The wood so softly singing
In a language strange to hear
And the song it sings will find you
As the twilight draws you near

20140921

Tunnels and Secret Passages


In the cliffs along the coast of Cardigan Bay there is a deep gash through the rock known as the ‘Monks’ Cave’. It is difficult to get to except from a boat as the tide comes right up to the cliffs and to walk along the beach would be to risk getting cut off before you could get back again. But it’s possible to see it from above, where the coastal path passes an opening allowing you to look down into it and to hear the waves rushing in at high tide, near the remnant ancient oak woodland of Penderi which clings to the cliff edge. But why is it called the ‘Monks’ Cave’? Legend has it that a secret passage runs from the cave inland to the medieval monastery at Strata Florida. This lies more or less due south-east of the cave in a straight line, but the tunnel would have to be nearly fifteen miles long to get there. There are many such legends of tunnels to or from abbeys, castles, prehistoric monuments and other such places; from sea caves to significant sites inland; from wells or springs feeding underground water courses; to caves under hills where treasure is buried or heroic figures like Arthur lie sleeping biding their time to awaken.

On the other side of Wales on the border with Shropshire is a place called ‘The Giant’s Grave’ beneath a site where a cromlech once stood. Although the place was reputed to contain treasure, legend has it that those looking for it have either disappeared or died in the attempt. On the other side of the same hill a legend tells of a blind fiddler from the village of Llanmynech who wandered into the ‘Ogo’ (Welsh for cave) and was never seen again, though the sounds of a fiddle playing could be heard deep below the cellar of the village inn. It was said that he had been captured to play for the fairy folk.

So one explanation of such tunnels is that they are ways to the Otherworld, either underground or somewhere under the sea or on an unseen island off the coast. Sometimes these legends are linked to leats of old mine workings or other underground constructions. Visiting such places such as the Roman gold mines at Dolaucothi which I went into recently often evokes memories of passages traversed in meditations or path workings which in turn resonate with some of the great stories of visits to the Netherworld such as that recounted in Virgil’s Aeneid.

I have a definite sense of the memory of a tunnel under the cliffs near where I live which I have walked through in the past, but which is now closed. But I don’t know where it is. Did I dream these walks and the subsequent closure of the tunnel? I really don’t know. But images of the tunnel and the place where it emerges into woodland are clear in my mind. Legends, dreams, psychic journeys, winding ways into the Otherworld : tunnels persist in the cognitive landscape.

20140908

The Lost Mother

There was a young girl called Jane whose mother had died and her father kept her in the house and didn’t like her to go out without him for fear, at first, that she might come to harm but as she grew older, in case she might meet someone and leave him to live alone. So she would sit in her room and talk to an imaginary friend called John. Now her father soon became jealous of John and forbade her from talking to him, so she could only have whispered conversations with him at night, speaking into her pillow as she drifted off to sleep to meet him in her dreams….

……. There was John, knocking on the door and asking her father if she could come out with him.
No! said her father.
Yes! said John pushing her father aside and taking her hand to lead her away from the house……


The  beginning of the dream was always the same, time after time. John was always so assertive and she was always so decisive in taking his hand and stepping past her father. But after that the dream never developed in the same way. Sometimes they went to a large space and danced, sometimes he bought her beautiful clothes to wear. But at other times he led her into a dark forest and took out a long knife, or she was made to do things against her will. Other times they just walked down the road into the mist.

Jane began to be unsure of John and wondered what these dreams meant. In some ways he was no different from her father but in other ways he seemed her only hope of getting away from him. Sitting quietly in her room one evening she felt a presence in the room with her and thought it must be John, but the voice was not John’s voice. It was a woman’s voice, soft and gentle but also firm and admonishing saying 
“What’s to be done my dear, this will never do”. 
As she listened to the voice she felt a pull away from everything she knew and everything she wished for and she knew that she only had to reply for the conversation to take her away but she could not reply and the woman’s voice faded as she drew away.
The next night as she sat sipping a hot drink with her father she heard the voice again and looked fearfully over at him but he had not heard it saying 
“What’s to be done my dear, this will never do”
But again she did not reply. 

