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


Becfola in Faery

Becfola by Arthur Rackham

She left the palace with one maid, and as she crossed the doorway something happened to her, but by what means it happened would be hard to tell; for in the one pace she passed out of the palace and out of the world, and the second step she trod was in Faery, but she did not know this. Her intention was to go to Cluain da chaillech to meet Crimthann, but when she left the palace she did not remember Crimthann any more. To her eye and to the eye of her maid the world was as it always had been, and the landmarks they knew were about them. But the object for which they were travelling was different, although unknown, and the people they passed on the roads were unknown, and were yet people that they knew. They set out southwards from Tara into the Duffry of Leinster, and after some time they came into wild country and went astray. At last Becfola halted, saying: "I do not know where we are." The maid replied that she also did not know.

James Stephens from Irish Fairy Tales


The Washer at the Ford

Who sits by the ford, wringing her hands as she wrings the rags of the old year? She is old and weary and her lament is an eerie background rattle against the sounds of the rushing stream and the whine of the wind through the trees as their leaves fall onto chill waters or drift away on the back of the wind.

Would you cross the ford? Will you meet her in the swirling waters? She may ask you a riddle. She may ask for a rhyme. Or require you to wring out a rag for her.

"Where are you going my pretty one?"

What will you answer?

"I bring you a gift old Elder Mother. I bring you some wine from the berries of your tree. I pour it here now your leaves are fled and carried away on the wind with your sighs."

"Pour your wine then", she may reply, out of her emptiness, out of the cave of her endless night. And her plaintive voice say:
"Shall you pass?"

Why is it you that should answer that question?

"O Wraith of the Night, what I have brought thee is truly offered and comes from my heart. It is but a token of what I can offer, out of becoming when nothing is."

"Then pass, o neophyte of the Night, pass with the winter that is upon us. When that has passed and you have crossed over, the way shall be open and the deed is done."

And the deed is done.


The Witch of Ben-y-Gloe

Two scottish deer poachers were caught in a storm in the mountains and went astray. They spent the night in the best shelter they could find but the next day was little better and their provisions were running out. The lands they thought they knew so well were strange to them as they tried to find a way home. As darkness fell, and they feared another night in the open, they saw a bothy up ahead. They approached it, not expecting anyone to be using it so late in the season, but as they reached it an old woman, wild and haggard looking, beckoned them inside. She told them she had been expecting them, and their supper and beds were ready. She stirred soup in a bubbling cauldon as she crooned a song in an unfamiliar language. The men sat terrified, unable to eat as the old woman held up a rope with three knots in it and told them of her power over the weather:

“If I loosen the first knot there shall blaw a fair wind, such as any deer stalker may wish; if I loosen the second, a stronger blast shall sweep o’er the hills; and if I loosen the third, such a storm will brake out, as neither man nor beast can suffer; and the blast shall yowl down the corries and the glens, and the pines shall fall crashin into the torrents, and this bare arm shall guide the course o the storm, as I sit on my throne of Cairn-Gower, on the peak o Ben-y-Gloe. Well did ye ken my power the day, when the wind was cauld and deadly, and all was dimmed with snow - and ye see that ye was expectit here, and ye have brought no venison; but if ye mean to thrive, ye must place a fat hart, or a barren hind in the Braes o’ Atholl, by Fraser’s cairn, at midnight, the first Monday in every month, while the season lasts. If ye neglect my bidding, foul will befall ye, and the fate of Walter o Rhuairm shall overtake ye; ye shall surely perish in the waste; the raven shall croak yer dirge; and yer bones shall be picked by the eagle.”

The poachers gave their word to do as the old woman asked, ate her food and fell into a deep sleep.  When they awoke the bothy was deserted and there was no sign of the old woman. The storm had abated and the men were able to find their way home. It is assumed that they kept their word and left the offerings of deer as instructed.

