THE INSPIRATION BEHIND THE TALES OF ANIETH
A BeginningI first read J.R.R. Tolkien's works in 1968-9. I was fascinated with the side characters rather than wizards and hobbits. Tolkien's world was vast and rich. He used characters from almost every European mythology for his world. The character which stuck with me from Middle Earth was that of Beorn, the man who changed into a bear. Tolkien made him gruff and asocial, loving his animals more than people. Later, when I read about the Beornings, (heirs of Beorn) I wondered who would have married Beorn given that he was so asocial and dangerous as a bear. This may have been a naive question, but I was only ten at the time and it began my lifelong fascination with shapeshifters. Yet, in all of Tolkien's works, Beorn remained unique among the "good guys".
Beorn also represented a glimse into another element that Tolkien merely touched on: that of magical beings outside of the war between good and evil. Treebeard, the oldest of the Ents, talks of the Ent's position when he says "well, I am not altogether on anyone's side because no one is altogether on my side." This was my first introduction into what many fantasists call "wild magic" or magic that is a law unto itself and neither good nor bad.
In the 60's the other person interested in shapeshifters and "wild magic" was Andre Norton. Her shapeshifters had been banned from her magical land, destined to wander until such time as their punishment would be ended. They were bloodthirsty and not a little on the savage side. She went even further to write of an outcast shapeshifter among outcast shapeshifters and a woman who married him who was also outcast. The Year of the Unicorn and The Jargoon Pard were the two stories she wrote about shape shifters.
In mythology, shapeshifters were usually wholly evil: werwolves and vampires. Occaisionally some god could change shape, but the gods took on any shape they chose and were not "bound" by the shape as ravenous wolves and blood-sucking bats. It was a "law" in magical writings that a shapeshifter might be a familiar or the demon controlled by a wizard. In the Star Trek episode "Gary 7" Gary's familiar is the ubiquitous black cat/witch so often condemned by the church. This gave me a clue into the nature of shapeshifters as being elemental rather than bound by the "laws" of magic.
Magic runs on two levels all through Fantasy. There is "high magic" bound by laws and performed
by wizards and "wild magic" which is said to be uncontrollable. Writers who explored the tensions
between these magics were few, but notable. Joy Chant talks about old magic or wild magic in the
character of Vir Vachel, an earth witch in her book, Red Moon and Black Mountain. In The
Last Unicorn Peter Beagle explores the unicorn/woman's inherent magic with that of his magician.
Alan Garner in his two books, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and
Wild magic is often said to be witch magic, or women's magic. The men who possess it are rarely soldiers or warriors, operating instead on a more savage level, equated with the rages of the beast. Those people who get caught up in wild magic often pay with never being a peace again.
After years and years of study, I now know that this play between wild magic and high magic is the play in British mythology between Arthurian or Christian battles between good and evil and the old magic of the Celts and the peoples that lived before them. In her book, Avalon Marion Zimmer Bradley explores just this problem that was addressed earlier in Mary Stewart's Arthur series. Both of these authors acknowledge Arthur as having to bridge the gap between high, or modern, magic and the old, or wild, magic. Merlin was of the old, Arthur of the new. And, of course, the great witches of the story, Morgan le Fey and Nimue were old magic witches.
I became aware that in more ancient societies, before the rise of the empires and wars of possession, the position of the warrior was tabu in that his life was a price for the spiritual energy that he channeled, often in the form of a companion beast. He paid in many ways, sometimes with celebacy, sometimes with being outcast from normal society (not being able to inherit or take a wife), sometimes by having to perform elaborate rituals. More often than not he was marked. The way to recognize a character who is of the old school is by his marks. In the movie, "The Piano" the man who stands between two worlds is marked as if he were a warrior.
Perhaps the Fantasist who is best at working with old magic other than Alan Garner is Robert Holdstock of Mythago Wood fame. Alan Garner describes his creation of his warriors of Gomrath as being Irish in nature, whereas Holdstock is more deliberate, attempting to create an awareness of myth in his books that spans over five millennia. However, Garner's work has a flavor that is older than the magic of Finn or Cuchulain. Some Fairy Tales have bits and pieces of wild magic, but most old magic is confined to the sub-genre of Fantastic Horror. The Celts and their predecessors were masters of the ghost tale many of which live today in common superstitions.
