Deus Sol Invictus

A Song to Mithras

(Hymn of the XXX Legion: circa 350 A.D.)

Rudyard Kipling

Mithras, God of the Morning, our trumpets waken the Wall!

‘Rome is above the Nations, but Thou art over all!’

Now as the names are answered, and the guards are marched away,

Mithras, also a soldier, give us strength for the day!

Mithras, God of the Noontide, the heather swims in the heat.

Our helmets scorch our foreheads, our sandals burn our feet.

Now in the ungirt hour—now ere we blink and drowse,

Mithras, also a soldier, keep us true to our vows!

Mithras, God of the Sunset, low on the Western main—

Thou descending immortal, immortal to rise again!

Now when the watch is ended, now when the wine is drawn,

Mithras, also a soldier, keep us pure till the dawn!

Mithras, God of the Midnight, here where the great bull dies,

Look on thy children in darkness. Oh take our sacrifice!

Many roads thou hast fashioned—all of them lead to the Light,

Mithras, also a soldier, teach us to die aright!

(Temple Of Mithras)

Happy Holidays!

Not much to say, but may the season be a blessing for you and yours!

Talk Soon,

Gwyllm

On The Menu

The Links

Celtic Blessings…

Stoat Packs

Poetry by Rudyard Kipling

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Celtic Blessings…

“May peace and plenty be the first to lift the latch on your door, and happiness be guided to your home by the candle of Christmas.”

“In the New Year, may your right hand always be stretched out in friendship and never in want.”

“The Magic of Christmas lingers on

Though childhood days have passed

Upon the common round of life

A Holy Spell is Cast”

“May the blessing of light be on you – light without and light within. May the blessed sunlight shine on you like a great peat fire, so that stranger and friend may come and warm himself at it. And may light shine out of the two eyes of you, like a candle set in the window of a house, bidding the wanderer come in out of the storm. And may the blessing of the rain be on you, may it beat upon your Spirit and wash it fair and clean, and leave there a shining pool where the blue of Heaven shines, and sometimes a star. And may the blessing of the earth be on you, soft under your feet as you pass along the roads, soft under you as you lie out on it, tired at the end of day; and may it rest easy over you when, at last, you lie out under it. May it rest so lightly over you that your soul may be out from under it quickly; up and off and on its way to God. And now may the Lord bless you, and bless you kindly.” Amen.

—Scottish Blessing

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The Links:

Who Stole Jesus’s Foreskin?

Retired narcotics officer tells public how to hoodwink drugs police

Bush Admin: What You Don’t Know Can’t Hurt Us

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Stoat Packs – Merrily Harpur

The stoat is famous for its ability to ‘freeze’ a rabbit with its glare, for its slinky, hypnotic dance and for its ruthless predatory nature. However, Merrily Harpur reveals some less well-known behaviour – the triumphal capture dance, the funerary hiding of killed stoats and the swarming in huge stoat armies.

Illustrations by Sibylle Delacroix.

On a mild, sunny day in March, a man was walking down a Yorkshire lane. Partridges were calling in the stubble, there was a blue haze in the air, and all was quiet in that part of the wolds.

“Suddenly, as he walked, a pack of small animals charged down the bank into the lane and all about him. They leaped at him red-eyed, snapping little white fangs, leaping, dancing, darting, as agile as snakes on four legs. Indeed, they looked like furred snakes, with their short legs, their long, undulating bodies, their little pointed heads, their flattened ears, rat-like tails and little murderous eyes.

“The man laid about him with his stick. He knocked six or eight flying into the ditches on either side. He kicked off two or three that had fastened their fangs into his trouser leg. And those that he had knocked flying with blows that would have stunned a dog came out of the ditches and at him again. So, after a minute or two of this cut-and-thrust business, he took a good sharp run down the lane…”

The man in question was Sir Alfred Pease, “a brave man who knows more about animals than most”, and it was thus that J Wentworth Day described, in the 1930s, Sir Alfred’s encounter with a stoat pack.

Rarely encountered in the flesh, but common in country tales, stoat packs have long hunted the borderland between folklore and natural history. Thirty years after Sir Alfred’s alarming experience, a similar incident was reported by RS Hays in The Field:

“In the May of 1963, a doctor enjoying a day’s fishing on his beat of the Findhorn met a stoat on the river path. He was surprised to find that it did not seem inclined to run away. On the contrary, it had stopped in the middle of the path and seemed disposed to dispute his right of way.

“Close to the path there was the bole of an uprooted pine tree full of holes. ‘From practically every hole,’ said the doctor, ‘there was a stoat’s head peering out at me – possibly 15 or 20 in all.’ He struck at them with his gaff and they set up ‘a great chattering and squawking’, but he failed to hit any of them and succeeded only in bending his gaff. ‘As they appeared to be working themselves up to the point of attack,’ he admitted, ‘I decided to retire in haste.’”

