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 🙂
Hello! Mrs Albert Baker here, otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle. Obviously there is no Pendle any more, since The Chronic Agronauts utterly destroyed it with treacle and sprats, but I’ve set myself up quite nicely here in Lancaster, running this little soup kitchen for the street urchins. There certainly are a lot of them and I’m always looking for helping hands to cook up and serve something delicious!
Helping me this morning is author and Awenydd (or Spirit-Keeper) Elen Sentier. Good morning Elen, thank you so much for coming to help me in my soup kitchen today! Can I offer you a cup of tea?
Lapsang Souchong, please, straight, no milk. Unless you happen to have Bruichladdich single malt ???
I’m afraid I don’t touch alcohol Elen, it’s my husband Albert who is the drinker. Now here is your tea my dear…
Thankyou Mrs Baker, I wonder if we’re related? My aunt was Ida Baker who kept the sacred well in the village on the edge of Exmoor where I grew up; it was in the wall between her garden and ours, still there and still revered. She was a darling, and so was her magical gardener-husband, Uncle Perce, she gave me seedy cake and strawberries when I got in trouble at home when I was a wee kiddie J, and Uncle Perce taught me about talking with plants and bees.
They both sound marvellous Elen, you know I do think it’s possible we could be connected in some way, although I have never been to Exmore I’m afraid, it was my Mother’s job to guard Pendle before me, and I had never set foot outside it until the pirates came and kidnapped me…
BTW, I’m really sorry to hear about the treacle (and the sprats!). Just down the road from me is, I think, the only pub in the country called The Treacle Mine. Wish they could have done that with you, a much better idea z|a.
Oh we do have treacle mines at Sabden and Chobham, but you’re right it was a dreadful waste of confectionary, I do wish they had used some of the dreadful ‘standard issue tinned soup’ the government forces upon us all instead…
Oh yes, the soup for the orphans! … well, goodness me, there’s so many. When it’s the season, I just love tomato soup and it’s so simple to do. You need a good wallop of ripe tomatoes, the ones with that fabulous smell, a big bunch of fresh basil, and you can either use olive oil or good butter, butter gives it an extra sweetness. You need a good, heavy-bottomed pot to make it in.
Chop the basil really fine so all its scented oils are released. Chop the tomatoes small, and heat up the oil or butter, not boiling but good and hot. Take the pot off the heat, put half the chopped basil into it and swish it about to scent up the oil/butter, then add all the tomatoes and put back on the heat. Don’t have the heat up high or you’ll burn rather than cook. Keep stirring the mix as this helps the flavours to seep through. When the tomatoes look/taste/feel ready take the pot off the heat and allow it to sit for at at least an hour to steep further.
When you want to eat, heat up the pot again but don’t boil, keep stirring and watching, as soon as it’s ready pour it into heated bowls and Bob’s your uncle J. I like to eat it with some fresh sourdough bread and good unsalted butter, and maybe a bit of grated cheese … Yummmm !
Oh how delicious, there is nothing better than good homemade tomato soup (it knocks the socks of the tinned variety every time!) Now while that is simmering away nicely, why don’t you have a seat here by the fire. I hope your journey to our dimension was a good one?
Not too bad at all, got a bit bumpy flying over the M6, the turbulence there can be frightful, damned near fell off me broom and the cat got sick! But we’re all fine now, that cuppa you gave me sorted things.
Oh dear, the poor cat, I’m glad he is feeling better now though. Elen it is so lovely to meet another woman who deals in spiritual matters, here in Ire it is absolutely forbidden and I have to do all my work in secret which is a dreadful strain. Now why don’t I put the kettle on and you can tell me a little more about the work that you do ?
Another cuppa would go down grand, and the cat would love a saucer of milk now, says his stomach can handle it. We, he and me, don’t have quite the same problems you seem to have up here, not down in the Welsh Marches. It’s a lovely twilight land, between two countries and between two worlds, where the Faer folk are very happy to come and play with me and the students. I always have some students to pass on the work to, the old ways, and it’s such a lovely spot for writing too.
It sounds wonderful. I have had the very great pleasure of reading some of your books, including your newest release; Merlin – past and future Wizard, oh is that a copy you have with you there?
Yes, indeed, would you like it? I thought you might so I brought one along. Hmm … Merlin … well he and I’ve been friends all my life. Dad it was who introduced us, Dad’d known him too, when I was nought but a baby, and I began to find out about him through the stories. Where I live now is one of the places he was born and lived, we have our own Merlin-story but here we call him Dyfrig (you say it Duvrigg) which means water-baby because of how he got born.
I had heard a little about this Merlin figure from your world and thought him to be a fascinating mythical character but your book goes beyond these myths to show us a Merlin who we can engage with within the context of our daily lives doesn’t it?
Well yes, he’s not an academic construct and certainly doesn’t fit into those boxes. He really does want to get known again, to make friends with as many people as want to know him because he really can, and will, help us through this enormous crisis the Earth is going through.
He wants to know people – when they want to know him. He comes as a friend, an older and more experienced friend who has walked the path far longer than any of us humans. But he comes as a guide not someone who expects either worship or rule-book following. He works with each of us in ways we can do best. All we need to do is ask him. I say “all” but I do know how hard that can be, because we’re no longer encouraged to believe and work with our intuition, nor are we taught how to know it from our personal wants and desires. That’s part of what we learn with Merlin.
It seems that Merlin is a figure who can guide and influence us no matter what age we are living in but are the old stories as important as the new?
Yes, indeed. Merlin is just what the book-title says – the once and future wizard. He has been with us here on Earth since time out of mind, and he will be as long as the Earth still orbits the Sun. And, it seems to me from my lifelong experience with him, that he was around in the universe long before the Earth was formed and will be still after she’s gone. That makes him always here, always available to help … whenever we ask. And the old stories are still as important as the new. Our old ways are what I call “and/and” rather than “either/or”, they’re inclusive not exclusive. We are our personal selves and, at the same time, we are our spirit selves, the two are not exclusive, they happen at the same time – we call it walking between worlds.
Everyone’s spirit-life is always evolving. Nothing is ever set in tablets of stone, it’s always growing and adapting to where and when we are at this instant, so new stories are needed to fit with who we are now. But the old stories still fit too – if you read them properly and don’t try to dumb them down into whatever your “normal-box” is. Stories are one of the very basic ways humans learn and pass on wisdom to each other, and always have. Recent research has shown that our stories – the ones they’ve worked with – go back at least to the Bronze Age, that’s maybe 5,000 years ago! The old stories show us how to be, how to behave, how things really are, and how to relate with otherworld, as well as how to travel there. But we, and our stories, are as riddling and contrary as Zen, if not more so. To get the point, understand them, you need to spend time with the stories learning how to feel into them rather than trying to translate them into what you already know. After all, what’s the point of doing that? !!!
Throughout the book this dynamic, engaging (at times quite seductive) spirit of Merlin urges us to take up that liminal space between past and present and truly live ‘in the moment’… that is a very big challenge isn’t it, especially with all the pressures and insecurities of modern life?
Chuckle! Yes, he can be very seductive! That way of living, engaging all the time with the liminal, is very challenging for many modern folk. We’re so heavily caught up in the shibboleths of how we should be, according to the adverts on TV, politics, political correctness and all that crap! And it’s so scary for most people to dare to break out. This is the first hurdle my students have to get themselves over, and they do it too but it can be like ripping your skin off, like a snake shedding its skin. And getting used to the fact (yes, fact!) that otherworld completely permeates your everyday world is a huge step, but it does, and the students discover this for themselves with my help. That’s really important too, I do Merlin’s job in little, at my own small level, because I’ve walked the path a bit longer than my students. You always need that, someone you can really get on with who’s been doing it longer than you. That’s what being apprentice is about.
The Merlin I felt as I read your book, Elen, seemed to be firmly planted in the modern man-made world, but at the same time you show us his continuing rootedness in nature and the history of the land, do you think it is important that Merlin is able to straddle these, sometimes so opposing, spaces?
Oh yes, he’s the threshold, the doorway, the place between that connects us across the worlds. And he’s in the here-n-now with us just as much as in the “past”. An example – he called one of my students on her mobile phone last autumn on the workshop! LOL, it was hairy for her but she got it, worked with it and grew herself enormously as a result. And it made me smile. We too often want to get into the cutesy fantasy-stuff rather than reality, and Merlin’s all about reality. He’s in every particle of our Earth’s body as well as being with us in our everyday modern world – and/and again. Try this ancient picture of the goddess/god, it’s on a gold brooch from the La Teine culture …
Do you get it? The one head is the other but turned upside-down! And/and yet again J. One interpretation of this is Vivien and Merlin as lady and lord, the pairs of opposites which make the whole. We’ve forgotten that. We’re taught to think that things are “opposing” when in reality they’re two sides of one coin. We need to change this attitude and Merlin will help us with that. Being a threshold is how he does it. Come to me he says, step through me, now look back and I’m still here but different, the same but different. It’s a bit like light which is both particles and waves at the same time!
Your book was such an enlightening read, Elen, and I really feel I could pick your brains all day about this subject but I know you must be off soon, you have a talk to prepare for in London is that correct?