Thasátos began with the hunt for wild magic. I was never very interested in the battle between good and evil which I saw to be very Christian and before that, Zoroastrian. I was never very interested in evil the way that many writers of horror are. Yet I was interested in how one people would see another and interpret foreign beliefs and customs as evil. I was interested in the merging of culture and the prejudices and misunderstandings that arise when cultures collide.
After reading Thinking Animals by Paul Shepard, 1982, I began to see that a shapeshifter, (not a cross animal such a a mermaid or angel) was a person who had knowledge of wild magic and had paid the price by offering up humanity in exchange for access to another world. Beorn was a magician every bit as powerful as Gandalf (in that book) but master of a completely different magic. It was not until twenty years later that I stumbled upon a connection between magic and the conventional caste system spoken of in so much of Indo-European lore of earth/water/air/fire and a center. (For more information on this magical division see Magic: the Fourfold Way on this web site.)
The MuseThere are many European legends of a creature called "the Green Man" who is a variant of "Jack in the Green", yet more common is the legend of a female who does not possess the power of a plant or tree but is associated with a plant or tree and somehow tied to that plant's nature. Daphne was tied to the laurel tree, the Hesperides to the apples of immortality. One could say that the tree was a token of the goddess or spirit, yet it was more than that, for the woman took on many of the qualities of the tree. Briar Rose and Rapunsel are two Fairy Tale women who are tied to their plants. Women have long been associated with roses and other flowers. Sometimes the flower is merely a way to state the beauty of the woman in her first flower, yet in the case with Briar Rose and Rapunsel, the plants seek to bind the woman into a magical world. The image of the briar is clearly seen in the pictures of these two women. The magical power of the briar inspired these two artists even as it inspired the creator of the "Sleeping Beauty" tales.
ISome of the "Cinderella" variants tie her mother into the form of a birch tree. In one variant, "The Wonderful Birch", the father's daughter goes to her mother's grave and is comforted by the birch tree that has grown there, who speaks with her mother's voice and gives her the gifts she needs to escape her stepmother's tyranny. The girl, in order to accomplish the impossible tasks, breaks off a twig of the birch and throws it into the ashes mixed with the meal, etc. All over ancient Europe, trees were possessed of spirits and asked for boons. The only other more popular giver of health and happiness was a spring or lake or river. Both were female elementals, not gods, but spirits of trees and water.
In "The Wonderful Birch" an older variant of the tale that does not end with Cinderella's marriage, but goes on, has her stepsister transformed into a hemlock tree. The stepmother, in taking revenge, transforms Cinderella, now with a baby, into a reindeer. To free the mother from the deer, the prince burns the skin of the deer when the mother is playing with her baby. She transforms herself into many different items before the prince can free her completely. This is not the first story of a bride shapechanging, but it is one of the few that shows a close relationship between a tree and an animal. In many stories of this nature, the bride is transformed into some animal against her will, often losing her power of speech and inviting the loss of her life when she is eaten or hunted.
What I found fascinating about these tales was that the nature of the bride was such that she seemed to be passive victim. This seeming has outraged many feminists and spawned a whole new psychology called "the Cinderella syndrome". Yet it lies much deeper than just a seeming passivity in these stories where some shapeshifting takes place or the "princess" is closely tied to some plant/animal marker of the magical world.
I was smitten by this image of this "passive" woman at an early age. I had some intuition that the image had nothing to do with passivity, but was connected rather to receptivity. In many, many images out of folklore, the female elemental is illusive and tied to the magic in a way that binds her speech or makes her unrecognizable to those who may love her. It was many years before I began to see the connection between this image and that of the medium. Traditionally there were two different kinds of female elementals: those who represented nature and its bounty (like the birch tree) or those who led people into the spiritual world. These female elementals were very different from the malicious goddesses of the south who gave delight with one hand and death with the other or the godesses of death and destruction. They were visions of older elementals.
Even Tolkien, in his battle between good and evil falls into this female giver/taker trap with his dual images of Varda-Yavanna/Ungoliant, Galadriel/Shelob as givers of light and eaters of light. One almost never reads of a holy well or spring taking anything from anyone. The birch does not exact from Cinderella a price for her previous bounty. One could say that the stepmother is a mirror (evil) image, but this is not so. The mother/tree is an elemental and the stepmother represents the control of the element or it's abuse. In Tolkien's world, it is the good that controls and shapes the light and the evil that is more elemental, representing chaos in the sins of greed and gluttony. Tolkien, being a writer of high magic, falls into the belief that the origin was dark and the creation was light. The more ancient tales have this reversed where the origin is bounty and boon and the evil is controlling the flow of energy to direct it where one wills.
In old magic, this "passive" channeler exists often as a threat to the users of magic or the makers of spells and bindings and laws. Harry Potter is the epitomy of high magic or users magic and is indicative of the Western desire to direct and control for the sake of good against evil. Wild or old magic is frustrating for the wizards because it is "not on anyone's side" and seems both passive and whimisical. Yet Fairy Tales go on and on about who women channel this kind of magic and what they can expect to happen.
I wanted to write a story where the heroine got into trouble whenever she tried to control the magic that she was channeling. I also wanted to play with the idea that others would not only try to contol the magic through her, but would attach her to the magic and identify her with the magic and try to blame her for the magic not working under their control. The result of this was very similar to the result of many many witches and saints who channeled power and did not seek to control it. They were seen as uncontrollable and therefor misunderstood and often branded as being against, because they were not for. More often than not, they could not or would not defend themselves and the consequence was death. I ran headlong into a wall with this character. Editors and some readers were extremely frustrated with her, claiming that she was too passive and did not have enough problems to overcome. Rather than listen, I fought this idea of a new heroine who was just another hero on a hero's journey, a la Joan Wilder (Romancing the Stone) or Red Sonia. I also did not want to fall into the trap of writing a Fantasy Romance.
The image was easier to see than to write. These three disparate pictures show elements of this heroine. She would be a shapeshifter into an enchanted deer after her mother. She would have a beauty not of this world. She had to be redhaired because of the traditions in Europe that put redheaded women outside of normal concourse. I gave her bone white skin and big black eyes to make her more like a deer and less like the blue-eyed, blonde princess of modern Fairy Tales. She would have to be frail, like the deer, and graceful beyond the grace of other women. Yet, what is evident in these pictures is a self-possession that puts her beyond the range of behavior in a bride character or in a female warrior. It puts her in the rankings of Pre-Raphaelite or Robert Graves descriptions of a muse character. The muse is a character that is untenable, uncontrollable, removed, and yet possessing some inborn characteristic that drives men to certain behavior. The difference between her and a young bride is that she is not receptive to love, but often violently opposed to advances of love.
In the past, women possessing power like this were highly desired, not because they would produce children, but because they brought luck to the hunt. Because of them the tribe was healthy, receiving through her power food and luck. There role in society was passive, their role in the larger world was not. This was the key to what I sought. The man who was marked by shapeshifting qualities was damned from a normal concourse with females. The woman who was marked by shapeshifting qualities was damned from using her powers to control the actions of others. Her energy came from outside and was directed at receiving that energy. To harness or control it took her abilities and diverted them from reception of energy. The energy flow was then corrupted and the women changed from being a channeler of energy into a prostitute who was used for and used by her energy. Every day we see the consequences of this prostitution in the arts.
The consequence of this long search for a heroine was Kileen, a name which simply means "girl". She remains a difficult character, having no name, creating reaction, but not acting. Her "problem" is in desiring to work for good and learning that the more she controls her power, the less ability she has to escape being used. There is nothing manlike about her, and many men continue to find her unreadable because she is so frustratingly "passive". If read as a receptive rather than a passive, Kileen comes into focus. Her story is old. She is driven into the forest where she is challenged again and again. The answer to the challenge is traditional: complete and utter obedience. Again, this is not passive or abusive. This is the spirit learning to be a vessel for power. Again and again, religious rituals are revealed to not be attempts to victimize, but attempts to make the novice understand that she cannot be willed by anyone, including her own vices. She must learn this in mastery of her own desires and her body's excuses. When asked, she must obey. After a long while, the body/ego learns that it is not the master: the spirit is the master. The stepmother or adopted mother or dwarves are those who beat this lesson into her if she needs it. She must learn that to channel energy, she must be willing to separate the grain from the ashes and to find a way to do this impossible task.
The Animal GroomAnother very important element in shapeshifting stories, is that of the enchanted groom. Whereas the Cinderella character is enchanted, usually after she has had a child, the groom meets the bride in animal form. She is forced to marry him (never willingly) and only in the dark, sees him as a man. I was interested in this kind of story because of my interest in Beorn. In Andre Norton's stories, the beast is revealed in the man as a kind of horror for the bride or the man himself. My favorite stories as a child were "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" and "Snow White and Rose Red". In the later story, the brides are tied to roses again, and the groom is a bear. The girls fall in love with the bear and weep for his death, rather like a Beauty and the Beast story. Many animal groom stories follow the former in that the prince, once revealed as a man, disappears because the bride has broken the rule of living in peace with the beast for a certain time. The North is full of animal groom stories, where the man is an animal by night and a man by day. The bride is often encouraged by his sisters to "see" her man, and this makes him disappear. Stories of an animal bride are common in Celtic folklore, yet the story varies.
In animal groom stories, the groom is usually generous, often rich and eccentric, yet very gruff, often cruel, and sometimes ashamed of his animal traits. Here was Beorn. Whether Tolkien was inspried by these tales in his rendering of Beorn, I do not know, but the image of the wealthy, eccentric, inhospitable beast fits. Beorn is very much like the Beast of "Beauty and the Beast" on a more ancient scale. If Beorn had found someone stealing from him and demanded his daughter in return for his life, it would fit his character.
The story of "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" is from the bride's perspective. It is similar to Rapunsel in that the groom vanishes when the bride is disobedient to the rule that she not try to see him. She then has to travel miles and miles to find him again. The prince never again takes on the role of the bear, the bear is completely gone. Instead he is in the company of a false bride as in many other tales, and the true bride must win back his love and reveal the false bride to be a troll's daughter.
lthough I found this story to be inspiring as a child, I found that the image of the animal groom was a fleeting image, and was kin to a psychological tale for girls who desire a prince and are expected to marry the beast because of his wealth and position. Digging deeper into Andrew Lang's wonderful Fairy Tale series, there are tales of male beasts that are truer to the image of Beorn the wizard than to Beorn the animal groom. Similar to, but also very different are a series of tales, not about a bear or a pig groom, but about a bull groom. "The Black Bull of Norroway" is very similar to "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" yet it merges into another story of a bull, "Kari Woodengown". The bride has to marry the black bull, but he gives her the three gifts and fights the old one of the wood, similar to the bull that lives at Kari's father's home who rescues her from her stepmother. In Kari's story she must suffer the bull's death. The bull no longer is the prince transformed, but of the nature of the birch, or the magical sheep, a helper spirit who comes under suspect and must be killed.
In "the Black Bull" the girl is given the gifts when the bull visits his brothers. In "Kari Woodengown" as you can see from the above picture, Kari and the bull must go through a forest of copper, silver and gold. Kari is warned not to touch anything. She accidentally catches a fruit and wants to throw it away so the bull does not have to fight the giant who owns the wood, but she is told to keep it. Later it provides her with the means to get the prince. Sometimes, in these beast stories, once the beast is killed its bones are planted and grow a tree or its head is hung up somewhere as a trophy that speaks. Unlike most animal grooms, this groom is not just enchanted, he is magical. Not only can he provide food for the hungry and clothes, but he fights off giants and his body is a magical token, like the body of the birch whose twigs can separate the grain and the ashes.
Yet much of what is urged by the animal groom is to do as he says, which the bride cannot fulfill, just as she could not fulfill keeping his image a secret. In her final trial, she must give up the magical tokens won by her lover in the woods to the woman who is to be his bride in a substitute bride part of the story. She trades the tokens for permission to spend the night with her lover to beg him to recognize her as the true bride. This mistaken identity crisis seems obvious in any marriage, yet the imagery is of a deer origin, a spiritual quest to learn obedience to the will.
As I was thinking on shapeshifters the question arises, how does a man become an animal groom? In some stories such as "Beauty and the Beast" the problem is explained. In other stories it is not. Most of them have some angry witch involved who was treated injustly. Yet, in a form of story seen here called "Brother and Sister" the boy is the one who cannot resist the temptation to eat or drink from the magic stream and is changed into a deer.
Early on, I also found it striking that the same image would inspire an artist over and over. Here, four different artists have drawn almost the same picture. The sister comforts the beast brother and swears that she will obey the rules to relieve him of his misery. It is a very common motif in Fairy Tales that the brothers are turned into beasts and the sisters pay the price for their release. In these tales, the boys are enchanted either through obedience to their animal needs or through the malicious dealings of a new stepmother. In almost every case, the stepmother usually represents the power of nature that will strike out at the novice if the novice strays into one of the sins (lust, gluttony, anger, pride, sloth, envy, or avarice) or is the power who shows the novice the animal side sleeping below the surface that the novice must overcome. Many people interpret the stepmother as the dark half of the good mother/bad mother child fear, but she is not. She is always the threat to the young person of their animal nature overwhelming them. She is the temptation to give into a sin and try to control one's life.
