The Longest Night

The title of this magical animation by paper cut artist Angie Pickman refers to the winter solstice, but it's also symbolic of other "long nights" we face in life: a mental or physical health crisis...a period of grief, hardship, or trauma...or the week leading to a troubling transition of power in Washington DC.

"We are always on a journey from darkness into light," the Irish poet/philosopher John O'Donohue reminds us. "At first, we are children of the darkness. Your body and your face were formed first in the kind darkness of your mother's womb. You lived the first nine months in there. Your birth was the first journey from darkness into light. All your life, your mind lives within the darkness of your body. Every thought you have is a flint moment, a spark of light from your inner darkness. The miracle of thought is its presence in the night side of your soul; the brilliance of thought is born of darkness. Each day is a journey. We come out of the night into the day. All creativity awakens at this primal threshold where light and darkness test and bless each other. You only discover the balance in your life when you learn to trust the flow of this ancient rhythm."

Copyright by Karen Davis

In the mythic sense, we practice moving from darkness into light every morning of our lives. The task now is make that movement larger, to join together to carry the entire world through the long night to the dawn.

Stray by Jeanie Tomanek

Capturing the Moon by Jeanie Tomanek

The art above is"The Spirit Within" by Karen Davis (UK); "Stray" and "Capturing the Moon" by Jeanie Tomanek (US). The video is by Angie Pickman (US); go here to see more of her work. The quote is from Anam Cara (Bantam Books, 1997) by John O'Donhue (1956-2008, Ireland). All right to the video and art above are reserved by the artists; all rights to O'Donohue's text are reserved by his estate.

Tunes for a Monday Morning

Awake  Awake by Marry Waterson

Today, music from four different counties, illustrated or animated in four different ways....

Above, a charming video with paper cut art and simple animation by Marry Waterson, an artist & musician from the famous Waterson family of folk musicians in Yorkshire. The song is "Awake, Awake," performed by Cumbrian folksinger Maz O'Connor on her debut album, This Willowed Light -- which makes Waterson's use of William Morris' "Willow" design in the video rather clever. "Awake, Awake" is a traditional folk song also known as "The Drowsy Sleeper" and "The Silver Dagger." There's another fine version of it sung acappella on the Full English album, which I also highly recommend.

Below, a touching video by graphic artist & filmmaker Monkmus, from Los Angeles, for "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" by the American indie band Death Cab for Cutie, from Bellingham, Washington. I love the story (life-affirming and heart-breaking all at once), and the whole notebook/sketchbook theme.

Below, a thoroughly delightful stop-motion animation by artist Sydney Smith & filmmaker Jason Levangie, both based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The song is "Horska," exuberantly performed by the Gypsy jazz band Gypsophilia, also from Halifax. It's Smith & Levangie's second collaboration with the band; the first was "Agricola & Sarah" in 2009.

And to end with, a lovely little piece of black-and-white animation by Esteban Diácono, who comes from Córdoba, Argentina, and is now based in Buenos Aires. The music is "Slowly, Slowly Comes the Light" by Ólafur Arnalds, from Mosfellsbær, Iceland.

This one, so simple and yet so beautiful, just lifts my heart.

The enclosure of wild time

May Day in Chagford

May Day in ChagfordPictures above & below from Chagford's Jack in the Green procession on May Day, 2015

Just as Commons land creates a physical border between private property and wilderness (discussed here yesterday), traditional carnivals, festivals, and folk pageants create a metaphorical border between the measured clock-time of ordinary life and the "wild time" of the mythic realm. But this cultural Commons has also been effected by Britain's history of Enclosures, as Jay Griffiths explains in the following passage from her book Pip, Pip, a cultural study of time:

"In Britain there were once hundreds of carnivals: blessing-of-the-mead days; hare-pie-scrambling days and cake-and-ale ceremonies; there were Hobby Horse Days and Horn Dance Days, with their pagan hunting associations and symbolic suggestions of fertility rites; there were Well-Dressing days, Cock-Squoiling days (or 'throwing-at-cocks'); there were Doling days and days for 'beating the bounds' of the parish; wassailing the apple trees and playing duck-apple at Halloween; burning the clavie (tar barrel) at new year or 'Hallooing Largesse' (where, in East Anglia, the Lord of the Harvest traditionally led a troup of people to serenade householders, seeking money), all colored the course of the year. Some of these are pre-Christian; some are medieval or later. Many of them have survived in some form -- often as 'just' a children's game.

