Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Last Dance

to put away again
Some years ago I had to decide to stop dancing, rather than allow my health to downgrade my dancing I would stop before humiliating myself in front of an audience. I've not worn pointe shoes since that day, not even in private.


I took the last pair of pointe shoes, took them for one last spin and cast one of them into the garbage bin and left the studio. It was gutwrenching. The other of the two slippers I have kept, tucked away in my clothes closet.


Today I took my old friend out of the closet and we sat a while, thinking of old times, the times when I could fly. The ribbon was loosened and the shoe placed on the foot. It still fits, but without a mate I cannot take it for a ride. So with a sigh, the ribbon is tucked around the heel again and the shoe after one more portrait, was put out of sight again.

portrat of an old friend

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Sparrow girl - Easter and the Laws of Thermodynamics

The rituals of the Christian calendar were a mystery to me when I was little. I lived in a predominantly protestant part of the Netherlands, but in my case my parents raised me without a religious identity of any kind. My parents were not of the same religion, one was protestant and the other roman Catholic, neither attended church, in fact both had turned their back on the religion of their childhood in favour of those being explored by my somewhat eccentric and always existentialist parents. By age four, when this memory of mine takes place, my parents were following the teachings of the Buddha quite seriously, and also exploring the occult and paranormal as a bit of a hobby.

I had come to accept Christmas as a time for decorating trees and eating lots of good stuff with friends and family who were rarely seen the rest of the year. The significance of the history of this wonderful feast were not known to me. Easter also was a time for special foods and candies rarely seen at other times.

Eggs of course were part of daily life, or at least nearly so. My eggs were normally soft boiled and in an egg cup accompanied by a slice of toasted bread. The anticipation of this breakfast was in itself an event. My mother miraculously timed the egg to perfection and the toast had been toasted alongside on the cast iron stove in the kitchen all was warm and fragrant, and the egg was soft and runny.

This was before the mass raising of chickens who never saw the light of day. These eggs came from chickens most often known to us personally or from one of the merchants at the market, who came with cage of birds also sold (unbeknown to vegetarian me to become meat for soup). The eggs had bright yellow yolks and were mixed brown and white, some had feathers and straw stuck to them so they always required washing before cooking with them.

I very much liked chickens. I had spent much time sitting with them in the chicken house at the back of my grandmother's house in Rotterdam. Not unlike cats they cuddled of you stroked and petted them, and they made a wonderfully calming sound when you did.

Easter was a time for hard boiled eggs, lots of them, best of all we painted them. They were boiled with beets and others with onion to turn them red purple, yellow and orange, and the rest was painted with watercolour paint and a fine brush. My mother would meticulously plan the painting and first pencilled the outline on the eggs and then I was allowed to fill in some of them with pain in whatever colour I chose. some also had words on them, but I could not read. Mostly I filled in the circles and flowers and triangles. The eggs were for friends and family and neighbours so there were several dozens of them.

We kept some, of course, and I always hoped some would not be claimed and we would have even more. Hard boiled eggs sliced on toast with mayonnaise and a little black pepper was a bit of heaven and we so rarely had them that way. At new years when there were visitors we had them on small squares of toast with mayonnaise ad pickle. Being that we had little money the slices had to be very thin as we had many friends and not so many eggs and pickles. It was not looked down on or thought of as cheap, everyone was pretty much in the same boat, the point really was one of hospitality, sharing, not showing off.

The most often seen wildlife in the Netherlands was the bunny. Rabbit was a frequent pet and a staple meat, across the street one of the families who lived in a house with a yard used the bunnies to keep the lawn trimmed and every spring there would be a new set of bunnies doing the moving. It did not occur to me then but I suppose the previous year's bunnies were used in soup and stews through the winter.

At the baker and the local candy shop (Jamin's) bunnies, chickens and eggs appeared this time every year in chocolate, milk chocolate, dark chocolate and even white chocolate. some were covered in tin paper, pink and blue and green. Baskets holding several confections on a grass made of stringy tissue paper and tied up with a bow was the thing of dreams. I'd never had a basket like that and I was jumping up and down in front of the window to see it better. Oh if only I could have the pink basket with the chicken and little eggs on green grass tied up with a bright blue bow.

Easter morning my feet hit the cold linoleum but the cold was not a concern, I was wholly focused on what the Easter bunny might have brought me. I peeled around the corner to the living room and there sitting on the coffee table was the most beautiful basket with a big brown chocolate chicken surrounded by a variety of little chocolate eggs, some in tin paper and others covered in a sugary shell of candy pink and robin's egg blue.
aletta mes2006

After breakfast consisting of the treasured toast with hard boiled egg, mayonnaise and black pepper we were going for a walk. The day turned out o be very sunny and quite warm. I only needed to wear my green cardigan over my lilac dress. I wore my Sunday best shoes and little white gloves. I would not leave the basket with the chicken behind. I carried it proudly over my arm. I resisted eating any of it since it looked so beautiful just as it was and I wanted to be seen with it.

As no day is entirely perfect it was inevitable some part of the day would not deliver only that which was good. The sun, the warm and wonderful sun, alas proved a little too warm. slowly during our walk on the sunny side of the street had melted the chocolate chicken into the green tissue paper which looked like grass. I noticed it only when we were nearly home. I was inconsolable. My parents who were not made of money, and even if they were there was not one candy shop open on a Sunday would and could not replace the chicken or the one or two eggs that had also melted. Instead, very patiently my parents sat with me several hours, and slowly peeled the tissue paper away from the chocolate as best they could. The smallest bits of chocolate found their way on a thickly buttered slice of fresh bread, happily consumed by a little girl. A little girl who'd just learned something about sunlight and the effects it can have on substances such as chocolate. Happily the bow and basket were spared being mucked up with melted chocolate so the basket was entirely useable still and for years to come was taken shopping to the market (real and imagined) and later would house my Lego. We received many compliments on our painted eggs, and received so many eggs in return that happily there were many more days of eggs on toast than I dared hope for. What a lovely holiday!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Rhiannon, Goddess of the Moon and of Inspiration

I've been waiting to post this for awhile. It never seemed to be the right time, bbbuuuttt, where I've fallen recently under the Moon's spell and have heeded her call...tonight seems appropriate.

