The sad tale of a boy and his beloved budgie.

This morning I was going over to the morning staff briefing at school when I was stopped by one of my year 7 special needs pupils.

“You’re my science teacher,” said he.

“Yes, I am,” said I.

“My budgie died last night,” said he.

“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. I really am,” said I.

“You’re a scientist, can you make it live again?” he asked.

Oh my gosh, thought I, and then answered…

“I’m sorry, but no, that’s just not possible. Once something has died then it is dead and science can’t bring it back,” said I as gently and kindly as I could.

“But if I brought it in could you do that thing?” he asked while making gestures with his fingers suggesting heart massage.

“I’m sorry, but that would be way too late. That has to be done straight away. I’m so sorry he’s dead and died last night, but there is nothing I can do,” said I.

“Are you sure? You’re a scientist,” asked he.

“I’m sure, and I’m so sorry. If I could bring your budgie back to life I would. I can see how much you love it and I’m sure he loved you so much and appreciated your love. Wherever he is now he’s proud of you, I’m sure,” said I.

“I think I’ll give him a funeral tonight,” said he.

“I think that would be lovely. You can tell him how much you loved him and he’d like that. I’m just so sorry you’re so sad and there’s nothing I can do.”

“That’s ok. Thank you.” said he.

I had tears in my eyes and my heart was broken for this young chap, most probably his first bereavement.

I don’t know where his belief that I could undo nature for him has come from, and I hope I haven’t let him down too badly for his trust in me to disappear.  I don’t know what I have done to gain such wonder and respect.  I wonder if his view of me is of a kind of Dr Frankenstein, able to reanimate the dead, or as someone who can resurrect the dead.

I really wish I could have done something for him and his budgie, to ease the pain of a young, loving heart.

Now I’m home from school, I have let those tears fall.  Tears of sadness for his sadness, the loss of something he loved very much, the memories of those I’ve lost that I’ve loved, pets and humans.  Tears of sadness that I’m unable to share my beliefs about it all with him too.  Tears of sadness that I have no one to turn to for physical comfort in the form of cuddles.

I’m feeling a little sorry for myself.  I’m single.  I have been for a very long time now.  On nights like this I really wish there was someone I could turn to for a cuddle, some reassurance for myself, someone to do a little TLC for me.  As it is, I’ll have to make do with cuddles from the cat when he’s finally feeling in a cuddlesome mood.

That’s the story of the day…nothing else can compare to it, and it puts other things a tad into perspective doesn’t it?

Tea and musings around liminality

Yesterday I sat at a table lit by the golden light of the late spring sun, enjoying the feel of a soft breeze contradicting the warmth of sunlight on my skin while the glorious sound of birdsong gently caressing my ears in the café at the Blaenavon World Heritage Centre. On the table was a lovely pot of tea and a home-made fairy cake (small ‘cupcake’) topped with vanilla buttercream icing and my journal-sketchbook into which I would be recording my thoughts and observations. This was a treat after picking up a batch of mugs that I’ve had printed with a piece of my artwork and a short greeting for my lovely year 11 class who are leaving on Thursday. That will be a day filled with tears and joy, a liminal moment for the pupils as they stand on the threshold of the next phase of their life. The leavers’ assembly being an opportunity to mark this transition point, a liminal point, with celebration, with laughter and with the memories of experiences.

The view from the window was of the neglected graveyard attached to St Peter’s Church which falls away towards the valley bottom as the café abuts the eastern edge of the graveyard and I realised that I was sat at a liminal place, but not one of one phase of life to another. This liminal place marks the boundary between the living and those who have passed out of this earthly existence.

As I realised this, a pair of magpies flitted from tree to tree, their tails twitching as they settled on branches, and sunlight on their plumage revealing the iridescent purples, blues and greens that are so often missed. A solitary cabbage white butterfly careened from plant to plant, it’s pale colour standing out against the brown tangles of brambles and the bright greens of spring growth, signs of life surrounding the memorials of those long dead.

