Archive for Myth

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.

Advertisements

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

The Drowning of Arthur Braxton, Caroline Smailes

Posted in Books, Fairy Tales, Legend, Superstition with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 1, 2013 by mysearchformagic

I came across The Drowning of Arthur Braxton while browsing through the book reviews in The Guardian. The reader comments on there are unfailingly positive, describing the book as ‘magical’, ‘strange’ and ‘breathtakingly good’. I headed over to Amazon, and on seeing the rave reviews on there (a 100% five star rating last time I checked) I knew that I had to get hold of a copy.

cover_matt-quote_med

The Oracle is a run down Edwardian swimming pool in an unnamed northern town. It has been taken over by a bohemian band of new age healers, who offer water-based therapies to the eager locals, claiming that the pool lies right on top of a sacred spring. Laurel is a lonely teenager who gets a job there, and soon becomes involved in the strange, sometimes sinister goings-on. She sees things that she cannot explain, and attracts the attention of Martin Savage, one of the healers whose intentions are less than honourable. Silver, who can read palms, sees something terrible in her future, and things start to quickly unravel.

Years later, Arthur Braxton seeks refuge from the torrential rain in the now apparently empty, damp and dilapidated pool complex. Arthur is an outcast with a dysfunctional family and a band of bullies on his back. He discovers something magical inside The Oracle; a beautiful girl who swims naked in one of the pools, her sad-looking friend watching on from the side. He is instantly smitten, and on returning to the pool he finally makes contact with the strange pair. Despite the fact that the girl, named Delphina, seems unable to leave the pool, their relationship quickly develops. But The Oracle is under threat from American developers, Arthur is under threat from his persistent bullies, and the blossoming love between the boy and this water-bound beauty is under threat from the unavoidable differences between them. As the pressure grows, unbelievable truths about Delphina’s past begin to emerge, and as young love grows, Arthur and Delphina are pulled apart by circumstances beyond their control. And oustide the rain keeps on falling…

The blurb on the back of The Drowning of Arthur Braxton describes it as a ‘modern fairytale’, but if you are looking for a happy-ever-after story of handsome princes and pretty princess then look elsewhere. This book is dark, very dark, filled with swearing, sex (not all of it consensual), depression and more swearing. At times it is painfully sad, at others strangely surreal, absurdist even – if Angela Carter and Samuel Beckett had ever collaborated on a novel then it probably would have ended up something like this. As the narrative progesses, Smailes successfully racks up the tension – I read it in twenty four hours, unable to stop until I got to the dramatic climax. The Drowning of Arthur Braxton more than lives up to those great online reviews. This is modern magic at its best, and I challenge you not to love it.

Traprain Law, East Lothian

Posted in Edinburgh, History, Legend, Superstition with tags , , , , on April 22, 2013 by mysearchformagic

Any regular visitor to East Lothian will know Traprain Law. A huge mound of volcanic rock which sits dramatically amongst the rolling hills around Haddington, it is hard to miss this imposing mass. Few however will be aware of its long history, and the many myths linked with one of South East Scotland’s most fascinating landmarks.

Traprain Law from the south

Traprain Law from the south

Archaeological investigations of Traprain Law during the last hundred years have revealed centuries of habitation, with the first signs of human involvement dating back as far as 1500 BCE. The Law seems to have been the site of a major settlement, and has long been linked with the Votadini tribe who inhabited the region during Roman times. In 1919, a team of historians discovered the famous Traprain Treasure here, an incredible hoard of silver plate dating from this era, thought by modern scholars to have been a bribe paid by the Romans to the local people to buy their cooperation.

Nowadays there are few signs of this extensive history visible to the naked eye. The day that I visited the Law was cold and windy, with dark clouds sweeping in threateningly from the west. The climb up to the summit was steep and soggy, the path often resembling a boggy mountain stream.

The muddy path towards the summit of Traprain Law

The muddy path towards the summit of Traprain Law

The view from the top made it all worthwhile, extending for miles over the surrounding landscape. No one else was around, just me and the stubby-legged, barrel-chested little horses that now make the Law their home.

The tiny horses which live on Traprain Law

The tiny horses which live on Traprain Law

Traprain Law has been linked in legend with St Mungo. A story is told that his mother, Thenaw, was thrown from its precipitous cliffs by her father King Lot when he discovered that she was pregnant by Owain Mab Urien. She miraculously survived, and following a journey across the Forth to a place near the town of Culross, she gave birth to Mungo, now the patron saint of Glasgow.

The view north east, towards North Berwick Law and the Bass Rock

The view north east, towards North Berwick Law and the Bass Rock

An even more bizarre story suggests that the huge rocky outcrops known as the Maiden Stone and Mother Rock, which dominate the summit of the Law, have magical properties. Women, and perhaps men too, who want to improve their fertility are encouraged to squeeze their way through the narrow crevice between the two rocks, preferably performing this feat naked, not the most appealing prospect on a cold and drizzly afternoon.

The mysterious Maiden Stone and Mother Rock, Traprain Lwa

The mysterious Maiden Stone and Mother Rock, Traprain Law

In recent years the Law has also been linked with UFO sightings, with unusual lights appearing here and at nearby North Berwick Law. I didn’t spot anything untoward on my visit, although the atmosphere at the top of the great mound is certainly rather special. The Loth Stone, a huge monolith said to be the gravestone of mythical King Loth and which sits in a field not far from Traprain Law was also on my agenda, but as I began my slippery descent the heavens opened and I was forced to hot-foot it back to my car. The Loth Stone, it seems, will have to wait for now.

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