Sunday, January 17, 2010
By Jeff Quick
The High Forest is dense with nothingness. Unprepared wanderers can travel for days without finding a friendly face, or even an unfriendly one. Because of its forbidding reputation, people who don't know how to treat nature responsibly tend to stay out, minimizing the danger to the local ecology.
As a result, the Caretakers of the Emerald Enclave are more concerned about internal threats to the forest than external threats. There are sufficient external threats, true. But as balance-loving worshipers of nature can tell you, evil entities are not the only threat to nature.
More than a year ago, the Emerald Enclave began discussions with Turlang, a great treant and de facto ruler of most of the High Forest. The Chosen of Eldath and Mielikki requested that they be allowed to send representatives to the wood to see if they could be of any assistance. Since the High Forest is said to be under the direct protection of these two gods, Turlang gladly accepted representatives in their name.
So the Caretakers constructed a portal from Ilghon to a cave mouth near one of Turlang's homes and sent two Caretakers to assess threats to the forest: Kressna Pisacar (LN female human Drd9) and Naeva Waterborn (N male moon elf Drd5/Brd5). After several months of travel and observation through the High Forest, the two druids came to a sobering conclusion: The chief threat to the High Forest's long-term safety is Turlang himself.
Turlang has spent the last 400 years pushing the boundary of the forest north, toward the Nether Mountains. While druids would normally applaud arboreal expansion, it must be done with an eye toward long-term consequences. After some study, Kressna and Naeva have come to believe that pushing the High Forest north creates more problems than it solves, borrowing trouble the forest wouldn't have otherwise. The treant's expansionism has become a threat to the entire wood.
The main instance of this threat is Turlang's behavior around Hellgate Keep. Having pushed the treeline past the Hellgate Keep crater, the treant claims to have sealed off the area. The Caretakers believe that this so-called "sealing" has made both the treant and his protectorate a target. If the High Forest did not cover Hellgate Keep, the baatezu trapped within would be less of an issue and easier to keep out. Instead, they're already in it and not shy about recklessly using fire magic.
Further, Turlang has become fixated on destroying the baatezu and tieflings he has contained in a long, slow siege. He takes his fight against the Hellgate Keep fiends personally and as an affront to all he has created, while forgetting other problems -- mainly the pillaging orcs streaming off the Spine of the World mountains.
However, one does not simply tell a treant that he is mistaken and then carry on, especially one who takes his duties so seriously as Turlang does. Using all their diplomacy and reasoning, Kressna and Naeva are attempting to redirect their ally as a vine up a trellis. They tell Turlang tales of the wood to the west and south, toward the Dessarin and Larch Hills, where they believe expansion would be simpler and less troublesome. They also discuss with him the malignancy of war and how it affects surrounding nature. They hope that with enough indirect cues, Turlang will allow them to take over the "war effort" in the north, and go back to planting trees in safer areas.
Turlang, however, is fixated on his current plans and will not be swayed by pleasant alternatives. Further, he has suspicions that the Enclave druids who come in the name of Eldath and Mielikki are trying to steer him away from where he is most needed in the High Forest -- away from the trees he has worked so hard to plant and nurture.
The situation is not quite tense, but not as cordial as when the druids first arrived. As diplomatic entrappings drop away and both sides' true positions become clearer, residents of the forest are beginning to pick favorites. Turlang and the Caretakers probably will not come to blows over the matter, but the repercussions of a conflict between the forces could be as damaging as a natural disaster.
What might push it over the edge is the portal the druids use to travel between the High Forest and their home island. The portal is situated squarely within territory controlled by Turlang and is guarded by some of Turlang's best agents. Originally this was done to honor his esteemed guests, but with Turlang's increasing suspicion about the Caretakers' motives, his agents eavesdrop as much as they guard.
The druids themselves know that they have increasingly less freedom to speak openly in the High Forest, but they must remain to continue the delicate negotiations with the treant while helping the fight against pressing forces within the wood. They hope that they can get through to the treant before his shortsightedness brings trouble none of them can contain.
This legendary forest in eastern Brittany is said to have been the site where the great magician MERLIN was imprisoned by his mistress, the fair but ambitious VIVIANE, in an attempt to trick his magical knowledge from him; legend claims that he lives forever within a great tree there. Also within the forest is a piercingly cold fountain that brews storms at the behest of its lady guardian. As the Celts were known to believe in the sacredness of TREES, this still-standing primeval forest near Rennes (now called the Forest of Paimpont) may be Europe’s last remaining NEMETON.
