Tag Archives: Storytelling

The Turning Sky | Lapham’s Quarterly

“The god Horus is a falcon (the word for which in hieroglyphs is qhr, the falcon’s cry). In the third surviving column of text, remarkably, the falcon is marked with a triangle, the hieroglyphic designation for the star Sirius. As if it were a mathematical proof unfolding before my eyes, I saw that if the falcon marked by the triangle is Sirius, the fire is the light of dawn in which the gods—the things marked holy by the hieroglyphic prayer flags—are stars. The baboon’s penis is in actuality a familiar sight: the Sword of Orion (the three stars under Orion’s belt), which rises directly before Sirius on the path of rising stars. The hieroglyphic lines on the wall express an immediate, visual moment in the physical world: the dawn rising of Sirius signaling the rising of the Nile, the key moment of the Egyptian agricultural year. The clear, repetitive, and simple hieroglyphic lines read not as a magic spell but as a finely machined poetic riddle: The Sword of Orion opens the doors of the sky. Before the doors close the gate to the path over the fire Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark, As a falcon flies, as a falcon flies, may Unis rise into this fire, Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark. They make a path for Unis. Unis takes the path. Unis becomes the falcon star, Sirius. That this was the case was borne out by the text as I translated further. Beautifully constructed verses presented one vivid astronomical reference after another: Taurus (“Would that the bull break the fingers of the horizon of earth with its horns. / Come out. Rise.”), the full moon (“the face, the head, the eye”), the North Star (“the axis at the center of the wheel”), the Dippers (“the arms of night”), the Milky Way (“the ladder to heaven”). The verses of the Pyramid Texts map the night sky as a detailed seasonal clock reliably predicting the most critical resource of all: water. Egyptian civilization came out of radical climate change—cattle herders whose grazing land was rapidly becoming desert as the water dried up in the climate shift of the Neolithic, much as is happening in Texas and around the world today.

The verses present a sequence of poetic images in which the human body is transformed back into its elements in the visible universe of the turning sky. The remnant essence of a human life rises as a star in the east: “moses” (the hieroglyphic word for infant) in “the field of rushes” (the eastern stars at dawn). The infant star is the child of “she who gave birth but did not know it” (the sky). The sky is a flood of cool darkness across which sail the stars: Sirius and its evil twin, “the detested wild dog Set,” the second brightest star in the sky, Canopus, the rising of which signals the autumn rains with their deadly flash floods and thunderstorms. Through this glittering wetland of stars wanders the golden calf, the golden crescent horns of the moon.

This extraordinary convergence of poetry, science, and religion resides not only in the writing but in the pictures within the words themselves. Osiris is a phonetic rendering of a hieroglyphic rebus: the seat of the eye, the universal corpse in which resurrection is not a religious mystery but an inevitability of nature. In the Pyramid Texts, hieroglyphic vocabulary is rich with images: The body is a tree. The snake is the life in it. The fruit of the tree is the eye. What is being expressed is the intelligence of nature itself in the ongoing process of creation: the death, decay, and rebirth of plant and animal life in the cyclical year. One familiar religious trope after another appears not as literal historical fact used to proscribe, threaten, and dictate the parameters of human life but as poetic imagery used to bring to life the awareness of our fragile and beautiful world. The richness of these images is echoed in the Book of Job: “As for the earth, out of it cometh bread, and under it is turned up as it were fire. The stones of it are the place of sapphires, and it hath dust of gold.” The Pyramid Texts are not magic spells or religious prescription any more than this. Instead, the text takes up a key question: Where shall wisdom be found?

…over the fire
Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark,

As a falcon flies, as a falcon flies, may Unis rise into this fire,

Beneath the holy ones as they grow dark.

They make a path for Unis. Unis takes the path.

Unis becomes the falcon star, Sirius.

 

Would that the bull break the fingers of the horizon of earth with its horns.

Come out. Rise.

