Myth and Magic — Herbarium of Magical Wildflowers

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Myth & Magic Wildflowers Podcast

Herbarium of Magical Wildflowers discussed in the weekly Myth and Magic Podcast

Anemone — Episode 28
Belladona — Episode 05
Betony — Episode 26
Blackberry — Episode 08
Bluebell — Episode 29
Bulrush — Episode 09
Chili Pepper — Episode 02
Daffodil — Episode 25
Fat Hen — Episode 04
Henbane — Episode 33
Hops — Episode 11
Horse Chestnut — Episode 10
Mistletoe — Episode 17
Morning Glory — Episode 07
Neeps — Episode 13
Primrose — Episode 27
St John’s Wort — Episode 01
Sunflower — Episode 06
Violet — Episode 30
Wake Robin — Episode 15

ALL Myth & Magic Episodes HERE >>

Myth and Magic EP 29 — Fantasy Writers Kitbag — Episode 29 SHOW-NOTES

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Blackguarduiker

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.

CLICK HERE for Episode

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This week I explore what the word EPIC means. What are the ingredients that make fiction epic? Tips on how to write your own epic. Some advice on creating chimaera and my own list of fabulous creatures [see directly below]. Also I discuss anchorites & anchorholds and my wildflower of the week is the bluebell (pictured below)

Podcast listeners: Here is my list of chimaera from my bestiarum (how to use it: check the attributes of the body parts from the list underneath my list of fanciful chimaera.) A full explanation of the chimaera, with images, can be found at the bottom of this page.)

Blackguarduiker – greyhound, nebek (pictured above)
Clawsprey – hare, hawk
Cormoragoon – cormorant, pelican
Magriffon – magpie, vulture
Muskougar – deer, panther
Packrock – crocodile, wolf
Pantheradron – lioncel, martlet
Peltsensitive – otter, ferret
Sylphaster – hare, melusina
Tauruslimy – bull, salamander
Triumphallow – deer, wild boar
Ursignus – bear, swan
Worshipacock – dove, peacock
Wrassequirrel – hedgehog, badger

===
Animal / Creature Attributes

Alligator (croc) – heartless, merciless
Alphyn (hairy wolf) – condemning, judging
Badger – enterprise, snooping
Bear – boldness, courage
Boar – courage, ferocity
Bull – strength, steadfastness
Cormorant – patience, fortitude
Deer – nimbleness, shy
Dove – peace, compassion
Eaglet – valiant, royal
Falcon – vision, acuity
Ferret – fast, perceptive
Greyhound – speed, loyalty
Hare – speed, eves-dropping
Lioncel (small lion) – alert, noble
Magpie – burglar, robber
Martlet (martin type bird) – swift, lofty
Melusine (2-tailed mermaid) – egotistical, neurotic
Nebek (hairy tiger) – ruthless, tenacious
Otter – persistent, ingenious
Panther – unseeable, shrouded
Peacock – extravagant, bold
Pelican – devoted, charitable
Salamander – endurance, fire-resistant
Stag – proud, noble
Swan – gracious, elegant
Urchin (hedgehog) – defensive, bristly
Vulture – patience, commitment
Wolf – vigilant, protective
Wyvern – ferocity, venomous

Anchorites & Anchorholds

anchorite

anchorite

An anchorite (female: anchoress) is a person who has chosen to “withdraw” from society. The word comes from the Ancient Greek: ANKORITAS which means “someone who has withdrawn from the world”.

Anchorites differ from hermits in that they enter “isolation” after a service of “internment” (it might resemble a funeral rite) — so they can be considered dead to the world — and therefore they act as if they are a living saint.

The anchoritic life became widespread during the Middle Ages and there were a large number in England. The anchorites were normally isolated in a simple cell ( called an anchorhold) that had often been built against the walls of a village church. In German-speaking areas, it was customary for the bishop to say The Office of the Dead when the anchorite entered his or her cell, to indicate the anchorite’s death to the world and rebirth in a spiritual life.

Some anchorholds had a few rooms and perhaps even attached gardens. Servants tended to the basic needs of the anchorite, providing food and water and removing waste.

One of the most fascinating aspects of these anchorholds is that they were often considered to be a communal “womb” which offered an idealized sense of a community’s “reborn” potential.

Anchorites would provide spiritual advice and counsel to visitors through a small window or hatch in their cell, and therefore tended to gain a reputation for imparting words of wisdom and played an important part in the community as a guide, counsellor or mentor.

It’s well known, across the world, that self-isolation brings a person inner peace and the possibility of quiet and deep contemplation. Although other religions have priests or monks who separate themselves from “everyday life” to seek truth and spiritual clarity, no other religion has anything as extreme as the anchorites. I know we have not chosen to be isolated, in lock-down, but since we are, perhaps it’s healthy and reasonable to look at the positives rather than complain about the negatives.

The fourteenth-century English hermit, mystic, and religious writer Richard Rolle (who met the famous North Yorkshire anchoress Margaret Kirkby) undertook to identify the principles of an anchorite way of life and listed the benefits.

We have been bequeathed good ideas from Richard Rolle about the advantages and compensations that come through self-isolation, and I will finish with those perspectives most relevant to us today — and heartening to hear, too, I think — especially as we respond to the challenges brought by a period of self-isolation. They are presented in my own words and bring my own conceptions (but with thanks to Rolle):

* Living humbly and living calmly brings a person closer to love and patience
* Exchanging transient pleasures for deeper meaning brings a person a more permanent sense of spiritual resilience
* Being isolated from society brings the pleasure of devotion to a higher consciousness
* Isolation allows us to reflect on the shortness of life and, with those reflections, the acceptance that we must account for the hours that we have
* Purity comes when we submit to the will of external influences over which we have no control
* Isolation helps us fix our minds on what is true and fix our hearts on what is meaningful
* An isolated person will discover she or he has time to improve on their wisdom, on their knowledge, on their faith and on other worthy skills

Epic

definition of epic

What are the ingredients that make something epic?

Our word EPIC comes from the Latin epicus and the Greek epikos — words that mean story, or poem. Somehow, along the way, we have taken “Epic” to mean “long” or even “overlong” and perhaps even “arduously overlong” — so, for example, an “Epic journey to the shops…” might be laborious and lengthy. Our friends would murmur their sympathy and be glad they didn’t join us on such an arduous quest…

But if you are reading (or, indeed, writing) an Epic fantasy novel, then you’d expect something that offers more than: “long and arduous” — you’d want something that offers:

* Extraordinary derring-do
* Exceptional heroics
* Immortals, superhumans and average humans working together for the common good
* Complex mythologies
* A re-examination of morals
* Rhetorical or figurative language
* Rhapsodic romanticism

If you test The Lord of the Rings against my criteria above I think you’ll agree that it ticks each (and every) box. It is an epic novel.

Several experts, including the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BC) have attempted to outline the main characteristics of an Epic. So here’s my shot at it. Test your own novel and your favorite fantasy fiction work against this list:

  • Epics must have an obvious moral theme
  • In Epics the action starts immediately, we’re dropped right into the action, in the middle of events (think Star Wars)
  • The setting will be vast, it will encompass a multitude of nations / realms / worlds (think Game of Thrones)
  • A prophetic goddess / enchantress / sorcereess might be the catalyst or spur for action (think Chronicles of Narnia or the Arthurian Legends)
  • The main characters will have epithets (think, the Man of Steel or Gandalf the Grey)
  • Epics contain lists (think, the list of demons in Paradise Lost)
  • Epic heroes will recite long and formal speeches
  • Epics demonstrate that superhumans / aliens / dieties can work together to overcome evil
  • The protagonists will embody the best principles / virtues of civilization
  • An Epic will often feature a tragic hero’s descent into an underworld or hell on earth 
    miraculous bluebell

    miraculous bluebell

    Wildflower of the week: Bluebell

unicorn tapestry with bluebells

If you want to find a unicorn… go to a bluebell wood in springtime…

It’s said that when the blood-blooded Prince Hyacinthus was killed in a game that went fatally wrong, bright blue flowers sprang from his blood. His lover (the god Apollo) shed divine tears that marked each of the new flower petals: “AIAI” (alas)

The British bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta has often been described as Britain’s “favourite flower”. When I was young my family used to make an annual pilgrimage to one of several “bluebell woods” near to us the view the amazing sight of “the blue of the wood” (and to greedily collect) bunches of this wonderful, aromatic and magical plant. The folk-belief was that if you pulled the flower-stalk away cleanly (they often made a little yelp) the bluebell would not be harmed. This folklore has since been proven to be true (though, if you trample all over the plants – which we were careful to avoid – this would harm them.) I still remember how exciting it was to bring bunches-and-bunches home, to vase them up and take-them to our rooms to enjoy the warming fragrances. When I moved into my current cottage-home at Penton Hook, here by the River Thames, we had British bluebells growing in sturdy bunches by our front door (we also had a witch-scaring Elderberry by the corner of our house). But we had our front yard (garden) paved-over two years ago (it’s very nice & efficient) but in the process of those extensive groundworks we lost our old Elderberry bush and the Bluebells. However, nature is miraculous, and through a little crack in the stonework (and after an absence of 2 years) a bluebell has just appeared!

Common British bluebells aka wild hyacinths, wood bells, fairy flowers or bell bottles (my favorite is the Somerset word for them: Grigglesticks) ought not be confused with harebells (though harebells are known as bluebells in Scotland) which I will cover in another show. Bluebells are a perennial plant that grow from bulbs and appear in April (spring time) and Bluebell Woods are found in all parts of Great Britain and Ireland. Bluebells are a common indicator species for ancient woodlands (that’s any woodland that has existed continuously since at least 1600.)

Native bluebells are a protected species under British law (though they weren’t protected when I was young) and this is because so many important woodland sites have been lost to development since the 1950s.

It’s known that Bluebells synthesise a wide range of chemicals that have potential medicinal properties. For example, they contain at least fifteen biologically active compounds that probably provide them with protection against insect and animal consumption.

The bulbs of bluebells have been used in folk medicine for years: primarily as a remedy for some infections and to stop bleeding, and the roots had been used by folk to make glue.

Bluebells can be clearly seen in the famous medieval “ Unicorn Tapestries” and, since they are pictured alongside other “sex” plants it’s likely they were once considered a symbol of fertility and marriage.

bestiarum of chimaeras

An absurd list of insightful but fabulous creatures

In heraldic representations we often see CHIMAERAS like the hippogriff with body parts taken from various real or imaginary animals. The word chimera (actually means “she-goat” in ancient Greek) was originally used to describe a fearsome looking lion / goat / snake monster that breathed fire, but has since been used to describe any fantasy creature that has been made out of various parts of leftover body parts, or is considered delusionally imaginative, ridiculously extravagant, or simply mind-blowing.

The good thing about the original Chimera (the goat thing) was that this monster personified and embodied the attributes of its original component body-parts: namely, the bravery and ferocity of a lion, the sneakiness of a snake and the obstinacy and persistence of a goat. Other (obvious) chimeras in daily use include the sea lion (also known as a morse) that has the head and upper body of a lion, but the webbed forelimbs of a fish. Therefore, it is predatory like a lion, but it is skillful underwater. And although it is a “legendary creature” and it embodies the attributes of a lion and a fish, the sea-lion is also tangible in a “real world” sense both physically and stylistically. Slightly less “tangible” yet totally recognizable is the mermaid: a human woman with the tail of a fish. So, stylistically, she’s beautiful but slippery. Understandably, we might associate the “Sirens” of classic mythology with the idea of a mermaid, but surprisingly we’d be wrong! The sirens of Greek mythology were half-woman half-bird chimaeras (not fish).The switch to an aquatic swimming creature came later when many of the Christian bestiaries were compiled. It’s possible (though I’m just guessing) that those later compilers didn’t want mermaids to mingle with the (much holier) angels. There’s also a sensible line-of-thought that early sailors might have seen seals (or less likely, manatee, or dugong) languishing on rocks and “singing” and thought they’d seen half-human / half-fish creatures.

But back to my own list of preposterous yet insightful creatures, and perhaps inspired a little bit by J.K. Rowling’s (aka Newt Scamander’s) “Fantastic Beasts” that included several recognisable chimaeras such as the manticore (lion / scorpion) the hippocamp (horse / fish) and the griffin (lion / eagle) but more properly inspired by Friar’s “New Dictionary of Heraldry” I have created my own set of chimaera that “make sense” stylistically.

My set of chimaera might be distinctly improbable and highly wondrous but they’re really quite functional — perhaps even workable — so you could use them for your fantasy fiction project. You can, of course, use them (even though I conjured them out of thin air) and if you do, it would be great if you credited me. But more importantly, I’d love to know if you’ve used (or even thought about) using one of my odd creations. Or why not create your own? But try to follow my advice and make them insightful

clawsprey

clawsprey

cormoragoon

cormoragoon

magriffon

magriffon

packrock

packrock

pantheradron

pantheradron

peltsensitive

peltsensitive

sylphaster

sylphaster

tauruslimy

tauruslimy

triumphallow

triumphallow

ursignus

ursignus

worshipacock

worshipacock

wrassequirrel

wrassequirrel

Myth and Magic EP 28 — Fantasy Writers Kitbag — Episode 28 SHOW-NOTES

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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.

CLICK HERE for Episode

Apple >>>      SPOTIFY >>>

This week I explore what WONDER means and how to employ the emotion in your fantasy fiction by using what I call the: wonder-equation. Also, I look in some depth at creating a credible system of magic for your fantasy fiction and the wildflower of the week is the Anemone (my photo below)

What does WONDER mean and how to employ it in your fantasy fiction

As an emotion, wonder is compared to awe though awe involves an element of respect and a fear response rather than pure joy, so wonder is a joyous surprise that is usually produced by an unexpected or very rare set of circumstances or a remarkable series of events

The 16th century philosopher Descartes suggested that the emotional reaction to unexpected phenomena is wonder. And it’s more than mere admiration, it’s astonishment.

Perhaps wonder can be linked to curiosity through a simple equation: curiosity brings surprise and surprise brings wonder.

The the Polish-born American philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote: wonder is a key emotion in living a worthy life.

It’s worth trying to evoke wonder in all of your creative writing, but it’s especially important when writing fantasy fiction. Think of it in this way: If a concept is unfamiliar to a reader, he or she will turn pages to find out more; if it becomes difficult to understand (but worth it and can be read easily) it will generate more interest, attention, and even enthusiasm. And when there is satisfying resolution, it will evoke great pleasure.
So follow the wonder equation in all your story ideas:

Create curiosity: bring peculiarity, rarity, distinction, strangeness, juxtaposition, and exoticism
Curiosity brings Surprise: delight the reader by giving rewards for hard work, provide compensation
Surprise brings Wonder: resolve all the puzzles you set, provide explanations, bring satisfying conclusions

Creating a credible system of magic for your fantasy fiction

If a hero or MC can snap fingers to make everything suddenly seem okay, or they can raise a loved-one from the dead, stop rushing the bullets in their teeth, fly at will, transform into whatever creatures they desire, travel time and they regularly act like they’re indestructible and almighty, where’s the tension in that? Where’s the drama? Your readers will soon be bored with a superman / superwoman character who possesses divine superpowers and can snap their fingers to resolve conflict. I always thought this was Superman’s biggest flaw. Why bother with a full plot? He could wake up in the morning, save everyone from possible harm, and then go back to sleep. A character, whether good or bad, is only interesting if he or she has flaws. And a story is only interesting to us if it contains conflict. And where is the feeling of anxiety if the reader already knows that everything will be fine because a character can snap their fingers or wiggle s nose and everything will get re-set to zero, nobody gets hurt, everyone lives, and there’s a happy ending. Life doesn’t work like that. The real world doesn’t work like that. Crap happens. And when it does, there is a sense of loss. And there is anxiety even even when crap doesn’t happen… because we all know that it will probably come. And there ain’t much you and I can do about it. So your fictional world should deal in this “actuality” too… the actuality that bad stuff will happen and there’s not much that many of your characters can do about it… but there might be, just might be, a secret hidden knowledge, a rare and dangerous cure, or some person with an incredible gift, that might possibly be able to provide a cure for the bad stuff. But, if that miraculous knowledge is “out there” then it must be extraordinarily rare or extremely unreliable or incredibly expensive (or, most likely, all three)… otherwise everyone (but especially the wealthy and the powerful) would have access to it wouldn’t they? In fact the selfish rich would probably squirrel it away for themselves and their family. (In fact, Queen Elizabeth the First actually had her own wizard / magician, Dr. John Dee, who had extraordinary powers. Other famous historical rulers did too.)

We know that Harry Potter and his friends work hard, very hard, to be good at magic. Magic is not easy and it is not free … if magic was free and easy then everyone would do it! We would all be wizard/magicians and there would not have to be hunger, poverty, disease, crime, disorder, chaos or anxiety in the world. But everyone isn’t a wizard/magician… very few are. So, why is that? Is it because only a small elite group has the innate talent to be wizardly or were born blessed with special characteristics that make them magical? Or are so few likely to become magical because it is extremely difficult, requires a lot of work, great effort, years of devotion, a life of dedication and will have other costs or burdens (perhaps hidden) that are directly imposed on the individual? I equate it to becoming a very good, first-class musician. It takes hours-days-weeks of practice to become a very good musician, you must focus on your talent morning-noon-and-night, you must dedicate your whole being to your art, every ounce of your energy, each thought, each word, every action, and even your dreams must be consumed by it. In fact, you probably won’t sleep, rest, or play, because that would hamper practice. And practice makes perfect. Soon, the only thing that is important to you is mastering your craft.

Magicians are like musicians. So, while Harry Potter and his friends are making a supreme effort to become better magicians, other average people like you and me are casually “wasting time” having romances, playing sports, listening to parents, living upstairs in bedrooms (and not in remote castles miles away from our families) dating, learning to drive, playing computer games, listening to pop music, going to fast food restaurants, etc. But the adept abandons all these things to improve his or her magical craft.

What type of magic do you want to create? Ceremonial or Sympathetic? I’ve already covered these categories in Episode of Myth and Magic.

Why? How will this magic propel the plot, add new dimensions, change or motivate characters, propel events or add tension and drama? Don’t forget Chekhov’s Gun principle

Now, check-out the Three Main Points of a Magical System:

Main point 1: Magic shouldn’t exist without a need for it. . .
nor without favorable conditions and without a trained and committed magician — the adept.

So determine the following:

The need for magic in the fictional world you ant to create. Why is it required? What is its function? (For example, does it replace technology, medicine, or chemistry?) If that’s what it does, then remember, you must consider the consequences of having NO technology, medicine or chemistry in your world and stick to it!) Ask what the conditions would have been like before you introduced magic into your fictional world and speculate what it would be like for characters if they lived in a world without magic. If it wouldn’t be much different or the story can be told without magic, why present it at all? Ask yourself what your fictional world would be like with and then without magic? Test a few ideas and speculate on outcomes. Could the monster be defeated another way? Could the Princess be saved by cunning, wit or strength (without) magic? Could the invading force be held back without a magical staff?

Then ask, who is adept? Why are these types adept? (Maybe they’re elves, so have evolved magical prowess over millennia, or maybe they come from a lineage or underclass, like Romani gypsies, so have a long history of learning and practicing magic within their hereditary group. Or maybe they are “specially recognized” individuals who get taken away to be isolated and trained for long intense periods of tutelage… these are the so-called Magician’s Apprentices ( like Harry Potter and his pals.) How long would it take an adept to become fully proficient in wizardry? Many years? A lifetime? Or, like a musician, would they never be satisfied with their proficiency? Would they never become“fully skilled” (like medical surgeons) so they must practice and rehearse their skills always-and-everyday to get better-and-better.

Main point 2: Magic has a cost, the cost must be paid before it can work. . .
paid by someone or something

it ought to cost
the cost might be effort, outlay, or a handsome price
the cost might be tremendous effort, or a few “silver pieces” (like Gypsy fortune tellers ask) or it might be a larger sacrifice, for example something that can’t be given up easily

Main point 3: Magic is esoteric (the secrets are kept by a few)

Ever wondered why Hogwarts is a castle protected by walls and a moat, lots of enchantments and spells, and is impossible for a Muggle to locate? Or why candidates for the Jedi Order are taken away from parents, at the age of five, to be asked to “release all earthly attachments; to let go of all they’ve grown to love,” before they begin a journey of initiation. Or that stage magician’s belong a secretive “magic circle”?

It’s because magic is esoteric.

Derived from the ancient Greek adjective esôterikós (which means: to belong to an inner circle) it came to define anyone who could belong to a subculture or clique that is outside “normal” religious ideas or viewpoints or has ideas that are at odds at with secular culture or established science; and whose members claim to have some kind of “higher knowledge” (think of Jedi, for example).

An expert in magical esotericism was the English historian Frances Yates, who studied in depth the lives of wizards such as the Renaissance heretic Giordano Bruno.

She concluded that there were six types of esotericism

Here is my spin on it, for fantasy fiction writers:

1: the idea of ​​ “correspondences” This is the idea that there are symbolic and real correspondences between all things in the universe. For example, the stars above us act in the same way (and even look the same) as the atoms we are constructed of — that is, the microcosm corresponds with the macrocosm
2: the idea of “living nature” This is the argument that the natural universe is imbued with its own life force and is a “living organism” in its own right (think of “the Force” used by the Jedi)
3: the idea of “mediation” This is the idea that some people act as conduits for ​​mediation, and that accompanied by rituals, symbolic images, mandalas, intermediate spirits and mantras, these people can provide access to “hidden” worlds or other levels of reality (think of witch doctors)
4: the idea of “transmutation experience” This is the emphasis on transformation through practice, for example, superpowers can be obtained through some kind of spiritual transformation (think of Gandalf the Gray becoming Gandalf the White)
5: the idea of “concordance” Many esotericists believe that there is a fundamental unifying principle for all religions and spiritual practices in the world. The principle of the idea of ​​concordance is that upon reaching this unifying principle, the different beliefs of the world will unite into one (think of the lyrics to John Lennon’s song “Imagine.”)
6: the idea of “transmission” In esotericism, due to its secret nature, the emphasis on transmitting teachings is through a process of initiation that allows the apprentice to gain access into an elite “magic circle” What happens to those initiates who fail to make the grade? They already know some of the “secrets”. Are they killed or, in some other way, silenced?

 

Wildflower of the week: Anemone

In my front yard (we call it front garden in England) under an upright blue juniper tree that my mum gave me several years ago (which she grew from seed) I have grown Anemones. They bloom at this time of the year and are quite startling in their beauty.

Anemōnē means “daughter of the wind” from the ancient Greek (ánemos, meaning wind) and the Roman poet Ovid (born 43 BC) suggests tells that the plant was created by the goddess Aphrodite (aka Venus) after her mortal (as in human) lover, Adonis was gored by a wild boar, and was killed. Aphrodite’s tears at his death mixed with his blood to gave rise to the anemone The name also used is the windflower.

These origin stories reflect the dual meaning of the arrival of the spring breeze (the windflower nods in acceptance, see my video) and the death of a loved one. There is also Christian symbolism here: Lent and Easter is the time of renewal and rebirth but will bring death before resurrection. The anemone remains “hidden” underground (when I got mine, they were hard little nuggety bulbs that needed to be soaked in water before planting) and doesn’t not emerge until Lent. When it emerges, fern-like leaf and blossom together, it is a thing of beauty.

In the Victorian language of flowers, the anemone represented a forsaken love of any kind. The According to Bucklands Book of Gypsy Magic, the Romani people considered it to be a magical herb and it was used to to ward off pests, disease and bad luck. Though some Eastern cultures believe that the anemone is a symbol of bad luck or ill-tidings.

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Moondog and the Reed Leopard - click here

Moondog and the Reed Leopard – click here

Myth and Magic EP 27 — Fantasy Writers Kitbag — Episode 27 SHOW-NOTES

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Witch Queen from Sneewittchen, Scholz Künstler-Bilderbücher Public Domain

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.

CLICK HERE for Episode

Apple >>>      SPOTIFY >>>

This week I visit encounter gifts from feathered friends, so look into the imagery of feathers; I ask – what is sorcery (maleficium) ? And discuss how you should you use sorcery in your fantasy and fiction project. I ask, what is an existential crisis? New science about vampires. Wild flower: Primrose

sparrow feather

sparrow feather

Wild Primrose Staines @neilmach 2020 ©

Wild Primrose Staines @neilmach 2020 ©

What I’ve Been Up To – Sparrow Gifts

Last week I encountered a very odd, perhaps magical, certainly charming and mysterious, experience. Out from my conservatory window I have been watching, each day, some cheerful little birds, house sparrows, that congregate in a hedge just outside my windows since the emergency began. I have been confined in my self-isolation for a bit longer than others because I had already been shaking off flu-like symptoms that I caught four weeks ago (it’s fine, by the way, and, anyway, self-isolation it’s the reality for any author – probably any artist, actually – we are very used to being confined in a “cell” for long periods with just our imagination to preserve us) so the house sparrows bring me a little dose of cheer each day. They tend to chatter and fuss non-stop, which is why they’re so much fun, and they play and flutter in the hedge (which is no more than about 12 inches from my window) and I’m fairly sure they can see me as much as I can see them.

