Javelina seem to be the patron animals here at Endicott West this week, as they've been coming around quite regularly -- particularly out at the Bunk House, where I'm sleeping, where they snuffle around both day and night and prowl right through my dreams.
During one of the times when Howard was here in Tucson he remarked that javelina, despite their bristly bulk, looked to him like ballet dancers en pointe as they crossed the desert on oddly daintly little feet. This sparked the following little drawing by me, followed by a charming poetic ditty by Howard, from which these words are drawn....
I've long used the term "embracing the bear" for those moments when I'm moving forward into something I fear, but don't want fear to stop me; thus I was intrigued to encounter the same phrase in Terry Tempest William's An Unspoken Hunger, where it has a slightly different, but related, meaning. In a gorgeous little essay on women and bears, Williams includes a description of Marian Engle 's Bear, a highly unsual, memorable novel which portrays a woman and a bear "in an erotics of place":
"The woman says, 'Bear, take me to the bottom of the ocean with you, Bear, swim with me, Bear, put your arms around me, enclose me, swim, down, down, down, with me.'
" 'Bear,' she says suddenly, 'come dance with me.'
"They make love. Afterwards, 'She felt pain, but it was a dear sweet pain that belonged not to mental suffering, but to the earth.'
William writes that she, too, "has felt the pain that arises from a recognition of beauty, pain we hold when we remember what we are connected to and the delicacy of our relations. It is this tenderness born out of connection to place that fuels my writing. Writing becomes an act of compassion toward life, the life we often refuse to see because if we look too closely or feel too deeply, there may be no end to our suffering. But words empower us, move us beyond our suffering, and set us free. This is the sorcery of literature. We are healed by our stories.
"By undressing, exposing, and embracing the bear, we undress, expose, and embrace our authentic selves. Stripped free from society's oughts and shoulds, we emerge as emancipated beings. The bear is free to roam."
"We are creatures of paradox, women and bears, two animals that are enormously unpredictable, hence our mystery," Williams continues. "Perhaps the fear of bears and the fear of women lies in our refusal to be tamed, the impulses we arouse and the forces we represent....As women connected to the earth, we are nurturing and we are fierce, we are wicked and we are sublime. The full range is ours. We hold the moon in our bellies and fire in our hearts. We bleed. We give milk. We are the mothers of first words. These words grow. They are our children. They are our stories and our poems."
The sublime images above are by the Russian surrealist photographer Katerina Plotnikova, based in Moscow. The pen-and-ink drawings are Victorian illustrations, artists unknown.
Other recommended bear fiction, in addition to Bear by Marion Engle: The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman (the woman-bear relationship in this book completely slays me), Her Frozen Wild by Kim Antieau, "Bear's Bride" by Johanna Sinisalo (in The Beastly Bride), "The Brown Bear of Norway" by Isobel Cole (in Black Thorn White Rose), Tender Morsals by Margo Lanagan, East by Edith Pattou, Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede, and Ice by Sarah Beth Durst. There's also a magical story tucked into the stanzas of Theodora Goss's poem, "The Bear's Daughter," and a very beautiful children's book by Jackie Morris, The Ice Bear. Others?
While writing yesterday's post, which touched on the value of retreat and hibernation, I was reminded of something Terry Tempest Williams once said about the symbology of bears, and I searched through her interviews (published in A Voice in the Wilderness) until I found the right passage. For Williams, the bear embodies "opposing views, that we can be both fierce and compassionate at once. The bear is above ground in spring and summer and below ground, hibernating, in fall and winter -- and she emerges with young by her side. I think that's a wonderful model for us, particularly as women. And it's one I've tried to adopt."
She goes on to explain that she divides her years into halves. From April Fool's Day to The Day of the Dead (November 1st), she lives a public life as a writer and activist, doing any traveling or public speaking or teaching during these months. From The Day of the Dead until April Fool's Day, however, she stays at home -- to spend time with her family; to write; to live within the rhythms of her creativity. The bear, she suggests, "offers us a model of how one lives with that paradox, of public and private life, of a creative life as well as a life of obligation."
Williams also addresses this theme in An Unspoken Hunger, pointing out that the she-bear has two sides her nature: both fierce and maternal, wild and nurturing. In mythic terms, this oppositional duality held in instinctive balance is the point.
"If we choose to follow the bear," she writes, "we will be saved from a distracted and domesticated life. The bear becomes our mentor. We must journey out, so that we might journey in. The bear mother enters the earth before snowfall and dreams herself through winter, emerging with young by her side. She not only survives the barren months, she gives birth. She is the caretake of the unseen world. As a writer and a woman with obligations to both family and community, I have tried to adopt this ritual of balancing public and private life. We are at home in the deserts and mountains, as well as in our dens. Above ground in the abundance of spring and summer, I am available. Below ground in the deepening of autumn and winter, I am not. I need hibernation in order to create."
In Women Who Run With the Wolves, psychologist and storyteller Clarissa Pinkola Estés notes the age-old connection of women and bears in the mythic traditions of many different lands. "To the ancients," she writes, "bears symbolized resurrection. The creature goes to sleep for a long time, its heartbeat decreases to almost nothing. The male often impregnates the female right before hibernation, but miraculously, egg and sperm do not unite right away. They float separately in her uterine broth until much later. Near the end of hibernation, the egg and sperm unite and cell division begins, so that the cubs will be born in the spring when the mother is awakening, just in time to care for and teach her new offspring. Not only by reason of awakening from hibernation as though from death, but much more so because the she-bear awakens with new young, this creature is a profound metaphor for our lives, for return and increase coming from something that seemed deadened.
"The bear is associated with many huntress Goddesses: Artemis and Diana in Greece and Rome, and Muerte and Hecoteptl, mud women deities in the Latina cultures. These Goddesses bestowed upon women the power of tracking, knowing, 'digging out' the psychic aspects of all things. To the Japanese the bear is the symbol of loyalty, wisdom, and strength. In northern Japan where the Ainu tribe lives, the bear is one who can talk to God directly and bring messages back for humans. The cresent moon bear is considered a sacred being, one who was given the white mark on his throat by the Buddhist Goddess Kwan-Yin, whose emblem is the crescent moon. Kwan-Yin is the Goddess of Deep Compassion and the bear is her emissary.
"In the psyche, the bear can be understood as the ability to regulate one's life, especially one's feeling life. Bearish power is the ability to move in cycles, be fully alert, or quiet down into a hibernative sleep that renews one's energy for the next cycle. The bear image teaches that it is possible to maintain a kind of pressure gauge for one's emotional life, and most especially that one can be fierce and generous at the same time. One can be reticent and valuable. One can protect one's territory, make one's boundaries clear, shake the sky if need be, yet be available, accessible, engendering all the same."
Though Williams and Estés are focused on women and women's issues in the passages above, the oppositional nature of bear symbology is useful to all artists, men and women alike, who struggle to balance their public and private selves, and the often-conflicting demands of family life, community engagement, and creative work. To be available to others, while protecting time to be available only to ourselves and our muse...is this not the dilemma that all creative artists (if we're not complete monsters of self-importance or self-effacement) face again and again?
Commenting on my New Year's Wish in Tuesday's post, Christina Bryant wrote: "I welcome your inclusion of balance between creation and calm this new year. So much focus is put on the doing, I'm glad to see a wish for the restoration and introspection that is vital to the creation process."
Christina is right. As a culture, we tend to prize action, accomplishment, and public expression over stillness, retreat, and quiet reflection...whereas I know for myself that life works best when all of these things are in harmony. What I strive for is hózhǫ́ (as the Navajo express it): a balance between them. A state of sacred symmetry, beauty, and grace.
I've always loved sunshine and warmth (the hotter the better), so the winter months are a challenge for me...and for many years I avoided the cold altogether by wintering in the Arizona desert. But living full-time on Dartmoor now, I have learned to appreciate winter's stark gifts: it slows me down, turns my thoughts inward, keeps me closer to hearth and home, strengthening the introverted side of my nature, without which I couldn't write or paint. I am learning at last to follow the bear; to trust in the process of hibernation and gestation. I am learning patience. Slowness. Stillness.
All things have their season. And spring always comes.
Art above: "The White Bear" and "The Ice Bear" by Jackie Morris, "Hibernation" and "Bear Woman" by Susan Seddon Boulet (1941-1997), a row of bear sculptures by Gene Tobey (1945-2006), "The White Bear King" by Theodor Kittlesen (1857-1914), and some bear cubs from one of my sketchbooks. Photograph: a brown bear and her cubs.
The passage below is from "Why our future depends on libraries, reading, and daydreaming," a recent lecture by Neil Gaiman in which he argues not only for the value of reading, but also for the value of stories often dismissed as "escapist." (Follow the link to read this excellent piece in full.)
"Fiction can show you a different world," Neil says. "It can take you somewhere you've never been. Once you've visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different. And while we're on the subject, I'd like to say a few words about escapism. I hear the term bandied about as if it's a bad thing. As if 'escapist' fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or for children, is mimetic fiction, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds herself in. If you were trapped in an impossible situation, in an unpleasant place, with people who meant you ill, and someone offered you a temporary escape, why wouldn't you take it? And escapist fiction is just that: fiction that opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with (and books are real places, make no mistake about that); and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real.
"As J.R.R. Tolkien reminded us, the only people who inveigh against escape are jailers."
