Thursday, 11 February 2016

Noah and the Flood

Noah and the Flood

Here's a tale of true Cumbrian spirit,
Of a Hedgehog with fine character and distinction and merit.
It all happened in the winter time not too long ago,
In December through February before coming of snow.

Infact it began with the most terrible floods,
When Cumbria submerged under Storm Desmond' scuds -
And half the wide world - well, of North England at least,
Below waters submereged, South England slept till it ceased.

As days rolled into nights and weeks into wondering,
The good people of this land united despite political blundering.
And many sorts of care they sent from kind hearts everywhere -
To help with housing and drying, heating and eating prepare.

To restore businesses and byways and bridges - those needing,
But not much thought in this time for our wildlife or its feeding.
Creatures and living things suffered the unspeakable end,
Swept across counties and fields, beyond life sadly transcend.

For the wild animals- birds- insects, the flood was a calamity...
Indiscriminate death struck beak-claw-wing, web and anttenaey.
Apocalyptic and Biblical in potent and style,
The preeceding rains saturated everyones mile.

Forty days, fifty nights and countless many more,
Torrents of heavy waters did relentless downpour.
That fluminous floodtide flyped our commonweal to extinction,
Its like was unseen despite the hydrologists prediction.

Plunging upon us without warning or caution,
No shape of its own nor a pause to its auction.
As the offspring of El Nino, of climate change and plutonium,
Outbid itself onward in joyless wetdrenched pandemonium.

Natures Judgment rained heavy that night on the land,
For mankinds environmental havoc unplanned.
Sparing neither sacred space nor people's public ground,
Greedily the flood waters raced all around.

Global warming the cause for those who can see,
Of cataclysmic upheaval in Gulf Stream - like a banshee.
Creating a convocation of waters finical in their fury,
Falling, swoosh-galling in their appalling abjury.

A Hedgehog hidding from somwhen waterish did declare,
To the welkin above, his will to survive overcoming despair.
'I call to you to stop your heartless cold waters',
He cried out as he swam, rushed and burrowed to new quarters.

Underneath waters and waters and wetness without end,
He swept swiftly down rivers that on his life did intend.
Calling in alarm to the dark minister of the storm,
He hooted and honked - across Fell lands he swarmed.

Past sodden amphibians and limpid land dwellers,
For dry land Hedgehog paddled, with his propellers.
Past Neolithic Shap to Kendal by Kent,
Hedgehog found a hillside to hang on to, his energy spent.

Eventually the raw raintide did lessen its beratement,
Of splashing relentless - at long last an abatement.
And in the stunned silence as waters backdated,
Fellow voyagers across land found themselves translocated.

In the silt slurried earth where we all make our home,
Every creature now surviving went out to roam.
Amidst this sodden turmoil the Hedgehog scurried forth,
And found a wooden shelter in our garden, west by north.

As covenant storms were over, a rainbow raised high,
Resplendant and bright in the returned new blue-sky.
And in his shelter, lets call it an Ark for the moment,
The Hedgehog's name became Noah, for Natures atonement. 

Nocturnal in his new home Noah sings beneath the moon,
Softly and gentle of the earth and the wonders unknown.
His breath is quite gaspy and tuneful - if not musical quite,
Noah's the epitome of Cumbria - he's doing it right.

c.Titus.L. 2016 

This poem is to celebrate the arival of Noah the Hedgehog in our lives after he has survived the trauma of Storm Desmond Decemebr 5th 2015 in Cumbria.

Hedgehogs are now a protected species in the Uk
Following information gratefull shared from Hedgehog Street....

Where do hedgehogs live?

Hedgehogs are found in most parts of Britain, apart from very wet areas and extensive pine forests. They are also often scarce in upland areas such as moorlands and mountainsides. Hedgehogs are predominantly a woodland edge species and can thrive in the mosaic of hedges, fields and woodlands that charaterise the British countryside.
Hedgehogs can be just as happy in rural or urban locations
As the name suggests they are often found near hedgerows, which provide ideal locations for nest sites, a good supply of invertebrates on which they feed, protection from predators and important movement corridors. The pastures used by farmers to raise cattle, sheep or horses are important foraging areas for hedgehogs.
Garden of Hedgehog Champion Joanne from Buckinghamshire