But last Friday, something odd happened. I had been putting out some bird-seed for them (and experimenting with different feeders) because I’d noticed that sparrows will not go to feeders… I have some other feeders, about 10 metres from the hedge, that attract a whole load of birds… but never the sparrows… they seem content in chirping and cheeping in the hedge. But during the early part of Friday morning, they began to bring white feathers to the hedge.

Lots of the birds brought white feathers with them. And all the feathers they brought to the hedge were white, even though sparrows are grey-brown, flecked, but mostly hazel brown. The individual birds then began to stick the feathers on prominent bits of twig, as if they were putting up little flags. When I first observed this curious behaviour, I thought maybe they were collecting the feathers as nesting materials and were checking the size, softness and fluffiness of the feathers before abandoning them because, for whatever reason, they were unacceptable for nests.
But, very oddly, by noon the same day, although the sparrows had gone (they tend to play most in early morning) they’d left a huge amount of white-feather flags. I counted thirty, there may have been more.

I researched what this might mean and was surprised to find that, in some First Nation (native American) cultures, there’s a belief that a feather “sent from heaven” is a “gift” and that someone “up there” is saying “thanks.”

Of course, feathers (and perhaps especially white feathers) mean so much, from travel to spirit… because birds represent freedom and inspiration and have a connection with the limitless skies and the limitless beyond. That’s why Native American and Aboriginal tribes use feathers in their sacred ceremonies; feathers are a symbol of giving thanks and appreciation and, because birds are associated with “the heavens” and become consorts of the gods and goddesses – they might be able communicate messages to “those above.” Many cultures use feathers to lift their prayers and intentions to the gods. Is that why angels are portrayed with “bird-like” wings that have feathers?

In Celtic culture, Druids wore ornate feathered robes. Druids wore feathered robes in ceremonies that helped them understand the celestial realm. Ancient Celts believed that wearing the feathered cloak would allow the Druid to transcend our earthly plane to enter the ethereal [ETH EAR REE ALL] realm.

There’s also a (modern) idea that unexpectedly finding a feather, especially a white feather, is a message from our dearly departed. Perhaps it’s because feathers, once released, are no longer bound by the heavy burdens of this world so, like a spirit, they soar free into heaven. And might be used to communicate between realms. Feathers, as a symbol of the soul, are free to ascend. Artists have often used the symbol of a white dove to represent the holy spirit.

If you believe that feathers are a communication tool used by God or by the lesser gods, then their appearance is, perhaps, a reminder that we ought to listen to a bigger voice or a higher authority.

But I have another explanation, no less amazing, and it’s this. On Saturday morning all the white feathers were gone. Every single one. They haven’t come back. My guess (though I can’t prove it) is that the house sparrows had got up before I had and they’d taken all the feathers away, off back to their nests (that are under the gutters of out house.) That’s when I came-up with a possible scientific explanation for their white-feather gift giving that might be a bit more rational than the idea they were giving me messages; It’s this: were they sticking those feathers onto twigs to dry them out? A bit like hanging sheets and blankets onto a washing line, were they drying the feathers overnight? Once properly dry, were they then able to use the dry feathers to line their nests?

If this scientific explanation is true, (who knows?) it’s no less impressive and wonderful than believing that the sparrows were leaving little “gifts” for me, as a sign of their appreciation / thanks for putting seed out for them, is it?

Just to let you know, by the way, that luckily (and before they took all the feathers away) I had already taken a short video of the phenomena and some still shots of the white feathers in situ on my hedge. Go to my site neilmach all one word dot me and go to my show-notes to fin the evidence. Or type sparrow feather into my search box.

Good luck with your period of self-isolation and let me know if you’ve experienced anything odd, weird, fantastic, curious, or supernatural during your period of confinement. Tweet me @neilmach and I’ll share.

Myth & Magic News

There’s been news this week about a study published in the journal titled “Current Biology” into relationships formed by VAMPIRE BATS which tends to prove what we speculative fiction fans have known all along: Vampires “French kiss with blood” to form lasting bonds between partners.

Researchers have observed the mammals “kissing with blood” and have stated this sharing behavior appears to be an important aspect of their pair-bonding.

Prof Gerald Carter, author of the study and behavioral ecologist at Ohio State University said “Food sharing in vampire bats is like how a lot of birds regurgitate food for their offspring. But what’s special with vampire bats is they do this for other adults…”

He added that bats would “groom even after their fur had been cleansed, suggesting that the behavior was not just an issue of maintaining hygiene.”
Vampire bats are the only mammals to feed entirely on blood, which they get by biting larger animals such as cattle.
The flying creatures can drink up to half their weight in blood a day, unlike their other bat relatives, which generally dine on fruit, nectar or insects.

International researchers had recently analysed both the genome of the vampire bat and its microbiome – the microorganisms that live inside the gut.
They found that genome size was similar to that of other bats but the genome contained more “jumping genes” (DNA sequences that change position in the genome).
These were found in areas involved in immune response, viral defence, and both lipid and vitamin metabolism, suggesting they played a key role in the evolution of the bat’s specialised diet.

There are three kinds of Vampire Bat native to the Americas : common, hairy-legged and white-winged vampires. Vampire bats hunt only when it is fully dark. In addition to using low-energy sound pulses, it’s thought the bats also detect their prey, or the warmest spot on their prey, using thermoception (infrared detection.)

It’s thought the English word “vampire” originates from the Slovak verb “vrepiť sa” (to stick into or to thrust into) and so upír is to “thrust” and the notion of vampirism has existed for millennia and runs across cultures, from Ancient Greeks and Romans to northeastern India and Africa. Virtually all Slavic cultures have rich folk mythologies and customs around vampires. Yet, clearly, all these cultures would not have known of or ever encountered a Vampire Bat until the European colonization of the Americas in the 15th century (Christopher Columbus in 1492.)

What is sorcery and how does it work?

SORCERY aka Maleficium (malevolent sorcery) is an act of witchcraft that’s performed with the intention of causing damage, injury or harm. The association of sorcery with the Devil made Western witchcraft unique and differently experienced to witchcraft found in Africa and the Americas. From the 14th to the 18th century, witches that practiced sorcery were believed to repudiate Jesus and to replace his “love” with worship of the Devil and to make pacts with the devil.

Charges of maleficium are often prompted by little more than suspicion. It’s often just one person blaming another person for misfortune that’s been dealt to them. After the blatant ethnocentrism demonstrated by Trump during last week, towards the peoples of China, you might expect some kind of accusation (coming soon) that the Chinese people or government hid (i.e. they disguised the readily discernible early signs & symptoms of the coronavirus) from the outside world: in other words: something bad happened to us that cannot be readily explained, and if we feel that the Chinese don’t like us, we might also therefore suspect them of harming our society and all that we stand for, by occult means. It’s bound to come: and it’s an allegation of malevolent sorcery.

In France in 1022 a group of heretics in Orléans were accused of orgy, infanticide, invocations of demons, and blasphemy. They were part of a broad pattern of hostility against certain marginalized groups. It’s worth noting the role women played in such heresies which is why we stereo-typically think of “the witch” as female.

Methods of sorcery include:

* Incantations, i.e. chants that invoke evil spirits to do their work
* Divination, to predict future events
* Producing amulets or charms, to ward off evil spirits or guard against harmful events
* Making potions, to give cures against ills, or provide super natural powers
* Production of dolls & poppets (to represent enemies) to hold power over others

During the 13th century, sorcery was involved in many deaths. These were thought to be done through magic, but were probably more usually a result of poisoning. In 1324, there was a famous case involving Lady Alice Kyteller and a series of events caused by sorcery, in Ireland. A contemporary author wrote, “Lady Alice Kyteller was charged with performing magical rites, having sexual intercourse with demons, attempting to divine the future, and poisoning her first three husbands...”

If you’re thinking of using sorcery in your fantasy fiction novel, keep in mind the implicit malevolence of a sorcerer. For example, in the tale of Snow White (based loosely on an ancient Roman legend, by the way) the Evil New Queen (the witch-queen) practices divination and incantation “Magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?” and administers a potion (the poisoned apple).

Also keep in mind the symbolism of certain articles and their implications, and possible interpretations. For example, in the Snow White tale we have the colours white (purity) red (blood or communion wine) and black (darkness) we have the apple (the woman Eve was seduced by the devil /serpent into eating forbidden fruit, seen as the apple) and also the awakening of Snow White when a prince offers the freedom (through love) of resurrection.

By the way, in a damsel in distress story there’s often a hero who must embark on a quest to liberate the damsel from an evil spell set by a sorcerer.

Magic Word of the Week: Existential crises

More of a term, I suppose, than a word, an existential crisis, in its simplest form, is when an might individual question whether his or her own life has meaning, purpose, or value. Many of us, in the coming weeks and months, might face our own existential crises… unless we have something spiritual, ideological or transcendental to cling onto. Or, if you are a humanist, and believe with conviction that the value and agency of human beings is not determined or dictated by some unseen supernatural force or entity, you might want to look at philanthropy: becoming directly involved in initiatives, for the public good, that focus on quality of life for other citizens, to make any sense of the emergency we are currently living through.

What is the point, meaning and purpose of human existence if we live life alone and we die? That’s the type of question that folk have been asking for millennia. And during a life threatening emergency or if we’re faced with unprecedented trauma, isolation, or he fear of losing those people (or things) we love most (for example, the notion of freedom) we are all most likely to fall into EC

psychologists and philosophers have long held that most of us will suffer some kind of existential despair if we are unable to handle unexpected and/or extreme life-experiences… that’s why so many folk hold onto or make a new leap-of-faith into the notion of an abstract belief, a spiritual being, or a religious / pseudo religious concept: if one believes in the existence of a reality beyond our limited world-view, it’s easier to “make sense” of things and we can think beyond any trauma we might endure. This is true even if the leap-of-faith is into an irrational belief, and probably intangible and empirically unprovable, nevertheless, it offers comfort and solace. For example, during the plague, folk believed in Talismans (and Abracadabras) and wore protective charms to protect themselves from catching the plague. And you’ll see for yourself, in news reports, that various people (even President Trump, who suggested drinking quinine last week) will try to tell you that “magical” cures might offer salvation and hope.

The collapse of consumer culture will probably accelerate EC in all our societies and will probably bring about more “faith adventures.” Watch this space!

Wildflower of the Week – Primrose

Last week, out for a little walk before lock-down, I saw a little primrose by a wall (photo on the show-notes). Also known as Easter rose or butter rose, it’s a symbol of the hope brought by Spring and the hope of heaven too (the rose-shaped blooms are often described as “stars” by poets) And the “prim” bit of the name means “early” or “first” i.e. prima (not proper, as you might have thought) thus: the first rose of the year. The Latin name is the same: Prim Ula.

In Ireland, the wildflower is known as the SAMHAIRCIN (aka The May Flower) and is considered the harbinger of Spring. Thus, etymologically speaking, it’s shares a connection with Samhain with its Celtic pagan origins and connections with protective and cleansing powers, and rituals involving spirits or fairies. Nevertheless, churches tend to decorate their interiors with Primroses, certainly at “Mothering Sunday” and at Eastertide.

The flowers and leaves of the Primrose are edible, the flavor is said to be like lettuce but perhaps more bitter. The leaves can be cooked into soup and used to make tea, and the young flowers can be made into primrose wine. They are said to have painkiller (analgesic) qualities.

Because they resemble roses (although they are not roses) primroses became a symbol for Rose Sunday, which is the fourth Sunday in Lent, and also, therefore, a symbol of the “mother church” as well as mothers in general. Through this, they are connected to the holy mother: the Blessed Virgin Mary whose symbol is roses.

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Moondog and the Reed Leopard - click here

Moondog and the Reed Leopard – click here

Main Image: Witch Queen from Sneewittchen, Scholz Künstler-Bilderbücher Public Domain

Myth and Magic EP 6 — Fantasy Writers Kitbag — Episode 6 SHOW-NOTES

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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.

CLICK HERE for Episode

Apple >>>      SPOTIFY >>>

This week I visit visit Chateau Brametourte in Lautrec; to see the haunted tower that inspired the story of the trapped maiden, Rapunzel. Inside the 11th century castle I look at apotropaic marks a.k.a. witch marks, and I consider cryptids. I also discuss the work of Michael Swanwick. My wildflower of the week is the Sunflower.

 

Chateau Brametourte in Lautrec

Chateau Brametourte in Lautrec Photo @neilmach

Locus in Quo – Rapunzel’s tower

Hi all

I’m back from the Chateau de Brametourte, in Lautrec having spent six days celebrating my daughter’s nuptials… The setting was this 11th century castle in Lautrec, Midi-Pyrenees, France sited between the World Heritage sites of Toulouse, Albi and Carcassonne. The castle is home to tales of Cathars, Knights Templar, Wars of Religion and is believed to be the inspiration for the “Maiden in The Tower” folk traditions.

