A Tour in the Forest

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 03 May

12.00-1.30pm in Room 4.204

We are very pleased to announce that Dr Leon Burnett, founding & former Director of the Centre for Myth Studies, opens our Summer term discussion of Trees & Forests with a session on I. S. Turgenev’s short story, “A Tour in the Forest”

IsisImage

Sculpture of Isis. Roman period (30 BC-395 AD), Borgia Collection, National Archaeological Museum, Naples [Photo (2016) by Leon Burnett]

We continue the theme of trees and forests with a discussion of Ivan Turgenev’s short story, “A Tour in the Forest” (1857). A sense of myth is ever present in the human consciousness, often as no more than an undercurrent in the routine of daily life, but certain habitats bring it more readily to the surface.  The forest is a location particularly conducive to its exposure. The narrator in Turgenev’s realist tale looks forward to a hunting expedition, but from the outset he is acutely aware of the numinous that haunts the reality of rural Russia.

READING

  1. S. Turgenev, “A Tour in the Forest” [“Poezdka v Poles’e”, 1857]; trans. Constance Garnett
  2. S. Turgenev, “The Nymphs” [“Nimfy”, 1878]; trans. Constance Garnett

ALL WELCOME

Advertisements
Posted in Reading Group | Leave a comment

Tenth Anniversary

The Old and the New: Centre for Myth Studies tenth anniversary celebration. Friday 11 May 2018.2018 marks the tenth anniversary of the Centre for Myth Studies. On Friday 11 May, we shall celebrate the occasion with a day of talks, readings, and discussions which reflect the past and the future of the Centre.

All are warmly invited to attend “The Old and the New” at the University of Essex in Colchester. For full details about the programme and how to register for this free event, please see our event page.

Since 2008, the Centre has been devoted to exploring the significance of myth in ancient and modern times. Most of these activities are documented on this site (see links above for our books, conferences, seminars, and the weekly Myth Reading Group). It was founded by Leon Burnett in the department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies, and now sits within the department of Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies, under the directorship of Roderick Main. This cross-disciplinary collaboration was reflected in the first achievements of the centre (a Master’s course, international conference, and book, each of which shared the title Myth, Literature, and the Unconscious), and the centre continues to recognise that no single discipline can provide the last word on myth.

Our anniversary celebration will be opened by current director, Roderick Main, and will close with Pietra Palazzolo’s view on myth in contemporary literature. Pietra’s tireless work on the reading group, seminar series, and blog has kept the Centre at the forefront of interdisciplinary mythical research. The event also welcomes Essex alumnus Saul Andreetti back to Colchester, to read from his own magical and myth-inspired work. His reading will be followed by a discussion with founding director Leon Burnett. To complete the programme, we are delighted to present a keynote lecture from José Manuel Losada. José Manuel is the dynamic force behind the biennial myth conference in Madrid, which this year encompasses four universities in the city over twelve days in October. (If you are quick, there is still time to submit an abstract for this year’s conference, see: mythcriticism.com.)

The Old and the New” promises to reveal, demystify, and remystify some vital issues in current research and practice along the intersection of myth and literature. We look forward to welcoming you in Colchester on Friday 11 May.

UPDATE:

Room 4.722 is in the Psychology building on Square 1 — near “Entrance 3” (the western end closest to the railway line). Click here for link to campus map.

Map showing University of Essex, Colchester Campus, Room 4.722

Posted in Conference | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The forests of Moscow: the political fairy tales of Russia

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 22 March

12.00-1.30pm in Room 3.411

We are very pleased to announce that Sarah Armstrong continues our discussion of Trees & Forests with a session on the forest in Russian fairy tales

Biblinimage

Ivan Bilibin’s illustration (1990) for the Russian fairy tale “Feather of Finist Falcon

In this meeting of the Myth Reading Group, the last of the Spring term, we will discuss the ways in which the political landscape influences the figuration of the forest in fairy tales. In the session, we will compare traditional and modern representations of the forest in Russian fairy tales [The Snow Maiden, & an extract from ‘The Ringing Cedars of Russia’]. Selected extracts [Preface & Ch. II] from R. P. Harrison’s Forests: The Shadow of Civilization (University of Chicago Press, 2009), further explore the changing relationship between the forest and human civilisation.

ALL WELCOME

Posted in Reading Group | Leave a comment

Re-imaginings of myth in the landscapes of Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 15 March

12.00-1.30pm in Room 3.411

We are very pleased to announce that Robert William Allen continues our discussion of Trees & Forests with a session on Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles

TessImage

‘Tess flung herself upon the undergrowth of rustling spear-grass as upon a bed’: Illustration by E. Borough Johnson published in the serial issue of Tess of D’Urbervilles in The Graphic  (1891), in The Victorian Web

In this meeting of the Myth Reading Group, previously scheduled on 1 March, we will discuss some of the ways in which Hardy incorporates elements of myth into his novel, paying particular attention to his figuration of landscape. In addition to selected extracts from Tess of the D’Urbervilles [final part of Ch.X (from ‘Tess was indignant…’) & Ch. XI], we will consider Ovid’s account of the rape of Proserpina in the Metamorphoses (Book V, ll. 512 – 615), and Ted Hughes’ version of the passage in his Tales from Ovid [pp. 56-57]. For more extended reading from Hardy’s novel, it would be useful to read Chapters XLVII & XLVIII.

