Adventures in Gratitude – What I Learned from a Neolithic Wisdom Keeper

I’ve found that it’s all too easy to take food for granted. It’s rare that I stop and appreciate what I’m eating. I try to be as conscious as possible about my food choices. I intend and often succeed in making the ethically, environmentally, and nutritionally best choices. But it wasn’t until I wrote The Call of the Triple Spiral and met my ancient Wisdom Keeper character, Tilda, that I learned the importance of gratitude for the source of the food. This is an excerpt from my novel:

(Tilda has just arrived in the 21st century. Having time-travelled 5,000 years from Neolithic Ireland, she speaks no English and is not familiar with modern ways. At the Newgrange monument, she meets Carol and her ten year old son, Jason, who take Tilda to a pub for lunch.)

Tilda observes that enough food is brought to the table to feed her entire village. She cannot eat the quantities that Carol and Jason consume. The two of them devour their food, dispatching every morsel very quickly, without pause.

‘Go on Tilda,’ Carol urges, her mouth full of battered fish. ‘Eat. Drink.’ She mimes the actions. Tilda picks up a glass of water and passes it to Carol.

‘That’s for you,’ Carol says, passing it back. ‘You drink it.’

Tilda passes it to Jason. When he too refuses, she carefully places it on the table and bows her head.

‘I think she wants us to say grace,’ Carol says. ‘Sorry, love. We’re not the religious types. We’re uncouth barbarians from the Stone Age. Put those chips down, Jason. We’re going to say grace.’

Reluctantly, Jason puts his chip down. Tilda reaches out to hold their hands and indicates they should all hold hands in a circle. There in the noisy pub surrounded by people, Tilda sings. She sings to the food and to each of them, a song of such sweetness that tears come to Carol’s eyes. She wishes it would never end. This is what I need, she thinks. I need Tilda in my life.

Tilda passes the glass of water to Carol and watches her until she takes a sip, then to Jason who takes a big gulp and hands the glass back to Tilda with a flourish. Tilda drinks slowly with her eyes shut as if that glass of ordinary tap water is the most sacred drink on the planet. She does the same with a chip and a piece of fish.

Jason breaks the spell by shouting, ‘Thanks for the grub. Let’s tuck in.’ They all laugh, including Tilda.

‘These are the best fish and chips I’ve ever tasted,’ Jason declares. Carol agrees. Tilda nods her head and says yes.

Carol leans back against the plaid cushioned seat and closes her eyes. Her heart feels full. Tears hover behind her eyelids. Something is missing and that something is the grinding tension, the constant worry and the heavy burden of responsibility. For a brief moment, Carol has a vision of how her life could be.

In the space of a few hours with this stranger, Carol has relaxed her guard and allowed Tilda in, past all her defences. She smiles shyly at Tilda, overwhelmed with gratitude.


(Carol brings Tilda to stay with her in her home in Bristol. Tilda studies their ways and learns quickly.)

Tilda has already observed what they do when they sit to eat but she cannot do as they do. To eat without first expressing gratitude is like a denial of her very being. Tonight, instead of chanting under her breath in her own language, she says quietly, ‘Now for food say fhank you.’

Tilda chants. She does not translate or try to use any of the English words she’s learned.

‘Who are you thanking, Tilda?’ Jason asks when she’s done. He spears a fish finger and looks at it with interest.

‘Who you fhank?’ Tilda replies calmly.

Jason considers. ‘Nobody but I should thank Mum for cooking the food. I should thank the fishermen for catching the fish and the farmers for growing the rice and the broccoli.’

‘And who else?

‘Who else? I guess we should thank Tesco and whoever delivers the food to Tesco.’


Jason shrugs. ‘I can’t think of anyone else to thank.’

Tilda is puzzled. She wonders whether she missed something. She didn’t catch all of what Jason said but she’s sure he didn’t mention Mother Earth, the rain, the sun, the plants and animals, let alone Great Mother.

The next day, Tilda points to a bowl of fruit on the counter and asks, ‘Where from orange fruit?’

Without looking up from her phone, Carol sighs and says, ‘from Tesco.

Tilda tries again. ‘Where orange fruit to Tesco?’ She guesses that Tesco is a collection point, not a farm.

‘From Spain,’ Carol says in a short sharp voice.

‘Where Spain?’ Tilda stares steadily at her, willing her to look her in the eye and give her as much attention as she is giving to her phone.

‘Where is Spain?’ Carol corrects her automatically, still not making eye contact.

‘Where is Spain?’ Tilda repeats, grateful for the language instruction but aware of a stab of jealousy towards the phone. ‘How orange fruit come here?’

‘How did the orange get here?’ Carol enunciates the words carefully, looking up from her phone. ‘I dunno. By boat or plane or lorry.’ She taps the phone firmly and places it on the table.

‘What is byboatorplaneorlorry?’ Tilda asks eagerly, now that her rival has been silenced.

‘Tilda,’ Carol says in a rush, running a hand through her hair. ‘There is too much to know I cannot pay attention to these unimportant details it does not matter I do not care how the orange gets here I just know that it does my life is too complicated you ask me about things I do not need to think about.’ She rises from the table, puts the phone in her pocket and heads to the room where she sits for many hours of each day.

Tilda remains in the kitchen, repeating as much of this speech as she can remember. She recognises several of the words, particularly “I do not care how” which was said with feeling but the meaning of the rest eludes her. She shrugs, wishing Carol was a more patient teacher.

‘Charmall, Crogan,’ Tilda calls inwardly to her spirit guides, two beings who remain with her in spirit form after they passed to the Other World. ‘I am sorely puzzled. Can it be true that Carol cares not from where comes the food that sustains her life? It seems that she believes it should be there for her, as if by magic.’

‘I also do not understand,’ Crogan says. Charmall murmurs assent. ‘It is deeply disturbing. As in our time, Carol is blessed with gifts from all the realms. The Sun, the Moon and the Planets, Earth, Air, Fire and Water, the Animals, the Trees and the Plants, and the Mineral realm provide her with everything she needs to sustain life. Tell us, Oh Wise One, what have you learned about food in this world?’

‘The people in this world are well organised.’ Tilda chooses her words carefully. ‘Carol keeps no cows nor chickens. She does not grow any of the food she eats. She does not help to harvest the food from the farms. Yet she has an abundant supply of food and never goes hungry. She goes to large palaces to collect her food. I have not learned yet where the food comes from.’

‘What does your mind say about this?’ Crogan asks.

‘I am in awe. In this world, the people are as numerous as the ants in an ant nest. To feed them all – yes, it is indeed awesome.’ Tilda trails off, not satisfied with her answer. It is not the whole truth.

‘What does your heart say?’ Charmall asks. ‘Your heart speaks the truth.’

‘My heart feels their loneliness.

They know not who they are.

They know not their Source.

They are like the waves on the ocean,

enthralled by the rising up and the crashing down,

by their dance with the air,

by the spray and the roar.

Enthralled by their belief in their separateness,

that their lives are due to their own efforts, their own will,

not knowing they are always one with the ocean.

Not knowing they are blessed.

Not knowing they are loved.

My heart feels their pain.’

I am grateful to Tilda for teaching me to give thanks to all the life-sustaining realms and for dis-enthralling me from false beliefs.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

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