Mythago Wood – Chapter 4

JournalThere is one entry in my father’s notebook that seems to mark a turning point in his research, and in his life. It is longer than the other notes of that particular time, and follows an absence of seven months from the pages. While his entries are often detailed, he could not be described as having been a dedicated diarist, and the style varies from clipped notes to fluent description. (I discovered, too, that he himself had torn many pages from the thick book, thus concealing my minor crime quite effectively. Christian had never noticed the missing page.) On the whole, he seems to have used the notebook, and the quiet hours of recording, as a way of conversing with himself – a means of clarification of his own thoughts.

The entry in question is dated September 1935, and was written shortly after our encounter with the Twigling. After reading the entry for the first time I thought back to that year and realized I had been just eight years old.

Wynne-Jones arrived after dawn. Walked together along the south track, checking the flux-drains for signs of mythago activity. Back to the house quite shortly after-no-one about, which suited my mood. A crisp, dry autumn day. Like last year, images of the Urscumug are strongest as the season changes. Perhaps he senses autumn, the dying of the green. He comes forward, and the oakwoods whisper to him. He must be close to genesis. Wynne-Jones thinks a further time of isolation needed, and it must be done. Jennifer already concerned and distraught by my absences. I feel helpless – can’t speak to her. Must do what is needed.

Yesterday the boys glimpsed the Twigling. I had thought him resorbed – clearly the resonance is stronger than we had believed. He seems to frequent the woodland edge, which is to be expected. I have seen him along the track several times, but not for a year or so. The persistence is worrying. Both boys clearly disturbed by the sighting; Christian less emotional. I suspect it meant little to him, a poacher perhaps, or local man taking short cut to Grimley. Wynne-Jones suggests we go back into woods and call the Twigling deep, perhaps to the hogback glade where he might remain in the strong oak-vortex and eventually fade. But I know that penetrating into deep woodland will involve more than a week’s absence, and poor Jennifer is already deeply depressed by my behaviour. Cannot explain it to her, though I dearly want to. Do not want the children involved in this, and it worries me that they have now twice seen a mythago. I have invented magic forest creatures-stories for them. Hope they will associate what they see with products of their own imaginations. But must be careful.

Until it is resolved, until the Urscumug mythago forms from the woodland, must not let any but Wynne-Jones know of what I have discovered. The completeness of the resurrection essential. The Urscumug is the most powerful because he is the primary. I know for certain that the oakwoods will contain him, but others might be frightened of the power they would certainly be able to feel, and end it for everyone. Dread to think what would happen if these forests were destroyed, and yet they cannot survive for ever.

Thursday: Today’s training with Wynne-Jones: test pattern 26: iii, shallow hypnosis, green light environment. As the frontal bridge reached sixty volts, despite the pain, the flow across my skull was the most powerful I have ever known. Am now totally convinced that each half of the brain functions in a slightly different way, and that the hidden awareness is located on the right-hand side. It has been lost for so long! The Wynne-Jones bridge enables a superficial communion between the fields around each hemisphere, and the zone of the pre-mythago is excited accordingly. If only there were some way of exploring the living brain to find exactly where the site of this occult presence lies.

Monday: The forms of the mythagos cluster in my peripheral vision, still. Why never in fore-vision? These unreal images are mere reflections, after all. The form of Hood was subtly different-more brown than green, the face less friendly, more haunted, drawn. This is certainly because earlier images (even the Hood mythago that actually formed in the woodland, two years ago) were affected by my own confused childhood images of the greenwood, and the merry band. But now, evocation of the pre-mythago is more powerful, reaches to the basic form, without interference. The Arthur form was more real as well, and I glimpsed the various marshland forms from the latter part of the first millennium AD. Also, a hint of the haunting presence of what I believe is a Bronze Age necromantic figure. A terrifying moment. The guardian of the Horse Shrine has gone, the shrine destroyed. I wonder why? The huntsman has been back to the “Wolf Glen”; his fire was quite fresh. I also found evidence of the neolithic shaman, the hunter-artist who leaves the strange red ochre patterns on tree and rock. Wynne-Jones would love me to explore these folk heroes, unrecorded and unknown, but I am anxious to find the primary image.

The Urscumug has formed in my mind in the clearest form I have ever seen him. Hints of the Twigling in shape, but he is much more ancient, far bigger. Decks himself with wood and leaves, on top of animal hides. Face seems smeared with white clay, forming a mask upon the exaggerated features below; but it is hard to see the face clearly. A mask upon a mask? The hair a mass of stiff and spiky points; gnarled hawthorn branches are driven up through the matted hair, giving a most bizarre appearance. I believe he carries a spear, with a wide, stone blade … an angry-looking weapon, but again, hard to see, always just out of focus. He is so old, this primary image, that he is fading from the human mind. He is also touched with confusion. The overlaying of later cultural interpretation of how his appearance would have been … a hint of bronze particularly, mostly about the arms (torques). I suspect that the legend of the Urscumug was powerful enough to carry through all the neolithic and on into the second millenium BC, perhaps even later. Wynne-Jones thinks the Urscumug may pre-date even the neolithic.

Essential, now, to spend time in the forest, to allow the vortex to interact with me and form the mythago. I intend to leave the house within the next week.

Without commenting on the strange, confusing passages I had read, I turned the pages of the diary and read entries here and there. I could clearly recall that autumn in 1933, the time when my father had packed a large rucksack and wandered into the woods, walking swiftly away from my mother’s hysterical shouting, flanked by his diminutive scientist friend (a sour-faced man who never acknowledged anyone but my father, and who seemed embarrassed to be in the house when he came to visit). Mother had not spoken for the rest of the day, and she did nothing but sit in her bedroom and occasionally weep. Christian and I had become so distraught at her behaviour that in the later afternoon we had penetrated the oakwoods as deeply as we dared, calling for our father and finally panicking at the gloomy silence, and the loud, sudden sounds that disturbed it. He had returned weeks later, dishevelled and stinking like a tramp. The entry in his notebook, a few days subsequently, is a short and bitter account of failure. Nothing had happened. A single, rather rambling paragraph caught my attention.

The mythogenetic process is not only complex, it is reluctant.

I am too old! The equipment helps, but a younger mind could accomplish the task unaided, I’m sure. I dread the thought! Also, my mind is not at rest and as Wynne-Jones has explained, it is likely that my human consideration, my worries, form an effective barrier between the two mythopoetic energy flows in my cortex – the form from the right brain, the reality from the left. The pre-mythago zone is not sufficiently enriched by my own life force for it to interact in the oak vortex.

I fear too that the natural disappearance of so much life from the forest is affecting the interface. The boars are there, I’m sure. But perhaps the life number is critical. I estimate no more than forty, moving within the spiral vortex bounded by the ashwood intrusions into the oak circle. There are few deer, few wolves, although the most important animal, the hare, frequents the woodland edge in profusion. But perhaps the absence of so much that once lived here has thrown the balance of the formula. And yet, throughout the primary existence of these woods, life was changing. By the thirteenth century there was much botanical life that was alien to the ley matrix in places where the mythagos still formed. The form of the myth men changes, adapts, and it is the later forms that generate most easily.

Hood is back – like all the Jack-in-the-Greens, is a nuisance, and several times moved into the ridge-zone around the hogback glade. He shot at me, and this is becoming a cause of great concern! But I cannot enrich the oak vortex sufficiently with the pre-mythago of the Urscumug. What is the answer? To try to enter more deeply, to find the wildwoods? Perhaps the memory is too far gone, too deep in the silent zones of the brain, now, to touch the trees.

Christian saw me frown as I read through this tumble of words and images. Hood? Robin Hood? And someone – this Hood – shooting at my father in the woods? I glanced around the study and saw the iron-tipped arrow in its long, narrow glass case, mounted above the display of woodland butterflies. Christian was turning the pages of the notebook, having watched me read in silence for the better part of an hour. He was perched on the desk, I sat in father’s chair.

“What’s all this about, Chris? It reads as if he were actually trying to create copies of storybook heroes.”

“Not copies, Steve. The real thing. There. Last bit of reading for the moment, then I’ll go through it with you in layman’s terms.”

It was an earlier entry, not dated by year, only by day and month, although it was clearly from some years before the 1933 recording.

