It feels appropriate at this time of year, in my dark Mordorish little corner of the earth, to talk for a while about things other than the joyous and the beautiful. There is much here in life that is ugly and that stings, that hurts the flesh and the soul and when our Northern winter comes, bringing with it long stretches of cold damp weather, illness and isolation, many of us are forced to sit in company with these grim beasts for weeks or months on end. That’s not to say that winter cannot be a blessing, and to many it is, but today I’m going to talk about the issues for those for whom it definitely isn’t.
How we deal with pain depends on many factors – the nature of what pains us, whether it is curable or not, whether rest helps or is detrimental, whether medication or analgesics are available or useful, whether we have free will to choose our own path through pain or whether it is thrust upon us by well-meaning Others…
Pain is usually a signal that something is wrong somewhere and no form of cure can be complete unless it recognises first the cause of the pain it is trying to eliminate.
I live with RA. For me pain is usually a sign I have done too much and need to slow down, in those cases taking analgesics and pushing through only makes things worse. Occasionally, it can be a sign that I have been too inactive and need to do more, in that case painkillers can help.
The stories we tell ourselves and eachother about pain are important because they shape our expectations of ourselves and others. If we only listen to tales like that of Elija under the broom tree, we will labour under the assumption that all and any pain is an indication that we need to rest, indulge in self care and remain passive until the pain is passed. On the other hand if we only listen to stories of tenacity like that of Demeter, for example, we are likely to carry the idea that all pain is something that can be pushed through and overcome by sheer force of will.
Both these extremes are, in my opinion, dangerous. Personally, I prefer stories where the cause of physical or emotional pain is brought to light and examined, where possibilities are left open, where many paths forward and back are visible and viable.
Mythpunk, with its postmodernist roots, can speak into this space effectively, can question and ridicule the notion one a ‘one size fits all’ philosophy for dealing with pain; the pain that cries ‘stop! enough!’, the pain that is the sweet release of hidden things, the pain that says ‘move, now, come on, get going,’ the pain that harms, the pain that heals, that births or ends, the pain that needs to be put in its place and told ‘pipe down, this is being dealt with, hush now and let us get on with it’… and all the other types of pain, they each deserve their recognition and their voice.
Here’s an extract from two of my own mythpunk pieces that deal with the subject of pain, both mental and physical, the first is from The Painter’s Daughter, which is currently published in Invisible The Mystery Of Hidden Illness and the other is from Ado which you can find in my own mythpunk collection, Mahrime: Mythpunk for monsters.
The Painter’s Daughter
The little demon jabbed the quill spike hard into the soft, pale flesh of her arm.
Out leapt a tiny spurt of paint.
Then slowly, and with the girl in thrall,
He dragged the rainbow colours out
In swirls and spirals, tree cassyn pathways to guide the flow of all that weary weight into traces of beauty and scope.
Here was a dream in flesh.
Here was pointillized pain.
Here was inside out for all to see and staining no one but herself; surely, no words would be needed now . The world would smile and nod its head at her, as they knocked shoulders in the street, and whisper
‘ah, so, that is how it is with her, mm, we understand now why she walks so slow and dares not speak. How could a child do otherwise, with so much colour inside?’
So she stepped out.
With the bird quill tucked behind one ear…
Ado : When all is lost
“But look, ” she said, “we are still here.”
“No we aren’t” I said “There is something left that was not destroyed, but it isn’t us.”
“Look,” she said.
I kept my eyes on the sunrise.
For brief seconds there was beauty. The smoke seemed to bleed through the light like the flourish of a dancing hand – a love letter on pink paper.
For the space of a breath, the thousand fragments cart wheeling on the breeze were pale moths journeying to find the moon.
Up and Up.
Catch them, they crumble. They are only the little grey ghosts of all the things we loved. Echoes that stain our fingers and nothing more.
“Don’t tell me this is love,” I said. “Don’t tell me this is the plan.”
Thanks so much for joining me again for another #MythpunkMonday, do feel free to jump aboard and share your own / others work or thoughts using the #MythpunkMonday hashtag or in the comments below. Big blessings to all who struggle, at this time of year or any, it is tough but together we can support eachother and make space for our voices to be heard.
Happy #MythpunkMonday! Last month we talked about the power of Mythpunk, this week I’m going to ask how we wield that power responsibly – or if we even need to? I’m going to look at one particular Mythpunk song by my favourite singer/songwriter, talk about my own journey in Mythpunkery and give you a little snippet of one of my own Mythpunk stories.
