The end of summer

Earth and Water by Brian Froud

Here in the UK, it's the last day of a long holiday weekend marking the end of summer, and already there is a chill in the air, a presage of the turning seasons. Wherever in the world you are -- whether it's the end of summer or the end of winter -- and whether the movement through nature's cycles makes for dramatic or subtle change -- we stand on the threshold "betwixt and between," poised between the old season and the new.

Go West by Brian Froud

The old hedge-witches of the Devon countryside would tell you that this is a time for letting go of old troubles, old animosities, and out-dated ideas that no longer serve; it's also a time of renewal, revitalization, and travelling new paths in the days ahead. Carry acorns in your pocket for luck; yarrow for resilience; rosemary for protection of the spirit. Give the first blackberries back to the land, the first splash of cider to the apple trees. Leave milk out for the Good Folk, or a dram of whiskey, or a plate of beans. As we begin new jobs, new terms at school, new works of art or any other endeavors, we are counselled to take a moment on the threshold, pausing between the old and new to honour the magic of the in-between. Leave flowers or feathers, a poem or a prayer....

And then keep on walking.

Nattadon Commons gate

The art above is by my friend and neighbour Brian Froud. All rights reserved by the artist.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Maypole dancers 1931

Today, some songs to welcome in the May....

Above: "Hal-An-Tow" sung by the hugely influential English folk group The Watersons, from Yorkshire. This performance was filmed for the BBC documentary Travelling for a Living (1965). The song appeared on The Waterson's album Frost and Fire (1965), where A.L. Lloyd wrote on the liner notes:

"The green calendar of spring has many songs, dances, and shows, particularly around the opening days of May. Here and there are clear traces of old cults and superstitions (well-dressing against droughts, etc.) but generally their original meaning is lost. So the customs are transformed into ritual spectacles, festivities, distractions, opportunities for a good time, such as the old May Games that once comprised four sections: the election and procession of the May king and queen: a sword or Morris dance of disguised men; a hobby horse dance; a Robin Hood play. The Hal-an-Tow song was sung for the procession that ushered in the summer." 

Below: "The Night Before May Day" by Lisa Knapp, a London-based folk musician who has long been interested in the traditional songs of the season. I recommend her fine album Till April is Dead: A Garland of May, which is deeply folkloric, as well as her five-track release, Hunt the Hare: A Branch of May.

Above: "Hail! Hail! the First of May" performed by Jackie Oates, a folksinger and fiddle/viola player from Staffordshire. The song appeared on her lovely album The Spyglass and the Herringbone (2015).

Below: "May the Kindness," recorded by Oates on an earlier album, Hyperboreans (2009). 

Above: "May Morning Dew" performed by Scottish folksinger Siobhan Miller, with Kris Drever, Innes White, Megan Henderson, John Lowrie, and Euan Burton. The song appears on her gorgeous new album, All is Not Forgotten (2020).

Below: "The Banks of the Sweet Primroses" (also known as "When I Roved Out") performed by Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker for the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards (2015). Their most recent album is Seedlings All (2018).

Above: "May Song" by the Oxfordshire folk band Magpie Lane, from their album Jack-in the Green: English Songs and Tunes (1998).

For the folklore of maypoles, Jack-in-the-Green, and other May Day traditions, go here.

The Jack-in-the-Green and the Obby Oss in Chagford

Maypole dancers 1919


Up the May!

May Day, Chagford

Happy May Day, everyone. Alas, out here in Devon and Cornwall all the usual May Day festivities have been cancelled due to the Covid-19 lockdown. There's no Obby Oss on the streets of Padstow, no Border Morris dancers bringing the sun up on Dartmoor, no maypoles, no lusty Jack-in-the-Greens. How will the seasons turn without them?

Tilly and I had our own private ceremony this morning, blessing the green in our own quiet way -- and we send that blessing from Dartmoor to each of you. Up the May!

Beltane Fire

The images above are from previous May Days: Howard dancing the Obby Oss down the high street of Chagford, with a Jack-in-Green close behind; and dancing the willow frame of the Jack around a Beltane fire. (To see more photos, go here.) 