The “The Maiden in The Tower” legend probably began life here at Chateau de Brametourte, Lautrec, France

although story the has striking similarities to a Persian tale included in the epic poem Shahnameh

Also, the early Christian Saint Barbara was supposedly kept locked in a tower by her father in order to preserve her from the outside world.

In Lautrec, France Local villagers say that the name Brametourte comes from a tale that’s nearly a thousand years old.  The Viscount of Toulouse came to visit his Baron and noticed the beauty of the Viscount’s young daughter.  He told the Baron that she might be a future wife for him and requested that she be preserved in purity for him.  She was locked in the tower for him to return, though he never did.

Local villages saw her calling and crying from the window of the tower and named her ‘Brame’ [crying] ‘Tourte’ [coming from the Occitane for ‘tourterelle’ or ‘turtle dove’].  It’s said she frequently reappears in the chamber, despite several exorcisms.

An alternate ending suggests a passing knight heard the dove-call cries from the chateau tower and went to rescue the lady…

 

Apotropaic marks at Château de Brametourte

Apotropaic marks at Château de Brametourte
Photo Credit @neilmach

Apotropaic marks aka WITCH MARKS are ritualistic protection symbols that have often been scraped into rock to ward off evil or misfortune. They are commonly found in houses and churches, in doors and on window frames.

Such marks have been found at Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, and also at the Tower of London

For example, the markings, at Creswell Crags on the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border, include hundreds of letters, symbols and patterns carved in limestone walls put there to protect against witches and curses. The Creswell cave is the largest assemblage of protective marks in the UK.

It’s thought most apotropaic marks date between 16th century to the early 19th century.

Also, at Château de Brametourte, an apotropaic mark known as a “daisy wheel” or HEXAFOIL (6 leaf) guards the main door to the living space.

In grain barns, daisy wheel markings often protected door openings

According to Historic England the daisy wheel mark should not be confused with the (far older) pentangle lines that are thought to trap evil spirits into an endless line – these were first used as early as 3000BC

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Fantasy Writers Definitions: cryptids

cryptids are animals that are presumed to exist on the basis of anecdotal or folklorist evidence that might be considered insufficient by mainstream science. The best examples are YETI and LOCH NESS MONSTER, who have reportedly been seen countless times by scores of witnesses but remain, “unproven”

Ancient bestiaries or compendiums of beasts often included dragons, unicorns, basilisk, and griffins featured alongside genuine zoological specimens and were often created by men of science… for example Leonardo da Vinci created a bestiary.

Another state of affairs that causes a “grey area” to exist as to the origins of such beasts is that nature is itself remarkable and almost fantastical itself, so “nothing can be ruled out.” For example, the bunyip is a mythical creature said to lurk swamps, billabongs in Australia as is said to be ferocious black animal that swims and also walks on land, and is armed with with tusks. Yet southern elephant seals and leopard seals have been known to move up the Murray and Darling (Rivers) and although this is extremely rare and quite extraordinary … sightings by aborigines can’t be ruled out and probably go some way to explain the beast. Both cassowary birds and the duck-billed platypus were thought to be mythical until proven “real” by baffled naturalists.

Sea monster krakens are common in Scandinavian folklore and although were mentioned in studious bestiaries were thought to be entirely mythical until modern era scientists began to study deep-sea gigantism which have produced several examples of “krakens” inclduding giant sea-spiders, giant jellyfish, giant stingrays and the colossal squid … a huge cephalopod, that’s been found washed ashore in places such as Norway.

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Michael Swanwick

Swanwick has released the third installment of his “Industrialized Faërie” novels: The Iron Dragon’s Mother

His first: The Iron Dragon’s Daughter t combines fantasy and science fiction story telling to bring the tale of Jane, a changeling girl who slaves at a dragon factory in the world of Faerie, to build part-magical, part-cybernetic monsters that are used as jet fighters. Swanwick admits to having written it as a homage to J.R.R. Tolkien and to subvert fantasy tropes.

The new book is said to be lighter in tone to the previous, and yet still gritty and wry

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sunflower with bee in Staines 2019

A sunflower with bee in Staines 2019, photo credit @neilmach

Wildflower of the week THE SUNFLOWER

Helianthus annuus

Sunflower seeds were brought to Europe from the Americas in the 16th century

Traditionally, Native American groups planted sunflowers on the north edges of their gardens as a “fourth sister” to the crops of corn, beans, and squash. It’s thought the flowers have been “domesticated” for a least 5000 years.

Indigenous American peoples such as the Aztecs, Otomi and the Incas used the sunflower as a symbol of their solar deity

During the 18th century, the use of sunflower oil became very popular with members of the Russian Orthodox Church, because sunflower oil was one of the few oils allowed during the Lentern fasting

Among the Pueblo Zuni people of Southwestern United States the fresh or dried root is chewed by a medicine man before he sucks the venom from a snakebite and applies a poultice

A common misconception is that flowering sunflower heads track the Sun. In Tarn last weekend I observed that all sunflower heads drooped to the earth, but typically the sun flowers point eastwards. Nevertheless, the Spiritualist Church use the plant as their symbol

The same whorls and spirals seen in horns, teeth, claws are found in the florets and head of the traditional sunflower

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Myth and Magic EP 18 — Fantasy Writers Kitbag — Episode 18 SHOW-NOTES

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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.

CLICK HERE for >>> Episode Eighteen: 22M

This week I Discover the origins of Hogmanay. Is New Year about celebrating Elves who sent Trolls back home? Thinking about your own fantasy fiction project : what is your big idea? In this show I will provide you with some thematic suggestions for your own project. Also, find out who Enki was, and why this deity is connected with New Year. Also discover the ancient origins of January.

Happy Hogmanay

Happy Hogmanay

Happy Hob dy naa

Perhaps this ancient festival is all about invoking the hill-men (Icelandic viking “haugmenn” or Anglo-Saxon hoghmen) aka “elves” who are called to banish the trolls and send them into the sea… and after much wassailing, merriment and first-footing… the Scots tend to celebrate New Year’s Day (Ne’er day) with a special steak pie dinner.

In Scotland, the first Monday after New Year’s Day was traditionally known as Hansel Monday, or Handsel Monday. It originates from the old Saxon word which means “to deliver into the hand” … a time for handing-out tokens, gifts and cash to those who have helped during the year. Money received during Handsel Monday is supposed to insure monetary luck all for the rest of the year

Don’t forget on the Twelfth Night (January 5) to chalk your door (or even better, get a stranger to do it) to earn blessings and protection for your house for another year. The letters CMB – perhaps separated by crosses and numerals (that form 2020) – will suffice. CMB are the initials of the three Wise Men (Magi) Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar as well as the initials for a short prayer: Christus mansionem benedicat (Christ bless this house.)

The first day of a month in the Roman calendar was known as the calends, because it signifies another lunar phase. It’s where we get the word “Calender” from. But for a long while, the New Year started on the calends of March! Huh?

January (in Latin, Ianuarius) is named after Janus who is the god of beginnings and transitions in Roman mythology … but the original Roman calendar consisted of just 10 months totalling 304 days. But around 713 BC January and February were added to the year so each annual period contained 354 days (a lunar year.) So, get your head around this if you can, March was originally the first month in the old Roman calendar until Janus (the two-faced God of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, and doorways) gave his name to a new “First Month of the Year.”

January was known as “wolf month” by the Saxons and “oak moon” in Finland (oak moon) tammikuu

Cervulus or Cervula is the name of a Roman festival celebrated on the kalends of January.

In astrology this is the time of Capricorn (the tenth astrological sign in the zodiac). An amateur astrologer once told me that the symbol of the constellation is the “only mythical beast” but that only works if you believe the centaur is non-mythical (perhaps you do, which is why you listen to this podcast) anyway: the Capricorn symbol is a SeaGoat that’s based on Enki – the ancient Sumerian god of water, knowledge, mischief, crafts, and creation (also knwon as EA by the Babylonians.) The God is allegedly Hurrian in origin (the Hurrians were e Bronze Age people who lived in the area we now call Armenia) and the first temple to Enki was built in the area we now know as Southern Iraq more than 6,500 years ago… so Enki is very, very, ancient.

Enki was the keeper of the divine powers called Me, the gifts of civilization and therefore he is often portrayed wearing the horned crown of divinity and he’s considered to be the the master-shaper of all the world, the god of wisdom and the master of all magic. Because Enki came from the water and, in fact, brought everything into being from the water, for astronomers, the constellation is located in an area of sky called the Sea or the Water, that consists of many water-related constellations such as Aquarius, Pisces and Eridanus.

Unsuprisingly, really, Capricornus the original SEA-GOAT is also sometimes identified as Pan, the god with a goat’s horns and legs, who saved himself from the monster Typhon by giving himself a fish’s tail and diving into a river. PAN is a Proto-Indo-European god that I have discussed before, but he’s the rustic God of of the wild, shepherds and flocks, and the nature of mountains. As the character Pushan he acts as a PSYCHOPOMP and is the oldest (or most ancient) deity.

So, when you’re wishing your neighbors, colleagues and friends a Happy New Year think again! You are, perhaps, calling on the sleeping hoghmen to protect them from marauding trolls, wishing them a fortunate wolf month” under an Oak Moon or invoking the master-shaper of the world, Lord Enki himself with the Piper at the Gates of Dawn to bring them prosperity.

How to write phantasmagorical fantasy fiction

I’m currently writing my #85k90 novel. That’s 85,000 words in 90 days… and, by the way, I don’t cheat myself… I write a new novel from scratch when I enter this type of challenge. So this will be an entirely different project to my #NaNoWriMo manuscript of 2019.

Over the next ninety days I’ll try to provide you with the first steps you require to make your fantasy fiction a fact… not fantasy. I’ll continue to give you magical and mythical facts and news but I’ll also begin to propose some advice for your own work.

Anyway, I think that it’s time to start to develop a fantasy fiction novel WITH YOU and we have to start somewhere.

What literary element will come first?

Character?
Plot?
Theme?

You might have some juicy ideas about character and plot… but what about theme? My belief is that this must come first. Oh Scheiße (or a word to that effect) I hear you whimper. Yes, I know it will make your brain hurt… but think about like this. Did Tolkein really start with barefooted, fattish, weed-smokers? Did he even know where his main protagonists would take him? (Academics suggest the LOTR was initially intended to be one volume.) Urm, my guess is that he thought about his theme first.

WHAT’S A THEME? It’s the story’s BIG IDEA

Tolkein’s BIG IDEA might have been something along the lines of: will the meek inherit the earth or will they be tempted by evil along the way?

Likewise, is the The Chronicles of Narnia just about a bunch of kids using a magic wardrobe to visit another world? ( Lewis had been toying with the wardrobe idea for years, anyway.) Or is it a book about a terrible White Witch (probably based on H. Rider Haggard’s She, anyhow) who finds herself at war with a lion-hearted King-God? No, I’m guessing C. S. Lewis started with the theme of redemption… something along the lines of: could guilt (not sin) ever be forgiven?

So I suggest you start with your THEME. Once you have your BIG IDEA firmly rooted in the back of your mind, your characters and (later) your plot will be easier to sketch-out.

Now, I don’t expect it will be easy for you (but it will be a lot easier to work out your THEME before you start to write, believe me) because it is not a tangible thing. Nevertheless, it will (likely) set the tone of your work too. Just make a rough note, a hazy idea will do, to begin with, and then let the haziness ferment in your brain for a while. Once you’ve let the idea sloosh around in your brain for a while, try to write down what’s known as a thematic statement…

Thematic statements might include:

Does love have the power to destroy lives?
Is the world filled with morally grey characters or are there true Good and Evil characters?
What are the the consequences if a person seeks power over love?
Survival of the fittest
Can a person overcome prejudice and fear to bring about justice?
Is a person who runs away from society also running away from themselves?
Notice how these themes tend to be about the universal human condition or universal truths about being a human. Don’t worry if your book is about Dragons, Elves, Aliens or Warthogs… the point is that it WILL BE READ BY HUMANS (one hopes) so it must appeal to their nature.

Don’t worry – your theme doesn’t have to be original (just don’t nick mine, ha ha) REEDSY have a great little quiz you can try, if you’re still grappling with this idea: Why not give it a whirl? https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSct16CneLuaDpYWubPBMqhnl5QJVKdtz_Vr-JkeOMWj35qneA/viewform

The THEME for MY fantasy fiction novel (the one I’m writing right now with you over the next 90 days) will be : Can a person have two sides to their character or does one side have to die to allow the other side to live? PLEASE DON’T COPY IT!?! Think UP your OWN theme. And try to develop just ONE THEME.

