I'm giving this talk on Saturday evening, woven with storytelling by my husband Howard Gayton, an actor and dramatist. Perhaps we'll see some of you there? More information on the event can be found on the Green Hill website. Also, there's just one more week to see the Widdershins exhibition. Then, like faery gold, it's gone....
This will be my last event for the Widdershins 2016 exhibition: a talk on folklore and myth in healing traditions, woven with storytelling by my husband Howard Gayton, an actor and dramatist. I haven't given this particular talk before -- it's a new piece spurred by some of the things we've discussed here on Myth & Moor, so it would be lovely to see some of you there, if you're in striking distance of Devon.
Green Hill is also sponsoring two film showings that you may be interested in: There's an evening devoted to Labyrinth on August 12th, presented with a talk by Widdershins artist Brian Froud, who designed the film. And there's a matinee showing of Willow the following day. Follow the links for more information.
Tickets for all of these events can be purchased at Green Hill, through the Green Hill website, or by phoning 01647 440775.
The artists taking part in the Widdershins 2016 exhibition of moorland mythic art:
Angharad Barlow, Danielle Barlow, Hazel Brown, Brian Froud, Wendy Froud, Paul Kidby, Alan Lee, Marja Lee, Pauline Lee Virginia Lee, Rima Staines, Neil Wilkinson-Cave, me, and David Wyatt. Artists & artisans with work in the adjoining Green Hill shop include Suzi Crockford and Alexandra Dawe.
Wendy is away in America right now, and Rima is off on her Hedgespoken travels, but Alan, Brian, David, Virginia, Marja, Danielle & I have all confirmed that we'll be there, and probably a few others as well. If you're anywhere close to Devon, please come join us. Tickets can be booked online on the Green Hill website, or by phoning 01647 440775, or purchased at the door. All proceeds help to keep this community arts, heritage, and youth centre in operation.
The art above is by David Wyatt, from his fabulous "Imaginary Village" series.
To all of you within travelling distance of Devon:
Please join Marja Lee, Hazel Brown and me for an Artists Coffee Morning on Friday at Green Hill Arts in Mortenhampstead, where the Widdershins 2016 exhibition of Dartmoor mythic art is currently on display. We'll be talking about our art in the exhibition, and also about the process of making mythic art -- with a focus on how myth, folklore, and friendship impacts our lives and creative work.
The event takes place on Friday, 29 July, from 11 to 1:00. Tickets cost £6.00, with all proceeds going to support Green Hill (a non-for-profit community art centre). You can book in advance, or just show up on the day. There will be coffee, tea, baked goods of some sort, art, conversation...and no doubt some laughter too. Do come if you can.
More information can be found on the Green Hill website (but please note that Wendy Froud, originally part of the event, is unable to be with us).
"Dartmoor is a landscape rich in legend, full of ghostly white Whist Hounds, shapeshifting Witch Hares, trolls who lurk under clapper bridge and piskies who dance among standing stones. Ancient carvings of the Green Man can be found all over Devon, symbolizing the wild green mysteries of nature. Old country folk still put bowls of milk out for the faeries, to seek their blessing...and to ward off their mischief!
"All of the artists in this show are local to Dartmoor (or have strong local connections), inspired by the timeless magic of the land. Their art explores myth, folklore, hedge-magic and faery tales in diverse ways -- ranging from earthy to ethereal, spiritual to whimsical, and dark to light. Walking widdershins (counter-clockwise) is a pathway into Faerie. Come with us. There are wonders ahead."
The photographs below come from the show's opening night (last Friday), accompanied by a transcript of Alan Lee's eloquent introductory speech. I haven't photographed every piece of art however, or transcribed all of the quotes written on the walls, as that would lessen the sense of discovery for those who are planning to come and see it. But here's a peek....
