Flying Ointment, the poisonous balm that aided witches in flight, has many recipes. Modern ones might not get you there, as the most potent and potentially lethal ingredients will have been omitted. In this necklace, however, I’ve included three of the most dangerous. Datura, henbane and nighshade are represented with Czech glass flowers and the beautifully detailed little Queen stands in for the beeswax vehicle. Soot is often mentioned as an ingredient– hence the black colourway of the piece. I’ve included the skulls because if the recipes for flying ointment teach us anything, it’s that witches were skilled poisoners as well as herbalists, and the nuanced proportions of ingredients in the ointment could either aid in soul flight, alleviate the pain of childbirth or other woes through “twilight sleep”, or of course, kill you.
One of the oldest recorded accounts of the use of flying ointment is from the 2nd century in Apuleius’ delightful Golden Ass. There are also recipes mentioned in Margaret Murray’s exhaustive (and exhausting) Witch Cult in Western Europe, which modern day witches can only read critically, trying to decipher the truth through the lens of these “confessions” often elicited under torture. Much of the evidence we have left to us from our powerful female ancestors is weighted with such distortions. Perhaps by flying ourselves to visit them, through soul-flight and meditation, we might know a better truth. Often witches are depicted flying in groups, communing– there are few solitaries where flight is concerned! So were such ancestral Sabbats the ultimate destination of their night flights as well? Did they also meet with those who’d come before, not at a literal Brocken but somewhere else beyond this time and space?
This necklace was made to honour the hedge riders of the past who risked everything for wisdom and the healing of others.
Getting ready for a few more months of winter, I’m turning to music that got me through the difficult years of high school– specifically this X song, The Hungry Wolf. This Full Wolf Moon comes between the long night moon and Imbolc, before spring starts make a brave show through the frost. This moon was named for the hungry wolves that surrounded villages back when stores were getting lean, from a time when perhaps we better understood we were part of a living cycle, just as vulnerable as the wild things around us.
The moon is a constant inspiration for me, and you can find the latest moon-inspired designs in the Howling Moon Collection.
I thought it was fitting today that the Tarot card I pulled was the King of Stones from the Wildwood Tarot– a beautiful wolf howling at the moon.
Dwarfs get a bad rap– chthonic whistling hoarders, pathologically sneezing, sleeping or grumpy, these homunculi have never been able to compete with the glamour of elves. But what if I told you they really were elves?
When I first started cold forging, it was a magical process. As I have become more masterful, something else guides my hands, something older and wiser than myself, but who or what is helping me?
According to Norse myth, dwarfs were born from the maggots swarming the dead body of Ymir, the primordial giant birthed from melting ice in the great void. Their beginnings were less than auspicious, it’s true. Dwarves have made some of the most powerful artifacts of Norse legend– Thor’s hammer, Freya’s necklace, the magic ring Draupir, the fetter to bind the apocalytpic wolf Fenrir and Odin’s spear as well as the replacement for Siv’s golden hair.
The delicacy of my wire work, the fluidity of the copper and vine-like qualities of the metal come from hands that have begun to ache with arthritis, that are cut and calloused. It is a common theme in mythology that the smiths that create great beauty are wounded, misshapen, as if their bodies are a foil to their creations. I’m no different.
But in the words of the Völva in the Völuspá, what of the elves?
In Norse mythology, dwarfs live in Nidvallir, or Dark Fields, which is also called Svartalhiem or dark-elf-land. Dwarfs are dark elves. I have named my recent collection after their ancestor Sindri. Adornment was a powerful force in Norse myth, and beauty forged of metal and stone was an essential part of Old Norse life. The power to make such things was seen as magical, something which originated with the beginnings of the universe. When the gods made their first temples they also made forges alongside them. They smelted ore and created tongs and tools for smithing before even creating human beings. The dark elves are the keepers of these first secrets, and they have shared them with me.
Like any fantasy-reading, day dreamer of a girl, I was enamoured of Pre-raphaelite imagery, and this fascination has never left me. Sure the women are objectified in these paintings, and there is often a morbidity to them, but they are also powerful, substantial, and reflecting psychological complexities that rang true to me as a bookworm girl in the suburbs longing for a more interesting life.
I’m lucky to have beautiful friends who are willing to sit for me and model my jewellery– both Rosie and Catherine defintely channel the powerful, mysterious heroines of the Pre Raphelite’s.
