Category Archives: Guest Blogger

Was Saint Brigit a Druid?

A guest blog from Mael Brigde

I suppose I will jump right in here with both feet. I could call this post Unpopular Opinions.

I don’t think she was.

There are a few ideas about the Irish goddess Brigit that are popularly accepted as ancient but which appear to be modern in origin, often arising from the unsupported speculations of Victorian thinkers, and which have fallen out of favour among Irish scholars. One is that Saint Brigit is an outgrowth of the goddess, that the cult of the goddess was either absorbed into the saint’s, or the saint was herself a druid who, with her sisters in druidry, was a disciple of the goddess. In this role it is conjectured that she took on the goddess’s name, perhaps as a title. Under pressure from mounting Christianity, say some versions of the story, they converted to that faith but retained their goddess in the traditions and practices that they carried forward in her saintly guise. Thus, the two cults ran seamlessly together.

I have been a devotee of Brigit since the early 1980s. At that time, I didn’t hear that she might have been a druid. But I did absolutely accept that the cult of Saint Brigit had absorbed major aspects of the goddess’s, and that Saint Brigit and her sisters tended a perpetual flame that was not extinguished until the Dissolution of the Monasteries, over a millennium after she lived. That last idea both excited and enraged me – how wonderful to have such a communal veneration, and how terrible to have it destroyed. It was this story that inspired me to start the Daughters of the Flame in 1993, to bring Brigit’s fire back to the world.

Ever since I first met Brigit she has beguiled me. I’ve made a point of reading everything about her that I can in order to expand my understanding and help me deepen my connection with her. So it was with some discomfort that I began to read things which made me question my view of the goddess to whom I was devoted. My concern kicked into high gear with Erynn Rowan Laurie’s fine essay, “Queering the Flame – Brigit, Flamekeeping, and Gender in Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan Communities.” Erynn did the work of digging into the whole idea of Brigit and her flame, in part because of a dispute between different practitioners over whether men should tend it. I will refer to her article again below, but first I want to address the idea of a druid sect being forced to convert in Brigit’s day, and the place of perpetual flames in the Irish landscape.

At the time of Saint Brigit, Ireland was very early in its transition from pagan to Christian. She is credited with travelling the country and establishing religious communities, but these were not simply additions to an already flourishing network of Christian monastic houses; they were among the first seen in Ireland. Until this change, women religious stayed with their families while practicing their faith. Though Palladius and others had come to tend the scattered faithful, Christians were few, and there is no evidence of the kind of brutal forced conversions that happened in other areas of Europe. It seems highly unlikely, especially at such an early time, that any druidic or pagan community would have felt such pressure to convert.

We know the Sisters of Saint Brigit tended a perpetual flame. How likely would the Sisters of Goddess Brigit have been to do so?

Classical writers, when speaking of the Celts, nowhere mention the tending of perpetual flames. Considering the importance of the perpetual flame in the rites of the Vestal Virgins in Rome, and the Roman habit of equating or assimilating local deities into their own, it is unlikely that such a practice would have gone unnoticed. But the Romans never reached Ireland. Might such fires have been unique to that land? Most of us will be aware of the large bonfires kindled on three of the four Quarter Days in Ireland. But were there instances of sacred flames tended all year round?

The best known, of course, belongs to Kildare. Saint Brigit lived in the 5th and 6th centuries, yet no mention of a perpetual flame at Kildare appears until the last years of the 12th century. The many Lives, prayers, masses, and so on written about or to her in the centuries between are silent on the topic. One Life, written by Cogitosus, presumably a monk of Kildare in the 7th century, describes her church in detail, but makes no mention of a fire temple or perpetual flame. We first read of Saint Brigit’s perpetual fire in the Topography of Ireland by Gerald of Wales, more than seven hundred years after Saint Brigit’s birth. He tells us that it had been tended originally by the saint herself and that now, when she has long since gone to heaven, she keeps it lit miraculously on the twentieth day of every cycle.

This is a good time to return to Erynn’s essay. It was there that I learned that Brigit’s monastery in Kildare was not the only Christian establishment in Ireland tending perpetual flames at the time, and that all of the others were tended by monks. (Erynn counted three. I have since learned that there were seven at least.) This information struck me hard, especially when coupled with the very late reporting of Brigit’s fire. It became difficult to avoid the idea that the perpetual flame was both late in origin and Christian, not an ancient holdover from the cult of a goddess. And as Erynn points out, the name itself, Kildare – Cill Dara – is a specifically Christian name, referring to the church (cell, or cill) of the oak (dara). In addition, there is no reference to it in the Dindshenchas, that repository of place names with sacral significance to the pre-Christian Irish. If it had been an important sanctuary for the goddess, she argues, it would be mentioned there.

That there was a goddess named Brigit, or Brig, perhaps several, I do believe. That Saint Brigit was modelled on her, or was her devotee, I sincerely doubt. This is not to say her cult wasn’t influenced by the themes of Irish goddesses, but which ones, and in what way, we don’t know.

Thus, I have had to adapt my own devotion, my own understanding of the goddess I have given my life to. This was not easy at first. Letting go of my original view of her felt threatening, as if my faith was a lie, which I knew it could not be. Over time, I realised that I was losing nothing. Or, in vernacular terms, I wasn’t losing a goddess, I was gaining a saint. The two2 Brigits now live side by side in my awareness. I give to the saint what is the saint’s, and to the goddesses what is theirs.

Dubthach Versus the Druid

much is made of your father

Dubthach

how you lived with him and worked

in his dairy

how you gave away his splendid things

his gold   his sword

his butter and meat

but what of the druid

who bought from him

your pregnant mother

your birth on his threshold

his care as you grew

was he not the true father

of your childish heart

did not his love of gods

obedience to sun and earth

his store of lore and genealogy

shape your vision of your world

give you perfect apprehension

of this sacred pagan place

if in time you drank

from another cup

where a Son

predominates

were you not still at ease

in flesh and heart

among the spirits

of land and beasts

so the oaks embrace you

you know the fox’s speech

the snowdrop lifts its head

where you have trod

in you they recognise

the blood of one

who lives upon the limen

walks in bright accord

with sanctity

Bio:

Mael Brigde is a devotee of the Irish goddess and saint, Brigit, and the founder of the Daughters of the Flame, which has tended Brigit’s flame since Imbolc 1993. She publishes a general interest Brigit blog, Brigit’s Sparkling Flame, and a Brigit poetry blog, Stone on the Belly. She teaches courses and webinars on Brigit, including Journey with Brigit, Goddess of Poetry, an intensive class that explores reading and writing poetry as a sacred act. Her book, A Brigit of Ireland Devotional – Sun Among Stars is now available for pre-order.

Mael Brigde lives in Vancouver, Canada.