Gardens (and lots of them) provide everything hedgehogs need

Hedgehogs are also abundant in urban and suburban areas. Gardens provide hedgehogs with a plentiful supply of food, both natural and supplementary, as well as many potential nest sites for breeding, resting and hibernation. For these reason urban areas have become a stronghold for hedgehogs in recent years.
Percy the hoglet by Hedgehog Champion Sheila Lodey

Access between gardens is critical for hedgehogs

Hedgehogs have home ranges but are not territorial so will not fight to defend these areas. Radio-tracking studies have found that hedgehog home ranges vary during the year (and between sexes) but are on average around 10—20 hectares and they can roam an average distance of 2km on a single night. Male hedgehogs in the breeding season can cover up to 3km in one night in their search of females!
To help urban hedgehogs gardens need to be linked up so they have a sufficient area to roam – find out how to link your garden.

What do wild hedgehogs eat?

Hedgehogs are widely recognised as a potent ally in the garden, but what do they actually eat?

Hedgehogs mainly eat creepy crawlies

Hedgehogs are generalists and feed on a wide range of things, but the majority of their diet is made up of invertebrates (or creepy crawlies). We know what they eat from scientific studies that have analysed hedgehog poo or looked in the stomachs of hedgehogs killed on roads.
The most important invertebrates in their diet are worms, beetles, slugs, caterpillars, earwigs and millipedes.
Source: Wroot A. J. (1984) Feeding ecology of the European hedgehogThe big six invertebrates for hedgehogs
As well as these, they also eat a wide range of other insects, and more infrequently will take advantage of carrion, frogs, baby rodents, baby birds, birds' eggs and fallen fruit.
'Hog tackling a frog, by Hedgehog Champion Barbara WitowskaWhen you are putting out food for hedgehogs, you can replicate the hedgehog's natural diet by using unsalted nuts, mealworms and meat-based dog and cat food.

Diseases and parasites

External parasites of the hedgehog

Hedgehog fleas

Hedgehogs are renowned for having fleas. However, the fleas found on hedgehogs are actually hedgehog fleas (scientific name: Archaeopsylla erinacei) which are host specific, meaning they will not survive for long on any other species, be it pets or people. Occasionally hedgehogs can become infested with fleas but usually they will only have a few resident fleas which will cause them no harm.

Hedgehog ticks

Ticks are another common external parasite on hedgehogs. Usually an individual will have a couple of ticks on it though occasionally there are hedgehogs with heavier burdens. Ticks are commonly attached to the underside, behind the ears or the flanks of hedgehogs but they can occur elsewhere as well. Ticks are in general harmless to hedgehogs. However, a high parasite load can be indicative of sickness.
Ticks on a hedgehog by Emily Thomas
Ringworm can also be quite prevalent in hedgehogs, with around a quarter of the national population thought to be affected. Most hedgehogs show no visible symptoms and even those with severe infections can still show little sign of skin infection and can feed normally. Dry, crusty ears are one of the most common symptoms of a ringworm infection.

Internal parasites

Hedgehogs can be host to a number of different parasitic worms, with lungworm being especially prevalent in European hedgehogs. Lungworm infection can result in a dry rattling cough and can prove fatal if left untreated. A mild worm burden is to be expected in most hedgehogs but this should cause few problems to them.

Why are hedgehogs declining?

This issue is not a straightforward one as there could be many factors that are contributing to the decline of hedgehog populations. This is further complicated by populations declining in both urban and rural habitats where the pressures and changes in the environment are very different.

Research is underway to teach us more about why hedgehogs are declining and what we can do about it

PTES and BHPS are currently commissioning various research projects into the reasons for their decline and measures that could be taken to reverse the effects.
Photo by Hedgehog Champion Steve Dickerson from Bristol

→ Tell me more about the wider camapign to help hedgehogs in Britain



Tuesday, 10 November 2015

The Elf King / Revisited.

