A new book by Jill Smith of Aird Uig has recently been published.
And there’s a chance to meet the author for a talk and slideshow event called “Life, Performance, Journeying, Art” to celebrate the publication of the book
The Gypsy Switch & other Ritual Journeys at The Edge Café, Aird Uig at 7pm on Wednesday November 13th .
In the 1970s and early 1980s, the author was known as the performance artist Jill Bruce, working in a duo with her husband, the late Bruce Lacey.
Their work had evolved through much multi-media science fantasy productions to spectacular outdoor ceremonial celebrations of the turning cycles of the year.
Jill became deeply involved with ancient Neolithic and Bronze Age sites and landscapes, spending a great deal of time at some stone circles, long barrows, chambered cairns and earth works.
Reclaiming her birth name of Smith, she began making journeys between these sites, linking them by the path of her walking as she believed our ancient ancestors had once done.
One of these journeys led her from Land’s End, through sites in England and Scotland to make her first visit to the Western Isles and Callanish, feeling, as she stepped off the ferry at Tarbert in the isle of Harris, that she had come home, and in 1986 she moved to South Lochs with her young son, Taliesin.
But before this they had travelled together for a year on The Gypsy Switch, a journey which followed the movement of the sun through the zodiac in the sky by travelling round England, Wales and Ireland, visiting specific places at the appropriate zodiac times of year,
Travelling initially with a group of people, horses and wagons, when the others dropped out, she walked for the last three-and-a-half months carrying her son on her front, a rucksack on her back and a bag in each hand.
The new book tells not only the story of several other journeys as well as The Gypsy Switch, but the personal life journey Jill made as she left house, family and work to travel alone, sleeping out in the landscape, often without a tent. It is a story of hardship and great joy, a blend of spirituality, political involvement and the mundane realities of everyday life.
It tells of a time already different from today, when it was easy to hitch up motorways, but communication was limited to finding unvandalised phone boxes and collecting Poste Restante letters sent to Post Offices which she was likely to pass.
Having taken Jill nearly 35 years to reach a point where she had the perspective of distance, even though it is mostly based on writings she made at the time, it has given her great satisfaction to have finally turned it into a physical book to be shared with others.
A review on Amazon states: “Old hippies and veteran Earth Mysterians will immediately recognise Jill Smith’s name. In the 1970s, with her then husband Bruce Lacey (subject of the Fairport Convention song Please Mr Lacey), Jill performed site specific multi-media events at festivals and fairs. These fascinating events were shamanic in nature, invoking the elements, the genius loci and the myths and legends. In the 1980s Jill found herself increasingly drawn to ancient sacred sites across Britain and in the early 1980s began a series of ritual journeys, on foot or by horse-drawn caravan.
“The Gypsy Switch is Jill’s account of her journeys, often like reading a detailed diary of where and why she travelled, who she met and descriptions of the sites she visited and what they meant to her. In these cynical times Jill’s book might be seen as simplistic and naive, whereas in fact it is just a factual reflection of an authentic life well lived; I was struck with the thought that it is the written equivalent of Vashti Bunyan’s (another horse-drawn traveller) Diamond Days album. Essentially, it’s the story of a woman who followed her own spiritual path through the sacred landscapes of Britain and her personal responses on many levels to those experiences. It won’t be to everyone’s tastes but it’s an interesting and unique insight into an aspect of Earth Mysteries which we don’t see much of anymore and a testament to one woman’s singular vision of what to do with her life. The book is well illustrated with Jill’s evocative artwork and photographs.”
The Gypsy Switch and Other Ritual Journeys (£12) is available on the Isle of Lewis from the Baltic Bookshop and An Lanntair Arts Centre, Stornoway; Callanish Visitor Centre; the Uig Community Shop; and the Edge café in Aird Uig. It can also be bought from Jill herself via Paypal (link on the Facebook page Gypsy Switch Jill Smith and her website www.jill-smith.co.ukor from Amazon).