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Showing posts from 2019

A Dunwich Horror

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Today being the summer solstice we made the annual pilgrimage at silly o'clock in the morning (which is why I look like death warmed over) to Dunwich beach in Suffolk to watch the sunrise and pay tribute to the Shining One. Being so far east we get to see the sun before pretty much anyone else in Britain.
For absolutely no sensible reason beyond sleep deprivation I have decided to record a tale I have not told in a long while of how the American author H P Lovecraft paid a visit, as a sensitive and some might say overly imaginative young man, to his English relatives - and included a fateful visit to the seaside. Lovecraft is now famous for his eldritch horror stories whilst Marcus Rushbridger, who was mildly more successful with his tales of boys' own adventure in the far flung reaches of Empire, is now quite forgotten and out of print. Doubtless the envious Howard enjoys a smirk from beyond the grave.
All of this is, of course, as absolutely true as any electioneer's pr…

Agneta

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This story was not originally set at any specific time of year, but I've put it at midsummer to celebrate the solstice. It is a Scandinavian tale that has a lot of variations, in which the princess Agneta is wooed (or bewitched) by the Merman who is sometimes also referred to as Sjokunungen, the Sea King.
He charms her in to the waters where she finds a new life - at least for a while. The ending is somewhat harsh (or is likely to be thought so by any child with a parent so little interested in them) - some interpreters see it as an allegory for a young woman being led astray from her Christian faith before eventually hearing the call and going back to the fold. Others give it a feminist spin of the girl again being seduced, somewhat like Kore or Red Riding Hood, before overcoming the "brain washing" of her abductor and returning to her true life. You may see something entirely different in it.

The at work is by John Bauer, a wonderful illustrator of fairy tales. Both t…

A little music

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On Wednesday 19th June I am giving the final talk in the public lecture series at West Suffolk College (free to attend, starts at 6pm - but arrive a little earlier for refreshments - and will also include local flautist Clare Mellor playing Debussy's "Syrinx", and Greek cakes and snacks being sold by the lovely people at Cafe Kottani). Drop me a line at work, so that I know how many people to expect - robin.herne@wsc.ac.uk

The talk is on The Great God Pan and his influence in literature, mythology, poetry, theology, art etc. It will last an hour, and I take no responsibility for what might ensue if he turn up to listen to what is being said about him! To get in the mood for that, here is my recording of another one of Saki's wonderful short stories, "Music from the Hill", in which a very silly woman and her lugubrious husband find out why one should never offend ancient deities... especially when in the woods.


The Ferret God

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Some while ago a friend, Mike the Mead-maker, suggested I record a favourite tale of Saki's, Sredni Vashtar, which raises the question of Divine Functionality (is the simple definition of a deity simply that at least one other person treats it as divine, regardless of whether it does anything remotely divine or not?) as well as being an entertaining warning to overbearing adults.

I wonder if Steven Moffat was inspired by the name when dreaming up the alien menace of the Vashta Nerada that hunted through the Library in Doctor Who? Though aside from the name, they have nothing else in common.


Fairies

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This poem is an excerpt from the much longer poem, "Plea from the Midsummer Fairies" by Thomas Hood. With midsummer just around the corner, it seemed appropriate. When my brain starts working again - hopefully this side of Ragnarok - I will write something original and record that.


The Cynotaph

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This poem comes from the Ingoldsby Legends collection, and exists as a somewhat odd counterpoint to the mournful Power of the Dog poem by Rudyard Kipling. Like that, this is inspired by the death of a dog but takes a comedic route and provides the poet with the opportunity to take a swipe at the funeral practices of the great and good.


Together forever

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This is the tale of how the stunningly handsome Hermaphroditus met the beautiful but unbalanced bunny boiler Salmacis, and eventually became the being we know today. As an account of  obsessive love, it is rather disturbing given that the victim can never escape the clutches of their "stalker". A less unsettling interpretation might be that this describes a psychotic fracture where the fixated Salmacis internalises an imago of Hermaphroditus (his falling into her pool) forever in her unconscious, partially losing her own individuality along the way. Whilst the real man legs it stage left, she spends the next thirty years rocking and twitching in a room whose walls are smothered with photographs of her idol, refusing to wash the hand that touched his cheek.
The traditional myth speaks of the curse on the pool at Caria, near the bottom of Mount Ida where the waters feminised men. Given today's gender politics this view would doubtless be lambasted as sexist, patriarchal, …

Bards and Ballads

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I gave this talk in 2018 as part of the public lecture series run at the college I lecture in - each month a different person spoke on a wide variety of topics (history, science, politics, art etc.). This talk explores concepts of Celtic identity and culture through the medium of poetry, with a number of readings from various different poets - Welsh, Irish, Scottish etc. and one English (me).
My Gaelic is dreadful, but bear with!


