The Substance of Shadow (Hiraeth)

Substance of Shadow. photo wcw

“Longing is the deepest and most ancient voice in the human soul”
John O’Donohue


HIRAETH: longing for a home that no longer exists or maybe never was

There are words that speak from another place. A word can have no english equivalent when it is speaking the language of soul, a language seldom spoken in the west.

The lure of Hiraeth comes from a place where “home” is ephemeral, not a house or a return address. It is an internal longing that can appear external when recognized in another. Its call is strongest in times of transition, when the veil is thin…dawn, twilight, full moon and those times when life calls us to ride out unpredicted storms.

This longing aches for a shared fantasy, one that will provide temporary relief from these times. The shelter provided reveals itself to be a portal into deep, often painful insights … a threshold that when crossed leads to an untapped vein of love and life waiting to be mined for its wisdom and nourishment before being brought once again to the surface.

We chase this shadow as if it is the substance of the shadow, irrationally bound to the belief that this ‘home that never was’ is just as real as the house our bodies currently occupy.

westcoastwoman 2021

‘bushtit nest’ exquisite temporary shelter photo wcw

20 thoughts on “The Substance of Shadow (Hiraeth)

  1. This is incredible. Just wonderful! And so very true. Our soul knows when we feel at home. A fleeting flash of recognition in the glance of a stranger. We experience it when we see a painting that draws us home, or in a thunderstorm that brings back a vague memory. “Home that never was” is indeed very real. But perhaps somewhere… sometime… it did actually exist.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Lesley, yes “somewhere, sometime” and no word for it in English. It is a Celtic word which makes sense to me.
      So good to see your smiling face pop up. Stay well my friend.


  2. That deep longing has haunted me all my life. Maybe many lives. It has followed me doggedly, from hearth to hearth and country to country, and from heart to heart.
    I love that there are languages that address these ethereal and fleeting feelings. Thanks Janet…I love your work .

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Would you be kind enough to give me permission to feature your “The Substance of Shadow (Hiraeth)” piece in a video I am producing to present “place attachment” and the loss experienced when a summer camp, no longer in operation, is fondly remembered by former campers? Of course, full attribution will be made to you in the video’s titling, if you would provide me the name and any additional information you’d like included, should you grant me permission for use. Thanks so much!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not sure my first reply was sent.
      Mark you have my permission to use the piece in your video. I can see how it would fit into the campers memories. My name is Janet Sawatsky.
      A quote from a book came to me that you might also find helpful. Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier it was made into a film. It is like a book within a book….pages 241-243 a partial quote:
      “We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there………”
      Best of luck with your project.


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