Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Cailleach





Caiileach - Art my Dave Migman


Names mean many things. They describe and assign. They form maps, they are changed and altered, even as they are heaped upon the land like stones upon a mountain cairn. Some lose favour, some cling tenaciously like lichen across the hide of slumbering giants and their kin. Across Scotland the gaelic name Callieach is used to describe many natural landmarks. Cailleach, The Hag, is a name that invokes the memory of an elusive goddess. Fragments of folklore and myth add potency to the claim that she was once a powerful goddess. Sometimes it is said there were many Cailleachs, as many mountains in the Highlands had their own. Cailleach as a name was used to identify hags, such as the three-headed Cailleach who, with a one-eyed, headless man, birthed the witch, Cuillionn.  She is a mountain goddess, who brings stormy weather, lifting her skirts she looses avalanches of boulders into the valleys. 




One of my carved stones representing the Cailleach as Cewidwen



She was known by many names across Ireland and the British Isles, these include; Callech, Carlin, Cally Berry,  Bhéirre and Black Annis.  She was sometimes accompanied by her husband, Voel Tegid. He is sometimes described as a giant, who stands on a single leg, and has one eye*.  Sometimes it is she who has one eye planted in the centre of her dark grey face. She is a creator goddess: powerful, ancient and to be respected. She is the old harvest wife,  ushering in the winter, and her reign lasts until she is reborn as the maiden in spring. It was once a custom in parts of Scotland  to create a female figure from corn cut after November 1st called the Carlin (another of her names).** Sometimes this corn would be hung to dry inside the house until the time for sowing in the spring. A similar custom existed in Wales too (where the hag was called the wrach). In Northern Ireland the corn was plaited and attacked by the reapers. Whoever cut through it, took it home to hang over his door and it was known as The Carley. 

Such traditions aren’t limited to the British Isles and Ireland. In Eastern Europe and beyond  this last  sheaf  of corn was known as the Baba (Hag, or Old Lady) and Mother-Corn. These and many other examples suggest the widespread belief in a divine mother goddess whose roots lie in very ancient cosmologies ( See Matronae Post).This might well reflect the morphing of medieval oral tradition amongst the people (well away from ear-shot of the priest and his pulpit). It could also reflect the echoes of ancient animistic forms of belief - the association of powerful spirits with certain locations in a world that was ‘alive’ in a magical sense. These might be traced back to Indo-European or even Pre-IndoEuropean migrations. 


My feeling is all these incarnations are one and the same, that they each contain seeds and commonalities despite regional variations.  Names such as Black Annis may also refer to the ancient Irish earth goddess Anu (Danu). I would also add that  the adder is said to provide the Cailleach Bheur’s power, and this would also link her with an Earth goddess archetype that is widespread across Europe and beyond. The Cailleach appears in Welsh mythology as Ceridwen and here her character assumes an inspirational aspect. 






Ceridwen


In the tale of the the birth of the famous welsh bard, Taliesin, the child Gwion tends Ceridwen’s magical cauldron (see post). The tale takes place in the dun of Tegid Voel.  Ceridwen has the lad stirring the potion of inspiration that she is concocting to gift her son, Avagddu, with knowledge to compensate for his ugliness. However some drops splash Gwion’s hand as he stirs  and he sucks his burning finger, accidently tasting the potion. Instantly he is overcome with a surge of knowledge as the potion takes effect. His immediate and pressing thought is how pissed off Ceridwen will be. So he flees, and there follows a  lovely chase sequence of shapeshifting forms as he tries to evade the raging hag. This scene culminates with Gwion being plucked up by the hag when he turns into grain and she a hen. However nine months later Gwion is magically reborn as Taliesin, the mythical bard. In this tale,  Ceridwen is the creator of the potion within the cauldron of inspiration. Such poetic awareness was known as Awen. It was the force of inspiration, a power sought by any aspiring bard. Of course it is apt that Nature herself, in her wild, unbridled form is key to providing such inspiration. In fact Gwion is taken into the cauldron of her womb and thus reborn inspired and filled with knowledge. 




Both Ceridwen and Voel are giants, their imagery is earthy and ancient. In the Welsh tales they are said to live in the middle of Lake Tegid, now called Lake Bala. It is interesting that an old myth persists in connection to a well in the nearby town called the Gower Well, in which a goddess was said to reside, and who must be appeased. In  this legend the tower of Tegid Voel, and the ancient city that surrounded it, were lost beneath the waves when someone forgot to cover the well one night. 



