Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The Ship Is About to Sail - friends, grab an oar!

Just three days till the beginning of the 2013 School of Myth year programme! Contact us today - not tomorrow - if you feel the call to high adventure - tina.schoolofmyth@yahoo.com is the one. Ok, onwards.....

As i hear the news bleat distantly about England's lack of quick financial revival after the economic crash, i find myself pondering the notion of the word poor. Growing up in a house without phone, television or car, and having produced a little yellow meal ticket for school dinners back in the far distant 1980's, it's a word that has been hurled in my direction once or twice, despite not really feeling so.

The word poor leads us to thoughts of deprived diet, housing and work opportunities. But poor has other, more insidious connotations. To be in poor in spirit, to be far from soul. It is odd that in the growing Western preoccupation with organic food, yoga and un-feisty thoughts, that we often neglect myth as another kind of food – a literal soul food. Maybe we sense that its full fat, often barbecued and calorific content may create too much disturbance in suburbia or the ashram. But it could be a crafty way of getting some protein without risking heart disease.

It was awareness of this kind of soul-poverty, a cultural deprivation in all of the material abundance that lead to the forming of a hedge- school down here in Devon. The idea with a hedge school is quite literal – an Irish notion that you assemble some kind of rough structure against the side of a hedge and begin to teach underneath it from whatever skills you have. It’s all very simple, and comes from a time of tremendous hardship.

Many friends suggested this wasn’t a good idea, or to wait for some kind of government funding, or possibly an arts council grant. I do not compute this kind of thinking. No pirate could stomach its cautious implications, its lily-livered, half-wish of an idea. Even in a county positively overflowing with spiritual sorts – and packed programs on bodywork, psychology and vegetarian cookery - there seemed little hope for a wayward, no qualification at the end, headlong immersion into the nature of myth, wilderness and rites-of-passage. And the lure? The sweet lure to get folks to sign up?

At its centre was four days with an empty belly, headache and nightmares, glued to the side of a ghostly Welsh mountain in the pouring rain. An advertising dream, surely.

Well, it appeared my friends may be right. For the first year the school had three students. I was partially catering as well as teaching, running back and forth with plates of food. Cara was the real engine room of the kitchen, eyes weeping from chopped onions (well, that’s what she tells me). The next year was a big step upward – we now had four students. Big time. Any profit amounted to a six pack of cold beer and a packet of fish’n’chips after everyone had left on the Sunday night. I clearly remember the first time I had enough money left over to buy a book on the Monday morning. I still keep it close by.

The early years were intense. We’d rise at dawn, grab towels and walk in silence through a mile of forest down from our raggedy tent till we got to a small river. We always began the course in the depths of winter, just to increase its edge. We would go down backwards into the water, float to the very bottom, get a good soak of icy rapture, before back to fire making, cups of hot tea, and the day's unfolding curriculum. There was absolutely no time off: myth, ritual, poetry and a little food, hard at it between 6am and 11pm. Much of the time was spent traversing gnotted forest, jumping into the ocean with wild flowers, chocolate and poetry for Mannanan MacLir, or deep in the clutches of some esoteric old story. It seemed quite wonderful to all of us. We were a strange Fianna, frisky hares drunk on moonlight.

Next time round we had 30 folks and a waiting list. Were I to tell you of what was required to move it so dramatically in numbers it would require another book. The truth is that we were never size-ist. Were that hedge school still three in number, no doubt I would still be there, sheltering from the rain, telling indecent jokes, drinking tea and teaching as best I could.

We have been blessed beyond measure by the folks who became immediate family – like something from the old stories. Remember Jonny Bloor? Not only was he the school's very first student, he went on to become a right hand man: leader of music, general encourager and apprentice poet. In fact all three of the first years – Scott, David and Jonny, went on to play vital roles within the emerging school. Chris Salisbury, the outdoorsman and storyteller, brought a wealth of practical forest knowledge, experience of the performative side of storytelling and a calm eye. The women started to roll in too – Sue, Sam, Tina, Rebeh and beyond. We are adrift with cooks who play the banjo, mechanics who tell the epic of Gilgamesh, surgeons who have remembered they are really bandit queens, grief counsellors who have not stopped laughing, life coaches who have not stopped weeping. We have been buffeted by weather, death, illness, financial scrapes, wayward leadership, but, for anyone dreaming of a more complicated life, we are right there.

