(All song lyrics from above)
I’m writing this on a Wednesday, in the beginning.
That part’s important, for the beginning is an arbitrary thing but the day is not. Because there are times and places that it’s always Wednesday, where the twilight and the gloaming spread the double-ended, twice folded blue of their cloaks and skirts to reveal a sky that lightens and darkens all at once.
The arc of the heavens curves up and away; the thin envelope that kisses the earth, gathers all our breath and presses it close to the heart like a lover’s keepsake. In the beginning, there were not seven days, jusr Night and Day – it’s only when the song of the spheres touched men’s ears, hummed along the skin of the world, that the distant lights in the sky stood apart from the stars. And in the beginning, the stars flowed like a river, a gleaming shining path in which we might travel as boldy as the oceans from which we crawled dumbly; terror-struck as our world was divided in two.
They say it began in Fire and Ice, but in truth it might as well be Red and Blue, or Black and White. They say many things, so they do, but for our purposes, our Saying begins at the edge of the ice. Long ago it was, when the songs were sung and the dances danced, in the spaces between glacial fingers.
For yes, long ago, dear friend, though I thread these words with awl and bone needle, though I gather the weave and warp and weft, the strings of it that bind us all together with thew and sinew, and I am but a clumsy tongued fool, with crippled fingers. But as all things pass away, so shall this – the song uncoils behind the eyes, shining scale and burning lamp, and so I give in to the black-bird-cries, for good or ill.
So, and aye. In the beginning, it began with Witches. It always begins with Witches, but you knew that already, yes?
Cry crime against sex, form and gender if you must, but know they are but part of a lie.
Have you truly not heard of Witches, those beings which walk like men and women and everything in-between? Those monsters of terrible beauty, neither fish nor fowl, beast nor human kine? Those raw shrieking voices of awful portentous ecstasy? Does not the marrow of your bones recall those who might stir the roaring cauldron, the boiling kettle of existence? Does not the memory of their knowing push and pulse inside your very veins, even now? Have you not heard tellings of their Art, these dancers along the Shining Path; these heart-wrights, these soul-shapers, these sun-riders and moon-mounters?
Can you honestly say you have not known of them, in the time before words, vast and formless in their imense gravity? Their handiworks surround you, these sculptors and smiths of dreamflesh – or did you think the body of the Dreaming was made into Hand and Eye by merest happenstance? Did you think the naked in-between coalesced here and now and then, alone?
Oh no. If that be the saying upon your tongue, laid upon your eyes and ears, then you have been led awry by mischevious folk!
For it was They who rode with wild abandon. It was They who Walked and Sang amidst the screaming feathered skies, the incarnate rainbow aurorae and falling comets! Nameless and naked in their feral innocence, so They touched the earth lightly, and hid within its heart leaving spoor of fire, tracks and signs for gods to interpret; syllabi unspoken-as-building-blocks for ten thousand Creations.
Hush now, for heresy contains the most truth; Witches are older than gods, but gods can be Witches.
So understand, dear friend; Witches-Never-Were. Witches-Never-Are. Witches-Never-Shall-Be.
They are the Ur-Kenning. And Witches, but only ever after-Thought came and spread its wings.
It is they who this poor painter of word-pictures must attempt to bind in character, if only for a moment. If only for a moment, in Sympathy for and with the One they called, so I bid you hold the Image within your mind. The whirling dance within the hidden darkness of the caves, the blood of dream spattered, silver-scarlet, bright as ochre in the days when the ice held sway. For this call stretches out in between the breaths of rime and frost.
Before this island was island, so They called, so they drew the threads of wyrd and teased the idea of mankind from the weavings of the world. Echoing out, so they seeded dreams; herds heard them, kine and kind came Up and North and Along, and with them, long-downstream, came the two-legs, following game into this far western peninsula.
And the One? In what shape did he come?
Some Sayings have him as a great black bird, grandfather to Ravens, Eagles and All Those Who Feed on Flesh, Living and Dead, coming out of the Sun at the head of a storm of howling winds, Thunder following after. Others that the One was Waiting for two-legs, to whisper in their ears and set their Souls aflame. Those Sayings have him noose and pluck and thieve the breath from men’s lungs. Some say, even then, that he was a Witch, master of the hunting magics and the hunting spirits, and the charms that cure and also bring disease; ruddy red and gold in the heated evenings of the cradle of mankind. Others, that he was a god entire, leading his brothers across the sky, striking from a distance with spear and bow!
Some Say the One rolled and rattled the knucklebones of men, that he prowled the graveyards with dogs and jackals and nightmares; that he diced and played with men’s fates long before the two-legs learnt to mimic the spinning of the sunwheel and carry carts and chariots, that he howled and hooted in the night, stalking at the edges of the light, to seize men and turn them Inside Out, so that they returned not quite as before, full of strange notions, and stranger doings.
Many things are Said; and each Saying may have many meanings. Those strangers may make sacrifice to the wind that flutes through bone, and open themselves to the Coming-And-The-Going, secret whispers and myteries, becoming-as-queerly-together-as-apart.
For certain is this – the One is ever restless. The songs that snared mounts, these he learned from secret places, traded bone and breath for secrets, and though he is Old in his Seeming Now, in truth his Youth is never in question.
Troop-master then, the Eldest of the Eld – from him proceded wisdom and experience; the privations and piercings which wrought youth to manhood were dispatched at hir silent word; hirs the maidenhead that bled, the wound that dripped and gaped, hirs the prick that throbbed and shone.
Man of Ways and Lady of Means, he has borne both names as Gelded Father – his wooing of maids borne of his own courtings. So some Sayings have it; the eros and agape of brotherhood binding tight and loosening fast and swift. Some say they found the One in mountain caverns, others misty forests, thick and dark. Still others in the midst of battle, or on lonely roads, or a shape in the dark in the heat of passion, an extra presence rolling and swelling with the rhythm.
Many names has that One borne, each a patchwork scrabbling, a fragmented glass, a shard of pottery burst and ruptured by the uncontainable, incontravertible nature of his Being. Dare you to bind the inspirer of very awe?
But these are foreign lands, and it it is a Wednesday, is it not. The in-between of the week, the forked path, the crossing of the roads! Anything and all and nothing is possible at his hand.
“Take a little walk to the edge of town
Go across the tracks where the viaduct looms
Like a bird of doom as it shifts and cracks
Where secrets lie in the border fires, in the humming wires
Hey man, you know you’re never coming back
Past the square, past the bridge, past the mills, past the stacks.”
Albion is a land of wanderers, a place where immigrants come. The land is stuffed to the gills with them, even if they’ve been here over two thousand years.
Wave after wave of folk came to this place, loving and dying, fighting and fucking, living and breathing, just as you do now – until the land was thick with their gods and spirits. Until it was stuffed with shrines to the sly and terrible things they met on the moors. To the voices heard on the wind, howling in the night and whispering with hot breath on the backs of their necks.
Years have a way of passing, and centuries a way of rolling on; babies are born and bodies are buried. Their bones thicken the soil and their blood feeds gnarled old trees that groan in the night. Stones are hauled aloft, then fall, buried in the earth – that, or broken up and built with.
Battles leave the spoils of victory long forgotten in the fields; ghostly banners flickering in raven-dreams that are soundtracked by the music of the dying. The cries of pain and the clash of metal echoing outward, – the earth cracked open and its silver blood drawing up from the depths along with choked and clotted lungs rattling down to the ribs.
From those subterranean wounds, from the hissing of steam and and the clank of machinery, comes the poisoned earth-blood that turns rivers red and keeps faces black while storms roll in and whip leathered flesh with salty squalls.
Rife with sea-stench, spattered by spray and burned by rope, sailing the vast horizon of the gleaming waters, nets and lines pluck bounty from maritime halls. Eyes flicker between star and water, sun and moon. Folk piloting the currents that threaten to drag them down, weaving through shoals that would gut ship-bellies in a trice.
So they come, riding wood and weave of sail; Britons meeting Phonecians and Greeks in the south to trade for tin, while up in Orkney lie ancient temples, now long since rendered mysterious. Was the One here, even then, in all his fury, masked and known by another name, as the poet-prophets of the Keltoi brought him up through flesh and bone. Or was it the Angles, Saxons and Jutes who brought him in their blood?
But hold! Further back and back in his wanderings, did this master of magic not learn from all? What of the shamans of the tundra, the fierce riders that surged across the steppe thounds of years before the Khans were even a gleam? Scythians with bow and spear, Phrygians with cap and wolf-leaping, Samartians with their hordes and Suebi with their knotted hair!
And wait, what of Northern Apollo, the Midnight Sun of Hyperborea burning like an eye in the aurora-wreathed night? How many forms and shapes and blendings and fuckings and furies has the master of the wodh known all these years? How many times has he as master wizard been bound into and onto the tree?
His face his shadowed here, this queer figure that stalks the hills and downs from tip to tail, to say nothing of Tacitus blurred dreaming of Germanic tribes making sacrifices to Mercury? How many legionaires knew him in blood in the last days of the Empire, the Germanic soldiers serving while their Gothic brethren howled outside the gates?
Along the Roman road to Preston, or not far off, lies the old cavalry station of Ribchester, where in 2nd century AD, yet more Samartians came, long before Christ ever reached these shores, settling for two long centuries before the Angles and Saxons.
Where’s the Old Trickster hiding; how many times has he whispered a horseman’s word in the ear of a shying mount? How many times have you passed him by on those same Roman roads that stretch through these lands? Would the marching Legions have met the old traveller passing by?
And when the Christians came from Eire and erected their wheeled crosses, did he chuckle slyly at these sun-wheels raised in stone. These things to cast down the pagan sun-worship into the shadow of the Crucified, did they have a double meaning? And when Constantine converted Rome and brought the Germanic tribes in, as we have seen, who was it that whispered in the ear of the scribe that penned the Dream of the Rood, or the poet who had Christ and his warband of 12 disciples harrow Hell to save souls?
