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October 2017

Tunes for a Monday Morning

Avebury by Stu Jenks

With Halloween, Samhain, and the Days of the Dead approaching, here are songs of witchcraft, hauntings, devilish deeds, and magic by moonlight....

 Above:  "Lancashire, God's Country" from Cunning Folk (George Nigel Hoyle), a musician, folklorist, and storyteller based in London. The song, based on the Pendle Witch Trials of 1612, comes from his gorgeous album Ritual Land, Uncommon Ground (2017). I also recommend the Cunning Folk blog for good posts on folklore, magic, and history.

Below: "Magpie," by the The Unthanks, from Northumbria. The song, written by David Dodds, is based on traditional counting rhymes, and appears on The Unthanks sixth album, Mount the Air (2015).

Above: "Devil's Resting Place" by singer/songwriter Laura Marling, based in London. The song is from her fourth album, Once I Was an Eagle (2013).

Below: "Pretty Polly," a murder ballad performed by Vandaveer (Mark Charles Heidinger and Rose Guerin), based in Kentucky.  This traditional song comes from the British Isles, but can also be found in American Appalachian songbooks. It appears on Vandaveer's album of murder ballads, Oh, Willie, Please (2013).

 

Above: The spooky, folkloric video for "Black Horse" by singer/songwriter Lisa Knapp, from south London. The song appears on her second album, Hidden Seam (2013), and features vocals by James Yorkston.

Below: "La Fille Damnee" (The Damned Girl)  by Breton harpist and songwriter Cécile Corbel. The song appears on her second album, SongBook Vol. 2 (2008).

The images today are of Avebury in Wiltshire and Callanish on the Isle of Lewis, photographed by my friend Stu Jenks. Visit Fizziwig Press to see more of his beautiful work.

Four Stones by Stu Kenks


Tunes for a Monday Morning

The Maiden Notburga & Her White Stag by Wilhelm Roegge

This week, music rooted in the Nordic folk tradition from Sweden and Norway....

To start with: "Sparvens visa" (about a little sparrow and the coming of winter) by the Swedish folk trio Triakel: Emma Härdelin (from the folk-rock band Garmarna), Kjell-Erik Eriksson (fiddle), and Janne Strömstedt (harmonium). Their sixth and most recent album is Thyra (2014).

Above: "Le Fil" by the Swedish folk duo Symbio: Johannes Geworkian-Hellman on hurdy-gurdy and LarsEmil Öjeberget on accordion. They have one album out, Phoresy (2016), with a second due out next year.

Below: "Et steg ut" by  Susanne Lundeng, a Norwegian fiddler and composer who draws inspiration from folk music, classical music, and jazz. In the video below she performs with Bjørn Andor Drage (keyboard) and Arnfinn Bergrabb (percussion) in Bodø, in the north of Norway. Lungen's eighth and most recent solo album is 111 Nordlandsslåtter (2015.)

Above: "Shallow Digger" by contemporary folksinger/songwriter Siv Jakobsen, based in Oslo on Norway's south coast. The song is from her haunting new album The Nordic Mellow (2017).

Below: "How We Used to Love," an older song of Jakobsen's, from The Lingering (2015). I like the glimpses of Norwegian landscape and architecture in this video...plus the very cute dog.

And to end as we began, with a song about a bird:

"Blackbird" by Swedish folksinger/songwriter Jenny Lysander, from her lovely first album Northern Folk (2015). The video was directed by Ana Tortos. Lysander is based in Stockholm.

Illustration by Honore Appleton

The art today is: "The Maiden Notburga & her White Stag," a Norwegian fairy tale illustrated by Wilhelm Roegge (1829 - 1908), and "Gerda," from Andersen's The Snow Queen illustrated by Honor Appleton (1879-1951).


Animalness

From Old French Fairy Tales illustrated by Virginia Frances Sterrett

“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far beneath ourselves. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complex than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”  - Henry Beston (The Outermost House)

From Old French Fairy Tales illustrated by Virginia Francis Sterrett

“How monotonous our speaking becomes when we speak only to ourselves! And how insulting to the other beings – to foraging black bears and twisted old cypresses – that no longer sense us talking to them, but only about them, as though they were not present in our world…Small wonder that rivers and forests no longer compel our focus or our fierce devotion. For we walk about such entities only behind their backs, as though they were not participant in our lives. Yet if we no longer call out to the moon slipping between the clouds, or whisper to the spider setting the silken struts of her web, well, then the numerous powers of this world will no longer address us – and if they still try, we will not likely hear them.”  - David Abram (Becoming Animal)

From Old French Fairy Tales illustrated by Virginia Frances Sterrett

"Maybe it's animalness that will make the world right again: the wisdom of elephants, the enthusiasm of canines, the grace of snakes, the mildness of anteaters. Perhaps being human needs some diluting."  - Carol Emshwiller (Carmen Dog

From Tanglewood Tales illustrated by Virginia Frances Sterrett (1921)

The art today is by American illustrator Virginia Frances Sterrett (1900-1931), who was born Chicago, but raised in Missouri after the early death of her father. She studied briefly at the Art Institute of Chicago, receiving a full scholarship when she was just 15 -- but had to leave when her mother grew ill and she took on sole support of her family. She worked in Chicago's advertising industry, and obtained her first book commission at the age of 19: illustrating Comtesse de Ségur's Old French Fairy Tales for the Penn Publishing Company in 1920, followed by Nathaniel Hawthorne's Tanglewood Tales in 1921.

