Autumn Equinox 2017 and the first pumpkin of the season!

dav Autumn officially arrived here in the Northern Hemisphere yesterday, astronomically speaking.

And with autumn comes the desire to knit pumpkins.  I have no idea why, but it’s something that I did last year, followed by knitted christmas trees and stars.

I think it may have something to do with the nights drawing in, the cooler temperatures, the cosy and candle-lit home.

It may also have something to do with the fact that as it’s getting cooler my cat thinks I’m warm-blooded furniture again and he requires lots of lying on and cuddling up to me.  Drawing is nearly an impossibility with him on my lap, but he will let me knit; he doesn’t even try to play with the yarn or needles.

So, as the nights grow longer and the days shorter, my workspace may end up being increasingly on the bed to keep a kitty happy and lest pesky, and that’s fine by me.

That was something that started when I had my first extended bout of depression/anxiety 3 or 4 years ago and I just wanted to be in bed, a pattern that was repeated during my second extended bout.  Indeed, in the first few weeks of the medication that’s the only place I could be for several hours a day as it zonked me out totally.  I think the cat got really used to my presence in his domain; he loves the bedroom and rarely ventures out of it.  Indeed, he’ll become a total pest if I’m downstairs and he wants my company upstairs so he can settle down for big sleeps.  I’m usually happy to go and spend the short time it takes for him to settle in that instance.

Having said that, he’s taken to being pesky and testy if I overstay my time in the bed and he wants to get under the duvet to settle down for big sleeps now the weather is cooler once again.

Yes, I have one crazy cat, and I love him very much. He’s nearly 16 years old, so he’s entitled to be the boss and make demands I think.  He’s also been a really good companion for me through some of the darkest times of my life.

I wonder if he’d let me weave … most probably!

Still, the first pumpkin of the season has arrived – it’s approx 5.5″ across and 3.75 inches high.  I knitted it in chunky weight yarn on 5 mm needles.

Autumn is on the way!

Autumn Mandala 01Coloured Angela Porter

Autumn is nigh and it’s a lot more glorious because…

September has arrived at long last, along with the promise of the fiery blaze of glory that is autumn in a few weeks time.

Cooler mornings and evenings along with warm enough days, the quality of sunlight is softer, more golden too.

I really love this time of year, it’s my favourite!

Even more so that I no longer have the long fear/anxiety of returning to school as a teacher.

I don’t miss teaching one little bit!  I miss friends I had. I miss the more social interaction I had and the fun and laughter I had with colleagues and pupils.  What I don’t really miss is the constant fear, anxiety, worry, stress, pressure, bad attitudes, poor behaviour and constantly being looked at and assessed. All the things that led me to some very dark places that I found difficult to get out of.  No, it’s not ‘I don’t really miss’ these things – I really don’t miss these things, though I still get moments anxiety verging on panic when memories of various situations arise from the depths of my subconscious.

Arty pursuits

I’ve finished all the black and white line art for Eerily Entangled – my latest colouring book for Dover Publications.  I have two more to colour in for the book, but I’ll wait to see what my editor and her design team would like me to colour – there are so very many, if not all, I’d love to colour!

As well as this, I’ve spent quite a bit of time starting to organise my ‘pattern library’.  It’s something I like to do when I’m too tired to do anything else, when I’m feeling down and need a comforting not challenging activity, and when I’m lacking in inspiration; sometimes the patterns bring the inspiration I’m searching for, sometimes they just allow stuff to well up to the surface of my subconscious mind where my conscious mind can grab them and make use of them.

As a change of focus, I decided to draw some autumn themed mandalas, the one at the top of this blog entry being the first.

I’m a bit rusty at creating them after focusing on other things for a while, but the skills soon come back, often with new ideas or twists to old ideas, as well as new skills learned by my use of Autodesk Sketchbook Pro with my Microsoft Surface Book, which I used to create this mandala.

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

Almost the end of the Summer break…

Prehistoric Fertility 2 – A work in progress

Prehistoric Fertility 2 WIP © Angela Porter 2011

Dimensions – 23x30cm, approx.  Silk fibre needle felt on a black felt background.  Embellishement with beads, metallic and Japan threads, and custom-made sequins.

