Shopping small can often mean shopping local. That’s why I’m offering free shipping to my neighbours on this island. It’s interesting to note that this holiday season my customer base in the UK is growing exponentially. Was it the Etsy UK ads? Word of mouth taking hold? Or my own work at UK-based SEO? It’s a mystery to me but I’m grateful. Etsy brought many international customers, many Americans as well as others from all over the world, but very few British customers. This has changed, and perhaps it’s because people are coming around to the idea of shopping local. Compared to the US the UK is very small– the size of Florida. When I ship something to a UK customer, I can picture where they live, what it’s like there. Sometimes I wonder if I might know them or if they are a friend of a friend. The shared geography heightens the connection that is already a strong one between maker and the potential wearer of a piece.
As a small business this time of year is particularly challenging; you are competing to be heard over the shouts of the mega businesses, hoping to reach your customers without also having to resort to shouting.
By buying small you get something unique, you support diversity in the marketplace, and best of all, you are investing in the dreams and hopes of the underdog, the little guy, people like me.
Many places I have been on this island feel forlorn, secret or forgotten. This is not the case with the incongruously named Roseberry Topping, a hill on the Eastern edge of North Yorkshire. It was originally thought to be the highest hill on the North Yorkshire moors until Urra Moor was found to be higher. It is cared for by the National Trust and on the day we were there lovers, families and packs of teenagers climbed its steep height. I got a sense this was a shared place, much loved still, and to climb it was a rite of passage of sorts.
The name shift from Odin’s Rock to Roseberry Topping is a slow linguistic morphing. It’s thought that hill was sacred to Scandinavian dwellers who inhabited this place during the Viking Age, and that its name was Othenesburg. Othenes slowly, weirdly became Roseberry and Topping is an old Yorkshire dialect for hill.
But there is something mysterious about this place– at its summit there was once a sacred spring and its waters were used as a cure for sore eyes. (Yorkshire Holy Wells and Sacred Springs by Edna Whelan). Odin had one eye– having sacrificed the other in a shamanic bargain at Mimir’s Well of Urd, the waters of transcendent wisdom.
There was also said to be a hermit’s cave at the top, also lost, with a hole beside it called Wilfrid’s Needle, named after the 8th century Bishop.To crawl through such a place was a rite. The pagan past is not so distant– the Viking Age coming after the needle’s namesake’s reign of power came to an end. The Scandinavian settlers left little evidence of who they were while they were here and its perhaps in residual Norse names and words (and their genetic code!) that their presence can really be felt.
All these structures are vanished now, with the top of the hill having caved in a mining collapse, burying these sacred spots. But the people of this place still hold it dear– I like to think the eye of Odin looks up through well buried in the ruins and sees the little girls climbing in their pink sandals, the teenagers, the lovers huddled in the crevices of the paths, and the dogs hurrying past their masters, all the way to the top.
More fascinating history can be found on the Yorkshire Holy Wells Website.
The triad design of these earrings was inspired by the Odin’s knot.
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?