And what of Dartmoor, the seat of the school? Dartmoor has been submerged in ocean, a tropical island, a red wood forest, and over time, an interlaced consortium of wild and domestic interaction. Its surface is highly ridged with human impressions. Go down to Merrivale just before dawn in May and you’ll see a double row of stones near the road side. As it gets lighter you will see that the stones point devotionally to the star cluster of the Pleiades rising up from the east. These jagged eruptions guided the seeding and the harvesting of precious crops, five thousand years past.

It’s not hard to detect the remnants of corn-drying barns, longhouses, the banked up reaves which marked the fields, the cromlech tomb of Spinster’s Moor, the stone circles of Scorhill and Grey Wethers, the standing stone of Drizzlecombe, then down through the dreaming into the hillfort at Hembury, then Lydford and its Anglo-Saxon patterning that still lives under its street design today, the clapper bridges and stannery routes, or old Brentor church - wrenched and groaned into life atop a volcanic outcrop in the 12th century, caught on a ley line that stretches from Cornwall to East Anglia.

Most of the tors were originally people: Bowerman out hunting with his dogs, interrupted a coven of witches who promptly turned him and the hounds into stone. Vixiana the Witch was hurled into a swamp and the grandmothers say that the grassy bristles sticking out are from her hairy chin, just feet beneath the surface.

There is barely a copse, stretch of lane, or fecund outcrop that lacks a name and a story. Three hundred and sixty five square miles of intrigue and layered myth. But even Dartmoor, seemingly so permanent, is a shape-shifter, just like the stories are. The red-ochre soils we enjoy here today are the remnants of what was once a kind of desert sand, carried by flash floods down from the highest points of the moor.

It has been cultivated, abandoned, mined, regenerated, feared, shorn bald of its tree crest. From a human eye it has been both cramped and lonely, fertile and barren. It carries a word-hoard of story, is a vascular intermingling of animal intelligence. It is its own wild consciousness, its own fluid mythology, whatever shape a particular millennium places upon it. These are just temporary bumps along the way, little snippets
of clock time pecking at its great, eternal tumps.

Copyright Martin Shaw 2013

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Cundrie: Tough Love in the Myth World

Ok, final mutterings from Parzival this week - then i will leave it alone. Five years on a book does this to a man. I am really excited to issue the first illustration for the book - by the brilliant Cara Roxanne. Check out her music too at: http://cararoxanne.wix.com/crowpuppets
These are some sections cut-and-pasted together, that have loose connections only - and i am aware they don't answer every question raised.

So it's not always coherent, but there are other places to go for that kind of thing.

The writing is on the role of Cundrie - the Great Tusked Woman of the Woods - in the development of the Grail story. In short - she rides into Camelot, interrupts praise from Arthur himself, and tears into Parzival- accusing him of abandoning his grail quest. In short she shames him. But long term, she saves him. She issues some hard swipes to his ego, but preserves his soul.
This piece begins with a wider appreciation of why i find her so compelling to the story, then invokes some of her toothy attributes, and then just descends into a joyous romp through the kind of images she seems to invoke when you have been prepared to stay in the burning ground of her instruction.

Picture the scene – the end of the story. Parzival finally arrives at the Grail castle gates - the very centre of divine power on earth. Is he with King Arthur, resplendent with hawk, hound, and horse? No.

After five years wandering bewildered in the wastelands, his companions are a hag with the snout of a dog, claws of a lion, and tusks of a boar, and a pagan brother mottled black and white like a magpie. This startling image is central to the tale, and yet this trinity of energies seem somehow sidelined. To my eyes, it is the great trickster story of Medieval Europe – without trickster in the form of Cundrie, Parzival would have never made it to the gates.

It matters to me that women occupy such immense roles of both activity and mysticism in this story, to have it pegged as a simple, male hero myth is a hugely missed opportunity for all of us. No one wins. This is my young daughters favorite tale, the vitality of her imagination floods effortlessly into all the characters - she is amok. I love to hear her tell it.

Sibyl Language: Dark Speech

Nothing wakes us up like menace - menace refreshes.
Tony Hoagland

Cundrie is about standards, the upwards gaze, the pilgrim's walk, the tiger’s wrath, slipping through the eye of the needle. She doesn’t want us fat at table scoffing the calorific delights of a neighbor's praise. That could lead to a heart attack. She wants us out amongst the wet trees of longing, following the shaggy trails of a god.