Click here to watch my animation 

  Ceridwen's Cauldron





Notes:

*This apparently reflecting a really ancient spell casting technique in which the caster would stand with one leg raised aloft, one hand behind the back and one eye closed.

** If the corn were cut before November 1st (Hallowmass) then it was referred to as The Maiden. Hallowmass is a Chritian festival lumped onto the pre-Christian yearly festival of Samhain, an important turning point in the yearly cycle. 



Reference:

Duanaire Finn: Book of the lays of Finn - Vol 3 - Gerard Murphy
Encyclopedia of Ancient Dieties - 
The Golden Bough -  James G. Frazer
The Lost Beliefs of Northern Europe - Hilda Ellis Davidson
Celtic Myth in the 21st Century - Edited by Emily Lyle

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Runes Runes & More Runes








Rune book cover



I've written, and completed, a book of information about the Futhark runes. There are heaps of rune books out there. Tons of them - but where are the interpretations for each rune coming from? 

I went for a more grounded approach in my  researches for this book. I was driven by a desire to unearth the kernels of each symbol. As explained in the book this approach proved problematic. But I persevered and the result is a book that differs from others in its approach and its breadth. 

The book is entitled Stone Mad Runes: Drinking at Mimir's Well, for reasons that will become apparent if you read the book. There was also some information I had to omit which will find its way into future posts here. 


Kindle book available










Thursday, February 20, 2020

The Hare In Mythology - Guest blog Post by Steph




Hand Carved Hare by Dave Migman of Stone Mad Crafts 





The Names of the Hare in English* 



Dew-beater, dew-hopper,

The sitter, the grass-hopper,

Fiddlefoot, form-sitter,

Lightfoot, fern-sitter,

Stag of the cabbages, herb cropper,

Ground creeper, sitter-still,

Pintail, turn-to-hills,

Get-up-quick,

Make-fright,

White womb,

Layer with the lambs





Hare Today…


The hare is everywhere in art these days. However as their habitats are urbanised and become more inhospitable, they are less visible in their natural environment.  Perhaps the popularity of “hare fayre” today speaks to the wildness within us, buried beneath a veneer of societal norms and plastic detritus.


 The hare’s contradictory nature is evidenced by their ubiquity in folklore. They feature worldwide in stories of the moon and fantasy and were also anthropomorphised into everyday folks. They are comfortable in the company of rude mechanicals and divinity alike. Often confused with rabbits, their gentler cousins, we are drawn to their beauty and grace which can seem otherworldly and has inspired many legends.



The Nature of the Hare


Why then are there so many legends across the world surrounding hares? They are indigenous to every continent excluding Antarctica, yet they remain stubbornly unfamiliar. They are solitary in nature, and even leverets born in the same litter are separated at birth. Yet they are known to congregate on mountainsides and even airfields in vast numbers… and nobody knows why.

In researching this post, I encountered so much contradictory information. So little is known about their habits. In fact it was only in recent years that it was discovered that “boxing hares” are not males competing for mating rites, but females rejecting potential mates. They are rarely visible out-with springtime, when they can be seen trying to outrun cars on country roads or sitting sentinel in fields. 


Hares differ from rabbits in several key ways – a hare has no home to retreat to, resting in forms above ground which makes them entirely reliant on hiding and running for survival. Their massive hearts power these high speeds. This is why they make lists of fastest animals on the planet with top speeds of up to 60km per hour. They are small prey animals with a reputation for being feisty.


Beast of Venery


As prey animals, hares have long enjoyed an elevated status and a reputation for scrappiness. In Medieval Britain, the hare was designated one of four “Beasts of Venery”. Hares were for the landed gentry only, not for peasants and poachers. Laws were passed to forbid the common man from poaching hares, as they were revered alongside the deer, boar and wolf. The unlawfulness of eating hare may have been adopted by conquerors from Celtic customs. Perhaps this status as food fit for a king only is in part responsible for the anthropomorphic interpretation of the hare as arrogant.


Whether full of bluster, like Aesop’s Hare and the housemate of Alison Uttley’s Little Grey Rabbit, or full of cunning like Brer Rabbit, hares are culturally elevated to a higher status. It is possible to see a correlation between this and their aloof, solitary nature.


