‘Once upon a time a long time ago, in a region of Italy named for the long beards who dwelt there, there grew a tree, a beautiful walnut tree, it grew walnuts said to enhance the mind and balance the soul, brain shaped oily fruits that imparted a rare type of knowledge and legends of what this knowledge was, over the years became as twisted and entangled as the roots of the tree itself.’
Our own Cailleach has much in common with the Greek goddess of dark places Hecate, the instigators of the Scottish witch trials and James VI took mythology and entangled it effortlessly in people’s minds with reality in order to control and escape their own demons (and unpleasant irritating neighbours), our ideas about witches crosses cultures and has crept in over hundreds of years, holding fathomless appeal for many, especially during the dark dying Autumn nights.
It did start a long time ago for me ...like many children I was fascinated by witches, part granny, part mythical, with just enough reality on the fringes of their fairy tale capes to suggest they might be here in this world, witches seemed to shift through realms as and when the time allowed.
‘On Halloween when the walls are thin’
Witches for me had the type of magic that transcends fiction...magic with a suggestion of earthy tangibility.
I learnt a lot about herbs from my granny, her garden in Aberdeen was an aromatic explosion of pinks, lavender and marjoram, the kitchen, a sugar coated, fear enhanced place of culinary temptation.
My mum is a storyteller, I wanted to catch that silken strand of make believe she span and bring it to life like she did, like it was, in my imagination.
In adulthood I studied herbal medicine, a garden of physiology and botanical constituents baffled and beckoned but it was their stories that I harvested.
‘The yellow flower of St John’s Wort, gloom lifter, devil chaser, witches herb’
Years later all this combined in a head full of pathways where fairy stories and reality collided, now a writer and storyteller myself, an American producer asked me to come up with a herbal storytelling original: looking at women of a certain age in stories.
So much harder than I’d first thought, they were already there, but as support acts...they were mostly mothers, grandmothers, wicked stepmothers, then I realised they were also symbolically entwined with witches, evil or tragic queens, ogresses.
I started to root through my brain for the stories, folklore and snippets of history that I’d collected and loved, those cackling moments of irreverent witchiness and started to thread them together.
I thought I'd tell the backstory: Northern European Baba Yaga's version of events maybe, the Scottish Cailleach's life story, how do they interconnect with a walnut tree and the legendary Italian Strega?
Those fairy story witches, imbued with symbolism, creeping around the perimeters of reality, how they occasionally cross into other worlds, other times, through our storytelling, our perception of history as a theatrical place, our changing use of language ...when medical knowledge of long ago becomes folklore of today...it all contributed to the stuff of my new collection of gothic fairy tales for grown ups: Witchcraft!
There’s the real Jacobite Perthshire Duchess who it was
claimed transformed herself into a hare to save her son. A humorous reality check on the unpoetic origins of Tam O’Shanter,.Aberdeenshire witches who’s mythology grew as they miraculously seemed to heal following trial by fire, (using everyones favorite sock drawer scenting herb) and of course utterly terrifying fairy tales out there.
Witches are everywhere, familiar and magical... just a step away from reality.
If you venture down to the Secret Herb Garden on Halloween I’ll show you just where that reality ends!
(c)Amanda Edmiston 2015 www.botanicafabula.co.uk
The international online edition will appear in 2016, and 'Enchanting' a dark and funny central story linking herbs and legends, embellished with fantastic and true stories of real Scottish Witches and the herbs that they loved is now part of an evening of storytelling: WITCHCRAFT! by Amanda Edmiston with live beautiful original music by Louise Cairns, debuting at The Secret Herb Garden http://secretherbgarden.co.uk/ in Old Pentland on Halloween 2015. A stunning venue, with a magic of it’s own!
More details of Amanda’s storytelling see...