The Bridge

When I was young, I lived on the edge of a housing estate to the south of London.

Literally on the edge.

There was our road and then nothing but open countryside, woods and a couple of farms. We were near the bottom of a valley where a stream ran and when they built a road to connect our estate to the next one, they put a small bridge over it; and going under it became an easy route for the kids to go to play in the woods.

You should know that this all happened back in the late 1940’s, well before my parents moved to the estate, well before mobile phones or ‘health and safety’ or anything like that. These were the days when parents sent their children out to play after telling them to ‘be careful and don’t talk to strangers’ and when people used the space under the bridge as a dumping ground for old beds and busted bicycles; which the kids were quite happy to climb all over.

So one day, this little girl was going to meet her friends in the woods and, in climbing over the junk, she slipped and fell; her head hit a piece of concrete which knocked her out and she landed on some bits of rusty metal that cut into her body, not badly but enough; the fall also took her out of sight under the arch. At least, that was what the Police decided must have happened, because by the time her friends found her on their way back from the woods, by the time they’d run to tell her mother, by the time her mother had run to the bridge and then run to the nearest phone box to call an Ambulance and by the time the Ambulance had arrived and two blokes with great care but no real medical training had put her on a stretcher and got her to a Hospital as quickly as they could, which was about all that Ambulances actually did back then well; it was far too late for all concerned really.

No one blamed her parents, they’d only done what all the other parents did in sending their child out to play and everyone knew all the kids used the junk as a climbing frame.

No one suggested they should sue the road builders, or anyone else for compensation either, this was back in the days when accidents still happened; but it did get a piece in the local paper and the reporter did suggest that maybe the council should do something to stop people using the bridge as a dump and, for once, the council did something. They sent a couple of men and a lorry to clear all the rubbish, then sent a couple more men and another lorry to brick up the arches of the bridge, just leaving a small gap at the bottom for the water to flow through. They also put a Zebra crossing on the road for people to use instead.

Time passed and the little girl was slowly forgotten; except, of course, by her parents who moved away soon afterwards and except, of course, by the local kids; who said she was still there.

Under the bridge.

By the time my Mum and Dad moved to the estate, a decade or so later and I grew old enough to be subjected to it, the ‘dare’ was well established among the younger inhabitants.

Having lost the actual passage under the bridge the kids, being kids, had turned it into a rite of passage instead.
The newcomer would be told the tale of ‘Mary’ (no one by then knew if that was her real name or not) with many imaginative and gruesome additions; and of her death and the fact that her lonely little ghost still lived under the bridge waiting for play mates; they would then be escorted in solemn procession down to the stream where they would kneel on the bank, lean against the brick work put their hand through the gap and say, “Mary, Mary, dead and gray, take my hand, come out and play”. They then had to wait for a moment or two to see what happened, before they were allowed to remove their hand.
Sometimes, it was a test of courage to join a local gang.
Sometimes it was a trick to get you off balance; someone would give you a shove and then everyone would laugh because now you were going to have to go home wet and get a telling off from your Mum.

And sometimes ………..

Sometimes a small, cold little hand would be placed gently in yours and you’d scream; boy or girl it didn’t matter, you’d scream and pull your hand out and push yourself away from the bricks and collapse on the bank nursing your hand under your other arm or rubbing it on the grass to get rid of the cold and the feeling, while the kids around you would be jumping up and down yelling, “Mary’s friend, Mary’s friend, you will come to a lonely end!” and you’d be known as ‘Mary’s friend’ forever; or at least until the same thing happened to some other kid.

That’s what happened to me anyway.

I moved from that estate over fifty years ago and I doubt the kids still enact their little rite anymore; after all, you can experience far scarier things on computer games these days. Although I did ‘Google map’ the area the other day and while most of the countryside has gone under concrete, the stream and the bridge are still there; so who knows?

Like I say, I wasn’t the only one it happened to either, there were other kids before me and other kids after me and it was probably just chance and a bit of weed or something growing in the dank and damp under the bridge, I have no idea.
Nor do I have any idea what happened to the other kids who were ‘Mary’s friends’ but I still live alone …… so who knows?

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DRUNKEN SAILOR

A SHORT TALE OF A BRIEF ADVENTURE.

I have always loved the sea and ships.

Thanks to my father’s naval connections I had many opportunities to enjoy life afloat in a variety of sailing vessels large and small around our coasts and elsewhere as I grew up. At University, I fell in with a like minded group of undergrads and it was through one of them that this adventure occurred.
My fellow student (let’s call him Adam, it’s as good a man’s name as any other); Adam then, had got a job as crew on a rich mans luxury yacht as a way of avoiding his tedious family during the long summer vacation and knowing the yacht still lacked a full complement had recommended me. I was quite happy with the idea, not that my family were tedious but they were already holidaying abroad; so I underwent a telephone interview with the Captain and found myself taken on.
We departed from Southampton, picked up our passengers in Gibraltar and spent the next six weeks circumnavigating the ports and fleshpots of the Mediterranean. My duties weren’t exactly difficult; making sure everything sailed along smoothly and shipshape during the day, always remembering to smile politely, touch my forelock and stand aside if my course crossed that of a guest (power most certainly did not give way to sail in their world). I also had to don my ‘uniform’ of white jacket with brass buttons, black trousers and clean deck shoes to serve drinks or run errands if the company stayed aboard of an evening.
The pay was good, the tips were generous and the ladies were lovely to look at; and as Adam said, you never knew your luck, one of them might fancy a bit of ‘rough’ (unfortunately I was, apparently, too rough) and finally, I got one afternoon a week free.
Which is how, one day, I found myself adrift in Marseille; and I mean adrift. Normally Adam and I managed to get the same shore leave, it was more fun and you had back-up in case of trouble but he’d had to remain on board so I found myself alone late that afternoon, in somewhat north easterly weather for August, wandering the dingy and drizzly streets of a not too salubrious part of that famous sea port.
I’d heaved too in a nice restaurant with a very welcoming bar earlier but now, with the day becoming crepuscular and the street lights already coming on, I had decided it was time to lay my somewhat unsteady course back to the harbour when, wonder of wonders, I saw a small café which advertised in its window that most English of childhood delights, a ‘99’ cone!
For those unfamiliar with our English cuisine, this is a vanilla ice cream within a cone shaped wafer with a ‘flake’ chocolate bar stuck in the ice; though why it is called a ‘99’ I could not begin to tell you.
However, it was a sweet memory of my youth and thinking to brighten an otherwise grey day, I bought one and began to consume it.

I had taken a wavering turn to port and was tacking down a narrow side street when a callow youth stepped in front of me from the shadow of an alleyway, looked around, produced a knife, waved it in my face and demanded, (in French so I will translate)
“give me your money!”
I looked at him and his knife; and whether it was because of the wine I had drunk, or the weather closing in, or some childish bravado resurrected by a sugar rush I looked around, waved my ‘99’ cone in his face and said, (in French so I will translate) “come and get it!”
The youth’s eyes widened, he looked at my ice cream and I as if we were both mad, muttered, “merde!” (which is French but rude so I will not translate) and ran back into the alleyway that had given him birth. I peered after him until a corner took him from view; then slowly continued on my unfocussed way back to the boat and my berth, relishing every morsel of my victory and crunching the last of the cone in self congratulation.

It was only the following morning, when the clouds and my head had cleared somewhat, that I began to appreciate how close I might have come to shipwreck.

Imagination

I was an only child; but I was never a lonely child.

I believe, as I believe did many of our ancestors, that the imagination is a bridge. A bridge between the ‘here and now’ on one side and the ‘there and then’ (where and whenever that may be) on the other.
As a child you cross the bridge often, you create pathways and tracks on the other side, meet with strange and marvelous beings who live in either magical realms or mundane places that, in everyday, you might not normally have access to. You add each of these meetings to your personal ‘mappa othermundi’ and in so doing you add to that greater whole which is known by those sweepingly general, generic names of ‘Faerie’, Spirit, Dream, or whatever. That world that writers, artists, mystics, shaman, children and all other transpontine travelers have visited and still visit.

The problem is that when you’re a kid, a little kid, it’s all “oh, he’s got such an wonderful imagination” or it’s “ she’s always off in a world of her own” …… but then you get older and suddenly it’s “oh don’t be stupid, it’s only your imagination” or it’s “you want to try living in the real world young lady!” and it all gets taught, churched or even slapped out of us; all the magic, all the paths, all the places and all the people we knew fade and are gone. The writers and artists get dismissed as fabricators of fiction or as mad, bad and
dangerous to know; the shaman and mystics get dismissed as primitive or drug addled or (worst of all) uncivilized; and the children, as stated, get ‘grown’ up; and so the barriers come down across the bridge and the paths get overgrown and the people slowly, sadly, slip away; although sometimes, in a dream, we might catch a glimpse of a pair of eyes between the leaves, except now we think we’ve had a nightmare or that we shouldn’t eat cheese before going to bed; so the whole world is lost to us, even when it’s as close as the bottom of the garden …… or maybe not ………..

Here’s the thing; you have to learn to trust the bridge again; to ignore the gaps in the footway (there only appears to be nothing below you but you still don’t want to go there just yet, not this early in your exploration). First thing, you have to get those barriers shifted, which might be difficult since they could be very set in their ways and you need to determine what they’re made of and why they’re there; here you need to remember that old truth about the land of Faerie reflecting back on the traveler the light that he or she brings to it; these barriers will be made of something you brought to them. It might be fear, or education, or habit, or religion or a death or some combination of these, or other, things. Anything that might have contributed to making you ‘grow up’ as the saying goes.
Whatever caused those barriers to happen, the thing to remember is …. You allowed their existence …. Yes you did …. Even if they were built by someone or something else, it is your bridge and ultimately it is your responsibility. Fortunately however, this means that, ultimately, it is also your right and responsibility to disallow their existence.
This may require several visits and great patience to gradually unpick, unravel and deconstruct the various bits of each barrier or it may require a phrase spoken from the heart a kind of ‘open sesame’ or perhaps ‘I’m sorry’ to remove the obstacle. Then of course there are all those years of neglect and dismissal to deal with and clear away …… but don’t be despondent …… look on it as a great adventure, a rediscovering of the forgotten pathways of yourself.

And when you do finally reach the other side of your bridge, you may find there is a gate keeper or guardian, possibly an ‘imagined’ aspect of a favourite toy, or an invisible friend; or some, possibly small being that has kept the faith and believed in what may have become the half remembered, half believed fairy tale of your return.

Enjoy the reunion and then safe in the knowledge of their trust and strength of purpose; go find the rest of the magic.

Comes a Day

Well, it’s been a while …… but I’m back. Gonna start trying to put more on here, beginning with this…

There comes a day at the start of the year,
When the green blood rises from the root,
When the dawn reflects the eyes of the deer;
There comes a day at the start of the year,
When hunger and cold are no longer a fear,
When life is the song of each blossoming shoot;
There comes a day at the start of the year,
When the green blood rises from the root.

How to make a Mummy.

Something a little different, a bit of ancient history …. this was first published way back in 1994 in ‘Udolpho’ the magazine of the (now sadly defunct) Gothic Society.

Fade in –Long shot: The Egyptian desert showing by moonlight the rocky range just north of the Valley of the Kings, and, cut into the living rock at the base of the mountain, the columns of the temple of Queen Hatshepsut. There is no sign of human life excepting in the desert, a few hundred yards nearer the camera than the columns of the temple, a ray of light from the window of a plaster hut.

Thus begins the 1932 Universal Picture The Mummy, a tale of living inhumation, reincarnation, warped passion and other multifarious horrors.
Equally many and varied have been the terrifying tales of vengeful mummies, both filmed and written since that date. Indeed even prior to 1932, as early as 1901, a mummy came to life (and decayed) in The Haunted Curiosity Shop, a film directed by British magician Walter R. Booth.
These walking dead were given their semblance of life either by secret spells written on ancient papyrus, by the need to fulfil a terrible curse or sometimes by the burning or drinking of the dreaded Tana Leaves ( a kind of ancient Egyptian pick-me-up for that ‘mourning after’ feeling).
However, we are not so much concerned here with the methods for reanimating the ancient dead, (fascinating though they may be) but rather with how and why those venerable corpses were preserved to begin with.
The reasons for mummification are found in ancient Egyptian religious practices. They believed that the soul of a dead person would return to reoccupy its former carcass. It was necessary, therefore, that the soul should be able to recognize its own body since only by this means could the deceased hope for any kind of existence in the afterlife.
The craft of mummification gradually evolved over many generations. Before about 1500 B.C. mummification was crude and experimental; it reached its most elaborate form in the period from the eighteenth to the twenty-first dynasties (roughly 1500-1000 B.C.) after which it went into a gradual decline. Much of our knowledge of the embalming methods practiced during this period has come down to us, thanks to the efforts of the Greek historian Herodotus, who recorded the Egyptians’ techniques during the fifth century B.C.

