On St. Valentine's Day

Terri Windling photograph by Howard Gayton

I've been trying to choose a poem about love to post today, as I've done on Valentine's Day in the past...but instead of a poem on romance or partnership or marriage, this is the one that came to mind, reflecting on love of a different kind. I stand here in "my old boots and torn coat, no longer young," and send it to you....

Messenger
by Mary Oliver

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird -
A detail from a drawing by David Wyattequal seekers of sweetness
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,

Which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to
the sleepydug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

Photograph of Terri Windling and Tilly by Howard Gayton

The poem above is from Thirst by Mary Oliver (Beacon Press, 2006); all rights reserved by the Oliver estate. The photographs are by Howard Gayton, and the little sketch of me and Tilly is a detail from a preparatory drawing by David Wyatt for his lovey painting In the Word Wood. The poem in the picture captions is one of mine, called "Listen." 


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Devon apples  in a county known for its orchard and its cider

Wassailing was once a mid-winter folk custom found all across the British Isles. Today it still survives as a living tradition in some rural communities (particularly here in the West County), and it is currently enjoying a contemporary revival in numerous others.

The Apple-Tree-Man by Alan LeeThere are two distinct forms of wassailing: door-to-door or under the trees. The first takes place in the run-up to Christmas and is related to the custom of carolling: wassailers go house to house singing wassail songs, collecting coins, drink, or food in their wassail bowls. The second kind of wassail generally happens some time in January and involves the "waking" and blessing of apple trees to ensure a good harvest in the year ahead. These ceremonies can be simple or lavish, taking place by day or by night, sober and family-friendly or drunken and raucous. What they share in common are traditional wassail songs and stories, the custom of leaving toast in the trees (a gift for the robins or spirits) and blessing the roots with last year's apple juice or cider, and making noise (with drums, or guns, or pots-and-pans) to wake the trees and call back the sun. To learn more, read Jude Roger's recent article on wassailing in The Guardian, or see The Tradfolk Wassail Directory on the Tradfolk website.

Here in Chagford, our wassail in mid-January was a daylight affair under the apple trees of a community field, full of stories and songs and children blessing the trees with juice from the wassail cup. Down the road, in the village of Lustleigh, was a wilder wassail gathering by the light of the moon, with black-clad Border Morris dancers waking the trees their sticks and their cries and their pounding feet. I love both kinds of wassailing, dark and bright: celebrating the seasons, nature's bounty, and the bonds of community.

The video above looks at the history of wassailing and other winter folk rituals -- filmed by BBC Bristol in 1977, and featuring music by the Albion Band.

Below is a Cornish variant of a well-known wassail song performed by Lady Maisery (Hannah James, Rowan Rheingans, Hazel Askew), with Jimmy Aldridge and Sid Goldsmith. It's from Awake Arise: A Winter Album (2019).

Chagford Wassail

Above: "The Apple Tree Man" performed by John Kirkpatrick with Rosie Cross, Georgina Le Faux, Michael Gregory, Jane Threlfall, and Carl Hogsden, on their album Wassail!: A Celebration of an English Midwinter (1998).

Below: "The Gloucestershire Wassail" performed by Magpie Lane on their album Wassail!: A Country Christmas (2009).

Chagford Wassail

Above: "Homeless Wassail," a contemporary wassail by the Canadian trio Finest Kind (Ian Robb, Ann Downey, and Shelley Posen). The song can be found on Robb's album Music for a Winter's Eve (2012).

Below: "Sugar Wassail" performed the great Waterson-Carthy band (Norma Waterson, Martin Carthy, and their daughter Eliza Carthy, with Tim van Eyken), from Holy Heathens and the Old Green Man (2006). It's poignant to listen to their music right now after the death of Norma a week ago, at the age of 82. This legendary singer (and legendary family) shaped the field of English folk music as we know it today and her loss has broken hearts all around the world, including mine.

One more video to end with: a short clip of Beltane Border, our local Border Morris side, performing at a wassil celebration at The Old Chuch House Inn at Torbyran. We are so lucky to have this group on Dartmoor, keeping the seasons turning....

Beltane Border morris dancing

Imagery above: a drawing of the Apple-Tree-Man by Alan Lee,  two photographs from Chagford's wassail: storytelling and children blessing the trees, and morris dancing by Dartmoor's Beltane Border.


