The Green Fuse

THE GOLDEN ROOM EPISODE #10 – THE GREEN FUSE

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‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower…’ Dylan Thomas. Photo by Kevan Manwaring, March 2020

This is a special ‘emergency’ episode of The Golden Room to offer some solace during the COVID-19 global crisis, and to celebrate the coming of Spring. However challenging the current circumstances life continues – and is tangible in every hedgerow, every bird-song, every new bud. This medley comprises my selection of classic poems about the season, along with new work by myself, Ella Bloomfield, and the late Jay Ramsay. Music is provided by Chantelle Smith, Rosemary Duxbury, La Zag, Rick Ward, and Beggard Velvet. May you find this selection soothing. Please pass on to any who you feel will benefit from it.

LISTEN TO THE GREEN FUSE HERE

Track Listings:

THE GOLDEN ROOM EPISODE #10 THE GREEN FUSE
  1. Introduction by Kevan Manwaring/Reverie by Rosemary Duxbury
  2. Lines Written in Early Spring: William Wordsworth
  3. Sumer is icumen in: Anon, 13th anon./voice & harp by Chantelle Smith, 2020
  4. The Trees: Philip Larkin
  5. S.L.: La Zag (from ‘Hic Sunt Leones’)
  6. The Names of the Hare: Translation from the Middle English by Seamus Heaney
  7. Didgeridoo: Sam Bloomfield (from ‘Phoenix’ sampler)
  8. Viriditas*: Hildegard von Bingen
  9. Bright Blue Rose: Marko Gallaidhe (trad.)
  10. Heather’s Spring: Kevan Manwaring
  11. Rosemary Duxbury (from ‘Thread of Gold’)
  12. ‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower’: Dylan Thomas
  13. Oak, Ash, and Thorn: Beggars Velvet (trad. From ‘Lady of Autumn’)
  14. 14.  When green buds hang in the elm: A.E. Housman
  15. My Bonny Cuckoo: Chantelle Smith (trad., recorded 2020)
  16. Cotswold Love: John Drinkwater
  17. Banjo: Rick Ward (from ‘Keeping the Tradition’)
  18. Spring: Edna St. Vincent Millay
  19. Song Birds: Ella Bloomfield (from ‘Phoenix’)
  20. Lullaby: Jay Ramsay (from ‘Phoenix’)

* Viriditas (Latin, literally “greenness,” formerly translated as “viridity”) is a word meaning vitality, fecundity, lushness, verdure, or growth. It is particularly associated with abbess Hildegard von Bingen, who used it to refer to or symbolize spiritual and physical health, often as a reflection of the divine word or as an aspect of the divine nature.

 

Selection by Kevan Manwaring 20th March 2018

A Man You Don’t Meet Every Day

The Golden Room – Episode #9

Marko Gallaidhe

MARKO BY KEVAN

Marko Gallaidhe – by Kevan Manwaring, 2018

To get us in the mood for St Patrick’s Day a special archive interview with a man you don’t meet every day – folksinger, musician, magician, and artist, Marko Gallaidhe. Back in 2014 at the start of my doctoral research I recorded a series of wide-ranging conversations with Marko in his flat in Bath. Marko is widely known and respected on the Irish music circuit in Britain, but few people get to discover the depth of his esoteric knowledge. Marko is, I believe, a bona fide tradition bearer with his extensive repertoire and deep understanding of the magical roots of tale and song. I asked questions about the nature of the Sidhe, the Otherworld, and Second Sight – although the conversation went in many fascinating directions. It is the first of what I’ve called the ‘Marko Sessions’, and if there is interest I can make more available.

Marko on the whistle

Marko playing a tune – photo by Kevan Manwaring

The tunes (Marko on bodhran, bones, and whistle; John Cunningham on flute) were recorded live at What a Performance! in Bath, on Friday 13th March, 2020. This long-running monthly event was hosted by storyteller Richard Selby, who has kept it going since its founder, Dave Angus, passed away a decade ago.

Marko's Rings

A magician’s rings – photograph by Kevan Manwaring

The research was part of my PhD project at the University of Leicester, which focused on the Reverend Robert Kirk, author of The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies (1691). We met on Kirk’s birthday, 9th December. The resulting project, a transmedia novel called The Knowing – a Fantasy, is showcased on my website: http://thesecretcommonwealth.com/

Marko

Marko by Kevan Manwaring

Listen to The Golden Room with Marko Gallaidhe HERE

A Bardic Year

bardic-handbook-cover

The feast day of Wales’ national saint, St David, seems like an appropriate time to share my bardic plans for the coming year. Having moved to the Wiltshire Downs near Avebury recently I have reconnected to the ancient landscape that first inspired me when I first started to visit the area over thirty years ago. Sacred sites such as Avebury, West Kennet long barrow, Silbury Hill, the White Horse of Uffington, and Wayland’s Smithy cast long shadows in my embryonic imaginarium – and now that I find myself living in their aegis they impress me more than ever with their mystery and longevity, showing a rooted resilience that so much of modern life lacks. Over the last few months it feels like I have been re-membering parts of my lost self – from what I called my ‘Lammas Run’ last August when I revisited the area, reconnecting with friends and the land after half a year living and working in the East Midlands, to this week’s long drive to London to collect ex libris copies of The Bardic Handbook. With cromlechs, sarsens, and barrows on my doorstep, and Avebury itself just an hour’s walk away the ancient mysteries of the ancestors have felt closer than ever – they are part of my daily reality now in a very tangible way. The ghosted downs feel real in a way that modern life often does not.  The state of the world leaves me in despair. Like worldly-wise and weary Montaigne the notion of ‘retiring to my estates’ feels increasingly appealing. Of course, I am a mere tenant – just passing through. Although a wise man once said ‘Life is a bridge, cross it but do not build your home upon it.’ This could be an excuse not to commit to anything, not to fully engage, so I would counter-balance that with the words of Bran the Blessed from Y Mabinogi: ‘Let he who is chief be a bridge’. We need good leaders more than ever, not an abnegation of responsibility. The world’s myriad problems need addressing … but we also need solace, we need nurture, and we need sometimes to retreat and replenish our wells. My current home feels like a sanctuary where such things are possible, and from such a place I can offer what I know best: the Way of Awen.

And so to return to my initial statement, here is what I’ve devised for the coming year, bardically (so far)…

BARDIC DIARY 2020

Sat 8th June-Sunday 21st June: King Arthur Way – a summer solstice pilgrimage to awaken your inner sovereignty

Join Kevan Manwaring for two weeks of walking his new King Arthur’s Way, culminating at Glastonbury Tor at the Summer Solstice. He’s devised a new pilgrimage route following the legendary journey of King Arthur, from conception to burial. Ultimately it is about awakening your own inner King or Queen – to find a place at the Round Table, whatever your talents or abilities. No prior knowledge of the legendarium is needed. Find out more and how to book on Kevan’s blog.  

 

Wednesday, 24th June – Brighid’s Flame: A Midsummer’s Dream, 7pm

An enchanting garden concert within the circle of the World Heritage Site of Avebury. All are welcome to an evening of music, storyteller, and poetry with the Wiltshire-based duo, Brighid’s Flame: Chantelle Smith and Kevan Manwaring. There will be a wet weather option in case of inclement weather. The Henge Shop, Avebury, 7pm £5 on door.

http://brighidsflame.co.uk/     www.hengeshop.com/

 

Saturday, 1st August – The Bardic Handbook book-signing & talk

Meet the author of The Bardic Handbook, Dr Kevan Manwaring, aka ‘Bardic Academic’.

The Henge Shop, Avebury, From 11am in shop; talk on ‘Being a 21st Century Bard’ at 3pm upstairs. www.hengeshop.com/

 

Saturday, 22nd August – Avebury Bardfest

A day celebrating the vibrant bardic tradition with performances, talks, and stalls. Come and meet the performers in the day in the bardic market, then return in the evening for the concert with a scintillating showcase of the finest storytelling, poetry, and music from bards from near and far. Profits will go to Tree Aid.

Avebury Social Centre. Stalls and talks from noon-5pm; bardic concert from 7pm (£5 on door).

 

Saturday, 31st October – The Long Woman book-signing & reading

Meet the author of the supernatural novel The Long Woman, Dr Kevan Manwaring, aka ‘Bardic Academic’.  The novel is the first part of The Windsmith Elegy (Awen) – a ghost story set in the 1920s, it features Avebury, Glastonbury, Stonehenge, and other sacred sites.

The Henge Shop, Avebury, From 11am in shop; reading/Q&A 3pm upstairs. www.hengeshop.com

www.awenpublications.co.uk

Sunder, 20th December – Silver Branch book-signing & reading

Meet the author of Silver Branch: bardic poems, Dr Kevan Manwaring, aka ‘Bardic Academic’.

