It’s been a few weeks since Lughnasadh, since I posted my festival tale “The Song of John Barleycorn”. Sorry for the delay! There is the commentary so that you know where the story came from!
With the Harvest stories, the wordcount of each piece begins to wane and I wanted to bring a very different feel to the collection. All the tales I had written to this point had happy endings; as the year shortened I wanted to give the pieces more disquieting conclusions. The first of these was the bittersweet tale of Lughnadsah.
I love the festival of Lughnadsah and have done since I started practicing Druidry. The arrival of the first harvest is a time of real abundance and the God, Lugh, is a powerful figure for me. Despite this, I didn’t end up writing about Lugh as I was being drawn to the story of John Barleycorn; I researched the mythology further and spent a time working with the folk song of the tale. My initial drafts attempted to use the ballad form to develop the tale but, as there was already an existing song, I didn’t want to emulate it too closely. Wanting to integrate the sense of a “song” I decided to leave that element for a while so I could consider it further.
I began writing the tale sitting on a balcony of a guest house in Glastonbury, overlooking a sheep filled apple orchard. It was a beautiful evening and I remember it vividly. I looked around me for inspiration, which led me to reflect on the signs of late summer in the opening paragraph; the swallows, the shadows and the midges dancing in the light. These proved useful thematic elements I could weave through the piece overall.
The next day I went to the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey and wrote the first draft in one sitting. Throughout writing I visualised the setting as broadly Victorian, just on the cusp of the Industrial revolution and after the acts of enclosure. I wanted to emulate the narrative style of a folk tale in my writing; as such the narrator didn’t need to be specifically characterised. It also meant I could use characters as ciphers somewhat. I originally toyed with giving names to Barleycorn’s daughters and the three villainous gentlemen but decided against this, instead trying to create the sense of them as mythical types rather than individuals.
I didn’t feel that the ending of the first draft worked particularly well. It ended with the daughters being sad and the narrative voice panning away to the horizon, repeating the elements mentioned in the opening paragraph. I considered developing the mythical element further and was reminded of the myth of Philomel, who is transformed into a nightingale by her grief. I began re-working the ending, transforming Barleycorn’s daughters into nightingales once they discover their father’s murder. As the song of the nightingale is notoriously beautiful, this successfully addressed the song element I had worked with at the beginning. Going back to the opening paragraph and including a comment about the nightingales’ song made the piece more cohesive.
The next festival is the Autumn Equinox – see you in a few weeks to so we can discuss ideas!