Poetry and religion arise from the same source: the perception of the mystery of life. Early Egyptian writing belongs to this eternal language. The vehicle at work is associative thinking, in which metaphors act as keys to unlock a primeval human sense of the integrated living world. The meaning may not come across on the pedantic level, but on the poetic level it is transparent.”

Source: The Turning Sky | Lapham’s Quarterly

Susan Brind Morrow

Susan Brind Morrow’s translation and analysis of the Pyramid Texts, The Dawning Moon of the Mind: Unlocking the Pyramid Texts, was published in 2015. She received a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship in 2006.

The Fables of Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci was an artist, inventor, engineer and scientist, but he also found time to write little fables for himself. In the margins of his notes he would pen short tales of how pride and envy would bring down a moth, tree or even a stone.

wolf-and-eagle-650x374The Wolf and the Eagle

Ever since Aesop’s Fables was written in ancient Greece, people have been sharing these short stories that illustrate a moral truth. They were popular in medieval times as well, with many writers explaining how misfortune stuck men, animals, insects and even plants and rocks.

These fables are found in Leonardo’s notebooks from the years 1487 to 1494, when he was working in the service of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan.  They were written in the margins, perhaps as little notes to amuse or remind himself while he worked on bigger projects. Leonardo seems to have been interested in nature and finding examples of how various creatures would cause their own doom. –  via Medievalists.net

For examples of these fables, more images and link to all of Leonardo da Vinci’s fables, and those of other Italian writers in Renaissance Fables, translated by David Birch – see http://www.medievalists.net/2014/03/30/fables-leonardo-da-vinci/

and  Arizona Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

 

Lily and the Pyramid of the East by Jaq White

Here’s a little autobiographical story I wrote back in 2002; I labelled it an allegorical, metaphysical fairy tale. Make of it what you will!

http://www.scribd.com/doc/131731479/Lily-and-the-Pyramid-of-the-East-by-Jaq-White

The Language of Birds in Old Norse Tradition

Special individuals capable of understanding the language of birds are spread throughout the medieval Icelandic literary corpus.This phenomenon has received surprisingly little academic attention and is deserving of detailed, extensive, and interdisciplinary study.
Capable of flight and song, birds universally hold a special place in human experience. Their effective communication to people in Old Norse lore offers another example of their unique role in humanity’s sociocosmic reality.

Odin_hrafnarHuginn and Muninn sit on Odin’s shoulders in an illustration from an 18th century Icelandic manuscript

Birds consistently offer important information to individuals associated with kingship and wisdom. The wide chronological and geographical range of this motif will be explored as well as the fascinating theoretical questions regarding why birds are nature’s purveyors of wisdom. With their capacity to fly and sing, birds universally hold a special place in human experience as symbols of transcendence and numinous knowledge; Old Norse tradition reflects this reality.

For the full article, see the pdf file:

http://skemman.is/stream/get/1946/12869/31219/1/The_Language_of_Birds_in_Old_Norse_Tradition.pdf

Francis Bacon’s use of ancient myths in Novum Organum

“Francis Bacon’s monumental work, Novum Organum, is an attempt to establish a new
status for mankind. Using some of the most prominent myths—particularly those dealing
with the gods Pan, Dionysius, Perseus, and Prometheus—Bacon hoped to inaugúrate a
new era of success and happiness for his fellow man. In Book I of Novum Organum,
Bacon involves these gods and their significances, juxtaposing them with man as he might
and could be. In this essay, the author examines about twenty of the “Aphorisms” in
Bacon’s work, showing the possible impact of the ancient god who is most appropriate
for the “Aphorisms” under discussion. This article is clearly a work of utopian
proportions, revealing fascinating journeys into the realm of romanticism.”

Wendell P. Maclntyre
University of Prince Edward Island

Click here to read the full pdf article http://rua.ua.es/dspace/bitstream/10045/6045/1/RAEI_07_10.pdf

The Nightingale of Dyffed

“Praise of Ieuan Llwyd ab Ieuan Fwyaf” by Dafydd ap Gwilym

It is May, the bird-poets of the shore are splendid,

the woods are a fine green, a weaving of trees,

piercing and complex is the intricate song of a bird,

it is I who made it famous, mine is the longing.

