Category Archives: Myth & folklore


I will not treat your dusty path and flat,
denoting this and that by this and that,
your world immutable wherein no part
the little maker has with maker’s art.
I bow not yet before the Iron Crown,
nor cast my own small golden sceptre down.

Tolkien – Mythopoeia

I can remember the first time I discovered my favourite word, over twenty years ago.

I had never heard of it before. It was like a spell and a word that I have revisited in wonder, trying to understand it.


I didn’t discover this word in a place that made me feel connected to something else.

It wasn’t when I was standing in the ancient forest of Broceliande.

Or The Old Library in Trinity College.

Or when a gilt title of a book glinted out of the corner of my eye in a bookshop in Edinburgh’s Old Town.

Or among the stones of the Ring of Brodgar on the Orkneys .

Or in a thunderstorm at the tomb of Newgrange in Ireland.

Or when a dragonfly landed on my hand, when I had just asked it to.

Or the moment in the Lauterbrunnen Valley in Switzerland when I realised I had come to in Rivendell-on-earth.

Not even in the dawn, as the sun rose on the raw red rock face of the rugged outback landscape that I was born surrounded by.

No. It was in an unexordinary discount city-centre bookshop in the city of Adelaide,  rummaging through the sale bin.

There, I found a book. Just one copy. In 1998.

A word jumped out at me


The book was The Magical World of the Inklings by Gareth Knight, about J RR Tolkien, C S Lewis, Charles Williams and Owen Barfield written in 1990.

The preface is titled On Mythopoeia and Magic.

Mythopoeia as I first understood it, standing in that bookshop, is a word that Gareth Knight equates to the word magical in the introduction.

Writers who were “capable of creating a ‘magical world’…a way of evoking the creative imagination of the reader to participate through story and landscape and characters in a deeper level of truth or reality.” (p.4 Gareth Knight)

This treasured book helped me understand the deep power of storytelling, the power of language and how some writers quest to create a sense of myth and legend in imagined worlds.

It is a word on the tip of my tongue in every landscape that moves me as I grapple to find words for what feeling is. It is the love and the longing to explore literary landscapes.

In more recent years, the word mythopoeia has been conjured through reading mythologist and storyteller Martin Shaw’s books, particularly Scatterlings (which I will one day write an entire post about!)

For the last 20 years I’ve been taking people out into the wild places, the few remaining wild places in Britain. And also that to a certain curiosity into where does wildness still reside in language itself? Could there be places witin stanzas, within stories, within poems where old gods still reside? And so quite naturally I’ve been brought back into story as a way of articulating wild information. Information from the ages.

Martin Shaw – Storytelling from the edge

I still don’t understand what I mean when I say mythopoeia, or try to describe it. I do know what it feels like.

Mycological mythologies – or a rite-of-passage

“Only you know where you’ll be when it happens. Drifting through a Wednesday counting emails in the office, bent over kale at the allotment, gearing up for the school-run dash through the rain.”

Martin Shaw, Scatterlings: Getting Claimed in the Age of Amnesia

I return a lot to wilderness rite-of-passage guide and mythologist, Doctor Martin Shaw’s writings.

In this post, I’m describing the first time I felt what it was like to have the closest sense of what Shaw writes about when he describes a journey from dreaming to getting dreamt, which can happen as part of a wilderness vigil. When you know you will never have such a vigil, can your own stories conjur something close? Do yours?

It’s twilight and we grasp candles. I’m around nine years old,  and I am wearing my ceremonial brown clothing for the last time. It is adorned with cloth badges. Each badge represents a skill I have mastered. The paddock behind the beige brick suburban hall is unremarkable. Half dead weedy grass crunches underfoot. A depressed looking singular tree stands sentinel.

In the corner sits a small crafted monument of a fly agaric mushroom. It has been painted roughly, and seems quite out of place. But it is twilight, and so, for a moment we look beyond.

The women and other girls my own age sing, while some of us, who are now the right age, are each lifted by our arms, by our leaders. We each for a brief moment soar over the mushroom,  in the twilight.  My heart flutters in the sensation as my feet leave the ground, held gently by the women. In that lightning moment of voices and flying,  we are not children in a street where our neighbours grow drugs and fight each other in the street. We are lifted. Over.