The art below is from village neighbours: Moor Maiden by Virginia Lee and two Green Women by Brian Froud. Despite the lockdown and physical distancing, we are still a community. We are dancing in spirit.

Moor Maiden by Virginia Lee

Green Women drawings by Brian Froud


The folklore of rabbits & hares

Three Hares by Jackie Morris

As Easter approaches, here's a bit of seasonal folklore....

The symbol of our village is three hares in a circle, their interlinked ears forming a perfect triangle -- an imge found in roof boss carvings in seventeen Devon churches, including ours. Known locally as the Tinner Rabbits, the design was widely believed to be based on an old alchemical symbol for tin, representing the historic  Three Hares by Brian Froud importance of tin mining on Dartmoor nearby -- until a group of local artists and historians created the Three Hares Project to investigate the symbol’s history. To their surprise, they discovered that the design’s famous tin association is actually a dubious one, deriving from a misunderstanding of an alchemical illustration published in the early 17th century. In fact, the symbol is much older and farther ranging than early folklorists suspected. It is, the Three Hares Project reports, "an extraordinary and ancient archetype, stretching across diverse religions and cultures, many centuries and many thousands of miles. It is part of the shared medieval heritage of Europe and Asia (Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and Judaism) yet still inspires creative work among contemporary artists."

The earliest known examples of the design can be found in Buddhist cave temples in China (581-618 CE); from there it spread all along the Silk Road, through the Middle East, through Hungary and Poland to Germany, Switzerland, and the British Isles. Though now  Nature in Art by Eleanor Ludgateassociated with the Holy Trinity in Christian iconography, the original, pre-Christian meaning of the Three Hares design has yet to be discovered, but we can glimpse possible interpretations by examining the wealth of world mythology and folklore involving rabbits and hares. In numerous traditions, these animals were archetypal symbols of women, femininity, female deities, and women's hedgerow magic, associated with the lunar cycle, fertility, longevity, and rebirth. If we dig a little deeper into their stories, we find that they are also contradictory, paradoxical creatures: symbols of both cleverness and foolishness, of femininity and androgyny, of cowardice and courage, of rampant sexuality and virginal purity. In some lands, Hare is the messenger of the Great Goddess, moving by moonlight between the human world and the realm of the gods; in other lands he is a god himself, wily deceiver and sacred world creator rolled into one.

The Mockingbird and the Hare by Kelly Louise Judd

The association of rabbits, hares, and the moon can be found in numerous cultures the world over -- ranging from Japan to Mexico, from Indonesia to the British Isles. Whereas in Western folklore we refer to the "Man in the Moon," the "Hare (or Rabbit) in the Moon" is a more familiar image in other societies. In China, for example, the Hare in the Moon is depicted with a mortar and pestle in which he mixes the elixir of immortality; he is the messenger of a female moon deity and the guardian of all wild animals. In Chinese Wishing on a Blue Moon by Karen Davisfolklore, female hares conceive through the touch of the full moon's light (without the need of impregnation by the male), or by crossing water by moonlight, or licking moonlight from a male hare’s fur. Figures of hares or white rabbits are commonly found at Chinese Moon Festivals, where they represent longevity, fertility, and the feminine power of yin.

In Egyptian myth, hares were also closely associated with the cycles of the moon, which was viewed as masculine when waxing and feminine when waning. Hares were likewise believed to be androgynous, shifting back and forth between the genders -- not only in ancient Egypt but also in European folklore right up to the 18th century. A hare-headed god and goddess can be seen on the Egyptian temple walls of Dendera, where the female is believed to be the goddess Unut (or Wenet), while the male is most likely a representation of Osiris (also called Wepuat or Un-nefer), who was sacrificed to the Nile annually in the form of a hare.

