...and I realise it's been a year since I last posted! Since then there has been an addition to our family in the guise of our very own pixie baby! Our days are precious and full of love. She's a wee joy, full of smiles and so cuddlesome. I'd always imagined, but now I truly know what it is to live with my heart outside myself...
Rain mists soak the landscapes surrounding the tower house. I watch swallows dance through the fine droplets, searching nesting sites, chittering their hellos to me as I wait for the next visitor... I have walked, through the silent bovine faces, each day up the craigs; the faeryknowe sleeps beneath my gaze, beckoning the Rhymers' children to its shining lands beneath. My realm is of stone and rock, sulphur-bright broom and snapping Saltire; alone for a time, until crunching pebbles announce interested minds seeking their own experience of this solid remnant of the Borders' pyking past...
Soon I begin a new chapter, in quietude of soaring arch, knave and transept. My heritage work takes me new, old places... from now to then. Twisted faces look down in blessing and the ironclad heart of an ancient King of Alba sleeps in immortality beneath my feet.
"... and a marvellous freedom from the tumult of the world."
It is overcast and grey but the days are drawing out slowly. It's no longer late winter, but now early spring and the snowdrops begin to droop, cowed by the milder breezes. The garden sways to their songs. Soon the yellow trumpets of the daffodils will sound through the forest, shining like thick rays of sunlight among the leaf litter...
My forest is stirring. Quietly, in the thin light, the trees and plants are remembering. Soon they will shake out their new spring clothes, light and delicate. Birds move among them, heralding their return. Now, new blue faces greet me each day, among their snow-white cousins outside my door...
Since doing a timely spring clean of hearth and home, I have found a few old projects... I find myself looking at them under the light of the new year - clear and revealing. Some have resurfaced and leapt from their dusty files, clamouring to be given new life. From the printed page, new spaces appear between old words, ready to be filled...
Tonight is the Wolf-Moon, so called by the native American peoples as they heard packs sing in the snow-bound January landscape. Tonight, in our forest home, we watched the moon as it rose above the forest, huge and glowing in the darkening sky...
"The gaze of the wolf reaches into our soul." ~Barry Lopez
Fat gilded coin, pirate's dubloon
Howl with the wild at this midnight Wolf-Moon.
Watch her rise fair, atop trees dim with night
Dance and rejoice in her pure, cleansing light
According to those same North American traditions, I am born with the wolf as my totem, Pathfinder, wanderer, parent, lone wolf, packmate, warrior, coward, noble, shy, loyal...
I have long been fascinated by wolves, as many are, so tonight I shall howl with my domestic wolves, sounding our call of the wild, Please join in, Howling for Justice as the world's pack lift their voices against the slaughter of wolves in the Montana and Idaho hunts. Please read more about the vigil here.
My apologies, dear reader, for not posting in a very long time - the seasons shift, time passes and so too do my daily opportunities to post anything meaningful or worthwhile for your enjoyment.
However, suffice it to say I was extremely pleased to hear that my Flash Fiction piece 'Tideline'was chosen to win the MicroHorror.com Hallowe'en Short Story competition. You can read the piece here!
I have long been fascinated by the notion of shapeshifting, and particularly our own Scottish mer-folk, known as Selkies. It was to these mysterious people that my mind travelled when I read the theme for the competition: water. My great friend and artist, Jennie Cooper drew the most deeply evocative image of a Selkie I have yet seen and it was this image I had in my mind's eye for my sealmaid.
Bealtinne Eve by Jennie Cooper
So it was with a great sense of synchronicity that I have recently encountered this Icelandic folk tale about a Selkie:
The Seal's Skin
There was once some man from Myrdalur in Eastern Iceland who went walking among the rocks by the sad one morning before anyone else was up. He came to the mouth of a cave and inside the cave he could hear merriment and dancing, but outside he saw a great many seal skins. he took one skin with him and carried it home and locked it away in a chest. Later in the day he went back to the mouth of the cave: there was a young and lovely woman sitting there, and she was stark naked and weeping bitterly. This was the seal whose skin it was and the man had taken. He gave the girl some clothes, comforted her and took her home with him. She grew very fond of him but did not get on so well with other people. Often she would sit alone and stare out to sea.