How many times I have browsed the poetry of Elves and their ways, only to find the field littered with saccharine addled nonsence, or when I find something more serious ( and Im not thinking of Tolkien's tales in this case) they follow Goethe's terrible ElfKing. Goethe did seem to be a bit of a specialist in horrific tales as his famous Faust in which the unfortunate man sells his soul to the Devil does portray. Written in 1782 and published as 'Der Erlkönig', Goethe's ElfKing derives from a traditional Danish ballad Elveskud. In Goethe's poem a father and son are journeying homeward on horseback at night. The son who is ill with a fever believes he sees and hears the Erl-king. The father tells him that he sees only fog, that he hears only rustling leaves. Nonetheless, the Erl-king tempts the boy to come with him to Elf land. When they arrive home, the boy is dead.

From The Elf King

Not all versions precisely fit this model, for example in many Danish versions of the Elveskud, a character named 'Olav' dances with the elves, sometimes to his death. Vésteinn Ólason's summary of the Icelandic variants of the ballad is that 'Ólafur' rides along a rocky hillside, meets four Elf-maidens who invite him to drink or live with them. He refuses and would rather believe in Christ. One of the Elf-maidens then asks him for a kiss and when Ólafur bends down to kiss her, she thrusts a sword to his heart. Ólafur escapes home to his mother and thereupon dies.

Rulers such as Norway's Olaf Tryggvason attempted to impose Christianity on his subjects, only to see them rebel and overthrow him.
Clearly central to the legends and folk stories is the conflict of Christianity with the Elves who respresent the earlier gods and the spirits of nature. Also revealing is the refference to dancing, as this is an activity often frowned upon by Christian cultures in historical times, because of its very uncontrolability - dancing is an expression of the fundamental power of life and the joy of expressing that vitality.

Goethe's tale about a malevolent Elf king who stole away a child to kill him can only speak about the prevailing negative attitudes of the Christianised Germanic people to the spirits of nature at this time. Ólason's Icelandic account similalrly portrays the cultural conflict of faiths between the existing old  beliefs and the incoming new religion. It is true that many tales do tell of Elves stealing away children to keep as their own and of stealing men or women for lovers or slaves, but such tales have been told in Christianised cultures condenming the earlier ways. It always behoves the well informed reader to consider the source and its context - to find an objective balance if they can.

The Elves themselves have an honourable and long established tradition of being an acknowledged spiritual presence which, similarly as Christian forces, may both punish wrong doing or reward right behaviour. That either world view, one which includes Elves and nature spirits, or one which does not, should demonise and destroy the other is in todays more enlightened perspectives understood to be a step too far. The Elf King and his kin have suffered a bad press, for which reason it is time to rewrite 'The Elf King' in a more positive perspective.

Here then is the Elf King, revisited;

The Elf King

Look behind stars and inbetween skies,
On a windswept-night moonbeams dancing!
From ancient times as in your rhymes,
The far away people advancing....

If you have frowed and otherfolk cowed,
Perhaps too loud, or too cruel or too greedy -
From ElfKing flee before you he does see,
For the Spirits will not hear your entreaty.

Yet if your heart ring true,
The ElfKing will step through -
Bright brows and smiles, sing silver tongued whiles,
With the Wights of the way and the laughter beside you.

My friend and my foe, do you hear him or no,
What the ElfKing in his surety offers?
From Iceland to EngleLand and many more besides,
For leaf, branch and bough are his coffers.

Will you follow his thread,
Beyond realm of the dead and
Become Fairer than sun - be thou fouler than none,
As the LandSpirits revive and restore you?

My friend and my foe, do you not yet know,
Before the Old times were wrought and were woven?
Why is the sky blue, or what secrets wren knew,
And the magical language of morning...

A different race waits at this sacred space,
In goodwill cross the bridge of all knowing.
Come let us find a song for you there,
And dance to the Elf-horns they are blowing.

If in dread you have tumbled and trembled and fled,
As tales of dark terrors do deceive thee,
Listen instead to where the river's song led,
Let the enchantment of nature receive thee.

To the secret realms, both here and beyond,
Through the confusion of lifetimes of yearning.
The ElfKing of Old has returned as foretold,
Across numberless years of discerning.

Look behind starS and inbetween skies,
On a windswept-night moonbeams dancing!
From ancient times as in your rhymes,
The far away people advancing....

c Titus. L 2015

~ *** ~
~ * The Elf King * ~
This poem and my perspective on the Elves as supernatural but not necessarily physical beings, is formed by my apprehension of the elves at work in nature all bout me. It is also educed over the years from evidence in diverse sources such as songs, ballads, and folktales. Whilst few people can ever see the Elves, it is my belief that if you have a sensitive mind for spiritual vibrations, perhaps you are a seer, shaman or trance worker, you may see them. Of course if an Elf wished it, as they are masters of magic and manipulate matter easily, anybody could see them.

