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Inside the cave of La Fée Gisèle (and face in the rock…)

My closest neighbour, Couesnon, is a fairy, and, as far as such things are possible or sensible, I count her a friend. She watches over my home from her rocky domain to the North.
Through the forest to the West, however, are fairies less well known to me, Gisèle and Mélusine.

The beautiful Gisèle, ‘fairy of the heather’, can be seen on warm autumn nights, sitting atop her rocky abode, combing her hair by the light of the full moon. She is known as a protector of travellers, just so long as you approach her with due respect and correct fairy ‘etiquette’ (more about this in another blog.)

But venturing into the forest on such nights, hoping to catch sight of her, is a perilous thing to do… After midnight, just one step off the path and you will meet the ‘Big Nanny Goat’ walking on her hindlegs. A few…very few, who have met her, survived by running for their life. But others have been lost in the forest and fallen to their doom in bottomless chasms!
Also unwise, is a visit to her home during a storm, since the Wild Hunt rampages through the forest under her leadership, on stormy nights.
Different legends accord different names to the Wild Hunt in this part of the forest. « La Chasse Hellequin » is one…
Hellequin is a stock character in French passion plays, a black-faced emissary of the devil who roams the countryside with a group of demons, chasing the souls of evil people to hell. (He is possibly the predecessor of Harlequin, with his traditional red and black mask).
Hellequin is also the leader of ‘la Mesnée d’Hellequin ‘ (the household of Hellequin), and in this case, the name is thought to be related to the Old English Herla, a character often identified with Woden.

Other names here are ‘La Chasse Artus’ and ‘La Chasse Herpine’. Artus is King Arthur, and across much of Brittany, he is said to lead the hunt.
Herpine…? Not a name I’ve heard before, or can find referred to anywhere else, but it has a distinctly serpentine sound to it… or dragon-esque perhaps…
If you’re foolish enough to be out on such a night, a few shots into the air might help keep the hunt away, but if you do meet them, never, ever try to shoo them away with the fateful words « pars en la chasse! »…Beaten to a pulp is the best you could hope for if you did! If you’re polite and very lucky, you might escape with the gift of copious amounts of rat corpse morsels!!! Hmmmm…. In some parts of the world, the Wild Hunt rewards those who help it with gold…

Another side of Gisèle is shown in the following tale.
Once upon a time, long ago, not far from the cave of Gisèle, was a hovel, inhabited by a poor peasant with a kind heart. One winter’s night there was a knock at his door. Standing outside was a hungry, miserable fairy. She asked permission to come in and heat up some soup.
The peasant invited her in and gave her the only tureen. Delicious soup! The most delicious that the poor peasant and his family had ever tasted, but despite their hunger, they shared it generously with the fairy.
As thanks for their hospitality, she cast a spell upon the tureen, instructing the family always to use it to make soup at night. She couldn’t give them palaces and gold, but what she could do was give the tureen the power to wake everyone in the house very early, and for all animals and people to always achieve the equivalent of 4 days work in just 3 days.
Over time, the hovel became a farm, the farm became a manor, the manor became a château and all prospered. The master of the château planted beech trees in the forest, in gratitude.
But then in 1793, bad days came. The revolutionaries knocked at the door when the lord was off fighting for his King. A loyal servant refused entry and was killed, and the soldiers stormed into the château destroying everything…including the tureen.
The ‘Big Nanny Goat’ mentioned earlier, now haunts the forest beneath those same ancient beech trees…

Another fairy…or rather a mermaid, lives in a sacred spring (known for its healing powers since Roman times), just below the cave of Gisèle. Her name is Mélusine de Poitou, a spirit of fresh water, who has a fish tail and wings.
Long ago, Raymond de Poitou came across her in the forest and proposed marriage. She agreed on condition that he must never enter her chamber on a Saturday. He broke the promise and saw her in the form of part-woman part-serpent. She forgave him, but later during a disagreement, he called her a serpent in front of his court. She instantly turned into a Dragon, gave him two magic rings and then flew off never to return…

Coming soon…The fairies return!