[adapted from] William Scrope The Art of Deer Stalking (1839) also referred to in Visions of the Cailleach David Rankine and Sorita d'Este (2009)


Arthur's Stone

Arthur's Stone - Herefordshire, near the border with Wales

Joseph Gwynne told me that when he was a boy the great stone called Arthur's Stone was much longer than it is now. A hundred sheep could lie under the shadow of it. Also the stone stood much higher on the supporting pillars than it does at present, so high indeed that an ordinary sized man could walk under it. Across the green lane and opposite the stone was a rock lying flat on the ground on which were imprinted the marks of a man's knees and fingers. These marks were believed to have been made by King Arthur when he heaved the stone up on his back and set it on the pillars.

Kilvert's Diary 1878


"Arthur and his huntsmen to hunt the Twrch Trwyth. He is a man of great power, but he will not help you, for he is one of mine."

The giant Ysbaddaden Pencawr
in Culhwch and Olwen (11th cent.)


Nocturnal companies known as the Herlethingus were fairly well-known in England until the time of our present King Henry II. They were troops engaged in endless wandering, in an aimless round, keeping an awe-struck silence, and in them many persons known to have died were seen alive. This household of Herlethingus was last seen in the marches of Wales and Hereford in the first year of the reign of King Henry. They travelled as we do, with wagons and sumpter horses, pack-saddles and panniers, hawks and hounds, and a concourse of men and women. Those who first saw them raised the whole country against them, with horns and shouts … but they rose into the air and vanished suddenly.
Walter Map (12th Century)


Welsh Faerie Lore

In the Welsh tradition Gwyn ap Nudd is the King of Annwn and it is possible to enter his faerie realm through certain caves or holes in the ground, often by removing a heavy stone by speaking some special words. Sometimes it is possible to get there through lakes or pools or through underground passages and hidden streams.

There is a particular race of Welsh faeries called Plant Rhys Ddwfn who live on islands off the coast of Cardigan Bay. But they emerge on land through an invisible portal which is protected by certain herbs which grow around the place. This is a small area of land which is located in the same space as that inhabited by humans but which cannot be seen or experienced by them unless they are given the faerie sight.

There is no connection between this land and the land of the dead for its inhabitants are ever-living. It is a land of plenty and many tales of people being taken into it tell of them sleeping in beds of silk only to awake in the morning among rushes and ferns. Time passes differently there, and sometimes it is possible to go there without going through a physical gateway, but by being enchanted, as this story illustrates:

Siôn ap Siencyn was one afternoon walking in the woods when a bird began to sing so sweetly that he was spellbound and he sat down to listen to the song. While the bird sang he was in a state of bliss. Eventually the bird stopped singing and Siôn stood up and noticed that the leafy tree he had sat beneath was now all dry and withered. He went home. But the house looked very different although it was the same house. A man in the doorway asked him what he wanted. "This is where I live", he replied. In conversation it turned out that the man was Siôn's great grandson. There was a family legend that Siôn had been carried off to the Otherworld and would only return, according to a conjuror who had been called in to explain his disappearance, when the last drop of sap had withered from the tree. He entered the house but it was like walking through empty air. To his great-grandson he seemed to crumble to dust before him.

{Adapted from Welsh Folklore and Custom by T. Gwynn Jones}


May and Midsummer

"Lady Smocks all silver-white / Do paint the meadows with delight" (Shakespeare)

A Pagan Movement Archive item from Tony Kelly:

Maytime is a time of brightening days, of flowers and insects and new green leaves. All life seems to be bursting out anew, birdsong is exuberant and we're abundantly aware of the fertility of it all. It's a feeling of joy in your soul which won't be gainsaid.

Yet, it can also be approached in a quantitative scientific way. Some years ago, when we were touring the whole land here every week and noting each new species of flower to appear, we were able, at the end of the year, to construct a graph showing week by week the number of new species of flower appearing for the first time that year. The graph was down at zero in Yule and for a month or two thereafter; the first flowers began to appear in their ones and twos, and gradually the pace increased. As the weeks went by, each new week brought a greater abundance of new species into bloom to add to those already in flower. After a time, these increments began to become smaller again. They still added to the flowers already in bloom, making them even more abundant, but the actual increases began to get smaller. When we drew the curve, the peak was in Midsummer, but the steepest slope was in Mid-May; it was in Mid-May that the Goddess was unfolding all her finery the fastest. And May in the modern Gregorian calendar is very close indeed to Mayday in the old Julian reckoning.

We did the same thing for the appearance of each new species of moth at our windows, and again we got a curve of the same kind, and again the steepest slope was in Mid-May (and we used a book to confirm the picture for the beetles). May is the month of acceleration as Midsummer is the season of abundance. In May the flowers, the moths and butterflies and the other insects and the green leaves are arriving fastest; in Midsummer they're most abundant.


The Magic of Midsummer

A posting from a previous Midsummer. This year is likely to be wet in the UK. Though the day no less long and magical.


As the days lengthen to the heat of Midsummer and fields fill with flowers so the green of the pasture meadows has given way to a glittering of yellow buttercups.  Both these and spearworts have made the grass a green background to their bright display.  I stand on a heath above the yellow fields and see the Sun shine on a far bay and the sea appears as a jewel in the cup of the green hills and the grey town.  The boggy ground up here has a dry crust on it now, but there's bog cotton on it nonetheless, with its fluffy cotton-wool head, and marsh pennywort leaves lie dark green on the dried mat of sphagnum moss.  Out of the bog proper, in the wet meadow, there's lousewort with its purple flowers lying close to the ground seeking shelter from the Sun.  On the hedgebank among the heather and the gorse I find milkwort too, a strange flower this with an inner tube and outer petals all forming a single flower.  The outer petals stick out as the flower opens, like wings from the base of the tiny inner tube.  All this is difficult to make out as the plant is only a few inches high.  The colour varies too.  These are all pale blue, but further down the bank are some with dark blue outer petals (sepals?) and a white inner part.  The outer part will later take the appearance of sepals proper when they turn green as the fruit ripens.  The herbalists used to prescribe this plant for nursing mothers to increase their milk supply.  In Ireland it is known as fairy soap, the idea being that fairies made a lather from the roots.

   After an absorbing hour or so on the hedge bank I cross the fields to the wood which I came to see.  There are stretches of this wood running here and there from the heath down to the sand dunes by the sea.  They are the remains of an ancient forest long since cleared for farmland.  The trees which are left - mostly oaks - are old, and there are other things which are old here too.  You can feel it in the cool shade of the canopy: a green magic that only a great age seems to bring.  I walk the woodland path admiring the ferns, noting in particular the way the male ferns stand up in circular rosettes from the woodland floor.  Then I see something unfamiliar.  A fern to be sure, but what is it?  I stop.  Admire the perfect form of it.  The soft green and unfamiliar shape - a bit like a polypody, a bit like a male fern -  hold me there spellbound for a while.  Then I must decide.  It is either a beech fern or an oak fern, and only later after consulting my book can I finally conclude that it is the former.  But still I must go back to make sure.  Further on I come to a place were the fields fall down to the sea on one side and the trees clothe the sides of a deep gorge on the other.  By the field's edge there is cow wheat growing; just inside the wood there's creeping jenny, a flower whose deep yellow petals have always held a fascination for me.  This is not the yellow glitter of the buttercup fields, or the bright happy yellow of ragwort, or even the golden richness of a dandelion, but a dark mysterious yellow that somehow holds the secrets of a woodland summer in its five pointed petals.  Such secrets now are whispered all around me.  I'm standing by the tree that I came to see.  An old, lichened wild service tree growing on the very edge of the steep slope of the gorge.  But there are suckers growing on the flatter ground of the field from beneath the bracken which forms a barrier between the grass and the trees.  This old wild service tree, with its fragile offspring, may be the only one in the country.  They are usually only found in very old woodland.  In coming to see it I have seen so much more and the afternoon has passed to evening.  The Sun now is slanting low over the green hills to the sea beyond.  All is still after the long day.  Fields as rich as butter darken their shades of green as the yellow light deepens to the cool of night.  Already the Moon pales to whiteness in the clear sky.  Soon the night is all blue and silver.

