I recall with intense pleasure my discovery in childhood of the Greek myths and Homer’s “Iliad,” in various editions, from an early acquaintance with d’Aulaire’s to Roger Lancelyn Green’s versions and, at the French school I attended for several years, a collection memorably entitled “Mythes et Légendes du Monde Grecque et Barbare.” Homer proper came later, in high school, affording both similar and distinct pleasures. In all versions, the concision and openness of the accounts were essential: Somehow authoritative rather than vague, they allowed an exhilarating freedom of imagination.

Claire Messud
The Good Witch

I live, at all times, for imaginative fiction; for ambivalence, not instruction. When language serves dogma, then literature is lost. I live also, and only, for excellence. My care is not for the cult of egalitarian mediocrity that is sweeping the world today, wherein even the critics are no longer qualified to differentiate, but for literature, which you may notice I have not defined. I would say that, because of its essential ambivalence, ‘literature’ is: words that provoke a response; that invite the reader or listener to partake of the creative act. There can be no one meaning for a text. Even that of the writer is a but an option.

Literature exists at every level of experience. It is inclusive, not exclusive. It embraces; it does not reduce, however simply it is expressed. The purpose of the storyteller is to relate the truth in a manner that is simple: to integrate without reduction; for it is rarely possible to declare the truth as it is, because the universe presents itself as a Mystery. We have to find parables; we have to tell stories to unriddle the world.

It is a paradox: yet one so important I must restate it. The job of a storyteller is to speak the truth; but what we feel most deeply cannot be spoken in words. At this level only images connect. And so story becomes symbol; and symbol is myth.

It is one of the main errors of historical and rational analysis to suppose that the ‘original form’ of myth can be separated from its miraculous elements. ‘Wonder is only the first glimpse of the start of philosophy,’ says Plato. Aristotle is more explicit: ‘The lover of myths, which are a compound of wonders, is, by his being in that very state, a lover of wisdom.’ Myth encapsulates the nearest approach to absolute that words can speak.

Alan Garner
Aback of Beyond

the world has darkness

June 24, 2020

‘Did you ever hear the legend of the moonspinners?’

‘The what?’

‘Moonspinners. They’re naiads — you know, water-nymphs. Sometimes, when you’re deep in the countryside, you meet three girls, walking along the hill tracks in the dusk, spinning. They each have a spindle, and onto these they are spinning their wool, milk-white, like the moonlight. In fact, it is the moonlight, the moon itself, which is why they don’t carry a distaff. They’re not Fates, or anything terrible; they don’t affect the lives of men; all they have to do is to see that the world gets its hours of darkness, and they do this by spinning the moon down out of the sky. Night after night, you can see the moon getting less and less, the ball of light waning, while it grows on the spindles of the maidens. Then, at length, the moon is gone, and the world has darkness, and rest, and the creatures of the hillsides are safe from the hunter and the tides are still . . .’

Mark’s body had slackened against me, and his breathing came more deeply. I made my voice as soft and monotonous as I could.

‘Then, on the darkest night, the maidens take their spindles down to the sea, to wash their wool. And the wool slips from the spindles, into the water, and unravels in long ripples of light from the shore to the horizon, and there is the moon again, rising from the sea, just a thin curved thread, reappearing in the sky. Only when all the wool is washed, and wound again into a white ball in the sky, can the moonspinners start their work once more, to make the night safe for hunted things . . .’

Beyond the entrance of the hut, the moonlight was faint, a mere grayness, a lifting of the dark…not enough for prying eyes to see the place where Mark and I lay, close together, in the dark little hut. The moonspinners were there, out on the track, walking the mountains of Crete, making the night safe, spinning the light away.

Mary Stewart
The Moonspinners

Edo Zollo

She’s been following me my whole life. It started out with a recurring nightmare when I was a child: a strawberry-blonde woman in a long, white dress dragged my Dad under the bed by his hair as he slept. Should I mention she dragged him with her teeth? She moved like she was liquid, like she floated across water.

Then, when I astral travelled that one time, I encountered a blonde woman in a long, white dress, living in a pond riddled with weeds and reeds. She yanked me under and tried to drown me. Luckily, I escaped. I put protection wards up the next day and haven’t gone back.

And last night, I had a nightmare that a woman made out of mist dragged children into a lake to drown them. Yes, it was the same woman.

I’ve heard lots of myths (mostly Irish) about wicked faeries or women who live in ponds and lakes. I just want her to leave me alone.

Christine
Garden of Ash and Bone

Older feminine values

March 11, 2018

Tamara De Lempicka - Le Rythme, 1924

Myth is concerned with truth, but not in any historical sense but rather the inner truths about life; as Sallustius, the last great pagan theologian in the 4th century says: ‘These things never happened, but always are.’ * In the secular age in which we live, we lack that deeply held reverence for life or sense of the sacred, and so we see earth – plants, soils, waters, animals and even other people – as if without soul or spirit: as things to be exploited for our own benefit with results which, because all things are related, are beginning to catch up with us and horrify us. Three thousand years of the patriarchy with its Abrahamic concept of man’s separation from nature is mainly responsible for this, and this is why the revival of paganism lays such stress on the Goddess presence in deity. Older feminine values are pressing to come into their own again. The restoration of the dignity of woman in religion is long overdue and absolutely crucial…

* Sallustius, On the Gods and the World

Jo O’Cleirigh
Nemeton and the sacred play of the year
Wood & Water, Spring 1980

Circle-dance of the Deathless

February 18, 2018

By many names you may call us, in many books you may read of us, from many mouths hear tell of us…in the myths of days past, in tales of were- and faerie-folk, in half-caught glimpses at the crossing of Dawn and Dusk. Here a hand is stretched to you from the Circle-dance of the Deathless…hear this voice that speaks to you from mystery!

Andrew Chumbley
Cult of the Divine Artist

Conan2

I’m rather of the opinion myself that widespread myths and legends are based on some fact, though the fact may be distorted out of all recognition in the telling. While I don’t go so far as to believe that stories are inspired by actually existent spirits or powers (though I am rather opposed to flatly denying anything) I have sometimes wondered if it were possible that unrecognized forces of the past or present or even the future work through the thoughts and actions of living men. This occurred to me when I was writing the first stories of the Conan series especially. I know that for months I had been absolutely barren of ideas, completely unable to work up anything sellable. Then the man Conan seemed suddenly to grow up in my mind without much labour on my part and immediately a stream of stories flowed off my pen or rather, off my typewriter almost without effort on my part. I did not seem to be creating, but rather relating events that had occurred. Episode crowded on episode so fast that I could scarcely keep up with them. For weeks I did nothing but write of the adventures of Conan. The character took complete possession of my mind and crowded out everything else in the way of story writing. When I deliberately tried to write something else, I couldn’t do it. I do not attempt to explain this by esoteric or occult means, but the facts remain. I still write of Conan more powerfully and with more understanding than any of my other characters. But the time will probably come when I will suddenly find myself unable to write convincingly of him at all. That has happened in the past with nearly all my rather numerous characters; suddenly I would find myself out of contact with the conception, as if the man himself had been standing at my shoulder directing my efforts, and had suddenly turned and gone away, leaving me to search for another character.

Robert E Howard
Letter to Clark Ashton Smith, December 14th, 1933

Snakes hold a place of importance in folklore and mythology from around the world. A snake’s ability to shed its skin has made it a symbol of immortality in stories such as the Epic of Gilgamesh. This also may be the reason that snakes appear as deities or representations of rebirth or the return to youth in stories from many cultures.

Snakes as Symbols

Images of intertwined snakes symbolized healing and fertility in ancient Babylon. One of the oldest mystical symbols in the world is the Ouroboros, literally “tail-devourer,” which dates to ancient Egypt. The Ouroboros is the symbol of perfection, the endless cycle of being. It usually is pictured as a serpent with its tail in its mouth, forming a perfect circle. The Greek god of medicine, Asclepios, is depicted holding a caduceus, which is a staff with two intertwined serpents coiled around it. According to the myth, he discovered medicine by watching a snake use herbs to heal or, in some versions, to resurrect another snake. Since the sixteenth century, the caduceus has been a symbol for various medical organizations.

