Saturday, 11 November 2017

Angara's Escape - a tale from Lake Baikal

A retold tale from the people of Siberia

As the night draws her cloak around the shore of Lake Baikal, spirits and shadows wake up. Not everything is as it seems in this place, for Siberia is a land filled with magic. Sit down at the water’s edge and, as darkness falls, listen to the stories it has to tell.

Baikal was once a God. He was strong, fierce and proud. He had 337 children, but of all of these he loved Angara the best. She shone like a sky full of stars, her soul was deeper than the water of the lake and her mind as sharp as the ice shards of winter.

Many princes came to ask for Angara’s hand in marriage. They would travel from afar and stay at her Father’s house, singing great ballads of their love, reciting reams of poetic metaphor and showing Baikal how brilliant they were in conversation and competition.

But Angara was not interested in any of these visitors.

One day, as she was wandering the shore of the lake, a traveller sat by the water's edge gazing over the still waters. Around him was a deep quiet, the quiet that comes with the first snow fall of winter when all noise is cushioned and all becomes still. He was tall and his eyes were as wide as the ocean itself. His name was Yenisei and he was journeying from the frozen north to his mountain homeland far to the south.
"Sit with me if you wish," he said. 
They sat for a while in silence and then they began to talk.
Yenisei was full of stories. He told her of proud antlered reindeer, of huge white bears that rise up on their hind legs and bellow at the moon; of the dancing of silver fish in crystal clear waters and mountains that touch the frozen fingers of the moon. They sat together and talked in this way until the sun hid her face behind the hills and sat together quietly, watching side-by-side as the world grew dark around them.
That night, Yenisei asked Angara to marry him. She smiled a smile that made the moon shine brighter and said “YES!”

“I must leave now. I will be back soon to speak to your father about our wedding,” said Yenisei, “but here, I have a gift for you.”

Yenisei gave Angara a tall white bird - a Siberian crane. “If you need me, this bird will always find me and I will come for you, even if I am a thousand miles away.”

And Yenisei was gone.

The next day, Baikal came to find his daughter

“My dear girl, my beautiful Angara, I have found you a husband at last!”

Irkut was an older man with cold eyes. He had no stories and it seemed to Angara that her heart would freeze if she spent too long sat beside him. But she was too afraid to tell her father about the man she had promised herself to or challenge his choice.
Do not forget, Baikal was a God. 

Angara whispered her woes into the ear of the white bird. The crane collected every word and every tear and flew off and away into the sky.

Days passed, but no message from Yenisei came. Meanwhile, Baikal was busy preparing for her wedding to Irkut. Each night there were great feasts and Angara had to sit beside her father's intended son-in-law and suffer his cold breath on her cheek, his bony hand on her arm. Angara’s heart felt heavy and her stomach thick with fear.

The night before the wedding, Angara could not bear it any longer. She no longer cared that her father was a God - she would rather die in the wilds of Siberia than marry that man.
She crept out of her room, down the stairs and out of the door. She took a proud white stallion from the stables and whispered “Run my friend. I beg you - take me far from here.”

When Baikal awoke with the first rays of the sun and found his daughter had gone, he raged and roared. He scanned the land and found the path his daughter was riding, out of the valley and away from the lake. Terror caught Angara's breath as she felt his eyes upon her. 

“YOU WILL DO AS I SAY ANGARA!” Baikal screamed. He ran to the shore of the lake, picked up an enormous rock and with all his strength, he threw the rock at his daughter. 
The rock flew through the air. It would have crushed her but the horse was fast and swift and she escaped!

Angara rode and rode and rode. How long she rode, I do not know, but I do know that although her body escaped unscathed, that rock had crushed her heart and made it hard to breath. 
River. Mountains. Rock. Ice. Wind. Snow. Rain. Snow. Ice. Rock. Mountains. River. 
Finally, she reached the Sayan Mountains and there, galloping towards her on a strong black horse, was Yenisei! He took her in his arms and she wept. Yenisei led her up high into the mountains and sat silently beside her, holding her hand softly in his. They sat in this way as the sun hid her face and the moon man turned the grey rocks silver.
Up in the cold air of the mountains, Angara found she could breath again.

Angara never returned to her Father’s lake. Of over 300 rivers that flow into Lake Baikal, only the Angara River flows out. The rock that Baikal threw is also still there in the waters of the great lake. The shamans - the holy magicians - of Siberia say that the rock holds secrets and stories for those who know how to listen.

And that is the story of Angara’s escape from her angry father to the mountains of Sayan where she runs free forever.
Copyright Abigail Simmonds 11/11/17

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Morning Star and Long Leg the Frog

A folktale from Peru, retold for 

When she was born, her mother looked into her eyes and saw that they sparkled.

“She is called Collyur – morning star,” said her mother. Collyur grew happy and strong in her village home, high in the mountains of Peru.

But that was a long time ago. Now her Mother was crying; Collyur had disappeared and no one had seen her for days.


In a cold mountain stream, lived a little frog. As she grew from an inky black tadpole, she noticed she was different – one of her legs was longer than the other. Her brothers and sisters teased and laughed at her so Frog would swim upstream to hide her tears from them.

Frog sat in shady waters near the gaping mouth of a cave. It was Condor’s cave and he swooped in and out on his great black wings each and every day. But Condor did not live alone. As night turned to day and the morning star appeared over the mountains, a young girl left the cave, carrying vicuna skins which she would begin to beat into blankets. There was a long sinew of rope around her ankle that kept her tied close to Condor’s cave. Frog could see tears glistening in the girl’s eyes and saw that whenever Condor flew over, the girl would wipe the tears away so he would not see her cry.

“She is like me; we are sisters,” thought Frog.

One day, Frog heard the girl and Condor talking.

“I must wash my clothes. Let me down to the stream.”

“Do you think I’m stupid?” Condor croaked “You will run away and I will have no one to serve me.”

“You will be able to hear me beat my clothes against the rocks. I could not escape.”

“Ok, but if I cannot hear the beat of your washing for even a second, I will swoop down and you will be punished!” he rasped.

And so the rope was loosened and the girl ran down to the stream.  

“Hey! Hey! Girl! Over here!” Frog shouted.

Collyur turned and saw a little frog with one long leg.

“Let me help you. I will beat your clothes so he will not realised you have escaped.”

“Why would you help me little frog?” she asked in amazement.

“Why wouldn’t I help someone in pain?”

So Frog climbed out of the stream and took Collyur’s clothes in the toes of her long leg and with all of her strength, the tiny frog began to beat the clothes against the rock.

 “Run sister! Run!” Frog cried.

Collyur paused, smiled and kissed the little frog on the forehead and then she turned and ran as far and as fast as she could down the mountains and back to her village.


Condor could no longer hear the sound of his prisoner cleaning her clothes. Furious, he flapped his wings and soared down to the stream. His keen eyes looked here and there, but all he could see was the shadow of a long-legged frog swimming through the water.

Frog returned to her home. When she arrived her brother and sisters stared in wonder, for where Collyur had kissed her there was now a shining jewel. Frog felt a swelling of pride and joy in her heart. Her brothers and sisters never teased her again.

Back in the village, Collyur’s mother sat weeping. Just before sunrise as the night drew back her cloak, Collyur appeared at the door. Her face was stained with tears, but her eyes glistened with joy.

“My morning star!”cried her mother. They embraced and sobbed and laughed and Collyur told them the whole story.  

And from that day to this, the people of that village leave tiny frog statues by the streams and on the mountain tops to thank the long-legged Frog and ask for her help in all that they do.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Conversations with a Raven God

So it's been a while since I wrote on this blog - over a year in fact! During that year, I have had a beautiful baby boy and, to be honest, all has gone a bit quiet on the storytelling front as I search for a new direction in which to explore the invisible world of story, society and spirit.

Over the last 5 years, I have plunged myself into the world of Norse mythology. I have researched, read and (thanks to my amazing in-laws) got to stand with my two feet firmly planted on Norwegian soil. This fixation on one mythology enabled me to really get under the skin of the stories - often telling them from multiple perspectives - but gradually I realised that I had lost touch with oral storytelling and had become more reliant on written words and structures to enable me to handle the size and power of these stories. Put simply, it was all getting a bit much!

So now it is time for new adventures. Below is my version of  the end of the Norse world - the fall of Odin and the coming of Ragnarok. Far be it from being a complete and total ending, it is rather (in my imagining) the end of an era - the era of Odin - and a making way for something new.

For those Norse scholars among you, I have used the Prose and Poetic Edda for my version and included the Rape of Rind from the Saxo Grammaticus - a very different imagining of the mythology written by a Christian who had no sympathy or love for the pagan deities. I have included it because it offers a darker side of Odin the King, that Snorri seemed to want to avoid as snippets of this rape appear in the poetic but not in his rendering of the myths. Maybe it was that Odin the Trickster played his last trick and painted himself King through Snorri's hand...

Conversations with a Raven God
Performed at Treadwells (London) and East Anglia Storytelling Festival (2016)

Silence I ask of the sacred folk,
Silence of the kith and kin of Heimdal:
At your will Valfather, I shall well relate
The old songs of men I remember best.

I tell of giants from times forgotten.
Those who fed me in former days:
Nine worlds I can reckon, nine roots of the tree.
The wonderful ash, way under the ground

When Ymir lived long ago
Was no sand or sea, no surging waves.
Nowhere was there earth nor heaven above.
Bur a grinning gap and grass nowhere.

The sons of Bur then built up the lands.
Moulded in magnificence middle-Earth:
Sun stared from the south on the stones of their hall,
From the ground there sprouted green leeks.

His brothers settled on the land and began to craft and create creatures, plants, the bounty of the sea and the fertile soil. But Odin was restless. He left his brothers behind and set to walking the land he had created.

Odin walked through forest, valley and up high mountains. At the crest of a great rocky mountain, he stopped and sat and looked over the beauty of his creation. The sun shone bright and the silver of mountain’s rock made it brighter still. He squinted and blinked and through half closed eyes, he saw it - there, at the edge of reality, the branches of a great tree. It reached beyond his understanding of high. It reached below his understanding of low. It reached into and past his understanding of the centre.

The World Tree - the great Ash - Yggdrasil and in the branches of the tree, Odin saw that there was not one world, but nine. Nine worlds. He saw his brothers, far off to the west in a green and pleasant land, he saw the mists gathering around a miserable little realm, he heard the giants rumble and roar from an eastern shore, from somewhere deep below came a cold wind and from somewhere deep beneath came a burning breath.

In the branches of Yggdrasil, the nine realms hung. He named each of the worlds.
Asgard. Vanaheim. Muspelheim. Nifelheim. Svartlvelheim. Alfheim. Jotunheim. Midgard. Hel.

As he stood and stared, he did not notice two shadows, two black clouds, flying towards him. The Ravens Hugin and Munin - thought and memory - settled themselves on his shoulders.

Raven God, Carrion King
Let us tell you what we see

Raven God, Carrion King
Let us tell you what we see

Raven God, Carrion King
Fly with us, journey with us

Raven God, Carrion King
Fly with us, journey with us

Raven God Carrion King,
The Raven road is long and the worlds are many.

As his brothers settled in Vanaheim and sent waves of life, fertility and plenty out across the cosmos, Odin journeyed. One flight took him into the tangled branches of the tree and there he saw the four great stags who chewed at the leaves of the tree each day. He felt the drip and drop of sweet dewfall from Yggdrasil and heard the happy hum of honey bees collecting it in early mornings to turn to sweet golden light. Another time, Odin travelled to the very top of the great tree and he sat upon the brow of the eagle alongside the far-seeing hawk and stared out to the edges of existence where it faded into white mystery and silence. Soon after, he found himself down at the base of the deepest roots where he breathed the poison air of the thousand serpents who bit and snapped and chewed he roots of Yggdrasil.

As he travelled he learned and with knowledge came power.

I hung from the windy tree nine days nine nights.
I hung from the windy tree nine days nine nights
Stabbed with a spear, myself to mine own self given. 
Myself to mine own self given. 

None refreshed me with food or drink
I peered down deep
Crying aloud I brought up the runes
Myself to mine own self given 

Nine Mighty songs I learned from the great sire of Bale-thorn
The wondrous mead I drank
In Soulstirrer’s drops I was showered. 
In soulstirrer’s drop I was showered. 

