Folklore and fantasy themes aimed at creative writers: to start writing stories and challenge your brain with exciting ideas, dip into this kit-bag. Learn how fantasy worlds draw on real world history, mythology, and folklore. And there’s weekly news from the world of fantasy fiction too, plus fabulous creatures, studies on folk tales, nature fables and lots more mythical, magical fun.
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This week I consider Old Father Thames and have a conversation about other river gods and later go deeper into the river Naiads. I visit the Lammas Fields and look out how, at Lammastide, the local medieval monks potentially inspired our image of Father Time and also, even, death. I discuss the Grianan of Aileach and talk more about the Wanderer (Woden) who probably inspired the fictional figures of Merlin and later Gandalf. I also discuss the bildungsroman genre of fiction. My magical word of the week is: VERÐIR … a word that imparts: warden trees and wraiths. My wildflower of the week is: The Water Lily
As you know, I live besides the River Thames in Surrey, England. I’ve been busy with my writing projects this week, so have not traveled far. But a take a wander daily along the river bank at Staines to visit Old Father Thames. The river helps calm my mood and provides inspiration and recovery.
The river Thames has been a site of pagan ritual, sacred rites and popular celebrations since ancient times.
Peter Ackroyd’s “Thames – The Sacred River” is the best source of knowledge about what is known as “London’s river” but is actually the longest river in England (215 miles) and passes through several manifestations from Thames Head to Tideway before it meets the North Sea.
The river has its own deity: “Old Father Thames” whose hair and beard becomes the waves and rivulets of the river itself : bringing to mind the Ganges and Shiva. According to the Journal of Biological Chemistry up to 60% of a human adult body is water. So the notion isn’t too hard to get to grips with. A human can be a river and a river can be a human…
The over-arching River God is probably Achelous. Sophocles suggests he can become:
“ A rambling bull [once,] then a writhing snake
of gleaming colors, then again a man
with [an] ox-like face: and from his beard’s dark shadows
stream upon stream of water tumble [d] down”
Since Roman times this river god is often depicted reduced to a mask and used decoratively as an emblem of water, “his uncut hair wreathed with reeds…” Is this the Green Man?
According to Greek myth Achelous is the source of all knowledge. He mourned the loss of one of his horns (in combat with Heracles or the Roman Hercules) and this horn became the fabled “Horn of Plenty” … the cornucopia that becomes a symbol of Thanksgiving and harvest. Ackroyd suggests that this horn transforms into an URN when held by OLD FATHER THAMES [see top photo] suggesting, perhaps, that once tamed… the river can be fruitful and life-giving.
One curious thought, though… Achelous has been given the gift of perpetual self-renewal… so he holds the secret of eternal youth. Thus, the term: The Fountain of Youth…
Yet why does the Thames deity choose an “Old Father” as a guise?
LOCUS IN QUO – This week: The Lammas
LAMMAS is celebrated on 1st August and marks the annual wheat harvest, which is the first (of three) harvest festivals to be celebrated each year in Europe.
On LAMMAS day it was once customary to bring a loaf of bread to church, made from the new crop of cereal, which began to be harvested at Lammastide, the period that falls halfway between the summer Solstice and the Autumn September Equinox.
The “First Loaf” was blessed by priests, and in Anglo-Saxon times, it might be employed in protective rituals : for example Lammas bread might be broken into four bits, to be placed at four corners of a barn, to protect the rest of the year’s harvested grain.
The LAMMAS feast is also known in Britain as the “Gule of August.” Apparently, the word GULE just means feast in ancient Brittonic
In the medieval agricultural year, Lammas also marked the end of the hay harvest that had begun after Midsummer, and the beginning of the cereal harvest.
Here, in my hometown, we have a Recreation Ground known as THE LAMMAS. This is an ancient word and comes from nearby LAMMAS fields. These were Thameside meadows. Nearby there’s an ancient crop-field (Thorpe Hay Meadow – owned and managed by the Surrey Wildlife Trust ) that was once farmed by monks from nearby Chertsey Abbey. This crop field is thought to be the last remaining example of an untouched Thames valley hay meadow in Surrey. The monks once grew ancient strains of meadow barley in this place (the field has been preserved unfarmed and unsullied). When you visit you can see the same wild grasses (growing on the edges) that were farmed by monks in the 7th and 8th century. I like to imagine a monks, wearing a dark habit – making the first cut of the LAMMAS barley at Lammastide. He stops for a while to rest upon his Scythe, but it’s August, so he keeps his hood over his brow to avoid the sun’s strength on his bald head.
What does that image conjure up to you? To the people of of Staines, Egham and Chertsey in about year 675 this man represented the good things in life: bread to eat, beer to drink, the first harvest, hope and strength, and the expectation that starvation in winter could be avoided…
But you also might imagine that the image of a monk wearing a hooded a habit, and carrying a scythe, might signify quite the opposite: death?
