The Trickster

The Trickster

Birds in the corvid family have always intrigued me, ravens and crows among them. These birds are extremely intelligent and surrounded by myths and fairy tales. Among other things, they are said to move between the worlds, making them harbingers and messengers of the Otherworld. They are playful, clever and at times devious, giving them a reputation as tricksters.

The hooded crow (Corvus cornix) is striking. It is found across Europe and in parts of the Middle East. Also called a hoodiecrow, corbie or grey crow, it is ash gray with a black head and throat, wings and tail. It looks like it’s wearing a black cloak with the hood down. How cool is that?

This fine creature has a special place in the story of Outpost, a fantasy novel woven with Norse mythology, mythical beings, swords and sorcery. In this tale, the hoodiecrow is a trickster par excellence, appearing as a particularly curious bird, a dream, a synchronistic event, or a charm given to a warrior by his love. To a knitter with the power of the earth in her hands, the crow takes form as an otherworldly rider.

A warrior on a gray horse thumped over the fresh snow, spruce boughs swaying with silvery restlessness in his wake. His horse moved strangely, as if it had too many legs. The rider wore exquisitely wrought mail of ash gray, black leggings and boots, and a mantle that covered his head and shoulders with feathery black. The hilts of two fine swords glinted above his shoulder. He reined in before the cottage and looked up, revealing the smooth, straight beak of a crow. His eyes glittered like stars.

Melisande stood in the snow in her bare feet, gazing up at the crow warrior like a child. He was beautiful, strange and vast, like a force of nature. He was not Fylking. Not Otherworld, either. He was beyond that.

“Beware.” The sound was the voice of the wind, his voice.

To a wayward seer at odds with the Otherworld, the hooded crow appears to spring him from a trap, a fortuitous event that comes with a very high price.

“Self-pity is powerful magic, is it not?” the crow said. Its pale ash body glowed beneath the pitch mantle of its cloak. “It turns the ridiculous into the sublime.” It cocked its head mockingly.

After delivering an annoying lecture, of course.

As with any trickster, the crow hides its agenda in mystery and surprise. What looks like guidance, mockery, companionship or a warning can—and most likely will—throw one into trouble. But that’s the way it works, with tricksters. Chaos leads to transformation.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Outpost Cover ArtOutpost, Book One in The Fylking.

A race of immortal warriors who live by the sword.
A gate between the worlds.
Warriors, royals, seers and warlocks living in uneasy peace on one side of the Veil.
Until now.

© F.T. McKinstry 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Noble of the Wood

Apple Tree

A seed hidden in the heart of an apple is an orchard invisible. ~ Welsh Proverb

The apple is a sacred tree with a long, rich history of lore surrounding it. Aside from its fruit and many medicinal uses, it was revered in ancient times as a talisman of love, healing and immortality. In Norse mythology, the goddess Iðunn gave apples to the gods to keep them immortal. Loki stole them, but had to return them when the gods began to age. In English tradition, one apple was left on each tree after harvest as a gift to the fairies. Apple wood is the traditional choice for magic wands, and a branch laden with buds, flowers and fruit enables the possessor to enter the Otherworld. Considered the food of the dead, apples are associated with Samhain.

Old Apple Tree

Apple trees grow wild in the woods where I live, and are particularly lovely in the spring, when they bloom. They tend to have dark, twisty trunks and low-sweeping, crooked branches, giving them a spooky air. A while back we bought a sturdy little tree and planted it in the back yard. It took years for the first blooms to appear. This year, it’s loaded with flowers. They smell incredible.

My apple tree has stories to tell. The winters are long and rugged up here, and the tree takes a beating, half buried in snow, torn by wind and ice. It split in an ice storm once, right down the middle and partway into the trunk. Heartbroken, I had the desperate idea of pushing it back together and holding it with electrical tape. This actually worked, if you can believe. It healed and now it’s strong as ever.

