and the way we connect with ourselves and those around us, leading us again to a greater awareness of our own humanity.
That for me is the faith that really matters: that we all have what we need within us to lead better, fuller, more purposeful, more connected lives; and that with the right guidance, through words and stories, we can all discover it .
I won’t be posting for the next couple of weeks. Sardinia beckons – for a week’s holiday first, followed by the residential The Stories We Tell course. Next news from the front on 1st October.