Imbolc is just a few days away, and it is one of my favourite days on the Wheel of the Year. This year is comes aided by a new moon and I don’t know about you, but I can already feel the rising sap, up in my bones, as I look for the first snow drops to appear, heralding a change. Above I’ve chosen a selection of pieces that remind me of this energy– clockwise from the upper left– The Snowdrop Fairy Flower Earrings, The Mother Troll Amethyst Necklace, The Griffin Milk Earrings, The Gerd– a delicate sterling silver strand with faceted chrysoprase, the silver scent locket (what would you put inside to herald spring?) and lastly the Cosmic Hug pendant of Rose Quartz.
Tomorrow I’ll be putting together my altar, and cleaning and oiling all my tools in honour of the heathen Charming of the Plough. I’ll give thanks to Brigid, who in the form of Brigantia, was the goddess of the tribal ancestors of this area– she was also the goddess of the forge, brewing and poetry; she has guided my hand in all these things and I am eternally grateful. What do you do to celebrate Imbolc and herald the first glimmerings of spring?
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.
Yesterday was that abolished holiday, Oak Apple Day, celebrating the restoration of the English monarchy in 1660. Charles II, before he regained power, hid himself in an oak tree, or so the story goes. For the last 400+ years, Britain has used this as a way to worship a tree king. Ancestral memory dies hard in these parts.
Before the holiday was abolished in the mid 19th century, shops and churches, horses and railway engines were adorned with oak boughs. Anyone who failed to wear a sprig of oak on the day risked being pelted with eggs or scourged with nettle.
Some customs from the holiday survive in recent memory, taking on aspects of the pagan green man in their celebrations. In Castleton in Derbyshire, the Garland King procession continues. A man, mounted on a horse, is completely covered in a cone of flowers– the topmost posey is called “The Queen” and crowns him. The village follows him (along with a good number of day-trippers) from pub to pub, brass band in tow. At the end of the day’s journey, the floral cone is hoisted by a rope from the church tower, looking very much like the head of a vanquished foe on display. All across the isle, from the Burryman in Queensferry to the Jack in the Green in Hastings, the leafy king sacrifices himself so that we may have a few summer days. If you’ve lived through one wet Yorkshire summer, you know why this is worth a blood sacrifice, even by proxy!
Here is my Oak King’s Bride. It’s a design I made three years ago. It was one of the first in my shop and it has since become a best seller as well as a signature design. I make it in copper plate, brass and sterling silver plate (the Oak King’s Bride in Winter). For more Oak King inspired designs, go here.