Dancing Elves - August Malstrom 1866
click on me for full view 

In regard of death being a possible entrance to Elfland, as mentioned in Goethe's poem and also in my own, whilst Goethe appears to have meant this literally, I mean it to be a figurative death. Death of the ego-self, to awaken with a newly revealed awareness of the spiritual immanence of all things - the death in the poem is a metaphorical doorway to a new perception.

In this view, the Elven people would be more like an enlightened tribe or self chosen group perhaps, who rever nature and work with her in ways apparently supernatural and beyond the understanding of more materialy minded men. They might also be a mixture of both, spirits of nature and of nature atuned - earth honouring people.
There are of course other views of the Elves, suggesting that they are infact entirely the spirits or souls of the dead, as can be deduced by their ethereal nature, that they are said to sometime live in Elf hills or mounds under the ground, and often wear grey or grey silver attire.

According to The Lady of the Labyrinth, a Nordic writer on things mythological, ''The Dark Elves represent the souls of the dead that still reside in the world, albeit in the underworld, still able to communicate with the living. They may have been kept in the world by their descendants, who prayed to them and sacrificed to them for their wisdom, their guidance, their healing powers and their protection, exactly as it was said that people could pray to Freyr in his mound after his death...The Light Elves, on the other hand, may very well refer to the souls of the dead that have achieved immortality. Perhaps they have become shining bright and transparent through a descent (or ascent) in the Well of Origin – a feat achieved through spiritual training and initiation, leading to the transformation and the immortality of the soul?''...

In the Old Norse mythological sources, the two contrasting types of  Elves are characterised as follows; The Light Elves (Ljósálfar) who live in Alfheim next to Asgard in the Norse heavens. These are 'beautiful creatures' considered 'guardian angels' and their leader the god Freyr, is the ruler of Alfheim. The Light Elves are minor gods of nature and fertility; they can help or hinder humans with their knowledge of magical powers. They also often deliver inspiration to artists or musicians...
The Dark Elves (Dökkálfar) live in Svartalfheim, they hate the sun and therefore live underground. Since the Prose Edda describes the Dökkálfar as being subterranean dwellers, they may be Dwarves under another name in the opinion of a number of scholars such as John Lindow which would accord with other Germic accounts. Some scholars have also produced theories about the origin and implications of this dualistic concept of Elves. The sub-classification perhaps resulted from Christian influence, by way of importating the concept of good and evil and of angels of light and darkness.

Picture used with credit to the owners
Film frame THOR: THE DARK WORLD with the Dark Elves © 2013 MVLFFLLC © 2013 Marvel.

Good or bad, tales of Elf magic and mischief do abound in all of the regions where they are found. For examplethe Norwegians call the Elves music Huldraslaat: they say it is in the minor key, and of a dull and mournful sound. The mountaineers sometimes play it, and pretend they have learned it by listening to the underground people among the hills and rocks. There is also a tune called the Elf-king's tune, which several of the good fiddlers know, but they would never venture to play it, for as soon as it begins both old and young, and even inanimate objects, are impelled to dance, and the player cannot stop unless be can play the air backwards, or that some one comes behind him and cuts the strings of his fiddle. Despite this, Tolkien maintains that “Elvish singing is not a thing to miss, in June under the stars, not if you care for such things.”...

The Horns Of Elfland by Bernard Sleigh
click on me for full view


The splendour falls on castle walls
And snowy summits old in story:
The long light shakes across the lakes,
And the wild cataract leaps in glory.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

O hark, O hear, how thin and clear,
And thinner, clearer, farther going!
O sweet and far from cliff and scar
The horns of Elfland faintly blowing!
Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying:
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

O love, they die in yon rich sky,
They faint on field or hill or river:
Our echoes roll from soul to soul,
And grow for ever and for ever.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Land spirits (Old Norse Landvættir) are possibly also Elves by another name, as these are the localized animating spirits of the land. Some scholars have suggested that landvættir are chthonic in nature, spirits of the dead, but others have interpreted them as nature spirits, since they sometimes live in land that has never been populated. Hilda Ellis Davidson argued that stories such as that of Goat-Björn imply that they were already there when the settlers arrived in Iceland. The distinction between gods and land spirits in the pre-Christian religion of the Norse and other Germanic peoples is not clear-cut.  Land spirits nevertheless wield considerable influence over the well-being of the land and all who depend on it. The pre-Christian Germanic peoples seem to have taken great care to maintain the Land spirits’ favor. For example, the first law code of Iceland (930 CE) instructed those entering the country by ship to remove the dragon-heads from their boats when they sighted land, lest they frighten the land spirits.

