Inside a Circle: Weekly Photo Challenge

This week’s challenge about circles had me determined to look from a different angle. I ended up on the floor, looking at a light fitting!

There’s an invisible, inspirational net inside a circle.

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Look closer.

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… and closer…DSCF3093

more circles inside a circle. This reminded me of a story –

An ancient Hindu myth tells of the all-powerful god Indra, the greatest creative force in their mythical world, how he lived in a magnificent place in the heavens. Stretched above him and reaching out into infinity, was hung an exquisite net, skilfully crafted. At each node, a multi-faceted jewel sparkled. Since the net was infinite, the jewels were too. And each jewel reflected all the others. Thus the smallest movement flashed throughout the net, glittering like stars across the heavens,  and on into infinity.

The first time I heard of Indra’s Net was at a workshop on “Science and Stories” at a National Storytelling conference in USA in the 90’s. It’s been at the back of my mind for a long time. My search for stories about sustainability have brought it forward again.

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As an storyteller, the story I choose to tell needs to have caused a similar net of connections in my thinking, to be meaningful to me, before I make a commitment to it.  As I tell it, later, orally, the listener can be making their own private connections. One image of a character, one action, can set off a chain of reactions in their imagination.

Now I see why it takes me so long to find a great story to tell. It happens when it makes lots of flashes of connection in my imagination!

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The story of Indra’s net reinforces the interconnectedness of all things, in nature, in this world and beyond, even in circles and especially in stories.

All text and photos by Meg.

Reference sources:

The Indra’s Net :What is it? Downloaded 01012016 by M.Philp

RAMSDEN, Ashley. Jewels on Indra’s Net in GERSIE, Alida et al. (ed.) Storytelling for a Greener World: environment, community and story-based learning. Stoud, Glos. Hawthorn Press, 2014.

Story Twigs the Imagination! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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Time kept on slipping



IMG_7532We had a great holiday last month. Friend  – storyteller, author  – Naomi Baltuck even posted a blog about it. We cruised on ferries. went for long walks, caught up,

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talked, listened and told, as well as heard, great stories.

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 Leaving Seattle, after a ‘history-making’ good time with Naomi is always hard.

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 I’d had an awesome Autumn.

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Flying past the luminous, snow-covered Mount Rainier at sunset made me feel small and very fortunate.

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As the plane came into land that night at LA, I watched the vast spread of city lights twinkle below us. Where had I seen this before?

Here, is where my time slip began. Perhaps you remember this –  Los Angeles in 2019 – from Bladerunner

Arriving at the Tom Bradley International Terminal was awesomely disorienting. Hi tech designs, with huge video screens, columns of light flickering above, beside and ahead of me. I had to ask the man in the iStore where the Departures info was. That’s it, in the photo, three floors up on the left!

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(Photo taken by Praytino copied under CC 2.0 licence)

I felt so disoriented, I couldn’t focus … then … I heard my my name called from the heavens. “Meg Fillip, please bghajkkljd, lkajsd, ijnn, ooa, inmpe am cfoeee. Meg Fillip, please bghajkkljd, lkajsd, innj , ooa, inmpe am cfoeee.” That helpful man in the iStore said it generally meant you were being called to your departure gate.

I hot-footed it to the distant gate which was about as ornate as a temporary hangar.  The flight attendant took my Boarding Pass and handed me a new one, unfazed by my query as to why I had been summoned. (I do have a Scottish accent, so perhaps this was dismissed as unintelligible … I was a bit stressed.) So I sat there in the departure lounge, waiting, waiting …closed my eyes to wish I was back in those cool woods again.

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When I opened them, a woman was standing in front of me, staring. “Lee!” I squeaked. Here was  a fellow Aussie storyteller I hadn’t seen in years. “I heard your name called and I couldn’t believe this was you, but I see that it is!” she laughed. I was so relieved. We hugged.

She helped me break the announcement garble. Lee heard that someone with my name had left something behind in Security. I looked around me and froze … no cabin bag …  quick march back there.

No. They hadn’t blown it up. My purple spotted, unlocked, blue carry-on was intact. A weary supervisor put down his coffee and sandwich, got it for from a back room for me – no trouble.

What a sense of relief … my feet were back on the ground again. I took this reassuring photo as I passed the bookshop. (They’re reading a book about puppies.)

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Well, I flew home safe … but not that sound. No sleep and in the dark, my mind skewed through time – dreams, images, words and background noises,  all melding together like a shimmering, Munch scream …I was encased in a swelling gum bubble showing flickers of story on the inside …

In Scottish folktales there’s lots of instances of characters slipping in time. I have never really thought about them being so disorientated … being ‘away with the fairies’ –  a hundred years pass by in a night of fiddle-playing for the fairy folk, or a man with no story to tell has a dream, or one goes exploring in a cave …

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or venturing out in a graveyard one night to visit the land of the dead. This takes the main character three hundred years, in the Italian tale One Night in Paradise. When he returns, there are strange buildings where his home used to be.

In the Irish legend of Bran’s Voyage, the sailors think they’re gone for three years, not for hundreds! When they return, the men are warned not to set foot on dry land or else!  One sailor steps off and he turns to dust. The ship and crew are doomed to sail the oceans forever. What a fate!

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Magpie in my Illawarra Flame tree

I woke up to soft light and the calls of familiar birds greeting the dawn. Later, as I walked my usual route around by the creek, the Jacarandas confirmed it is Spring time in Brisbane. I was on home ground.

Jacarandas early morning

Jacarandas early morning

I’m not “away with the fairies” now but the air is heady with the scent of Star Jasmine, and Mock Orange. And the strongest perfume of all, comes from a bush where the flowers are purple when they first open, then fade slowly with each passing day, till they are white, commonly known as

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Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow!

In the inimitable words of the Steve Miller Band, Time keeps on slipping!

…………………

All text and photos by Meg, except Praytino’s photo as  indicated.

Some stories I’ve told featuring time slips –

One night in paradise in CALVINO, Italo. Italian folktales.

The Man with no story to tell in DOUGLAS, Sheila. The King o the Black Art and other folktales.

Story Twigs the Imagination! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Counting the Waves: Hodja No. 1

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Despite the heat, I clutched my find to my chest, as  I sauntered among Saturday market stalls. The thin book, a collection of Turkish “Hodja” stories (published in English) made me smile. Then, while I was dithering about what to buy at another stall, a clear voice cut through my indecisiveness.

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“ Ah! I see you have the Hodja with you. In Turkey, we love Hodja’s stories. Some say he was a fool but others say he was wise.“ The stallholder was an older man, amber eyes, grey moustache, wiry, my height. He shrugged his shoulders. I nodded in response.

 

“Yes. I love those stories too,” I mused and when I began to move off, he threw back his arms and began.

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“Did you know that Hodja was sitting like a statue at the beach one morning, facing the sea? People, passing by, became curious when he was still there hours later. Eventually a crowd gathered and one villager called out “Hodja! What are you doing?”

When there was no reply, he added “You have been here so long!” and the crowd edged forward to where Hodja sat.

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“I am counting the waves,” he announced, without looking up. The crowd laughed.
“So, Hodja, how many are there?” someone shouted from the back.

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“One”

The crowd laughed harder. Eventually a tall man asked, “How can that be? The tide is coming in and there are so many of them!”
“No,” said Hodja. “There’s only one. Look. There’s one. There’s another one, and there’s another one.”

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 We laughed together, the teller and I. He had given me a new story and I made my purchase in return.

Remembering this story helped me out of a writing block a couple of weeks ago. All I had to do was focus on “one wave” and not be swamped by a sea of ideas. There’s a lot more to Hodja stories than meets the ears!

NB. There is a protocol which says that if you tell one Hodja story you have to tell seven … so there are six more Hodja stories to come … when the time is right.

All text and photos by Meg

Story Twigs the Imagination: blog by Meg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

How would you be? one hot day at the zoo

Crowds were thin at Australia Zoo on one of the hottest days this summer. My friend and I wandered the site, keeping to the shade when we could, then out in the open, forgetting the time, in awe, marvelling at the uniqueness of those beautiful creatures.

I couldn’t help thinking they might be lonely in their enclosures, even if there were two or three of them there … with all this strange country around them.  I couldn’t help imagining how I would feel if I was them? Surely they would miss their herd?

How would you be? DSCF1245Perhaps … as coy as a young giraffe …     [ A herd of giraffes]

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… as stoic as a dusty rhinoceros …            [A crash of rhinoceroses]

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… as eager as a captive wedge-tail …        [A convocation of eagles]

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 … as patient as a basking alligator …     [A congregation of alligators]

DSCF1351… as content as a well-fed cheetah …        [A coalition of cheetahs]

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… or as enthusiastic as a litter of hungry piglets?