Celtic and Anglo Saxon Tradition


Hares have been revered across many cultures in mythology. Both the Anglo-Saxons and Celts treated the hare as forbidden flesh excepting a ritual hunt (Celts at Beltane, Anglo Saxons at ‘Easter’ time)**. Celts viewed hares as creatures of divination. There is a well-known story of Boudicca releasing a hare as a portent during a speech. It is said that hares can shape shift, or that women (often, defined as witches) could change into hares. The Celtic warrior Oisin chased a hare and found a beautiful woman with identical injuries. There are stories too of witches, under the guise of hares, stealing milk from cows in the field. 


‘I shall go into a hare,

With sorrow and sych and meickle care;
And I shall go in the Devil’s name,
Ay while I come home again.’ 


 1662, Isobel Gowdie’s confession.



Hand carved stone pendant by Stone Mad Crafts


Moon gazing hares

The most common image by far we see of hares in art is that of the moon-gazer. The hare’s association with the moon spans across many cultures and seems to derive, in part, from their nocturnal habits and tendency to stillness. However it could also be attributable to the shape of a hare perceived in a full moon.


To Be or Not To Be…

The ancient Greeks used hares to represent both homosexual and heterosexual love. Gender fluidity is attributed to the hare in legend and they are associated with fertility in many different legends. They are associated with the god Eros and the goddess Aphrodite. It may be this reputation, along with their speed and dynamism, which led to them being used as a symbol of regeneration as well as a messenger of the gods. In Egyptian hieroglyphics, hares were most commonly used to mean ‘to be’. 

The individual hare representing existence flows nicely into some of the theories about the triskele of hares. Three hares appear in a circle formation, sharing ears so that between the three ears  they each have a pair. Three as a number represents community (where individuality and duality precede it). It is often associated with worship – trinities of gods or triskele patterns form a triangle of dependence and interconnectedness. A circular image appearing along the silk path, from the Far East to the south of England,  is known as the “Tinner’s rabbits”. It appears carved in Romanesque churches and painted in Buddhist caves.




Hieroglyph from Saqquara, Egypt, 2400 BC (Photo - S. Johnson)




Reference 

The Private Life of the Hare by John Lewis-Stempel ISBN 9781473542501

The Way of the Hare by Marianne Taylor ISBN 9781472942265

The Leaping Hare by George Ewart Evans and David Thomson ISBN 9780571336050




Foot notes:

 *Middle English poem, circa 13th Century, first published by ASC Ross in Proceedings of Leeds Philosophical Society, Literary and Historical Section, in 1935 (p347-77)

Translation into modern English is largely my own, Seamus Heaney has his own sweary and inaccurately translated version if you like that kind of thing!


**Easter is often referred to as having had its origins in the celebrations of the Germanic goddess ‘Oestre’ who had a hare for a companion – in reality we know very little about the extent of worship to Oestre before being referenced by Bede in 725ad and theoretically, there may well have been a host of goddesses of the spring and fertility, localised, who all became generic and celebrated under one banner… however we can readily recognise the hare’s symbolism of fertility and spring from their habits.


***oral traditions in Africa seem to make it hard to pin down an origin for this story, but there is a tradition generally of smaller, prey animals being tricksters who outwit larger creatures. There is another typical type of pan African tale which explains the origins of different animals – both aspects are present in this particular story.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Carnac




Carnac Alignments

Carnac Alignments

Carnac Alignments

Carnac Alignments



Ancient legends record that the strange alignments to the north of the Breton town of Carnac were legionnaires, turned to stone by a local saint. Walking amongst the stones you can sense how such tales grew and each megalith seems to possess a definite anthropomorphic character.  

Around the alignments lie a host of cromlechs, burial chambers, long barrows and stone circles.  They fall into 3 main groups, Menec, Kermario and Kerlescan, covering 3km with over 3000 stones. Back in the nineteenth century archaeologists assumed that the alignments were a vast druidic temple. While druids may have used the sites, the megalithic landscape of the Morbihan region of Brittany is much older, belonging to a megalithic culture that existed for about 3000 years (from 4800BC to 2250BC). 


Menhir Du Champ-Dolent - with attendant film crew that I chanced upon.

Initially huge Dolmens were erected in the 5th millennia BC. These towering pillars of rock dominated the landscape and some were carved with flowing, linear motifs. They represent a staggering achievement, not only in terms of organisation and manpower (it is estimated that to lift the Grand Menhir Brisé would have taken up to 3,800 people - it was 20-30 meters high, 5 meters wide at its base -  and weighed a mere  350 tonnes). 

However, at the close of the 5th millennium some of these menhirs were pulled down and the decorated stones fell out of favour. Some turn up in fragments recycled in long barrows, and there is a theory that many of the long mounds were originally open sites. At some point they were covered and their interiors became private. Perhaps this meant only a select few were allowed into the sites, or during certain ceremonies. Whether this change reflects a cultural change, invasion or resettlement no one is sure. 


