Jill Smith’s Zodiac Journey: Scorpio
06.11.23 GRIMERSTA RIVER
Isle of Lewis
Photo: Mhairi Law
For me, Scorpio is a Serpent. Many decades ago I read of this sign that in some cultures it is a serpent rather than a scorpion, and this strongly resonated with me.
When I carried out a journey round the Bury St Edmunds terrestrial zodiac in around 1980, shortly after moving from London to East Anglia, for Scorpio I used a curving branch of wood as a serpent and poured water from a sacred well down the length of it into a river.
My father, who sadly died aged 36 in 1945, was a Scorpio. My elder son, my first child, is a Scorpio, and my eldest grand-daughter, my first grand-child, is also a Scorpio; so for me this time of year is one in which to contemplate the flow of genes through the generations of my family.
I chose the Grimersta River, by the side of which I wished to carry out this action, because it is a salmon river, where the fish come in from the ocean to Loch Roag and then make the long arduous journey, leaping up-river against the flow of the water, to finally spawn where they themselves were hatched. Near that river I feel so powerfully that desperate energy which drives them on to produce the next generation – indeed, like a sperm battling its way up a Fallopian tube.
I made a ‘Serpent’ from a tangle of old rope and cord I found on the rocky shore near where I live. Although I didn’t attempt to replicate it, I was inspired by the double helix of DNA. The black rope which formed its head I bound into a ball and it became a strange face with a nose, with the paler rope poking through to become two blue lips. I stuck two white shells in for eyes. Once made it did remind me of a sperm – or a tadpole!
Wearing my dyed green Water outfit, I tied round my waist a spotty scarf which I had worn when I visited the school where my elder son was Head Teacher several years ago. It had been a special day for the children, for their parents were attending Assembly (it may have been a fundraising Children in Need day and people gave money for wearing something spotty). As I was attending as a parent, it had also turned out to be a very special day for me too.
I laid the dyed green circular cloth on the wet heathery grass beside the river. I had dyed patterns to represent waves, but they are also like serpents. Leaning forward I immersed the Serpent in the flowing water, its head facing the spawning grounds a long way upriver, and then laid it back on the now wet cloth.
From a sparkly blue bag, given to me years ago in England by a friend who is also a Scorpio, I took out some photographs, unwrapping them from a green scarf I had used in Virgo.
I tied the photographs one by one along the body of the Serpent. First, my father near the head, then my elder son, my eldest grand-daughter and finally a blank card representing the hope of generations to come. I then held the Serpent with the photos now on it, over the river in gratitude for all those generations and hopes.
To document the action, Mhairi Law the photographer, wearing full-length waders, walked right out into the centre of the flowing river, standing there sure-footedly a long while before moving around in the water to get shots from many angles.
Although the earlier sun had disappeared behind dark grey cloud, the colours of the grasses and heather were vivid. This is the Hebridean autumn, the colours even more intense when wet.
There is another part of this river which is important to me – the Kelt Pool. I was first told of this by the late Annie Macleod (née Macinnes), of Callanish, whose father was a ghillie on the Grimersta Estate when Annie was a teenager. She told me that when the salmon reach the end of their journey and finally spawn, they die. Occasionally, one will survive and return to the sea. These are the Kelts, and are usually female. They are not wanted by fishermen as their flesh is quite tough. As a woman whose fertile days are over, I relate strongly to these fish – tough as old boots!!
However, much as I relate to them and their Pool, this wasn’t the energy I wanted for this particular action. I need to stress that this was a celebration of the positive flow of genes through my family; it in no way references the Bean Sidhe (Banshee) or Washer at the Ford, whose appearance in local folklore is more negative.
Although we didn’t need permission to carry out the action by this river, I am grateful to the Factor of the Grimersta Estate, Simon Scott, for his approval and interest in the project.
Jill Smith, Isle of Lewis, November 2023.
See also www.jill-smith.co.uk
Main images: Mhairi Law