"Fairy tales, fantasy, legend and myth...these stories, and their topics, and the symbolism and interpretation of those topics...these things have always held an inexplicable fascination for me," she writes. "That fascination is at least in part an integral part of my character — I was always the kind of child who was convinced that elves lived in the parks, that trees were animate, and that holes in floorboards housed fairies rather than rodents.
"You need to know that my parents, unlike those typically found in fairy tales — the wicked stepmothers, the fathers who sold off their own flesh and blood if the need arose — had only the best intentions for their only child. They wanted me to be well educated, well cared for, safe — so rather than entrusting me to the public school system, which has engendered so many ugly urban legends, they sent me to a private school, where, automatically, I was outcast for being a latecomer, for being poor, for being unusual. However, as every cloud does have a silver lining — and every miserable private institution an excellent library — there was some solace to be found, between the carved oak cases, surrounded by the well–lined shelves, among the pages of the heavy antique tomes, within the realms of fantasy.
"Libraries and bookshops, and indulgent parents, and myriad books housed in a plethora of nooks to hide in when I should have been attending math classes...or cleaning my room...or doing homework...provided me with an alternative to a reality I didn't much like. Ten years ago, you could have seen a number of things in the literary field that just don't seem to exist anymore: valuable antique volumes routinely available on library shelves; privately run bookshops, rather than faceless chains; and one particular little girl who haunted both the latter two institutions. In either, you could have seen some variation upon a scene played out so often that it almost became an archetype:
"A little girl, contorted, with her legs twisted beneath her, shoulders hunched to bring her long nose closer to the pages that she peruses. Her eyes are glued to the pages, rapt with interest. Within them, she finds the kingdoms of Myth. Their borders stand unguarded, and any who would venture past them are free to stay and occupy themselves as they would."
The exquisite mythic sculpture above and below is by Adrian Arleo, a ceramic artist in Lolo, Montana. "For over fifteen years," says Arleo, "I've been creating sculpture that combines human and animal imagery in a variety of ways. Some of these works elude to a relationship of understanding or connection between the human and animal realms. In others, the human figures possess animal faces, limbs, or other features in a way that reveals something hidden about the character or primal nature of the person.
"The Honey Comb sculptures are another variation on blending the human form with elements from nature. What appeals to me about the quality of this material is its appearance of simultaneously growing and deteriorating. I also like the way the wax approximates the material created by bees, enabling the work to be visual, tactile, and appealing to the sense of smell, like fresh honeycomb. On the flip side, the work might suggest the swarming, stinging insects that create this beautiful material. As with many things in life, beauty and the grotesque can cohabitate."
During my coffee break beside the stream yesterday, I was struck by the following words in Priscilla Stuckey's lovely collections of essays, Kissed by a Fox (and Other Stories of Friendship in Nature):
"If mind belongs to humans alone," she writes, "then stones, trees, and streams become mere objects of human tinkering. We can plunder the earth's resources with impunity, treating creeks and mountaintops in Kentucky or rivers in India or forests in northwest America as if they existed only for economic development. Systems of land and river become inert chunks of lifeless mud or mechanical runs of H2O rather than the living, breathing bodies upon which we and all other creatures depend for our very lives.
"Not to mention what 'nature as machine' has done to our emotional and spiritual well-being. When we regard nature as churning its way forward mindlessly through time, we turn our backs on mystery, shunning the complexity as well as the delights of relationship. We isolate ourselves from the rest of the creatures with whom we share this world. We imagine ourselves the apex of creation -- a lonely spot indeed. Human minds become the measure of creation and human thoughts become the only ones that count. The result is a concept of mind shorn of its wild connections, in which feelings become irrelevant, daydreams are mere distractions, and nighttime dreams -- if we attend to them at all -- are but the cast-offs of yesterday's overactive brain. Mind is cut off from matter, untouched by exingencies of mud or leaf, shaped by whispers or gales of wind, as if we were not, like rocks, made of soil.
"And then we wonder at our sadness and depression, not realizing that our own view of reality has sunk us into an unbearable solipsism, an agony of separateness -- from loved ones, from other creatures, from rich but unruly emotions, in short, from our ability to connect, through senses and feeling and imagination, with the world that is our home."
A little later in the same essay she writes:
"And here lies the crux of the matter: to say that nature is personal may mean not so much seeing the world differently as acting differently -- or, to state it another way, it may mean interacting with more-than-human others in nature as if those others had a life of their own and then coming to see, through experience, that these others are living, interactive beings.
"When nature is personal, the world is peopled by rocks, trees, rivers, and mountains, all of whom are actors and agents, protagonists of their own stories rather than just props in a human story. When Earth is truly alive, the world is full of persons, only some of whom are human."
In an essay on animal consciousness published in Lapham's Quaterly, John Jeremiah Sullivan notes:
"If we put aside the self-awareness standard -- and really, how arbitrary and arrogant is that, to take the attribute of consciousness we happen to possess over all creatures and set it atop the hierarchy, proclaiming it the very definition of consciousness (Georg Christoph Lichtenberg wrote something wise in his notebooks, to the effect of: only a man can draw a self-portrait, but only a man wants to) -- it becomes possible to say at least the following: the overwhelming tendency of all this scientific work, of its results, has been toward more consciousness. More species having it, and species having more of it than assumed. This was made boldly clear when the 'Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness' pointed out that those 'neurological substrates' necessary for consciousness (whatever 'consciousness' is) belong to 'all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses.' The animal kingdom is symphonic with mental activity, and of its millions of wavelengths, we’re born able to understand the minutest sliver. The least we can do is have a proper respect for our ignorance.
"The philosopher Thomas Nagel wrote an essay in 1974 titled, 'What Is It Like To Be a Bat?,' in which he put forward perhaps the least overweening, most useful definition of 'animal consciousness' ever written, one that channels Spinoza’s phrase about 'that nature belonging to him wherein he has his being.' Animal consciousness occurs, Nagel wrote, when 'there is something that it is to be that organism -- something it is like for the organism.' The strangeness of his syntax carries the genuine texture of the problem. We’ll probably never be able to step far enough outside of our species-reality to say much about what is going on with them, beyond saying how like or unlike us they are. Many things are conscious on the earth, and we are one, and our consciousness feels like this; one of the things it causes us to do is doubt the existence of the consciousness of the other millions of species. But it also allows us to imagine a time when we might stop doing that."
In addition to Stuckey's book and Sullivan's essay, I recommend Brandon Kein's "Being a Sandpiper" (Aeon); Stephen M. Wise's "Nonhuman Rights to Personhood" (pdf); and Karen Joy Fowler's brilliant and devastating new novel, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. (Avoid reviews of the latter if you possibly can. The less you know about the story before you read it, the more wonderful it is.)
Post script to the writers and readers who participated in last week's Poetry Challenge: There are still new poems
(plus poetry feedback and discussion) appearing in the Comment threads of last week's posts -- so I'll keep the Comments open for a little while longer. Do be sure to have a look.
"The mouse ne'er shunn'd the cat as they did budge
From rascals worse than they." - William Shakespeare (Coriolanus)
“Mice are terribly chatty. They will chat about anything, and if there is nothing to chat about, they will chat about having nothing to chat about. Compared to mice, robins are reserved.” - Robin McKinley (Spindle's End)
Where has he gone, my meadow mouse,
My thumb of a child that nuzzled in my palm? --
To run under the hawk's wing,
Under the eye of the great owl watching from the elm-tree,
To live by courtesy of the shrike, the snake, the tom-cat.
Washed in the River
And though only children were meant
to believe this, I still believe this.
The fate of the body
is to confound
and the plain sister, vipers and toads.
Meanwhile the mother
of the gray thing
bathed him in a teacup.
Plucked him out and let him
run along the shore
to the window. Where both of them
were struck with longing —
he behind the great glass,
she behind the gray boy.
The second you see yourself in the suffering
the story's over.
The art above: Five illustrations by Beatrix Potter (from The Tailor of Gloucester and Two Bad Mice); "The Cat and the Mouse" by Johnny B. Gruelle; "Belling the Cat" and "Thumbelina" by Milo Winter -- the latter picture paired with "CIty Mouse, Country Mouse" by Charles Folkard; an illustration from the Brambly Hedge series by Jill Barklem; a decoration and two full-page illustrations from "The Robber Bridgegroom" (a Grimms fairy tale delightfully but inexplicably illustrated with pictures of mice and frogs in Japanese clothing) by H.S. Owen, published in 1922; a detail from a "Robber Bridegroom" painting by H.S. Owen paired with "Three Blind Mice" by Charles Folkard; "Three Blind Mice" by Walton Corbould; fairy tale mice by Igor Oleinikov; two illustrations from "Town Mouse Country Mouse" by Jan Brett; "Mousekin" by Edna Miller; a full painting and a small sketch/study for "Thumbelina" by Lisbeth Zwerger; a drawing of E.B. White's "Stuart Little" by Garth Williams; a mouse drawing by H.S. Owen; a painting of mine called "The Mouse Child," and an image from the animated film "The Tale of Desperaux," based on the charming book by Kate DiCamillo. Below is another Brambly Hedge illustration by Jill Barklem.
The vixen who trotted through yesterday's post came to us in a mischievous Trickster guise: both clever and foolish, creative and destructive, perfectly civilized and utterly wild. Trickster foxes appear in old stories gathered from countries and cultures all over the world -- including Aesop's Fables from ancient Greece, the "Reynard" stories of medieval Europe, the "Giovannuzza" tales of Italy, the "Brer Fox" lore of the American South, and stories from diverse Native American traditions.