After some while the man married her and they got on well together and had several children. As for the skin, the man always kept it locked up in the chest and kept the key on him wherever he went. But after many years he went fishing one day and forgot it under his pillow at home. Other people say he went to church one Christmas wit the rest of the household but that his wife was ill and stayed at home; he had forgotten to take the key out of the pocket of his everyday clothes when he changed. Be that as it may, when he came home again, the chest was open ad both the wife and the skin were gone. She had taken the key and examined the chest and there she had found the skin; she had been unable to resist temptation but had said farewell to her children, put the skin on, and flung herself into the sea.
Before she woman flung herself into the sea, it is said she spoke these words:
"Woe is me, Ah! woe is me!
I have seven bairns on land
And seven in the sea"
It is said the man was broken hearted about this. Whenever he rowed out his fishing boat afterwards, a seal would often swim round and round his boat and it looked as if tears were running from its eyes. From that time on, he had excellent luck in his fishing and valuable things were washed ashore on his beach. People often noticed that when the children he had by this woman went walking on the seashore, a seal would show itself near the edge of the water and keep level with them as they walked along the shore and would toss them jellyfish and pretty shells. But never did their mother come back to land again.
The origins of this sealwife folk tale goes back to the 1600s, though this version of the story was retold by the Rev. Skuli Gislason before his death in 1888. Traditionally the belief held that seals, or Selkies (the Orkney term for seal) were descended from the drowned soldiers of Pharoah, who shed their skins at Midsummer or on the twelfth day of Christmas. So I find it fitting that I should leave you with this tale of denizens of the mysterious realm beneath the waves and wish you a blessed and beautiful Yule. May you cast off the sealskin of your old year, in the dark nights and chill winter days, to be reborn anew at the advent of the New Year, full of love and light.
It is a sad time in our forest home... our darling pup Kira has a heart condition, which means she'll not be with us for much longer. But as I look into her languid eyes, filled with trust and gentleness, I know...
I have found my thoughts turning to poetic forms more recently as I continue with my Norse-inspired literature. The Poetic Eddas are a constant source of wonderment and confusion for me and so I have begun to study the anonymously authored Fornyrðislag of Eddaic poetry. I love this idea, that the Edda is the property of all storytellers and poets to be peformed and enjoyed without censure or boundaries. This was in contrast to Dróttkvæði, the bread and butter of the Old Norse courtly bard, the Skald. Skalds sang of their liege Lord's prowess and valour, the Eddas were the stuff of the Ancients, with their origins lost to time... Just as the daughter is a step removed from her Sire, so is the Poetic Edda a separate entity to the poetry of the Skaldic domain.
This is my first foray into Poetic Edda-form and an overture to producing a true rendering of things mythological...
She walks through the gateway into the forest. Overhead the trees move, swaying to the caresse of the winds. She hears them whisper; talking softly to themselves of countless cycles of moon and stars. Beneath, the ground is thick with green moss. It spreads like a cloak, flung from the shoulders of dryads to fall in soft emeralds at her feet. Here there is no time save that of the trees themselves, ancient and deep in their knowledge. Each step takes her further from the hard bright human world, and into the embrace of the forest kin. They call to her in day-dreams and sing to her at night:
“Little sister, step lightly to us, we miss your shadow-dances. Join, once more, with us beneath the bough-halls of our realm”.
She longs to return to her kin, yet she was, this time, born in the thick human flesh of mortals, a mistake, a curse. No longer does the wave of her hand create light in the dark or the breath from her lips swell the winds among the hills. Deeper into the hallowed halls of her kind she steps, searching, longing for a way to shed this skin of the hard, bright chrome world.
Moonlight slants between branches, the air is sweet with the flowers scattered like blessings in the luminous pools where it falls. Placing a hand here, there, each trunk she passes holds the memories of a hundred years and more, moving with slow sap, keeping the secrets of this woodland world. The feathered folk who dwell here call from the air, to their children who lie in their nests, lined with the hair of squirrel and soft rabbit.
She raises her arms in the glade, eyes closing as she tilts back her head. With that smile on her face, she goes through the old steps. Slowly at first, for each time feels harder than the last as if learning the dance anew. She plucks her long skirts where they trail the dark earth, and she dips and turns. Here between the shade of the leaves and the moonbeams with their bright motes she dances. Her hair streams out as she spins, laughing, whirling. Here is her communion.
And soon between the arching giants, in glimpses of what might have been, she sees beyond the veil of human eyes, sees her kin. They are smiling shyly at her, softly, sadly, the sister they have lost. Yet wanting not to call her to them for fear of her bringing the mortal world too close they turn and slip away... sad in their ken that she is lost to them, but not for all time.
The colours and magick she weaves in her shadow-dance spin out, fine filaments, glitter and cobwebs between the trees, a weir between worlds. Her dances work a bridge between fae and mortal realms, sending love to her kin and their thoughts to her. Suddenly she stops, and falls, breathless, to the loam, she lies back and watches the branches criss-cross overhead, a frail and perfect lace against the velvet dark sky. The smile stays on her lips, though, satisfied, replete. She has felt her kin reach out and soothe her mind. She is not alone, never alone, and she is loved.
Today I've been listening to Sigur Ros' fantastic Odin's Raven Magic soundscape/song cycle, recorded at the Barbican, London in 2002. It's been inspiring my current retracing of Norse myth as has an old poem I learned in school, 'The Twa Corbies'. I've been thinking long and hard about my frustrating issues I have in comprehensively and satisfactorily writing dialogue, so in this conversation I'm attempting to explore character voices and their differing cadences and patterns. I've utilised my two favourite feathered friends (Huginn and Muninn) outside their usual mythological remit, but I hope they can intercede between the realms of Old Norse, Auld Scots and modern English. This is their Ravensong.
Corwen: I think I’m hungry again.
Bran: I can’t remember a time when you weren’t.
Corwen: Where shall we dine today, then?
Bran: What of the old man? He'll miss us.
Corwen: I think he’ll turn a blind eye. He’ll be anxious about me, but he’ll miss you more anyway...
Bran: As long as we bring him back something juicy...
Corwen: Like an eye?
Bran: No, you grotesque gargoyle, like some gossip.
Corwen: Oh. What, again? If he got off his backside and out of that chair...
Bran: He can’t what with all the trouble with the wife, of late.
Corwen: So, about lunch...
Bran: Hmmm, now, where’s good eating near here? Let me think...
Corwen: You’re no good at thinking...
Bran: I remember when you used to compliment me on my thinking.
Corwen: That was before you had a mind to do all the remembering...
Bran: Well then, do you recall that, um, ‘heated discussion’ betwixt those two chaps we overheard the other day?
Corwen: What, you mean the argument by the bank? The pretty boy and the bearded giant? Whee! That was a good’un, eh?
Bran: Well, it was more of a fight, but yes...
Corwen: I reckon it was that woman wot started it. I think she liked the big, bearded one more.
Bran: There’s no accounting for taste. Sad it didn’t end well for the blonde chap.
Corwen: His dog got in a few good bites, though.
Bran: Yes; shame his horse ran off. Scared by all the blood I expect.
Corwen: Bah, little bit o’ red like that?
Bran: That or all the sword-waving and shouting.
Corwen: Aye, so what of it?
Bran: Well, he’s still there, ain’t he? Behind the wall.
Bran: Who? For Odin’s sake, you dolt! The blonde chap; the loser.
Corwen: What? He hung about all this time? Crying I expect, is he?
Bran: Not exactly. Perhaps I should say ‘beyond the veil’.
Corwen: Crikey! What, he’s... you know, dead?
Bran: No-one could survive a mace to the head like that, so yes - deceased, expired, nevermore. Off to meet the horn-helmed ladies...
Corwen: And he’s just laying there? All this time?
Bran: I expect so.
Corwen: All ripe and bloated and stuff?
Bran: You know I reckon this’d qualify as news for the old man.
Corwen: You’d think so, wouldn’t you? It’d be wrong of us not to check it out then.
Bran: As long as you don’t make that awful popping sound when you peck his eyes out.
Corwen: I’m offended. It’s traditional. Do you think there’ll be brain?
Bran: Beardy certainly put a lot of swing into the blow; s’probably pretty messy up-top.
Bran: It is indeed...
Corwen: Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s go! I get his liver this time, remember?