Our rite of passage complete, the next time we meet, we will bear “robes” of blue. I am different.

This is the first time I remember understanding how enchantment and a bigger belief in yourself can be conjured by a simple ceremony. A rite-of-passage that feels connected to a myth, even though the myth and the symbol does not properly belong to the land here.

I was just a Brownie, graduating into being a Girl Guide, but in the twilight, flickering like candlelight, for a moment,  I was a little more.

The Fear – The Dark is Rising

“It was then, without warning, that the fear came.”

Susan Cooper, The Dark is Rising

Oh! The beautiful opening chapter of The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, which I’m reading in a massive worldwide book group on Twitter,  has brought back all my inexplicable moments of nature fear – or just The Fear, as Will experiences.

Have you felt, The Fear?

Those times when you find yourself alone in nature and for some reason, your sense of awe and comfort switches immediately to a feeling of pagan animism about everything around you. As if you are so very trembling and small in the scheme of tall tree things.

Being alone in nature is something I am quite comfortable with, and actually sometimes really crave now that it’s virtually impossible to have. I did have some pre-dawn walks for a hour or so earlier this year when we were camping in the remote Flinders Rangers. My husband were still asleep in the tent and I went out by torchlight. There was a slightly similar experience to the one I’m about to tell. Perhaps because I had my dog with me, or because it was morning, or even because I grew up around this wild land, I felt awe, but not fear at the strange undersound I heard as I got closer to the hills.


Watching the sunrise in the Flinders Ranges


There have been a handful of times when THE FEAR has involved not a wild place, but a known place, like it was for Will.

THe last time I felt it, I was feeling comfortable. It was July 2015 and I was outside our rural holiday cottage in Cornwall. A house full of my children and nephews, in-laws and husband asleep. I was outside at midnight with my astrobinoculars and camera taking night sky pictures.


Cosy light from the room when my young children were asleep


Maybe it was because I was marvelling at the novelty of seeing the emerging waxing moon traversing the sky backwards and in reverse around in the northern hemisphere after so long in the southern hemisphere (link explains this if you’ve never realised that there are differences). So, things had been changing in a different way.


crescent moon devon
Waxing crescent moon in Cornish summer skies



Watching the moon travelling ‘backwards’ in the northern hemisphere – Cornwall


Anyway, for some reason, being out there in the dark, even after a long night of Summer light, turned, er,  well, frightening.

It began with a sound from the fields. The gardens were surrounded by tall hedges, puncutated by one small archway cut out with a gate, with fields beyond. The sound had a hint of human cough or maybe throat clearing, but un-animal enough to confuse my senses. It wasn’t a growl, and I’d lived rurally so it wasn’t a cow or sheep or fox sound. Or bird sound. It was just, unidentifiable. Odd. Weird.

Instinctively, in that moment, when my brain could have rationalised, it didn’t. The day spent exploring ancient nooks and crannies of Cornwall took over, and I, the I that might laugh at my reaction,  was gone. THE FEAR had me.

That sound, had set my heart thumping in a rhythm for running. And I wanted to run. I just left my bincolulars and camera on the tripod and ran across the lawns to the sliding door and clambered in to the dark of house and the comfort of the lounge. After a few moments, I realised I had left all my gear outside.  As I tried to slide open the door go back to get it, I tried to let the ridiculousness take over. It wouldn’t.

I forced myself, swearing in whispers,  to go back out and fumble to detach the heavy binoculars, fold down the tripod and pack away my camera in what seemed like an eternity spent in the now thick ominous darkness. It was somehow, one of the most bravest acts against myself.

And that, is The Fear. I’ve felt it only a handful of times.

If you have ever felt it, you will understand.

Just as Susan Cooper must have understood, when she wrote it for Will to experience.

Have you known, The Fear? I would love to hear your tales.


An Arthurian adventure awaits you – #TheDarkisReading

Starting 20th December – worldwide reading of The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

What could be more magical than reading (or re-reading as it is for me) one of the most imaginative and wonderful Arthurian children’s/YA novels ever written, starting when the book does, on Midwinter Eve?  (Midsummer Eve for us in the southern hemisphere!)

