Tag Archives: experimental novel

A Pagan Story – an early hero myth – experimental novel

Mountain with rainbow for a pagan story

I have been working on a pagan story, an experimental novel, and reached a section that required a myth cycle. This is the starting point of that cycle. It just fell out of the fingers, and this is how it appears in first draft with minor corrections. I have no idea where it will take me…

How do they get here, these night visitors? I remember as if peering through a crack in a wall, seeing only a limited scene, how I asked my mother this once. As a woman and thus a keeper of the Old Lore, she told me the story with a smile on her face that told me she was telling me this for entertainment. But later when I asked about it, she was deadly serious that every word was true. She said:

Sjemantuk the brave one found the Old Gods were real by firing an arrow into the sky. This is how it happened.

Sjemantuk was a mighty warrior who had been told the Old Gods lived in the cloudland, upside down above the neathland. So, he decided to see if the sky was flat, as he had been told.

He tried once, making a mighty bow from the rib of a whale that he found sleeping in the earth waiting to wake up. But the arrow fell to earth, burying its stone tip deep in the ground and leaving a deep hole, and this is how the first sea was made. The whales sleeping in the ground awoke and swam in the waters that poured into the New Deep.

Sjemantuk made another bow from the trunk of the One Mighty Tree, Hjemfang. He flexed his muscles in a stupendous effort and after drawing this massive bow with his powerful grip, sent a great shaft with a brass tip into the sky. It glanced from the sky but did not stick, and fell to earth. Where it hit, water began to leak from the sky, and this is when the rains began. The bow also broke under the great strain, and the shattering wood of bow and arrow made all the forests in the world.

Still Sjemantuk wondered how he might best travel to the land of the sky.

One day, as he was walking, he caught the Sun and Rain in discussion over a mountain top. Watching closely, he saw their child, the Rainbow, had wandered away from them to the next mountain. Sjemantuk the hunter sneaked upon Lusjak Rainchild and tried to catch him-her. But Lusjak was too clever for him, and every time he pounced upon her, he-she was elsewhere. And so he chased him-her up the mountainside while she laughed at his bumbling efforts.

But then, high on the mountain, Sjemantuk found the magic stone that is both cold and clear, and trapped Lusjak within it as he-she taunted Sjemantuk. Now, when light shone through the magic stone, Lusjak appeared. Lusjak was frozen solid in the ice. Sjemantuk took hold of her-him and tied a string made from the hair of rainfall shedding on the mountain. In this way, he fashioned a bow that was both subtle and powerful. To this he added a lightning shaft made from the the old serpent Manark, and drawing Lusfang, the greatest bow the world has ever seen, he sent it flying to the sky. The arrow caught fast in the sky. And then Sjemantuk, having tied a rope to its tail, climbed upward to the sky.

Experimental novel extract: A Pagan Story

Man in green mask

I have been writing a novel with an experimental feel, the opening rough of which is here. I think some of the loneliness within it echoes things that are going on in life around many of us at the moment. Disassociation and alienation, bewilderment and hallucination are central to this short scene.

So, I thought I would try it out on a wider world. This is exactly as it was written with no corrections:

My father’s dreams come in powders and grow from the sacred mycelium each year. They offer renewal, a doorway into the otherworld that is one of the places where the gods, the Others, wait and plan and scheme.

In this dream I am walking through a woodland with paths that branch and branch outward and seem to go somewhere, but I follow them and they load only to more paths that branch. And one of those again leads to more branches. After days of walking in this way, I begin to sense there is someone nearby, just out of reach. The breathghost comes into being beside me with each step I take and every breath I take, but when I look to it, it is not there, though sometimes I catch fleeting visions of eyes disappearing into nothingness.

I become more agitated and can feel the shock of fear in my limbs, a rising anxiety that makes my limbs sting as if they somehow have honey running inside them, and not the blood which is the life of the world and is half sea, half earth and somehow, half spirit. The honey feeling rises, and it is not quite fear, and more like uncomfortable excitement.

I feel a rising sensation in my stomach that is like laughter and sickness at once, and around me in the shadows between the trees I see more eyes. Eyes everywhere. In the knots of wood, on the ends of the tiny tongues of needles in the branches, the raised eyes on stalks of snails. The stars are eyes that I catch between the gaps in the trees, and when I see the blackness above me, I wonder if there is the firmament there or infinite loneliness that stretches on far and far beyond the bounds of life into eternity.

I see a figure now in the woods, leaping and crouching, making strange twisted shapes with his body. He is wearing a mask of green leaves that covers his face, and he is green from head to foot. There are living oak leaves in his hair that flutter in an unfelt wind, and his clothing is a long green robe woven with the shapes of pine, and holly, and ivy, and the brown seeds of the trees, and the acorns. I am afraid of him as he approaches me, but his eyes watch me as afraid and confounded as I am.

I fall on to my knees, and scream, for he is a nightmarish figure, and he says in a voice I seem to know, “don’t be afraid, it is me.” I look up, aware that around us there are other eyes watching from every tree and every life and every needle and I realise this is why I am afraid. He reaches up and pulls of his mask to reveal another mask made of wood that he can’t pull from his face, though he tries. And so I watch him struggle with trying to take his face off.

I hear another voice as he pulls himself into the strangest shapes, and as I do I know new knowledge that rises in voice like a roaring wind through the trees:

“The gods also live in shadows and in the forest, in the sap of branches,” the voice says as the man in green convulses himself, in a crazed frenzy trying to pull the mask free. “And the great aerial-rooted trees that reach long fingers down into the world below from the cloudlands, from where they send the rain to fall on the neathland.” Fingers reach up from the soil, breaking the surface, the hands of men who have trodden here before, I know. And the voice goes on: “Trees, too, are the silent houses of watchful gods, for each tree is born out of spirit as much as earth, for earth is also spirit, and the soul of the heartwood is sealed in to it by the Earth herself, who shares her power in turn with the half-spirit sea (for it is spirit that continually moves the sea), and over all arches the Great Sky swarming with creatures made of the First Breath.”

And the trees sway and sway more, and begin to uproot themselves and walk in a circular dance around me. And still the voice rises, the sound now of a hurricane:

“All of this signifies the mystery of sorrow for us in the neathland. Our earthly paradise, digging in the soil, the mud and dirt is held together only by the rituals with which we implore, beg and petition the Others. The mystery of sorrow, the sorrow of pain, the pain of ending, the ending of life, the life of mystery, the mystery of sorrow. These are the gifts from the gods, for life is sorrow and life is sometimes joy – and everything in between is praise for the gods!”

And the trees clear a path and a patch of earth where corn begins to rise from the musty loam. And the voice cries out: “Childbirth, the ecstasy of the hunt, the reaching to the sky of the corn, the death of the BarleyGod, the teaching stories that are the legends of the Others. So much sorrow, but amongst it all, the glimmer of transformation. Transformation of life to new life, and an escape to something higher. What the Archimandrite himself tells us of – the chance to rise above Earthly pain. And so we serve the Others. We all serve the Others!!”

A Christmas Story – experimental opening to a new novel

A Christmas Story

A Christmas Story – draft 1 – opening.

The night sky is poked through with the inverted peaks of the mountains hanging from the firmament above our world. That upside-down land, among blue cloud mountains is where the Others live. Tonight they will come and it will be for the first time – at least for me, for this is the first Yuletide I will remember.

Shadows and light, these are my memories from before this time – though I remember my mother telling me we must prepare the way, prepare for Him to come. We call him the Lord of Years, the God of the Axle-wheel.

The tribe is happy to prepare for his coming as they have done, they say, for generations. This I learn later. This first year I it is my job to create objects of remembrance; for now it is all new to me.

“First things first, little one,” my mother smiles. She of the brown locks, long, braided. Winter flowers in that hair from the winter hedgerow by the fields and iron trees; the freezing water her laugh pealing in the winter light. She wears winter; the traditional dress of the season, long gown, blues and whites, shade of nightbound glacier, frozen air, night shadows, and white the teeth of the forest wolves, the shivering of the field creatures: iridescence.

So we prepare. There will be a procession, so first there is the making of the torches. The binding of precious oil-soaked cloth around the haft, the putting in place of the tray to catch the drips. “Like this,” she shows me how to bind the cloth. “Like this, too,” and we put the guard there for small hands, my tiny hands. Fire. The golden energy that eats the Gods of the Night, that sends away the shadow wolves stealing behind walls waiting to pounce yet never willing to leap so long as the brand is held high. Only the light that keeps them from attack, as it has always been from the beginning, light our only defence.

The wrapping of the cloth has a song that goes with it, to bind the power of the light.

‘Of The Light’, a title that speaks of honour: the goddess Syumak Of The Light, who also creates the heat for the oven where bread rises, new life imparting homoeopathically to all who eat the same life. From the belly of the oven, life is given to the bellies of the family so the old saying goes. My mother speaks: “The bread grows and takes shape in the oven as a baby does in the womb, and this is how life and bread are one and the same. We worship bread and the cutting down of the corn, an act of sacrifice that gives new life to all.”

Cycles, the world is circles. Just so with the wrapping of the cloths and the incantation that goes with all ritual work:

Syumak says round the brand once
And light will come as the sun shall shine
Syumak cries round the brand twice
And the rain shall feed the corn and vine
Syumak laughs round the brand thrice
And Barley green turns barley brown to cut and grind
Syumak shouts four times round and more
And we feel the heat of the oven’s roar
And light shall raise the dead to life
and shadows run from shining knife

We strike the brands into light once the cloth is wrapped. The shining knife is the brand we lift above our heads as we step out, myself, my mother and father into the frozen night, and we proceed down the steps to join the river of villagers ahead of us, each with brands held high, and we mingle in sound and light and heat and air, the slow chanting and murmur of hymns rising up to the sky with a cloud of vapour voices hanging and echoing until the sound dissipates, to be replaced by the next cloud of sound, rich, intense, earnest.

“Sing, my son, sing – louder, so the Lord of the Years can hear us and the great Axle-wheel will turn, with our world upon it.”

Child of the years
Father of time
Two faced god
See the world
Through your eyes
Round the circle of darkness and light
Make the world afresh in your sight
Sleep and rise again
A world beyond our pain

So we make the procession to the House of Divided Paths – the Wishmaker’s Hut, low in the glade – a building made of all that is good and all that is bad. Its smell is of spice and sweetness in some moments, but not for long. It is never stable. I pull back at what I see, a growing sense of fear at this vision that plays before my eyes; the brand shakes in my hand.

My father lays his palm on my shoulder and explains in amused voice.

“Isn’t it a wonder, son? This Wishmaker’s House is one of the Winter Mysteries – existing through difference, unstable, shifting between possibilities.”

– He is right, it is a wonder. One moment a lowly hovel, the next a castle the next a ruin, a cottage prim and proper surrounded by apple trees and moss and gold and light. In this later version it settles as we approach – a line of apprehensive children, our eyes popping out in excitement and fear. The younger ones in the line ahead of me look as afraid as I am, the older children almost embarrassed at wanting to come back here, as if the secret it offers is for a younger version of themselves, or as if they are in on a secret they know they cannot share.

I step forward under the torch light as one child after another disappears through the doorway. For those who wait, our blazing brands fill the air with black smoke that sits heavily in our lungs causing a lazy cough in us, and it seems, a stupor sometimes – lethargy falling through limbs, weighing them down as if they are made of lead or gold. I see my arms shining, reflecting, metallic and see the metal of the knife in the brand I hold above me – the gold that is the source of the sun, forever, unchanging. The catechisms and wisdoms of my very earliest memories the chants of the elders in exactly this way. Yet, tonight most of my past is behind me beyond a dense cloud as if I am new born here.

And the singing goes on, and the stars that are the ice-bound peaks of the inverted Otherworld above twinkle in reflection of our brandlight, and the night becomes a whirl of shadows and faces and light and stars and the breathghosts of life and the dark creatures in the wood, the chill deathghosts of the children before us. The spirits of the woods have gathered here, those of the tribe who haunt the barrows and towers of death, and who a few times a year venture forth to see their children’s children are performing the rites correctly.

One after another, the children are consumed by the Wishmakers Hut, it seeming now to be the mouth of a great worm breathing reeking fumes into the air. And the fumes lay heavy on my lungs.

At the entrance, my parents push me forward and tell me “Just go. Go forward. You will see.” And so I go inside.

I am not sure what the building was when I entered the doorway. Inside it is a lowly hut, and there is someone sitting, I see it, a shape in the darkness that beckons me forward.

“Come to the mirror” she says, an old crone with lines on her face. In the next instant a red-headed girl who smiles at me and says, “Look and I shall know your wish.”

I look at her a moment longer, and perhaps it is the smoke, perhaps it is something else , but I wait and know the world to be different from what I have always imagined, less safe than my parents told me, and colder, and stranger, and crueller.

I feel lonely then, as I look into the mirror and see the swirling darkness of the Old Gods take shape in its depths. A movement there in its shadows, the first fumblings of matter, into shape, directed by my awareness – though I can not know that, not now, for I am a child and do not understand how we make our worlds.

She smiles and pulls the mirror away, and laughs. A woman in her prime, beautiful, blue eyes with black, black hair the colour of the darkest night, of forest sighs, of the deep web of growth that lives below the tree roots.

“And there it is. The Christmas Child!” she shouts with delight. She twists a piece of gold into a shape between her glowing white fingers and says:

“You are a rare one. Here is your wish – ” and hands it to me, now a silver-bearded man in a green cape.

It is shaped in a twisted loop – uroboros – the elders call it. It means a circle. I look at it and do not understand.

“How can this be a wish?”

I glance a challenge at her, for she is now back to the old crone.

“You will see.”