December 25, 2008

The Spirit of the Yule-Tide

Well, it's been a beautiful Yuletide, as always. I love this time of year; the cold and darkness rises to the peak of its icy grip, only to witness the most ironic things from the human beings it surrounds: complete re-assertion of our bonds as families and friends. The darkness sees our generosity with one another; it sees us gather before warm, flame-lit hearths, as we sip egg-nog and ale, and have large, sumptuous feasts. Everywhere you go, even in our Christian culture, people are trying to resolve issues with family and friends, trying to extend something of what they call the "spirit" of the season.

But what is the truth about this season's "spirit"? It is ancient beyond words or knowledge- truthfully, the source of this winter solstice celebration is a power beyond our belief or understanding. But we human beings do what we can do- we experience the power of this time through language and symbol, and through customs passed down to us from times that were very different than times are now. There is mysticism here- powerful strands of the uncanny Weird come together in the weave of this season, and every person of substance, no matter their faith or thinking, still feels it.

Our Christian contemporaries would have us believe that this time is about the "birth of Christ"- what they fail to see is that this season is only about that to them. To countless ages of people before the creation of their religion, and to countless people now, it is about something else. A person of depth has to consider the fullness of any situation- or, at least, as full as we can manage given our limitations as people- and a person of depth has to see what the generations gone before have said about this time, if they would truly understand.

This dark season of solstice is the most powerful time of the year for some very important reasons. The depths of darkness are more than just cold and dangerous- they are a reversion to the "other side of life"- to the actual realm and world of the dead, and the unseen world. While Christian culture is terrified of this natural and normal side of life, the Pagan world approached it with more wisdom and acceptance. In so doing, they understood something amazing- they saw the paradox of this season, and in so seeing, were able to capture something of its timeless power for their own good and the good of the world.

The ancient Romans named the time of Winter Solstice "Saturnalia"- the religious festival of Old King Saturn. In Roman myth, King Saturn ruled the "Golden Age of Man"- the time before history when human beings lived in peace and harmony, and there was no want. Every year, at this time, the Romans re-created King Saturn's reign, and they came together in harmony, celebrating and acting very much like you see people act now- being more generous, more hospitable, and Roman masters even let slaves temporarily suspend their duties, and live as equals during the Saturnalia.

This "Saturnalia spirit" is not placed at the dark solstice for no reason. In the depths of darkness, winter, and death, what do we find? Outwardly, we see hardship and fear. Inwardly, however, there is light and harmony. Death was, for many Pagan people, a return to the Gods, a return to the ancestors, an entry into peace. Death allowed people to cross the line that kept mortals and Gods separated, and which kept the living and the dead separated. It was a return- literally- to a timeless condition; and in a timeless state, all "points in history" are available to the dead. That means that the Golden Age- in all its fullness- is also available.

Death is a pass-way into the Unseen, and to all the amazing possibilities of that condition. Only those who refuse to accept this, and who remain overly attached to their former lives cannot access the boundless resources and possibilities that death presents. Thus, Yule is also the time of ghosts and haunts, the most dangerous spiritual time of the year. Those with a penchant for dark sorcery will find more than their share of power to access- but woe to them if they are not strong enough to ride the power, and it overtakes them. The Bucca is dancing at Yule, they say; and he will dance them into blood-splatters on the wall if they lack the force to handle this brutal time.

Death loses its sting when people accept it and see what it hides under its dark cloak. People who can look below the surface see that golden horizons await after the long voyage at the end of our days, if we are noble and if we die without regrets or fear. To have the "Golden Age" re-created at this time of Solstice is to bring together the best and fullest with what appears to be the darkest and the worst. These two things- these two extremes- are always found together because in completeness, in wholeness, they are always together.

Further north, in ancient Germania, the Pagan Yule-tide was celebrated; and we see some similar themes: the gathering together of the folk, renewal of bonds of family, the lighting of Yule-fires to give the missing sun the strength it needed to make its journey, and to be the "sun on earth" while it was gone. The fire of life persists in the face of winter and all its wicked, dangerous powers. The human spirit will not be daunted by the most fierce and deadly-seeming of Weird's many faces and masks. That is part of what it means to be a human, and to be alive. In darkness, the sun will return; it will be renewed- it will "Yule" or wheel around and start traveling up again, bringing life and more light to the world. Winter will end. All will be well and all is well.