Viking 'Dragon Ships'

In Scandinavia and Iceland Elves often came to be known as the Huldufólk (Icelandic hidden people from huldu- "pertaining to secrecy" and fólk "people", "folk"). Building projects in Iceland are sometimes altered to this day to prevent damaging the rocks where Elves or Huldufolk are believed to live. According to these Icelandic folk beliefs, one should never throw stones because of the possibility of hitting the huldufólk whom you may not see as they are mostly invisible as mentioned above. In Faroese folk tales, Huldufólk are said to be "large in build, their clothes are all grey, and their hair black. Their dwellings are in mounds, and they are specifically called Elves. They also dislike crosses, churches and electricity, the former two not surprising given the Christian Churches historical war of ideology against other faiths and of displacing the earlier pagan deities and traditions.Worship of the Elves or Land Spirits was often the hardest part of Paganism for Christians to try to destroy.

Angsalvor - Nils Blommer 1850 - Elfs/Faeries Dancing
click on me for full view 

Elves, Land Spirits and similar beings do not relate to the position accorded them by the earlier Christian theological context of the 'evil other' and have an existence entirely independant of and predating that perspective. Judged in their own context, Elves and such spirits are, whilst admitedly complex and unpredictable, nevertheless potentially benign, even good natured beings who will help a worthy cause. They will also punish a trouble maker as so many fairy tales atest - If you make the Elves' angry, perhaps by behaving cruelly, making too much noise, showing greed or malice, then these forces of nature could cast misfortune before you. Sounding a little like a karmic delivery system, the Elves can be seen then as guardians of right action - think Tolkien rather than Grimm brothers and their originally very dark folkstories/ fairytales which were never intended for children. The first edition of  'Grimm’s Fairy Tales' was scholarly in tone, with many footnotes and no illustrations. It was only after the Grimms had published two editions primarily for adults that they decided to editing and censoring a shorter edition for middle-class families. 

Illustration by Arthur Rackham

German folklore, with which Goethe would have been familiar, has by contrast tended to the conflation of Elves with Dwarfs and also portrayed them as more consistently monstrous and harmful. This in itself is a curious condemnation as in Germanic mythology the Dwarf is portrayed as being who dwells in mountains and in the earth, but is variously associated with wisdom, smithing, mining, and crafting - all positive and productive traits. Dwarfs are often also described as short and ugly, although some scholars have questioned whether this is a later development stemming from comical portrayals of the beings. The negative associations continue as Germanic Elves were thought to give people nightmares and to steal children, leaving a changeling in its place, such children were called Oafs. Popular superstition claimed these oaf children were ugly and stupid.
Shakespeare even used the term spelling it “auf” in his plays. It became set as being spelled “oaf” in the 17th century and meant 'idiot child' or 'halfwit'.

In English literature of the Elizabethan era, Elves became conflated with the Fairies of Romance culture and assume a diminutive size, living mainly in forests but also underground in hills or rocks, as well as in wells and springs, traditional haunts for nature spirits and displaced pagan deities. Shakespeare's Elves, as in the Midsummer Nights Dream, were tiny, winged creatures that lived in, and playfully flitted around, forest and flowers. English male Elves were often described as looking like little old men, though Elf maidens were invariably young and beautiful. 19th-century Romanticism attempted to restore the Elves to full stature and from there the Elves entered the 20th-century awareness in the wake of the published work of Tolkien. Tolkien's fantasy Elves as depicted in  the Lord of the Rings trilogy, are slender, human-sized, and beautiful, with fine, almost angelic features drawn largely from his research into Scandinavian folklore...

For more on the English context of Elves,
see my post on The Elf Knight & The Faerie Queene here.

