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

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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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