Archive for Legend

Le Chêne des Hindrés, Brittany

Posted in Brittany, King Arthur, Legend, Tree, Woods with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 10, 2015 by mysearchformagic

The forest of Brocéliande is filled with magical places – standing stones, prehistoric tombs and miraculous fountains, many of them associated with Arthurian legend. It is also home to some natural magic in the form of several ancient trees. A while back I visited the incredible Chêne de Guillotin, and this time round I went to take a look at its younger but no less magical neighbour, the Chêne des Hindrés.

Unlike the Chêne de Guillotin, which sits on the edge of the forest in a pretty meadow, the Chêne des Hindrés lies hidden deep in the forest, around a kilometre from the nearest car park. A “Chêne” is an oak, and apparently “Hindrés” means damp, wet places, although I couldn’t see any signs of swampiness when I visited. The route to the tree is well-signposted and follows a clear path through the historic woodland.

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The ancient Chêne des Hindrés, Brittany

Even in this dense forest, the Chêne des Hindrés itself, with its monumental trunk and huge mass of snaking branches, is hard to miss. Apparently the tree is around five hundred years old, which is not hard to believe – it really is enormous! I particulary liked the fact that other, small plants had made their home on the oak’s massive branches, with small ferns sprouting from its broad boughs.

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The huge snaking boughs of the Chêne des Hindrés, Brittany

The Chêne des Hindrés reminded me of the Ents, those living, breathing and walking trees that feature in Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, or even Enid Blyton’s charming Faraway Tree. Given its location, it is hardly suprising that the tree has also been associated with legend, and is sometimes referred to as the Chêne des Druides, or the Druid Oak. Supposedly Druidic ceremonies have been held here over the centuries, which makes sense – I can’t think of a better spot for invoking natural magic than this otherwordly place, the ancient heart of a mystical enchanted forest.

 

The ‘Courtil des Fées’, Morbihan

Posted in Brittany, Fairy Tales, Legend, Standing Stones with tags , , , , , , , on October 21, 2015 by mysearchformagic

This month I’ve been back to Brittany, one of my favourite (and most successful) hunting grounds. Every time return to Morbihan, a region steeped in myths and legends, I wonder if I will finally run out of weird and wonderful places to discover, but every time I uncover more magical locations. This visit was particularly fruitful, so you can expect my next few posts to be filled with my Breton adventures!

My first destination on this trip was the enigmatically named Courtil des Fées, a phrase which translates roughly as ‘fairy courtyard’. As with many of my expeditiions, the journey to the Courtil des Fées began with a track leading into shady woodlands, in this case the Forest of Houssa. Althought it was severely damaged by fire in the 1980s, this ancient wood is slowly reestablishing itself, and still retains its magical wildness. At this time of year, the path leading into the forest is noisier than usual, littered as it is with crackling branches and crunching acorns.

The wild and wonderful forest of Houssa

The wild and wonderful forest of Houssa

The Courtil des Fées is located on a ridge high above the Oust valley, not far from the tiny village of Beaumont. Archaeological investigations suggest that this ridge was inhabited by humans for many centuries before the trees reclaimed it. The first evidence of these ancient inhabitants that I encountered was the remains of a four thousand year old neolithic burial mound which lies deep in the forest, sitting in a pretty clearing surrounded by oaks, birches and ferns.

The ancient burial site of Beaumont, Morbihan

The ancient burial site of Beaumont, Morbihan

Just a few metres away can be found a small standing stone, which no doubt also formed a part of this ancient burial site. Some evidence of carved ‘cup marks’ can be seen on this mossy menhir.

The standing stone at the neolithic site of Beaumont

The standing stone at the neolithic site of Beaumont

It’s just another short walk to the Courtil des Fées itself, a raised round earthwork with a diameter of around twelve metres surrounded by a ditch. Known for generations as a magical place, the Courtil has long been considered the haunt of fairies. But these fairies are not the sweet little winged sprites of Disney cartoons, but nasty, wicked imps who were reputed to steal local babies from their cots. Not surprising then that I approached this place with some trepidation.

The steep entrance to the Courtil des Fées, Morbihan

The steep entrance to the Courtil des Fées, Morbihan

The Courtil is not particularly easy to decipher, or indeed to photograph, at this time of year, its ditch and mound rather lost in the autumnal undergrowth, but its raised platform is hard to miss. As I entered its circle, the sky darkened and the wind suddenly lifted, sending a shower of acorns and chestnuts clattering to the ground around me. If I hadn’t known better, I might have suspected that someone (or something) didn’t want me to be there.

I had been promised a great vista of the valley below from the Courtil, but in fact the view was almost totally blocked by the dense wall of trees that surrounds it. In the end I didn’t hang around for long, taking a couple of photos before I headed off back towards Beaumont. As I walked away the sun reemerged and the wind faded. Back in the peaceful forest of Houssa, the Courtil des Fées far behind, I’m not ashamed to say that I breathed a tiny sigh of relief.

The Allée Couverte du Grand Village, Brittany

Posted in Brittany, History, Legend, Standing Stones, Woods with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 17, 2014 by mysearchformagic

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I find it pretty much impossible to pass a signpost for any prehistoric megalith, obscure chapel or ruined castle without stopping to take a look. This means that my travels across Brittany can often be rather slow and time consuming, given the fact that the region is chock-full of magical ancient places.

A lush valley outside the town of Caro, Morbihan

A lush valley outside the town of Caro, Morbihan

My most recent discovery was the allée couverte du Grand Village, near the little town of Caro in Morbihan, south-east Brittany. This fascinating ancient monument sits on top of a wooded ridge, not far from a winding country lane that I just happened to be driving down. Leaving my car in the rudimentary car park, I followed the signpost down a narrow grassy path bordered on each side by dense hedgerow, its verdant bushes heavy with blackberries.

The path towards the Allée Couverte du Grand Village, Brittany

The path towards the Allée Couverte du Grand Village, Brittany


The allée couverte du Grand Village is a megalithic monument, an antique corridor of huge stones which once formed the heart of a large burial mound. Today the mound is long gone, and the stone corridor has collapsed into a higgledy-piggledy pile of rocks. At twenty five metres long, the allée couverte du Grand Village is the largest burial monument of this type in the region, and pretty impressive it is too.

The Allée Couverte du Grand Village, Brittany

The Allée Couverte du Grand Village, Brittany

Sitting in the peaceful forest clearing next to the remains of this once mighty structure, it is easy to see how myths and legends of fairies, giants and sorcerers emerged in Brittany. To our ancestors, these tales were a way of explaining the existence of these mysterious remains, feats of engineering which were almost inexplicable to more modern minds. There is definitely something enchanting about Brittany’s megaliths and the beautiful landscape which surrounds them, something mysterious and magical, and the allée couverte du Grand Village is certainly no exception.

The huge stones of the Allée Couverte du Grand Village, Brittany

The huge stones of the Allée Couverte du Grand Village, Brittany

Le Jardin aux Moines, Brittany

Posted in Brittany, History, Legend, Superstition with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 28, 2013 by mysearchformagic

We’re back in the Forest of Broceliande this week, in a spot not far from the Val Sans Retour. In a clearing in the scrubby woodland on the edge of the forest lies the Jardin aux Moines, or Monks’ Garden, an unusual group of low stones with a mysterious history.

The Jardin aux Moins

The Jardin aux Moins

The legend goes that St Méen came to the region and discovered a community of rather debauched monks, who were more intent on having fun than following their holy orders. On one particular day the saint found the monks preparing for an orgy, and when he tried to persuade them to renounce their wicked ways they turned on him with violent intent.

Luckily for St Méen, divine punishment was quickly forthcoming, and the naughty monks were all turned into stones where they stood.

The reality is that the Jardin aux Moins is a neolithic monument, which was later reused during the bronze age, and although its purpose is not exactly clear, it probably had some sort of funerary function. But I much prefer the magical legend, which bears a striking resemblance to the tale of the nearby Demoiselles de Cojoux.

Luffness Friary, Aberlady

Posted in Church, History, Ruins with tags , , , , , , on February 10, 2013 by mysearchformagic
The ruins of Luffness Friary sit in woodland just to the east of the historic little town of Aberlady. The path to the site starts on a quiet cul-de-sac, but is not easy to find. I started badly, taking the wrong gate and ending up in a muddy field, the track clearly visible on the other side of a stone wall. After an unsuccessful attempt to find the proper route, I finally clambered over the wet, slippery wall, the fastest (but also messiest) option.
The path to Luffness Friary

The path to Luffness Friary

The woods of Luffness are strange. As you enter them you will come across a large pond, its water bright green with algae, the skeletons of dead trees emerging from the water. It’s a quiet place, rarely visited and slightly eerie.
A strange green pond near Luffness Friary

A strange green pond near Luffness Friary

It doesn’t take long to find the foundations of the Friary itself. Little is known about its history, although it is clear that it was a Carmelite community. It first gets a mention in written records in the early 14th Century, but the remains themselves suggest a much earlier date.
Ruins in the forest, Luffness Friary

Ruins in the forest, Luffness Friary

The most striking part of the ruins is the knight’s tomb, a well-worn effigy of a medieval nobleman lying under a pointed arch. The identity of the subject is long forgotten, although local tradition claims that it is one Bickerton, a standard bearer to Sir William Douglas who turned traitor on his master at the Battle of Otterburn in 1388 and later met a grisly end. Others say it is Henry de Pinkey, a local landowner who supported Robert the Bruce during the famous Wars of Independence in the early 14th Century. Whoever he was, the wide cracks in the tomb reveal that his mortal remains are now long-gone.
The Tomb of the Knight, Luffness Friary

The Tomb of the Knight, Luffness Friary

While investigating the tomb, I also noticed below the fallen leaves the intricate carvings and inscriptions which survive on the floor of what was once the church. On the day of my visit a huge fallen tree lay across the ruins, its elaborate roots exposed to view. In amongst the network of roots and lumps of damp earth I spotted the glittering shells of oysters, the remains perhaps of medieval monkish meals.
The carved floor, Luffness Friary

The carved floor, Luffness Friary

Not much else of the priory is extant, the foundations either lost or hidden below the forest floor, although the dip of its now empty fish ponds can be seen in a nearby field. On the other side of the woods stands Luffness House, a grand mansion which sits on the site of a much earlier castle, still a private home. The whole area is filled with reminders of an eventful history. The fact that so much of this history is now lost or forgotten, with tales and legends inevitably emerging to fill in the gaps, only seems to add Luffness’s incredible air of magic.

The ruins of Luffness Friary

The ruins of Luffness Friary

Gustavo Ortiz

Posted in Art, London with tags , , , , , , on January 19, 2013 by mysearchformagic

I first discovered the work of Gustavo Ortiz on a visit to the Pure Evil gallery in East London, and I instantly fell in love with the artist’s strange, magical collages.

Argentinian Ortiz now lives and works in London, but the distinctive imagery of his native land still infuses his fascinating collages. I recently asked Gustavo a few questions about the magical influences on his work and the techniques he uses to achieve their wonderfully timeworn appearance.

Self Portrait IV by Gustavo OrtizImage copyright the artist

Self Portrait IV by Gustavo Ortiz
Image copyright the artist

MSFM: Why have you chosen to work in collage, rather than more traditional media such as painting or drawing?

GO: I always liked to work with paper, I enjoy the artisan aspect of collage and have made my practice very material orientated. I love the texture you can achieve by layering the paper, as the feel of the plain colour gives a very tactile quality.

MSFM: Many of your works appear to have an ‘aged’ finish, as if they are antiques . What is the thinking behind this?

GO: The last part of my work is a waxing process which at the same time kills the vibrancy of the colour, and rescues the texture of the paper, making it more noticeable, also giving my work a more earthy character.

Metamorphosis #17 by Gustavo OrtizImage copyright the artist

Metamorphosis #17 by Gustavo Ortiz
Image copyright the artist

MSFM: It seems that a sense of magic and myth is always present in your work – what was the inspiration for this aspect of your art?

GO: I take a lot of inspiration from the different Pre-Columbian cultures of South America, especially from Patagonia, which is the area where I come from. Out of context in time and space their religion seems magic, but the legends from which I take inspiration were their actual beliefs, their explanation of the meaning of what was happening around them. I always found these ‘explanations’ very surreal and stimulating.

MSFM: How has your South American heritage influenced the magical aspects of your work?

GO: One of the essential elements of my work is a naive feel which became part of the language that I use as an artist, which in my opinion is a vital aspect of Latin American art, from the native to the first colonial art which was made by amateur artists. So you could say that coming from South America has influenced my formal representational voice more than the magical content. I think the magical and mythical aspect of my work is more of a personal preference than something imposed by where I come from. Living in London I have been in contact with even more exotic magic and mythical influences, being a multicultural melting pot, and I have been assimilating them, without of course losing my primary voice.

Home Sweet Home by Gustavo OrtizImage copyright the artist

Home Sweet Home by Gustavo Ortiz
Image copyright the artist

It’s hard to pigeonhole Gustavo Oritz’s work. He is often shown alongside Urban Art, but I don’t think he really belongs there. His works are surreal, but very different from 20th Century Surrealism. They are quiet but powerful, pretty but also disturbingly curious and uncanny, modern yet reminiscent of a time long gone. I love them, but then as someone constantly searching for magic in the modern world, I would, wouldn’t I?!

Find out more at http://www.gustavoortiz.com