Well, how about reading it with a fellowship of other readers, just strangers bound together within the world of limited characters (Twitter) in a shared quest to wrangle and snatch moments in time to read together in the mad days of Yule?

If you have never read Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising, maybe it’s time. Published before I was born in 1973,  I feel like I grew up with it, even though I was in my 20s before reading it.  I only discovered it after studying Medieval English Literature and seeking out modern Arthurian stories.

If you have an imagination stirred by Arthurian tales, Celtic or Norse mythology, magic, standing stones, quests, good and evil, it’s time to read this.

Will Stanton, our 11 year old warrior awaits.

“You are the seventh son of a seventh son, Will Stanton. You step through time. One by one, the Signs will call to you. You will gather them and gain the power of the Light. You are the Sign-Seeker.”

More details about how to participate in the reading group in the post below from Julia Bird.

Hello to new visitors in search of #thedarkisreading, an unexpected Christmas delight. Read on! ******* ‘This night will be bad, and tomorrow will be beyond imagining…’ tweeted @RobGMacfarlane, posting a photo of a gift copy of Susan Cooper’s classic children’s novel The Dark Is Rising (1973). ‘A wonder!’ I replied ‘I reread it every Christmas too […]

via #TheDarkisReading: A Midwinter Reading Group — Julia Bird

Learning to talk with small gods

Because although I still have a lot to learn, my valley is claiming me through small gods.

whispering voices of sheoak

the different rhythm of the feet of my chickens that tells me they are excited to follow me and makes me laugh out loud

the sound of a blue-banded bee long before it can be seen that tells me if it’s flying with or without pollen-covered legs

the bank of clouds hugging the hillside at dawn

the swing of wind to cool southerlies

the beckoning of the wild island in winter

the first time I notice that the sun signals autumn, something about the afternoon shadows is different

the keening cry of the black cockatoo heralding a rain storm

the burst of green through soil

the unfurling leaf

hearing the blue-tongue lizard trying to walk silently on dried up leaves which betray his presence

the resurrection of moss after the hot summer

the gaze of the magpie that makes me feel small

the longer afternoon light bent through the plum tree

the warm night-scent of native franjipani under a clear night sky

coming home to the valley I live in and seeing it tucked in against the hills, cuddled by trees and feeling its welcome

the trembling of wet leaves in the sun after a rain storm

 a flash of red in the fading strawberry leaves, the slow secret ripe strawberry

a face full of spider web and the apology to the spider

magpies in conference, they meet in a circle,  talk and hush as you draw near

I’d love for others to write about their small gods as a way to begin, but first, listen to Small Gods by Martin Shaw  or find out more at  because writing these down may be a mistake of mine, but I’m still learning how.



Magpie, raising sky

“According to the Mandalbingu people, a long time ago the sky was very close to the Earth and it was dark. Everyone had to crawl about the earth in darkness. The intelligent magpies decided that if they worked together they could raise the sky upwards to create more room for all. They did this by lifting the sky upwards by using long sticks. As they pushed the sky even higher it suddenly split open to usher in the first sunrise The blanket of darkness broke up into fragments and drifted away as clouds. The magpies burst into song and from that time onwards they have greeted the sunrise with their warbling song.”

(Ragbir Bhathal, Aboriginal Astronomy)

This story has not strayed far from my thoughts for days.

Since reading the Mandalbingu story,  I have been thinking back to farm life and the magpies I observed doing something that seemed pretty remarkable to me. For years up there on the hill, I observed a group of magpies regularly gathering on my lawn, arranged in a circle staring at each other for a long time, with the occasional warble.

It was a thrilling thing to watch because, in no other way can you describe it as some sort of intentional mapgie conference.

A collaboration?

A conversation amongst elders?

Swapping songs? Sharing?

Or, as I now understand it,  raising the sky:

Sometimes a Wild God by Tom Hirons

Sometimes a piece of writing rustles and stirs the dry leaves that fall too quickly on the pathways of our bustling lives.  Like an inexplicable breath of floral-perfumed warm wind, in the harsh bite of a winters day. Rewilding you from inside.

