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


Symbols and Faery

Here's another archive item from the Pagan Movement Ethos Group. 
This is part of the same string of contributions from Tony Kelly as the '4-value logic' piece in the previous post.

I want to talk about symbols and our use of them.  A long time ago - and I can't remember how long, but it might have been a century - a photograph was published showing a group of fairies dancing in a ring about a girl's head.  This picture, known as The Cottingley Fairies' became famous, and while fraud has all along been suspected, the girl herself maintained her honesty to the last and the picture remained a mystery.  Since the time when that picture was taken, optical methods have developed considerably so that it's now possible to display clearly detail which might have been quite invisible to the eye.  Well, someone had the idea of subjecting the photograph of the Cottingley Fairies to modern optical methods and, as the experiment was reported in New Scientist', the result, with enhanced contrast, showed that the fairies' were supported on a string.  So it was a fraud after all.  And that, many would say, should be the end of the matter.  But a week or two later in the correspondence columns of New Scientist' (which are not noted for their lack of humour) there was a letter in which it was said: "... it was, of course, a fairy string..."  Now that was important, though I doubt whether the writer of the letter knew it, for it's the faery hosts themselves who delude us into believing in them while they don't themselves exist.

   There is indeed no room for them in a world bounded by Aristotelian (that is, ordinary') logic where the only judgements are true' or false' since Faery is no more false than it is true, and if we aproach with our choices limited to belief' or disbelief' the faery hosts will pass unnoticed, for the mesh of such a sieve is too coarse.  And the open mind, the best of all containers for new knowledge, just so long as it remains open, is neither blessed nor burdened with knowledge.  This could get very deep, but I won't take this particular path any deeper into the thicket unless people would like me to and say so.  Instead, I would ask what use we make of fairies, and of Faery, and what use they make of us.

   Consider this dream: A young woman has a nightmare in which she wakes up from  sleep to see, in the darkness of her room, a filthy stinking tramp of a man sitting on the end of her bed, whereupon she wakes up in terror.  That man is one of the darker denizens of the faery brood.  What use has he of the sleeping woman?  She knows full well what use he would have of her.  But what use has she of him?  Would you say she had no use of him?  Why then did she invite him to her bed?  Would you say she did not invite him?  Then, perforce, he must have come uninvited.  But does that which does not even exist invite itself, of its own volition, into our company?  Here's a pretty choice for us then: either the faery man comes uninvited, so he must therefore exist, or: the faery man does not exist and can therefore have no will to invite himself, and so therefore the woman herself made the invitation.  Shall we ask the woman why she invited so loathsome a being and, why, having done so, she wakes up with all speed to be away from him?  It's a thicket of paradoxes, isn't it?  Of course we don't (now) need Freud and all his merry men to drag us on a path where already our feet have learned to run, but not all paths are as clear as this one, and not all feet may tread only the paths they choose.

   We live in many worlds if the Moon that looks at us from the wind-stirred lake is many moons, and some people are locked away for carrying out actions in one world which were more appropriate to another, but three worlds (and perhaps four) are of particular interest to us, and they are waking, dreaming, fantasy and, perhaps, trance.  They overlap considerably, both obviously and very unobviously indeed.  We could get lost in definitions here, but as definition is not our present interest, let's be content with a broad perspective, at least until anyone wants to explore a particularly enticing byeway.