The doctor’s disconcerting realisation that every crevice was filling with a stoat’s face was echoed by the experience of the writer and naturalist H Mortimer Batten:

“I went into a ruined house called Coltgarth, not far from Burnsall village, and on entering became aware of a hissing and chattering in the wall all round me, and on looking up saw the heads of stoats protruding from numerous crannies above, all very resentful of my presence. It would not be pleasant to be mobbed by such a gathering…”

The stoat (Mustela erminea) is the most enigmatic of the mustelidae – the family that includes weasels, ferrets, martens and otters. We are familiar with the paralysis it can inflict on rabbits, even at some distance, without knowing quite how it does it. H Mortimer Batten related an example in his book Habits and Characters of British Wild Animals, first published in the 1920s:

“Presently I saw a rabbit quite close to me flatten down, flat as a rag, its eyes wide with terror. I guessed what was afoot, and a few seconds later a stoat came out of the wall and sat upright on a flat stone staring at the rabbit. He was obviously gloating over it, knowing it to be helpless, and every now and then he jerked his black-tipped tail into the air in a curiously excitable manner. Then he jumped off the stone and made straight for the rabbit, landing on its back and tearing its ears with his teeth. He also tore at it with his claws, making no attempt to kill it, but torturing it as a cat tortures a mouse. But the rabbit remained motionless, uttering never a sound, so the stoat returned to its perch on the stone and again glared at it in luxurious cruelty…”

This went on several times until Batten could stand it no longer and shot the stoat.

Well documented also is the stoat’s whirling Dervish-like dance that mesmerises other animals until it darts forward and seizes one. Slightly less explicable is the dance that witnesses have reported the stoat performing as if in triumph over its already dispatched prey: “It gambolled round and round the dead bird,” wrote one, “sometimes almost turning head over heels; then it would break off to gallop madly into cover, and out again in what seemed to be a very ecstasy of triumph.” Stranger still is the fact that stoats carry their dead – appearing soon after one of their kind has been shot to drag the corpse into a hiding place.

It is perhaps such unnervingly anthropomorphic behaviours, along with their almost preternatural speed and sinuosity, which have given stoats a slightly uncanny character. They are elusive, usually solitary animals; collectively, however, they can induce a feeling of menace. Batten noted: “On frosty nights I have heard packs of stoats throwing their tongues like little death hounds as they worked along the stone walls or through the screes. In spite of the smallness of the sound it is a very sinister one…”

No one is really sure why stoats occasionally form packs. The ability to hunt bigger prey is one obvious motive, yet as many stoat packs have been recorded in times of plenty – high summer for instance – as during hard winters. A female stoat hunting with her large brood of kits (usually between six and 12), or an accidental meeting of two family groups, giving a false impression of an organised pack, has also been suggested. Yet the experience of a lorry driver near Thurso seemed to indicate a definite, if inexplicable, purpose behind the gatherings: he stopped his vehicle to watch what he described as an army of stoats streaming across the road. They crossed in groups of threes and fours, and sixes and sevens for 20 minutes, all heading for the seashore.

The most dramatic encounter with a stoat pack, however, was that of Suzanne Luff. It took place in the 1950s and, just as in folklore stoats bridge the natural and supernatural worlds, so Suzanne’s story also bridges a great divide, between the Surrey of the stockbroker belt as we know it today, and the Surrey of barely a generation ago, the still almost mediæval landscape near Dorking where she grew up.

“Shire horses were still worked on the steep slopes of the downs above the town,” she recalls, “and Ranmore Common, by the Denbies estate on which generations of our family had lived and worked, was cut off by snow for months at a time in winter.”

Two or three cars would pass in a week, and along with the cuckoo came the friendly, seasonal tramps, “such as one-eyed Jack who spent the summer in a yew tree behind the post office.”

Children’s pleasures were different then – Suzanne and her friends tobogganed down the smooth, russet slopes of fallen beech leaves on trays in autumn, and in summer sailed on the horse pond in a hip-bath. Their responsibilities were also more serious. When collectors came down from London and tried to bribe the estate children into revealing the secret locations of the rare butterfly orchids on Ranmore common, they remained steadfastly mute. The wooded common was bordered by a Pilgrim’s Way, along which it was Suzanne’s duty to walk half a mile (800m) to the dairy and back every morning and evening to collect the milk and return the empty cans.

“It was sometime between 1950 and 1952,” Suzanne said, “when I was eight or nine”:

“I was going home from the dairy one evening in late September and I met two of the estate workers – Bob Tester, the ostler who looked after the work horses and Ted Moore, a gardener, cutting back hedges, and I stopped to chat. ‘This is the second black winter we’re going to have,’ they told me, meaning iron-cold, ‘and the stoats will probably pack. If you hear this noise’ – and Ted made a high-pitched chittering noise – ‘just you bloody run for it. And if you’re too far from home, get up a tree. Those packs have been known to bring down horses, cattle, deer.’

“Well no, I wasn’t really frightened by this warning; you take things as a matter of course as a child. So I thought no more of stoats until the following January.