I call those particular times “cultural interfaces”; they form zones, bounded in space, of course, by the limits of the country, but bounded also in time, a few years, a decade or so, when the two cultures – that of the invaded and the invader – are in a highly anguished state. The mythagos grow from the power of hate, and fear, and form in the natural woodlands from which they can either emerge – such as the Arthur, or Artorius form, the bear-like man with his charismatic leadership – or remain in the natural landscape, establishing a hidden focus of hope-the Robin Hood form, perhaps Here-ward, and of course the hero-form I call the Twigling, harassing the Romans in so many pans of the country. I imagine thai it is the combined emotion of the two races that draws out the mythago, but it clearly sides with thai culture whose roots are longest established in what I agree could be a sort of ley matrix; thus, Arthur forms and helps the Britons against the Saxons, but later Hood is created to help the Saxons against the Norman invader.

I drew back from the book, shaking my head. The expressions were confusing, bemusing. Christian grinned as he took the notebook, and weighed it in his hands. “Years of his life, Steve, but his concern with keeping detailed records was not everything it might have been. He records nothing for years, then writes every day for a month. And he has removed and hidden several pages.” He frowned slightly as he said this.

“I need a drink of something. And a few definitions.”

We walked from the study, Christian carrying the notebook. As we passed the framed arrow I peered closely at it. “Is he saying that the real Robin Hood shot that into him? And killed Guiwenneth too?”

“It depends,” said Christian thoughtfully, “on what you mean by real. Hood came to that oak forest, and may still be there. I think he is. As you have obviously noticed, he was there four months ago when he shot Guiwenneth. But there were many Robin Hoods, and all were as real or unreal as each other, created by the Saxon peasants during their time of repression by the Norman invader.”

“I don’t comprehend this at all, Chris-but what’s a ‘ley matrix’? What’s an ‘oak vortex’? Does it mean anything?”

As we sipped scotch and water in the sitting-room, watching the dusk draw closer, the yard beyond the window greying into a place of featureless shapes, Christian explained how a man called Alfred Watkins had visited our father on several occasions and shown him on a map of the country how straight lines connected places of spiritual or ancient power – the barrows, stones and churches of three different cultures. These lines he called leys, and believed that they existed as a form of earth energy running below the ground, but influencing that which stood upon it.

My father had thought about leys, and apparently tried to measure the energy in the ground below the forest, but without success. And yet he had measured something in the oakwoods – an energy associated with all the life that grew there. He had found a spiral vortex around each tree, a sort of aura, and those spirals bounded not just trees, but whole stands of trees, and glades.

Over the years he had mapped the forest. Christian brought out that map of the woodland area, and I looked at it again, but from a different point of view, beginning to understand the marks made upon it by the man who had spent so much time within the territories it depicted. Circles within circles were marked, crossed and skirted by straight lines, some of which were associated with the two pathways we called south and deep track. The letters HB in the middle of the vast acreage of forest were clearly meant to refer to the “hogback” glade that existed there, a clearing that neither Christian nor I had ever been able to find. There were zones marked out as “spiral oak”, “dead ash zone” and “oscillating traverse”.

“The old man believed that all life is surrounded by an energetic aura – you can see the human aura as a faint glow in certain light. In these ancient woodlands, primary woodlands, the combined aura forms something far more powerful, a sort of creative field that can interact with our unconscious. And it’s in the unconscious that we carry what he calls the pre-mythago – that’s myth imago, the image of the idealized form of a myth creature. The image takes on substance in a natural environment, solid flesh, blood, clothing, and-as you saw-weaponry. The form of the idealized myth, the hero figure, alters with cultural changes, assuming the identity and technology of the time. When one culture invades another-according to father’s theory-the heroes are made manifest, and not just in one location! Historians and legend-seekers argue about where Arthur of the Britons, and Robin Hood really lived and fought, and don’t realize that they lived in many sites. And another important fact to remember is that when the mind image of the mythago forms it forms in the whole population . . . and when it is no longer needed, it remains in our collective unconscious, and is transmitted through the generations.”

“And the changing form of the mythago,” I said, to see if I had understood my sketchy reading of father’s notes, “is based on an archetype, an archaic primary image which father called the Urscumug, and from which all later forms come. And he tried to raise the Urscumug from his own unconscious mind. . . .”

“And failed to do so,” said Christian, “although not for want of trying. The effort killed him. It weakened him so much that his body couldn’t take the pace. But he certainly seems to have created several of the more recent adaptations of the Urscumug.”