Photographs never seem to do my work justice, simply because I’m not a photographer.  There is no idea of the shimmery nature of the work, the way that the gold Japan threads used to outline various parts of the needle felt define the shapes and provide a channel along which the colours seem to flow like oil on water.  There is no sense of the texture and heights/depths that the needle felt has brought to the work, nor to the patterns and textures the beads give.  The colours still look garish in the photograph, yet in the actual piece they are more subtle and muted.

I have spent many hours on this so far – around 30 I would guess.  Every moment has been a pleasure, and I’ve even caught myself looking at it and smiling at how well it is working out – unusual for me as I’m my own worst critic, and it’s a step forward that I can appreciate the beauty in my creative work.

Last day of the holidays

It’s finally arrived.  Today marks the end of my freedom to a degree.  Tomorrow I return to work, to a structured day and all the ups and downs that go with the job that teaching is.  My time for art and other pursuits will become very limited.

I had a list of things to do over the Summer, and I’ve achieved few of them, however I have achieved other things, and that is good.  What is better is I’m not beating myself up about the tasks undone.  There’ll be time to do them…

I will miss the slow starts to the day, the spontaneity of trips and visits and time with friends.  Friday afternoon I spent with a friend in a local cafe-bar, drinking, talking about art and other things, working on art, having nice food and laughing before going to take the weekly meditation class I lead.  I will miss the opportunity to do those kinds of things.

On the positive side, it won’t be long until the next school break, and there are the weekends too…

There’s definitely a coolness in the air in the mornings and evenings.  It’s a feeling I associate with the coming of autumn, the return to school, the start of the new academic year and a sense of hope of better things to come, a hope that was usually misplaced, and still is.  However, I still hope that a new school year and a new term will bring new attitudes, opportunities and good achievements.

This year, the new attitudes must be towards myself and my expectations of me and how I react to the poor attitude/behaviour of others.  The Summer break has allowed me to relax, to become who I am meant to be.  I like this person, I like the contentment within me, I like the confidence that comes with it.  What I don’t want is to lose this with the stresses and strains of teaching.  There’s a challenge!

One of the tasks left mostly undone over the Summer was too look for an alternative career/job, one that will allow me to use all my personal skills/talents/gifts in a positive manner.  I’ve been stumped as to what to do, and looking around at available jobs there is nothing that seems to fit me, well not yet.

So that’s another task for the coming weeks – to keep looking at available jobs, to seek advice, suggestions, to continue the audit of my personal skills to help me focus on what  I could do.

I have been thinking about training as a hypnotherapist.  The biggest stumbling block for me is finding the money to pay the fees.  I’m making enquiries about that…so finger’s crossed!

The incipient return to work has been causing some anxiety and worry with me.  My meditation this morning was filled with thoughts of things that need to be done, ideas as to what to do, worries about things that cause me emotional pain …

Punky Night – A Somerset Custom

Pumpkin3 © Angela Porter October 2010

It’s Punky Night tonight
It’s Punky Night tonight
Give us a candle, give us a light
It’s Punky Night tonight!

This is one of the verses of a song changed by children as they carry their ‘punkies’, or Jack O’ Lanterns around villages in Somerset, England, UK and, in times past, begging for candles.  In the village of Hinton St George, Punky, or Punkie, Night is the last Thursday in October.

Other variations on the verse include,

It’s Punky Night tonight
It’s Punky Night tonight
Adam and Eve would not believe
It’s Punky Night tonight!

It’s Punky Night tonight
It’s Punky Night tonight
Give me a candle, give me a light

If you don’t, you’ll get a fright!
It’s Punky Night tonight

It’s Punky Night tonight
It’s Punky Night tonight
Give me a candle, give me a light
If you haven’t a candle, a penny’s alright

It’s Punky Night Tonight!

If you want to sing-a-long with the words, visit “The Punky Night Song” webpage!

The threat of something not nice happening if a person didn’t give the children something compares to the more modern tradition of ‘trick or treat’.

Punkies are made from a mangold-wurzel, or a large turnip, in a similar manner to modern Hallowe’en pumpkins.  The top is cut off, the insides scooped out and designs are cut into the outer skin, leaving a thin membrane intact.  Scary faces are common, but there are many examples of more creative designs.  A lighted candle is then placed inside to shine through the cuts.

