January 15, 2018 · 12:08 pm
Right on the edge of the Cliff Of Heaven sits the small hamlet of Last Ditch. Here live the Gods of Lost Causes. Doomed with each turn of the moon to once more plunge in to the abyss as the cliff crumbles beneath them. The next weeks see their re-constituted forms drifting from the Mists of Defiance to build again their hovels of forlorn hope either side of the undrinkable waters of the Stub Bourne. Sometimes the other gods will break the tedium of eternity by going down to try and save the inhabitants, begging them to leave while they can. It is of no avail. The hands that reach across the cracking earth, though stretched for, go unclasped. The rope that is thrown as the rocks break away goes un-grasped. They are not rich gods, their worshippers, often newly converted, by definition have nothing to give and much to ask. Although their prayers are fervent enough to make their deities solid and well formed, their inherent pessimism does not empower the mythical symbols of their plight to actually come to their rescue. Besides which, like most gods, they have problems of their own.
With great power comes great responsibility, which makes your average immortal pretty busy. Think how big the Met Office is, how many people it takes to work out what is likely to happen with the amazingly complex business of predicting the weather. Now think about how much more hard work is involved in making the weather! Very few celestial beings have only one area of duty, usually seeing to a portfolio of natural and human activities which can be as diverse as irrigation, textile production and the beach tree. Most of them have some part to play in the battle between good and evil, Odin being famously hard at work building an army to take on the giants, thieves and monsters at the final battle.
As we approach the worldwide annual festival of god bothering, in which solar deities are begged to return, storm gods are begged to hold off, sky gods to bring snow – but only the pretty sort and only for a couple of days and can it be lovely for the rest of the year please? The god of Abraham is entreated to bring peace to the world by the three most heavily armed religions on the planet, and the god of presents receives his annual tall order.
Come December the 25 Santa will have 80 million more presents to deliver than he had last year and a whole heap of requests from confused children asking him to take away their little siblings, for their estranged parents to be reunited and/or their dead gerbil to be alive again. Whatever you have asked for, there is chance Father Christmas will turn up with something else. If he does please cut him some slack, he’s got as lot of stuff going on.
February 6, 2017 · 7:18 pm
Once upon a time there was a Count, by the name of Otto, who lived near Strasburg. Although handsome and single he was so indifferent to the flirtations of the ladies that they called him “Stone Heart”.
One year Count Otto hosted a Christmas Eve hunt in the forests around his castle. He and his guests rode for hours through woods and wastes until, as is pretty much compulsory for a noble who goes hunting in a story, Otto found himself alone and lost. Finding a spring he stopped to wash the dust of the chase from his hands. He was surprised to find the water warm despite the time of year and plunged his arms deeper into the bubbling well head. As he did so he felt as if a smaller softer pair of hands met his own and drew from his finger his favourite gold ring. When he withdrew his hands the ring was indeed missing so he made a mental note to send some servants to fetch it out the following day.
As he lay in his bed that night he heard sounds as of the drawbridge going down and a host of people arriving. Rather shortly afterwards he also heard coming from his own Great Hall the sounds of music and merriment, rather like some throng feasting. When he threw open the doors he found that was indeed the case as colourfully clad dancers whisked past him. In the centre of the room a fir tree stood, bedecked with gold rings, diamond encrusted bracelets, bejewelled belts and ruby pommeled daggers in silver sheaths. As Otto stood staring in disbelief, the dancers parted and as the music faded away the most beautiful woman he had ever seen swayed towards him with raven hair and fine dress in plush satins and velvets. “We have come to return your Christmas visit to our fairy well” she said, “and return to you something you have lost.” She held out a small gold casket which, when opened, revealed his ring. “I am Ernestine, Queen of the fairies” she said holding out her hand. As the music began again Otto found himself taking her hand and joining the dance. As they danced the other fairies shimmered away leaving only Ernestine in his arms. Entranced he sank to one knee and asked her to marry him. Ernestine smiled and said: “As long as you never speak the word “Death” in my presence.”
The two were wed the very next day and spent many happy years together. Otto still enjoyed hosting the occasional hunt and Ernestine joined in too. One day, when everyone was in the courtyard ready to set off on for the pursuit, Ernestine was still in her chambers. Otto held up the departure. Time trickled away and Otto grew impatient. Eventually Ernestine came out through the doors. Otto was quite angry by this time, “You have kept us waiting so long,” he cried, “that you would make a good messenger to send for Death!”
There was barely time for her to utter one anguished scream and then she was gone, vanished in to thin air. Otto was frantic. He searched the castle and the forest, dived in to the fairy well and ranged up and down the banks of the stream that flowed from it, all to no avail.
Every year he brought a fir tree in to his hall and dressed it in bright shiny jewels and candles in remembrance of their first night together and the hope that its sparkling lights might bring her home.
After a while Otto’s neighbours began to put up decorated trees of their own. Slowly the custom spread until now, if the queen of the fairies should return to seek her lost love, she would find his signal shining from houses all over the globe.
…here’s to living happily ever after, until the next adventure.
