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Imbolc 2020

Red Blood, White Snow, Black Feather –Stories are Spells


“Red as blood, white as snow, black as a raven’s wing, I sing, I sing.


The snow was falling as Peredur rode away from the shining castle of the witches. The crunch of his horse’s hooves startled a feasting raven. The black bird took flight, dripping blood onto the snow and letting fall a feather. Peredur saw the red blood on the white snow and the black feather and he could not go on. The white, the red and the black held him under a spell. He was entranced.”


The Hallows Queen

The story goes on to describe how men came against Peredur and attacked him, but he beat them off, without taking his eyes from the red, white and black. The explanation given is that these three colours remind Peredur of the woman he loves best. I think there’s more to it than that.


Caitlin Matthews believes that the colours white, red and black relate to the Goddess of the Land in her aspects of Maiden, Mother, Crone. In King Arthur and the Goddess of the Land, she lists the many women whom Peredur meets and shows how profoundly they effect his life, how they guide, teach and challenge him. She argues that each of the women he meets reveal a different face of the Goddess of Sovereignty.


The story of Little Snow White, collected by the Brothers Grimm at the end of the 19th century, begins with the same three colours:


“Once upon a time in the middle of winter, when the flakes of snow were falling like feathers from the sky, a Queen sat at a window sewing, and the frame of the window was made of black ebony. And while she was sewing and looking out of the window at the snow, she pricked her finger with the needle, and thee drops of blood fell upon the snow. And the red looked pretty upon the white snow, and she thought to herself: “Would that I had a child as white as snow, as red as blood, and as black as the wood of the window frame.”


This story has been interpreted as a teaching tale for women’s wisdom, an initiation into the mysteries of birth, life and death. Soon after the wished for child is born, the mother dies.


My dear friend Chandrika Joshi, Hindu priest and storyteller, told me about the significance of the white, red and black in Hindu mythology. She told me that they are the colours of the three Gunas. The Gunas, the white, red and black, have always been, and always will be, present in all things and all beings in the world.


In working on The Hallows Queen, at some point I had to stop the research and get on with telling the story. Now I try to leave all the theories I’ve read behind me. But I carry what I’ve learned and understood with me, deep in my belly. I try to let the colours work on my imagination, the white, the red, the black; to let them carry their power and mystic meaning like magic. The best thing I can do now is to get out of the way, to simply paint the colours and leave them work on my listeners, to entrance and reveal meanings. Perhaps the power of the red, the white and black cannot be explained in words but only felt. Stories are spells.


“Red as blood, white as snow, black as a raven’s wing, I sing, I sing.”


The Hallows Queen is a re-imagining of Peredur son of Efrog,a story from The Mabinogion