Despite the usual assumptions that this custom is an ancient one, there is little evidence of its existence before the C20th.  Various nights in late October served for this custom, but Hinton St George eventually settled on the last Thursday in October.  At one time, it seems to have been a simple house-visiting custom, but members of the local Women’s Institute reorganized it in the mid twentieth century.  It is now celebrated by a procession of children carrying their punkies, and a party where prizes for the best designs are given, a Punkie King and Punkie Queen are crowned and money is raised for charity.

A local legend purports to explain the custom’s origin.  One version of the legend is that the village menfolk went to Chiselborough Fair, and got too drunk to find their way home.  Their wives fashioned lanterns out of mangold-wurzels and went to fetch them.   There are variations on the tale, in some the menfolk make the lanterns, in others the drunken menfolk are scared by the lanterns scary faces believing them to be ghosts of dead children returning to the Earth until Hallowe’en.  The neighbouring village of Lopen claims the custom (and legend) as their own, and other villages have started their own punkie nights.

As a child, I remember helping to carve Jack O’ Lanterns from swedes.  Pumpkins were not a common item then.  It wasn’t easy work either, and my father usually took control of matters very quickly, at least by hollowing out the swede so that we could carve the designs into the shell more easily and with less likelihood of us cutting off our fingers, or worse!  The smell of cooking swede pervaded the house once the candle was lit; whenever I smell cooking swede I get get flashbacks to childhood Hallowe’en, before it became dominated by ‘trick or treat’ and the various forms of antisocial behaviour that occur on that night, and the surrounding nights.  We had our own Hallowe’en party in our home, with local friends visiting with us.  The living room was decorated with blood-red crepe paper streamers, home-made black bats and spiders and webs.  Candle light was the order of the evening.  We made ghoulish food that involved a lot of food dye!  Ducking apples, bobbing apples were always played. And the climax of the proceedings involved the  delivery and display of Captain Blood’s Cake, dripping with blood-coloured icing and ghastly green writing and a single candle placed in the middle of the cake.  This heralded the beginning of ghostly and ghoulish stories.  They would start with a tale about Captain Blood, and then would go onto other things as we children would exercise our imaginations to tell tales, add to the tale being told, and scaring ourselves with what we found most fearful.  It must be said there was a lot of laughing as well!  These were perhaps some of the best times of my childhood … even though I was most probably too shy to tell the tales, my imagination would run away with me and everyone would make fun of me, and I still bear those scars today, finding it hard to tell stories, write tales, be imaginative.  I’ll get over it though.  I will.

The drawing of a pumpkin punkie was done using a very fine technical drawing pen (0.1mm) and watercolour paints on cartridge paper.  The sketch was completed very quickly, the painting took a little longer as the white purry-furry one wanted to help/hinder by demanding cuddles and fusses!   I then fiddled with it in GIMP2 to make it more vibrant in colour, more blurry and better looking than the original!  I have a couple more done that I’ll use to decorate any entries I do about Hallowe’en.

  1. Steve Roud, “The English Year”
  2. Punkie Night at information-britain.co.uk
  3. Punkie Night at Monstrous.com
  4. It’s Punky Night! at wyrdwords.vispa.com
  5. Ronald Hutton, “The Stations of the Sun”
  6. Punkie Night at wikipedia
  7. Jack o’ Lanterns at wikipedia
  8. Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud, “A Dictionary of English Folklore”

Autumn Equinox

To Autumn  – William Blake

O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stained
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof, there thou may’st rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe;
And all the daughters of the year shall dance,
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers. 

Some Equinox Thoughts

At 04:09BST tomorrow morning, the Sun enters Libra and this event marks the Autumn Equinox, the start of Autumn in the Northern Hemisphere.  Equinox literally translates as ‘ equal night’, and the two equinoxes are the times in the year when the hours of light and dark are almost equally balanced – they may not be exactly the same length, but it’s the closest they get to being so!