When I design pieces it’s often with my customers in mind. My work has a sense of humour but also it’s beauty is based in narrative– not unlike the Pre Raphealite paintings that inform my work.
These earrings were inspired by the angel of death, Azreal. I’ve posted the paintings which correspond to some of my designs below: http://feral-strumpet.myshopify.com/products/copy-of-queen-bee-bindi-with-rose-and-moss-green
By far the most famous Rosetti painting, I have often been influenced by the colours in his Proserpine, as well as the melancholic drapery. My obsessions with garnets and their resemblance to pomegranate seeds probably can be traced back to this painting, too.
Another enduring favourite is Waterhouse’s A Mermaid. The best boss I’ve ever had, Julie, back at the San Francisco State University Library Periodicals Department, had this postcard slipped under the glass of her desk. Julie looked like the mermaid in the picture and everytime I see this photo I see Julie. I loved staring at it (Julie obviously had a lot of patience with my day dreaming self)– the tail wrapped so neatly around her, her am caught in mid-stroke combing her hair and that shell filled with her jewels. I wanted to comb through it! I love setting myself the challenge of making something you could find in that very shell.
The intricacies of illuminated manuscript borders have long been an influence on the work I make– before I made jewellery I was a painter, and my eye was trained looking at the wonderful examples of these magical texts at the Getty museum in California. There was something incongruous about these very old texts in this modern, less-than-intimate museum. Maybe that added to their power. Now I live in a medieval city, a place that often looks like something from these texts. I recognise the pastoral space, the tiny rooms, the changing seasons.
Below are ear chains designed for a special client– they hang from 5 piercings in the ears, like garlands. They were inspired by the floral borders of books of hours like the one pictured above.
It’s Fat Tuesday today and you know, I went and made a necklace inspired by my by-gone collection of vintage Mardi Gras beads. You see, the first things I sold on Etsy were collections of my vintage pieces– I couldn’t find decent work to save my life and I needed money, so I sold my things. When I had sold most of the vintage beads and Bohemian necklaces, the old pawn silver and vintage rosaries, I started to make jewellery designs based on these beloved things, like the necklace pictured above. The mardi gras beads were some of the last things I sold. I held onto them and wore them during the Katrina nightmare– if these beads could survive and make it to England with me, that City could survive and rebuild.
Sometimes I think of my old collection with a tinge of sadness and longing. Maybe it’s homesickness, maybe I’m jonesing for colour in the long, grey Yorkshire winter. When I visited New Orleans, I always combed the second hand stores, junk and antique shops hoping to find a stash of them, some still with the paper tags on them. The ones that survived so that they could be collected in the present day must be lucky indeed.
“Thows” or beads thrown from floats to the parade audience, weren’t always made of plastic like they are now. From the 1920s until WWII, Pressed Czech glass was used. These beads came in a dazzling array of shapes and colours, like bon-bons. My inner child really loved these joyfully random toy necklaces destined for the gutter. They could survive a street party of such magnitude an still be worn decades later– they were survivor beads. I loved restringing them (as they were often in dire need of it!) but I kept the randomness and would wear them in layers. Maybe someday I will return to New Orleans and rebuild my collection. Until then, I’m using new, pressed Czech glass beads, which I would like to think are being made with the old moulds, and making these luxe versions of the old fashioned glass “throw”.
It’s Fat Tuesday, and I’m indulging in some wistful homesickness for New Orleans, one of my favourite cities in the US. The city definitely influences much of what I create– the riotous colour of carnival juxtaposed against the black iron balconies of the French Quarter, the cities of the dead, the motley beads of carnival, particularly vintage Czech ones, were some of my earliest inspirations as well as the stories of Marie Laveau and the markings on her grave, which inspired the piece below.
It’s also the New Moon– time to embrace new beginnings. New Orleans’ survival after Katrina is truly something to celebrate. I remember vividly watching from across and ocean as the destruction of the hurricane and the ineptitude and racism of the Bush Administration threatened to destroy New Orleans and the surrounding area. I felt quite helpless and anguished. When English people are incredulous about why I would leave the US, sometimes I wish I could explain the feeling of doom much of the country shared while George Bush was president. I love Bob Forrest’s cover of Randy Newman’s “Louisiana”– which sums up that emotion very well. Here he sings it with his son.
Blessed New Moon to all my readers, may you bring some New Orleans style carnival and maybe even a bit of the city’s survivor spirit to whatever you choose to begin now!