Let me explain it another way. The stepmother is, essentially, Varda and Galadriel. Galadriel herself speaks of this when she speaks of her power to become a queen whom "all shall love and despair". She reveals her nature as the most famous of stepmothers, Snow White's stepmother. If one looks at all Fantasy as essential tales of the spirit, one can see that in Tolkien's spiritual world chaos is evil and order is light and health. My choice to project a different spiritual value in my stories was quite a bit because I was a very feminine woman, but also because I was not beautiful, nor was I popular. I was always labeled a witch long before I understood what it was. So part of my love of Fairy Tales was that there was a spiritual element that was antithetical to Tolkien's mythology in that good did not arise out of chaos, but that the spirit progresses through denying the battle of good and evil. Tolkien states that evil was the desire to control magic and creation, to mechanize magic, but he did not fully understand that the spirit must arise, not only out of the animal, but beyond battles of good and evil. The perversion of characters like Medusa are just such warnings of what happens to old magic when subjected to the battle between good and evil.
So here we have a story where the brothers are enchanted and the sister pays the price to restore them to humanity. In the "Six Swans" variants, she must make shirts of nettle for the boys without saying a word until they are done. She is discovered by a prince who takes her home, but she cannot tell him of her task. Because she cannot speak, the stepmother accuses her of killing her own children and she is put to the fire as she finishes the last shirt.
his is an extremely moving story of self-sacrifice, but it is controversial because of the problem of the male being enchanted and the female paying the price. Again, it is necessary to look at this story as a spiritual journey. The female becomes a channeler in the transformation of her brother(s). She has to do an impossible task and is not able to defend herself. How many saints and other women who have had magical abilities suffered injustice because they could not make themselves understood? Often the sister is more easily accused of witchcraft because of the presence of her brothers, whom she cannot explain as being enchanted. This close association with the beast is again a mark of a shaman/witch and many people were burned for their beast companions.
What would Beorn's bride's people think of him or her for marrying him? I wanted, in my story, to have my heroine open up the magical world in her wake. First to follow would be the Beorn character. In the "Six Swans" the brothers follow their sister to the castle where she is taken by the prince. I created a shapeshifter along the lines of the berserker/werwolf to follow Kileen to the home of the "prince" and made him terrifying enough to condemn her by his presence. His role was a complicated one. He was the one to guide her into her power and he was also in love with her. He was asocial and violently opposed to her leaving the magical world in order to effect the justice she thought she could bring about. He was powerless to stop her from sacrificing herself in the cause of good and right, but followed her to destroy her if necessary. He knew that in trying to bend her power she would become a weapon and that she would end up dying a horrible death as people fought to use her or destroy her. I thought of him as a kind of Captain Nemo without a ship or crew in werwolf form.
As the story grew, Faol's (wolf) role grew more complex. When I read Robert Anton's Wilson's "Prometheus Rising" I drew a relationship between beasts and certain skills and traps of levels of consciousness. Faol became a microcosm of animal traits and the multi-shaper was invented. I was intrigued with the relationship between the artist and the performer and their art, so I made "Beorn" into a sculptor of animal images that he then took into his mind and became. Because of this power to cross more than one boundary, he became a magus of great skill and could teach Kileen the one secret of the animal binding, that to break out of the animal, she had to become all animals.
Eventually, my shapeshifters became similar to ancient warriors and modern musicians, actors, and artists, anyone who plays with the borders of identity. This was the reason for Kileen's suppressed identity and Faol's multiple identity. Everyone who "stars" in the books has more than one identity, some literal (shapeshifting) and some internal in the fact that many of them are half-breeds or invaders gone native. The ultimate value in exploring other cultures is in the recognition of the falsity of your own culture, something that is played upon again and again in the world of Thasátos.
My heavy language background also contributed to this identity crisis. I have always been fascintated not with semiology or linguistics, but diachronic linguistics or how languages are affected by time and the interaction with neighboring languages. I have been involved in tracking down borrowing between languages and the roots of words and how they are affected by the imposition of another grammatical structure. My speciality, being ancient European tongues, has made it possible for me to create a spectrum of language across Thasátos and to pull the strings in many a tool such as the Tarot and find the knot at the beginning. This was vital in my creation of the Tree Clans based upon the ancient system of Ogham, a tree alphabet or cypher. Robert Graves book, The White Goddess dwelves into this mystery, yet his heavy bias toward the Golden Dawn and his classical studies and his lack of knowledge of the Celtic languages leaves him in some interesting predicaments. For a technical discussion of language, the Tree Clans, Ogham and ancient systems of tree calendars go to the Symbols and Correspondences part of this web site.
