The alert reader will note the passage of time in chapter four of Acts of the Servant. From the morning his grandfather and Uilleam M’Illathain taking the recalcitrant and uncooperative Bheathain to Portree, through to his first sight of Màiri Mulcahy, a full forty-eight hours elapse; albeit, Bheathain is largely unaware of its passing.
Bheathain’s exact ailment is not directly addressed, presumably because we see events through Bheathain’s eyes and he is in no condition to examine his own symptoms. On the journey with his grandfather and M’Illathain through to his arriving at the Royal Hotel he is delirious; later, after a night in Doctor Ramsay’s care, he is aware of the carriage journey to meet Màiri Mulcahy yet he remains irrational and at first sight takes Màiri Mulcahy for Death, or perhaps the ferryman taking him to the otherworld.
Two things are worthy of note: the first is this; MacGregor is juggling two narratives, that of Bheathain and that of the roving curse as it alights on one character after another on its quest. These two narratives work synchronously; that is, there are points – I think I give little away – where they converge, either symbolically or literally. Thus, purely for reasons of narrative Bheathain is effectively unconscious for a considerable length of time. The second is this: in every known society it has been observed that acquiring the gift of clear sight, or Grace, is a traumatic process akin, so it is claimed, to the transformation of a humble grub into a butterfly, with the proviso that unlike the transformation of the caterpillar which is highly organised and predictable, psychic transformations differ widely. As in the Lepidoptera, a period of quiescence is essential to the process and according to Dr Diane Fanshawe published in ‘Psychic Insight’ magazine, August 2011, the allusion to the physical transformation of the pupal insect into the imago is closer than one might suspect for acoustic imaging has shown in real time the breaking down of existing neural connections in the brain and their rebuilding in those acquiring clearsight. Essentially, this is a form of self-inflicted brain injury which can, if interrupted or uncompleted, lead to a permanent catatonic state, insanity and even death. As the neuroscientist, Charles Sherrington memorably put it:
…the brain is weaving anew its tapestry of meaning and though each tapestry – the before and after – was and shall be perfect upon completion, the execution risks the unravelling of loose threads.
One is no expert, but allowing that learning is itself a form of mental rewiring, one imagines Charles Sherrington is presenting in his own terms the advice given Bheathain by Màiri Mulcahy: Deny magick, it will destroy you; untrained it will destroy those you love.
One can argue – indeed, I should say has been argued – that Bheathain has hardly been quiescent: indeed, he has been and – again I think I give little away – will continue to be resistant at every turn and I think there is much in that argument. His change is not yet complete: his abilities are still developing and, like a child learning to walk, he lacks self-control. Unlike the cinnabar moth, one who acquires clearsight does not hatch from the chrysalis able to fly on instinct alone. Bheathain’s transformation is incomplete: he has further boundaries to cross and challenges to meet and that is the journey MacGregor intends to show us.I wish to thank Eileen Provender of Belshade College, Oxford for her assistance with the above.