For centuries the corvids, ravens and crows in particular (Corvus corax is the Latin name for the common raven and corvus corone for the carrion and hooded crows), have had a special place in the mythology of various cultures. In modern times this fascination has barely diminished. From Edgar Allen Poe’s literary classic to the film of James O’Barr’s cult graphic novel “The Crow”, these birds still exert a powerful hold over the psyche of a significant fraction of the population. The Goths who paint their faces with white make-up and the weekend warriors who expect Raven to take them to the Otherworld to meet the dead do not see the same animal as the farmers who set up decoys in order to shoot large numbers of them every year in late spring. This is, howe ver, typical of a creature that presents a paradox wherever one looks.
Corvids are sociable birds. They tend to form social groups, and this can be seen particularly in the case of rooks, which stay in their flocks all year round. Ravens, the largest of the family, reaching as much as 3 feet from beak to tail, form groups as juveniles, pairing off into lifelong monogamous and extremely territorial relationships at around the age of three. The courtship can involve such fun and games as synchronised snow sliding, and, of course, the synchronised flight test. The corvids can be found all over the world, and are the largest of the passiformae, or songbirds. The common raven is widely distributed throughout the Northern hemisphere, and the adaptability and intelligence of this family has made it extremely successful.
The rest of this article by Samantha Fleming, which was published in White Dragon at Samhain 1998, can be read on the White Dragon website.
Unkindnesses and Murders : Crow and Raven
The Yew, Taxus baccata , is an ancient tree species that has survived since before the Ice Age and as such as been revered and used by humankind throughout the ages. All races of the Northern Hemisphere, especially the Celts, the Greeks, the Romans and the North American Indians, have a right and powerful understanding of this unusual and remarkable tree. Because of its longevity and its unique way of growing new trunks from within the original root bole, it has now been estimated that some English Yews are as much as 4,000 years old, their presence spanning ages of time and history. No wonder the Yew is associated with immortality, renewal, regeneration, everlasting life, rebirth, transformation and access to the Otherworld and our ancestors.
There are about 10 different species of Yew in the northern temperate zones of Asia, Asia Minor, India, Europe, North Africa and North America. They are all thought to have descended from Paleotaxus rediviva , which was found imprinted on a Triassic era fossils laid down more than 200,000,000 years ago. Recently, more fossils of the Yew have been found from the Jurassic era, 140,000,000 years ago. So the Yew has managed to survive the great climatic changes of our planet, adapting and finding ways to live longer than most species alive today. According to pollen counts taken from peat bogs of Europe, the Yew trees grew in greater abundance at the time of the Ice Age than they do now. As the glaciers receded northwards, the great forests of Europe contained up to 80% of Yew trees, and since these times have been in continuous decline.
The rest of this article by Glennie Kindred, which was published in White Dragon at Samhain 1997, can be read on the White Dragon website.
The Yew : Sacred Tree of Transformation and Rebirth
The vampire has long been a source of morbid fascination, particularly for authors of gothic fiction. Although The Vampyre – Polidori’s uninspired pilfering of an unfinished tale by Lord Byron in 1819 – sparked a hugely popular revival in vampire literature that eventually led, in 1897, to Bram Stoker’s Dracula (and its subsequent exhaustive film adaptation), vampire fiction can be traced back as far as classical Greece.
Many attempts to explain the vampire myth have been cursed by the difficulty in separating the genuine folklore from the lurid fiction it inspired; Stoker, for example, seems to have added several qualities to the vampire which were subsequently adopted into the literature as genuine – such as the idea that a vampire has no reflection. Some researchers have plumped for psychological interpretations of the vampire, others have suggested rare blood diseases (such as Dr Dolphin’s porphyria hypothesis), but all are flawed and inspired more by the fictional vampire than his folkloric archetype.
The ‘vampires’ exhumed and dispatched throughout eastern and central Europe during the middle ages are not really the subject of this discussion. Paul Barber (1) studies these cases in some detail, and shows how corpses can be expected to appear in the ‘vampiric’ condition – bloated, with blood at the mouth. Such outbreaks are undoubtedly largely brought about by the plague, which was also a factor behind the witch hunts.
The rest of this article by Liam Rogers, which was published in White Dragon at Samhain 1997, can be read on the White Dragon website.
Exhuming the Vampire
The book reviews have been categorised. It was in the end a much quicker and more painless process than I dared imagine as all but a small handful fell firmly into one category or another rather than into 2, 3 or 4 as the articles had.
I suppose this is not surprising: an academic study of the Lancashire witches was only ever going to fit into the academic history category, and a Llewellyn mass market paperback almost invariably fell into Wicca – Popular and nowhere else. The main crossover sections proved to be Folklore and Mythology, since there’s a rather fuzzy border between the two, and Sacred Landscapes. I seem to have ended up with 42 categories, some with only one or two books in them. While this means that those one or two books can be readily identified rather than being lost in a larger category, it will no doubt play havoc with the design of the menus and will need to be discussed with Alexa.
While working through them it struck me that some of the reviews can be culled as no longer relevant; in particular a handful of small press booklets and pamphlets, as it’s incredibly unlikely that the reader will ever come across them, and one or two rather strange works of fiction (essentially self-published) that probably shouldn’t have been reviewed in the first place. On the other hand, there are upwards of 40 or more reviews which were never added to the site in the first place and which will need to be incorporated into the redesign work.