Friday, 22 January 2016

Defeated by a Dreamer

An ancient folktale from Orkney retold by Abbie Simmonds. 
First published in EcoKids Planet magazine November 2015 

You might think magic has left this world, but magic remains in in the Isles of Orkney. There, on dark nights, you can still hear the songs of the faery folk and find their footprints in the morning dew. On those islands of rock and grass and sand, you will find the finger-bones of giants and the rock swords of great warriors. This is the tale of how the islands came to be.

Many moons ago a boy lived in the far north, in a grim farmhouse on a grim farm with his 
grim father and grim brothers. But he was not born to be a farmer. He spent day and nights lying by the fire, dreaming dreams whispered by flame spirits.

“I dreamt I killed a great monster and saved a Princess from its jaws,” he said.

His brothers laughed at him. “You live in the fireplace! You are a weak dreamer. Ha! You couldn’t defeat a fly! Cinderbiter!”

But then one day, everything changed.

The Stoor Wyrm came from the sea. It was an enormous snake with silver-blue scales, sharp spikes and eyes full of hate. As its great body rose from the angry oceans, the world grew dark. Its voice made the earth shiver and shake.

“I want your Princess. You have three days to give her to me or I will eat every man, woman and child of Scotland!”

The brave Princess loved her people and didn’t want any of them to be killed. She dressed herself in a beautiful gown of green and tied silver ribbons into her red hair. She was about to go to the beach and let the Wyrm take her away, but her father the King would not let her go. He sent messengers to every corner of the land begging for heroes, warriors and strong men to defeat the monster and save his daughter. And the heroes and warriors and strong men drew their swords and sharpened their spears and rushed to the sea to kill the beast.

And - snip-snap-snickle - every single one was eaten by the Stoor Wyrm!

As all this was going on, Cinderbiter lay sleeping and dreaming by the fire. He awoke to the sharp clatter of horse’s hooves.

“The Wyrm is here. The beast will eat the Princess if he is not defeated!”
Suddenly Cinderbiter realised that he knew what to do! His dreams had shown him how this Wyrm could be beaten.

At midnight, Cinderbiter put a burning coal from the fire into a tin box, jumped on the back of his father’s horse and galloped down to the beach. The Wyrm was in the water, its huge head resting on the sand. Cinderbiter waited in the moonlight, feeling his heart beating hard in his chest. All was quiet. And then the beast began to yawn. It mouth opened to show hundreds of sharp, white teeth and a blood red forked tongue. Cinderbiter saw his chance - he ran as fast as he could straight into the mouth of the monster!

The Stoor Wyrm swallowed and Cinderbiter found himself falling down, down, down. He landed with a bump in the belly of the beast. It was dark, dripping and wet inside the serpent and smelled terrible! Cinderbiter held his breath, opened the tin box and thrust the hot coal into the nearest bit of Wyrm. The coal spluttered, stuttered, spat… and flames into life.

On the cliffs, people watched as clouds of thick smoke flowed from the nose, ears and mouth of the Wyrm. The sky became so full of smoke that the moon and stars were hidden and everything grew very, very dark. 

“The world is coming to an end!” they cried.

Then the Wyrm opened its jaws wide and let out a great, firey burp! Cinderbiter came flying out of the creature’s mouth and landed - FLUMP - on the beach. He was singed and scorched but unharmed. His family ran to his side; his brothers hugged him as tight as they could.

“You crazy dreamer!” they sobbed. “You could have been killed!”

The Stoor Wyrm rose straight up out of the foaming waters. Fire poured from its mouth and sizzled on the stormy ocean waves. It roared a booming roar, fell and SPLASHED into the sea. Its huge teeth tumbled from its mouth. They sunk to the bottom of the sea, but they were so big that the tops of those teeth poked out of the water. 
Then everything was quiet once more.

The King, Princess and the people of Scotland rushed onto the beach. They lifted Cinderbiter onto their shoulders.
“Hero! Dreamer! Hero! Dreamer!” rose the shout. A great feast was held that lasted for many days and many nights.

Years passed. Over time, the monster’s teeth turned green and grey and became the magical and mysterious Isles of Orkney. Cinderbiter, the great hero, married the brave Princess. They built their home on those beautiful islands and ruled them with wisdom and kindness till the end of their days.

The storytellers of Orkney still tell tales of the great wyrm and remember how important it is to sit by the fire and listen to the stories it has to tell. 

Sunday, 23 August 2015

The ecology of language - an open notebook entry

This is an open notebook - a sharing of recent thoughts. It is something of an experimental essay or a collection of thoughts at the edge of becoming eloquent. 

Language shapes our reality.

This is not a new idea. The Buddha taught about the importance of right speech, the root of Abracadabra lies in the ancient Hebrew phrase "אברא כדברא" or "I create as I speak" and the Gospel of John begins with those immortal words "In the beginning there was the word and the word was God." To have language is to have the power to express, name, label, categorise and define things, people, experiences and feelings. 

And these words have power. 

We can be caught forever in the thrall of a psychiatric diagnosis or teacher's remark, moving from being 'lively' to being a 'naughty' child in a single breath. Every word comes with its own baggage and its own history. Some words cannot be spoken because they hold so much weight, whilst others are moving into common speech as the passage of time wears away old meanings and clothes them in new. 

Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.
Buddha

To use an old English phrase, we each have our own word-hoard - a store of words collected from our parents, carers, siblings, teachers, peers, the books we read, the programmes we watch. We can then draw from this stock to communicate and express. 

In times of extreme or unusual emotional states - the pain of loss or the ecstasy of birth - we often find our word hoards insufficient. When our lover leaves us, when we are struck with that strange yearning to be something or somewhere we are not, when we meet the inevitable end of life, we turn to the poets to offer us the magic combination of words that provide the image or the rhythm that expresses where we are - that resonates at our level of feeling. 

Language is more than functional; it is an essential tool in the gardening shed of the soul. 

But maybe it isn't a word-hoard at all. Word hoard conjures to mind some sort of pantry or chest - quite possibly very old and wooden and filled with bio dynamic, organic apples, but cut off and not-living none-the-less. And language is living; it is a constantly evolving ecosystem - a word-wood. 

Language is a living thing. We can feel it changing. Parts of it become old: they drop off and are forgotten. New pieces bud out, spread into leaves, and become big branches, proliferating.
Gilbert Highet

As we grow, our word-wood grows. If we are lucky, the earth beneath our word-wood is made fertile by those around us. If we are unlucky, the earth is grey and cold; in that scrubland, bramble words grow, filling our mouths with dry, spiky, withered attempts to express the fire within. We swear, scream and hit because we have nothing else. These are the children who lash out in frustration because they don't have the words to help us understand how they are feeling - the force of the absent word rises like a tsunami of the soul.

Word-wood soil can be enlivened with the right treatment - the right authors, speakers, words and phrases being introduced in the right way - but just as easily a fertile landscape can be destroyed by carelessness and commercial consumption. Monoculture language creeps in promising better communication through over simplification, manipulation through vile advertising, or utter confusion through 'specialised' jargon. Invasive species spring up - the word 'like' is the ground elder of speech - and GM word crops slowly change the natural landscape of our language and in doing so, redefine our internal and external experience of the world. 

Especially prized was the capacity to name, abundantly and gracefully, dozens or even hundreds of secret names for beings you had spent your whole life strutting past, and muttering; “willow” “holly” “bat” “dog-rose”. They are not their names. Not really. 
Dr Martin Shaw - School of Myth

Robert Macfarlane recently reminded us of how many words we are losing in the UK on a daily basis and the danger that poses to the future of our countryside: "[We are in] an age when a junior dictionary finds room for ‘broadband’ but has no place for ‘bluebell’". What will happen when children can no longer name Oak or Beech, Sparrow or Robin? Will they wish to protect an area of nameless land inhabited by nameless creatures? 

To take away a person's name is to 'de-humanise', making it easier to avoid any sort of messy emotional attachment and opening the 'thing' up to exploitation, abuse or extermination. If we are losing the lexicon of the natural world, is it any wonder that rainforests full of trees, insects and animals are being destroyed by CEOs of foreign companies who have reduced the entire, living ecosystem of the Amazon to a "commodity"? 

Mythologist Martin Shaw encourages his students to develop a practice of giving twelve secret names to the plants, animals or 'things' they encounter in nature and to speak those names out loud. He comments that "inventive speech appears to be a kind of catnip to the living world" - an enlivening force. And surely it must be seen that those that love and know the land they live upon have a hundred names for snow or twenty different names mud or, at the very least, three different names for the garden robin. In giving something a name, we deepen our relationship with it and in finding many names we find ourselves watching, listening, thinking more deeply about that bird, plant, flower or bug - by engaging through language, we come to know it better. 

Green Curve
Udder of the Silver Waters
The Hundred Glittering Teeth 
Small Sister, Dawning Foam
On the Old Lime Bank.
5 names for the River - Dr Martin Shaw - School of Myth 

So get out there and find the folkloric name of the hill behind your house, or watch the little plant 
determinedly pushing its head between the pavement cracks and realise that the word 'daisy' just isn't enough to encapsulate that being. In opening ourselves to language as a dynamic force, rather than just a communication tool, we can begin to experience the world in a new and deeper way.  

"Now, a language is not just a body of vocabulary or a set of grammatical rules. A language is a flash of the human spirit. It's a vehicle through which the soul of each particular culture comes into the material world. Every language is an old-growth forest of the mind, a watershed, a thought, an ecosystem of spiritual possibilities."
Wade Davis - Anthropologist and Explorer

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Wildwood Girls

Eagle’s wing and open sky
Stolen sisters spirits fly
Eagle’s wing and open sky
Stolen sisters spirits fly 

At the edge of a great forest, where diamond oak and tall pine fill the air with green leaf and sharp flowers, a Wildwood girl was dancing alone. Her feet stamped up a storm of silver in the early morning dew and her crow wing hair fell a waterfall down her back. She was of the forest’s wild - her ear knew the language of bird and pine; ancient, rock whispered stories inhabited her heart and guided the dance of her feet. But though her tongue sang the song of freedom, she was the last of her kind and her heart was shot with a deep, desperate loneliness. 

“Beautiful girl! Come home with me. Be mine own!” 

A young man, his skin white and his hair shining in the sun beckoned her over. 

“Your kind want nothing of mine,” the girl said. But he had a basket full of food and sweet wine and a tongue ready for conversation and she could not resist the chance to sit and eat and talk with another human being. 

“We would spend every day like this if you were mine. I will return tomorrow” 

Later that night she lay awake in her Forest bed - her lips longing for sweet wine kisses. Maybe the forest didn’t hold everything she wanted after all… 

The next day the Man brought her a dress of silk with tight drawn ribbons. 

“For you my lady.” As the butter soft silk caressed her skin, the man held out a sparkling ruby ring. 

“I can make you my Lady and you will never be lonely again.” And she was caught. 

*** 

The Man’s home was grand. White painted walls shone in the bright sunlight and far-travelled red roses lined the entrance. Within moments of their arrival, the WildWood girl was hurried inside by what seemed like hundreds of servants and she was bathed from tip to toe in warm water. Scrubbed free of the wild and combed free of the weather, her black hair was bound up with pearls and curled into neat ringlets.   

That afternoon, the Wild Girl and Rich Man walked through his gardens. She admired neatly arranged beds filled with strange and beautiful flowers imported from distant lands and carefully clipped conifer hedges. Around the gardens, a high, painted fence kept the wild at bay ensuring that not a leaf, petal or hair was out of place. Everything here was crafted to perfection, including the WildWood Girl. 

That night, as a soft breeze blew the day gently into night, the Man came to her room. Between tangled sheets and entwined limbs, her fears dissolved into a heady mist of love making. 

And so the days passed in an intoxicating haze of roses, sweet wine and glistening moonlit movement. 

Before the girl realised that time had passed, she felt the wind change and the sun move further from the land. And as the season changed, it seemed to her that the Man spent less and less time with her; his touch was rougher, his kisses quicker, his conversation clipped and curt. She realised how little she knew of him and his life. Her heart longed for home, but the loneliness of her past pinned her to her silk bed. 

One night, as she lay alone, a storm blew and the House shook and shuddered. The Girl was afraid. Once it was that a storm would not have worried her; she would have danced to the rhythm of the thunder, but in her fine room and in her thin night gown, the wind seemed wild and thunder fearfully loud. 

“I don’t want to be alone!” she cried. Footsteps and the door opened. Her Master stood in the open door way, silhouetted in sharp lightning flash, but he was not her master any longer. His brow was low and dark, his eyes burned with a furious lust, his gold stitched suit was ripped open and in his tense fist, a sharp knife screamed for blood. 

“No one notices, no one cares
For wild wood girls with crow black hair!
With me, WHORE!” 

And then she was being dragged into the dark, ripped from comfort, the garden, over flower and bush, the woods over rock and branch, heavy rain stinging her skin, thunder booming, deeper and deeper into sharp leafed woods. 

After what seemed like forever, she was thrown to the ground. The air was thin and sharp as cut glass. Through a curtain of soul cut rain, staghead of dying tree cast silent shapes onto the sour earth. But the wild girl’s eyes were caught - before her was a roughly dug pit and there, thrown and discarded like so many broken dolls, flesh battered and bruised bones shining white were the forgotten, lost bodies of black haired girls.  


“No one notices, no one cares
For these wild wood girls with crow black hair!” 

The girl screamed and ran but he knew the dance well. He grabbed her hand, he grabbed her hair, he grabbed her neck and drew the shining knife from his belt. 

Then the rain stopped and the moon, bright and sliver, gazed upon the girl.  

Eagles wing and open sky
Stolen sisters spirits fly
Eagle wing and white moon bright
You are lost I still fight 

The Wild awoke and the Wild knew their own. An eagle descended, claws outstretched and tore at the Man’s arm. He cried out and dropped the knife. A fox, flash of red bit into his leg. A bow of the staghead tree brought an antler crashing into his back. Racoon, mice, birds, branch, leaf and bush even the earth itself rose up and chased the young Man from the woods, away from their girl, their kin, their own. 

But the girl was already gone. She had grabbed the knife and run. Dressed only in moonlight, she ran till her feet bled and her red blood mingled with the black earth of the forest. She ran till there was no breath left in her body. 

*** 

Before her eyes opened, she could smell lavender. She felt soft cotton sheets and shook herself awake. 

“Shhhhhh,” a rich woman’s voice. “Be calm. You are safe. Now when you are rested sweet wild thing, you must tell me what monster did this to you and we must decide what we will do to avenge you.”

 ***

The grandest lady of the county was having a party and all the rich folk of the area were invited. And what a party it was - lawns strewn with candles, white suited servants holding gilt plates of delicate meats and fruits, elegant music and refined conversation. The Wildwood Girl was dressed in a fine white dress, but her dark eyes were focussed on finding that face that haunted her dreams. 

Then she saw him.

Eagles wing and open sky
Stolen sisters spirits fly 

The Party fell silent. Everyone turned to hear her song. 

A Wildwood girl as free as wind
Taken by a man so brave
Dressed in silk and ruby red
But I was living dead. 

A dark night came upon me
When fine Man’s knife was at my throat
Down into a wood so dark
Graves of girls; my masters past 

But the wind it came
And the wind blew moon to me
And the forest knew its own 

Alive a Wildwood girl I stand
FALSE man knife I have in hand
His name upon the hilt it reads
Their blood stained on the blade you see

For no-one knew and no-one cared
For WildWood Girls with crow black hair. 

The room was silent. The Man’s face was pale with terror and pushed into his chest, the hilt of a knife bearing his family crest. 

Days later, the county judge sent him to a high hill where a Mangrove Tree bore the weight of his body well and the wild wind gathered up the rotting pieces of his soul to burn forever in the fiery depths of hell.

*** 


The next morning the Lady smiled warmly.
 “All is now well. The trouble has passed and the monster slayed. I’m so pleased that no real harm was done.” 

That night the WildWood Girl could not sleep. Her mind was filled with their bone faces, the pit, bruised bodies and those words “no real harm done”....  

She left the Lady’s home and returned to the forest. She danced and sang once more where her ancestors’ bones lay sleeping in the warm earth, her feet were guided by a new and terribly truthful rhythm:

“No one noticed, no one cared

For wild wood girls with crow black hair.” 

*** 

Once upon a time, at the edge of a forest, a girl danced alone. She was the forest’s wild; ancient, rock-whispered stories inhabited her heart and guided the rhythm of her feet. But she was the last of her kind and she is gone forever. 

Memories fade but stories run deep into the earth. Let no-more blood of stolen sisters of Canada and North America be upon our 
hands.  
  
**************************************************************
http://www.amnesty.ca/our-work/campaigns/no-more-stolen-sisters  

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Sivuqaq - the wrung out island


Dark, still water.

Then Raven flew up and pierced the back skein of the sky with his black beak.
 
 
 

All was silent.
 
 
 
 

Raven burst from the heavens, holding in his beak the golden ball of the sun, stolen from the upper god. Moments later, the upper god appeared, bright and radiant and the world was born.

Raven reached into the waters and drew up a handful of rich dark earth - the Americas.

Raven reached into the waters and drew up cold, glittering rocks - Russia

He created the blessed tribes - Inhuit, Yupik, Chuckhi, Sami. The Upper god saw their beauty and strength and gifted his reindeers to these tribes, that they may be well fed and warmly clothed. With that the Upper God returned to the heavens and was gone.

Raven smiled over what he had made, stretched and spread himself for a float on the surface of the sea for a little nap. It had been a long day.

“And it’s not over yet,” the rays of the sun he had stolen and set in the blue tickled him awake again. 'There were a few hours of daylight left to make something', he supposed.

So Raven reached down into the waters of the ocean, but there wasn't much left. He reached and with his finger tips drew up a scrap of damp, squeezed the water out and what was left he sprinkled onto the sea and an island was made, if an island it could be called. It was small and barren and rocky and cold. Raven took some pebbles and spread them over the island and they were men, if men they could be called - they were weak of will and weak of body.

“Oh. Oh dear. I cannot ask the reindeer to give themselves to you,” spoke Raven “No. The Upper God would not have it; you are not good enough for Reindeer. No - you'll just have to eat what you can find.”

And so Sivuqaq - the wrung out, strung out, twisted out island - was born. The people stood on the barren shore and watched Raven fly up and disappear into the endless black sky.
The people were hungry. They caught a thong seal. They caught a ringed seal. They caught a walrus. But it was not enough.

One-by-one-the-people-began-to-die.

Then there was just one boy left. He was covered in scabs and scars. He was skin stretched over bone. He lay on the floor of what had once been a sleeping room and watched his breath cloud in the frozen air.
He waited to die, lying underneath a blanket of bird skins, but all the feather had fallen off and floated away just like the Gods that had left him there. Eyes pinned open by the bony fingers of hunger, he shivered and shook.
In a dry whisper he began to pray. He prayed for sleep. He prayed for food. He prayed for death.

Ah-Say-yah-Say-Yah-Say-Yah

Far across the world, Raven heard the boy’s cries. Out of the frozen sea he sent a barking, roaring walrus, long ivory tusks.
“Problem solved. There’s food for the boy” Raven smiled happily to himself.

Two tons of walrus stormed into the sleeping room, crashing and cracking the floors and walls. The boy lay helplessly on the floor, unable to move, let alone kill this great creature. And then it was gone and in its wake, all along the ground, were jellyfish - food! In a great burst of anticipation, the boy grabbed one jellyfish and ate it whole and another and ate it whole and another and at it whole! “The Gods are good!” he cried “The Gods are good!”

Just at that moment, Raven happened to be flying over and thought he’d pop into see how his walrus gift had helped the boy.

The boy was lying dead on the ground, surrounded by half-digested jellyfish.

So Raven brought the boy back to life. The boy shook himself and began to grab at more jellyfish, eating one, two, three, four, five.

Raven smiled, satisfied to himself.

The boy died again.

And Raven brought him back again. The boy shook himself and grabbed at more jellyfish. One, two , three, four, five.

The boy died again.

And Raven brought him back again and THIS TIME the boy’s stomach was stronger. He ate more jellyfish and felt stronger.

Raven smiled and off he flew once more.

The boy prayed for sleep and the Upper God heard him and sent him sleep. He slept a heavy, deep sleep for three days and two nights and then he dreamed.

Six women - five young and one old - came into the room. They glowed like sun on snow, their eyes were black as Raven’s wing and bright tattoos ran in intricate lines and circles across their faces. They cleaned the room, repaired the walls, sowed thick blankets of seal skin, lit the lamp. He wished to move nearer the golden light of the  lamp but just as he moved he woke up.
The room was cold, dark and empty.

