Mythology, the Moon, and the 2017 Solar Eclipse

Winter Moon Raven, by F.T. McKinstry

Winter Moon Raven

 
If you live in the US, particularly in the swath along the width of the country from the northwest to the southeast, you will get a rare and special treat on August 21st: a total eclipse of the sun. In northern Vermont, where I live, we’ll get to see about 60% of it and, miracles of miracles, it’s actually going to be sunny (don’t get me started). I’m ready. I made my own camera obscura, and tried it out. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s cool af; it projects this ghostly mirror image of the sky, trees and sun, like an Otherworld portal or something.

A solar eclipse happens on a new moon, when the moon moves between the earth and the sun and the side turned toward the earth is dark. Needless to say, there’s a wealth of bizarre tales in world mythology explaining a solar eclipse. Given how creepy and unnatural it is when for no apparent reason the life-giving sun goes away, the temperature drops, and animals act weird, it stands to reason that most of these myths are gloomy and apocalyptic, such as dragons or serpents eating the sun, divine punishment, evil omens, and disputes between the gods.

The Source

The Source

Norse mythology tells of a pair of wolves named Hati and Skoll that chase the sun, and will catch it at Ragnarok, the annihilation of the cosmos. A solar eclipse was explained as the sky wolves getting a lucky break and stealing the sun. The solution was to make a lot of noise to scare the beasts away. (Hey, it must have worked; we’re still here.)

On a full moon, the earth is between the moon and the sun. I was born on a full moon. When I was a kid, I doodled and drew every mysterious, strange and beautiful thing that caught my attention, and had a particular fascination for drawing images of the sun and moon aligned and facing each other. I didn’t realize at the time that this is what happens during a full moon…but some part of me did. Since then, the full moon appears often in my paintings.

Here’s to hoping you get a chance to check out the eclipse! Protect your eyes, and watch out for the sky wolves.

 
© F.T. McKinstry 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Return of the Sun

Winter Light

Winter Light, by F.T. McKinstry

What is the true meaning of darkness?
Darkness is the source of light.

~ From The Hunter’s Rede

Wishing everyone a Merry Yule. Enjoy the season!

 
© F.T. McKinstry 2015. 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 Water Dark

© F.T. McKinstry 2014. 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.

The Maiden

By sun and stone, by fog and sky,
By night the winds come singing;
By dawn the robin’s joyful cry
Shall join the bluebells ringing.
Fair, the Maiden’s feet upon the dew.

From out the fields of amber green,
Beneath the low sky raining,
A wily stag her heart to tame,
Her wildness changed to yearning.
Breathlessly, the violets face the sun.

Columbine, to draw her near,
Goldenrod, to find her;
Myrtle blossoms she holds dear,
Hawthorn blooms will bind her.
Velvet red, the petals of the rose.

When the sun’s crown rules the skies,
Grapes ripening on the vine;
The stag shall look with longing eyes
Towards the harvest time.
Fear not, the twilight’s strange disquietude.

The raven does not mourn the night,
Nor wolves the kill’s last breath;
The owl, she revels in her flight,
The stag, his ancient death.
Tears of blood fall sweet upon the stone.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

© F.T. McKinstry 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Earth Awakening

Trout Lily, by F.T. McKinstry

Trout Lily

Spring flows through the cold
Softening, awakening
Tangled branches twine
Like nests
Reaching for the sun
Rivers break their icy bounds
And bathe the land in fluid song
Beech leaves rattle amid
Heavens of buds
Gazing down like stars upon the earth
Dark, damp and fragrant
Mayflowers rise through sodden leaves
Ferns spiral forth
And woodland lilies grace the dark with light

 
© F.T. McKinstry 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Immortal Longing

She had asked the stars, whales, rocks, the sun and moon.

She had asked terns, seals, herrings, crabs, and the white horses that roamed the cliffs on the western coast of Waleis.

She had asked the trees and the north wind.

She had asked the dead, their pale eyes staring.

She had even asked the beryl spire focusing the energies of the earth into a mighty web.

But nothing in Ealiron’s creation knew where the mortal shell of her child had gone.

Until one came, bearing news.

As she released the snow-white gull to the north, her immortal lover twinkled with the silence of deep winter on the hard, gray land.

