Updated: Apr 12
A new moon blessing upon you all~
Welcome friends, welcome back inside The Craneskin Bag. It has been a month fraught with much foul-some coughing clouds of fire and smoke here in California. I think we all are seeking in our own inner and outer ways to transform these clouds into the pitter patter storm clouds of rainfall and rainbow showers. It is a time to harness the old tried and true weather magic, the time-tested rain dance and the barefoot stomp of change. Now I know you don’t need another day of worry and that is not why you are here, so let’s sweep clean the air and the coffin lid of fear and step into another time and place, where the roots of magic are thriving in the wet earth and the gentle branches overhead harbor the ripening fruits of tomorrows promise. I am glad you have returned.
Did you know the stories of Finn mac Cumhaill have been written down and recorded in every century, beginning roughly 1,500 years ago? It is true! So, you can imagine the corpus of Finn lore is quite extensive. My natural draw of Fenian myth is centered around the earliest Finn stories. Here we enter a world of fragmentation, speculation and unanswered questions. Well, what is so interesting about that?! These early texts are fascinating to me because instead of spelling everything out in bold neon letters, these stories give the reader only a fleeting glimpse into a bygone world and it is not the world you and I inhabit. Tis a world pregnant with many otherworlds, open to the realm of divine inspiration and the churning elemental cauldron of chaos. As Marie-Louise Sjoestedt aptly writes in God’s and Heroes of The Celts;
“The myths of Finn take us directly into the region of the otherworld. Against mysterious powers, man, situated in the midst of the supernatural and himself possessed by it, defends with force or by magic, his small domain.”
In Ireland, this otherworld is home to many of Finn mac Cumhaill’s rivals. His early opponents were all magical beings which lends weight to the theory that Finn was himself of divine origin. He slays three powerful foes with his magical spear Birga; Aillen mac Midhna, Aed mac Fidga and Culdubh mac Fidga. All three of these beings are described as being a son of Fidach whose name signifies venom or sorcery. I am concerned primarily with Culdubh, who, like most within Irish Mythology has a sundry of epithets and names and is also called, Culdub mac Dein, the son of swift.
This Culdub is mentioned in one of the earliest Finn texts from the 8th century, Marbad Culduib, where it describes how every night he would run off with Finn’s half cooked pig. When none of Finn’s comrades could prove to be a match for the fairy thief, Finn went himself in pursuit and on Samhain eve, as Culdub was entering his fairy fort of Sid Fer Femen, Finn slew him with one mighty thrust of his deadly spear, the Birga. Finn then got his thumb stuck between two worlds in the door of the Sid dwelling and when he pulled it free and stuck it in his mouth, he was gifted with Imbas Forosnai, the great wisdom of enlightenment. This is the earliest source for his prophetic and remarkable appendage, the thumb of knowledge.
I wanted to flesh this tale out in a number of ways. Firstly, to a give a reason for Culdub’s animosity towards Finn. Why was he stealing their food every night anyways? Not hard to answer. In Irish tradition Finn is known to be something of a ladies man, with lovers and wife’s in both worlds, so I intuited that Culdub had a daughter named Ele. That Finn fell in love with this daughter and she with him and so, the rest fell naturally into place. As I have been developing and focusing my attention on the Illumination Tales of Finn, I feel every day stronger in my connection to the long lineage of storytellers, both oral and written which kept alive the myths of one of the most central and fascinating figures in Gaelic tradition, that is Finn mac Cumhaill. This is an overpowering feeling, for ultimately I am held responsible for what I am creating and I must have a reason that rings true in tradition for every ounce of text I write.
A special thanks of mention must be made to Angie Holm for undertaking the monumental task of editing the beast of this latest Illumination Tales video. The fairy magic we summoned provided extra difficulty and it is only thanks to her heroic efforts that I can offer it to you now.
Angie also provided the perfect visual inspiration for the fairy daughter Ele.
