The poem in picture captions is from Two Moons by Mary Oliver (Little, Brown & Co., 1972); all rights reserved by the author.
The poem in picture captions is from Two Moons by Mary Oliver (Little, Brown & Co., 1972); all rights reserved by the author.
Sometime in early 1990s, my friend and village neighbor Brian Froud unearthed the Victorian diary of Lady Angelica Cottington and made a startling discovery. Whereas other gentlewoman of her time pressed flowers between their diary pages, the young Lady Angelica pressed fairies. Or rather, she caught and pressed the psychic impressions of fairies, who delighted in leaping into her book, imprinting images of themselves (often rude in nature), and then leaping out again unharmed.
This diary was subsequently published as Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Book, followed by two more volumes (Lady Cottington's Fairy Album and Lady Cottington's Fairy Letters), as well as the "fairy research" of Angelica's peculiar twin brother, Quentin, in Strange Staines and Mysterious Smells.
"It has often been my onerous task," writes Brian, "as the recipient of so much Cottingtonalia, to examine, scrutinize, and verify the often distasteful squashings and odiferous smears [of the pressed fairies], but I continue to do it with a noble sense of scientific inquiry, for I have long abandoned all hope of financial reward or knighthood (or an open sardine tin). All I can realistically hope for is a third-rate rest home near the gasworks in the less salubrious sector of Budleigh Salterton.
"The series of Cottington books may have provoked outrage or indifference from the discerning reader, however, some scholars of the esoteric -- notably a group in Oxford known as the 'Stinklings' -- gather weekly in the Dingly Arms, a rather down-at-the-heels public house. Here, over hot, buttered crumpets and pints of Bishop's Finger, they conduct fierce, philosophical debates about the various fairy phenomena appearing in my books."
Now we have a have a brand new piece of the puzzle: The Pressed Cottington Journal of Madeline Cottington, a volume that documents the strange history of Cottington Hall, the family's fairy-infested manor in Devon. Brian calls it the most astonishing book of them all, and I'm inclined to agree.
The story is told by Madeline Cottington, the most recent descendant of this odd British family. Traveling to the ruins of the Cottington estate, she finds an odd jumble of junk and treasures: letters, drawings, diagrams, photographs, books, clothes, peculiar contraptions. Compelled to uncover her family history, and unaware of the dangers the Hall still holds, Maddi finds that she too is part of the story. And that the fairies are very real...
Above, Madeline Cottington, fairy hunter in the making.
Below, Angelica and Quentin Cottington, photographed early in the 2oth century. (Poor Quentin was driven mad by the war...or perhaps by other mysterious things?)
The Pressed Fairy Journal of Madeline Cottington by Brian & Wendy Froud contains a wonderful story, magical art, and is a pure delight from start to finish. It just came out from Abrams Publishers (New York). Please don't miss it.
I'd like to wish Rex Van Ryn, Steve Dooley, and Andy Letcher a very happy Publication Day for The English Magic Tarot. As the publisher, Weiser Books, describes it:
"This captivating new tarot deck draws us into the vibrant but often hidden world of English magic, evoking a golden age of mysticism when John Dee was Queen Elizabeth’s Court Astrologer, antiquarian John Aubrey rediscovered ancient sacred sites, and the great physicist Isaac Newton studied alchemy. The English Magic Tarot places the cards in the colorful yet turbulent period of English history that stretches from the time of Henry VIII to the Restoration. During this time of upheaval archetypal forces were very much at play, making this a perfect setting for the cards."
The deck comes with a 160-page book, providing an in-depth guide to its use. It's beautifully produced, fascinating to peruse (and to use), and I highly recommend it.