The Travelling Talesman www.thetravellingtalesman.co.uk
December 10, 2012 · 5:28 pm
Obviously you can tell all sorts of yarns during the longest nights huddled around the fire, after all there’s plenty of time! As ever though there are certain types of narrative which are set around the turning of the year, you might think that it would be the time for adventure yarns, and maybe they were told in their turn, but it seems, in the days of candles and fires, the darkness brought on a touch of introspection. The old tales of midwinter seem to fall in to two distinct types which can most readily be summed up as the “Why” stories and the “Be good” stories.
The first group include explanations for the leaving and returning of heat or sunshine; why some trees keep their leaves; and why we bring trees in to our houses and decorate them.
As you know, I like old stories and the older the better. It is easy to see the myths which tell of the cause of the cold and darkness have roots going back as far as the hunter gatherers of the mesolithic or further. Even as the first foundations of language were being built by the diminutive Homo Erectus, some one must have asked “why is it so cold?” and possibly “will it ever be warm again?” and some other reached in to their mind and replied ”A long time ago…”.
The Canadian natives tell “The Long Winter” which answers both questions whilst neatly weaving in an amusing explanation for the absence of bears during the winter. In Japan there is a myth of the sun goddess Amaterasu who, after an argument with her brother, the god of storms, shuts herself in a cave leaving the world in darkness while the gods try to figure out how to get her and her light back to the world.
The tale of a small bird who cannot fly south with a broken wing and asks the trees for shelter eventually resulting in some becoming evergreen, will ring the bells of memory for many of you, as will Count Otto’s lost fairy bride in the Strasborg tale of the first christmas tree, since both of these were current in my youth.
The second group hardly needs an explanation, you will undoubtedly be subjected to at least one version of Dickens’ famous tight wad’s redemption during the festive season (though not by me!), and there are plenty more tales of rewards for the just and punishments for the wicked. The Russians know a thing or two about winter and from them comes a classic of the “be good” genre in “Frost”. Martha’s cruel stepmother decides to get rid of her by having Martha’s weak and frightened father take her deep in to the snowbound forest to be married to Frost, which is to say she intends him to leave her there to die of cold. As it grows dark poor Martha hears Frost crackling in the trees, each time a little closer…
As I mentioned, all kinds of tales can get an outing at midwinter but you can be sure some of these will appear during the MidWinter Tales evening at the London Inn, Morchard Bishop on the evening of Saturday 22nd December.
December 6, 2011 · 11:15 am
Tradition is a tricky beast. Call something “traditional” and it instantly acquires the authority of an age old practice. The general impression one gets is that anything “traditional” has been going on long enough that it’s origins are lost in the mists of time. However, I once heard that for something to be considered tradition it only has to pass through three generations, whilst the Concise Oxford Dictionary defines tradition as “a custom handed down” saying nothing about how many hands are required to qualify.
I mention this because Christmas, probably the highest concentration of traditional activity in the modern year, has only held it’s current form for a very short period of time. Your traditional roast turkey, for instance, is only just scraping through on the most generous interpretation of the COD’s definition. Unless you are American, your grandparents are far more likely to have considered a goose as the traditional bird. You would only need to go back another generation or two to find people being shocked at the idea of standing a tree up in the corner then covering it in pretty stuff; and Ivy was never brought in to the home as it was generally considered to be infested with fairies, and you wouldn’t want them loose in the house!
So what sort of tales are “traditionally” associated with Yuletide? For those of us brought up with Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke and Roger Moore sprinkling cheese all over our afternoon present giving, it may come as a surprise that the tale types most common to this time of year are dark tales of desperation and struggles through unbearable loss. The Victorians, who gave us much of what we think of as a traditional Christmas, typically whiled away the festive evenings telling ghost stories. Dicken’s Christmas Carol neatly combines these concepts to forge a classic that straddles the transition from what was to what is. Going further back in time, Scandinavians used to tell stories of Odin who, as one of the precursors to St Nicholas, led the wild hunt in a mad career across the Yuletide skies on his eight legged horse, not only giving out gifts to those who were good but punishments to those who were bad, an element we seem to have totally lost today (Just like bankers getting bonuses whatever happens).
Whilst we are in historical Scandinavia, let us pause for a moment in Norway at a place called Dogre. It is on a fell near the mountains and the tradition was to provide hospitality to all-comers during the mid winter feasting. One year, on the eve of the feast, a traveller arrived at a house asking for lodgings for him and his bear. The owner explained that he was welcome to stay but he and his family were just leaving as, being so close to the mountains the house was annually overrun by coarse, ill-mannered trolls. The stranger said he was too tired to go any further and would take his chance with the trolls, then installed himself and his bear by the fire.
The trolls duly arrived in all their grotesque ugliness and made themselves at home, toasting sausages in the flames. One of them approached the bear saying “Kitty want a sausage?” and shoved the hot charred item on to the unsuspecting beasts nose. Naturally the bear lost its temper at the provocation and chased the trolls from the house.
The next year, as the family were preparing to forsake their home once again a troll poked it’s head round the door and said “Have you still got that cat?” thinking quickly the Owner responded “Yes and she’s had seven kittens who are all growing with remarkable speed!”
They were never troubled with trolls again.
Merry Christmas to you all!
Filed under Christmas, December, Folk Tale, stories, Storytelling, Tradition, Winter
Tagged as cat, Christmas, polar bear, stories, Story, Storytelling, tradition, Troll, Yule