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


The Protecting Beech Tree

In George MacDonald's 'faerie romance' Phantastes, the protaganist is being attacked in a forest by an ash tree with evil intent. He is saved by a beech tree who not only protects him but expresses feelings of fondness towards him. She appears to him as a woman, but when he asks her "Why do you call yourself a beech tree?" She replies, "Because I am one". She puts her arms around him and kisses him "with the sweetest kiss of winds and odours". The whole scene has the sacred aura of a communion about it. To maintain her protection she says he must be bound with some of her hair:

"I cannot tell you more. But now I must tie some of my hair about you, and then the Ash will not touch you. Here, cut some off. You men have strange cutting things about you."

She shook her long hair loose over me, never moving her arms.

"I cannot cut your beautiful hair. It would be a shame."

"Not cut my hair! It will have grown long enough before any is wanted again in this wild forest. Perhaps it may never be of any use again - not till I am a woman." And she sighed.

As gently as I could, I cut with a knife a long tress of flowing, dark hair, she hanging her beautiful head over me. When I had finished, she shuddered and breathed deep, as one does when an acute pain, steadfastly endured without sign of suffering, is at length relaxed. She then took the hair and tied it round me, singing a strange, sweet song, which I could not understand, but which left in me a feeling like this -

"I saw thee ne'er before;

I see thee never more;

But love, and help, and pain, beautiful one,

Have made thee mine, till all my years are done."

I cannot put more of it into words. She closed her arms about me again, and went on singing. The rain in the leaves, and a light wind that had arisen, kept her song company. I was wrapt in a trance of still delight. It told me the secret of the woods, and the flowers, and the birds. At one time I felt as if I was wandering in childhood through sunny spring forests, over carpets of primroses, anemones, and little white starry things - I had almost said creatures, and finding new wonderful flowers at every turn. At another, I lay half dreaming in the hot summer noon, with a book of old tales beside me, beneath a great beech; or, in autumn, grew sad because I trod on the leaves that had sheltered me, and received their last blessing in the sweet odours of decay; or, in a winter evening, frozen still, looked up, as I went home to a warm fireside, through the netted boughs and twigs to the cold, snowy moon, with her opal zone around her. At last I had fallen asleep; for I know nothing more that passed till I found myself lying under a superb beech-tree, in the clear light of the morning, just before sunrise. Around me was a girdle of fresh beech-leaves. Alas! I brought nothing with me out of Fairy Land, but memories -memories. The great boughs of the beech hung drooping around me. At my head rose its smooth stem, with its great sweeps of curving surface that swelled like undeveloped limbs. The leaves and branches above kept on the song which had sung me asleep; only now, to my mind, it sounded like a farewell and a speedwell. I sat a long time, unwilling to go; but my unfinished story urged me on. I must act and wander. With the sun well risen, I rose, and put my arms as far as they would reach around the beech-tree, and kissed it, and said good-bye. A trembling went through the leaves; a few of the last drops of the night's rain fell from off them at my feet; and as I walked slowly away, I seemed to hear in a whisper once more the words: "I may love him, I may love him; for he is a man, and I am only a beech-tree."




There are examples of rivers actively participating in the resistance to invasion of a particular land. For instance in the Irish epic The Táin ,Ulster is being attacked by invaders from Connacht. We are told that

... the river Cronn rose up against them to the height of the treetops and they had to pass the night by the edge of the water. In the morning Medb ordered some of her followers across it. The famous warrior Ualu tried it. To cross the river he shouldered a big flagstone so that the water wouldn't force him backward. But the river overwhelmed him, stone and all, and he drowned.

[Cúchulainn continued to harass the army from across the river]

So they went along the river Cronn until they reached its source. They were crossing between the spring and the mountain summit when Medb called them back ....

Next day they travelled to the river Colptha. Recklessly they tried a crossing, but it too rose against them and bore off a hundred of their charioteers towards the sea. ...

After this they went across Glen Gatlaig, but the river Gatlaig rose up against them also.

(quotations from Thomas Kinsella's translation)


The Coming of the Gael

And when they were hindered from land there by enchantments, they went sailing along the coast until they were at last able to make a landing at Inver Sceine .....

And there they were met by a queen of the Tuatha de Danaan, and a train of beautiful women attending on her, and her Druids and wise men following her. Amergin, one of the sons of Miled, spoke to her then, and asked her name, and she said it was Banba, wife of Mac Cuill, Son of the Hazel.

The went on then till they came to Slieve Eibhline, and there another queen of the Tuatha de Danaan met them, and her women and her Druids after her , and they asked her name, and she said it was Fodhla, wife of Mac Cecht, Son of the Plough.

They went on then till they came to the hill of Uisnech, and there they saw another woman coming towards them. And there was a wonder on them while they were looking at her, for in one moment she would be a wide-eyed most beautiful queen, and in another she would be a sharp-beaked, grey-white crow. She came on the where Eremon, one of the sons of Miled, was, and sat down before him, and he asked her who was she, and she said: "I am Eriu, wife of Mac Greine, Son of the Sun."

