This morning I logged on to my Twitter account to find an article about Science Fiction and Fantasy writer, Alan Garner. He was discussing with the journalist the problems of developing a brilliant novel idea later in life. I was surprised to even be drawn to the article in the first place, but there was a paragraph detailing the origin of the story that jogged a memory of mine.
I was struck with three things. First, Garner had created the Owl Service in 1969. The owl service was a concept that J.K. Rowling later used to describe the mail delivery in Harry Potter. Immediately I wanted to know where Garner’s idea came from. Looking the book up on Wikipedia, I read through the plot summary. One line spoke to what I know to be referred to as “the curse” of the bloodborn- “how those of the blood have to re-enact the legend each time.” These words made so much sense to me in relation to the lineage, traits and responsibilities that we inherit. Then, naturally, I was wondering (as I probably did when I was younger) how to change that fate or predestined course of events.
Second, in continuing to read the article from this mornings Guardian Newspaper, Garner’s description of his conversation reminded me a discussion I had in my youth.
Finally, I too had known of a healer like the one described. He had told me there was one condition that could never be cured or cleansed from human beings and that was original sin. When I asked him what the original sin was, he said it was jealousy. Whether that was the jealousy of God of his angels and the love humans had for them. The angels could not suffer original sin but humans could.
While I cannot say with any certainty his name was Trenacle, I found a meaning of the word that felt more significant than the one Garner provided.
mid-14c., “medicinal compound, antidote for poison,” from Old French triacle “antidote, cure for snake-bite” (c. 1200), from Vulgar Latin *triacula, from Latin theriaca, from Greek theriake (antidotos) “antidote for poisonous wild animals,” from fem. of theriakos “of a wild animal,” from therion “wild animal,” diminutive of ther (genitive theros) “wild animal,” from PIE root *ghwer- “wild beast.”
Sense of “molasses” is first recorded 1690s (the connection may be from the use of molasses as a laxative, or its use to disguise the bad taste of medicine); that of “anything too sweet or sentimental” is from 1771. Related: Treacly.
An down the loop I went. Because the possibilities branched into four different paths. First, we have the concept of the Milesians of ancient (pre-Christian) Irish myth. It is said that Gaedhuil “Gale” Glass, the leader of the raid on the Tuatha de Danaan, had been cured of a snake bit when he was a child but had been given the name of Glass (Irish for “green”) due to the green discoloration the bite made.
So who cured Gaedhuil “Gale” Glass? The story attributes the cure to the Biblical Moses. It is said that he married Scota (Princess Meritaten, daughter of Pharoah Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti). This would make sense as Scota’s father was said to be an exiled Pharoah who would have been a contemporary with Moses. Then there is the whole question of what the staff Moses carried meant as it was created from a serpent and some art of the creation is known as “The Brazen Serpent.”
Per Wikipedia-Akhenaten was all but lost to history until the late-19th-century discovery of Amarna, or Akhetaten, the new capital city he built for the worship of Aten. Furthermore, in 1907, a mummy that could be Akhenaten’s was unearthed from the tomb KV55 in the Valley of the Kings by Edward R. Ayrton. Genetic testing has determined that the man buried in KV55 was Tutankhamun’s father, but its identification as Akhenaten has since been questioned.
When looking into Akhenaten, I found a book by Ahmed Osman postulating that Akhenaten and Moses were the same person. https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Moses-and-Akhenaten/Ahmed-Osman/9781591430049
Which is further interesting because Gale’s name is changed to Milesius and Gaythelos depending on his location. Given the Egyptian tendency to marry within family, could Gale actually be Scota’s father? It is said that Scota and not Gale was the individual who fought the Tuatha de Danaan. Regardless, there was a healer out there that then made me think of another path, the Biblical Wandering Jew. The story notes that the man was known as Ahasuerus was said to have been cursed, by Jesus due to mocking him on the way to the Crucifixion. Ahasuerus was to walk the earth until the Second Coming.
What does this have to do with Treacle? What if the Ahasuerus had wanted to be a better healer than Jesus and that is why he mocked him? He mocked his abilities and powers. And we come back to the one human condition that Treacle cannot cure–jealousy. Because that is the original sin. Adam was jealous of Lilith so he tried to make her submit by force. Eve was jealous of Lilith and so her children torment those of Lilith. Perhaps Lucifer was jealous of God or vice versa.
And with Moses suddenly appearing as a child, being of unknown family and origin, the possibilities of his story and abilities are endless. Who was he really? And his staff being one risen against the brazen serpent, was he here to do some kind of battle with the wayward Lucifer? Or was he a magician who wanted to prove his abilities equal to Lucifer and, thereby, embodies the jealousy of Ahasuerus?