Photo of a sign at the site which gives you an
idea of the scale of the Grand Menhir.

The toppled Grand Menhir Brisé


The large cairn next to the Grande Menhir du Brisé know as  Table Des Marchand.

The Alignments appear in the early fourth Millenium. There are a number scattered around Carnac, some aligned east to west. Various theories have been put forward, from a vast calculus that could predict the lunar eclipse, a chariot race site, or a huge druidic temple. The truth is open to interpretation and speculation. Modern archaeologists are now of the viewpoint that the alignments were a boundary, marking the frontier between two realms, that of the living, and that of the dead;  a huge funerary landscape. 

It must be said that the alignments from Erdeven, to the west, and those of Carnac, cut off  the coastal area from the mainland. It was around this coastline, and the once low lying swampland which now forms the Gulf of Morbihan, that early peoples settled, farmed, fished and foraged. The coastal area would have been a veritable land of the living, while the wilder interior less so. The alignments may mark a boundary, that of civilisation against that of the wild, the latter associated with the dead. 

What reasons drove the ancients to erect thousands of menhirs in regimental rows? Whatever they were the process took a lot of time, energy and passion. The tribes raising these alignments did so because they believed in something very powerful, the epitome of which  is the physical manifestation of the megalithic remains of Brittany that astound us to this day.


Inside La Table Des Marchand a massive carved portal stone. 





Ref -

Statements In Stone, Monuments and Society in Neolithic Brittany - Mark Patton

      























Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Wondrous Head



Stone Head dated between 500BC and 500AD  from Wentcliff Beck near Earby



The Celts had a well known and documented  reverence for the human head. The head, as the seat of the soul, was considered sacred. Ancient historians, such as Herodotus, described Celtic headhunters displaying their victims craniums with pride. To these iron-age tribesmen the  power of the slain was appropriated by the collecting of heads.  In this manner it is believed  that Celtic warriors honoured their victims. 

The idea of the head as the seat of the soul is reflected in many Celtic legends. The myth of Bran The Blessed is told in the Mabinogion, a collection of ancient tales in the Welsh language, and is just one example*. In this tale the seven survivors of the war between Matholwch and Bran bear the latter’s  severed head back to Wales from Ireland. There they lived in a fort on an island off the coast for four score years and were known as The Assembly of The Wondrous Head.  Bran’s severed head regaled them with tales, poems and songs,  until one of their number opened a forbidden door and reality rushed in. The myth  hints at the power assumed to reside within the head, even when it was no longer attached to the body. 

Stone Mad Crafts
This is one of my carvings - see the link below

Indeed this idea isn’t restricted to bloody tales of head hunters and singing severed heads prophesying the fates of lands and peoples. Stylised  heads, carved in stone, were probably used as a focus for reverence. The symbolic head also appears on much metal work from the  iron-age period throughout Europe. Such images often portray stern countenances, with large eyes and pronounced brows. They are thought to have been magical devices and were used to protect against evil. 

Wells, springs and lakes are associated with severed heads, and lingering remnants of ancient traditions involving human skulls and curative springs were still in use during the last century in Scotland and Wales. Old traditions often continued, even after the conversion of most ‘pagan peoples,’  albeit under the thin veneer of Christianity. Thus the head of Saint Fergus, who died circa 730 AD, was said to possess curative powers. In the 1400’s James IV had a silver case made for the skull.   The head of another Saint, Marnoch,** also possessed healing powers and oaths were sworn by it, testament to the lingering notion that the head contained great power. 


Stone head from York Museum. 
As you might have noticed I carve rocks. Please visit and like my FaceBook page where I post more pics of my work and give folks the head's up (ho-ho) of events I'll be attending. 



Notes:

* These texts relate the tales of the Brythonic speaking tribes who once inhabited Britain, up to the Forth Clyde isthmus
** He gave his name to Kilmarnock


Reference:

Druids - Anne Ross
Folklore of Lochs - MacKinlay

The Head Cult Tradition and folklore surrounding the symbol of the severed head in The British Isles - David Clarke.

Friday, February 8, 2019

The Mysterious Kelpie: A Vestige of Older Beliefs?






Manannan's Bride, By The Author



The side was steep, the bottom deep 
Frae bank to bank the water pouring; 
And the bonnie lass did quake for fear, 
She heard the water-kelpie roaring."* 



A page from my Sketchbook showing waves depicted as sea horses. 