And the names of those queens were often given to Ireland in the after time.


But as to the Tuatha de Danaan, after they were beaten, they would not go under the sway of the sons of Miled, but they went away by themselves. And because Mananaan mac Lir understood all enchantments, they left it to him to find places for them where they would be safe from their enemies. So he chose out the most beautiful of the hills and valleys of Ireland for them to settle in; and he put hidden walls about them, that no man could see through, but they themselves could see through them and pass through them.

And he made of Feast of Age for them, and what they drank was the ale of Goibniu the Smith, that kept whoever tasted it from age and from sickness and from death. And for food at the feast he gave them his own swine, that though they were killed and eaten one day, would be alive and fit for eating again the next day, and that would go on in that way for ever.


Would you Venture into this Place?


Here's a classic tale of faery from the Archive:

THE INN : Tony Kelly

Sometimes I could find my way and more often I couldn't, and I've a mind the magic was in it. I was a road like, if it were half as long as it was, then sure it wouldn't have been long enough at all, but then I didn't make it myself, or if I did the memory of it runs on longer legs than mine. And besides, if it were not as long, then you'll know without me telling you that it wouldn't have got from where it was coming to where it was going at all. So it was as long as it was entirely, and it's as long as it is, and I'll not be picking a fight with you if you'll say it'll be as long as it'll be. So now you'll be knowing about this road and I'll not be needing to tell you more about it except that it was Summer and the briars were in the hedges and the wild roses were all blooming in among the briars, which was very natural, for where else in the all the world would the wild roses be blooming on a Summer's day but in among the briars? And it's thirsty I was, like the thirst that gets up at you when you're on the road that's as long as it is and the wild roses are blooming in among the briars and the Summer's laughing his head off up there in the haze where the road's boiling in the heat. And it's into the gateway I turned, with the roses growing over the arch and the bees all a buzzing in the air and ... By the Hallowed Horns! And the Mazy Dance! Isn't it the same gate that I never can find when I've a mind to find it? So I go up to the door and there's the Barman and "A Merry Midsummer to you" he says, and I sit myself down at the table by the open window where the wild roses are looking in, and there are two other men sitting at the table, and another besides, and you'll be after saying that that's three men, and I'll be after saying it's right you are. But if I wasn't right, you'd be no more right than I was, so we wouldn't be starting an argument about that. But I was thinking, like you might be thinking yourself if you were there in my shoes and I had another pair with me at the time, that the other one might have been a wizard for all he was a man if he were a man at all, and if he was not a man, then it wasn't for all he was a man that he was a wizard. He was one of those story tellers, with rhymes and rhythms, and his eyes were twinkling, and there were the scents of the roses, and in the rise and the fall of his dark brown voice the tales wove all in and about themselves like woodbine round the rafters and there was the chirrup of the grasshopper coming in at the window and the grasses sighed of Summer but made never a sound till he stopped awhile for the green and the brown. Like the woodbine his words were winding, heady as the wood scents, thick as the briars, and the Barman said, "You'll be staying the night?" and the Moon said I would. Faith! He had talked the day away! So the three of us went to bed in the long room, and if you'll be asking why it wasn't the four of us, I'll be saying I might be asking you for all the answer I can give to that, but it was dreams all the night of the summer woods and the wild roses and the scents that merge and fade and grow and gather and swell and drift where the pollen goes, where the spore cloud flows, where the birdsong goes when you can't hear it anymore and where the wind comes from. And I got up in a hurry in the morning and had a hearty breakfast quicker than a man ought to eat a good breakfast and I made off along the road. And didn't I find it was the wrong man that had got up and it wasn't myself at all? So I turned round and went back to the inn, and this time I made sure I got out of the right bed.

Well, as I've told you before, when I'm looking for the place I never can find it, but I found it another time when I wasn't looking for it. Yule it was, and a raw wind coming down the road and the snow was just starting to come down and bits of it sticking in the hedges, and I'm thinking I must have opened my mouth when the wind went by and swallowed him because he seems to be rolling about in my belly, and there's wet snow above my eyebrows and running down behind my ears and into my collar and ... Sweet Mabh! ... There I was at the gate again! Now I've heard tell that if you go into the inn in Midwinter, it'll not be the wizard you'll see but the old witch. But I go into the inn and the Barman says "A Merry Yule to you" and I sit myself down at the table and there's a candle lit on it, and sure as I'm telling you this now, there's an old woman sitting there by the candle and the two men sitting there at the table alongside her. But I've heard more than I've a mind for of her dark tales and her story craft, and it's said, and I'll not say I doubt it, that if you hear the tales that she'll tell, it'll not be a wizard's trick she'll put on you. Never a thing! By the Black Night and the Ivy's Green! If she catch you with her runes, you'll never remember that it was another man you were before you set foot in the inn, and you'll never remember she told you a tale at all. So I didn't let her tell me a thing at all, at all.