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The Magical Forest is a place steeped in legends; a land of enchantment, of magical fountains and mysterious lakes, standing stones and dolmens, fairies, giants, sorcerors and druids. This is the home of Viviane, the enchantress, the Lady of the Lake, the realm of Merlin and Morgan le Fey…


The little village I live nearest to, was known as an outpost of paganism, long after the rest of France was converted to Christianity. The situation was so dire, that a priory was built in the C13th, by the Knights Hospitaller, on the site of an old pagan shrine and healing spring, in an attempt to save the ‘credulous’ and ‘primitive’ people. I now live in the remnants of that priory.

Overlooking my house to the North, stands a huge and mysterious granite rock, known to be the domain of a Fairy Queen named Quasnon (or Couesnon). Hidden in her chamber, and guarded by black, hairy dwarves, lie inestimable treasures.
Many locals, over the centuries, have encountered these dwarves near the rocks on the night of the full moon, and although unpredictable and mischievous, they can be helpful, some carrying messages across great distances, ‘faster than the wind’ (this in the days before telephones…), some plaiting horses manes, others sweeping your house by night, or preparing cream for your breakfast.

Even better, if, for example, a ploughman happened to need a team of oxen to work his fields the next day, he would go to the foot of the rock at dusk and ask for « two oxen capable of doing four days work in a day, for tomorrow ». The next day at dawn, a team of black oxen would be waiting already yoked. He must, however, give them names or they would be wild and unruly!
At the end of the day, they would return to the rock. But the ploughman must remember to put 5 coins in the little bowl hanging from the yoke…

As for the fairies…Couesnon their Queen helps those who have lost something. Utter the words, « Ah, si j’avais celui des fées de la Roche ! » (Oh, if only I had that which the fairies of the Rock have!) and the wish would be granted!

 

One day, a peasant named Lormière, on his way to work bringing in the harvest, met upon the road a sorceror who was known to have dealings with the devil and to work enchantments and other ‘marvels’. He mocked Lormière for working so hard for nothing, when under the Rock lay a treasure so valuable that he would never have to work again if he were to find it. All he had to do was wait for nightfall, and not be afraid of anything that he might see.

Lormière didn’t believe him, and forgot all about this strange meeting. A year later, however, in the same spot, he once again encountered this sorceror. This time, he was convinced.
That night, at the right time, he set to work, digging beneath the rock. He dug so hard and so well, that eventually, he succeeded in finding the treasure of silver. Overcome with joy, suddenly he saw a three footed hare sitting upon the rock that was balanced above the treasure and was afraid… Since then, no one has ever seen the treasure.
Poor Lormière! Believing that the fairies would bring their silver out every Christmas at midnight, to ‘air’ it, he decided to seize it for himself. But this time, he found it guarded by two fierce dogs. Baring their teeth, they tried to devour him. He ran for his life!

 

In another tale of Couesnon and her court, a fairy came calling on a woman, living nearby and spent the long winter nights with her, keeping her company whilst her husband was away. She would come in each evening, through the chimney, settle into the corner and watch her. The woman grew increasingly tired of her fairy visitor, and together with her husband concocted a plan to get rid of her.
One evening, the husband dressed in the clothes of his wife and took her place at the fireside, pretending to spin. And so it was… That night,the fairy came down the chimney as usual. She looked at the spinning wheel, turning as usual, but producing no thread…In a low voice, she whispered: « The Beautiful one of the evenings, turned and fed her spinning wheel and on the spindle appeared a thread, but this one turns and feeds the spinning wheel, but on the spindle nothing appears. »

The pretend spinner leapt to his feet and demanded the name of the fairy. « I am called Me-Myself » she replied.
In the same moment, the master of the house threw fire on the fairy. She fled up the chimney crying out « I’m burning! I’m burning! »

Since that time, no one has ever seen fairies again here.

