The Sacred Forest

by Elspeth Edward and Andrew Jackson

When this was originally included in Ceridwen's Cauldron Elspeth included some Shepard-like illustrations. We hope to display these shortly.

Over the years, the Arthurians have been privileged to be visited by such distinguished speakers as John Matthews and Ian Forrester-Roberts. The tenor of their theses is that more sources than are commonly realised contain very ancient elements, Celtic or even older. In the light of their revelations, we reappraised several works which we had previously considered to be purely modern constructions, and came to some incredible conclusions. This article aims to outline the pagan meaning of one of these texts, one which has generally been dismissed as a childish fantasy, of little or no value.

The text (for the two published works are a unity) is generally attributed to one "A. A. Milne", which is clearly a pseudonym. But is it possible to unmask the true creator of this work? A short meditation upon the question revealed the answer: it is none other than Merlin himself. A simple anagram of "A. A. Milne" gives us "Mealian", remarkably similar to "Merlyon", a common spelling of that prophet's name. Further, these letters also form the words " a lie man", a nice ironic touch in that it is ancient truths that Merlin is revealing. This alludes to the identification of Merlin as the Trickster, which is described by Nikolai Tolstoy in his masterly work, The Quest for Merlin. It is to be assumed, from its silvan setting, that this work was a product of Merlin's sojourn in the Caledonian Forest, after the battle of Arderydd, when, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth, "he became a man of the woods, as if dedicated to the woods."

Merlin's work takes the form of a cycle of stories, each self-contained, whose superficial entertainment value has blinded most of its readers to its fundamental allegorical purpose. In The Pooh Perplex a few scholars have attempted to explain the work in terms of Communist dogma or Freudian psychology, among other things, but their explanations are patently incorrect, as they are based on a false attribution of the work to the early twentieth century. Our discovery of its true authorship reveals that it is in fact an allegory of pagan religious practices. The stories have a common theme: they describe the spiritual life of Everyman, and his relations with the deities that inhabit his environment.

Everyman is represented by the eponymous Winnie-the-Pooh. Like all ancient peoples, before the martial Romans raped the landscape by cutting down the sacred groves and building cruelly straight roads, he is peaceful and thoroughly in tune with the Land. In one story he is seen to be identified with a cloud, and in another he feels so much at one with the earth that he stays for a week in a hole in the ground, despite the efforts of Rabbit to extract him. This latter episode is a striking reference to the harsh attempts of Rome to tear the Celts away from their vibrant earth-centred spiritual life and to impose their own misguided "order".

Pooh is accompanied in most of his wanderings by Piglet. Just as Pooh is Everyman, Piglet is Everyanimal. There is no hint of exploitation in Pooh's dealings with Piglet, just as ancient man lived in harmony with the animals around him. Indeed, Pooh even helps Piglet when he is in danger in the floods. Pooh and Piglet co-operate with each other, just as Merlin believes Man and Animal ought to.

When Pooh has a problem he consults Owl, for, "if anyone knows anything about anything, it's owl..." Owl is thus a shaman. The parallels between the two are overwhelming. Owl lives in a tree in the centre of the forest, and shamans must symbolically climb the World Tree when they follow their calling. Gerald of Wales describes how people would go to shamans with their questions, but "they do not deliver the answer to what is required in a connected manner". Similarly, uninitiated enquirers are often bemused by Owl's answers. One of his oracular pronouncements is truly arcane - that is, "Hipy papy bthuthdth thuthda bthuthdy." Owl resembles a shaman in appearance as well as in role. Shamans habitually wear cloaks of feathers, which, as in the tale of Suibhne Geilt, often enables them to fly and adopt the guise of the "bird soul in travail". Merlin himself possesses an "esplumoir", which is clearly where he goes to robe himself in his feathered ("plumed") cloak and fly across the forest of Celidon. This identification of the owl with the shaman is as old as man himself, for a Palaeolithic painting in the cave called "Les Trois Freres" shows a shaman possessing the body parts of various animals, including the eyes of an owl.

Christopher Robin is plainly the Horned God, usually called Cernunnos, for, although he is called this only in one inscription, it is clear that all Celts were the same in their culture and beliefs. According to Nikolai Tolstoy, "his peculiar attribute is a supernatural control over and affinity with the beasts of the forest." This is clearly Christopher Robin's role. Piglet, representing all animals, places his utmost trust in him, for "Christopher Robin would never let any harm happen."

The Horned God and the Mother Goddess are the central figures in Celtc belief. In the text Merlin portrays the Mother Goddess as Kanga. This identification is beyond doubt. Eminent scholars have revealed the ubiquity of the Mother Goddess in ancient religion. Michael Dames has proved that an image of her is described in the landscape around Avebury, and that any hole in a stone represents her eye and so is in her honour. When any ancient carving not definitely male can be proved to be the Mother Goddess, it is therefore self-evident that she is Kanga. This conclusion is clearly borne out by her behaviour, for she plays no part in the stories but her mothelry one. Roo, her son, is a symblo of the product of her nurturing the earth. In Celtic terms, they are Modron and Mabon, the archetypal mother and son.

With Tigger we come to the Green Man, a potent fertility spirit, commonly represented as a face sprouting greenery in old carvings. Tigger is the personification of fertility, exuding raw energy and animal passions, and so virile and lusty that Roo is reduced to excited cries of "Oo, Tigger - oo, Tigger - oo, Tigger!" His identification with the primitive vegetation spirit is clinched by the tree-climbing episode. Once up the tree, Tigger feels so much at one with it that he can not bring himself to leave it.

As mentioned above, Rabbit represents the cruel forces of order brought by Romans and Christians who aimed to crush the creative mysticism of the Celts. Not only does her try to wrest Everyman from the earth, but he also tries to upset the Mother Goddess by stealing her child and to "unbounce" the Green Man and deprive him of his power. In this latter episode he is the one who gets lost in the fog as he is the only one who does not possess the ancient instincts which allow Pooh, Piglet and Tigger to return safely.

A whole book could be filled with an interpretation of the rites and rituals found in the book, but lack of space compells us to limit ourselves to but a few. In one story Pooh and Piglet quest for a woozle, which is probably some Otherworldly beast. Significantly, they walk round three times in a clockwise circle. Elsewhere, Pooh is seen at work on an ancient Midwinter custom, when he constructs a building in the heart of the forest, at a place called "Pooh Corner". This is clearly a shrine to mark the turning ("corner") of the year, and with it the start of a new direction in the life of every man.

Thus this work is a religious and cultural text, describing the beliefs of the Celtic, and indeeed pre-Celtic, world. Its lesson is clear. Man must stay in tune with nature and with the deities and spirits which inhabit it or risk becoming a spiritually-desolate outcast like Eeyore.

Originally published in Ceridwen's Cauldron no 26, Michaelmas 1993.