Fair Earth, so glad I am to love you like this.  So glad I am to love you.


The Region of the Summer Stars

Winter is the time for stars. Then, if you can get away from street lights, on a clear night the sky is ablaze with them.

At this time of year there are not so many. But there is something magical in the faint stars of these pale summer nights. The stars that are there are less bright, flickering softly in the pale sky, gleaming against the afterglow of the late sunset. Last night with the scents of the day still redolent in the spice of the night, I could see the sickle shape of The Plough, one end of it pointing to the barely discernible North Star, the other end pointing to the soft red glow of Arcturus. I could see, too, the Twins, Castor and Pollux appearing almost alone among the barely visible faintness of the stars around them.

In the West, moving towards the horizon, the crescent of the Waxing Moon had a yellow-red hue as she followed the Sun behind the hill.

The overall effect was of a canopy of soft lamps in an enchanted enclosure. I was spellbound under a faërie sky.



Mererid was a well maiden - she was the guardian of a well at the foot of the mountains, as they crept down to a wide low-lying plain with the sea beyond. The waters that fed the spring beneath the well came from the roots of the mountains, rising into the well in a steady stream, sweet and fresh as morning dew. Those that drank the water regularly felt its virtue in their daily lives, but many more came from far away to sample the water and carry some of it away with them. This was not begrudged as the stream running off from the well was always strong and clear and never failed even in the driest weather.

Mererid guarded her well with dedication, saying the right words of blessing to those who sampled the waters, addressing the water spirits at the appointed times and, sometimes, telling those who came what messages came to her on the rising stream. But one day some came who were not respectful of her office, who abused her in word and then in deed and left her, distraught, so the seal on the wellhead was undone and could not be put back.

The steady stream of the well became a rushing torrent, and the well shaft a fountain of gushing water which kept coming in pulse after pulse over the well surround and down to the lowlands below, spreading over the plain and drowning everything in its path. Houses, farms, woods and the sand dunes were soon all submerged so that now, the land is all under the sea and the well head is lapped by waves where a river has its estuary.

Sometimes, in the evening, when the light is fading and there is a grey mist over the sea, the sad lament of Mererid can be heard sighing over the waves. It is said that now she is one of the water spirits but that her human form has not quite left her and so she can at these times be seen indistinctly shimmering in the eddies of the river as it runs into the sea.


Relationships With Rivers

This advice from SACRED WATERS

Relating to a River ~~~~~

Always look upstream first to greet the oncoming waters and then downstream to bid farewell as they flow away.

Visit often, in different places, so you know your river in all her moods and circumstances (my river is female, so I write in that case, but yours might not be).

When crossing be aware of her, even if it is by road in a car, though you can discover places where a more intimate exchange is appropriate. As with your other  relationships, context is all.

Having chosen a special place where you can be intimate, offer gifts and listen to the water song. Find out what gifts your river likes, and how she wants to receive them.

The source and the estuary are special places, but not the only ones. If the source, in particular, is accessible and you can go there often, then do. But remember that a river has many sources in addition to the one we name. Be familiar with tributaries.

Every river flows from the wells of the Earth, carrying whispers from the Other World down to the great oceans. Each drop of water you drink is a blessing. Savour it, whatever flavour or other substance it carries into you. Likewise with flowing out.

Some rivers are gregarious and will love to meet your friends, others shy and difficult to get to know and these you should visit alone or with intimate friends only. Be sensitive: know those places which are private and those which are public. Most rivers have both.

When you visit, be prepared to carry away any rubbish that has been dumped, but remember that some things that you consider rubbish might be valuable to the river. Judge wisely.