Let us consider for a minute. This is not the “far distant lady” of the troubadours, no lances are bring splintered for her love, no eyes scouting for the heart. She is the cynocephalic hag of the forest. She is the crossroads apparition, the midnight collision on the lonely road with a white-faced Banshee. She is not a delicate vision peering down from a medieval tower. The image of the feminine as gateway to the divine has just morphed into a murder of ravens, the bent prophecies of the lonely willow, the sow protecting her muddy nest.

It is also a story that leads from the 'idealized' picture of the feminine, distant and holy, to an eye watering, tongue flailing hag of the woods, up close and holy. We sometimes expect the former and then get the latter. We detect from the early poems of the Countess of Dia and others (one of the Trobaritz - the tiny, dis-connected group of women poets of the era) , an irritation at being used as a seemingly passive image within the troubadour framework. This story is not about deifying women in far off towers. All the women in the story are are opinionated, up close, active, occasionally brilliant, sometimes maddening, always engaging.

We salute Cundrie and her capacity for a certain bracing word-power. Let's widen our appreciation of this. In the old Irish poem, ‘The Dialogue of the Two Sages’, two men battle verbally for the chair of chief Bard – Ollav – of Ulster. Whilst refraining from direct insult, they hurl muscled language across the feasting hall until the poetical battle is complete. The elder describes himself as “inquiry of the curious, weft of deftness, creel of verse am I and abundance of the sea”, before enquiring of the younger what art does he practice? “I make naked the word, I have foregathered the cattle of cognizance, the stream of science, the totality of teaching, the captivation of kings and the legacy of legend.” 4 It’s an old western stand off, pistols drawn, both guns blazing. Much of the tension comes from the fact that it is witnessed; one will have to lose, the stakes and reputation of both are all to play for.

In the Senchus Mor, the presiding king over the showdown is the legendary Conchobar Mac Nessa who claims they speak in a “dark tongue”, and of whom his advisors insist “keep their judgements and their knowledge to themselves”. It is truly initiated language - obtuse, elevated, aggressive. Some claim it is an archaic form of Gaelic that had been held tight under the secretive cloak of the bards whilst becoming widely extinct. There is no addiction to harmony here, but an understanding that sophisticated language, ritual measure and space for the opponent's lunge (which is actually invited) is the way to resolve disputes. Many Taoist scripts, and, of course, the I Ching have a thread of dark speech all the way through them.

One of the many fascinations with hearing Robert Bly speak in the eighties and nineties was the possible flare-ups that could occur, that were even encouraged. He seemed able to both dish out and endure any number of attacks. Cundrie was never dismissed from the table, but found full voice in his commentaries on contemporary America and the state of the arts. There was also room for a volley of attacks from the floor. Those attacks could also cause him to change opinion mid-stream, which was admirable to witness. Yes it was messy, rather unresolved, but most importantly, invigorating. It was Bly that turned many of us onto feminism.

She brings tough stuff

Cundrie is a critic. A hard-eyed, lethally accurate, thousand-year-old critic. You can’t buy her. She is to do with the truth that bursts unbidded - the coffee morning abandoned – the guests outraged, the wild snake that gobbles the na├»ve. It means stepping into opinion – not seeing the hundred different possibilities but the tough centre of the argument. You are out on the lawn, bellowing at the neighbor over a boundary line issue. You are no longer involved in a popularity contest, you fashion small black loaves of language that are as heavy as iron.

The Cundrie in you hates to see you searching for the remote, settling for porn over the erotic, neglecting to show your kids badger's dens, books you love, asking them nutty questions. She drags women from the dishes to catch a thunderstorm then changes the locks. If you fail to read the messages she sends then she shows up in our outer life and really lays it out.

Cundrie is a sybil - “one who offers divine council”. The very first sybil, Sibylla of the seventh century BC, had a harsh tongue in her head; her prophetic utterances would cut deeply into the complacency of the enquirer. She would speak flatly of famine, disease, war and would chastise heavily whoever came forward with a question. Heraclitus observed that the prophecies were delivered from unsmiling lips – it seemed a heavy role to carry. Still, it was claimed she lived for 1,000 years, so maybe she was just conserving energy.

A detail is that the prophecies did not indicate a possession state – she retains her lucidity even while a spirit wind sweeps through her. In Sibylla, we locate two great forces conjoining, the cosmos and the woman. But even in this conjoining, the crucible of soul is wide enough to hold both in a tapestry without annihilating the personal or shutting down the cosmic. In our exploration of how to hold and express wild mythologies, this is a crucial detail. Remember Parzival tranced by the blood on snow? They lack Sibylla’s expansive container that holds the arduous tensions of the two. It is only in later centuries that this mediation seems to be compromised by a later Sibyl’s working in Apollo’s temple; there we find descriptions by the poet Lucan of “a rabid jabber poured from her foaming lips...the groans and loud babblings as she gasps to draw breath; doleful howls and wailing fills the cavern”. This image does not suit the eloquence of Cundrie.

