The Travelling Talesman

Apr 212014
 

From woodland glades to rocky hills, Fairies come in many sizes and types. The Spriggans, Pixies, Piskies, Sidhe (pronounced “shee”), Good Folk and Fae suffer a welter of differing reports. Some say they are not to be trusted, others that they never lie. Some are tall others tiny. Some bestow great riches and others steal children.

 

Beautiful to gaze upon, their music and voices are sweet to the ear and the smell of their food ravishing to the nostrils. Whether short or tall, a glimpse of the Good Folk fills the mortal observer with wonder, delight and curiosity.

The Travelling Talesman with one of the Small Folk

The Travelling Talesman with one of the Small Folk

Let’s start at the beginning. The Irish Book Of Invasions tells us that at one time the land of Éire was in possession of the tall, fair skinned Tuatha De Danann. Long lived and wielding powerful magic the Tuatha De held truth and fairness in high esteem and many stories are told of their time. Then the Milesians, whose descendants are the current Irish, turned up, fought the Tuatha De for the land, won, and banished the Tuatha De Danann in to the ancient burial mounds that litter the country where they still live as the Sidhe (pronounced “shee”) or faery host.

 

One of the oddest things about The Ever Living Ones is that they appear to be shrinking. The Tuatha De were considered tall against humans. A few hundred years ago elves were generally perceived as around three or four feet tall. The modern apprehension of the size of a fairy is probably between ten and twenty centimetres. What they have lost in stature they have made up in utility, having apparently grown wings along the way. However, just incase you thought you were getting a handle on them, some can switch from small to large if they wish.

 

From momentary sightings to baby changelings and stolen cups our history with the denizens of the Land Of Youth is shrouded in mystery. Women and men from each race have fallen in love with, seduced, abducted and married someone from the other; favours, trades and deals have been done leading to both lasting happiness and deep sorrow.

 

It is often the case with close encounters of the fairy kind that the person, whether young lad, maiden or wandering drunk, who features in the story is captivated by faint musical, magical sounds. Following the entrancing harmony they come upon the Good Folk dancing, singing and making merry. Often they will watch unobserved from behind a tree or rock at first but soon the music will pull them into the whirling dance. It may be that they stay for a couple of hours, nights or even months in an existence full of intoxicating joy and pleasantness. Nevertheless, at some point they decide to head for home. On arriving back in their village, or castle they find many things changed and unfamiliar, all the people they knew are gone and their home is occupied by strangers. On further enquiry they find that their family are long dead and there is only a faint memory of a story about someone by their name having vanished without trace more than a lifetime or two ago. As they struggle to come to grips with this news they age rapidly and crumble to dust.

 

Curiously it is by no means guaranteed that a sojourn in the Otherworld will lead to a powdery demise. Pwyll Prince of Dyfed manages to count off a year and a day in Annwyvn with exactitude before coming home the same year and a day later in his own land. Many others come and go between the lands with less loss of time than I encounter whilst eating breakfast. Certainly the fairies themselves have no problem reconciling time between our two plains, happily making and keeping appointments accurately to the hour.

 

Some places just have something about them that resonates with us in a way that other places do not. In an animist culture the assumption would be that a being of some sort lived there, a spirit or spirits specific to that place. If the spirit was friendly and the place popular the spirit might be credited with influence beyond their personal rock, dell or circle of trees, often involving the well-being of plants and animals in the general vicinity.It seems to me that a good number of the fairy folk started life as spirits of place, particularly the diminutive winged types found in sylvan glades who are clearly connected to the fertility of the forest.

 

If you want these denizens of the Otherworld to show themselves to you then there are obvious places to start. The good folk are fond of trees and especially thorns. Anywhere with the combination of oak, ash and thorn is likely. Of course, fairy rings indicate a favoured dancing spot and any barrow, burial mound or particularly well rounded hill should be worth a look. The best place however, may be just that place you go to yourself that has something indefinable about it that makes you happy, for the fairies who live there already know you.


 

If all else fails then you could look in The Tavelling Talesman’s tour dates for “Away With The Fairies” at http://www.thetravellingtalesman.co.uk/giglist.shtml
The Travelling Talesman has sifted out the finest amongst these yarns to bring you an enchanting evening of fairy fun… and arm you with the best ways to survive should you be spirited away with the fairies yourself.