I went out to the wild places to see where the Spring had come, and where she was still biding her time in the closed bud's seclusion, and guarding warmth yet beneath the folded petals. The Earth was soft in the wooded cwm and I stood on a rock in the rushing stream while the waters flowed around me. To one side the bank was full of bright green leaves of wood-garlic, on the other the grey rock was piled high and clothed with a hundred shades of green and yellow from the many mosses that grow there - as beautiful and exotic a garden as one could wish for. Back on the bank I saw a single flower of wood-anemone showing bright yellow stamens in the white petals though the leaves were still unfolded. And yellow was the colour that speckled the green of the roadside verges, with coltsfoot in the gravelly place and daffodils by the garden paths and dandelion and celandine under the bare twigs on the hedges.

Now the day has come when the banks are brighted with as much yellow as there is green and primroses grace the woodland floor and the trees are a rustle of wind-blown leaves. So I watched for a while over the wood and my heart called out again to go to the place of trees: to see my lady there. Her green cowl about her brown hair, she walks through the grey woods. She treads a path of ragged leaves and petals open as she goes, yellow buds unfold on every green stem. She casts her green cloak over the brown land and the woods come alive to look upon her. Her dewy skin as soft as lady-fern leaves, and moist like a buttercup looks in the morning grass. The Wind sighs as her scent sails on the morning air.


A Dream

"It was by a pool such as this," said one of us, after a long interval, "that dreamers of old called to Connla, and Connla heard. That was the mortal name of one whose name we know not." "Call him now," whispered the Body eagerly. The Soul leaned forward, and stared into the fathomless brown dusk. "Speak, Connla! Who art thou?" .....

 "I am of those who wait yet a while. I am older than all age, for my youth is Wisdom; and I am younger than all youth, for I am named To-morrow." We heard no more. In vain, together, separately, we sought to break that silence which divides the mortal moment from hourless time. The Soul himself could not hear, or see, or even remember, because of that mortal raiment of the flesh which for a time he had voluntarily taken upon himself. "I will tell you a dream that is not all a dream," he said at last, after we had lain a long while pondering what that voice had uttered, ..... 

"It was night, and I was alone in a waste place. My feet were entangled among briars and thorns, and beside me was a quagmire. On the briar grew a great staff, and beside it a circlet of woven thorn. I could see them, in a soft, white light. It must have been moonlight, for on the other side of the briar I saw, in the moonshine, a maze of wild roses. They were lovely and fragrant. I would have liked to take the staff, but it was circled with the thorn-wreath; so I turned to the moonshine and the wild roses. It was then that I saw a multitude of tall and lovely figures, men and women, all rose-crowned, and the pale, beautiful faces of the women with lips like rose-leaves. They were singing. It was the Song of Delight. I, too, sang. And as I sang, I wondered, for I thought that the eyes of those about me were heavy with love and dreams, as though each had been pierced with a shadowy thorn. But still the song rose, and I knew that the flowers in the grass breathed to it, and that the vast slow cadence of the stars was its majestic measure. Then the dawn broke, and I saw all the company, winged and crested with the seven colours, press together, so that a rainbow was upbuilded. In the middle space below the rainbow, a bird sang. Then I knew I was that bird; and as the rainbow vanished, and the dawn grew grey and chill, I sank to the ground. But it was all bog and swamp. I knew I should sing no more. But I heard voices saying: "O happy, wonderful bird, who has seen all delight, whose song was so rapt, sing, sing, sing!" 

Fiona Macleod


Wood Thoughts

At the entrance to the dark wood, the archetypal place for being lost, led astray willingly for, after all, who would set foot on the dim path that leads down into the hollow where the dank mud by the stream, shaded for all the months of summer, scents the damp air with a spice of decay, if it were not for some desire for what might be found there?

Willingly, I say, bewildered. In a place of fear and longing hardly daring to know where the path leads .....

