Coyote In The Late Spring Snow.

Coyote In The Late Spring Snow.

Song Dog
of ancient times,
ancient cultures,
and ancient peoples,
will you sing tonight?

And when you sing,
do you lift our fine featured face,
your sharp and penetrating nose
up into the cold white night,
when even moonbeams seem frozen in their tracks,
and cry out for justice,
or for companionship
and pleasure.

Or do you sing
simply to remind us
to pay attention
from time to time,
to remind us
that we were all born in the same den so long ago
…and to invite us to return
from time to time?

Written in the early 1990’s, revised Sept. 2011, ©Chris Green.

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Dumbledore and hobbits.

Note: The following is an updated version of a post I wrote and published elsewhere on March 13, 2009

Dumbledore and hobbits.

By now, we are all familiar with Dumbledore as a character in the Harry Potter series.

While surfing through the Oxford English Dictionary yesterday I happened to notice an entry for this word. Since the dictionary was published in the early 20th Century after 30+ years of compilation, the entry has nothing to do with Harry Potter–even if J.R.R. Tolkien was one of the contributing editors to the dictionary.
In Hampshire and Cornwall, and probably elsewhere, dumbledore was a local name for the humble-bee, better known to most of us in North America as the bumblebee. The word may have originated from imitations of the sound of the buzzing bee.
A quote illustrating the usage of the word in context is from 1799 and goes
“Is it not the humble-bee, or what we call the ‘dumbledore,’– a word whose descriptive droning deserves a place in song?’

Another quote, from 1837 states:
“Of bees, however, let me be likened to a Dumbledore, which Dr. Southey says is the most good natured of God’s Insects.”

The last statement is accurate: bumblebees aren’t known to sting, unlike honey bees.
The latest quote to show a usage of the word is dated 1880, but that may simply mean the entry was compiled shortly after that date, and it may have been used more recently.

Now, about those hobbits. As I’ve stated, (Prof.) J.R.R. Tolkien was one of the assistants who worked on this magnificent dictionary. His time of participating in the project was toward the end of the time it was edited by a man named Bradley, so somewhere between 1901 and 1923.
One of the entries in the OED is hobbits. It turns out this word evolved from ‘hobbitzer,’ which in turn is a dialectical English pronunciation of howitzer.
A howitzer is the kind of small canon pulled around by a horse or, later, behind a jeep.
Yeah, an odd thing, that.
Tolkien, a renowned language scholar and expert in older forms of English and Germanic languages, would have spent much time doing research using the dictionary- which when the final volume was published in 1921, ran to 10 volumes and 15,487 pages. So he certainly would have come across this and used it as the source of the name for Bilbo and Frodo’s folk-kind.

After reading about Dumbledore, I looked to see if Gandalf might be listed.
The only listing close to this is gander, meaning either a male goose, or the act of wandering around, generally in an apparently aimless manner. However, in earlier times gander might have had the more specific meaning of ‘wild goose.’
Because of this, I think it is plausible to assert that Gandalf is short for ‘gandering elf,’ a phrase which has a deeper layered meaning which could be translated as an elf who is a ‘wandering wild goose.’
That certainly is an appropriate description of this character, and no doubt most of his mysterious wanderings would appear to be aimless to most folk who saw him pass by.
There is also the probability that in the distant past wild geese in flight would sometimes have been viewed as some kind of pantheistic spirits, as omens. As Coyote and Raven often were and, by some, still are. Tolkien could well have drawn on this colouring in choosing this name.
It is okay to assume Gandalf was/ is an elf. Santa Claus is, and in his present form, has his origins in the character Puck. For a long time in Germanic and Nordic folklore, elven folk, fairies and many of the other pantheistic beings were about the same size and form as the mortals of middle earth (i.e., humans…) They just had other abilities- or sciences- we don’t have, sciences which appear to us as magic.

Alongside all this is a larger process of re-fashioning elements from the native pagan religious traditions of Northern Europe- and elsewhere – into entertaining folklore and literature. Other examples of this process are behind the concept of fairies, who originally appear to be drawn from Peris, a part of the religious traditions of Zoroastrian and other Mesopotamian religious traditions as adopted into Arabic folklore. Another (formerly) pagan elemental being included in Lord Of The Rings is Tom Bombadil, the caretaker of the Ents, if you view him- or the Ents- as a reworking of The Green Man and/or The Wild Man Of The Forest.

I quite appreciate that Tolkien had these deeper layers of meaning and symbolism in his writing. It reinforces my belief that The Lord Of The Rings is one of the greatest works of the English language in particular, and World Literature in general, and the ultimate distillation of (mainly) Northern European folklore and legends.

NB: Since I wrote this, in 2009 I learned of a Norwegian tradition which dates back thousands of years. Norwegians carve joined wedding spoons from, usually, birch. These would be engraved with incised decorations called kolrosing. From the blog I discovered this on, linked below:

“Kolrosing looks a bit like scrimshaw. A drawing is made by scribing into the wood with a knife. The fine line is nearly invisible until powdered birch bark is rubbed into the cut, darkening the lines. This is sealed with oil, and then sanded to knock down the burr from the knife cut.”

The author says that the lines in kolrosing are
“ … like invisible ink being exposed. In fact, kolrosing is used on these joined wedding spoons. The spoons and the chain that links them together are carved from a single piece of wood and then inscribed with decorations.”

She goes on to say
“The decorations remain invisible until the bride and groom both eat pudding from the same bowl with these spoons, and the fat in the pudding darkens the lines. Presto magic! “ (Italics mine)”

These two quotes, by California woodworker and artist Ashley Jameson Eriksmoen, are from her August 2006 posts at:

It is possible that Tolkien, an expert in Nordic languages and folklore, knew of this cultural tradition and that The One Ring To Unite Them All is based on The Wedding Spoons To Unite Them.

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The Hidden People Of Iceland

Friday, March 27th, 2009

The Hidden People Of Iceland

According to an article in Vanity Fair magazine, discussed on CBC radio’s As It Happens this evening, when ALCOA dediced to build their aluminum smelter in Iceland, the agreements they signed included an interesting clause: before construction could go ahead, the company first had to show that their works would not disturb the homes of any Hidden People or elves who might live on the site.
It cost ALCOA an estimated $500 to hire an “elf senser” to walk around the building sight to determine if any of these creatures might be inconvenienced in some way.
It will come as a surprize, but this is “business as usual” in Iceland, where at least 53% of the population believe in the existance and presence of elves and “hidden people.” It is a normal practice to hire an ‘elf senser’ before any construction project begins. This has lead to everything from roads and parking lots, to stores and factories being re-sited.
Government agencies do this surveying as a matter of course.
Another company who conformed to this requirement was Ikea: they had to have their parking lot re-shaped when it was discovered that a family of elves live where one corner of the planned lot was to be located.
According to the scientist who administer something called “The Elf School,” Icelanders speak of the existance of different types of elves.
“Flower Elves” are small, approximately 8 cm/ 3 1/8” tall—about the size of the fairie Tinkerbelle, while the “Hidden People” have the same form and size as humans. Gandalf would have been one of the Hidden People.
Elves live among the rocks and in caves found in the nation, and some Icelanders claim that not only do they see these trans-dimensional beings, they have friends among them, and have even dined and had coffee* with them in their caves.
The director of the Elf School admits he has never seen any of these beings during his 30+ years of running this school. He seems to be the elven equivalent of an agnostic, but he did mention that over the years elves have come to the aid of distressed isolated farmers and others, saving their lives.
To disregard these customs can be troublesome. For one, it is possible that the hidden people can be upset by human activities which disrupt their homes, and take their revenge. There are some costs of doing business in the “everything for profit” manner which are too high.
Politically, it is sure suicide for a candidate to admit they don’t believe in elves.

Further along in the As It Happens broadcast, they interviewed a university instructor from Britain who explained a tradition like this survives in Ireland. There, the resident spirits are Fairies, and there are cases where road construction has been relocated after a piece of roadbuilding machinery has broken down unexplicably after disturbing a place where the fairies dwell, often a prominent rock or other landscape feature.

One potential benefit coming out of these survivals of ancient pagan beliefs is an underlying deep reverence for the land and environment, and respecting the places where the fairies dwell works to preserve the land and important features of the landscape in these places.
In the words of poet William Allingham:

“Up the airy mountain,
down the rushy glen,
we daren’t go a-hunting
for fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk,
Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
And white owl’s feather!”

The rest of this poem can be found here: be warned that it gets a little dark…

The above reminds me of one of Tolkein’s poems, the one about Tom Bombagil.

More of Allingham’s poetry can be read here:

The Elf School operates in the winter, and some of the students have come from outside of Iceland. I don’t have a link to it at this time. It’s interesting to hear of this and that it appearantly has been in existence for over 30 years.

It is likely that you can listen to tonight’s As It Happens show (Friday, March 27th, 2009 ) with this article as streaming audio or a podcast at:

A third option is to go to and follow the links under the Radio link to arrive at this program.
You may have to register to be able to listen, but it will be free.

*Which leads to a new line of speculation: how would one of these hidden people behave if they had way too many espressos…? 🙂

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The Gospel of ‘Shrooms: A Mycophiles’ Book of Genesis.

The Gospel of ‘Shrooms: A Mycophiles’ Book of Genesis.
(Based on some comments heard on CBC Radio.)

Long. long ago in Africa, when our distant primate ancestors searched around for something to eat, on the margins of the forest and savanna lands, some of them learned that when they turned over piles of old, dried elephant dung, there were mushrooms growing there.
Some of the ancestors chose to, or were forced to, eat them.
By surviving this feast, those who survived learned which mushrooms were safe to eat.
The safe type of mushroom happens to have some interesting biochemical properties: it contains a compound which, at low doses, gave the diner better visual acuity: having slightly better eyesight, these individuals could then spot other food more quickly, and also could spot animals easier. This gave them more time to determine if the animals they spotted were a threat, or were a potential dinner treat. So some became better hunters and gatherers.
In becoming better gatherers, and Thinking they would be even better hunters, they sometimes found and ate more of these mushrooms. This is how they discovered that the compounds in the plant had another property which kicked in if larger doses were ingested: the compound is a natural aphrodesiac, and so the better hunters also came to have larger numbers of offspring…
Again, some thought they should take much larger doses: the result of this overdosing on the biochemical compound is that the mushroom eater now has what we would think of as a religious experience.
The hallucinatory experiences would, presumably, lead to some to begin to ask questions about their experiences and so the path of evolving intellectual and philosophical concepts begins.
And, after communing with God or whichever deity they thought they were experiencing for a while, and when the quantities of psychotropic compounds in the blood streams dropped back to the natural viagra level, our stoner ancestors then went forth and multiplied, mightily, mightily.
After which they went out and hunted and gathered more, to feed themselves and their increase.
Over time, all these forces of better eyesight, the amplified successes at hunting and gathering, and the increased libido, meant their genes spread faster than the genes of others. Compared to the others, the number of decendants of the mystic mycophiles mushroomed….and evolution followed its’ course.

And the story goes on.

** Written Jan. 31, 2009. This was originally posted on another blog I had.

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