______________

1 Laurie, Erynn Rowan. “Queering the Flame: Brigit, Flamekeeping, and Gender in Celtic Reconstructionist Pagan Communities,” The Well of Five Streams: Essays on Celtic Paganism. Megalithica Books [Stafford, England] (2015).

This essay is by far the most comprehensive examination of the topic that I have yet seen.

2 – or four, if you count all three goddess sisters, the daughters of the Dagda – and possibly more, if you count other Brigs in the literature, but we aren’t going there…

3 For more on these ideas and the background to support them:

Bitel, Lisa M. Landscape with Two Saints: How Genovefa of Paris and Brigit of Kildare Built Christianity in Barbarian Europe. Oxford University Press (2009).

Harrington, Christina. Women in a Celtic Church: Ireland 450–1150. Oxford University Press (2002).

4 The poem “Dubthach Versus the Druid” is from Mael Brigde A Brigit of Ireland Devotional – Sun Among Stars, pg. 163. Moon Books (1 September 2021).


Interview with Michael Daoust

Today’s post is an interview with Pagan author Michael Daoust. I think right now we could all use more cute, warm-hearted and uplifting stuff in our lives, and this is very much what Michael is about – especially creating that kind of warm content for people who may be especially short of it…

Can you tell us a bit about who you are and what you do?

Hi! First of all, thanks so much for doing this! I really appreciate your time and effort.

About me-> I’m a pagan trans man, happily married to the love of my life. I live with chronic anxiety and PTSD, and am lucky enough to live in the countryside as of two years now! I am an avid gardener, though that doesn’t mean I’m good at it! I’ve always loved fairy tales, and they were my favorite childhood books. All that comes into play with my writing. When I started approaching my writing more as a profession and less as a hobby, I really wanted to represent LGBT+ communities in a positive and happy way. When I started this, I was at an extremely low point, mental health wise. I couldn’t handle reading many books, as I would get too anxious about what would happen next in the story. So, I decided to write fairytale-esque books that would be easy to read when in a bad spot mentally. At the same time I started drawing the TwoLoveBirds, as a way to bring more cheer into my life and to cope with my crippling depression.

How does your Pagan path inform your creative life?

My pagan path comes into play with the importance of the world in my writings. I bring in magic, symbolism, and even more magic in a playful way, which I find echoes the playfulness of nature, and the way that certain areas have certain ‘vibes’ to them. In my fantasy Farfadel writings, the world is what makes the story, as much as the characters. In my TwoLoveBirds writings, nature and setting is equally important.

What is it about fairy tales that attracts you to working with them?

Great question! I never wondered about that, I always thought everyone liked fairy tales! I guess it’s the way that fairy tales seem to say something ‘more’ about life and the world they were constructed in. They tell you how to interact with deities, land spirits, and other people properly. They aren’t just stories, but often lessons as well.

Can you tell us a bit about your two novels? Who are they written for?

So, the first book to be written was ‘A Tale of Two Queens’, then, ‘The Tale of Adelaide and Shadow’, but chronologically, Adelaide’s tale comes first! The Tale of Two Queens was inspired by my wife, and very much guided by her. She often wanted to read more queer romance novels, and they were hard to find! So I imagined these two epic, badass Queens, and threw them into a Sleeping Beauty-esque storyline, and let the chaos unfold. It’s a cute and romantic tale, with no real evil in the story, just miscomprehension and different goals. It’s very playful, and I’ve been told it’s laugh out loud funny and very cheerful to read. I’ve also been told it’s like Terry Pratchett meets Lord of the Rings (what a compliment!).

As for the tale of Adelaide and Shadow, I don’t quite remember how it began, actually. I drew heavily on my experiences as a trans person, and what I would want to see in a novel, as the prince Shadow is trans. I wrote this one mainly for myself, and so it’s a more playful novel, full of silly events and frogs. I drew on the ‘princess and the frog’ stereotype here, and decided to make it even a bit more silly!

I had originally intended these books for adults, and that’s mainly what my audience has been so far, but I’ve been told that they read like middle-grade children’s books. Considering that those are also my favorite genres to read, it makes sense!

How did you get into colouring books?

I had originally started coloring books for my TwoLoveBirds, but kept making sketches and doodles and art for my Farfadel world. I’ve always imagined Farfadel having coloring books, art books, and all sorts of extra fun stuff to go along with the books. So a few months ago I decided to actually sit down and make one!

What’s the relationship between the novels and the colouring books?

The colouring book is based on the world of Farfadel, and not any novel in particular. The fairies play a very important role in both novels, as troublemakers and trouble fixers, and they were so cute and fun to draw that I decided to make the whole colouring book about them! There are no particular characters in the colouring book, it’s more of a glimpse into the ‘feel’ of the fairies of Farfadel, their daily life, and what they are like in the novels. I did try and bring some queerness into the colouring book with two female bodied fairies proposing to each other with a flower, as well as mixing the body shapes with their gendered clothing. It’s subtle, maybe more so with my style of drawing, but I really wanted to make it so that a queer child could see themselves in this book.

For all things farfadel –
https://kingdomoffarfadel.wordpress.com 

@mdaoust245 on facebook

These are the twolovebirds links
https://twolovebirds245.wordpress.com
@twolovebirds245 on instagram and facebook



The Spirit in my Laptop

A guest post by Mabh Savage

I’ve just read Chris Allaun’s fascinating book, Otherworld: Ecstatic Witchcraft for the Spirits of the Land. It’s a great book, and a firm reminder that as an animist, I believe there is a spirit in everything. My animism is not exclusionary. I honour the spirits of the land, or try to, but I am aware of spirits in other things too. My favourite teacup. The pen I scribble my notes with. Even my laptop.

Animism and Technology

I think it’s very common to dismiss the possibility that things which aren’t “natural” are somehow excluded from animism. But natural is a strange word when we think about humanity. If we mean natural to means the state of things before humans got involved, then most areas of woodland are not natural – yet plenty of people feel a connection to them. Most fields and meadows aren’t truly natural, yet they veritably hum with life, from the tiniest aphid to the great, surging seas of grass.

To turn this idea on its head, everything is natural at some point. The keys I’m tapping on are made of plastic, which at some point was oil, which at some point was probably prehistoric trees or animals. It’s not too hyperbolic to say I’m tapping on dinosaur bones.

So, My Laptop Then…

How can such a beast be so ornery if not imbued with its own spirit? It’s not new, far from it, but it’s not ancient either. Yet it works to its own purpose, rarely caring what mine is. Sometimes it loads up immediately, bold and ready to face whatever tasks I input into it. Other days it is slow, sluggish, yet I can swear that nothing is different. I close the needless tabs and check the task manager; this technological beast is being contrary, and nothing will convince me otherwise.

At other times, it mirrors my moods. If I have brain fog, am I simply projecting that my laptop seems a little slower, a little less responsive? I guess its easy to say that I’m just seeing what I want to see; a reflection of myself in the technology I use most.