Once you begin writing your first draft, you’ll find your THEME will become rooted in your mind and will help bring out your character’s flaws or will appear in any obstacles she/he/it will have to overcome to reach a conclusion and, depending on your ability, it might also reinforce your motifs. Don’t worry about this right now, the main thing is that you have a Theme to begin with…

Fantasy Fiction News Bronze Age burial mound damage

This week the BBC reported that police in in Monmouthshire, South Wales are investigating reports of “appalling damage” at a Bronze Age burial mound at Llanvaches which dates back 3,000-4,000 years.

WENTWOOD is the largest ancient woodland in Wales

The BBC say the “Gwent Police Rural Crime Team” have suggested the destruction was caused by off-road vehicles and said immediate prevention measures were being put in place.
The Woodland Trust shared pictures of its Wentwood site, near Newport, on Monday afternoon, where tyre tracks had covered the monument.
And the site manager Rob Davies said that the damage has been “an ongoing problem”
“A feature that is around 3,000-4,000 years old has been damaged within a few minutes,” he added.
“This is a Bronze Age burial mound, a scheduled ancient monument, and the damage caused is therefore a criminal offence.”

Burial mounds (often seen on maps marked as tumulus) were used by late neolithic people in Britain to bury their dead and mainly used between 2200BC and 1100BC . Two Round Barrows are located within Wentwood Forest.

An astronomical alignment at the Gray Hill stone circle near where the Wentwood Forest damage had been caused suggests alignment on the midwinter sunrise, downhill towards the South-east, between two standing stones, named the “First Piper” and the “Second Piper.” A distinctive notch on the horizon adds to the weight of evidence behind the solsticial alignment claim.

Tolkein talks about Barrow-Land when describing his “Middle-earth” and the famous home of of Bilbo Baggins (and Frodo) is a hobbit-burrow dug into the top of The Hill… not dissimilar to a Bronze Age mound.

Next week: Are you a Plotter or a Pantser?

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CLICK HERE to listen to >>> Episode Eighteen of MYTH & MAGIC 22M

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Myth and Magic EP 14 — Fantasy Writers Kitbag — Episode 14 SHOW-NOTES

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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.

CLICK HERE for >>> Episode Fifteen: 28M

This week I seek the definition of a wizard. I examine the origin of Merlin and see how he is curiously connected with all later wizards — both imaginary and real — from Faust to Nostradamus, to Doctor John Dee and Sir Edward Kelley — and onto Gandalf, Dumbledore, The Doctor (Who) and even Obi-Wan Kenobi. Also in this episode look at The Staffordshire Hoard and see how this discovery might explain dragon gold.

Edward Kelly

The Greatest Wizards

During Halloween week one of the guys I follow on twitter asked her followers to share their favourite wizards. Although Gandalf came up a few times, on the whole most of the characters on the list (there were hundreds of replies, by the way) were witches. But what’s the difference between a witch and a wizard?

In the famous 1960s TV show “Bewitched” male “witches” are described as warlocks. So why not describe them as wizards? Why is Harry Potter a witch, rather than a wizard? Before you write to remind me that Hogwarts is a school for witchcraft and wizardry let me give you (one) good & reliable definition of what a wizard is: Think of Gandalf, who was a member of the Istari i.e. The “Wise Ones” > Here’s the definition I use: a wizard is wandering being who resembles a human man but possesses far greater physical and mental power.

Do Harry and his friends have great physical and mental powers? Are they men? Are they wanderers? Or are they they (special) humans who work on perfecting their witchcraft & potions?

MERLIN of the Arthurian legends is probably the first wizard to be mentioned in poetry and text and could, actually, be the one-and-only true wizard… I’ll come to that later.

Myrddin Wyllt ( Merlin the Wild ) a Welsh bard, was first mentioned as early as 573 in writings, This curious old poet is said to have lived in the deep forest, he lived like a wild-man, with the animals, and it’s said he’d been blessed with the gift of prophecy. Myrddin was mentioned in the The Annals of Wales, a primary source of history about King Arthur. And it’s important at this point to underline the fact that Merlin (and Arthur) if they ever existed at all, must have existed long before the medieval period that we often associate with these characters. In other words, long before knights rode around in armour and performed chivalric deeds. These earliest tales of Myrddin are Roman or (probably) pre-Roman in origin. Our notions of Knights in shining Armour and damsels locked away in towers come (mainly) from Tennyson’s writings… which I’ll turn to later.

Myrddin’s legend closely resembles that of another north-British figure called Lailoken (LAYLE OCKEN ) which appears in Jocelyn of Furness’ 12th-century Life of Kentigern, an important founder of the post-Roman church in Strathclyde, who was said to have died in 612. Lailoken was said to have been a wild-man who lived in the Caledonian Forest, in the ancient Kingdom of Strathclyde and there have been (later) claims that Lailoken was also known as Merlynum (MER LI NUMB) – coincidental? And there’s a famous poem titled “The Conversation of Merlin and his twin sister Gwendydd” where she refers to Merlin by the pet name: Llallogan (Clagh Loghh An ) is this the same word as LAYLE OCKEN? In Welsh this word means: brother, friend and also (curiously) TWIN-LIKE which makes sense because he’s her twin… or is she referring to another twin?

Myrddin Wyllt

Myrddin Wyllt – with the Lady of the Lake or with Gwendydd?

A ninth century Welsh monk named NENNIUS wrote a “History of the Britons” in about year 828 and this was the first source to mention a military leader named Arthur, and academics point out this this work is probably the only historical basis for the knowledge of King Arthur that we have today. His history includes reference to a wizard.

But the more modern depiction of a Merlin character that we might recognize as the first great wizard comes from Geoffrey of Monmouth and his book Prophetiae Merlini – very much inspired by the “History of the Britons”. This tended to be a collection of the prophecies made by the Welsh figure of Myrddin (MERRH THIN) whom Geoffrey called Merlin. Like the history by the monk NENNIUS before, this was written in Latin. The book became “published” around 1130. Geoffrey of Monmouth (born, himself, around 1090) suggested that his book is based on old Brittonic tales, some of them passed down by word of mouth, as well as the accounts of the monk Nennius. One story of Myrddin’s prophetic talents tells the tale of how a King asked the wizard to interpret the meaning of a vision he’d had. Two dragons fought, one red and one white. Merlin explained that the Red Dragon was the British race, the White Dragon was the Saxons. The Saxons would win. This was an accurate prophecy.

It’s not know why Geoffrey of Monmouth changed the spelling of Myrddin (MERRH THIN) into “Merlin” in his Prophetiae Merlini but it’s possible (as a French speaking Norman) that he didn’t like the original name to be associated with the vulgar french word “merde” even though the text he used was largely Latin. If you don’t know what MERDE means, by the way, I’ll leave it to you to look up!

Prophetiae Merlini

Prophetiae Merlini

Tales such as “Culhwch and Olwen” and “The Dream of Rhonabwy” found within the The Mabinogion and are the earliest prose stories of Britain. The stories were composed in Middle Welsh in about the 12th–13th centuries and were taken from earlier oral traditions and have interested scholars ever since those early dates because they preserve the oldest traditions of King Arthur and, therefore, the figure Merlin. These works inspired later writers.

But it’s really Thomas Malory’s late 15th-century prose “Le Morte D’arthur” that brings us the glamour and adventure we normally associate with the Arthurian legends and the highly-dramatized account of the Wizard Merlin… brought to us as a character who begins as a wild-man of the forest and ends up advising Uther Pendragon (Arthur’s father) and eventually becoming the prophet of the Holy Grail and who is later tragically fascinated by the mysterious Lady of the Lake who entombs him (forever) inside the trunk of a hawthorn tree.

Witches' Tree by Edward Burne-Jones (1905)

Witches’ Tree by Edward Burne-Jones (1905)

It’s not known how much of Malory’s work influenced (if at all) the French astrologer, physician and wandering clairvoyant, Nostradamus (1503-1566 ) who was a man of science and religion yet dabbled in horoscopes, necromancy, scrying, and good luck charms (such as the hawthorn rod that he used as a wand). He’s famous for his long-term predictions, and you’ve no doubt heard of his world famous Almanacs. He was very much influenced by Chaldean and Assyrian magic which went back hundreds of years to the very earliest civilizations, and, if you met him, you’d have to describe him as “a wizard” i.e. he had a black cloak, black hat, long white beard. In addition to his almanacs, he also published books on potions. Is he another embodiment of Merlin?

A little after Nostradamus, the sixteenth century advisor to Queen Elizabeth 1st JOHN DEE ( you might have heard of him, too) was a wandering philosopher, alchemist and spy-master and one of the Queen’s favourites. Of Welsh descent his family claimed to come from Welsh royal blood. (coincidence?) When Elizabeth took to the throne in 1558, Dee became her most trusted advisor on astrological and scientific matters, choosing Elizabeth’s coronation date for her (for example.) DEE is known to have attempted to contact the spirit-world using a “scryer” or crystal-gazer, and took a great interest in the tales of Merlin, and used Arthurian legend to help promote an enlarging ‘British empire’ abroad. As he became more involved in occult practices, he drifted further from the church and science, and into the occult. It’s understood that he considered himself able to communicate with angels/demons. He was happy to claim he was a “new” Merlin.

A contemporary of his, Sir Edward Kelly, was also able to summon spirits or angels in a “shew-stone” or magic mirror and he allegedly knew the secret of the Philosopher’s Stone. I have added an engraving of Kelly into the show-notes (top of the page) because I wanted you to see that this guy is every-inch what you and I would describe as a Wizard in the Merlin tradition.

Both these wizards — DEE and KELLY — seem to have based many of their ideas on the works of the German Renaissance itinerant alchemist, astrologer and magician known (in English) as John Faustus. Many of Faust’s magical tales were sold and re-hashed in what was known as chapbooks back in the 16th century, these were a type of cheap street literature printed for the consumption of ordinary folk as small, paper-covered booklets, kind of the first ever “Penny Dreadfuls.” Nevertheless, DEE and KELLY were influenced by Dr. Faust who lived in Bavaria in around 1480 and was described as a philosopher, alchemist, magician and astrologer. He died in an explosion after an alchemical experiment went wrong, in about 1541. There are several grimoires or magical texts attributed to Dr. Faust. Presumably, some of these spell-books were owned by Dee and Kelly. Is he also a Merlin figure?

Dr Faustus

Dr Faustus

The Tudor playwright Christopher Marlowe, a contemporary of Dee and Kelly, portrayed Faust as the archetypal adept of Renaissance magic in “The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus” from about 1590. A 1620 woodcut illustration of Doctor Faustus (above) shows him to resemble a “customary” wizard, book in one hand, long staff in the other (no doubt made of hawthorn) and standing inside a protective circle wearing a magicians hat and fur-trimmed cloak… with a long white beard and white hair.

Much later, English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892; Poet Laureate from 1850, re-told the stories of King Arthur and the tales of his fatal love for Guinevere and the stories of the Knights of the Round Table in the 12 cyclical poems that made up the “Idylls of the King” published 1859 and 1885. These are a very Mid-Victorian read and tend to study the embodiment of the ideal Victorian “male” hero (the Prince Albert type father figure) and also contain explicit references to Gothic interiors, as well as Romantic appreciations of nature, and society’s growing anxiety about changing gender roles. The poems also tell of Merlin and the Lady of the Lake. Tennyson based these writings on the works of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur and the 13th century Mabinogion.

Is this figure… the eternal material body of Merlin, and also the fictional character-image of Gandalf, perhaps even Obi-Wan Kenobi and Dr. Who, and certainly Albus Dumbledore who “knows pretty much everything” … are all these figures the same person?

Are all these eccentric wanderers and learned beings (beings that resemble human men but possess far greater physical and mental powers) these alchemists, philosophers and wise-men… are they all reincarnations of the once and future MERLIN?

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CLICK HERE to listen to >>> Episode Fourteen of MYTH & MAGIC 28M

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Myth and Magic EP 15 — Fantasy Writers Kitbag — Episode 15 SHOW-NOTES

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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.

CLICK HERE for >>> Episode Fifteen: 26M

This week I explain why Harry is a warlock and not a wizard. I discover the earliest origin of wizard myths before examining the definition of warlock and touch on the witch trials of early-modern Scotland. I take a look at Daemonologie, and I think about the Roman roads of Britain and how they probably influenced the Kingsroad (and other straight roads) in A Song of Ice and Fire. Wildflower of the week: Wake Robin.