Photograph by Katerina Plotnikova

Brown Hare, Suffolk, photographed by Michael Rae

In Greco-Roman myth, the hare represented romantic love, lust, abundance, and fercundity. Pliny the Elder recommended the meat of the hare as a cure for sterility, and wrote that a meal of hare enhanced sexual attraction for a period of nine days. Hares were associated with the Artemis, goddess of wild places and the hunt, and newborn hares were not to be killed but left to her protection. Rabbits were sacred to Aphrodite, the Thumper (from my novel The Wood Wife) by Brian Froudgoddess of love, beauty, and marriage -- for rabbits had “the gift of Aphrodite” (fertility) in great abundance. In Greece, the gift of a rabbit was a common love token from a man to his male or female lover. In Rome, the gift of a rabbit was intended to help a barren wife conceive. Carvings of rabbits eating grapes and figs appear on both Greek and Roman tombs, where they symbolize the transformative cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

In Teutonic myth, the earth and sky goddess Holda, leader of the Wild Hunt, was followed by a procession of hares bearing torches. Although she descended into a witch-like figure and boogeyman of children’s tales, she was once revered as a beautiful, powerful goddess in charge of weather phenomena. Freyja, the headstrong Norse goddess of love, sensuality, and women’s mysteries, was also served by hare attendants. She traveled with a sacred hare and boar in a chariot drawn by cats. Kaltes, the shape-shifting moon goddess of western Siberia, liked to roam the hills in the form of a hare, and was sometimes pictured in human shape wearing a headdress with hare’s ears. Eostre, the goddess of the moon, fertility, and spring in Anglo–Saxon myth, was often depicted with a hare’s head or ears, and with a white hare standing in attendance. This magical white hare laid brightly colored eggs which were given out to children during spring fertility festivals -- an ancient tradition that survives in the form of the Easter Bunny today.

Eostre by Danielle Barlow

Easter Rabbits by Mr. Finch

Eostre, the Celtic version of Ostara, was a goddess also associated with the moon, and with mythic stories of death, redemption, and resurrection during the turning of winter to spring. Eostre, too, was a shape-shifter, taking the shape of a hare at each full moon; all hares were sacred to her, and acted as her messengers. ((I should mention that our understanding of the Ostara/Eostre myth is controversial, with mythologists divided between those who believe she was and was not a major figure in the British Isles.)

Hare sculpture by Beth Cavener StichterCesaer recorded that rabbits and hares were taboo foods to the Celtic tribes. In Ireland, it was said that eating a hare was like eating one’s own grandmother -- perhaps due to the sacred connection between hares and various goddesses, warrior queens, and female faeries, or else due to the belief that old "wise women" could shape-shift into hares by moonlight. The Celts used rabbits and hares for divination and other shamanic practices by studying the patterns of their tracks, the rituals of their mating dances, and mystic signs within their entrails. It was believed that rabbits burrowed underground in order to better commune with the spirit world, and that they could carry messages from the living to the dead and from humankind to the faeries.

As Christianity took hold across Europe, hares and rabbits, so firmly associated with the Goddess, came to be seen in a less favorable light -- viewed suspiciously as the familiars of witches, or as witches themselves in animal form. Numerous folk tales tell of men led astray by hares who are really witches in disguise, or of old women revealed as witches when they are wounded in their animal shape. In one well-known story from Dartmoor, a mighty hunter named Bowerman disturbed a coven of witches practicing their rites, and so one young witch determined to take revenge upon the man. She shape-shifted into a hare, led Bowerman through a deadly bog, then turned the hunter and his hounds into piles of stones, which can still be seen today. (The stone formations are known by the names Hound Tor and Bowerman’s Nose.) "Demonic" hares and rabbits are found on cathedral carvings and in other forms of Christian sacred art...but we also find the opposite: the pagan Three Hares symbol (mentioned above) representing the Holy Trinity, and unblemished white rabbits symbolizing purity, piety, and the Holy Virgin.

Cottontail sculpture by Mark Rossi

Desert jackrabbit (Wikipedia photograph)

My drawing of a desert bunny girl with prayer feathers

Among the many different Native American story traditions, Trickster tales featuring Coyote or Raven tend to be best known to non-Native audiences, but there are also a large number of tales that feature a trickster Rabbit or Hare, particularly among the Algonquin-speaking peoples of the central and eastern woodland tribes.