Magpies are associated with bad omens, and one such superstition is that if you see a single magpie on the way to church then death is close (myth-making at blogspot). Considering that many churches have a graveyard around them or close to them, then that is quite true! I love magpies and the other members of the corvidae family of fine feathery friends, despite their gloomy reputations.

As one thought bounced to another, I realised that I too, was at a liminal point in my life as I continue to work on unravelling the tangles of the past through journaling, meditation, self-hypnosis, gratitude and pennies-dropped-epiphanies as I’m becoming more aware of the inner critics and their continual sussuration of negative messages about me. I’m learning how to dis-empower them, little by little, and I may be approaching a turning point for myself in how I view myself and what my beliefs are.

The grave markers were splotched with lichen and algae, patterns reminding me of growths of penicillin on laboratory agar plates or stale and mouldy bread. Tumbled tangled brambles wrapping round them, seemingly pulling them down, down, down into the ground, the Earth reclaiming what had been taken from it, and with it the memories of those long passed. Despite the pull of time and neglect, the taller columns and headstones bravely rose above the tangles, holding their heads up high in the sunshine, proud of their leprous appearance, suggesting age and longevity, that they remember even if the living no longer do.

Others, however, seemed to be surrendering to the gradual depredations of time. Their sharp leaning stance, the first phase in laying down, showing an acceptance of their fate. No one alive who remembers them, who cares for them enough to tend to the memorial of a life once lived. The connections between the present generation and the past generations fading and weakening with time as symbolised by the tumble-down state of the gravestones. This was reflected in the laughter and chatter of the living enjoying beverages and vittles in the bright, warm, life-giving sunshine. The proximity to the necropolis and it’s visible symbols of death, funerary rites, and grief having no effect upon the high spirits of the living.

Perhaps that is because a wall, a visible boundary separates the activities of the living from the area of the dead. If we were to dine and party on their graves, perhaps we may feel differently, irreverent perhaps; an attitude maybe not unique to our own culture or time. I saw this video about dining with the dead in Georgia on the BBC news website earlier this week, and an example of how different cultures approach death and the places of the dead and how rigid and solid the boundary between us, the living, and our deceased friends and family are.

Death is, essentially, a great leveller; the great and the good lie alongside the poor and meek. Only the memorials tell us who is who,and only a skilled osteologist would be able to tell which was which were their skeletons disinterred and separated from any clothing, jewellery or other funerary offerings that they were interred with. To most of humanity they would be the remains of people, equal in death as they were not in life. Given enough time, all return to the Earth, return to what we were created from, very few leaving traces that will last for centuries, millennia or the aeons of time.

Traces remain in the bones that remain of their lives; hardship, luxury, adversity, ease all leave their marks in the bones. As the flesh decays, as memories fade, so do the individual stories of each person’s life, the stories that make each of us unique. The funeral monuments may tell us about them, there may be hints of their life in written records, but so much about them, such as whether they were kind or cruel, loving or neglectful, are lost.

Gloomy thoughts? Not at all! I like what the we can learn of our ancestors from their funerary rites, from records, from stories still held in the memories of the living, maybe experienced first hand or tales handed down through the generations. It matters not whether they are iron-topped tombs of the magnates of Blaenavon or the ring-barrows of a person from the Bronze Age, or the fossilised remains of our distant relatives. For many, we can only make educated guesses about their life and times, sometimes more educated than others when written records exist.

Of course, the choice of a place for cemeteries is a story in itself. In ancient times where a lot of effort was expended to bury a few in monuments such as cairns, ring barrows, cists, long barrows, then they weren’t just plonked in the nearest available place. The choice of place had meaning, just as the choice of place has meaning to us whether it’s where we go on holiday, where we choose to live and experience life. We choose places that give us meaningful experiences, be they linked to happy or sad times. The same is true when we choose places for funerary rites, whether we choose them ourselves before we die or whether we choose them for our loved ones who have passed away. My father’s cremains were buried beneath a sapling plum tree in a country lane where he used to collect all kinds of fruits and plants to make wine from. A friend’s father’s ashes were sprinkled from a bridge to return to the sea which he loved and sailed while serving in the Navy. Another friend’s father’s ashes are to be buried with his brother, if permission can be gained from her aunt.

