Painting of Margaret of the Fox Earth by Marie Roberts
used with the permission of the artist.
In my sharing for Celtic Advent Day 21 I mentioned that I would like to write about the 'Desert Mothers & Fathers' indigenous to these Isles; contemplatives living in solitude, not in deserts, but in woods, valleys, and caves, on mountains, islands, and wild shores. My first, is Margaret of the Fox Earth, who I discovered through artist Marie Roberts, whose beautiful picture of her accompanies this post.
Margaret of the Fox Earth, or Meg O' Fox Holes, was a real person who is reputed to have lived a solitary existence in the cave dwellings of Kinver Edge, on the border between Worcestershire and Staffordshire during the 17th Century.
Whilst others lived there in community (continuing into the 1960s), Margaret's cave, known as Nanny's Cave or Rock, was set apart, obscured by woodland. She may have been a witch, or a Christian hermit, or both; our own Desert Mother, but very little is known about her.
What we do know is that there is an entry in Parish records telling us that a 'Margaret-of-the-Fox-Earth' died there on 8th June, 1617. The Pendle witch trials took place in Lancashire in 1612. We can only imagine the times that Margaret lived through and why she chose to take flight.
This poem is my imagining of who Meg O' Fox Holes was, and is.
Margaret of the Fox Earth (for Marie)
Still whispered within the sound
of the Severn Bore,
where silver salmon sister
shoals & shines.
Still rippled in the ebbs & eddies
of the Tame,
where moon-led elver mother
flows & folds for home.
Still settled in the soil of Shatterford,
where brother badger buries
stories to be mined.
She’s worn into the sandstone of the cave,
has tied her memory to the tides of time.
If it hadn't been for the fox-fire
in her eyes
she might have stayed,
made dry as dust by care,
but the flash of amber
gave her light away,
her feet too sure,
wild thyme between her toes.
Where she's gone to ground
only the nettle knows.
For she has taken flight on heel & paw,
armfuls of yarrow for her company,
with fly agaric blazing in her tracks,
has come to hunt the breath
that rises deep within the tree,
has shifted shape from prose to poetry.
She sniffed the changes coming on the breeze,
her ears, the threat held in Sunday bells,
the witch tree hanging with its rotten fruit,
found shelter in the seam of history.
Her non-conformity; her heresy.
Four-legged, she seeks her immortality
in the wilding hearts of women breaking free.
Briar roses twine the witching of her prayer.
Between her skirts the wilding apples grow,
distasteful to the ken of tamer tongue,
& blackthorn tears her skin to scar her sloe.
From Wyre to wild, Wren's Nest to Wenlock Edge,
From Kinver Fort to Drakelow’s dragon’s mound,
her echo prayer a howl on frost-fire nights,
to light, and life, and land her spirit's bound.
A living landscape shimmers in her wake.
And adders warp & weft her footstep's fall.
A mycelial map mirroring her veins,
that pulse with feral blood to drum her whole.
Four hundred years & still she is not old.
And, still, she's raw and ragged,
rag and hag,
is dancing autumn leaves that
spin the scarp,
Has skittered on the scree,
Her teeth are sharp.
Comes winter-psalmed to will us to re-spark
the amber light that's dimmed in our own eye.
Remember Meg who walked the vixen way,
fox made woman, woman-fox made whole,
She's worn into the sandstone of the cave,
her pawprints leave a track across the soul.
Jacqueline Durban, Autumn 2019
|Margaret's/Nanny's cave, Kinver edge. mixedreality.uk|
Read more about Marie's painting of Margaret, and see more of her beautiful work here