Tonight was the last night of the Christmas Revels, my wife and daughters performing with many others. The theme of the Revels, this year, was Scottish. The central story was Tam Lin.
When I first started writing, I wanted to write children’s stories. I had no luck finding a publisher. As it turns out I wasn’t so much writing children’s stories as traditional fables. Before the advent of the novel and short story, fables were the staple of readers and the oral tradition. Beowulf is essentially a fable. So is Ulysses. Aesop didn’t write his stories for children and Hans Christian Andersen’s readers were adults. My stories have more in common with a more ancient tradition of story telling based on symbol, metaphor and archetype. It’s also what makes me a poet. Frost was nothing if not a fabulist. Or think of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, King Lear (originally a fable), or the Tempest.
When I was eleven years old I was invited outside of this world. We usually describe this as the afterlife, a ‘sleep’ or the ‘next world’. But my experience was like none of these. I never felt more alive and this world never seemed more illusory. My experience wasn’t of leaving this world for another, but of returning to a life that was indescribably real. Though we experience this world as the real world, and no philosophy or experience like mine is going to change that perception while we live in it, I nevertheless know that it’s a momentary illusion.
The motif of the lover holding onto their beloved through all their many horrific transformations is a theme that runs through many European fables and fairy tales, not just Tam Lin. When we usually read Tam Lin we think of the fable as a fantastical metaphor of love between lovers, but it’s more than that—as are all fairy tales.
There is another way to understand Tam Lin. Think of Tam Lin as the creative force, the love, behind all that exists and think of his ‘true love’ as our own soul.
The soul enters into our world in the same way that Tam Lin’s lover wanders into the realm of the faeries—a realm where the memory of ones true self easily succumbs to illusion. The Faerie Queen is the embodiment of the power we give to this illusion. In the faerie tale, Tam Lin warns his lover that she mustn’t look at the Faerie Queen or she will be lost. To look at her is to give her power. Most importantly, no matter how the Fearie Queen transforms him, he will not harm her—she must never let go of him.
The profound truth of the tale is this: When you come into this world and see, along with its beauty, its hideous, ugly, cruel, horrific transformations, it’s okay to be terrified, but you must never let go of Tam Lin. Always hold onto that thread of Love. Tam Lin may be Taoism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity or the clarity of Science. No matter how the world hideously transforms these, hold onto the thread of love in each of them. As I discovered when I was eleven: though the body may be disfigured and destroyed, our true selves can never be harmed.
That part of us that momentarily belongs to the Faerie world won’t survive. Avoiding sorrow, suffering and death isn’t the reason to go into it. The reason is to find, hold onto, and never let go of love, even in death.
She flung her arms around him and held on tightly, even as he squirmed and twisted. Then, hissing and spitting, he turned into a snake, striking her with his tail. Again, she did not let go. And then, just as she knew he would, he transformed into a lion, and he bared his claws and scratched her, but she held on, still. And then he turned into a bear who nearly crushed her beneath his weight, but that didn’t stop her. She held on still as that bear became a molten bar, burning brightly. She gasped from the burns, but she did just as Tam Lin had told her. She threw that burning bar into the well. ~ Amy Friedman and Meredith Johnson
Death will be like the molten bar that consumes us. And what is the well? The well is oblivion but also the water within—putting out the fire and revealing Love for what it truly is—the creative force behind everything all that exists. The hideous harm done to us will be shown for the illusion it always was.
····night’s snow—in my footsteps the drifting
We had our fist snow last night. Most of it melted by noon today.·
44: December 20th 2015 | bottlecap