If we take time and care to choose an appropriate resting place for the physical remains of our loved ones, I’m sure our ancestors did so too, even though it may not have seemed so to us as in many cases we have no ideas of their beliefs and the practices that stemmed from them. Nor do we know for sure why certain people were accorded such seemingly prestigious and important funerals, whether they were the great and the good or whether their deaths had a different meaning and the funeral a different purpose than commemoration and a reminder of our connections to the people of the past, to our ancestors, to those who have shaped the society we life in at any particular point in history.

I couldn’t help but wonder what stories the land could tell us if we could access it’s memory. I’d love to know what events the stones beneath my feet have witnessed in their long aeons of existence. What lovers’ trysts and promises. What betrayals, joys, toils, griefs. Whose feet have passed over them and what is the story of the lives. I don’t just want to know about the great and the good, people whose lives are most probably fairly well documented. I want to know about the ‘ordinary’ people as well. Everyone has a story to tell, everyone’s life experience is unique to them due to their unique perceptions, beliefs, actions, reactions and personality, and what thoughts and beliefs they had about themselves and others.

Perhaps the land, the position of the cemeteries, their relationship to the use of the land in the past and the present, the stories told about the land, it’s people all serve to keep alive the memory of the ancestors, aiding in remembering their stories and the stories previous generations and in so doing keeping the ancestors alive, in memory, and our connection to them stronger. The scape surrounding the cemetery becomes woven into the stories of the recent ancestors and the myths of the more ancient ancestors, acting as aide-memoires to the tales. Each feature in the land around the cemetery is not devoid of emotion, of meaning, and for each feature these would change as the time of day, the season of the year and the weather changes. We interact with these scapes through the feelings and meanings and the way that we make use of them and that induces a feeling of belonging to them. Ideas such as these are propounded by archaeologists such as George Nash.

I realised then, how much I’d enjoyed writing my thoughts, how going to a different place other than home allowed me the inspiration I needed. It’s also brought up links between things that are occurring in my life at present, and that will help to unravel any tangles knotted by the inner critics in the past.

Autumn blackberries

Bramble28Aug12 © Angela Porter

Bramble © Angela Porter
5″ x 3″, pen and ink.

Plucking blackberries from hedgerows bursting with the deep purple-black fruits of the bramble are memories of childhood.

Taking care not to prick fingers on the thorns, or get clothing snagged and torn upon them either.  There were also the sticky burrs of goose-grass to avoid too.

It was all worth the hours of effort, however.  Blackberry and apple pie, blackberry crumble, bramble jelly, and the blackberry wine my father brewed (if he could steal any away).

Blackberries were frozen by the plastic gallon re-used ice-cream tub to be used for Sunday desserts through the winter months too.

All of these things created once the blackberries had been washed in salted water to bring out any maggots that had burrowed their way into the fruits.  If I caught sight of one single maggoty thing, I couldn’t eat any more of them, and eating them straight from the bramble was not an option for me.  It’s no wonder I’m a vegetarian!

A free harvest that I no longer take advantage of, but may manage to do so this year if I can pluck up the courage to go by myself in to the countryside to do this.

Yes, I do mean courage, as I’ve become a bit of a recluse once again, not going out into the world where there are other human beings to encounter me.  A long, personal story that is, but one I hope to change with time.  The gist is I’ve allowed myself to be hurt by other people over the past few years.  Things I was once involved with have gone by the by and I’ve not managed to replace these social activities with others.  Oh, I do go out.  I am involved in things, but the people I encounter are, generally, more acquaintances than anything else.  I still seek and search for a sense of belonging in this world.