This is how it felt reading Sometimes a Wild God by Tom Hirons. You can read Tom’s poem here on his blog, but before you click…

…know that you will remember when and where you were when you first read this. You will learn that words conjured together even when read in the cold clinical light of a computer screen, can take you to a campfire in the wilderness where you huddle alone, reading words with only the flickering firelight and lamplight of the moon, with only the winking trail of the Milky Way as company.

Rewilding from the inside…. The blood red flower is the beautiful scarlet bloom of Australian native ‘Running Postman’ Kennedia prostrata.

Receiving the book was even more startling. It’s an odd thing to open a modern envelope, delivered by planes and wheels and inside find something that almost makes you think you can hear an ancient chant or drumbeat. A beautiful, tactile and totem-like book that feels like it was written and posted from deep in the wild forest.  Together on the page with the incredible art of Rima Staines which is itself another soul-trembling delight,  in this beautiful small book there is that alchemy of word and art in an ancient dance on paper.

The book is small and beautiful. I feels like something to be carried in a favourite coat pocket, a touchstone for breathing in the woods, feeling the old paths, when the yearning strikes. A thing to read to someone, or share because the length and format is perfect for doing just that.

I purchased a second copy, to be released into the wild. When the time and place is right to leave it there, a stranger will find it, just there on a bench or table or shelf. The note inside will ask for it not to be kept, and for it to be read, purchased if the reader has the means to, and most importantly, for the wild copy to be passed on to awaken someone else.


I read the opening chapters of Martin Shaw’s, A Branch from the Lightning Tree: Ecstatic Myth and the Grace in Wildness, at an altitude, speeding across the world in a jet plane.

Perhaps days of sleep interruption and exhaustion caught up with me, I found myself in tears with the beauty, not only of Martin Shaw’s writing, but at the foreword, written by Daniel Deardorff. In a few pages describing the essence of Shaw’s book, he manages to make me feel like I did not find this book, but that it may have found me.

However, if you, like me, desire a life filled with breathtaking and inexplicable meaning, then I implore you, read on.

It can happen to anyone: in silent midnight a migratory moth brushes a velvet wing across our skin and the soul is called out of the house and into the wide and starlit unknown.

And Shaw’s opening chapters are about the transition from childhood into adulthood, and the role that myth has through our teenage years.

I’m thinking of a poem I wrote about this feeling when I was 15 or 16 called “Suburban moth” and I wish I had it here to read alongside this book. I’m also thinking of my recent encounter with a white moth which I called “a ghost of autumn”, because one of my favourite Yeats poems is called into the foreword,

white moths are on the wing and moth like starts are flickering out

It has me thinking of moths as a myth symbol.

In stale, recycled air of the airplane cabin, one of the most artificial atmospheres possible,  and on my way to a part of the world where I explicably feel more connected to wildness and myth,  more keenly than my birth home,  Deardroff’s final words, call my attention to  the timing of this book having  fluttered into my life:

Distance does not make you falter
now, arriving in magic, flying,
and finally, insane for the light,
you are the butterfly and you are gone.

Imagination so clearly has to play in our connection to wild, and this is going to be in my thoughts as I traverse these woods and meadows.

Shaw says in his introduction

This is not a book purely about rites-of-passage. It’s more about wildness itself: how it flutters between language, landscape and ritual, and the wild…here you won’t find long lists of how-to’s. The gifts to work with are impacted in the images so as to activate your unconsciousness as well as your conscious mind.

Finally, so much of Shaw’s opening chapters have phrases that link back to thinking about rhizomatic learning, where we began thinking about content as myth – that it feels like I am on a leafy path in the right forest.

Shaw’s phrases that flutter around me…

Leaving the village, finding the forest

The uncanny freshness of disorientation


Boundaries, thresholds of initiation

Coming back changed after a descent into uncertainity

Waves not caught

The mythography of crossroads

Myth as subterraean 

The ability to change shape

The importance of content as a myth


Myth means ‘no author’. The reason why certain stories land so deeply within us is because they’ve been passed like water over dark stones through many different communities and many different people’s lives who’ve all dealt with seemingly hopeless causes. So the images have a resonance that one person alone cannot muster, no matter how brilliant.
(Dr Martin Shaw – West County School of Myth, UK)

Stumble into learning…

I was in my early 20s, in an unassuming second hand bookshop in surburban Adelaide. I was studying undegraduate literature and looking for some books I needed to read. My eye was distracted by the golden glint of the text on the spines of a plainly covered uniform series of books. I opened one and felt immediately, the mystery of finding something I had not even known I had been looking for. I had stumbled upon content – in this case – words in a book –  that connected me to something bigger, with what was to have a huge impact on my future and direction (which is a different story).