Or have they…? Coming up: Part 2. ‘The return of the Fairies’



 

 

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Come, follow me into the woods today…Come, follow me into the woods to play…

Some people are social creatures. What makes them happy is the company of other humans. Others are not. Inspector Morse described himself as « not a joining things sort of person ». I know the feeling.
As I child, I lived in the country, surrounded by woods. In those woods, I was euphorically happy – free to roam where I wanted, in a world unbounded by the strictures of humans with blinkered , monochrome vision. And they weren’t ‘just’ woods. They were fantastic lands, where fairytales and myths came alive…They were jungles, alien planets, coral reefs on the sea bed even. They were the past and the future, a timeless realm of magic and wonder.

My friends were the trees and nature, the spirits of the woods, characters from books and from the boundless universe of the imagination.

I was never bored in the woods. How could I possibly be bored? There weren’t enough hours in the day to fit in all the adventures, to ‘live’ all the stories jostling to be the one claiming today as its own.

Some days, though, were different…more ‘still’. The woods felt as though they were waiting for me to join them. It was no longer my imagination conjuring worlds…It was no longer me, the ‘creator god’ of my own reality. I would climb up into my favourite tree, a graceful, pollarded beech, and sit on the ‘floor’ formed by the pollarding, surrounded by branches reaching skywards, my back against the smooth bark, and breathe in the woods…the scents, the sounds, the colours…
I hear the deep, earthy, alto song of the beech, and close my eyes to listen…She sings of the Otherworld, of a time before time. She sings of the Spirits of the woods, of Mother Earth, of a profound, immanent, numinous magic.

Schoolfriends spent their teen years wanting to escape the countryside, longing for the excitement of the city. Life was about parties, friends, clubs…boyfriends. Not me. All I ever wanted to do was get out of the stygian prison of school and back into my woods.

Every tree holds a different tale within its memory. You can read about them in books, study their correspondences and attributes. But in the same way that you could never really know how it feels to be in love without having experienced it, or what a rose smells like, or how summer rain feels on your face, you can’t really know a tree without truly ‘knowing’ it…embracing it, becoming one with it…listening to its song.
And the song of the beech has a verse that I haven’t yet mentioned; a verse that sings of ancient wisdom passed on, a paean to Hermes and Thoth, gods of writing. The Anglo-Saxon word for beech was ‘boc’…What does that sound like?…Book!
It’s a tree of both the Air element and the Earth element, and a tree that is connected to the idea of bringing the airy inspiration of words into earthy, grounded manifestation as writing in books. But not just any books…Beech tree books touch a deep, ancient wisdom. They bring written form to archetypal truths.

There was a connection between those ‘different’ days in the woods and my normal wood days. The worlds of my imagination were not just fleeting phantasms. They were/are in many ways more ‘real’ than any of those parties or shopping trips, more ‘real’ than the food I ate or the clothes on my back.

All of those time-bound things were transitory. Most are now long forgotten…A few remain as memories, but filed away in the archives of my past. The experiences I had all contributed their part to me today, but one day, this me will be dead.
The realm of the mythical, however, that boundless universe into which I plunged in the woods, never dies. It’s there, just as real, vibrant and spellbinding today as it was when I was a child, and it will still be there a thousand years from now…
When I write, the alchemy of Mother Beech inspires me. Her branches reach up into that magical realm, and bring down to earth stories, as the pen touches the page and transforms imagination into books.

So…

Come, follow me into the woods today, In realms of magic and wonder to play…

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This morning my cat was chased by a hen. Not a large, ferocious looking fiendish hen, but a fluffy and very pretty little red hen. The name of the cat will be withheld to protect her reputation. The name of the hen however… Henbane Hendragon, wild hen of the Western Reaches, intrepid pioneer and explorer of lands never before seen by poultry eyes.
Whilst her fellow flock-mates are happy to spend their days gossiping together within the bounds of their orchard, Henbane hears the call of the wild.