Let me introduce you to Rhiannon, the Welsh goddess of the moon and of inspiration. Her name means "Divine Queen" of the faeries. Although she is fey and a goddess, she is every bit a Celtic lass through and through. She is proud and defiant, loyal and loving, passionate and intelligent. She creates and dances to her own tune and remains steadfast. She is a goddess of movement and change. Rhiannon's story is one of healing power, of humor, of tears and forgiveness. I present it to you now:

Rhiannon was promised in marriage to an older man she found repugnant. Defying her family's wishes that she, like other Celtic goddesses who married their "own kind," marry this man, Rhiannon chose instead the mortal Prince Pwyll (pronounced Poo-ul or translated as Paul) as her future husband.

She appeared to him one afternoon while he stood with his companions on a great grass-covered mound in the deep forest surrounding his castle. These mounds, called "Tors," were thought to be magical places, perhaps covering the entrance to the otherworld beneath the earth. It was thought that those who stood upon them would become enchanted, so most people avoided them. So it is no surprise that the young prince was enchanted by the vision of the beautiful young goddess Rhiannon, who was dressed in glittering gold as she galloped by on her powerful white steed. She rode on by without sparing him even a glance. Prince Pwyll was intrigued and enraptured, and his companions were understandably concerned.

Ignoring the protest of his friends, the prince sent his servant off riding his swiftest horse to catch her and ask her to return with him to meet His Highness. But the servant soon returned and reported that she had ridden so swiftly it seemed as if her horse's hooves scarcely touched the ground and that he had not been able to follow her to learn where she went.

The next day, ignoring his friends' advice, Pwyll returned alone to the mound and, once more, the Celtic goddess appeared. Mounted on his horse, Pwyll pursued her but could not overtake her. Although his horse ran even faster than Rhiannon's, the distance between them always remained the same. Finally, after his horse began to tremble with exhaustion he stopped and called out for her to wait. And Rhiannon did.

When Pwyll drew close she teased him gently, telling him that it would have been much kinder to his horse had he simply called out instead of chasing her. The goddess Rhiannon then let him know that she had come to find him, seeking his love.

The prince welcomed this for the very sight of the beautiful Celtic goddess had tugged at his heart, and he reached for her reins to guide her to his kingdom. But Rhiannon smiled tenderly and shook her head, telling him that they must wait a year and that then she would marry him. In the next moment, she simply disappeared from him into the deep forest.

Rhiannon returned one year later, dressed as before, to greet Pwyll on the Tor. He was accompanied by a troop of his own men, as befitted a prince on his wedding day. Speaking no words, Rhiannon turned her horse and gestured for the men to follow her into the tangled woods. Although fearful, they complied. As they rode the trees suddenly parted before them, clearing a path, then closing in behind them when they passed.

Soon they entered a clearing and were joined by a flock of small songbirds that swooped playfully in the air around Rhiannon's head. At the sound of their beautiful caroling all fear and worry left the men. Before long they arrived at her father's palace, a stunning site that was surrounded by a lake. The castle, unlike any they had ever seen, was built not of wood or stone, but of silvery crystal. Its spires soared into the heavens.

After the wedding a great feast was held to celebrate the marriage of the goddess. Rhiannon's family and people were both welcoming and merry, but a quarrel broke out at the festivities. It was said that the man she'd once been promised to marry was making a scene, arguing that she should not be allowed to marry outside her own people.

The goddess slipped away from her new husband's side to deal with the situation as discreetly as she could... Using a bit of magic, she turned the persistent suitor into a badger and caught him in a bag which she tied close and threw into the lake. Unfortunately, he managed to escape and later returned to cause great havoc in Rhiannon's life.

The next day Rhiannon left with Prince Pwyll and his men to go to Wales as his princess. When they emerged from the forest and the trees closed behind them, Rhiannon took a moment to glance nostalgically behind her. She knew that the entrance to the fairy kingdom was now closed to her and that she could never return to her childhood home. But she didn't pause for long and felt little regret.

The Celtic goddess was welcomed by her husband's people and admired for her great beauty and her lovely singing. However, when two full years had passed without her becoming pregnant with an heir to the throne, the question of her bloodline, her "fitness" to be queen began to arise.

Fortunately, in the next year she delivered a fine and healthy son. This baby, however, was to become the source of great sorrow for Rhiannon and Pwyll.

As was the custom then, six women servants had been assigned to stay with Rhiannon in her lying-in quarters to help her care for the infant. Although the servants were supposed to work in shifts tending to the baby throughout the night so that the Princess Rhiannon could sleep and regain her strength after having given birth, one evening they all fell asleep on the job.

When they woke it was to find the cradle empty, and they were fearful they would be punished severely for their carelessness. They devised a plan to cast the blame on the innocent Rhiannon, who was, after all, an outsider, not really one of their own people. Killing a puppy, they smeared its blood on the sleeping goddess and scattered its bones around her bed. Sounding the alarm, they accused Rhiannon of eating her own child.

Although Rhiannon swore her innocence, Pwyll, suffering from his own shock and grief and faced with the anger of his advisers and people, did not come strongly to his wife's defense, saying only that he would not divorce her and asked only that her life be spared.

Rhiannon's punishment was announced. For the next seven years she was to sit by the castle gate, bent under the heavy weight of a horse collar, greeting guests with the story of her crime and offering to carry them on her back into the castle.

Rhiannon bore her humiliating punishment without complaint. Through the bitter cold of winters and the dusty heat of four summers, she endured with quiet acceptance. Her courage was such that few accepted her offer to transport them into the castle. Respect for her began to spread throughout the country as travelers talked of the wretched punishment and the dignity with which the princess Rhiannon bore her suffering.

In the fall of the fourth year three strangers appeared at the gate—a well-dressed nobleman, his wife, and a young boy. Rhiannon rose to greet them saying, "Lord, I am here to carry each of you into the prince's court, for I have killed my only child and this is my punishment." The man, his wife and the child dismounted. While the man lifted the surprised Rhiannon onto his horse, the boy handed her a piece of an infant's gown. Rhiannon saw that it was cloth that had been woven by her own hands. The boy then smiled at her, and she recognized that he had the eyes of his father, Pwyll.