This is a project that I have been following closely not only because it's magical and unique -- blending an erudite approach to the history of Western magic with comics-inflected art and a sly, smart humor -- but also because it's a thoroughly Chagfordian enterprise, involving many of my village friends and neighbors:
The deck's roots (as long-time Myth & Moor readers know) go back to John Barleycorn Must Die, a graphic novel by Rex and my husband Howard. The main character of the novel, a mysterious English magician, used a tarot deck of this very sort, full of English magic and history; and the esoteric traditions behind it were further explored on their weekly Barleycorn blog. Rex was first inspired to turn Barleycorn's fictional tarot into reality (a number of those early designs can be found in the Barleycorn blog archives)...and then over time, the project evolved and broadened to become The English Magic Tarot. The deck's art was pencilled and inked by Rex, and painted by illustrator Steve Dooley. Andy Letcher joined the team to write the deck's accompanying book, drawing on his long history as a folklorist and scholar of Western magical traditions.
More Chagford folk can be found in the deck itself, including the mischievous characters below: Steve as the Ace of Coins, Andy as the Fool, jewelry designer Jason of England as the Devil, baker extraordinaire Ruth Olley as Strength, and Rima Staines of Hedgespoken as the gypsy of the Fortune card. (I've spotted other familiar faces in the Major Arcana, but I haven't yet found them all....)
The English Magic Tarot uses symbols derived from the heyday of the English magical tradition, a period that lies between the end of the Renaissance and the beginning of the Early Modern. As Andy explains in the book's introduction:
"English magic is a distinctive, local branch of natural magic. It has evolved through many iterations, from prehistoric times to the present day, and freely bends high and low magic. One constant is that it regards the cosmos as animate, and our place in the world as significant. It calls us to rediscover a magical connection with the land upon which we happen to live, whether that be England or elsewhere. It supposes that through practice or study (not least, of the tarot!) we can attain a greater understanding of the disparate parts of the self, and the magical connections that permeate the universe. Through English magic we can attain a state of gnosis and true knowledge of the world....
"A trip to a good anthropological museum (like the Pitt Rivers in Oxford, which is absolutely stuffed full of magical objects, charms, and spells) shows that magic is universal. English magic is simply the English dialect of a language that's shared by all human cultures. It is our particular, regional way of doing it. It stands to reason that if magic is natural, then it will be shaped by the land it belongs to and the language and culture of the people living there.
"No one really knows why, but this small country named England has produced a great many magicans. The foundations of English magic go right back to the earliest days, to the architects who aligned Stonehenge to the midwinter sun, to the Druids with their ogham tree-lore, and to the early Anglo-Saxons with their runes. The traces of our ancestors' magical practices lie etched across and buried within the English landscape, and if you look carefully you'll see those traces in The English Magic Tarot cards too."
For further information, visit the English Magic Tarot blog and Twitter page, or read an interview with the deck's three creators. You can see more of Rex's art on his Facebook page, more of Steve's art on his painting & illustration site; and read more of Andy's deeply folkloric writing on his Wyrdlore blog.
I also recommend Howard & Rex's original Barleycorn blog, where it all began: in particular, their discussion of magic with Andy Letcher, and tarot with Amal El-Mohtar, plus conversations around our kitchen table with Iain McCaig, Alan Lee, Brian & Wendy Froud, Rima Staines, David Wyatt, Didier Graffet, Yoann Lossel, and other good folks.
No post today because we're off to Chagford Show, our village's annual agricultural fair, to look at sheep, cows, tractors and vegetables; watch horse trials and dog contests; and consume locally grown, baked, brewed or bottled things in the company of our rural neighbors. (These pictures are from last year's post on Chagford Show. To see more them, go here.)
On Friday, I'll be preparing for the "Power of Story" talk on Saturday night. I'll be back to Myth & Moor on Monday.
Have a good weekend, everyone!
It's the last day of the Hedgespoken Winter Raffle, and the last day to help this fine project by purchasing a raffle ticket, and/or by spreading the word. Six good reasons for supporting Hedgespoken:
1. It is an insanely cool project.
2. Everyone involved has been working insanely hard to get it off the ground.
3. Mythic Arts & Folk Arts aren't often supported by traditional Arts Funding sources, so it's up to
those of us who love them & believe in them to support them in whatever ways we can.