It would be easy, if it was just me. It is, most definitely, not. Others borrow my laptop, particularly for educational or social purposes. As the person who makes money with their brain and fingertips, I do own the best laptop in the house – and so it is frequently co-opted by the rest of the family.

Guess what. They tell me, that on days when I am feeling slow or moody, that the laptop seems to be just as cranky and uncooperative. As if the laptop has some kind of empathy; a connection we have forged through spending so, so much time together.

Fanciful? Perhaps. But I take note of my experiences, and I don’t ever discount my more outlandish conclusions, especially when they form an intrinsic part of the way I believe things work. So, the laptop is always placed gently, folded with a soothing, reassuring pat, and spoken to with respect. Except, of course, on the days when we are both decidedly low on resource and functionality.

Mabh Savage blogs at mabhsavage.com.

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/mabhsavage

Plus if you like Mabh’s work, you can support her and get unique rewards at Patreon.

Image copyright free via Unsplash.


The Wellerman is gone, long live his song!

A guest blog by Kris Hughes

When Nimue suggested that I write something about the living tradition for this blog, I wasn’t sure what I would come up with. However, the kaleidoscope that is social media has provided me with an answer.

If you haven’t been living under a rock the past few weeks, then you may have heard something about sea shanties on TikTok. You’ve likely heard a song called The Wellerman. I’m an old person who likes folk music, but I barely understood what TikTok was until this happened. And what’s a Wellerman? A guy who delivers supplies to a whaling ship in 19th century New Zealand, it turns out.

What happened on TikTok? A young chap from Airdrie, in Scotland, called Nathan Evans, posted a video of himself singing an old whaling ballad. It went viral in a way that is particularly TikTok as other singers, and then instrumentalists, dubbed in their own parts, creating a moment of rare beauty. There are a few mixes floating around now, but this one will give you the idea.

As a music scene, TikTok seems to be a place where currently isolated young people are congregating to try to share a bit of themselves, their talent, and trying to look good in the process. There’s a certain emphasis on image that I find a little uncomfortable, but that’s not limited to TikTok, or a particular age group. Lockdown has created a whole new layer of virtual self-curation for everyone.

This was the second or third shanty that Evans had posted, but he hasn’t really been promoting himself as a folk singer. He’s been singing pop covers, and few things of his own, and taking requests for months. Some of that has been folk music, in the broadest sense of the word.

I’m not here to review Evans’ singing, but his solo performance of The Wellerman is really good. I just listened to various recordings of shanty groups and folk groups’ doing this song over the past few decades, and Nathan’s solo has a depth and power that the others miss. He’s obviously enjoying the song and singing it a cappella except for beating out the rhythm with his hand on the table is perfect. So far, so good.

But it’s what happened next that is so great. People began posting mixes of the song with their own voices dubbed in duets with Evans’ original. That’s hardly unique on TikTok, but the quality and blending of some of these duets, which quickly became a choir, is amazing.

This had been building for a while. Sea shanties have been a thing on the internet since, maybe, September. This massed choir project of “Leave Her Johnny”, organised by shanty group The Longest Johns had over 500 submissions.

To my mind, this isn’t just an example of living tradition because a folk song happens to be involved, although that obviously helps. As other folk nerds have pointed out, The Wellerman isn’t exactly a shanty, but a closely related song-type – a whaling ballad. However, it’s sung here with a shanty feel. A shanty being a work song, which sailors once sang to keep themselves in rhythm when doing work like hoisting sails. With Evans’ fist banging rhythm and the song’s great chorus this works well.

Sea shanties once had an important purpose. Not only did they keep the sailors in a work rhythm, but they helped them to keep going, and stay heartened, under difficult conditions. Under a different kind of difficult conditions this winter, these songs have found another purpose – reminding people how great it is to sing together – in rhythm, in harmony, in making the whole a little bit better with your own contribution. Hopefully, this is teaching us a valuable lesson for when we can sing together again. That’s the living tradition I’m hoping for, anyway.

Kris Hughes blogs at www.GoDeeper.info
has a YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/KrisHughes1
and you can support her work on Patreon at www.patreon.com/KrisHughes


Riding the Waves of Me (Maybe)

A guest blog by Irisanya Moon

I originally wrote this as an Instagram post that came into my mind while out for a walk the other day. I use my walking time in the morning to chat with myself (yes, sometimes out loud) and to sort out my feelings. I recognized that my energy had been vacillating between joy and sorrow, and to be even more specific, extreme joy and anxious sadness.

Up and down, up and down.

It used to worry me that I wasn’t ‘okay.’ I worried that since I wasn’t always happy, I was doing something wrong. But on that walk, I remembered what a spiritual teacher of mine said: emotions are like the weather.

Right.

My energy waxes and wanes.

When moving toward the new moon

I am fresh, new, open

I find opportunities

And openings

For a few days

Then

I get tired, sluggish, unmotivated

I need to be still, to have space, to breathe more deeply

As I move from new to full

My energy expands

I am creative and wilder

I build, arrange, and share

I have bundles of energy

And sleepless nights

I then move into anxiety

And wanting to do all the things

Before the shadow grows

It is a brave thing

A serious thing

To ride the waves

Of being human

And the stories I assign

And the feelings

That just want validation

And chocolate

Or a good cry

And a wide laugh

This business of being

Invites me along

Hold on

I invite you to track your emotions, your weather patterns, and just see them for what they are. Moments. Hours. Days. Weeks. But always passing. Always shifting to something else.

And thank goodness. This business of being human certainly offers its share of pain, though I also know (and remember) that delight will not be far behind.

Irisanya Moon is an author of four books: “Pagan Portals: Reclaiming Witchcraft,” “Pagan Portals: Aphrodite, Goddess of Love & Beauty & Initiation,” “Practically Pagan: An Alternative Guide to Health & Well-being,” and the upcoming “Pagan Portals: Iris, Goddess of the Rainbow and Messenger of the Godds.” She is also a blogger at Patheos Pagan and teacher and priestess in the Reclaiming Tradition of Witchcraft.


Fiction from Folklore

Guest post by Alys West

Fiction inspired by folklore has had a bit of a renaissance in recent years.  Folklore and folk tales have always been a fruitful lode for fantasy writers but through the novels of writers like Sarah Perry and Joanne Harris it’s become both more literary and more mainstream. 

I’m the author of the Spellworker Chronicles which are contemporary fantasy novels inspired by folklore. Beltane grew out of the folklore of Glastonbury and Storm Witch was inspired by an Orcadian folk tale. There are challenges in taking folklore as your starting point especially if you’re translating it to a contemporary setting. Some things don’t shift forward as well as others. Orkney has stories of trows, fairylike creatures who are not blessed in the looks department, who have a habit of tempting human into their world. In writing Storm Witch I couldn’t find a use for the trows, even though there’s some great stories about them. I had to accept that they didn’t fit with the world I was creating.