So, last week we looked at the power of myth and the importance of Mythpunk as a subversive form that can challenge mainstream culture and instigate social change.
That makes Mythpunk powerful too and – as all us true geeks know – ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ (cheesy but true, guys, cheesey but true!)
So what responsibility do Mythpunk creators have and to who?
It’s not an easy question and the answer is likely to be a very personal one for all of us – different for each punk who puts pen to parchment. But I think it’s vital for us all to consider and to create ongoing discourse around this point.
From my own point of view, I came to Mythpunk (although I wasn’t aware of the phrase at the time) feeling as though I wanted to bite back at the restrictive, prejudiced, tired and boring old tales I had grown up hearing. I was carrying fire in my blood and in my head and it flowed out through my pen in rage against the morals and values inherent in those tales, all of which seemed to say that ‘people like me’ were not acceptable, could not be heroes, needed either rescuing or destroying and would certainly get our comeuppance one day … etc etc.
So I wrote to bite back, I wrote to destroy and obliterate and to replace all that ancient, old hat, prejudiced nonsense (as I saw it) with my own values, morals and world-view.
As I got older, I learned a revelation that made me stop and think. It didn’t make me regret what I’d written before, but it did make me proceed from that point onwards in a different way… I learnt the history of my people – a history which my family had been forced to hide from us because of deep rooted and continued prejudice against our people, a history which, I now realise, had been partly encrypted in story and song and passed down through generations in the hope that one day we would understand… and here I was taking a scythe to it all in anger.
Worse still, I soon found – as I now hungrily hunted for more stories, myths, tales, legends and songs which would tell me more about our culture and history – I came up blank ; most of it has been lost and what remains has been twisted and manipulated (not ‘punked’ which is something quite different) out of all recognition by other cultures in order to maintain the myth of the ‘Gypsy Creature’ by people who are not even Romany.
I felt hurt and lost and angry and guilty and very many other things as well and eventually those feelings lead me to write Mulengi Sinija (a tale of cultural appropriation and white-washing which shows how a less powerful culture can be forced to hide themselves while the dominant culture wears their clothing and beliefs like an exotic mask, until eventually the grandchildren of the less dominant culture have forgotten who they are. ) and also The Road Back Lost, which I’m going to share an exert of today.
So after that point I decided that although there really were parts of my culture that needed to evolve, so much had been lost that I wanted my Mythpunk to focus on preserving the good, the beautiful, wise and historic aspects to make tales worthy of passing on to my own children.
I’m still on uncomfortable ground here – there are definitely dark moments when I ask ‘do I have the right to do this?’ and I can only comfortably answer ‘yes’ because it is my own culture and belief, my own experience, the voice of my own blood that is singing through me. I am not certain I could always give a resounding ‘yes’ if that were not the case.
I think that, for me, the subject boils down to questions of Power,Voice and Ownership – does the mythology I’m punking from exist in enough written forms that its power and voice resound through history and are unlikely to be altered / obliterated forever by my work here and now? – does the culture which this mythology hales from have enough power and voice on the world stage to protest against my meddling with it, should it choose to do so? – and lastly, is the culture my own?
But this is just my story, my journey, my own evolving view on things, – I’d be really interested to hear what you think on the subject! Should Mythpunk be a free-for-all? Is it OK to punk from other cultures? Should we not punk at all? Or is there a middle road and if so, how do we stay on it?
It’s a Mythpunk’d version of the child ballad The Raggle Taggle Gypsies / The Gypsy Laddie / Black Jack Davy, a ballad I grew up with, which tells the tale of Lady Cassillis and her lover the Romanichal folk hero and Rom Baro Johnnie Faa.
In that folk tale, the Earl of Cassillis marries his young wife against her will, but her lover, Johnnie Faa, or Black Jack Davy, rescues her and they run away together. The Earl eventually catches them, hangs Faa and his brothers and imprisons his wife for the rest of her days. There isn’t any truth in the tale as far as Faa and Cassillis are concerned, and of course there are aspects of it which seem wonderful and other aspects which seem dreadful.
Here’s the song and above it I’ve included Heather’s introduction/ explanation of it as well – I’ve chosen it because, as with the original, there’s a lot about it that I love from a fun and feminist perspective and also a lot that feels uncomfortable … see what you think?