The first step in the mummification process was the removal of the brain. Herodotus tells us how it was done: ‘They (the embalmers) drew out the brain through the nostrils with an iron hook, taking part of it out this way and the rest by pouring in drugs’. Scientific examination of a mummy’s skull commonly reveals a hole in the small bones forming the root of the nose, through which the brain substance was extracted. The theory being that after breaking into the brain pan, the hook was moved in a series of lacerating sweeps to liquefy the brain, allowing it to flow out through the nose when the body was placed in a face-down position. Sometimes the procedure was bungled (or perhaps the embalmers were over-zealous) and the nose was severely mutilated – this accounts for the damaged face of Tausert, priestess of Amun in the twenty-second dynasty.
The other main method for removing the brain, was to decapitate the corpse and simply spoon out the tissue through the natural hole in the base of the skull.
The brain, even in its liquid state, was never preserved. It was considered to be an unimportant organ – the Egyptians believing the heart to be the seat of the soul.
The eyes, being the only other organ liable to putrefy rapidly, were also removed at this stage. However, occasionally, they were left in place and have subsequently been found, shrunk to the back of the sockets. In these cases it has sometimes been possible to re-hydrate them to their former size, resulting in a grayish cornea showing between half-open lids. It is interesting to note that this phenomenon was used, to great effect, by the makers of Universal’s classic motion picture.

Shot A21 – Close up mummy; Camera holds this close-up for several feet while nothing happens. Then the eyelids begin to twitch, very slowly, then while the rest of the face remains frozen in its contorted attitude, we suddenly see a gleam of light in the right eye as the twitching eyelid opens a narrow crack.

Of course we should remember that Im-ho-tep (the mummy of the movie) was buried alive, but it must be equally eerie to see the eyes of a three thousand year old corpse ‘twitch and gleam’ in such a way, even as the result of a scientific experiment in the clinical surroundings of a laboratory.

But we digress.
Having emptied the head, the next step was the removal of the organs of the abdomen and chest.
In ancient Egypt there were two types of embalmers: Parischistes and Taricheutes – cutters and salters. Using a sharpened piece of Ethiopian flint,the Parischistes would make a cut, approximately six inches long, on the left side of the abdomen, either vertically from ribs to pelvis or horizontally just above the groin. This incision was big enough for the embalmer to insert his hand and draw out the viscera; intestines, stomach, liver and spleen. The bladder was generally left in place, as were the kidneys which lie flat against the back of the abdomen. The embalmer would then cut through the diaphragm and by this route (and by inserting his entire arm into the corpse) he was able to reach the throat, cut the trachea and oesophagus and pull the lungs out through the abdomen. As previously stated, the heart, as the core of a person’s character, was always left untouched.
The next stage was washing the internal cavities with water and palm wine. The internal organs themselves were preserved by being soaked in molten resin, wrapped in linen and placed in Canopic jars, each of which carried a depiction of the head of one of the four sons of Horus (guardian of the entrails). These jars were then buried with, or sometimes within the body.
The female reproductive organs were always removed, a linen tampon being placed inside the vagina and the external genitalia covered in a resinous paste. A male’s penis and testicles were almost always left untouched. If they were removed, as happened in the case of Seti I and Rameses II, they were preserved inside a statue of the god Osiris. Having dealt with the internal organs, we now come to the preservation of the body itself. For that we need what has become, perhaps, the most famous substance in all mummification, and once again, at the point where Im-ho-tep has the heroine (Helen Grosvenor) in his evil clutches, Universal Pictures provides the answer:

Shot L42 Two Shot – Im-ho-tep and Helen; She scrambles up off the slab as Im-ho-tep rises. She turns and sees the steaming cauldron. She screams ……’ The bath of Natron. You shall not plunge my body into that……’