Mimbres Rabbits by Pablita Velarde  Santa Clara Pueblo

Nanabozho (or Manabozho) the Great Hare, for instance, is a powerful figure found in the tales of the Algonquin, Fox, Menoimini, Ottawa, Ojibwa, and Winnebago tribes. In some stories, Nanabozho is a revered culture hero -- creator of the earth, benefactor of humankind, the bringer of light and fire, and teacher of sacred rituals. In other tales he’s a clown, a thief, a lecher, or a cunning predator -- an ambivalent, amoral figure dancing on the line between right and wrong. In Potawatomi myth, Wabosso is the Great White Hare (and the younger brother of Nanabozho) who travels north to become the greatest of magicians among the supernaturals. The Utes tell the story of Ta-vwots, the Little Rabbit, who shatters the sun and destroys the world, all of which must be created again; and an Omaha rabbit brings the sun down to earth while trying to catch his own shadow. The Cherokee, the Creek, the Biloxi and other tribes tell humorous stories of a mischievous Rabbit who is cousin to Br’er Rabbit and Compair Lapin, outwitting foes and puncturing the pride of friends with his clownish antics.

Boxing Hares (from The Independent)

The jackalope legends of the American Southwest are stories of a more recent vintage, consisting of purported sightings of rabbits or hares with horns like antelopes. The legend may have been brought to North American by German immigrants, derived from the Raurackl (or horned rabbit) of the German folklore tradition.

The March Hareby John Tenniel

Rabbits and hares are both good and bad in Trickster tales found all the way from Asia and Africa to North America. In the Panchatantra tales of India, for example, Hare is a wily Trickster whose cleverness and cunning is pitted against Elephant and Lion, while in Tibetan folktales, quick-thinking Hare outwits the ruses Moon Rabbit netsuke by Eiichi  circa 19th centuryof predatory Tiger. In Japan, the fox is the primary Trickster animal, but hares too are clever, tricky characters. Hares in Japanese folktales tend to be crafty, clownish, mischievous figures (usually male) -- as opposed to fox Tricksters (kitsune), who are more seductive, secretive, and dangerous (usually female). In West Africa, many tribal cultures, such as the Yoruba of Nigeria and the Wolof of Senegal, have traditional story cycles about an irrepressible hare Trickster who is equal parts rascal, clown, and culture hero. In one pan-African story, the Moon sends Hare, her divine messenger, down to earth to give mankind the gift of immortality. "Tell them," she says, "that just as the Moon dies and rises again, so shall you." But Hare, in the role of Trickster buffoon, manages to get the message wrong, bestowing mortality instead and bringing death to the human world. The Moon is so angry, she beats Hare with a stick, splitting his nose (as it remains today). It is Hare’s role to lead the dead to the Afterlife in penance for what he’s done.

Hare by Charles Robinson

African hare stories traveled to North America on the slavers’ ships, mixed with rabbit tales of the Cherokee and other tribes, and were transformed into the famous Br’er Rabbit stories of the American South. These stories were passed orally among slaves, for whom Br’er (Brother) Rabbit was a perfect hero, besting more powerful opponents through his superior intelligence and quicker wits. the The Br’er Rabbit stories were
Country Bunny by Marjorie Hackwritten down and published by Joel Chandler Harris in the 19th century in a now classic collection narrarated by the fictional Uncle Remus. At the same time that Chandler Harris was recording Br’er Rabbit stories from the African American oral tradition, folklorist Alcee Fortier was setting down the folk tales of the Cajun (French Creole) culture of southern Louisiana -- including delightful stories of a fast-talking rabbit Trickster called Compair Lapin. Like Br’er Rabbit, or the hares of West African lore, Compare Lapin is a rascal who manages to get himself into all kinds of trouble -- and then smoothly finds his way back out again through cleverness and guile. (Bugs Bunny owes more than a little of his character to this folkloric archetype.)