Every morning, after a quick social breakfast, she is off, flying over 8 feet of deer fencing, to spend her day roaming the forest, following her beak wherever it may lead her. And every dusk, she is back, ready to settle back into the hennish evening routine…gossip, mutual preening, more gossip, a few squabbly pecks, politics, food, who’s been flirting with King Cockerel, who ate more than her share of grain…Henbane clucks. She knows the right noises to make. But only one small red ear is listening. Little do they know the adventures she has had… the things she has seen…Little do they know the magic and wonder, the thrilling terror and the secret delights of the wild forest beyond the fence…

My cat flees up a tree. She doesn’t want hassle with a hen. Sharp beaks and sharp tongues are not for her. She likes hens. She also likes mice. Yes, she eats them, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t like them. She watches them eat from her food bowl with a benevolent, approving smile…

I leave my cat and hen to their own devices and set off with the dogs on their morning walk. The forest hums a gentle, early morning summer tune; waking crickets, woodpigeons, arpeggios of blackbirds and thrushes, and… Something moves in the undergrowth ahead! Something big.

My dogs are transformed. No longer waggy tailed, loll-tongued puppies, but full grown wolves…Noses hard to the ground…PREY…

A red deer hind emerges from amongst the trees, on the path ahead of me. She stops. Dogs head off blindly in the opposite direction!!! She canters off, back into the forest.

The Deer… This is not the stag that so many know, but the hind. A creature of grace and beauty, gentleness and poise…An animal who symbolically connects to the wild forest, to sacred and magical places; whose magic calls to you to release the trappings of the material world and go deeper into that forest…

Today is the full moon, and a full moon conjunct the asteroid Cyrene. In Greek mythology, one of her epithets is ‘deer chasing, second Artemis’.

I turn to leave and a memory stops me in my tracks.

Two and a half years ago, in this same place, I found a young deer, who had been chased by hounds into my pond. She was exhausted, shivering and terrified. Where I live used to be a deer farm, so it’s surrounded by deer fence. Somehow she had got in, but not the hounds. However, getting in was one thing, getting out another.
Something shifted… I turned away and walked back to the house…fast…, found some serious wire cutters and returned with them. Everything calm…focused…I cut a big hole in the deer fence.

I go back to the pond.
I can see the little deer is weak. I step down into the pond, I wade in deeper. Only, it isn’t ‘I’.
The month is February, but I feel no cold water, and as I approach the deer, there isn’t the slightest question in my head. Infact there is no human ‘chatter chatter’ in my head at all. Nothing beyond what I’m doing now. I reach out and pick up the deer. She feels lighter than a cat! And she doesn’t struggle. She lets me pick her up, lets me carry her out of the pond, across to the hole I’ve cut in the fence.

I lay her down on the other side and walk away. All I feel is a profound, soul-knowing love.

Half an hour later, I return. She’s gone. Run back into the forest. Alive. Free.

Maybe she returned today…Maybe she has met Henbane…Maybe there is so much more to Nature than humans believe… (to be continued…)

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Last week it was HOT… A steamy, sultry, stifling hot. So I did the only sensible thing and made my way deeper into the forest, following an ancient path beneath the cool green canopy; a path that has sunk a couple of metres or more into the ground over many centuries, as countless feet trod its way.

I descend…deeper, cooler. Around me, the scent of sun caressed pine trees mingles with something darker, older…centuries old oaks and beeches…, and the sappy exuberance of hazels and birches.
My feet pad softly on the cool earth, crumbling pine needles as I walk.
Birdsong, joyful, riotous, in praise of the life gift of the sun. Yet as I descend further, it seems to soften, as do the shards of sunlight slanting through the trees, turning from yellow-gold to amber.
I hear another sound now. A bubbling, cascading melody that flows through me like liquid, dancing sunlight.
The path has ended. I step off onto an almost invisible track; one made not by human feet, but by those of the forest dwellers, deer and foxes, badgers and wild boar…and perhaps by others less known to humans.