Christianity's contribution to this ancient season comes in the form of the mythical drama of their "Christ child". The church simply could not destroy the power of this great and holy season. They were forced- forced- to set the date for the birth of Jesus on the same day as the birth of many other Pagan sun Gods and Yule-divinities. They could not stop Pagans from worshiping at this time; it is impossible to separate the spirit in humans from the spirit of nature and from the great and eternal Weird that is behind them all. No new idea of God, no new saviors, and no new religion that seeks to replace countless ages of worship and tradition can hope to succeed.

It never succeeded; given the fact that Pagan people still exist, it is clear that it never will. Pagan customs from the Yule-log to the Christmas tree are still in the homes of most westerners; the Pagan tradition of wassailing (Wassail = Be whole!) is still here at this time; even the dark notions of spirits from the north coming down, complete with "wild rades" of flying animals and elves- all Pagan in origin- are still with us. Some of our wilder "Christmas parties" are very much Saturnalian in their inner being.

But Christianity did bring its own new spin to Yule. For Christians, the darkness of the world ceased to be the cold and death, and became the darkness of moral depravity. The new "son" that is born at the darkest time- Christ- is the light of a new morality, a saving morality and message that will do what? Make all things right again. The "Golden Age" will be back, they said- when the world ends and is destroyed, and Christ collects his faithful, and their God re-creates the world anew. The Christ myth of the "birth of the divine child" fits into Yule quite easily; it tells the same ancient story, with a new moralistic twist.

Do not imagine that this new twist represents some "positive evolution" in human thinking about religion or morality. A new change is not always a better change, and even in the natural world, many lines of evolution are negative, harmful to the species so evolving. Evolution is not a "linear progression from worse to better"- it is just change, and change can sometimes run to madness and disadvantage. I believe it would have been far better for us had we never ventured into the entire "moralistic" range of universalist thinking- the subject of morality is not an easy one, no matter how much people in the past- and now- wanted to over-simplify it to a few rules and a few supposed "revelations" from a "supreme being". That is how they understand it, and how they dearly hope that it "really is", but not how everyone in the world does, and there is a good reason for this.

Some people in this world can still naturally see and feel that these topics are more complex than meets the eye. There is no cause to run to over-simplification and absolutism in the name of finding an elusive peace. Part of our human quest is to learn to deal with uncertainty. To give up that tension in the name of easy solutions is to give up on one of the most important aspects of our own minds and spirits.

Carl Jung said that Christianity was "psychologically true, but not historically true"- and I think finer words were never spoken. You can consider that for a while before you see how deep it really goes. As far as the "need for more moralistic thinking" is concerned, Master Jung also said that "Moral was a function of the human soul, as old as mankind itself"- we have always had moral thinking. Just a different sort of moral thinking than the current popular type. And in the end, we will have the kind of thinking we had so long ago, for the beginning and the end always come together. This is because reality is a whole, a circle, and perpetual.

The Pagan Gods of Yuletime- and the Christ God of Yuletime- are always those Gods that have a special relationship with mankind. Odhinn in the North was the "Yule-Father"- and he, like Christ, is the God who undergoes self-sacrifice for the good of humans and their world. Saturn was also associated with such sacrifices; the ancient Saturnalia once included the sacrifice of a man who took King Saturn's place. My thinking on the subject echoes with much of the wisdom of the ages- the Weird is all; it contains all. Something about the Weird loves life and loves humankind. The weird-power in humanity- in all of us- like the eternal spirit of us- has to undergo the suffering that we all experience. This is why the "gods who love humanity" always suffer and die in sacrifice. They, like we, are "crucified on the cross of space and time", i.e. mortal limitation. By doing so, the divine becomes human and the human can realize its own innate divinity.

