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.
Today I woke up to the news that Instagram has now banned the #goddess tag. What this means is you can use the tag, it just won’t show up in searches- essentially making all content with this tag invisible in search. #bringbackthegoddess as well as #goddesses tags have been used as work-arounds.
Instagram has not explained its reasoning. Women on the platform are guessing there was some kind of “pornographic” images using the tag. Surely if that is the case it would be easier to ban the IP addresses of those accounts abusing the #goddess tag instead of silencing a any pagan, heathen user, anyone who likes to call their friends a #goddess, anyone wanting to talk about history, literature or cultural production of the human race? Would they ban #God, #Allah, #Buddha? And what exactly would happen if they did? If they reinstate this tag but monitor it, what exactly will they be looking for?
Just a few weeks ago Instagram banned the body-positive tag #curvy, only to reinstate it with the warning that all #curvy tags will be monitored for content that Instagram finds offensive. And there is the ongoing nipple fiasco, where male nipples are OK, but female nipples in either a breast feeding portrait or in all their body-part glory will get you banned.
Back in the late 80s when I was a Women Studies major at San Francisco State, we debated stuff like this, as well as how to spell women, who could speak to oppression and other things that at the time seemed so academic to me. The argument against anti-porn campaigns went something like this– if we demand patriarchal porn to be banned, the first people these laws will be used against will be feminist women working with images of the body. I wondered at the time how this would manifest. If I could go back in time I could show my younger self this object lesson, except that there are no laws, no platforms for discussion with those in power. We’re subject to the whims of the ones who own our means of communication– I have tried to do with out them, believe me, but it doesn’t work if you have an online business and have friends all over the world.
Like the banning of curvy, this is an attack on women, albeit a stupid, petty one. This morning I feel such outrage, but it is only a reminder of that bit of ancestral memory, of being slowly or violently erased– what women have had to fight against for thousands of years– so much of our ancestors spiritual legacy has been renamed, rebuilt, built over in another God’s name, burned, raized, forgotten. I am under no illusion that the internet is a safe place for women, that it’s democratic or even forward looking, yet I’m not cynical enough for this to be routine. It’s still met with rage.
The end of the year is exciting. We gather together against the cold, thinking of the possibilities of the new year. The Yule gift I’ve given my business, (because, let’s face it, Feral Strumpet feels like a person to me now) is a new online shop. It’s easier for my customers to use, it’s still independent and best of all, it’s pretty. I can now accept credit cards, as well as the old, tried and true Paypal as well as bank transfers if you are in the UK. Also you can see prices in your country’s currency by using the drop down menu at the top of the store page. The shop is also integrated with this blog.
What a better way to celebrate a new shop than with a new collection. The Crystal Nimbus Collection is based on a hand-forged design which grew out of my incredibly popular Anglo Saxon pennanular brooch. A simple, endless circle inspired by the moon, ouroboros and archeological finds. This penannular brooch is based on an Anglo Saxon design discovered in North Yorkshire. This brooch was featured in the Easy KnitnSweater Jacket Tutorial from Very Pink Knits. Anglo Saxon Penannular Brooch. MADE TO ORDER
These new crystal necklaces were born out of that design, of which I have now made many. I recently read a fascinating article on crystallography. The otherworldly voids and stark, icy structures inspired me. Rather than form a holiday collection I started to think about light and shape. The forging process itself shaped these. The raw crystals capture the winter solstice spirit so well– they are a light in the darkness. The nimbus shape came from the anglo saxon brooch but also my obsession with medieval iconography and the fine gilded halos of saints– a simple mark denoting grace. Highlights of the collection are below. Each is one of a kind and I hope to add more pieces as the season darkens.
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.
I just completed this set of miniature witch balls for a special customer. Sometimes my shop supporters will have these wonderful requests, ideas that really let me revel in my materials and designs. This set of 8 witch balls in different colours, all with hand-forged hooks and adjustable chains, was one such request. They look so happy together, don’t they?
I was inspired to make my version of the traditional witch ball after seeing a one such wonder in the “moorland cottage” room of the Castle Museum in York. The museum has myriad recreations of domesticity throughout the ages. I was particularly moved by the 18th century cottage, full of rough-hewn furniture. Every object had at least one use, if not three or four. But there in the window– something mysterious and glamorous, even! A glass ball, decoupaged with roses. I, like many unseelies before me, was certainly mesmerized by it. This is my take on the witch ball– made with love and mindfulness, based on old Yorkshire custom where glass orbs were blessed by a wise woman and placed in a window or mantle for protection against malevolence.
You can see more of my miniature witch balls in my Etsy shop.
Last weekend Mike and I went looking for one of the “lost” water shrines in North Yorkshire. There are many of these places, though they are fast disappearing– blocked up, trashed and forgotten. Yorkshire Holy Wells and Sacred Springs by Edna Whelan and Ian Taylor, now out of print, is a wonderful resource. Though the information in this gem of a book is now over twenty years old, it is still and invauluable aid to finding these magical places.
To reach Saint John’s Well, also called “The Wishing Well” one must traverse a forested hill misted with bluebells–a marker of ancient woodland. The equally ancient path, no doubt trod by countless well-wishers, is now blocked by many felled trees. The hike is not easy but also not impossible.
The photo above shows the well house secreted away in its gully now densely upholstered with decades of leaf mould. The water inside was clean and clear, though leaves blocked the entrance. It resembles a little house with a fairy door. It is not hard to imagine that this was built to house a genius loci. One is tempted to return and clean this place– it wouldn’t be hard to return it to its former order.
The water here formerly supplied Mount Grace Priory–itself a sacred site. The restored Lady Chapel behind the Priory is said to be a site of miraculous healings. (See Yorkshire Holy Wells site). The well predates the priory as a water shrine. Though there is no written record of this, the landscape and folk customs make their own argument.
William Grainge in his 19th century writings on the Vale of Mobray explains that this well was the depository of wishes: “Even yet to this font come young men and maidens to breathe or whisper or wordless sigh the secret but ardent wishes of their heart…” This ritual included an ivy leaf with a bent pin stuck through it, tossed into the water.
Many wells are called “pin wells” because of this practice. Why bent pins? Altering an ordinary object, destroying its original use, marks it as a talisman. In the Middle Age coins intended as offerings were bent in order to mark them as such– this practice continued for hundreds of years. It appears in the nursery rhyme–
There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.
Throughout my journeys to various sacred sites I have often found little poems, flowers or coins left on stiles or near the sites themselves. Could the crooked sixpence be an offering left? And the crooked man and his odd cat and house be a cunning one (Ok, some say this rhyme is about Scotland and England in the 17th century, but could it be about something else as well.)
Some say the bent pins were offered to the fairies as elfshot. We found no such offerings in the dark water that day but the generations of longings and hopes left here for safekeeping were unmistakably present.