And finally here’s the excerpt I promised from The Road Back Lost, if you like it and want to read the whole things you can find it on Vocal… https://poets.media/the-road-back-lost
THE ROAD BACK LOST
Do you know what it is like to gut a wolf, child? Do you think you have the stomach for the knife? If you are a daughter of the wood, you ought at least to have that. But perhaps the tool they have given you is not up to the task? Faced with the breath, the lure of iron scent, the clinging claret clots that call to your own quickened pulse, the sharp, sharp teeth a grotesquery of your
Perhaps you would rather flee?
Or perhaps that dilation of your dark and precious orbs betrays your lust to leave this wood and simply be devoured, melting on a hot tongue, melting in a hot belly, melting like a shadow into night? How many times have you tried to lose yourself that way? How many times have you wandered from the path, waiting for your wolf?
Here she is, child, here she sits; white throat waiting to welcome you home.’
Thanks for joining me for another #MythpunkMonday and please feel free to join in a share your own / others Mythpunk either in the comments or using the hashtag – let’s fill every Monday with marvellous Mythpunk madness 😀
If you haven’t seen the incredible mythpunk indie film Ember Days, I recommend you do so. It’s epic testimony to what can be done when a group of folk take their passion and run with it. Today I’m sharing the post in which writer / director Sean-Michael Argo shares his thoughts on how the film came to be, the challenges of an indie production and the inspiration behind the mythpunk…
Have you got a favourite mythpunk film or series? I think mine right now would have to be Netflix Once Upon A Time – which may even have to be called fairypunk, although there’s plenty of myth in there too. I just love the way it questions universal notions of good, evil, truth, lies, honour, hero…. oh all right, you got me, I just love the episode where they all burst into disney musical song! (cringes and runs to hide under the table in shame! XD)
Hope your Monday is mythlicious and punktastic and if you’d like to join in with #MythpunkMonday, feel free to share your own / others mythpunk marvels using the hashtag or in the comments here 🙂
Happy #MythpunkMonday! And happy Halloween / Samhain / Candyfest, whatever you happen to be celebrating at this time! In my house we use this time to remember our dead, to explore liminality and, of course, to stuff ourselves silly with sweet treats! We’re lucky enough now to live in a community where the whole neighbourhood hypes-up for trick or treating and everyone decorates their houses and gardens and opens their doors to the little goblins and witches who drop by to wish each family the best of the season – it’s like carol singing with a ghoulish twist!
So here is a little snippet from Mahrime, the title piece of my mythpunk collection ‘Mahrime – mythpunk for monsters’ . In this part a city girl makes a pact to save a nearby forest, each night she lets a scarlet cord down from her window for the monsters who live within it to climb up and they reward her in an unusual way…
You would think I cracked the treasure case open and sucked out the gold, but I was afraid, afraid of stains and questions, afraid my mother would find out about these secret midnight monster feasts. So instead I opened my mouth up wide and carefully, carefully swallowed each egg down whole.
Whole, the eggs of Del came into my warm belly and my flesh cradled them like a bowl of olive wood, my womb knit around them like latticed ligaments of vine; safe, warm, nourished… it should have been no surprise when they hatched out, the fledglings scraping my tissue raw as the forced their blind passage up through my vocal tubes and tore out of my horror-stricken mouth to flop, drenched and heaving onto the breakfast table.
In front of my mother, these fledgling crow-gods scrambled from my mouth and I could not hold them back. But mothers are used to these things. She narrowed her eyes at me, did I not think she had been young once? Did I not think she too had longed for trees and monsters and given birth to sky-gods in her time? And had not my grandmother done as she would now, stuff her daughter’s mouth with wormwood and gilead, with nightshade and mandrake and bind it shut tight with ribbons torn from her own scarlet dikhlo?
All this she did and then she cut the red cord.
I slept, falling in my dreams through the barbed gullet of a beast that was a city that was my mother that was seven little queens with seven little axes all hacking, hacking at my scarlet life line, all trying to sever me from my beloved monsters. But I laughed as I spun through their loathly innards because even in sleep I felt them; my little ravens, my little gods, pecking away at their human-girl prison, gorging and scraping at all the cumbersome weight that held us all pressed into this room, this house, this city on a hill.
Peck. Peck. Peck.