Georgiana Lingard (of Green Hill Arts) and Alan Lee open the exhibition
An Introduction to Widdershins 2016
by Alan Lee
I don’t know if we are in a fairy hot-spot here in Devon, but we definitely seem to be in a fairy hot-spot. Dartmoor, and the South West in general, have generated a rich history of fairy-lore, folk tales, and mysterious legends, and have inspired writers, story-tellers, and artists for a long time. Perhaps it is something in the water (the salt waters of the shoreline, the murmuring streams, the mist, the rain, the moorland bogs), or something in the shifting, transitory quality of the weather (the slow seasonal changes, the long summer dusks) that lends itself to fey thoughts and to an immersion in stories.
And if you can edit out the cacophony of our road traffic and our post-industrial times, there is a soft soundscape that is every bit as alluring...
Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.
Ok, it’s a bit escapist; but when you think about it, many (if not most) of the landmarks in our cultural history were small steps forward while looking back over our shoulder at an ancient and often illusory past: a golden age, an age of wonders and lost civilizations. Of learning. Of giants.
Medieval monks collected and transcribed legends set in the mythological past. Mallory and Chaucer wove romances and folk-tales into great works of art. Shakespeare, Spenser and Michael Drayon drew deeply from the British fairy tradition.
Then there are the Gothic and Romantic movements, the Pre-Raphaelites, the Neo Romantics, all reviving past modes of thought, techniques, and aesthetics. It’s in the poetry of Shelley, Keats, Christina Rossetti, and W.B. Yeats. It’s in children’s literature, and in the cinema, right from the beginning.
A number of the artists in this exhibition work as illustrators, putting their skills at the service of writers who have brought a new vigour to this type of storytelling, such as Terry Prachet, Geraldine McCaughrean and Phillip Reeve. Others make objects which bring that magic, and those stories, into a fascinating physical form. Forget Brexit for an hour or two, and enjoy exploring them.
Over hill, over dale,
Thorough bush, thorough brier,
Over park, over pale,
Thorough flood, thorough fire,
I do wander everywhere,
Swifter than the moon's sphere;
And I serve the fairy queen,
To dew her orbs upon the green.
The cowslips tall her pensioners be:
In their gold coats spots you see;
Those be rubies, fairy favours,
In those freckles live their savours:
I must go seek some dewdrops here
And hang a pearl in every cowslip's ear.
Farewell, thou lob of spirits; I'll be gone:
Our queen and all our elves come here anon.
Faery sculptures by Wendy Froud
"The job of a storyteller is to speak the truth; but what we feel most deeply cannot be spoken in words. At this level only images connect. And so story becomes symbol; and symbol is myth." - Alan Garner
Marja Lee & Brian Froud in front of Marja's paintings
Mythic paintings by Rima Staines and Marja Lee
"Humans are storytelling creatures. We need story, we need deep mythic happenings, as much as we need food and sun: to set us in our place in the family of things, in a world that lives and breathes and throws us wild tests, to show us the wildernesses and the lakes, the transforming swans, of our own minds." - Sylvia Linsteadt
"Dealing with the impossible, fantasy can show us what may really be possible. If there is grief, there is the possibility of consolation; if hurt, the possibility of healing; and above all, the curative power of hope. If fantasy speaks to us as we are, it also speaks to us as we might be." - Lloyd Alexander
"Magic lies in between things, between the day and the night, between yellow and blue, between any two things." - Charles de Lint
"Storytellers ought not to be too tame. They ought to be wild creatures who function adequately in society. They are best in disguise. If they lose all their wildness, they cannot give us the truest joys." - Ben Okri
"What is wild cannot be bought or sold, borrowed or copied. It is. Unmistakeable, unforgettable, unshamable, elemental as earth and ice, water, fire and air, a quitessence, pure spirit, resolving into no contituents. Don't waste your wildness: it is precious and necessary.” - Jay Griffiths
Mythic art by Rima Staines
For more information on the show, go here. For a schedule of related events (workshops, talks, films, etc.), visit the calendar section of the Green Hill Arts website. For pictures from the first Widdershins exhibition in 2013, go here or here.