I grew up in the woods. Although they were not the woods of England, I went to school there and was deeply impressed as a child of the redwood forests of California. This love of trees was complemented by my obsession with growing edible plants of obscure origins. My family laughed when I came back from Europe, not with photos of castles and tourist sites, but with photos of tree roots complete with the stray foot or tree trunks with the stray arm. To me, trees have always been alive in a way that is hard to explain. I felt as a child that if one were to stand very quietly under a tree that eventually one could hear it speak. Of all of Tolkien's characters, I most loved the Ents. Very few Fantasy novels focus too much on trees. To me the feeling of trees and the love of wood was very heavy. The rustle of the aspen and the individual smells of the pines (yes, each has its own smell) inspired me as deeper magic of a "wild" sort. The feeling that trees could speak has never left me.
The nature of trees made me revise much of my earlier writings about a "tree people". It seemed against mythology to have people change into trees and be able to change back. Whereas the animal shaping seemed both fluid and closer to the nature of man, I realized that the tree shaping had to be an unalterable event, a kind of death transition. Although I could give my peoples the qualities of the trees they would become, it did not seem right that they could root and uproot at will. The result of this were the sacred groves, where the ancestors of the tree tribes would take root. There was always a danger that a person in deep depression would decide to take root and I felt that it should be a warning to children of the ease of taking root under stress, fear or depression. This was called "the call to leaf" and fed back into the nature of Thasátos being designed for those people who desired death.
Adopting the tree lore of Europe gave me a wealth of structure to work with. There were already long relationships between people and trees, animals and trees, and trees and other trees. There were all the legends of the "Green Man" and "Jack in the Green" who inspired many of the stories of Puck and Robin Hood. Yet the greatest of tree myths was described in detail in Frazer's Golden Bough which was the story of the vegetative king who was sacrificed in a tree or on a tree. This myth is as old as Osiris, probably older. It is a solar myth were the vegetative king is replaced by the winter king of the hunt.
It is my nature to not be able to take anything at face value. Although this myth is attractive, I strongly sensed that it was based on something older. Many mythographers have wrote about the myth and it was Graves again, in his interpretation of the tree alphabet who reinforced the role of the Oak (Osiris or the vegetative king) and his Tanist/murderer/brother (Set or the hunter) the Holly. Although Graves seemed to be on the hunt, he was confused and hobbled by his talents.
It was not until I did extensive work on Stonehenge and ancient star myths, that the mystery began to clear. The result of this research is a complex relationship between the tribes of Oak and Holly and Ash and Alder. My Horse Tribes came under the influence of these ancient relationships and the Red Throne of the Eastern Sun and the White Throne of the Western Moon brought me full circle back to the Red and White Queens and the "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" myths. My job then was to design an Oak king and a Holly tanist who would be real enough for fiction. Over the years, Trèan of the Holly and Dubh of the Oak evolved.
Because of the nature of the tree tribes, I was able to do something that I always wanted to do which was to show a gradation of technology and enlightnement from the "Classical" empire of the Zelosians throught the petty kingdoms of the Oak and Horse People to the confederations to largely anarchical tribal associations like the Ash and Willow. Some tribes were tightly bound by religious structures, some by traditions which made their politics secondary as a source of control and oppression in their societies. Most Fantasists never explore the roles of religion and government as a source of tension in their books, yet most of their heroes have problems with tradition and "fate". It is more familiar in Science Fiction works such as Frank Herbert's Dune series to find explorations of this kind. It is no surprise that I read Herbert's works at the ripe old age of twelve. I was as inspired by his world of Arakkis as I was by Middle Earth.
In the character of Trèan, I was able to explore the cynical, tragic character of a man who both despises himself and works to a higher purpose, sparing himself no sympathy. He is similar to the great tragic heroes of Hamlet, Captain Nemo, and Tolkien's Túrin Turambar. In him, I was able to explore the role of the trickster/reluctant hero/own worst enemy stereotype. He self-hatred overwhelms any phrase of his talents or abilities and makes him risk more than any of his people in the effort to effect justice and help Dubh, his only friend and a man that he has to hunt down and kill in cold blood. It is his struggle to avoid this fate that drives the plot of The Killing Tree.
