Poor King Ban.
He has a fortress, grey-stoned and garden walled, adorned by fountains of ferns and smelling of sweet incenses and woodsmoke. And he lost it all, we’ll not go into how just here; we join him as he lumbers out to the glassy lake at the castle’s foot to die of grief. Better not to pin your Self to such towering baubles. Even today I feel myself imploring Ban to let the castle slip away and to face the Strange, and live.
Poor Queen Ban, scavenging the last moments with a man who loved his castle more than her. How twisted are the strings we allow to make us puppets. She leaves her child to be with her husband as he dies.
What a pair. And when the King has taken his leave and the Queen returns to the castle, there stands a Faerie: old- style, not some ethereal imp but a tall woman holding her child. And while the Queen remains terror-rooted to the spot, the Faerie carries the child into the lake and disappears to his mother.
Faeries were not small fry, back then. The author of the old romance from which this story is drawn (as if from a deep well) tells us: “In those time all the women were called fays who had to do with enchantments and charms – and there were many of them then, principally in Great Britain – and knew the power and virtues of words, of stones, and of herbs…”
The words come from an early 19th century book by an Irish folklorist, Thomas Keightley, read and admired by one of the Grimm brothers. The man wrote a whole book on Faerie mythology. And to think that early Faeries were British women who knew about words, and stones, and herbs.
And back to our story. The lake was not a real lake but a Fee (fairy) lake. The child’s name was Launcelot. And the rest is mythology.
The quality of that castle: its damp, solid destruction, the green maidenhair growing from crevices in its walls; the other-worldness of that lake, they are summed up for some in a small living thing which makes its appearance round about now in our Northern half of the world.
For some, there is a flower which can make the veil between what we think is real, and what might be, gossamer-thin.
If we are not careful, we could walk past this little portal without ever realising its potency.
Yesterday, taking our daily exercise with the smallest of dogs, we came upon a bank of primroses, a Primrose Path. I would swear the air was different there, and the earth busy, the earthworms industrious, the beetles bell-like and percussive.
The primrose, some say, has the power to reveal the invisible. Hang a posy on the door and the faeries will come knocking; scatter the little blooms outside to keep them away. Eat primroses, they say, and you will see a fairy.
Should you, on your exercise outside the house, or through your window, spot the little primrose; should it grace your Spring even this year, when we the human race are sent inside to wait: then I would urge you to give it audience. Stop, and marvel: for this is a flower to summon faeries. The real kind; the old kind; the lawless, self-serving, wise women, who know about words, and stones, and herbs.