I live in a place where history is a constant companion. There is no place where this isn’t true, but York, and Yorkshire in general feels haunted, submerged in the past, and this inspires me. Sometimes I don’t even have to imagine it– it manifests itself, like this summer afternoon at the abbey ruins of Rievaulx when these minstrels created what felt like, in the words of Hakim Bey, a temporary autonomous zone.
Today is the feast day of Saint Peter in Chains, and the glorious York Minster is dedicated to this original Houdini. I’m going to walk to the minster today and think on all the miraculous escapes in my life! A day to not only celebrate shaking off the fetters of whatever holds us back, but it’s also a time to let things come to fruition– help them rise, like yeast in bread. It is Lammas, or as the Anglo Saxons called it hlaf mas or “loaf-mass”– a celebration of the first fruits of the harvest, a baking of the magic bread.
I’m not much of a baker. Sometimes I wish I knew how to fire ceramic beads in a kiln– clay instead of grain– now there’s a magic bread.
I have begun to incorporate small ceramics in some designs, like the Kitchen Witches’ pentagram ring, above. I make these in many colours, but perhaps my favourite colour is the raku pottery– which is an ancient Japanese style of firing which allows for “happy accidents”– the colour takes on hues of a stormy sea or iron rich silt or even blood. I like to imagine that the fire makes up its own mind what the colour will be! In a way, that symbolises the creative process for me.
In the Middle Ages, when people lived by the seasons, the wheat stores were running low, and the new harvest and the first breads baked with it meant that the season of plenty was beginning again.
Ironically, this is true for my own business (and retail businesses in general!) The summer months are slow and I’m busy making for the time when the harvest begins again– late summer and then into the intensely busy winter holidays.
I’ve been making lovely new pieces that I’ll roll out over the next few weeks– this is my magic bread. What’s yours?
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 Mike and I went hiking on the Arden Great Moor, down the ancient road which once joined Scotland to York, called Hambleton Street. Now just a stony track, it was once the main thoroughfare for cattle traders coming drown from Scotland to the markets in York. But it is certainly much older than the 17th century rovers who used it historically. It is one of the oldest roads in Britain and was once used by the Roman Legions and before them, the Brigantes– though we have no evidence of this, nor of the Norse settlers using this road during the Viking Age–no evidence save a claim made by ancestral memory from the folklore that has grown up around it.
Norse belief in land wights, or genius locii, starts to make perfect sense on these ancient roads. Here in the photo on the right, a stone watchman takes shape in the topmost stone.
Piles of stones along the way mark resting points. Along with lonely moorland crosses and standing stones, these place markers are full of mystery. Piles like the one pictured above were said to have fallen from the apron of the giantess Bell, wife of Wade– the namesake of another ancient moorland road, Wade’s Causeway. The giant Wade has Norse origins– in Old Norse his name is Vadi. He is the son of a Norse King and a mermaid, according to the Vilkina Saga. He is the father of the mythic Smith Wayland whose name is synonymous with other sacred sites in England.
Wade could wade through the ocean, and he and his wife Bell had only one hammer between them, so they had throw it through the air to each other, over the moors. Much of Wade is lost to us– save a bawdy mention of his boat in Chaucer’s Merchant’s Tale and a Latin fragment of his story mentioning elves and adders and nickers (water spirits), yet the land of the moors is marked by the giant (even his legendary grave is here at ruins of Mulgrave Castle near Whitby).
The landscape of the moors is still marked by ancient migrations– mythic and literal– the Romans may have left many structures and written documents of the Northern land they struggled to conquer, but it’s the unwritten legends of the Norse and Anglo Saxon people that linger in the land, waiting for the new inhabitants to know 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!!
This weekend I had a stall at the Proudly in York Pop Up Mall at the 14th century guildhall in York– the Merchant Adventurers Hall– a fitting place to celebrate York’s small businesses. The event was friendly, warm and well organized– really what you’d expect from the wonderful folks at One&Other Magazine who were the driving force behind the event.
My stall felt right at home in the gloriously light, high-ceilinged medieval hall. I was reminded again how this city and its ancient histories are constantly informing my designs and creative choices.
I was struck by the diversity of the stalls– many were representations of independent High Street shops with a presentation of a smaller version of their shops, others were small makers and handmade businesses like myself taking advantage of this opportunity to gain more exposure in the community. I felt a special affinity with Sonia Curry, the dressmaker behind Rowan Tree Designs who was also knitting at her booth, displaying a selection of her crocheted jewellery. (I always knit at my stall– it keeps my hands busy during the inevitable lulls). Frank and Olive Crochet were teaching folks how to hook and selling cute handmade baby clothes with a stall overflowing with granny squares.
I have to give a big shout out to to of my favourite stall neighbors, Bluebird Bakerywho kept us fed with the most deliciously, freshly-baked and locally sourced carbs you could dream of. I didn’t even know their was a Real Bread Campaign in Britain, but now I do. From their website:
Bluebird Bakery was born from a desire to re-establish the connection between what we eat and where our food comes from. By using local organic flour, wild and organic yeast and employing traditional long-fermentation methods, we create hand-crafted loaves which need no flour improvers, saturated fats or other additives. Most of our loaves are suitable for vegans.
Also thanks to Sal and Jason of Swirl Clothing. Who have helped me in myriad ways, not just with this stall but with others as well– they are great members of the small business community. Plus, she designs lovely dresses– I was wearing one of her lovely frocks on Saturday!
I’m very excited to have a stall at this event celebrating Small Businesses in York. You can read more about the event on the Proudly… website. The event will take place in the glorious Merchant Adventurer’s Hall, from 10:00-15:30 on December 7th. The the 14th century hall was originally a meeting place for Medieval merchants– the perfect venue to celebrate the vibrant independent businesses of York. “Merchant Adventurers” were seafaring merchants who brought back goods from many places to sell in York– they were traders with “an adventurous spirit”. What a wonderful company– not just the current traders but to be part of a tradition that spans centuries. I’m proud to be included.
I’m honoured to have my Tribal Hoop earrings included in the Artisan Issue of York’s One&Other magazine.
This issue is the second anniversary of this special magazine– it has lived in York about as long as I have. This little free bi-monthly magazine captures the soul of York– not an easy thing to do. Though the city is beautiful and full of history, the constant crowds of tourists can blur its essence.
The magazine captures what is going on, much in the way the LA Weekly did when I lived there, but One&Other is not only stylish and knowing, it’s got soul. Seeing the city through the loving lens of this magazine affirms my pride in living and working here.
When Alice Ostapjuk contacted me saying they wanted to use my Tribal Hoops in a photo shoot I was thrilled.
The Editorial Director, Vicky Parry says it best:
…We live in a walled city, one that has flourished on chocolate and attracts millions of tourists to bask in the shadows of its iconically-crafted buildings, to a modern labyrinth of eateries and crafts that bring us industry today…
…this issue pays homage to those that have passion; the people and projects that, like ourselves, were borne out of a hunger to create.
Thank you One&Other for the lovely feature– I’m proud to be included with the other artisans of York.