I felt the breeze stir through me, the flutter of their strong, soft wings striving through my rib cage, the thrust of bills chiselling against my teeth and I woke to find myself cleaned of all my superfluous flesh, gleaming in my bones, seeing with a thousand yellow crow eyes. Still they scrabbled and flapped and pushed the boundaries of all that I still was until they carried me up, up the chimney and out into the sky above.
If you enjoyed this snippet you can read the whole story here on Vocal…
And if you’d like to buy me a brew to help fuel my next outpouring of mischievous mythpunkery you can find me on Ko-Fi
Thanks for joining me for another #MythpunkMonday and do feel free to join in and share your own / others mythpunk creations either using the hashtag or in the comments here!
Happy MythpunkMonday! A while back in September, we looked at the mythology and folklore of trees and I shared an extract of some of my tree-based mythpunk Opre! I promised then that I would spend another post looking at working trees into our Mythpunk, so here we go…
As comfortably as trees sit within the heart of many world Mythologies, they don’t lend their image so readily to the realm of punk, at least not at first glance.
We tend to associate trees with the countryside, with high fantasy or historical settings, they might be used in writing to create the feel of tranquillity or terror but we seldom see trees being used to create a gritty urban backdrop for a dystopian situation, or being the catalyst for a postmodernist plot. Fictional trees that speak, tend to speak like old men and women, or very occasionally naive young girls. I would like very much to see a Mohawk sporting, forty-something, jaded Willow Tree hurling cans at litter louts in a psuedo-park in central New London…
That’s an extreme and slightly comical example of course, but I think it’s a good hammer with which to smash our preconceptions about trees in mythic fiction. Trees are, to my mind, too often portrayed as benign life givers, old fonts of wisdom and healing, sources of magic, resources to be used and abused. But they have other faces too ; they can poison, choke, harm, barb, wound, unbalance, tear down and destroy … I mentioned Tolkien’s Ents in the last post in relation to anthropomorphism, but I do very much like their verve!
Our historic abuse of trees and their land surely has enough fodder in it for gritty, feral, subversive voices to rise up from the asphalt and the concrete, the timber frames, furnace and cellulose packaging and bite back so, here is a little list of tree-mendous (had to be done) tree-punk to give us some inspiration, click on each title to follow the links and feel free to share your own ideas, examples and gawd-awful tree puns in the comments! XD
I very much like the trees described in Blades In The Dark ; Jayan Park in the Charterhall district is full of beautiful alchemical abominations in a sunless world, deadly to touch and utterly useless for supporting life, but still revered.
“The great alchemist for whom this park is named contrived to formulate soil and seeds that could produce real, growing trees, without sunlight or radiant energy. They are horrifically toxic to all living things and must not be touched but they still grow beautifully here, over 100 years later.” – Blades In The Dark P262.
In a world not so different from our own, a vigilante group of techies have shut down all the computer systems on the planet in an attempt to put an end to the war and destruction orchestrated by technology. But where there’s a will, there will always be a way and a new ‘cellulose tech’ has now been developed. But using living plant cells in communications technology leads to some disturbingly sentient systems… and then the people begin to vanish…
A POISON TREE
This poem by William Blake is, of course, not actually about a tree but I find the imagery and metaphor strongly evokes a punk sense of proactive subversion; the vengeful gardener, the poisoned fruit / the bright lure to death – in many ways the song of technology to the heart of human kind; the two fingered punk salute at the end…
Here’s a suckerpunch one for you, this one got me right in the windpipe when I saw it so I’m only going to post the link in the title and you can follow it to the picture. It’s inspiring my WIP at the moment!
This broke my heart, appalled and held me enthralled with grim fascination when I first saw it a few years back. The video gives one side of the coin, click the title link for the other…
And just as a fun note to end on – Yes they do exist!
I hope you enjoyed this #MythpunkMonday post, do feel free to join in and share your own work or that of others, using the hashtag and post your own thoughts and tree-punk wisdom in the comments 🙂
Today I’m going to point you at some more fantastic Mythpunk, this time from Theodora Goss who was born in Hungary and whose work is heavily influenced by Eastern European Mythos and is an absolute joy to read! Here are her thoughts on the Mythpunk Genre …
And you can find her fantastic collection of short stories here:
Merry #MythpunkMonday! Today I’m going to talk a bit about the power of myth and the importance of Mythpunk in relation to that, then look in depth at some Mythpunk which I think really exemplifies just what the genre is capable of.
