Witch Queen from Sneewittchen, Scholz Künstler-Bilderbücher Public Domain

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

Folklore and fantasy themes aimed at creative writers: to start writing stories and challenge your brain with exciting ideas, dip into this kit-bag. Learn how fantasy worlds draw on real world history, mythology, and folklore. And there’s weekly news from the world of fantasy fiction too, plus fabulous creatures, studies on folk tales, nature fables and lots more mythical, magical fun.

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This week I 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 14 — Fantasy Writers Kitbag — Episode 14 SHOW-NOTES

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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Myth and Magic

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

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

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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Myth and Magic

CLICK HERE to listen to >>> Episode Eightof MYTH & MAGIC 30M

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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

CLICK HERE to listen to >>> Episode Eightof MYTH & MAGIC 30M

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Myth and Magic EP 16 — Fantasy Writers Kitbag — Episode 16 SHOW-NOTES

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 Sixteen: 25M

This week I visit Dozmary Pool in Cornwall to discover why The Enchantress, Coventina, Vagdavercustis, Ceridwen, Viviane / Nimue and even Saint Brigid of Kildare might all be the same character: Is she the mysterious and ancient being – Lady of the Lake?


My visit to DZAMOR’S POOL in the Duchy of Cornwall. November 2019

Who or what is the LADY OF THE LAKE?

Those of you who enjoyed and have followed the universe portrayed in the story of DC Comics Suicide Squad in particular Amanda Waller’s Squad will be familiar with the complicated character known as ENCHANTRESS. In one account June Moon stumbles across a magical being known as DZAMOR who can be materialized with the word “Enchantress”. But is there such a creature? Is the enchantress based upon any real-world myth and magic?

Earlier last month I traveled to the place where the ENCHANTRESS is said to have lived.
And it’s NOT a castle. It’s a lake.

Yep, she lived in the bottom of a lake! Weird yeah?

Are all these characters one-and-the-same? Lady of the Lake?

Are all these characters one-and-the-same? Lady of the Lake?

First we have to learn about a mystical goddess known as COVENTINA. She’ll help us understand where the enchantress comes from and from there we can attempt to age her.

Coventina was a Romano-British Pagan goddess of wells and springs. She is known from multiple inscriptions at one site in the county of Northumberland, England, an area surrounding a wellspring near Carrawburgh on Hadrian’s Wall.

I have touched upon this area of the UK before because it is a magical region. Nearby is a MITHRAEUM. This is a man-made structure built to resemble a cave and designed to be an “image of the universe” in which a soul descends and exits. The MITHRAEUM was likely used as a place of initiation into the cult of Mithras. So it serves as a temple of the mystery cult to the astrological Roman god Mithras. MITHRA is one of the oldest GODS and is known across religions. In Indo-Iranian culture his name MITRA in Sanskrit means “eye of the light” though it can also mean COVENANT or contract, perhaps alluding to the “contract” that new adherents enter into on initiation into the secret sect.

I’ll go deeper into MITHRAS in another episode but just to say that MITHRAS is an incarnation of Orion, and he is often seen portrayed killing the bull Taurus that is found beside him in the night sky. I might also add that this powerful GOD is often portrayed as a lion-headed man too and may be one of the earliest Hindu deities and very, very ancient indeed. You might be interested to learn, in passing, that MITHRAS was born from the rock on December 25! Curious, huh? It’s only recently been established by a new analysis by scholars that the ancient temple to MITHRAS at this site aligns with the sunrise on December 25 – in other words it aligns with the birth of Christ (the light in the world) on Christmas Day. Without wishing to distress or annoy Christians, it’s worth pointing out that 25th December is the first date following the Winter Solstice (the symbolic death and rebirth of the Sun) that the day lengthens (by a minute) and the early Christian church probably co-opted the Mithras and Sol Invictus “Festival of the Rejuvenant Sun” as the birthmark of Christ the Saviour to establish ascendancy over the long-held Pagan beliefs. From an astrological point of view: the Sun is reborn on the 25th December, is then visited by three wandering planets, and becomes surrounded by the 12 constellations of the zodiac As a schoolboy I was taught in Sunday School that the early Christian Church took over the pagan sites, beliefs and important dates to show people that the old gods had no power.

But back to the Northumberland MITHRAEUM. This is probably the only MITHRAEUM where artefacts depicting the Celtic war goddess Vagdavercustis [ VAG DAVER CEWS STIS ] have been found and the only known artefact of Vagdavercustis outside Germany. It was customary for Roman officials in their provinces to honour local gods as a way of maintaining local goodwill… but this seems a stretch, maybe. Because why honour her inside the temple to a mystery cult (where normal folk don’t have access) surely, if they wanted to honour her as part of some diplomatic/political act they’d have done it “out and loud” in a public place? Anyway, not much is known about Vagdavercustis [ VAG DAVER CEWS STIS ] other than she’s associated with trees and forests and is said to be the “protector of war dancers.”