So, what was Natron, and how was it used ?
What it was is easy, and for such a supposedly mysterious substance, somewhat disappointing. It was simply a mixture of Sodium Carbonate and Sodium Bicarbonate, which could be found in deposits along the shores of lakes around Cairo and Alexandria.
However, the question of how it was used, in solid or liquid form, has been the subject of much expert discussion. Some theorized that the bodies were weighted and placed in huge vats of liquid natron. But this would have resulted in a certain amount of disintegration and care would have been needed to ensure that bits and pieces from different bodies were not mixed up – lack of care was often cited as the reason why mummies were occasionally found with a missing leg – or even three arms.
The problem was finally resolved by an experiment comparing the preservation of pigeons in both solid and liquid natron. The pigeon treated in solution rapidly became a foul-smelling mess from which all the flesh had dissolved, while the bird treated with dry natron was recognizable and well preserved, albeit somewhat shrunken. It now seems certain that the Egyptians packed the body, inside and out, with dry natron which they then left to do its work for five or six weeks. After that time, the now dehydrated corpse was washed and dried with linen towels.
The final step to complete the process was the stuffing and bandaging of the body.
The embalmers usually started by pouring hot resin into the brain cavity. The body was then packed with lichen, sawdust or wads of cloth impregnated with the same resin. Even onions were sometimes placed in the abdomen. Onions were also placed, for greater realism, in the eye-sockets, as happened in the case of Rameses IV.
What resulted from this entire procedure was a rigid dry corpse which then had to be softened up for bandaging. This was achieved by massaging the body with sweet smelling oil or grease. Some of the unguents utilized here were cedar oil, oil of
turpentine, cumin oil, along with other incenses and certain minerals. Molten resin was then poured into the body to fill any gaps left in the stuffing. The abdominal incision was occasionally stitched up, but more often simply sealed with hot wax. The mouth and nose were then filled with cloth and the body was given a coat of paint, red for men and saffron for women. Later refinements included making the corpse look less emaciated, by packing mud, sand or sawdust between the cheeks and gums, and also between the muscles and skin of the neck, thighs, buttocks and arms. However, most of these cosmetic improvements are not found until the twenty-first dynasty.
Most corpses then had their arms crossed over their chest, the hands touching the shoulders. Sometimes though, the arms were laid out along the body, the hands touching the thighs in women and covering the genitals in men.
The bandaging of the corpse was a complicated and careful procedure which could take anything up to fourteen days to complete. The bandages were made of linen impregnated with a resin called ‘Mumm’ – hence ‘mummification’ – hence ‘mummy’.
It is clear from archaeological evidence that the wrapping of the body was carried out in stages – in one instance, two mice, which had burrowed into the bandages, were trapped when the next layer was added, their skeletons were only discovered when the body was unwrapped – three thousand years later.
If the body was that of a Pharaoh or some other high-ranking dignitary, ornate gold funerary masks were sometimes placed over the head and shoulders; other lesser worthies were given a head covering of cardboard called a cartonnage. In later times portraits painted on wood covered the face.

The amount of time and money needed to complete the process described above meant that the full treatment was something only the rich could afford. The lower classes had to risk their chances of eternal life by undergoing a more simplified method of preservation. First of all, copious quantities of cedar oil were injected into the bowel via the anus, this was then plugged and the body placed in natron for a number of days. Upon removal, the anus was unplugged and the , by now liquefied, contents of the abdomen were allowed to flow out through it; the corpse was then bandaged and buried.

