Spring is in the air, though it is still very chilly here in the North of Scotland. Mike and I have just returned from a walk in Wrack Wood where the snowdrops carpet the ground all around. They are my favourite flowers– full of the fire of the waking earth.
This week’s shop update we have several vintage horse brasses, each with a fascinating history. These small magical objects make beautiful altar decor and and also accent small corners or spaces in your home.
I’ve also found the sweetest little pewter bat pin back. She is waiting to flutter her way onto your jean jacket or dungarees!
Plus, there’s a new colour in the ever popular fairy drops design. The rustic amber has beautiful colour variants.
Friday the 13th is a most auspicious day– Freya’s day, and when it falls on the 13th, it’s especially lucky. Barbara Walker in her Women’s Myths and Secrets says that the number 13 was said to be unlucky because it corresponded to the 13 months in the lunar calendar, the 3-in-1 nature of the Goddess. Considered the “devil’s dozen” by the church fathers, this sacred number was demonized.
Once there was a time when we knew the trees and they knew us. They were planted in the middle of villages and were considered guardians of a place. On Old Midsummer Day, July 5th, the third Saturday in June or there abouts, these guardian trees were adorned with garlands, ribbons, flowers and flags. Appleton Thorn in Cheshire is named after such a hawthorn tree and here this tradition, called the Bawming of the Thorn, continues. The tree there is said to be an offshoot of the legendary Glastonbury thorn, a tree with its own fascinating history. Legend claims it was brought from Jerusalem to Glastonbury by Joseph of Aramathea and was the same tree from which the crown of thorns was made. Others claim this fantastic story was a creation of the monks who wished to discourage the use of the Hawthorn in pagan rituals and yet still wished use its power to promote their Christian faith.
The hawthorn is the May Tree or White Thorn– with it’s beautiful white flowers juxtaposed against its sinister thorns. Washing in the dew gathered from the white petaled flowers was a Old Tyme beauty tip. Witches made their brooms from them– perhaps because the hawthorne is the gateway to the fairy realms, the Otherworld. Vivian imprisoned Merlin in a cage of Hawthorne branches, using his own spell against him and it was under a Hawthorne that the Queen of May captured Thomas the Rhymer. Hawthorns often stand guard over sacred wells– and in these manifestations in story and landscape do seem to suggest the Yggdrasil, a tree linking this world with other realms.
What survives of these notions fascinates me. These happy village fetes, celebrating a tree with song and dance– is this a kind of Druidic hold over? A dream writ in Ogham on our collective subconscious? In England these ancient ideas manifest with fanfare– brass bands and Morris dancing. People still gather– they say it is for the sake of tradition– that it as has always been so, but I like to think there is something else here, feeding the imagination, talking back to our ancient guardians telling them we have not forgotten them.
Spring is sidling up to us in the North of England, and the earth waits for it, eagerly. Bulbs in the garden, the same ones who took last year off, making me think the pots were just full of my gardening mishaps, have decided to make a go of it again, putting up their thick green fingers. I’ve taken this as a good sign.
I’m waiting for the bees to show so I can really celebrate. My most recent design was inspired by the old English folk custom called “Telling the Bees”. When there was a birth, death or wedding in the family, the bees in the resident hive would need to be invited to the funeral. Sometimes an offering of wedding cake or funeral biscuits would be made. The name of the dead would be sung to them, as in John Greenleaf Whittier’s sentimental yet moving poem, Telling the Bees. To neglect doing this might result in the bees swarming and the hive would be lost. This is now happening on Earth on a catastrophic scale. Bees are in terrible trouble due to pesticide use and habitat destruction, but that is a topic for another post. In other folklore bees are messengers between this reality and the next– the keepers of cosmic secrets. They flit between worlds, through doors we can’t cross, these harbingers of Spring.
This necklace design was also inspired by a dear customer of mine, Niina, who told me about her special bee-mother ritual. With her permission, I quote it here:
I love bumble bees so much but at the moment the winter here in Finland seems endless. There are days when the winter really gets my spirit down and then I think of the brave bumble bee Mothers, under ground and all that snow, hanging in there and waiting for the Spring. Me and my man have this celebration of our own: the Bumble Bee Feast! It happens the day when one of us (or both) sees the very first bumble bee of the Spring. If not possible (sometimes work and stuff gets in the way of important things in life), then the next possible day. The celebration is simple: we put honey and sugar outside in yellow bowls so the hungry, brave Mothers can come and eat and get stronger. After that we just eat and drink something good, toast for the Bumble Bee Mothers who made it and just like that broke the backbone of the mighty Winter! Winter can try and struggle and yes, there will be cold, bad days, but his time is over, the bumble bee brings on the Spring!! We get tipsy and so happy: we made it through another horrible winter and nothing can stop the Spring now!!