Sibylla herself was part of no organized establishment, she rode independence like a snorting horse, scattering freely her troublesome images. Another detail is that she didn’t speak them – she sang them.

Cundrie is emphatically showing Parzival the route downwards. Like most of us, he encounters grief and trouble with the sense of ‘It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!’ Even as we head down into the muck we can see dawn breaking beyond the next set of hills. Hallelujah. The stone has been rolled away. This is James Hillman’s territory of irritation, even claiming that we are entirely christianized as a society if we operate with that sense of relentless optimism. The textual qualities of the descent – the scents, colors, the terrible insights – get lost if we are always paddling away from the flood. Drown, says Hillman. Drowning pulls us into the barnacled insights of Neptune; we are finally in a murky, half-lit world where we have to move very slowly. Soul is as interested in our retreats as our frantic jerks forwards, but this is a very hard notion to embody.

But where is it leading?....

The Great Remembering
Cundrie and the magpie brother take Parzival, and us, with all our worldly sophistication, back somewhere ancient. To the mysteries of Chauvet Cave, laden with 150 bear skulls and the vulva of a goddess, emblazoned with a black ochre on phallic limestone. The walls are filled with paintings of charging images – the clear jut of the lion, the owl, the rhino, the hyena. Lacerating these very walls are the claw marks of the bears that live there, lusting to drag down this proud gallop of meat.

This was a time of magical as well as fleshy rupture – you could walk right out of your body if the chanting made the air quiver at just the right moment, the scattering of bones wished you on, if your trembling form was striped in ochre like the back of the great auroch itself. These uttering’s spun you right out and into myth time. It was in this way that the spirit-lights came, and we travelled far to see who we already were.

It was in this emerging that we scraped our feathery head on the limy rock as we leapt into the shape of rook, or burst through altogether riding wolf-mind. We negotiated which beasts would step forward and lay their head for their brother the hunter, and when our time came, which of us would wander into the snow, lie down and bend our head for our sister the bear. This went on for hundreds of thousands of years.

Cundrie and the magpie brother hold Parzival, and us, shoulder by shoulder, as we, by flickering light, see the dances being danced that hold our unsteady cosmos together, the secretive little steps that charm the lillies, those bold sweeps of arm that rouse the fresh wind, those flurried curves of charismatic language that call the secret names of all things. Suddenly a woman sweeps by, breasts bare, with the mane of a horse, a fine boned old man lurches, just for a second, into the shape of a dog-fox, children become butterflies and ancients become the great trees we always knew they were. We see this through a haze of heat and distance, but we see it. None of this entirely denies human culture, its innovations, printing press and great blessings, but it certainly deepens it. It re-routes all this magician energy back to a healthier, earthier position. The divide between court and forest grows porous, and a culture of wildness arrives.

The Grail serves this dance. In some far distant place old visionaries and young dreamers keep shuffling back and forward with bear skulls and antelope hides. Standing at the centre of the Grail story is not empire but this primordial dance floor that is truly the breath of god.

and what happens when we join the dance?...

"In the green rivers of the west, pike moved again over the shale, in the east, Merlin chicks bustled to get beak to their mothers food, in the north, young wolves yipped and nipped and felt the sun on their back for the first time, and in the south, the sows udder spurted thick with a golden milk. Old Albion itself started to swell, to rise, to remember itself. The dragon tracks of its dew-glittered glens curled out into the minds of its people - old women remembered stories of their childhood and started to tell, friends long estranged reached for each other with no words at all and started to weep, the sparrow sang love songs to the worm, the long barren fen burst with wild flower, parties erupted in every hamlet, village, travelers inn and lasted for years.

Bellies became fertile, and the White Stag was seen in the forests of Camelot again, glimpsed at dusk. A sword shot forth from a green Welsh lake, held by a woman’s hand. The salt fields of the North sea churned their foamy theatre as the whale spouted their courting joys. The greening harvest of the land dragged honeycombed stars down into its curvy secrets. All was awake! The roaring champions of hawk and roe-deer carried the news to every wet flanked copse, every tangled byre, every darkening stream, all was a kind of singing."

Amen to that. That's what i call hope. Even Jim Hillman would have agreed on that.

Copyright Martin Shaw 2013

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

On the way to the airport: one last foray in Berkeley - (with thanks to Leah Lamb)

The Old Stories - Why Would We Need Them?

Well, we have set foot back in old Devon, which is still playing out the last dance steps of what i gather was a fairly serious winter. We are all jetlagged, wandering the corridors at 4 a.m., looking for hot tubs and margaritas and the yip of the Coyotes that stalked the woods behind our apartment up on California's Inverness Ridge. A long and beautiful trip - thank you to Jonah and the Storytelling Project at Stanford, the Sufi i met on a street corner, the hundreds of new friends, all that attended the Mythteller three month intensive up in Point Reyes, the nimble trackers that took us out early one morning to trail pawprints in much the same way i trail stories - with curiosity and wonder, and most of all to the generous, lion-hearted, poetry souled Lisa Doron. We are grateful, and we remember.

I turn my head also to some upcoming collaborations: With Satish Kumar on the 'Earth Pilgrim' week at Schumacher College, June 17th-22nd, and then with David Abram for 'Wild Land Dreaming: Living Language and the Erotics of Place' - a full week - 1-7th July, also at Schumacher in Devon. Can't wait. Both David and i will be leaning into some very new ground for this collaboration - there have been some great conversations and companionship down the phone lines between here and New Mexico.

Todays missive is a response to several enquiries i had last year from ecological friends asking why i felt this connection to myths and fairytales - and couldn't i just articulate my own emerging stories from time in the wild as the 'new myths', and be done with the grubby, complicated, book heavy world of (especially) European folk tales? To the enquirers, those stories felt too 'contaminated' to still be of use - they longed for something pristine and unencumbered by human history, just an authored expression of delight with the living world. That has its place, but if myth has no author, this also has its setbacks.

I write a little about my preparation for approaching Snowy Tower - my telling of Parzival - and begin with where i first starting feeling my way through these image-based ideas, up in Snowdonia, Wales.


It is hard for us to imagine the time when human language was primarily just a sound in a wider polyphony of earthy expression – the splashing brook, the patterning of bird song. Hard for us to hear human sound without drawing on the resource of visualizing letters if needed. The inside of our heads has changed dramatically in this regard. This apparent sophistication has crafted a speech that can seem to sit uneasily in the panorama of the wild, with its burbles, chirrups and thunder. Human language can seem like the voice of a guardian or overlord, rather than the confirming murmurs of a being placed absolutely within this textured web.

Some distance away the leisurely bellow of long horn cattle gently re-orientates a calf back to their emerging story of the trip to the watering hole. Watching it all, the mountain Caer Idris holds the shadow of scudding clouds gracefully in its lap. Caer is also a good thief, capturing differing colors as the day progresses, sometimes golden crested, sometimes muddy red and green - the mountain is telling a story of the value of shape-shifting for anyone ready to behold it. These stories are the legacy of time bent open to the archaic hymns of the land. But this non-usual language, this fragrant cluster of apple-blossom words, how can it be spoken of to the rinky-dink world, the world we can see glittering below in nearby Barmouth?

Certain myths, certain stories, are a bridge to the muscled thoughts of the living world. These thoughts we could call ‘wild mythologies’.

Some stories these days do not offer that avenue of perception. Like genetically modified crop, their intrinsic design is so shaken up, so bent only to allegory, that this root-connection is lost. Their taste is briefly sweet but lacks texture and weight. Nuance is ironed out. If the hand of the human community is too impacted, then story becomes only pastoral, an affirmation of what we already know. We don’t need stories like these. Many of us long for the prophetic, the unruly, the associatively spacious, the ones that awake our animal soul to pad lonesome tracks in sweet dusky meadows at the edges of our imagination.

At the same time, stories gathered from the wild places, if authored and spoken by just one individual, will lack the psychic weight and difficult edges that many myths and fairy tales hold - even ones gathered between the pages of a book. Receptivity to natures humors is the great opening, the essential vehicle, but the passing of the story through time and community also enables it heft, maturation, authority, the hard yards of living between the horizontal and divine worlds.

Having sat round hundreds of campfires for twenty years hearing powerful, truly deep stories pour from the mouth of returning vision questers - stories ablaze - i have wept at their mythic truth, but have not quite heard a myth. A subtle distinction, but important. They carry the ‘I’ elegantly, but not always the ‘We’ that the great stories reveal. The storied images have not passed through enough lives, communities and culture. They are intensely beautiful rivers, but they are not the ocean.

It was the waiting tribe, many years ago, that would help the initiate dig the tributary that took their river to the bigger tribal soul-story. The ancient stories, rather like our vast, majestic seas, may have occasional temporary pollutants, but are not to be abandoned, but cherished, worked with, carried, honored. They carry silvery shoals of insight, slow moving crab wisdoms that survive at great depth and under intense pressure, many limbed aquatic revelations that give themselves up for our nets, time and time again.

On one level myth is not really about ‘a long time ago’, but a kind of vitalized, ritual present, but at the same moment, the opening up to that heightened liminality through many centuries and communities both deepens and broadens the power of the images. Repetition has enormous weight. So, although the myths usually refers to eternal concerns, the repeated practice of invoking that very ‘timelessness’ is one of the elements that, on the human side at least, gathers resonance and psychic vigor to the telling, like moss around a stone. It’s very mysterious.

Although some would rather be done with myths and folktale and produce, almost overnight, new stories of harmonious and stress-free relatedness to the living world, it is like trying to out run your own shadow. Naive. All those power games and paradoxes that myths and fairy tales engage with - they keep revealing to us difficult inner-material, material that comes with the labour of being a human - a human with a history of betrayal, urbanity and a tricky lower intestine- and not always the pristine mind of the elk or indigo bunting. That’s useful as we turn our head towards wild intelligence. Its rather domestic grit reminds us of the village we come from as well as the forest we long for. Human initiation always calls forth dwelling in the crossroads of both.

With a great deal more investment and community rather than solitary focus on wilderness, those individual stories from the wild may indeed collude, over time, into something lasting, with broad shoulders that can carry the wider soul-story again. But i balk at the notion that we must choose one over the other. The great stories, the ones that challenge, mystify and wake us up, if they have origination points at all, will come from these earthy eruptions, and to this very day contain vast windows to the Otherworld and the Animal Powers. But, like us, some contain the soot of city streets and contemporary agendas garlanded around their feathered neck. I don’t think they would be so hard to loosen up, to get their wingspan free of the oiled and inked page. The stooping hawk catches the dawning and is gone.

It is myths like these that carry the dreamtime of what came to be called Europe, bedded down in the blue green forests and the nomad lines from India and the Caucasus Mountains, its rich loam carrying the loose wild fields of pagan thought clear of the accelerated logos of Descartian advance. Things survived, down there, in the spidery mossy gleam of the hearth fire tellings, compacted images of such animistic intelligence that they send brilliant shivers of recognition continually into the orbit of anyone that gets near them. They are Yeats Wild Swans of Coole.

So do we just tip toe away from this complex inheritance, and rattle off endless cut and paste ’new’ myths after an afternoons brisk walking on the Brecon Beacons? I think this would prove to have little sustenance. It would lack authenticity. We need the experiential, the great un-shackling, a loosening, but bardic thinking would entail that encounter then challenging and deepening the existing mythos, not abandoning it completely. This is where study arrives. We won’t get into heaven without it.

My own policy is that of a pirate - steal the stories back. It’s why i was lead to Parzival - to form an associative link between my experiential practice in the wild and the great treasury of myth, and then only to realise that that very link was in fact a circle, that the stories very core came from the ground.

To tell Parzival in a good way, i first took it back to the fireside for several years - to woodsmoke, and low bellied badgers, rustling beds of nettles and a hundred thousand stars overhead. Up on the dreaming flank of Dartmoor i once told the story for three days straight, eyes weeping from the wet kindling, great draperies of mist settling around our small gang, iron rain paddling our thin canvas shelter hanging from the oaks, the drops fierce thrumming, the roe-buck shaking dew from its flank in the thicket. Toothwort, meadowsweet, skullcap, coltsfoot, black horehound, silverweed, eyebright - the murmurings of the herb world scuttled through those long grasses of its telling. This time gave the story a chance to stretch its old and powerful paws, examine its frosty whiskers in the cool, green reflection of a moorland lake. The wet feathered rooks, adders, and loping hares of that place reclaimed the tale - the embers splutter and brooding clouds got all snarled up in the syntax of the telling, and dropped their amiable flurries into these very pages. We could do the same with other stories - reconsecrate them in the living world. That’s a radical act, and will certainly produce results. How that turning of the story towards wildness actually appears is almost a chthonic element, more a sensation in the beholder than anything else, a kind of curiosity, or freshness in its expression. We should try not to over think its external manifestation.

Copyright Martin Shaw 2013