For three days and two nights he prayed for the dream to return, shivering and alone until his sobbing brought sleep and sleep brought the women! He lay, eyes peeping open, terrified to move in case the dream disappeared again.

“Shhhh,” one old woman said “We musn’t wake him. The Upper God was clear. All must be ready. Go prepare the food!”

The boy’s nostrils flared and he breathed a rich breath of seal blubber, hot fish, walrus meat.
“Get up,” the Old Woman nudged him, “The meal is ready.”

As he ate, the old woman urinated into a pot and rubbed the hot liquid into his sore, blistered skin. It burned and stung and healed. Then she breathed softly on him and he felt his limbs grow stronger and stronger until he felt stronger than a bull walrus! Filled with life and joy, he took each of the younger women into his arms and onto the floor of the sleeping room and from that day on he would be called “The One who Loved 5 Divine Women”.

After that he was different, after that he would not wait for jellyfish or divine women. After that, the man set off himself in search of food for his island. He journeyed into the endless expanse of cold blue sky to find the Gods who abandoned his people.
Sitting in the rays of the sun, was Raven. “Give us reindeer,” said the Sivuqaq man.
Raven looked awkward, “I cannot. The Upper God rules the Reindeer and he would be angry… and he’s already pretty angry. But here” his face lightened “how about this.”

Raven gave the young man a handful of pebbles. “Throw these into the sea. They will be your food.”

Back on the cold shores of Sivuqaq, the young man threw the pebbles into the sea. Each pebble grew and grew, with shining blue and grey skin. The whales were born.

The Sivuqaq man walked over the island and as he did the island became brighter, stronger. He lived on the surface of the sea and the sea became full of fish and food. He lived among the walrus and their numbers swelled. The Yupik people settled on the island. But the Yupik people did not see the Sivuqaq man clearly and did not know their food came from his bright presence. On one hunting trip, a short-sighted tribesmen loosed an arrow and the Sivuqaq man was killed. With his last breaths he spoke: “Such are you, and such shall be your fate. When you go out to sea, you shall be drowned. When you stay ashore, you shall die of starvation. When you have food enough, you shall be visited by to´ṛnaṛaks, the spirits, of disease” and finally he died, but this time there was no Raven to bring him back.

And it was as he said. Life on Sivuqaq was hard. Life on Sivuqaq is still hard. And yet, held between sea and rock, the people survive and live. Between cold rock and cold sea, the people live and love. The Yupik tribe still live there today.
 
 
And that is all there is to say about that.




This origin story from Sivuqaq has been retold by Abbie Palache from a http://www.sacred-texts.com/nam/inu/eos/eos15.htm which was, in turn, told to the writer by Ale'qat.

This version Copyright Abigail Palache 30/04/2015

Monday, 2 February 2015

Our world is dying.

The world was dying.
 
 
Birds,
beasts,
trees,
flowers.
 
The air grew still without the beat of insect wings.
The world grew silent without bird's song, cricket hum, wolf howl.
 
 
At last there were only two creatures left on earth:
an old man and an old woman.
 
When they had nothing left to eat and no words left to speak, they climbed up the mountain, to a high ledge, ready to throw themselves over.
They wanted to die.
 
As the old woman’s feet touched the edge of the earth, a deep, forgotten grief quaked inside her and a cry shook itself free.
 
“Why did this happen? What is this punishment for? What did we do? Why did all our children die?”
 
 
Silence.
They were ready to jump.
 
At that moment they froze - a baby’s cry! They followed the sound and there in a cradle of dirt was a baby boy. Their grief forgot, they took him to their small hut and cared for him as best they could.
 
But the child wouldn’t stop crying. No matter what they did, the child would not stop crying. Cradled or free, the child grizzled and groaned and sobbed and screamed. And dark thoughts came into the minds of the old people.
 
Suddenly, the door was thrown open by an invisible presence and the old man found himself pressed against the wall.
 
The Mountain Spirit spoke:
“Do you not remember? How do you not remember? You must feed the fire. You must worship the fire of this child. Strengthen its soul or it will die.”
 