ALL WELCOME

Posted in Reading Group | Leave a comment

Forbidden Fruit

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 08 March

12.00-1.30pm in Room 3.411

We are very pleased to announce that John Driver continues our discussion of Trees & Forests with a session on the Garden of Eden

GardenOfEdenBrueghel

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625), The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man (ca. 1615), Mauritshuis, The Hague, Netherlands

The Bible begins with the myth of Adam and Eve living in the Garden of Eden, and then being expelled after eating fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The episode is hardly alluded to in the rest of the Tanakh, but given greater weight in both Christian and Islamic thought. In this meeting of the Myth Reading Group, we will consider how the story came to be included in Genesis, and discuss its meaning(s) from ancient times to the present.

Readings include extracts from Genesis, The Epic of Gilgamesh (Tablet I, English version by N. K. Sandars, 1960), the Targum, 1 Corinthians, St Augustine, the Qur’an, and Milton’s Paradise Lost (optional).

For additional reading on the portrayal of Eve and Sin in Milton’s Paradise Lost, and parallels with mythical female figures mentioned in the Qur’an, the Hadith and The Arabian Nights, see Sharihan Al-Akhras’s ‘The Anima at the Gate of Hell: Middle Eastern Imagery in Milton’s Paradise Lost’, in Ben Pestell, Pietra Palazzolo, and Leon Burnett (eds.), Translating Myth (Oxford: Legenda, 2016), pp. 43-57.

ALL WELCOME

Posted in Reading Group | Leave a comment

Re-imaginings of myth in the landscapes of Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’

Myth Reading Group

Thursday 01 March

12.00-1.30pm in Room 3.411

We are very pleased to announce that Robert William Allen continues our discussion of Trees & Forests with a session on Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles

TessImage

‘Tess flung herself upon the undergrowth of rustling spear-grass as upon a bed’: Illustration by E. Borough Johnson published in the serial issue of Tess of D’Urbervilles in The Graphic  (1891), in The Victorian Web

This week, we will discuss some of the ways in which Hardy incorporates elements of myth into his novel, paying particular attention to his figuration of landscape. In addition to selected extracts from Tess of the D’Urbervilles [final part of Ch.X (from ‘Tess was indignant…’) & Ch. XI], we will consider Ovid’s account of the rape of Proserpina in the Metamorphoses (Book V, ll. 512 – 615), and Ted Hughes’ version of the passage in his Tales from Ovid [pp. 56-57].  For more extended reading from Hardy’s novel, it would be useful to read Chapters XLVII & XLVIII.

ALL WELCOME

Posted in Reading Group | Leave a comment

Trees in Japanese Mythology: Noh Theatre, Shinto Traditions, and the Takasago Pines

Guest blog post by Amelia Starling

Living in Japan, it is impossible to ignore the influence of trees. In spring, you will be invited to attend Hanami, the cherry blossom viewing festival. This is one of the biggest social events of the year, when everyone gathers together to share food and sake beneath the trees, and appreciate their fleeting beauty before the petals disappear. In summer, you can send wishes to the gods on bamboo trees during Tanabata, the Star Festival. In autumn, hike into the mountains and immerse yourself in cascades of saccharine momiji leaves.

Of all the seasonal trees, it is the winter pines which are especially meaningful. Aside from their tidy beauty when wearing their snow ropes, pine trees have spiritual and cultural significance. Bundles of pine branches are used to make kadomatsu (literal translation ‘gate pine’), which are traditional Japanese new year decorations. These are placed in doorways to attract prosperity for the year ahead, particularly for marriages. But the importance of pine is not only confined to this season. In Shinto belief, pine trees hold great power. It is said that the kami (Shinto gods and goddesses) use the branches of pine trees to descend to earth, and therefore many of their spirits reside within them. In the grounds of every Shinto shrine, you will find at least one pine tree. Some larger shrines use them to mark their entire perimeters. Their presence wards off negative energy and spirits, and invites messages from the kami. It is customary to purchase omikuji (paper fortunes) at shrines, and tie the bad ones on or near the pine trees to negate their effects.

Omikuji_yasaka

Omikuji tied to ropes on a pine branch at Namba Yasaka Shrine, Osaka Prefecture (photo by Amelia Starling)

In the town of Takasago in Hyogo Prefecture, pine trees hold extra meaning. Their needles cover the ground on almost every street, and the town mascot is even a pine cone. He adorns buses and shop windows. According to Japanese mythology, Takasago is the location of a pair of pine trees which were planted by the kami. They grow in the grounds of Takasago Shrine, and can never be parted. As such, they have become symbols of love and marriage. These pines feature in a well-known Noh play called Takasago, which is about two lovers who express their relationship through the legend of the trees.

