by Friðoríc Stíweard
I have always been a scatterling. Like my parents before me I have often been on the move, restless and rootless, thirsting for home. Thirsting for roots. Anglo-Saxon folk are like seed-pods cast to the four winds and we are tossed and tumbled across the whole face of the earth now; our kindred’s sundered. Sometimes, though, our seed-stock takes root. We cease our folkwandering. We settle down and actually begin to get to know the bit of land that has claimed us. We begin to feel the depth of our connection to the world and, finding our Place at last, our sense of responsibility grows in proportion to our sense of belonging. Yet even as the land casts its intensely local and peculiar spell over us, we can never forget where we came from, nor discard the threads of lore that our foregone kin gave us. Whether we know it or not, those threads are as a map, the old straight tracks and by-ways of which are inscribed on our very souls.
The idea of laying a kingly mound in the earth of the Great Southern Land first began to take shape in my mind a few years ago. These days the barrow-fields and burial mounds of the Old Country are mostly all ploughed under, and no one knows what to believe anymore. It’s time something was done. This is a story of a growing sense of sacred responsibility, to the Land and to my Ancestors. And so it is, that our kindreds, once sundered, begin to be re-woven in the light of the old troth.
My kin first carried fire Sunwise around these acres nearly ten years ago. Like a lot of folk around these parts, we’re fairly recent arrivals from elsewhere. My own family have been on the move since the mid-nineteenth century, give or take. Therefore, let us begin our story in England and work our way south from there, for a little ramble through the Tasmanian countryside.
London is separated from our state capital, Hobart, by over 10,000 miles. We are literally a world away and I live in a strange place, it is true. The village of Cygnet, near which we lay our scene, is named for the black swan which are abundant in these waters. The black swan has been a metaphor for that which cannot exist at least since Juvenal (AD 82). And yet here they are! Indeed, many things that are not possible elsewhere may be possible here.
Like my beloved England, Tasmania is a ‘sceptred Isle’, a kind of crowned republic. In fact, Tasmania is really an antipodean Avalon. The resonances are potent. ‘Avalon’ of course literally means “The Island of Apples” and Tasmania was known, for the longest time, as ‘The Apple Isle’. In 1973 Britain joined the Common Market and we lost our monopoly on fruit. Until then the Huon Valley had a robust economy based around apples, forestry, and fishing. Lately we have seen the return of apples to the Shire because of the popularity of boutique cider and organic farming – we even have the largest Wassail in the Southern Hemisphere, with lots of Morris Dancing. (Check it out at www.huonvalleymidwinterfest.com.au/).
The original Avalon may have long been associated with Glastonbury, in the Somerset Levels, but there is in fact a long tradition associating Avalon with a mysterious Great Southern Land. Or so some folk say…..
Æppeldor: Our Fellowship
Æppeldor Farm. The gable of our Hall can be seen to the left foreground of the picture.
On Mother’s Night of Géol (Yule), 2017 Æppeldor Friðstów þæt Ealdríces was founded as a frithstow (sanctuary) of the Ealdríce. As such, it serves the Australian outpost of Théodish Belief and is stewarded by me, Friðoríc Cénig, fósterling to our Ealdorblótere (chief priest), Þórbeorht Línleah. Þéodisc Geléafa, more commonly called Théodish Belief (‘the belief of the tribe’), is a religious movement rediscovered by Gárman Lord in 1976. Théodish Belief is part of a movement to reconstruct and revive the culture and religion of the indigenous peoples of Northern Europe. We believe in and honour our Anglo-Saxon gods and goddesses, the spirits of the land and the memory of our Ancestors.
We ended up calling our fellowship ‘Æppeldor’ (Old English for ‘the place of the apple tree’) and you may see why. The golden thread of Anglo-Saxondom runs all the way across the whale-road to our little outpost of Heathendom on the very edge of Middle Earth. In Tasmania, Mother England finds her answering image:
“Long years have passed since our blood fell at Senlac,
The Sons of Harold, once more did they roam.
Found they and forged they a land fit for free men,
Making an Island of Apples their home.”
The Song of the Shieldwall
But if much of Northern Tasmania is a plausible simulation of England, then where I live, in the deep South, is very strange indeed to European and American eyes. This could be why, when Charles Darwin visited Hobart in 1836, he suspected there two creators, operating in separate hemispheres – one who conceived the Garden of Eden, the other a fumbler or diabolical parodist who dreamt up Australia’s shaggy flora and frankly bizarre fauna. Here, in the South, fire is a necessary agent of renewal. Here, bark instead of leaves fall from trees and sun blazes widdershins across the sky. And here, in the shadow of the Mountain we call Sleeping Beauty, stones have been known to walk and trees to speak. Southern Tasmania is, in short, a little bit Wyrd…..
Putting Down Roots
If I look from the top of my block, gazing southwards, I can see the bottom half of Bruny Island blue-grey in the distance, and named for the French explorer Bruny D’Entrecasteaux, the first known white man to have chartered these waters, in 1792. (We are fortunate the French did not stay and that Australia was never subjected to Continental tyranny.) Looking leftward I see low hills that gradually rise into mountains, a great wave-lift, thickly timbered and running all the way to the West Coast, through one of the last great swathes of wilderness on earth. Very near our homestead are the last remnants in the world of Gondwanan rainforest, stretching back 60 million years. Here, mile on mile of vasty wilderness, a green ocean pregnant with mystery, holds its secrets and over much of it no human foot, white or black, has ever trod. Like a Mythago Wood or a Tardis, Tasmania is miraculously much larger on the inside than it is on the outside, a kind of Other dimension. This vast, impenetrable land evokes in me something of the sense of awe that our ancestors must have felt when the world was young. Here the mountains and trees are vast – and vastly indifferent – to human kind. Here we are small, finite, merely one amongst a myriad of creature vying for purpose.
Space is altered here, but so is Time. Living here I can never tell whether I am connecting to the very deep past or the very distant future – because in Australia the arrow of time is pointing in multiple directions I can never find a definitive answer to the question: am I the first or the last of my tribe? Such a question could swallow a man whole, but maybe that’s just the Land ingesting me, as Ceridwen swallowed Gwion Bach. Maybe something wants to be born. Maybe Æppeldor is the golden egg.
I know that pre-contact Australia must have been a very storied place, with its own song-lines and sacred places of pilgrimage. Sadly, the local Aboriginal people were decimated and to the best of my knowledge their wisdom is largely lost to us, although I may be wrong about that. Perhaps all that lore has settled back into the land and shall, over countless generations re-inscribe itself onto the soul of my people, rendering us finally indigenous. But a people bring their own gods and ghosts with them to a new land and in that sense Tasmania really is a ‘New England’ and in renaming the features of the landscape and in re-building our web of shires we have already begun to re-hallow this land. I suppose that is why I have gone looking for an echo of Avalon in Tasmania. I don’t want to be a scatterling anymore. I want to put down roots.