“I was returning from the dairy at about six o’clock on a bitterly cold night, but not dark because of starlight reflecting on the snow. I had gone past the ash tree at the crossroads when I heard a shrilling noise, a chittering of many tiny voices; it was exactly the noise that the gardener had made. I stopped and looked towards the wood and saw a shadow emerge from it about 70 yards away, and move over the snow towards me as if a cloud were passing over the moon.

“I ran back to the ash tree knowing I had to get up it somehow. I had never climbed it before, but, driven by desperation I jumped up and caught hold of the end of one of the low, sweeping branches, threw my legs over it, and shinned my way upside down towards the trunk. I scrambled into a V of branches and watched a wave of stoats break against the tree. There could have been 50 of them swarming round it, eyes glowing, for what must have been 10 minutes but which seemed like hours. I was alternately praying and cursing, getting more and more frozen. Then they must have heard something because one of them suddenly gave a sharp commanding call. All the others immediately packed behind it and swarmed through the hedge on the other side of the lane. From my vantage point, I could see them move over the adjoining field. When they were out of sight, I collapsed out of my tree and ran all the way home.”

Perhaps it was anecdotal evidence such as Suzanne’s – or an atavistic memory of such stories – on which Kenneth Grahame drew when he depicted weasels and stoats as the invaders from the Wild Wood who overrun Toad Hall in Wind in the Willows, overturning the old social order that maintained aristocratic Mr Toad. At the time Suzanne encountered the stoat pack there, the ancient Surrey woodland was undergoing just such a transition in reverse – from the Wild Wood, symbol of chaos in mediæval cosmology, to the small, tame SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) it is today.

In the following three decades, the Sitka spruce overran the hardwoods and the big estates were broken up by death duties. “Between them the Forestry Commission and property prices have done for Surrey,” laments Suzanne. As suburbia emasculates the wilderness, our contact with nature – so dramatically literalised in Suzanne’s experience – is progressively denuded of the intensity that finds expression in folklore, myth and literature.

And if we should experience another ‘black winter’, will there again be stoat packs to menace the commuters and second-home owners who now occupy the old cottages? And if so, are there any of that endangered species – knowledgeable country people – left over from the time when the countryside was not just a collection of trees and fields but a cultural milieu, who will warn them to bloody run for it?

End

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Poetry: by Rudyard Kipling

WELAND’S SWORD

Puck’s Song

See you the dimpled track that runs,

All hollow through the wheat?

O that was where they hauled the guns

That smote King Philip’s fleet!

See you our little mill that clacks,

So busy by the brook?

She has ground her corn and paid her tax

Ever since Domesday Book.

See you our stilly woods of oak,

And the dread ditch beside?

O that was where the Saxons broke,

On the day that Harold died!

See you the windy levels spread

About the gates of Rye?

O that was where the Northmen fled,

When Alfred’s ships came by!

See you our pastures wide and lone,

Where the red oxen browse?

O there was a City thronged and known,

Ere London boasted a house!

And see you, after rain, the trace

Of mound and ditch and wall?

O that was a Legion’s camping-place,

When Caesar sailed from Gaul!

And see you marks that show and fade,

Like shadows on the Downs?

O they are the lines the Flint Men made,

To guard their wondrous towns!

Trackway and Camp and City lost,

Salt Marsh where now is corn;

Old Wars, old Peace, old Arts that cease,

And so was England born!

She is not any common Earth,

Water or Wood or Air,

But Merlin’s Isle of Gramarye,

Where you and I will fare.

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The Runes on Weland’s Sword

A Smith makes me

To betray my Man

In my first fight.

To gather Gold

At the world’s end

I am sent.

The Gold I gather

Comes into England

Out of deep Water.

Like a shining Fish

Then it descends

Into deep Water.

It is not given

For goods or gear,

But for The Thing.

The Gold I gather

A King covets

For an ill use.

The Gold I gather

Is drawn up

Out of deep Water.

Like a shining Fish

Then it descends

Into deep Water.

It is not given

For goods or gear,

But for The Thing.

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Harp Song of the Dane Women

What is a woman that you forsake her,

And the hearth-fire and the home-acre,

To go with the old grey Widow-maker?

She has no house to lay a guest in –

But one chill bed for all to rest in,

That the pale suns and the stray bergs nest in.

She has no strong white arms to fold you,

But the ten-times-fingering weed to hold you

Bound on the rocks where the tide has rolled you.

Yet, when the signs of summer thicken,

And the ice breaks, and the birch-buds quicken,

Yearly you turn from our side, and sicken –

Sicken again for the shouts and the slaughters, –

And steal away to the lapping waters,

And look at your ship in her winter quarters.

You forget our mirth, and talk at the tables,

The kine in the shed and the horse in the stables –

To pitch her sides and go over her cables!

Then you drive out where the storm-clouds swallow:

And the sound of your oar-blades falling hollow

Is all we have left through the months to follow.

Ah, what is a Woman that you forsake her,

And the hearth-fire and the home-acre,

To go with the old grey Widow-maker?

Squirrelly Magick! (you are getting sleepy, sleepy, sleepy I say!)

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