I was more interested in the tales that people told about the pre-historic sites on the islands. There’s a saying that if you scratch the surface in Orkney it bleeds archaeology.  Orkney’s World Heritage Site comprises the key sites of Skara Brae, Maeshowe, the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar. The dig at the Ness of Brodgar has revealed a Neolithic temple complex which has overthrown much accepted thinking about the period. It’s exciting stuff if you’re interested in pre-history and the lives of the people who built such fascinating but enigmatic monuments.

It’s believed that folk tales grew up around pre-historic sites as a way for subsequent inhabitants to understand the landscape they’d inherited. I’m from Yorkshire and there’s a great example of that in the Devil’s Arrows, three standing stones just off the A1 at Boroughbridge. According to legend these were thrown by the Devil from a nearby hill. He was aiming for the next town of Aldborough but the stones fell short and landed near Boroughbridge instead. Similarly, there’s the Devil’s Chair at Avebury. According to folklore if you wish to speak to Old Nick you need to run round it a hundred times widdershins after which he’ll appear to you.  It’s not hard to imagine that for a God-fearing population the Devil must have been a handy way of interpreting these inexplicable monoliths.

It’s where magic and folklore intersect that I find the questions arise for the writer. The folk tale of Janet Forsyth, the storm witch of Westray (one of the northern islands of the Orkney archipelago) is a mixture of fact and folklore. It involves a girl who was believed to be able to control the weather and call up storms. You can read my retelling of the story on my website but the key elements are that Janet had an unusual ability to read the weather which results in the other islanders ostracizing her.  Then when a ship was blown onto the rocks in a storm, she rowed out and brought it safely to harbour. Unlike Grace Darling three hundred years later, it was felt that only through witchcraft could a woman have achieved this. Janet was tried and convicted as a witch.

There were two question which interested me most about this story. The first was what if Janet could actually do what she was accused of? From that grew the character of Rachel Sinclair who has the power to manipulate the weather but is unable to control her abilities.  As the Spellworker Chronicles have spellworkers (which are extremely powerful witches) and druids the book imagines the possibilities of this form of magic in the real world setting of the Orkney archipelago. 

The second was, how do you cope when your whole world falls apart? In the story Janet loses her sweetheart, loses her place in her community and is tried and convicted for witchcraft.  As this is a folk tale we don’t find out what that does to Janet and how she puts her life back together but in Storm Witch I could look at that. The two female main characters are living with the repercussions of trauma and have to decide how that affects the way they interact with the world. 

Of course, when Janet was alive in the seventeenth century the belief in magic was much more prevalent in society.  In the same way as the Devil was thought responsible for standing stones, witchcraft was the go-to explanation for an unusually powerful or intuitive woman.  There’s always a choice for the writer as to whether they accept the magical which comes with the folklore. Personally (and there’s a potential spoiler coming) I was hugely disappointed in Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent as, in the end, it didn’t.  As I’m writing fantasy I can explore these questions and let them play out in the world of druids and spellworkers that I’ve created. 

Bio:

Alys West writes contemporary fantasy and steampunk. She lives in Yorkshire but loves to travel especially to Scottish islands. Her stories grow out of places and the tales which people tell about places.  Her work draws on her own experience of surviving trauma but always with the possibility of a hopeful ending.

Alys has a MA in Creative Writing from York St John University and teaches creative writing at the Centre for Lifelong Learning at the University of York. She’s also a book whisperer (like a book doctor but more holistic), mentor to aspiring writers and runs an online mindful writing group.

When she’s not writing you can find her at folk gigs, doing yoga and attempting to crochet.  She occasionally blogs at www.alyswest.com, intermittently tweets at @alyswestyork and spends rather too much time on Facebook where you can find her at Alys West Writer.  She is also on Instagram at @alyswestwriter.  To keep up with Alys’s news you can join her Facebook readers’ group ‘Druids, Spellworkers and Dirigibles’


Ocean Aid Concerts to Help Mother Ocean

A guest blog from Steve Andrews

You will no doubt be familiar with the Band Aid and Live Aid rock/pop concerts of the past, but I think we need new concerts under the banner of Ocean Aid. 

Plastic pollution is everywhere these days and it is becoming widely known that it is killing marine life, including whales, turtles, seals and seabirds that swallow it mistaking it for food, or by getting tangled up in the material. Many people think of this planet as Mother Earth, and whilst this is a wonderful description of our home world, I think we should be referring to all the seas combined as “Mother Ocean.” Science has told us that early life started there, and life on this planet depends on the health of the oceans. 

I have a song entitled Where Does All The Plastic Go?. It was produced by Jayce Lewis, and is included on my album Songs of the Now and Then. Many famous musicians and singers, including Mick Jagger, Cerys Matthews,  Brian May, Chrissie Hynde and Kanye West, have spoken out about plastic pollution but I am leading the way with songs about the subject. Just think if stars like this could be persuaded to take part in a massive Ocean Aid concert in a stadium somewhere!

With the ongoing pandemic causing lockdowns and restrictions, many musicians famous and not so famous, have taken to performing concerts online using livestreaming via Facebook, Zoom and other options. This got me thinking that Ocean Aid concerts could be organised like this, and the more of them the better. Small ones can help inspire the world of music and the media to take enough notice so that a massive concert could be organized, a concert that would attract the internationally famous celebrities. Because plastic pollution is a worldwide problem, the concerts can take place worldwide. 

It is not just the threat of plastic waste that is endangering oceanic life. Overfishing, acidification, seabed mining, military testing, nuclear waste dumping, coral bleaching, agricultural run-off causing dead zones, and climate change, are all taking a heavy toll too.  Ocean Aid concerts could raise awareness about these problems as well. There are organisations like Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd, already doing what they can to help save the seas and the life in them. Funds raised by the concerts can go to charitable environmental organisations like this. 

As a singer-songwriter I realised that one way I could take action and spread the word was by using music to help me, and after writing my song about plastic pollution I came up with this Ocean Aid idea. Raising awareness about Mother Ocean is my main focus this year. Please think about helping me make Ocean Aid concerts a reality. If you are a musician, think about organising Ocean Aid gigs, if you are not a musician but want to help, you can do so by spreading the word and reaching out to anyone you know that could make Ocean Aid a dream that becomes a reality. Let’s do what we can to help our Mother Ocean!

Find more of Steve’s music here:

https://bardofely.bandcamp.com/track/where-does-all-the-plastic-go

https://soundcloud.com/bardofely/where-does-all-the-plastic-gohttps://open.spotify.com/album/1pboeHP1Fq2G9tsaKywnNF

If you want to get in touch with Steve, leave a comment and I’ll pass it along.


Witch in a Bottle part 4

A Wyrde Woods Tale

By Nils Visser

Part 4: Goody Malone to the Rescue

“What the rabbits…” The Stupes intuitively aimed their torches at the silvered bottle, which promptly exploded into the brilliance of a flash of lightning.

Joy removed her thumb from the bottle’s opening and began to chant, “Fus sceal feran, fæge sweltan. Mod sceal thee mare, thee ure mægen lytlath.”

“Witch!” one of the Stupes hissed, and stumbled backward.

“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” the leader snarled, but he too backed off a little.

Joy ignored them, her focus entirely on the ancient words, her tone increasingly exuberant. “Sitte ge, sigewif, sigath to eortha! Næfre ge wilde to Wyrdwuda fleogan! Næfre ge wilde to Wyrdwuda fleogan!

She looked at the bottle expectantly, as did all of the others.

Nothing happened.

Joy’s heart sank.

“Blimey,” Maisy said.

“Right,” the Stupe leader said. “The nidgets have had their fun. GRAB THEM!”

The other Stupes moved at the children, to halt almost immediately as Will began to shout.

“Look! It’s moving. It’s alive. It’s alive![1]

Maisy joined him “It’s alive, it’s moving, it’s alive!”

Nan Malone’s bottle, however, remained bereft of any kind of animation.

“Fools,” the Stupe leader berated his colleagues. “They’re playing tricks on—”

His voice was drowned out by an almighty crash and splintering of wood within the ruined church.

Joy realised instantly what Nan Malone, the only Guardian who never feared the creature, had done, even before the stale and musky air that had been trapped in the church’s crypt for centuries reached her nose.

Maisy and Will’s words echoed in her thunderstruck mind.

It’s alive. It’s alive. It’s alive!

“What the blazes?” Will made to turn around, and Joy reached out with her free hand to stop him.

She issued urgent instructions at her friends. “Get on the ground, roll up into a ball. Keep your eyes shut. Do NOT open them until I say…”

“But Joy, what…” Maisy began to protest.

“LISTEN to me,” Joy hissed. “Do it NOW.”

Her friends were puzzled, and a little frightened, but did as Joy commanded.

In the nick of time. Joy didn’t need to turn around to confirm what was emerging from the ruins. She could read it on the faces of the Stupes, who stared dumbstruck, two of them dropping their torches and fumbling with shaking hands for their shotguns.

Joy also sensed its presence. A menacing and malicious aura, with a seemingly primeval appetite for destruction. It was hauling in deep breaths, as if relishing the sweet taste of fresh air after centuries of confinement. There was a rustling sound as it unfolded its great wings, shaking the dust off its black feathers with something between a sob and a sigh escaping from its sharp beak.

The Stupes, staring straight into those red glowing eyes, trembled with fear and began to back off, away from Ellette Hornsby’s tomb and the nightmare that had appeared behind it – one described so accurately by Maisy and Will earlier on.

“Take the chavees,” their leader implored. “Leave us be.”

Joy felt those glowing eyes behind her boring right through her soul.

Nan Malone had been the only Guardian to feel sympathy for the creature. The monstrous entity, Joy knew, would bear little love for those associated with the Guardians as a whole. Yet, Nan Malone had chosen to aid Joy by releasing the shadow that had languished so long within the crypt. The old healer wasn’t visible, but here now nonetheless, that much was clear.

“W…what is that thing?” the bulky Stupe asked in a small frightened voice.

“Ufmanna,” the Stupe leader answered. “The little bitch has released Ufmanna.”

Joy shut her eyes, half-expecting to feel the creature’s talons sinking into her flesh, seeking to claw out her heart.

We released you. We mean you no harm.

There was an angry snort behind her and Joy tensed up.

So be it.

She spread her arms wide – Nan Malone’s bottle still in one hand  –, arched her back, and turned her face to the moon.

Spare my friends. They have naught to do with this.

She could hear Ufmanna’s wings as it took to the air, making straight for the tomb. It shrieked eerily, much as a scritch owl would, but the sound was magnified a thousandfold and seemed to pierce Joy’s very bones.

Ufmanna came close enow to snatch Nan Malone’s bottle from Joy’s hand. Without a pause though, sweeping right past her to head straight for the Stupes.

One of the shotguns was discharged with a thunderous blast, but the shot was panicked and not aimed properly, kicking up a small fountain of earth at the base of Ellette’s tomb.

The rat-faced Stupe dropped his gun, the barrel smoking, and scampered out of the churchyard, screaming like a stuck pig. The others followed in a blind panic, dropping torches and guns, the bulky Stupe whimpering pathetically, the leader crying for his mother.

Ufmanna pursued, its torso the size of a man’s but on the whole much larger due to a fearsomely broad wingspan. It clutched Nan Malone’s bottle in one claw, holding it with care because Joy had no doubt that it could have easily crushed the silvered glass just by flexing its talons ever so lightly.

The Stupes made it out of the churchyard and fled toward the Taunflow. Their frightened screams appeared to be mocked by Ufmanna, the creature no longer scritching like an owl, but mimicking the men’s horrified cries of fear instead. Ufmanna, Joy knew, liked to play with its victims with the cold dispassion of a cat toying with a cornered mouse.

Unable to withstand their curiosity any longer, Maisy and Will scrambled onto the tomb just in time to see the Stupes stampeding down the broad dirt path before they were swallowed up by the night, Ufmanna’s dark shadow on their heels. 

“What the hell!” Will exclaimed in disbelief.

“Did that…thing…come out of the bottle?” Maisy asked.

Joy hesitated, before answering, “Naun, out of the crypt. It were lured there after the plague, and sealed in…”

…with powerful spells by the Guardians who survived Nan Malone.

“What kind of animal is it?” Will asked.

“Naun an animal,” Joy said. “Ufmanna means Owl Man. Tis man-made, in a fashion.”

“Aha,” Maisy said, as if that made perfect sense. “Like Doctor Moreau.”

“Or Frankenstein,” Will added. “Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful![2]

Joy stared at them speechlessly. The mere sight of Ufmanna was enow to drive most folk out of their own minds, and here her friends were discussing it casually as if they had just been to the pictures again.

“Nah-ah.” Maisy shook her head. “I reckon Moreau. You made us…things! Not men! Not beasts! Part man…part beast! Things![3]

Will added sombrely, “I must confess that I lost faith in the sanity of the world.[4]

The cousins chuckled and chortled, a sound that drew Valkerie back to Maisy’s shoulder. It occurred to Joy that her friends were likely to be partially in shock and employing the magic of the silver screen to cope. There was a broth Joy could make, at the cottage where she lived with her mother, which would leastways take the edge off.

Mum’ll find out soon enow that Ufmanna’s free. I had no choice, twere that or be taken to Malheur. But I’ll get a proper dish of tongues no matter what.

In the distance, the Stupes stopped screaming one by one.