Father Time is the personification of time . In Greek mythology – Cronos, or Kronos, is depicted as carrying a scythe or a sickle and a festival called Kronia was held in honour of him to celebrate the harvest. Cronos was later identified with Khronos – the personification of time – and, during the Renaissance, this notion gave rise to the idea of “Father Time” wielding an harvesting scythe and being placed in charge of a man’s timespan on earth
English words that derive from Khronos include: chronology, chronic, anachronism, and chronicle.
MYTH & MAGIC NEWS: This week – GRIANAN OF AILEACH
This month the Irish Government listed the ancient Grianan of Aileach fort, just seven miles from Derry city, in County Donegal, as a national monument.
It is perched above the Co Donegal village of Burt and attracts thousands of visitors every year.
The fort is a powerful manifestation of what remains of ancient Ireland and on a clear day, from its pinnacle, it is possible to get a glimpse of three counties-Donegal, Derry and Tyrone. The commanding and spectacular waterways of Lough Swilly and Lough Foyle lie to its west and east respectively.
But, in the 19th Century the fort, once home to kings of old Gaelic order, was rapidly disintegrating towards extinction. It was however saved by the vision of one man who spearheaded its restoration just over 140 years ago.
The Victorian archaeologist George Petrie first surveyed the Grianán of Aileach in the 1830s
The earth banks of the hill-top ringfort are probably late Bronze Age or Iron Age and there’s a small spring deidcated to St. Patrick and Petrie found a circle of ten stones and some interesting artefacts including an ancient gaming board.
The word Grianán means sunny place and there’s a theory that the hillfort might have been a Temple to the Sun.
It’s probable that the Kings of Aileach held their inauguration ceremonies at the fort and it became a “ceremonial” capital of their realm. It’s said that St. Patrick blessed a symbolic flagstone at the fort and it’s believed that this is the inauguration stone known as St. Columb’s Stone and now found in Belmont House School, Derry.
According to Irish folklore, the ringfort is said to have been built by THE DAGDA who was a father-figure, a king, and a famous druid…
THE DAGDA was a bearded man who wore a cloak and carried a magic staff – see above (the tip on one end of his staff could kill, while the other end would revive and heal.)
The DAGDA was also known as “the horseman” “the great father” and the “horned man”
Does this description you of anyone? See Episode One (Wōdan) in his guise as “The Wanderer”? Is this also Gandalf or Merlin?
And, also, is the Irish DAGDA the same fellow as the Cerne Abbas Giant? i.e. the so-called “Rude Man” of Cerne. I’ll return to this subject in a later show.
MAGIC WORD OF THE WEEK: This Week VERÐIR
In Norse mythology the VERÐIR is a warden spirit, believed to follow the soul of every person from birth to death.
The English word “wraith” is derived from the word, along with “ward” and “warden”
It is said that a warden of a dead person could also become a revenant, haunting particular spots…
Later, under Christian influence, the wardens became what we think of as: guardian angels
A very old tree (most often a linden, ash or elm) that grows on a farm lot is often dubbed a “warden tree”.
These Guardian Trees were said to have been taken from sacred groves – as saplings – by the pre Christian Germanic peoples who settled Europe.
It is said that the sacred Temple of Uppsala, in Sweden was protected by a Warden tree – an evergreen yew, probably.
Is this the inspiration for the weirwood tree as depicted in “A Dance with Dragons” from A Song of Ice and Fire ? And the HEARTS TREE in the Godswood?
Fantasy Writers Definitions: This week BILDUNGSROMAN
In literary criticism, a Bildungsroman is a “coming-of-age story that follows the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood.
The first Bildungsroman is agreed, among scholars, to be Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship a book written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Thomas Carlyle translated Goethe’s novel into English, and after its publication in 1824
The genre evolved from folklore tales of a dunce or youngest child going out in the world to seek his fortune…
A parody of this genre is “The Magic Mountain” by the German novelist, Thomas Mann and written in 1912.
I’m currently reading “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt (2013 ) I guess that I have put it down more than once… I’m enjoying it though I admit it’s heavy going… it’s the literary equivalent of eating too much bread pudding… nevertheless, this Bildungsroman won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and follows the coming-of-age of protagonist Theodore Decker as he rises from poor little rich boy to become an arch-criminal in an epic tale that reminds me of the worlds described by Charles Dickens.
The heroic fantasy novel “The Name of the Wind” or The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day One, by Patrick Rothfuss is probably one of the better recent fantasy novels that share similarities with the original Bildungsroman books.
Fabulous Creature of the Week: THIS WEEK NAIADS
The Lyndhurst, Hampshire born English sculptor David Wynne specialized in creating wonderful artworks that often captured the flow of movement found in water and especially rivers. We’re lucky to have his Five Swimmers Fountain (1980) here in Staines. He also produced River God Tyne, Girl with a Dolphin (at Tower Bridge) and Boy with a Dolphin (1974) – at London’s Cheyne Walk. Perhaps he was most famous for his design of the “EEC” fifty pence piece that has the interlocking & holding hands of the partners (1973) but, right now in BREXIT BRITAIN… that’s another story. His “Swans-in-flight” is to be seen in the Armstrong Auditorium on the campus of Herbert W. Armstrong College, Edmond, Oklahoma, and always makes me think of SWAN MAIDENS. and his statue of a boy on a magical horse, “The Messenger” can be seen in Sutton, south London.
