Happy Friday the 13th– save 13% today and tomorrow at http://www.feralstrumpet.net with coupon code FRIDAY13!
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.
I wish you many blessings on this lucky day!
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!!
May we all see the bee mothers soon, soon!
I’ve been featured in an interview up at the Folk Reveries blog!
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.
But Mole stood still a moment, held in thought. As one wakened suddenly from a beautiful dream, who struggles to recall it, but can recapture nothing but a dim sense of the beauty in it, the beauty! Till that, too, fades away in its turn, and the dreamer bitterly accepts the hard, cold waking and all its penalties.
― Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows
York is a city only in name, it gets this honor from its grand Minster. Beyond it there is the countryside. Farms, moorland, with all their mysteries and cruelties, fresh to this city girl. How like Mole I am in my reveries of this landscape, which is a hard-working one as well as a place of beauty. And this work, it’s harsh and full of penalty.
I was leaving Bolton Castle when I saw a peculiar thing just outside, tied to the fence– they had the look of cloth scraps. On closer inspection these things were tiny corpses, in various degrees of decomposition. Full of pathos, these bodies were no longer recognisable creatures– penal indeed was the display, like some ancient ritual meant to warn off trespass, ye olde heads on the stakes at the city gates. It wasn’t until I had a good look at the last one, bloated, distended, but the pink-nosed blindness and cunning little hands were a giveaway. These were moles– a whole labour of them.
Some Googling later, I found that this is how the mole catcher gets paid, per mole. The display is an economic transaction. Writing in the 19th century, John Clare “Northamptonshire’s Peasant Poet” describes it as an ad for the molecatcher’s services or, more strangely, as a warning to other moles.
And as a triumph to his matchless skill,
On some grey willow where a road runs by,
That passers may behold his power to kill,
On the bough’s twigs he’ll many a felon tie;
On every common dozens may be met,
Dangling on bent twigs bleaching to the sun,
Whose melancholy faces meet no regret,
Though dreamless of the snare they could not shun.
A couple hundred years ago, a mole was a mouldywarp or “dirt tosser”. These chthonic beings are suspect, or so says Leviticus. They are counted among the unclean “creeping things that creep on the earth.” Apollodorus of Athens tells us that the ancients believed eating the heart of a mole would give one the gift of divination– the ability to metaphorically see into darkness, and Pliny the Elder claims moles can hear you talking about them. Moles are of the dark company, the sort that make pacts with witches. Isaiah tells us enlightened men will toss their idols of gold and silver to the moles and bats.
In Germany they are a protected species but in the UK they are considered a pest, molehills supposedly ruining the lawns of golfcourses and gardens and disrupting fields. They are one of the demonised of the countryside, along with the badger and fox, our sins projected onto such creatures with “science” in tow, justifying culls and exterminations.
The Molecatcher is an old profession in Britain. There is a “British Traditional Molecatcher Register”. There’s also the Association of Professional Molecatchers and The Guild of British Molecatchers. It’s like something from a Pratchett novel.
Ancient superstitions are knitted into folk ways, come to us in bawdy songs like The Molecatcher. I’m quite taken by this ghostly, melancholy version of the tune by Harp and a Monkey, its lament a fitting soundtrack to my recent discovery.