It seems that, at some stage during the Roman Occupation of Britain, a second Mithraeum was built over the earliest part, using materials from the Shrine to the Nymphs. And in around 128-133 AD a new Mithraeum was built, on the remains of the earlier two, dedicated to goddess Coventina. It’s interesting that she shares a place and position with some of the earliest known Gods including a connection with the EYE OF THE LIGHT.

This place of worship became known as Coventina’s Well and CONVENTINA herself is depicted in nymph form – reclining, partially clothed, and associated with water. In the book titled “The Skystone” by Jack Whyte , the author represents Coventina as the LADY OF THE LAKE.

While considering Vagdavercustis at the MITHRAEUM is is also worth touching on the sorceress character mentioned in the Tale of Taliesin, set in Wales, and known as Ceridwen. KER ID WEN was a dawn goddesses and a white fairy, and became a pagan goddess and part of the Celtic [KELTIC] pantheon. She was known to be a shapeshifter (she could turn into a fish or an otter, as well as a bird) and she abided in a castle BENEATH the rather beautifully serene and (perhaps) fathomless Bala Lake, in Wales.

But we know the enchantress known as LADY OF THE LAKE (she has a name, by the way, I’ll come to that in a moment) from the legend associated with King Arthur. This mystical non-human creature plays a pivotal role in many of the Arthurian stories: she gives ARTHUR his sword, she enchants and traps MERLIN and she raises Sir Lancelot. But what do we actually know of her?

The enchantress named Viviane (pronounced VIV-ee-uhn) or Nimue (pronounced neem-OO-ay) also lived in a castle under a lake (like Ceridwen, so might be the same creature). She shares similarities to the dawn goddess and pre-Christain irish Goddess known as Brigid (pronounced BREED or BRIDE) whose birthday “The Day of the Bride” is celebrated as the first day of Spring, 1 February. She is associated with sacred wells and celebrated by modern Pagans along with her male (counterpart) the HORNED GOD. By the way, Saint Brigid of Kildare – the patron saint of ireland and perhaps an abbess or nun – may or may not be the same BRIGID! That’s because the tradition of BRIGID was assimilated and merged by Christians – syncretized into one myth. There is very little historical evidence that a “real” Saint Brigid ever existed (this suggestion is a bit controversial, I know.)

But back to VIVIANE – because she lives and exists in an underwater realm she’s a symbol of mystery and magic. And that’s probably why she inspires poems such as The Lady of the Lake by Sir Walter Scott (later an opera by Rossini.) And becomes a main character in The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

But first The Lady of the Lake began to appear in French chivalric romances during the early 13th century. In these romances she aided humans (like a fairy godmother) and helped them fulfill their quests.

Later, in Sir Thomas Malory’s 15th-century definitive Arthurian tales Arthur and Merlin first meet this Lady of the Lake when she holds Excalibur out of the water and offers it to Arthur if he promises to fulfill a request from her later.

There are a number of locations in Great Britain that are traditionally associated with the Lady of the Lake, Bala in Wales (mentioned earlier) being one. The most famous and most recognized is DOZMARY pool. I was lucky enough to visit this place earlier last month. It’s on the remote and wild Bodmin Moor, in the DUCHY of Cornwall, on the South West peninsula of England, and close to JAMAICA INN (a real place and the inspiration for Daphne du Maurier’s 1936 novel and HITCHCOCKS 1939 feature film.)

The POOL is very strange (see the video I took at the top of the page). It’s likely that it hasn’t changed since the last ice-age and is an important ecological site because of this. In legend, it is here that King Arthur rowed out to the Lady of the Lake to receive the sword Excalibur. When King Arthur lay dying after the Battle of Camlan, Sir Bedivere casts the mystical sword back into DOZMARY POOL … to be returned from whence it came.

Llyn Llywenan ( in English: Yew Tree Lake) is a lake in western Anglesey, Wales. Anglesey is an island odd the North West tip of Wales and I’ll probably return to it in another show because it’s home to the druids.

The lake is situated in an area that has been settled since the Stone Age, and right through the Neolithic Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age.

There are uncommon aquatic plants growing in this silty lake that has a hazy island in the middle. Two neolithic burial mounds sit beside the lake. These probably date from about 3100BC (about the time that the second Scorpion King ruled Upper Egypt and Stonehenge began to be built.)

Finally, I have already mentioned this in an earlier show, but it’s worth repeating: The full French name of the University of Notre Dame, founded in 1842, is Notre Dame du Lac. This is translated as “Our Lady of the Lake.

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Myth and Magic

CLICK HERE to listen to >>> Episode Sixteen of MYTH & MAGIC 25M

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Myth and Magic EP 7 — Fantasy Writers Kitbag — Episode 7 SHOW-NOTES

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 Seven: 30M

This week I go high onto the moors and heaths, as I travel to Exmoor to explore how moorland habitats have been used by fiction writers to convey wilderness, wildness and magic. I learn about Pixie mythology and visit the ancient Moorland village of Withypool where Lorna Dorne was written. I think about using scrying in fantasy fiction plots and talk about floating timelines. I also examine ABCs also known as phantom cats or mystery cats. The magical wildflower of the week is Morning Glory.

