Pagham-verse, Podcast

#EldritchGirl S03E04: Old words make old things come out

Words of Power

That little phrase, ‘old words make old things come out’, is based on a specific concept of language and the power inherent within a language that I’m playing with in the series. Ricky refuses to speak Welsh (established in The Crows) but has a fluent command of Old English which he feels much safer using.

Tina’s heart language is Old English, not Welsh, established in The Crows, and that’s the language she conducts séances in. She had a Welsh grandfather on her mother’s side; that would be Sgt. Evan Pritchard of the Welch Regiment who was injured on the Western Front and married his (Sussex-born) nurse. His sister, Eglantine Pritchard, moved to Pagham-on-Sea after the War to be nearer to him and to help with his care and with the care of the children. Both of them, and Eglantine’s life partner and ‘companion’, Gwen Mostyn-Jenkins, were Welsh speakers, but of varying degrees of fluency.

This is based on the idea that command of a language is in itself powerful, and that by words alone, spoken aloud, a poet can recreate reality. This is kind of true: there is such power in the spoken word within an oral culture that this is literally how history is made and preserved and stories passed on and everything those stories convey about and to that society is perpetuated.

This can be crystallised – the words learned by rote, very carefully, exactly, and never changed – or part of a more flexible, fluid system of composition where the poet can show off their skills. The idea here is that the power resides in all words, and poets, by their ability to weave them into something clever and beautiful, can wield immense power.

By their words, battles are lost and won (it doesn’t matter the truth of it – what is said becomes what is remembered, and that’s often all that matters).

The dead are memorialised and immortalised. The living are burnished with gleaming reputations, or they are cursed before all society and turned into objects of scorn.

There is no power or magic higher than words, because if you know how to spin them, how to use them to capture your audience, you can do anything.

So what if that’s literally true? What if there are people – like Eglantine Pritchard – whose words don’t just impact reality in the usual way, but have the power to literally reshape it?

I’m drawing on the Medieval Welsh tradition of curse poetry (a truly great bard could make the subject drop down dead upon hearing it), and Old English poetic traditions and the ideas inherent in having an old language that carries the weight of its past and its heritage within it.

I grew up with this type of ‘magic system’ (it’s not a system) through Welsh fiction like Jenny Nimmo’s The Snow Spider, where the way to summon things to you is to give trinkets to the wind and say the names of old magicians (Math, Mathonwy, et al). The protagonist is a young boy called Gwydion Gwyn, and he’s a magician, but he’s also a nine-year-old with a missing older sister who is living in the shadow of her absence and blaming himself for her disappearance, one stormy night on his birthday. His nain believes he’s a magician and entrusts him with some artefacts to give to the wind, and also with a tiny, broken wooden horse that cannot be burned or destroyed, which he must never release. (It’s possessed by the spirit of Efnisien, who mutilated the King of Ireland’s horses over a perceived slight and caused the genocide of Ireland and also the destruction of the British armies, as detailed in the Tale of Branwen in the Mabinogi).

Words are the only thing needed, but mainly invocations of previous magicians simply by saying their names. It’s not like the names give you power over the magicians of the past, though, it’s not the same as the True Name idea of faerie lore. I’ve tried to make that explicit in the way that Ricky thinks about Myrddin’s name in the flashback of Chapter 1, and the way Ricky reacts to Myrddin speaking Ricky’s name out loud.

Names as invocations, spoken words as portals to other worlds, all of that gets bound up in this version of ‘words of power’, and it’s a thing I want to expand on later. I’m cautious about committing to projects, but I do want to look at Eglantine Pritchard’s life and times, and so if I do properly explore her as a person in some Pagham-on-Sea HistFic, this will come up as central to her practices.

2 thoughts on “#EldritchGirl S03E04: Old words make old things come out”

    1. Seriously!! We had to read it in Primary School but I had already read it on my own before then. I think because we had to do a Welsh author each term. The other 2 in the trilogy were never my favourites, but I was obsessed with the quilt that Nia makes in The Chestnut Soldier. I didn’t understand all the politics of that book at the time or get where he was stationed or anything, but I was always really intrigued by Efnisien and didn’t think he had enough page time in the first one.


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