At the darker end of the fox-lore spectrum, however, we find creatures of a distinctly more dangerous cast: Reynardine, Mr. Fox, kitsune (the Japanese fox wife), kumiho (the Korean nine-tailed fox), and other treacherous shape-shifters.
Fox women can be found in many story traditions but they're particularly prevalent across the Far East. Fox wives, writes folklorist Heinz Insu Fenkle (in a good article on the subject) are seductive creatures who "entice unwary scholars and travelers with the lure of their sexuality and the illusion of their beauty and riches. They drain the men of their yang -- their masculine force -- and leave them dissipated or dead (much in the same way La Belle Dame Sans Merci in Keats's poem leaves her parade of hapless male victims).
"Korean fox lore, which comes from China (from sources probably originating in India and overlapping with Sumerian lamia lore) is actually quite simple compared to the complex body of fox culture that evolved in Japan. The Japanese fox, or kitsune, probably due to its resonance with the indigenous Shinto religion, is remarkably sophisticated. Whereas the arcane aspects of fox lore are only known to specialists in other East Asian countries, the Japanese kitsune lore is more commonly accessible. Tabloid media in Tokyo recently identified the negative influence of kitsune possession among members of the Aum Shinregyo (the cult responsible for the sarin attacks in the Tokyo subway). Popular media often report stories of young women possessed by demonic kitsune, and once in a while, in the more rural areas, one will run across positive reports of the kitsune associated with the rice god, Inari."
There are tales of fox wives in the West as well, but fewer of them; and they tend, by and large, to be gentler creatures. (To marry them is unlucky nonetheless, for they're skittish, shy, and not easily tamed.) An exception to this general rule can be found in the räven stories of Scandinavia. The fox-women who roam the forests of northern Europe are portrayed as heart-stoppingly beautiful, fiercely independent, and extremely dangerous.
Fire and frost are in your eyes
are you a woman or a fox?
Wild and sly you hunt in time of darkness
long sleeves hide your claws
with your prey you play
your mouth is red with blood.
The "nine-tailed fox" of China and Japan is often (but not always) a demonic spirit, malevolent in intent. It takes possession of human bodies, both male and female, moving for one victim to another over thousands of years, seducing other men and women in order to dine on their hearts and livers. Human organs are also a delicacy for the nine-tailed fox, or kumiho, of Korean lore -- although the earliest texts don't present the kumiho as evil so much as amoral and unpredictable...occasionally even benevolent...much like the faeries of English folklore.
In the West, it's the fox-men we need to beware of -- such as Reynardine in the old folk ballad, a handsome were-fox who lures young maidens to a bloody death. Below, the ballad is performed by Jon Boden and The Remnant Kings at the Cecil Sharp House in London:
Mr. Fox, in the English fairy tale of that name, is cousin to the kumiho and Reynardine, with a bit of Bluebeard mixed in for good measure, promising marriage to a gentlewoman while his lair is littered with her predecessors' bones. Neil Gaiman drew inspiration from the tale when he wrote his wry, wicked poem "The White Road":There was something sly about his smile,
Jeannine Hall Gailey, by contrast, casts a sympathetic eye on fox shape-shifters, writing plaintively from a kitsune's point of view in "The Fox-Wife's Invitation":
These ears aren't to be trusted.
The keening in the night, didn't you hear?
Once I believed all the stories didn’t have endings,
but I realized the endings were invented, like zero,
had yet to be imagined.
The months come around again,
and we are in the same place;
full moons, cherries in bloom,
the same deer, the same frogs,
the same helpless scratching at the dirt.
You leave poems I can’t read
behind on the sheets,
I try to teach you songs made of twigs and frost.
you may be imprisoned in an underwater palace;
I'll come riding to the rescue in disguise.
Leave the magic tricks to me and to the teakettle.
I've inhaled the spells of willow trees,
spat them out as blankets of white crane feathers.
Sleep easy, from behind the closet door
I'll invent our fortunes, spin them from my own skin.
Although chancy to encounter in myth, and too wild to domesticate easily (in stories and in life), some of us long for foxes nonetheless, for their musky scent, their hot breath, their sharp-toothed magic. "I needed fox," wrote Adrienne Rich:
Badly I needed
a vixen for the long time none had come near me
I needed recognition from a
triangulated face burnt-yellow eyes
fronting the long body the fierce and sacrificial tail
I needed history of fox briars of legend it was said she had run through
I was in want of fox
And the truth of briars she had to have run through
I craved to feel on her pelt if my hands could even slide
past or her body slide between them sharp truth distressing surfaces of fur
lacerated skin calling legend to account
a vixen's courage in vixen terms
Ah, but Fox is right here, right beside us, Jack Roberts answers, a little warily:
Not the five tiny black birds that flew
out from behind the mirror
over the washstand,
nor the raccoon that crept
out of the hamper,
nor even the opossum that hung
from the ceiling fan
troubled me half so much as
the fox in the bathtub.
There's a wildness in our lives.
We need not look for it.
There are a number of good books that draw upon fox legends -- foremost among them, Kij Johnson's exquisite novel The Fox Woman. I also recommend Neil Gaiman's The Dream Hunters (with the Japanese artist Yoshitaka Amano); Larissa Lai's unusual novel, When Fox Is a Thousand; Helen Oyeyemi's recent novel, Mr. Fox; and Ellen Steiber's gorgeous urban fantasy novel, A Rumor of Gems, as well as her heart-breaking novella "The Fox Wife" (published in Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears). For younger readers, try the "Legend of Little Fur" series by Isobelle Carmody. You can also support a fine mythic writer by subscribing to Sylvia Linsteadt's The Gray Fox Epistles: Wild Tales By Mail (more information here). Many other good fox tales are listed here.
For the fox in myth, legend, and lore, try: Fox by Martin Wallen; Reynard the Fox, edited by Kenneth Varty; Kitsune: Japan's Fox of Mystery, Romance, and Humour by Kiyoshi Nozaki;Alien Kind: Foxes and Late Imperial Chinese Narrative by Raina Huntington; The Discourse on Foxes and Ghosts: Ji Yun and Eighteenth-Century Literati Storytelling by Leo Tak-hung Chan; and The Fox and the Jewel: Shared and Private Meanings in Contemporary Japanese Inari Worship, by Karen Smythers.
The foxy art above is: "Fox Maiden" by Susan Seddon Boulet (1941-1997); "Foxgloves" by Kelly Louise Judd; "Foxes" by Erica Il Cane; "Yasune Watching His Wife Change into a Fox-spirit" and "Fox Mother and Child: by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861); a fox drawing by Julie Morstad; "Fox" by Jackie Morris; "Fox in the Reeds by Ohara Koson (1877-1945); "Girl and Fox" by Xiaoqing Ding; two paintings of mine: "The Fox-wife of Rushford Wood" and "Fox Spirit"; "The Princess Saves the White Fox" by H.J. Ford; and two charming paintings by Julianna Swaney: "Night Migrations" and "Reading Together."
Well, it's certainly no secret on this blog that my Sacred Trinity of favorite living poets consists of Lisel Mueller, Mary Oliver, and our own Jane Yolen. When any of them have a new book on the shelves, it's cause for celebration -- and doubly so in the case of Jane's luminous new collection, Sister Fox’s Field Guide to the Writing Life, for a number of the poems made their first appearance here, in response to posts on Myth & Moor.
Drawing on myth, folklore, fairy tales, and the everyday enchantments of the natural world, Sister Fox (a most beguiling little Trickster) presents poems dedicated to the daily vocation of writing: the rigours and the pleasures, the sweat and the magic, the practical craft and the numinous art.
A storyteller, Jane says,
unpacks his bag of tales
with fingers quick
as a weaver’s
picking the weft threads
threading the warp.
Watch his fingers.
Watch his lips
speaking the old familiar words:
Storytellers, poets, and Tricksters alike are liars whose lies speak truths. "We reveal in stories, " she writes, "even as we revel in them, stripping off skin, muscle, tendons, flensing down to the bone."
All arts have their mystical elements, their Muses and moments of inspiration flashing like thunderbolts thrown by the gods, but these poems do not shy away from the mundane, earth-bound aspects of the writing life, or the labor that it entails.
At the start of her poem "Switching on the Light," Jane quotes scientist and inventor Thomas Alva Eddison: "Opportunity is missed by most people," he said, "because it arrives in overalls and looks like work.”
Just so my Muse arrives, sleeves rolled up,
apron tied in front, garden gloves hiding
broken, dirt-encrusted nails.
She hands me a hammer, a spirit level, a saw,
says: Get to work, slug-a-bed, don’t be a sloven!
her language as archaic as her ethic.
Although this is a book that will speak most of all to fellow writers (especially here in the Mythic Arts field), it also has much to offer to creative artists in general....and isn't that all of us? We all create in one way or another: not only in forms traditionally labelled as art, but also in crafting our homes, our gardens, our meals, our families, our work, our communities, and in sculpting the very shape of our lives. In this book, Sister Fox gathers poems that address the daily-yet-timeless process of making, and how that effects our lives, our world. Her bright bushy tail wrapped snugly around her, she sits and she quietly ponders these poems:
She thinks about their habitats, their markings,
the chunnering and chatter of their songs.
They are the birdlife of the writer’s world.
She likes the feel of them, the scent.
She licks her lips.