..... but knowing deep down - with a desire that overcomes dread - where it may end


The Huldra

Huldra by John Bauer (1882-1918)

The Huldra inhabits the lands of the North. She has the appearance of an alluring young woman but from behind sometimes a tail can be seen, or she has a hollow back of what looks like tree bark. In some stories she is friendly if approached properly and might offer advice such as where the best fishing is. In others she is dangerous, often leading young men attracted to her to horrible deaths. Elsewhere in the world similar stories are told of mermaids or beings such as Lamia. They seem to represent a deep-seated fear of the wild, of sexuality, and of otherness. At the same time there is an element of relationship here too with something we have lost but which we can still reach out to, even though it seems perilous to do so.

There is also a moral element creeping in, dictating what we should, and should not, desire. It is not so much in the darkness but in the twilight, or in the case of the Huldra, the eerie light of perpetual summer for a few months north of the Arctic Circle, in which such creatures have their being. They are part of the world that is invisible to us most of the time. But a world we can see, hear and perhaps even touch if we choose to discover the vision that will enable us to do so.



The Thracian story of Orpheus and Eurydice was known in medieval Britain via the version in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. But there were a number of native tales, ranging from written lays such as Sir Orfeo (13th century), folk tales, and ballads including one in dialect from the Shetland Isles. What follows is my own distillation of these native sources.

Orfeo was a harper of renown. One day while he was practising his harp, his wife Heurodis went into the orchard with her two young children to enjoy the fine weather and view the flowers of May. As the children played she lay down under a tree and soon fell into a slumber. Suddenly the children heard her screaming and tearing at her clothes. They couldn’t get her to pay them any attention and so ran for help. Orfeo came only to see her fade before his eyes and disappear. Pointing to the tree the children said she had lain under, Orfeo realised it was an ympe tree, grafted with another strain, liable to enchantment by the faërie folk. In those days harping was one of the magic arts so he played a tune of discovery and awaited the expected response. In answer a voice sang softly through the trees:

The King of Faery with his dart
Has pierced your lady through the heart

She had been spirited away to the Otherworld. Orfeo was stricken with grief. He left his children with their grandparents and went off to become a wandering minstrel, seeking in every place where there might be a way into the faërie realm. He lived like this for ten years, sometimes gaining accommodation where he was engaged to play, at other times sleeping in the woods and wild places. His beard grew long and his body lean. His only solace was his harp.
One day while sitting on a mossy stump, about to pluck the strings of his harp, he caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of his eye. He watched carefully and listened through his harp strings until a sight he had sought for ten years came into focus. He knew that if he moved or looked too directly he would see nothing. So he sat stone-still and watched with a sideways look through the harp strings as the faërie company moved through the trees.
Then he saw something that nearly spoiled his resolve to watch in this careful way. Heurodis was among them! She glided softly with the others as if no feet touched the ground, and yet they trod the ground as any man or woman would. As they passed he looked at Heurodis wistfully and she returned his look with the barest flicker of recognition. But it was enough. When they had passed he followed and saw them disappear into the roots of a great oak tree.
He approached the tree but could find no way in. So he played a spell of opening and saw, clearly before him, a way leading off at an angle that had to be viewed with the same sideways look - as if not looking at all - that he had used to watch the faërie company. Doing this, and touching the harp strings all the way, he followed the dim passage, fearing that if he lost the view of the passage he would be buried underground. Eventually he came through to a forested plain with a castle standing upon a hill in the near distance.
So he went there and knocked at the gate. The porter came and asked what he wanted. So he played him a tune of welcoming. He was taken to a hall in which there were many ympe trees, each with a woman slumbering beneath them. Under one such tree he saw Heurodis. But he made no sign and she appeared as if she were not present in her slumbering body. He was brought before the King who said
‘Who art thou? I never sent for thee’.
Orfeo replied
‘I am a poor minstrel’
and he began to play. The tune he played came from dexterous fingers, but also from his heart and his soul and his craft as he filled the hall with enchantment. Everyone fell silent and listened to the music he played. Notes fell from the strings like flakes of gold and shimmered around the hall like the light of the Moon on the quivering surface of a lake.
When he had finished there was silence for a good while as the notes echoed in the inner ears of the listeners. Then the King said
‘Such music must be rewarded, ask and you shall have your wish’.
‘That lady there under the ympe tree’, said Orfeo, pointing at Heurodis.
‘Nay’ said the King, ‘She is a fine lady and you are rough and unworthy. It would be loathsome to see you together’.
‘It would be loathsome for you to break your word’, said Orfeo.
‘Take her then’, said the King.
So he brought her back to her home and her children and they began a new life together and put that sadness into the past and left it behind them and never looked back or remembered it.