I didn’t need a complicated search algorithm to find it, I didn’t know that I was looking for it, no one selected that content on my behalf, it was accidental. I had found the relatively obscure poetic writings of Scottish writer, Fiona Macleod (aka William Sharp).

2015-05-01 12.07.50The series was incomplete, being sold separately at $18 per book. I had just started a part-time job in a bookshop to pay my way through my degree, and I couldn’t afford them all. So, I bought one every few months (I was too unsure of my finances to ask to hold them).  Then, one time when I went back,  the shop had closed down. Dissapeared.

Thankfully, this was the awakening of the internet and in the last 15 years I have not only tracked down the whole set, but picked up some incredible additional Fiona Macleod books. Some have the most fragile and beautiful art plates and prints. As content, they are physical treasure to me. These books are objects that contain the published words of my favourite writer and I love them, because they are a touchstone. Most of Fiona Macleod’s writings are now available online. You can read the entire texts.

So why I would I bother still seeking these obscure, fragile, musty little containers of words, when I can have all of Fiona Macleods words for free?

Dig underneath…

It’s because of what you get when you dig underneath. In so many pages of these books I have collected over the years, there are unwritten and even more intriguing stories than the ones published within. The traces of people and the never-ending questions about them.

Leave breadcrumbs…

In the pages, are traces of navigation. Bent corners, pencil marks. Annotations, handwritten notes, dedications in the cover, little mini-books that people have made, a pressed-flower, and my favourite,  the wonderful tiny Christmas card shown below.

2015-05-01 12.12.02

Dear Frank, who were you? 

2015-05-01 12.10.26Who was Miss Moss, or Miss Morse? Can I call you Miss M?

Is this card, nothing more than a useful bookmark, or did you give Miss M this book?

And you Miss M, did you perhaps place this little card from Frank, deliberately on the page that had the book plate for May?

Did this page symbolise your connection?  Did this book bring you together?

Make myth…

Content is our human platform for conversation, communication and connection – artifact. This is perhaps why we love content so much in online learning. The most passionate educators often collate and lay out huge collections in a single pathway of content, intending a specific journey based on their their choice, their voice. It is easy to dismiss that approach as restrictive, but seen for what it is – it is the art of collecting and sense making, born from generosity and a desire to share.  We naturally want to take each other on a journey of shared experience, of shared learning. However, within the boundary of learning within a period of time, with completion dates, having one voice only choosing the “core” content is a missed opportunity to learn holistically.  Prescriptiveness lessens exploration, stumbling, exploring, get lost, getting found, thinking upside-down and sideways, navigating or maybe more importantly, community-led annotation.

We know content sparks conversation, humour, art, friendship, and most of all – is homage to our desire to share. Pulling back from the desire to lead, and allowing every person in a community to be content, to annotate with their own voice, is a beautiful gateway to diversity.  An opportunity to explore how the same questions and desires are interpreted globally, in the context of different locations and cultures. For the person at the helm, they see the unique myth-making power of the cohort. Something unique, never to be exactly repeated. A truly unique and experimental learning experience every time. You get, in effect, mythic learning. A new resonance. A multitude of voices.

So, I do think content is a myth, and myth is necessary and should be encouraged.   Content is how we conjure and trigger our stories, in ourselves, and each other.

Maybe we should all be myth makers with content,  and even if we struggle to be great story tellers, we can always be story carriers. Here’s the incredible mythologist Martin Shaw, (West Country School of Myth, UK) explaining that idea (story carriers) far better than I can.

This post was written in reponse to Week 3 of #rhizo15 –The Myth of Content – Dave Cormier but also because I opened one of my favourite books today, to the page for May, and found a Christmas card from Frank.