Dr John Fian

Dr John Fian

Last week I made the claim that MERLIN is perhaps the one-and-only WIZARD when I was discussing the definition of WIZARD and comparing a Wizard to a Witch. If you’ve been listening to the shows since Episode One you might be aware that I had already touched on Odin (also known in English mythology as Wōden — the old Norse God associated with wisdom, healing, sorcery and knowledge) and especially in his guise as a “wanderer magician…” J. R. R. Tolkien’s fiction was very much influenced by Norse history and it seems that Gandalf was inspired this figure aka Mr. Wednesday.

This Norse God is a shape-shifter but is most usually depicted as a one-eyed and long-bearded, white haired old man, frequently armed with a spear or staff, and he wears a dark cloak and a broad hat that hides much of his face. He’s usually accompanied by animals and birds (these are his familiars, that he talks to) and he can ride across the sky on “old slippy” if he needs to get anywhere (slippy is an eight-legged flying horse.) Does this remind you of Dumbledore?

I ought to have pointed out, last week, that MERLIN was either the incarnation (artificial or otherwise) of Wōden or a folk memory of this wandering Norse God.

Yet Wōden is far older than this Norse deity. The Romans knew of such a figure, so it’s possible we need to look much further back into history to find the first reference to the wizard. Perhaps back into the Proto-Indo-European pantheon of Gods.

And, yes, Proto-Indo-Europeans — these are the prehistoric people who lived about 4,000 years ago in the area we now know as Ukraine and Eastern Russia and who were farmers and fisher-folk and lived in climate with winter snow and invented the wheel and the plough and domesticated the horse — they probably believed in a sky-god (the SKY FATHER) and passed their history along using song-poetry. These very ancient people believed in an Otherworld that was guarded by a watchdog and could only be reached by crossing a river. They may also have believed in a world tree, bearing fruit of immortality, guarded by a serpent or dragon, and this hidden otherworld was tended by three goddesses who spun the thread of life. They had “The Striker” (a flying God with a hammer who is akin the the later Thor) and they had the water-God APAM NAPAT a figure that probably inspired the later Roman god Neptūnus, and the Old Irish water-god Nechtain. And they also had animistic deities: for example elves and nymphs. It’s from these very ancient beliefs that our image of the wandering wizard emerges…

By the way, it’s interesting to note that well into the 12th century A.D. and long after Norway had been “officially” Christianized, the Odin/Wōden character was still alive and being invoked by the Nordic population. In fact, even in recent times, if a person is woken by an odd noise during the night, they declare they hear “Odin passing by…

Anyway, I thought I’d try to offer some back ground to the figure MERLIN and later Wizards… especially Gandalf but also The Doctor and Dumbldore type characters… it seems they all come from one very, very ancient folk-belief and folk-memory, perhaps even an invocation… of the powerful figure of Wōden the wanderer.

WARLOCK

Last week I stated that the male equivalent of a witch is a WARLOCK. And this was the word that had been used to describe the male counterparts to Samantha Stephens in the 1960s television show Bewitched. It’s also (strictly speaking) what Harry Potter is learning to become.

A warlock is defined as: a person (typically male) who uses magic for or against others

The word derives from the Old English word: WǢRLOGA which means: oathbreaker or “deceiver” so it has dark origins.

The Old Norse VARÐ-LOKKUR, that means “caller of spirits” has also been suggested, though argued against, as a possible source word.

Although most victims of witch trials in early modern Scotland were women, what is less well known is that some men were executed as warlocks.

Witchcraft has such a long, fascinating and complex history that goes back to before the Bible, so the subject deserves special attention and I intend to examine witches & witchcraft in considerably more detail in the new year, and over special shows.

But just to concentrate on warlocks, I wanted to explain about the Scottish witch trials. In 1589 King James VI and 1st (he was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots,) visited Denmark where witch-hunts were common and, on his sea voyage, he encountered rough seas and storms that were said to be the result of magic. At least one of his ships (said to be the one that contained valuable gifts for his Queen) was lost in the storm. Upon his return to Scotland, he attended the North Berwick witch trials, the first major persecution of witches in Scotland, and after he saw the trial of the witches who had “caused” his ships to be struck by waves and winds, he set up a royal commissions to hunt down any other witches in his realm, and recommended torture when dealing with any suspects.

The Scottish schoolmaster Dr. John Fian was accused of bewitching townsfolk, preaching witchcraft, and, along with Agnes Sampson and others, of raising storms to sink the fleet of King James VI of Scotland. He was the first of a few warlocks that were tried and sentenced for witchcraft. Dr. John Fian endured having his fingernails forcibly extracted and his feet mangled in screw-down torture boots known as pilliwinks. These instruments of torture crushed his feet until they were no longer usable. It’s said he endured this torture without expressing pain. He was taken to the Castlehill in Edinburgh, strangled, and burnt on 27 January 1591.

John Stewart, Earl of Mar and Garioch, the youngest surviving son of James II of Scotland, (imprisoned and probably killed at Craigmillar Castle) was likewise accused of being a warlock by King James VI and 1st and arrested for treason.

King James VI and I was responsible for a book known as the “Daemonologie” a text book which focused on necromancy and the historical relationships between the various methods of divination and black magic. The text book also touched on werewolves and vampires.

It’s interesting to think that a book on Demonology would be published before an Authorized Version of the Bible. I shall discuss Daemonologie in more detail in a future show,

William Shakespeare is said to have used Daemonologie as a source book when writing and producing his Scottish Play – Macbeth.

John Napier of Merchiston (1550 –1617) the famous mathematician, physicist, and astronomer who “invented” the much-hated log tables (aka logarithms) (disliked by schoolkids of a certain age, ask your grandfather about them) was born and died in a castle and dabbled in alchemy, necromancy, and magic. He kept a black rooster as a familiar. He was widely known to be, and professed himself to be, a warlock.

During the European Age of Enlightenment (the 18th century) belief in the powers of witches and sorcerers began to die out and reports of warlocks became rarer.

Locus in Quo – The Roman roads of Britain

In the last episode of Myth and Magic I promised I’d cover ROMAN ROADS in Britain. Listeners from outside Europe, especially those from the continent of America or Australasia will be unfamiliar with Roman Roads, but they are a shared feature of the topography of most of Europe and also North Africa.

Those of you who are watching Britannia the fantasy television series will be aware that the Romans came to Britain in 43 AD (they set up my home town of Staines that same year) and stayed on until about 410 AD.

In Britannia as in their other conquered provinces, the Romans constructed a network of paved trunk roads to march upon. They hated horse riding (a common mistake in tv shows and movies is to have the senior officers riding around on white steeds: non-roman auxiliary troops were the cavalrymen, and looked down upon) but they liked long, straight, reliable roads to march their legions around on (about about 5,000 men, divided in several cohorts.)

Prior to the Roman conquest of Britain, merchants used unpaved track-ways, including the ancient ones that were probably first trod-down by herds and that run along the ridges of hills, one such trackway (still in use) is the Ridegway. But these were not of sufficient quality for the Roman Legions, so they set out to create an all-weather network of roads that was completed by 180 AD.

“Street” comes from the old word for paving :

Dere Street from Eboracum (York) to the Antonine Wall in Scotland
Ermine Street – London (Londinium) to Lincoln (Lindum Colonia) via York (Eboracum)
Fosse Way – linked Exeter (Isca Dumnoniorum) to Lincoln (Lindum Colonia)
Watling Street – London to the port of Dover

Here, where I live, on the Thames at Roman AD PONTES we are between the PORTWAY and AKEMAN street. PORTWAY run from London to Dorchester (Durnovaria.) And AKEMAN ran from London to Gloucester (Gelvum.)

Fantasy Writers Definitions – Chekhov’s gun

This month thousands of writers – both new and old – are diligently writing their 50 thousand plus words participating in the NANOWRIMO challenge. It might be a bit too late to bring CHEKHOV’S GUN to their attention… but nevertheless, it’s an important and useful “rule of thumb” for fantasy fiction writers.

The famous Russion play-write and short-story writer Doctor Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) came up with an important dramatic principle for his plays and short stories: every element in a story must be necessary and irrelevant elements should be removed.

every element in a story must be necessary, so if an element is removed the structure would “fall apart” irrelevant elements should be removed or they might be seen to make false promises to the reader or an audience

The “Gun” refers to Chekhov’s statement: “If you say, in the first chapter, there is a rifle hanging on the wall, the gun must go off… it’s not going to be fired, it has no right to be hanging there.

Likewise, if you bring a loaded rifle onto a stage, it must be fired by the end of the story. It’s wrong to make promises you don’t mean to keep.

Ernest Hemingway, for one, contradicted this “rule” on several occasions, and said he valued inconsequential details in his writings, but even he conceded that readers would inevitably seek symbolism and significance in these moments so, agreed with Checkhov that its wrong to make promises you don’t mean to keep.

Thinking about your own story and using the principle of Chekhov’s gun, do you have any “guns on walls” that serve no purpose? For example, a magic ring or special cloak that’s not used? A magical power that’s not utilized? Some deep mystical knowledge that is never mined? An animal or creature that is said to have magical or amazing powers… but then we never get to see how these are used. Got any of Chekhov’s guns? Yeah? Erase them now before they weaken your story structure.

Wild flower of the week: Trillium erectum

The Wake Robin, Beth Root or Stinking Benjamin, is a quickly fading plant from the Trillium family that are perennial herbs grown from rhizomes with three large leaf-like bracts that, in the case of the Wake Robin, are red in colour. These bracts are photosynthetic but are brightly coloured and resemble flowers.

The small flowers are carrion-scented (hence Stinking Benjamin) so attract scavenging flies for pollination. Eventually the flower petals wither, to leave behind a fruit that ripens into a dark red berry.

Trilliums are native to the eastern United States and eastern Canada, so don’t try looking for one in the European woodland.

The root was traditionally used as an aid in childbirth, hence the name “Beth root” (which is a corruption of “birth root”). Native Americans would use the root tea for menstrual disorders, to induce childbirth, and to aid in labor.

According to Buckland’s book of Gypsy Magic you can attract a lover with a pinch of Wake Robin. Just a pinch of the herb used in whatever you’re cooking will cause your lover to be drawn to you in a very strong and positively romantic way.

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CLICK HERE to listen to >>> Episode Fifteen of MYTH & MAGIC 26M

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Myth and Magic EP 8 — Fantasy Writers Kitbag — Episode 8 SHOW-NOTES

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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.

CLICK HERE for >>> Episode Eight: 30M

This week I start prepping for NANOWRIMO and I encourage any fantasy fiction writers listening to this podcast to begin plotting too! Today I look at the various stage of a Hero’s Journey and discover Markstein’s criteria. I also visit the Celtic Way and consider the race of Celts. I consider the Guardian list of the 100 best books of the 21st century and I ponder Gwyneth Paltrow’s (empty) bookcase and try to imagine the books I would like to add. The Wildflower of the week is the Blackberry.

Now its NanNo Prep Time are you ready to start plotting out your fantasy fiction?

What form is your protagonist going to take?

Male /female/ gender fluid?
Old, young, ageless?

What form is your main antagonist going to take?

Male /female/ gender fluid?
Old, young, ageless?
Special powers?

What form is your tale going to take?

A quest
Coming of age

How will you construct your fictional world?

How does it differ to (this) real one?
What are the similarities?
What technology does it have?
Does your fictional universe have its own internal logic
Have you created a timeline to ensure consistency and continuity

Will your fictional world comply with Markstein’s criteria?

If characters A and B meet, they are in the same universe
Characters cannot be connected by real people
Characters cannot be connected by characters that do not originate with your published work
Specific fictionalized versions of real people can be used i.e Robin Hood or King Arthur
Characters are only considered to have met if they appeared together in the story

What will be the Triggering Event ?

How does your protagonist resist the call to adventure? Why won’t he/she/it go? What’s preventing their adventure?

(After the first plot point, there will be several chapters where the protagonist is learning about the new world. They might be doing research, or discovering things in conversations. There needs to be conflict and tension, which builds up to the first Pinch Point.
This doesn’t have to be a literal battle, but it is the first major interaction with the antagonist. The antagonist might not be visible yet, but they should be the one pulling the strings. The antagonist is after something, and that something is tied to the MC somehow…)

What does the Protagonist have that the antagonist needs or wants?

What will be the first pinch point?

Midpoint—the shift from victim to warrior – (after the first pinch point, the protagonist continues to face new challenges, but are in a defensive role. They might make some plans, but mostly they’re waiting for something to happen and reacting to events rather than being proactive.) Why does the protagonist decide to take action. What turns him around from being a victim to being a hero?)

This leads to a second confrontation with the antagonist (the protagonist realize that everything is much worse than they thought, and they realize they’ve underestimated the antagonist’s power.)

The protagonist tries to fix things, but things keep getting worse and worse, leading to a total, devastating loss… so we arrive at the the dark night of the soul.

