The Oldest Stories; Take A Bow Storyteller

I’ve read before that the oldest surviving work of literature is the  Epic of Gilgamesh, engraved on ancient Babylonian tablets 4,000 years ago. But no doubt our need to tell stories goes back beyond this, oral storytelling and art, for example in the form of the ancient cave paintings, both fulfilling this ancient, human desire.

In one of those moments of serendipity, as I was wondering what the oldest stories could be, beyond known written narratives such as Gilgamesh, I came upon a BBC article,  Fiction Addiction: Why Humans Need Stories (link below) with this interesting sidebar:

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Much in the way that local folklore gives definition to landscape and the world that surrounds us, did ancient man also make sense of his world with such creations?

The examples in the sidebar image are clues passed down to us that survive in written form, but what about before these? If only we could trace the lineage back, the evolution of storytelling, back into those obscuring mists of pre-history to rediscover the very first story, and pay homage to that very first storyteller, maybe sat around a fire or in a flame-illuminated cave, speaking into being the first myths and tribal histories.

Explaining events that gave fuel to a people evolving to wonder at origin and meaning, weaving a magic that still enchants today.

http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20180503-our-fiction-addiction-why-humans-need-stories?ocid=ww.social.link.facebook

 

New Book: Introducing Mythos

The second of The Northlore Series of books is out today. A planned trilogy of books, the first volume was called Folklore, and this second one is called Mythos. I have two short stories featured in it.


The premise of this one is that since the advent of Christianity 2,000 years ago, the old Norse Gods didn’t just cease to exist but continued on, right through to the present day. These are their stories. There are tales of different times and different places: from the Russian Plains, to the Somme, to a cafe in New York. A varied collection that holds something for everyone, it is a great companion piece to Folklore. 


In Folklore, I had included a poem about a Mara, and a story about a Myling. A reviewer (in a good way), described my story as ‘Murray’s bleak take on the Myling legend’. If he thought that was bleak, wait until he reads my World War One tale in Mythos! Though I liked ‘bleak’. I think I’ll take that. 

The books contain humour, too. There is a good balance throughout: light and dark, prose and poetry.

Both books are available here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mythos-2-Northlore-MJ-Kobernus/dp/8283310259/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1481633508&sr=1-2&keywords=Mythos

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Folklore-1-Northlore-MJ-Kobernus/dp/828331002X/ref=pd_sbs_14_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=ZZVH62QX70FKJ5QQSSRJ

And for American customers:

https://www.amazon.com/Mythos-Northlore-2-MJ-Kobernus/dp/8283310259/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1481636128&sr=8-2&keywords=Northlore

https://www.amazon.com/Folklore-Northlore-Book-MJ-Kobernus-ebook/dp/B00Y14YZRU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1481636128&sr=8-1&keywords=Northlore
Images from Nordland Publishing

On This Day: The Wolf And The Head

On this day is remembered Edmund, (c841-869), King of East Anglia from around 855. He was killed after being taken prisoner in a Danish incursion, when he refused the Dane’s demands to denounce Christ. This seems enough to qualify the King for sainthood.
He is often depicted pierced with arrows like a bristled hedgehog as, according to tradition, his captors tied him to a tree and used him for target practice before beheading him.

According to one legend, his head was thrown into a forest, but was found safe (as safe as a severed head can be) when searchers were drawn to it by a wolf that was calling “Hic, Hic, Hic.” It was not an alcoholic wolf with the hiccups, rather the three hics meant “Here, here, here.” My wife could use a totemic wolf when hunting for her car keys.

I have read of another version of this tale, where the wolf protected the head, and it was the head itself that cried out “Hic, hic, hic.”

A talking, severed head, though? That’s way too far fetched. I believe it was a talking wolf.

The place that he was buried (that is body and head together) became a great abbey around which the town of Bury St.Edmunds grew. Nothing enigmatic about that literal place name, is there ? It is a town that I have never visited. I have been to one about twenty minutes away from where I live that is called Bury. Instead of being a last resting place of a King and Saint, rather its fame lies in the selling of black puddings.

Tourists queue here.

One last point: it can be noted how Edmund’s death is similar to the fate suffered by St.Sebastian, St.Denis, and St.Mary of Egypt.
I’m not sure if they had a wolf though, speaking or otherwise. That’s a job for Google.

 

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On This Day: Ghosts; Witches; Skeletons; Lions. Who’d Live In A Place Like This?

In a diary that chronicled events and personages connected with the days of the year, I spotted that today was linked with the Christian saint Osyth, who was a minor Saxon Princess who died around the year 700.

She married a sub-King of East Anglia, (who seemed unworthy of being named, at least in the account that I was reading), and founded a nunnery at what is now St. Osyth (funnily enough) in Essex. According to an unreliable biography she was killed by robbers, but if you are of the type who needs substantiated facts, I’m afraid that the famous-as-well-as-venerable Bede does not give her a mention.

Osyth’s nunnery died out, but was re-founded as an Augustine monastery, containing her shrine, in the early 12th century.

I love the old legends that permeate these islands, especially those that concern (perhaps) historical figures partly obscured by the myths and mists of time.

There are various fantastical events surrounding St. Osyth, and some of them are just perfect for this time of year, as the nights draw in and Halloween approaches:

**when she was young she drowned in a stream, but revived after nuns from a local convent prayed for her for three days. (If this was a time-travel story, they would be from the nunnery that Osyth founded in the future. Did Osyth found the nunnery in gratitude to those nuns who resurrected her as a child? Or did the nuns travel back to save the child in gratitude to the adult who established their nunnery? Then again, if she died as a child she wouldn’t have created their nunnery. I’m confusing myself, let’s leave science fiction out of it.)

**she was executed by beheading; where she fell a spring issued forth from the ground. She picked up her severed head and walked to the door of the nunnery where she knocked three times before collapsing. (Knock knock knock. “Who’s there?” “Osyth.” “Osyth who?” “Oh syth down, I’m dead anyway.”)

**her ghost walks along the priory walls, carrying her head, one night each year. (I would guess that would be tonight, then? Anyone up for a vigil?)

The place name of St.Osyth rang some bells for me, so I looked it up.

The village was a focus for witch persecutions in the 16th and 17th centuries, ten local women being hanged. In 1921 the skeletons of two women were unearthed in a garden, one of them claimed to be the first of the women that was tried for witchcraft. I hadn’t heard this story before.

Then I found the source of my familiarity:

In 2012 there were reports of a lion being sighted near the village. After twenty four hours, an armed search was called off.

Is it safe to come out yet?

Is it safe to come out yet?

Beheadings; ghosts; witches; skeletons; lions: I’m packing my bags now. It sounds like a great place to live!

Part of its beach being used for nudist bathing doesn’t come into it.

Must go now, someone has just knocked on my door three times. I’ve looked through the spy hole but cannot see anybody there. At least no-one at head height.

Trolls and Witches and Selkies – Oh My!

Another great review here of the Northlore Series: Folkore anthology. My poem ‘Mara, My Love’ gets a mention.

The Monash Fairy Tale Salon

A fresh new collection of folklore was released from Nordland Publishing last month: The Northlore Series: Volume One. Though it’s slightly outside the fairy-tale focus of the MFTS, I was delighted when asked to review it on the blog.

And let me tell you, from the moment I saw the cover I was hooked, and I began my journey into the realm of trolls, draugrs, huldr, selkies, elves, and witches…

Northlore

Gorgeous isn’t it? The book is a contemporary collection of 33 Scandinavian folk tales, inspired by ancient tales from this region. I’ve read many anthologies of old tales collected from different countries, so it was refreshing to read some modern incarnations!

Indeed, as Nordland Publishing have written about their book:

“The Scandinavian peoples came originally from a world of mists and forests, a landscape that spawned a rich history of myth and legend, which entered the collective psyche and formed the bedrock of their soul…

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Arthur

Thought I would reblog this after a discussion on here with another blogger about Arthur.

City Jackdaw

I love learning about the various legends, myths, folklore and traditions of the British Isles.

No story has endured, or captured the imagination, as that of King Arthur. The image that holds today is the romanticised, medieval invention-the good  King and his chivalrous knights of the round table, based in the fantastical court of Camelot.

I have read a few books about Arthur, and he seems to have been claimed by just about everybody-the Welsh,the English,the Scottish, even the Croatians. It reminds me of how you can read countless books about Jack the Ripper- every learned author goes over the same material and then pushes a different suspect as the final unmasking of the unidentified killer.

I have just finished reading another book on Arthur-Christopher Hibbert’s King Arthur. I agree with his conclusion, shared by many, that the legendary Arthur that we are acquainted with today is based upon a real…

View original post 1,241 more words

That Phantom Robert Johnson

He is like a shadow; like a phantom. Obscured by the mists of time and legend. Death has removed from us all means of finding someone today who could contribute some colour to our drab and faded depictions.

The itinerant musician. The walking bluesman. Travelling along the Delta trails, jumping freight trains, instrument of choice strapped to his back. Playing his music then moving on. For so long, we saw not his face, apart from the features of imagination. We glimpsed only his outline. His silhouette.

An unsubstantial suggestion of the man.

There are moments when desperate afficianados would get witnesses, while they still breathed, to give ageing descriptions to composite artists to try and bring him back into the light. To give him an identity and a face beyond the anonymity of the voice alone.

Is the voice not enough? The music? To convince us of one who once was?

Can we not envisage that he was a man like us, who lived in context and not a vacuum?

All bones and little meat. We try to reanimate him with stories, both credible and fantastical.

The musicians in the crowded juke joint, taking a rest from the sweat-filled hovel. Outside, having a smoke in the balmy, southern air. Somebody comes out, interrupting their brief respite, imploring them to come back in to take the guitar off the young guy whose incompetence is driving everybody mad.

