My second favourite word, next to the Danish word hygge, is the old Welsh word Hireath. (Hygge by the way is a word that describes that feeling you get when it’s cold outside but you have everything you need. For me it’s a log fire, a country cottage, a hearty meal, some wine or whisky, good friends and family, a comfy sofa and some blankets, and maybe throw a classic movie into the mix for good measure.)
Val Bethell said,’Hiraeth is “the link with the long-forgotten past, the language of the soul, the call from the inner self. Half forgotten – fraction remembered. It speaks from the rocks, from the earth, from the trees and in the waves. It’s always there.’’
I know that this word informs many people’s identities all over the world, even if in their own country they might not have a specific name for it. A healthy kind of pride in your identity, a connection to the world and to nature. I first started thinking about the word in a lighter sense when I realised that I genuinely wished I was a character from Lord of the Rings, or that I would get my letter from Hogwarts 17 years late, or that I could live in a cottage in Lark Rise, or at Netherfield, or in some Viking settlement in Saxon England. However I think there’s more to this than plain fantasy.
The thought then continued to grow. I wanted to grow things and keep pigs and dance around a Maypole every Beltane covered in woad paint and howling. I wanted to be at one with nature and make my own butter and herbal remedies in my flint cottage and throw Sunday lunches that went on past midnight. I longed for a simpler life, and yet when I seriously began to consider joining a community or an organic farm somewhere, or even moving back home to the countryside, I realised I was not in the least bit prepared to do it.
I dislike so much about this era we’re in. I dislike the consumerism; the rat race; the blatant disrespect for the planet, for the working classes and for future generations that the governments of the world seem to so often show. I resent the apathy that I too show when living my day to day life and not choosing to remove myself from society. But I don’t want to give up my phone, or the internet (or internet shopping), Netflix, podcasts or modern medicine! If I’m anywhere that isn’t the village I grew up in and the shops aren’t open 24/7 I don’t know what else to do. Maybe things will change as I get older, but right now I simply won’t follow through.
Is it possible that our societies’ growing obsession with period dramas, fantasy novels, organic foods, natural remedies, vintage homes and clean eating (other than the obvious health benefits) could be something deeper? Are we experiencing another renaissance? Are we looking at the individualistic, corrupt, consumerism-driven, fruitless society we’ve built and becoming slowly disillusioned by it all? Is it possible that the more connected we’ve become by man made technology the more disconnected we are becoming from that sacred, innate connectedness, which is as old as the word Hireath itself. Are the parts of us that understand this trying to find a way to bring this old-world wisdom into the 21st century?
There has to be an overlap. There are always overlaps in thought when new generations take on new ideas and older generations depart with old ones. The American Revolution started as a small series of colonies and islands declaring themselves independent from the British Empire, until it rapidly changed into something quite different. So it makes sense to me that if there is a change in consciousness happening (a disillusionment with Western ideals and a realisation that this structure will not hold) and if my generation appears to be sparking it, then I’m going to have conflicting thoughts. Thoughts about permaculture food growing in a hobbit hole and spending my hard earned cash on a new duster jacket and some Jo Malone cologne because shopping makes me feel good too.
Are we possibly on our way to finding a comfortable balance that favours looking after the world and everyone in it?
It can be argued that we have never been so peaceful in the history of man, but it can be argued that the wars we do create kill more than ever before because of the new kind of weapons we’ve created. We are filling land and sea with useless stuff and yet people are still living in poverty.
Is another renaissance coming? The signs are all there. There is hate, but I don't have to look far to see the acts of love and kindness that will always overpower it. You never know that you're asleep until you're awake. Things have to get really bad before those eye-opening moments start to wake us all up one by one and slowly, a whisper at first, people all around start to say 'No more'.
Contemplating Hireath has lead to some important realisations for me. I personally think that the West can draw a lot from how our Pagan ancestors lived. Their love of storytelling, their connectedness to nature, and the routes of their use of the word magic/k all have a weighty value in this world. Ancient civilisations had a sense of wonder about the world, and the power of our minds - intuition and instinct for example. These ideas do not challenge science, they are another side of the same coin, and something that we began to lose the minute we separated science from the church in this country. It is the untapped edge of our understanding, or a deeper connection to the things that we do understand. For me this is a path to peace, and peaceful creatures do not destroy their world, or each other.
So what about you?
If you were to look back at the past and take something from it for future generations, where would you look and what would you take? If we make it that far, and keep evolving, then what will the world look like in 100 years? 200 years? This is a long game and if we’re lucky we’ll maybe see a spark of it.
Kate-Lois Elliott is an actor and writer. She has worked at XYZ Magazine Brighton and Mouth London. Kate was the assistant editor for The Shapers Project book with The Creative Society, Jazz FM and Mishcon De Reya, has had her short fiction read out on Wandsworth Radio/Either-Author and had her work staged at Theatre 503. She regularly champions first time playwrights with her company Backbone Theatre, who run workshops and readings at London venues. Past Backbone productions have played at the Roundhouse, The Bush Theatre and the Blue Elephant Theatre, Camberwell. (Spotlight: 2212-9084-8035). http://www.kateloiselliott.com/