There were so many questions, so many areas that begged for clarification. One above all: “But a thousand years ago, if I understand the notes correctly, there was a country-wide need of the hero, the legendary figure, acting for the side of Right. How can one man capture such a passionate mood? How did he power the interaction? Surely not from the simple family anguish he caused among us, and in his own head. As he said, that created an unsettled mind and he couldn’t function properly.”

“If there’s an answer,” said Christian calmly, “it’s to be found in the woodland area, perhaps in the hogback glade. The old man wrote in his notes of the need for a period of solitary existence, a period of meditation. For a year now I’ve been following his example directly. He invented a sort of electrical bridge which seems to fuse elements from each half of the brain. I’ve used his equipment a great deal, with and without him. But I already find images – the pre-mythagos-forming in my peripheral vision without the complicated programme that he used. He was the pioneer, his own interaction with the wood has made it easier for those who come after. Also, I’m younger. He felt that would be important. He achieved a certain success; I intend to complete his work, eventually. I shall raise the Urscumug, this hero of the first men.”

“To what end, Chris?” I asked quietly, and in all truth could not see a reason for so tampering with the ancient forces that inhabited both woodland and human spirit. Christian was clearly obsessed with the idea of raising these dead forms, of finishing something the old man had begun. But in my reading of his notebook, and in my conversation with Christian, I had not heard a single word that explained why so bizarre a state of nature should be so important to the ones who studied it.

Christian had an answer. And as he spoke to me his voice was hollow, the mark of his uncertainty, the stigma of his lack of conviction in the truth of what he said. “Why, to study the earliest times of man, Steve. From these mythagos we can learn so much of how it was, and how it was hoped to be. The aspirations, the visions, the cultural identity of a time so far gone that even its stone monuments are incomprehensible to us. To learn. To communicate through those persistent images of our past that are locked in each and every one of us.”

He stopped speaking, and there was the briefest of silences, interrupted only by the heavy rhythmic sound of the clock. I said, “I’m not convinced, Chris.” For a moment I thought he would shout his anger; his face flushed, his whole body tensed up, furious with my calm dismissal of his script. But the fire softened, and he frowned, staring at me almost helplessly. “What does that mean?”

“Nice-sounding words; no conviction.”

After a second he seemed to acknowledge some truth in what I said. “Perhaps my conviction has gone, then, buried beneath . . . beneath the other thing. Guiwenneth. She’s become my main reason for going back now.”

I remembered his callous words of a while ago, about how she had no life yet a thousand lives. I understood instantly, and wondered how so obvious a fact could have remained so doggedly elusive to me. “She was a mylhago herself,” I said. “I understand now.”

“She was my father’s mythago, a girl from Roman times, a manifestation of the Earth Goddess, the young warrior princess who, through her own suffering, can unite the tribes.”

“Like Queen Boadicea,” I said.

“Boudicca,” Christian corrected, then shook his head. “Boudicca was historically real, although much of her legend was inspired by the myths and tales of the girl Guiwenneth. There are no recorded legends about Guiwenneth. In her own time, and her own culture, the oral tradition held sway. Nothing was written; but no Roman observer, or later Christian chronicler, refers to her either, although the old man thought that early tales of Queen Guenevere might have drawn partly from the forgotten legends. She’s lost from popular memory-”

“But not from hidden memory!”

Christian nodded. “That’s exactly right. Her story is very old, very familiar. Legends of Guiwenneth rose out of stories from previous cultures, perhaps right back to the post-glacial period, or to the time of the Urscumug itself!”

“And each of those earlier forms of the girl will be in the wood too?”

Christian shrugged. “The old man saw none, and nor have I. But they must be there.”

“And what is her story, Chris?”

He looked at me peculiarly. “That’s hard to say. Our dear father tore the pages about Guiwenneth from his diary. I have no idea why, or where he hid them. I only know what he told me. Oral tradition again.” He smiled. “She was the child to the younger of two sisters, by a young warrior banished to a secret camp in the wildwoods. The elder sister was the wife of one of the invaders, and she was both barren and jealous, and stole the girl child. The child was rescued by nine hawks, or somesuch, sent by her father. She was brought up in the forest communities all around the country, under the guardianship of the Lord of Animals. When she was old enough, and strong enough, she returned, raised the ghost of her warlord father, and drove the invaders out.”

“Not much to go on,” I said.

“A fragment only,” Christian agreed. “There is something about a bright stone, in a valley that breathes. Whatever else the old man learned about her, or from her, he has destroyed.”

“Why, I wonder?”

Christian said nothing for a moment, then added, “Anyway, legends of Guiwenneth inspired many tribes to take offensive action against the invader, whether they were Wessex Chieftain, which is to say. Bronze Age, Stonehenge and all that; Belgic Celts, which is to say Iron Age; or Romans.” His gaze became distant for a moment. “And then she was formed in this wood, and I found her and came to love her. She was not violent, perhaps because the old man himself could not think of a woman being violent. He imposed a structure on her, disarming her, leaving her quite helpless in the forest.”

“How long did you know her?” I asked, and he shrugged.

“I can’t tell, Steve. How long have I been away?”

“Twelve days or so.”

“As short as that?” He seemed surprised. “I thought more than three weeks. Perhaps I knew her for no time at all, then, but it seems like months. I lived in the forest with her, trying to understand her language, trying to teach her mine, speaking with signs and yet always able to talk quite deeply. But the old man pursued us right to the heartwoods, right to the end. He wouldn’t let up – she was his girl, and he had been as struck by her as had I. I found him, one day, exhausted and terrified, half buried by leaves at the forest edge. I took him home and he was dead within the month. That’s what I meant by his having had a reason for attacking me. I took Guiwenneth from him.”

“And then she was taken from you. Shot dead.”

“A few months later, yes. I became a little too happy, a little too content. I wrote to you because I had to tell someone about her . . . clearly that was too much for fate. Two days later I found her in a glade, dying. She might have lived if I could have got help to her in the forest, and left her there. I carried her out of the wood, though, and she died.” He stared at me and the expression of sadness hardened to one of resolve. “But when I’m back in the wood, her myth image from my own subconscious has a chance of being formed . . . she might be a little tougher than my father’s version, but I can find her again, Steve, if I look hard, if I can find that energy you asked about, if I can get into the deepest pan of the wood, to that central vortex. . . .”

I looked at the map again, at the spiral field around the hogback glade. “What’s the problem? Can’t you find it?”

“It’s well defended. I get near it, but I can’t ever get beyond the field that’s about two hundred yards around it. I find myself walking in elaborate circles even though I’m convinced I’ve walked straight. I can’t get in, and whatever’s in there can’t get out. All the mythagos are tied to their genesis zones, although the Twigling, and Guiwenneth too, could get to the very edge of the forest, down by the pool.”

But that wasn’t true! And I’d spent a shaky night to prove it. I said, “One of the mythagos has come out of the wood … a tall man with the most unbelievably terrifying hound. He came into the yard and ate a leg of pork.”

Christian looked stunned. “A mythago? Are you sure?”

“Well, no. I had no idea at all what he was until now. But he stank, was filthy, had obviously lived in the woods for months, spoke a strange language, carried a bow and arrows. . . .”

“And ran with a hunting dog. Yes, of course. It’s a late Bronze Age, early Iron Age image, very widespread. The Irish have taken him to their own with Cuchulainn, made a big hero out of him, but he’s one of the most powerful of the myth images, recognizable all across Europe.” Christian frowned, then. “I don’t understand … a year ago I saw him, and avoided him, but he was fading fast, decaying … it happens to them after a while. Something must have fed the mythago, strengthened it. . . .”

“Some one, Chris.”

“But who?” It dawned on him, then, and his eyes widened slightly. “My God. Me. From my own mind. It took the old man years, and I thought it would take me a lot longer, many more months in the woodlands, much more isolation. But it’s started already, my own interaction with the vortex. . . .”

He had gone quite pale, and he walked to where his staff was propped against the wall, picked it up and weighed it in his hands. He stared at it, touched the markings upon it.

“You know what this means,” he said quietly, and before I could answer went on, “She’ll form. She’ll come back; my Guiwenneth. She may be back already.”

“Don’t go rushing off again, Chris. Wait a while; rest.”

He placed his staff against the wall again. “I don’t dare. If she has formed by now, she’s in danger. I have to go back.” He looked at me and smiled thinly, apologetically. “Sorry, brother. Not much of a homecoming for you.”

Robert Holdstock
Extract from Mythago Wood, 2002 (1984)