So, yay! The second month of #MythpunkMonday is happening! If you’d like to join in and share Mythpunk related marvellousness – your own or other people’s! – then just dive on in using the #MythpunkMonday hashtag or in the comments here, or on your local street corner, or whatever floats your pea green boat! 😉
Myths have been around as long as people have – from the moment we could communicate we started telling stories as a way of understanding our world, preserving and passing on knowledge and, dare I say it, entertaining eachother.
Joseph Campbell (for all his faults) tells us that mythology, particularly when rooted in religion, provides a cultural framework for any one group of people (and Maureen Murdock provides a balancing feminist alternative to his ‘Hero With A Thousand Faces’)
If that’s the case, then folk and fairy tales are perhaps already the rebellious / punk siblings of the stories found in religious texts and preached to the masses as a means of social control ; the secret vehicle by which everyday folk can pass on and preserve their own knowledge, morals, beliefs and understanding. (certainly I like to view them that way!)
It’s easy to see how much power these types of stories can wield. They speak deeply to our souls on a personal level and a lot has been written about the link between myth and psychology by Jung and his followers old and new, but they also resonate in the collective consciousness and the morals, ideas and archetypes they convey slide easily from the lips of the storyteller or the words on the page into the minds of the masses to become accepted as ‘truth’
I’m not a huge fan of Campbell to be honest, but I do recommend reading his works / listening to his interview series if you get the chance because there is a lot to gain despite how out dated and annoying it all is on the surface. He does highlight the need for new myths to be constantly created which reflect and embed the changing understanding of individual and world wide culture – and Mythpunk really does leap out and answer that call doesn’t it?
So as well as being clever, original and entertaining, Mythpunk can be a vital tool in questioning the messages inherent in traditional myths, legends, folk and fairy tales and, like the folktales of old, can be a subversive tool by which ordinary people can voice, preserve and pass on their own values, knowledge and understanding in the face of mainstream dominant cultures.
Most of us live in an exiting technological age, where our punk stories, alternate cultural frameworks and subversive ideologies can reach beyond the small circle of the family hearth, clan campfire or village boundary and touch like-minds across the globe. In a couple of weeks I’m going to start looking at what that means from a perspective of responsibility.
But today I just wanted to focus on the power of Myths and the very subtle, subversive power that Mythpunk can wield as well. Mythpunk has a wide variety of tools at its disposal from the voice it employs – which is often snarky, smart and sassy – to the deep-rooted symbolism which it irreverently, yet sometimes surprisingly tenderly, toys with ; like a kitten with a ball of best knitting yarn.
In that vein, let’s take a look at one of my very favourite graphic novel series Hopeless Maine. This series bridges a wide ocean of genres including Gothic, Steampunk and Mythpunk but I’m just going to focus on its Mythpunk elements because, well, that’s why we’re here right?
WARNING CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE SERIES HOPELESS MAINE
Hopeless is a Gothic island just off the coast of Maine, shrouded in sentient mists and born from the imaginations of Nimue and Tom Brown.
People wash up here after the world has chewed them up and spat them out. Few come here by choice. Those who come can never leave. Those who leave can never come back… despite evidence to the contrary, this is what we are lead to believe, this is what the young folk are told, this is what the adults say…
Inside this little pocket-universe are woven together elements of myth, legend, folklore and magic in a beautiful parodic dance macabre.
Just like in the world beyond the mists, life here is hard and troubled and full of questions with no apparent or easy answers. Inhabitants are seldom who or what they seem, and this goes for the disturbingly sentient fauna and flora of the island too who, after all, were surely there before the people came…
And people do keep on ‘washing up’ on the shores of this little hidden isle – just in the same way that world-weary travellers often wash up eventually in a place where our previously held concepts, beliefs, morals, values and so-called truth and virtue and sanity all seem to slide away or stop making sense in the face of incontrovertible evidence that ‘everything is not the way we were told it was.’
The island’s ‘spiritual leader’ seems to embody this place of juxtaposition; on the one hand he is set up as an earthly ‘all-father’ ( being head of the island’s orphanage) … on the other he lacks the ability or will to actually do anything useful to help solve the enormous problems facing his ‘flock’ (other than his default go-to plan of human sacrifice… which is a little disturbing) He calls himself a Reverend… but exactly which religion he is devoted to is a little hazy and the fact that he seems to perform a lot of his devotions in secret, on an island populated by demons, is… curious to say the least. Still, he definitely doesn’t like witches… or does he? You can read more about him here.