Soon the story was told. Four years earlier, during a great storm, the nobleman had been called to the field to help a mare in labor, when he heard the infant's cries and found him lying abandoned. He and his wife took the baby in, raising him as if he were their own. When the rumors of the princess' fate had reached his ears, he realized what had happened and set out at once to return the child to his parents. (Most versions suggest that the enraged suitor Rhiannon had rejected and who had escaped had taken his revenge by kidnapping Rhiannon and her prince's infant son.)

Pwyll and his people quickly recognized the boy for his and Rhiannon's son. The goddess was restored to her honor and her place beside her husband. Although she had suffered immensely at their hands, Rhiannon, goddess of noble traits, saw that they were ashamed and was filled with forgiveness and understanding.

In some versions of the legend, Rhiannon was the Celtic goddess who later became Vivienne, best known as the Lady of the Lake. She was the Celtic goddess who gave Arthur the sword Excalibur, empowering him to become King in the legends of Camelot.

Rhiannon (Vivienne)
by Jessica Galbreth


illustration by aletta mes, 2006

The harder I struggle the more the ropes seem to tighten, and yet I have to. After what seems like hours the chafing on my wrists has delivered rivulets of scarlet blood which I can feel making their way down my hands to my fingertips where the warm thick liquid drips in heavy drops to the gnarled roots of this old tree.

I cannot clearly see what lies ahead of me, but I can sense that it is dark and consuming. I can smell the decaying underbrush which lightly fogs the paths around the trees now that the day is turning colder, it is a strangely comforting smell, the smell of life coming and going, just as it should, just as it always has. Just the same I have no desire to become part of this great compost heap, not at all. So I struggle again against the binding ropes. Why? Let's just agree that for me this is also a natural state, I fight the inevitable, it is my way, it is who I am.

As awkward as it is to be tied up with my arms outstretched and bound around the tree's broad trunk I do manage to find a degree of comfort now and again. There is the one position with my butt pressed against the trunk and the weight of my upper body pulled forward and my head dropped.. I can even nod off in this odd position. The other is pulling my entire body forward pressing my weight into the soles of my feet. Either way my wrists are taking most of the punishment.

I am thrilled that whatever lurks out there has chosen not to finish me off just yet. I sense at times that it, whatever "it" is has gone, there is a murky smell both disgusting and sweet that hangs around, when it come close enough I can also hear breathing. Slightly laboured breathing. What the creature is doing and what it's intentions are I have no idea. I know that when I try to think about it a tear of panic pours down my face, i've bitten my lip raw concentrating on the struggle to break free. I'd have bitten through the ropes of my wrists if the position would have allowed it. I cannot bite anything, at least not anything useful.

Wrestling with wanting to scream, but if I do it might set off a series of events very much unwanted. Perhaps it would be best if I remain quiet, and perhaps he will forget, or escape and leave me, or even grow fond of me and let me live. So I don't scream even when it's smell disgusts me and feeling it's breath on my skin raises goose bumps from head to foot, I gag very quietly, and in my mind it repeat, "please, please, leave".

It was daylight still, when I found myself here, tied up, among these great old trees. I've no idea where I am, even less how I got here. Nothing I see or smell or hear is anything familiar. These are not even the bird sounds I am accustomed to. My last memory was of going to bed. I must not have actually got into bed, because I am still dressed in my jeans and a shirt, no shoes, but for me that is not unusual, I dislike footwear at home. I am disinclined to wearing even socks at home unless it is very cold. It was not cold that night. The night I last remember before waking here.

Nothing remarkable in my memories of that night. I did a little reading and washed out a few clothes which I hung to dry. I sat watching television with my favourite cat on my lap. That is my last memory, being home, with my cat.

I feel as though my arms have stretched beyond their ability and yet they do not come apart. It helps to envision my situation, a way to avoid the actual experience, which I assure you is painful, and terribly frightening.

I cringe because the ground shakes a little, and I assume the creature, whatever it is must be near. If I could just see the thing and make eye contact, then I could read if it is reasonable, and I could bargain for my life. If it is not reasonable, then, then...i could scream. I feel my hunger and wonder if I can hold the urine long enough that I will be found without added embarrassment. Does that make any sense? Why should I care that I pee my pants? Then again what if it makes the creature irate, or amorous? That's typical of me, making jokes when there really is nothing funny. It made a few seconds more bearable.

I try to think of positive outcomes. The creature might die and leave me here untouched other than by insects crawling up my pants leg. In the dark shadows I swear I can see the reaper, calmly, patiently waiting. It makes me angry, terribly angry. The reaper could take me now, why does he just stand there? Perhaps he is not even there. Hours have passed and it would not be strange right now to be seeing things.

On inspecting my legs and what I can see of myself there has not been any damage done, no blood stains no torn clothing. Small mercies. Somehow it matter that I leave a fairly nice looking body behind. Thoughts right now just happen, pulled from the ether, mostly as amusements to pass time, and more time, and ---please can something just happen? The boredom on it's own is deadly. Unrelenting pain and boredom. I found myself thinking of all possible endings to this story of mine, unlikely rescues, or I might wake up, or be eaten alive by some creature. A werewolf maybe?

Again I chuckled. A werewolf? Ha! No, my luck it is a mindless bumbling but hairy woodsman with a penchant for collecting city women with intent to have them trained as his housekeeper. Ok, also bizarre and unlikely. Somehow all of my endings were benign and I found some temporary solace there. It was very dark now and I could see nothing at all. Probably a starless sky tonight. The fog was creeping higher and higher. I was so cold that I stopped feeling pain.

The cold was killing me, one pain replaced by another. I could not even fight the ropes any more.. The presence of what I thought my be the reaper was now a comfort, and I made eye contact and was no longer afraid of the reaper. I was fighting for remaining awake. Obviously comfort was not a requirement for falling asleep, or out of consciousness. by now I was too tired to fight. Whatever the outcome of this life altering event would be, I would not know it. I took a last glance around. Just as my grip on this world was letting go I spotted an enormous claw, and without having a moment to react, or do a proper review of my life, I was gone.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Epona has always galloped across sky and earth with her beloved horses. Not horses alone, but all creatures. They are her kindred and her kind. It is for them she provides fields and forests for browsing, nourishes the fruit trees, planted the herbs. She leads the herds unfailingly to clear waters. Her hands aid the birthing of every living thing, singing joyfully over each new life.

