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Black Elk

The White and the Red

May 25th, 2011

Here is a wonderful guest post by Penny Billington…

Well, it’s late spring, but instead of the green of growth, I’m dazzled by images of red and white… the white and the red. Rouge et blanc… I’m just seeing here if the significance transcends translation. I think so – and it certainly does with the title ‘Le rouge et le noir’, which reeks of fin de siècle zuzzziness. (And, no, I haven’t read it either; maybe reading it would spoil my associations). The symbolism of colour is so potent, that just considering any one – or particularly two in proximity – can get the juices flowing with association.

So white and red have been a theme this Beltane: the alternating red and white spikes of flowering horse chestnuts (colloquially called candles) took centre stage for me. And at the same time a Glastonbury correspondent remarked the significance of the red and white flowers of the May along Wirral Hill in Glastonbury – a glorious sight that added an otherworldly frisson to a mundane visit to the adjacent supermarket.

Red and white are in the rocks of our land – the limestone and the sandstone; and their mythic roots wind as deep into our folk soul – the red and white dragons of Merlin’s prophecy; the red-eared white hounds of Annwyn; the cruets of blood and sweat bought by Joseph of Arimathea, commemorated in stained glass in St John’s church on the High Street. Look to traditional story and heraldry -gules and argent – to add to the list of associations at your leisure – and don’t forget Santa!

And water is blue, right? But not in Glastonbury, where there is an alchemical mix of water from Chalice Well, traditionally ‘the blood spring’ for its rust red staining, and the lime-depositing water from the calciferous White spring, both springing from within a few feet of each other from beneath the Tor.

This ‘rouge et blanc’ alchemy is reflected in the entrance to my garden by two poles of rambling roses. The red was nurtured during building work and survived, saving me from the trouble of painting half the white buds red, like the gardeners of the Red Queen, in Alice’s journey through the looking glass. We take our symbolism seriously in this house!

Red and white speak of magic, of male and female, of polarity: but it is when we add the third colour, black, – the noir to the rouge et blanc, that we access a strain of mythic wisdom which surfaces in the realm of story. Snow White’s beauty was bestowed by her pregnant mother’s wish, when a drop of red blood from her pricked finger fell on the white snow as a black bird flew past. In Celtic myth, Deirdre saw a raven pecking at the pool of blood of a deer on the snow and told her nurse that she would love a warrior with the colour of the raven in his hair, skin like snow for whiteness, and cheeks red as blood.

So the noir, the black, grounding energy, added to the red and white, changes their static perfection of opposites. Without the raven, we have a still winter landscape, a dead animal. Stillness, good, but not sustainable.

Change, good, the only constant of life. Although change is frequently scary – as is the living catalyst, the raven, which by its action gives us a glimpse of the future, of the connectedness of myth and reality, of symbol presaging life events, through the potency of image, the starkness of colour; a flying bird, a pecking beak.

I am of the earth, earthy, but I walk between my rose poles as if they were sentry points to a country not entirely of this apparent world. The glory of the glowing crimson and lint white starts my journey. I have nurtured the red and white growth in the black, rich soil: I have my place in the magical, Beltane, red and white landscape, rich with mythic resonance.

I have earned my passport to this realm: the black stamp of entry is the dirt beneath my fingernails.

Penny Billington is an author, speaker and celebrant with a long OBOD history. Read what leading figures in the esoteric world think of her latest book, ‘The path of Druidry; walking the ancient green way’ (pub Llewellyn, July 2011), in the advance reviews  at

2 Responses to “The White and the Red”

  1. Wow, thanks for that Penny (and Philip), it holds a number of keys for the contemplation of the story of life I now experience.

  2. Penny – a superb article and synchronistic for me. Yesterday I stopped at a roadside cross here in Brittany that looked prehistoric – and there in worn figures I could see Christ on one side and Mary suckling Jesus on the other. The red and the white of blood and milk…Deep significance flowing through these great archetypal symbols….

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