All kinds of creatures love the apple tree. The birds perch in it, and bees and hummingbirds love the flowers. In fall, I throw apples into the woods for the deer. Then there are my illustrious cats. The tree is easy to climb and perch in, and when the leaves are thick a cat can hide in it. Oh, and let’s not forget the spiders. Big, hobbit-eating spiders. They guard the tree and I’ve learned to keep my wits about me.

Oona in the Apple Tree

If all goes well this summer, we should have apples coming out our ears.

© F.T. McKinstry 2015. All Rights Reserved.

On the Windswept Tree

Odin's Sacrifice

Hung was I     on the windswept tree;
Nine full nights I hung,
Pierced by a spear,     a pledge to the god,
To Odin, myself to myself,
On that tree which none     can know the source
From whence its root has run.

None gave me bread,     none brought a horn.
Then low to earth I looked.
I caught up the runes,     roaring, I took them,
And fainting, back I fell.

Nine mighty lays     I learned from the son
Of Bolthorn, Bestla’s father,
And a draught I had     of the holy mead
Poured out of Odrerir.

Then fruitful I grew,     and greatly to thrive,
In wisdom began to wax.
A single word     to a second word led,
A single poem     a second found.

Runes will you find,     and fateful staves,
Very potent staves,     very powerful staves,
Staves the great gods made,     stained by the mighty sage,
And graven by the speaker of gods.

The Poetic Edda. Hávamál, stanzas 138-142

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

In Norse mythology, the story of Odin’s sacrifice stands out as a classic metaphor for shamanic initiation. Odin goes to Yggdrasil, the World Tree, tethers his horse Sleipnir and then hangs himself facing down into the bottomless void beneath the roots. He suffers there in agony for nine days and nights until he sees the runes in the depths. Then he picks them up and is transformed.

Among his diverse and seemingly conflicting aspects, Odin is a poet. He hungers for knowledge. One thing that strikes me about this beautiful verse is its similarity to the writing process. As it often happens, I hang there, staring into the darkness of my mind, a blank screen, longing for a story and seeing only the void—and then, after fighting, clawing and whining my fill at the dispassionate silence, I relax, let go, and suddenly the words come.

Writing is hard work. Most days it sucks. But when this happens, when I touch the Mystery, it’s all worth it.

© F.T. McKinstry 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Water

Water, by F.T. McKinstry

A hidden realm of green and blue
Swirling, curving, flowing
In deep places
Nonlinear patterns of infinite variables
The source of life
Of fluid creatures
At one with the element of imagination
The realm of mystery
The primordial unknown

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Art Prints

© F.T. McKinstry 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Wintry Critters

Ermine, by F.T. McKinstry

Ermine (Mustela erminea)


Season’s Greetings, Everyone!

One of the things I love most about this time of year is the wildlife in the woods. Like any proper New Englander, I respect winter and don’t fool around when it comes to preparing for it. But animals know what they’re doing. On dastardly cold nights or during a snowstorm I look out into the dark and wonder how all the clever creatures stay warm — assuming they aren’t hibernating (wouldn’t that be nice). But the next morning they’re all out there flying and padding around the forest, cheery as you please. It puts things in perspective.

Chickadee, by F.T. McKinstry

Chickadee

A while back one winter I was out for a walk and saw a short-tailed weasel (or stoat) moving around in the snow near the base of a tree. It wore its winter fur, pure white with a black tip on its tail. In this phase it’s called an ermine; in summer the stoat is brown with a white belly. I was amazed how small it was, about the size of a red squirrel or smaller. And it moved fast. Now you see it, now you don’t.

Naturally I was inspired to capture the wee beastie in a painting, to immortalize its serendipitous appearance. If you’d like to see more paintings of critters, check out my gallery Wild Things on Fine Art America.

Art Prints

© F.T. McKinstry 2014. All Rights Reserved.

The Source

The Source, by F.T. McKinstry

Greetings on this Winter Solstice!

The shortest day of the year captivates the imagination and connects us to a universal truth that’s often easy to forget in the throes of life. A seed in the earth about to germinate, a flash of inspiration in the depths of despair, light emerges from the Void.