Exmoor

Exmoor

What I’ve been up to – trip to Exmoor

EXMOOR is a picturesque area of hilly moorland in west Somerset and parts of north Devon on the South West Peninsula of England. The ancient 250 square miles of moorland is named after the River Exe. If you can picture the personification of Britain in the form of Britannia, facing the Atlantic, her left foot and ankle is the South-West peninsula.

For those listeners unfamiliar with a moor — we have several in the British Isles, we even have one here in Staines, about ten minutes from my home on the river , and in fact Britain has over 10% of all of the world’s moors — a MOORLAND is an upland habitat characterized by low-growing vegetation on acid soils. Moors are considered to be rare and vulnerable habitats and, in fact, Staines Moor has been almost continuously under threat from land developers and those who wish to exploit its minerals and natural resources. The new threat to my local moor comes from plans for Heathrow (airport) expansion.

Moors differ from Heaths (heathland) because they are generally on higher ground, have a less gentle topography, and have cooler and damper climates. Nearby to us is some famous Surrey heathland. Heaths are man-made and were probably manufactured habitats created about 6,000 years ago in the Late Stone Age and Bronze Age for agriculural purposes. They are still managed from grazing, even now, though they are normally kept as important rare habitats.

Exmoor was once a Royal forest and hunting ground and was designated a National Park in 1954 and declared an environmentally sensitive area in 1993. The coastline between Porlock and Foreland Point, which I explored on my visit, forms the longest stretch of coastal woodland in England and Wales. The scenery includes magical waterfalls, dark caves, rocky headlands and steep ravines. At Parracombe there is a neolithic henge, so we can guess the Moor has been inhabited since stone age times.

The moor is recorded in the Domesday Book (1087) and there is evidence that Sheep have grazed on the moor for more than 3,000 years. The area was center of the wool trade in the Middle Ages.

On my visit I saw Exmoor ponies (a distinct breed of pony) standing in groups by thorn trees. These are probably the oldest remaining wild horses in Europe.

Sightings of the famous “beast of Exmoor” which I will cover later in the show first started to be reported in the 1970s, though after 1983 and the loss of several scores of sheep (possibly a hundred) the government took action and sent-in the Royal Marines to hunt the elusive creature down.

Puck

Puck – an illustration from the title page of Robin Goodfellow: His Mad Pranks and Merry Jests
1629

Pixies are associated with Exmoor. (Piskies are normally associated with Cornwall).Pixies are said to congregate on high moor and perhaps inhabit stone circles, barrows, dolmens and ringforts. They might also live underground in the spectacular caves seen in the area.

Pixie mythology is believed to pre-date the Roman invasion of Britain. In the early-Christian era the Pixies were said to be the souls of children who had died un-baptised. Later, in the 19th century, some historians suggested the name pixie was a racial remnant of the Pictic tribes who used to painted their skin blue. This theory has since been largely debunked.

Several Exmoor place-names are associated with Pixies and Pixie Day takes place annually in the East Devon town of Ottery St. Mary in June. The day commemorates the legend of the pixies being banished from the town (where they caused a nuisance) to local caves known as the “Pixie’s Parlour”

Zoologist Charles Spence Bate (an associate of Charles Darwin) stated his belief that: Pixies were evidently a smaller race, and, from the greater obscurity of the … tales about them, I believe them to have been an earlier race. (1873)

the English historical novelist Anna Eliza Bray who studied Pixies (1854 ) suggested that pixies and fairies were two distinct species of folkloric mythical creature.

J.M. Barrie’s Tinkerbell sprinkles “pixie dust” was she a pixie? And the nature-fairy Robin Goodfellow also known as Puck is said to be a friendly pixie.

withypool

Old Withypool Buttercross

Locus in Quo: Withypool

The word Withy means “willow” and WITHYPOOL is the “capital” of EXMOOR. Although it is a small village located on the River Barle with a population of no more than 200.

The area has been inhabited since the Bronze Age and a Stone Circle can be seen on Withypool Hill.

In the 14th century, Geoffrey Chaucer was in charge of the village in his duties as forester of North Petherton.

R. D. Blackmore reputedly wrote part of of his new romantic novel Lorna Doone : A Romance of Exmoor (1869) in the bar of the Royal Oak Inn at Withypool. The author was raised in Exmoor, although he was born near to where I live, along the River Thames (in Berkshire) and lived most of his long life about five miles from here around the twons of Twickenham and Teddington. Nevertheless, Blackmore is considered to be an Exmoor artist and there’s even an area of Exmoor (Valley of the Rocks) near Lynton and Lynmouth that’s known to tourists as “Doone valley.”

In the 1930s the Royal Oak Inn was owned and operated by a retired a spy-ring leader named Maxwell Knight. He was a man known to the James Bond author Ian Fleming. It’s thought that Fleming based his “M” character on the publican — M is the Head of the Secret Intelligence Service in the James Bond novels.

