Thank you so much for hosting me today with my new release, The Elder Man. This story is very close to my heart, and to my life!
Over two years ago I made a drawing of my favorite model as an antlered forest god. It sat quietly in my album for almost 12 months, but it kept pushing invisible roots all over my soul, until suddenly last year, this story began to write itself. It was light and sexy and full of humor (poking fun at city people baffled by the countryside is my revenge for how befuddling the city is to me!) but I soon became aware that there was more to it than met the eye.
In fact it became a tapestry of all the things I love most in my life, my barely tamed garden and my woods, my animals, my sculpting and natural building, my simple, off grid lifestyle, and the beauty and antiquity of the Dordogne, the region in SW France where I have been living for almost 10 years. I wanted to give a face to the bone-deep magic that I see and feel in all this.
My forgotten but still powerful forest god is the form I chose to express all that is wondrous, healing and grounding in my life.
Or maybe *he* chose me, and did his own thing. My characters notoriously tend to do that.
I did a number of illustrations, at different times, for this story, and I am delighted that one of them found its way to the cover of the book, thanks to Jay Aheer and Evernight Publishing. You can see them all on my blog, here: https://katherinewyvern.blogspot.com/2020/04/the-art-of-elder-man-coming-tomorrow.html
Uncovering and divulging an outlandish conspiracy will put a hard bump into any journalist’s career, and Armin can only blame himself when he’s dispatched from Frankfurt’s skyscrapers into the depths of rural France on the unglamorous job of writing about a cobbing workshop.
Natural building is messy, dirty and sweaty work, but it has its consolations. For example, Van, the greying but undeniably hot master cobber teaching the workshop. Sure, the man is a hopeless tree-hugger, with embarrassing notions about ancient folklore and religions, but he’s still worth a week-long fling, right?
When Van is revealed in all his majesty and power as a long forgotten forest god, however, the week-long fling might well become entangled with eternity, on the edge between life, death, madness, and immortality.
It was a recurring human figure, subtly hinted, here and there, never whole, never obvious, always just suggested in the curve of a tree trunk, half hidden in shade, and always crowned with horns or antlers, sometimes real antlers.
It seemed almost to Armin, once or twice, that Van’s wandering, wavering shadow had antlers of its own. Enough wine, he thought, blinking. What I need is black coffee.
“Why the antlered man?” he asked over Monica’s voice. The non sequitur took everyone by surprise.
“Eh?” blared Monica.
“I beg your pardon?” asked Mark, completely thrown.
Armin felt suddenly bashful and a little stupid, not to mention rude. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt. It’s just that I keep seeing him everywhere, and I wondered…”
Edith, Meintje and Ella looked at him quizzically, all three head tilted to one side rather comically. Rebekka looked vaguely around, as if trying to catch the shape that everyone had missed.
Armin decided he could either explain or let them all think he was stoned, drunk, or tripping, so he pointed with his index finger to the wall. “I am not hallucinating. Look, right there by the window. And there, where the shelf meets the pillar. You can see an arm and a shoulder. And just outside the fireplace, near the table. He pops up all over the sculptures, if you look.”
Van was smiling. Jean-Pierre harrumphed, frowning, and crossed his arms in front of his chest. Allie shot him a quick apprehensive glance.
“Why the antlered man? Who is it?” repeated Armin, a little confused, looking at Van.
Van shrugged. “He’s … Amun, and Silvanus and Pan, and the Leshy and Veles and Svyatibor … even the Minotaur, perhaps. There is a picture of him as old as fifteen thousand years in a cave in the Ariege, la grotte des Trois-Frères. The Sorcerer. Prancing fellow with antlers and a thumping big dong.”
Every woman in the room, including the young girls, giggled.
“Van!” said Allie.
He grimaced theatrically. “Sorry. All these old horned males. What can I say?”
“Anyway, some would say he’s the Devil, too, and Baphomet. And lately, just the Horned God. It all got twisted about since the Christians started messing with the old deities. And the Wiccans just made one big stew of it all to cover all the bases and be on the safe side. They may not be wrong however. In France, the Gauls came to call him Cernunnos or Carnonos or Cerunincos, which all simply mean the horned one or the antlered one. I suppose we might go with Cernunnos.”
Allie looked at him adoringly. Jean-Pierre scoffed.
“Wherever you look, there was always a god of the forest, the earth, the water… a god of low places, valleys, sources, meadows. His trees were always small trees. Healing trees. The willow, the elder, the rowan. Not a sky god. Not a war god. He was also, as often as not, a god of agriculture and fertility. And death and healing, even resurrection. Fall, winter, and spring, the seasons. Nature again. It was easy in the old days to believe in such a divinity. And it was wise to pay tribute to him. Forests, fields, death, rebirth, the cycles and forces of nature were rather more … central.”
“They still seem central enough in this place,” said Edith, smiling.
“But why the antlers?” asked Josefine. “It seems awfully impractical, even for a forest god.”
Van gave a wry laugh. “It sure is,” he said. But then he sobered and added, “There has always been something mystical about the stag and his antlers, in all the old Indo-European cultures. The stag was important enough to have his own constellation, roughly where modern astronomers place Ophiuchus. The Celts put it nicely, saying that the stag carried the solar disk in his crown. His antlers and his strength are greatest in the autumn, and they are lost in the winter and emerge again in the spring. He incarnates the death of nature and its awakening. He and Cernunnos are avatars of the fall, of the death of nature and its rebirth. Cycles again.”
“Is that why he’s sculpted everywhere?” asked Armin. “Do you, like—er—believe? In this… god?”
Van scratched his graying beard and gave him a roguish grin. “Let’s put it this way. Just on the off chance he’s still walking about in these parts, I’d rather not piss him off. Those olden gods…” He waved a hand and rolled his eyes, and everyone laughed, but Armin held eye contact with him for a moment and had a feeling Van had not spoken completely in jest.
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