The winter solstice brings living things to an instinctual awareness of the Source. The moment the shift happens there is a spark, a sigh, a ray of hope. The days will now begin to lengthen. Little wonder this is a time of celebration. No matter how dark it gets, the light always comes, usually when the darkness is complete.

The Hunter is Gone

Being creative and somewhat broody — ok that’s an understatement, how about Underworldish — I’m a seasoned veteran in the Dark Night of the Soul. As many times as I’ve stood before the abyss, each time is always the very first time, as if I’ve never done it before. It never ceases to amaze me, the Void’s powers of resilience and renewal. “But this time is different,” I say. “No light can come out of this.” Hel knows it’s no different. It’s always the same. Light comes from the darkness.

This finds its way into my art: novels, stories, poetry, paintings, gardening, music, aquariums — it’s everywhere. I stare into the abyss every time I type a word, hold a brush to a canvas or put a seed into the dirt. I listen to death metal looking for a glint of the sublime. I fret over my seedlings in the greenhouse one moment and mercilessly pull weeds from the ground the next. I stand in awe each 21st of December, like a votary of the Dark Night, waiting for the light I know will come. The sun is reliable, after all.

“Only wizards and hunters know the true meaning of darkness.” – From The Hunter’s Rede

“Gardens are made of darkness and light entwined.” – From The Winged Hunter

“In the dark, a call to love; in the light, a bridge.” – From “The Fifth Verse“, Wizards, Woods and Gods

“Where the heart yearns, there is the point of Mystery. Though the Old One holds in her arms the seeds of new awareness, healing and light, she cannot be seen or understood by the seed itself.” – From Raven of the West

© F.T. McKinstry 2014. All Rights Reserved.

The Raven God

The Raven God

The Norse deity Odin has many names that reflect his nature as warrior, magician, poet and shapeshifter, among other things. Complex and notoriously fickle, he acts on his own terms and it’s best not make assumptions about his favors. He appears in this painting with his two ravens, Hugin (thought) and Munin (desire) which fly over the land and tell him of all they see and hear. The title of Raven God is interesting, as ravens are both tricksters and harbingers of war.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Outpost, Book One in The Fylking. Woven with Norse mythology, swords and sorcery, this story takes place in a war-torn realm that contains a portal to the stars. The Otherworld beings who built it brought their gods with them. We know these gods as the Norse pantheon, the gods of the Vikings. But these beings haunt many worlds, not just Earth. Odin, in keeping with his nature, appears in this story at strange times and in strange ways, leaving our protagonists to wonder what he is and whose side he’s on.

If you’re into science fiction, check out “The Eye of Odin.” This is a short story about a warrior with a turbulent ancestry who gets on the wrong side of an interplanetary military contractor called Odin Systems. They modeled their headquarters and inventions after Norse themes from ancient Earth history. But they are dealing with forces bigger than technology. Verses of Odin’s saga are woven into this story in relevant places, shadowing events.

© F.T. McKinstry 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Winter Light

Winter Light, by F.T. McKinstry

In the north where I live, light in the wintertime is precious. The days are short and the sun hangs low, making it feel like afternoon or evening even in the height of day. The shadows have a long, abiding air about them and the warmth of the sun feels strange, not quite real. Shining brightly, it paints stark white lines on the sleeping trees, brings color from the gray and glitters on the snow and ice. Wildlife responds to the scant warmth with gratitude.

The Otherworld is near.

Photography Prints

© F.T. McKinstry 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Frost Moon

Frost Moon

Frost moon is a Norse name given to a full moon in November. The moon is particularly beautiful and mysterious this time of year, when the leaves are in color, the branches are bare and the winds are cold. A while back I was moved to capture this in an oil painting.

Tonight, we’re there. It’s supposed to snow in my neck of the woods so I might not see it…but I’ll feel it. Wherever you are, enjoy.

© F.T. McKinstry 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Lone Mountain

Pale as the moon casting amethyst and indigo shadows,
Distant as a dream, yet close as light,
A mountain shines through the whispering boughs of a twilit wood.
 

Photography Prints

© F.T. McKinstry 2014. All Rights Reserved.