Ere long I grew and throve full well
I grew and waxed in wisdom 
Word following word - I wrought words
Deed following deed - I wrought deeds.

Odin had won the mead and magic of poetry. His tongue turned pure gold and every word he spoke was gilded with honey-mead magic.

Odin went to the tree. He hung, without food or water, from the branches of the great tree until, screaming, the magical runes were granted to him.

Odin sat with the ancient ones and was taught 9 songs of great magic.

Odin gave his eye to the well of Mimir and was granted great knowledge.

Odin went to the world of men - his Valkyries screaming through the sky to help or hinder the wars of men.

Odin was older now. He was broad and magnetic. His one piercing blue eye looked out over all the nine worlds. He had the power of poetry and the knowledge of the well, he knew songs to raise the dead and win the heart of any woman, he knew the rules of men and the laws of giants, he could charm swords to fight and gods to defend, he was the Father of Song, King of Asgard, Lord of Battle.
There was still one place, however, Odin could not see into - one place still murky, mysterious.

The future.

Odin found himself stood beside a well in a shady clearing, by the well of Fate facing three women.
“Odin Allfather - you were the creator of the universe and the builder of Asgard. You won the runes and gifted men magic,” said one.
“Odin Allfather - you are the Allfather, the great ruler, the cleverest of the Aesir. You control the realms of men and gods. You hold the cosmos in the palm of your hand.”
“Odin Allfather,” said the youngest and palest of the three “You will not be able to stop his dying. You will not be able to stop the fires of Ragnorok. You will be ready for battle but it will not be enough. You will be swallowed by the wolf. You will be consumed by that you cannot control. It is coming Odin.”

In that moment Odin knew - all journeys, all stories, all lives must, one day, come to an end.
He saw the world’s ending. With this knowledge weighing down upon him, he went travelling.
Where he went and what he did, I do not know. But when he returned to Asgard, long  streaks of silver were in his beard and deep lines had folded themselves into his skin. Strangest of all, when he returned to Asgard, Odin did not return alone. He had another with him, bonded by blood oath. Loki, the wild one, followed Odin over the Bifrost bridge.

I could tell you of his friendship with Loki. Of the trouble his friend brought and dispelled with his wit and energy. Of the gifts Loki brought - Odin’s magical spear, his 8 legged horse, Thor’s hammer.
Of Loki’s children - of tying the great wolf Fenrir into the earth, of stopping his fierce jaws with a sharp sword. He speaks of building Valhalla - a great hall with 500 doors, a wolf hanging over each, shields and spears adorning the walls, and filled with the glorious dead - the warriors who died in battle and have sworn to fight for Odin at the great at the end of the world.

But I’m not going to tell you about any of that. I’m going to tell you about how his story ends.

Odin had many children, but the most beloved of all was Balder the beautiful. Woman, man, giant, goddess dwarf and god all loved this beautiful man. He was the God of Peace and Joy and light. He was one of Odin and his wife Frigg’s two children - Baldr and his brother Blind Hodr.
Balder was having bad dreams.
“I see columns of blood and bone. I feel a cold blackness in my flesh, but I wake sweating and sobbing.”

As he spoke the dreams to his father, the words settled like lead in Odin’s heart. He knew enough of magic and the great mystery to read what this meant, but he could not and would not believe it. He left Asgard immediately and rode his 8 legged horse across the Bifrost Bridge and down, down, down the branches of Soulstirrer the foggy realm of Hel, the world of the dead. He searched and searched until he came across an unassuming bit of dirt, but he knew the bones of Angroboda Sorrowbringer, the great prophetess that he had killed many years ago, lay beneath. Odin whispered the words of the song to bring the dead to speech and the shade of the prophetess rose from the grave.

“Speak Sorrow Bringer. Tell me what I would know.”

She turned to him with eyes of earth and fire.
“You wish to know the meaning of Baldr’s dreams and yet you know the meaning do you not? Baldr the beautiful is going to die. It is woven into the web of the world. I speak unwillingly - let me rest.”

“Speak Sorrow Bringer. Tell me what I can do to stop this happening.”

She looked at the magician.
“There is nothing to be done. No-one, however powerful, can break the weave that is woven. No-one, however strong, can break the weft.”