Humans didn't suddenly "appear" because the Weird "wanted something to love"- such linear notions are absurd, fit only for people who can only think in straight lines of causality. We humans didn't "appear" one day. We- the spirit of us- was always here. It never "arose", for a perpetual thing cannot arise nor fall away. We exist- both the spirit of us in timelessness and the temporal "other side" we call our many lives and deaths. That's what wholeness is; both sides of everything, all together as one. It's always been that way. The Weird is perpetual. The flow of power is perpetual. Life's celebration is perpetual; life loves to live. Through our lives, weird-force loves; it enjoys; it suffers. As we do it, it does it, and this perpetual simultaneity is all.

The great Weird is not a "personal god"- it is the reality of all, experienced and even (in a way) created in this very moment- which is the only moment there is- through the complex interaction of parts, including the human parts and all their many joys and pains. In this way, even though the Weird is no "personal god" it is paradoxically the most personal thing of all- the great power of our being and becoming, perpetually so, as awake and intelligent as we are, as responsive as we are, and as eternal as we are.

Yule is the season in which the wholeness beyond our hopelessly divided perceptions of the "eternal" and the "temporal" can be grasped for one brief, beautiful moment. The "spirit" of Yule, the hint of Old King Saturn's glorious time, is nothing more than a hint of the timeless that stands beyond time. At this very, very thin time, we can sense it. The dead have already gone to it, and at this time, the dead are never closer to us. The Celtic festival of Samhain is how the ancient Celts perceived the same eternal event, coming as it did at the beginning of their winter.

Old King Saturn- and Old Father Jolnar or the Yule-Odhinn- are still with us. They represent, in one hoary old Godly form, the distant origins of the Old Man who brightens our children's faces at this time: Santa Claus. Santa, more than any other icon, represents the joy of giving, the jolly and ancient spirit of this season. He is a far more universal figure for all people who experience this time than a Jesus figure!

There are a lot of people out there- poor beggars that they are- who hate the fact that parents teach their small children about Santa Claus. They reason that the children are being lied to, and that the children must one day go through the hardship of having their beliefs evolve, of having their beliefs change (which is a kind of destruction, a death of an old way of thinking and a birth of a new one).

These poor souls who hate the tradition of "Santa" don't seem to understand the most crucial lesson of childhood and adult development: all people who grow and become more mature must lay aside their older understandings of the world and embrace new ones- better ones- more abstract and spiritual ones.

Yes- Santa IS real. The figure of Santa Claus isn't an actual man who comes in the Yule season and comes down chimneys to deliver presents; he is the embodiment of the spirit of this time. He is very real in that way- he "comes" at this time, and delivers joy in his own way; he encourages our generosity and happiness. He is Old King Saturn, come again in a new form. He is the Yule-Father. When we become adults, or when we grow older, we must all undergo a revision of our understanding of the world many times, and that is natural and normal. Santa goes from being a physical man to being the spirit of a time, and he is no less "real" for that.

Because what is "real" can exist in many, many ways. And that is a hard lesson for the materialistic dupes and unimaginative people of our age to accept. But it is a crucial lesson. Our dear "biblical literalists" need to learn this lesson, too- for, spiritually and mentally speaking, they have never advanced beyond childhood and immaturity with regards to how they understand the deep metaphors of their own religion.

In their pernicious ignorance and narrow-mindedness, they try to make life miserable for everyone around them. Those who are trapped at a concrete level of understanding always feel threatened by people who can think in more abstract ways. Abstract thinkers threaten them because they remind them that one day, they must and will have to grow up, themselves. They will have to give up the great comfort of their narrow views and get mature like the rest of us. Then, they will discover on the other side of that change, a new joy and comfort awaits- and a much better one.

But getting mature is hard. Anyone who has watched children grow up knows this; and some adults, sadly, never really mature in any real manner except for physically.

There is a magic, a real sorcery in the Yule-season. The Unseen world looms large, and it can be both terrifying and blissfully wonderful. The Unseen world and the Weird always are like that- full of every possibility and both sides of any duality. This is the time of year when the forces of chaos and misrule take the Crown of Summer and transform it into the Crown of Winter, but outside in these "Wolf Nights", somewhere, perhaps in a snow-covered hut around a warm fire, or maybe even in a manger somewhere, a new promise is born- that life will be triumphant over any darkness.