   There's no need now to say much about the waking world, and I won't say anything about trance because it's not in my experience, but I will say something about the other two, and I'll begin with the dream world.  In many ways the waking world and the dream world are essentially identical and self-consistent; strange irrationalities or peculiar sequences of events in either the waking world or the dream world are usually only seen in their strangeness from a vantage point in the other.  The laws of physics, for instance, which are rigid in the waking world, are much more mutable in the dream world while the laws of emotion, by contrast, which are tyrranical in the dream world, are very mutable indeed in the waking world where so much lies hidden and bent beneath a veil of hypocrisy.  There are no lies in dreams, as there are no events without causes in the waking world.  In the waking world an event may speed or thwart a wish; in the dream world a wish may conceive or unmake an event.  Does the dream world exist?  If it does, where does it exist?  And what of the dream that even the dreamer has left, buried and unremembered, in the dark caverns of the night?  Let's not waste our time with such riddles as these for they have no answer, and the way out of this thicket is to look at the meaning of the word exist'.  In this context, it means nothing at all, so let's not be caught on this hook.  Logic was invented by a logician, and doesn't contain him.  What we can say is: that some things from the waking world we can bear with us into our dreams (and some things we bear though with choice we would not) and some memories from our dreams we can bring back with us into our waking world, and of these memories, some are precious.

   Now in a dream I met the Goddess.  When I met her it didn't occur to me to put to her the question: "Do you exist?"  It didn't occur to me in the dream; and it doesn't strike me now as being at all a useful question.  That's not how one relates to the Goddess.  Now whether the Goddess had come to me in a forest of the waking world or in a dream of the night, it doesn't make the slightest difference because the response is the same and the memory is the same, and my mind overflowed in the dream, as it would in waking, with the very source of being.  Her reality was to experience, whether waking or in dream, as concrete is to mist.  There was love in it indeed, but there was also something which was as real, as unchanging and as warm compared with love, as love is all of these compared with indifference.  She was dressed in a silver gown, which is not how I would have sought to find her, and the silver was not so much scintillating as a dull grey.  She was not in the least out of this world', but very much of it.  Her visible form was not altogether important, and what form she took she did for reasons that I don't know.  If I think of her as she was then, I think of her form as she showed it to me then, and I'd love that form if ever I saw it again; but for all that, it wasn't the form which spoke to my soul, but the Goddess who took form to enchant me.

   Now there's something not altogether different in our experience of hauntings.  People who use trip wires, infrared detectors and all the rest of the electronic apparatus seldom if ever catch a real ghost, and the Society for Psychic Research has almost empty books.  Ghosts are not that stupid or clumsy; they're very subtle indeed, and they'll wait until your friends have gone home before they'll put a foot under your door.  Or they'll meet you on the lonely road, far from the haunts of people.  They might wear chains, and they might carry their head under their arm, but such are the exception.

  More likely, the ghost you'll see will be a wraith of the dead, once known to you, and it will be the ghost, and not you, who make the tryst, though both the ghost and you will keep it.  There's no escape from a ghost that has laid its clammy hand on your heart for that hand is nearer than breath, and it's no comfort to know that the ghost that stands so menacingly mournful but a few paces away, has stood in that way, in that place, and with that misery, before others who stood where now you stand.  Now there's a powerful symbol!  What will you do with a symbol that won't lie down?  Well, there's exorcism, but would you go to all that trouble for just a symbol?  And in any case, some ghosts resent ineffective attempts at exorcism.  Ghosts are very like dream symbols.  They have this in common with dreams: that they come unbidden.  And they have this difference: that the ghost may haunt not only you.  Ghosts are made of horror, but above all else, they are made of misery and sadness and unfulfilled longing, and they are condemned to toil in a dolorous task for untold years, unless it be grief itself that binds them.