White  horses racing across the ocean, white manes flaring.  Tolkien used the image in the Lord of The Rings, when the river sweeps away the Dark Riders at the Ford of Bruinen. The imagery has been used in art,  myths and poems for thousands of years. It is more than mere allegorical musing, as images from Greece testify. The sea horse, or hippocampus, was  a chimera that had the head of a horse and body of a scaled fish, it is seen accompanying Triton, a sea god, as well as sea monsters such as Scylla.

I have long been intrigued by this design and references to Sea horses and Kelpies in old tales. Much Scottish folklore was documented by various folklorists back in the 1800’s, such as J.F Campbell. He travelled around the country writing down oral traditions and  stories, which bear testament to an oral tradition sadly lost. Old tales that were  themselves are like beads of sea glass found on a beach, their worn surfaces clouded. These fragments once belonged to a clearer, fully formed piece. This is how I regard much folklore. Tales were added and amended through the generations, sometimes in line with the religious and political  needs of the community, thus adding, or subtracting  elements to each tale. However, key elements persist and they are vital to the telling. Some even appear to reference pre-Christian deities. This is what I believe the folklore of the Kelpie myth refers to. 

Many lochs and pools, rivers and streams had their Kelpie, or water horse. They were also known as Each Uisge, Voughans/Vaicghs and in the Shetlands as the less threatening appellation of Nuggles - these were said to look like Shetland ponies… so no threat there!  The Kelpie/Kelpy were equated also with the Norse Nikr (Nix/Nixie and where Ole Nick comes from).  


Some of the designs that the Picts left us that date from the  6-7th c. AD. Do these images relate to the Kelpie? Are there any references to these images in earlier Celtic art? Well yes, here are a few I’ve found over the years of collecting designs to carve. 





A page from my Sketchbook, including the 'elephant' 
design mentioned below. 

This is one of my carvings - Please check the link below :>




The  so-called ‘Pictish elephant’  I believe  is a representation of an early form of Kelpie. It appears to be much more benign, or passive. The positioning suggests this motif was  powerful, and it often hovers above scenes of hunts, wars, kings and queens. And yes, perhaps the symbol came to represent a certain leader or tribe or clan,  the same way  Capricorn was adopted by the Legio II Augusta. Yet in the myths of Kelpies and sea horses, creatures that inhabit lochs and rivers, there suggests a belief in this image as a deity/spirit of associated with bodies of water.  Christianity frowned upon such beliefs, so we have the all too familiar process of ‘demonisation,’ in which the original ‘genus locii,’ or spirit, becomes an evil thing that will only bring bad luck, a creature that would drag people into the depths, lurking in boggy lochs and fast flowing rivers, or ready to pounce on the unwary in the muddy banks. 

In many tales and legends the Kelpie was a creature to be feared and sometimes it appeared as a magnificent horse, saddled and bridled, but whoever tried to ride the beast would find themselves stuck fast to its flanks, crying in terror as the beast dove into the dark cold waters of the loch.

However there are glimmers of an older, less malign version of the Kelpie, for example there was once a tale told that the materials for the building of St Vigeans, Forfarshire were brought there by a Kelpie. And beneath the church, which rested on foundations of iron bars, was a deep lake. 

Another sketchbook page, this one depicting aquatic creatures, some a bit less friendly, others, the paired examples, possess an air of tranquility and affection about them.

  


Along with the tales of Kelpies there are also those of water bulls, mermaids off the coast, and the selkie. All these are associated with watery places. We know that pools and lochs were often revered by the Celts. In fact the beliefs of our ancestors, across the globe, infer that everything had its spirit or essence. The Romans named local spirits Genus Loci. In Scotland many of the major rivers were named after local spirits and worshipped, or honoured in some form or another. 

Could it be that in these images we are seeing the lingering refrains of a spirit form, something that the peoples refused to relinquish, even in the early days of Christianity? Perhaps this in itself reveals why the Kelpie became so often a thing of malevolence. As  Christianity became less tolerant of other beliefs, the church denounced the old ways the peasantry clung to. By changing their nature, warping the old deities, spirits and Genus loci wretched demonic beings best feared. 



The Rodney Stone depicts two types of Aquatic creature.




STONE MAD CRAFTS - I carve rocks! Please check out my FACEBOOK PAGE


* From a Southern County Ballad (Quoted in Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs - James A. Mackinlay


Reference

Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs - James A. Mackinlay
Popular Tales of the Western Highlands - J.F Campbell