At the same time Virginia's own health was failing and the diagnosis was grim: tuberculosis. The family moved to the warm, dry climate of California, but her health grew worse and worse, and she entered a sanatorium in Pasedena at age 24. She continued to work, but her output slowed, and her third book, The Arabian Nights, was not published until 1928. She was working on her last commission, Myths & Legends, when she died in 1931.

From Tanglewood Tales illustrated by Virginia Frances Sterrett

In a tribute to Sterrett, the Saint Louise Post-Dispatch reported: "Her achievement was beauty, a delicate, fantastic beauty, created with brush and pencil. Almost unschooled in art, her life spent in prosaic places of the West and Middle West, she made pictures of haunting loveliness, suggesting Oriental lands she never saw and magical realms no one ever knew except in the dreams of childhood....Perhaps it was the hardships of her own life that gave the young artist's work its fanciful quality. In the imaginative scenes she set down on paper she must have escaped from the harsh actualities of existence."

Old French Fairy Tails illustrated by Virginia Francis SterrettThe quotes above first appeared on Myth & Moor in 2012, reposted today with updated art.


Holding the world in balance

A stag who appears on New Year's Day in Romania (photograph by Charles Fréger)

Ceremonial deer dancers in the Mayan, Portuguese, and Bhutan traditions

Following on from yesterday's post, here's a passage from an interview with Chickasaw writer Linda Hogan noting the role of traditional ceremonies in mediating our relationship with animals:

"There were times when animals and people spoke the same language, or when the animals helped the humans. For instance, our mythology says it was the spider who brought us fire. I’ve thought about these human-animal relationships for years -- is this true? Well, humans and animals existed together for many thousands of years without creating the loss of species. There was enormous respect given to animals. I have to trust the knowledge of indigenous people because it held a world in balance.

"I have a special interest in ceremonies. I look at a ceremony called the Deer Dance. In the ceremony, I watch the entire world unfold through the life of the deer and a man dressed as a deer. The man dances all night. It is as if he were transformed into a deer. This is a renewal ceremony for the people. The deer that lives in the mountains far from the people provides them with life.

"The purpose of most ceremonies -- such as healing ceremonies -- is to return one person or group of people to themselves, to place the human in proper relationship with the rest of the world. I thought that we were out of touch with ourselves twenty years ago. Now, with computers and email and cell phones, we are even more out of touch. How many of us even stay in touch with our own bodies? If we aren’t inhabiting our own bodies, how can we understand animal bodies of the world?"

Deer dancer at the Crane Festival in Bhutan 2

Tibetan Cham Deer  in the early 20th & 2st centuries

Women's deer dance in Bali

An urban deer dance by artist Carolyn Ryder Cooley

"Indian people," says Hogan, "must not be the only ones who remember the agreement with the land, the sacred pact to honor and care for the life that, in turn, provides for us. We need to reach a hand back through time and a hand forward, stand at the zero point of creation to be certain we do not create the absence of life, of any species, no matter how inconsequential they might appear to be. "

Yaqui Deer and Pascola Dancers, Sonora, Mexico

Deer Dance by Kyle Bowman

Yokai spirits in Akita Prefecture, Japan (photograph by Charles Fréger)

Pictures: A traditional stag dancer on New Year's Day in Romania (photographed bCharles Fréger); Mayan, Portuguese, and Bhutan deers dancers (the second photograph by Fréger); a deer dancer performing at the Black Crane Festival in Bhutan; Tiben Cham Deers, early in the 20th & 21st centuries; a women's deer dance in Bali; an urban deer dance by American artist Carolyn Ryder Cooley; Yaqui Deer and Pascola Dancers in procession in Sonora, Mexico; a Yaqui Deer Dancer in Arizona (photograph by Kyle Bowman), and Yokai spirits in Akita Prefecture, Japan (photographed by Charles Fréger). Please note that there are rules and taboos about photographing sacred ceremonies; I've only used photographs taken with permission.

Words: The first passage above is from an interview with Linda Hogan by Camille Colatosti, published onlne in The Witness. (Alas, it no longer appears to be available.) The second passage is from Hogan's essay collection Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World (WW Norton, 2007), which I highly recommend. All rights reserved by the author.

Further reading: "Deer Woman and the Living Myth of the Dreamtime" by Carolyn Dunn, "Where the White Stag Runs" by Ari Berk, and two previous posts: "Wild Folklore" and "Homemade Ceremonies."