Even as I think back to childhood blackberrying, I remember that I was often alone even though the rest of the family were there, all chatting and laughing and playing amongst themselves while I was generally excluded, unless it was to be the butt of someone’s joke.  Always funny for them…

Funny, the memories of blackberrying, and collecting bilberries, or whinberries as they are also called, are still ones of pleasure – the pleasure of the food produced as a result.  Bilberries are small, blueberries, native to Britain.

Folklore

There’s plenty of folklore surrounding the humble bramble and it’s fruits.

“Throughout much of Britain there was a widespread belief that blackberries should not be eaten after a certain date.” [Vickery]

This date may have be that of the first frost, as then they become the Devil’s fruit  and are not fit for humans to eat .

Michaelmas (29 September) or  Old Michaelmas (11 October)  relate to the biblical tale of  Lucifer being thrown out of heaven for his proud, covetous ways by Archangel Michael (Isaiah 14:12).  It is said that Lucifer landed in a bramble bush and cursed it, which is why people won’t eat blackberries after Michaelmas, saying variously that:

  • they have the Devil in them
  • the Devil peeps over the hedgerow and blasts them
  • so the Devil may have his share
  • the Devil spits on them

Hallowe’en (31 October) or All Saints’ Day (1st November) are also dates given as the cut off for blackberry consumption.  As well as the reasons given above, this date also relates to the following:

  • they have the witch in them
  • the witches have peed on them
  • on Hallowe’en the puca has crawled on the blackberries.

“From a scientific point of view, blackberries contain a high concentration of bitter tasting tannins which over time accumulate in the fruit. Old Michaelmas day falls late in the blackberry season making berries picked around this time very bitter. To make matters worse, as autumn arrives the weather becomes wetter meaning the fruit will contain more fungus spores. This will not improve the taste either.” [BBC Nature UK]

Brambles were sometimes planted, or placed, on graves, one belief being that they stopped the dead from walking.  Another reason is that they kept the sheep off the grave.

A superstition in Wales was “When thorns or brambles catch or cling to a girl’s dress, they say a lover is coming.” [Roud]

References:

BBC Nature UK, Nature folklore uncovered

Roud, Steve “The Penguin Guide to the Superstitions of Britain and Ireland”, Penguin Reference, 2003

Vickery, RoyOxford Dictionary of Plant-lore”, Oxford Paperbacks, Oxford University Press, 1995

Calendar change-over eve…

The old to the new

Well, the end of the calendar year, and the astronomical year if the Winter Solstice is seen as the end of one cycle and the start of the next, has come with a pile of revelations from a friend and a series of bangs that have released some inner demons and tears and uncovered an emptiness and knotted-ness in my gut area.

I’m pleased for my friend, don’t get me wrong.  At last they are taking the little yet huge step they need to take to release them from a situation that is untenable for them and into a new phase of their life’s journey.  I wish them happiness and joy and love.  I worry that they are chasing a rainbow, a dream that will not live up to reality, they’ll find the grass isn’t greener, but I know that they’ll find themselves progressing forward in a way they couldn’t where the currently are at.

Their excitement, fear, trepidation, hope and all the other things their going through has stirred up some ‘stuff’ within me that needs to be worked on and examined, which are, in no particular order:

  • Job and Career – Teaching is no longer healthy for me and though I find pleasure and satisfaction in some areas of the job, increasingly I’m finding it harder and harder to cope with other aspects of it.  I need to look at myself and what I can offer in terms of being an employee and what I need from a workplace in order to feel appreciated, valued, successful and that I am achieving good and truly helping people.  What kind of career I want, I don’t know.  Maybe training as a hypnotherapist will lead me along the way.  However, I do know I need to identify what I’d like to do, and that starts with what I can do and so on.
  • Relationships – I’ve been single for, gosh, thirteen and a half years now.  Along the way I’ve had many experiences placed along the spectrum of good to absolutely goddam awful.  I’ve felt time and time again the hurt of rejection and the blow it delivers to my self-esteem, self-respect and so on, and of course I realise that I expected nothing else.  Well, it’s about time that changed and it’s time for me to learn about relationships…big step for me.  How I do this, I don’t know, but it will start with me looking at myself honestly at the qualities I have, good and not so good, and come to accept and care about myself.
  • Friendships – I have a small number of very good friends, but learning to ask for help and accepting it when it is given is … a big hurdle for me.  I’ve had to be strong and independent for so long, to prove I can do it, that admitting I can’t is a big thing.
  • Creativity – I do not do enough to develop my writing skills and to weave stories.  I doubt my ability to do this.  I fear plagiarising, being unoriginal, being boring or trite.  I fear failure (damn that ultra-perfectionist part of me that doesn’t recognise when something is good enough).  I feel a sense of being overwhelmed when I think about telling a tale.  The result is I do nothing.  I also am lacking inspiration in art, finding myself doing the same kind of thing over and over and over …

The common threads running through all of this involve me learning to love myself by knowing who I am and to accept myself for this, warts and all.  I need to raise my self-esteem, my confidence, to be brave enough to start something.  Above all else, I need to find the courage to be brave enough to share something of myself with others.

To follow tradition or not?

This year, more than at any other time, I’ve found the traditions and the significance of events more puzzling and confusing.

The rational scientist in me recognises that time is a continuous flow, the only markers on time are the ones we place there so that we can agree on when we are talking about and the meaning we attach to those markers is manufactured to satisfy a need for predictable events in our lives, to bring some kind of order to what appears to be an otherwise random and chaotic existence.

Then the more spiritual aspect of me kicks in and says that it’s OK to do this, to mark the various points on the wheel of the year, the various events that we celebrate, the things we give meaning to.  They connect us together, for we are all connected, not just to all other human beings, not just to all life on Earth, but to the very stuff the Earth and, indeed, the Universe is made out of, the energy that constantly flows round and round.

We are not disconnected from the cycles that we can observe on this planet.  We may rationalise that they are caused by scientific laws, that they have no meaning.

However, I’m coming to realise that they do have meaning.  They bring us together and remind us that we are not separate, that what one of us does impacts on the whole, to a greater or lesser degree.  By honouring the traditions we connect to the patterns that are stored in the universal consciousness for humans have been honouring the same observed patterns and events over many, many generations.  It’s a way of honouring our forebears, of connecting to the present day, and of speaking to the future too.

It’s important, however, to decide if the particular traditions or observances fit in with your own philosophy, why you celebrate in the way you do, and to recognise that it is perfectly acceptable to change them as you grow and develop as a person, and not to just follow them blindly because you have always done them.  It is, of course, perfectly acceptable to create traditions of  your own too.

It may be that because I lead a very solitary existence, traditions celebrated by oneself have not really had any particular meaning, or have changed as my spiritual philosophy has grown and developed over the years.  Perhaps it is important that I find which traditions, which celebrations have meaning to me, and develop ways of observing them that lets me understand where they have come from, the meaning they have for me at this time, and how they will impact on the future.

Of course, I’m not sure if all of that made any sense at all!  Sometimes I need to get it out of me by writing and mithering and wittering on.

Winter Solstice 2011

Today is the Winter Solstice, well the astronomical solstice at least.  The Sun left Sagittarius and entered Capricorn at 05:31GMT this morning and that is the exact point of the solstice.

The Winter Solstice has long been marked as a special time for many millennia.  Our ancient forebears built stone monuments that tracked the passage of the Sun across the sky as the seasons changed; to them it was important to know when it would soon be time to plant the fields so that food would be plentiful once again.