A very merry welcome to Herbert the miller! His first name just popped out of my mouth when asked what his name was and it seemed absolutely correct. Since he is raised by fairies in secret, his last name Feenwald translates as fairy forest. Now you can’t have a Rumpelstilzchen marionette opera without the miller! In the classic Grimm Brothers tale this character is usually very one dimensional, motivated by greed to have his daughter become beloved by the king. I wanted to give the miller more character more personality, more depth and more of a central role in the story plot. I won’t give much away in terms of the opera I am writing but I can say Herbert is a very jolly, happy go lucky fellow, without a cruel bone in his body. He smokes his pipe after a hard day’s work and sings often with a merry twinkle in his eye. In fact, when I was carving him, part of his song came out of me, for it was Herbert himself who sang it~
Just a few days ago I had the pleasure to work with a local Nevada City photographer extraordinaire named Waking Crow. https://www.wakingcrow.com/
He captured these images of Herbert just in time for me to drop them inside The Craneskin Bag.
Other Puppet Adventures~
My son, Rowan-Oak, turned seven years old this last month and every year it has become tradition that I do a puppet show for him and all his friends. This year I realized Rowan was old enough to puppeteer with me and we told the classic Swedish tale, The Boy Who Was Never Afraid. Rowan puppeteers the titular character, Ashlad and I assumed the role of the various witches, devils, dragons and trolls Ashlad meets on his journey to recover his families prized milk cow.
It was the first year no children cried and ran from the room out of sheer terror of the puppets, so either I am losing my touch or I can only successfully scare kids 6 and under. Either way it was one of the only shows I have performed this year due to covid and having my son right there by my side throughout was a beautiful experience for me and a true highlight during this last month.
Rumpel’s Riddles News~
Last new moon I announced I had begun a weekly riddle series with Rumpelstilzchen and I am pleased to report that the ripple effect of these riddles is inspiring others to either pull out old riddles from their dusty shelves or create their very own brain teasers. An old friend of mine, Robert Schultz, created a puppet riddle video, trying to outwit Rumpelstilzchen using Vietnamese water puppets and only yesterday
in fact I was sent a video message by a 6 year old girl named Lulu who had created a puppet riddle series of her own called Gerdies Riddles! I will include hers here because it really made my day. For your weekly dose of Rumpel's Riddles tune in every Wednesday over at~
It’s the time of year again when the howl of night and the chill of flesh begins to creep across the wet dew of tattered grass and straight up your shivering spine tingling senses. That ineffable, intangible presence, always lingering on the periphery of your consciousness, just out of reach, is no longer invisible. You can see it now.
I get ready for Samahin/Halloween in July so by now in mid-September I believe I’m not remiss in thinking the rest of the world has caught up to me. To spark your mood this autumnal tide, I have a record which I recently added to my collection and which I think will add a festive décor to your audio world.
Thom Yorke’s soundtrack for the 2018 film, Suspiria. Seeing the film beforehand is not a pre-requisite to enjoying the soundtrack but I do encourage you to experience them both. In their own rites, equal masterpieces. And of course mention must be made of the cult classic that is the original Suspiria, directed by Italian giallo master Dario Argento with horrifying progrific Goblin soundtrack from 1977. The 2018 re-make however is something of its own beast, respecting its predecessor while also summoning something refreshingly different. I was previously only familiar with Thom Yorke as the frontman and songwriter for the band Radiohead. A band I saw live in their heyday and have always been an admirer of. However, as tastes shift and new focuses emerge, I lost sight of Yorke sometime ago and I must say when I dropped that needle on the hot pink vinyl, it was like meeting an old friend whom I had not seen for over a decade. His voice is only improving with age and filled with that melancholic ethereal ghost like quality which makes him a uniquely appropriate choice to score this soundtrack and when you hear it, it also makes perfect sense. I will include a video of Yorke playing one of my favorite pieces off the two-record set. The aptly named, Suspirium.
Farewell for now~
Stay tuned for the next edition of The Craneskin Bag where further adventures are surely to abound and where I can’t wait to have the pleasure of your esteemed virtual company. Stay safe, stay wise and of course, always stay curious.
Tall and Thin,
Through thick and thin once again,
New Moon, September 17th, 2020