Perhaps it was the familiarity with Epona that animals came to be tamed by mortals. It was certainly the association of animals with humans that drew Epona’s interest to them. Their care of her creatures warmed her heart, endearing them to her like any mother watching the kindness given her children. In return, Epona extended her largess to man.

Unlike creatures, mortals could not see her, save little children and mothers dying in childbirth. In the final anguish before Epona bore a mother’s soul to the otherworld, Epona was visible to her. Often the last words of the woman would be, “My Lady!” Mortals began to sense her love for them. As they began to love Epona, they began to glimpse through her glamour to see her. To some she was a dazzling white mare, to some a terrifying black one, to others a long legged woman running with horses. They showed their reverence by creating shrines to their vision of her, leaving offerings of apples, grain and roses.

Only one ever saw her truly, face to face, and he a soldier in the heat of battle.

As men stole ascendancy from women, wars began. Creatures died in countless numbers. Epona knew every one from their birth. On the battlefield her heart wrung in pity for soldiers dying, men she had cradled in her lap as tiny babes. She screamed in fury with the screams of dying horses, each one a foal she had danced with in spring. With the rain she wept over the rotting corpses strewn across her lands. Gently, she bore the souls of horse and man to the otherworld. Epona flew through battles an angry wind, weeping in rage and futility. The eyes of the dying beheld her and cried out, “Mother!”

Though she brought forth life from the womb and returned it to the otherworld, she could not interfere with destiny.

Except once, for a man’s love of his horse. For her love of that man.

His name was Equinnus. For many generations past, his family bred the finest warhorses in the Empire - stallions of exceptional strength and speed, fearless in battle, trained to slash with hooves as its master slashed with sword. To Equinnus war was the dance of manhood, a glorious rondele of muscle and might. He never felt as truly alive as when battle raged around him, Death nipping at him. Those that fell beneath his sword into Death’s maw were simply enemies. Equinnus never thought about what enemy meant. It was his life or that of a stranger, a meaningless entity from his point of view. He was bred to be a soldier as his horse, Cicero, was bred to do battle.

Cicero, the best of the best. The Caesar had wanted Cicero for his own son’s battle mount. But Cicero had thrown the young man time and time again, making it clear his heart’s loyalty lay with Equinnus alone. Equinnus had raised him from foal to the magnificent fighter he was. Together they were legends.

Though it is not for battle they are remembered.

With his last strength, a dying soldier impaled Cicero on his sword. Equinnus was thrown. Cicero’s gushing wound poured blood over his master. The battle frenzy left Equinnus as suddenly as swordstroke. He saw only Cicero. Disbelief paralyzed Equinnus. He struggled to the side of his beloved companion as the battle clamored around them. Disbelief turned to despair, Equinnus buried his face in the blood drenched side of Cicero and wept.

Equinnus’s grief made him an easy target for a Gaul swordstroke. But Epona plucked the sword from the air. The Gaul saw a dark horse-woman grasping it by the blade. Fire poured from her hand as if blood. He turned and fled, leaving Epona standing over Equinnus. One by one the soldiers became aware of her. Their weapons dropped as they stood gaping at her. She turned slowly, towering above the battlefield, raising the sword above her head fire streaming down her arms. As her eyes met those of the mortals, they fell prostrate. The horses nickered recognition, the men fainted in terror. She hurled the sword into the sky. It disappeared with a thunderous crack.


Epona knelt by Equinnus, gently turning his face until her eyes met his. Equinnus did not see the fierce eyes of a giant horse-woman. He looked into the deep eyes of a slight, pale maiden. Epona turned her gaze to the fatal gash in Cicero’s side. Equinnus watched her lay her hands over the wound. The flesh melted together under her slim fingers. Cicero jerked, snorted, rose to his feet. He curled a foreleg back, pulling back in a bow to Epona, nuzzling her hand, the hand fragrant with his blood. She stoked his cheek, and turned her gaze back to Equinnus.

Epona knew Equinnus from birth. She knew him as the youth training horses, his face alight with exuberance. She knew him as soldier. Now she saw him as a man. Not a handsome man, but one whose heart was knitted with his horse. She who had loved as mother, now felt the love of woman.

Equinnus raised her hand to his lips and kissed her palm. “My Lady,” he murmured.

Epona‘s mouth blossomed into a gentle smile. “My Love.”

Their lips met in Epona’s first kiss. Equinnus knew nothing more than the woman before him

Hands clasped they walked through the thunderstruck battlefield, Cicero following, his head held proudly. The eyes of battle-horse and soldier followed as the three walked into the sky.

Background notes:
The legendary facts about Epona are few. There are no records of mother, spouse or child of Epona. Her sculpted images have three usual forms: a woman riding a horse, a woman sitting with horses or foals on either side, a woman feeding horses from a cornucopia. Dogs and birds are sometimes included in her images. Whips, harnesses and keys are also symbols found in her shrine images. The name Epona is from the Celtic language Gaulish, the root being 'epa' or 'mare'. She was sometimes addressed in the plural, Eponabus. She was adopted by the Roman calvary as patron goddess. Almost all stables in the Roman Empire had a shrine to Epona. She was given offerings of grain, apples and roses. She is traditionally the protectress of horses, particularly mares and foals, animals, riders and stables. Rhiannon of Wales, Macha of Ireland, the Divine White Mare, and Edain are manifestations of Epona.

Assumptions are more numerous. The lack of family associations and being referred to in the plural suggests she is a Mother goddess, the three fold goddess, a goddess of fertility. Horses, more than any other domesticated animal, are associated with wealth and status. Horses were valued as animals of transport, war, power, and prestige. The patron deity of horses would rank high in the celestial pantheon. In ancient Rome only the very rich or nobility sacrificed a horse. The cornucopia is the horn of sacred cow, overspilling abundance. It appears in fairy tales where the hero removes a horn from cow or bull which feeds the hero with fine foods. This cornucopia associates Epona with the sacred cow image of the goddess common in other cultures. The addition of birds and dogs gives her additional deeper meaning.