Not because I do not get new gifts and nourishment

in Anglesey, joyous provision,

there is no lack of feasts, bounty free to all,

it is a dear one that is absent, thoughts of sadness.

Tables are heaped high, poets’ booty,

there is a bright courteous retinue,

but what was not mine, holy God, was love’s service,

not desire to greet a girl, but great desire which is worse”

Dafydd ap Gwilym was described by his fellow-poet Madog Benfras as eos Dyfed, “the nightingale of Dyfed”.
Dafydd was born sometime between 1320 and 1330 and died around 1380. He was a member of one of the most influential families in South Wales, and was buried at Strata Florida like many of the princes of Dyfed.
An ancient yew within the churchyard that stands opposite the abbey, is said to be the grave of the medieval bard,famed as the greatest poet in the Welsh language.

Consequently he felt no need to look up to the English conquerors. Neither was he dependent on the patronage of noble families, unlike most of his contemporaries. This was to have a profound effect on the subject matter of his poetry, which is lighter, and more playfully risqué than the other works of his age.

It is believed that he was educated in the court of his Uncle Llywelyn ap Wilym ab Einion, a man of great learning. He was to be surrounded by the greatest European works of the time, from which he borrows a great deal of his subject matter and style. Dafydd skilfully ties this in with the Welsh tradition – a master of ‘cynghanedd’ and the ‘awdl’ he was to create works of great beauty and merit.

His poems are often merry and playful. His tales of the adventures experienced whilst trying to court young ladies, Morfudd and Dyddgu in particular, are truly hilarious. Dafydd also wrote extremely beautiful nature poetry, and there is a general consensus that he is one of, if not the greatest of Welsh poets and of European stature.

Born in the early part of the fourteenth century, a contemporary of Boccaccio he was some thirty years older than Chaucer. He spent his early years in Llanbadarn with his parents and with his uncle Llywelyn in Castell Newydd Emlyn. He spent much of his later life in exile. Llywelyn was described by Dafydd as a warrior, as Lord of Dyfed, and also as a poet, a scholar, a linguist and a teacher. Llywelyn and Dafydd were learned and cultured: they probably spoke several languages and were versed in both contemporary and in classical literature. Dafydd describes Llywelyn’s house, Cryngae, as a white-washed house perched on a hill, with lamps burning brightly, with seats covered with silk brocade, and in which fine French wine was drunk from cups of gold.

His family originated from the cantref of Cemais in Pembrokeshire, and it had in earlier generations included several officials who had held positions of high authority in the same area under the English crown. The few datable allusions which Dafydd makes to contemporary events all point to the middle years of the 14th century as his period of maximum poetic output.

Tradition places Dafydd’s birth at Brogynin in the parish of Llanbadarn Fawr, a few miles north-east of Aberystwyth, in a substantial mansion or plasty which lay adjacent to a farmhouse still retaining this name.

He describes himself, no doubt fancifully, as a member of the clêr: these were the Welsh equivalents of the clerici vagantes or “wandering scholars” of other countries, and Dafydd may indeed have qualified at an early period in his life for minor religious orders – a not uncommon practice. But the indications are that he was a man of birth and breeding, and of no fixed occupation, who had sufficient means to travel at will through town and country, visiting the taverns in the Norman boroughs, and the homes of his cultivated friends over a wide area of Wales. And in both tavern and plasty there were no doubt to be found audiences fully capable of appreciating the cywyddau which, in their different kinds, he composed for their entertainment.

Dafydd’s range of personal contacts included his fellow-poet Gruffudd ab Adda, Madog Benfras, and Gruffudd Gryg – the last being an Anglesey poet with whom Dafydd exchanged a sequence of cywyddau in the form of a debate concerning the proper subjects to be treated of in the newly-introduced cywydd verse-form. Among his friends and acquaintances were also uchelwyr or men of hereditary station in Ceredigion and further to the south – men such as Rhydderch ab Ieuan Llwyd of Glyn Aeron and his family, and his uncle Llywelyn ap Gwilym, the constable of Newcastle Emlyn, who appears to have been a powerful educational influence upon the poet’s early life.

