Monday 25 October 2021

Catherine Rogers, "Element"


Catherine Rogers is a co-director of Haarlem Artspace. She ran her own creative business for several years before working in arts development and local government. At Haarlem Artspace she is researching the practice of storytelling as a method of curating  as well as writing short stories. Some of these have made their way into collections, including the award-winning Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud, edited by Jonathan Taylor for Salt Publishing. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.

About Element, by Catherine Rogers

Element is a collection of short stories written by Catherine Rogers, inspired by Haarlem Artspace artists. It is the second publication from Haarlem Artspace following Woven/Ground by Geoff Diego Litherland published in 2020. Haarlem Artspace is not just a building, it is a community of fascinating individuals who change year on year. These stories are an attempt to capture an essence of their stories and the story the space holds. The wonderful artists whose work is featured are people who have shared fragments of their own stories, inspirations, motivations that make them who they are. The weavings that have come from this sharing are an attempt at an abstract form of storytelling - with one exception, the story that is the element of air, which is from the artist Chantal Powell and is her own creation. 

You can see more information about Element here. Below, you can read an extract from the book

From Element

Under Earth

Under her bare feet, seeds swelled in the furrows. She brushed her hands over the vines in the fields, and they responded quivering, knowing the weight of the fruit they would soon bear. Shimmering in the sun, the grass heads waved their purple feathered plumage in gentle greeting. Swallows dipped and darted around her, chattering all the while as the bees passed, noisily going about their business. The young goddess breathed in the sweet heady air of the summer sun and baked earth, gathering into a posy the papery scarlet poppies, forked purple cornflower tongues, delicate queen’s lace with peppered foxtail, haloed plantain, sweet vernal and cocksfoot grasses. Her skin connected to each cellulose fibre, and she felt the spongy warmth and hum of the land vibrating with life.

As she made her way through the fields, the hum grew deeper and the vibrations began to shudder through her body, into her knees, then her hips and up to her breasts and shoulders. Her heart was beating faster and faster, when all of a sudden, the earth beside her cracked like a huge stone in a hot fire. It created a wide mouth with its craggy teeth of unearthed rocks showering soil like breadcrumbs, sending the creatures who hide from the light scuttling for cover as the cavernous hole opened wider.

Then from the darkness poured a river of fiery larva carrying with it a golden chariot pulled by winged creatures with scaled skin, spiky horns, and sooty snouts breathing fire. Driving the chariot was the king of the underworld with his dark flowing hair and eyes burning with the blue heart of a furnace. She felt her entire body open when he spoke, his voice unused to shaping words in her tongue,  

‘Glorious goddess, come and join me as my underworld queen. I offer you my people, my life, my home which is as different as it can be, but as wondrous as this. I have watched you wandering the fields and seen your tender caress of the earth and I know you have what my people need, and what I most desire. I hope that I can offer you something that is equal and as powerful in return. My love for you is intense, as deep as the darkest canyon and with it comes the power to heal the broken and lost. This is what I offer to you in return for your hand.’

She stood still, weighing up the enormity of the moment and answered, ‘This is my home, I cannot imagine a life without the sky, the clouds, and the fields. So, charioteer, tell me about your world, your people, and their stories and I will come with you for a time.’

He then told her his stories and his people’s stories, he told her about death, destruction and transformation. He painted for her the mysteries and hidden depths, the wheel and cycle of all life and death. As he took her on this magnificent journey she knew somehow this was her path, her heart longed for the otherness of this world and the clouds and fields became memories in her dreams.

Above, her mother wandered the earth in despair, looking for news of her daughter. She came to the goddess of the night, of magic and witchcraft, the guardian of the past, the present and the future. The night goddess described to what she had witnessed.

‘As the world turns and the sun grows weaker in the northern hemisphere, the air crisp and the ground colder, your daughter is with her husband in the belly of the earth. She rules as queen of the underworld and of the dead. She was out in the golden fields gathering flowers when the god of the underworld came in his chariot and offered her his love. The earth roared apart and she took his hand, stepped into his chariot and the earth enveloped them both. I watched from my gathering place as the meeting took place and witnessed the fire between them. This is the story of how it was and how it is. I will journey to the underworld to carry your wishes to your daughter and bring you news of what will be.’

The witch prepared herself for the journey to the underworld, a passage she took often enough. She carried a scarf for the younger goddess, woven from fine hedgerow cobwebs and shining with dew pearls and rosebay down. Into it she whispered her secret, the stories of their ancestry passing from goddess to goddess. The frosts were already in the fields as she set out making her way to the caves with their luminous lichen eyes to guide her on her quest. Her familiars accompanied her as she travelled to the court of  the underworld deities, where she was welcomed and respected. 

The underworld queen immediately wrapped her mother’s gift around her, and the memories of the earth and its abundance flooded her senses. Mourning the loss of her old life she asked the dark goddess to tell her what she saw in the future. She brought out a leather skinned bronze pomegranate and with a sharp knife split its skin, the juice dropping to the stone floor like blood from a gaping wound. She pulled the two halves apart to reveal its jewelled seeds perfectly encased in their ruby settings. Her hands now covered with juice, she squeezed the seeds into a bowl which she offered to the queen, who in turn took out six. The witch closed her eyes and spoke,

‘The six seeds are the six months of the year you will be together, mother and daughter, nurturing the earth and bringing new life as the Spring and Summer. Then you will  return to the underworld, bringing the Autumn and Winter to the earth above. As the wheel turns, there will be these Seasons.’

As the witch saw it, so it was and so it is. The queen left the underworld and as she stepped above ground her skirts swept the bleached bones of the wintered lands bringing the brush of acid greens and pinks as the Spring came forth. The earth had rested and from its dormancy new life was now shining. Her mother opened her arms wide with joy at the return of her daughter. Her loss had almost overtaken her, but eventually she had slept with the earth, fasting in her winter hibernation. Now she unfurled with the ferns and danced in the growing season.

Then just as Spring had arrived so came Summer with its abundant green and the days long and hot. The earth became dusty and the bees lazy, so it was time for the queen to return once again to the under earth, to her husband and her people. On her return there was such partying, a mycelium feast, a myriad of fireworks and the pulsing hypnotic beats from the core of the earth. The partying lasted many days and nights, and being underground, there was no beginning and no end, just a looping continuum of making and unmaking until it was time for the wheel to turn once again.

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