The pattern of observing the Winter Solstice, and other festivals throughout the winter, and indeed throughout the rest of the year, is set in the fabric of our society, though the names of the celebrations, and the precise date of them, have changed over time, and what was once a religious celebration has become, for many in Britain, a secular celebration involving the exchange of gifts, the consumption of food and drink and time with loved ones (though this is not the case for all – let us not forget there are many who have no friends or family or home at this time of year).

There are plenty of places on the world-weird-web where you can find out about the origins of the various traditions that people observe at this time of year in the many cultures that have winter festival.

It has become my own tradition on this day that I spend time in the morning writing in my journal, reflecting on where I have come from and where I’d like to go in the coming months.  Well, that’s the plan, but that rarely happens as my pen gets hijacked by my unconscious mind and lots of things flow onto the paper, many insights and things to consider and ponder, much of which I won’t share with others as it is for me.

Part of my musings I will share concern the passing of time and the meaning we put on various events to help bring order to our lives, and some kind of certainty to the future amid all the seeming chaos and randomness of our lives.  I realised, that it’s important to me to understand why something is celebrated or why a particular traditional activity is done at any particular time of year.

I am finding that as I grow and develop as a person, as a spiritual being, that what I once did no longer makes sense to me; rather than beating myself up about abandoning something that once made sense, worrying that I was being too lazy or turning my back on things, I’ve realised that things do change as I change and understand more.  That is, for me, an important realisation.

Of course, I feel the pressures to conform and I make sure I respect others’ beliefs and traditions and do as they would wish at this time.  However, I have to feel comfortable in my own skin, in my own view of how the Universe seems to work from my point in it.

Another important realisation to come from this mornings musings is that it is most important to remain open  minded about all kinds of things; even though I may have my own views, ideas, theories, experiences, observations and so on at this time, that may change as I experience more and grow and develop.  Being blinkered to other possibilities, to there being no other ways may be what underlies so many of the world’s problems (and greed, never forget the power of greed …).

As I’ve said, there was much more and it made sense to me.  Maybe I’ll share more once I’ve worked through and processed it all.

What this leaves me with is to wish you all the very brightest blessings of the season, the most wonderful wishes for the next cycle of the seasons, no matter how you celebrate or why you celebrate!

Seasons Musings 2011

The end of the Autumn Term is always one filled with very mixed feelings for me, if I allow myself to dwell on things or to notice the differences between myself and others.

I usually am quite different to others in the way I seem to live my life, that’s for sure. At this time of year, with all the messages from the media, retailers and society I feel the separateness even more. The materialistic nature of our society, and at this time of year the materialist selling machine kicks into overdrive.

The main message seems to be that you can’t possibly be happy and loved unless you are in a relationship, surrounded by family and friends and have spent a small fortune on gifts and food and drink and decorations, wear a particular brand of clothes or perfume or aftershave or jewellery, look a particular way (impossible unless you are air-brushed and digitally altered or starve yourself silly) or, or or…

Also, let us not forget the pressure to not disappoint others by not getting them the latest gadget or gizmo or designer clothing or accessories, whether you can afford it or not, and this is overwhelming, unless you are aware of the pressures upon you.

Another message is that if you have this or wear this or smell this way then your life will be magical and ecstatic and filled with love and you’ll be irresistible to others portrayed, others portrayed as the ultimate beautiful people.

The main selling point is that of an ideal partner, family, friends and life; a perfection we can’t possibly maintain except for fleeting moments; life is a series of good times and not so good times, even for the incredibly wealthy. Neither money nor fame bring happiness; if they did, we’d never hear of depressed and suicidal wealthy and/or famous people. No matter what things we own or how we dress or what we do or where we go, they cannot bring inner peace and contentment, not for more than a little while.

We’ve become a society, generally, which says I love you by how much we spend on someone, not by on how we treat others.

It is at this time of the year, when businesses whose business is to get you to part with your money, get you to buy into the belief that nothing says I love you more than spending a lot of money on you.

