Monthly Archives: April 2014

Of Woodland Glades and Hollow Hills


Whoever we are and however we seek peace, solace or a connection with something beyond the mundane, for the majority of us there is a place where we find something that refreshes our soul, or at least feels closer to doing so than the highways and byways of our everyday life. The spiritually developed person who sees the divine in everything will still regularly be drawn to a certain garden or hilltop. Even the Buddha, refined through many lifetimes to have no attachment to things in the physical world, chose a specific sacred fig tree under which to sit and meditate his way to enlightenment.

Some places just have something about them that resonates with us in a way that other places do not. In an animist culture the assumption would be that a being of some sort lived there, a spirit or spirits specific to that place. If the spirit was friendly and the place popular the spirit might be credited with influence beyond their personal rock, dell or circle of trees, often involving the well-being of plants and animals in the general vicinity.

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It seems to me that a good number of the fairy folk started life as spirits of place, particularly the diminutive winged types found in sylvan glades who are clearly connected to the fertility of the forest. Thus they do not posses the power of invisibility, it is their natural state. The power they posses is that of visibility, allowing themselves to be seen by those who are open to their existence.


The link between the small woodland fairies and their human sized namesakes comes about because the Tuatha De Danann and others of their ilk can also be considered as spirits of place. Connected with the hill forts, stone circles or hills they occupied while present in this world or the burial mounds they retreated in to, the large and powerful fairies are a mix of gods and ancestral spirits who attained a wide enough sphere of influence to become autonomous from their place of origin. It is easy to see how a smith of great skill in the early days of metalwork might be buried with great honour in a barrow., then, in a culture where ancestors were revered and their soul contacted and consulted, they would maintain their importance long after their physical presence had moved on.

Though connected at a theoretical level it is still strange that these two kinds of being, with very different appearances and behaviours should share a name and even be found together according to many eye witness reports. My personal opinion is that the small fairies tag along with their larger brethren in much the same way that jackdaws hang around with rooks.

If you want these denizens of the Otherworld to show themselves to you then there are obvious places to start. The good folk are fond of trees and especially thorns. Anywhere with the combination of oak, ash and thorn is likely. Of course, fairy rings indicate a favoured dancing spot and any barrow, burial mound or particularly well rounded hill should be worth a look. The best place however, may be just that place you go to yourself that has something indefinable about it that makes you happy, for the fairies who live there already know you.

If all else fails then you could look in The Tavelling Talesman’s tour dates for “Away With The Fairies” at http://www.thetravellingtalesman.co.uk/giglist.shtml

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It’s in the bag


I gave the fairies a rest last month while I checked through my stock of stories, blew the dust off some old favourites, retired some stalwarts from the last couple of years and looked over the new recruits for my summer season’s festival sets. Over a four day festival I will get through more than sixty tales varying in length from a couple of minutes to three quarters of an hour. Also some people turn up at more than one of the festivals and I like to have enough material at hand to give them something different from the previous damp field we met in. Then there are the tales I have learnt for historical sites such as Corfe Castle, special requests for weddings, private house parties and any other themed events I am booked for. That’s quite a lot of culture to lug around, and some of those myths are pretty heavy! I could really do with some help to carry it all.

 

Some concepts are just so appealing that they get invented again and again. In “The Colour of Magic” Terry Pratchett introduced his readers to “The Luggage”, a wooden chest with legs that can not only hold everything it’s owner might possibly need but can also dispose of things they do not want, such as violent aggressors. The small container of infinite capacity is such a practical, amazing and desirable item that we just have to keep re-imagining it: The “Room Of Requirement” may not be portable but Harry Potter would be stuffed without it; Doctor Who is able to travel in his box that is bigger on the inside and Mary Poppins can pull a surprising variety of improbable items out of her carpet bag.

Even though each of these items engages a sense of wonder when we first meet them (Wouldn’t it be marvellously useful to be able to carry and store lots of stuff without having to, well, actually carry or store lots of stuff?), it will come as no surprise that it’s not a new idea at all. Various wizards and the usual plethora of Jacks have facilitated their adventures through the possession of a Magic Bag. Some magic bags are quite specific, the one that appears in the Grim brother’s “The Knapsack, the Hat and the Horn” only contains soldiers and horses, but as many as you want, and through it are won the hat, the horn and eventually the kingdom. Other bags have the power to pull things of any size in to them on command such as the one owned by a blacksmith. Annoyed by a churchman who preaches a lot but will do nothing to remove a troublesome demon, he tells the sack to swallow them both. After a long career ridding the land of wickedness, he is sent to hell since he has spent so much of his life concentrating on evil that he “has a natural affinity for it”. Since he doesn’t fancy an eternity as Beelzebub’s toast he orders the entire flaming pit in to the bag leaving St. Peter no choice but to let him in.

 

Although I have read and told a great many stories I know some better than others. The ones I have at my fingertips to pull out at a moments notice I consider to be in my “Ready Bag”. Although I check the contents over each year, when I am put on the spot by a request or discover an event has a theme no one told me about, if I reach deep in to my ready bag I can often be surprised by what is still in there. I have also found that no matter how big a story is it does fit in, and there is always room for another dragon, giant or goddess if I want to take them with me. I expect you have moments when a long unused fact or skill pops out of your head when you need it, and I’m sure you load new information in to your brain every day. Maybe we all have a magic bag after all, we just have to be careful what we put into it.

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