Another person who beautifully personifies this ‘crisis’ point is Mrs Beaten, and her regular blog posts are a treat to follow as she flies into one flap after another over the behaviour, depravity and dress sense of her fellow islanders… yet she is obviously far from innocent herself and her very-near-slips every now and then betray an interesting past and a complexity of urges and issues which are all actually possibly very nearly normal if only she hadn’t suppressed them for so long. (On the other hand she could be a multiple murderess with amnesia… only time will tell, but in the meantime, she is definitely judging us all. )
Leaving aside the onion skin layers which parody, lament and poke fun at the condition of the human soul as it flounders in a sea of religious and moral rhetoric and contradiction, Hopeless, Maine is an island full of its own folk lore, magic and elusive myth.
From spoon walkers to night potatoes, there are magical creatures aplenty ; some are native only to the island, some are more readily recognisable from the outer-world and, as such, some are perhaps the monsters and internal demons the islanders have brought with them?
Not much here is edible, not much here sustains the flesh and while that is reminiscent of tales of ‘Fair Elf Land’ where the very air is all that’s needed to sustain life, on Hopeless the air seems to vampirically drain away the will to live – a sort of anti-fairyland perhaps?
There are spiritual entities on the island too. Voices are heard. Eyes appear in the mists. Certainly there are demons and certainly there are those who… associate with them… does this constitute a religion of sorts? A spiritual path through the confusing fog? Are these the Hopeless Gods and do their ways spell salvation for the community of Hopeless? Or should we all be pushing away the voices in the dark that whisper insistently what ‘needs to be done’? Is our new best friend only after our soul after all?
As a series, I have already mentioned that Hopeless poses far more questions about culture and society than it answers, as that is one of the many things I love about it. But there is an ironic thread which runs like red wool through its narrative – I say ironic because that thread is Hope.
Salamandra and Owen are not starry-eyed, lovey-dovey heroes who skip about telling everyone to Hope their way out of their problems like some sickening Disney movie… but through their tenacity, their faith in themselves, their honest endeavours to ‘keep pushing’, they personify Hope whether they mean to or are aware of it or not.
Even by the end of the first volume, I had faith that Sal and Owen would prevail – even if the island itself had to sink into the sea for them to do so – they just carry inside them that punk verve, that subversive spark that glows in the heart of the Mythpunk genre and lights the way for change to slip in through the back door and storm the building.
If you like the sound of the Hopeless Maine series you can find it here:
Photograph by Kovacs Orsi from www.freeimages.com
Happy #Mythpunk Monday!
Today I’m going to talk about trees! I find few things more inspiring than walking through a forest where the trees seem anthropomorphic. Coming from a spiritual tradition which taught me from the earliest age that all trees were living sentient beings with their own spirits and personalities, I find it interesting that people seem to be drawn more to commune with trees like oak and hawthorn who twist their trunks more readily into gnarled semblance of faces or limbs than, say, the linden, ash or birch who mostly grow straight up to the sky. Of course there are stories of slender-limbed, silver-skinned birch dryads; pretty young maidens dancing lithe and beautiful in wooded glades, but why do we only seem drawn to trees if we can view them as being in some way like ourselves? Even Tolkein’s Ents had a human-likeness about them…
The phenomenon of Pareidolia may be in some way to blame here – the inherent nature of the brain to seek familiar patterns (particularly those of faces) in dissociated stimuli ; fire, clouds, tree bark, wall paper, rock surfaces, waves … it is a natural survival mechanism developed even before we are born to help us seek out our care givers, our kin and our kind.
But even as we grow older and are able to reason beyond our instinctive drives, wondering and questioning whether a tree spirit would or could or should look anything like us in order to be taken seriously and communed with… I know I am sometimes still guilty of being drawn to those tress who do.
Having said that, the tree spirit I have had the deepest relationship ever was a beautiful, strong, generous and resilient beech tree with little to no anthropomorphic qualities whatever – so perhaps there is a lesson for me eh?!
On the other hand, perhaps it depends on your tradition. Mine, as I say, teaches that trees are beings in their own right and unrelated to humans, although communion can and should be sought with them, but perhaps other pathways view things differently? Perhaps trees twist themselves into human like faces in order to try and communicate with us? Who knows? I’d be interested to hear other thoughts on this if you have them 🙂
What we do know and can say for certain is that we have worked trees into the heart of our mythologies and spiritual traditions since we first began imagining the beginning of ourselves and our world. Without trees we wouldn’t have the planet as we know it and we seem to have been aware of this long before it was scientifically proven.