In that glorious promise, people of every faith have a reason to celebrate. They all have a reason to come together and consider the truth: in life, we are surrounded by dangers and by death, and it does not do to struggle against one another so. Peace and fellowship are needed if we are to strive against dark forces, and win. Peace and fellowship are all we can feel when we realize that the eternal spirits of all of us are going to be together forever- as we have always been together- no matter what we think of each other at this moment or on this day, thinking (as we are) with these mortal limitations.

In mythical thinking, we can say that "away in a manger" or off in a distant castle, the child of promise is born. But where is it really born? If not inside each of us, then nowhere. The Spirit of the "Divine Child" is nothing more or less than an icon of the divine spirit in us that is eternally young and everlasting. Get behind it, for it is the truth shining through the cracks of this complex time of many customs come together over many centuries. The taste of eternity that this season affords- and all the generosity, peace, and happiness it brings, is a message from the timeless. At the heart of life is peace, not a nihilistic void, nor pain. It is not just the spirits of the unseen world that can find renewal on the "other side", but our spirits now that can taste the timeless and be renewed every Yuletide.

Here, in the best of all times, and at the most appropriate of all times, I wish you a Glad Yule, a glad turning of the sun back to summer, and I wish you "Wassail"- to "Be Whole". Because you are whole- even the feeling you have sometimes of incompleteness is itself part of the whole. I hope that Santa Claus was generous to you- especially if you were a good boy or girl this year. I wasn't terribly good, but I still walked away from "ye olde Yule tree" with a bandit-sized bag of goodies. Life is good.

December 18, 2008

Crooker of the Derwent and Malevolent Water-Weirds

A painting of the Derwent river

In my most recent work regarding Traditional Witchcraft, The Toad Bone Treatise, I present an "occult bestiary" of types, outlining some of the many strange experiences and even stranger sentient beings one may run across when engaged in explorations of this world through different modes of perception. Those "fire-sighted" people will often discover that the "ordinary" things of this world- including the features of the landscape- reveal themselves in a non-ordinary fashion, sometimes as entities every bit as sentient and self-willed as they believe themselves to be.

One such category of non-human sentient beings is connected to the natural phenomena we call "bodies of water"- and they are attested to in faery-mythology and folklore to an extreme degree, looming large over the entire folk animistic tradition. Bodies of water- so sacred to ancient peoples from all over the world- are the common folkloric homes of water spirits or water weirds as I prefer to group them. Sometimes, there are many overlaps between the ruling forces of bodies of water and even greater powers, but in most cases, the inhabitants of watery places appear to be local to that area, and desirous of offerings from human beings- going so far as to take living beings as their due, if they are ignored. Needless to say, most are quite ignored now, whereas in ancient times they may have been worshiped and given regular offerings or sacrifices.

In The Toad Bone Treatise I write, under my entry for water weirds:

"The spirits of streams, pools, springs, rivers, lakes, and even the vast oceans- these weirds are sometimes (though not often) encountered alone, and other times in communal groupings, just like Land-weirds or land-spirits. Water weirds of great age often take on a feminine appearance, and can be very alluring. They despise people polluting their homes, and are more often than not dangerous- they will drown unsuspecting people of any age, and I suspect this is more of a function of their frustration with mankind than anything else- though they are also pictured as “vampiric”- they can feast on the released life-force of a drowned victim.

Water weirds were often given regular sacrifices and gifts- cast directlty into their homes- by ancient people, and some, especially the weirds of wells and thermal springs, were elevated to the status of Goddesses, due to their great involvement with giving human beings life-preserving water and healing therapy. They deserved to be thanked, then and now. These ancients may be dangerous, too- especially the spirits of old rivers and springs that were the centers of cults in Pagan times; they are starved for attention and offerings.

The fastest way to become protected by their benevolence is to make large offerings to them, but don’t ever become fooled into thinking that they will never be harmful to you- always keep a measure of respect and wariness. All natural bodies of water can be used as gateways into the Underworld by the dead, or by sorcerers who wish to lower their consciousness into that deep place- but guardian water weirds can block this passage, if not appeased. All water weirds have a beguiling power."