Later she spoke to John in whispers as she drifted off to sleep and then, in her dream, they walked under some trees by a wide river that was flowing in a fast torrent and on the torrent came a boat and in it was the woman. Jane knew it was the same woman though she had only heard her voice up to now. She had long flowing silver hair that was the water of the river and a billowing cloak that was the boat. John wanted to lead her away from the river then, under the trees where it was dark and the woman would not see them. But the woman called to her to jump into the boat. Jane didn’t know what to do. John was calling her. The woman was calling her and she seemed for a moment to be suspended between them. The trees were dark, but they were a place to hide. The river was rushing on, and she thought for a moment about where it might be rushing to. She looked out at the woman drawing level with her 
”Who are you?” she asked. 
The woman held out her hand then and Jane had her answer. They were swept away from John. From her father. From the dream which was not a dream except that it had held her like a dream so she could not escape from it. The river rushed on through the world. A world without her father. Without John. Without her mother, but she was always there, as John had been, now she was talking to her. Now she came and went as she pleased, and no-one prevented her from going out and when she did she always knew where she was going. Except when she stepped out into the river and was wrapped in the boat’s cloak and was enclosed in the silver hair and listened to the whispers telling who she was and how much she was loved. So when she stepped freely off again her life with her father, with John and with anyone else she chose could go on untroubled.

20140816

The False Knight on the Road / The Helper on the Path


Where are ye going?
Said the knight on the road,
I’m going to school
Said the child, and he stood.
He stood and he stood
And t’were well that he stood
….

So the traditional ballad known as ‘The False Knight on the Road’. In some versions the knight is the Devil, or an old crone, or a witch. In such encounters it is necessary either to exchange or solve riddles or counter a statement with a better one:

I wish ye were in yon lake
Quoth the hag on the road;
With a good boat under me
Quoth the wee lad and so he stood.

The boat for to break its bottom
Quoth the hag on the road;
And for ye to be drowned
Quoth the wee lad, and still he stood.

Ballads and tales about encounters on a path usually feature a young person who has to stand firm against an adversary. Who is this adversary?

The person making the journey is young because it is a new beginning: the acolyte seeking new knowledge, the young hero on a quest, the character represented as The Fool in the tarot pack. For many in this world who claim wisdom the quest is a foolish undertaking. But if, in making it anyway, the quester is innocent or naive, how will wisdom be gained for protection? Help is at hand as any good fairy story will tell. Often in the form of a wise counsellor or animal helper. But this is a journey that must be made alone and there are ‘false knights’ who might lead you astray. Never mind, consider the story of ‘The Green Man of Knowledge’ :

Jack, who has never ventured out of sight of the cottage in which he was born, one day decides to go to seek his fortune. In spite of the protests of his mother that he knows nothing of the ways of the world he sets off and eventually follows a signpost pointing to ‘The Land of Enchantment’. As night draws near and he begins to wonder where he will sleep a robin lands on a nearby branch and asks him where he is going. He explains that he needs somewhere to spend the night so the robin directs him to a cottage a mile or so along the road. He goes there and is welcomed by an old women who invites him in and gives him food. Then a young woman takes him to a bedroom and shows him a comfortable bed where he can sleep. During the night he wakes briefly and thinks he is sleeping on some moss on the cold earth, but when he awakes in the morning he is snug in the comfortable bed. When he get up an goes to the kitchen the young woman gives him breakfast then tells him to go out to the garden where her grandmother will give him some advice. He thinks he would rather stay with the young woman but does as she tells him and the old woman advises him as to the way he should go and sends him on his way. The young woman comes out as he is leaving and gives him a gold coin.

He stops for lunch at an inn and gets into a game of cards, eventually winning more gold coins and his opponent withdraws from the game.
“Who are you?” Jack asks him.
“The Green Man of Knowledge”.
“Where do you live?”
“East of the Moon, West of the Stars”.
At which he disappeared and left Jack with an overwhelming desire to find him again.

He journeyed on until he came to a cottage that was just like the one he had stayed in the previous night, and again he was welcomed and fed by the old woman and put to bed by the young woman who seemed even lovelier than before. The Old Woman was knitting by the fire when he went to bed. By the morning she had produced a large square that showed woods and fields and rivers and paths like a map, but also like a picture. She said if he stepped into it he would find someone to help him get to the Green Man of Knowledge. But he must be aware of the dangers and be sure he wanted to go. He said he was sure so she told him to step on the knitting and then said “Away with you”.

As the young woman waved him goodbye he was whirled through hail, fire, brimstone and water. Then he found himself in a blacksmith’s workshop. The old woman was there too, but now she was the smith’s wife. The smith pointed to a far off castle and said that is where the Green Man of Knowledge lives. “The only way in is across the deep moat is across the bridge, but if you step on it it will turn into a spider’s web and you will fall into the water and be sucked under. So you must wait until the Green Man’s three daughters come down to bathe. When they go into the water they are swans. Two are black but the youngest is white. When they are in the water as swans you must take all the white swan’s clothes and hide them. Then she will help you.”

Jack did this and when the two older daughters had come out of the water, dressed and gone back into the castle, the youngest called out to him
“Whoever you are, please give me back my clothes”.
He replied that first she must help him, so as a swan she carried him across the water. Then he saw that it was the young woman from the cottage, but she sent him on his way into the castle.

The Green Man looked astonished to see him and took him to a room with a trap door so Jack fell through into a cell. But that night the young woman came to him with food and said she would help him perform the tasks that the Green Man would set for him. The first of these was to retrieve a ring from a deep well. For this the woman made a ladder of herself so he could climb down to the bottom. She told him to be careful because if he slipped on he rungs he might break one of her bones. In spite of his care he slipped on he bottom rung, but she helped him find the ring and climb out again. The next day she wore a glove to hide her broken finger from the Green Man who was surprised that Jack had been able to retrieve the ring . The next day he was taken to an adjoining hill and told he must build another castle on it. When left to get on with his task Jack did not know how to start but the woman came and helped him build it. She told Jack that when the Green Man asked why there was a gap in the wall he was to tell him it was for him to complete the work. When he did this the Green Man was again astonished and asked who was helping him, but Jack would not tell. Finally he was set the task of bringing together all the ants from the forest and if he did he could marry one of the Green Man’s daughters and have enough money for them both to live on for the rest of their lives. When the young woman comes she tells Jack to dig an enormous hole and seal the bottom. Then she sang a song which attracted all the ants and when they were in the pit put a cover on it.

-*-

There are further episodes in most versions of the tale until Jack is eventually able to marry the Green Man’s daughter but she helps him overcome all the obstacles placed in his path and, of course, they live happily ever after. So who are all these characters? It seems clear that the old and the young women are so closely identified as to be regarded as one. The old woman treats him as a son. The young woman is his heart’s desire. Together they are what Jung would have called his anima. The anima, for a man, and the animus, for a woman, is superficially our other-gendered self, though Jung makes it clear that more deeply it is our soul. In this view the young man’s helpers are aspects of himself. So he is still alone on the journey. But he also has an adversary. Why is the young woman both the granddaughter of the old woman who helps him and the daughter of his adversary? A common folk tale motif here is the pattern where the daughter helps the man she wants to marry to overcome her father who is often a wizard or an ogre. Usually the young man does not seek the father but cannot avoid him because he seeks the daughter. Here the Green Man meets Jack on his journey and creates the desire to seek him out. He is the adversary or the false knight who tests him, here by the card game at the inn to see if he is worthy. So if the women here are Jack’s anima, is the adversary also an aspect of himself, an ‘other’ dark side of himself whom he must displace to gain his ends? Do we provide our own obstacles on the path, taking the form of the Devil or an old hag? If so, the form of the false knight is the clearest representation of our own deceit, conjuring a demon or facing the Hag who makes us confront our own shadow - the darkness we cast across the light of the world, or even our own absence from it. Then, we had better know the answer to the questions our not-self has to ask. With the help of the helper who tells us who we are and the helper who shows us what we desire and what we can become.

-*-

A fuller version of ‘The Green Man of Knowledge’ can be found in A Dictionary of British Folk Tales Katherine Briggs - 4 vols (1970) pp 290-295. There is also a vividly told version in Scottish traveller dialect , ‘The Green Gadgie o Knowledge’ in Reek Roon a Camp Fire by Stanley Robertson (2009) pp.17-27. ‘The False Knight on the Road’ (Child 3 a, b, c) is widely available in ballad collections.

20140727

Doppleganger

In his tract called The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies written in 1691, Robert Kirk speaks of those who have the Second Sight which enables them to see the folk who live underground. He says that he has been told by some of these with the Second Sight that "they have seen a Doubleman, or the shape of some man in two places, perfectly resembling one another in all points". He also says that in spite of the two apparently being identical those with the Second Sight can easily tell which is the 'above ground' man and which is the 'subterranean man'. He affirms that "They call this reflex-man a 'Co-Walker', every way like the man as a twin brother and companion, haunting him as his shadow ...."

"This copy, echo, or living picture goes at last to his own herd. It accompanies the person so long and frequently for ends best known to itself, whether to guard him from the secret assaults of some of its own folks, or only as a sportful ape to counterfeit all his actions."

The doppleganger or other self is well known as a psychic phenomenon, but is interestingly here seen as a consequence of 'haunting' by the faerie folk.

20140716

Japanese Ship of Souls


They say the sea always roughens during the period of the Festival of the Dead in the seventh month of the old lunar calendar. After the Ships of Souls have been launched no one dares enter it: no boats can be hired : all the fishermen remain at home. For on that day the sea is a highway for the dead, who must pass back over its waters to their mysterious home, and therefore upon that day is it called Hotoke-umi - the Buddha Flood - the Tide of the Returning Ghosts. And ever upon the night of the sixteenth day, whether the sea be calm or tumultuous, all its surface shimmers with faint lights gliding out to the open, the dim fires of the dead; and there is heard a murmuring of voices, like the murmur of a city far off, the indistingshable speech of souls.

Lafcadio Hearn (1891)

20140318

Meilyr and the Lady

Meilyr was visiting the annual fair when his eye was caught by a young woman whose charms seemed to him incomparable. To his delight he managed to engage her in conversation and they spent some time together at the fair. He asked her if she would meet him again and she agreed. So they met at the trysting tree and walked together in the forest. Then lied down together on the soft moss on a flat rock above the flowing stream. There Meilyr took her in his arms. At first she warned him that no good would come of it, but he persisted so she allowed him to continue. As they lay together - fulfilled - on the moss she turned in his arms into an old crone of extreme ugliness with warts and hair sprouting from her nose. She left him then but said they might meet again in her own country.

For some time after this Meilyr lost his wits and wandered the land as a deranged vagrant. Eventually he recovered and resumed his former life. But although he seemed to others to be restored to what he had been, he found that he could see things that others could not see and he had the power too see events before they happened. And he saw his lover again, though not as he had seen her before, as she passed through the veil between the worlds and spoke to him so that he found, in repeating her words, that his speech was inspired. So he became a great poet, and a seer, and gained a reputation as a wise man, and a possessor of cunning arts.

All for the love of his lady.


Giraldus Cambrensis told a version of this tale in his twelfth century Journey Through Wales summarized HERE

20131206

Waters from the Source




So, searching for the source, Gwyn sought the spring from where waters welled up from the Otherworld, though it was said to be a perilous place with a veil of spell craft around it. It was because he knew certain words of power that he did not worry about that, and he spoke these words as he approached the place where the spring was reputed to be, though no spring could be seen. As he spoke the air about the place became like a clearing mist that shone diffusely as he drew near and he saw before him a bed of fine gravel from which water bubbled up out of the earth and out of this water a women taking shape before him.

In her hands she held a vessel of transparent crystal into which water flowed so he approached her to ask for a drink of the water, but as he spoke she began to dissolve once more back into the welling spring. He reached out for the vessel and tasted just a few drops of the water before she was gone and the well itself began to draw back the flow of water.

But it was enough, for great knowledge and wisdom had welled up within him with those few drops and he was overcome both with bitter grief and with great joy as he saw clearly how things were. He knew he must retreat from that place or be carried off for all time to the Otherworld as the place shifted its form once more. So he fled, but with him was a vision that never left him, though it was the cause of a trouble that he carried with him for all his days with his deep seeing into the weave of the world that others could not see and it took great strength to bear it.