Assipattle and the Mester Stoorworm is a Scottish dragon-slayer folk tale with many enticing details linking it to elements of an older culture centering the Earth with a reverence for female spiritual power. You can read a summary of the story and these clues in Part I.
While the tale was obviously not originally meant to reflect the 21st century, it has echoes of our own society’s challenges today, including inequality, injustice, violence, and ecological disaster. It may be a revision of an older story but, not knowing what that story was, we can perhaps re-envision the story to be meaningful for our own time with the characters and practices hinted at in the details. Maybe something like this (I’ve named Assipattle’s unnamed sister Morag) …
For weeks the village’s fisherfolk had come back with empty boats or, tossed by sudden, violent storms, not come home at all. The people, mourning lost loved ones, hungry, and fearful that the raging storm surges might destroy their homes, gathered to determine what to do. The elders — a wise woman, a male magician, and a councilman — stepped into the center. “Since the beginning of time,” the wise woman said, “the Earth and Her ocean has fed and nourished us in so many ways. We must find what She needs and what we must do to restore Her so that the fish can run and the tempests will subside. Our young seers, Assipattle and Morag, will enter into communion through song, dance, and trance to hear Her voice. The circles of young women will explore solutions through their expertise. We three elders will offer our knowledge and counsel to all.”
Soon the village gathered again to hear the insights of the circles of seven young women, each circle representing artists, scientists, historians, and other related areas of human understanding, as well as the words of the young seers, all guided by the elders’ wisdom. The young seers told of being visited by the Earth Herself in the form of the Cailleach and the goddess of the village land known as Gemdelovely while the circles spoke of what they had learned. All in their own way explained that the village, like the rest of the planet’s humans, had begun to take the Earth and ocean for granted and were now experiencing the consequences. The young women’s circles explained that over time the people had fished till the beds were barren in an ocean emptied of life across the Earth, while the glaciers’ human-caused melting resulted in the Earth’s upheavals of agony. Gemdelovely and the Cailleach had asked them all to come to the shore at dawn the next morning, the seers said.
The villagers gathered at the water’s edge just as the sun rose and waited. At first they thought that nothing was happening and some began to leave in despair. Then the wise woman said “No! It is the dawn They wanted us to see, to realize that, despite all we have done, they always give us a new day. They have faith in us and know we can right our wrongs by doing our part and then counting on Them to being the force of life to regenerate what has been lost.”
The circles of young women, one leaving each week, travelled across the planet to bring their knowledge and inspiration while the young seers and elders rewove the village’s relationship between the village and the goddesses so all could work together. Finally, fish began to appear in the waters and the storms subsided. One day the goddesses again asked the people to come to the shore. They were amazed to find new islands the Cailleach had created close by, a sign that the goddesses were finally able to bring new life to the Earth.
The first tale offers obvious lessons of how NOT to respond to existential threats as a community. Don’t scapegoat the most vulnerable, don’t fear-monger, and don’t glorify killing and war are just a few. But what else can we learn from looking at the old and new versions of the tale?
The clues include a plethora of characters with many different positive roles and perspectives. They tell us to value everyone’s contribution and especially ensure the voices of those who have lesser power in our own culture — in this case women, especially young women, and elders, as well as those who represent older, more sustainable ways of being — are heard. We need everyone’s perspective to solve our tremendous problems.
The Cailleach expresses our most essential reality — life, death, rebirth — at the core of all problems and solutions. Her presence says to look for and address root causes rather than responding to crises in ways that do not tackle why challenges may continue. When we heal rather than conquer we strengthen the fabric of our relationships to each other, other living beings, and the Earth to truly ensure the integrity of our web of existence moving forward.
The clues include many ways to address the catastrophe such as invoking goddesses and spirits of the land, magic and druidery, a kind of science of the time, and community action. We also must use all our tools — spirituality, natural and social science, the arts, community response, and more — to bring ourselves back into a healthy relationship with the Earth and all Her beings.
The spirit of the land and the Cailleach who create the Earth and its landscapes also connects us to the ever-flowing cycle of birth, death, and regeneration. Just as the land is constantly recreating itself, so, too, do we have the opportunity to overcome environmental, social, and other catastrophes if we are willing to change our ways and recreate ourselves.
Assipattle and the Mester Stoorworm is a folk tale which seems to have deep roots in an older culture. Re-imagining the story using its clues to more ancient origins can lead to messages for us about how we can begin to effectively, compassionately, and transformatively solve our own society’s crises and challenges as local and global communities. May we all live happily ever after.
Carolyn Lee Boyd is a writer, drummer, and herb and native plant gardener. Her essays, short stories, memoirs, reviews, and poetry have been published in a variety of print magazines, internet sites, and book anthologies. She explores goddess-centered spirituality in everyday life and how we can all better live in local and global community. She would love for you to visit her at her website, www.goddessinateapot.com,where you can find her writings and music and some of her free e-books to download.
Scottish Fairy Tales, Random House, London, 1994 (no author, no longer in print), but the story is widely published in anthologies of Scottish fairy tales; Walter Traill Dennison with language notes by Rachel Louise Lawrence, Assipattle and Mester Stoorworm, Blackdown publications, 2015
Illustration: Cailleach Beira, Wondertales from Scottish Myth and Legend, 1917, Internet Archive Book Images, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: The Corryvreckan Whirlpool, between the islands of Jura and Scarba, Russ Baum, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons