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Archive for October, 2008

I love the stories of the early Celtic saints – partly because I am an Irishwoman myself – but mostly because they are full of swashbuckling, paganistic magic and improbable ways of making a living.  St Baglan sounds like he was an altogether more gentle soul, and a bit hapless.  This is a lovely story for Autumn, and I particularly appreciate the starring role it gives to the Oak tree – it is a habitat to more species than any other tree growing in this country, which resounds well with this story.  Also the way the human, natural and supernatural all work together to reach a glorious compromise – a lesson for all of us!  I read it first in ‘Spirit of the Forest: Tree Tales from around the world’ (East, Maddern and Marks) but tend to embellish it a bit – here it is:

Baglan’s parents were pagan chieftains in Wales in the 6th century, but they knew which side their bread was buttered on.  They sent young Baglan to the monastery of St Illtud to learn the new religion and perhaps become a saint himself, who knew?  Life in the monastery was an austere affair but Baglan grew to respect his teacher Illtud.  One day the old saint was praying by his fire when he grew mesmerised by the flames and started to nod off.  Baglan, sitting at his own fire and struggling to concentrate on his own prayer, noticed his master dozing and his fire starting to dwindle.  Wanting to be helpful, he scooped some flaming embers from his own fire into his sackcloth robe and carried them over to Illtud’s fire to get it going again.  As he shook the embers from his robe into Illtud’s fire, the noise woke the saint and he stared up at Baglan.  “Did you carry those in your robe, and it is not in flames?!” he cried.  Examining Baglan’s robe and finding not a mark or burn on it, he fell to his knees and exclaimed, “It is a miracle!  Baglan, you are one of God’s chosen!”

Baglan was slightly alarmed – he had just been trying to help – but he listened as his master said: “You are indeed a saint and must found your own monastery.  Take this brass-handled crook and travel where it leads you, until you reach the place where there is a tree that bears three different fruits. There you must build your church.”

So Baglan set off the next morning, having no idea where he was headed but finding that the crook did in fact lead him where it wanted to go.  He wondered what sort of tree it would be that could hold apples, blackberries and plums, or some other combination of fruits.

One hot day he saw a mother sow and her piglets rooting around underneath an old oak tree and he paused to watch their comical snuffling.  He heard a lazy buzzing noise over his head and traced it back to a hole in the tree’s trunk where bees were coming and going.  He hadn’t had honey for a long time – life was pretty basic at Illtud’s monastery – so he thought he might rest a while under the tree, then maybe take some honey from the nest afterwards.  He leant against the trunk, closed his eyes and listened to the twittering of blackbirds in their nests in the tree’s branches.  He had nearly dozed off when suddenly – two things hit him.  Firstly, an acorn fell on his head.  Secondly, the idea that THIS was the tree with three fruits: the oak tree bore piglets, honey and birdsong!

Fired with enthusiasm, he immediately set about building his church.  He chose a site uphill from the tree, which was nice and flat.  He gathered stones from the area and on that same day managed to build the walls up to knee-height.  Exhausted, he made himself a bed of bracken and fell asleep as soon as he lay down.

But the next morning, he awoke to find his walls tumbled down, in ruins!  He wasn’t the sort to give up so easily, so he set to building with even more energy, and by nightfall had built the walls to waist height.  Again he slept soundly, and awoke to find – the same mysterious destruction had occurred!  Still undeterred, he tried one more time.  Working with the energy of three men, he built the walls to chest height before tumbling to bed, every sinew aching.  In the morning, before opening his eyes, he prayed, “Oh please, God, please no….”

But the walls had tumbled down again.  “There are two possibilities,” thought Baglan aloud.  “Either the fairies are doing it, or God is trying to tell me this is not the right place.”  Now he was no longer a pagan and so he tried not to believe in fairies.  He wondered if God was telling him to build his church not NEAR the tree, but AROUND it.  It was a wild thought.  But he tried it.  And from the very first stone he laid, the animals helped him in his building!  The pigs helped dig foundations with their snouts.  The bees brought him honey to sustain him, of their own accord.  The birds sang to raise his spirits.  He in turn left a low-down door for the family of pigs to enter and leave, a hole half-way up for the bees to reach their nest, and allowed all the branches of the tree to protrude from the roof so the blackbirds could continue to nest.

The church was finished in no time.  Baglan was no master architect, and it was not a specimen of geometrical perfection.   But it was a true harmony of man and nature.  It stood for some centuries, but unfortunately no longer.   We still, however, have this story to remind us of Baglan and the tree which bore three fruits.

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Welcome to my blog!

10th October, 2008

Greetings!  This is my first post but I may as well dive on in.

The profile of storytelling – in education, in therapy, in environmental change, and in entertainment – continues to rise and rise.  People have told each other stories around firesides and on long, hard journeys for millennia, but for some time the art form was endangered.  Now it seems to be that every time I turn on the radio or open an education periodical, there is a feature about storytelling.  This is the way we have always learnt best!

As well as publicising my own work, I would like to use this blog to share my thoughts about storytelling in education for sustainability as they develop – I am still fairly new to it! – and invite contributions from others.

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