Well, the tenth year of lively scholars left the rambling confines of our Dartmoor HQ four days ago now, and i still feel like i’ve been shot out of a old time ships cannon and into some strange, warm-muddied slumberous swamp. Exhausted. Exhausted in a very bespoke, ritually acute, rather fine kind of way. I’d be highly suspicious if i didn’t. We call it The Bite, and its just part of the down payment for something real arriving in the fluctuating polemics of our own lives.
I started teaching from the fluttering doorway of my black tent eleven years ago this coming January – tho’ had ten years of working with the wilderness vigil afore that. At that point i was more in the diviner and ceremonialist line of work; it was over the next few years that i cottoned onto the extraordinary notion that the mead-hall of my tongue was a place where some of the energies i served could find a landing strip out into the spluttering confines of the early 21st century. I confess to not being always a good steward of that realisation, but the aspiration holds firm.
I rouse my hide in a few hours to teach at Schumacher College this afternoon on creating a Culture of Conviviality, and i’m very honoured to be performing alongside Mark Rylance and others this sunday at the Northcott Theatre in Exeter. For those of you that may have been wintering on Mars these last ten years, Mark is the finest stage actor of his generation – by several well leapt roe-buck leagues. Tickets are not cheap for this event, but it will be something to witness.
I think this will be the last entry for 2014. I just want to create feasts, coax the fire and uncork a really good red.
There’s lots of coming down the chute in terms of gatherings and teaching in 2015 – i’ll put it all up next time. What will i be (re) reading over Christmas? Well, in no particular order or year of release: Memory and Landscape by Simon Schama, An Endless Trace by Christopher Bamford, Night and Horses and the Desert by Robert Irwin, The Islandman by Tomas O Crohan, Confession of an Irish Rebel by Brendan Behan, The Wake by my friend and colleague Paul Kingsnorth, H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald, Romanticism and Esoteric Tradition by Paul Davies, Kiviug by Kira Van Deusen. I can’t give a list of highlights for 2014 because there’ve been so many, so diverse in nature and so outrageous it may come off like bragging. So i won’t. Lots of utterly normal stuff transpired too.
But before you or i start claiming to much ancientness in our creaking bones, let’s go back a little to where maybe one place the stories come from. I wish you well as we enter winter, and hope you claim some time to rest, dream, and nourish.
Slange to all.
OLD TIME, DEEP TIME
I am in my writing hut now. Very late summer, the cusp. There is a good natured wind-shake of the frame every few minutes, tottering on its wheels. I can hear the drone of the last harvesting going on in a nearby field, but today the winds dictates primacy, ushering in the change from corn-time to dying time.
Somewhere the Holly King is sharpening his blade for his soon-come meeting with the Oak King, and his long wintering reign.
But i’m not in the hut. I open up the wood burner, chuck in the kindling, settle under my furs and step out of my usualness.
A fire is a road to
Into the immensities of deep time.
Flames make nonsense crumble and we are gone:
We are 4,600 million years ago.
In vast space itself, where we
hang in the firm claws
of the Hawk of the Well,
Earth is a humming chunk of rock, thrashed by meteorites and hurtling comets, a sublime attack, laden with gifts we cannot yet see.
Story churns and gargles
bellows its dramas.
Already the mythos: without chaos there will be no eros – no succulent, vital, devouring, troublesome life. Earth absorbs the carving, accommodating the rupture. But this dance is but a parade of minnows when a vast planet collides like a drunk at a wedding with this baby planet. Their great impact causes both a melting heat and shards of debris to hurl out into the inky blackness – shards that over time twist and bind into the elegant breast of the moon.
Vast White Belly
Our scrying shifts to 500 million years. The rocky animals that are continents, blissful in their solitudes for so long, come to seek a herding warmth, and start a slow cluster together, though the proud cloak of vegetation is still to spread their bony shoulders. The continents share gossip in the way that they do. Shallow seas hold life in its gurgling waters: sea scorpion, well-armoured trilobite, starfish. The thin waters are not like ink but luminous with sun, a glowing churn.
Salty Ale of Scales
The Glittering Beginning
The Sewing Needle of the Moon.
250 million years. We behold one vast stretch of land now, it’s face lush and hairy with plant deities. The continent confidently stretches its wing span from both high latitudes of the equator; the horsetail stretches its roots into succulent swamp, palm trees catch the breeze, as dragonflies claims residence to the hot air. Scaled beings – amphibians – lay their eggs in crusts of river beach.
Grey Ladies of the Bank
Sweet Flurry of the Dragons Wings
Damn Handsome Rock
100 million. Time of snapping jaw and the belly-scrape-of-the sandy places, the broad and wide ranging dinosaur. Round their claws scuttle a red sea of termites, and skirting their shoulders those great survivors, the dragon fly. The continents continue their archaic shoulder rub,and their vivid dreaming continues – the moon-milk of the earths braided
intelligence, behooving us its intricate and delighted diversity, crowned with silver and white clouds, a-flower with elk and butterfly, whittle-tipped mountains of snow, brown leafed copse and urging flanks of red sand.
Deep time. Old time.
Boulder slow, loosened underworld immensity, grinding forever chords of glacial singing, bedazzled green-sizzle of the jungle rump summer lands. We are the bone pile, the swan road, the bitter dark berries in the belly of the wolf.
And somewhere, just a minute ago really, something opened its eyes that looked a little like your or I. And what we heard were the stories. The ancestors were diligent in this regard. Dragon fly would not hesitate to grace us with its buzzing saga of the wind road, bear would dictate the terms of how we padded the snowy forest. These are the stories our bodies were tuned for, that still grind quietly away in our bones as we peer at the computer screen.
And for a long long time we listened.
As the rain slapped the moss-strewn roof of an orkney shelter we listened, as the dream-rattle of the cicada poured through the dark we listened, as our lungs ripped a blood-flurry in our chest as we leapt over boulder and decaying brush pursued by boar, still we listened.
We listened to the Old Time, and knew our brief, majestic, terrible
place in it. We were just the latest in a long, long line of storytellers.
Come Ice-Giants, and Eight Legged Horses, come Blodeuwedd of the
Flowers, come Fenryr, Cinderbiter, Bertilak, Gringolet, Ossian, Scathach, Gwynn Ap Nudd. The land shudders and births you, like the sea erupts lava that becomes mountains, forests, graves. Come Psyche.
Come Goemagog, Wayland Smithy, Rhiannon of the Mares, Chaw Gully Raven, Robin of Loxley and all the laughing boys of the Greenwood.
Let your names be called, as precious as meat.
And one day, just a moment ago, an old woman came from her place at the edge of the village, her ears replete with listening, a mouth of fresh-cut meadow flowers, and told us to light the kindling.
Once it was dark, and the little ones were drifting under the antelope robes, the strange one loped forward into the light of the flames and stood in front of the village.
Once upon a time.
Once upon a time.
Once upon a time.
So she says.
And she tell us the story of ourselves back to ourselves.
Copyright Martin Shaw 2014