(Who was it that bled, wounded by a spear upon the Tree again?)
For why was there place an altar rail, a barrier to mark the holy place, and why does one pray with hands clasped, in traditional posture of vassal to lord?
Who was it that hanged there, as a sacrifice?
“On a gathering storm, comes a tall handsome man
In a dusty black coat with a red right hand.”
At the Tyburn Gallows, how many kicked and pissed and shat their last to the tune of cheering crowds, only to have folk whisper words to the fallen corpses? How many witches died by the noose in Lancaster while the vicar and the great and the good looked on from the roof of the Priory?
“He’ll wrap you in his arms
Tell you that you’ve been a good boy
He’ll rekindle all the dreams it took you a lifetime to destroy
He’ll reach deep into the hole heal your shrinking soul
Hey buddy, you know you’re never ever coming back
He’s a god, he’s a man, he’s a ghost, he’s a guru
They’re whispering his name through this disappearing land
But hidden in his coat is a red right hand.”
And what about the marsh and Thames? The idol from Dagenham with its missing eye, missng phallic peg, 4 milennia old or more, buried next to a deer. Has he been here that long, made from Scots Pine, the North reaching out again – offered up to the waters as Odin gave his eye to Mimir at the well?
Has the Furious One possesed poets and prophets since time immemorial, mounting them with frenzy, gifting them with inspiration? How many humans’ frenzied shades have followed in his wake, this hooting and howling cohort of hanged men and women screaming across the sky. This ergi creature who the Norse made king, though he be a dancer with witches and worker of evil?
And when the Norsemen came and blended and settled, return once more the Heathen ways to this land, did he smile once more with bone-white grin, this stalker of city streets and gnarled old wild-wood both? And when the fury raged over Europe in the great wars, did the savage echo of Wotan twisted to a madman’s gleam meet also with old English Woden and the Norseman’s harrier? Strife on all sides, victory assured however it turns out?
Doubled ended indeed, for while still wandering wise man and warrior both, he is healer too:
A snake came crawling, it bit a man.
Then Woden took nine glory-twigs,
Smote the serpent so that it flew into nine parts.
There apple brought this pass against poison,
That she nevermore would enter her house – Nine Herbs Charm
Phol and Wodan
rode into the woods,
There Balder’s foal
sprained its foot.
It was charmed by Sinthgunt,
her sister Sunna;
It was charmed by Frija,
her sister Volla;
It was charmed by Wodan,
as he well knew how:
Bone to bone;
blood to blood;
Limb to limb
like they were glued. – 2nd Merseburg Charm
Oh to whisper, oh to see – the mighty difference between me, and thee. For the old one stalks the land, by dream, by single eye and hand. How else to explain the Raven King, master of magic in that vast work of fictional English Magic, Johnathan Strange & Mr. Norrell? How else to consider slouch-hatted, long-bearded Gandalf in Tolkein’s Middle Earth?
If Albion dreams of wizards, in deep myth-time, do not tree-riding wizards who change shape come to the fore? Is it not at the crossroads where the dirty work is done, where the criminals and outlaws are hanged?
In sulphurous sodium yellow streetlight, does not a conman roll dice down back alley ginnels and slippery cobble-stones? Do not black dogs, big as wolves still pad the corpse-paths and give warnings and omens of death to those with eyes to see?
Aye, they do. Trust me. Worst car crash I ever had was the night after after a Black Dog trotted across the traffic lights and sat there with tongue lolling!
“You’ll see him in your nightmares
You’ll see him in your dreams
He’ll appear out of nowhere but he ain’t what he seems
You’ll see him in your head, on a TV screen
And hey buddy, I’m warning you to turn it off
He’s a ghost, he’s a god, he’s a man, he’s a guru
You’re one microscopic cog in his catastrophic plan
Designed and directed by his red right hand.”
He’s the Stranger who’s been here forever, the Native who’s always just arriving. The one who walks without walking, who is both and neither and much more besides. He’s the groan and the moan from deep within, the wailer and the singer of magical words – the one who understands the language of the birds, because they speak to him. The one under whose black wings we may shelter, restless in his immense sillhouette and shadow.
He’s the dancing dead man who’s both eagle and snake, whose very shamanic piss is what gives the poet their portion. Remember, not all gods are Witches, but this one? He’s learnt from the best and worst – and been both. His words are double headed and double ended; call him what you will – god, devil, demon, daimon, magician, wizard, sorcerer – you’ll never hold this Terrible Old Man.
But that’s wyrd and Witches for you, innit? Weaving together the rope from threads, making the noose and slipping it over your head, ready for the Long Drop. And there’s only really one question, isn’t there:
Did you jump, or were you pushed?
Down and Down, to the Bottom ot the Well, where the waters roar in the centre of the earth. And what do we find there but a burning Eye, a blazing chthonic sun in the middle of the darkest Night.
And so, it is not entirely with my own voice that I say:
Be seeing you, in dreams.