Bela Bartok: Powers in the Land

Bela BartokI didn’t intend to write a separate post about the composer of Bluebeard’s Castle, but WordPress has its limitations. Among them the impossibility of adding to a the bottom of a post once it has an image or a video on it.

This is just for those who might be interested to know A bit about Bartok and his influences. Since folk music, folk tales an fairy tales have had such a profound influence on my Magical progression, I find Bartok’s inspiration in Hungarian and Bulgarian folk music runs along the same lines.

Folk Music as Magical Inspiration

Why? Folk music comes from the deep primal layers of the soul. I believe this very early music was a gift from the spirits of the land, that the  rhythms and melodies express the energies of a particular place in its natural state. As industrialization takes over, the links between human and Faery are cut. Music itself becomes more industrial, divorced from the rays, currents, and tides that make magic possible. Bartok, in seeking to unlock the old folk songs of Central Europe, perhaps came into contact with these long exiled spirits. They came to hm and inspired his only opera, Bluebeard’s Castle, about a souls in tormented isolation who seeks, through the mediation of his wives, to re-merge with the patterns and cycles of Nature.

For one with the Witchblood, this urge is so deep inside you, that one cannot help but identify with Bartok’s alienated Bluebeard, filled with the same longing to return to what once was before the ways and portals of Faery were broken by metal and machines.

Biography and Musical Influences

The piece below is just pulled form Wikipedia as I can’t say it any better. Look him up there for more details.

The native form of this personal name is Bartók Béla. This article uses the Western name order.

Béla Viktor János Bartók (Hungarian: IPA: [ˈbeːlɒ ˈbɒrtoːk]) (March 25, 1881–September 26, 1945) was a Hungarian composer and pianist, considered to be one of the greatest composers of the 20th century. Through his collection and analytical study of folk music, he was one of the founders of ethnomusicology.

In 1907, Bartók began teaching as a piano professor at the Royal Academy. This position freed him from touring Europe as a pianist and enabled him to stay in Hungary. Among his notable students were Fritz Reiner, Sir Georg Solti, György Sándor, Ernő Balogh, Lili Kraus, and, after Bartók moved to the United States, Jack Beeson and Violet Archer.

In 1908, inspired by both their own interest in folk music and by the contemporary resurgence of interest in traditional national culture, he and Kodály travelled into the countryside to collect and research old Magyar folk melodies. Their findings came as a surprise: Magyar folk music had previously been categorised as Gypsy music. The classic example of this misconception is Franz Liszt’s famous Hungarian Rhapsodies for piano, which were based on popular art-songs performed by Gypsy bands of the time. In contrast, the old Magyar folk melodies discovered by Bartók and Kodály bore little resemblance to the popular music performed by these Gypsy bands. Instead, they found that many of the folk-songs are based on pentatonic scales similar to those in Oriental folk traditions, such as those of Central Asia and Siberia.

Bartók and Kodály quickly set about incorporating elements of real Magyar peasant music into their compositions. Both Bartók and Kodály frequently quoted folk songs verbatim and wrote pieces derived entirely from authentic folk melodies. An example is his two volumes entitled For Children for solo piano containing 80 folk tunes to which he wrote accompaniment. Bartók’s style in his art music compositions was a synthesis of folk music, classicism, and modernism. His melodic and harmonic sense was profoundly influenced by the folk music of Hungary, Romania, and many other nations, and he was especially fond of the asymmetrical dance rhythms and pungent harmonies found in Bulgarian music. Most of his early compositions offer a blend of nationalist and late Romanticism elements.

Bluebeard’s Castle

Bartók wrote what was to be his only opera, Bluebeard’s Castle, dedicated to his wife Márta. This suggests to me that he may indeed have identified more than  a little with the inner struggle of his protagonist.

He entered it for a prize awarded by the Hungarian Fine Arts Commission, which rejected it out of hand as un-stageworthy. In 1917 Bartók revised the score in preparation for the 1918 première, for which he rewrote the ending. Following the 1919 revolution, he was pressured by the government to remove the name of the blacklisted librettist Béla Balázs (by then a refugee in Vienna) from the opera.

Bluebeard’s Castle received only one revival, in 1936, before Bartók emigrated. For the remainder of his life, although he was passionately devoted to Hungary, its people and its culture, he never felt much loyalty to its government or its official establishments.

Personal Note: The Golden Stair

I was fascinated with Bartok’s use of Central European folk music in composing Bluebeard’s Castle, as well the Ottoman inspired staging of the 2004 production I found on UTube.

My unpublished (but hopefully not for long) novel The Golden Stair is based on Rapunzel but form the Point of view of the Witch. It is Grimm’s fairy tale, but I set in 15th century Royal Hungary at the height of the Ottoman wars. A battle with the Turkish invaders is the turning point of the book.