Nemeton Ritual site.
The Celts worshiped not indoors but outside, in groves of TREES and at other sacred sites. There are many evidences that trees played an important part in Celtic religious life, never more so than when rituals were held in forest clearings called nemetons, a name related to words in other Indo-European languages (Greek némos, “glade,” Latin nemus, “sacred”) and may connect with the ancient Irish root, nem-, which meant “heaven” but referred symbolically to anything sacred.
Ancient classical authors made much of the outdoor location of Celtic rituals; Strabo described the OAK groves in which the Galacians met, while Pliny the Elder and Tacitus both spoke of the same among continental Celts. Lucan, in a vivid passage, described groves “untouched by men’s hands from ancient times, whose interlacing boughs enclosed a space of darkness and cold shade,” wherein “images of gods grim and rude were uncouth blocks formed of felled tree-trunks.” He reported a legend that the trees would sometimes appear on FIRE or stricken by earthquake but would in reality be untouched and unharmed. Lucan also offhandedly mentioned that this sacred grove was leveled by Caesar because it was too near some buildings the Romans were erecting.
After Romanization, the word nemeton was sometimes used of a stone TEMPLE, when such buildings replaced the sacred groves that gave way to Roman axes. The word became part of the names of many Celtic settlements; thus we have Drunemeton near Ankara, Turkey, where the Celtic Galacians lived; Nematacum and Nemeton in Gaul, Nemetobrigia in the Celtic region of Spain called Galacia, Vernemeton in England, and Medionemeton in Scotland.
Sources: Cunliffe, Barry. The Ancient Celts. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 198; Lonigan,
Paul R. The Druids: Priests of the Ancient Celts. Contributions to the Study of Religion, No. 45. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996, p. 3.
Canopied live oak forest
Large and impressively long-lived, the oak was one of the most important TREES to the Celts. In part, this was because of the oak’s usefulness: It provides abundant acorns, which were in ancient times a favored food of PIGS, whose flesh then became part of the human diet; its long-lasting wood is sought after for building; its bark produces a substance useful for tanning leather. The oak’s usefulness extended to the spiritual plane as well; according to Roman author Pliny the Elder, the Celts harvested MISTLETOE from oak trees for ritual use in curing disease and encouraging human FERTILITY.
Oak forests were common in continental Gaul, where we find early evidence of their sanctity: Construction of oak funeral houses by HALLSTATT and LA TÈNE peoples suggests that the tree was connected with the afterlife or OTHERWORLD. The oak may have been associated with a specific god, although which one is not clear, because documents date only to Roman times, when Maximum Tyrius claimed the oak symbolized the father of gods, who lived within the tree; the so-called Jupiter columns (JUPITER being the Roman version of Zeus) found in Gaulish temples have been interpreted as indoor substitutes for great trees dedicated to the god.
Although trees in general were sacred to the Celts, who practiced their rituals in NEMETONS or sacred groves, the Celtic priesthood of DRUIDS held the oak to be the most sacred tree; indeed, the very word druid is connected to an ancient word for “oak.” The Roman poet Lucan described the druids as using acorns in their prophetic rituals, masticating them until they saw visions; the story is hard to credit, because no hallucinatory substances have been isolated in acorns. Wooden images from the pre-Roman and Roman periods have been found, carved of the strong and lasting wood of the oak.
Belief in the sanctity of the oak survived into the post-Celtic era, when folklore envisioned the oak as a living being that, when cut, cried out or took revenge upon the forester, maiming or killing him as it fell. An oak was believed to make a desperate racket when felled, loud enough to be heard a mile away. FAIRY folk were thought to live in or around oaks; together with the ASH and the THORN, the oak constituted the sacred tree trinity that marked fairy places.
The centrality of the oak in ancient Celtic life can still be detected in names that embody the tree: the Celtic capital of the Galacians in Turkey, Drunemeton (“sacred oak grove”); and the Irish abbey towns of KILDARE (“church of the oak”) and of Durrow (“plain of oaks”).
Sources: Green, Miranda. Symbol and Image in Celtic Religious Art. London: Routledge, 1989, p. 152; Ross, Anne. Pagan Celtic Britain: Studies in Iconography and Tradition. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1967, p. 33.
