A few years ago, I was on a mountaintop in the Pyrenees, alone with my tent, no food except an apple and a few nuts, and nine bottles of water. I was there to fast for four nights and five days, to go inward on a kind of vision quest, and let go of all the emotional upset I was carrying inside. God knows, I was carrying a lot so I knew I’d be lucky if I could sort myself out in that time, but I also knew that it is harder to access the deeper current of your emotions when you’re surrounded by distractions. I was eager to peel away the layers and reconnect with myself in the raw, in the wild.
A Basque shaman, with whom I’d spent several days preparing for this time, had guided me here. It had been a challenging hike through a mossy green forest, alive with burbling streams. At last, he pointed to a peak with a flat top and beautiful views of the valley. He declared that this spot would be ‘just right’ for me.
I gave him my watch and phone to take back down the mountain. My experience was going to be about surrender too, an act of trust and faith. I would be relying on myself, and nature; to hold me and keep me safe. To me, the earth is alive and full of potent spirit forces or energies, an animating intelligence beyond our rational understanding. I have always believed that if our intentions are sincere, we can begin to connect with these forces of nature and receive wisdom from them. To put it another way, I had come to attune myself to the magic, in the hope that magic might visit me.
Speak to me, Mother Earth
The way I see it, you can either be a slave to the rational and crave certainty, or you can follow your intuition, embrace the unknown, and open yourself up to wonder, curiosity and awe. If I had to choose between mastery and mystery, I would pick the latter every time. Back then, I said I wanted to ‘hear nature’s voice’. I’d met people from indigenous cultures on my travels and was fascinated by the way that, for them, it was natural to enter into a relationship with the sky, the earth, the waters, trees, animals and birds. I guess I wanted a taste of that, because, well, who wouldn’t? I couldn’t imagine anything more beautiful, poetic and soul-nourishing.
My night-time caller
My guide had talked about the spirits that dwelled here. It was enchanting, until we came to where I would make my abode: ‘See those woods,’ he said, pointing to the thick, dark forest near where I’d flung my backpack,‘the yeti lives there.’ Then, without so much as a backward glance, he retreated down the track – ‘See you in five days!’ Suddenly, I was alone. Or was I?
I may have wanted to hear nature’s voice, but the yeti? I didn’t believe in a giant hairy creature walking on hind legs, did I? But the locals’ interpretation was of a mystical lord of the forest… I shivered and tried to put it out of my mind.
When the sun went down that night, I felt edgy, as if part of me knew something was about to happen. And then it did. Everything went eerily still, the trees ceased to rustle, the night sounds died and the hairs stood up on the back of my neck. On the other side of the canvas came a strange voice; an unearthly, urgent whisper. I’d sought the ‘other’, but now it was here and I was terrified. And then, as suddenly as it began, it stopped, and the night sounds resumed.
I’m still convinced that it wasn’t a figment of my imagination. Did I summon a nature spirit with my yearning? Was it the lord of the forest? I cannot say. But even a momentary connection with something beyond our normal field of perception can alter one’s trajectory.
There was no instant, dramatic transformation, but those five days and nights left me feeling profoundly calm and refreshed, emotionally freer – and curious. My desire to connect with the wildness we cannot see grew, until I was bursting. At the time, I was writing more about nature and the landscape, but I was afraid that, in traditional circles, my ‘way’ would be met with scepticism. I was worried about being judged.
Fingal’s Cave on the island of Staffa, Scotland
A mystical mission
In order to throw myself into the journey I was plotting, I had to let go of that fear. The only way to do that was to allow myself to sit with my worry, feel it fully, until it dissolved. Also, I began to realise that it wasn’t my business to persuade sceptics to see the world as I do. What people choose to believe is up to them. I only wanted to be true to myself.
I wanted to set off in search of the magical other in the landscape, here in Britain. I would let myself be guided by intention and trust, and I’d rely on intuition, deep listening, synchronicity, unexpected happenings and feelings of joy in order to decipher the language of signs and clues that might be offered to me.
It would be a bit like twiddling the dial on a radio station, till the static gives way to a clear broadcast – I’d need to get out of my own way if I wanted to connect with ‘Radio Magic’. It would be a journey geographically too, across contrasting landscapes: the inner and outer journeys coming together.
If I eschewed a more prosaic metal compass for my inner ‘divining rod’, what might unfold? I’d be following a trail less ordinary. I had no special gifts – I was a regular person who, in the spirit of playful experimentation, wanted to have an adventure and take my soul for a stroll. I hoped to expand my field of perception and embody more of the magic I sought.
A labyrinth on the beautiful Cornish coast
Finally, I put my plan into action. My journey, which I write about in my book, Wanderland, yielded some interesting discoveries. A cult treasure map and a hidden well that, at first, stubbornly refused to show itself; a mysterious zodiac in the landscape; an oracle-like labyrinth overlooking the sea. I spent time with a woman of the ‘old ways’, and was led to secret land art. I attempted to connect with the uncanny as an unsighted person might, became addicted to an island of great natural beauty and, the piece de resistance, began a quest for a mystical temple, sparked by a cryptic clue.
At the end of my travels, how did I feel? It was joyful, liberating and a revelation to realise that it is possible to invite a connection with the mysterious, mystical other. It’s like casting a spell, creating a ritual of a journey, invoking enchantment and keeping hope and wonder alive. On a personal level, I felt supported by the universe, and I remind myself of that when times are tough.
As for my fear of being judged, at first, I kept my experiences to myself or used general terms, unless I was speaking to friends of a more spiritual nature. Now, I’ve begun to reveal more about my experiences and people are genuinely curious. Speaking my truth has allowed me to feel seen and heard for the first time in my life.
Magic appeals to us all, and connecting with nature is richly, deeply rewarding. As for my time up the mountain, I’m grateful to my visitor, whatever it may have been, for being the spark that lit a flame.
‘Wanderland: A Search For Magic In The Landscape’ by Jini Reddy (Bloomsbury, £16.99) is out now.
Nature reserve in Cornwall
Start your journey into ‘Wanderland’
A beginner’s guide to being a student of mysticism in nature
1. Set a sincere intention to connect before setting off on your journey, hike or walk. Intentions are important because they create focus and energy.
2. Intention is not the same as exerting will, pleading or expecting a result. Let go of attachment to any outcome – stay with your intention and trust; be a humble, heart-centred pupil of mystery and wonder.
3. Accept that it may not happen instantly. Inviting the ‘other’ and feeling a magical connection – through synchronicity, unexpected and thrilling encounters, feelings of wonder or a sense of knowing – are the fruits of practice. Keep at it and your devotion will be rewarded.
4. You don’t need to be a teacher, a guru or an expert – every one of us is capable of connecting in this way. We can draw inspiration from others, but remember that this is about your relationship with the other, and it is intimate and unique. The key is presence, trust, slowing down and, crucially, switching off electronic devices.
5. Enjoy nature, love it and don’t lose sight of the importance of protecting what we love. Foster your bond with nature and it will have the knock-on effect of amplifying your care and concern for the planet.
Images: Jini Reddy