Myth & Magic News – True Fiction

TRUE FICTION is a new series devoted to exploring just that. Each week we’ll take you beyond what you’ve seen on screens to explore what inspired the fiction we love. Hosted by actor Kurt Indovina, each episode investigates the origins of pop culture’s most compelling stories. Kurt speaks to experts to find the truths within the tales and to analyze how and why the stories have been imprinted on us and our culture.

But the TV show isn’t just about monsters and made-up universes. Even pop culture’s more grounded touchstones have fascinating histories, like the very real murder that served as the foundation for Twin Peaks, for example, or the tumultuous history that makes Jackie Chan punish himself for our entertainment.

You can see the True Fiction show on the GameSpot Universe YouTube channel. This is a YouTube portal that offers gamers recaps, features and episode breakdowns of their favorite TV shows and specializes in giving viewers some fun fan theories from successful shows.

The TRUE FICTION show begins this September 22 and the producers say new episodes will be released each Sunday.

The link for the TRUE FICTION show is here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRgUg0jJUgGMadGPzzmu8cw

The Crystal Ball

The Crystal Ball by John William Waterhouse – 1902

Magic Word of the Week – Scry

SCRYING

Scrying is “seeing” or “peeping” into the unknown i.e. the future using a device, generally a Crystal Ball. In this respect scrying differs from:

* Clairvoyance – because this is seeing the future in visions, like Fiver does in Watership Down
* Augury– because this is predicting the future by watching natural signs, often birds in flight, like Romulus and Remus did before they founded Rome
* Divination – because this is prophesy using ritual i.e. tarot cards or bones. In my recent novel Moondog and the Reed Leopard, Moondog’s gypsy mother-in-law uses tea leaves to foretell her daughter’s fortune

Reflective, translucent, or luminescent surfaces are used in Scrying. Crystals, stones and glass are the favorites. Who hasn’t looked into a piece of colored glass and fancied they might have seen something unworldly?

A magic mirror is an often used as a plot device. The idea became popular in the Snow White fairy-tale, when a mirror on the wall was used by the jealous queen. The Wicked Witch of the West also uses a crystal ball in The Wizard of Oz movie.

Obsidian “candles” or Black Candles are used for scrying in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series and the sisters scryed with crystal in the popular TV series Charmed.

Joseph (he of the Technicolour Dreamcoat fame) might have used a polished silver chalice for scrying, according to the Bible… A steward claimed a highly polished chalice was used for divination when it was planted in Benjamin’s sack. See Genesis.

Skeptics suggest that scrying is often the result of delusion or wishful thinking… therefore it can be useful plot device for a fantasy fiction author who might want to mislead readers into thinking of an alternative ending or want to suggest that a character is feeble-minded or open to wishful thinking. Think about using a crystal ball in your next plot…

One final thought on scrying: It might be considered an archaic and faintly ridiculous pastime, to gaze into a shiny mirrored surface and attempt to see if the future has anything to offer us or find out if someone fancies us… but according to Statista 2.71 billion people do some scrying every day. That’s about a third of the world’s population staring into a mirror to “see” the future and find out if they’re loved and who by… just a thought.

Fantasy Writers Definitions – Floating timeline

Five Go To Mystery Moor

Julian would have been thirty-three by the time the adventurers met for their final foray…

A floating timeline or sliding timescale is a device used by fiction writers in long-running serials to explain why characters age little or never at all over a period of time – despite real-world markers such as notable events or advents of technology happening around them. Many readers will be familiar with the concept through comic-book series. For example, The Punisher character meets Spider Man in a contemporary New York setting even though he is depicted as a recent Vietnam War veteran… in “real world” terms this meeting would have been circa 1962. Likewise, the Archie Comics characters are “trapped” within a 1950s retro- style Riverdale for over 70 years — never ageing beyond his time at Riverdale High even though the stories run from 1942 to 2015 (in comic book form) and beyond those years on television.

Enid Blyton’s “Famous Five” series of novels, that followed the adventures of Julian, Dick, Anne and (George) – and dog Timmy have twenty-one summer holiday adventures filled with picnics, rock-pooling, lemonade, and bicycle trips… though the five are perpetually youthful (though the oldest, Julian, eventually reaches adulthood from when readers first meet him, aged twelve.)

If Blyton hadn’t used a Floating Timeline device in her series, Julian would have been thirty-three by the time the adventurers met for one final foray, at Tinker’s field in 1963.

Castles, moors and smugglers rocks feature in many of the Famous Five stories. In “Mystery Moor” they camp with gypsies on moorland… but by 1963 (at the end of the series) the world of horse-drawn caravans, ghostly lights and smugglers dungeons had been replaced by an appalling “Real World” set of child murders (the so-called Moors Murders) a serial killing crime that appalled all of British Society. I remember that it felt as if they ( Ian Brady and Myra Hindley) had stolen-away the innocence of the post-war Britain.

JK Rowling famously disapproved of “trapping” her characters within a floating timeline. She wanted the Potter kids to experience all the pleasures and pains of growing up and developing in ‘real time.’

My Morning Glory

My Morning Glory – 18 September Staines UK

Wildflower of the Week : Morning glory

My Morning Glory is looking particularly magnificent as I do this podcast in the early morning sun on this cold yet bright autumn morning down near the River Thames, here in Staines, England. It’s the third year I’ve grown these magnificent blooms from seed. I’d prefer the blue blossoms, if I’m honest, but they don’t make any headway in the cool climate of Britain.

Plants from the Convulvus family with their funnel-shaped showy blooms include some useful ones especially the sweet potato. In the British Isles the common name for these plants is: bindweed

But the most showy members of the family are the exotic looking Morning Glories… In fact mine is Ipomoea sometimes known as picotee morning glory and these are extremely popular plants in Japan. Believed to have been introduced into the country from China or via Korea in the 8th to 9th centuries, city dwellers keenly grow new colours and they are often used as adornments along Temple roads.

Morning Glories tend to only unravel into full bloom in full and bright sun. Thus, their common name makes sesne. I’ve noticed that quite often my plant here in Britain loses all its blossoms by lunchtime.

The plants and especially the seeds are extremely toxic – though Aztec priests used the plant’s hallucinogenic properties in rituals. The seeds of morning glory can produce a similar effect to L.S.D. when taken in large doses…and give the user some lucid hallucinations.

If you grow morning glory from seed be aware that it can become an invasive species – all members of the Convulvus family tend to entwine, knot and bind other plants.

As well as belladona, jimson weed, and hemlock – Morning glory can also be used in the preparation of a Flying ointment

CALL OUTS?

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

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 Six: 20M

This week I visit Chateau Brametourte in Lautrec; to see the haunted tower that inspired the story of the trapped maiden in the tower, Rapunzel. Inside this 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.

The actual tower at Chateau Brametourte, Lautrec

Rapunzels Tower

Hi all

I’m just 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, Franc aalthough 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 wtower 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…

 

Vast Apotropaic Mark in the cobbles at Chateau de Brametourte

Vast Apotropaic Mark in the cobbles at Chateau de Brametourte

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

Marian WITCH MARKS offer ritualistic protection to a bed chamber at Chateau de Brametourte

Marian WITCH MARKS offer ritualistic protection to a bed chamber at Chateau de Brametourte

Such marks have been found at Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, and 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 marks date between 16th century to the early 19th century.

At apotropaic mark is known as a “daisy wheel” or HEXAFOIL mark (6 leaf) guards the main door to the living space. A vast HEXAFOIL guards the main entrance to the Chateau.

In grain barns, daisy wheel markings often protect door openings

According to Historic England the daisy wheel marks shouldn’t be confused with the (far older) pentangle (five pointed) stars that are thought to trap evil spirits into an endless line – these were first used as early as 3000BC

Bunyip

Bunyip

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.

A sunflower bouquet at a wedding in Chateau de Brametourte

A sunflower bouquet at a wedding in Chateau de Brametourte

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, all heads drooped to the earth, but typically the sun flowers point eastwards. Nevertheless, the 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…

The Iron Dragon's Mother

The Iron Dragon’s Mother

Michael Swanwick

Swanwick has released the third instalment 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…

Do You Want to Be Interviewed on MYTH and MAGIC — The Fantasy Fiction Writers PODCAST? CHECK THE CRITERIA HERE

Myth and Magic 3D graphic

Myth and Magic EP1 — Fantasy Writers Kitbag — Episode 1 SHOW-NOTES

Myth and Magic Episode 1 — Fantasy Writers Kitbag —
Episode 1 SHOW-NOTES

NEIL MACH

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 One : 31m:25s
Tolkein’s Black Country, Godiva, Zee, St John’s Wort, Anansi, Confabultion

VISIT TO THE BLACK COUNTRY

Black by day, red by night

I’ve just returned from a trip to the West Midlands where I stopped in the “The Black Country.” I went up there to visit the Black Sabbath exhibition in Britain’s “second city” Birmingham. Some of you might know that Ozzy and Black Sabbath come from the Wolverhampton and Birmingham area but that’s a whole other story.

During the Industrial Revolution, this area became one of the most industrialized parts of Great Britain with coal mines, coking works, iron foundries, glass factories, brick works and steel mills.

Metalworking and coal-mining had been going on since medieval times but became highly developed during the mid-18th century.

The “Capital of the Black Country” Wolverhampton, and Bilston (where I stayed during my visit) and also Wednesfield (pronounced Wencefield) are all mentioned in Anglo-Saxon charters and chronicles. The Saxons migrated to the British Isles during the 5th century and brought their customs with them, especially their notion of kinship*. They were converted to Christianity in about: 590–660

The name Wednesfield derives from the old English: Wōdnesfeld that means Woden’s Field.

He’s normally portrayed as a long-bearded old man wearing a cloak and a broad hat. The old Irish believed he was a “seer and a prophet…” He’s Mr. Wednesday (played by Ian McShane ) in the TV adaption of Neil Gaiman’sAmerican Gods.” [Anansi the “spider” is also mentioned in the same novel!]

Woden in his guise as a wanderer Georg von Rosen

Woden in his guise as a wanderer – by Georg von Rosen

Wōden is an old Norse God associated with wisdom, healing, sorcery and knowledge

The reason you might find this interesting is because several characters from J. R. R. Tolkien’s fiction were inspired by this figure The appearance of the wizard Gandalf was particularly inspired his “wanderer” guise.

TOLKIEN lived in Kings Heath ( a suburb of Birmingham) with his grandparents in 1895 and later moved to the quiet hamlet of Sarehole on the outskirts of the Black Country, where he lived as a child in the 1890s. The area probably influenced his description of THE SHIRE.

It is claimed that Tolkein’s Mordor is influenced by his knowledge of the Black Country (in the Elvish Sindarin language, Mor-Dor means Dark (or Blackened) Land…) i.e. Black Country!

His character named Bilbo Baggins might have been based on an observation of the Mayor of the Bilston ( the town where I stayed during my visit last week.) Intriguingly, the Mayor that Tolkein knew was named: Ben Bilboe

To read more about Tolkein’s Birmingham here: https://www.birmingham.gov.uk/tolkien

* It’s a coincidence that Tolkein’s ancestors were probably of Saxon origin: hence the name derives from Tolk’s Kin although he was born in what is now South Africa.

 

BANBURY / COVENTRY

Banbury Cross

What’s the Difference between the Fine Lady of Banbury and Lady Godiva?

On my trip to the Black Country by National Express coaches, we stopped off to pick up customers at Banbury and, later, Coventry. And it got me wondering what the differences are/were between these two horseback ladies…

Banbury had many crosses (the High Cross, the Bread Cross and the White Cross), but these were destroyed by Puritans in 1600. Banbury remained without a cross for more than 250 years until the current Banbury Cross was erected in 1859 [shown above photo credit: Jongleur100]

It’s thought the nursery rhyme (Roud Folk Song Index 21143 )
attached to the town is a folk-memory of this “period without crosses.”

Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross,
To see a fine lady upon a white horse;
Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
And she shall have music wherever she goes

A cock horse might mean a high-spirited horse, or riding the horse that’s pulling the cart, or, as told to my by my riding instructor, it just means riding side-saddle.

The fine lady can been associated with Queen Elizabeth I, Lady Godiva (who I will turn to in a moment) or a 17th century socialite named Celia Fiennes who traveled England riding sidesaddle on horseback between 1684 and about 1703 in a period when lone female travelling, especially on horseback, was unheard of. Her travel notes became an (unpublished) memoir.

Fiennes saw many of the finest baroque English country houses while they were still being constructed and before the idea of “stately homes” was a thing.

Lady Godiva was the Countess of Mercia in the eleventh century. According to a legend she rode her horse naked  through the streets of Coventry to gain a remission of the oppressive taxation that her husband imposed on his tenants.

According to legend, just one person in the town viewed her naked ride, a tailor known as Peeping Tom.

The nakedness might be an allusion to Godiva’s penitential journey. The custom of the time was for penitents to make a public procession in a shift, (a sleeveless white garment similar to a slip) a very wispy garment considered to be “underwear”: thus, to all intents and purposes: Naked.

The dogma of the time taught that after atonement was complete any previous sin was no longer present on the sinner’s soul so they could continue life “in grace.”

Those familiar with the “Game of Thrones” (season five) will know that Cersei Lannister was forced to walk naked through the streets of King’s Landing as atonement. This part of the tale was perhaps influenced by the Lady Godiva story.

There are several artistic interpretations of Godiva, my favorite (though it’s a bit chocolate boxy) is John Collier’s Lady Godiva [shown below] now held in the Herbert art gallery, Coventry.

Lady Godiva by John Collier - Herbert art gallery, Coventry

Lady Godiva by John Collier – Herbert art gallery, Coventry

 

TADE THOMPSON

Tade Thompson

Tade Thompson

Last week TADE THOMPSON, a British-born Yoruba writer, became only the second writer of black African heritage to win the Arthur C Clarke award for science fiction.

Three out of this year’s six shortlisted titles were by writers of color, a reflection of the fact that some of today’s most exciting SF and fantasy writing comes from non-white authors

Tade Thompson’s Rosewater Part One of his Wormwood Trilogy set in a future Nigeria after alien “meteors” ave wiped out the USA and UK.