How about

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… as gregarious as a grazing zebra …                      [ A zeal of zebras]

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 … as flamboyant as a cooling cassowary …           [ A dash of cassowaries]

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…. or just as bored as a magnificent tiger?                  [An ambush of tigers]

All text and photos by Meg

Story Twigs …! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Beginnings and endings

This post is about the importance of ritual openings and closings for storytelling; signals of other-worldliness, our willingness to leave disbelief and worries behind, and open up to the heart of story .

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Storyteller: I’m going to tell you a story.

Audience: Right!

Storyteller: It’s a lie.

Audience: Right!

Storyteller: But not everything in it is false.

Audience: Right!

(Sudanese ritual opening in Livo (1986: 188)

Telling stories to a new group can be nerve-wracking. Inviting the audience in, as a traditional Sudanese teller might, encourages them to imaginatively participate in the story. Some new audiences haven’t been sure when I’ve come to the end of a story. Is it that I’m not slowing down enough, or lowering my voice to signal the end? I need to start confidently, too.

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“Under the earth I go. Upon the oak leaf I stand. I ride the filly hat was never foaled and I carry the dead in my hand.” (Celtic ritual opening)

Such rituals give me a frame for stories from particular cultures.

In Storytelling: Process and practice, Livo and Reitz list many ritual openings and closings.   These rituals are often quirky rhymes that signal the story world, where anything is possible. In the past I’ve used –

IMG_2567“We do not really mean … We do not really mean … That what we say is true.” (Ashanti ritual opening)

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“Once there was and was not …” (Armenian beginning)

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“ … And so they achieved their heart’s desire. May you thus achieve your heart’s desire.” (Accompanying ending)

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“Now I’m ready to tell my story. And if you don’t listen, your ears will turn green and fall off.” (Beginning)                “ … and I’m glad to see you still have your ears.” (Ending)

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Folktales, themselves,  usually have formulaic beginnings. As soon as we hear “Once upon a time … ” we’re ready to travel into that make-believe world. Idries Shah (1991:105) begins the tale, The Three Riddles , like this – “There was a time, and there was not a time, when the sky was green and the earth was a thick stew…”

 There’s whimsy, too,  in this opening to the The Three Little Pigs. “Once upon a time when pigs spoke rhyme, and monkeys chewed tobacco, and hens took snuff to make them tough, and the ducks went ‘Quack, quack, quacko!” (Haviland 1972: 22)

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I met up with Scots Traveller & Storyteller Duncan Williamson several times in Scotland. When I saw him telling to children, he always involved the audience. Here he is playing the Mouth-Harp.

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Connecting with his audience, was second nature to Duncan. ” This story I’m going to tell you was my granny’s favourite – I hope you enjoy it. Now I’m going to tell ‘The Taen-Awa’ the way my granny told it to me: if you find any fault in it then I can’t. “(Williamson 1995:45)

And off we go into the story! The teller takes the audience far away on a journey and must bring the listeners safely back to reality again; home safe and sound –

“There was the cradle and John looked in … there lying in the cradle was the bonniest wee baby … his blue eyes … lying smiling up at his mammy. ‘There Mary, there’s your true baby.” (Williamson 1995: 64)

 “So everyone was pleased, and lived happily ever after.” (Steel 1983: 60)

“The wedding lasted from one Monday to the other Tuesday, and the whole land was in great joy, and if the strings of the fiddle hadn’t broken they would have been dancing yet! (Shah 1991: 228)

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And lastly,  here’s what we take away, when the stories are over and it’s time to leave – my favourite traditional closing from Armenia –  “Three Apples fell from heaven. One for the teller, one for the listener, and one for the one who took it to heart.”

     All text, except quotes, and photos by Meg.     Story Twigs …! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

   CROWLEY, Daniel J. ‘The Art of Bahamian narration’ in MACDONALD, Margaret Read, ed. (1999) Traditional storytelling today: an international sourcebook. Chicago, Fitzroy Dearborn.

HAVILAND, Virginia (1972) The Fairy tale treasury. Ringwood, Vic.. Penguin Books Australia.

LIVO, Norma J. (&) REITZ, Sandra A. Storytelling : Process and practice. Littleton, Colorado. Libraries Unlimited, 1986.

SHAH, Idries (1991) World tales: the extraordinary coincidence of stories told in all times, in all places. London, Octagon Press.

STEEL, Flora Annie.(1983) Tales of the Punjab. New York, Greenwich House.

 WILLIAMSON, Duncan (1995) The Broonie Silkies & Fairies: Traveller’s tales. Edinburgh. Canongate.

Making the Change

It’s been a while since my last post.  I have ceased working for my employer of 39 years.

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Here’s the card I got from some of the kids. I treasure their ‘comments.’

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After my refusal to ‘work’ like the good daughter in Grimm’s Mother Holle tale of my last Blog, I’ve stopped and just got on with it .

Just like the golden-haired daughter, I’ve been doing what needs doing –  ‘shaking the apple tree,’ and ‘stacking the fruit.’

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Getting back to sustaining routines and some order in my life.

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I’ve given away all the books I don’t need any more. Like the ugly sister who returns with no treasure, but covered in black stuff that sticks to her for the rest of her days, I’ve let “stuff” weigh me down, most of my working life – data … information …

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 So now I’m into celebrating simple experiences,  like the perfect boiled egg,

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Being home with myself “when the feathers fly” as I make the beds,

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Keeping a weather-eye open for signs of change,

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Cherishing my freedom,

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Friends and fun

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And wondering how it will be now …  telling more stories …

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and singing silly songs as I follow a new path.

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All text and photos by Meg

 Story Twigs …! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Why the Rooster Left Home

I’ve been telling the Jacob’s version of the traditional story Jack and the Robbers lately. My young audiences really loved the animals’ antics.

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The kids seemed to have no trouble with the notion that Jack has to leave home “to seek his fortune.” For centuries, tales from different cultures have, as the main protagonist, a boy who leaves home to find … riches? a better life?

Of course, I can think of exceptions. In the Scottish tale, The Black Bull of Norraway,  it’s the three daughters who leave their poor home, one by one, to seek their fortune and all end up marrying a wealthy man.

Paraz points out in her … Secret History of the Grimm Fairy Tales. There’s a pattern here too,

“Unlike male protagonists, a female character in a fairy tale sets out into the world not to seek her fortune but rather to accept isolation and poverty and to forgo all hope of stability, which can only be brokered by marriage.” (p. 139)

Does this still ring true today?

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I did wonder why the animals all asked to go along… perhaps because they were bored and Jack was so welcoming to each, in turn – “Why of course, the MORE the merrier! and on they went, jiggelty jolt, jiggelty jolt.”

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I found myself giving the cat, dog, bull, goat and rooster all different excuses for being free to join Jack in his quest. The cat’s owner had moved away, the dog was old and nobody wanted him, the goat wasn’t leader of the trip anymore, the bull was for the chop, but the rooster? He wasn’t hoarse from crowing … em … his tail feathers had dropped out.

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I feel it in my bones that he was hen-pecked. They’d all had enough of his territorial swaggering and chased him off.

Next time I tell this story, I’ll add that he was hen-pecked.

Does it really matter? What do you think? It’s only a story after all.

All photos, drawing and text by Meg

Other Sources

JACOBS, Joseph (1974) English Fairy Tales. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, Puffin.

MONTGOMERIE, Norah & William (1985) The Well at the World’s End: Folktales of Scotland. Edinburgh, Canongate Press.

PARADIZ, Valerie (2005) Clever maids: the secret history of the Grimm Fairy Tales. New York, Basic Books.

Story Twigs …! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Learning to tell stories

As a storyteller I have some well-used books.

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Here are some that I’ve found useful in developing my skills as a teller. Many  are out of print. Try your local library / online or second-hand book stores.

I’ve spent a lot of time reading and telling stories to learn, see, hear and feel how it works. I’ve also put myself in the way of events that would make a good story to tell – you know what I mean? But that’s another story.

IMG_1876Simple, clear guidelines in a booklet Mem Fox, Australian author and drama tutor,  put out years ago.

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A classic collection of folktales from Haiti,with descriptions of the local teller, how they told the story, and how the audience reacted.  There was a new edition of this published recently.

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The first book I ever read about storytelling. Well – worn.

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Handy list of recommended stories, eg for girls. It was from USA, compiled by Nancy Schimmel.

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A friend went to a workshop run by Anne Pellowski (also from the US) and came away inspired.

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I attended a workshop with Norma Livo (USA) when she was over here. Broad in scope, academic and analytical – heavy,  but full of gems.

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I often dip into this book when I’m working on a fairy tale.

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I need to read more of this. In a recent Story Slam I was put on the spot – having to tell a personal story about Love just 5 mins long!

IMG_1865Alida sets out an interesting approach to creating social change and building community using certain stories.

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This psychiatrist has selected tales for a particular age group and provides an analysis of each of the 20 stories.

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I have met Margaret Read Macdonald often since 1988 and an authority on storytelling. During her PhD, she researched and created The Storyteller’s Sourcebook – a reference book indexing folktales & variants. Since then she has written lots of books about storytelling and stories.

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 There are lots of books written about storytelling in school, or storytelling and teaching. This one was just published in the USA last year

Please feel free to suggest other titles about the art of storytelling which you have found useful. This one was first published in 1915 and set the ball rolling for storytelling in public libraries.

IMG_1870All these titles are in my personal library and part of my continuing study as a professional storyteller.

 

All text by Meg

Story Twigs the Imagination!blog by Meg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

With a Little Help from the Brownies

Before the start of the year, it’s feels good to have a clear-out, a de-clutter and give-away, recycle or dump. It was my mother’s custom to have the house spick and span for the New Year. She would even go out in the snow to clean the downstairs windows! I found myself thinking of her as I cleaned out cupboards recently.

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As I washed down walls, I thought of all the years of housework mum put in. At the time, I was muttering that I could do with a little help. Shame I don’t have any brownies in the house.

But sometimes I feel someone’s watching me as I work. Where’s that Blu-tac?IMG_1603

In Scottish folklore, it was believed that the wee folk, Brownies,
would sometimes move into a home and help with house-work. These hob-goblins were very shy and worked at night when the household was asleep, sweeping, washing dishes, keeping things clean and tidy. According to a story in Duncan Williamson’s collection The Coming of the Unicorn, they were small men, in old shabby clothes, often with a long white beard and the most arresting, blues eyes you could ever see.  The only payment they required was a bowl of porridge with milk, left out at night by the hearth.

If you forgot, the Brownie could let you know by making a mess in the house, breaking dishes and the like.  If you offered money, it was considered an insult and they quit the place.

In “The Broonie’s Farewell” he tells of just such an event when the farmer’s wife leaves out a new set of clothes for the Brownie who had helped their farm to flourish. The farmer kept the clothes their Broonie left behind for years, hoping the he’d return.

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In English foklore, Brownies were most likely to help with animals and crops on the farm, sleep in the barn by day, and work by night. Like the Scottish Brownie, they liked to be thanked, with their bowl of porridge, but never be paid.

I wished for a Brownie in the house and remembered I had been one,  joining the local pack, like this,  at the age of seven.

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Baden-Powell, who had founded the Scouting movement, co-opted the Scottish Brownie, to create an alternative group for girls. (Thank goodness the Rosebuds idea didn’t stick.) Their sworn promise was …  ” “to help other people at all times, especially those at home.”

Each weekly meeting, we’d all skip around a papier-mache toadstool and sing, ”We’re the Brownies here’s our aim, lend a hand and play the game.” We were taught all sorts of useful skills, like how to light a gas stove and the order to wash dished in.  For me, the best bit about the Brownies was learning to sing lots of rounds and silly songs.

In my group of six, we also had our own song “Look out! Here we are the jolly Pixies helping others when in fixes” – which rings prophetic if you’ve read the my first post in this blog.

Multi-purpose

According to folklore, they do say some Brownies went bad and turned into boggarts – big, strong limbed, evil looking, creatures doing damage and causing mayhem wherever they lived. They were aggressive and challenged any humans they encountered to a competition, some game of strength, and if you couldn’t beat them, they’d eat you!

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I’ve read several  boggarts’ tales in Alan Garner’s book A Bag of Moonshine. These teach the reader how to use their wits if they should encounter such a beast. Is that a Boggart?

 I’m sure there‘s a Boggart bothering me at work –  in the computer program I have to use. I was at at my wits end with it last week. So I’m reverting to what I learned as a Brownie, not sure what to do next? Let’s sing!

Join in with  In the Brownies! on YouTube – Billy Connelly’s parody of a well-known hit in the 70s. I won’t put the link here because of Copyright but watch it and sing along –  that just might help the Boggart in my computer decide to revert to being a helpful brownie again …

With thanks to Irene for the image of her Brownie pack.

All Word and other Images by Meg Philp.

Story Twigs … ! this blog by Meg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.