Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Lady of the Unicorns

Sad news, sad news.  On May 13th Morning Glory Zell died, losing a final battle with cancer.  With her passes an era in the history of Paganism in America. 

I saw her last at Pantheacon two years ago, where she and Otter-Ravenheart graciously sold my albums from their table.  I wish I'd had more time to talk to her then.

I met her first in Berkeley, more than 25 years ago, when I was singing for a Church of All Worlds celebration.  Coincidentally, that was when I first met my husband, Rasty-Bob Ralston, who was handling the sound system.  Again, I wish I'd spent more time talking to her then.

The longest time I spent talking to her was during the winter that I went up to the tree-planting ceremony at Forever Forests.  Rasty was filming the event, and I got to carry the battery-pack. 

That was also when I got to meet the two resident unicorns, Bedevere and Percival.  Bedevere was a very large wooly white goat, as big as a mule deer, with a cream-colored horn as long as my arm.  Percival was likewise big, with a short golden coat, black-and-white markings on his face that made me wonder if he wasn't really some breed of large antelope, and a black horn that crooked into a hook at the end.  I was understandably impressed, and later wrote a song about the visit. 

After sundown I sat at the fire with Rasty and Otter and Morning Glory, and finally had time to talk to her at length.  I asked her about the unicorns, and she told me an interesting tale about Percival.

The 'unicorning' process involves taking the kid within an hour of its birth, pushing the horn-buds (which aren't yet attached to the skull) together under the scalp, cutting the scalp open to expose the buds, cutting their facing sides flat and stitching them together with dissolving suture, then cleaning and stitching up the scalp.  The joined horn-buds grow together into a single horn, located right over the pineal body.  The weight of the growing horn, instead of pressing down on the temporal lobes, instead presses on the pineal body;  this not only leaves the temporal lobes free to expand but stimulates the pineal body, causing some interesting effects.  The animal's intelligence increases – and the goat is a smart animal to begin with – and so does the creature's size.  For some reason, it also develops an arched neck, like a horse, more than the camel-like neck more common to goats.  Also, having a manipulable tool where both eyes can focus on it, encourages the unicorn's intelligence.  The result is a large and very clever animal that doesn't look exactly like a goat.

The only problem is that you can't predict exactly how the joined horn is going to grow.  In Percival's case, the buds somehow turned to one side so that his horn grew straight for the first two feet, but hooked to the right at the tip. 

Undaunted, Percival learned to use this natural billhook as a formidable weapon – and tool.  Because he wasn't pretty enough to be a show unicorn, he had to take up practical work.  The Zells already had a chief stud-goat for their own flock, so they loaned him out to some neighbors who also raised goats but had been plagued by coyotes and feral dogs.  Percival took up the job with a will, quickly made himself king of the flock, and chased off the dogs and coyotes.  The couple who had borrowed him proudly showed Morning Glory pictures of a dead coyote that had been killed by a side-swiping blow from Percival's billhook horn.  He also happily impregnated all the does, who produced handsome kids and respectable amounts of milk.

But then Percival grew ambitious.  He used his billhook to pull down a fence, and led his flock to freedom in the forest at the top of the mountain.  There they couldn't be milked, and they happily ate the tree-seedlings that the Zells had planted in previous years.  Worse, Percival hooked down fences into neighbors orchards, where his flock gobbled up the fruit.  Worst of all, he took to raiding other neighbors' goat-farms and stealing away the does to add to his own flock, usually leaving the bucks who challenged him in bad shape. 

Now this was too much;  Percival had made himself a serious menace to the other farmers, and they had to stop him.  They organized a hunting-party, but took care to warn Otter and Morning Glory first, in the hopes that they could rein him in.

So Morning Glory took a short lasso, a saddlebag full of apples, and her most nimble-footed horse, and rode up the mountain to where Percival had last been seen.  Sure enough, in a lush mountain meadow, there she found the expanded flock and Percival in the midst of them, nibbling meadow-grass.  She got off her horse and left him ground-tied, took an apple in one hand and the lasso in the other, and walked out into the meadow.  Percival raised his head as she came near, and gave her a suspicious look, as if he knew why she'd come.

Morning Glory looped the lasso around her arm, held out the apple and talked to Percival, projecting psychically as hard as she could.  "Percival, this is it," she told him.  "The legend has come to life. You are the unicorn, I am your lady, and the hunters are coming to kill you.  If you want to live, you must come with me."

And Percival understood.  He stood quietly and let her walk up to him, then lowered his head to take the apple, and let her slide the rope up over his horn, over his head and around his neck.  Then he let her lead him back to her horse (where she petted him and fed him another apple), waited while she mounted, and then followed tamely as she rode back to the Zells' farm.  Fortunately, the rest of the goats followed too.  She brought them all into the pasture, handed out the rest of the apples, and closed the gate. 

Of course Morning Glory brought them a fresh bale of hay before she went in the house to phone the neighbors and call off the hunt.  Of course the Zells had reinforced the fence since Percival took off, but he could have pulled down the new one if he'd really wanted to.  He had the sense not to want to.  He stayed in that pasture, placidly munching grass and hay, while the neighbors came to sort out the goats and take theirs home.  The neighbors – fellow hippies, eco-freaks and Pagans – attributed the peaceful outcome to Morning Glory's magickal communion with Percival, but Morning Glory herself modestly insisted that Percival had the intelligence – and the psychic ability – to understand her and choose the wise course.

I never doubted her story at all.

A true Witch and a great lady has passed from our world.   

--Leslie <;)))><   )O(


Aya Katz said...

All of us to some extent embrace our captivity and let freedom pass us by, rather than let the hunters get us. My Bow knows that if he ever got out into the world, the most likely outcome is that he would be killed by the authorities.

Paradoctor said...

We humans have a curious effect on the animals around us. They become either smart or food.

Leslie Fish said...

Hi, Aya. Yes, as the story says, "All who breathe are chained." Still, if you could persuade Bow to *wear clothes* when he leaves your home territory, his survival chances would improve tremendously. Think about it.

Hi, Nat. Indeed, intelligence was and is our chief survival characteristic, and -- deliberately or not -- we seem to be passing on that gift to the rest of the animal kingdom.

Technomad said...

MGZ recapturing Percival is pretty cool...but didn't the woman capturing the unicorn have to be a virgin?

Just curious.

Leslie Fish said...

*Snerk* No, just not pregnant or nursing. Hmmm, also, even with goats of Percival's and Bedevere's size, a girl would have to be pretty young to be small and light enough to *ride* one -- and in medieval times, that would have meant young enough to not be past adolescence yet. Then again, Morning Glory had no intention of riding Percival -- just leading him to safety.