Thursday, 31 December 2020

Elder Tree story on film


When the Elder Tree Laughs

- of ancient faeries and troublesome witches

We woke with a rustling rhythm
A stamped percussion,
The rattling beat of twigs on bark.
We woke, 

Creswell Crags on the eastern edge of Derbyshire holds some of the most significant prehistoric cave dwellings in the UK. Here Neanderthals lived. Here early Homo sapiens carved and drew and etched into bone. Here mammoths walked and reindeer ran and wolves waited.

And here sometime a few centuries later, people carved witch marks into walls and slabs and hoped they could keep some wickedness away. Or maybe not. The witch marks are there: the biggest collection of such marks in the country. Usually found in ones and twos in homes, on lintels and thresholds, a symbol to keep the house safe. Here there are hundreds, piled on top of each other: line and cross and curve, the Virgin Mary invoked through letters, a prayer against danger

A line beside a line beside a line

Strike the line and strike and strike.

Each line a blow, a beat, a bolt,

This line is an arrow, a knife to cut a witch’s flesh.

With the witch marks as a theme and with the dwindled numbers of visitors this year, the Crags organised a weekend of digital events: the Creswell Crags Midwinter Festival of Folklore. 

This piece of mine featured in that Festival but now is available on the Creeping Toad youtube pages. The Festival and its features were free to watch but there is a JustGiving page and if you enjoy our little poem you might like to  a) go to the Crags vimeo page and see which festival films are still on there and b) after enjoying all of that richness, go to the JustGiving page and, well, just give!

"When the Elder Tree Laughs" weaves the spirits of landscapes together with scared people carving witchmarks and the wild witches who don’t really care about marks, the power of prayer or people invoking Mary. Read by myself and a cast of nine other people, we invite you to make a hot drink, find a biscuit or a mince pie or three and settle down for a 20 minute tea break and an adventure into mystery and the bitter taste of ancient anger 

With many thanks:

  • to Creswell Crags for the inspiration
  • To the cast for their voices and enthusiasm: Susan Cross, Jo Crow, Woody Fox, Lou Hart, Annie Lord, Sarah Males, Peter Phillipson, Philippa Tipper, Gillian Wright
  • to Ruth Evans for permission to use her beautiful painting in the film!

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