What will be the First Major Turning Point in the story?

How will the antagonist get the upper hand?

The Triumph:

(Perhaps, after a pep talk with a close friend, to “gird the loins” the protagonist finds a reason to fight, even if it’s hopeless. Even if it seems impossible to defeat the enemy, there’s no choice but to confront the antagonist.

But now he is prepared—he might have gained a valuable piece of knowledge or information. He might have a new weapon or new power, or he’s learned the villain’s weakness.
The final battle scene often includes a “hero at the mercy of the villain” scene, where the hero is caught, so the villain can gloat. Anyway it’s not a clear, easy victory. They fail at first, all is lost, the hero is captured, the enemy gloats… then the hero perseveres. With resolve and tenacity, the hero escapes and overpowers the villain.
Often the final battle scene also includes a “death of the hero” scene, where the hero, or an ally/romantic interest, sacrifices themselves, and appears to die… but then is brought back to life in joy and celebration.)

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The Guardian list of 100 best-books-of-the-21st-century

This list of ONE HUNDRED best books of the 21st century (not all are fiction) published this week by the Guardian newspaper, includes just six works that you might accurately describe as “Fantasy Fiction.”

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (her only Hugo Award winning novel… The Hugos tend to not be given to the same writer twice)
Darkmans by Nicola Barker
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin
Night Watch by Terry Prachett
The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

Why is this speculative genre so under-represented? (George R. R. Martin isn’t listed at all, but perhaps “A Storm of Swords” and the subsequent two Song of Ice and Fire didn’t make the cut) Is it because fantasy fiction is (these days) is considered to be “Young Adult” and therefore, because the books (purportedly) speak to a younger audience they are somehow considered to be less meritorious?

Is “Dead Until Dark” (Charlaine Harris) young adult fiction?

Or:

Dark Lover J.R. Ward
Vampire Academy Richelle Mead
City of Bones Cassandra Clare
Twilight Stephenie Meyer
The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins , or
The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger

Oddly (and to even things up a bit) the top 20 best selling books of the 21st Century, combined, have sold over a billion copies. These include:

The “Harry Potter” books, over 225M sold
The “Twilight” books, over 120M sold
The Hunger Games books, over 65M sold
A Song of Ice and Fire” over 60M sold
The Divergent Trilogy over 35M sold

That means more-or-less half of all books sold have been fantasy fiction. Ha! [Stats from https://elitewritings.com%5D

Wildflower of the week: BLACKBERRY

All along the CELTIC WAY at this time of the year, you can find Blackberries (sometimes called black-caps in the USA)

aka brummel kites, gater berry, cock brumble, blaggs and mooches.

I can tell you, from experience, these edible fruit from the genus Rubus make the most delicious crumble you’ve ever tasted and go particularly well with sharp cooking apples. The possess a heavenly scent that makes my mouth water with anticipation. When I was young, my sisters and I would go blackberry picking on open land and bring home baskets-and-baskets of berries so my mother could make jam.

Blackberries and raspberries both live on what we call, in England, brambles. Though raspberries are “domesticated” and can be safely grown as “canes” in a garden or plot… whereas blackberries are decidedly wild and would take over an entire garden if not hunted down and eliminated.

Unmanaged plants in the wild form a dense tangle of arching thorny branches and these are often cut into hedgerows and provide important protection for nesting birds and all kinds of animals.

A bog woman who was found naturally in a bog in Jutland, and had died in the pre-Roman Iron Age was found to have eaten millet and blackberries before she had been strangled.

It’s also thought that Blackberry fruit, leaves, and stems were used to dye fabrics and hair. And Native Americans were known to use blackberry stems to make rope.

The delicious loganberry – developed in 1880 in Santa Cruz – is one of the best and most flavoursome cultivars from the original plant.

Blackberry leaves are an important food source for caterpillars; and some grazing mammals, especially deer.

Scottish highlanders once twisted a bramble with ivy and grown to ward away witches and evil spirits.

It was once thought that on Michaelmas day (the holy day of angels 29 September) the devil spat and urinated upon all the fruit and so it was unwise to pick them any more. In Ireland a similar belief held that the pooka ( the nature spirit that I described in my novel Moondog and the Reed Leopard) were responsible for ruining the fruit by pissing on them ( a few weeks later than the devil in England, at Halloween tide.)

CALL OUT 25 SEPTEMBER Assaph Mehr

If you like the idea of togas, daggers and magic and an Urban Fantasy set in a quasi-Ancient Rome intrigues you, then try ASSAPH MEHR and his Murder In Absentia

A young man is found dead in his bed, with a look of extreme agony on his face and strange tattoos all over his body. His distraught senator father suspects a cult death, and knows who to call for discreet resolution.

Enter Felix the Fox, a professional investigator. In the business of ferreting out dark information for his clients, Felix is neither a traditional detective nor a competent magician — but something in between. Drawing on his contacts in shady elements of society and on his aborted education in the magical arts, Felix dons his toga and sets out to discover the young man’s killers.

Murder In Absentia is set in a fantasy world. The city of Egretia borrows elements from a thousand years of ancient Roman culture, from the founding of Rome to the late empire, mixed with a judicious amount of magic. This is a story of a cynical, hardboiled detective dealing with anything from daily life to the old forces roaming the world.

I like the idea that this book will appeal to fans of detective fiction as well as fantasy!
Well done, ASSAPH.

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Myth and Magic EP 17 — Fantasy Writers Kitbag — Episode 17 SHOW-NOTES

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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.

CLICK HERE for >>> Episode Seventeen: 39M

This week I explore the origins of Father Christmas. Is he a deep folk memory of the ancient Yulefather? Are Santa Claus, Sinterklaas, Saint Nicholas of Myra, and Sir Christmas all memories of this same pagan character? How do reindeer figure in the Christmas tradition? What is Yule? What is a Yule Goat? When is the Night of Mothers? Who is Zwarte Piet? Who is Krampus? Where do the Christkindl celebrations originate? And what’s so magical about mistletoe?

God Jule - the Yule Father and his Yule Goat

God Jule – the Yule Father and his Yule Goat

Nothing awakens the interest of a young mind in the subject of MYTH and MAGIC more than the story made annually and almost made true — that is Santa Claus. The beloved character brings together religion, mythology, history, mysticism and fantasy in a way that is not only fascinating and compelling, but also legitimate. Although disconcerting and quite esoteric in nature (is he an elf? A saint? A supernatural entity? A marketing device created by shrewd business people?) everyone “gets” what Father Christmas is all about, even though they can’t put into actual words what there is to “understand” about him. That’s about as esoteric as you can get these days… it’s not often (in this rational, modernistic world) that we see an acceptance that something exists or is true, even though there’s no proof of its actual existence… beyond hope, trust and optimism that is.

I often think that it is entirely possible that in this world of humanism, science and rational thought, FATHER CHRISTMAS is the last vestige of a belief in the miraculous, paranormal and otherworldly. If it’s difficult for me ( a fantasy fiction writer) to see how this creature clearly belongs outside the material realm and yet is welcomed into our hearts, minds and even our homes at Christmastide… it must be doubly difficult for all the logically minded folk out there. Yet, they are all eagerly awaiting his arrival. He’s even tracked by the ultra high-tech North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) systems — and their Russian Aerospace equivalent GLONASS — as he journeys around the world on his mission to deliver presents to good children. And, even more amazingly, even though he’s a supernatural entity from a different space/time and dimension, he’s associated with a holy Christian festival. How did that happen?

YULE FATHER in the Odin/Wōden wanderer guise

YULE FATHER in the Odin Wōden wanderer guise

If you have been listening to my show you perhaps won’t be surprised to know that the character we know as Father Christmas probably reaches way back in time to the Odin/Woden wandering wizard figure that I have mentioned before, in several episodes. The white beard / white hair / cape and hood and the old man’s mystical nature might have given you a clue. “Our” Father Christmas is said to be a fairy or magical being… and he is probably connected to Woden, so NORAD is probably tracking Woden in his guise as the wandering wizard of the hunt.

Reindeer

Reindeer

So where do we start? Why not start with REINDEER it’s a good a place as any!

REINDEER (also known as caribou in North America) are probably one of the oldest domesticated animals known to man (actually they’re semi domesticated). They’ve been hunted by man since before the mists of time… in fact scholars suggest they may be the single most important hunted-species on the planet. They were known to the ancient Greeks and the Romans as a vitally important hunt species. Domestication of the deer by the Arctic peoples probably started between the Bronze and Iron Ages when the animals the people lived alongside began to be herded as livestock rather than hunted as prey. The indigenous peoples employed their deer to pull sleds and raised them for meat, hides, antlers and milk. The deer were not completely domesticated though and tended to migrate between coastal and inland areas. Therefore, the herders normally traveled with their herds and lived a nomadic life.

(By the way, in modern times, during World War II, the Soviet Army used reindeer as pack animals to transport food, ammunition and post and to bring wounded soldiers, pilots and equipment back to base. About 6,000 reindeer and more than 1,000 reindeer herders were used as part of the operation.)

But back to the Arctic peoples of the iron age – try to imagine if you can… a WHITE OUT. A white-out occurs when the land, covered in crisp white snow, meets a whitewashed snow-filled skyline. Imagine if you encountered a white-out and glimpsed a team of REINDEER pulling a sled across a ridge in the middle distance. The ridge is icy white, the sky is icy white and the foreground between you and the deer-sled is icy white. The sleigh and the reindeer would appear to be “flying” across the sky. Now, imagine this vision was at night (for, in Winter time, the night-time for Arctic peoples is never-ending) and the sleigh has been adorned with twinkling lanterns or candles… what do you think that would that look to an observer?

YULE

YULE or Yuletide is an ancient midwinter festival that celebrates the WILD HUNT and is a very deep folk memory of the importance of the deer herds and celebration of the herders. It also celebrates the god Odin/Wōden [ Old Saxon : Wōdan, and Old High German: Wuotan] in his guise as wanderer/hunter and the lighting of candles in memory of female ancestors that normally took place on the “Night of Mothers” i.e. 24th December – Christmas Eve to us. Although, remember, this was before the advent of Christianity.

Odin/Wōden in his guise as winter wanderer bears the name JÓLFAÐR (YULE FATHER) and in this guise he is depicted as an old man with a white beard, wearing a cloak with a hood, and holding a magical staff. He rides a white horse across the sky.

The word YULE is still used today in Nordic countries to describe the winter holiday season.
According to the Saga of Hákon the Good written in the year 934 Yule was celebrated over three nights, starting at midwinter night. Big feasts were arranged and sacrificial blood was drunk.

In folklore the pre-Christian WILD HUNT is a motif that typically involves a ghostly or supernatural group of hunters passing-by in wild pursuit. The hunters might be elves, fairies or the dead and the leader of the hunt is often the Odin/Wōden figure. But he might be joined by the THOR character who rides across the sky in a chariot pulled by goats. The WILD HUNT is a phenomena known across cultures, for example: In Scandinavia The Ride of Asgard , in Britain, known as Woden’s Hunt, Herod’s Hunt, Cain’s Hunt, or the Devil’s Dandy Dogs (in Cornwall) Gabriel’s Hounds (in North England), and Ghost Riders in North America.

A reliable eye-witness account of the WILD HUNT from 12th century England describes it as this:

The huntsmen were black, huge, and hideous, and rode on black horses and on black he-goats, and their hounds were jet black, with eyes like saucers, and horrible. This was seen in the very deer park of the town of Peterborough, and in all the woods that stretch from that same town to Stamford, and in the night the monks heard them sounding and winding their horns…

By the way, The Romans considered the Odin/Wōden figure to be the same God as their “Mercury” and thew ancient Thor to be the same figure as their “Hercules”.

In processions during YULE TIDE it was a common European tradition for young, unmarried men to parade and congregate in masks to celebrate the WILD HUNT.

It’s generally agreed that the hunters of the WILD HUNT probably come from a faerie otherworld. Another dimension. Over the ages, the hunt was to led by popular characters of the time, such as Gwydion, King Arthur, King Herla, and Herne the Hunter.

If dark horsemen might move magically across a winter sky, accompanied by black ravens and war-dogs and they seemed to merge with the darkening clouds on a distant horizon, it’s easy to see how this mental image might be frightening for children… so the emblem of the WILD HUNT became replaced by something more friendly and more wholesome (for children) especially after Christianity had spread across the Northern realms (the last areas of Europe that were Christianized were the Baltic regions – and this was as late as 12th to the 14th centuries.) The idea of a gentle, warm hearted figure riding across the sky with his herd of beasts became our idea of “Father Christmas.”

Sveti Nikola (1903) by Uroš Predic

Sveti Nikola (1903) by Uroš Predic

SAINT NICHOLAS

But how did SAINT NICHOLAS get caught up in all this?