More of my bunny girls

Peter's Bedroom and The Math Lesson by Chris Dunn

Whether hovering above us in the arms of a moon goddess or carrying messages from the Netherworld below, whether clever or clownish, hero or rascal, whether portent of good tidings or ill, rabbits and hares have leapt through myths, legends, and folk tales all around the world -- forever elusive, refusing to be caught and bound by a single definition. The precise meaning, then, of the ancient Three Hares symbol carved into our village church is bound to be just as elusive and mutable as the myths behind it. It is a goddess symbol, a Trickster symbol, a symbol of the Holy Trinity, a symbol of death, redemption and rebirth…all these and so much more.

Rabbit study by Beatrix Potter

The Robbit's Christmas Party by Beatrix Potter

The March Hare from Alice in Wonderland

Hare by Albrecht Durer the Younger

Images above: "Three Hares" by Jackie Morris, "Three Hares" by Brian Froud, "Nature in Art" by Eleanor Ludgate, "The Mockingbird and the Hare" by Kelly Louise Judd, "Wishing on a Blue Moon" by Karen Davis, "Girl and Rabbit" photographed by Katerina Plotnikova, "Brown Hare (Suffolk)" photographed by Michael Rae, "Thumper" (from my novel The Wood Wife) by Brian Froud, "Eostre" by Danielle Barlow, "Easter Rabbits" by Mr. Finch, "Hare" sculpture by Beth Cavener Stichter, "Desert Cottontail" sculpture by Mark Rossi, Desert Jackrabbit photograph (Wikipedia), my "Desert Bunny Girl with Prayer Feathers" sketch, "Mimbres Rabbits" by Pablita Verlarde (Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico), "Boxing Hares" photograph (The Independent), "The March Hare, Dormouse, and Mad Hatter" by John Tenniel, "Moon Rabbit" netsuke by Eiichi (Japan, late 19th Century), illustration from "The Tortoise and the Hare" by Charles Robinson, "Country Bunny" by Marjorie Hack, two more of my Bunny Girls, "Peter's Bedroom" and "The Math Lesson" by Chris Dunn, a rabbit study and "The Rabbit's Christmas Party"  by Beatrix Potter, the March Hare at "The Mad Hatter's Tea Party" by Arthur Rackham, and "Young Hare" by Albrecht Dürer.

Go here for a related post on Witch Hares. According to Devon folklore, our village (Chagford) is rife with them.


The coming of the light

Imbolc by Marja Lee

Happy Imbolc from Myth & Moor, as the Great Wheel moves from winter to spring and the days slowly grow lighter.

"To open our eyes, to see with our inner fire and light, is what saves us," writes Linda Hogan (in The Woman Who Watches Over the World). "Even if it makes us vulnerable. Opening the eyes is the job of storytellers, witnesses, and the keepers of accounts. The stories we know and tell are reservoirs of light and fire that brighten and illuminate the darkness of human night, the unseen. They throw down a certain slant of light across the floor each morning, and they throw down also its shadow."

The beautiful Imbolc painting above is by my dear friend and village neighbour Marja Lee Kruÿt. You can see more of her work and read about her painting philosophy here.


Once upon a time on New Year's Day

Three Earth Mothers by Terri Windling

...three spirits appeared at Bumblehill: the Guardian of the Hills, the Guardian of the Fields, and the Guardian of the Hedgerows. With their elongated figures and hair of clouds, these Earth Mothers are related to the trees and keepers of the winds, protective of the little ones in their care -- but also of us, in our vulnerable moments. We all need mothering sometimes.

A New Year's Blessing: May the year ahead be magical, transformational, and wildly creative, but also calm and thoughtful, harmonious and balanced. May your pathway be clear, your workspace prepared, with the tools that you need always right near at hand. May your mind and body and spirit be strong for the things you know in your heart you must do, and may this be the year you finally do them. May your work go well, and your rest time too. May problems be fewer and friends be many. May old hurts soften and old grief lighten. May life, love, and art never fail to surprise you.