"Touch magic, pass it on." - Jane Yolen
I've been focusing on drawing and collage-making lately -- putting paints aside for a little while in order to follow an intriguing new path: combining small sketches of my bunny-earred, bird-tailed Little People with the hand-stitched assemblage work of collage.
Six framed collages left my studio this morning. I always feel a bit sad to see them go, as though the Little People really are little children who must now make their own way in the world....
But in fact, three of them are well-travelled already, having had their debut at The Fernie Brae gallery in Portland, Oregon. They have spanking new clothes for their next adventure, however, for each has been altered and enlarged so that they'll make a matched set with the three new additions. Now all six are at Green Hill Arts in Moretonhampstead, where I hope they'll play nicely with the other mythic artworks in the gallery.
Come see them if you can. The exhibition starts Saturday, and runs all summer. (More info here.)
Below are details from each of the six pieces. I will show the pieces in full here on Myth & Moor, but not just yet. Right now they belong to Widdershins, and should be seen first in that context.
About the exhibition:
Dartmoor, a landscape steeped in mythic and legend, is home to a large number of artists inspired by mythic themes. The works in this show explore myth, folklore, and faery tales in diverse ways, ranging from earthy to ethereal, sensual to spiritual, and frightening to whimsical...shaped into paintings, sculptures, assemblages, magical clocks, handbound books, and more.
Alan Lee, Marja Lee, Virginia Lee, Brian & Wendy Froud, David Wyatt, Rima Staines, Danielle Barlow, Angharad Barlow, and me (all from Chagford); Hazel Brown (from Torquay); Pauline Lee (from Ashburton), Neil Wilkinson-Cave (from Moretonhampstead); and Paul Kidby (from Hampshire, but with strong Dartmoor connections).
In addition to the main gallery show, Green Hill will display mythic art and crafts throughout the art centre (by Alexandra Dawe, Leonie Grey, Sally Hinchcliffe, Meg Meg Connolly, and others); and books and prints will be on sale in the Green Hill shop. They've also organized a program of related events to run throughout the summer: workshops, talks, film showings, etc., for both adults and children. Please contact Green Hill Arts, or visit the Calendar section of their website, for more information.
I'll be at at the Meet the Artists evening on August 6th; at a Coffee Morning with three other women artists (Wendy Froud, Marja Lee, and Hazel Brown) on July 11th; and I'm giving talk on August 20th on The Power of Story: Healing & Transformation in Folk & Fairy Tales. Do come if you can.
Re-posting this in case anyone missed it:
I will be delivering the 4th Annual Tolkien Lecture at Pembroke College, Oxford University this Thursday at 6:30 pm. The Pembroke Fantasy lecture series "explores the history and current state of fantasy literature, in honour of JRR Tolkien, who wrote The Hobbit and much of The Lord of the Rings during his twenty years at the college." The lecture I'll be giving is Tolkien's Long Shadow: Reflections on Fantasy Literature in the Post-Tolkien Era. Admission is free, but you need to register for a ticket and space is limited. Go here for further details.
I am taking a short break from Myth & Moor this coming week to deal with other pressing matters, and to prepare for Oxford. May 30th is a holiday here in Britain, so the Hound and I will be back on Tuesday, May 31st.
May 30th is also the date of the annual Two Hills Race here in Chagford, a gruelling route up and down two steep hills, with brambles and a bog in between. Our nine-year-old friend Fynn has decided to run this year to raise money to support wounded veterans. If you can spare a few pennies to pledge to this young man's heart-felt cause, it would encourage him greatly (and make those of us who care for him very happy too). The site takes Paypal and credit cards in any currancy, and even very small amounts are welcome. More info here.
Have a good and creative week.
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Please bid if you can. Or, if the size of your wallet doesn't equal the size of your heart, you can still pitch in by helping us to spread the news.