SAINT NICHOLAS OF MYRA was an early Christian bishop who probably lived during the mid fourth century A.D. ( Roman times) in the area we now know as Turkey. SAINT NICHOLAS had a long white beard, white hair, and wore red robes and a mitre (because he was a bishop) and because of his many miracles, he’s known (in Turkey) as Nicholas the Wonderworker. Furthermore, Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of children (among other things) and during his life he earned a reputation for secret gift-giving. It’s obvious that the early church thought that SAINT NICHOLAS OF MYRA was a perfect substitute for the ancient YULE FATHER.

In late medieval England, on Saint Nicholas Day (6 December) parishes would hold “boy bishop” celebrations. As part of these rituals, local youths would perform the functions of priests and bishops, and exercise rule over their elders. It was a good way of diverting attention from YULE and replacing it with the wholesome image of SAINT NICHOLAS OF MYRA (in his guise of Bishop of the Church.)

Today, Saint Nicholas is celebrated as a great gift-giver in several Western European and Central European countries. According to one source, in medieval times, nuns used the night of 6 December to deposit baskets of food and clothes anonymously at the doorsteps of the needy. This is probably how the custom of secret gift-giving at Christmastide came about.

Sinterklaas with Black Pete

Sinterklaas with Black Pete arriving in Groningen, The Netherlands

SINTERKLAAS

When I traveled to the NETHERLANDS to visit the Christmas Markets I saw the celebrations for SINTERKLAAS. The feast is celebrated on 6th December and commemorates the patron saint of children SAINT NICHOLAS as bishop. The Dutch for St Nick is SINTERKLAAS . In the Netherlands, Sinterklaas is assisted by Zwarte Piet (aka “Black Pete”) who is one of the “companions” of SINTERKLAAS and is traditionally dressed in Moorish attire and portrayed with a blackface. It’s thought that Pete is folk memory of Saint Nicholas’ real & actual servant who has been described as “Moorish”.

Oddly, in modern day Netherlands SINTERKLAAS arrives by white horse (he doesn’t use a reindeer sleigh to get about) … but then again, the YULE FATHER character of the wild hunt rode a white horse across the sky… is this a curious throwback to a much earlier tradition?

During the Religious Reformation of the 16th- and 17th-century, in Europe, Protestant reformers such as Martin Luther changed the Saint gift-bringer SINTERKLAAS from the semi-pagan motif into the more acceptable Christ Child or Christkindl . The reformed church also moved the date of the Christkindl celebration from 6 December to Christmas Eve.

Of course, the Sinterklaas story travelled with the DUTCH migrants and took root in former Dutch colonies such as the settlement of New Amsterdam (on the tip of Manhattan Island.) The English took over the New Amsterdam settlement and renamed it New York in 1664 but the descendants of the original Dutch families continued to celebrate their SINTERKLAAS traditions along with other wintertime festivities such as Christkindl.

Sir Christèmas

Sir Christèmas

FATHER CHRISTMAS

In the British tradition, from about the eleventh century, FATHER CHRISTMAS has been the personification of Christmas tide. In this respect he is the same thing as sinterklaas and also an entirely different thing. Confusing? Yes, I said at the outset that this mythical/magical entity was esoteric. FATHER CHRISTMAS can be considered synonymous with Santa Claus (SINTERKLAAS) because he shares a common heritage with the pre-Christian notion of the WILD HUNT. Neverthless, the church wanted to distance their devotees from pagan tradition, so their FATHER CHRISTMAS (or Sir Christmas) was presented and characterized as the personification of Chistmas. A very early English carol suggests that “Sir Christèmas” brings news of Christ’s birth as he encourages his listeners to drink: “Make good cheer and be right merry, And sing with us now joyfully: Nowell, nowell.

In Britian the term “Yule” was comprehensievly replaced by the word “Christmas” in Britain from about the 11th century and Old Father Christmas was seen as the new symbol of the “good old days of feasting and good cheer”. During the rise of the PURITANS in the 1640s (they tried to abolish Christmas) folk held onto the belief that a Christmas Spirit in the form of Old Father Christmas would still come to them secretly to “deliver Christmas.” You can imagine how the legend stuck in the minds of people.

And in the mid 18th century Father Christmas became a stock character in Christmas folk plays known as mummers plays.

During the Victorian period Christmas customs enjoyed a big revival, and the figure of Father Christmas became an emblem of “good cheer”. It was about this time that he became associated with merchandise and shopping.

But, remember, he’s probably the wandering wizard of the ancient wild hunt. Think about that before you encourage your kids to write secret letters (prayers & wishes) to him, to stick them up the chimney… into heaven… for him to grant.

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CLICK HERE to listen to >>> Episode Seventeen of MYTH & MAGIC 39M

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Myth and Magic News 20th December 2019

This week the BBC reported that the Cottingley Fairies hoax photo has been sold for £1,000

The famous100-year-old photo of Cottingley Fairies posed by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths in 1917 fooled many into believing in fairy folk.

Frances confessed the photographs were a hoax in 1983 though she continued to maintain that one of the images was genuine. She admitted that she and her cousin had created the photos by making cardboard cut-outs at Cottingley, near Bradford in England.

The photo entitled “Alice and the Fairies” featuring Frances, sold for £1,050 in Cirencester. But the image “Iris and the Gnome” posed by Elsie, went unsold as the reserve price was not met.

These photographs once belonged to the Church of England Reverend George Vale Owen who claimed he received messages via a process known as automatic writing hat had been sent from spirits or psychic forces. George Vale Owen was one of the best-known spiritualists of the early-20th Century, and a friend of Sherlock Holmes creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The photos came about after the two girls played together beside a beck (stream) at the bottom of their garden, much to their mothers’ annoyance; They frequently returned home with wet feet and muddy clothes. They came-up with the excuse they’d been to “see the fairies” and borrowed Elsie’s Dad’s camera to prove their claim. The Father developed a picture (in his own darkroom) that portrayed Frances behind a bush in the foreground, on which four fairies appeared to be dancing. Knowing his daughter was good at art & crafts he dismissed the fairy figures as cardboard cutouts.

But the photographs came public in mid-1919 when Elsie’s mother attended a meeting of the “Theosophical Society” in Bradford. The lecture was on “fairy life” and she allowed two of the fairy photographs, taken by her daughter, to be shown to the audience. The photographs were displayed at the society’s annual conference in Harrogate, a few months later. One of the central beliefs of theosophy is that humanity is undergoing a cycle of evolution, towards increasing “perfection” and the idea of spiritual and spiritual beings is not absurd to them.

The prints, along with the original glass-plate negatives, were sent to a photography expert who professed the photographs to be genuine and author and prominent spiritualist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got involved. He sent the pictures for more tests. The results/opinions that came back were mixed but Conan Doyle remained optimistic that the girls had literally taken photos of fairies.

psychopompós

Psychopompós

Magic Word of the Week – PSYCHOPOMP

Taken from the Greek (it means “guide of souls” ) psychopompós are creatures, spirits, angels, or deities whose responsibility is to escort newly deceased souls from Earth to the afterlife. Most religions have them.

In art PSYCHOPOMPS often take on anthropomorphic identities such as: horses, deer, dogs, whip-poor-wills, ravens, crows, vultures, owls, sparrows and cuckoos.

Anubis and Yama are PSYCHOPOMPS as are the Norse Valkyries.

The angel Azrael carries souls to heavens.

In many cultures a shaman fulfills the role of the psychopomp. The concept of a “midwife to the dying” cuts across most religions. A priest or minister of the sacrament plays the part in some Christian traditions.

The banshee of Irish and Scottish folklore is a psychopomp; she keens and laments before impending death then hangs around to escort the soul to the afterlife.

The psychopomp is often considered to be a mediator between the unconscious and conscious realms.

The the Grim Reaper, which I touched upon in my piece about LAMMAS [Episode 3 of Myth and Magic) is a PSYCHOPOMP figure that is familiar to us.

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JULBOCKEN

JULBOCKEN

Fabulous Creature of the Week – The YULE GOAT

The Yule goat is a Scandinavian and Northern European Yule and Christmas symbol. Its origin may be German pagan and its thought to have has existed over many centuries. Modern representations of the Yule goat are typically made of straw.

The goat is connected to the worship of the Norse god Thor, who rode across the night sky in a chariot drawn by goats. This is a tradition that goes back to ancient Indo-European beliefs.

Yule Goat Sheaf

Yule Goat Sheaf

The last sheaf of harvest grain is sometimes bundled and specially prepared (see photo) and is credited with magical properties (as the spirit of the harvest) to be saved for the Yule celebrations. At YULE this straw goat was brought out and perhaps placed alongside a YULE LOG and called the JULBOCKEN: Yule goat

The goat is also seen, in some cultures, to be a spirit who arrives at a house before Christmastide to see that the Yule preparations are done right.

Krampus

Krampus

The YULE GOAT might also be a folk memory of the horned KRAMPUS. KRAMPUS (The Horned God) pre-dates Christian tradition and is strong in Alpine belief. The Krampus figure is a shaggy-haired, horned and rather demonic looking half-goat half-man who is seen holding a birch rod (or staff) with which he occasionally swats children with. He’s the figure who punishes children who might have misbehaved over the year – while Saint Nicholas rewards the good ones with gifts. In this respect, the Yule Goat is one of the malevolent companions of Saint Nicholas : these tend to be uncontrolled house spirits (kobolds or elfs) and are similar in conduct and nature to Robin Goodfellow, Knecht Ruprecht, Belsnickel, and Black Pete.

Julebukking is a Scandinavian Christmas tradition where people with masks and in JULEBOCKEN costumes (Julebukkers) go door to door Wassailing and Yulesinging. Neighbors try to identify who is hidden under the disguises. If there’s a goat in the troop, he’s normally the rascally one who performs all the pranks.

Mistletoe

Mistletoe

Wildflower of the Week Mistletoe

One memorable Valentine’s Day my wife and I were given a tour around the mistletoe plants (Viscum album) in the Palace gardens at Hampton Court. Once I had been shown (by the experienced gardener) where and what to look out for, I realized how much mistletoe there actually is up in the tree canopy around here! It seems, here in Surrey at least, by the River Thames, it grows everywhere. I encourage you to look up into a leafless tree at this time of the year to seek the witches’ brooms.

Mistle is probably the ancient word for twig : thus twig-toes…

Mistletoes grow on a wide range of host trees, and most people know that they are parasitic. Host trees (around here) tend to be apple, lime (linden), hawthorn and poplar.

In fact they are hemiparasites (they produce some of their own photosynthesis, at least some of the time in their leathery yellow-green leaves) and in most cases they probably have a symbiotic relationship with the host tree.

Witches Broom

Witches Broom “Caught” in a Birch Tree at Winter

A mistletoe seed germinates on the branch of a host tree or shrub, and in the early stages of development is entirely independent of its host. The sticky, glutinous seeds are spread by birds that eat the (drupes) the mistle thrush is such a bird… though the “berries” are toxic to humans, causing a wide range of symptoms that includes blurred vision, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.

Mistletoe plants are considered to be a keystone species with a broad array of animals depending on their fruits and leaves during winter months, consuming the leaves and young shoots, transferring pollen between plants and dispersing the sticky seeds. Thus, rather than being a pest parasite, mistletoe can have a positive effect on forest, woodland or orchard biodiversity.

In Greek mythology, a mistletoe arch (the Golden Bough) was used by heroes to access the underworld (the Elysian Fields.)

The Romans associated mistletoe with peace, love and understanding and they hung it over doorways to protect the household during the festival of Saturnalia 17-23rd December.

Before this, in the British Isles, the druids performed the ritual of oak and mistletoe. A druid priest arrayed in white vestments would climb the oak on the sixth day of the moon and, with a golden sickle, he’d cut down the mistletoe, to be caught in a white cloak. It is said that they believed that a mistletoe drink would impart fertility to any animal that was barren and could be used as an antidote to poisons.

Although mistletoe continued to be associated with fertility and vitality through the Middle Ages it also began to be used as a decoration under which lovers were expected to kiss, as well as to help householders protect themselves from witches and demons.

According to custom, mistletoe must not touch the ground between its cutting and its removal as the last of Christmas greens at Candlemas. It may remain hanging throughout the year, though, and is often allowed to do so, to preserve the house from lightning or fire, or until it is replaced the following Christmas Eve.

Mistletoe is the state floral emblem of Oklahoma and the county flower of Herefordshire. Every year, the UK town of Tenbury Wells holds a mistletoe festival and crowns a ‘Mistletoe Queen

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CLICK HERE to listen to >>> Episode Seventeen of MYTH & MAGIC 39M

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