Many religions incorporate the idea of a World Tree, stretching its branches into the heavens and its roots down into the underworld, for example égig érő fa in Hungarian Mythos, the Norse Yggdrasil, Ağaç Ana in Turkish Mythology, The Slavic oaks which even today form the Zapis tree-temples, the Hindu Ashvattha and the Chinese Jianmu.
Leaving aside the great and the grand of world religions and moving in to a more local level, trees have always played an important part in folklore too. Cloutie trees (as we call them here) can be found all over Europe ; trees where folk can leave a small offering in exchange for the tree’s protection, blessing, healing or as a sign of thanks or respect.
My family made a great thing of visiting one of these shrines and leaving a rag of clothing and the story went that an old man was resting one day in his cloak when a poor child came by with none. The man took of his cloak – his last scrap of clothing – and gave it to the child. The tree saw the kindness of the man and sheltered him from the elements that night so no harm came to him. Then in thanks the man returned next year and tied a piece of his cloak to the tree and now all folk thanks the tree for it’s kindness, but anyone who robs the tree will be cursed! I remember my little sister being too scared to go into the shrine in case she touched a rag and it fell!
Another tradition is to hammer pennies into the trunks of trees in exchange for wishes. This tradition has always rather angered and confused me as it must harm the tree, but a few years back, while visiting a fairy tree near Scar Fell, I was happy to learn the roots of one such tradition – it started some time around the 17th century during times of great famine when there wasn’t enough work and many poor people were going hungry. Rich people in the area were encouraged to hammer coins into felled tree logs and wish for better times to come, then after dark (to spare their pride) the poor were encouraged to come and take the coins. The rich either believed or (more likely) played along with the notion that the fairies and taken their offering and were granting their wish and so things began to slowly improve. Of course it wasn’t a solution to the problem but it is still a nice story about communities working together to help one another.
If you’re interested in some really excellent research on the subject, look out Ceri Houlbrook’s ‘Coining The Coin Tree’ here: https://www.research.manchester.ac.uk/portal/files/54558281/FULL_TEXT.PDF
We’ve talked a lot of myth today, soon I’m going to have a good look at how we incorporate tree Mythos into Mythpunk, because at first glance it’s not an easy fit. But for now, I’ll leave you with a little extract from my own tree-punk endeavours…
This extract is from Opre! which means Arise! It was written for Romani Family History Month and the Opre Roma! movement and it draws parody between the Romani people, (caught and enslaved both literally throughout history as in our enslavement in Eastern Europe and almost complete annihilation during Baro Porajmos (in some cases still today such as Italy ) and metaphorically today where many of us are still unable to live full lives with basic human rights simply because of who we are) and the trees which our ancestors, and still many of us today, revere in a spiritual way (caught and butchered and poisoned and ‘put to use’ by humanity)
But there is a hopeful beauty here too – the roots which push up the paving stones, the seeds which find root in the cracks between tarmac, the branches and leaves which coil over boundaries and fences… so our people have not been destroyed because we shoulder what the world throws at us and we carry on, we find a way to survive, and one day I believe we will arise, not to conquer or steal or enslave others but just to stand on equal ground as all people should…
Our splintered marrow guards your precious ground
Not bought in blood, but taken in the twilight
When ‘taking’ was a thing we did not understand
Now sentinels bound, subservient you think we stand
Down inside those ringlets blacked by damp
Not the wind—kin to your own cur breath—
But the jewels it carries, diamonds, our inheritance,
Touching, unveiling in our stripped-bare bones
If you liked this extract you can read the rest of it here on Vocal: https://poets.media/opre
Or in my Mythpunk collection Mahrime: Mythpunk For Monsters
Thanks for joining me for another #MythpunkMonday! Feel free to leave me your own thoughts on trees, mythology and mythpunk in the comments and to join in and share your own Mythpunk, or someone else’s that you’ve enjoyed, using the hashtag or in the comments below 🙂
Thanks so much for journeying along with me so far, or if your new then very much welcome aboard!
A lot of my own stories centre around the strife and tension suffered by cultures who come seeking refuge, fleeing war and persecution, when the host country fails to welcome and respect them as human beings with established beliefs, values and ways of life.
These deserve to be valued wherever possible, just as those of the established culture are already, but so often they instead become embedded in a strange juxtaposition of both shame and ferocious pride.