With a view to the contemorary reality of Elves, I can do no better than recommend Serena Roney-Dougal's book 'The Faery Faith'. Serena Roney-Dougal who has a PhD in Parapsychology (the exploration of psychic phenomena; telepathy, clairvoyance and psychokinesis etc) presents her accounts which incorporate the latest views of quantum science, which identifies that our own cognition is a causative effect influencing the outcome of physical events, with the earlier magickal traditions which by various means sought to interact and cooperate with these energies at an elemental level and beyond. She also succinctly and simply portrays an enlightening insight into how the myths and legends of yore present an insight into other levels and realms of existence coexisting with our own reality and goes on to provide many inspiring accounts of how the same Fae and Elven energies of earth and beyond are now resurgent in more modern myths and experiences of Fairy and Elven visitations, ghostly presences and Ufo abductions.
I particularly liked this quote that she included which describes a 'place' outside of physical space ''Faeryland exists as a super-normal state of consciousness into which people may enter in dreams, trance, ecstatic condition or for an indefinite period at can have no other limits than that of the universe itself' (Lady Gregory 1979).''

As to wether the Elves really exist, or still exist, or are just the product of an imaginative mankind projecting a frame of reference onto the wildness of nature, you will have to decide for yourself. Personally however, as I believe that mobile phones use rare minerals which have invisible electromagnetic properties, as quantum theory postulates that we create the world as we envison it and as quantum entanglement shows that objects infintely seperated can influence one another instantaeneously - so to is there room in this earthly realm for more than meere mortal philosophy. Open that door to perception and take a look.....

The Elf King dancing to mourn the passing of summer and to celebrate the arrival of autumn....

May the Good Elves be with you!

Monday, 9 November 2015

Gymnopedie No 1

Elegant and slightly dark, the simplicity of Erik Satie's Gymnopedie No 1 is both light and touching. Here the Elf King dances to mourn the passing of summer and to celebrate the arrival of autumn.

In all the Gymnopédies, there’s a wonderful sense of musical distillation: no note is extraneous; nothing is rushed; and it’s almost impossible to hear them and not feel relaxed afterwards. An almost meditative piece of music, the gentle notes and heart felt harmonies of Gymnopedies No 1 draw you outside of space and time to a place where you can feel the essence of things...

Éric  Satie (French: [eʁik sati]; 1866–1925) was a French composer and pianist in the early 20th century Parisian avant-garde. His work was a precursor to later artistic movements such as minimalism, repetitive music, and the Theatre of the Absurd. Satie is one of the most famous Impressionist artists.

Satie's simplicity, innovative harmonies, freedom of form and mastery of musical understatement made a strong impression on composers like Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and later younger composers such as Francis Poulenc, Darius Milhaud and John Cage. His strange sparse scores, often written without bar lines in red ink are peppered with whimsical instructions : "Light as an egg", "Here comes the lantern", "Open your head", "Muffle the sound", "With astonishment", "Work it out yourself", etc......

Satie had attended the Paris Conservatoire twice, once as a musician, and the second time as a composer, but he was told that his work and playing was insignificant and worthless, by his teachers. He joined the army, but was discharged within a few, because he deliberately infected himself with bronchitis. He then moved to his father’s house in Montmartre, Northern Paris and composed “Trois Gymnopédies” at this important cross-road of his life. “Trois Gymnopédies” was his first published piece, after he began mixing with the different kind of artistic crowd that lived in northern Paris, away from the Paris Conservatoire.

The “Gymnopaedia” were dances performed at festivals in Ancient Greece by naked young men and this has given rise to some contention over his intention. However It is probable that Satie did not even know the historical meaning of “Gymnopedies.” The word was in a musical dictionary he had at home, and the given definition therein was “An event at a greek festival wherein maidens danced in the nude.”We have very little historical evidence to actually understand what those festivals actually were about. This is the composer who later said that the sensuous and violent “Salommbo” a blood thirsty novel by Gustave Flaubert. set in Carthage during the 3rd century BC, inspired these quiet Gymnopedies, and who named other pieces “Pear Shaped” and “Desiccated Embryos.” Satie was an 'Absurdist' to the core, and I don’t think there’s too much to read in his titles. If anything, they were more to joke at the high-flung archaic-themed works of the German Romanticists he was musically rebelling against.