Over and over and over he questioned, but her answer was always the same. Over and Over - he will die. Nothing you can do. He will die.


The shade smiled a wicked smile.

“Baldr will die by a brother’s hand. You cannot stop this. But you can avenge it Odin. There is a woman in Midgard called Rind - the daughter of a King. Your son by her will be named Vali and though he will not be one day old, he will kill the one who killed Baldr the beloved. Now, I have spoken unwillingly and I will speak no more.”

And Odin was alone in the cold darkness of Hel.


The name clawed at his throat, clamoured inside his skull, raced through his veins until it consumed his being. Rind. Rind. Rind. He would go to her and he would have her and he would avenge his son who was doomed to die.  He would do What he must. .

Up in the great hall of Valhalla, Frigga assembled the gods. Odin sat in the shadows as his wife spoke.

“Joyful news. My son is saved. I have been travelling the 9 worlds and I secured sacred promises from everything in the world that it will not do Baldr harm. Metal, fire, flesh, bone - nothing will harm our beloved boy. He is saved.”

And indeed he was - from that day on, not spear or sword would pierce Baldr’s flesh. Even Thor’s hammer, when launched right at Baldr’s head did not dent or damage his shining brow.

It seemed the tide had turned. It seemed the tide had turned.

Rind. Rind. Rind. The name hammered at Odin’s heart. He knew it was not done. He knew this was not over. He left Asgard in secret.

In the realm of the humans - Midgard - Rind was sat in her father’s halls in the warm glow of the fire when Ran came to court her. She was fair and intelligent and had no interest in men. Ran was young, strong and handsome with a shock of blonde hair and a single piercing blue eye. He spoke sweet words to her, but the young woman simply smiled and shook her head. Day after day he returned and words that began sweet turned seductive then sensual then strict then sour. Nothing would sway her. So Odin tried another approach and transformed into his own weathered, broad and magnetic form, “I am Odin and of all the women, goddesses and giants in this world I want you. I need you. Let me take you in my arms and show you the nine worlds.” She smiled and shook her head.

Odin left Rind’s hall in a wild fury. He had been turned down before, but he could not let this stand. This cut him deeper than any blade. He had a mission that must be fulfilled. He had to do what he had to do. Odin whispered magical words.

Back in Asgard, Loki the wild, Loki the shapeshifter sat in the mead halls of Gladsheim and inside he burned with an untamed fury as he watched Baldr the beloved, Baldr the beautiful laughing as the other gods pelted him with swords and spears and rocks that fell to the floor leaving him unscathed and unharmed. Why did everyone love Baldr? Why didn’t they love Loki? Why was he never part of this joy and celebration? He licked his lips and felt the scars where a dwarf had sown up his lips as Asgard laughed. He scratched his shoulders and felt the scars where an eagle had ripped into his flesh as Odin watched. He had brought them so much - Odin’s spear, the 8 legged horse - and how did they repay him? What had Baldr ever done? Enough. Loki would not let this stand.

That night, Rind felt a little hot and a little faint. She went to bed early.

Loki transformed himself into an old woman - wild silver hanging down his back, his teeth back and yellow, his eyes piercing - and went to Frigga’s halls. Odin’s wife, sat sowing in when the ragged creature entered.
“There is a man being pelted with weapons in the mead halls. Is this how gods treat one another?” Frigga smiled and told her of the magical oaths she had got from everything in the world.
The old woman grimaced, “There must have been something you didn’t ask, something that didn’t swear.” Frigga’s face got a far-away look. There was silence. Then she spoke. “It was so young and I was tired. The mistletoe.”
When she turned her hall was empty.

Rind was getting sicker and sicker with every minute that passed. Her face was deathly pale and her breathing hoarse and shallow. Her father sent out his messengers to bring the herb women to the halls, but none came.

The night was dark and the sky full of thunder. Rain hammered the earth into mud. there were three great knocks at Rind’s palace door. In the deluge stood an ancient old woman wearing a dark blue cloak, an old grey hat, with a single sword edge blue eye. Her hair hung wild silver down her back.
“I know what ails your child. She will die if left. I know the cure, but it is very painful and she will cry out. It may be hard for you to listen. She will need to be restrained. But it will save her life. I must be left alone and undisturbed with her.”

