Betrayer Moon

August 31st  

I’m standing among the alder on the western shore of Kenfig Pool, looking east across the still water. A full moon is rising over the ridge that, perhaps, gave this place its name: Cefn y ffigon, the ridge on the marsh. All around me, unseen among the ragwort and the wild carrot, hundreds of crickets are singing their love songs, shaking their rattles, the sound rising and falling in intensity as they drift in and out of harmony with each other. 

It’s the second full moon this month. That rarity: a blue moon. The term seems to come from the old English word for betrayer: belewe. This name dates back to the old Gregorian calendar, when the end of the lent fast was determined by the calculations regarding the start of Easter. If two moons fell in the same month, then Easter could seem delayed, apparently extending the fasting period. A moon that delayed Easter was dubbed by the famished flock a belewe moon, a betrayer moon.

But the second moon is a welcome sight this evening. A glimpse of any moon in a clear night sky has been unusual this year. Summer 2012 has been the wettest recorded since 1912. After early drought warnings it seems not a day has passed without serious rain falling somewhere on the archipelago. Our vegetable patch, inherited from a previous occupant, now more like a muddy pond, has had to be neglected. Slugs and snails have thrived, lounging stuffed in hammocks of lacy lettuce. Potatoes have succumbed early to blight. Apple blossom has been lashed from the boughs. The bees have hidden in their hives and survived on emergency slurps of sugar water from the beekeeper. Kenfig Pool looks like a wineglass filled desperately to the brim, about to spill over.

One consequence of the neglected veg patch is that I’ve found, growing among the hogweed and the nettles, the bindweed and the vetch (where the potatoes should be) a few flourishing specimens of Chenopodium album, aka fat-hen. A staple of the stone-age diet, this wild ancestor of spinach is now one of our commonest weeds. It’s also extremely nutritious. The succulent, pewter-green leaves - shaped at first like duck’s feet - and the generously clustered flowers - which look like fat little grubs, or crumbs of suet - are especially rich in calcium and protein. The seeds formed part of the last meal of Tollund Man, one of the “bog bodies” – those ancient sacrifices, preserved by the acidic peat water, who are occasionally turfed up across northern Europe.

Fat Hen 

I’m reminded of those bog bodies tonight as I watch the moon’s face drift across the black surface of the pool. What drew those people to the lonely wetlands? Water shows us another world, a mirror world of unknown depths, rippling with strange life. Where left is right, right is left and breathing can be fatal. And the bog itself is a place of blurred borders, where water can be confused with earth and sky. A place where the stars and the moon might rise beneath your feet. A place where the dead might find another life.

Rain (click for larger image)

Many of the bog bodies had suffered the “triple death” common in Celtic and Germanic mythology. They’d been hung or strangled, then stabbed and drowned — an offering to the spirits of the sky, the earth, and the water. A cruel death, but there’s some evidence to suggest that the victims were unusually important  – Shamans? Druids? Maybe they went willingly into the mirror world, special emissaries in a time of crisis, the song of the crickets chirring in the air around them, and not so far away the Roman legions on the march. Or maybe they were just criminals, hostages, outsiders, bringers of bad news. People who had in life already crossed the important boundaries.

Anyway, Kenfig’s a marsh not a bog, so the chances of finding the pickled bodies of witches in the water are slim, even if it is a blue moon. But what about those fat-hens? We picked the leaves and seeds and dropped them into boiling water for a minute or so, drained and served them with a twist of white pepper, a pat of butter and a glass of yarrow ale. The ale is a bit young, needs a few months to mellow in the bottle. But the plant is a surprise, tasting of the soft earthiness of sprouting broccoli with a distant citrus whisper of raw sea-beet. 

Tonight the blue moon in a rare clear sky, the betrayer moon, sees a chill wind hiss across the water. Coatless as I head home, I realise it’s the last full moon of summer.


Kenfig Journal by Kristian Evans

Kristian Evans is an artist and writer from Bridgend interested in ecology and the ways we think about and interact with the “other-than-human” world. He has lived in Kenfig for five years. His performance installation “The Mirror’s Grain,” written with Tracy Evans, was launched at the Kenfig National Nature Reserve Centre in May 2010, as part of the “Mouth to Mouth” series of events organised by Arts for the Earth. The Kenfig Journal will appear here regularly.

@kenfigdunes on twitter