Traditionally, the backs of Noh stages are decorated with murals of pine trees to pay homage to the kami and thank them for giving people the gift of Noh. The Noh pine is said to be modelled on the Yogo pine tree in the grounds of Kasuga Shrine in Nara Prefecture. According to legend, an old man was seen dancing beneath this tree. In actuality, he was the human form of the tree’s spirit, and his dance was to express the bond between humans and kami. Having a depiction of a pine tree present during Noh performances is a way of remembering and celebrating this bond.

Itsukushima_Noh_stage

Pine mural on the Noh stage at Itsukushima Shrine, Hiroshima Prefecture (photo by Amelia Starling)

Takasago falls under the category of kami mono (god plays), which are Noh plays that tell mythological stories of Shinto shrines and kami. They often feature kami disguised as humans, who do not reveal their true identities until near the end of the performance. In Takasago, the two lovers fulfil these roles; at the end they reveal themselves to be the spirits of the pair of pine trees.

The folk tale ‘The Wind in the Pine Tree,’ featured in the book Japanese Fairy Tales by Grace James, is a prose retelling of Takasago. It details how the pine tree was planted by a kami, and became a sacred place where spirits of nature came to play. It also attracted ‘the mysteries, the sounds and scents of the dark’ from Yomi, which is the land of the dead in Japanese mythology. The combined energies of the spirits made the tree ‘holy and haunted,’ and the sound of the wind in its branches spread feelings of happiness and nostalgia throughout the town.

It was this mystical wind which drew the two lovers together. The maiden was from Takasago, and spent her days weaving in the shade of the pine tree. The boy was a rice farmer from a distant province, away over the sea. A crane flew to him, and after seeing it he was compelled to follow the ‘voice in [his] heart.’ The crane led him over the ocean to the pine tree, where he met the maiden. Soon they were married, and lived a peaceful life together. When they were elderly, they visited the pine tree once more to hear ‘the song of the wind.’ They lay beneath it together and died, and their spirits were received by the branches. The story ends by repeating how the spirits of nature and from Yomi inhabit the pine tree, and that lovers walking near it pause to ask one another ‘do you hear the wind in the pine tree?’

 

kibitsu_pine_trees

Pine trees lining the path to Kibitsu Shrine, Okayama Prefecture (photo by Amelia Starling)

In Japanese folklore, pine trees are also symbols of longevity. In this story, the Takasago pine brings people together and watches over their lives. They are fleeting, but the pine tree remains steadfast and continues to be so even after human lifespans end. It is a guardian for both the living and the dead, and is the heart of a sacred space where beings from all planes of existence can find joy. It is a Shinto belief that everything has a spirit, and how it is treated determines whether it becomes benevolent or malevolent. Since it invites so much love and is treated well, the Takasago pine’s spirit is also good and it maintains a cycle of continually collecting and emanating positive energy.

In contrast to this are the trees in Aokigahara, a forest at the base of Mount Fuji with a long history of murders and suicides. Over the years, the trees of Aokigahara have witnessed a myriad of deaths. As a result, they hold all of that negative energy in their roots and branches, which contributes to the unsettling atmosphere of the place and in turn attracts more sorrow to it. It is no coincidence that Aokigahara is renowned for being inhabited by rei, wrathful ghosts of people who die in traumatic circumstances. Aokigahara is also known as 樹海 (Jukai), meaning ‘Sea of Trees,’ because it is so densely packed. This adds to the intensity of the trees’ energy, cultivating the dark atmosphere of the place. Aokigahara’s spirits died in trauma and cannot rest, unlike the pine tree lovers who died peacefully and whose spirits contribute to the happiness of Takasago.

 

1024px-Aokigahara_Forest_(10863271994)

Trees in Aokigahara, Yamanashi Prefecture (photo by Guilhem Vellut on Wikimedia)

It is true that there are two pine trees, side by side, in the grounds of Takasago Shrine, and that they have been there since before the time the shrine was founded. Their nicknames are ‘Jo’ and ‘Uba,’ which mean ‘old man’ and ‘old woman’ respectively. They are revered as ambassadors for a happy marriage, and many couples visit to pay homage to them. Whether these trees are inhabited by the spirits of the lovers from the Noh play, the written folktale, the kami themselves, or even all three, makes little difference. Whichever you choose to believe, there is no denying that these trees are special and contribute to the prominence of pine trees in Japanese culture. If you ever visit Takasago, stand beneath them. Listen carefully. Perhaps you too will hear the mystical wind in the pine tree.

Fukusa

Fukusa (type of Japanese cloth used for gift wrapping) embroidered with Jo and Uba beneath a pine branch, early nineteenth century, Wikimedia

References

 

Amelia Starling is a writer and folklorist. She graduated from the University of Winchester with a degree in creative writing, and is a content editor for Folklore Thursday. She blogs about folklore and fairy tales, with particular interest in witchcraft, Japanese folklore, and the ocean. You can follow her on Twitter @amyelize, and visit her blog at http://thewillowweb.com.

Posted in Guest Blogging | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments