Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Brooding anger, festering rage


Bind your anger into bone....

a story of different perspectives


There is a carving in a collection of artifacts from northern cultures in Buxton Museum. Tupilak carvings are quirky characters, hovering somewhere between engaging and horrific. The stories behind them are even more intriguing as these figures carved in whale tooth and bone are illustrations of a much grimmer original. Made from discarded flesh, bones and skin, original Tupilak have apparently never been seen by people outside of those indigenous cultures and are bound around with stories of anger and revenge. I am storyteller. I was captivated.


I am a storyteller. Yes, I tell stories. I enjoy talking. But as a storyteller, I also need to be a story-listener. I need to absorb other stories. That might be from other people talking and telling. It might be as a quieter listener as I read books. It might be listening to whispers on the wind, the long low rumbling stories told by stones or the sighing voices of the waves breaking on the sand. 


The film below grew out of these accounts and stories with a generous helping of my imagaintion thrown in  and with many thanks to Aidan Rhode for making the film and Ros and Ben from the Buxton Museum for adding their voices




As a listener, Tupilaq* stories intrigued me:


"You are to bite Nukúnguasik to death; you are to bite Nukúnguasik to death."1


There is a mystery around these. Built from the dismembered remains of animals by arctic magicians (lots of different northern cultures have Tupilaq or similar – Inuit, Igluulik, Caribou) to execute ferocious revenge on their personal enemies, Tupilaq were (or are?) agents of vengeance. But to make one was risky for the magician wo sends it plunging into the icy sea or across a frozen waste to find his or her foe, for if the supposed victim turns out to a be (or have the support of) a stronger magician than the maker, then the Tupilaq might be turned back and might return its need for a life to consume, for a warmth to steal, thwarted. Until it comes scratching at the door of that first magician’s tent….



Tie flesh to flesh,

To bone,

To hair,

To skin,

To pain,

To anger,

Tie to the blade of a vengeful mind,

To the harpoon of an intention,

To the ax of a soul,

Tie pursuit

Tie destruction

Tie a long bitter revenge

Tie death at the end of anger.2


Tupilak carving

And Tupilaq were made in secret, so secret it is said that no-one outside of those cultures has ever seen a real one. As western explorers met the northern peoples and heard the stories, they were fascinated. So local people started carving Tupilak to sell, trade or give away to those explorers. The Tupilak we see in our museums are not Tupilak: they are tourist shapes: bone and teeth carved into drama: tusks, flaring nostrils, fins, hands, tails. They are vivid, striking carvings, but do they hold the essence of Tupilaq?


But I am a storyteller, a listener, and so I went and listened in the abandoned cold and dark, listened for the voices of the Tupilak who told a different story. They speak of the end of anger. Of brooding hatred built into their frozen, sliding flesh but then released with their melting, returned to the snow, dwindling, diminishing with the thaw, returned to the snow and the sea, the wind and the stone. A different story.


Buxton Museum and Art Gallery has a Tupilak carving. It emerged from a box of wonderful bits in the County’s School Loans Collection that is being carefully dismantled by a team at the museum. Treasures are being found new homes: joining relevant collections in other museums, some may be returning to long-lost homes or finding new homes in societies and community groups. As one of the Museum’s ACE Emergency Response artists, I’ve been immersed in the richness of those polar artifacts. Bone tools, wooden carvings, a stone lemming, exquisite kayak models, a shaman carved in bone, caught in a moment of transformation from human to goose. And a Tupilak


They are a challenge as they offer another question to the ongoing collection of storyteller questions I have been building through this Buxton Museum project:

“what do you hold onto despite everything and what do you let go of?”


Do you hoard your anger like treasure, a golden trove of brooding bitterness? Or like the hero escaping in a story, do you throw your anger over your shoulder? Maybe like the vanity of a comb that springs into a hedge of thorns and prickles to thwart pursuit or the mirror that becomes a lake and give you the chance to escape

What do you need to be free of to be ready to become something new?



Rage in flesh, anger in bone,

Envy, greed, and malice,

Caught in this festering flesh.

And lost with it.

To the wind,

to the storm,

to hungry beaks and tearing jaws

Tupilak is

Lost to the thaw

And all anger is released.2




*Tupilak or Tupilaq: no-one seems quite sure if there is a correct spelling. I like both!

1.from:  Eskimo Folk-Tales, by Knud Rasmussen, [1921]

2. poems are lines from the story poems in the Tupilak film you can visit here


From the top:

Kayak model and Tupilak carving: BMAG collection, G MacLellan

Tupilak: wikimedia commons

Thumbnail from Tupilak film

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

where does enchantment wait?

Where does enchantment wait?

One of the positive things about this strange summer has been a rediscovery of local landscapes, with people taking the time to walk half-forgotten paths, to find lost corners of just down the street or up the road. We have remembered that home territories hold their own delights

In my continuing Between 2 Worlds story poems for Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, now we pick up the question “what adventures do ordinary places hold?” or maybe “what enchantment waits on the other side of this tree”

I have a long-standing love-affair with trolls. Not excluding other members of the world of Faerie, and not meeting them as lumbering carnivorous horrors (or 21st Century tech-driven idiots) but as the slow unfolding of a rock into a character, a figure made of rock and earth, grass and pool and flower, for me this holds a special affection

Gritstone skin on a stoneface troll, folded down here with grass in the creases of her joints and something scrabbling holes in a nostril. She basks here on the ridge above the Moss, lumpen nose raised to the sun and eyes closed deep in those stone folds. But ravens come and whisper into her sleep, sharpening their beaks on the edge of a finger. In that sleep, she feels the crow who flies by on lazy wings, a curlew’s call echoing across the landscape of her dreams. And once in a whole, just now and then, in the slow breathing of a hill-shaped troll, a hen harrier will rest on a head-rock and watch the Moss for movement.

For us, as human people, our connection to place often gets overlooked. We know we like this place or that place is special. But a walk is often taken over by a conversation with friends, by a dog’s excitement, or even by looking through a lens. We often forget – or don’t think about – just enjoying a place for its own sake

For me this is important: getting outside and having a walk, with friends, with a dog, with a camera, with a bucket for rescuing toads, are all good and rewarding and renewing activities. But there is a different treasure to be found in just going out to wander. To stop. To appreciate a place because it is there. It might not be some wild, dramatic landscape. It might be the municipal park in the middle of town. It might be your own garden. Sometimes it is be there and simply stop. Breathe. Watch. Listen, Touch, Smell, Feel. For some people this approach is mindfulness. For others, it is prayer. For me, it simply is.

Take it a little further, or maybe a bit too far, and, like the person in the Earth Trolls film, maybe you’ll become entrolled and stay there. For everyone else, let the earth in. Let a flower open inside your heart. A hoverfly buzz through. Let a breeze carry a scent and an echo from the worlds where the horns of Faerie still blow

Relax. Remember the wonder of everyday places. The treasures of the familiar

Becoming the place where I sit,
Old stone and tree roots,

A grassy heap,

A shadow on a park bench,

I stop trying.

Just sit. 


A wind blows round the edges of me,

Me, green as the grass,

Me, brown as the earth,

Bristling beech husks, that’s me

And the river runs through the hollow shape of me,

Here I stop.

Here I let go

Here I can be still.

Here I become my own troll.

If you have enjoyed the Earth trolls film and these various blogs, why not sink a little deeper. My book "Old stones and ancient bones: poems from the hollow hills" is still available. £5.00 (inc 2nd class postage) in UK. Overseas contact me direct.  You can also get it on Amazon (costs a bit more there). Message me for order details:

Thursday, 17 September 2020

a pond, a pool, a frog, a tale

A pond, a pool, a frog, a tale

films and stories from a boggy world

I am a storyteller. I tell stories. Some I draw from old sources, some I sift from other storytellers’ words, some I grow from seeds the world gives me. Some I just make up. 

This blog is really to start posting my responses to the challenge of the B2W project. In an earlier post, I talked about the inspiration and opportunities the Between2Worlds project has brought myself and other artists. The challenge for me has been to look at the exhibition,  at this summer, at a changing world, as a storyteller. Which usually means nothing will run in straight lines.

In that earlier blog I said:

In story terms, we could be the person who hears a wolf in the distance and runs off shrieking through the forest and straight into the cooking pot of the hungry giant. Or we could be the children of Hamelin seduced by a Piper’s tune to go unquestioning into the unknown. Or we could be the questing heroes who set off not sure of direction or even goal but head out with their wits about them and hope in their hearts

old trees tell fabulous stories

In the best stories the answer is rarely just ‘yes” or “no”. There is often a “maybe” as well and one maybe can lead to another and another, can open a path of possibilities, often not right or wrong just maybe. These are the paths that call for courage and a readiness to step out into that uncertainty, the third brother, the youngest sister, Vasilisa in the deep woods, Perceval looking for the Grail. We, as individuals and as communities, don’t need to go alone into the adventure. We have friends with us, friends who will help, comment, criticise, reflect and, hopefully, just be there. Can we be our own Knights of the Round Table? Our own Famous Five?

So we begin…..

Have you got a pond in your garden? Is there a pond you know of? Visit? Would you like one? Haven’t got a huge space for a pool large enough for crocodiles, or a running water feature to hold giant salamanders? Never mind: a bowl in a back yard becomes a water hole for sparrows to bathe in, its mud might attract butterflies (sipping minerals from muddy clays). A deep bowl with a water plant or two will call in hover flies, will offer a refuge for a passing frog, a moment of relief for a wandering a water beetle (they fly you know),  sanctuary for a lesser water boatman.

Visit Froglife to find out more about your own personal ponds….

a first frog might do it or maybe a noble toad...

Here, I invite you to make a minute or two and drop in:

a) B2W – an introduction to the films that will post over the next few weeks

b) Pond Ripples: everything has consequences, any moment might offer opportunities, please don’t overlook the importance of small actions, of small offers to the world around you


  • A thousand thank yous to Buxton Museum and Art Gallery and the Arts Council England Emergency Response Fund for the opportunities these have offered us
  • Thanks to the other voices in Pond Ripples: Sarah Males and Caroline Small 
  • And an especially BIG thank you to Aidan Rhode for recording, filming, thinking, advising and being immensely patient! if you follow the link iN Aidan's name you'll find another B2W film
Picture credit:
All photos c. G MacLellan