May Day in Chagford

"At Somerset's Punkie Night, at the end of October, children made punkies (lanterns) out of mangel-wurzels (a large kind of beet) and went knocking on people's doors for money or candles. This was one of the many ancient mischief nights of the year, when children played up gleefully, changing shop signs or taking gates May Day in Chagfordoff hinges:

Give us a light, give us a light.
If you don't you'll get a fright

is the children's refrain; an ancient threat this, playing a trick if you're not treated. Guisers (children disguising themselves at Halloween) in Scotland sang:

If ye dinnae let us in,
We will bash yer windies in.

"Whuppity Scooorie in Lanark is a festival, believed to have survived from pagan times, during which as much noise as possible was made to scare off evil spirits and protect crops; latterly it is acted out by children who, started by a peal of bells, swing paper balls at each other and scramble for pennies. Up-Helly-Aa is a Shetland Isles festival, dating back to Viking times, when a thirty-foot model Viking ship, complete with banners, shields and a bow of a dragon's head, is taken down to the sea by torchlight, then the torches are flung in and it blazes across the water, representing the dead heroes sent to Valhalla in a burning ship. Garland Day at Abbotsbury in Dorset is a ceremony to bless the fishing boats at the opening of the mackerel fishing season which had strong hints of pagan sacrifice in its thousand-year history, though now it is, like so many other festivals, just a children's game."

May Day in Chagford

Processing past the church yard copy

May Day in Chagford

"Many festivals chime with the seasons of the agricultural year and of the natural world," notes Griffiths, "the life and death cycle of vegetation as, for example, the Obby Oss on May Day at Padstow in Cornwall, where the Oss dances, dies, resurrects, and dances again. There are festivals marking the death of winter, or bringing in the summer, there are cyclic (and sacrificial) nature-festivals for the corn spirit wherever corn is grown."


"Festival time, traditionally, binds communities together, knitting them to their land, each area tootling its own festive tune, accented with dialect voices specific to certain places and describing a 'vernacular time.' Thus one area's festival calendar could have been different from the calendar of a neighboring locale. Festival-time could further delineate not only the physical geography but also the economic geography of an area, protecting rights of access or land-use, particularly -- in the past -- in such customs as the 'beating of the bounds' of a parish or village."


"The beating of the bounds, or processioning, as Bob Bushaway says in By Rite: Custom, Ceremony and Community in England 1700-1880, 'provided the community with a mental map of the parish...which was the collective memory of the community.' These festivals tied a society to its past, its land and its rights to that land. But, as Bushaway shows, these customs disappeared, up and down the country, as a result of one thing: enclosures."

May Day in Chagford

"Pre-enclosure," Griffiths continues, "other customs concerned with common land, with the rights of gleaning, wood-gathering or access, were vigorously upheld. Cheese-rolling ceremonies, for instance, used festival-time to mark such rights; when the access was denied, so was the festival At Shapwick Marsh at Sturminster Marshall, a 'feast of Sillabub' was held. It was joint-stock merry-making,' so one person might bring the milk of one cow, another the milk of three, while yet another might bring the wine. With the 1845 enclosure, this custom disappeared and many other festivals of commons were outlawed.

May Day in Chagfod

May Day i Chagford"Before enclosures, festivals were vigorously convivial, as numerous chronicles show; they were off-license times, drunken, licentious and rude, ranging from mid-summer ales to apple-tree wassailing, from autumn mead-mowing to May Day liaisons. And the Victorian middle-classes hated it. Just as land was literally fenced off and enclosed, so the spirit of carnival-time was metaphorically enclosed, repressed and fenced in by Victorian morality: no drinking, no bawdiness, no sex. The common -- very vulgar -- character of festival was increasingly outlawed and fenced off from the commoners and turned over to the land-owning middle classes in the form of the queasy, fluttery remains of Victorian festival...The lewd and the loud were disallowed. The acts and the spirit of enclosure tried to suppress the broad, unenclosed, unfettered, unbounded exuberance of the vulgar at large."

The Jack, the Piper, and the Obby Oss

The photograph in the first half of this post come from last spring's May Day procession here in Chagford -- where a group of us, led by folk musician & scholar Andy Letcher, are working to revive this old folkloric tradition. That's Andy on the bagpipes, Jason of England as the Jack-in-the-Green, Suzi Crockford as the Queen of May, and my husband Howard as the Obby Oss. The photographs are by Ashley Wengraf, Ian Atherton, Ruth Olley, and Simon Blackbourn. (Run your cursor over the images for picture descriptions and credits.)