Am I cynical? Probably. Oh, I know that not everyone is like this, that there are people out there who understand what gifting is about, but the majority have been infected with the consumerism/materialism virus.

Being a long-term single person, one who has blood family that she’s not close to (which equates to having no real family) and friends who have their own families, then this time of year can be very difficult. Add to that the bad memories of the past that can surface as various events or pressures are felt related to this season, and a deep tiredness that saps me of my emotional resilience, I can find it very difficult to cope with this particular holiday.

I associate this time of year with huge childhood disappointments. This disappointment wasn’t with what gifts I had or how much money had or hadn’t been spent – I was always appreciative of the gifts given. No, the disappointment was always connected to my hope that Christmas would bring a wonderful change to my life; that there would really be peace and love and goodwill to all, including me.

It never happened.

By mid-morning the magic of waking and finding the house be-decked with fairy lights and decorations overnight by Father Christmas’ fairies that lived in the central heating system and the surprise of the presents at the end of the bed were replaced by arguments and name-calling, destruction and bullying, which only intensified as the day went on and tempers became more and more frayed by tiredness and food and drink.

By Boxing Day everything was back to normal, the only difference were the twinkling lights, tree, tinsel and trimmings.

Christmas became a season of false hopes and false promises.

That never changed as I went through adulthood. Oh the parties could be fun, but generally ended in drunken fights – verbal or physical – between other party-goers always spoiled them

The expectation of sitting and watching Christmas TV with no conversation after dinner was tedious and boring for me. Or the annoyance at the long ago ex-partner turning up drunk and late for the first Christmas dinner in our new home together. I’d spent all morning preparing and cooking the meal, and by the time he got home it was all dry and over-done. I’d nibbled my way through my food waiting for him (and got through half a bottle of very good port). He wolfed it down, dashed upstairs to be sick and then spent the rest of the day in bed sleeping it all off.

Not all have been sad or bad.

I had a good day a few years ago when I volunteered to help the chef at a half-way house run by the Salvation Army. There were lots of laughs that day.

There was also the year where I ‘rescued’ a friend from a long walk home after his fiancée had chucked him out at 10am on Christmas morning because her son had complained that my friend hadn’t shown enough enthusiasm for the son’s gifts. I ended up cooking an Indian banquet before taking him to his lodgings in the evening.

And last year, heavy snow meant it wasn’t possible to go anywhere, and so the pressure was off me. I spent the day engrossed in art and reading and music.

There’s also my acceptance that Christmas, as a religious thing, means nothing to me. It’s allowed me to be happier at this time of year than in the past. I still feel the pressures from outside.

This is a turning point in the year; Christmas more-or-less coincides with the Winter Solstice which heralds a return of the light and the possibility of growth in the coming months. The Solstice brings change and the opportunities for personal growth. The Sun is at it’s weakest at this time, though its strength is gradually reborn and grows in strength over the coming months. It’s a good time to let go of things that have ‘died’ in our life in order to make space for new things to come into our lives. My attitude towards this time of year is one of those things that needs to change, my resilience to the external pressures needs to be strengthened, and there are some things I need to let go of in order for this change to occur.

Despite all the work I’ve done on myself, on how I view things, becoming comfortable with who I am and my life, I still find this time of year difficult. All the comments like ‘Oh, it must be so lonely for you at this time of year, with no one to spend Christmas with’ (what about the rest of the year?) or the avoidance of the subject (by me as well), and seeing people in large groups eating and drinking and laughing and I’m on the outside looking in, or that’s how it feels.

It’s not the eating or drinking that can get me sad, more the lack of human company. However, that is a feeling that isn’t confined to this time of year – it’s an all year round thing.

I know I tend to keep myself distant from people; I’ve been hurt too often in the past. I do need to learn how to risk a little of myself in order to form connections with others. That is a longer term goal than just for one day of the year, however.