Dafydd’s uncle may, perhaps, have been the first to have introduced Dafydd to the “two cultures” – that is to the native bardic tradition as well as to the language and poetry and romances of the Anglo-Norman world. There was in addition Dafydd’s friend and patron Ifor ap Llywelyn or “Ifor Hael” of Basaleg in present-day Gwent.

To all of these men he addressed praise-poems which by the very fact of their existence provide an authentic framework, however exiguous and inadequate, for the bare facts of the poet’s life. For in all his other compositions but these few poems, fantasy intermingles with fact to such an extent that it is impossible to distinguish the one from the other, or to estimate the degree of reality which lies behind what Dafydd ruefully presents as his perpetually thwarted love-affairs. Love and Nature are the prime subjects of his poetry, and the two are very frequently blended, for he presents his love-theme most characteristically in an idealised woodland setting, in which he imagines himself as building a deildy or house of leaves and branches in which to shelter with his chosen sweetheart – “Morfudd” or “Dyddgu” or some other un-named girl, making his retreat with her in the wilderness, as an escape from the hampering restrictions of conventional society.

A website with English translations of his verse:

http://www.dafyddapgwilym.net/eng/3win.htm

Here is a manuscript in the poet’s own hand

Re-storying and Belonging by Sharon Blackie

Re-storying and belonging –

by Sharon Blackie

 

“You don’t mess with the Cailleach … she’s our very own Kali, dancing to create. Because it’s not death that she brings to the land with her dancing: it’s the renewal of sleep, the renewal of creativity as the hard bones of winter lay bare all that is inside us. She culls old growth, brings transformation. She’s the guardian of the seed as it builds its strength for the next summer’s growth.

When the long hard days of winter are done, and she begins to tire of her labour, the hills become her resting place, and she sleeps in the hills for longer and longer periods of time. And as she sleeps, at dawn on Imbolc – February 2 – her sister begins to wake. Her sister is Brighid, or Bride: the spring maiden. Bride has a bright green mantle that has been tightly wrapped around her all winter; as she begins to waken, little by little she shrugs off the mantle, and it begins to spread out over the fields and flowers spring up from the place where the mantle rests. Bride looks after the cows and the sheep – but more than that, she inspires poets and storytellers. Until, on August 1 – Lammas – she begins to tire, and she sleeps longer and longer, withdrawing her green mantle as she falls into the deepest sleep of winter. And as she begins to sleep, her sister the Cailleach begins to wake …

And so the cycle goes.

Every morning when I wake up and open the shutters I look out onto one of those silhouetted sleeping forms in the hills. I can see the contours of her face in profile, the rise of her chest and the roundness of her belly. It reminds me that the land is animate in its own way, and that, as explorer of oral traditions Robert Bringhurst tells us, ‘Stories are one of the fundamental ways in which we understand the world … some of the basic constituents of the world.’ It reminds me of the story of Cailleach and Brighid, and so of cycles, and of balance. As I walk our wild and windy headland each morning with the mountains to the east of me and the sea to the west, sometimes I talk to that sleeping form. I tell her my stories, and she tells me hers.

Because the only true stories spring directly from the land. They don’t come from our heads: we’re not talking about sitting down at a computer and making up fiction here, we’re talking about living stories. Alan Garner tells us that such stories are how a nation dreams.

The reality is in the land, in the earth. That’s where the true stories spring from. These are the stories that contribute to our sense of belonging in a place, and belonging springs in good part from understanding the land in all its seasons. Which in turn comes from getting out there and being in it, from understanding some of its history (not just of the people, but of the land itself). From understanding its stories.” © Sharon Blackie

 

For the full text (recommended!):

http://reenchantingtheearth.com/2012/04/28/re-storying-and-belonging/