When our beliefs, culture, language, skin colour, clothes and ways of being are treated as strange or unnatural by others (especially if they are outlawed, as in the case of the original Rromani refugees in Europe) those precious things which are innately ours can become a source of shame and we can feel the need (perhaps in fear of our lives or liberties) to hide them.
At the same time, in hiding them there is a sense of ritual preservation – a keeping close, a treasuring – and that can become obsessive and unnatural in itself as the evolution of ideas which would take place naturally over time with each generation is now not allowed to happen.
Sacred things die. They are not passed on. Partly out of fear – putting the young ones in danger. Partly our of pride – this knowledge will die with us, the last pure ones, it cannot be trusted to anyone else now, it will become diluted and destroyed or turned against us all.
I’m going to share with you an extract from ‘Mulengi Sinija’ which means Table For The Dead. This is a small shrine of sweet treats laid out for the ancestors to encourage them to remember the next generation, the little ones, and watch over them and visa versa to encourage the young children to enjoy communing with their ancestors.
Here though, the celebration is taking place in a strange new land where the characters are forced to hide who they truly are (firebirds living secretly amongst a population of spiders) and the irony is that the precious link between young and old, past and present, ancestors and living is being lost as the generations pass and so the title is more a lamenting ; a saying goodbye, rather than the celebration it was meant to be….
Mulengi Sinija Extract:
There is a weight, more than the fabric, of that long black skirt and the high necked lace shirt she heaves up over her fire form. Here are the white-beaked masques now with their golden glitter and their gaudy plumes, here are the capes of scarlet velveteen, the sun is sinking with a sigh to the guillotine.
One more cup before we have to go? We drink it slow. Drink deep the thousand stories calligraphed in dark amber there against the white. And when it is all gone, step out into the night.
If you liked the extract you can read the rest of it on my sister site here:
Thankyou for joining me for MythpunkMonday! I really hope you’ve enjoyed it and if you have, feel free to join in and share some Marvellous Mythpunk that you have written, created or enjoyed. You can share using the #MythpunkMonday hashtag or in the comments here below if you like and I will continue to make this a regular Monday thing 🙂
Happy Mythpunk Monday!
I’ve always been haunted by the story of The Little Match Girl. Clarissa Pinkola Estes compares it to The Red Shoes and I (in my own small humble opinion) agree with her – how easy it is to spend our days staring at false lights, false hopes, striking match after match to gain a few seconds of cold brightness and the illusion of warmth ; a futile ritual of protection against what lurks in the dark both inside and out… when really all we are doing is burning the hope we do have. The girls in stories like this all have things of worth, things they can use to take care of themselves, but they exchange them / discard them / burn them up / let well-meaning others take them away or brand them ‘useless’ or ‘dirty’ … and they end with nothing.
I’ve worked this theme into several of my Mythpunk stories and I’m going to share one of them with you today. It’s called Matchless but I didn’t want the ending to be as hopeless as the original tales always are ; they always end with the girl dying and the reader is left to take the wisdom away with them but at the end of my tale, because I wanted the reader to be drawn right in and become a part of the story from the outset, I also wanted wisdom to call to them at the end from within the story itself. So we have the old woman, the wildish nature, the instinctual self, the soul-grandmother, the quick little bright snake that says ‘eat my fruit, open your eyes, see the truth of the matter.’
Here’s a little snippet for you, if you like it, you can read the rest for free on Vocal.
Strike one. Strike and you will see us. Strike and know you are not alone and glimpse in an eye blink that we are all the same. True our limbs do not twist and gnarl the same way, true there are washes of muted colour in our sunken orbs and those do vary. True the tails, the talons, the scales, the teeth and claws, the hair all are not identical and we are ancient and new born and have seen the world birthed and have lived but not even a day. But strike again and see us, strike, strike two, you know we are just like you. You know that once upon a time each of us fell down and this, this gap between the lives of all the others, this skipped heartbeat, this caught breath, this missing note, this blind spot in the corner of the universal eye is where we all go.
Matchless also features in the Mythpunk collection, Mahrime: Mythpunk For Monsters
Thankyou for joining me for our third MythpunkMonday! I really hope you’ve enjoyed it and if you have, feel free to join in and share some Marvellous Mythpunk that you have written, created or enjoyed. You can share using the #MythpunkMonday hashtag or in the comments here below if you like and I will continue to make this a regular Monday thing 🙂