The Henge Shop, Avebury, From 11am in shop; performance/Q&A 3pm upstairs. www.hengeshop.com  www.awenpublications.co.uk

 

On top of this I have also set up fortnightly ‘Bardic Walks’ from Avebury, starting on 22nd March,  and depending on how the Bardfest goes, there are tentative plans to start an Avebury Bardic Circle in the Autumn. Life of course happens while you’re busy making other plans, so it is all in the lap of the gods! All we can do is trust in the awen.

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St David’s Day, 2020

The Golden Room #7 – Chantelle Smith

The Golden Room Episode #7 – Chantelle Smith

January 2020

Joining me in The Golden Room this month is Wiltshire-based folksinger/archaeologist Chantelle Smith, discussing her first EP, ‘The Gates of Elfinland’, as well as her wider inspiration, research, and ethos – with a selection of magical recorded and live tracks.

Listen here via Soundcloud

TRACKS

  1. Reverie – Rosemary Duxbury (intro)
  2. The Mermaid’s Cave – from The Gates of Elfinland (2018)
  3. The Grey Selkie – from The Gates of Elfinland (2018)
  4. White Wings (unreleased, from ‘The Hallows’ by Brighid’s Flame)
  5. Holland Handkerchief (unreleased)
  6. Rhiannon Rides (unreleased)
  7. In Brighid’s Hall (unreleased, from ‘The Hallows’ by Brighid’s Flame)

FFI Chantelle Smith visit: https://www.chantellesmith.co.uk/

 

Bad Juju in Cthulu-Land

Ballad of Black TomThe_Dream-Quest_of_Vellitt_Boe

A double-review of  The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle (2016) & The Dream-Quest of Velitt-Boe by Kij Johnson (2019)

 

Since  H.P. Lovecraft first started forging his haunting singular vision – the Cthulu Mythos – in the first decades of the Twentieth Century other writers have been possessed with the need to delve into its dark recesses, from August Derleth and Robert E. Howard, to Brian Lumley and Neil Gaiman. In recent years Lovecraftian fiction has surged – narratives of vast, elder gods laying dormant in the Earth, unaware of the insignificant lives which transpire above, or watching on from Outside with inhuman indifference, these disturbing tales of an existentially cold universe at the heart of which is a madness-inducing chaos are undoubtedly affected by the times we live in.

Two recent reads repurpose Lovecraft’s problematic oeuvre in interesting ways, fully conscious of the accusations of racism and misogyny. Both by American authors, one is by a writer of colour, the other by a female author, each has taken upon themselves the thorny task.

LaValle’s story wryly reworks ‘The Horror at Red Hook’ (penned in 1925, and first published in Weird Tales in 1927). In 1924 Harlem, Tommy Tester is a small-time hustler whose regular guise as a street musician brings him in contact with reclusive millionaire Robert Suydam, who wants him to participate in a nefarious scheme involving the Great Old Ones. LaValle urban noir convincingly charts the everyday racism faced by people of colour in America – a situation which no longer seems ironically distant. In an interesting spin on the ‘selling your soul to the Devil at a crossroads’ motif of Blues legend LaValle boldly has his protagonist side with the priest of the Old Ones– for as ‘Black Tom’ (as he becomes after much suffering and provocation) argues: ‘I’ll take Cthulhu over you devils any day.’ The protagonist, in effect, becomes the antagonist – and the effect is edgy and disturbing. There is no comforting redemption here, only the catharsis of the Grand Guignol.

Taking a very different approach, Johnson’s picaresque quest-narrative could not be more tonally different. Basing her story upon Lovecraft’s novella, ‘The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath’ (also published in 1927), Johnson takes the geography of Lovecraft’s dreamscape, and some of the flora and fauna, but jettisons the Nihilism and suffocating fatalism. The effect is rather like taking a Certificate ‘X’ film and bowdlerising it into a ‘U’. However smoothly written (with occasional recourse to recherché vocabulary) Johnson’s narrative is little more a glorified travelogue, a Grand Tour of Cthulu-Land, neutered into a kind of Lovecraftian theme park. The lovely map in the front matter is a tell-tale sign. As Diana Wynne Jones observes in her Tough Guide to Fantasy Land entry about Maps: ‘no Tour is complete without a Map. Further, you must not expect to be let off from visiting every damn’ place shown on it.’ The inciting incident for this long journey is the disappearance of a star pupil from the Ivy-League-esque Ulthar Women’s College. It turns out this absconded scholar (who happens to be granddaughter of an Elder God) has run off with a shadowy, glamorous man from the Waking World – a kind of reverse Hades figure. Former wanderer Professor Vellitt Boe must track her down and convince her to return. Boe proves to be more than up to the task in her no-nonsense way. A remarkably obliging cat even decides to accompany her, adding to the Disney-ish quality to the proceedings. If one wanted to dig beneath the surface here, one could discern a mythic narrative – that of Demeter’s search for her wayward Persephone (or Kore, pre-pomegranate pips). Maureen J Murdock’s feminist reworking of the Campbellian Hero’s Journey, the Heroine’s Journey, could be easily mapped onto the novel’s structure, and that is no bad thing: for if the novel achieves anything it is in this regard. It is refreshing to have a middle-aged woman as a protagonist. The few male characters are selfish and self-absorbed, lost in status games and the narratives in which they see themselves as hero (including Randolph Carter, from the original story). It is in the ending – with Boe’s awakening in the poignantly defamiliarised waking world, that Johnson’s novel rewards the steadfast reader with some kind epiphany. The message is ultimately far more life-affirming than LaValle’s but strange less satisfying.