Just as Commons land creates a physical border between private property and wilderness (discussed here yesterday), traditional carnivals, festivals, and folk pageants create a metaphorical border between the measured clock-time of ordinary life and the "wild time" of the mythic realm. But this cultural Commons has also been effected by Britain's history of Enclosures, as Jay Griffiths explains in the following passage from her book Pip, Pip, a cultural study of time:
"In Britain there were once hundreds of carnivals: blessing-of-the-mead days; hare-pie-scrambling days and cake-and-ale ceremonies; there were Hobby Horse Days and Horn Dance Days, with their pagan hunting associations and symbolic suggestions of fertility rites; there were Well-Dressing days, Cock-Squoiling days (or 'throwing-at-cocks'); there were Doling days and days for 'beating the bounds' of the parish; wassailing the apple trees and playing duck-apple at Halloween; burning the clavie (tar barrel) at new year or 'Hallooing Largesse' (where, in East Anglia, the Lord of the Harvest traditionally led a troup of people to serenade householders, seeking money), all colored the course of the year. Some of these are pre-Christian; some are medieval or later. Many of them have survived in some form -- often as 'just' a children's game.
"At Somerset's Punkie Night, at the end of October, children made punkies (lanterns) out of mangel-wurzels (a large kind of beet) and went knocking on people's doors for money or candles. This was one of the many ancient mischief nights of the year, when children played up gleefully, changing shop signs or taking gates off hinges:
Give us a light, give us a light.
If you don't you'll get a fright...
is the children's refrain; an ancient threat this, playing a trick if you're not treated. Guisers (children disguising themselves at Halloween) in Scotland sang:
If ye dinnae let us in,
We will bash yer windies in.
"Whuppity Scooorie in Lanark is a festival, believed to have survived from pagan times, during which as much noise as possible was made to scare off evil spirits and protect crops; latterly it is acted out by children who, started by a peal of bells, swing paper balls at each other and scramble for pennies. Up-Helly-Aa is a Shetland Isles festival, dating back to Viking times, when a thirty-foot model Viking ship, complete with banners, shields and a bow of a dragon's head, is taken down to the sea by torchlight, then the torches are flung in and it blazes across the water, representing the dead heroes sent to Valhalla in a burning ship. Garland Day at Abbotsbury in Dorset is a ceremony to bless the fishing boats at the opening of the mackerel fishing season which had strong hints of pagan sacrifice in its thousand-year history, though now it is, like so many other festivals, just a children's game."
"Many festivals chime with the seasons of the agricultural year and of the natural world," notes Griffiths, "the life and death cycle of vegetation as, for example, the Obby Oss on May Day at Padstow in Cornwall, where the Oss dances, dies, resurrects, and dances again. There are festivals marking the death of winter, or bringing in the summer, there are cyclic (and sacrificial) nature-festivals for the corn spirit wherever corn is grown."
"Festival time, traditionally, binds communities together, knitting them to their land, each area tootling its own festive tune, accented with dialect voices specific to certain places and describing a 'vernacular time.' Thus one area's festival calendar could have been different from the calendar of a neighboring locale. Festival-time could further delineate not only the physical geography but also the economic geography of an area, protecting rights of access or land-use, particularly -- in the past -- in such customs as the 'beating of the bounds' of a parish or village."
"The beating of the bounds, or processioning, as Bob Bushaway says in By Rite: Custom, Ceremony and Community in England 1700-1880, 'provided the community with a mental map of the parish...which was the collective memory of the community.' These festivals tied a society to its past, its land and its rights to that land. But, as Bushaway shows, these customs disappeared, up and down the country, as a result of one thing: enclosures."
"Pre-enclosure," Griffiths continues, "other customs concerned with common land, with the rights of gleaning, wood-gathering or access, were vigorously upheld. Cheese-rolling ceremonies, for instance, used festival-time to mark such rights; when the access was denied, so was the festival At Shapwick Marsh at Sturminster Marshall, a 'feast of Sillabub' was held. It was joint-stock merry-making,' so one person might bring the milk of one cow, another the milk of three, while yet another might bring the wine. With the 1845 enclosure, this custom disappeared and many other festivals of commons were outlawed.