The Travelling Talesman, has toured the country from Penzance to York, for feasts, festivals and fun since the early nineties with energetic and engaging re-tellings of myths, legends and folktales in gardens, tents, castles, living rooms, woodlands, pubs, restaurants, museums and a river. Knee deep.This post originally appeared on http://thetravellingtalesman.wordpress.com/

Smith of Smiths

 The Travelling Talesman  Comments Off on Smith of Smiths
Nov 152011
 

Just before writing this months Folk Tales Corner I was out putting up posters for the Underworld Journeys show in my local village of Morchard Bishop and would like to thank our blacksmiths for such a well kept notice board. There are all sorts of smiths scattered through mythology. They are oft credited with magic powers (even beyond that of keeping a notice board orderly) and they have been respected for this over many years and in many lands. Not only magically skilled with materials and artisans of the elements, but often shape changers themselves, wise men and creators. Many are said to have wit beyond the lot of normal man.

Some cultures have deities named to them: Vulcan the Roman Forge keeper; the Greek Hephaestus, God of blacksmiths, craftsmen, sculptors, metallurgists and of course, volcanos, and as well as being the God of smiths he is also smith to the gods. All very hot powerful and awesome.

For all of their importance and power they live on the fringes, on the edge of the village. Culann, the smith of Irish mythology lives so far on the edge that it takes a day to travel to him and those who do visit have to stay overnight.

In Norse mythology we meet supernatural smiths, the dwarves,whose knowledge is so great that on more than one occasion the Norse Gods go to the dwarves to get themselves out of trouble (which Loki has inevitably got them into). These dwarven smiths are so skilled that they are able to use the breath of a fish, the sound of a cats footfall, the beard of a woman, the roots of a mountain, the sinews of a bear and the spittle of a bird to fashion the magical chain Gliepnir, which is as thin as a silk ribbon yet far stronger than any iron chain.

It must also be mentioned that iron, which blacksmiths work so powerfully, is one of the strongest protections against magics. Iron held, thrown over a bespelled creature or used in other ways, breaks spells and charms and shows the truth, it protects against curses, it is a magic of itself, as earthy and practical as our smiths are. This is partly where the protection granted by horseshoes comes from – it’s iron giving protection to buildings against the wiles of witches, fiends and fairies.

So the magic of smiths is earthy, the dwarves all live underground and mine the earth for it’s minerals to craft, iron comes from the earth, and one of my favorite smiths, who some consider a demi-god himself, and who, like Hephaestus is a smith to the Gods now, is said to be found (and in theory still available for work), in a neolithic burial chamber at the side of the ridgeway: Wayland’s Smithy.

Wayland is sufficiently well known the he gets a name check in both the Nibelungenlied and Beowulf as the supplier of a sword and a mail shirt respectively. In his own story, Wayland also makes wonderful jewelery, getting especially fixated on arm rings (making one a day for 700 days) after his beautiful wife (and Valkyrie), Hervor leaves him. Then, to add insult to injury he is cruelly enslaved by the wicked King Nidud on whom he eventually wreaks a savage revenge before flying off on a set of home made wings to set up home in Oxfordshire.

Within such stories the smiths are seldom really very good guys, they are also rarely the bad guy and often the true lesson in a smith’s story is that they should be treated with respect. Especially wise if you consider them to be magically skilled as well as talented metallurgists.

Here in Morchard we do parallel the mythological world nicely as we have our own smiths who are on the fringe of Morchard (in Frost) and though the forge may not actually be underground it can be said to be beneath Polson Hill, and clearly there’s good magic goes into Harold’s prize winning vegetables.

…here’s to living happily ever after, until the next adventure.


The Travelling Talesman, has toured the country from Penzance to York, for feasts, festivals and fun since the early nineties with energetic and engaging re-tellings of myths, legends and folktales in gardens, tents, castles, living rooms, woodlands, pubs, restaurants, museums and a river. Knee deep.This post originally appeared on http://thetravellingtalesman.wordpress.com/

tales which want telling

 The Travelling Talesman  Comments Off on tales which want telling
Jul 212011
 

It’s July, many of you will be going on holiday, whether you are sat around a camp fire, spending evenings in tavernas or relaxing on a Mediterranean beach with delicious bread and olives, wine and good company you could find the ideal space for a story. Some years ago, on tour with Pressgang in Italy I told the first half of “Jack The Cunning Thief” to the guitarist, Damian Clarke and his three sons with white sand, blue sea and an olive grove as the backdrop. I promised, as the boys were sent off to bed, that at some point I would tell them the second half of this two part story. Roll on 15 years to the eldest’s wedding night: another beach, this time in Dorset with a crackling camp fire instead of the chorus of cicadas, and this story, so long in gestation, made sure it got out and told.
Some stories just push themselves forward, they definitely want to be told, and few are so patient. Often something someone says or even just a feeling will have a story leaping forward, occasionally even pushing the legend I was intending to tell out off the way just as I step in front of an audience. These inspired tellings are often the best and most magical, moments when one feels in tune with the universal flow, or that the story has chosen to tell itself because someone needs to hear it.

In “The story not told; the song not sung” the main character is a woman who has a story and a song inside her but she does not tell her story and does not sing her song. Oppressed within her for many years and never given voice they turn against her. One afternoon as she falls asleep the story and the song decide they have had enough and make a break for it, pausing only to exact revenge for their long captivity. The story crawls out of her and on reaching the door transforms itself into a pair of muddy workmen’s boots, her song leaps out and as it flies across the room falls into the shape of a man’s jacket hanging on the back of the door. Clearly when her husband comes home and finds another man’s things making themselves at home in his house he is none too pleased. Her denial of any knowledge of the items, or any man who might be connected with them, does nothing to calm his fury and he storms off to sleep in the Temple of the Monkey God while she waits up late into the night hoping for him to return.
Now, everyone knows that the flickering lights of the candles go to stay in the temple of the Monkey God when they are put out and this night her light is late arriving, as it does so it explains to the others that it is so late because of the ructions caused by the story not told and the song not sung. The Husband, who is having trouble sleeping in the unfamiliar surroundings, hears the candle flame’s explanation and returns the next day to ask his wife’s forgiveness. He then requests that she save them both from further trouble by telling her tale and releasing her song in joy. However it is too late: they have both gone.

As famous folk singer Maddy Prior once said to Damian, when discussing the possibly sacrilegious idea of delivering traditional folk songs in a lively punk style, “The worst thing you can do to a folk song is to not sing it”. The same holds true for stories, if you have one inside you then, as any psychiatrist will tell you, repression is not a good idea. Your holidays may provide the perfect environment to let your stories get out into the air and remember, you never know what trouble they might cause if you don’t!


The Travelling Talesman, has toured the country from Penzance to York, for feasts, festivals and fun since the early nineties with energetic and engaging re-tellings of myths, legends and folktales in gardens, tents, castles, living rooms, woodlands, pubs, restaurants, museums and a river. Knee deep. He is currently taking bookings for his winter show “Underworld Journeys” http://www.thetravellingtalesman.co.uk/setsandthemes.html
This post originally appeared at http://thetravellingtalesman.wordpress.com/

You have to kiss a lot of frogs…

 The Travelling Talesman  Comments Off on You have to kiss a lot of frogs…
Jun 292011
 

Well, actually, no. You don’t. There really is no point at all in going round randomly kissing amphibians in the hope that they will become lovestruck royalty, and even less in killing them. All else aside, they have to be able to talk or the chances of them being a magical creature are slim, and even then just because our cat appeared to call me a “wingnut” the other day doesn’t make her magical. We want whole clear sentences from them, ideally ones offering assistance with a tricky situation or high speed transportation.

It’s not just frogs either, all sorts of animals can come along and start chatting away; the White Cat from the story of the same name is a sophisticated conversationalist with her own castle; the fox of The Golden Apple (well it is midsummer, they were bound to come up) from Norway is witty and erudite. One thing most of them will never do is tell you that they may be royalty, gorgeous or highly eligible and the answer to your prayers in some other way. Often it is a condition of the curse which gave them animal form that the actions they ask of you be unbiased by their previous political clout or social and financial status.

Don’t worry, statistically they are fairly unlikely to ask for a snog or even a peck on the cheek in a traditional folk tale. It is far more common for these loquacious animals to help you along with your quest and save your skin on numerous occasions, often when you are only at risk because you ignored their initial good advice. They will repeatedly prove a loyal bosom buddy to you, before politely and kindly requesting that you cut off their head. Not what one normally expects from a good friend.

So if you’ve been given a list of impossible tasks to do and the local wildlife has come over all verbose:

1) DON’T assume it’s all down to the ale or that you’re going mad and ignore them hoping they’ll go away
2) DO exactly what they say, and I mean exactly, follow those instructions carefully, you will only make more work for yourself in the long run if you don’t.
3) DON’T get smart and think you know better than they do or tweak the details because it was only a pond dweller who advised you. They’re animals that can talk so they probably do know what they’re talking about, have they not proved that on your quest?
4) DO for just a moment put aside any emotional attachment you might have to keeping them with you, if they have asked you to ritualistically decapitate them it is probably the only way to release them from their cursed state into their human form so they can make all your dreams come true (not just the weird ones involving talking animals)
5) DON’T however, get ahead of yourself and start slaughtering garrulous critters unless they specifically request you to do so (over-enthusiastic slaying has already rendered them endangered, we see very few of them around these days)
6) DO be aware that not all chatty beasts are marriageable material: some turn out to be your dead parents come back to look after you or they might just be honest to goodness, straight up, every day, perfectly normal talking animals. But that’s a story for another Folk Tales Corner.

…here’s to living happily ever after, until the next adventure.


The Travelling Talesman, has toured the country from Penzance to York, for feasts, festivals and fun since the early nineties with energetic and engaging re-tellings of myths, legends and folktales in gardens, tents, castles, living rooms, woodlands, pubs, restaurants, museums and a river. Knee deep.This post originally appeared on http://thetravellingtalesman.wordpress.com/

For England and St. George!

 The Travelling Talesman  Comments Off on For England and St. George!
Apr 072011
 

I’ve been telling the tale of St. George for nearly twenty years now, it’s a rollicking tale! I always give George a nice big dragon to fight (and like any storyteller, it keeps getting bigger) partly because that is half the story and partly because, well, George makes such a meal of it. Despite the full complement of helpful horse and magic sword it takes him three goes, a shattered lance, melted armour and a lot of hiding in an orange tree to finish off the scaly adversary. Still, persevering in the face of overwhelming odds is the English way and the English way is what St George is all about isn’t it?

Dragon Hill in the Vale of White Horse bears witness to this most English of battles where the spilt dragon’s blood has rendered a patch of ground barren to this day. Except that a search through the archives for a more detailed re-counting of the legend fairly quickly shows this to be a recent transplant, with the medieval version set amongst the sands of Egypt. Here he saves the duskily beautiful Princess Sabia from a crispy death as reptilian appeasement and we hope, briefly, for an ending in interracial marriage and harmony. Unfortunately, George is subject to some political intrigue and religious persecution at the hands of Kings Ptolemy of Egypt, Almidor of Morocco and an unnamed King of Persia. Unjustly imprisoned for seven years he fights off two lions, escapes, kills a giant and a wizard, is reunited with Sabia and takes her back to England for a right royal wedding. Eventually George returns with a huge army to take his revenge on all three of his oppressors, conquering all of north Africa and the middle east in the process, whereupon the people proclaim him king and convert, on mass, to Christianity.

So the action may not take place in England but at least the hero is the noble son of the Lord of Coventry… unless one reads the story of Sir Bevois (Pronounced Bevis) of (South) Hampton. Apart from a few variations in the preamble and the order of events, the two tales are almost identical. A little further digging reveals that both versions came back from the middle east in the mouths of crusaders: not folk tales at all but a stirring call to action, carefully casting the Muslims as the bad guys, and it was during the creation of this propaganda that George received a birth certificate and passport for a country he never, in reality, set foot in.

Shovelling even deeper reveals that the original Saint George was a soldier in the Roman army who, after speaking out against the emperor’s persecution of the Christians, was martyred (killed very unpleasantly) for his beliefs. For those who are familiar with mummer’s plays in which St George fights with a Turkish Knight, there is a final twist in that George’s birthplace, Cappadocia, was in Turkey making him a Turkish Knight himself.

With the current moves to reinvigorate him with his own Bank Holiday, we can but wonder what a man who died turning the other cheek might think of the revisions that have been made to his biography for political reasons. What would the soldier who was killed for standing up to an unjust government think of the plans to take away the peoples ancient May Day celebrations?

We will never know, but what I do know is that I shall probably still be telling of his fictitious fight with a dragon in some form or another, for another twenty years or more because, after all is said and done, it is a cracking story!


The Travelling Talesman, has toured the country from Penzance to York, for feasts, festivals and fun since the early nineties with energetic and engaging re-tellings of myths, legends and folktales in gardens, tents, castles, living rooms, woodlands, pubs, restaurants, museums and a river. Knee deep.

This post originally appeared on http://thetravellingtalesman.wordpress.com/