The very poorest people had to make do with a simple purge and natron treatment.
However slim the chances of the poor, the craftsmanship employed in embalming some of the Pharaohs has resulted in remarkable preservation for thousands of years. For example, Rameses II (1298-35 B.C.) died aged ninety-six, having reigned for sixty-five years, married two hundred women and fathered ninety-six sons and sixty daughters. Yet his body is in such a good state of preservation, that today, if you go to Cairo museum, it is still possible to identify the blackheads on his face.
Queen Hatshepsut, who proclaimed herself Pharaoh, dressed as a man and had herself portrayed with a beard, still has a full head of long brown hair falling about her shoulders more than three thousand years after her death.
However, if the Pharaoh died violently, the best efforts of the embalmers often went for nothing. Whether Sequenere died in battle or was assassinated remains unknown – what is obvious to all, are the wounds that killed him. There are axe cuts to the forehead, eye-socket and cheek, and a javelin thrust extending from below the left ear to the top of the spine. Sequenere’s body had started to decompose prior to embalming and his brain was left in situ. Thousands of years later, the smell still exuding from his mummy is extremely unpleasant.
Equally, poor technique could result in poor preservation. Too much mud was injected under the face of Henattaui and instead of producing a lifelike effect, her skin has now split and detached from her skull.
Even after successful embalming and burial, corpses could suffer at the hands of grave-robbers. Such a fate awaited both Rameses VI, whose head is mutilated by knife cuts and Amenophis, who lost his right hand and both feet. Far better preserved were a bunch of Delphiniums buried with him which, three thousand years later, still retained their scent.
One final preserved mystery came to light when the mummy of the princess Makare was discovered. She was a priestess and therefore a virgin, yet there was what appeared to be the mummy of an infant sharing her coffin. Had she succumbed to fleshly temptation and been condemned and buried with her child for her sacrilege? No – when an x-ray was taken in the late sixties, the baby turned out to be a baboon. Makare had been buried with her pet to keep her company on her journey through the afterlife.

The embalming of animals was a common practice in ancient Egypt, countless thousands being buried in huge graveyards. Not just baboons but bulls, rams, dogs, ibises crocodiles and, of course, cats. The latter was natural enough since the Egyptians considered the cat a sacred animal; but times and beliefs change, and in 1859 when a cat graveyard was discovered, three hundred thousand mummified felines were disinterred and shipped to Britain for use as fertilizer.

How the mighty are fallen ……..(I speak as a Cat owner)

And so, when all is said and done, we today are left with one last question. With all the skills of the embalmers and good intentions of the priests, would it really be possible to reawaken one of these ancient rulers from his or her eternal slumbers? The only answer to that is another question….
Has anyone ever really tried?
But just in case you ever have the opportunity and are tempted, you would do well to bear in mind the fate which eventually befell Im-ho-tep (who, by the way really existed)……..

Shot L67 (part) – Close shot Im-ho-tep; The mummy has desiccated, as mummies do when not properly embalmed after they are exposed to the air. The leg bones are seen, the head has separated from the trunk and is little more than a skull. One arm has come off. We see some bones, some dark skin…… The robe mercifully covers most of the remains… … Fade out.

THE END.

A DEER HUNT

First published in issue 29 of Indie Shaman magazine.

