I have been reading Rudyard Kipling’s book Puck of Pook’s Hill, after being prompted to look at his poetry after hearing some of Leslie Fish’s recordings (Oak and Ash and Thorn in particular). Earlier in the book I read Sir Richard’s Song and this melody immediately sprung into my mind while reading.
I am usually sceptical by nature, but it felt like some hidden magic in Kipling’s words carried inherit music that was just waiting to be sung. I had sadly assumed that the Disney version of Jungle Book and a ‘mildly offensive in current times’ poem about Mandalay was the extent of his work.
How mistaken I was. The story of Dymchurch Flit appears at the end of the book and tells the tale of how the Faery Folk departed England for France in the 1530’s. The story largely stands on its own, but this guide from the Kipling Society provides some useful context. I had always assumed that Henry VIII’s fight was with the Catholic Church over his penchant for new wives. After seeing the ruins of the Glastonbury Abbey firsthand, it seemed clear that he was also after some of the wealth that the Monasteries had amassed. Kipling’s story implies that a big part of Henry’s purge was actually against the remnants of the Old Religion (Druidry?) in England. This article goes into some detail on the scale of the vandalism of Henry.
I have written a song to summarise the story of how the Widow Whitgift is approached by Robin (a spokesperson for the Faery Folk, Robin Goodfellow or Puck) to ask if her mute and blind sons will take the Faery Folk who have gathered in Romney Marsh across to France, where the old religion is still tolerated. As the sons are blind and mute they can either not speak of what they have seen or not see at all. The sons return safely, but the family is blessed (?) in future generations with second-sight. I have read enough fairy-tale allegory to know that pairs of sons with unusual disabilities is archetype territory, and Kipling is most likely drawing on, or implying a deeper meeting here.
The connection with bees in the story, and in the song which precedes the story, is telling. Bees have significant meaning in Occult traditions, this blog provides a good summary. This idea is far more clumsily included in the terrible Nicholas Cage remake of The Wicker Man.
So how is it that Kipling slipped this monumental revelation into his collection of stories and songs roughly framed around the history of England? I can find no other references to a Faery exodus in 1530, or any other information about Widow Whitgift. Whit or hwita is Old English for white, but that doesn’t help much.
Kipling was clearly trying to draw attention to the terrible way in which Christianity, especially the new Protestant Christianity, dealt with those who followed the old ways. The references in the story to the Canterbury Bells related to the fact that they would ring at the burning of ‘heretics’, mostly common folk or monks who had fallen foul of Henry.
Kipling was writing around 1906, the Catholic Church had only been reinstated in England in 1850, and even then it met with much hostility. I hope this story isn’t just a thinly veiled political statement about Catholics going back to France with their paganism (where they belong).
I am baffled that the pagan revival community has not picked up on this story, or sought to find its origins, or at least write about it in detail. Maybe this post will prompt some consideration. If the Faery Folk are living happily in France, I would be interested to know where.
I have included a picture by Arthur Rackham, included in the 1906 US edition of Puck, who I discovered has drawn/painted some of my favourite illustrations for stories of English mythology.