Sister Fox's Field Guide to the Writing Life by Jane Yolen (with decorations by Laura Anderson) will be published this autumn by Unsettling Wonders (John Patrick Pazdziora, editor) in conjunction with Papaveria Press (Erzebet Carr, editor). The publication date is October 31, and the book can pre-ordered here.
In the world of Tricksters, Coyote is the big, bad, bold-as-brass cousin of Sister Fox. The following poem from Jane's new book is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author and her publisher.
I didn’t see you trotting sideways,
Coyote, thicket-born shape-shifter,
ears pointing toward the wind.
Where were you when the story turned,
faltered, placed a stake in its own heart?
When need was so great, I wept
over the keyboard, mistaking
your bold footprints, that wild track,
for something much tamer.
Help me find the trail again,
out here in the wold where stories start,
where crag and sinkhole
speak a language we all knew once;
and stories poured forth,
gushing like a freshet in the spring.
- Jane Yolen
The art above is: "Woman and Fox" by the surrealist photographer Katerina Plotnikova (Russia); one of Laura Anderson's Sister Fox decorations; "Hare and Fox" by Jackie Morris (Wales); a Little Elvie illustration by Catherine Hyde (Cornwall); "Fox Confessor" by Julie Morstad (Vancouver, B.C.); an unattributed coyote photograph; a Medicine Road illustration by Charles Vess (Virginia); a detail from my "Coyote Woman" (painted in the Arizona desert); and another unattributed coyote photograph.
A quiet morning. The sky has cleared at last and Tilly is filled with joy. After a week of illness, she's well again and our morning walks through the hills resume.
But wait. What's this? Behind her, something is crashing and splashing through the undergrowth, moving up the stream bed in the shadow of the trees.
A friend? A foe? A monster? Tilly stands alert. Will barking be required?
Ah, but it's only a shy young calf, as surprised by us as we are by her.
Tilly throws me a glance over her shoulder, tail wagging briskly. A friend! What fun!
She trots up the stony bank eagerly...
...and then backs up fast, for the calf is not alone.
A whole herd of cows is climbing upstream, scrambling up the rocks of the waterfall like enormous mountain goats, pushed up the slope by a big black bull. He is moving them from one field to another...and we are in the way.
"Bark, bark, bark!" cries Tilly, excited. Monsters! Monsters! Run quick as you can!
I grab my book, my thermos, my jacket, and follow behind her, laughing as I run.
We run the entire length of the field, the cows and the bull bellowing behind...and flop in the grass by the field's rusty gate, hearts racing and grinning like fools. I settle back against an ancient oak, my book in hand, fresh coffee in my cup. Tilly sits close, ears cocked, alert and on guard. Just in case there are any more monsters.
She's perfectly happy. The cows and the bull had startled her, astonished her, and perhaps even frightened her a little, but it was all part of a good morning's adventure. (She'll be hoping for cows in the waterfall now when we walk this way again.)
I'd like to be more like Tilly myself, when life throws up unexpected things and bulls emerge to block the path ahead. Far better to be astonished than anxious; far better to move in new directions than stand there frozen by dismay. As Mary Oliver says in her exquisite poem titled "When Death Comes":
When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms....
I want to say that I walked through life with rapt attention, like the eager, clear-eyed little creature at my side.
I'm reminded of these words from graphic designer Milton Glaser on value of astonishment:
"If you can sustain your interest in what you’re doing, you’re an extremely fortunate person. What you see very frequently in people’s professional lives, and perhaps in their emotional life as well, is that they lose interest in the third act. You sort of get tired, and indifferent, and, sometimes, defensive. And you kind of lose your capacity for astonishment -- and that’s a great loss, because the world is a very astonishing place. What I feel fortunate about is that I’m still astonished, that things still amaze me. And I think that that’s the great benefit of being in the arts, where the possibility for learning never disappears, where you basically have to admit you never fully learn it."
The lesson for today: Be astonished.
"I grew up surrounded by magic," writes Sato. "As a little girl...I’d spend hours conversing with trees, an old mare, feral cats, birds, spiders and the moon that took me in like a lullaby, like a poem I could believe. It never occurred to me that there was something strange about wishing over weeds, speaking to the setting sun. As a child of field and wildflower, I loved the freedom of communicating in ways that stretched the impulse and ideal of communication, of the human alphabet. I believed in possibility and transcendence. I still do."
Sato had me from the very beginning (with quotes from two of my favorite writers), and the piece just gets better from there....
* "Joy" by Zadie Smith, published in The New York Review of Books, back in January. It's somehow taken me all this time to read it, and it's a delight. A follow-up: "Happiness" by Jane Kenyon, in Poetry Magazine.
* "Virtues of Madness and Vices," a beautiful interview with poet Mary Ruefle by David Andrew King, in The Kenyon Review.
* "What I Learned from Thomas Edison and Steven Soderbergh and How it Applies to Novelists" by Julianna Baggott, on the Writer Unboxed blog.The magical images above are by Russian surrealist photographer Katerina Plotnikova, based in Moscow.
This morning when I looked out the roof window
before dawn and
a few stars were still caught
in the fragile weft of ebony night
I was overwhelmed. I sang the song Louis taught me:
a song to call the deer in Creek, when hunting,
and I am certainly hunting something as magic as deer
in this city far from the hammock of my mother’s belly.
It works, of course, and deer came into this room
and wondered at finding themselves
in a house near downtown Denver...
...And so we close our eyes when we pray to seek the blindness
that offers a window into the world,
& the world within this one,
sudden rain so fine it could be just a trick of the wind & the light,
there & gone,
as the deer move off, through the silky wilds
of Queen Anne's lace,
through clover scatter-brushed in the grasses,
the long grasses that hold the traces of their passing
for a moment only, & beneath the old pear trees
already heavy with their suns,
with the cities of clouds the caterpillars
have spun for their tombs
as they move from this life & into the next one.
And we, with our rain-limned bodies, listening
for the echoes of our prayers to return,
to the aethereal bodies drifting so close
& out of sight,
listening hard for the sound of our own disappearance.
their hoofprints in the deep
needles and knew
they ended the long night
under the pines...
I was thinking:
so this is how you swim inward,
so this is how you flow outward,
so this is how you pray.
I somehow overlooked these deer pictures (from the American South-west) during our Deer Week back in early July. The drawing at the top is "Three Does and a Kid" by "cowgirl" artist Donna Howell-Sickles, from Texas. The paintings are by Toby Abeyta, a young Navajo/Anglo artist from New Mexico: "Deer Amongst the Trees," "Forest Deer Trio," "Deer Dancer," and the two-part "Hunting Processional." Please visit the artists' websites to see more of their beautiful work. The deer photo is of a stray fawn found at the City Hall in downtown Santa Fe, New Mexio, this summer. It's now at the Wildlife Center in Espanola and will be released into the wild after rehabiliation.
I should mention that it's going to be a particularly busy month here at Bumblehill, due to deadlines, guests, and a family member's impending move. I'll keep posting, but the posts may be shorter & quicker over the weeks ahead. I''ll continue on with the "Into the Woods" series when time permits, and will return to it fully in September.
This is the spot where Tilly and I often go for a mid-morning coffee break, for it's the perfect place to linger for a stolen moment in a busy work day. Sitting in the old oak's shade, bare feet cooled by gold water in a pebble-bottomed stream, I read or write while Tilly prowls, or splashes, or sits contentedly beside me.
It's also a spot favored by animals that live or graze on Nattadon Hill; we find deer and fox prints in the soil (and sometimes badger too), and once encountered a large hare, who blinked at us and then strolled leisurely away.
Most often it's the wild ponies who join us, traveling down from the moor to drink and bathe and cool themselves among the leaves...
...or cows from the lower field, much more standoffish since their calves were born.
Our foot and paw prints mix with theirs, just two more animals on the hill, drawn to cold water like all the rest....
...but when my cup is empty, I close the book, slip on my shoes, and say, "Come, love. Let's go home."
Tilly leads the way down the streamside path that winds back to studio, her nose twitching as she reads the latest scent-news carried by the wind.
And I bring it all back to my desk: the wind, the water, the woods, and the wild. Words like fox prints tracked across the page. Dark coffee, bright sun; the bitter and the sweet; the rustle of the ponies and the hare's bold gaze. The simple things that keep us going.
That I'm grateful for.
That aren't simple at all.
"Roe Deer in the Forest" by Ben Hall.
No one seen. Among empty mountains,
hints of drifitng voice, faint, no more.
Entering these deep woods, late sunlight
flares on green moss again, and rises.
Goodbye, deer friends, goodbye.
by George Oppen
In the small beauty of the forest
The wild deer bedding down —
That they are there!
Effortless, the soft lips
Nuzzle and the alien small teeth
Tear at the grass
The roots of it
Dangle from their mouths
Scattering earth in the strange woods.
They who are there.
Nibbled thru the fields, the leaves that shade them
Hang in the distances
The small nouns
In this in which the wild deer
Startle, and stare out.
by Lynn Hardaker
ochred hands onto the walls of this cave. my skin. my shelter.
each night i dream the chase
across my eyes’ black-lidded sky
my body slick with sweat and smeared with ash
as i run,
i hear the beating of the drum i’ve made -
taught and resonant - from my own skin,
feel the weight of the weapon i’ve made
from my own bone.
i leave the fire-painted walls
of this illusion
and i run
under the cool, many-eyed gaze of the night
i run until i feel my heart will beat its last beat and tear through my skin
my fear as dry as the dirt in my mouth.
i lower my antlers to the pool
and drink the stars.