Blind Hod, Baldr’s brother, sat in the Mead Halls of Gladsheim, listening to the games and laughter around him, breathing in the honey sweet, sweat sour air. He had long accepted his lot in life - he could not join in the games but he could bathe in the warmth of his fellows. He wanted to feel content.
“Why not join in, come let me guide your hand. It would be a great honour to your brother.” The voice of the untamed god slipped smooth as silk into his heart and he was seized by a sudden desire to be part of the games. “I have a small wooden dart - it will harm none. Your brother will be thrilled that you are a part of things.”

Blind Hod took the mistletoe dart between his fingers and let Loki hold his hand and arm and guide him close to where Baldr stood. Baldr laughed and smiled at his blind, little brother.

Rind lay passively as her hands and feet were bound with leather straps to the wooden posts of her bed. It was not until she was secured and bound that the old woman entered her chamber. It was not until Rind caught sight of the shining blue eye that she began to fight and scream and scream and scream and her father locked the door.

The mistletoe dart flew through the air. It pierced Baldr’s flesh and entered the red warmth of his heart.

Outside the locked door, Rind’s Father sank to the floor, tears pouring down his face.

Then Baldr the beautiful cried out and crumpled to the floor and the screaming stopped.

Odin felt Baldr’s body fall and the veil was lifted. What had he done? He cried aloud and ran from Rind’s halls into the storm of night. All he could see was the woman’s face, his son’s blood. All he could feel was her terrified flesh and empty eyes. He ripped the old woman’s garments from his body, his cloak, his hat and ran through the rain naked and sobbing from the depths of his being. He felt sick. He screamed to the heavens and the sky roared thunder back at him.

What had he done?

Word following word. I wrought words.
Deed following deed. I wrought deeds.

Baldr’s death rang out across all 9 worlds, but there was no spell, nor rune, nor song to bring the boy to life again. Loki was taken to a high cave and bound to a rock until the end of days. Rind gave birth to a baby boy and before he was even a day old, he took a spear and threw it high into the sky and that spear hit Blind Hod who died in his mother’s arms.

Asgard fell into a dark twilight. Ragnarok- the end of the world- was on its way.

Asgard. Vanaheim. Muspelheim. Nifelheim. Svartlvelheim. Alfheim. Jotunheim. Midgard. Hel.

From his high seat in Valaskjalf, Odin sat and felt a bitter cold settle in his heart. Fimbulwinter - a deep winter froze the nine worlds.

Odin felt the sharp cut of regret pierce his heart and cut into his stomach. Axe age, sword age cut into the flesh of men.

From somewhere in the nine worlds, He heard a woman screaming the lightening of memory sparked up his spine.

Odin felt a heavy, thick sickness in his bowels. Age of Darkness. Brothers raped sisters, mothers ran screaming.

Some deeds can be forgiven. Others forgot. But not all. He could not go on. His time as Allfather was over. This was the end. Flame, fire and wolf - the world’s ending.

From the land of fire, Surt led his hoard of firedemons to the great plains.
From the land of frost and fog, a ship of the dead lead by Loki landed on the shores of Asgard.
The Giants of Jotunheim roared and took their axes and clubs and headed to the God’s palace.
The wolf ripped himself from his binding and howled to the moon.
The Gods rode into battle with shining armour and sharp spears.
Frey was first to fall, cut down by surt.
Heimdall and Loki next, ripping one another to bloody pieces.
Thor battled the great snake and in killing it died of his wounds.
Odin faced the wild wolf.
He ran towards it, battle cry shaking the earth itself.

And then he stopped.

                         Odin let go of his spear.
             He loosed his armour.
He dropped his head.

The great wolf picked up the tiny god in his teeth and threw him in the air and swallowed him whole.

It was over.

I see Earth rising a second time
Out of the foam, fair and green;
Down from the fells fish to capture,
Wings the eagle; waters flow. 

Copyright Abigail Palache 2017

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.

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 

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.


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.


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 which was, in turn, told to the writer by Ale'qat.

This version Copyright Abigail Palache 30/04/2015