   Now let's consider the fantasy world.  It has this difference from the real world, and as much from the dream world, in that we don't at any time believe our fantasies to be fact.  And in some cases, indeed, we'd be very dismayed if our fantasies were fact.  I won't discuss passing and trivial fantasies such as a person might have momentarily when buying a sweepstake ticket, but something more elaborate.  All of us use sexual fantasies, for instance, and while some may be simple and direct, others may be amazingly complex and bizarre, but whatever the detail, what they have in common is the creation of a kind of world in which we can enjoy ourself, but in which it's not necessary actually to believe.  Belief is quite irrelevant.  It might, or might not, be some little labour to build up the image of the man, the woman, or other entity, animate or inanimate, of our fantasy, but once built, our relationship with that symbol can be intense and rewarding.  Often the symbols are not understood (and it's not necessary to understand them) and often sexuality in such fantasies is itself not the real, but a further symbol of the real which lies deeper.  Nor are the symbols one uses necessarily the same as or even similar to the symbols of another.  In a sense it's arbitrary, or if it isn't, the choices are made in deeper layers of the psyche than the conscious.  Now does a fantasy exist or not?  Again, it's a matter of what we mean by exist', and again if linguists and logicians would like to play with that, I don't think we should waste our time doing so.  It's not a question of: Is it or isn't it?' but of: Do we like it, or don't we?'  A fantasy is a tool we use to achieve some satisfactions, and in this it shares ground with the waking world, for we use the waking world to help us to achieve some satisfactions.  And a rite is a shared fantasy projected onto the waking world, not haphazardly of course, but by careful work on our symbols, and by integrating them with the changing moods of the wild and beautiful Earth.

   In this, fairies have played an important part.  They're amoral, capricious, bound by laws of an altogether different kind from those that bind us.  And they live in what, to us, is the twilight, in the moonlight, in the green deeps of the forest, in the misty bracken, in the mossy pool; they live in all places where boundaries merge.  They may be seen most easily, it's said, out of the corner of the eye, but a direct gaze, if it doesn't bring ill luck, will banish the sight of them.  Some have human shape and some have not, and those who have human shape are usually exceedingly ugly or exceedingly beautiful; they're seldom ordinary.  And they're free as the wind.  Now there's a strange bond between us and the faery folk, for they need us as we need them.  Again, let's not trip over the word exist' or give it the status of a concept, which it's not; the assertion that they exist is as utterly false as is the assertion that they don't (Is twilight made of sunshine or of shadow?)  There are tales of men who have danced in a faery ring and lost their wits, and of the faery child left in place of the stolen human child, but these are exceptions, even as psychosis is the exception in a society screwed up only with neurosis.  On the whole, there's an uneasy truce between the masses of humankind and the hosts of faery, and few of either kind have, of old, trod the paths that wind along the border.  For some, the faery people are tiny and winged, but this is but one aspect of them; their forms are many - as many as there are passions in the human mind.

   Now in the drawing of a picture, say, of a tree in November when the cold wind is blowing and the things of fur and feather are dwindling in their thousands as the food is becoming scarcer and the millions are succumbing to the frost, the tree alone may speak of the wind, of the cold, and in its leaves, of the loss.  But a fairy would do more, not by standing stridently in the forefront of the picture, for no faery would so stand, but in the background, in the gloaming, by the leaning of her body and the blowing of her hair, or by the slant of his arm or the look in his eye, by the tatters of their dresses or the withering of their fingers.  These children of the wild and of the passions, who play leap-frog over the logician's tidy fences, may say in their dancing and in their eyes, in their beauty and their pity, what the words of many would make a labour of, and what the strokes of the artist might otherwise obscure.  When we meet these folk in goblin grottoes, of course, we know they're counterfeits; but in children's fairy story books, sometimes the elven tongue may be read between the lines, and the amoral revelry of the faery hosts may be glimpsed between the leaves.  But it's not every book of fairy stories whereon the faery host has set its seal, for their tongue is of the silver and defies the leaden pen, and their dance is all of insect wings and moonlight, and defies the unwieldy brush.