Aslan's tail

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One of the subscribers to the YouTube channel said she had enjoyed the recording of a chapter from Wind in the Willows and requested something from the Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe. I don't know what the copyright situation is with doing a whole book (besides which, it would take an age), but I think it is OK to do an extract without infringing ownership issues. So I have recorded Chapter 14, in which Aslan is sacrificed by Jadis as her followers shriek and watch.

It is a dramatic crux in the tale, very visually striking, and a dubious one from a pagan viewpoint - given that Lewis uses a lot of pagan imagery to represent evil, from the stone circle to many of the odious creatures cavorting around. In fairness, he also uses a lot of creatures from pagan mythology to represent the forces of goodness, so I shouldn't complain.

Anyway, below if the chapter replete with silly voices. If you can hear asthmatic wheezing, it is not me but my ancient Jack Russell snoring off came…

Ipswich Pagan Day 2019

This Saturday, 25th, from 12 noon till 4pm the Ipswich Pagan Council will be hosting an Open Day at EEFA Office, 47 St Helen's Street, Ipswich, IP4 2JL (limited parking available at the rear of the building).  This is entirely free and open to any well behaved adults (child friendly activities included if you wish to bring your sprogs) who are either pagan themselves or just interested in knowing more about what we do and believe. You don't have to stay for the whole day, just drop in for what interests you.

The running order for the day is as follows -

12.00 – Welcome
12.15 – History of Pagan Suffolk, with Robin Herne
1.00 – Storytelling & Poetry (various)
1.45 – The Pagan Kitchen (various)
2.15 – Music (various)
2.45 – Ancestors and Deities, with Craig Cordiner
3.30 – Plenary
4.00 – Ritual to Honour the Guardian Spirit of Ipswich

The ritual at the end is optional, and will be explained in more depth earlier in the day. If you want to come along, let us know so we can buy sufficien…

Ethics of Storytelling

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A few somewhat incoherent thoughts about some of the ethical issues that arise for traditional storytellers and the sorts of things that people might want to think about when choosing and performing stories.
If I get some constructive feedback then that will help shape which topics to examine in any future podcasts about the philosophies and issues underpinning storytelling.




A Side Note

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Following the horrible inferno at Notre Dame Cathedral, I looked up some folklore connected to that great place and recorded this short story (rather padded out from the original anecdote) about a blacksmith called Biscornet - the Two Horned - who supposedly created the ironwork on the side doors.
At the time of posting I do not know if the ornate doors have survived the raging inferno or not. I have come across an article by some modern blacksmiths admiring the artwork and saying how they bewildered to think how the original smiths could have created such things with the technology available to them in the mid-1300s (which, whilst being great praise, does not bode well if the doors do need to be replaced in a manner in keeping with the original).
It is not currently known how the fire started. A testimony to human decency - there is already a sizeable fund to help restore the cathedral, though this work is likely to be enormously expensive and take a great time to do (erecting it in…

Wilde Words

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Saw a staged version of the Picture of Dorian Gray at The Wolsey theatre, which was very well done. Still trying to decide what story to record next so, to get back in the habit of podcasting, I decided to do some of Oscar Wilde's poems.
The first poem is the relatively short The Harlot's House,a beautifully rhythmic piece which was done (far better) by Vincent Price as part of one of his touring plays several decades ago. For those listeners who have the patience for long poems, the second piece is the obligatory Ballad of Reading Gaol which Wilde wrote in the late 1800s to make readers understand how awful his prison experience was and how dreadful execution was. whilst in prison Wilde rediscovered his Christian faith, though his approach to Christ was decidedly more Hellenised than most people's. His spirituality infuses the poem, and observant listeners will note certain phrases that both poems have in common - it could just be that Wilde liked certain words and reuse…

Dreaming of Butterflies

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I recorded this for a student who was unable to get to a particular lecture on Taoist philosophy, but thought it might also interest some other people as well. If any Chinese people happen to listen to this, I apologise in advance for my godawful attempts at pronouncing certain names and words!

The original lecture was much longer and included some material on Mohism, which I will be recording for the student - but might also upload here, if it seems of interest on reflection (and if any listeners request to hear it).

The Dream of the Butterfly is a famous story (almost an anecdote, it's so short) told by Zhuangzi or Chuang Tzu in the book named after him. The philosopher dreams that he is a butterfly, which leads to musing about the nature of reality. For something so short, it has a lot of philosophical and metaphysical implications - some of which are explored in this podcast. Others will have found far more depth within the Dream than is presented here.


