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.

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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”.

Haiku.

Sculpted by the night
And moonlight; clouds drift above
Like ancient ice flows.

Face of granite, cracked
At the waking of the world,
When volcanoes yawned.

Velvet burrower,
Blind hunter in the darkness,
Creating mountains.

Fox track in damp earth;
A plethora of feathers,
Where he broke his fast.

Glowing amber bright,
Raindrops on a dying leaf;
Like ancient sunsets.

Awaiting sunrise,
Mist, gathers in the hollows,
Day begins to breathe.

The sun is rising.
The pipes of Pan are sounding
From a thousand throats.

The shower has passed
And water drips from the leaves,
As clear as bird song.

As it’s my birthday

I thought I’d post this …. it’s called ‘Present’

Jill hated Jack.
He’d arrived on her birthday, almost a month ago.
She’d been given this present; square, heavy, wrapped in silver paper and gold ribbon. Inside was a brightly coloured wooden box with a clown’s face on the front and a catch under the lid and when she undid the catch,
Out came Jack.
Her mum and dad laughed because he made her jump – “Well he’s a jumping Jack darling!” her mum had said when she told them to stop.
And Jack had been there, swaying on his spring, with his bright orange hair, his wide open arms that looked like they were trying to grab her, his big toothy grin to bite her and his big blue staring eyes looking at her.
And Jill had hated him.
And her dad had called her a “Silly girl” because she wouldn’t put Jack back in his box and then they’d started arguing about whose fault it was for buying her something that she didn’t like and because she hated when that happened, she pretended it was only because she’d been scared and she loved him really and she’d taken the box up to her room and put it in the back of her toy cupboard and gone back down for the cake and that was her birthday.
And at first it was O.K. because Jack was in the cupboard.
And then her mum had asked where that “ Lovely Jack” was and so she has to put the box out on a shelf and that was kind of O.K. because at least the clown on the box looked like a real clown and nice and didn’t have flame coloured hair or grabby arms or bitey teeth or starey eyes.
And then she’d come home from school one day
And Jack was out.
Her mum must’ve done it when she was cleaning and Jill couldn’t put him back, just couldn’t and so he sat on the shelf with his flaming hair and his grabbing arms and his biting teeth and his looking eyes and dared her to come and get him.
And so she started sleeping under her duvet, right under so he couldn’t see her and at first it was O.K. because it was dark and snuggly and she could pretend she was a bear hibernating in her cave so nothing could get her.
Ad then she woke up one night and heard someone whispering.
And she couldn’t hear the words and thought it might be her mum or dad and so she peeked out and still couldn’t hear the words and the room was empty and then she saw Jack swaying in time to the whispering and his hair was glowing in the street light and his arms were swinging and his teeth were gleaming and his eyes were glinting and it looked like he was climbing out of his box and her mum had said even if it was a nightmare, she was a bit grown up to wet the bed.
And that was two weeks ago.
And the whispering slowly got more often and slowly got more louder and whenever she woke up she saw Jack swaying and she could feel, really feel him burning and grabbing and biting and looking.
And then she started to make out what the whispering was saying and it was saying
“Jack and Jill went up the hill
Jack and Jill went up the hill
Jack and Jill went up the hill”
And Jill really hated Jack.
Really;
Really.