Jill Smith’s Zodiac Journey: Pisces

Isle of Lewis

Photo: Mhairi Law

Pisces is traditionally The Fish, so I knew that, here in the Hebrides, this must be the subject of my action for this sign, and I was immediately drawn to the idea of carrying it out at a loch near to where I live – Loch Mheacleit. 

When I first lived in Aird, Alastair Macdonald would come up regularly from Clydebank to his family home here, along with his wife Betty, his son Alex, other family members, and often, his friend Maxi (Maxwell Park). The local people looked forward to their visits and they were all greatly loved and respected. The men always went fishing, spending many hours with this loch, sharing their catch, as is the tradition, with local people. Sadly, both Maxi and Alastair died in recent years, being much missed, but Alex, Betty and other family members still come up regularly, and Alex goes fishing at the place loved by the two men, where the memory of them is strong. 

On a rocky outcrop by the loch, slate plaques dedicated to each of them have been fixed, so they endlessly watch the waters where they used to fish. 

I felt that my Pisces action must honour these men, as well as all those who have fished from these islands throughout the ages. 

Alex is a piper, so I asked him whether he would pipe as part of the action, and was overjoyed when he agreed. 

Towards the end of the Pisces month, Alex and Betty came on one of their visits to Aird. The weather the previous week had been dry and bright, though with a cold wind, but on our chosen day, as with the Scorpio action, it would not let us be without some rain, though it was slight, and the cold wind had gone, leaving stillness over the loch. 

As with Scorpio, once again Mhairi Law walked out into the water in her waders to take the photographs, protecting her camera from the rain as best she could. 

I had placed the Pisces cloth and wooden sign to either side of me, and to the back of the cloth an illustration by my son Taliesin of a fish and dolphin which are carved on a Pictish stone. 

With Alex, in his uniform of the Linlithgow Pipe Band, standing to the side and slightly behind me, the rock with the plaques at the back, and wearing my Water outfit, I threw out over the water an antique net I had bought from the shop of my daughter Saffron and her husband Luke.  

This action being very symbolic, I had with me two mackerel which Alex had caught on his previous visit and kept for me in his freezer, and I put these in the net and raised it up from the water as though I had caught them, then placed them on the Pisces cloth. Then I stood, and later knelt, holding a fish in each hand, looking out over the loch to the hills beyond, feeling very close to the spirits of all those generations who had fished from these waters. The pose echoed that of a photograph taken of me decades ago when I had caught two big fish from Loch Odhairn, a sea-loch which flows into Gravir on the other side of the Island, where I lived with my then-young son and went fishing with a neighbour and his son. 

I had brought with me some previously cooked mackerel, which I placed just inside one of the fish, then drew it out and ate it, feeling gratitude for the way these fish sustain us. 

I placed the two mackerel on a tray which depicts a map of the seas around the Hebrides, given to me by local sculptor and maker Amanda Humble. I took a knife, given to me to gut fish by the neighbour I used to go fishing with, and cut off the heads of the two fish. I held the heads in my hands, and then lowered them over the water of the loch, finally letting them go. 

This echoes a personal ritual my son Taliesin and I used to carry out after we had caught fish in Loch Odhairn, taken it home, cooked and eaten it, and then the next day returned the heads to the loch to give our thanks to the spirits of the fish which had fed us. 

Finally, I put the fish in a basket, made and given to me in an exchange of crafts by the basket-maker Dawn Susan, and stood to carry them home. The basket is a smaller replica of those used by the ‘Herring Girls’ of Stornoway, who used not only to gut and pack the vast quantities of herring that used to be landed there, but travelled all round the coasts of Britain to work wherever the herring were caught. There is a statue of a Herring Girl and her basket in Stornoway harbour. 

When the action was over, Betty, who had watched from their car, walked over to sit beneath the plaques of her husband Alastair, and Maxi, and was photographed there with Alex her son, our neighbour Steve Mason, and myself. 

I felt profoundly moved and quite emotional. The tribute to these men was very real, and they were here so very recently. 

I am hugely grateful to Alex for being here today, for piping such soulful sounds which flew out over the loch, one of which was ‘The Final Cast’ which he wrote for his father after he passed away; and for giving me the fish. 

A very moving experience, deeply enriching my movement round this Zodiac cycle of the year. 

Jill Smith, Isle of Lewis, March 2024

See also www.jill-smith.co.uk 

Main images: Mhairi Law



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