The book also won the Nommo Award from the African Speculative Fiction Society

http://www.africansfs.com/nommos

And, incidentally, a NOMMO is an ancestral spirit important to the Dogon people of Mali

NOMMO is a Dogon word meaning “to make one drink.”
Nommos are described as amphibious, hermaphroditic, fish-like creatures (hence the odd logo of the Nommo awards, see below)

African Speculative Fiction Society

African Speculative Fiction Society

Nommo was the first living creature created by the sky god AMMA At that stage I picture it to be something like a Mudskipper, but according to legend Nommo underwent a transformation and multiplied into four pairs of twins. One of the twins rebelled against the universal order which meant that AMMA had to sacrifice the “other” twin to restore balance and order. This “innocent” twin was dismembered and scattered through the universe.

The main character is Kaaro, he’s a “sensitive” that works for a government agency. Sensitives are able to enter the “xenosphere”, which is a mysterious alternate space where sensitives can meet each other, manipulate their appearance, and interact with one another. The world-building is excellent, with many ideas being “drip fed” into the mind of the reader.

MIDSOMMAR

Midsommar has also been in the news. With cinema goers asking how “real” the rituals are…

The 2019 folk horror film written and directed by Ari Aster is about solstice ritual. Set in a place called Hälsingland in central Sweden (but filmed in Hungary) Hälsingland was first described by the English poet Widsith in 1072 in his The Traveler’s Song (found in the Exeter Book.)

It’s likely that the summer solstice has been celebrated since the Stone Age

Mostly, in the British Isles, the midsummer observances have centered around “staying up all night” and keeping a bonfire alive on the Eve of St. John the Baptist and/or St. Peter’s Day to celebrate and rejoice in the “light of the world.”

A 13th-century monk (in Winchcomb, Gloucestershire) suggested that youths collected bones to burn. The bonfires, or Saint John’s Fires, explained the monk, were to drive away dragons, which were abroad on St. John’s Eve, poisoning springs and wells.

The parish church at Barnwell in the Nene Valley, said that parish youth would gather on the day to sing songs and play games served to repel witches and evil spirits. Midsummer was also a popular day for infant baptisms in the 19th century

The Cornish “Golowan Festival” possibly harkens back to Druid superstition and includes a dangerous “serpent dance.”

Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was probably influenced by the middle-German “wild man” tale of Der Busant. (The buzzard)

In Sweden Midsummer’s Eve is a de facto public holiday in Sweden with offices and many shops closed. Like in Norway and Finland, it is believed that if a girl picks seven different flowers in silence on midsummer night and puts them under her pillow, she will dream of her future husband.

Solstice is derived from the Latin words sol (Sun) and sistere (to stand still)

At summer solstice at Stonehenge an observer standing within the stone circle, looking northeast through the entrance, would see the Sun rise in the approximate direction of the heel stone

Let me know if you have any interesting midsummer rituals or observances in your area or you can confirm or deny any of the information I have presented here.

 

ZEE

All creation is part of a great energy, everything is worthy of respect, and all matter is connected through an unseen energy, think of it as the lifeblood of the universe. Some may know it as Godhead (the substance of God rather than the actual figure) and it’s an energy we can all tune into and use it through prayer and meditation.

This life force is known as: prana, chi, energy, earth energy, or the ether…

Perhaps, just as the blood in our bodies permeates every body of the flesh, but connects via the veins, this life force energy is concentrated in the ley lines, or the paths of the feng shui dragon.

According to Patrinella Cooper in her Romany book of charms, herbs and fortune-telling, the first step on the path to performing any magic is to recognize and harness to power of Zee.

These energy currents are known by most cultures across the world by various names but the Romani word for this life-force is: mi douvals zee … or just ZEE

 

CONFABULATION

CONFABULATION is a memory error defined as the production of fabricated, distorted, or misinterpreted memories about oneself or the world, without the conscious intention to deceive

CONFABULISTS are very confident about their recollections, despite evidence to the contrary

NOTE: It’s not LYING because there’s no intent to deceive and the person is unaware that their information is false

Most cases of confabulation are due to brain damage, dementias or toxidrome caused by hallucinogenic drugs

There is a good theory that says CONFABULATION is useful for memory-disabled people to maintain their self-identity

If there are two memory processes: (verbatim and gist) and GIST processes representations of an event’s semantic features rather than its surface details (the details being the verbatim processes)

Most people process and store verbatim and gist information (memories) in parallel with equal credence given to both. But it’s feasible that some RECOLLECTORS or WITNESSES are stronger in Gist than they are, perhaps, with verbatim. And vice versa. We have this in my house. I tend to recollect the flavour and mood of an event while my wife remembers the miniscule details. And it is irritating (to me) that she doesn’t remember the spirit or feeling of a HAPPENING but I’m sure it’s equally v (to her) that I don’t remember times and places and, more especially, peoples names.

Studies show that verbatim memory declines between early and late adulthood, while gist memory remains fairly stable into old age.

Psychological researchers have noted that Schizophrenic patients tend to make up delusions on the spot which often become fantastic and perhaps increasingly elaborate with questioning

 

ANANSI

Anansi

Anansi in my hallway

Last Sunday a house-spider spun a web across my hallway (a much used passageway) between the time my wife went through the hall to get out of the front door and I had finished my morning coffee. I guess it took 20–30 minutes to build and I have a picture of the web and spider which I shared on Instagram [above]

This creature has prompted me to think about ANANSI.