The mythic animal guide is ready. Lace up your walking boots and let's go.

Thank you for joining me here at Myth & Moor, and being part of the mythic arts community. We'll continue the journey through the woods of myth and story in the year ahead, with stones and feathers to mark the trail and an Animal Guide to lead the way.

Faerieland awaits The three paintings above are from my Guardian series. Click on the image if you'd like to see them larger.


On Winter Solstice

The title of this magical animation by paper cut artist Angie Pickman refers to the Winter Solstice...but it's also symbolic of other "long nights" we face in life, such periods of grief, hardship, illness, trauma...or political and cultural upheaval.

We are always on a journey from darkness into light, the Irish poet/philosopher John O'Donohue reminds us:

"At first, we are children of the darkness. Your body and your face were formed first in the kind darkness of your mother's womb. You lived the first nine months in there. Your birth was the first journey from darkness into light. All your life, your mind lives within the darkness of your body. Every thought you have is a flint moment, a spark of light from your inner darkness. The miracle of thought is its presence in the night side of your soul; the brilliance of thought is born of darkness. Each day is a journey. We come out of the night into the day. All creativity awakens at this primal threshold where light and darkness test and bless each other. You only discover the balance in your life when you learn to trust the flow of this ancient rhythm."

Copyright by Karen Davis

In the mythic sense, we practice moving from darkness into light every morning of our lives. The task now is make that movement larger, to join together to carry the entire world through the long night to the dawn.

Stray by Jeanie Tomanek

Capturing the Moon by Jeanie Tomanek

The art above is"The Spirit Within" by Karen Davis (UK); "Stray" and "Capturing the Moon" by Jeanie Tomanek (US). The video is by Angie Pickman (US); go here to see more of her work. The quote is from Anam Cara (Bantam Books, 1997) by John O'Donhue (1956-2008, Ireland). All right to the video and art above are reserved by the artists; all rights to O'Donohue's text are reserved by his estate.


Turning Black Friday into a rainbow...

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As "Black Friday" begins the gift-buying season, please consider giving your money to artists, artisans, indie shops and local small businesses instead of low-wage paying, tax-avoiding, book-industry-damaging Amazon (and similar companies). Artists and small local shops make the world a better place, and many depend on holiday sales to keep going the rest of the year.

There are many visual artists, artisans, writers, publishers, musicians, etc. who sell mythic, folkloric, magical, and nature-inspired work online. Please recommend some of your favourites in the Comments below so we can spread the word about their work. If you're an art-maker yourself, please do list your own work. Don't be shy; we want to know about it.

And if you're anywhere near Dartmoor, the annual Winter Artisan Fayre is tomorrow at Endecott House here in Chagford, featuring the work of Virginia Lee, Danielle Barlow, Silverandmoor, and other fine local artists....

Studio in the square

Art above: Embracing the Bear by Virginia Lee and The Wisdom Keeper by Danielle Barlow.


Happy Thanksgiving from Myth & Moor

Fairies feasting by Arthur Rackham

The hound and I wish all our American friends, family members, colleagues and readers a very, very Happy Thanksgiving!

Apple Harvest by Arthur RackhamHere in Devon, the house is quiet. Howard is still away teaching in London, and I'm still down with stomach flu ... but with plenty of books to read, and my sweet hound cuddled close by, there is much to be thankful for.

Little Prayer in November
by Lee Rudolph

That I am alive, I thank
no one in particular;
and yet am thankful, mostly,
although I frame no prayer

but this one: "Creator

Spirit, as you have come,
come again," even in November,
on these short days, fogbound.


Hound in the mist

Leaves in autumn

The poem above is from A Woman and a Man, Ice-Fishing by Lee Rudolph (Texas Review Press, 20015). The passage in the picture captions is from Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature by Kathleen Dean Moore (Trumpeter Books/Shambhala, 2010). All rights reserved by the authors. The illustrations above are by Arthur Rackham (1867-1939).