   The Earth in Spring is a maiden, fair and dight in green, and she is a very enchantress in the May and her priestess enacts her love and longing.  But the Enchantress is the Moon, roaming in the wild and open sky and dancing on the western hills of an evening.  But the Earth in Spring is not the Moon, and the symbols are confused.  And neither is the Earth a maiden, and neither does her priestess bear all the forest on her bosom or wear upon her back the star-strewn emptiness of the black and open night.  The oak in his strength is a symbol of all that is sturdy in a man; the oak in her abundance and the two hundred who feed on her is a symbol of a mother's abundance.  Symbolism can become involved, but basically it's a tool and its contradictions are problems only to those who try to read with the head what was written or painted by the heart.  Now there are two more symbols!  I feel, myself, that the function of a symbol is to evoke, and if in this it fails, then, for that person, that symbol is of no use, because any other function of a symbol is almost certainly better achieved by something more direct.
For myself, I do find Faery evocative (and some are our native gods in disguise).  They seem to carry with them something that is wild and very old, and someting which we, in our progress, seem somehow to have lost by the wayside.


4valued (Faërie) Logic

Here is the first of a number of 'archive' items to be posted here. This one is from The Pagan Movement Ethos Group which produced a lot of valuable material during the 1970's. There will be more of this.

       4valued (Faërie) Logic      

Tony Kelly

   I wrote about four-valued logic last time ..... [and] ..... left the subject where your own intuition might explore it, and that's where I'm going to leave it now.  Let it be a lure, a challenge, or a taunt on the path.  It isn't a straight path.    I introduced the word nim' and tried to hint at the meaning of it by using it repeatedly, and we saw that in this way, we got four different statements which repeated themselves endlessly, like this:

            The truth is in the dance. 
The truth is nim in the dance.                       
 The truth is not in the dance.  
The truth is not nim in the dance. 
Let's think about the Realm of Faery, a faery ring, and enchantment.  Does Faery exist?  Should we answer "Yes!" or "No!" or  "Nim!" or "Not nim!"?  The answer "yes" is neither respectable nowadays nor correct.  To answer "no" is respectable, but it isn't correct.  Here's a story:    Once, there was a man travelling alone over Greenberrow Heath in the evening when, just as twilight was falling, he heard the sound of strange wild music and suddenly saw in a grassy hollow a group of beautiful women of the faery kind dancing in a ring before him.  He was so captivated by the music and the graceful steps of the dancers that he threw all caution to the wind and entered the ring and danced there with them.  He soon found the pace took all the agility he could muster, and his legs began to ache and he felt tired but, try as he might, he couldn't break out of the dance.  Round and round he went like a whirlwind and he danced the whole night through till the break of day when, at last, the faery troupe vanished and he fell from exhaustion in the grass where his friends found his body next day, and his shoes quite worn through.  And when at last he awoke and was able to speak to them he said it was as if he couldn't find the way out of the dance.    "And how is that?" they asked him.    "It was my big feet," he said, "and I couldn't find the right step.  The rhythm was in it; it was going nim, nim't, nim, nim't, nim, nim't' all the time, and I couldn't get it into my head to think is, isn't, is, isn't, is, isn't'' at all.  I wanted a half-step, and I couldn't for the life of me find it."

For more Pagan Movement material go Here: 


The Queen of Faery

At the village fete the May Queen is crowned and so the Queen of Faery is welcomed among us. Sometimes she invites herself as when Rhiannon arrives on a white horse to propose to Pwyll in the Welsh tales in Pedair Cainc y Mabinogi. In the Scots ballad tradition, the story of Thomas the Rhymer tells us that she comes on a white horse to carry off Thomas who mistakes her for The Queen of Heaven:

Oh no, oh no, Thomas, she said
That name does not belong to me
I am the Queen of fair Elfland
That am hither come to visit thee

She tells him he must go with her and she will confer upon him the gift of poetry:

She mounted on her milk white steed
She's taken True Thomas up behind
And aye whenever her bridle rang
The steed flew swifter than the wind


Light down, light down now, true Thomas
And lean you head upon my knee
Abide and rest a little space
And I will show you ferlies three
What are the conditions of such a pact as Thomas enters into with the Queen, or, for that matter, which anyone else might enter into with any other faery? These are often very specific and the consequences for not obeying them can range from a sudden termination of the experience to never being able to return home:

But Thomas, you must hold your tongue
Whatever you may hear or see
For if you speak word in Elfin land
You'll ne'er get back to you ain country

Then they came on to a garden green
And she pulled an apple frae a tree
Take this for thy wages, True Thomas
It will give the tongue that can never lie.
One way or another the sense here is that the recipients of faerie beneficence must surrender up something of themselves in return. If that something is the soul, how might this be understood? In a Christian context the Faustus story links this to damnation, and the stories in black American folklore of e.g. Robert Johnson going to the crossroads at midnight to gain his ability to play the guitar also draw on similar themes. But need it be seen like this? Can it be construed that this is a reciprocal agreement rather than one that is necessarily to the detriment of one party? Who will take the risk for the privilege of visiting the faerie realm?


Resources and links for this post:


Robin Hood and the May Games

Was Robin Hood another name for Puck or a forest god? He certainly seems to have become this in his incorporation into the May Games. The May Games were already a well-established feature of rural life in the 15th century when the Robin Hood legend was associated with them. Earlier ballads about an outlaw living in the forest became part of practices that have survived to this day such as the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance. The May Games were reviled by puritans as excuses for lewd behaviour and are often linked to earlier fertility festivals. For a discussion of this development and the nature of the earlier ballads, see HERE (Word file download).

In the May Games, maypoles and the May Queen were the formal part of the ceremonies. But the expeditions off into the woods to collect may blossom were another matter. One local worthy complained that of the maidens who went, not a third returned with their maidenhood intact. The hawthorn was closely associated with these rites, though the informal associations were linked to another flower. Here is a poem from the Pagan Movement Ethos Group papers, a source which will provide some examples of faerie lore and law in future posts. The context here is a link between the pairing off of couples at this time and the union of the May Queen and the King of the May:


                      The lark sails on the morning air

                      And all the flowers of Spring are here

                      And all the scents alluring.

                      The milkmaids in their milky smocks

                      Work the teats with heavy sighs

                      They watch the milk a jetting forth

                      And on the ploughboys cast their eyes

                      And sigh again the louder.

                      The Sacred Spring runs in the Earth

                      For ice-locks long have melted now

                      And the mound which guards the mossy gate

                      Is scented and enticing.

                      Of all the flowers of Spring they love

                      The pinky-white ones in the meads

                      That grow up straight and tall the more

                      The water runs beneath them.

                      Lady's smock, milkmaids,

                      Town hall clock, and cuckoo flower,

                      May-blob, naked ladies,

                      Smicker-smock and may flower;

                      Many names more, perhaps,

                      And lore, perhaps,

                      To mark the hour that

                      Spring has come.

                      And many milkmaids more, perhaps,

                      Will cast their smocks on grassy swards

                      And many ploughboys more, perhaps,

                      Will cast their breeches by them:

                      Then there'll be no more 'perhaps'

                      But rosy cheeks and sparkling eyes

                      And do' and do' and thrusting in

                      And the Earth a singing loud her lust

                      And legs spread out on dewy grass

                      And the Horned One singing loud his lust

                      And seeds a welling up right fast

                      And the two a thrusting harder, harder;

                      A turning round of sparkling eyes

                      And the seeds a coming fast and free

                      To me!  To me!  To me!  she cries

                      And frothy streams a running fast,

                      She's won her lord at last

                                         and he

                      Has won his lady love

                                         to be

                      For all the Summer long.



So it is Mayday, an appropriate time to begin this project: the month when the faerie hosts ride through the woods and all the dryads, naiads and nymphs, all the elves of standing lakes and groves, the denizens of the ferny hollows where the trysting place is, emerge into the greening shade of the greening forest. 

Then the Horned One walks a path that takes him across the fording place of the stream and stops a while to play a little on his pipe as he tastes a scent on the air.  

And then there is only one path through the greenwood that he would follow as he plays a tune for his Lady who comes in splendour through the trees as the gates of the Otherworld open.