Satyr tails

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This is a short story of the beautiful satyr Ampelos, his romance with Dionysus and how the Lord of
Partying eventually acquired governance of the grapevine and all the wonderful things that can be done with it. There are numerous stories in Greece mythology in which various people undergo botanical metamorphosis. There is doubtless some profound mystical significance to such stories, but as I am about to fall asleep at any minute the contemplation of the meaning will have to wait till some other time.

On a less taxing note, I'm contemplating reincarnating as a goat-footed son of Pan when the time comes - I can live in a book-lined cave and eat buttered crumpets, play the pipes, and generally avoid the appearance of small and annoyingly middle-class children from wardrobes. In the meantime I shall be honouring the spirit of Ampelos with a glass or two of Mavrodaphne of Patras which may well have been blessed by the satyrs of the Peloponnese.


Wine or Beer?

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A lovely early spring day partially spent having lunch with Mike (who brews wines and meads - check out King of Cups, highly recommended) in a lovely Greek cafe (also highly recommended) in Bury St Edmunds have combined to inspire the recording of this somewhat gruesome account of what happens when Olympians get narked.

Anyway, advert breaks aside, this is a retelling of the myth of king Lycurgus of Thrace, who caused great offence to the god Dionysus (never a wise thing to do). There are multiple versions of this tale with writers such as Aeschylus. Servius, and Hyginus each giving their own spin on the details. This version is my mash-up with elements selected (with more of an eye to cheesy plot devices than any spiritual guidance from the Lord of the Vines) from different renditions to illustrate what may have started out as a possible dispute between brewers and vintners. My spin has a touch of the Hammer Horrors about it, which can be blamed on a misspent youth.



Topple my Enemies

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"Stories are how I topple my enemies" says the giant in 'A Monster Calls' (no need to ask what I am watching as half-term begins). It is not simply walking trees that weave dangerous tales that can shatter empires and plummet monarchs from their thrones. Newspaper magnates regularly produce all manner of confections, sometimes to bolster the empires of their chosen puppets and as often to eradicate those rivals, actual or potential, to their ambitions. Missionaries create confabulations to oust the resident Gods before sowing the tales of their own. Spurned lovers seek to destroy the characters of their rivals, either to recapture their lost paramours or simply for revenge. The disenfranchised recast the people they believe (rightly and sometimes wrongly) oppress them, hurled into a weak light, robbed of their power to dominate. Martyrs in search of a cross will find themselves a hammer-wielding villain, even if they have to embroider them out of whole cloth. Someti…

The Power of Death

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At last month's philosophy club we discussed some of the ideas of Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe (pictured left),  particularly with respect to necropower and necropolitics. These are ideas which are, I think, worth reflecting on and which may also be of interest to some of my students on the Ethics degree (the sociology students may also get some mileage out of it for essays and assignments). I'm uploading it here, as well as on the student site, because I thought it might inspire ideas and discussions amongst the half dozen people who read this blog. This waffle reflects more on descriptions and implications of his ideas rather than recommendations of how to improve  the kinds of social problems he outlines.

Mbembe's ideas are built upon earlier philosophising from the French thinker
Michel Foucault (cunningly disguised as Uncle Fester, pictured right) who proposed ideas about biopower and biopolitics, the ways in which governments and those in authority seek t…

Pigsy!

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To mark Chinese New Year (of the Pig) here is the story of how the Marshal Canopy (the translated name of Tiānpéng Yuánshuài) was cast out of the Celestial Realms to become Zhu Bajie - Pigsy as he is usually called in English translations of the renowned Chinese Buddhist novel Journey to the West. He is a comical figure whose gluttony and lustiness may seem at odds with Buddhist ideals, but the common interpretation is that he reflects that even the coarsest soul can eventually refine itself and attain to enlightenment - perhaps especially so if aided through friendship and a noble cause.
My pronunciations will probably make Chinese people wince, so apologies for that. I'm still getting my head round Pinyin, much less the confusion of regional dialects! Hopefully I will find the brain space to record some more snippets from the adventures of the ever-hungry Zhu further on in 2019. If any listeners are Chinese and can recommend a reliable pronunciation guide for names (book, website…

Goblin Market

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Not having recorded anything for a while (too busy marking, second marking, report writing, lecture prepping, and all the other end-of-term/beginning-of-new-term stuff that educators have to do), I decided to save what little creativity I have by reading someone else's far greater creative works ~ Christina Rossetti's long old poem "Goblin Market". It's a beautifully sensuous, allegorical work which probably set Freudians into a spin.

The book it is in is a wonderfully illustrated 1920s collection of children's poetry, all of which is about fairies, elves, goblins and the like - a Yule/birthday gift from a friend. I shall probably record some shorter poem from it at some point in the future. The picture inset is from the book. It is by an artist I've not previously heard of called Warwick Goble - who may well be famous, but I'm not familiar with many children's illustrators. I looked him up and he seems to have been really quite prolific.