May Day in Chagford

"Few festivals are more flamboyantly vulgar than May Day or Beltane," says Griffiths. "One pagan festival which the disapproving church did not -- could not -- colonize, it kept its raw smell of sexual license and its populist grass roots appeal....Beltane was celebrated with huge bonfires, the Lord and the Queen of May (who, in the Middle Ages, was often a man dressed as a woman) and Spring was personified by the Green Man -- the May Day in ChagfordWild Man or Jack-in- the-Green. Dressed in leaves, he carried a huge horn. (Enough said.) The Maypole, the phallic pole planted in mother earth, was the key symbol of the day.

"Then came the Puritans, sniffing the rank sexuality, decrying the Maypole as 'this stinking idol'; and in 1644 the Long Parliament banned all Maypoles. They also objected to the social reversal of carnival [men dressed as women, fools as kings, etc.]; to the Puritans, an attack on the status quo was almost as disgusting as sex. After the Restoration, England's most famous Maypole was erected in London's Strand in 1661; a stonking hundred and thirty feet high, all streamers and garlands, making people wild with delight, it stood for over fifty merry years. But Isaac Newton put a stop to it. In 1717, he bought the Maypole to use as a post for a telescope to penetrate the darkness of the night. In the 19th century, the Victorians infantalized May Day, making it a children's festival to emphasize innocence, of all things.

"But the festival of Beltane and the whole spirit of carnival is robust. Coming from the earth itself, it erupts, whether puritans and politicians like it or not. In rural areas, you can still find Beltane celebrated, complete with Green Men, Maypoles, and Fools."

More information on the history of May Day can be found in this previous post.

May Day in Chagford

May Day in Chagford

May Day in Chagford

May Day in Chagford

Our village is a place where festivals tend to erupt at the drop of a hat, and everyone seems to have well-stocked box of dress-up clothes in their closet. Despite a tiny population (roughly 2500 people, and a whole lot of sheep), Chagford hosts an annual film festival, a music festival, a bi-annual literary festival, a summer carnival, and plenty of other events besides, and kids grow up here thinking it's perfectly ordinary to dance in the streets on a regular basis. Perhaps it's no coincidence that we've also held on to our village Commons, and many here still gather to "beat the bounds," affirming the boundaries of the parish and the timeless ties of community life.

The photographs below are by Simon Blackbourn, taken just last weekend on the final night of the Chagford Film Festival, celebrating Indian film and dance this year. Please visit Simon's website to see more of his beautiful work.

Chagford Film Festival

Chagford Film Festival

Chagford Film Festival

Chagford Film Festival

Chagford Film Festival

Chagford Film Festival

12032634_10153726394365774_396044174349548810_oPictures: Many thanks to the photographers who allowed their work to appear here. The black-and-white photos and the Film Festival photos are all by Simon Blackbourn; the May Day photos were taken by various folks. You'll find credits in the picture captions (run your cursor over the images to see them). The photos without credits were snapped on the fly by me, on Suzi Crockford's camera. Words: The passage by Jay Griffiths comes from Pip, Pip: A Sideways Look at Time (Flamingo, 1999), highly recommended. All rights to the text & imagery above are reserved by their respective creators.

The dance of joy and grief, part II: a meditation on loss

Thumbelina by Lisbeth Zwerger

"Every one of us is losing something precious to us. Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again. That’s part of what it means to be alive."  - Haruki Murakami (Kafka on the Shore)

"All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes."  - Cormac McCarthy (The Road)

"[In The Lord of the Rings,] Frodo's quest is a middle-aged man's quest, to lose something and to give something up, which is what you start to realize in your thirties is going to happen to you. Part of the rest of your life is learning to give things up."  - Ellen Kushner (Locus interview)

"It is Story that heals us, that shapeshifts us, that saves us."  - Sylvia V. Linsteadt

Thumbelina by Lisbeth Zwerger

 The paintings today are by the great Austrian book illustrator Lisbeth Zwerger, for Hans Christian Andersen's Thumbelina.

The video below is "Thought of You," an animation by Ryan Woodward, with music by The Weepies. I've posted it once before, but that was way back in 2011, and it's worth a re-visit.

Thumbelina by Lisbeth Zwerger

Tunes for a Monday Morning

Howard and I discovered the beautiful music of the Crow Puppets last month, when they shared a stage with Howard's band, the Nosey Crows, at aSummer crow by Rima music festival in north Devon.  (There seems to have been a bit of a crow theme that day.) Crow Puppets consists of singer/songwriters Cara Roxanne and Em Marshall, who "first met when they moved into a haunted house by a crumbling castle fringing Dartmoor." Their "homespun folk music" has a mythic and magical bent, and I recommend their new album, Whispering Hills, Tangled Hair. The Crow Puppets are based in Ashburton, Devon, which is just across the moor from Chagford.