The tragedy of Trèan and Dubh also lies in the fact that they are the only members of their clans who will not take root. They are the only ones who are killed. The Holly champion is elected for the express purpose of murdering the elected Oak king. The new king is the one who can hunt down and execute the murdering Holly. Among people who are in a sense immortal, these two face mortality at a very early age. Holly champions are chosen for their sense of fatalism and berserker tendencies. Like traditional figures, they are bound by tabu and custom. Part of the fate of both Dubh and Trèan is that both of their fathers broke with tradition. It is part of their cycle to close this breach or to destroy the tradition completely.
I was always puzzled by this fate thing that runs very heavily in Fantasy. When I learned the story of the vegetative king, it became very clear that fate was a large part of this story that Joseph Campbel described as the "hero's journey". In my work I wanted to explore this question of fate being a part of the traditional custom and thus, a part of the shape and not a part of the substance. My books take on a next level in that the play of custom against custom and the exposure of the characters acting out one tradition to other traditions gives them the opportunity to leap beyond the maps overlayering each other and free themselves.
his, essentially, is the function of the magi like Bleid, Faol, the Birch and the Hazel. Stepping in the footsteps of writers like Bruno Bettelheim and Clarissa Pinkola Estes, I began to look at Fairy Tales, not as psychological, but more as spiritual tales in the Sufi sense. Although the tales of Nasrudin popularized by Irdies Shah are more like parables, these tales have a distinct spiritual bend that brings them a step closer to Fairy Tales than to parables or fables. The tales of the Lakota, popularized in Joseph Marshall's book The Lakota Way are even closer. Marshall himself spends much time describing how these tales are connected to psychological or cultural mores, but better yet, his grouping of the tales gives the reader an intuitive sense of what he means. As I gave to you in my three pictures that inspired Kileen, the grouping of like Fairy Tales can give a sense of what the gist of the psychological or spiritual element is in the stories.
The Spiritual TaleTolkien was explicit about his scorn of allegory and was scathing in his attacks of those who saw allegory in his work. People naïvely try to speak about The Lord of Rings as an allegory for WWII: the rise of Hitler in the East, the unification of the West to meet the threat, etc. Yet Tolkien himself was also clear that what he wanted to do was to create a mythology specific to England. His goal was to create a body of myth. Given the emotional responses to Peter Jackson's interpretation of the tale onto the screen, I would have to say that Tolkien succeeded in striking a deep vein in peoples related to the English.
I do not share Professor Tolkien's scorn for allegory, but there are plenty of very bad allegories in literature to fuel his rationalizations. After many years I am convinced that, in order to write work that is deliberate, one must be so voiced in that which one wants to deliberate that it "feels" real. Tolkien was steeped in folklore and mythology from an early age. Herbert spent seven years in the Sahara and did a long turn at journalism. A basic rule of writing is that the writer brings himself to the writing: what the thinker thinks, the writer writes, so to speak. This makes teachers of writing urge: write what you know! This is not to write from your backyard, but to write from the backyard of your own mind. Perhaps Tolkien's objection to allegorical tales was less that they were symbolic and more that they were transparent and obvious. Although George MacDonald is still one of the best writers of Children's Fantasy in existence, much of his lesser known work is much too obvious, very moral and very Victorian. Few writers have the skill of Ursula Le Guin or Frank Herbert to take issues and make fiction of them that is not obvious.
The work I have done in this series is to map out spiritual journeys. I do this on many levels in order to make the books at once rich, complex and true to themselves. (For more on this check out Symbols and Correspondences.) I saw at once in the set of Fairy Tales similar to "The Bushy Bride", not just a Cinderella variant, but an explicit rendering of a spiritual progression. The bride is only a bride when she has come to terms with the three stages of a child's growth, famous from Piaget's work and Freud's as Oral, Anal and Verbal. From these illustrations, you can see that the Fairy Tale puts forth these three "monsters" for each of the two girls to obey. Like a Toads and Diamonds story, the father's daughter obeys the three monster men, and the mother's daughter scorns them. The three men appear again in the tale "The Three Dwarves" and in a wider representation as the seven dwarves in the tale "Snow White". Disney, who most Fairy Tale enthusiasts cannot disparage enough, almost destroys the subtleness of this allusion in naming the dwarves and giving them personalities. This defeats the three dwarf allusion to the taming of the childhood monsters and the seven dwarf allusion to the "seven deadly sins". Yet, to be fair, Disney's interpretation of the story is his own. He already drifted too far in not letting Snow White order the queen's death by having her dance in iron-hot shoes.
