Greetings from the near and the far side and merry meet from the fringes of the unhinged mind. Welcome traveler to the Craneskin Bag and be ye refreshed at this humble watering hole of words. As winter deepens its knife into the fat of the land, we revel with sounds of hot tea pots steaming, fires crackling, twigs snapping, pages in books turning and of course, the wind outside howling. In fact, just last night I heard the winter wind uttering its indifferent and haunting howl, as if bemoaning its duty to herald in the solitude of the season. Now if in these strange days you find more than your fair share of solitude, then I have a little serum of humor to inject into your funny bones.
Long ago in Ireland there lived three monks who decided to quit the world and its constant chatter for the ascetic life in the wilderness. After exactly a year’s silence the first monk said,
“Tis a good life we lead.”
At the end of the next years silence the second monk replied,
“It is so.”
Another year being run out, the third monk exclaimed,
“If I cannot get peace and quiet here I may as well go back to the world!”
So even if you feel quite alone during this time, remember that those very monks are reputed to still be somewhere out in the Irish wilderness, holding down the fort of sagacious solitude so you don’t have to. Remember too, the new moon today also marks the first and only total solar eclipse of 2020. The time is ripe to ask questions, seek answers and divine with your sticks, your symbols, your cards, your dreams, your fire embers. Harness the energy at hand, a turning point today in the wheel of the year. The Unconscious is finding its way through the veil.
Illumination Tales Update~
As we put a hold on producing more videos for the Illumination Tales Film Series until the spring, I am utilizing the dark half of the year by diligently researching through the books in my Illuminated bibliography. Refining, distilling, culling and breaking down the particles of ideas into the traditional matter that makes up the genetics of a story and the voice of a song. It is a humbling affair in which the ultimate reward lies in the feeling of deep connection to the old tradition bearers and custodians of saga, whom spent the better part of their lives preserving the oral and written traditions of their weltanschauung. I will take this opportunity then to share a brief excerpt from Illumination Tales. Towards the end Finn meets with the wizened mother of a fairy being he has just killed~
Out of the fairy fort hobbled an old withered, wrinkled witch of a wise woman, bent with unguessable age and deformed with a large solitary eye in the center of her forehead, wreathed with spells of power. Her height, if she stood erect, was thrice that of Finn himself, yet still she towered above him even so, with her crocked back covered in a tattered mantle the color of dried blood. Her monstrous hands sprouted fingers longer than harp strings and each one ended in a pointed claw of curling nails coiling around a curious dripping vessel of radiant crystal.
Artwork by~ Dark Liminality
This was the mother of Culdub mac Dein. She stood beside her dead son with an unearthly face of grey soft sagging skin, nearly devoid of emotion except for a single silver tear which hung suspended beneath her single eye. She gazed at Finn with a weight and a power of impossible depth. She reached forth and placed one impossibly long boney hand upon Finn’s forehead and the moment her icy palm touched Finn, she began to float above the earth the width of a ravens wing.
“It is not I you must fear Finn mac Cumhaill, but your own self. For by the spear called Birga which you have thrown and which laid low my son, I grant you... the gift of Imbas Forosnai. Yet know this and know it well, my gift is also my curse. For by tasting the water from my well upon your helpless thumb you shall unite your knowledge with the terror of wisdom and you will be sorely afflicted and accursed by knowing yesterday what tomorrow holds in its hands.”
When Finn asks this monstrous queen who she is, her only reply is this brief utterance, a prophetic spell of inspired poetry. A Fith-Fath charm.
“I am the root of poetry, I am sustained by magic
I am the fosterer of thresholds
The progenitor of rhymes
When your passions die, that spirit is reborn in my head
Alive in me forever
I am thought on fire
Rising out of the mind
On the brink of water
Brightness is the name of greatest wonder
Brightness is the name.
With only one wish
This world was made.
With only one wish
This world turned.
And I… I am the one who wished it.
Baba Yaga music video~
I have recently begun a fruitful correspondence with a shadow puppet animator based in Ithaca, New York, by the name of Polly Sonic. She is a third generation puppeteer, inheriting the String Pullers Puppet Company which her grandparents founded in 1950. I first came across Polly’s work through a facebook puppeteer group and was truly impressed by the quality of her shadow creations. Her work exhibits that same sense of whimsical dream time, the cast of a classic fairy tale spell, similar in nature to the German Godmother of shadow puppeteers, Lottle Reiniger. I at once was bespelled by Polly’s shadow films and contacted her regarding a film commission for my song, Baba Yaga, off the 2019 LP, Make Believe. The Baba Yaga music video has no immediate release date as of now, however, in the meantime, this is the first film I saw of Polly’s work and tis what got the creative wheels spinning in my head for a collaboration of shadow and song. Enjoy the enchantment~
Felix, he is here to help.~
I would like you all to meet a friend of mine. His name is Felix. He is not a new friend, but a very old friend. Here is his story.
A few years ago I was driving my son Rowan home from pre-school and as we drove along the familiar stretch of a grey worm I began to think to myself rather despondently,
“You know, Rowan doesn’t have an imaginary friend yet and in case he never does I shall give him one right this second.”