The Gymnopedie pieces are then delicate and understated in emotional terms, and implicitly a critique of the overstated and bombastic style of the romantics, especially in Germany with the likes of Wagner and the poetry of Goethe. In further contrast The Elf King in my animation is not a villain as portrayed in Goethe's Der ErlKonig or The Elf King, but rather a guardian of the forest and a traveller between the realms of life and beyond - for this is what it mean to be an Elf.

Satie's early interest in Mediaeval music shows in the simple plainsong like harmonies of his famous 'Gymnopédies' and 'Gnossiennes'. In the 1890s he became interested in, and the official composer for, the religio-mystic-occult sect of Rosicrusianism which also had a strong Mediaeval leaning.

He was a close friend of Claude Debussy, and during World War 1 also befriended Cocteau, Diaghilev and Pablo Picasso. This association with the Cubists resulted in the ballet 'Parade' which he wrote in collaboration with Cocteau and Picasso. An eccentric and humorist, he was not well accepted by the general public of his time, despite efforts by Debussy and Ravel to promote his works. During the past 20 years his work has received worldwide appreciation and the recognition of his importance he so truly deserves.

Erik Satie

Friday, 6 November 2015

Nordic Noir In The Hall of the Mountain King

An animated interpretation of Edvard Grieg's music In The Hall of the Mountain King. I suppose in these highly charged and discordant times, it could be an allegory for this, a metaphor for that, a cautionary tale or a message with a moral, but the sweeping music and simple fairytale of Norwegain Trolls and a young mans adventure that it tells, for me this is the Original Nordic Noir.

Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) enjoyed telling the Folk stories of Norway in his music. Grieg was a leading composer of the Romantic era and brought the music and folk legends of Norway to an international audience. In The Hall Of The Mountain King is from a bigger piece of music, the Peer Gynt Suite, which tells the story of a boy called Peer Gynt who falls in love with a girl that he is not allowed to marry. Very upset he runs away to the mountains but he gets caught by trolls who take him to their king. He tries to escape in the middle of the night but the trolls hear him and chase him through the mountain corridors. Finally Peer escapes.....

The Story Behind Edvard Grieg's Peer Gynt

Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) wrote his five-act allegorical drama Peer Gynt in 1867 while living in Italy. It tells the story of the downfall and subsequent redemption of a Norwegian peasant anti-hero. Unlike Ibsen’s previous dramas, it was written in verse and wasn’t originally intended for stage performance.  Ibsen wrote many plays which have been performed around the world, including A Doll's House -significant for its critical attitude toward 19th-century marriage traditions, Hedda - a classic of realism, nineteenth century theatre and world drama and An Enemy of the People - written in response to the public outcry against his play Ghosts, which at that time was considered scandalous. Ghosts had challenged the hypocrisy of Victorian morality.

However, in 1874, Ibsen changed his mind and wrote to his friend and compatriot Edvard Grieg to ask if he would compose the music for a production of the play. Flattered to have received the invitation, Grieg agreed at once, but doubt soon set in.
Much as he admired the drama as a literary work, Grieg found composing for it a difficult task.
“Peer Gynt progresses slowly,” he wrote to a friend in August 1874, “and there is no possibility of having it finished by autumn. It is a terribly unmanageable subject.”
As work continued, Grieg began to be drawn into the drama and, as his wife noted, “the more he saturated his mind with the powerful poem, the more clearly he saw that he was the right man for a work of such witchery and so permeated with the Norwegian spirit”.
The music was completed in the autumn of 1875, and the play’s lavishly staged premiere took place on February 24, 1876 in the Mollergaden Theatre, Christiania (now Oslo), with the orchestra conducted by Grieg himself. (source)

What is Nordic Noir?

