Folklore Thursday- squirrels

It’s been a while since I did a folklore Thursday post. Yesterday, while out for a walk with Alice and Amy, we saw several squirrels and managed a few photos. So they seem a good focus for this weeks folklore. Published a day late as I didn’t finish it for Thursday.

Following on from The Dark is rising reading group the British folklore seem most appropriate. The squirrel is connected to Queen Mab; the fairy queen. First written reference to to her was by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. Mab is presented as something of a hag bringing blistered lips to young women and sometimes interpreted as herpes.

Her chariot is an empty hazelnut
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,

Queen Mab may have come from the Irish Queen Medb. Medb is often represented with a squirrel or magical birds on her shoulders. A fairly promiscuous goddess featuring within the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology. Her main part in the story is setting the cattle raid of Cooley in motion. It has been suggested that her name possibly originates from mead, meaning intoxication and linking us nicely back to TDIR. Medb is also connected to the Morrigan, who opposes Medb warning the bull to felle before the cattle raid of Cooley. Again linking us back to Alan Garner’s writing, which has featured much within discussions of TDIR reading group.

Squirrels are often used for a symbol for mischief and anyone who has watched them on their bird feeders can see why. While it was a grey squirrel I photographed and it is an invasive menace to the red squirrel I can’t bring myself to dislike one of the few wild mammals I get to see on a regular basis.

The dark is rising days 7 and 8

Over days 7 and 8 of the TDIR reading group we’ve been asked two questions by Julia Bird. What are our theological thoughts and what is the significance of the bread and honey?

The church scene indicates the old ones portrayed as older than the church. The other old ones are dismissive of the Reverend’s efforts to hold back the dark. They state it’s only natural he’d try, but futile before freezing him out of the attack. Will comes across as more accepting of the church, but he is still in a position of greater knowledge of the world. The world of the old ones being of an older, greater power. While the book makes use of Christian symbolism it is clear that the light isn’t the same as following the Christian path.

The symbolism of the honey is interesting. Honey being associated with great pleasure it fits well with the light. The land of milk and honey. The light working through joyous emotions. Hawkins requests honey. This may be a throw back to his pleasure working for the light or just a familiar food source from his own time.

Within a biblical context honey has the symbolism of joy and pleasure, “A virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel (God with us). Butter and honey shall He eat, that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good.” Isa 7:14, 15. Honey also signifying truth.

 Within Celtic traditions honey and mead, in particular, is the drink of immortality. Within Greek mythology Pythagoras ate nothing but honey giving him knowledge. To look wider, bees have a strong association with rebirth which plays a large part in the story with the seasonal cycles of Winter back into Spring. The dark rising with the winter cold.

Or it could, of course, have no symbolism beyond Susan Cooper having a love of honey.

Honey haiku

Sweet, heavenly treat

gift from benevolent gods

Bringing joy and light

The dark is rising-day 6 Street names

In TDIR Will is protected from the witch Maggie as he walks on one of the old one’s paths. He is reminded to be aware of the names of streets. Cooper ties in protection with what has been there a long time bringing another aspect of landscape to the story. The older landscape being associated with the light. Since reading I’ve been keeping an eye on my local street names. It’s not looking hopeful for me. No street names that suggest old ways for protection. There all a bit too modern. At least if you take 200 years or so to be modern.

Alice has been excited for jumping in puddles on our town exploring, now proffering her wellies to other forms of footwear.

I’ve had a lovely Christmas day, but that will form the subject of another blog. Hope everyone else had super days.

The dark is rising-day 4 the magic of names

“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.” J.K. Rowling

Today’s set question on the dark is rising: Speaking aloud (en-chanting) is vital in TDIR, as is the knowing of names. What are the powers of language in this book (from which so many people read aloud?