The river lies before me. I stop.
Around me, the forest. Far, far away, humans.
I listen to the song of the river…

I gaze into the water…

I see reflected the greenwood. I watch the water meander on. What has happened to that reflection? Where is it now? Has it gone…a momentary image like a photograph, reflected in water and then vanished? Or is there something else in water…? The Water Element…

Water cleanses, purifies. It carries away all the old, worn out debris of lives. But there is more to Water than that…

Imagine two pools of water. Take one scoop of water from each and pour them into a bowl. Which part of the water in that bowl comes from the first pool and which from the second?…Now take one droplet from that bowl. What is in that one droplet is identical to what is in the bowl….a perfect copy.
Now imagine two rivers flowing to the ocean…

Imagine each river carries in those water droplets a memory of what was imprinted as it passed by…the forest, a mountain meadow, a city…a child bathing, a cow drinking…Imagine those memories washing down into a great Ocean…

I gaze into the river and see water that has come from a spring deep inside the Earth; water that as it emerges into the light of the Sun, has never before been seen in that form by human eyes. It cascades down mountains, meanders through meadows and forests, to flow into the sea…

The next day. Rain clouds are building  in the West. The land is dry and dreaming of rain. The first drops fall……….I turn my face to the rain. Why would anyone want to shelter inside and not feel those soft raindrops upon their cheeks?!

I listen to the song of the rain….A song of deep, dark earth, wild mountains, greenest forest…of drinking deer and spawning frogs, muddy water rats and iridescent leaping fishes…of drowsily meandering river and wide estuaries where the ospreys dive…And then I hear the ocean sing… I hear the roar of the Atlantic; storming, raging waves…furious crests blinding white beneath an icy Northern sky…and then coconut kissed, turquoise hued coral seas gently drifting towards a beach of softest vanilla sand…
I hear the song of the rocky cliffs of Finistere…hear the song rolling in over the magical forests of Merlin, carrying all those memories…memories held within one tiny raindrop, just as within the whole vast ocean…

The first drops kiss my cheeks just as they kiss the earth….

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Summer has arrived in Armorica! The air is shimmering with butterflies and iridescent dragonflies, contented bees hum a ground bass to the chorus of softly cooing wood-pigeons and exuberant newly fledged song birds, whilst in the meadows, grasshoppers, cicadas and crickets are dancing…And hidden deep within the forest canopy, the golden orioles pipe…
There is magic in the air. The fluttering, shivering leaves are calling to me…

So…this afternoon I followed the call into the forest.

I have a special place there, a secluded glade, inaccessible other than by a small track leading from behind my cider apple orchard. No other path leads there, no wanderer in the forest might stumble upon it by accident…
My path is made by the deer (red and roe), the wild boar, the foxes and the badgers, and latterly by me. It winds through oak and beech forest into this clearing, in the centre of which stands a single very old apple tree.
I follow the path… and stop, just before I enter the glade. I listen. Birdsong, softly rustling leaves…The outside world has gone. No distant rumble of a motorway, no grumbling drone of a plane, none of the white noise/human-debris buzz that you don’t even realise is there, until it’s not…

I move slowly forward. A cloud of butterflies wafts up around me as I walk, billowing up from the carpet of flowers.
Around the apple tree, the grass is flattened into round dents. The deer sleep here. Come softly to this glade in the evening and they’re here, dark eyed and timorous, accutely sensitive to humans.

No photo of this glade here…It’s a place that belongs to something not to be photographed…Something that touches the numinous…

I lie down in the cool grass and gaze up through the branches of the apple tree…Quert/Queirt…
If you’ve read any previous blogs, you will have seen mention of Quasnon/Couesnon, the Fairy Queen, whose domain is a rocky palace that looks down upon the forest. Q is an odd letter in the Celtic tongues. In the Irish Auraicept Na nEces, it’s commented that ‘where C stands before U it is Queirt that is to be written there’.

The letters CU together are a synonym for « warrior », as in Cuchulain. (from the word ‘cu’ meaning hound or wolf).

When you read the word warrior, ‘cu’, substitute Queirt. The apple tree is the spiritual warrior, a tree symbolising the sacrifice of the warrior/magician making the journey to the Otherworld and back. ( « The Spirit of the Greenwood. »..)…and for me, it is a connection to Quasnon/Couesnon.

I lie back…the leaves flutter softly…and far above a buzzard wheels and cries…The oriole pipes again…I blink beneath the shafts of light slanting down between the branches, dappling the forest floor…Something moves…Out of the corner of my eye, I catch a glance…just behind a tree…I see a shadow, catch the dark, potent tang of a stag in the wind…I hear the softest of footfalls…

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You may have noticed something missing from this blog so far…The clue lies in my description of myself as a hermit.

Yes. No humans!

There is a very old book in French which describes the area in which I live thus: « Ce pays des plus escarpés, des plus boisés…le Désert, n’était pas sans attirer des ermites, désireux de beaux paysages, de solitude…une région paienne ou était tenace la croyance aux fées… » Roughly translated, this land is a wilderness of forests and steep, rocky places, which attracts hermits looking for beautiful countryside and solitude…a pagan land which clings on to the belief in fairies.

My nearest human neighbour lives in a house called ‘L’ermitage’, the hermitage. (My nearest actual neighbour is not human, but a Fairy Queen called Quasnon who lives in a palace of rock. You will meet her in future blogs.)

I don’t really need to encounter humans very often. I grow my own veggies and fruit, make cider, pommeau and calvados, have hens for eggs, meadows for hay, a well for water, goats for fleece (the latest in neolithic fashion!). And then there’s barter. I swap the hay that I don’t need for firewood and grain (poultry feed and bread making) and give board and lodging to some rather beautiful cows in exchange for their milk and cheese. Honey comes from an old man in the forest who keeps his own bees (bee hives…next on my list of ‘things to do’) and in addition to the forest’s own bounty, mysterious gifts of mushrooms appear from time to time left outside my door first thing in the morning…

Even the internet flies magically in all on its own!

Little need to venture into Humanland…except…COFFEE. And pens…and loo rolls.

As for humans venturing into the forest… My nearest village is an interesting place. Isolated, surrounded by forest on 3 sides, and straddling lands which were once the border between France and England, a priory was built here in the C13th, because it held on stubbornly to pagan beliefs long after everywhere around had converted to Christianity. The priory is now largely ruins, except the part that is now my house…

I don’t know what people’s idea of French peasants is in general, but my experience has been one of surprising open mindedness. After seeing the broomstick outside my door one day, a neighbouring farmer, who refers to people from the next village as étrangers (foreigners), turned the conversation to les sorciers/sorcières.

« It’s fine », he said. « I know you’re one of the good ones. » He took another appreciative slug of my calvados. «A previous owner of this house was a ‘circler’. He could heal a wild animal just by circling them. He was a good one»

« Are there many bad ones? » I asked curiously.

He shook his head. « They don’t last long. Bad things happen to them. »

So…back to humans. No one comes here because they’re ‘just passing by’. I live at the end of a tiny road to nowhere, which branches off a tiny road to almost nowhere, which forks off from a slightly less tiny road to maybe somewhere eventually.

No one, that is, except Jehovah’s Witnesses.

I am prepared.

A car arrives at my gate. Jehovah’s Witnesses.
JW1: (sees sign) « Dragons? »

Me: « Yes »

Pause. JW1 laughs nervously « Is that a dragon? » Points at golden retriever.

Me: « No. A dog. »

Another pause. JW1: « Do you believe in the garden of Eden? Myth or fact? »

Me: « In my world myth and fact are the same thing. »

Blank expressions.
Me: « The garden of Eden is all around me…as are the dragons. »

JWs beat hasty retreat.

Humans. Bizarre.

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