There were six of them.
Each wore a Deer skull with the antlers attached, from holes in the skull a Deer skin was tied to hang like a cloak over their backs; it was only partly cleaned and the men walked bent forward so both their scent and shape were disguised. Five of the group carried bows or spears.
One, who walked slightly behind the others, carried only a handful of fresh shoots and grasses.
They moved slowly and quietly through the trees, following the animal tracks. As one, they suddenly stopped.
Behind a thin curtain of saplings, a sun lit glade opened in the forest and dappled shapes slowly moved around it or stood with heads lowered as they fed on the lush undergrowth.
The two leading hunters carefully raised their bows, drew back and by some instinctive understanding born of long practice, let fly together. The air sighed as it parted round the arrows as if sad that it could not stop death in mid flight; they struck cleanly and two Deer fell while the others leapt away crying out in panic to their kin; and the quiet thunder of their fleeing hoof fall swiftly faded away between the trees.
The hunters walked into the glade and the two who had fired gently and carefully removed their arrows; as soon as this was done, the five who carried weapons dropped face down on the grass and lay utterly still, as if they too were dead.
The last member of the group, who had waited in the tree line until all this was done, now stepped lightly forward and knelt. He took a pinch of powder from a pouch at his waist and placed it on his tongue, then removed his Deer skull and untied the skin cloak from it; turning the skull he held it before him for a few moments, whispering words as if speaking to it, he then placed it back on his head so it became a mask and he was looking at the world through the bones of a Stag; looking through a Spirit face.
And so he saw into the Spirit world.
And so he saw the spirits of the two Deer who had been killed.
They were nervous and fearful, unsure what to do in this place of plenty that had now become so strange; one was sniffing at its own body as it lay on the ground, the other was looking towards where the herd had disappeared into the forest; their forms were made of the worlds breath, the same breath that could be seen lying in the hollow places of the earth on a cold morning as the day began to rise.
They both looked round in confusion and panic at a movement on the edge of the glade and saw a Stag that seemed of spirit like them; the Shaman was walking in the other world.
In this world, the Shaman bent to the ground picked up the grass and shoots he had carried and placed them in his mouth; in the other world, the Stag quietly and calmly began to graze. He raised his head with the food showing in his mouth and turned towards them with lowered eyes, he meant them no harm; cautiously the Deer moved towards him, beginning to trust, beginning to forget their other selves that lay on the ground.
One of the Deer stepped gently up to him and took a few strands of grass from his mouth, on his other side the second Deer did the same, it was enough; the offering had been accepted. With a shake of his head the Stag was running and the others ran with him.
In this world the Shaman, standing with eyes closed, was as taut and still as stone except his breathing was deep and quick but in the otherworld where he ran, the trees blurred, the grass and wild flowers became a passing rainbow of colours that they seemed to travel over as well as through. At one point they stopped at a stream of an ever darkening blue and where, in the depths, what seemed like tiny white stones glittered and shone in the ripples that spread from their drinking. Then they ran on and the path they traveled seemed to tremble as it passed beneath their hooves.
Then, in the distance, there was a Pine tree; a tree whose trunk stretched from earth to sky without touching either; a tree whose branches swirled and shook and shaped on winds that were never felt by any living thing; and on the land that was around it, a herd of Deer were grazing.
There was a Stone standing by the path they ran on, a Stone covered in shallow grooves and scratches; the Stag stopped beside it and the others stopped too, unsure once more. With slow and gentle movements the Stag nudged them onwards keeping his body calm and his eyes lowered, telling them there was nothing here for them to fear; so they stepped forward across the shining land that reflected the green light and life of the trees branches and were welcomed back into their Herd.
The Stag stood still a while, then twisting his neck he struck the Stone with his antlers; once; twice. The sound drummed down through the Stone into whatever earth it was that it stood upon; he lifted his head to gaze into the branches above him for a moment and then closed his eyes.
In this world the Shamans eyes opened and he dropped to the ground, muscles shaking as they suddenly relaxed and sweat running across his body. The others came to their feet and went to him; one gently removed the mask revealing eyes that did not quite see the world they looked on; another lifted his head and gave him water while a third placed a mash of berries and dried meat in his mouth. The Shaman chewed the food and then took the drinking horn and swallowed down the rest of the water, when he lowered his hands, his eyes were once more focused on the here and now.
The rest of the group busied themselves collecting their gear and tying the carcasses to carrying poles, leaving the Shaman to recover in his own way; he picked up the Deer skull gazing into its eyes, for a moment his journey returned and he whispered words to it once more, then he blinked and reached for his Deer skin; he smiled as he did so, even after all his seasons it could still surprise him how far he could travel while barely moving an arms length. He looked up and saw the others respectfully waiting; so he rose to his feet and draped the skin over one shoulder, cradling the skull in the crook of an arm; the others had also removed their disguises since there was no need for them now.
Seeing he was ready, they turned and disappeared back into the forest.
Alone for a moment, the Shaman paused and looked back across the glade; deep in among the trees, vague and cautious shapes were moving; the Deer would return to this favoured feeding place before long. He smiled again and sent a silent blessing; all was as it should be.

The Dream of a Boat.

Snatched from the waves wild ways, her planks cracked by the kicks of white horses, the small boat lies forgotten;
But when the moon sails the seas of night then down in her deep sea, salt stained wood she dreams …………..

Of Ravens circling.
Of men chanting; as they haul the long ship out into the surf.
First her sails lift to the wind; then come the fire arrows; arcing across the sky to strike home on the craft and its honoured cargo.
Pine resin catches and flame begins to spread across the deck.
Warriors, lining the shore, hammer shield with sword; the priest raises his arms.
“Odin birds! Do not let his deeds and daring fly from the thoughts of men! Guide his spirit to the home of heroes, hall of the slain; that he may drink his fill of war and wine for all time. May the doors be wide in welcome; may he find bench room at Freya’s feasting! Grant his grave ship safe journey to its sea home; may Aegir’s girls carry his corpse, with gentle hands, over the water’s wyrding”.