Birds fly and therefore symbolize many forms of spirituality: the departed soul, messengers of heaven, givers of omens and enlightenment, carriers of secrets. Birds and feathers symbolize the air element, air the home of invisible souls, gods of winds, air is the essence of the Supreme deity. Bird language is a Buddhist metaphor for enlightenment, flying a metaphor for holy trance. The Latin word 'aves' means both bird and ancestral spirit. Angels and fairies have wings. Vultures and ravens take the dead to the otherworld, doves carry souls to be born. Birds suggest Epona guides souls to the otherworld to be reborn.

Dogs have mythical symbolism as well. They are companion to Diana, Roman goddess of the moon, the Goddess in crone form. Also companions to goddesses in Babylon, Greece, Persia, and Scandinavia. In Hebrew dogs alone can see the angel of death, they howl at the moon when death approaches. Dogs/wolves share tales of nursing human children who often have divine powers, like Romulus and Remus, the twin brothers who founded Rome. Sirius is the dog star, and dogs have the constellations of Canis major and minor. Dogs further connect Epona to being a goddess of death and dying, or goddess as crone.

Grain, apples and roses give still more layers of meaning.

The 'Ancient Corn Mother' of Europe is mother of all grain. Grains are the sons of the Earth Mother who, for the sake of humanity, die at harvest, descend into the otherworld (planting), and are reborn to give people life when their flesh is eaten. Egyptians called the moment of death a 'grain, which falls to earth in order to draw from her (Earth) bosom a new life." A similar analogy is found in John 12:24. In Egypt wheat was the grain of truth. Bread was placed in tombs. Grain links Epona to being Earth Mother.

Apples are symbolic of the goddess, a pentacle within a circle is in the center of an apple, which is the symbol for Venus and the Egyptian symbol for the underworld and womb; the apple blossom has five petals, like the rose which is also sacred to Venus and the Virgin Mary - which is why both are wedding flowers. The apple symbolizes the goddess in all her 3 forms blossom = virgin, fruit = mother, pip = crone. The Norse believed apples carried the souls of men from one life to another, symbolized the heart (similar shape) and were buried with the dead as symbols of the souls resurrection. The Norse goddess Idun kept the gods alive with her magic apples, as did Hera nourish the gods of Olympus with apples from the Tree of Life. The Irish hero Connla was given an apple of immortality from a woman of the other world. The mortally wounded Arthur was borne to the Apple- Land, or Avalon, by a woman from the other world. Cutting and eating an apple was part of Gypsy marriage rite. A girl chose her groom by tossing an apple at him. Apple pips are poisonous (they contain cyanide), from whence comes the poison apple of fairy tales.

Apples connect Epona to the mother aspect Three-fold Goddess, as the rose connects her to the virgin becoming lover aspect.

The rose is the flower of many goddesses from Venus to the Virgin Mary. The image of Cybele was carried in procession through Rome covered in roses. Gnostics claim roses sprang into being from the menstrual blood of Psyche when she became enamored with Eros. The Arabian Gulistan or 'Rose Garden' is a paradise centered on a 'rose of love', a motif of magic, sexual, secret gardens or trysting places. Rose buds resemble male genitalia and the full bloom resembles female. The slang 'rose of love' has referred to sex from ancient Arab poets to French troubadours. "La Rose' is still slang for female genitals. Apple blossoms symbolize Eve, and five petaled roses the Virgin Mary or the reincarnation of Eve.

Put it all together and Epona becomes much more than just a horse deity.

Women's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, by Barbara C Wallace
Women's dictionary of Signs and Symbols, by Barbara C Wallace

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Dr MacFadden's Tale

(With a gallant attempt at the good Doctor’s posh Edinburgh accent)

I am Dr Phineas MacFadden. I have a small practice in Edinburgh, where I have lived most of my life. Recently, with the acquisition of a very fine locum, I was able to indulge a long held dream, and travel the Silk Road.

But do not think, because I have lived a simple life, that it has been without incident. Dear me no, I have had some very strange experiences, but none stranger than what befell me as a young man, travelling by train to my first hospital at Stranraer.

I was dozing when suddenly the train came to a grinding halt. As I scrambled back to my feet I heard a voice call out - ``Is there a doctor on board?”

The guard was in a panic. ``Sir, there has been a terrible incident – a young woman has thrown herself from the train.”

I followed the guard and the driver along the track to where the young woman’s body lay in a thick clump of heather. Her white neck lay exposed but her face was obscured by an abundance of curls, soft red tinged with gold.

``Shall we help you carry her onto the train, Dr MacFadden?” The driver said.

I shook my head. ``No, she may have internal injuries – if we move her it could kill her. You must take the train on to Stranraer and send back an ambulance. I will stay here and do what I can,” I said.

``I’ll fetch you a blanket, and a flask of hot tea,” the guard said. He and the driver were clearly disturbed at having to leave me there, but they could see there was nothing else to do.
It was late afternoon when the train left. I put the blanket over the young woman and tended to her scratches and bruises. As far as I could tell there was no real damage and the heather had broken her fall. But she was still unconscious.

Night fell and so did the temperature. I shivered in my thin jacket, but the hot tea was a comfort.

I must have dozed because suddenly I found myself in broad daylight – I was standing on a shore, watching a boat pull away with four people in it. Three young men had their faces turned toward the sea, but the fourth occupant suddenly turned and threw back her blue cloak. I recognised the bright hair at once – it was the girl who had thrown herself from the train. She gazed at the shore, not at me, with passion and longing blazing in her eyes. Her voice, rising in a song of praise for the land she was leaving behind, pierced me to my heart.

I awoke with a start, still on the hillside, and immediately looked to my patient – she was sitting up, her hair thrown back, the beautiful face of my dream now before me.

``Are you all right?” I stammered. ``You had a terrible fall – but there will be an ambulance coming soon.”
The girl shook her head – she was clearly still groggy. I offered her some tea and she sipped at it gratefully.

``I am Dr Phineas MacFadden,” I said. ``Do you remember your name?”

``Finola,” she said.