I do indeed. I’m doing an illustrated talk for Earthstars Sacred Space, at Steiner House in London on 24th Feb, and need to get on it J. It’s about Merlin and his relevance for us today too. If you want to come here’s the link https://www.facebook.com/events/1839244072988715/
Oh marvellous, I shall certainly try to come along, even if I cannot do the dimension hop in person I will try to tune in with Max and Collin’s Spirit Radio, it picks up most things from your world. Well thank you so much for coming to help out in the soup kitchen today, Elen, it’s been wonderful to chat with you and I must say that soup smells delicious. I think it must be about ready and the little urchins have their rosy noses pushed up against the glass in anticipation so shall we start dishing it up?
Yummm! Let me give you a hand …
Wonderful, thankyou. I hope you will all join me in the kitchen next week when Steampunk author Liz Hennessy will be dropping in to give me a hand and talk about her book Grogory’s Gadget. Until then,
Blessings on your brew my dears!
Good evening and welcome to my awe-inspiring aethenaeum of praiseworthy pamphlets…or as some ridiculous personages have dubbed it – my lovely library.
I am Perilous Wight and here in the bowels of the city of Lancaster, in the disused tunnels of an underground train system that never was, I have made it my mission to collect every book that our self-proclaimed ‘supreme ruler f the universe’ and his mincing minions have banned from the bookshelves of the new world.
But I do not have time for entertaining tonight, can you not see that I have just returned from a most important business trip? I have papers everywhere and notes to set in print and… what’s that? What are you wittering about? Help? You’d like to help me transcribe the notes from my journals into volumes so that they can be preserved for generations to come? You’ve brought along some cherry brandy to keep out the chills as we work?
Well, I suppose that puts a very different slant on things doesn’t it? Very well then, I will dictate and you can pour…I mean type… a-hem…
Many may not know this but I have not always been a bad tempered ghost in charge of an underground library. Once upon a time I was a bad tempered gentleman who had devoted his life to the collection of evidence which indicated that the power of The All Mother was not entirely gone from The New World. I travelled the scattered isles in search of such evidence – witches, fairies, folk lore, wild magic that was not controlled or perhaps even known about by Wiz and his ridiculous Wizards.
Not to be put off by death, I have struggled to find a way to continue my studies and I have indeed found a method by which I can sporadically leave this library, to which I am otherwise bound, and travel abroad.
This method is known as The Opprobrious Pith Helmet.
By securing the services of a less than reputable Wizard I have had my soul partially bound to an ancient piece of explorational headwear and am therefore able to possess the wearer for short periods of time, with their consent.
For my part, I am bound to being summoned by the wearer at their whim to provide protection, guidance, words of wisdom and advice, that sort of thing. It is a tiresome trade off but it could, I suppose, be worse.
Here, then, is the account of my first expedition.
I had decided to begin my studies with a journey down the Thames, past the Pirate City of Londinium, stopping at various Inns along the route and gathering from the locals any tales of interest which might hint at the existence of magic. But as I sat at my dressing table, pith helmet in place, waiting for the arrival of the Hippo’ton drawn coach which would take me to Barley Bow I began to have my doubts.
I pulled the magical contract I had signed with that wretched gutter-magician from my purse for the hundredth time and examined it again. No. Nowhere in the small print could I find mention of the fact the body I would be possessing might be a woman.
I stared into the mirror with grave concern at the ringlets and the lashes and the tinted cheeks. Could this work? As a strict adherent to the old religion I have the greatest respect for women, of course, but I have never actually been inside one.
The clatter of metal hooves upon the cobbles outside brought my dilemma to a close. This was my one chance to continue my work and I must put away any infantile embarrassment and get on with it.
With this new found resolve I leapt from my chair, tripped over my crinolines, flew out of the chamber door and tumbled head over bustle down the short narrow staircase, landing in a heap of fabric and whale carcass in the tap room.
I will not sport with your intelligence by repeating the comments this little accident incited from the patrons of the little tavern but will move swiftly on to my arrival in Bow.
The Hippo’ton dropped me at The Widow’s Son , a fascinating Inn with an equally fascinating history which I was keen to investigate. An old folk legend tells that the first owner was an old Widow whose son joined the navy. Upon his leaving day he told his mother to bake him a bun on Good Friday and he would be sure to be back in time to eat it. The bun was baked but the son never came home but the widow hung the baked bread from the ceiling in a net and added a new bun to the collection every year. After she died her friends and patrons kept up the tradition and it is now even written into the leasehold of the property that the custom must be kept by every owner.
Of course the story is hogwash. It is likely that there never was a widow at all but that the tradition is in fact born of a much older practise – that of leaving bread and milk out for household fairies, boggarts and helpful magical creatures as thanks for their kind assistance in bringing luck, health and happiness to the household through the year.
I had brought my case of instruments for detecting and catching fairies and other magical beings with me but as I eagerly began to lay them out upon the bar the Landlady approached and asked what I thought I was doing. When I asked to see her buns so that I could perform my arts upon them she screamed the most unrepeatable names at me and threw me out into the street.
It was a long walk down to the docks, where I had arranged a hired craft to take me up the river. Long but by no means lonely. I can only say that I now have a new found sympathy for the fairer sex and completely understand why they are reluctant to venture out alone at night without those splendid flame-throwing parasols. Skirts, bustles, high heeled boots…none of these make for expeditious retreats from darkened alley ways or indeed high speed chases over cobblestones away from amorous drunks.
I did manage to make it to the docks eventually and spent the night huddled under a tarpaulin that smelled of fish and cats, still I was optimistic that my next stop would prove more fruitful. My journey had, afterall only just begun and it was no good losing heart along with everything else at the first hurdle. So I sat in the dark, counting my losses and hoped that my young host would not think to do the same, or at the very least not be too miffed, when her body was returned to her…..
And I think we had better leave it there for this evening don’t you? The bottle is dry and… hm? Well yes of course it is dark you’re not afraid of the dark are you? Flesh eating Liver Birds you say? Well yes there are those to consider but you should have thought of that before you set off on this midnight mission shouldn’t you? I can’t be responsible for your safety! Now go on, off with you, just because I am dead does not mean I don’t have things to do…go on…out!
Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen, and welcome, once again, to Max and Collin’s, phantasmagorically fabulous and wonderfully whimsical parlour located in the splendidly scenic city of Lancaster, Mor Ire.
True, perhaps, some have called it a roach-infested hovel fit only for harbouring the detritus of society, but we consider that such people are merely embittered that they have not yet received an invitation.
You find us, on this enchanting afternoon, trying our hands at a spot of fairy catching… if the rumours are true and Lord Ashton really is going to open a portal in the aether and let fairies and Wiz-knows-what else through into our world then we really ought to be prepared!
Luckily we have found this splendid tutorial for creating a cunning fairy-trapping device, not that we are condoning cruelty to fairies of course but, you know, we need to think of the cake, there is so very precious little of it…
Splendid, so with a few of those around the place we are feeling much safer from the little winged tiffin-thieves, and we can settle ourselves back amongst the silk cushions and lemonade crates with a steaming brew of ‘Glashtyn’ rose and cinnamon tea.
Of course we could always try and blend in with the wee folk if they do decide to invade…
Well of course I have not forgotten that it is Thursday and, with our top hats dusted with glitter and our sparkly steampunk wings at the ready, we are ‘all punked up with no place to go’ so, let us peruse the society papers and see where we should be heading to this weekend….
On the 30th of October we have the Steampunk Time Fall Back Show by the British Horological Society.
St Annes are holding their annual Goblin King’s Masquerade Ball on saturday
Or if zombies are more your thing you could head for The Secret Zombie Ball
Or you could cram in an entire weekned of Victorian-themed fear at Lincoln Castle
Ah, but now I think our tea is brewed so we will wish you all a frightfully splendid Halloween weekend and see you back in one piece in the parlour on Monday. In the meantime, we hope you will join Perilous Wight for Pipe and Slippers in his lovely library tomorrow evening when he will be sharing something of ‘imaginative awesomeness’…or so he informs us…hopefully it isn’t his eulogy again…
So until then! Be always,
Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen, I hope we are all feeling extremely eleven o’clockish because the time is, indeed, 11’o clock. So, step inside, take off your cloak, hang up your fangs and make yourselves at home in Max and Collin’s veritably verve and queasily quixotic parlour, located in the splendidly scenic city of Lancaster, Mor Ire.
True, perhaps, some people have called it a mere figment of some lunatic tea-addict’s over-active imagination, but we consider that such people are merely embittered that they have not yet received an invitation.
Today you find us trembling in our boots after a night full of dreadful disturbances and utterly appalling apparitions, which we are certain has nohing to do with our over indulgence in fairies yesterday morning. Still we will be glad when this season of ghoulish ghostiness is at an end and we can settle back into the company of more everyday monsters such as psychotic scarecrow landlords and hybrid vampire squid.
Now then, we are both feeling a little delicate and thankfully our lovely werewolf butler has nosed out some dainty and delicate delightfulness to ease us into the afternoon, Betty Crocker Style…
Ah, witches, maybe they aren’t so bad after all? They’re broomsticks are certainly tasty and they seem to make good soup… which reminds me that Bellabeth will be joining our own Kitchen Witch for Soup Of The Day tomorrow, so don’t miss out on that will you? And we will be back in the parlour on Thursday with some tremendous Tea @ Three but for now let us tune in to something soul stirring while we nibble on these tasty treats,
Splendid! We wish you a most enchanting afternoon and until we see you again please,
be always, Utterly Yourself