And such a racket you never heard!

It is the same youth who habitually turns up to listen to them play, to watch them play. Just sits there observing their hands.

Months go by. Another night. Once again laying down the music, the men drinking, the women gyrating, and in comes the lad. Young Robert Johnson. Only this time he is armed with his own guitar, much to the merriment and mirth of those present. But now he plays. How he plays. His new found ability is greeted with astonishment, and when he sings, Come On In My Kitchen, men and women are moved to tears, and the way is now set for tales to be spun and a legend to run and run until it outstrips fact and the life of its subject.

The Faustian pact; the aspiring musician; the crossroads; midnight.

The man in the dark suit (we all know who he is), takes the guitar, tunes it, plays a few melodies, hands it back with a pleasant damning of the soul.

This must be so. It explains everything.

Long after his death, the stories continue to be told, encouraged by some of Johnson’s cut records: Me And The Devil Blues; Crossroads; Preaching Blues (Up Jumped The Devil), Hellhound On My Trail. His life, his musicianship, all will be forever swept up in a cloud of incredulous tales and romantic mystery.

They dovetail nicely with some of the few anecdotes we have.

The women:many women. They wake in the middle of the night to find their errant lover sitting by the window, soundlessly fingering guitar chords by moonlight. On realising that they are awake he immediately ceases.

When playing in public he shields his hands as he makes the chords, turning his back if he feels a fellow musician’s eyes upon him. There is a secrecy about his craft.

He left us a scant selection of his repertoire-recordings made in ’36 and ’37. Forty two recordings of just twenty nine songs. We still can’t see his hands.

The music is the only thing we can be sure of. His authenticism exists only in that inflected voice, that masterful playing. Even his date of birth is questioned, as we try to fix him rigidly in time and place.

Then comes the moment when surely all will be revealed. An emissary is sent into the deep South to locate him, sent by someone who has listened to those obscure recordings, and wants him to headline a concert at Carnegie Hall, no less.

Robert Johnson-it is time to emerge from the shadows and take your rightful place in front of an appreciative world.

Except, it is too late. All that is located are conflicting tales of the singer’s death shortly before. Instead of being recognised and celebrated, he is memoralised at the concert, two of his recorded songs played to the audience, still blissfully unaware of the enormity of their loss. Unaware of a death that goes by many stories, but falls under one verdict:murder.

We imagine him in another joint, playing for the people, playing to the women. He is handed whisky, laced with poison by a jealous husband, and begins to fall ill. The crowd don’t believe him, and he plays on, as they brush aside his protestations that he is too sick. He plays on, dying. Those secret chords, that haunting voice. One last time. But then he is too ill to continue, and a familiar, dark suited figure is now among the audience.

Johnson takes three days to die. Crawling on his hands and knees and barking like a dog. Even his final moments have an unsubstantiated feel about them. Still shrouded in mystery, there are three graves that lay claim to him.

The guitar has now fallen ever silent, but the stories take up speed.

His stature grows, his reputation grows, the adulation grows. Yet still we know little about him. Just tall stories spun by those thrust into the limelight, clutching at memories now decades old, embellished to please the questioner.

Then, in 1968, for the first time, evidence is found. A birth certificate, the first documentation, makes him real. He is a flesh and blood figure after all. Born of a woman and having walked this earth. He is not a construct of imagination and myth.

Again, in 1973: a death certificate. But, maddeningly, perversely, a cause of death isn’t given.

But then, in that same year, the Holy Grail of blues folklore is found. At the end of an arduous quest, two photographs are discovered, thirty five long years after his death. They aren’t widely published until the late 80’s, and when they are, our phantom finally has a face. He emerges from the cloaking veil of superstition and anonymity, bowing shyly before his adoring public.

Robert Johnson, we presume?

Robert Johnson, we presume?

We stare and stare. Looking for signs. Doubting our eyes. He isn’t a vampire, or a ghost, whose likeness cannot be captured by a lens. He is a man. He is us.

Wearing his cousin's suit, who had enlisted in the Navy. Nothing sinister or devilish here.

Wearing a pin striped suit that belonged to a nephew who had joined the military. Nothing sinister or devilish here.

There is a later find, only authenticated in 2011, of Johnson with fellow bluesman Johnny Shines. In the way of all things connected to him, some question the identification while others seize it possessively.

This is a later find, only authenticated in 2011, of Johnson and fellow bluesman Johnny Shines. In the traditional line of all things Johnson connected, some question the identification. What do you think?

What do you think?

Though now our hero has a face, much remains elusive, and will always do so. When we look back over the many years, and try to make sense of his story, ordering it in a way that satisfies, it is like trying to lay a glove on a phantom.

History only gives up so much.

For those of you who appreciate irony, consider this: the most famous of all the bluesmen is the one that we know the least about. What is the cause, and what the effect?

You may bury my body down by the highway side

So my old evil spirit, can catch a Greyhound bus and ride.