A garden opening in the verdant Borders provided an opportunity for today's Haiku. Even though the countryside was dripping with the heavy rain that fell, it made the colours of the flowers and plants even more intense, magnified by the drops...
‘You said you wanted to talk?’ She said as she sat down at my desk, book in her hand. ‘Well, I’m here.’
I pushed my work to one side and set down my pen. ‘Yeh, though now you’re here, I’m not quite sure where to start.’ This was my chance, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to take it.
‘Well, why don’t you start with what’s on your mind,’ she smiled and leaned forward, sun catching her hair in the evening light that flooded through the window, turning it to a gold band across her brow.
‘Ok.’ I sat back in my chair and looked at her. I think perhaps, this was the first time I really saw her and it scared me a little. ‘I want to know why you’ve been avoiding me, I guess.’
‘Avoiding you?’ She laughed. ‘Hasn’t it been the other way around?’
‘What do you mean?’ I was confused. ‘Surely the fact that you’ve not been to visit me in like, what, six months, says a lot, don’t you?’
‘Well, to be honest I’ve not really felt that welcome. Every time I make an overture you seem like you’re busy with other stuff, so I thought “what the Hades...” and went away. If you’d have given me the slightest sign you wanted me around I’d have been there, like a shot. You know that, right?’ Her response made my stomach swim. She was right and I knew she knew I knew it. Damn.
But...’ I began. ‘Ok, it was like you didn’t really need me anymore. I thought - fine, you’ve better places to be...’
She cut me short, ‘For Gods’ sake, don’t be so stupid. You were the one that needed me originally, remember? You asked me for help and things were great for a while. Then... I don’t know,’ she trailed off and sat back in the swivel chair. She shook her head. ‘It was just like you decided to break up with me but you never bothered to tell me. What the hell was that about? I was hurt. If I knew this was going to be a damn tragedy I’d have told you to speak to my sister!’ She stood up and moved away from the desk towards the door.
‘No! Look, I’m sorry, ok? It’s you I want.’ My voice suddenly seemed loud in the room. I didn’t want her to go. ‘I don’t what you to go. I’m sorry.’ Gods, this was uncomfortable. I floundered for the right words and found none. ‘I’m sorry, ok?’ I repeated helplessly as I looked at her, trying to search her depthless eyes for a sign she believed me. ‘I’m just going through this dry patch and it’s frustrating the hell out of me. I guess I was embarrassed. I didn’t want you to see me like that’.
’I know.’ Her soft voice was a balm to my soul. ‘Don’t think I don’t care. I do, it’s just...’ She spread her hands, indicating the piles of papers on my desk. ‘It’s like you need me a little too much? You can do things on your own, you know.’
‘Yeah, I guess I do. But you know what?’ I looked at the PC monitor.
‘What?’ She walked around the desk to look at the flashing cursor on the empty white screen and leaned in close and I could smell her perfume, filling the study with its essence.
‘If you don’t visit, this happens.’ I pointed to the blank whiteness. Then I got up and walked to the shelves. I pointed to the books and magazines. ‘See what happens when you do?’ I opened a folder and pulled out a poem from our last time together and held it out to her. ‘See this? This used to be us. We make a damn good team, you and I. When we really try. Don’t we?’
‘We do. And it’s what I’m here for, right?’
‘Right.’ She walked across the sun-faded rug and kissed my brow. ‘Now get back to work. I’m right here. Is there anything else you want to say to me? She tilted her head quizzically.
‘I suppose I could say thanks.’
She set down her papers and leaned back in the chair, kicking her sandals off under the desk. ‘That’d be a start.’
I sat back down too, and picked up my pen. Her presence comforted me, we both felt it.
‘Oh, I nearly forgot,’ She said, as she settled in for the evening, ‘Mum says “Hi”.’ We both laughed at that.
Sif, the second wife of Thor, is the lady with the corn-gold hair. Some sources state that she has the gift of prophecy, although this is not mentioned in the Eddas.
I find the sonnet both challenging and rewarding for its structural limitations, but found it fit the melding of ancient and classical modes of poetic delivery. Though this is a stylistic deviation of this curtal sonnet from the traditional English form, it'll suffice for now - I will revisit it in time...
Continuing my reworking of Norse myth, I offer one of Sif's prophecies.
Thrice the white Shroud falls, Moon and Sun are dimm'd,
O’er wights that flee before dark blades of kin.
Bright toothed, the horn’s song answers cry and string
Haiku is a poetic form I much admire and have often tried to emulate. As I understand it , Haiku should always say something about the natural world - offering the reader an image of nature half-glimpsed, as fleeting as a gust of wind or shower of petals... Since I'd posted the Dragon poem for Angela, this one is dedicated to Jolie :)
When I was traveling through Thailand I kept a journal of thoughts, musings and observations. As I ate my evening meals, my words would invariably turn more brief and verse would appear. The poems are untitled and correspond to the dates in my journal. On the 17th May I watched the sunset off the coast of Ao Nang, the clouds were high, thin shreds of Cirrus, turning gold in the evening sky. As the winds blew them out to sea, into the darkening horizon, they became bent out of shape and my thoughts turned to Ouroboros as their ragged ends seemed to writhe in on themselves... For Angela, who loves dragons..
Dragon eats its tail,
Devours the whole world
And creates nothing
Nothing is everything
Destruction is creation
Of the Void
Which nothing can fill
Nothing inside nothing
Everything inside the dragon.
Before the Age of Men and its wheels and chains and the weight of logic, we had no form. We existed in the winds, rain and the warmth of the sun, dwelling in rock and tree and waterfall. Present in all things, we were Landvættir. Our light was the life of the earth and though hidden it was not unnoticed. They were thankful our lakes quenched their thirsts, our forests offered them game to hunt, that stones could shelter.Then mortals began to need us. Their petitions for aid in their fleeting lives were a plea we could not ignore – and thus we sealed our fate, changed by the needs of man. The power of thought, the magick of the mind!
We became Álfar.
Made into this word of man, this world of men, their belief shaped us anew, shifting our forms as they changed their minds as to what we were. The destruction was a creation. Reified, the naming gave us substance. In the minds and mouths of humans we were given flesh - clothed in their word-form. How strange they are with their need to name, but words hold power and once they spoke our new name aloud they held dominion over us.
Their voices called us forth from the tree in the wood, the flower on the tundra, the pool-stirring breeze.
Fashioned from fen and forest, sedge and waterway.
Moulded from mountain and cliff, valley and grove.
Shaped from sea and shore, fjord and pasture.
The pain this caused us was fleeting in mortal terms, though it is a wound we shall bear until the End Of All Things.
So we stepped into the world, our immortal forms in the guise of our creators. From Álfheimr we slipped through doorways onto the mortals’ plane. Out of the earth we came; out of darkness we brought our Light into Manheimr. Our purpose changed too, no longer soothing the base sufferance of human existence, but a required finesse as humanity created wonders – art, music, song... our magick became theirs, born out of their connection with nature.
Humanity grew, and changed. And that which we had invested so much energy and love in could not be left to wither and fade. Our brightness was both a gift to mortals and a curse to Elfkind and in time we became earthbound as with their craftsmanship came beautiful bonds. The subtle chains of servitude.
Some Elves left, abandoning their kin andmankind- returning forever to Álfheimr, returning to dwell in tree and rock and pool. The rest of us stayed, hopeful we could exist in harmony, always attempting bring beauty and love, trying to share Elf-nature –bringing them out of themselves as they brought us into the world.
No more could the brilliance of our Vril refresh and sustain the land, the water or the air. Steel and steam, glass and greed, iron and anger - such is the stuff of human life now. We could not inhabit these forms of matter, so our energies waned.
And so began the debilitation of the earth and the necessity for repetition of our countless rebirths in mortal form. Once we were nature, now we are a dying culture. There is no longer a need for us, nor a belief in our kind. Yet we still walk the earth clad in the thick meat of human bodies, our outer brightness burned away through the monotony of myriad mortal lives. We are still immortal though many of us have forgotten our true nature and dwell evanescent, content in their endless repetitions, caught in the same traps as the wights we first came to aid.
I hold onto the knowledge that our inner essence remains truly Light. And when I and the other Ljósálfr leave these bodies with this understanding, we shall return to Elfhome and exist once again as pure energy - sustaining, renewing, loving. Freed at last from this point in space and time, I shall be unfettered from these cycles of Doing, able to just Be... MysElf.