British folkloric figures. Occasionally in the north of England, references are found in oral literature to FAIRY people who lived in great OAKS; an old rhyme holds that “fairy folks/are in old oaks.” Especially powerful were oaks that regenerated themselves after being cut; the saplings that came forth in such circumstances were regarded with awe. In the Cotswolds each village had a sacred tree, usually an oak, where fairy beings were believed to hide. The artist Beatrix Potter used the tradition in her book The Fairy Caravan, in which oak people wore toadstools for caps.
Source: Briggs, Katharine M. The Folklore of the Cotswolds. London: B. T. Batsford Ltd., 1974, p. 121.
British folkloric figure. In The Merry Wives of Windsor, Shakespeare speaks of Herne as a hunter who hanged himself from an oak tree and was thereafter forced to haunt the woods where he died. Herne the Hunter appears in various legends as a horned spirit, suggesting that he may have originated as a woodland deity like CERNUNNOS. One tale from Windsor Forest describes Herne in language typical of FAIRIES, for he was said to shoot his victims with invisible darts if they intruded upon magical places.
Gwynn ap Nudd
(Gwyn ap Nudd, Herne, Herne the Hunter, Gabriel) Welsh hero. The Welsh king of FAIRYLAND, “White One, son of the Dark,” was said to reside under GLASTONBURY TOR, the small pyramidal hill that is southwestern England’s most significant feature. Gwynn reigned over the folk called the TYLWYTH TEG, beautiful tiny people who wore blue and danced all night in the fashion of Irish FAIRIES. His special feast was spring’s beginning, BELTANE, when he led the WILD HUNT to raid the land of the living. His name means Gwynn, son of Nudd; his father was king of a Hades-like Otherworld called ANNWN. He could materialize at will, surrounded by his beautiful host playing FAIRY MUSIC. His queen was the daughter of LLUDD, CREIDDYLAD, on whom Shakespeare based the character of Cordelia in King Lear.
Alternative names used of Gwyn ap Nudd are Herne the Hunter, the frightening figure who skulks around Windsor Forest in England; and Gabriel, known best for his vicious fairy hounds.
Sources: Evans-Wentz, W. Y. The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries. Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe Humanities Press, 1911, pp. 152 ff; Lonigan, Paul R. The Druids: Priests of the Ancient Celts. Contributions to the Study of Religion, No. 45. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996, p. 169; Spence, Lewis. The Minor Traditions of British Mythology. New York: Benjamin Blom, Inc., 1972, p. 109.
In most Celtic lands, it was considered very unlucky to burn the wood of an elder TREE (genus Sambucus), because the spirits of FERTILITY were thought to live within it. If a desperate situation arose that demanded use of elder wood, it was important to ask permission of the tree and its spirits; even with appropriate begging, the branches might bleed when you cut them. The tree’s name hints at a connection with the ELF people; it was called the eller tree in the north of Britain where, until quite recent times, rags were offered to these trees to bring good luck. In the Cotswolds, elders were associated with WITCHES; an elder tree might be a transformed sorceress or carry malign power, so it was avoided in building furniture, especially cradles. In Ireland and on the Isle of Man, the elder was one of the trees most often connected with the FAIRIES and with GIANTS. Despite its frightening reputation, the elder tree was used to make berry wine and flower tea.
Sources: Briggs, Katharine M. The Folklore of the Cotswolds. London: B. T. Batsford Ltd., 1974, pp. 13, 120; Spence, Lewis. The Minor Traditions of British Mythology. New York: Benjamin Blom, Inc., 1972, pp. 107–108.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Despite being a common TREE in many climates, the ash (genus Fraxinus) plays a significant role in Scandinavian and Germanic as well as Celtic mythologies. It is a large but graceful tree whose sweeping, upturned branches make a dramatic pattern against the winter sky and whose feathery compound leaves create a dappled shade in summer. Together with the OAK and the THORN, the ash is one of the magical trees of Celtic tradition. Because it is connected with the FAIRIES, it was also believed to ward them off; for this reason Scots Highland mothers burned a green ash branch until it oozed sap, which was fed to a newborn as its first food. In the Cotswolds the ash was believed to be protective against WITCHCRAFT if crafted into a whip handle. It cured earthly as well as Otherworldly diseases: as a protection against rickets, children were passed through young ash branches slashed in two, after which the branches were sutured up and left to heal; should such healing not occur, which in the hardy ash was uncommon, the child was thought doomed to be as twisted as the tree. Ashwood was believed to be a general charm against evil.
