Thursday, 23 August 2012


Sky is blue, and in my immediate view on the table is 1,000 Mythteller intensive flyers, one enormous African rams horn (for blowing at lively festivals), five imported copies of 'A Branch From The Lightning Tree', one packet of Lavazza coffee, a hip flask of dark rum, and a seeming mountain of goat, sheep, deer skins piled up as my transportable bed for the next 5 days: yes, it's the Westcountry Storytelling Festival - begins tomorrow.

Last minute addition for the monday - in the words of organizer, Sue Charman:

"Another Festival highlight: Ben Haggarty and Martin Shaw meet head to head for Chewing the Cud – an open dialogue on the state of storytelling in the UK today on Monday 27th August at the Festival.

It promises to be a rare and wondrous treat as two of the most innovative, passionate and powerful figures in international storytelling are brought together on the same stage.

Ben Haggarty was the co-founder in 1985 with Hugh Lupton and Sally Pomme Clayton of the Company of Storytellers; of Beyond the Border Storytelling Festival in Wales and of the Crick Crack Club in London.

Martin Shaw is the founder of the Westcountry School of Myth; he is visiting professor of Mythology at Stanford University in America this year and has written the award winning book on story " A Branch From The Lightning Tree".

We are delighted to have two such distinguished performers back at the Festival to provoke, inspire and amaze us."

Something from the 'Bird-Spirit King: Myth as Migration, a Wild Land Dreaming" book BELOW, from which i will be teaching from this weekend, as well as telling stories. Can't wait - do hope you will come find us.

Trying to find an old boogie box to play ROOSTER MUSIC (what is rooster music? well, i just invented the term. I'm going to investigate, i think we could all do with more of it: Howlin' Wolf, Small Faces, Mongolian Horse music, Patti Smith, Billie Holliday, James Gang, FREE, Muddy Waters, Burning Spear, Debussy), as we roast our coffee over the fire. Do you listen to Steve Marriot from the Small Faces? Do. Find 'tin soldier' on youtube. It's an over used term, but greatest brit white soul singer ever.

Remember, if you want fantastic sleeping arrangements, ring Francoise on:07753 600618

What is Mythtelling?

I use the word mythtelling (often used in the work of Sean Kane and Robert Bringhurst) rather than storytelling sometimes to indicate that the stories are more than folklore – more than the intelligence of the village figuring their place out in the world. Mythtelling has a wider context, that the stories may come from a rock, cloud or deity. It’s not meant as a form of pretension, but to highlight this less anthropocentric emphasis.

The first road maps of the British isles used to include detailed sketches and information about forests, lakes, rivers and mountains. They were not just negligible blurs between service stations. I would hope that mythtelling re-states that attention within story; that we are not just caught up in the twin-lane highway drama of the human characters, but keeping an eye for the lucid twinkles of raven's eye, or the bright sap on the crust of a rowan tree's bark. To mention it constantly would make it self-conscious, but it will come up occasionally as a gentle re-orientation.

Mythtelling is also about a growing awareness of stories that live in the air, rather than on paper. Books like this one are, I hope, useful conduits out into the world for these seven stories. But mythtelling is to take them and tell them, not in my syntax (even when I tell them it won’t be exactly what is written here) but in the way they wish to be told through you. That doesn’t mean cutting and pasting new scenes into it, but keeping the saying of it fresh and responsive to the moment.

The Winged King
Locals still tell of a story of the creation of much of Dartmoor’s landscape, of a time when King Arthur himself arrived on the moors and took on a malevolent dark spirit that lurked in its forests. Arthur is often said to come from the Royal House of Dumnonia, an ancient kingdom that would have included Devon as its centre. The two furies aimed at each other vast quoits (a kind of heavy ring of iron), brave Arthur solid on Blackystone rock, the spirit up to the north on Hel Tor.

They will tell you that the combat lasted days, weeks, even a month before the sheer strength of Arthur’s arm sent the dark one packing. Extraordinarily, each of the hundreds of quoits hurled back and forth had, at the exact moment they hit the soil, transformed into the great lumps of granite that we know as Tors, in fact the landscape as we know it today was actually forged in the intensity of the fight between Arthur and the foul creature.

What is also said is that from the day he left his body, Arthur’s spirit has entered into a chaw – a local name for a chough (which again is an English jackdaw) – that watches over the whole of Britain, trying to wake its deepest connections to its people, animals, and land mysteries.

That the ancient soveriegn energy of Britain is to be found in the ribcage and beaked intensity of a bird is something we should pay great attention to.

So in this gathering of Devonian lore, this treasury of story, this call to olde England, this animistic nostalgia to create good meat for our children’s future bellies, I call on the feathered and sweet black wings of Arthur’s spirit to come again, with power – to the neuted hamlets of the rich, to towns drunk on Friday's pay-packet violence, to the travellers camp dotted bleak on coastal roads, to the golden house of fallen politics on the scat-black Thames.

Arthur is not sleeping in a hill, but a-roaming the lanes, blessing the ruts in a lonely Norfolk field, flying hard over the glitter of London, rustling the spook-trees of the Forest of Dean, endlessly nesting above any market square worth the name. He is looking for you. This longing of Arthur’s has sometimes been called The Hope of the West

Make no mistake, the bird-spirit of the true king of Britain is still abroad.

Copyright Martin Shaw 2012

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