I could tell by her accent that she was Irish. I encouraged her to drink more tea, for she was trembling, more from shock than cold.

``What happened?” she asked.

``You – fell from the train,” I said carefully. ``Do you not remember?”

``I remember standing at the window – I remember my heart breaking to see the last of Scotland – “ she sighed and shook her head. ``Then no more.”

``You are leaving Scotland?” I said. ``But why?”

``I am joining my husband Liam at Stranraer – we are returning to Ireland,” she said sadly. ``We had to leave because my father wanted me to marry a rich old man. Now he has sent word that he has forgiven us, and Liam misses Ireland so much – but I love this place, and I don’t believe we can trust my father. He still means us harm, I’m sure.”

My head was spinning, as you can imagine – in my dream I had seen Deirdre of the Sorrows returning to Ireland, where King Conchobar waited to kill her husband and force her to marry him, and here, lying in the heather beside me, was this young woman who was also returning to Ireland against her will.

Had not Deirdre of the Sorrows thrown herself from the King’s chariot as he was carrying her back to his castle?

``You must not return,” I said. ``You must persuade your husband to remain here in Scotland.”
We both looked up at the roar of an approaching engine. The ambulance was making its way along the winding road toward us. As the headlights swept across the hillside I stood up and waved.

The ambulance attendants lifted Finola gently onto a stretcher and carried her down to the road. I followed with the blanket over my arm.

At the Garrick Hospital we were able to ascertain that Finola had come to no harm. But when her frantic husband arrived I caught him alone for a few moments and told him that the trip back to Ireland would have to be cancelled.

``We want to keep an eye on her,” I said, ``Your wife is expecting a baby – luckily the fall did no harm. But a rough sea journey might be ill advised.” He readily agreed and confessed that he himself had no wish to return – he had thought his wife longed for her homeland.

So there is my tale – on that night, did I prevent an ancient tragedy from repeating itself, or was I swayed by the beauty of a young woman who had thrown herself from a train rather than leave Scotland?

I suppose I shall never know – but what I do know is that seven months later I never saw two happier people, when I brought their first child into the world.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Legend of the Winter Rose

Winter arrived about a week ago. It is a cold white and gray world out there, muted and softened by several inches of blanketing snow. Its arrival came in stages, as colder temperatures now and then, accompanied by brief and fleeting snowfalls that never stayed more than 10 minutes at a time under Fall's bright sun. Our weather remained mostly beautiful and clear and relatively warm through the Thanksgiving holiday, but on the night after...it snowed.

"It's snowing, Shiloh! It's snowing!" my sister Kami called to me excitedly as she went through the house turning off any light she could to better see the snow fall.

I wheeled in to watch as well. The night outside was dark and calm, silent except for the muffled rumbles of the occasional vehicles traversing our street. The white lights decorating the lines of our rock house provided the perfect gentle illumination for viewing the snowfall. The flakes fell softly, not heavily but not lightly either. It was as if Mother Nature had decided, now that the harvest and Thanksgiving are over, it's time for her to rest, time for her to set the stage for what is supposed to be the Season of Peace, the Season of Remembrance and the time when we say farewell to the old year and welcome the new.

"It's beautiful, it's so beautiful," Kami kept saying as she settled on the loveseat positioned before the bay window.

Indeed it was. We just sat and watched the snowflakes fall for awhile.

In addition to being seasons of peace and of remembrance, Winter is a season of magic. Anything can and will most likely happen...if you believe. Such as a rose blooming in the middle of Winter.

I don't know why, but I'm enchanted by the idea. I have been ever since I read Kathleen E. Woodiwiss' A Rose In Winter a long time ago. Perhaps it's the very idea or image of something so fragile and beautiful as the rose surviving and flourishing when, logically, it shouldn't. Perhaps it's also because the idea appeals to my inherent desire or need to defy or beat the odds.

There is a legend of the Winter Rose, of how it got its name and why it blooms in the midst of Winter. From long, long ago, it's a tale of everlasting love, of remembrance and of magic.

The Legend of the Winter Rose
In the age of the gods, when the Aesir ruled Asgard and over the Northlands still, and long before the lands of Áshbjörn were united as one country, there lived a mighty warrior and lord named Haaken. Haaken was a tall, fierce man, with thick ebony tresses and eyes of steel gray that could pierce a man through to his very soul. He had everything a Viking lord and warrior ever wanted: power, success, the love and loyalty of his people, enemies who feared him and renown. He had everything...except the one person he loved and wanted the most...the Lady Lin.

An auburn-haired beauty with deep blue eyes, the intelligence to match a warrrior's and a strong will, Lady Lin was the daughter of a powerful chieftan who was also an enemy of Lord Haaken. There was no way her father would ever allow her to be with and marry an enemy. Besides which, her father, Lord Erik, had plans for his daughter's future: Lin would marry the son of a neighboring chieftan, thereby solidifying an alliance between the two clans. Theirs was a secret and forbidden love.

Defiant and distraught over her father's decision, Lady Lin refused to meekly obey. The very thought of wedding with an arrogant, spineless, mean-spirited whelp when she could not be with her own true love was unthinkable. Angered by her adamant refusal, Lord Erik locked Lin in her room to await the wedding day. Desperate to be free, to escape and be with her love, Lin wrote a missive to Lord Haaken, telling him of her father's plans. A loyal servant sympathetic to her plight, who had also helped the lovers tryst many times before, took her ring to show Haaken and the letter, escaping into the cold winter day, pretending to be on an errand for her father. He rode hard and fast to the warrior's keep, knowing each day counted, as the wedding was only days away and the preparations already begun.

He arrived at Lord Haaken's two days later, tired and near frozen, his horse near collapse. When Haaken saw who it was at his door, he hastily took the servant in, giving him food and wine and blankets to warm him up while demanding news of Lin. The servant gave him both the ring and the letter. As he read his lady's brief message, the Viking warrior vowed he would be the only one to have her as his wife. He quickly devised a plan to liberate the Lady Lin from her father's home and to take her someplace safe. He would find sanctuary for them both, marry her and make Lin his wife in every way before bringing her home. Then, if her father and his men caught up with them, they couldn't rightfully take her back. She would be his.