Because I wanted my heroine to be engaged in a spiritual journey and not a bride's journey, there are four men, the fourth representing the sexual/social level. This puts the heroine smack into a poetic space where inspiration and enlightenment are the theme of the confict, not sex and marriage. Yet, essentially, my four Hazel men are the same monsters seen here in "The Bushy Bride"
I am able to layer more onto this allegory by having the Hazel ask spiritual riddles and liken the path they describe through the lower levels of humanity to the growth of a tree. "I am the roots!" the oral monster cries. "I am the trunk!" the anal monster shouts. "I am the leaves," the verbal monster says. "I am the flowers," the sexual monster sings. They want her to understand that the journey begins with the tree, not with any part of it. Over and over Kileen meets this same allegory in different riddle forms. Over and over she is urged to celebrate the passage into dil a Persian word which means "heart, mind and soul" or the root of the unconsciousness which links humans with the Universal Reality. The Sufi writer and doctor, Mohammad Shafii, talks of this passage in his book, Freedom from the Self. Dil is a reawakening, and Kileen is called upon to awaken from the nightmare of bondage to her animal fears tied up in the form of a deer.
In many Fairy Tales the journey begins with the novice losing their way in the forest. Kay Nielsen's picture here describes this feeling better than any other that I have seen. Most novices do not want to get lost in the wood, so often the tale drives them to it. They progress from a castle through the wood and to the castle again. This circular pattern is simliar to that described by Joseph Campbell as he mapped the hero's journey as starting from the normal world and then journeying through the magical world. The full myth of which Campbell only describes a part, is more like a figure eight wherein the hero, having won the elixir and the bride and the kingdom then rises into the world and at the apex of his career realizes that he is the sacrifical king. He then begins the process of barricading himself against his death, becoming a paranoid tyrant. Usually through the plots of the trickster he is overthrown and he understands that to effect a resurrection of the land, he must be sacrificed. It is only in the "death" of his body that he obtains true enlightenment and ceases to ride the circle.
I have discovered that there are four such journeys, the journey of the trickster mirroring that of the hero, only that he goes from the magical world into the real world, rises as he defeats the tyrant and brings about justice and then "falls" as his punishment for killing the king and tricking his way into justice against the existing system. His fall into the magical world sets him up as the king of the underworld where his growing cynicism and despair lead him to torment soul that comes his way. He is defeated when the hero steals into his realm and destroys it by fighting for the elixir. The underworld king does not "die" in a body sense, but he loses all that he has gained and is cast out into the desert where he wanders, homeless as the mentor, enlightened and a teacher of any who wander for wisdom.
Of course, anyone on these journeys can be male or female, gender is not a question. There are many, many tales of female tricksters or females who fight the establishment for justice using the powers of their mind against the system. The Pelican Brief is just such a tale. The journeys of the witch and bride often have male counterparts as well, The Doors being a witch's journey and Tam Lin being a bride's (groom's) journey. The bride's path is similar to the hero's going through initiation in the magical world, usually through an incident in the forest. She then rises as the queen mother and falls victim to politics, either in and of herself (Guinnivere) or because of relations (The White Duck). She ends up wrongly accused and through her journey to the stake and beyond, is transformed into compassion.
The witch's journey is the mirror opposite spiral with initiation in the real world. This is seen in many tales where she must enter menial service in order to learn to cope with inner demons. Often she is plagued by a "god given" power or talent and shunned for it. She ends up destoying the world that she creates in some plague or cataclysm of of her own invention. As Tiamat or Medusa, she is viewed as the witch in darkness or the ogress destroyer. Yet, in the rebirth of the world, she is hope. "Pandora's Box" is an attempt at this story. (For more information on these storys, plots and spiritual paths see Magic: the Fourfold Way or The Mentor's Journey
I began to "draw" plots in order to get a better idea of a way to cast a path for a character. The story of Trèan and Dubh is a series of mirrored loops as they pass through the seven tests of the Holly. Kileen's journey is a mirror spiral both down and up as her story is played in two different times. I have always been intrigued with fiction as a kind of puzzle game where the characters walk a path that is nothing like reality, but very much like a spiritual or mental excercise. As you can see, I am not of the school of realism or "slice of life" writing. Yet that is a choice in writing spiritual allegory with the meta allegory being that everyone has to deal with death as a way to transform their desire for death into a real change of their own natures.