Snakes as Symbols of Divinity

Snakes appear as deities in many ancient cultures. The Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, the feathered, or plumed, serpent, whose Mayan counterpart to Quetzalcoatl is Kulkulcan, is a powerful god of civilization, credited with providing corn, the arts, and science to humankind. Ancient Egyptians worshipped Renenutet, a cobra goddess associated with fertility and the protection of children and the pharaoh. The Egyptians also idolized Nehebkau, a snake deity that guarded the entrance to the underworld, protected the pharaoh after death, and travelled with the sun god, Re, during his nightly journey through the underworld. In Australian aboriginal culture, Wollunqua is the Rainbow Snake, a giant snake connected with the rainbow as well as with Creation itself. Eingana is an aboriginal snake goddess and mother goddess who made the land, the water, and all living things. In Hindu mythology, nagas are a race of demigod serpent-people that are half human and half snake. Some African cultures look upon rock pythons as sacred and consider the killing of one to be a serious crime.

Snakes as Symbols of Evil

In the Old Testament, a serpent tempted Eve to taste the forbidden fruit. In Greek mythology, one of the god Apollo’s earliest deeds was the slaying of the deadly serpent Python. The goddess Hera, who hated the infant Hercules, sent two serpents to destroy him in his cradle, but Hercules triumphed, strangling them. Later, Hercules slew the Hydra, a terrible serpent with nine heads.

Josepha Sherman (editor)
Storytelling: An encyclopaedia of mythology and folklore

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26th August

Medusa lost her head, but she was only trying to defend herself. These things are a simple matter of perspective –

Both Pandora the first woman in Greek myth and Eve the first woman in Christian myth disobeyed divine prohibition with dire consequences for humanity. Are they male myths revealing the true nature of women? Or anti-feminist fables? Again Perspective is all important –

Tertullian denounced women thus:

“Do you not know that each of you is an Eve? God’s sentence on your gender lives even in our times, and so it is necessary that the guilt must also continue. You are the one who opened the devil’s door; you unseated the forbidden tree; you first betrayed the divine law; you are the one who enticed him whom the devil was too weak to attack. How easily you destroyed man, the image of God! Because of the death which you brought upon us, even the Son of God had to die.” (On the Apparel of Women, 1, 1.) –

The misogyny of the Christian Church fathers grew and multiplied throughout the middle ages –

But then “a witch-angel polarity emerged in attitudes toward women. The sexually active were often associated with the underworld devil, while those with unruptured hymens were adored on a par with heavenly angels. Virgins had virtue because, as the roots of these words indicate, they had male (Latin, vir) restraint. “Ava” was Gabriel’s greeting to Mary, according to Jerome, because the Nazareth virgin reversed the bad name of “Eva,” the sexual siren of Eden. The exalted “Queen of Heaven” of the cult of Mary set in bolder relief ” witches” who, by means of satanic voluptuousness, enchained men for consignment to hell.”

The gateway to hell was unknown until Tertullian located it between the legs of a woman. However, if we turn to Chaucer, his wife of Bath has this to say:

“If women had but written stories;
As have these clerks within their oratories,
They would have written of men more wickedness
Than all the race of Adam could redress.”

All about perspective again.

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Dinner party for eight tonight. Veggie lasagne followed by strawberries and cream, and a vat of wine.

the edge of the dark

August 15, 2017

In Welsh mythology the otherworld is known as Annwn: the not-world, the deep. It is the beyond of adventure, the locus of alterity. Its landscapes are unstill, its deities and monsters have many faces. It is a source of beauty and terror, of awe, of Awen, the divine inspiration quested by the bards and awenyddion who crossed the edge of the dark to explore its depths.

The ways between the worlds are fraught with danger. Safe passage is only granted at a cost. Those who return from the otherworld are never the same. Thus they shroud themselves in the cowl of the edge of the dark.

Those who live on the edge see our precarious reign over the land and its myths is illusory. Tower blocks and elaborate street lamps are ephemeral as Dickens’ fairy palaces. Electric lighting is no defence against the edge of the dark, which seeps in because its memories are deeper than us, its darkness more permeating than headlights.

Lorna Smithers
The edge of the dark