The Faces of Deer
by Mary Oliver
When for too long I don't go deep enough
into the woods to see them, they begin to
enter my dreams. Yes, there they are, in the
pinewoods of my inner life. I want to live a life
full of modesty and praise. Each hoof of each
animal makes the sign of a heart as it touches
then lifts away from the ground. Unless you
believe that heaven is very near, how will you
find it? Their eyes are pools in which one
would be content, on any summer afternoon,
to swim away through the door of the world.
Then, love and its blessing. Then: heaven.
Deer tapestries above: The Woodland tapestry designed by John Henry Dearle for Morris & Co. (English, late 19th century); The Quest for the Holy Grail tapestry designed by William Morris for Morris & Co. (English, late 19th century); a detail from one of the four Devonshire Hunting Tapesteries (medieval French); one of the seven tapestries in the Hunt of the Unicorn series (medieval Dutch); and Tilly sits with the winged deer in the tapestry hanging over the studio sofa. (The design is medieval French.)
Publication credits: "Psalm" by George Oppen was published in New Collected Poems by George Oppen, 1965; "skin" by Lynn Hardaker was published in Mythic Delirium # 28, Winter/Spring 2013 issue; "The Faces of Deer" by Mary Oliver was published in New & Selected Poems, Vol. 2 by Mary Oliver, 2005.
In the earliest time,
when both people and animals lived on the earth,
a person could become an animal if he wanted to
and an animal could become a human being.
Sometimes they were people
and sometimes animals
and there was no difference.
All spoke the same language.
That was the time when words were like magic.
The human mind had mysterious powers.
A word spoken by chance
might have strange consequences.
It would suddenly come alive
and what people wanted to happen could happen -
all you had to do was to say it.
Nobody can explain this:
That's the way it was.
- after Nalugiaq (from Magic Words: Songs and Stories of the Netsilik Eskimos by Edward Field)
Native American olla from Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico. The exact date is unknown, but it's believed to be old, and the traditional "heartline deer" design even older.
Enchanted is what they were
in the old stories, or if not that,
they were guides and rescuers of the lost,
the lonely, needy young men and women
in the forest we call the world.
That was back in a time
when we all had a common language.
- Lisel Mueller (from "Animals Are Entering Our Lives")
Doe and Deer Jars, made of blown glass, by American glass artist William Morris, based in the Pacific Northwest.
Deer in Trees bowl by American ceramicist C. Bacon, based in New England.
Deer and Doe porcelain boxes by English ceramicist Eleanor Bartleman, based in Devon.
Long ago the trees thought they were people.
Long ago the mountains thought they were people.
Long ago the animals thought they were people.
Someday they will say, long ago the humans thought they were people.
- from a Native American (Tulalip) story recounted by Johnny Moses
The deer photographs above are: young fallow deer (by UK photographer Josh Smythe); a deer buck at Dunham Massey Deer Park, in north-west England, during the rutting season (rubbing antlers in grass is a common rutting behaviour); an early morning doe and deer encounter; and two white-tailed deer-people.
How to See Deer
by Philip Booth (1925-2007)
Forget roadside crossings.
Go nowhere with guns.
Go elsewhere your own way,
lonely and wanting. Or
stay and be early:
next to deep woods
inhabit old orchards.
All clearings promise.
Sunrise is good,
and fog before sun.
Expect nothing always;
find your luck slowly.
Wait out the windfall.
Take your good time
to learn to read ferns;
make like a turtle:
downhill toward slow water.
Instructed by heron,
drink the pure silence.
Be compassed by wind.
If you quiver like aspen
trust your quick nature:
let your ear teach you
which way to listen.
You've come to assume
protective color; now
colors reform to
new shapes in your eye.
You've learned by now
to wait without waiting;
as if it were dusk
look into light falling:
in deep relief
things even out. Be
careless of nothing. See
what you see.
The deer imagery above is: a photograph of deer in Glen Etive, Scotland; "This Isn't Happiness" by Myeongbeom Kim; photograph of a leaping row deer; an old illustration of a leaping dear (artist unknown); photograph of tiny muntjac fawn; "White-tail Fawn Reclining" by Mark Rossi; photograph of deer in the morning mist; sketch of deer on the Isle of Arran, Scotland, by Barbara Brassey (1911-2010); "A Forest" by Flora McLachlan, "Fawn" by Kiki Smith, "Young Deer" by Nicky Clacy; photograph of a white-tail deer and fawn; "Two Deer" by Franz Marc (1880-1916); "Deer in Ocean Surf" by Connie Cooper Edwards; "Deer" by Julianna Swaney; white doe photograph; "White Fawn" by Kelly Louise Judd; roe biuck photograph; "Nature Girl" by Christina Bothwell & "Queen of Beasts" by Fidelma Massey; "Out of Narnia" by Su Blackwell; "Deer" by Akitaka Ito; and "The Low Edge of the Storm" by Catherine Hyde.
"As long as people have lived or hunted alongside the deer's habitats," says writer and mythographer Ari Berk (in "Where the White Stag Runs"), "there have been stories: some of kindly creatures who become the wives of mortals; or of lost children changed into deer for a time, reminding their kin to honor the relationship with the Deer People, their close neighbors. And there are darker tales, recalling strange journeys into the Otherworld, abductions, and dangerous transformations that don't end well at all. But all stories about the deer share some common ground by showing us that the line between our world and theirs is very thin indeed."
Ovid's Metamorphoses, Ari continues, tells the story "of youthful Actaeon who spends the day hunting with his dogs on the hillsides, catching so much game that the slopes run red with blood. As the sun ascends the sky, he calls off the chase, bidding his comrades retire with the promise of renewing the hunt early the next day. Then he does a dangerous thing: he wanders for a time in a wood he does not know, and so comes by accident to the sacred grotto where Diana is accustomed to bathe with her nymphs. To Actaeon's great misfortune, he spies the goddess of the hunt naked and she, seeing him, blushes. Then lifting up her hands, she throws water in Actaeon's face and he flees that place. As he wanders back to find his friends he hears his dogs barking and sees that they are chasing him. Confused he calls out to them, but instead of his voice, he hears the bellowing of a great stag, for stag he now is, transformed by the goddess's vengeful hand. So he runs fast on four legs but soon his dogs chase him down and, tearing him apart, find their old master toothsome indeed. The myth of Actaeon is an early example of the connection of deer stories with the violation of taboos. Actaeon made three fatal errors: overhunting the hillside, entering a sacred enclosure unknowingly, and gazing upon the virgin mistress of the hunt. His punishment is perfectly suited to address his errors for he learns to see the world, though briefly, from the perspective of a shy creature who calls the wild home and instinctively respects its boundaries.
"In the medieval Welsh Mabinogion, does and stags appear as physical manifestations of the boundary between worlds. In the story of 'Pwyll,' the deer are followed into the forest during a hunt. But Pwyll, the prince, and his dogs are soon separated from his companions and he finds himself lost in the woods. Soon he hears other dogs and, following their barking, comes upon a clearing in the woods where he finds a strange pack—red-eared and white-furred—bearing down upon a stag. Pwyll chases those dogs off and sets his own upon the stag instead, most discourteously. When he later meets the owner of the white dogs—who is none other than the Arawn, lord of the Otherworld—satisfaction is demanded and Pwyll must repay Arawn by assuming his form and exchanging places, traveling into the Otherworld to kill one of Arawn's enemies. So following the deer is often a way into the Otherworld, or a sign that we are very close to its borders."
as crows fly
in the dawn light
on the cold hill
the deer are running
the thud of their hooves
on the bed of the stream
is the drum that rocks
the roots of the birch
and the wind that shakes
the birch tree’s leaves
Deer that roam the Western fairy tale tradition are guardians, guides, companions to the fairies, and occasionally fairies themselves in disguise -- or else they are men and women be-spelled, roaming the woods in animal-shape by day, briefly regaining their humanity each night. In Brother and Sister from Grimms' Fairy Tales, for example, two siblings flee their wicked stepmother through a dark and fearsome forest. The path of escape lies across three streams, and at each crossing the brother stops, intending to drink. Each time his sister warns him away, but the third time he cannot resist. He bends down to the water in the shape of a man and rises again in the shape of a stag. Thereafter, the sister and her brother-stag must live in a lonely hut in the woods . . . but eventually, with his sister’s help, (and after she marries a king), the young man resumes his true shape.
Ellen Steiber looked at this tale's archetypal patterns when writing her contemporary version, "In the Night Country" (published in The Armless Maiden). "Fairy tales are journey stories," she says in a beautiful essay on the subject. "They deal with initiation and transformation, with going into the forest where one's deepest fears and most powerful dreams are realized. Many of them offer a map for getting through to the other side. Out of curiosity, I went back to the patterns of three in [Brother and Sister], since the very rhythms of repetition set them off and give them importance. There are three brooks, three days of the hunt, and three times that the queen's ghost speaks [after the sister's marriage to the king, when her role as queen has been usurped by her step-sister]. Each of these patterns presents challenge and transformation; they are the places of power in the story, the points where true magic occurs. In the first the brother is thirsty; he needs nourishment and finally gets it, a difficult metamorphosis being the price. In the second he must either follow his own deer nature or 'die of grief'; at great risk he runs with the hunt, and that act takes both brother and sister farther along on the path they must travel to a new state of being. (It's worth noting that in the fairy tales one can rarely remain in the forest — one takes what was found there and brings it back into the world.) In the third challenge, the king must recognize the [true] queen, an act that will restore her to life and lead to a redress of wrongs, a final ending of the curse, a coming into balance. As abuse [in a family] takes many forms, so does salvation. Here are three of many acts that can get you through: nourishing yourself, following your heart even at great risk, and being seen for what you are."
Beloved, what can be, what was,
will be taken from us.
I have disappointed.
I am sorry. I knew no better.
A root seeks water.
Tenderness only breaks open the earth.
This morning, out the window,
the deer stood like a blessing, then vanished.”
In The White Deer (a.k.a. The White Hind and The White Doe), from the French fairy tales of Madame d’Aulnoy, a princess is cursed in infancy by a fairy who'd been insulted by her parents. Disaster will strike, says the fairy, if the princess sees the sun before her wedding day. Many years later, as she travels to her wedding, a ray of sun penetrates her carriage. The princess turns into a deer, jumps through the window, and disappears into the forest -- where she's eventually hunted by her own fiancé, who does not know what she has become.
She leads him through briars, bogs
scent-killing brooks — inexorably
the following fate comes on.
Always, till now, some twist has let her out.
In exhaulted desperation
she sees the cliff before her.
From teeth and knives
her white hide is no protection
"Leave off these fawnish fantasies,
her kind deer parents often said
"What's a white skin?
Does every third-born son
wed a princess?"
Can wild hope save her?
Can she be again
the princess she was in childhood
(or was it dreamed of?)
exquisite and beloved,
ideal and human both?
It is so far — so long ago
she left off thinking of glass slippers
accepted her four hooves.
came walking down the hill
and when they saw me
they said to each other, okay,
this one is okay,
let’s see who she is
and why she is sitting
on the ground like that,
so quiet, as if
asleep, or in a dream,
but, anyway, harmless;
and so they came
on their slender legs
and gazed upon me
not unlike the way
I go out to the dunes and look
and look and look
into the faces of the flowers;
and then one of them leaned forward
and nuzzled my hand, and what can my life
bring to me that could exceed
that brief moment?
"Deer is a common figure in American Indian myths, " notes Ari Berk, "often appearing in stories that continue the focus on families, kinship, marriage, child-rearing, hunting and pursuit. Among the Pueblos of the New Mexico, stories are still told of Deer Boy, a baby left in the grass, abandoned by its young mother, a girl of the village. It was a Deer Woman who found the human child and brought him home to raise with her own fawns. Time passed and the boy spent the days running with his fawn brothers and sisters. Some time later, a hunter from the village noticed strange tracks among those left by the Deer People. The Deer Woman knew the time had come for the boy to return to his people. She readied him to be caught by the hunter and told him what he must know about his real mother and what she looked like. She told him that to remain among his own people he must, upon returning to the village, be left alone and unseen in a room for four days. So he was found by the hunter and taken home and much happiness attended his homecoming. The boy told his family he must be left alone for four days and they agreed. But his birth mother, so impatient was she, stole a glance at her son before the four days were finished. In an instant the boy took on the shape of a deer and ran to the North where he joined his other mother and lived for the rest of his days among the Deer People."Yaqui Deer Songs by Larry Evers and Felipe S. Molina is a beautiful account of a deer mythology that is not buried in history but still living, still a vibrant part of everyday life for the modern Yoeme. "Flower-cover fawn went out, enchanted, from each enchanted flower wilderness world, he went out...," the singers sing as the deer dancer moves, gourd rattles in his hands and strings of rattles bound around his shins. A deer head rises over his own, antlers decorated with flowers. "So this now is the deer person, so he is the deer person, so he is the real deer person...." The drummers drum, the dancer leaps, and it is the real deer person indeed.
"Deer Woman's specific magic and myth surrounds marriage and courtship rituals," she says. "I write of Deer Woman from the Cherokee/Muskogee/Seminole/Choctaw perspective because this is what I know. But other cultures have encounters with Deer Woman or Deer Man. Ella Cara Deloria recorded several traditional Dakota and Lakota narratives which mirrored the Southeastern tribes' Deer Woman stories. The Karuk, according to the Karuk artist and storyteller Lyn Risling, have stories of the Deer Woman in which the spirit is associated with fertility and maturation rituals and prepares young women for marriage. The Southeastern stories are similar in that young people must be instructed in the choosing of a societally-approved mate in order for cultural survival and regeneration. In these stories, a beautiful young woman meets a young man and entrances him into a sexual relationship. The woman is so beautiful that the young man is often swayed by her beauty away from family, home, community. If the young man is so entranced as to not notice the young woman's feet—which in the case of Deer Woman are hooves—then he falls under her spell and stays with her forever, wasting away into depression, despair, prostitution, and ultimately, death.
"The Deer Woman spirit teaches us that marriage and family life within the community are important and these relationships cannot be entered into lightly. Her tales are morality narratives: she teaches us that the misuse of sexual power is a transgression that will end in madness and death. The only way to save oneself from the magic of Deer Woman is to look to her feet, see her hooves, and recognize her for what she is. To know the story and act appropriately is to save oneself from a lifetime lived in pain and sorrow; to ignore the story is to continue in the death dance with Deer Woman. Deer Woman instructs us that sexual attraction does not a proper marriage make; it is the societal and cultural responsibility of each tribal member to choose a mate wisely—therefore ensuring tribal survival into the next generation. Both the Karuk stories and the Southeastern stories illustrate this cultural responsibility."
"She was the myth slipped down through dreamtime. The promise of feast we all knew was coming. The deer who crossed through knots of a curse to find us. She was no slouch, and neither were we, watching.
"The music ended. And so does the story. I wasn't there. But I imagined her like this, not a stained red dress with tape on her heels but the deer who entered our dream in white dawn, breathed mist into pine trees, her fawn a blessing of meat, the ancestors who never left."
That night, after everything human was resolved,
a young man, the chosen, became the deer.
In the white skin of its ancestors,
wearing the head of the deer
above the human head
with flowers in his antlers, he danced,
beautiful and tireless, until he was more than human,
until he, too, was deer.
Of all those who were transformed into animals,
the travelers Circe turned into pigs,
the woman who became the bear,
the girl who always remained the child of wolves,
none of them wanted to go back
to being human. And I would do it, too, leave off being human
and become what it was that slept outside my door last night,
rested in my sleep.
"Convince the deer you are one of them," advises Shauna Osborne, a Comanche/German mestiza writer from New Mexico. "Dance with them and they will show you the way. Pay strict attention to the leg positions and neck angles—that’s where the heart of their dance lies. Deer have this natural grace, this presence, on the dance floor that just can't be beat. Once you find it, you’ll know. Do some research: Ginger Rogers had a definite tinge of deer blood in her and my mother always swore that Travolta had to be part deer. "How else could he glide through the air like that?" she would demand. However, the best contemporary example of a deer dancer has to be, without doubt, Christopher Walken. He defies the laws of physics with such style and does it with a nonchalant matter-of-factness which all deer dancers should try to emulate. Treat his work as it should be treated—a sacred text of the Deer Dancers. Roll with this or roll with that—just make sure your feet never quite touch the ground. However, you must remember: when the song ends, the story does too."
The enchanted deer imagery above is: "White Stag" photograph by Jane Baynes; "Acteon and Diana" by Domenico Veneziano (1410-1461); "The Mystic Wood" and "The Lady Clare" by John William Waterhouse (1849-1917); "Running Deer" by Alex Herbert, "Brother and Sister" (the cover image for an edition of Grimms Fairy Tales) by John Barton Gruelle (1880-1938); “Brother and Sister” by Carl Offterdinger (1829-1889); "Perched" by Kelly Louise Judd; "Brother and Sister" by Edmund Dulac (1882-1953); "The White Deer" by Adrienne Ségur (1901-1981); "All by Grandmothers" by Kristin Vestgard; an old photograph (provenance unknown); "The Deer Woman" by Susan Seddon Boulet (1941-1997); "Easter Procession, Rancho Camargo, Sonora" (from the "Miners & Mayos" photography series) by David Bacon; "Deer Dancer" portrait by Kyle Bowman; "The Deer Man" and "The Deer Woman" by Wendy Froud; "Deer Maiden" bronze by Erich Schmidt-Kestner (1887-1941); "Born" by Kiki Smith; three deer sketches by Daniel Egnéus; and a deer photograph (provenance unknown).
On a bright, clear morning some years ago, during the long, lovely days leading up to summer solstice, Wendy Froud and I drove through the lanes to the village of Callington in Cornwall (the county just to the west of Devon). We parked at the edge of a farmyard and followed what was then an overgrown footpath to Dupath Well (originally "Theu Path" Well)...a deeply magical place buried in the green of the Cornish countryside.
Like other holy wells in Devon and Cornwall, the spring that runs through Dupath Well is believed to have been a sacred site to Celtic peoples in the distant past, its older use now overlaid with a gloss of Christian legendry. At one time, this spring may have sat in a woodland grove of oak, rowan and thorn — trees sacred to the island's indigenous religions. In 1510, a group of Augustinian monks claimed the Dupath site for their own use, enclosing the spring in a small well house made out of rough-hewn granite. This was a common fate for many of the ancient pagan sites in the West Country. Unable to dissuade the local people from visiting their sacred places in nature, Christian authorities simply took them over, building churches where standing stones once stood and baptisteries over sacred springs, cutting down ceremonial groves and putting woodhenges to the torch. There are many, many wells like Dupath Well, scattered all over the West Country --- some of them covered and some still in use -- often named now for the Saints and associated with their miraculous lives. But scratch the surface of these legends and the palimpsests of older tales emerge: stories of fairies and piskies, the knights of King Arthur, and the old gods of the land.
Inside the tiny, chapel-like building erected over Dupath Well, the water pools in a shallow trough carved from a single granite slab. The air is thick, heavy with shadows, and with the ghosts, perhaps, of men and women drawn to this spot for many centuries. The stones are worn where they once knelt and prayed to the Virgin Mary, or to the Lady of the Waters. That day, on the bottom of the trough lay a handful of copper coins, a modern custom of making wishes that is not so very different from the older practice of throwing pins (associated with women's labor and magic) into a spring to ask for the water spirit's blessing. Wendy placed a small offering of wildflowers by the water -- which, too, is an ancient practice, recalling a time when it was the land itself our ancestors thanked for the gift of water, and of life itself.
Today, with clean water piped directly into our homes and largely taken for granted, it takes a leap of imagination to consider how precious water would have been to those who fetched it daily from the riverside or village well. Deeply dependent on good local water sources, it's only natural that our ancestors would have revered those places where pure, life-sustaining water emerged like magic from the depths of the earth. Water plays a central role in myth, folk tales, fairy lore, and sacred stories not only here in the rain-soaked British Isles but all around the globe -- particularly, of course, in arid lands where the gift of water is most precious.
Many cultures associate water with women: with the Goddess, or with several goddesses, or a variety of female nature spirits. The !Kung of Botswana, for example, attribute the mythic origin of water to women, granting all women special power over water in all its form. All-mother, in an Aboriginal myth from northern Australia, arrived from the sea in the form of a rainbow serpent with children (the Ancestors) inside her. It was All-mother who made water for the Ancestors by urinating on the land, creating lakes, rivers and water holes to quench their thirst. The "living water" (running water) of springs and natural fountains is particularly associated in ancient mythological systems with women, fertility and childbirth. Greek wells and fountains were sacred to various goddesses and had miraculous powers – such as the fountain at Kanathos, in which Hera regained her virginity each year. Greek springs were the haunts of water nymphs, elemental spirits shaped like lovely young girls. (The original meaning of the Greek word for spring was "nubile maiden.") In Teutonic myth, the wild wood-wife (a kind of forest fairy) who loves the hero Wolfdietrich is transformed into a human girl when she's baptized in a sacred fountain. The Norse god Odin seeks wisdom and cunning from the fountain of the nature spirit Mimir; he sacrifices one of his eyes in exchange for a few precious sips of the water. In Celtic legend, the salmon of knowledge swims in a sacred spring or pool under the shade of a hazel tree; the falling hazelnuts contain all the wisdom of the world, swallowed by the fish.
Ritual washing in water, or immersion in a pool, has been part of various religious systems since the dawn of time. The priests of ancient Egypt washed themselves in water twice each day and twice each night; in Siberia, ritual washing of the body — accompanied by certain chants and prayers — was (and still is) a vital part of shamanic practices. In Hindu, ghats are traditional sites for public ritual bathing, an act by which one achieves both physical and spiritual purification. In strict Jewish household, hands must be washed before saying prayers and before any meal including bread; in Islam, mosques provide water for the faithful to wash before each of the five daily prayers. In the Christian tradition, baptism is described by St. Paul as "a ritual death and rebirth which simulates the death and resurrection of Christ." According to mythologist Mircea Eliade, "Immersion in water symbolizes a return to the pre-formal, a total regeneration, a new birth, for immersion means a dissolution of forms, a reintegration into the formlessness of pre-existence; and emerging from the water is a repetition of the act of creation in which form was first expressed."
The idea of regeneration through water is echoed in tales around the world about fountains and springs with miraculous powers. Indigenous stories in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Hispaniola all described a magical Fountain of Youth, located somewhere in the lands to the north. So pervasive were these stories that in the 16th century the Spanish conquistador Ponce de Leon actually set out to find it once and for all, equipping three ships at his own expense. He found Florida instead.
One Native American story describes a Fountain of Youth created by two hawks in the nether-world between heaven and earth -- but this fountain brings grief as those who drink of it outlive their children and friends, and eventually it's destroyed. In Japanese legends, the white and yellow leaves of the wild chrysanthemum confer blessings from Kiku-Jido, the chrysanthemum boy who dwells by the Fountain of Youth. These leaves are ceremonially dipped in sake to assure good health and long life. In the Alexander Romances, Alexander sets off to find the fabled Fountain of Life in the Land of Darkness beyond the setting sun. The prophet Khizr is Alexander’s guide, but the two take separate forks in the road. It is Khizr, not his master, who finds the fountain, drinks the water, and obtains knowledge of god. Khizr is still venerated in modern India, in both Hindu and Muslim traditions. In Muslim practices, Khizr is honored by lighting lamps and setting them on little boats afloat on rivers and ponds.
In fairy tales, heroes are sent on long journeys to the Well at the End of the World, or to springs in the dark heart of the forest, ordered to retrieve a vial of the Water of Life, usually for a wicked fairy. A few drops from this water confers beauty, wisdom, fluency in the language of animals, and/or immortality. Sometimes the heroes partake of the water themselves, deliberately or accidently, and sometimes they bring the vial back intact. The fairy drinks, expecting to gain more power, and is cleansed of her wickedness instead. Other wells in fairy tales contain enchanted frogs, talking heads, imprisoned trolls, and fearsome looking snakes who turn out to be wise and good. But beware of old women who linger by the well, for they are usually fairies in disguise, and cranky. You've been warned.
To the ancient peoples of the West Country, certain waters were deemed to have healing properties and thus were under divine protection. The famous hot spring at Bath in Somerset (the county just to the east of Devon) was dedicated to a Celtic goddess local to the place. When the Romans took the hot springs over and built the temple complex we know today, Sulis was linked with their goddess Minvera to become Sulis Minerva. Chalice Well in Glastonbury, also in Someset, is reputed to be among the oldest of continually used holy wells in all of Europe; archaeological evidence suggests it has been a sacred site for at least two thousands years. Even the standing stones and circles of Britain are generally found near wells or running water.
As Christianity spread, more and more springs were built over with chapels and well houses, and the groves around them removed. Devon and Cornwall, in particular, were deemed to be troublesome bastions of paganism. In the 5th century, a canon issued by the Second Council of Arles stated: "If in the territory of a bishop infidels light torches or venerate trees, fountains, or stones, and he neglects to abolish this usage, he must know that he is guilty of sacrilege." Yet pagan beliefs proved harder to eradicate than the sites themselves, for in the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries a stream of edicts were issued from church authorities denouncing the worship of "the sun or the moon, fire or flood, wells or stones or any kind of forest tree."
Over time, however, pagan and Christian practices slowly blended together, and holy wells all over Great Britain were celebrated with Christian festivals that fell on the old pagan holy days. On the Isle of Man, for example, holy wells are frequented on August 1st, a day sacred to the Celtic god Lugh. August 1st is Lammas in the Christian calendar, but the older name for the holiday, Lugnasad, was still in use on the island until late in the 19th century. In Scotland, the well at Loch Maree is dedicated to St. Malrubha but its annual rites -- involving the sacrifice of a bull, an offering of milk poured on the ground, and coins driven into the bark of a tree -- are pagan in origin. The custom of "well dressing" is another Christian rite with pagan roots. During these ceremonies (still practiced in Derbyshire and other parts of Britain), village wells are decorated with pictures made of flowers, leaves, seeds, feathers and other natural objects. In centuries past, the wells were "dressed" to thank the patron spirit of the well and request good water for the year to come; now the ceremonies generally take place on Ascension Day, and the pictures created to dress the wells are biblical in nature.
The Christian tales attached to springs and wells are often as magical as any to be found in Celtic lore. Wells were said to have sprung up where saints were beheaded or had fought off dragons, or where the Virgin Mary appeared and left small footprints pressed into the stone. Over the Channel in Brittany (which has linguistic and mythic connections to the West Country) "granny wells" dedicated to St. Anne (so called bcause Anne was the mother of Mary, and therefore the grandmother of Christ) were attributed with particular powers concerning fertility and childbirth. According to one old Breton legend, St. Anne settled there in her old age, where she was visited by Christ before she died. She asked him for a holy well to help the sick people of the region; he struck the ground three times, and the well of St. Anne-e-la-Palue was created.
Up until the 19th century, the holy wells of the West Country were still considered to have miraculous properties, and were visited by those seeking cures for disease, disability, or mental illness. Some wells were famous for offering prophetic information — generally determined through the movements of the water, or leaves floating upon the water, or fish swimming in the depths. At some wells, sacred water was drunk from circular cups carved out of animal bone (an echo of the cups carved out of human skulls by the ancient Celts). Pins (usually bent), coins, bits of metal, and flowers are common well offerings; and rags (called clouties) are tied to nearby trees, the cloth representing disease or misfortune left behind as one departs.
Some wells, known as cursing wells, were rather less beneficent. The curses were made by dropping special cursing stones into the well, or the victim's name written on a piece of paper, or a wax effigy. At the famous cursing well of Ffynnon Elian, up in Wales, one could arrange for a curse by paying the well's guardian a fee to perform an elaborate cursing ritual. A curse could also be removed at this same well, for a somewhat larger fee.