4. My husband Howard is involved with making the Folk Theatre part of Hedgespoken happen, and
it's going to be magical indeed.
5. For only £1 you might end up owning an original Rima Staines painting, or a handworked
Smicklegrin leather mask.
6. Rima Staines & Tom Hirons are Good Folks (did you know they first met through their
involvement with The Journal of Mythic Arts?)...so let's get this truck on the road.
For more information on the project go to the Hedgespoken website.
For updates on the project see the video above (from December), and the Hedgespoken blog.
The very beginnings of the project are here...and my gracious, how far they've come!
Happy Holidays from all of us at Bumblehill!
Here's one of the wackiest (and most pagan) versions of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" I've ever come across, from the inimitable Annie Lennox...along with some greenery from the woods, a trio of Yule-tide bunnies, and a prayer for a day of rest.
May your holidays be joyous, but also restful and restorative.
"We who have lost our sense and our senses -- our touch, our smell, our vision of who we are; we who frantically force and press all things, without rest for body or spirit, hurting our earth and injuring ourselves: we call a halt.
"We want to rest. We need to rest and allow the earth to rest. We need to reflect and rediscover the mystery that lives in us, that is the ground of every unique expression of life, the source of the fascination that calls all things to communion.
"We declare a Sabbath, a space of quiet: for simply being and letting be; for recovering the great, forgotten truths; for learning how to live again."
- from "Only One Earth" (The U.N. Environment Program)
The Bumblehill Studio is closed for the winter holidays. Myth & Moor will return on Monday, January 4.
I'm also thankful for you, dear Readers, and the whole mythic arts community.
To those of you in America: Have a warm and peaceful Thanksgiving weekend, full of good talk, good food, loud laughter, quiet moments, and of all of the ancient, mythic, magical, noncommercial things that matter the most. And to those of you in the rest of the world, I wish the very same.
I hope to be back to the studio (and Myth & Moor) sometime next week, if all goes well. Fingers crossed.
From "The Common Life," an essay in Scott Russell Sanders' excellent collection Writing from the Center:
"The words community, communion, and communicate all derive from common, and the two syllables of common grow from separate roots, the first meaning 'together' or 'next to,' the second having to do with barter or exchange. Embodied in that word is a sense of our shared life as one of giving and receiving -- music, touch, ideas, recipes, stories, medicine, tools, the whole range of artifacts and talents. After twenty-five years with [my wife] Ruth, that is how I have come to understand marriage, as a constant exchange of labor and love. We do not calculate who gives how much; if we had to, the marriage would be in trouble. Looking outward from this community of two, I see my life embedded in ever-larger exchanges -- those of family and friendship, neighborhood and city, countryside and county -- and on every scale there is giving and receiving, calling and answering.
"Many people shy away from community out of a fear that it may become suffocating, confining, even vicious;
and of course it may, if it grows rigid or exclusive. A healthy community is dynamic, stirred up the energies of those who already belong, open to new members and fresh influences, kept in motion by the constant battering of gifts. It is fashionable just now to speak of this open quality as 'tolerance,' but that word sounds too grudging to me -- as though, to avoid strife, we must grit our teeth and ignore whatever is strange to us. The community I desire is not grudging; it is exuberant, joyful, grounded in affection, pleasure, and mutual aid. Such a community arises not from duty or money but from the free interchange of people who share a place, share work and food, sorrows and hopes. Taking part in the common life means dwelling in a web of relationships , the many threads tugging at you while also holding you upright."
"It just may be that the most radical act we can commit is to stay home," says Terry Tempest Williams. "What does that mean to finally commit to a place, to a people, to a community? It doesn't mean it's easy, but it does mean you can live with patience, because you're not going to go away. It also means commitment to bear witness, and engaging in 'casserole diplomacy' by sharing food among neighbors, by playing with the children and mending feuds and caring for the sick. These kinds of commitment are real. They are tangible. They are not esoteric or idealistic, but rooted in the bedrock existence of where we choose to maintain our lives.