Within TDIR people can gain power by knowing someone’s true name. Maggie Barnes is prevented from harming Will early on through the use of her true name. The concept of names having magic is an old one in folklore. Rumpelstiltskin being one of the best known. An old tradition states that un-named children could be stolen by fairies and replaced by changeling’s. In the hobbit Bilbo avoids giving Smaug his name. More recently in the Studio Ghibli movie spirited away the character Chihiro loses her name to the witch Yubaba.

The ability to name things correctly remains important for the modern world. Conservation efforts need accurate identification of species to support them appropriately. Unfortunately the loss of knowledge like wildflower names, bird names and insects endangers these efforts.

Within my own practises mantras play a part. A sacred syllable instilled with power by uttering it out loud.  Within other faiths prayer plays a significant role as does communal recitals of readings, songs and prayers. Words undeniably have power. Within TDIR Maggie is stopped through the use of her name. The light characters avoid their names being known. The lady also avoids her true name being used when first meeting Will.

I have just reached the chapter, the book of gramayre. Robert MacFarlane having posted this as the word of the day; Gramayre being the old French for knowledge. The book being a grimoire. So it looks that words will playing a role over the next chapter.

Today ended with a bright red sunset. Knowing the old rhyme this can only bring ill for Will tomorrow.

“Words are, of course, the most powerful powerful drug used by mankind”

Rudyard Kipling

The dark is rising-day 3 the nature of evil

Continuing with TDIR I’ve read on through until Christmas Eve. Will has discovered something of his powers and has gained another sign from the walker.

Today from Robert MacFarlane:

“I’ve been thinking about evil in TDIR & across the sequence. In Silver on the Tree The Dark is violently racist; elsewhere it’s grimly autocratic & seeks pernicious control of the powerless. 

What is the nature of evil here? And of good?”

It would be too simple to place dark in the story as evil and light as good. While the symbolism of good and evil is used in the rider’s black horse and the white mare it has more to it than that. The dark is more obviously evil, but light will use mortals to accomplish tasks deemed necessary. The key difference being light seems to have some remorse and makes their choices with an ultimate good outcome in mind.

“It is a burden. Make no mistake about that. Any great gift or power or talent is a burden and this more than any, and you will long to be free of it. But there is nothing to be done. If you were born with the gift, then you must serve it, and nothing in this world or out of it may stand in the way of that service, because that is why you were born and that is the Law.”

The walker for example was once a servant of light, but his choices lead him to the dark. The walker was entrusted with the responsibility of looking after the book of gramayre. He fails in his duty being tempted by the dark. As a punishment he has to carry the bronze sign for 600 years in fear of both the dark and light to pass the sign to Will; the one. This side of good and evil comes through. Good people do their duty. It is often harder, sometimes more of a chore, but they do it placing other above themselves.

“He will have a sweet picture of the Dark to attract him, as men so often do, and beside it he will set all the demands of the Light, which are heavy and always will be.”

Dark is portrayed as ruthless, without mercy. On first meeting Will, the rider has no hesitation in trying to kill him even though at that stage he poises no threat. The dark works through fear and temptation.

“They love to twist good emotion to ill”. Merriman The dark is rising

The book has an element of postwar fears. The autocratic nature of the dark showing fears of the time. There are times there is symbolism of the nuclear age. The Cold War hanging over peoples heads seems to have shaped some of the more evil elements of the dark and light.

It’s tempting to make links to other fantasy works such as The Lord of the Rings and more modern works such as Harry Potter and Phillip Pullman’s Northern Lights books. Evil, again, is shown as autocratic, fascistic in nature. Tolkien’s thoughts on evil are quite an interesting read. The LOTR is often placed within the context of WWII forgetting much of it was conceived before the war. However all of these have similar views on evil to TDIR. The choices we make are where evil is done.

“Evil labours with vast power and perpetual success, but in vain, preparing always only the soil for unexpected good to sprout in.” Tolkein

Winter Solstice

Winter solstice has been and gone. The days will begin to get lighter. I captured two photos of the night sky. One an odd mix of flash and rain and the second showing the lovely crisp colour of the night sky.