The ash tree is especially associated with BELTANE, the spring festival celebrated on May 1. In Ireland the most important site for that festival was the hill of UISNEACH, so ash trees on that site were considered especially potent. One great ash on Uisneach’s summit was said to have fallen in prehistory, its tip reaching across the country to near the town of Longford; such an impossibly tall tree (over 30 miles high) suggests a world-axis that may originally have been envisioned to ascend from Uisneach. Another famous Irish ash was the holy tree of Clenore, where the spirit or saint Creeva was thought to live. So important was the ash in Ireland that three of the five most significant mythological trees were ash.
The ash family has many branches, including the square-twigged blue ash and the common green ash; it is distinct from the ROWAN or mountain ash, which is a different genus. Ash trees love water, which is why many are found at holy WELLS; such a combination of ash and water source was held to be especially powerful. Miracles were said to be possible when ash trees “bled” or leaked sap into the well, and people would gather the liquid to use as an elixir.
The White Stag by Ruth Sanderson
Beldane would have found the scene unfolding before him amusing if capturing this legendary creature weren’t so damned important. Legend tells that whoever subdues the magnificent beast will be shown visions of the Fay Enchantress and how to free her from her vile captors.
More shouting and cursing erupted from the undergrowth to Beldane’s right as the White Stag charged forth in a shower of leaves, twigs, and clods of dirt. Two of his peasants chased blindly after the Stag, scrubbing their eyes free of dirt while attempting to throw a dirty sack over the beast’s head. One had a hoof-shaped welt emblazoned on his forehead and his eyes were slightly dazed as he stumbled along.
Beldane tighted his grip on his steed’s reigns. He wheeled his horse around, nearly clipping one of the Low-Borns under the chin. He had heard shouts in the gloomy distance. Someone has come to rob him of his prize!
Erec and Enide by Chrétien de Troyes
Arthur revives the custom of hunting a white stag with the reward that whoever kills it will be allowed to kiss the most beautiful maiden at court. Erec and Queen Guinevere are insulted when a dwarf, attending a knight with his lady, uses a whip on the Queen's maiden and on Erec. Arthur kills the white stag; but the kiss is postponed three days while Erec pursues the armed knight. Erec is given hospitality by a vavasor, impoverished by war, with a wife and most beautiful daughter. Yet this vassal is able to supply Erec with his daughter and the weapons necessary to challenge the knight when he claims his lady is most beautiful and tries to take the sparrow-hawk for the third time. They duel in combat for a long time before Erec gains the advantage and spares the life of Yder, whom he sends to Arthur's court. The beautiful daughter Enide is given a dress by Queen Guinevere and wins the kiss of King Arthur for the white stag. Erec and Enide are promised two castles by his father, King Lac, and they are wed at court in celebrations that last two weeks. In the tournament that follows Erec excels in combat.
Since the waning of the cold war, the West has had access to more information about Eastern European nations, their history, pre-history and mythology. Like many other areas of the world, Belarus has its own standing stones and associated folklore. Many of the sacred stones of Belarus were deposited by glacial action, which transported massive boulders from what is now Finland and Sweden to the Belarus countryside. Because they are obviously out of place in the associated landscape, myths sprang up to account for their presence. Along with myths, religious traditions also sprouted around these stone giants.
One of the pagan beliefs, dating back to the Paleolithic era, is tied to the cult of Volas. Volas was the pagan god of prosperity and of cattle. He was reportedly worshipped into the 20th century and may still be revered in the isolated rural areas of the country. Volas Stones are a direct link to this ancient religion. They are large recumbent stones, usually found in small clearings in forests. Cattle skulls would be placed in trees around the stone, where a priest would seek to see into the future and to cure diseases. Travelers would visit these stones in pilgrimage to offer sacrifices before and after certain ventures.
Other stones were dedicated to the god of agriculture, Dazhdzhbog who, like other gods of agriculture, was also the god of the sun and rain. Dazhdzhbog Stones were recumbent stones that served as altars. They are characterized with cup depressions that were used to mill sacral grain for the sacrificial bread which was made as an offering for the continuation of the crops. Many of the forest clearings used in these rituals were strewn with rock alignments, cairns and standing stones.
Like other sacred areas of Europe, stones in Belarus were also believed to be inhabited by an evil form of Little People, regarded as “devils.” Their stones are called Devil Stones, and they are located in swamps and other sinister places. These devils were known to try to confuse travelers so that they would lose their way.
Belarussian folklore also contains stories of men and beasts who were turned to stone for angering local pagan gods.
By Gary Varney
No one can determine when the first grove of trees was designated as “sacred” — to be used only for religious ceremony and ritual, to be protected at any cost. However, there is abundant information that indicates that such groves existed throughout Europe and the Near East thousands of years before Christianity.
“The Votiaks of Eastern Russia,” states early 20th century folklorist Charlotte Burne, “have sacred woods, where not a single tree may be cut down, or the god of the place will avenge the injury. In the midst of such a wood there is often a hut, or simply an altar, on which animals are offered in sacrifice.”
Similar traditions existed throughout the world. Every tree in Swedish sacred groves was regarded as being divine, and in Lithuania, such groves were often located around homes and entire villages. To break even a twig off one of these trees was a sinful act. Anyone who intentionally cut a bough off a sacred tree was expected to “either die suddenly or was crippled in one of his limbs.”
A certain “species” of Swedish elf were called Grove Damsels or Grove Folk. It was their responsibility to live in the sacred grove and protect the trees and animals living there.
Cleared areas in the midst of groves were often used for worship in Finland and Estonia. Frazer tells us that “such a grove often consisted merely of a glade or clearing with a few trees dotted about, upon which in former times the skins of the sacrificial victims were hung. The central point of the grove… was the sacred tree, beside which everything else sank into insignificance.” Altars were set up in the middle of the glade under the sacred tree and animal sacrifices were offered up to the spirits and gods of the trees.
In most areas, only the priest classes were allowed inside these groves, but in some areas the sacred grove promised protection to any who entered. A particular cypress grove located on the Acropolis was haven to any fugitive who reached it, and they would hang their discarded chains from the limbs of the holy trees.
Early Roman visitors described the groves of the Druids as dark and terrifying places. Wooden figures of the gods were placed in these groves, with the effect of the “ghastly pallor” of the figures effectively terrifying the worshippers.
One of the great Druidic groves in southern Gaul was cleared by Caesar’s troops in an effort to remove the spiritual power inherent in the grove. Another sacred grove on Anglesey was destroyed in 59 CE and yet another, located in what is now Bath, England, was cleared a few years earlier, around 43 CE. The Romans constructed a military road through the sanctuary within thirty meters of the sacred spring, thus removing the sanctuary from local control. However, twenty years later, after Rome had taken firm control, the road was removed. The sanctuary was rededicated to the Roman goddess Minerva, and the grove replanted. Davidson notes that even the Irish King Brian Boru, during the Viking Age, “spent a month wreaking destruction on the sacred wood of Thor near Dublin.”
There is some evidence that the Celts actually created sacred groves in certain areas where natural ones did not exist. The Oxfordshire Lowbury Hill site is one such example. First excavated between 1913 and 1914, and again in the 1990s, Lowbury was a sanctuary with a boundary of planted trees that marked the sacred enclosure area. Constructed during the 1st and 2nd century CE, the artificial grove enclosed a temple building which has yielded a large amount of votive offerings, such as spears and coins and at least one burial
Monday, December 28, 2009
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
When the map was created Britain would have featured on the first section, which has not survived. All that remains is this tantalizing corner of the south coast of England. From top to bottom the six 'twin towers' represent the present-day towns of Thetford (or Norwich), Richborough, Dover, Canterbury, Lympne and Exeter. A Channel crossing was then necessary to continue the journey to Rome. It is perhaps surprising that 'Camuloduno' (Colchester), which was one of the most important Roman towns in the area, is not accorded 'twin tower' status. Its name is simply written in alongside the road. This may provide a clue to this map's intended purpose. As with today's maps, the features that are chosen for inclusion and those that are omitted are determined by its function. For this reason the lack of significance given to a number of major legionary centres has led to the conclusion that this was not, primarily, a military map.
The tentative state of what was known about this part of North America in the 1600s is clearly illustrated in this extract. Sanson's map is one of the first to name and locate 'Erie Lac' and to show it joined to Lake Ontario, as Lac de St Louis has become known. However, the large lake shown in the mountain range to the south and marked as 'Apalache' has never existed, although the name Appalachian in relation to mountain range has survived. The north-south range shown here is quite accurate but the main range running off to the west and across the centre of the map does not exist. Slowly over the next 200 years an accurate picture of the physical geography of this region would be compiled.