“We’d better go,” Joy decreed. “Ufmanna might come back.”

There were no objections. Maisy didn’t even frown when Joy told her to leave the torches and shotguns where the Stupes had dropped them, even though Joy knew for sure Maisy would be much disappointed to not be getting her hands on a shotgun.

They walked away from Tuckersham in silence and at considerable pace. It wasn’t until they had passed Lewinna’s Pond that they eased up somewhat.

“Joy,” Will said hesitantly. “That bottle, the words you spoke…are you a—”

“Yes,” Joy answered quickly, reckoning there was no point denying the obvious. “But your spells worked bettermost too.”

“My spells?” Will asked.

“The both of you. I’ve heard of the magic of the silver screen afore, but nohows believed it to have dunnamuch power.”

Maisy laughed. “It ain’t quite like that, is it?”

Joy shook her head. There were things she could no longer keep from her friends after this night, but nor could they deny the power of the pictures, not after what Joy had witnessed. To prove her point, she exercised her first foray into this new magic, by admitting to the cousins that she was ready for her first ever visit to the moving pictures. This was partially because Joy reckoned she should educate herself in this manner of magic, and partially because it took the cousins’ mind off Tuckersham and Ufmanna. They spent the rest of their walk to Joy’s home in a fervent and very learned debate on whether to take Joy to The Door with Seven Locks or The Thief of Bagdad. Valkerie, casting a wary eye upward, was the only one in the company who observed a witch in a bottle sparkling like a diamond as she orbited the silver moon in the gentle grasp of a dark shadow, free at last in the night sky.


THE END

BIO

The author, told once too often that he spent too much time in his imagination, finally took the hint and moved there on a full-time basis. He now divides his time between the Wyrde Woods, a Steampunked smuggling world, and the high seas in search of the Flying Dutchman. www.nilsnissevisser.co.uk

Joy, Maisy, and Valkerie feature in Secrets of the Wyrde Woods: Forgotten Road. Will is added to the mix in Will’s War in Exile. A much older Joy and Will feature in Escape from Neverland and Dance into the Wyrd, as well as a certain troubled soul in army boots and skull-patterned dress, and Ufmanna, the Owl Man of Tuckersham. A translation of Joy’s spell can be found in Draka Raid, also set in the Wyrde Woods forever and longer ago when Viking raids were fashionable. You could try googling the spell, I suppose, but where’s the adventure in that?


[1] Dr Henry Frankenstein (played by Colin Clive)in Frankenstein (1931)

[2] From Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley (1818)

[3] Sayer of the Law (played by Béla Lugosi) in Island of the Lost Souls (1932)

[4] From The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells (1896)


Witch in a Bottle part 3

A Wyrde Woods Tale

By Nils Visser

Part 3: Stupes & Silver Screen Magic

It wasn’t a particularly loud sneeze, and hastily muffled by Will who immediately threw a hand over his nose. The Stupes were gamekeepers, though.  They might be strong in the arm and thick in the head, but they knew the difference between regular nocturnal sounds in the woods and noises that did not belong.

“What’s that?”

The children ducked low as light beams swept over the graves and tombs.

“It be nothing but your imagination,” one of the others suggested.

“Naun,” the third said. “Some-one-body is here.”

They moved surprisingly quick, spreading about the churchyard to sweep their powerful torches this way and that, and it wasn’t long before one of them discovered the children huddled by the tomb.

“Over here!” He called the others. They were canny enow to surround the children on three sides, with the church wall behind them preventing an easy escape.

The children reluctantly rose to their feet, trying to shield their eyes from the three blinding lights aimed at them.

“I’m so sorry,” Will said miserably.

“Well, well, well,” one of the Stupes growled with satisfaction. “What have we here?”

“Bain’t naun of your purvension,” Joy bit at him.

“That redhead be the devil’s spawn from the Whitfield witch,” another Stupe commented.

“And the little one be Fred Maskall’s granddaughter,” the third Stupe said. “I seen her afore.”

“I’m not little!” Maisy yelled angrily.

“I reckon his Lordship will be wanting to scorse pleasantries with them.”

Joy was mortified. The last thing she wanted was to be hauled off to Malheur Hall to be confronted with Mordecai Malheur. He had scores to settle with both Joy and Maisy, and if he found out who Will was, the boy would be dead before dawn. Malheur had the means, the motive, and the ruthless cruel streak required for murder most foul.

“We ain’t done nothing wrong!” Maisy protested. Valkerie hissed her agreement from her perch on the girl’s shoulder.

“Really?” one of the Stupes asked. “A poacher’s kin out and about in the woods this time of night, with a ferret?”

The other Stupes laughed.

Joy looked around anxiously, but any attempt to scatter and run would end with at least one of them seized and dragged to Malheur Hall, if not all three. Or worse, the shotguns would come into play.

“Enow of this,” the Stupe who appeared to be the leader decided. “We’d best bind their hands.”

The other two began to advance, cautiously as if expecting the children to make a run for it.

Joy suddenly became acutely aware of the weight of Nan Malone’s bottle in her hands. Mordecai Malheur would be delighted to take possession of such an item and the power it might yield him.

Blood, horn, root, thorn, tooth, bone, wood, and stone.

 “I’m going to open the bottle,” she hissed at her friends.

She reckoned it was a risk worth taking, given the circumstances. Nan Malone had been a Guardian of the Wyrde Woods after all. Joy tried to pull the stopper out but it refused to yield.

“What’s that you got there?” the Stupe leader asked, directing his torch at Joy’s hands.  He began to advance on them as well.

Time! Joy needed more time.

Maisy understood. She jumped up on Ellette’s tomb, taking a firm stance and caterwauling like she was fresh out of Bedlam. “Villains! Dissemble no more! I admit the deed! Tear up the planks! Here, here! It is the beating of his hideous heart![1]

The Stupes stopped in their tracks. All their torches were now aimed at Maisy, allowing Joy to see them looking at her friend with wide eyes, their mouths hanging open as they tried to make sense of Maisy’s strange utterances.

Will jumped up too, joining his cousin in speaking the magic words from the silver screen. “The skies are red with the thunderbolts of Genghis Khan! They rain down.[2]

Joy pulled at the stopper with all her might. It was too small for even her nimble fingers to get a good grip and didn’t budge.

“By Pize,” the Stupe leader said. “They’re as daft as a brush.”

His companions agreed.

“Few bricks short of a middling load, sureleye.”

“Naun the sharpest acorns in a treacle mine, tis unaccountable.”

Maisy was outraged, “I heard all the things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell! How then, am I mad?[3]

“Crazy, am I?” Will demanded to know. “We’ll see whether I’m crazy or not![4]

“You be a proper dinlow,” the bulkiest of the Stupes said.

“Willocky and doddlish in the head,” the slightest of the Stupes added, a sneer on his rat-like face.

“Puggled beyond a doubt,” the Stupe leader concluded. “And a mite addled, sureleye.”

Despite their derision, the men stayed where they were, uncertainty in their body language.

Joy decided on a different approach, trying to tug the stopper this way and that to see if wriggling would loosen its hold on Nan Malone’s bottle.

Will spoke to the men sternly, appearing to be thoroughly enjoying himself. “Our ways are not your ways, and there shall be to you many strange things.[5]

Maisy was definitely having a grand time of it, intoning gravely, “The Spirit of Evil is trying to enter this tomb, but have no fear, the fires of death will guard us.[6]

Even as she kept her eyes focused on the stubborn stopper, Joy sensed the confusion of the gamekeepers. Stupes fared best with the straight and forward, they had a regimented sense of how things ought to be. Will and Maisy’s invocation of the pictures was likely to be beyond anything they had ever experienced and it confused them. Within that confusion, Joy sensed the first sparks of fear.

No matter how dim, the men were locals fed on a steady diet of Wyrde Woods tales. They all knew the Wyrde Woods some-one-time harboured the impossible. Maisy and Will’s magic was working.

What wasn’t working were Joy’s efforts to open the bottle. She looked at it angrily, half-tempted to just smash the bottle for a brief instant, but she immediately knew that Nan Malone wouldn’t take kindly to that, Guardian or not.

Maisy spoke again, “Presently I shall assume a state of trance, in which the outer mind merges with the astral portion of the human ego.[7]

Valkerie scrambled down the girl’s arm, leaping onto the tomb’s lid.

One of the Stupes took a backward step, muttering, “Witchcraft.”

“Listen to them!” Will announced pompously. “Children of the night. What music they make.[8]

“There’s nothing to fear,” Maisy said reassuringly. “Look. No blood, no decay. Just a few stitches.[9]

Joy was distracted by Valkerie, who dooked at her urgently, the ferret’s eyes fixed intently on the witch bottle. Not knowing what else to do, Joy lowered the bottle. She despaired, knowing that sooner or later the silver screen magic would be overcome when the Stupes recalled that they had shotguns and were by far bigger and stronger than the children.

Will intoned, “You have created a monster, and it will destroy you![10]

The Stupe leader must have decided that the Maskall cousins were harmless fools. “Enow of your hurley-bulloo, impersome nidgets. Or you’ll catch hurt, sureleye.”

“You’d bettermost believe him,” the rat-faced Stupe added. “He be teddious and tempersome. If he chooses to give you a proper bannicking, you’ll be shrucking and skreeling a different tune, sureleye.”

Maisy hollered defiantly, “to die, to be really dead, that must be glorious![11]

Valkerie dooked again. Joy looked down, her eyes widening in astonishment and disbelief. It had taken the ferret mere seconds to relieve the bottle of its stopper. The ferret looked at Joy with what appeared to be triumphant satisfaction, then loped off with the stopper. Joy quickly seized the bottle, pressing her thumb over the opening.

Just as the men began to move forward again, Joy jumped up on the tomb, took place between Maisy and Will, and lifted Nan Malone’s bottle high.


[1] The boy (played by Norman Dryden) in The Tell-Tale Heart (1934)

[2] Doctor Fu Manchu (played by Boris Karloff) in The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)

[3] The boy (played by Norman Dryden) in The Tell-Tale Heart (1934)

[4] Dr Henry Frankenstein played by Colin Clivein Frankenstein (1931)

[5] Count Dracula to Jonathan Harker. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897)

[6] Prince Saliano (played by Béla Lugosi) in You’ll Find Out (1940). ‘Tomb’ has replaced the original ‘room’

[7] Prince Saliano (played by Béla Lugosi) in You’ll Find Out (1940)

[8] Count Dracula to Jonathan Harker. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897)

[9] Dr Henry Frankenstein (played by Colin Clive) in Frankenstein (1931)

[10] Doctor Waldman (played by Edward van Sloan)in Frankenstein (1931)

[11] Count Dracula to Mina Seward. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897)

Find out more about Nils ad the Wyrde Woods here – https://nilsnissevisser.co.uk/


Witch in a Bottle part 2

A Wyrde Woods Tale

By Nils Visser

Part 2: The Bottle

It was a small, silvered bottle, long-necked and bulbous below. It was sealed with an aging stopper. Joy drew in a sharp breath at the sight of it.

“Nifty, ain’t it?” Maisy asked. “Whoopsie daisy!”

The bottle seemed to slip from her grip, falling down…

“NAUN!” Joy shouted.

…but deftly caught by Maisy’s other hand.

Maisy chuckled at her trick but Joy wasn’t amused at all.

“Bettermost give that to me,” Joy said, her tone causing Maisy to frown but hand over the bottle immediately. Joy held it firmly in both hands.

“What is it?” Will asked.

“Witch bottle,” Joy answered.

“It belonged to a witch?” Maisy’s eyes grew wide. “I may have shook it about some. It ain’t empty, there’s stuff in there, solid stuff I reckon.”

Joy knew well enow what would be in a witch bottle. She had one of her own, carefully concealed in a secret location.

Blood, horn, root, thorn, tooth, bone, wood, and stone.

A witch bottle was an object of great power. Joy shuddered again when she recalled the moment she’d been fooled into thinking it was going to crash on the ground, breaking open mayhap. That…here…in the light of a full moon…would have spelled moil to be sure.

“What does it do?” Will asked. “I’ve never heard of a witch bottle before.”

“It be said,” Joy answered slowly, “that it protects the witch it belongs to from evil spirits and magical attacks.”

“And the witch lived happily ever after,” Will quipped.

“We should open it!” Maisy suggested.

Joy shook her head. “Naun, we dursn’t. There be part of the witch’s soul in there. If we let it out there’ll be a peck of trouble.[1]

“Blimey! We should definitely open it!” Maisy looked at the bottle eagerly.

“How did you find this?” Joy asked, unwilling to believe that a witch bottle could be so ill-concealed that a casual coke at the crumbling remnants of a cottage’s foundations would reveal it.

“Valkerie found it,” Maisy answered. “She started digging in a corner, went down all the way up to the tip of her tail, then pulled it out.”

Valkerie, back on Maisy’s shoulder now, dooked, seemingly proud of her excavation skills.

Ferrets! Regular little thieves.

“I wonder who it belonged to,” Will said.

Only one person in Tuckersham it could have belonged to.

Joy closed her eyes briefly, fighting the urge to impress her friends with her knowledge.

Unfortunately, Maisy had come to know her all too well.

“Joy! You know, dontcha?”

Joy shrugged.

“Oh, do tell!” Maisy urged. “I’d tell you if I knew, wouldn’t I?”

“Well that ain’t hard,” Will said. “You hardly ever stop talking.”

Maisy glared at him, before turning to Joy again. “Mates don’t keep secrets, do they?”

Joy felt guilty, harbouring a great many of them as she did. There’d be no harm in it, she reckoned, though this wasn’t the bettermost place to be telling it.

“I reckon I ken whose bottle it is,” she admitted reluctantly.

“I thought so, didn’t I?” Maisy said with satisfaction.

“Whose?” Will asked.

“When Tuckersham was still full of folk, afore they were struck down by the plague, one of them was a wise woman, a skilled healer. Her name was Nan Malone.”

A Guardian of the Wyrde Woods.

“Go on,” Will encouraged Joy.

“Nan Malone lived here all her life and knew her neighbours well. She treated their hurts, helped birth their children, and eased the passage of those at the end of their life’s journeys.”

“And she battled monsters!” Maisy added. “Casting mighty spells. Abracadabra, ain’t it?”

Joy shook her head. “Nan Malone were a healer. Howsumdever, there were a monster, of sorts.”

“I knew it!” Maisy declared triumphantly.

“A dark shadow of old, naun seen in living memory for so long folk thought twere a storyteller’s fancy. Howsumdever, it returned to the night sky over the Wyrde Woods, swooping down to seize fowl, sheep, even calves. Folk were afeared it might take to their children. Some went to Nan Malone who counselled that it wouldn’t and twere bettermost to leave the creature be…”

“How did she know?” Will asked.

“She were a Wise Woman, weren’t she?” Maisy said.

Joy nodded. “Justly. The Wise Ones pass on the lore of their people, the tales of the Wyrde Woods.”

She was surprised and a little disappointed that neither Maisy or Will connected this with Joy’s own knowledge of the matter. Mostly relieved though, because she had been sworn to secrecy with regard to the lessons she had started to follow. Lessons of the type not taught at the village school.

“What happened next?” Will asked.

“There were folk who refused to believe her. The Stupes, I call them.”

“Stupes?” Maisy asked.

“Folk who don’t see further than the end of their own noses,” Joy explained. “Happy to deny the obvious, happier to preach the unlikely, and happiest to blame others for their own misfortunes.”

“Oh! I know loads of Stupes, don’t I?” Maisy said.

“So do I,” Will added.

“They multiply,” Joy acknowledged.

It was a concern for the Guardians of the Wyrde Woods. Many of them, like Joy’s own mother, continued to live much as they had always done, in sync with the cycle of the seasons. There was a sense though, that the world was changing fast, with an ever-growing number of Stupes whose limited ability to use their own minds was a liability for all. The warring madman in Germany of how easily they could seize control.

She continued, “One of the Stupe leaders decided to hunt the dark shadow and kill it. He took his two sons with him and the three were never seen alive again.”

“Torn into tiny, bloody shreds,” Maisy said. “Weren’t they?”

Joy hesitated. That wasn’t exactly what had happened, but how much should she tell?

And how much do they ken? They’ve already described…

She glanced at the ruined church, acutely aware of the weight of the silvered bottle in her hands, before speaking again, “Other Stupes chose to lay the blame at Nan Malone’s feet. They twisted her words against her. Claimed she had tried to protect the creature…”

“Bastards!” Maisy exclaimed.

“Zackly,” Joy agreed. “Stupe tongues started wagging, gifty blevers that they were. And the lies grew in the telling, as did the number of folk repeating them. Those who dared speak otherwise were mocked and ridiculed. Tmight have been that they didn’t change their minds, but it were certain more and more kept their teeth-traps shut, frit of being the next Stupe target. Afore too long, it were said that Nan Malone had summoned the dark shadow in the first place, that it were her creature. That she were a witch.”

Joy glanced at the bottle before winding up the tragic tale. “It reached a fever point. A mob chased Nan Malone out of her house, then out of Tuckersham. Tossicated on their own power to do such a thing, they set off in pursuit…” Joy’s voice died away and she examined the bottle once more.

Blood, horn, root, thorn…

Maisy said, “They caught her, didn’t they?”

… tooth, bone, wood, and stone.

Joy nodded. “Ere Nan Malone could cross the bridge over the Taunflow. There’s a gurt old chestnut tree there. They hung her by the neck from one of the branches. A few months later Tuckersham was struck by the plague.”

Both Maisy and Will stared at the bottle in silence.

A scritch owl[2] screeched in the distance, and then repeated its call. Joy looked up in the direction of the Taunflow.

She was alarmed to see lights flickering in the distance. Their consistency was impeded by tree trunks but they didn’t have the beguiling quality of Will o’ the Wisps – which Joy knew how to deal with. Instead, the lights were harshly and artificially bright, as well as accompanied by coarse male voices.

Valkerie uttered a warning hiss.

“There’s people coming this way,” Will said.

“Quick, follow me.” Joy led them through the gap in the low wall that separated the path from the churchyard, and then wove a way through the dilapidated headstones and tombs. 

“The dead walk among us![3]” Maisy pronounced in a low voice.

“With these zombie eyes, he rendered her powerless,” Will whispered. “With this zombie grip, he made her perform his every desire![4]

“Ha! You would fancy that, wouldn’t you, Brighton-Blighter?” Maisy said.

“Shut up!” Will responded.

“Hush now, the both of you,” Joy told them. She would have preferred not to enter the graveyard, or rather, not to have come this close to the ruined church, but there was some safety in the particular tomb she led her friends to. It was close by a church wall, larger than most, with a heavy slab of stone as lid. The moonlight revealed the chiselled shape of a dragon on it. Ellette Hornsby, one of the Wyrde Woods dragon-slayers, had been laid to rest here. Like Nan Malone, Ellette was counted as one of the Guardians of the Wyrde Woods. It was the safest place in Tuckersham that Joy could conceive of.

They crouched behind the tomb, the cousins no longer needing reminders to be silent as the torch-bearing men were close enow for the children to overhear their discourse. It was mostly grumbling about being sent to lope around at this time of night on behalf of ‘his Lordship’. Daring a peek, Joy recognised them as gamekeepers from nearby Malheur Hall, three men in all, shotguns slung over their shoulders.

Stupes.

Henchmen sent out by Mordecai Malheur to apprehend poachers no doubt, even though any poacher worth his salt would have easily noted their approach and melted away into the night.

Joy relaxed. They’d wait until the men had passed and then call it a night. She hadn’t been sure as to what she’d find at Tuckersham, but Nan Malone’s bottle was ample reward. It was an object of great power and Joy was keen to dive back into her books to discover possible uses for it.

Will sneezed.


[1] The witch bottle from Sussex kept at the Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford has a label that says the old lady in Hove who donated it remarked “…and they do say there be a witch in it and if you let un out there it be a peck o’ trouble.”

[2] Barn owl

[3] White Zombie (1932)

[4]White Zombie (1932)

Read part 1 here – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/?p=8186

More about Nils Visser here – https://nilsnissevisser.co.uk/