"Before enclosures, festivals were vigorously convivial, as numerous chronicles show; they were off-license times, drunken, licentious and rude, ranging from mid-summer ales to apple-tree wassailing, from autumn mead-mowing to May Day liaisons. And the Victorian middle-classes hated it. Just as land was literally fenced off and enclosed, so the spirit of carnival-time was metaphorically enclosed, repressed and fenced in by Victorian morality: no drinking, no bawdiness, no sex. The common -- very vulgar -- character of festival was increasingly outlawed and fenced off from the commoners and turned over to the land-owning middle classes in the form of the queasy, fluttery remains of Victorian festival...The lewd and the loud were disallowed. The acts and the spirit of enclosure tried to suppress the broad, unenclosed, unfettered, unbounded exuberance of the vulgar at large."
The photograph in the first half of this post come from last spring's May Day procession here in Chagford -- where a group of us, led by folk musician & scholar Andy Letcher, are working to revive this old folkloric tradition. That's Andy on the bagpipes, Jason of England as the Jack-in-the-Green, Suzi Crockford as the Queen of May, and my husband Howard as the Obby Oss. The photographs are by Ashley Wengraf, Ian Atherton, Ruth Olley, and Simon Blackbourn. (Run your cursor over the images for picture descriptions and credits.)
"Few festivals are more flamboyantly vulgar than May Day or Beltane," says Griffiths. "One pagan festival which the disapproving church did not -- could not -- colonize, it kept its raw smell of sexual license and its populist grass roots appeal....Beltane was celebrated with huge bonfires, the Lord and the Queen of May (who, in the Middle Ages, was often a man dressed as a woman) and Spring was personified by the Green Man -- the Wild Man or Jack-in- the-Green. Dressed in leaves, he carried a huge horn. (Enough said.) The Maypole, the phallic pole planted in mother earth, was the key symbol of the day.
"Then came the Puritans, sniffing the rank sexuality, decrying the Maypole as 'this stinking idol'; and in 1644 the Long Parliament banned all Maypoles. They also objected to the social reversal of carnival [men dressed as women, fools as kings, etc.]; to the Puritans, an attack on the status quo was almost as disgusting as sex. After the Restoration, England's most famous Maypole was erected in London's Strand in 1661; a stonking hundred and thirty feet high, all streamers and garlands, making people wild with delight, it stood for over fifty merry years. But Isaac Newton put a stop to it. In 1717, he bought the Maypole to use as a post for a telescope to penetrate the darkness of the night. In the 19th century, the Victorians infantalized May Day, making it a children's festival to emphasize innocence, of all things.
"But the festival of Beltane and the whole spirit of carnival is robust. Coming from the earth itself, it erupts, whether puritans and politicians like it or not. In rural areas, you can still find Beltane celebrated, complete with Green Men, Maypoles, and Fools."
More information on the history of May Day can be found in this previous post.
Our village is a place where festivals tend to erupt at the drop of a hat, and everyone seems to have well-stocked box of dress-up clothes in their closet. Despite a tiny population (roughly 2500 people, and a whole lot of sheep), Chagford hosts an annual film festival, a music festival, a bi-annual literary festival, a summer carnival, and plenty of other events besides, and kids grow up here thinking it's perfectly ordinary to dance in the streets on a regular basis. Perhaps it's no coincidence that we've also held on to our village Commons, and many here still gather to "beat the bounds," affirming the boundaries of the parish and the timeless ties of community life.
The photographs below are by Simon Blackbourn, taken just last weekend on the final night of the Chagford Film Festival, celebrating Indian film and dance this year. Please visit Simon's website to see more of his beautiful work.
Pictures: Many thanks to the photographers who allowed their work to appear here. The black-and-white photos and the Film Festival photos are all by Simon Blackbourn; the May Day photos were taken by various folks. You'll find credits in the picture captions (run your cursor over the images to see them). The photos without credits were snapped on the fly by me, on Suzi Crockford's camera. Words: The passage by Jay Griffiths comes from Pip, Pip: A Sideways Look at Time (Flamingo, 1999), highly recommended. All rights to the text & imagery above are reserved by their respective creators.