David’s nymph-like creatures have always reminded me of Naiads (pronounced NY-AD)
Typically these are female spirits associated with fresh water (Oceanids are saltwater) and were often the object of local cults. In England coming-of-age ceremonies were often held by the spring, to gain local naiad’s favor. Fresh waters have always been important for ritual cleansing and springs are often credited with magical medical properties. Oracles were often situated by ancient springs with a resident Naiad.
Famous naiads include:
Appias who lived in the Appian Well near the Roman Forum
Pallas the daughter of Triton who was accidentally killed by Athena who created the Palladium in her memory
Ismene, the wife of Argus
Memphis, the naiad of the Nile River
Was the Lady of the Lake (Arthurian legends) a naiad?
Evidence of the fusion between Arthurian legend and middle-Christian history can be found in the full name of the University of Notre Dame: Notre Dame du Lac. (our lady of the lake.)
Wildflower of the Week: THIS WEEK WATER LILY – Nymphaeaceae
My mother told everyone that I was born when the first WATER LILY in her mother-in-law’s pond unfurled her Nymphaeaceae petals to take in the sun.
Now I’m lucky enough to live in a place where wild WATER LILLIES grow. And around about my birthday (they were 2 days late this year) I see the blossoms emerge on the River Thames. Water lilies are rooted in soil under the water, with leaves and flowers floating on the surface
Water lilies do not have surface leaves during winter. So they are a sign of High Summer and, indeed, LAMMAS.
The white water lily is the national flower of Bangladesh and the seal of Bangladesh contains a lily floating on water. The blue waterlily is the national flower of Sri Lanka. It is also the birth flower for the star sign Pisces.
Nelumbo is a genus of giant WATER LILLIES also known as LOTUS. It is is the floral emblem of India and Vietnam.
Nelumbo nucifera, also known as the Indian lotus or the Sacred Lotus is grown as a crop. It has been cultivated for its edible seeds for at least 3,000 years. The stamens can be dried and made into fragrant herbal teas and the leaves can be used in steaming.
Hindus venerate the plant: Vishnu is described as the “Lotus-Eyed One” and its unfolding petals suggest the expansion of the soul from its muddy origins. This encapsulates spiritual promise.
In Buddhist symbolism, the lotus represents purity of the body, speech and mind. Because the lily floats above the murky waters of material attachment.
According to tradition, the second Buddha was incarnated as an eight-year-old child appearing in a lotus blossom floating in Lake.
In Greek mythology the lotus-eaters were a tribe of people who lived on an island and whos only crop was the Lotus (although this might well have been the fruit of the Jujube
The fruit had narcotic properties and thus caused the island’s inhabitants to live in peaceful apathy. Thus, a LOTUS EATER is someone who spends their time indulging in pleasure and luxury rather than dealing with practical matters.
A NYMPH is a minor female deity – usually young and beautiful – and found in rivers and springs. A common Renaissance motif was the sleeping nymph – the idea of a nymph sleeping in a grotto or spring .
In Waterhouse’s 1896 oil painting “Hylas and the Nymphs” (above) the servant Hylas is depicted being enraptured (and later he was abducted) by water nymphs while seeking drinking water in a pond of water lilies. The yellow water-lily that I see this time of the year on the Thames can clearly be seen growing in the water and adorning the nymphs hair.
EVE PALUDAN is a paranormal, mystery, urban fantasy and fantasy writer who tends to create paranormal mystery romances
Eve’s popular “Witchy Business” WITCH DETECTIVES series brings supernatural witch mystery with wittiness, spirited dialogue, relationships and paranormal kicks.
At the heart of the tales is ELLE Chambers. Elle Chambers is an insurance investigator, and one who solves cases using unconventional means. Supernatural means. Elle is a witch.
The books are kinda unusual because they redefine vampires in a new and unconventional way…
Fans say the series is, “enjoyable, believable and entertaining…”
BRIAN S CONVERSE is a Father. Husband. Veteran and writer of science fiction / fantasy / horror
His RAJANI CHRONICLES that started in 2017 and with illustrations by the amazingly talented Lawrence Mann (West Yorkshire ?) follow the exploits of a Detroit police lieutenant named James Dempsey – he’s on the verge of career burnout – but finds himself aboard an alien spacecraft with others from his apartement block, and provided with extraordinary powers. In fact, it seems he’s been abducted by the aliens… to help the Rajani fight off dominion from the Krahn Horde. The magic element revolves around stones that bring powers from within.
Episode 3 of the Chronicles came out this summer when Dempsey’s super-powered humans face their final battle…
If you want me to mention you and your new fantasy fiction book or creative work (maybe it’s a poem, an artwork with a fantasy theme or some specialist knowledge) why don’t you contact me at:
promoter at rawramp dot com
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SOUNDCLIP Credits Episode 3
Irish Pipes : chripei
Monastry Bell : BristolStories
Grass Cutter: SilentStrikeZ
Waves : amholma
Distant Horn : onderwish
Ghostly howl : JanIsAGuy