ANANSI takes the shape of a spider and is considered to be the spirit of all knowledge in stories. So he’s an important “medium” for people like us… for storytellers.

He takes the role of trickster, he is also one of the most important characters of West African, African American and Caribbean folklore… although I first came across him when researching the Leni Lenape or Delaware people, the indigenous people of the Northeastern Woodlands, who live in Canada and the North Eastern United States. Incidentally, Lenni Lenapi literally translates as: ”The Original Men/Man”

Anansi stories were part of an exclusively oral tradition, and Anansi himself was seen as synonymous with skill and wisdom in speech * … could he spin a story in just 30 minutes?

Anansi is often celebrated as a symbol of slave resistance and survival, because Anansi is able to turn the tables on his powerful oppressors by using cunning and trickery…

As the creation narrative goes: there were no stories in the world. The Sky-Father, Nyame held them all in a giant box. Anansi liked the world, but without stories he thought it was boring, so he went to Nyame and asked if he could buy them. All the stories. The Sky-Father set a high price, so high he thought the stories were safe. But, in a series of adventures, Anansi won them all.

You might think that Anansi shares similarities with the trickster figure of Br’er Rabbit, through the stories shared by Joel Chandler Harris and his Uncle Remus narratives.

When I was a child, at school, we were made to read Br’er Rabbit stories. At the time the teachers and establishment didn’t think they might be racist or patronizing… and although Joel Chandler Harris’s stories tend to convey demeaning stereotypes, his aim (I think) was to accurately recount the tales he heard from slaves when he worked (himself) on the plantations as a young man. In that respect, he might be forgiven perhaps, for preserving an oral folklore that might have been lost. One such tale is the story of the tar-baby:

A tar-baby is a doll made of tar and turpentine and it’s used by the villainous Br’er Fox to entrap Br’er Rabbit. In the West African version, though, it’s Anansi who creates a wooden doll and covers it with gum, then puts a plate of yams in its lap… in order to capture the elf known as Mmoatia. The elf takes the bait, eats a yam, a strikes out at the tear-baby to get a response, and that’s when it gets stuck fast. It makes more sense that a sticky trap is set by a trickster spider than by a Fox, doesn’t it?

I’m aware that some will consider the tar-baby a metaphor or “racial slur” which is why I prefer the Anansi story and did not chat about this on the show.

* Another coincidence : As a child, JRR Tolkien was bitten by a spider. Was this Anansi giving him the skills to spin a story?

 

ST JOHN’S WORT

My St Johns Wort

My St Johns Wort

Many of you will know that I am an enthusiastic gardener here by the River Thames in Surrey. This week I purchased and planted two rare Hypericums. ST JOHN’S WORT. I already have one large bush and it’s so reliable and so golden-yellow that I decided to get two more.

This isn’t a gardening show so I won’t bother you with the special strains of ST JOHNS WORT I planted (but if you’re really interested, tweet or email me and I can let you know what I planted) but this is a myth and magic show and so I wanted to tell you about ST JOHN’S WORT and why it is famously associated with repelling ghosts and evil spirits.

You’ll see the yellowish shrubs with their bright-yellow rose-like flowers in concrete tubs and traffic islands all over the UK. They are so often used in modern landscaping because they are hardy and put up with all kinds of pollution and mishandling. But they are also considered, by some farmers and gardeners, as invasive pest weeds and its true than can poison cattle and livestock. Oddly, some of the plant’s leaves contain what look spots are around the veins (these spots are actually glands) and a proportion of these contain a red secretion that can stain hands and clothes. The flowers are at their best and brightest around Saints John and Paul’s Day that’s 26th June. This is not St. John the apostle by the way. Legend has it that those two saints were beheaded and the plant-leaves contain John’s blood. Although St John (the Baptist) has his feast day on June 24th and because this marks Midsummer and St Johns Wort was commonly harvested at that time, I suspect the two JOHNS are interchangeable. The herb was hung over pictures or icons of saints in houses at Midsummer… thus, the Latin name “Hyper” means OVER and eikon means picture.

Common Saint John’s wort has long been used in folk medicine to treat depression. The red oily extract was used by the Knights Hospitaller, the Order of St John, after battles, and probably has antibiotic properties.

The herb was once enthusiastically grown in Black Country gardens to ward off evil. The folk belief was that these plants “work” like a lucky horseshoe or making a cross on a loaf of bread, they just do it without bother. Even if you don’t believe in their magical properties, what’s to lose? You may as well plant one, enjoy the buttercup flowers, and sleep peacefully.

Sound Clip Credits:

Tribal Drum: peridactyloptrix
Bee and Birdsong: stujun
Succes Fanfare Trumpets: FunWithSound for Fantasy Writers News
Sleighbells: jsm1963
Ensemble of bells: vision_m
Horse clip-clopping: swiftoid
Magic Wand: __olver__

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