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Stories are told and retold. Tales and legends are borrowed. Heroes and their heroic deeds are transferred from culture to culture, their names changed and the symbolic meaning of their story adapted.
Stories were for teaching as much as for entertainment. Their lessons had to be specific to the culture of the teller. Stories told in the oral tradition passed on knowledge from generation to generation in cultures where where only the very wisest knew the magical mysteries of writing and mathematics, engineering and metallurgy.
The blacksmith and the healer with his or herbs were magicians because of the arcane knowledge they had and which they kept to themselves and passed on only to chosen apprentices.
The old folk stories we have to work with are all written which means they come from a time when writing became more common, so they are mostly medieval, which means they are coloured by the culture of that time and tainted by the Christian values of the day.
Over the generations before they were collected and written down they would have been changed as they were told, retold, borrowed and conflated, then told and retold again. Similar themes and even the same stories arise in every culture’s folklore. These are the clues I find fascinating to read and compare.
The story of the Welsh goddess Cerridwen with her cauldron, and the imagery of rebirth and regeneration that it represents (the womb) I postulate, could be a re-imagining and retelling of a story older than written records. And the story carries, I believe, a forgotten lesson about the changing nature of the relationships and roles of men and women in a changing culture even before the advent of Abrahamic religion supplanted worship of the Goddess.
As an aside, or perhaps not – who knows? – consider the Síle na gCíoċ or Sheela na Gig. Though mostly of medieval 11th and 12 century origin, and mostly found on buildings such as churches these carvings suggest they originate from some much older tradition, and probably not Irish. Could there have been much older versions, perhaps small and portable, of the nature of the famous Venus of Willendorf?
Wouldn’t that be interesting?
Could some long lost paleolithic version of this carving, damaged, or worn with handling, or perhaps just misinterpreted, given rise to the belief that the women of the Fir Bolg had teeth in their vulva?
I’m just exploring ideas.
Where I am going with this I have no idea. Well, I do, but it is just forming.
So much to learn. I should have started 50 years ago.
This is how I spend my empty, sleepless hours. Reading, researching, referencing. Trying to correlate the stories with each other and with the archaeology.
Here is a picture of the entrance stone at Newgrange tumulus, as it looked in the early 1900s. The stone and the tumulus were dated to the 4th millennium BC. Why was this carved stone placed in front of the entrance of the the mound? What does it represent?
That is fascinating stuff, but I am more interested in the mythology than the history. What is interesting to me is that this place was near (or was?) the mythical home of Aengus Óg and Caer Ibormeith, of whom I have written before.
It was my intent to visit this site when I went to Ireland in 2008. Unfortunately the internet was not as reliable then as it is now. I left my notebook in New Zealand, forgot the reference to its location, and also ran out of time so could not go.
No time for Netflix this week. I have more research to do. Love the Internet.
I am flint-struck spark;
I am warming winter hearth
I am fire beneath cauldron
I am the fire of the Smith
I am the fire of the Healer
I am the fire of the Bard
My flame is bright and burns forever.
I am sun on the water
I am water from the spring
I am the well
I am green-clad maiden, midwife and mother
I am milk of the breast and suckling infant
I am cow and calf
I am hidden snake among the rocks
I am dawn-crowing cock
I am frightened frog amongst the reeds
Surrounded by nineteen sky-stones
My green mantle the mountains
I am Queen under the Hill.
From a work in progress.
Eric Rimleaper, my resident Green Tree Frog, who has been living under the rim of my toilet all year, has moved from my bathroom to my lounge/dining/kitchen area.
He now sings from behind the stove or washing machine. I can’t quite determine which (they are beside each other).
He is very responsive to Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings Soundtrack.
He also like Mozart, Beethoven, Altan and dramatic music that plays on some of the Netflix series I watch.
Five years ago I wrote a post (attached below), recording my first capture of a venomous snake (Solomon Islands snakes don’t count because none of them are actually deadly).
At the time I did not tell the full story for fear of my employers seeing it.
Katanning was a touchy place to work at the time and although my immediate superior was a gem, the hierarchy above were people with issues. That’s all I have to say about that.
The truth of the matter was that my statement “they can be harder to get out of the boot than they were to put in” did not completely tell the story. On the way out to the airstrip where we were going to release it, the bucket fell over, the lid came off and the snake escaped into the boot (trunk – to my American friends). The second photo shows it sitting beside the bucket lid. Before I could recapture it, the snake then slithered down under the back seat of the car, where I could not get at it.
After fruitless attempts to find a way to remove the back seat, Carl and I gave up. I drove back to work, knowing that somewhere in my car was a venomous snake that could emerge at any time and bite my ankles. At the end of the day I drove home, locked my yard gate and left the car with all the doors open all night so the snake could escape. I made the assumption it would rather leave than stay, if given the option. However, when I used the car next day, I had no way of knowing of course whether during the night my elongated friend had actually left the safety of its hiding place under the back seat. I drove around for the rest of the week without being sure of its whereabouts.
On the weekend a few days later, while I was hunting through some stuff stored in the garage, I found my olive green friend coiled up behind a box. I was sure it was the same one. I was relieved at last to know that it was not going to emerge and bite some unsuspecting passenger in the Shire car.
I caught it, contained it securely this time, and drove it out to be released.
After 20 months I am finally getting a bit of snake action.
First call a couple of weeks ago was to a home where a baby dugite (Pseudonaja affinis, of the Brown Snakes – classed as dangerously venomous and as a genus statistically the most common cause of snake bite in Australia) was hiding in a compost heap. It was small and we shepherded it away to the reserve nearby.
On Monday Carl the Ranger called me to tell me there was a big dugite on the main street of Katanning, right in the middle of the shopping precinct. Sure enough there it was, admiring its reflection in the shop windows, and slowly slithering down the street, startling and alarming the shoppers. Carl and the bystanders were keeping well back. I gently picked it up with the aid of my snake tongs, adapted from an old litter picker and dropped it into my fishing/butterfly net. Into a bucket in the boot, and off to the airfield to release it in the bush at the back. I learned that I really need a bag to contain a snake. They don’t necessarily want to stay in a bucket, and they can be harder to get out of the boot than they were to put in. We learn as we go. I now have a bag and I have made further adaptions to the grabber that I affectionately call my “snake gotcha”.
That pretty much established my reputation. Dozens of reliable witnesses saw the cool aplomb with which I handled the snake. By the time I returned to the Shire office, word had already spread about the mad shire worker who picked up a dugite with his bare hands (I didn’t). Michelle patiently pointed out that snake catching is not in my job description. I suggested it should be, as a health-related community service as well as for conservation reasons, but mostly because I really love snakes.
We struck a deal. I would make up any time spent on herpetology. I love Michelle. She is a great boss.
On Wednesday a picture in the Great Southern Herald, the local rag, consolidated my reputation. I was not actually in the picture, as the photographer had focused on the creature in my net, but that did not bother me. Word gets round. I was now the shire staff who responds to snake calls.