Making the necessary preparations for a quick departure, Lord Haaken gathered food, wineskins, extra furs and blankets for warmth, his sword, dagger and any other supplies he and his beloved might need in their flight. Leaving orders for his household and people, he left his younger brother in charge, barely giving his lady's servant time enough to rest and a fresh horse before they took off to rescue Lady Lin.

They made it to her father's the day of the wedding. The confusion and hubbub of extra guests and servants worked in the men's favor to blend in wih the crowd. Disguised as a servant, Lord Haaken followed Lin's man through the throng to Lin's room. There, they found a guard at her door.

"This man is here to relieve you," the servant told the guard with an authoritive tone. "We will make sure the bride makes it to her wedding."

The guard looked from the servant to Haaken and back again, as if trying to decide if they truly were about Lord Erik's orders. The two men waited in silence for him to come to a decision, although Lord Haaken wanted nothing more than to take his hidden dagger and introduce its gilded hilt to the man's temple, and, having rendered him unconscious, take the keys to free his lady. Frustration welled up within his chest and his heart pounded with urgency, but he let none of this show as he and his ally waited. He merely stared at the sentinel, making sure his stance was relaxed yet alert. He needed to be ready to attack quickly if the man suspected anything amiss.

But apparently he did not, for after a few moments of deliberation and one last glance at Haaken, he nodded and murmured something about rest. He'd been on guard all night and most of the morning. He was glad to be done guarding an unhappy and unwilling bride. Giving the keys on an iron ring to Haaken, he wandered off in search of a remote and quiet place to rest. Dismissing him immediately from their minds, the servant and the warrior tried several keys before one fit and turned easily in the look.

As the door swung open to her prison, Lady Lin spun around in her wedding finery, ready to fight and rebel all the way to the altar. If she saw a chance, she'd run for it, she'd decided. But there was no need to. There, in her doorway, was the most welcome sight ever: her beloved Haaken, dressed in servant's clothing and her best friend and servant standing beside him. Her heart leaped and fluttered with hope and joy.

With a welcome cry she opened her arms and ran to her lord. Lifting herself on tiptoes and melting into his embrace, they exhanged a quick kiss loaded with promises of the future. Glancing furtively down the hall in either direction, watching for people, the servant cleared his throat and touched Haaken's arm.

"There's time enough for that later," he said softly and urgently. "We need to get you both away from here now."

The lovers nodded and broke away. Pretending to be the guards come to get the willful bride, the men positioned themselves on either side of her and firmly took hold of her arms. Each was playing a part, and each knew they had to be convincing. The servant had to act confident and authorative, belying his nervousness and fear. The bride had to look and act sullen and rebellious, tears of happiness hopefully being mistaken for those of sorrow, hiding the triumph, hope, love and joy she secretly felt. The lord had to consciously alter his bearing and watch where he set his gaze, knowing those things could give him away as a lord.

No one questioned them as they made their way down corridors, seemingly on their way toward the Great Hall and the wedding, for almost everyone was gathered there. The three knew they had to hurry. The real guards and Lord Erik, who should've escorted the bride to the ceremony, would come soon enough and find her gone. The lovers needed to be away, with a good head start. Instead of taking the last turn toward the staircase leading to the Great Hall, they turned right, and Lady Lin hurriedly led them down another hall and into her father's solar. She walked to the far wall and touched a secret spot an inch above her head on her right. A narrow door opened outwardly in the wall, revealing a black gaping maw--the entrance to the family's escape tunnel.

Taking and lighting a torch to illuminate the way, Haaken followed Lin into the drafty, chilly and musty passageway. Her servant brought up the rear as the door closed behind them, enclosing them all in silence. The passageway was narrow and dim, the flickering torchlight casting a warm orange glow along the walls and creating dancing shadows as they went. After they'd gone aways, the floor sloped down as the tunnel led to the right, heading toward the bay and the exit.

Finally making it safely out and away from her father's keep, the three hurried to where the men had hid the fresh horses they'd taken from Lord Erik's stables before entering his home. Haaken helped Lin mount a chestnut steed, then threw a fur-lined cloak about her shoulders for warmth. The horse, restless, did a few prancing sidesteps, wanting to run. Lin said her tearful goodbyes to and thanked the young man who had grown up with her, who'd been her best friend and loyal servant. Haaken, now mounted on a dappled gray gelding, touched Lin's knee and away they rode.

They hadn't gone too many miles before the bride and the two horses were discovered missing. Enraged, Lord Erik, his would-be ally and the groom gathered men together to question everyone and to search. One of the men loyal to the neighboring and guest chieftan found the tracks left by the two horses in the snow some ways away from the main hall. Horses were saddled and mounted, and the chase began.

Haaken's plan was simple. He and the Lady Lin would ride to the keep of his nearest ally and request sanctuary. There he would ask a priest to marry them, finally uniting them as lord and lady wife. They rode on and on, long into the afternoon and into a forest. They were hours away from his friend's still when the warrior noticed an approaching snow storm darkening the sky. He needed to find them shelter, and soon.

His worries were compounded then, because they began to hear the distant thundering of pounding hooves somewhere behind them. "Father!" Lin cried fearfully. The horsemen, despite the snow, were coming hard and fast after the two lovers, gaining on them.

Desperately, the two spurred their horses faster, heading deeper into the darkening forest and hoping they'd find shelter and a perfect hiding place. But it seemed as if the rising wind was on the side of the men chasing Lord Haaken and Lady Lin; they were closing in like fiends from a nightmare.

Just as the first snowflakes fell from a leaden sky, the runaway bride and her love came to a spacious clearing, and there in the center, was a beautiful, magnificent palace. If they could just make the open gates and request sanctuary, they'd be safe! Riding as hard as their horses were capable of, the two raced toward and through the gates at last. Lin was ahead of Haaken and reined her protesting horse in with difficulty. At her lord's sudden cry of pain she reeled her mount around and screamed. Lord Haaken had fallen from his steed just inside the palace gates. A black arrow protruded from his back. The riders were coming ever closer.

Jumping down and running to her dying lord, tears blurring her vision, the lady snapped the end of the arrow off and then, with as much strength as she could muster, pulled the remaining part from the body of her lover. Turning him over gently, heedless of his blood staining her hands and clothes, she cradled him in her arms, sobbing.

