Igraine Speaks

 

Igraine 2

His birth came about by trickery and subterfuge, although the boy knew it not.

A birth by accident, a birth of inconsequence. Or so all the world would think. It was an arrangement of my Uncle Merlin and the plan was thus: That I, the Duchess Igraine of Tintagel should lie in the adulterous bed of King Uther Pendragon, so that I be the vessel to bear a son. His name would be Arthur.

O now, you must understand. The part about adultery scarcely vexed me; my marriage to  the Duke of Tintagel was an arranged and loveless one. The bed of Uther Pendragon was not my first straying and would not be my last.  I was fully compliant in my dalliance. Yet for the sake of my honor, Merlin thought it best that the bards which would tell this story say I had been bewitched. The official version?  Uther Pendragon appeared to me in the form of my husband the Duke. Therefore when I laid with him I was judged innocent in all wrongdoing.

O that was rich! One cannot bewitch a witch! My Uncle Merlin knew this better than anyone.

merlin 3

Heretofore my husband, the Duke of Tintagel had been of stout health. Now suddenly he took ill and died promptly. As a widow with child I had no choice but to wed Uther Pedragon. I then became Queen Igraine of castle Camelot.

The birth was easy. But what I could not abide, what I could not forgive, was that the baby was wrenched from my arms the very moment he uttered breath! I barely had the chance to hold him before Merlin spirited him away, insisting I was not fit to raise him, and that his future tasks were not to be influenced by the likes of me.

merlin 2

Without conversation nor consultation, it was decided Arthur be raised by a local lord, one Sir Ector.

“Now Igraine,” Merlin bid me,  once the deed was done. “You need not worry for your son. His every want shall be provided for, as my Lord Ector leads a life of prosperity and gain. Arthur shall have an older brother named Kai and a mother of great gentleness, the Lady Ector. He shall be fed, clothed and schooled properly.  It is essential he live among common men.”

Foolish wizard! Could Merlin not see that a woman’s greatest loss was that of her own child? His was a silly scheme, for I knew my son Arthur was like no other boy!  He needed no guidance from the common man, for his true nature would allow him to encompass all.  His bloodline was mine; that of Avalon. His schooling should thus involve the magick of Avalon.

I vowed revenge upon my Uncle Merlin.  He’d pay for his injustice! My visits to Avalon would ensure this. I studied under tutelage of the Lady of the Lake, imploring the water and rocks to bring me power.

lake lady

 

Fourteen years passed, and they were fourteen years of war and devastation. The Saxon armies invaded our territory time and time again. My husband Uther, weary of the constant battle, finally took ill and passed away, leaving his kingdom up for grabs among rogue warlords and enemies.

As king’s consort I managed best as I could. The men bickered among themselves, calling privy council after privy council to determine who should be the next king. Arthur should have been immediately declared so. But because of Merlin’s harebrained scheme, he had been raised as a ward, away from his true home. If he were to return to Camelot now and claim the throne, none would believe him.

The people of Britain at that time were a superstitious lot. They believed in marvels and miracles, great quests of honor and the divine right of princes. It was for this reason that I devised a scheme which would place my son upon the throne without doubt or question.

The Bishop of Canterbury, influenced by my Uncle Merlin, deemed a joust should be held to determine the new king. It would take place on New Year’s Day, 443, the year of Our Lord.

This, in and of itself, was a most outrageous and foolish notion! Jousting was a putrid and violent sport; it brought no good to anyone. Within it, perfectly capable and healthy men were maimed and wounded, leaving them disabled and unfit for battles against our true enemies! Jousts were held so that jeering and bloodthirsty crowds could name what they thought ‘a hero’. He that could withstand a horse’s back and the jab of a lance.

“But Arthur will surely win the joust,” Merlin insisted. “It is a most excellent plan!”

“Arthur is a boy of fifteen!” I spat. “I’ll not see him crippled in a joust. It is a most preposterous plan!”

I objected vehemently. Yet as a woman, my word held no weight. Instead I used my own sorcery to produce a most ingenious scheme, one that no one would question.

The people of Camelot were obsessed with weaponry and feats of strength. I reasoned that there must be some deed which could measure one’s power, yet bear no damage to another. A deed which would test a man’s ability over nature, over fear, over all elements. A test which would show, beyond any doubt, that the man able to perform it would indeed be the new king.

I retreated to my crystal cave for a period of deep meditation.

igraine cave

There, among the rocks and water, I called upon my ancestors to guide me. I consulted the goddess Cerridwen, the Morrigan, Viviane and the tribe of eternal Wise Women. Finally, the idea came to me. I told no one of my plan.

Outside the field where the great joust was to be held, I created a boulder. Upon that boulder I placed an anvil of pure iron.  (All this time I relied upon my own witchery, for no mortal woman could have lifted such a boulder, nor the anvil.)  I then fashioned a great silver sword, its blade sharp enough to slice the head of a boar, its handle heavy as the anvil itself. Within the anvil I inscribed the following directions:

“Whosoever can pull this sword from its stone shall be the undoubted, indisputable, indubitable King of Britain, deemed to rule for his lifetime and never questioned of his authority.”

arthur sword 2

New Years Day dawned, the morning of the joust. Spectators gathered. They stared with gaping mouths at the sword in the stone.

“Can it be?” they muttered among themselves. “The new king will be decided by pulling a sword from a stone? Such a simple task?”

“Simple task indeed!” I retorted hotly. “Go on then! Try your hand at it and see. Whoso among you dares to attempt this feat?”

One by one the men tried. There were knights and lords, men of great status as well as serfs and peasants who stood in line and attempted to lift the sword. Each effort was for naught.

Finally, Sir Ector rode up with his son Kai and Arthur in tow.

“Will you attempt the task, my Lord?” I said coyly to Ector, for – goddess help me – I could not resist a good prank.

Eagerly the man placed his grip upon the sword’s handle. Twist and tug as he might, the sword would not budge. Sweat burst from his brow until finally he gave up. “It will not move!” he yelped exasperatedly. “The thing is stuck like an oak to the soil.”

the sword in the stone

“Mayhap your son Kai shall attempt it,” I said, barely hiding my smirk.

Kai groped and toiled. The stubborn blade would not budge. He too broke a sweat before declaring, “It is an impossible task! One hundred men could not lift it!”

“And what of young Arthur?” I asked.

“If I and Kai could not lift it, all the more impossible it will be for Arthur,” said Sir Ector. “For I am a knighted lord; I have seen battle. My ward Arthur, abandoned at birth, has lead only the life of a farm hand.  He knows nothing of weaponry.”

“Oh doesn’t he?” I chided.  I could hold my anger no longer.

“For your information,” quothe I, “he was NOT abandoned at birth! Ever did you think he was taken from his mother’s arms, through no will nor decision of her own? Ever did you think he was intended for greater purposes, such that you, Sir Ector, could not possibly know?”

Ector looked at me dumbfounded, for it was unseemly for a widowed queen to speak so boldly. I cared not what they thought! I then took Arthur by the hand and helped him down from his horse. “You will try it,” I commanded.

Arthur’s eyes narrowed, then popped in recognition as he faced me. “Is it you?” he asked softly. “You are my… Mother?”

None had known of my secret visits to Ector’s farm. None had known, save Arthur and myself, that in the still of the night I had come to him. Together we’d board a small boat and I’d take him to Avalon, so that he could learn of his true bloodline and power.

Igraine 3

Perhaps before that moment, Arthur had thought those visits were mere dreams and imagination.  Now he  was to learn: imagination can lead to the making of a king.

“Of course it is me,” I said calmly. “Your Uncle Merlin had other plans for you, but it was I who knew your noble calling and prepared you for it.  Now!  Do not hesitate to do your duty!”

Within seconds Arthur had lifted the sword from the stone.

arthur stone

For the doubters among them, Arthur replaced the sword several times. Each time the anvil sealed around it like an iron prison. Many others made attempts at lifting it, each to no avail. Yet Arthur lifted it several times with ease. Finally the crowd conceded; it was  Arthur who was meant to rule as King of Britain.

Merlin cowered in a corner, hidden by the crowd. I went to him.

“Do not worry, Uncle,” I said. “While I do not forgive you, I will not torture you. I ask now that you return to Avalon for schooling. You see, your magic has always been imperfect. You have silly ideas. If Arthur is ever to rule as a worthy king, he must not be influenced by your dualistic nature. Therefore I banish you from Camelot.”

He had no choice but to leave.

From that day forward, per my request, all jousting was banned in the kingdom.

As for my son, he became the once and future king, ushering in an era of great peace and prosperity. He ruled with wisdom, kindness and grace, wedding his Queen Guinevere, and appointing twelve worthy knights to his round table.

arthur 3

 

 

 

 

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A Wolf in the Aurora Borealis?

 

wolf-northern-lights

Lapland!  The very name conjures up images of  winter magic, glistening pine trees and husky-drawn sleds. This is the elfin north where the Snow Queen resides in her palace of ice. Wild wolves roam, caribou cross, and of course there are the dazzling Northern Lights, sure to inspire any imagination. Or any photographer.

In December of 2015, Marja-Terttu Karlsson of Pajala, Swedish Lapland took the above photograph. Much to her surprise, when she transferred it to her computer screen she was able to see a vivid and clearly depicted wolf, prowling there among the stars!

Ms. Karlsson displayed the photo on Facebook, where it quickly went viral. Observers have been skeptical of its authenticity, but Ms. Karlsson claims it is real and unaltered.

The Aurora Borealis — or Northern Lights — appear as grandiose displays of color in the night sky, most visible in Alaska and countries near the north pole. They are produced by solar winds colliding with the arctic atmosphere. In recent years, scientists and astronomers say there has been an increase in shapes and brightness within them, due to the sun’s activity.

Or… maybe mythology is true? The sacred wolf watches over us, almost unbeknownst to humankind except in such rare moments, caught on film.

What do you think?

wolf gif

 

 

 

 

Lucia and Lussi: Celebrating the Darkness and the Light

 

Lucia 1

Today, December 13, marks the well known festival of Saint Lucia. But it is also a celebration for her lesser known counterpart, the witch Lussi. This is a magical time of delicious darkness as we wait for the Winter Solstice. Fairies, elves and all sorts of supernatural beings are said to be out and about on their Wild Hunt.

The Christian feast day of Saint Lucia is celebrated with songs, a procession, and a young girl being selected to play the role of Lucia. This girl wears a white robe with a red sash, and a crown of lingonberry greens with seven candles.

(A strategic balancing act! No fires reported so far.)

SantaLucia

Originating in Sweden, these processions are now conducted in Finland, Denmark and Norway. (And sometimes the US and Canada.)  In these cold and bleak nights before the Solstice, the vibrant figure of Lucia wearing a wreath of candles is a great reminder that the sun will soon be returning.

The chosen Lucia is at the center of a procession of girls, all clothed in white robes with red sashes as symbols of purity. They sing hymns and carry special cakes  (called lussekatter.)  However, the fairies and elves are also out on their Wild Hunt    (called Oskoreia.)  Traditions holds that if during the procession the girls hear the sound of the Wild Hunt behind them, they should toss one of the cakes over their shoulder to appease the elves.

lucia 5

Who was the real Santa Lucia? Ironically, she did not start out as a Swede. She was originally Sicilian. The story goes that Lucia was helping Christians hiding in the catacombs by bringing them food and water while they dodged persecution from the evil ruling empire. Lucia, always a resourceful girl, put candles on her head to light her way and was thus able to hold more food in her hands.

Lucia was martyred for her Christian activities in 304 CE.  Legend has it they attempted to burn her on a pyre, but she remained alive. A Roman soldier then tried to kill her by slicing her throat. No luck. Stubborn Lucia did not die until she was given the Christian sacrament of Extreme Unction.

She became a very popular saint, and by the 6th century her feast day was honored in Anglo-Saxon England. Gradually she was acknowledged in Northern Europe, although the first Lucia candle processions were not recorded until the 19th century.

However, as with many legends, there is another, darker side to the story! Enter the witch Lussi.

lussi 3

Who is Lussi?  A Nordic sorceress, close in parallel to the Germanic goddess Holle or Perchta.  Not much is known about her, but she is said to be a powerful figure. She is the initiator of the Oskoreia and rides through the air with her followers – a troupe of wandering elves, fairies, nymphs and the like. They are called the Lussiferda, a band of trouble-making nuisances, out on a Wild Hunt intended to cause chaos and frighten humans.

wild hunt

December 13 is called Lussinatta or Lussi Night, a time to honor and fear her.

If you happen to see Lussi and her elven group, beware!  Any human who encounters the Wild Hunt might be abducted to the Underworld. It is also believed that people’s spirits can be pulled away during their sleep to join the cavalcade.  (So be very conscious of your dreams tonight. You might want to skip sleep altogether… More on that later.)

During the long nights between Lussinatta and Yule, trolls, daemons and the spirits of the dead are thought to be swirling about outside, enjoying the darkness. They are particularly active on Lussi Night.  Naughty children are advised to hide away.  According  to some traditions, Lussi herself can come down through the chimney and abduct children who have been bad.

 

Lussi 2

(Seems to me Lussi might be in kahoots with Krampus and Old Saint Nick…)

But adults should beware too.  Lussi is particularly sensitive to all those dull and time consuming chores that must be done before Yule. You know — gathering wood for the fire, stocking the larder, salting the meat and making jam…  If you (lazy human!) have not completed your winter tasks, you just may be abducted, along with your nasty children!

Some people do not want to take that chance, even in their dreams!

In a tradition called  Lussevaka  folks would stay awake all night through the long Lussinatta in order too guard themselves and their households against abductions.  However, in the 21st century, Lussevaka has apparently taken on a different form.  It’s called partying till the break of dawn!

If you don’t make it through the entire night, it still might be fun to stay up extra late tonight, light a few candles and be on watch for Lussi and her band of fairies.

Whether you choose the reverent road of singing hymns for Saint Lucia, or the decadent road of partying all night in hopes of seeing the Wild Hunt, have a jolly and elegant season as we wait for the return of the sun.

yule

 

 

 

 

Happy Krampusnacht!

 

krampus

Have you been naughty or nice? If you have been naughty you’d better watch out!  In punishment for your nasty behavior, your holiday season just may be stained with the grimy patina of that famous Christmas devil known as… (drum roll please)

KRAMPUS!

Beware tonight, December 5th, as he comes to visit!

Who is Krampus, you ask?  He is, of course, the goat-footed companion of Saint Nicholas. Together they work in a good cop/ bad cop fashion to reward and punish children (and maybe adults?) for kind as well as naughty deeds. The benevolent will receive candy and gifts. The not-so-nice will receive coal and may get carried off to hell in Krampus’ sack.

Originating in Germanic mythology, Krampus celebrations have long been part of Bavarian traditions. For Krampuskarten (Krampus cards), greeting cards are exchanged with the heading Gruss vom Krampus (Greetings from Krampus). The cards often feature humorous poems and Krampus himself looming menacingly over frightened children.

For Krampuslauf (Krampus Run), men wear scary-looking horned masks and run through town terrorizing people. These villains have been known to kidnap a Fraulein or two while they are at it, so ladies beware!

krampus-005

As a dark alternative to Saint Nicholas Day, Krampusnacht is quickly gaining popularity in many parts of the world, including the US.  Sound intriguing? If so, you might want to initiate a Krampus celebration of your own. It would be great fun, a chance to wear costumes and conduct all kinds of irreverent activities! (Because Halloween is long past and we can never get enough of this stuff, right?)

Do you celebrate this weird festival?  Let me know what you think of it.

To learn more about Krampus, his history and his growing fan base, please watch the following (very short) documentary. (Running time about 7 minutes.)

Hope you enjoy it, and Happy Krampusnacht!

 

 

 

Appreciating Black Cats

 

Black-Cat-Day1

Today, August 17, is Black Cat Appreciation Day!

Black cats are often feared, mistrusted and misunderstood.  For centuries they have taken on a soiled reputation and are often thought to bring bad luck. This theory seems most prominent in the United States. Perhaps because of Puritanical roots, or perhaps because of the color black itself — these cats have long been associated with all kinds of willy-nilly superstition.

It is time to dispel these myths! In truth, black cats are loyal, affectionate, funny and fantastic pets.  Historically,  black cats have been celebrated and revered in many cultures. In fact, these ebony beauties were thought to bring good luck in many parts of Great Britain and Asia. Consider the following:

 Seafaring Cats:

In Yorkshire,  it was believed that a black cat kept in a fisherman’s home would ensure his ship’s safe return from sea.  It was also believed that a black cat aboard ship would bring a bounty of fish.  If the cat was banished from the ship, the supply of fish would run out as well.  Cat ahoy!

black cat boat 2

Doctor Cats:

In Cornwall,  it was believed that passing a black cat’s tail over one’s eyes would cure soreness and headaches.  In Wales, it was believed that  a black cat could ensure good health.  Modern day scientists have proven that  keeping a cat can actually lower one’s blood pressure, so there may be some truth to these theories.

black cat doctor

Wealth and Love:

“Whenever the cat of the house is black, the lasses of lovers will have no lack”  — Scottish Folk Saying

In Scotland, it was believed that a bride seeing a black cat on her wedding day would ensure a happy marriage.  Scottish folklore also states that a black cat found on your porch will bring financial prosperity. In Japan, a black cat was considered an all around good luck charm.

In Ancient Egypt, black cats were worshiped and revered because of their association with the goddess Bast.  Many pharaohs and queens owned black cats.

wiccan-woman-purple-eyes- pd

21st Century Cats

In modern times,  the engineer and professor of animal science Temple Grandin has spoken praises of black cats.  Grandin claims that there is a relationship between fur color and animals’ behavior.  Black cats, she says, are known to be more sociable and adaptable. A stray black cat is often more likely to make friends with strangers. In groups of cats, the black ones will often be more affectionate.

If a black cat has graced your life, you already know they are smart, with a great sense of humor!

black cat humor

Despite all of this, black cats are still the last to be adopted out of animal shelters. If you are in the market for a pet, please consider one of these dark lovelies.

Famous black cat owners include Frank Zappa, Marlon Brando, Joey Ramone, Morgan Freeman, Brigitte Bardot, Vincent Price and John Lennon.  (And maybe even smart guy Groucho Marx…)

“A black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is going somewhere.” — Groucho Marx

Take time to appreciate a black cat today!

black-cats-2

 

 

 

Gone With Fairies

 

bluebells pd

There is an incline in the forest where bluebells blossom, dense as grapes, heady as lilac. I stretch out on my back. Green stems, like octopus tendrils, tangle my hair. The land shifts perpendicular.  Down, down I slide, damp earth brushing my elbows. I land with a soft jolt onto ripe grass. The smell is beetroot, radish and earthworm.

Consider magic.

Underground rogues, fey and trolls

guard hidden treasure

beneath marbled walls. They keep

secrets, bargain dark wishes.

 

blue fairy

From a fog, metallic as pyrite, they emerge.  Blue skin, sapphire eyes that stare still as stone. One of them hands me a violin.  Aged from wear and tear,  its wood is warped, strings stretched.  With a rickety bow, I play.  Joyful noise spills from my fingers.

And yet.  I do not know a single note.

fairy violin

 

**NOTE: This poem is in response to Colleen’s Poetry Challenge/ Fairy Magic.  It is my first attempt at Haibun.  (Not sure I did it right, but hope you like 🙂  )

Happy Summer Solstice! “Always go with fairies.”