I think that this year I will revel in my solitary time, take the time to rest and recuperate, to do nice things for myself, learn to give to myself for a change and look at where I need to learn to accept from others too. It’s time to remind myself that I am comfortable in my own company, that I’m not lonely, that my life has meaning and purpose and it’s a good time to look at what I do have in my life and to be properly grateful for it. It’s a time to find the strength to avoid noticing what is missing according to the fairytale the media weave for us surrounding what happiness is and what we must have to be happy.

Perhaps, it would be a cathartic exercise to write my own version of A Christmas Carol – past, present and future – maybe calling it a Solstice Carol or a Yule Carol. 

Flowers, folklore and folk-medicine

Our Fathers of Old

Excellent herbs had our fathers of old –
Excellent herbs to ease their pain –
Alexanders and Marigold,
Eyebright, Orris and Elecampane –
Basil, Rocket, Valerian, Rue
(Almost singing themselves they run)
Vervain, Dittany, Call-me-to-you –
Cowslip, Melilot, Rose of the Sun.
Anything green that grew out of the mould
Was an excellent herb to our fathers of old.

Wonderful tales had our fathers of old,
Wonderful tales of the herbs and the stars –
The Sun was Lord of the Marigold,
Basil and Rocket belonged to Mars.
Pat as a sum in a division it goes –
(Every herb had a planet bespoke) –
Who but Venus should govern the Rose?
Who but Jupiter own the Oak?
Simply and gravely the facts are told
In the wonderful books of our fathers of old.

Wonderful little, when all is said,
Wonderful little our fathers knew.
Half their remedies cured you dead –
Most of their teaching was quite untrue –
“Look at the stars when a patient is ill.
(Dirt has nothing to do with disease),
Bleed and blister as much as you will,
Blister and bleed him as oft as you please.”
Whence enormous and manifold
Errors were made by our fathers of old.

Yet when the sickness was sore in the land,
And neither planets nor herbs assuaged,
They took their lives in their lancet-hand
And, oh, what a wonderful war they waged!
Yes, when the crosses were chalked on the door –
(Yes, when the terrible dead-cart rolled!)
Excellent courage our fathers bore –
None too learned, but nobly bold
Into the fight went our fathers of old.

If it be certain, as Galen says –
And sage Hippocrates holds as much –
“That those afflicted by doubts and dismays
Are mightily helped by a dead man’s touch,”
Then, be good to us, stars above!
Then, be good to us, herbs below!
We are afflicted by what we can prove,
We are distracted by what we know
So-ah, so!
Down from your heaven or up from your mould
Send us the hearts of our Fathers of old!

Rudyard Kipling


Yes, there were some dreadful examples of medicine in days long ago, yet there were also many examples of folk-medicine that did work and that we use today.

For example research in biomedical Egyptology shows that many were effective and that some 67% of the cures recorded in various papyri complied with the 1973 Edition of the British Pharmaceutical Codex. They used honey, a natural antibiotic, to dress wounds and treat throat irritations, for instance, and aloe vera was used to treat blisters, burns, ulcers and skin diseases. They also used mouldy bread to treat infections; one of the moulds that grows on bread is penicillin!

There are many more examples of cures that worked and the active ingredients are used in modern medicine. Indeed, there is a branch of science called ethnobotany or ethnopharmacology that studies folk-medicines with the hope of finding new and active ingredients to treat the plethora of diseases still suffered by humanity.

Regardless of whether they worked or not, reading and researching about the uses of plants and other materials in folk medicine as well as the theories our fathers of old had about illness is something that I find fascinating, when I have the time to dig and delve into it. I find lots of interesting tales about where the names of plants come from, so I learn more about etymology, history, folklore, legend and myth. I get to look at photographs and illustrations of the plants used, so widening my knowledge and experience of art and so inspiring me to create my own. One day, the tales may even help to inspire me to do my own creative writing, maybe poetry, about all the wonderful lore that surrounds our most familiar plants, crystals, rocks, horseshoes, and so on.