Whatever their merits, neither of these novels match the heights of Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country (2016), which for my money is the best Cthulu Mythos novel of recent years – soon to be a HBO series directed by Jordan Peele (Get Out; Us) and produced by JJ Abrams. It feels Lovecraft’s legacy feels more resonant than ever – its Nihilistic Cosmicism a perfect reflection of the zeitgeist. When reworked intelligently, as these authors have done, it can provide a dark mirror for our times.

Kevan Manwaring, 18 January 2020

Ombria in Shadow – a review

Ombria in Shadow

Ombria in Shadow review

by Kevan Manwaring

Ombria in Shadow is a fantasy novel by American writer Patricia A. McKillip, first published by Ace Books in 2002. It won the 2003 World Fantasy Award and Mythopoeic Award. This is a retro review.
Patricia A. McKillip has created an exquisitely-wrought baroque Fantasy in Ombria in Shadow, one that builds upon the foundations laid by the Gothic Tradition, as well as that of medieval Fantasy. A tale of changelings, enchantresses, tragic princes, and dastardly deeds,  at the heart of Ombria in Shadow is the dark tower of the palace, the centre of all intrigue, tragedy, and magic. There is a tangible sense of place – indeed, the palace is a character in itself, dominating the novel in the way that Domina, the ‘Black Pearl’ regent dominates the court, city, and country with her Machiavellian machinations. The claustrophobic effect of larger-than-life characters in such a confined space is Gormenghastian. This is compounded by the unusual prose style – McKillip deploys syntactical circumlocutions that curl back on themselves like tangled briars. This could easily be stifling, combining with the Piranesian setting to evoke a density redolent of Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose, or of a Borgesian labyrinth. Yet the effect is more fey and dream-like, perhaps with a dash of Diane Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle. The social hierarchies are certainly codified by the architecture, a pecking order set in stone, but what breathes life into this highly ornate affair (which could easily become a recherché exercise in style) are the great characters – the fallen-from-grace royal consort Lydea, the amoral sorcereress Faey and her ‘waxling’ Mag, the black-hearted regent Domina, and the haunted artist, Ducon. Between them is a tangled web of love, hate, and deception. The court descends into knife-edged chaos when its ruler dies, leaving the only acknowledged heir – a young boy, Kyel – vulnerable and at the mercy of the smothering attentions of Domina. The doubling and mistaken identities that occur throughout are mirrored by the shadow castle which exists, hidden behind walls, secret doors, and beneath the city. This is the demi-monde into which the cast out consort Lydea is plunged – and we follow her down its rabbit hole as she jettisons her courtly attire (or is ‘relieved’ of it). This foreshadows the stripping away of illusion which must occur for the truth to be revealed, like layers of peeling décor in a mansion of decaying grandeur.  McKillip revels in the aesthetic of clutter, squalor, and decrepitude – it is as though the whole city-state is a diseased body which needs purging, a cathartic spring clean to blast away its corruption. However the strength of this novel is less in the plot, than in the manner in which it is carried off. There is a febrile energy here, and it is in her depiction of altered states that the author excels. One needs to merely surrender to it and by swept along by its fever dream.

 

Ombria in Shadow (Fantasy Masterworks), published by Gateway, 2014, is available here

Call to Adventure

King Arthur Way – a summer solstice pilgrimage to awaken your inner sovereignty

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King Arthur Stands Atop The Tintagel Cliffs in Cornwall,             Sculptor Rubin Eynon

We live in dark and challenging times, although at this point of the winter solstice it is important to remember that the light will return. Yet the world needs more than an increase in daylight hours – it needs a concerted renewal of goodness, of equality and justice, of moral integrity and wisdom. We need good leaders now more than ever – yet rather than wait for them to appear (and then almost inevitably to disappoint) we need to awaken them within ourselves, to be empowered citizens who take responsibility within our communities, workplaces, and ecologies; using our skills and resources for the good of all; helping and guiding others, especially the marginalised and vulnerable – to step up, seize the sword, and shine.