Mother Briggs gives several striking descriptions of these powers and related powers in her collection of works. She makes mention of the Scottish "water wraith", described as a "female water spirit, dressed in green, withered, meagre, and scowling." The story of her haunting of a local body of water is typical in folklore; it is said

"...She was ever distorted, with a malignant scowl. I knew all the various fords- always dangerous ones- where of old she used to start, it was said, out of the river, before the terrified traveler, to point at him, as in derision, with her skinny finger, or to beckon him invitingly on; and I was shown the very tree to which a poor Highlander had clung, when, in crossing the river by night, he was seized by the goblin, and from which, despite of his utmost exertions, though assisted by a young lad (his companion) he was dragged into the middle of the current where he perished."

-Briggs, The Encyclopedia of Fairies, pg. 429

There are lessons to be gathered from these accounts- beyond the typical lesson one would imagine regarding safety around bodies of water. Bodies of water are natural entry-points into the deep places of the unseen world, and interaction-points between the worlds of the living and the dead, and as such are sacred places. Bodies of water have also provided sustenance to human beings since the dawn of our time, and the powers of these places were rightly thanked in the past with recognition and offering.

Part of the new "spiritual ecology" that I am always writing about involves recognizing the forgotten or neglected powers of such places in the landscape, and re-building relationships of good tiding. It is more than just a way of re-connecting with the land that is our common home; it is about entering into friendships with other orders of sentient life. The vampiric or malevolent water-weirds can be transformed (with luck) into helpful, friendly powers if people will recreate the bonds of recognition and respect that are owed.

The "twisted" aspect of the water-weird, the "distortion" captured in the folklore is a reflection, I believe, of the alienation that has arisen between humans and the powers of their natural environment due to human abandonment of their duties to the Otherworld. I also believe it is a reflection of the unbalanced fear of the unseen world that has crept into the minds of human beings over centuries of Christian influence.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't have some caution with the unseen world; certainly we should have a caution not unlike that which we have with stranger humans, given our situation, location, history, and context for interaction- but the unqualified belief, so hammered into people's heads by Christian priests, that all of the inhabitants of the traditional unseen world are harmful, wicked, or even "demons" is unwarranted; it is a part of Christianity's propagandistic war on animistic world-views which began quite a long time ago, and which continues to this day.

In the annals of folklore, one water-weird has attained a legendary status for being a dangerous power, neglected and hostile- Crooker of the Derwent River. I have here a tale, told from a traditional source, of Crooker's activity. It is a fitting way to end this letter on the spirits of bodies of water and the need to be both cautious and to re-establish relationships with them.

Crooker of the Derwent

"One day a traveller, a pedlar, was journeying to visit his mother who lived in Cromford. His journey was to take him along the valley of the River Derwent, by a road which he had travelled several times before though he did not know it well. He stopped for a while at an inn and had some lunch and a few beers and set off again on his journey towards the end of the afternoon just as the sun was beginning to set.

He had been walking for a while along the road which led through Derwentdale when suddenly he saw an old woman sitting on a stone beside the road and she was watching him intently as he approached. "Good evening, sir. Are you a stranger in these parts?" she asked.

The pedlar stopped and set down his pack for a moment and replied "Not entirely, for I have been here a few times before though I do not know the area well". "Well," she said, "This is not a road which a wise man travels after dark. You would be well advised to break your journey and turn back and find a bed in the village a mile back". "I can't do that" replied the pedlar. "I must get to Cromford tonight to see my mother. I've heard that she is very ill, so I must press on."

"Well," said the old woman, "You are braver than wise. But I fancy I know you - you once rescued a hare from a snare. I knew that hare and for her sake I will help you. Take this posy," she said, handing him a small bunch of rosemary. "Whatever you do, you must reach the Cromford bridge before the moon is fully risen, and when you reach the place where the road runs alongside the river, keep as far from the water as you can. And when you meet Crooker, you must give him this rosemary and you may, if you are blessed, pass safely".

Well, the pedlar didn't know what to say. The old woman seemed quite mad but he didn't like to be rude so he took the posy of rosemary and thanked her. Then he shouldered his pack and continued on his way, and when he glanced back the old woman had vanished.