I always find the Equinoxes and Solstices charged with a buzz, with energy.  A great sense of change is in the air.  Autumn is always a time to harvest that which has ripened, to clear away the chaff and dead leaves.  In doing so the land and the trees have their underlying supportive structure laid bare.  And so it is with life, as it seems to me.  It’s a time to celebrate that which has come to fruition, a time to clear away that which has served its purpose or has not grown, time to reveal what lies beneath the surface for contemplation as the Sun’s strength begins to wane and the night lengthens into day.  Letting go of things is not easy, even when they are complete, but it is necessary to make way for the  new that is to come.  It is also important to take time to reflect on what has been gained, learned and lost as that too brings a harvest of its own, and it is important, I think, to give thanks for this harvest of personal work done and progress made along our own way.  It is also a time to think to the future, to set new goals now that the space in which they may achieved is apparent.

Tomorrow, after a good nights sleep tonight, I will find time to sit in meditation and contemplate my personal harvest, what is complete, and my goals for the coming year, and to give thanks for all these things.

Harvest customs

Harvest Wheat (c) Angela Porter 2010

Pre-amblings

This is no way a definitive account!  I wrote/collated the main body of it last year when I was due to give a talk at a ‘harvest supper’ in a church, and I thought it would be appropriate to give a little of the history and customs of Harvest, particularly in Wales.  I’m not quite sure how the talk was received, as it certainly wasn’t the usual ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ or ‘Silver Birch’ that they are used to.  I am, if nothing else, more than a tad anarchic when it comes to my choice of ‘readings’ under such circumstances!

Harvest Customs

People have been giving thanks for the harvest since farming first began in the Neolithic, and the custom is still thriving today in many countries of the world.

In 1912, Alfred Williams, Wiltshire, wrote:

“The in-gathering of the corn-harvest is by far the most important feature of the farm year, especially where there is much arable land, or perhaps it may be all corn in some places, as on the Downs, for instance.  If the weather is wet in hay-time and the crop spoiled that may not matter very much; but in the harvest, that is truly tragic!  Who does not deeply grieve, apart from the monetary loss involved, to see all that is left of the beautiful corn blackening and rotting in the fields, under the dark rainy skies of October and November, as is sometimes the case, utterly useless for anything but litter and manure, and the ground too wet and sodden to admit of collecting it for that purpose even?  It seems as though you have lived the year for nothing then; that all the bloom and sunshine of the spring and summer were mockery; that Nature brought forth her beautiful children but to destroy them.”

In centuries past, the whole life of the Nation of Britain and its agricultural economy depended on the harvest.  Even when the harvest had lost some of its economic importance, it still had a deep psychological effect on rural communities.

Autumn Wheat (c) Angela Porter 2010The word harvest comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘haerfest’ which meant autumn. According to the Venerable Bede, writing in the seventh to eight centuries, September was known to the pagan Anglo-Saxons as ‘Haleg-Monath’, which meant Holy Month, and it can be surmised that this was derived from the religious ceremonies that followed the harvest. However, no records of these ceremonies survived into Bede’s time.

In the Christian calendar, harvest traditionally started at Lammas tide (August 1), when the first corn of the new crop was made into bread and taken to church to be blessed. It finished at Michaelmas (September 29).

The harvest was the time of the agricultural year that the farmer needed the full cooperation of his workers.  Thirteenth Century Manorial records show that it was the custom that tenants were paid with refreshments to harvest the lord’s crops, and that in some areas there was a communal meal at the end of the harvest, and these are the earliest surviving records of this practice.

The workers knew that a successful harvest was needed for the economic well-being of the community, and a bad one would harm their chances of employment the following year.  During harvest, their wages doubled as the amount of work doubled.  Many customs and usages developed over the years which helped to keep the workers amused, gave further financial rewards, or celebrated their successful harvest.  The idea that these customs are direct survivors of pre-Christian times, of beliefs in corn goddesses and vegetation spirits, is not supported by the documentary record.

Prior to mechanisation, the mutual aid that existed between farmers and neighbours in the community was vital to the reaping of the crops. The fedel wenith, or reaping party, drew on the pattern of Cymhortha (from cymhorthu – to help), a characteristic of Welsh medieval society. Small-holders would help each other and also the large farms, in exchange for various things they had to give, like the loan of transport or a few rows of potatoes. In this way a system of goodwill and co-operation was built up within the community.