With that, the spirit was gone and in the quiet that followed, the old woman felt loss; she didn’t remember rituals, ways or customs anymore.
 
Compelled by the Mountain spirit, the old people sat with the child by the burning fire and fed it. And then they spoke over it and found that the fire whispered the words that needed saying and they fed the children’s fire.
 
The boy grew into a strong young man.

One day, he found his feet leading him up the mountain. A cool, fresh wind caught his heart and loosed a song from his lips. He sang to the mountain, the wind, the rocks, the dust, the river and the Daughter of the Mountain Spirit heard him. When he turned and their eyes met, something passed between them - ancient and new.
 
“I wish to marry her - the daughter of the Mountain Spirit!”
 
The boy's parents were shocked and appalled. They refused  to allow their son to marry that strange, wild creature. Love between man and mountain? Not possible. Desperate eyes looked back at them.
 
“If I don’t marry her, I will die.”
 
And he did. Moment by moment, day by day, he began to die.
When he had grown too weak to speak or sing, his parents full of fear and confusion turned to the Mountain for guidance.

This time, no door was blown open, no invisible spirit passed through the land. The Master Spirit of the mountain spoke for the very last time and the whole world listened.
 
“You forgot. You forgot me. You stopped believing. You stopped knowing.
 You burned my heart, the forests; you dirtied my eyes, the great lakes.
 You thought yourself stronger than nature - does a leg or an arm think itself
 stronger than the body? Does an limb think itself more than the whole?
 You are part of me as I am part of you. But you are distant now. You are 
 other. Your ears can no longer hear the whisper of the grass, the language of
 the birds,  the stories sung by tree and rock. You became foreign and you
 began to die and the sickness spread and the world began to die with you.”
 
The old man and the old woman found their faces wet with tears. Above them stretched a dark expanse of sky - the vast emptiness of all they had lost and all they had forgotten. They fell to their knees and sobbed.
 
* * *
 
The young man and the daughter of the mountain spirit did marry and they had children born of man and nature. The Spirit of the Mountain never spoke again, but his Daughter sang songs to her children - songs in a language from long ago and a tune from far away.
 
With each note, with each song, with each story, a flower grew.
 
 
***
 
Our world is dying
 
 
Today we must remember again the mountain spirits and a new tribe will be born.
 
 
 
 
Copyright - Abigail Palache 02/02/2015
 
Thanks to Kira Van Deusen for recording this traditional Siberian tale.
Thank you to the Tuvan tellers who still speak these tales in their native land.  
For more info on this brilliant culture: http://www.washington.edu/uwpress/search/books/VANSIN.html 

 

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Moon in the Water

The moon is above, shining white in the night sky.
The people are below, on the dark earth.

There is a prosperous village, full of health and happiness, surrounded on all sides by a thick, black marsh. Those wishing to journey to or from the village must first negotiate tiny pathways and sticky depths.

Evil resides in the marsh - deep shadows that lanterns of the village cannot penetrate; whispering voices that lure from the path into the sinking swamp; strange, pale lights that dance and deceive.

When the moon is high in the sky, the path is clear enough to navigate but those who travel on nights without her light are lost.

Woe betide the wanderer who goes without the light of the moon to guide her.

One night, a mother lamented her child lost in the marsh-darkness and the moon heard her sorrows. The moon had always loved the people of the village and was deeply distressed by the cries.

Mother Moon wrapped her radiance in a thick cloak, put a hood over her bright hair and sank to earth.

A small glow around her feet was all that she had to guide her through the marshes. She felt around for rushes, grass underfoot, but the path was not clear and she heard the distant murmurings of sorrowful thoughts.

You could walk forever in this strange, dark place.

At that moment she lost her footing, slipped and splashed into water. Mother Moon struggled and grasped, but she only sank deeper. The evil things that live in the swamp came creeping up around her, curious and hungry, holding her tight in their murky grasp.

Suddenly, there came a great sobbing voice: "Help me, please help me" and footsteps approached.

"Turn and walk away. Do not come this way. There is no path here," cried Mother Moon, but it was no use - the man came ever nearer.

"Hello? Is there someone there? Please, help me!"

"NO! Do not come this way. Turn around!" She struggled and twisted with all her strength, crying with full voice to the traveller. As she pulled and kicked, the hood of her cloak fell back and the face of the moon lit the marshes for miles around.

Startled and relieved, the lost man fled on moonlit paths through the marsh and was gone.

He did not stop to think what marvellous thing had happened.

Exhausted, Mother Moon sank into the mud. Her head fell to her breast and her light was concealed once more. Full of hate and spite, the evil things returned to do away with the blinding light of the Moon. Sharp claws pulled her downward, cold voices crowed and strange songs were sung.

A great boulder was brought to cover where Mother Moon was buried and keep her light from the world forever.

From that night onwards, the moon was gone and many, many travellers, wanderers and dreamers  were lost to the never-ending dark.

How long was she down there, in her living tomb? How long were we without her?

After too many did not return, the villagers decided something must be done. With blazing torches, they gathered together to search the marshes for the moon. Evil things scratched and pulled at their ankles, but together they were strong and together they remained marching deeper into the blackness.

"This rock," cried a child. "It doesn't belong there."

With a great heave, the people of the village wrenched the stone from the inky water. In a heartbeat, the marsh was filled with a glowing light and there she was, rising from the depths - a great gleaming wave of guidance.

Sorrow and fear faded in this moon-rising.
Dark thoughts fled from this moon-dawning.

The bright Mother smiled at her children and they watched as she climbed the staircase of night to took her place amongst the stars. Her distant shining brought them safely home.

She is above, shining white in the night sky.
The people are below, on the dark earth.
Upturned, their faces silver in the light of the Moon.

From an old English folktale (http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/meft/meft24.htm)

Retold by Abigail Palache September 2014

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Sunday, 2 March 2014

Eating the Earth - a first draft

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, there was a town. It was a peaceful, happy and prosperous place, protected from the world by a great mountain - its side strong with grey rock; its top glistening with snow.

One day, an old man came down from the mountain with a cart full of sweet buns.
"One bun for ten coins, two for twenty coins, three for free!"
A middle aged man in a smart hat stopped him.
"Old man, are you mad? You mean you will charge me nothing for three buns but twenty coins for two?"
"Yes," smiled the old man. The creases around his eyes and the lines around his mouth were as deep as a valley.
"So if I ask for one, I must pay ten coins."
"Yes," smiled the old man.
"And if I want two, I must pay twenty."
"Yes," smiled the old man.
"But for three, I pay nothing."
"Yes, exactly."
"Well," the middle-aged man said in the smug tones of one who has beaten the system, "I will have three buns for free."
The old man gave him three buns and then gave three buns each to a group of women and the elderly couple walking their dog took three buns each and the mother walking her baby down the street took three buns and his cart was as empty as his purse.

The next day the old man came down the mountain with his cart full of sweet buns.
"One for ten, two for twenty, three for free."
And once again the crowds flocked.

And the next day the same, and the next, and the next.

This went on for days,
                               weeks,
                                   months.



One chilly, spring morning when the sun shone brightly over the town, a young man stopped by the old man's cart.
"I'll have one please," he asked and handed the old man ten coins.
"What's wrong with you? You can get three for free you know," said a passing woman, in a fine silk dress.
"I don't want three," said the young man, "I want one."
"What's wrong with you? You can get three for free you know," said a passing man, wearing an expensive suit.
"I don't want it for free," said the young man, "I want to pay him."

A few people heard, but nobody listened. An old woman took three free buns as she passed by and shoved them into a bulging bag.

The young man stood next to the old man, watching the people of the town.

"They don't see and they don't listen," said the old man, putting a gnarled hand on his companion's shoulder. "They don't see."

The old man turned his head and the young man followed his gaze up to the great mountain that protected the town. What had once been a solid, strong triangle of rock and snow, was now split down the middle by an empty wound, a great gaping gash.

"They have been eating the mountain. They have been eating earth and rock and snow and soil," said the spirit of the mountain softly, his hand lifting from the young man's shoulder "and they didn't even notice."

When the young man turned back, there was no cart and no old man, just people with shopping bags walking from shop to shop, from stall to stall.

He stood for a moment as the world moved to and fro around him. No-one lifted their head to see what they had done.

The young man breathed deeply, turned and walked alone up the mountain path.

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