Then before I even thought of a name or a voice or anything at all, Felix was already there, pre-formed and ready to go. I began to tell Rowan about Felix and how he is an invisible fairy spirit that is a part of our family. Felix quickly took the wheel and began talking with Rowan about everything a three-year old wants to know. His voice, soft and quiet, spoke of what it’s like to be invisible, the difference between time and age, what do witches dream about and why is laughter so funny?
That was four years ago and now Felix is a full-fledged member of our household, he even has his own Christmas stocking so that tells you something. I began to be more curious about Felix myself and did some research into his name whereby I found out that Felix is a Latin name which translates as meaning happy, Lucky and fortunate. No less than 47 saints bear the name of Felix and its female form, Felicity translates as the actual source of happiness. So not a bad familiar for the family and he is indeed just that. A house spirit who rejoices in the taste of fresh cream left out by the hearth.
I thought when taking Bernd Ogrodnik's puppet class back in October that I would make a Felix puppet and now his invisible spirit has a body to inhabit. I found it an immense challenge to carve this new puppet as I had to create something visible out of an unseen world. I had to tune in to Felix and ask what it was he wished for. He told me about having crystals for teeth, about his pink shoes and about the magic kaleidoscope of worlds which he looks through.
As soon as he was finished, he began to talk to Rowan, his new body giving him a form to latch onto for the first time. The connection between the two of them was heart wrenching. The power of puppetry truly transcends language and communicates something of a more profoundly personal nature. My son, who at seven years old now is becoming a total dude, melted in Felix’s arms with such innocence as I have not seen in sometime. This is why we do what we do.
I big thank you to Bernd Ogrodnik for opening up the window into his world of puppets.
Side note~ Felix’s favorite record so far as I know is Miles Davis, Kind Of Blue. I put this record on after I first assembled him and before I knew what was happening Felix was dancing up a bonkariffic banana of a storm. Faeries are getting into jazz, makes sense to me.
(All Felix photos by Angela Holm.)
This last month I was introduced to the work of a most thought provoking writer, poet, painter, mythologist and a wilderness rites of passage guide, Martin Shaw. His name cropped up somewhat casually when I was talking with an incredible Ibiza based Puppeteer, Joanna Hruby. She sent me a link to his website, (thanks Joanna!) and then I was opened up into a delightful parallel paradox of worlds within words, poetry, magic, stories, nature and the strong sense of a trickster always there, but just put of reach. I began to tread the waters of Mr. Shaw's prolific publications and decided to purchase his most recent volume, published this year, which he wrote in collaboration with another poet, Tony Hoagland, Cinderbiter. From the publisher Graywolf Press~
Cinderbiter collects tales and poems originally composed and performed centuries ago in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, when notions of history and authorship were indistinguishable from the oral traditions of myth and storytelling.
Shaw and Hoagland’s collaboration summons the power within this storehouse of the Celtic mind to arrive at this rare book—distinctive, audacious, and tuned to our time and condition with a convincing resonance.
The Cinderbiter story (known as Assipattle and The Muckle Mester Stoor Worm) comes from the folktales and myths of the Orkney islands, located off the northern coast of Scotland. The story relates how Iceland was formed as well as the Orkney, Faroe and Shetland islands from the teeth and body of a gigantic aquatic pre-diluvian worm. These islands have been occupied for almost 9,000 years and are thereby a rich mine for the tongues of poets to swell with much admirable verse. Mixed with Celtic, Pictish and Nordic heritage, the Cinderbiter story reflects a legend that tastes of the soup of all three cultures. Here is my reading of the tale as it struck me a mighty feast of poetry, best read aloud~
In Martin Shaw and Tony Hoagland's rendering of the curious story, they use a word which struck the chord of my sinews quite strongly, Fith-Fath.
Fith-Fath, pronounced, Fee-Fah, is a shape-shifters spell, a magic word of power capable of rendering invisible the forms we inhabit or housing the flesh of spirit in a multitude of totemistic guises. It is the charm of the hunter, chasing with the wild leaps in the aspect of a deer. Fath or Faeth gives the meaning of poem, incantation, or, 'poetic art.' It is undoubtedly an ancient charm that lives on in practice to this day.
Alexander Carmichael, the 19th century Scottish folklorist, antiquarian and author of the widely read, Carmina Gadelica, has this to say on Fith-Fath~
“They are applied to the occult power which rendered a person invisible to mortal eyes and which transformed one object into another. Men and women were made invisible, or men were transformed into horses, bulls, or stags, while women were transformed into cats, hares, or hinds. These transmutations were sometimes voluntary, sometimes involuntary. The ‘fīth-fāth’ was especially serviceable to hunters, warriors, and travelers, rendering them invisible or unrecognizable to enemies and to animals.”
(Alexander Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica volume II)
Try it out for yourselves and please let me know next time we meet how rejuvenated your Fith-Fath feels.
Farewell for now~
As we shift into the new year ahead, let us choose which shape suits us best, The Druids oaken staff is raised on high and shall not be brought back down to earth until you speak the language of your dream shapes. I will recognize you my friend and a secret we will share between us. (Oh! And a happy early 250th birthday to Ludwig van Beethoven!)
Tall and thin,
Through thick and thin once again,
New Moon, December 14th, 2020