 
Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Legends of sailors and wizards collide when an Otherworld being discovers its destiny in a mortal’s imagination. The Gray Isles, Book Two in the Chronicles of Ealiron.

 
© F.T. McKinstry 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Nature as Muse: Water and Sky

Ancient cultures worshiped the sun, moon, rivers, sea and stars as gods. Among other things these forces give life, govern tides and weather, guide travelers on their way and inspire awe, wonder, curiosity and imagination. Sometimes bright, sometimes dark, mysterious and inexorable, these aspects of nature influence every facet of life. They are also capable of destroying it.

In this final installment of Nature as Muse, we’ll delve into how watery forces and celestial luminaries have influenced the fantasy world of Ealiron.

Sun

Thou sun, of this great world both eye and soul. ~ John Milton, Paradise Lost

The Source, by F.T. McKinstryThe consciousness of Ealiron is symbolized by the sun, the origin of light and life. The entity himself is often called the Source.

In Aenspeak, the wizard’s tongue, the word solsaefil means “Sun Key.” The Sun Key is an architectural construct that uses the crystal focusing towers maintained by the Keepers of the Eye to mark the movement of the sun. The Sun Keys were built centuries ago by the Keepers and integrated into the castles and landscapes where they lived. To this day, the Sun Keys are honored and maintained by the Keepers’ highest ranked wizards.

In the following excerpt, a wizard named Freil explains this to his friend Tansel.

Night had fallen and the moon cast silvery rays into the trees. After a long silence, Freil asked, “Has your great grandfather explained to you about the Muin Waeltower?”

Tansel shifted positions in the saddle, which had grown uncomfortable. “He began to teach me about the stones in the garden. They are different shapes and sizes, and have crystals in them. The beams from the tower shine on them sometimes. The plants gather thickly around some of them, and avoid others. He said things grow and live by the Old One through patterns?”

“Identity patterns, the structural awareness of gods. Their essence rises from the Void to know itself. Has he told you about the Sun Key?”

She craned her face up. “What’s that?”

Solsaefil, in Aenspeak. The Hall of Muin is designed to use the Waeltower to direct light into celestial patterns. The stones in your garden are part of this. It marks the seasons, the movement of the stars. Tonight, the light beams from the tower will converge on the south side of the hall into a geometric pattern that corresponds to this time of year, just like the oak tree or the chamomile.”

Tansel sat up in excitement. “Is this why the halls are so strange, and the light shines into odd places—crystals in the walls, on the floor?”

“Aye. Every line and point is part of the greater whole.”

“The patterns that form on the full moons, what do they do?”

“They form on the quadrants of the year, each solstice and equinox; that is, when the sun is closest to the earth, or farthest away, or when the day and night are equal in length. This year, the summer solstice happens to align with the Rose Moon. This will open a portal to the Old One.”

“What happens?”

“A gate is projected onto a physical place. What happens there would depend on what you brought with you. At this time of year, daylight reigns; the light of the sun is at its peak. This corresponds to the maternal aspect of the Old One, she who nurtures, grows, gives birth. Gardens bloom and flourish. So where that energy is within you, you might see something. Or you might not.” ~ The Winged Hunter

Moon

The moon gazed on my midnight labours, while, with unrelaxed and breathless eagerness, I pursued nature to her hiding-places. ~ Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Moonrise, by F.T. McKinstryThe moon emanates peace and mystery like a fragrance . It is a powerful force governing life cycles through the rhythmic rise and fall of the liquid universe. In Ealiron, the moon is a reflection of the Old One, a primeval goddess of birth, life and transformation. The phases of the moon represent the nature of the goddess herself.

In this excerpt, a warrior departs the shelter of a palace under a dark moon that cloaks him in magic.

The Snow Moon had come and gone, and the new moon gazed unseen from the pre-dawn horizon as Lorth led Freya from the stables to the High Pass gates. He wore a ghostly energy shield that blended him with the moon and the mare. He pulled his hood over his face and made a habitual inventory of his person: bow and quiver, sword, longknife, silver Leaf girl in his boot. Freya carried his snowshoes, supplies and enough winter gear to keep him alive in the wilds for a while. ~ The Hunter’s Rede

River

The river is everywhere. ~ Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

River, by F.T. McKinstryRivers have identities arising from the nature of the landscapes through which they flow. Like any body of water, a river has many moods. The Westlight is a lively river that flows down from a mountain spring in the citadel of Eyrie and down through the city that surrounds it to the south and east. In my upcoming story Water Dark, the Westlight changes from a rocky, tumbling river into a hostile force controlled by a wicked priestess. A wizard named Urien must save his apprentice Rosamund from being drowned.