"Oh beautiful, mighty Freya, goddess of love!" the Lady Lin cried. "Spare my love! Help us!"

"I cannot," said a voice sadly, a few feet to the grieving bride's left. As her attention had been on her fallen warrior and the men riding towards the palace, Lin had not seen the beautiful flaxen-haired woman dressed in pink walk down the palace steps into the courtyard. "I do not have that ability. He is headed for Valhalla and will be welcomed there with honor."

"NO!!!" sobbed Lin of the Broken Heart. "He cannot leave me! Please!"

"My love, please do not mourn so," Haaken said softly, his hand cupping her cheek. "With my sword in hand...I'm headed for Valhalla...and we will be together...again someday."

As his gray gaze dimmed and he spoke his dying words, Freya went to the gray gelding, retrieving the warrior's magnificent sword, which she gently handed to him. For a Viking warrior cannot enter Valhalla without his sword. The men who'd given chase had dismounted and gathered 'round the four near the gates.

Haaken whispered one last "I love you," before breathing his last, his hand dropping to the snow as his soul entered Valhalla at last.

Seeking to console the heartbroken lady, Freya, that kind and most beautiful goddess, touched her shoulder. "Your love will not be forgotten," she said, sympathy and compassion in her pale blue eyes. "Look you there." She pointed to a withered, snow-blanketed rosebush near the wall of her courtyard.

Before every pair of astonished eyes, a withered rose that had been touched by the blood of Lord Haaken began to bloom a deep red. The snow had begun falling heavier now, and a snowflake landed gently on an opening petal. There, it mixed with a tear that had fallen from the Lady Lin's wet face. Another amazing thing happend. Where the snow and tear touched the rose turned white, leaving only the edges red.

"From this time forth, this rose shall bloom as a symbol of your everlasting love, of remembrance and of magic," the goddess proclaimed. "For as long as this rose continues to bloom, your love will always be remembered."

She took Lady Lin in as a lady-in-waiting, and Lord Haaken's body was returned to his family and clan. He received a proper Viking send off, being dressed in his finest robes and furs. With his sword placed in his hands, the mourners put him gently in a boat, set it on fire and adrift.

To this day, on the anniversary of Lord Haaken's death, the rosebush in Freya's courtyard brings forth one perfect white rose edged in red even though it is Winter.

Heart Of The Gravamina

Gravamina: The part of a charge or an accusation that weighs most substantially against the accused.

I’m sailing to the End of The World on a ship called Gravamina, and she’s perfect for this Journey because she knows Death.

She is herself as dead as the Black Waters I sail across, as dead as the Crew that still haunt her decks and tend to her needs. She is as Dead as the Corpses that lie in the Catacombs I stole her compass from a week ago.

“ Finding the Gravamina won’t be as hard for you as it is for others. You’ll need the Heart of The Gravamina to find the Caravanserai,” the Hanged Man’s Skull whispered to me from his shelf in my library. “ But tell me, why do you want to join the Caravanserai?”

I walked to the shelf and turned the sectioned skull towards me and looked into his empty eyes and said, “ Because I’m tired of you, I’m tired of this house and I’m very tired of pretending to be something I’m not.”

“ You trail Death behind as if it were a train on a woman’s gown Azi Dahaka. When the Caravanserai become wise to you…they’ll destroy you and then you’ll join me here on this shelf and we’ll have nothing for company except each other’s Sins.

I took the Hanged Man’s Skull from the shelf and wrapped it carefully in linen decorated with a language no living person has ever spoken. “ You wish,” I told it. Then with the Skull, and nothing else in my possession I went into the world to find the Heart of The Gravamina.

The Hanged Man’s Skull told me on our long journey to the Catacombs about the Heart of The Gravamina and why it entombed and the rest of the Gravamina rots in a Grotto below the City.

Then he told me to listen because the Heart of The Gravamina doesn’t beat like a drum.

The Heart of the Gravamina screams.

“All Ships are alive, you know that Azi Dahaka and the Gravamina was alive too…maybe more so then any of her Sisters

Once long ago something dark and wicked boarded The Gravamina and killed her crew.

Now, it was assumed it was the Plague, but of course it wasn’t…it was a Demon and it drained the blood and life from every living thing on board the Gravamina and with no crew the Gravamina drifted and dreamed.

And then she went mad.

Like most Insane things the Gravamina was very good at pretending to be normal and after she was repaired and sold and even re-named she sailed and reacted to her world, as any Ship should

But then she started killing things.

She took the lives of her crew, the fish that swam around her as she sailed the Seas and when she was bored she made the food and water and wine go bad that had been stored below her decks.

Then one day a young sailor whose mother was a Witch and whose father was a Demon from the Mountains boarded the Gravamina and she tried to kill him to…for sport.

But he knew what to do and he tore her Compass from her chest and he took it to the Catacombs and he buried it.

He buried it alive.

The fool.

So the Heart of the Gravamina Screams in anger and rage and the rest of her dreams and rots and then one day a woman named Azi Dahaka went down into those tombs and brought it back out.

Azi Dahaka put the Compass back into her chest and the Gravamina’ s Sails captured a long dead gust of wind and her Crew came from the darkness and now they are all sailing to a port where this is dancing and music and art and poetry.

And Souls.

Lots of them.

And Azi Dahaka is very, very hungry.”

le Enchanteur dressed as Scheherezade

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On the first evening at the Caravanserai le Enchanteur has dressed as Scheherezade and is hosting an evening where pilgrims can use Caravanserai artefacts to tell a story of 1001 words. Pull some clothes out of the costume boxes and join le Enchanteur in the Great Hall. Take your turn to sit on the golden bone chair and tell your tale.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

A Lemurian Artefact Tale Is...

Lemurian Artefacts and ephemera that have been gathered by travellers on their journey along the Soul Food Silk Road are nothing short of inspirational.

In line with the notion that a picture is worth a thousand words and in keeping with the old show and tell of primary school days, everyone is invited to tell a story using some of the artefacts that are presented within these galleries.

Choose an image, take a seat in the Golden Bone Chair and tell a story of 1001 words.