This is perhaps why I have been so thrilled with this opera. Not just because I love fairy tales, but because Bartok drew on the same current that motivated my own creative project.

Kay Nielsen, Bluebeard

Kay Nielsen, Bluebeard

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Witchery of the Frog and Toad

Witchery of Frog and Toad

I’ll go to the toad

That lives under the wall;

I’ll charm him out

And he’ll come to my call.

The Frog King

In the Grimm’s Fairy Tale, Frog King, a little princess chases her golden ball around the garden. It falls into the well and the girl is heartbroken.  Suddenly a frog hops out of the well and  asks the Princess what is troubling her. She complains that her golden ball is gone down the well. The frog promises to restore it to her if she will accept it as companion who will sit beside her, drink from her glass, eat from her plate, and sleep in her bed. She promises this thinking, “Well, it’s only a frog. It cannot possibly be my companion!” The frog restores the golden ball and asks her to take him home with her. The Princess runs away and soon forgets about the frog and her promise.
The next day, when the royal court is feasting, the frog appears and asks to be let into the hall. The Princess shuts the door on it and attempts to put the frog out of her mind.  Seeing her distress, the King asks her what is wrong. She tells him, and the King insists that she must never go back on her promises and had better invite the little frog in. The Princess does so, but refuses to allow the frog to sit next to her the table, putting her nose in the air, and turning away in disgust. The King reminds her to keep her promise. She begrudgingly allows the frog to share her meal, and then hurries away from the table to escape his next request. The King  angrily calls her back and tells her that someone who has helped her when she was in need must not be despised. So the frog joins her in bed. The little Princess is so revolted at the thought of lying next to a frog, that, after three nights, she can stand it no longer. She picks him up and hurls him against the wall. Suddenly, he turns into a handsome Prince!

illustration: Anne Anderson


When I was child playing in the woods, me and the other children were fond of catching frogs. There were lots of little streamy swamps in our woods that had two major frog ponds in them. One was at the end of a path that went down through a stand of little trees and bushes. At the base of a high rock surrounded with wild irises and tiger lilies was a deep pool. There the frogs were very friendly and easy to catch, and their green clouds of eggs clung to the shore  within hands reach. The other, larger,  pond was deeper in the woods and the frogs tended to stay near the far bank under the bushes. This pond was crossed by a big fallen log. We used to lie across the log and stretch our hands down to water where the frogs swam with their heads just above the surface, green and shiny and looking at us with gold-rimmed eyes. If we were fast enough, we could catch them, though they easily slipped out of our grasp and disappeared under the dark, unreflective water.
I saw the frogs were beautiful and never captured them without letting them go.

Magic of Toads and Frogs

The pond, well, or spring has long been thought to be a portal to the Faeryland which is underground. Water is the carrier of beings from one state to another, and is also our original home. What lies underwater is as mysterious, dark, hidden as that which lies underground. The difference is that the water seems to allow entry into its hidden realm. We can see through the surface of the water where living creatures move like shadows,  sometimes emerging and the disappearing again as through a dark mirror. Frogs, turtles, snakes, alligators, crocodiles, and even some mammals have the capacity to move between realities through water.
If we can imagine  times before there were submarines and technology that allows us to see what  beneath the surface of the seas, we might understand the power of  mysterious wells and springs, the oceans and seas, in the imaginations of our ancestors. These were  literally portals to the Otherworld.
These amphibious creatures are magical, for everything that exists in the unstable state betwixt and between is magical. They move in and out of two worlds, water and earth, above and below. They are transformational, shape shifters, moving through phases like the moon who is their ruler. From a sqaushy green jelly full of eyes,  to tadpole, to frog, the miraculous changes take place before our eyes. Anyone who has watched  a tadpole sprout legs one at a time, lose its tail, and hop on as a fully fledged little land animal knows the fascination of the frog.
For those with the Witchblood the frog and toad become more. I used to be able to see the jewels in the foreheads of toads, especially at night. They sat in our front  garden and sometimes I sat beside them. I was fond of bells in those days and had the odd fancy of tinkling bells over the toads to make them dance. Later I learned that the toad does have a gland in its head that secrets a hallucinogenic substance, or a poison, as all drugs are. For me, as a child, the jeweled Toad was a part of my dreaming reality. I have since learned that bells are carried on the wind of Faery in Celtic tradition.
I often sat beside the pond under the high rock in the twilight to listen to the songs of the frogs and watch them catch the long legged mosquitoes that hovered above the water. I felt that if I just stayed very still and silent, they would communicate with me. Those were magic moments in the hot late summers of Massachusetts, when I ringed the pond with tea lights, and sat with my eyes fastened on the still pool, the slowly moving flowers, the ragged edges of the trees turning darker in the dimming light of the sky. Unlike the Princess, I did not find it strange to be the companion of frogs and toads.
Once I read a book about a girl who found a pond like my pond. When she looked into the water, she saw a face looking back, but it was not her face.  Sometimes the spirit of the well looks up at you from the water. She is a dark woman who is as old as time and as beautiful as your imagination allows her to be. Like the frog, she glances up and then disappears. But you must be very still to see her and it must be twilight and hot summer when the witch grass is thick and the mountain laurel blooms and the bushes smell like ripe fruit.
In the book, the face in the pond was the remains of an old ship’s figurehead. Very New England image, that. It led to some mystery, but that I do not remember. Only the pond and the face looking up. Later on when I would study Faery Magic with R.J.Stewart, I would learn the lore of the three heads in the well and that it was a well of healing. For me the frog pond was a place between the worlds.