"That way we begin to know the predictability of a place. We anticipate a species long before we see them. We can chart the changes, because we have a memory of cycles and seasons; we gain a capacity for both pleasure and pain, and we find the stregnth within ourselves and each other to hold these lines. That's my definition of family. And that's my definition of love."
The pictures here, which hold the essence of "community" for me, come from a 2011 post about a neighborhood bonfire on the eve of the Spring Equinox...back when Howard's hair was long, and Rima Staines still had her dreadlocks, and when our beloved friend, folklorist & artist Thomas Hine, was still alive. It feels so long ago now. And it feels like yesterday.
Here's what I wrote about these pictures at the time:
"Music and a bonfire on a Devon hillside to celebrate the spring equinox (Monday, March 21st) in traditional fashion. Musicians: Howard (guitar, accordion, shakers), Steve Dooley (drums), Rima Staines (accordion, clarinet, flute), Tom Hirons (clarinet, guitar), Jason of England (drum), Thomas Hine (fiddle) and Damien Hackney (not pictured, fiddle). Bonfire hosts: Jason and Ruth Olley. Dogs: Tilly, Macha, Warlock, Ash, and Pigsy. Friends, neighbors, parents, grandparents, and children. Food cooked on the fire, painted eggs, and laughter. And a whole lot warmer than it was last time. Spring is finally here."
"It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade." - Charles Dickens
Words: The passage above by Scott Russell Sanders comes from Writing from the Center (Indiana University Press, 1995). The passage by Terry Tempest Williams comes from an interview by Derrick Jensen in Listening to the Land: Conversations about Nature, Culture, and Ethos (Chelsea Green, 2004). All rights reserved by the authors. Picture: "The Visitors," a watercolor painting by Rima Staines.
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.
On Thursday, Howard, Jenny (my lovely mother-in-law), Tilly and I went to the 115th Chagford Agricultural and Horticultural Show, one of our favorite events in the local calendar, where we watched dog, pony, and horse trials, admired tractors and vegetables, listened to local music, ate locally-grown food, caught up with village neighbors and friends...and where I was able to thoroughly indulge my inexplicable passion for sheep.
Here are some of my pictures from the day. You can find many more by other folks in the Gallery of the Chagford Show website.
“Imagine if we had a food system that actually produced wholesome food. Imagine if it produced that food in a way that restored the land. Imagine if we could eat every meal knowing these few simple things: What it is we’re eating. Where it came from. How it found its way to our table. And what it really cost. If that was the reality, then every meal would have the potential to be a perfect meal. We would not need to go hunting for our connection to our food and the web of life that produces it. We would no longer need any reminding that we eat by the grace of nature, not industry, and that what we’re eating is never anything more or less than the body of the world. I don’t want to have to forage every meal. Most people don’t want to learn to garden or hunt. But we can change the way we make and get our food so that it becomes food again -- something that feeds our bodies and our souls. Imagine it: Every meal would connect us to the joy of living and the wonder of nature. Every meal would be like saying grace.”
- Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals)
“Community is a sign that love is possible in a materialistic world where people so often either ignore or fight each other. It is a sign that we don't need a lot of money to be happy -- in fact, the opposite.”
- Jean Vanier (Community And Growth)
“If we are looking for insurance against want and oppression, we will find it only in our neighbors' prosperity and goodwill and, beyond that, in the good health of our worldly places, our homelands. If we were sincerely looking for a place of safety, for real security and success, then we would begin to turn to our communities -- and not the communities simply of our human neighbors but also of the water, earth, and air, the plants and animals, all the creatures with whom our local life is shared."
- Wendell Berry (The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays)
I'll be out of the studio over the next week due to family commitments, and back to Myth & Moor again on Tuesday, September 1st. Wherever you may be, I hope the end of your summer (or winter, for those of you Down Under) is a good one.