There is no hint in the British versions of the tragic Greek ending in which Orpheus is told he must not look back as Eurydice follows him from Hades. He cannot resist making sure she is behind him, and looks, only to lose her forever as she slips back into the darkness. I have, nevertheless, hinted at this indirectly.


The Enchanted Stick

Here is a Maori tale from New Zealand:

In a certain part of the forest there are beings that have always inhabited it and remain there still, though they are rarely seen. Those that live in the forest and who are familiar with its secrets can sometimes hear them singing at night. There is a special fruit that they eat and if humans go to gather some of that fruit invocations must be made and permission granted to collect it. 
 If a stranger comes into this part of the forest from another area and does not acknowledge them they are displeased. Once a hunter followed a wild pig into the part of the forest where they live and tracked the pig to an open glade where he killed it. But when he tried to leave the forest he could not find his way and then found himself back in the glade where he had killed the pig. He tried again, but was soon lost until, at nightfall,there he was again in the same glade. So he had to spend a frightening night in the forest and although he slept for a little his dreams were troubled. 
As dawn broke he saw a shapely stick on the ground and reached out to pick it up. As he grasped it, it moved and began pulling him along through the trees so that he had to leave the pig behind. 'An offering to the spirits of this place', he found himself thinking. Eventually he came to a track he knew in another part of the forest. The stick disappeared. When he began to make his way home he heard a wavering and plaintive voice calling after him, saying 
 'Go, and do not come again'. 

(Collected in the Nineteenth Century)


Unseen Presences

I readily believe that there are more invisible than visible elements in the universe of things. But who will explain the families to which these elements belong, their grades and the relationships between them and their individual features and qualities? What do they do? What are the places they inhabit?
from the Latin of Thomas Burnet’s Archaeologiae philosophicae (1692)


Otherworld Journey

Sitting by this pond, I looked at the trees reflected on the surface and also at the green of the pondweed. Where would looking at these things - in the enclosing atmosphere of this forest - take me? 

 I saw a mossy turf before me and walked across it as if floating on air. A path wound down through trees to the bank of a river. The water in the river seemed to be flying rather than flowing and rushing onwards between two great rocks. I cast away my fear and flew on the water stream through the gap and out onto a wide plain which both had trees on it and yet was wide and open at the same time. Mountains in the distance soon came close. Everything, however far, could as soon become close. Everything close-by may take days to journey to. Or not. 

 What did I want from this place? It was important to know to avoid being lost here forever. But the will could not be imposed here so much as merged with the will of the place itself to gain desired effects which must be in accordance with the will of the place. It was a technique that had to be learned. Navigating here requires a strong will, but not the desire to dominate. 

 It is important to know, too, when to ask for help and how to ask for it. Who is this on the road before me? I don’t know. I look beyond and the figure fades. And another? She is familiar, though I cannot place her, and she comes bearing a token I recognise. I take her hand and we walk together through starlight. She brings me to my destination and hands me the token, which is our secret. 

 Then she is gone and I am alone again before a mossy bower bejewelled with dew in the starlight. This is where I will sleep tonight and awake with the dawn and the knowledge I seek. There will be dreams that are not always pleasant. Things to confront that will challenge my fear. But I have the token. 

 The next morning I walk out of the bower into the dawn carrying my token and a way opens before me. The bare trees reflected in the water shimmer as if in a light breeze, yet there is no breeze. The mossy sward gives way to pondweed on still water. It may have been no more than a blink of an eye ago that I last saw the pond. Or it might have been an eternity.