Above, Cara Roxanne's animation for their song "Red Ribbons" - a rather cold and wintry song for a mild summer day, but nevermind.  Below, The Crow Puppets perform "Whispering Hills" at last year's Accoustica Festival in Exeter.  The artwork on the left is "Summer Crow" by Rima Staines.

The Crow Puppets' music reminds me a little of another wonderful West Country musician, Martha Tilston, who is based in Cornwall. Her most recent CDs are Lucy and the Wolves and Machines of Love and Grace, but all of her albums are lovely.

Above: Martha and her band perform "More" (a song whose sentiments I agree with wholeheartedly) for Folk Radio UK last autumn.

Below: Martha performs "The Golden Surfer" back in 2006. It's not particularly well filmed, but the song is terrific: an updating of an old English folk ballad to reflect surfer culture on the Cornish coast. (Previous Monday Tunes from Martha are here and here.)

And one last piece today:

The charming video by Martha's brother, Joe Tilston, for his song "Liza and Henry." It comes from Embers (2013) -- another recommended album, influenced both by Joe's punk rock past and his family roots in the English folk scene. (There's an interesting post on the album's art and design by Tim Rickaby here.)

The Dog's Tale

Tilly in Nattadon WoodsThe Dog's Tales are a series of post in which Tilly has her say....

My Person is still dealing with some Big Stuff that even I can't help her with, except to see that she gets properly walked twice a day. So I thought I'd step in and leave a post for her. Here's the quote I've chosen for you, which comes from John Grogan's Marley and Me:

"A person can learn a lot from a dog, even a loopy one like ours. Marley taught me about living each day with unbridled exuberance and joy, about seizing the moment and following your heart. He taught me to appreciate the simple things -- a walk in the woods, a fresh snowfall, a nap in a shaft of winter sunlight. And as he grew old and achy, he taught me about optimism in the face of adversity. Mostly, he taught me about friendship and selflessness and, above all else, unwavering loyalty.”

One day at a time, I keep telling my Person. Just one day at a time.

It's a good thing she has me.

"Bubble" by King Creosote & Jon Hopkins, animation directed by Elliot Dear @ Blinkink

My Person will be back on Myth & Moor sometime next week...we hope.

Tune for a Monday Morning

Today's tune comes with a "yarn animation" by the BAFTA nominsated writer/director/animator Ainslie Henderson, created for "Moving On" by James, the Britpop band out of Manchester. It's absolutely beautiful...and hard to get through with dry eyes.

"Ainslie’s animation is wonderful, heartfelt, truthful, innocent, and reveals a true storyteller," says James' lead singer, Tim Booth. "As a band we were determined to work with him even if it meant dipping into our own pockets. Animation takes weeks and is painstaking work, for the animator, compared to that of most videos. I remember standing in a back garden in Highbury, mobile burning my ear, as I told him in detail of my mother’s death and that of my friend Gabrielle – the twin inspirations for 'Moving On.' My mother’s death was clearly a birth of some kind and that description caught Ainslie’s imagination.

"Two days later, with perfect timing, his video script came through on my email, as I was having a meeting with our manager Peter, trying to persuade him that we should pay the extra needed to work with Ainslie. I tried reading it to Peter but couldn’t complete it due to tears. Peter read it and welled up. That Ainslie found such a perfect medium to fit our song blows us away."

And Ainslie Henderson says: "My connection with James is a long and evolving one. The first time I heard their music was sitting at a friend’s house, aged 18, stoned and confused. ‘Sometimes’ was playing, I remember feeling something that until then I didn’t know pop music could make you feel. I thought crying was only for when you feel loss or sadness. Pop music, but woven with something sincere and yearning, passionate and beautiful."

Moving On by Ainslie Henderson and James

Tunes for a Monday Morning

Today's music is from The Staves, an alt-folk trio of sisters (Emily, Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Taylor) from Watford, Hertfordshire. All three songs come from their debut CD, Dead & Born & Grown.

Above: "Winter Trees," with an enchanting video from Aardman Animations in Bristol.

Below: "Mexico," another magical video -- in a dreamlike, Tord Boontje kind of way.

And one more...

Below: a (mostly) a capella song, "Wisely and Slow."