Genius Loci (Cílek)

Bees of the Invisible – Awakening of a Place (part 1)
By Václav Cílek

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A place is a place in the heart, it is a relationship.

More than thirty years ago – I am almost afraid to write that number, that’s how long it is – I started to wander across Bohemia. In those days I was actively gathering minerals. A strong desire to find and possess took me to small quarries and later into old galleries. I don’t want to describe here experiences that on a couple of occasions nearly ended with death. It was a heroic era, and today I believe its aim was to learn to work in tandem with earth. When collecting minerals you receive an immediate feedback – if you half intuitively, half from experience discover a new or long forgotten locality, the finding itself let’s you know how well you work with nature.

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For ten years I was digging in caves. At last I didn’t need to own stones, I was surrounded by the element of earth. Looking for new underground spaces is even more testing on knowledge and feeling than looking for stones. You get familiarised with clay. Looking back now on those years, I have a strong and not at all unpleasant sensation of wandering in underground empires, feeling the rough touch of rocks and work with earth. And again I do not want to speak of experiences, but instead with wonder to contemplate the places that I visited or worked in, in those days, and which I did not understand – for instance the Abyss of the Dead on Tobolsky Vrch, from which human victims were thrown. Lack of understanding is what marks all these years, but luckily experience, although forgotten, remains.

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In those days I visited many villages, many ups and many downs, places where normally one has no reason to go. I am not sure if this applies to everybody, but I need to work in a place, physically touch it, make a certain effort, in order to start to understand. I cannot just arrive and at once feel myself part of the location. I must do something and only in the evening after work, when I look around, it becomes clearer to me where I am. Usually this realisation comes through the clay, the rock, or the earth itself. It is neither a quick-witted thought nor an all-encompassing mediation, it smells of the earth and opens up to you, but more often it does not. I am patient. I do not need to arrive, understand, gain an experience, insight. I am a pilgrim, not a conqueror. I do not enter doors that are closed, I do not own a treasure box with a stolen secret.

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For the last ten years or so I have constantly walked through sacred paces, ancient castle sites, cloisters, roman churches, rocks of strange shapes, ritual caves and sand stone overhangs with sacrificial sites almost ten thousand years old. There were times when I wanted to write a book about these places, because I sensed all that they gave me. Now I do not wish to own stones, to discover caves and write a book about sacred places. They are here, many of them can easily be found – it is enough to read a notice on the other side of a tourist map. It took me twenty years, damaged knees and a sore back, until I got closer to the secret, the essence of a place. You too can do it, I leave traces but I do not mark the path for others. My sight is not sharp and I do not want to confuse anyone. I do not gather, I prefer to forget, so that in the mind there remains a space for things, which are still to come. I saw more than I will be able to understand to the end of my life.

Václav Cílek is a Czech geologist, climatologist and a writer. Thank you to him for the original essay Včely Neviditelného – Probouzení místa.

Images and translation by Tereza Stehlikova

English translation of the article originally published in Artesian journal, 2008

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One response to “Genius Loci (Cílek)

  1. Pingback: Robert MacFarlane’s The Old Ways’… glossary | Plume of Words·

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