Holiday greetings from Myth & Moor

Donkey sketch by Sean Briggs

Each year the Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth (just south of here on the Devon coast) hosts "Carols by Candlelight" at Christmas time -- though for the last two years, because of the pandemic, the event has been held entirely online. You can watch it in the video above, or go here for additional videos introducing the Sanctuary and its shaggy denizens. 

I love the Sanctuary, full of hundreds of donkeys rescued from abuse and neglect or unwanted due to age or illness, now living in comfortable barns and beautiful fields in the rolling hills above the sea. Our family sponsors a 12-year-old donkey named Zena, pictured below. She's the loveliest donkey at Paccombe Farm. Okay, I admit I'm a little biased, but just look at that little sweetie....

Whatever you celebrate at this time of year -- Christmas, Solstice, Yule, Hanukkah, another holiday, or simply making through another year -- we wish you love, light, warmth, magic, abundant creativity, and the support of a good community. You'll always find the latter here at Myth & Moor.

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The beautiful donkey sketch above is by illustrator Sean Briggs, who was born on the Pennine hills of West Yorkshire and now lives and works in Buckinghamshire. Please go here to see more of his art. The photograph is of Zena, the donkey we sponsor, taken on a visit to the Sanctuary earlier this month.


Happy Thanksgiving from Myth & Moor

Old Oak

Each year I post my "Prayer of Gratitude" on Thanksgiving Day . . . and this year I need the reminder of all I am thankful for more than most. A member of my American family has died, a close relative I grew up with as a sister, and whose sudden loss has come as a shock. There has been so much loss for so many people over the past pandemic year, and to any of you who are also struggling right now (and aren't we all, in one way or another?) I send love and solidarity. One of the many things I am grateful for is the Mythic Arts community, and for your kind support of Myth & Moor even during those times when life takes me out of the studio and away from blogging here. I will be back. I'm longing to resume our conversations about books and myth and art.

For all of you who celebrate Thanksgiving: the hound and I wish you a warm and wonderful holiday. 

Hound and oak

A Prayer of Gratitude

Wind and water, feather and stone, green grass, white cloud, black fur, red tongue, the panting of the the breath and the pounding of the heart and the winding of the path we’re traveling on, these are the things I’m grateful for, 

Up Nattadon Hill

this hill, these prints of hoof and paw, of fairy footsteps in mud and moss, for the hard climb up and the bounding back down,

Down Nattadon Hill

for labor, for ease, for persistence, for joy, for all these things and more besides: for birds and bees and beetles and brambles and the last blackberries in bracken and thorn, for the scent of time and the taste of age, and the brittle brown leaves snapping underfoot, for the spirits that dance in mist and smoke and the ancestors in our blood and bones, for the mystery that some call God but that I call rain and thistle and fossil and crow, 

Hound in bracken

and love, of course, I am thankful for love, and light, laughter, delight, desire, 

Pony on the hill

but also for loss and grief (those patient teachers), dark nights, new moons, bright stars,

Faery food

for sleep, for dreams, for waking at the witching hour in a bed that’s safe and warm, for the ticking of the clock, and the creaking of the walls, and the hush that comes just before the dawn, and my dear one’s breath rising and falling and a little dog snoring by the kitchen hearth, and the house that holds us, the life that molds us, the children, the friends, the neighbors, the village, the hill that shelters us in its palm and the land that roots us in place and time, for all this and more I am awestruck, I am dumbstruck, I am grateful, and I am giving thanks.

In the valley that holds our village

Tilly, 2021


On Summer Solstice

Tilly at Scorhill stone circle

Tilly and I wish you all the good blessings of midsummer, when the borders between the worlds are thin and the stones of Dartmoor rise up and dance. Be sure to carry salt and oak leaves in your pocket, garland yourself with wildflowers, and drive your cattle through the smoke of a midnight bonfire for protection from fairy mischief!

A swarm of fairies by Alan Lee

My apologies for the lack of posts last week; I'm afraid I've been down with health problems again. I'm back in the studio today, catching up on the work I've missed, and hope to be posting regularly from tomorrow onward.

Let's raise a toast to good health for all: for strength and grace of body, mind, and spirit. Wishes and spells have particular potency at this magical time of year.

Hound and Stone

Pictures: Tilly at Scorhill stone circle on Dartmoor, and a swarm of fairies by Alan Lee.