Movement caught his attention. In the distance, Rosamond sat on the edge of the rushing water, on a wide rock, her long legs bared and her face tilted back to the sun like a contented cat.

Urien called out with enough force to shake the ground. “ROSAMOND!”

She stirred, then beamed a glorious smile and waved.

Urien’s foreboding rose with the force of the river. He cupped his hands to his mouth. “Get away from the water!”

Her smile faded as she turned. From the north, an enormous bore from an unseen tide rose up into a wall of crashing, maleficent white-green waves. Rosamond shrieked and jumped up. Urien raised his hands and cried a string of words that rent the course like a scythe, but he could not drop the river before it swept her into its foamy clutches without a sound. ~ Water Dark

Sea

…and many of the Children of Ilúvatar hearken still unsated to the voices of the Sea, and yet know not for what they listen. ~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion

The Sea, by F.T. McKinstryIn a Keepers’ library on the remote island of Urd is a book entitled Legend and the Sea: Interaction. It discusses, in esoteric detail, the relationship between the awesome and mysterious nature of the sea and the stories mankind creates around it. It says: The forces of the sea give rise to imagination, which reflects them according to the nature and disposition of the perceiver. The sea itself is undifferentiated and without bias. In other words, while a sailor might pray to the sea in a desperate situation, a seasoned sailor is not foolish enough to expect her to listen.

In the following excerpt, three wizards, one of them a sailor with the power to work the elements, run into seas that care little for their knowledge.

An enormous splash resounded off the bow. Samolan swore an oath involving some mountain god as the sky lit up, followed by a thunderous crack. Rain pelted the lantern, sending hissing smoke into the wind. A gust slammed into the mainsail. Samolan eased it out and changed course slightly to avoid running downwind.

“Cimri!” Lorth shouted. “Can you calm this?”

“Go see what he’s doing,” Samolan said.

Lorth was already heading forward. He held onto the boat, shielding his face as the wind shifted and pummeled him from the west. Waves crashed around the hull in chaotic fury, splashing over his feet.

When he reached the foredeck, he clung to the edge of the cabin and stared into the dark. “Cimri!” The sky lit up again.

The foredeck was empty. ~ The Gray Isles

Stars

Not just beautiful, though—the stars are like the trees in the forest, alive and breathing. And they’re watching me. ~ Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

Stars, by F.T. McKinstryFew things bring forth wonder and dreams as stars do. But to one young man, the brightest star in the constellation of Eala, the Swan, is much more than a dream.

Sailors called his realm the Swan, for so it appeared to them, the pattern of stars shining on dusk’s fading arc in the seeding time of year. They knew his name, Ciron, as its heart and brightest star. But she knew his touch. She had lain with him in the warm waters on the shortest night, when the wind from the stars caressed the depths and revealed the Gates of the Palace of Origin, and conceived.

On that night, Ciron sang a spell that brought their child into a human womb. He sang to protect the child from water. The Shining Ones did not always say what they knew; nor had Ciron said, even when she wept and thrashed in the glistening sea beneath his cold light, where her child had gone. First a boy, now a man, he had vanished with the death of his innocence. ~ The Gray Isles

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Nature as Muse: Warm and Furry
Nature as Muse: Creepy and Crawly
Nature as Muse: Root and Stone

© F.T. McKinstry 2013. All Rights Reserved.

The Solar Breath

Frost Moon, by F.T. McKinstry

I have always loved the idea of naming the full moons. Traditionally, these names reflect nature through the seasons, and vary with history and culture; for example, between English Medieval, Norse, Celtic or Native American. This beautiful lore gives rise to visual and emotional impressions, the province of the moon itself.

While working on The Chronicles of Ealiron, I wrote and illustrated a series of verses to capture the essence of each cycle using tree, plant and animal lore. This is called solaeson, which in the wizards’ tongue means “the solar breath.” Some day these verses will find a home in the series.

In celebration of the Celtic New Year, I’ve begun with November.

© F.T. McKinstry 2013. All Rights Reserved.