In my own recollection, I was told that jealousy could not be cured because then mankind would almost never sin. If not for want of basic necessities, like food, shelter and water, why else would a human commit one of the cardinal sins or betray the Ten Commandments. I remember being told this near a chimney and the character in Garner’s story has a similar experience.
“Joe Coppock’s home in Treacle Walker, and the chimney space where he and his tramp speak of important things.”
This made me think of the chimney sweep in the Mary Poppins Books. His name was Bert but he was known as Herbert Alfred on Sundays and also as the Match Man. My great-grandmother, Margaret Roe, married a second time and the man’s name was Bert Adams. In real life, chimney sweeps were also known as “Dusty Bobs.”But, more importantly, they were known as “lamplighters” and Lucifer was called the “lamplighter of God.” Some also say that Lucifer was equivalent to Loki.
Wasn’t it Lucifer who is said to get Eve to eat the apple? Didn’t Bert convince Mary Poppins and her charges to go on their adventure? Did Treacle cure people of their illnesses only in the assurance that they would then lose their souls to original sin? Were they not disobeying the will of God or fate in meeting with him? And it is odd that he met the young boy of Garner’s story at a chimney-a place of brimstone and ash.
Which brings me to a third path-where the story was written-Cheshire. Isn’t the Cheshire cat also a trickster in the story of Alice? For some reason there are grinning cats carved into various churches in England.
- St Nicolas’s Church in Cranleigh
- St Wilfred’s Church in Grappenhall
- Croft Church
- St Christopher’s Church in Pott Shrigley
- A church in Croft-on-Tees
In Carroll’s work, the cat resembles more closely a tiger and it is in Kipling’s Jungle Book that we see the serpent , Kaa, and the tiger, Sher Khan, often at odds with each other. In this story Mowgli has to come to terms with his humanity and return to living among the humans. Here, again, we have the concept of humans needing to reconcile with what they truly are. Just as Alice cannot stay amidst Wonderland because she chooses to be human again. And the children in Mary Poppins must return to their family.
In Jungle Book, Mowgli also casually tosses the coveted King’s Ankus. The word seems to have a similar etymology as “ankh.” Additionally, looking at the elephant goad, one could see half of a fleur-de-lys/fleur-de-lis.
A possibly derived symbol of Frankish royalty was the bee, of similar shape, as found in the burial of Childric I, whose royal see of power over the Salian Franks was based over the valley of the Lys.
Other imaginative explanations include the shape having been developed from the image of a dove descending, which is the symbol of the Holy Ghost.
Another heraldic tradition, going back to at least the 17th century, identifies the emblem of the Childric as a frog or toad (crapaud) rather than a bee. Antoine Court de Gébelin writing in 1781 identified the toad as the emblem of the Ripuarian Franks, representing their origin from the marshlands.
“Astonishingly, it is thought that the Bee was the precursor to the Fleur-de-lys; the national emblem of France to this day.”
So here we have corresponding symbols to the Spear of Lugh, as well as the Grail line of the Merovingians. Could Mowgli, in returning to humanity, given up his true half-birthright of living among “the animals” of the supernatural world, such as wolves/werewolves or even given up his true birthright as king?
Sher Khan is born with a deformed foot. The same is said to have been true of King Tutankhamen. He had a bone condition called Kohler Disease. I also was born with a deformity in my left leg but mine is of the hip and not of the foot.
The Garner article continues,
“is a version of the Old Medicine House, a timber-framed building that was built about 450 years ago in Wrinehill in Staffordshire, and saved from demolition by the Garners after it fell into disrepair. They oversaw its disassembly and removal to Blackden in Cheshire, 20 miles away, where it was rebuilt and now sits alongside the Garner home near Alderley Edge, an area where Garners have lived since at least 1592″
There is said to be the face of a wizard carved or appearing out of a rock face in the area.
And the name of the building, the Old Medicine House, evokes not only folk magic but also of someone from my past who had been quite important to me-Old Bird. Yet another path I was drawn down by reading one article. Not to mention that Garner’s wife shares the name of many well-known fictional witches–Griselda.
Yet, perhaps the strongest points I took away from the article were, first, the thought of what price people pay when they tell the story of another. Did the ancients not bother becoming famous writers because there is a price to be paid by humans in retelling stories that are not their own? Is it meant to spur them to live lives that are worth recounting? And, second, while I don’t have my memories of the past, how much of my fiction is informing me of what might have happened?
Garner had long dismissed the idea of writing his autobiography (though he eventually did) because memory is so unreliable, as is oral storytelling. And so myth, fairy tales and fiction might be the best vehicles for remembering the past and shaping the future. As Garner said himself, “Bob Cywinski gave me grief when I said, ‘I’m never going to write an autobiography.’ He said: ‘That’s because you’ve never written anything else.’”