In the mid-19th century, Thomas Quiller-Couch (father of Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch) became interested in the history of holy wells; he spent much of his life wandering the wilds of his native Cornwall seeking them out. Extensive notes on this project were discovered among his papers after his death, and in 1884 The Ancient and Holy Wells of Cornwall was published by the antiquarian's daughters, Mabel and Lillian. More recently, folklorist Paul Broadhurst re-visited the sites documented by Quiller Couch, and in 1991 he published Secret Shrines: In Search of the Old Holy Wells of Cornwall, an informative guide to the many wells still to be found in the Cornish countryside.
In addition to sites dedicated to Celtic goddesses and Christian saints, Broadhurst discovered crumbling old wells half-buried in ivy, bracken and briars inhabited by spirits somewhat less exalted: the piskies (fairies) of Cornish folklore. Wells under the protection of the piskies are not wells to be trifled with, for the piskies will take their revenge on any who dare to disturb their homes. A farmer decided to move the stone basin at St. Nun's Well (also known as Piskey's Well), with the intention of using it as a water trough for his pigs. He chained the stone to two oxen and pulled it the top of a steep hill — whereupon the stone broke free of the chains, rolled downhill, made a sharp turn right, and settled back into its place. One of the ox died on the spot, and the farmer was struck lame.
All running water, not just spring water, can prove to be the haunt of fairies, for crossing over (or through) running water is one of the ways to enter their realm. Here in Devon and Cornwall, one still finds country folk who avoid running water by dusk or dark -- for the spirits who inhabit water can be troublesome, even deadly. The water spirit of the River Dart, for instance, is believed to demand sacrificial drownings, leading to the well-known local rhyme: "Dart, Dart, cruel Dart, every year she claims a heart." The water-wraithes up in Scotland are thin, ragged, and invariably dressed in green, haunting riversides by night to lead travelers to a watery death. In the Border Country between Scotland and England, the Washer by the Ford wails as she washes the grave clothes of those who are about to die -- similar to the dreaded Bean-Sidhe (Banshee) of Irish legends. The Bean-nighe, found in both Highland and Irish lore, is somewhat lesser known: a dangerous little fairy with ragged green clothes and webbed red feet. If you can get between the Bean-nighe and her water source, however, she is obliged to grant three wishes and refrain from doing harm. Jenny Greenteeth is a river hag also known as Peg Powler or a grindylow. She's an English fairy who specializes in dragging children ino stagnant pools. The Welsh water-leaper, called Llamhigyn Y Dwr, is a toad-like fairy who delights in tangling fishing lines and devouring any sheep who fall into the river. The fideal is a fairy who haunts lonely pools and hides herself in the grasses by the water; the glaistig, half-woman and half-goat, tends to lurk in the dark of caves behind waterfalls. Both are native to Scotland, but are known to roam as far south as Wales. The loireag of the Hebrides is a gentler breed of water fairy, although, as a connoisseur of music, even she can prove dangerous to those who dare to sing out of tune. In Ireland, the Lady of the Lake bestows blessings and good weather to those who seek her favor; in some towns she is still celebrated (or propitiated) at mid-summer festivals. Her name recalls the Lady of the Lake of Arthurian lore, who gave King Arthur his sword and now guards his body as he sleeps in Avalon.
Chalice Well in Glastonbury is one of several sites where the Holy Grail is reputed to be hidden. At the foot of ancient Glastonbury Tor is a lovely garden where one can drink the red-tinged water of well — colored, according to legend, by the blood of Christ carried in the Grail. Although the well's association with Arthur may be (as some Arthurian scholars suggest) a legend of recent vintage, archaeological excavations in the 1960s established the site's antiquity — and the place manages to retain a tranquil, mystical atmosphere despite now doing dual duty as a sacred site and a tourist attraction. One often finds small offerings in the circle around the well's heavy lid: flowers, feathers, stones, small bits of cloth tied to a near-by tree . . . the old pagan ways still quietly practiced by many people to this day.
In North America, numerous springs, wells, and pools are sacred to land's First Nations. In such holy places one also finds offerings similar to those by Chalice Well: feathers, flowers, stones, sage, tobacco, small carved animal forms, scraps of red cloth tied to trees, and other tokens of prayer. The Native American sweat-lodge ceremony uses water sprinkled over red-hot rocks to create the steam that is called the "breath of life"; the lodge itself is the womb of mother earth in which one is washed clean, purified and spiritually reborn. In Native American Church ceremonies, a pail of Morning Water is traditionally carried and prayed over by a woman before being sent sun-wise around the circle to be shared by all. Water is sacred through its absence in the four-day Sundance ceremony, or the ritual of Crying for a Vision; after four days without water (or food), the first drop on the tongue is a potent reminder to be thankful for this precious gift from mother earth.
Some years ago at the Mythic Journeys conference in Atlanta, Tom Blue Wolf of the Eastern Lower Muscogee Creek Nation spoke of the need to cherish the wild waters of our lands -- particularly now, as water tables world-wide diminish at alarming rates. “Once upon a time,” he said, “the Chattahoochee River was known to the people here as the source of life. Every morning we would go to the water and fill ourselves with gratitude, and thank the Creator for giving us this source of life. We would honor it throughout the day. At that time, water was known as the Long Man. It came from a place that has no beginning, and goes to a place that has no end. But now, for the first time in the history of our people, we can see the end of water.”
At the same conference, mythologist Michael Meade spoke of the ancient symbolism of water and its mythic role in our lives today. “Of the elements (which some people count as four, and others count as five), water is the element for reconciliation. Water is the element of flow. When water goes missing, flow goes missing. The ancient Irish used to say that there are two suns in the world. One you see rise in the morning. The other is very deep in the earth, and it’s called the black sun or inner sun. It’s a hot fire in there; no one knows how hot. The earth is roughly seventy per cent water because of that hidden sun inside. When the water goes down, the earth heats up too much – part of the global warming that’s happening everywhere. It happens inside people also, because people are like the earth. People are seventy per cent water like the earth, and people have a hidden sun – or else we wouldn’t be ninety-six degrees when its forty degrees outside. Everyone in the world is burning, and the water in the body keeps that burning from becoming a fever. What happens literally also happens emotionally and spiritually, so when people forget how to carry water and how to use water to reconcile, you get an increasing amount of heated conflict, as we’re seeing around the world today. …In many cultures it’s the elders who carry the water, because elders are the peace-bringers. When a culture can’t remember or imagine peace on its streets or how to negotiate peace, it means its elders have forgotten what to do, how to carry water.”
As an elder now myself, I try to remember these words and carry water with respect.
I'll give Margaret Atwood the last words today, from her mythic novel The Penelopiad. They are words that rustle like wind in my ears as Tilly and I follow the cold, clear stream winding through our own beloved piece of woods:
"Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can't go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.”
Art above: Wendy as "Lady of the Waters" by Brian Froud, "Circe Invidiosa" and "The Danaides" by John William Waterhouse, a water faery by Brian Froud, a Bean-nighe by Alan Lee, "Arthur in Avalon" and "The Last Sleep of King Arthur" by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, and The River Teign (which flows through Chagford) by Brian Froud.
The photographs of wells, springs, and baths above come from various British heritage sites. Please look in the picture captions for identifcation. (Run your cursor over the pictures to see the captions.) For more photographs of the wells of the West Country, go here. There's also a lovely post about The Well of St. John's in the Wilderness by the late (and much-missed) folklorist Thomas Hine on the Westcountry Folklore site.
Text for this post has been adapted from three previous articles of mine published in: Folkroot, JoMA, and Masaru Emoto's anthology, The Healing Power of Water .
The Wood Wife:
A mythic novel set in the Sonoran desert of Arizona. This link goes to the US edition; a UK edition is available here; and the new French edition is here. (For those who might be interested, I did a Q-&-A session on the book over on the Good Reads site.) Winner of the Mythopoeic Award.
A Midsummer Night's Faery Tale:
This is the first book in the Old Oak Wood series for children, deeply rooted in the landscape and folklore of Dartmoor. I wrote the story, and the art is by master dollmaker Wendy Froud. The other two volumes are The Winter Child and The Faeries of Spring Cottage.
Snow White, Blood Red:
The first of six anthologies containing fairy tale inspired stories for adult readers. The other volumes are: Black Thorn, White Rose; Ruby Slipper, Golden Tears; Black Swan, White Raven; Silver Birch, Blood Moon (winner of the World Fantasy Award); and Black Heart, Ivory Bones.
A Wolf at the Door:
The first of three anthologies containing fairy tale inspired stories for 8-to-12 year old readers. The other two volumes are Swan Sister and Troll's Eye View.
The Green Man:
Tales from the Mythic Forest, for YA readers. Winner of the World Fantasy Award.
The Faery Reel:
Tales from the Twlight Realm, for YA readers. A WFA nominee.
The Coyote Road:
Trickster Tales, for YA readers.
The Beastly Bride:
Tales of the Animal People, for YA readers.
New works of fantasy & mythic fiction for adult readers. Winner of the World Fantasy Award.
Dark fantasy for YA readers. Short-listed for the Shirley Jackson Award.
Welcome to Bordertown:
The latest volume in a classic Urban Fantasy series for YA readers. (An Audie Award nominee, for the audio book edition.) For information on the previous books, visit the Bordertown website.)
New dystopian tales for YA readers. What comes after ecological, political, technological, or cultural disaster...?
Queen Victoria's Book of Spells:
Brand new works of "Gaslamp Fantasy" (stories set in magical version of the 19th century) for adult readers.
Good Faeries/Bad Faeries
I was the editor and folklore consultant for this wonderful book by Brian Froud.