Folk Reveries is an Etsy team of artists and makers who share a common aesthetic, inspired by myth, folklore and the narratives implicit in the natural world.
Etsy teams are groups of Etsy makers who work together to support each other’s shops, coaching, trouble shooting and inspiring each other.
Having an online shop and being an independent artisan can sometimes feel quite isolating– many Etsy sellers create and participate in teams to find support others might have at a more traditional workplace. I am part of many teams but Folk Reveries has been the Team I have drawn the most inspiration from, and one that genuinely supports its team members. The quality of the artists and makers on this team really shows Etsy at its best. Check out the blog— you can see many other wonderful artists interviewed, with a sampling of their work!
Diana’s Well in East Witton is a long ramble up from the village, into a forest ride called “Castaway Ride” which is actually gated with a “Private: Do Not Enter” sign. The well is about a half mile deep into the woods, but easy to find because it’s enclosed in a 19th century well house. According to Edna Whelan and Ian Taylor in my much-referred-to copy of Yorkshire Holy Wells and Sacred Springs, the well house was built by the Earl of Aylesbury, and the inscription on the entrance marks the date as 1821. They propose the stonework came from the ruins of Jervaulx Abbey, not far away. Before the dissolution, the monks there were famous for horse breeding and they introduced cheese making to the region, now famous for its Wensleydale.
Another fragment from the abbey is the distinctive face on the outside of the well house. Water is piped in from the basin inside, out to this stone countenance, dripping through the mouth which is now covered with a thick beard of moss– so that its face resembles a green man or woman. No doubt it’s this face that earned the well’s local name “Slaverin’ Sal” which Whelan and Taylor argue is a “folk echo of Sul or Sulis, the Celtic Water Goddess.” Sul was worshipped in Bath by the Romans as Sulis-Minerva. Linguistically, sul may stem from the word for “eye or gap” in Old Irish. Michael Graves has argued for a symbolic parallel in neolithic earthworks where the shape of the eye rhymes with the shape of the vulva. You see it up close in the winking eye of Sal here at the well, and the gap at the mouth, now upholstered in luxuriant moss, is unmistakably a font of fertility. Though the growth of moss and lichen has obscured the eye carving, it’s clear that in previous illustrations of the font, Sal has two eyes. It seems that perhaps the other has been chipped away, blinded by vandals.
Named after the Roman Goddess of the moon, childbirth and the hunt, I wonder when it began to be called Diana’s Well. Is this a 19th century folly of a name? A pastoral whimsy? Regardless, it was never Christianized, though it was the original water supply for the village of East Witton.
According to Gary R. Varner in Sacred Wells: A Study in the History, Meaning and Mythology of Holy Wells and Waters, many holy wells sprang up where the head of a decapitated saint had fallen. The beautiful St. Winifred’s Well in Wales is one such place. (Her head was actually reattached and she lived, so the story goes.) St. Winifred’s well in Shropshire has the same legend attached to it. In fact, Varner summarizes many 6-7th century legends which begin the same way– an attempted rape– and end with a decapitation and creation of a sacred spring. For some wells the healing was said to be amplified if the water could be drunk from a skull– the skull of a suicide in particular. Varner argues these are remnants of the Celtic “head cult” surviving through ancestral memory and folk fragments. Edna Whelan goes into some depth on the Celtic head cult and wells in Yorkshire here.
This well has a history of a wishing well, where pins were thrown as an offering to the genus locii. Another name for this well is the “Castaway Well” and according to OutofOblivion.org, the name derives from this practice of throwing an offering into the water. This well has been taken care of– there’s even a new roof on the well house. Watching the rivulets catch the sun as they trickled down the moss-laden sides of the dark house, the light glimmered and flickered, like a fairy fireworks display– it was mesmerising– staring at it I felt that I was indeed in a sacred place– away with the fairies.