By now the shadows were lengthening and dusk was falling across the bottom of the valley. All seemed silent and lonely and the pedlar began to be a little afraid, though he was not sure why. He started to whistle to keep up his spirits, but all the same every so often he stopped to glance over his shoulder as if he were afraid he was being followed.

He walked on up the valley a mile or two and then, as he rounded a corner, he suddenly noticed another old woman, sitting on a bank beside the road in the gathering gloom. As he came up to her she called to him, saying: "Good evening, sir. This is not a road which a wise man travels after dark. You would be well advised to break your journey and turn back and find a bed in the village".

"I can't do that" replied the pedlar. "I must get to Cromford tonight to see my mother. I've heard that she is very ill, so I must press on." "

Well," said the old woman, "You are braver than wise. But I fancy I know you - you once saved a vixen and her cub from dogs. I knew that vixen and for her sake I will help you. Take this posy," she said, handing him a small bunch of rowan twigs. "Whatever you do, you must reach the Cromford bridge before the moon is fully risen, and when you reach the place where the road runs alongside the river, keep as far from the water as you can. And when you meet Crooker, you must give him this rowan and you may, if you are blessed, pass safely". "But who is Crooker?" asked the pedlar, "and why should I beware of him?"

But as he asked the question the old woman seemed to melt into the shadows and was gone. The pedlar was becoming uneasy but remembered his mother waiting for him and shouldered his pack and continued along the road. By now it was almost dark and the moon was just rising above the hills on the opposite side of the valley. The pedlar remembered the advice that he must be across the Cromford bridge by the time that the moon was fully risen and lengthened his stride.

Growing ever more apprehensive, the pedlar continued his journey. Every so often he stopped and looked around, glancing over his shoulder back down the road, fearful of being followed.

He was suddenly startled by a voice from the shadows by the side of the road. "Good evening, sir" said the voice and he leapt backwards with fear. He looked over to where the voice came from and could just discern in the gloom the figure of an old woman sitting on a stone under a tree.

"This is not a road which a wise man travels after dark. You would be well advised to break your journey and turn back and find a bed in the village". "I can't do that" replied the pedlar. "I must get to Cromford tonight to see my mother. I've heard that she is very ill, so I must press on."

"Well," said the old woman, "You are braver than wise. But I fancy I know you - you once released a badger from a trap. I knew that badger and for his sake I will help you. Take this posy," she said, handing him a small bunch of St John's Wort. "Whatever you do, you must reach the Cromford bridge before the moon is fully risen, and when you reach the place where the road runs alongside the river, keep as far from the water as you can. And when you meet Crooker, you must give him this posy and you may, if you are blessed, pass safely". "But who is Crooker?" asked the pedlar, his voice rising in fear, "and why should I beware of him?"

But the old woman had melted into the darkness and the pedlar was alone again on the lonely road. In the distance he could hear the rushing of the waters of the Derwent and shuddered as he hoisted his pack up on to his shoulder again and set off down the road towards the Cromrford bridge.

Before long, he came the point where the road ran alongside the river and he looked down at the swirling waters. They seemed to be whispering to him "Come, come ...." and he felt a sudden terrible urge to leap into the dark waters. Terrified, he leapt back and found himself at the other side of the road, under the sheltering branches of a huge tree which overhung the road. Looking up, he could make out the dark shape of the bridge, perhaps 200 or so yards ahead of him at a turn in the valley and suddenly felt relieved.

Just then, he glanced down at the road, his eye caught by movement there. He saw that the moon was casting the shadows of the gnarled and twisted branches on the road like huge fingers reaching out for him, and the very air about him was filled with a moaning and sighing which seemed to say "Give, give, come, come ...". Letting out a cry of fear "Crooker!" he began to run down the road towards the bridge, throwing the posy of rosemary over his shoulder. As he did so, the moaning of the river seemed to become a roaring and the waters became turbulent and more violently swirling as if the river were trying to engulf the road.

