Festival of Terminalia

23rd February 2021

Today I walk an imaginary line around my house. My feet don’t leave indentations to show I have done it, not since the recent snow, and when that melted, the trace was gone. Home and back, I pace and pound my boundary line, a pathway that returns to itself, reconnects, reattaches, brings me back to the garden gate.

Snow prints. Photo by Sam MacLean

Terminalia is a one day festival of walking, space, place and psychogeography on 23rd Feburary. Terminalia is the festival of Terminus, Roman god of boundaries and landmarks so if there was ever a god and festival for psychogeography this would be it!

https://terminaliafestival.org/

They say that people walking somewhere can change a place, that the land alters because of us. Of course, it’s clear if we wear down the mountainside or trample wildflowers underfoot, if we make a desire path, flattening the grass just enough that the next person who comes by can see it and tread it afterwards. But I’m talking about the idea that the nature of a place adjusts as many people cross it for a specific reason (such as pilgrimage, religious or secular), that an ordinary location becomes imbued with a special significance after it has been walked upon by people with a shared aim or sensibility. If that’s true, do my streets, the streets which bear my weight daily, still feel me when I’m gone? Do I rub off on them somehow? Can I say I belong there?

Or is it the air above a path that is disturbed by my body moving through it, affected by my presence, retaining a whiff of me? Then, what happens when the wind blows and displaces it – have I been whisked away, or am I still there? How exactly does it work, this treading of Terminus, deity of the marking of our territory?

The wind disturbs the top layer

A crow breaks the quiet with a piercing caw on the turret, the wind finds crevices in my clothing, the odour of fish and chips invades my sense of propriety. Someone has etched into the tree’s bark and graffitied the bridge’s stone. A trickle finds a way through, waves breach the breakwater and ride roughshod over rocks. We must leave a gap or the wind will blow a solid fence over, a river bring down a protective wall. In so many ways, boundaries seem to be there to be broken – at least that’s when we notice them.

Arborglyphs
Arbor graffiti

A few of us meander along the ribboned edge of the bay, the constant interruption of land by sea. We talk to no-one, we stand and watch the water. I feel sad and the waves sound melancholy too. Only the other day it was like satin, now the surface darkens and shifts as the wind messes it into mackerel patterns. Sand clouds rush past me in such a hurry, disintegrating as they haste towards Fife. Uncharacteristic ripples sweep out to Inchcolm island where the disappearing rainbow arcs (between real and unreal). While I was there I had that golden luck and the rain never reached me, I who have hot sun on my calves. One by one, we stoop and pick what catches our eye. I chase dry seaweed as it billows across the beach.

Inchcolm Island

Psychogeography describes the effect of a geographical location on the emotions and behaviour of individuals

https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/p/psychogeography

I am concentrating on my own boundaries of time (too little for my own projects) – noticing how they get eroded, how I let them, allowing myself less. And on the amount of space I have (too much room in my house now the children and lodgers have gone) – somehow ending up with more than I need. As I pace the liminal wetness, the seam, I mourn the freedom I didn’t have (I was raised to think about others before myself and it has stayed with me) and the shells I am inadvertently crunching underfoot. The sea doesn’t stick to its limit. I see it constantly pushing them. I stand close by until it unexpectedly breaks the rule and surges at me. I have to stumble back out of the way or get wet.

There are fewer birds than usual on the strand, though later I see them swarming, their blanched bellies catching the sun as they swoop en masse. Over the blue they go, alighting on the pontoon quickly, one after the other, then taking off just as swiftly, an avian Mexican wave.

I muse on how everyday habits break down fear by reassuring us what will happen; then equally how they cause it, how we become nervous about being spontaneous and managing sudden change. I have been at home so long now, moving steadily around my immediate area – 5 miles in each direction – that I wonder how I’ll manage to go further afield. Will we all spread out across national borders again, back and forth over timelines and zones, or will we be more circumspect, stay closer to home, on our own territory? I have no plans.

Related blogs: Walking Between Worlds series

Terminalia – Festival of Psychogeography site

Incidentally, Terminalia is also a tree genus (upwards of 200 species) including the Terminalia catappa. Found in Madagascar, tropical and subtropical Asia and the Pacific (http://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/171034-1), the leaves are to be found at the very end – terminus – of the branches. Types of the tree (bark) are used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat heart conditions and diarrhoea.

Indian almond courtesy of https://www.britannica.com/plant/Terminalia-plant

Walking Between Worlds

This walk was part of the Audacious Women Festival 2021 and Terminalia Festival (23//21) on Saturday 20 February, 4 – 5pm (gmt). It was an online tour for anyone who was ambulant or not, in Edinburgh or not! We toured part of the Leith boundary, the Rosebank Cemetery, the North Leith Burial Ground, and the streets in between, using a special format with information, photos, video, maps and conversation about the wonderful women associated with Leith’s past and contemporary connections.

One of the Anthony Gormley statues in the Water of Leith over which we walk as part of the tour

(This walk was originally made on foot with a live group in Edinburgh on 23 February 2020, 3pm – sunset (5.30pm). This event has now taken place but it is hoped that there will be more in the future.)

Happily coinciding with Terminalia, Women Who Walk and the Audacious Women Festival

Walk between worlds

The original tour was a circular one of approx. 2.5 hrs, to muse and meditate on boundaries and borders – between one community of people and another, day and night, life and death and on the cusp of the new moon.

 

A new(ish) moon

We visited the graves of notable women in Rosebank Cemetery, North Leith Burial Ground and South Leith Parish Church. Briefly, at each stopping place, we faced the memorial stones, and learned about their incumbents.

The North Leith Burial Ground is ‘the dead centre of Leith’ according to The Spirit of Leithers

Grave stone, North Leith Burial Ground

The steps taken from one to the next, were equally, if not more important. We walked in memory of loved ones, and mused on life and mortality. It was an opportunity for exchange and silent contemplation. I made a psychogeographical map of the walk afterwards (see below).

Pilrig Church, Leith Walk. At the border between Leith and Edinburgh

Meeting at the join of Pilrig Street and Leith Walk, opposite the location of the Boundary Bar (now renamed as Bier Hoose) which marked the former border between Leith and Edinburgh, it terminated at Robbies (the corner of Iona St and Leith Walk, more or less opposite the start) for libation and conversation about where we had been – both in ourselves and the city.

Lady Mackintosh who raised a regiment for Prince Charlie, buried in the North Leith Burial Ground, Edinburgh

Always wear hardy shoes or boots for tramping pavements and negotiating sodden grass between stones and at the edge of the Water of Leith. This event was free of charge. 

Psychogeography is ‘The study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.’

 

Guy Debord from Making Maps

The annual Terminalia Festival of Psychogeography

Terminus was one of the really old Roman gods – he didn’t have a statue, he was a stone marker – and his origin, associated with a physical object, and lack of the usual stories that go with the gods, may have originated from animalistic religions. He had influence over less physical boundaries too, like that between two months, or between two groups of people. Terminalia was celebrated on the 23rd February – which was the last day of the Roman Year, the boundary between two new years.

Women Who Walk

Tamsin Grainger is a member of Women Who Walk. The network is for women who use walking in their creative or academic practice. It includes artists, writers, field historians and archaeologists, psychogeographers, academics and more.

Please note that there is no religious content to this event. Dogs and children are welcome. There are no flights of steps.

Eventbrite ticket (free)

Walking Between Worlds 1 an account of the walk

Walking Between Worlds 2 the second part of an account of the walk

Walking Between Worlds – 3 the third part of an account of the walk