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What is a Witch? How do You Know You are a Witch?

Many people question what it means to be a witch, so it is important for me to define what a witch is from my own perspective, for none have been so maligned or misunderstood as we.A witch has historically been defined as a person who gains psychic powers through the medium of a contract with the Devil. These powers are used for evil, to blight crops, turn healthy people ill, kill children, and various other horrors. But this is old propaganda spun in the time when the Catholic Church sought to consolidate its power among the ruling classes thus routing out the Rites of Sacred Kingship, Rites of Misrule, Alchemy, etc.
During the Reformation, when the Catholic and Protestant Churches waged war with each other for the souls of the populace, the propaganda mills worked overtime, whipping up a frenzy of prejudice in attempts to grab converts in outlying areas. Ordinary peasants practicing fertility rites, midwives, healers, and practitioners of Pagan celebrations were forced to adhere to the dogmas of the churches that moved into their villages and took over their civic life. The literate, city educated clergy had powerful manipulative weapons at their disposal, among them the ability to turn people against each other, demonizing the old ways, and  sowing confusion and distrust. For if a person has the power to heal, might they not also have the power to kill? And if a person can make the crops thrive, can he not also blight them? One who consorts with Faeries suffers from delusions, for are they not really demons, thrown out of heaven in the War of the Angels?

We know better.
As a witch, (and it has taken most of my life to ‘come out’ as one), I am in deep empathy with life. Strong empathy grants conscience. It is difficult to inflict pain when you feel it yourself. Also, ties with nature, attunement to the lunar influences, the ability to converse with trees and animals, can only happen when the heart is open and the heart is the organ of love.

Not only did I almost die at birth, and thus have always been betwixt and between the worlds of the living and the dead, but was born with a caul, or Veil. The caul  is rare and it grants certain abilities, among them psychic visionary and healing powers, shape shifting, the ability to see the unseen…I leave my body in Spirit Flight, and enter the Faery Realm at will.

I  grew up in the woods in Leicester, Massachusetts in a place called Peter Salem Village. Prior to the building of our 1960′s ‘housing development’, this had been farmland originally owned by Peter Salem, a free black man who had fought in the Revolutionary War. The woods in Leicester were, and still are, magical. By that I mean there is an enchanted quality in the land that I have not found elsewhere. For example, when the sun was low in the sky shining through the tiger lilies and irises that bordered the stream in a grassy clearing, the spirits in the light, and in the land were highly visible. I wasn’t alone in seeing them. They informed our play. There were lots of children in the village, and most of us ‘saw’ them. Sometimes the colors in the land were so bright and pure, it was as if the world was washed in a kind of divinity.
There was a special time I never shall forget. It was winter and I was alone walking in the woods along the top of an old stone wall that had been built when that land was clear pasture. I came to a sunken area among the trees and ‘saw’ a circle of white robed figures. When they became aware I was seeing them, they vanished with the snowfall.
At that point, I knew had seen something more than usual…
Maybe it wasn’t really the woods being enchanted, but the steady diet of fairy tales we were all raised on. Children didn’t have rationalism imposed on them in those days. Our minds and imaginations were free. And fairy tales have the uncanny ability to wake up the deep mind.
Fairy tales taught me compassion for wild tings. We used to catch frogs and toads all summer long. Because of stories like the Frog King, I became the protector of frogs and toads and prevented many from being tortured by boys, and sprung many out of jars and boxes and other prisons. Witches, frogs and toads…hmm.
When I grew a bit older, I wanted to be artist. This desire was fueled by the need I had to make my increasingly fascinating inner visions tangible, and visible for others. I spent long periods of time alone in certain ‘power spots’ where I would get telepathic impression from the trees. I was deeply moved by certain configurations in the landscape, for instance the tall arbor vitae the circled the resevoir, a rush of green grass up slope between young spruces, and the moon shining over all.  The land ‘spoke’ to me and my drawings spoke of ghosts, spirits, ladies in long windblown cloaks under oak trees, wise old men coming up from under the earth, wolves surrounding a witch in her circle of candles…
I must retrieve those old drawings of mine and post them in here….

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