As he ran, stricken with panic, he saw another great tree ahead, the shadows of its gnarled and grasping branches covering the whole of the road beneath it and realised that he would have to pass beneath it and within its grasp. Running as fast as he could, burdened down by his pack, he ran headlong beneath the shadows of the tossing branches. As he passed beneath it, he again heard the the sighing and moaning of the river and without looking back he hurled the second posy, the rowan twigs, over his shoulder. Again, the river seemed to roar and swirl even more menacingly, but the pedlar kept on running.

Ahead of him, he could see a third huge tree, bigger and more shadowy than the others and choking back his panic and keeping his eyes on the bridge now just a few yards ahead, he summoned up his remaining strength and ran beneath the outstretched branches and over the swaying shadows on the road. As he did so, the river seemed to scream with fury and the tree swayed violently as if trying to reach down to him. Weak with fear, he hurled the last posy, the St John's Wort, back over his shoulder towards the tree and staggered onto the bridge just as the moon reached its highest point in the sky. At the centre he finally collapsed, overcome with exhaustion and terror, and fell into a faint.

In the village of Cromford, meanwhile, local people were awakened from their beds by the sound of the river roaring and moaning - a sound they knew all too well as being the sound of Crooker claiming his dues. And they knew that in the morning there would be a body to retrieve and bury. But come the morning, when they ventured out at first light to scour the river bank, they were astonished to find the pedlar still sleeping on the centre of the bridge and they carried him into the village.

In time, a chapel was built beside the bridge, paid for by the grateful pedlar, at which prayers were said for those who had lost their lives in the river over the years and where travelers could give thanks for passing safely through the valley. The chapel is now gone, but it is still widely believed by local people that every so often the river demands sacrifice."

Notes from the Tale of Crooker

Crooker, like most water weirds, has a strange and hidden relationship with the trees that grow on the banks of his river. The tree-weirds attempt to snare travelers for him. I discuss this connection between bodies of water and the trees that grow near them in The Toad Bone Treatise. This fine tale presents wise-women, or witches, who appear to help our protagonist pedlar through this dangerous time. That they should appear is not surprising; witch-folk from all times and places have acted as knowers of the inner realities of the land upon which they dwell. The more kindly disposed of them will help people from time to time- especially those deserving of that help, as this Pedlar was.

Their best advice is "don't go there tonight"- but he seems rather bent on traveling. They provide him with Rowan, St. John's Wort, and Rosemary- three powerful protective plant-weirds- and all as offerings for Crooker. This piece of local lore is very valuable; Crooker accepts these plants (on some level) as a replacement offering for whatever he was given before- and it is easy to see that Crooker wants more- his precise words in the tale. That human beings have a deep mythical relationship with plants and trees is important here; plant-bodies and tree-parts can take the place of human offerings.

The protagonist was helped by the witches because of his good deeds; he had spared the lives of animals that they knew. This too, is a powerful lesson for all of the wise.

December 17, 2008

Welcome, Friends!

It is the season of the new blog! Having finished my task for my last blog, it is time (I think) to begin a blog devoted to European folklore, faery-tales and relevant mythology, and (of course) traditional witchcraft and sorcery- those topics that I am best known for writing about.

It will take some time and effort to get this blog looking right and running right, but I look forward to filling it with all manner of strange posts on even stranger subject matters, especially posts regarding the persistence of folkloric traditions of supernaturalism and what truths they encode for revelation in the modern day.

I have long believed that the fund of folk-wisdom was more than just "the quaints"- that an uncommon variety of useful wisdom waits to be uncovered in innocuous or odd-looking folktales. After writing about it in many places, this is the next place I needed to start.

The truth is beginning to show its face: folklore has teeth; it contains a treasury of wisdom and many revelations regarding the beliefs of people who lived on our lands before us, including visions of primitive levels of evil- the truth behind the real "evils" that still exist and influence us- and the notion of wholeness. Wholeness, the true folkloric treasure, is the great work of any lifetime, sought after by any thinking person. We may walk the path to the goal, accompanied by many odd characters and opposed by many bizarre adversaries, or we can scratch our heads in wonder at the secrets concealed by history.

I shall take the road less traveled. I hope that you will walk with me.

May we all be well, in day and in dark.