Whilst many of the legends and lore of the North and of Norway do have a fairly dark and bleak aspect to them, this can be seen to arise as a consequence of the environment and its weathers, as well as the cultural developments that earlier led Norwegian people to become Vikings and voyagers.
The subsequent emergence Nordic Noir as an artistic theme and cultural influence has its origins in these earlier times and has been more recently refreshed by the cultural critiscism of Norwegian writers such as Ibsen, the music of Grieg, and artists such as Edvard Munch and Theodor Kittelsen.
Ibsen wrote many plays carrying an indepth criticicism of the culture f his times, including A Doll's House -significant for its critique of 19th-century marriage traditions, Hedda - a classic of realism, nineteenth century theatre and world drama and An Enemy of the People - written in response to the public outcry against his play Ghosts, which had challenged the hypocrisy of Victorian morality and was considered scandalous.
Edvard Munch (1863– 944) another Noirish Norwegian, was a painter and printmaker whose intensely evocative treatment of psychological themes built upon some of the main tenets of late 19th-century Symbolism and greatly influenced German Expressionism in the early 20th century, you have probably seen his painting the 'Scream'... 
Theodor Kittelsen (1857-1914) illustrates the Noir aspect in its Natural and supernatural combined - famous for his nature paintings, as well as for his illustrations of fairy tales and legends, especially of trolls. (more here) 
John Bauer ( 1882-1918) was a Swedish painter and illustrator best known for his illustrations of Bland tomtar och troll (Among Gnomes and Trolls).

Water Sprite - Theodor Kittelsen

More recently, Nordic Noir has developed as a type of Scandinavian crime fiction and television drama that typically features dark storylines and bleak urban settings, renowned for its simple prose, dramatic plots, and social criticism. Swedish and Norwegian writers have transformed the murder mystery into a vehicle to critique contemporary Europe. The novels of Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo are primarily page-turners, but display a social conscience which was non-existent in the genre 20 years ago. Mankell, who created murder detective Kurt Wallander, describes his goal as ‘making your books be about something – and have something pertinent to say about the societies we live in’. (source)

“In this place things can come out of nowhere,” says hotel receptionist/furtive temptress Elena, “Monsters. You can’t see them until they have you in their teeth.” She’s not joking – Fortitude (which won out over Grim Existence and Secrets Aboundberg when the naming committee was in town) is a subzero former mining town where polar bears outnumber people three to one, and there’s a legal requirement to carry a rifle lest one of them decides to make you its tender little afternoon snack.(source)

Jordskott adds a supernatural Norse element to the dark crime formula previously laid out by Wallander, The Killing and The Bridge. A chilly draught, the faint sound of a crying child and a mounting sense of dread as  child goes missing and a gifted but conflicted cop becomes obsessed with finding her. The cop is Eva Thörnblad and the child is her daughter Josefine, missing for seven years when we join the show. From here on, Jordskott draws heavily on the deep, dark tradition of Norse mythology.  Like all changelings, its true character isn’t detectable at first. But, as the weeks go by and the forest setting becomes a character in its own right, it becomes clear that this is no ordinary murder-mystery weekend. The results are chilling. Ancient myths persist because of their universality and their ability to tap into our primal fears and desires. And Nordic noir creates a modern mythology where heroic loners with terrible social skills do battle with depraved abusers, incompetent policing and a corrupt establishment...

And then theres River, Abi Morgan brings Nordic noir to London in this new crime drama with Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård. Here we meet and are swept along by Stellan's portrayal of the erratic detective John River in the throes of a psychotic breakdown, he wanders around talking to thin air and 'manifests' or as we might say, ghosts. The main 'manifest' of the series is River's former but now incorporeal detective partner Jackie “Stevie” Stevenson,...

And of course TrollHunter, a 2010 Norwegian dark fantasy film, made in the form of a found footage mockumentary. Trollhunter contains many references toNorwegian culture and folktales in particular. Among those are the belief that there are different species of trolls, for example the woodland and mountain trolls, which as in the film can be further categorised into subspecies. The most well-known is probably the Mountain King which is mentioned in the play Peer Gynt and its music by Edvard Grieg. The Norwegian name for Mountain King, Dovregubbe, is a compound word and the first part is the same word used in the mountain range Dovrefjell, which is also where the characters meet the final troll.

The recent literary and televisual development of Nordic and now also Brit Noir, brings us full circle to writers like Ibsen and composers such as Grieg, being both forefathers of Nordic Noir and descendants of its earlier existential Nordic outlook on life. With a mixture of straight forward style, humanist criticism of contemporary society and a sometimes heavy dash of the supernatural, Nordic Noir exploring the often dark, romantic complexities of life - the North has it!

Edvard Grieg 1843 - 1907.