With this in mind I have devised a summer solstice pilgrimage following the legendary journey of King Arthur, from conception to burial. Starting at Tintagel in Cornwall, and culminating on Glastonbury Tor at the summer solstice 2020, the pilgrimage (approx. 140 miles) will take place over a fortnight, with daily walks averaging 12 miles (some may be less, and none will be longer than 15 miles). Each day will have a theme focusing on a stage of Arthur’s story, one you will be encouraged to meditate upon throughout the day, and share reflections upon in the evening – in the form of a story, poem, song, anecdote, prayer, or insight. Any aspect of the Arthuriad may be explored – at times we may find ourselves in the company of Merlin, Morgana le Fay, Guinevere, Mordred, Gawain, the Lady of the Lake, Lancelot, Bedivere, etc – but the chief focus will be the journey of King Arthur. Ultimately it is about awakening your own inner King or Queen – to find a place at the Round Table, whatever your talents or abilities. No prior knowledge of the legendarium is needed.

I have undertaken several long-distance walks solo over the last few years – the West Highland Way, Pennine Way, Offa’s Dyke, and so forth – and although I have enjoyed those immensely I have felt the need to create a more meaningful experience. Last year I walked the Coast-to-Coast, aka the Wainwright Way) and inadvertently turned it into an accidental pilgrimage (see my article in The Pilgrim). I realised I do not want to carry on just walking existing routes which often connect almost arbitrary points on the map – I wanted to devise a route of spiritual or folkloric significance. It was actually in 2017 that  I came up with the idea of the King Arthur Way – a pilgrimage route connecting Tintagel to Glastonbury Tor. I undertook a reconnaissance walk of the first stage, trekking from the north to south coast of Cornwall over a weekend. After experiencing the difficulty of that route (mainly due to the atrocious weather), I have reconfigured it, and now it takes an inland route loosely following the Michael/Mary Line – a major ley discovered by Paul Broadhurst and Hamish Miller, which runs southwest across England from the tip of Cornwall to Bury St Edmunds in East Anglia. There will be 12 main days of walking, with a full day at either end to experience the magic of Tintagel and Glastonbury fully. We will be taking what we need with us, camping along the way, with an occasional hostel for additional comfort and facilities.  The cost of the pilgrimage for each wayfarer will be essentially the booking fees for the campsites and hostels. If people are willing to chip in a support vehicle and driver could be hired for camping gear, musical instruments, and supplies. The main thing to bear in mind is – this is not a commercial venture, but a voluntary labour of love. I have devised the pilgrimage route as a practical way to enable anyone to experience the legend of King Arthur in a direct, visceral way; celebrate our ancient, sacred, precious landscape; and to empower future leaders. The success of the pilgrimage will depend upon participants pitching in, looking out for each other, collaborating with an open heart, sharing skills and resources, and taking the initiative when necessary. The right mix will be essential. With this in mind, if you are interested in undertaking this pilgrimage, then contact me with the details below:

King Arthur Way Pilgrim Application

  • Name:
  • Preferred gender pronoun:
  • Age:
  • Email:
  • Address:
  • Phone:
  • Any experience of long-distance walking?

 

  • In 200 words describe your reasons for wishing to undertake the King Arthur Way.

 

 

 

  • Any skills, resources, etc, you can offer (eg music, storytelling, poetry, cooking, First Aid, a support vehicle, etc)?

 

  • Any medical conditions or anything else I need to know?
  • Availability for a pilgrim meet-up/training walk over Easter (probably around Avebury):

 

  • Availability in June 2020 (the walk is likely to take place from Sun 7 June-Sun 21 June)

NB the walk is taken under your own risk. If your application is accepted, you will be asked to sign a disclaimer accepting full responsibility for your own well-being. All participants will have an informal shared duty of care, but nobody will be liable for prosecution in the unlikely event of an injury etc.
Please email your pilgrim application to kevanmanwaring@yahoo.co.uk  (Put ‘King Arthur Way Pilgrim Application’ in subject title. Attach as Word doc, but also copy and paste application into body of email).

Deadline for applications: 21 March 2020.  Numbers will be limited to no more than 15.