When it came to formulating a tale for Alban Elfed I was stuck. Unlike the Spring Equinox, I had no initial associations and research into the festival failed to throw up any ideas, except that it had to focus on darkness and light. Thankfully, a tale had seeded in my head early in the summer and had been growing ever since.
When I first heard about Gog and Magog I was on the slopes of Glastonbury Tor. A fellow walker told me about the two magnificent Oak trees who stood nearby. Visiting Glastonbury again later in the summer, I walked over the lower slopes of the Tor to find Gog and Magog down a green lane. They are truly magnificent trees, centuries old. Gog died a while ago (and more recently caught fire) although his trunk and branches stand as a ghostly reminder of his presence. Magog is still growing and, when I saw her, was resplendent with leaves. They are the last remnants of an avenue of oak trees which used to lead to the Isle of Avalon, although the others were cut down in the early twentieth century. Could I, I wondered, use these two trees – one dead, one alive, one in darkness, one in light – as the basis for my Alban Elfed tale?
Initial research into the legend of Gog and Magog revealed various tales of two giants (or one giant named Gogmagog) and various legends associated with them, including being chained to the Guildhall in London. I attempted to streamline these myths into a coherent story but the piece seemed to have very little connection to Alban Elfed, other than the sense of darkness and light.
It was Danu Forest’s excellent book The Magical Year which helped me tie the disparate elements together. The book guides the reader through a visualisation with Affallach, an embodiment of the green man who guards the orchard of Avalon, a derivation of “Isle of Apples”. As Alban Elfed marks the fruit harvest, writing about the journey of Gog and Magog to the Isle of Apples suddenly felt like the quintessential tale for this festival.
In terms of narrative style, I chose to write the piece from Magog’s perspective. This gave me the chance to make the narrative more intricate and personal, engaging the reader more definitely with emotional elements of the story. In terms of how I was going to explain the transformation of Gog and Magog from giants to trees, I opted to leave it to the audience’s imagination with just a few pointers in the text.
Of all the pieces, this has the most unsettling ending. When read as an individual story it may seem a little pessimistic; within the broader cycle of the stories it feels more like an acknowledgement of the power of the darkness from which the reader will eventually emerge.
Photograph by Karin Brown at Imbolc Photography (https://brownkcd.wixsite.com/imbolc)