As soon as the last load of grain had been brought into the barn, the reapers and other workers were treated to a feast – the Harvest Supper – provided by the farmer for whom they had worked. In the eastern counties of England this feast was known as a Horkey Supper, while in Wales it was known as ffest y pen, cwrw cyfeddach or boddi’r cynhaeaf.

Whitlock says that in Wiltshire, the golden years of the Harvest Supper were during the second half of the 19th century and suggests that they had largely died out by the turn of that century. The suppers seem to have been quite lavish – or at least they seemed so to the farm workers who attended them. Food was plentiful. In Sussex caraway seed cake was traditional and was served to the workers throughout the harvesting because it was believed that the caraway seed provided the workers with strength and increased their loyalty to their employer, thus ensuring that they could not be enticed away by a neighbouring farmer offering higher wages. As well as seed cake, pumpkin pie and large apple turnovers called “Brown Georges” were served at Sussex harvest suppers.

In Carmarthenshire the supper included a dish called whipod which included rice, white bread, raisins, currants and treacle. In nearby Cardiganshire in 1760, a farmer reported that the feast following the reaping of his rye by about 50 neighbours consisted of ‘a brewing pan of beef and mutton, with arage and potatoes and pottage, and pudding of wheaten flour, about 20 gallons of light ale and over twenty gallons of beer’. After the meal, there was usually dancing to the music of the fiddle, with a plentiful supply of beer and tobacco.

Also in Wales, was the custom known as the caseg fedi, or harvest mare. When all the corn had been reaped except for the very last sheaf, the sheaf would be divided into three and plaited. The reapers would then take it in turns to throw their reaping hooks at it from a set distance and the one who succeeded in cutting it down would recite a verse:

Bore y codais hi,
Hwyr y dilyn hi,
Mi ces hi, mi ces hi!

[Early in the morning I got on her track,
late in the evening I followed her,
I have had her, I have had her!]

The other reapers would then respond with:

Beth gest ti?

[What did you have?]

and the reply was:

Gwrach! gwrach, gwrach!

[A hag, a hag, a hag!]

It was seen as an honour in Wales to be the one to bring down the caseg fedi, and the man who did so was often rewarded.

The plaited sheaf presided at the Harvest Supper, and was often hung in the house to show that all the corn had been gathered in. It could also, in one part of Wales, be put on the cross-beam of the barn or in the fork of a tree.

The ‘caseg fedi’ may have represented the fertility of the harvest condensed into the final sheaf. In one part of Wales, it was recorded that seed from it was mixed with the seed at planting time ‘in order to teach it to grow’. In other parts of Britain, this last sheaf was buried on Plough Monday, the first Monday after Epiphany (6 January) so that it could work its magic on the growing corn. It is possible that this association of the gwrach, a creature known to steal food, with the cutting down of the last sheaf, represents the triumph of the human forces of agriculture against the chaotic or malevolent forces of nature represented by the gwrach.

Once the grain harvest proper and the Harvest Supper was over, the women could begin gleaning, i.e. scouring the fields for the leftover ears of corn which they could claim and keep for themselves. In many places they elected a Harvest Queen to oversee the gleaning whose role was to ensure that everyone got fair shares. This she did by regulating the start and finish of work either by ringing a hand bell or by giving the word when the church bells rang. The Harvest Queen also had the right to initiate newcomers to the gleaning field by tapping the soles of their boots with a stone.

Today, most churches and many schools hold a service of thanksgiving for the harvest and hold their Harvest Festival on the first Sunday following the Full Moon closest to the Autumn Equinox. However, this custom only became popular in Victorian times.

In 1843 the Reverend R. S. Hawker had the idea of holding a special service on the first Sunday in October in his Cornwall parish. The idea caught on and soon it became the custom to decorate churches with fruit, vegetables and flowers and to sing the harvest hymns written for the occasion.

Harvest has now become a time when people come together to give food to the needy, or to raise money for worthy causes. Thus Harvest still commemorates not just the gathering of the fruits of the Earth, but also the community cooperation that exists and the desire of our own spirits to help worthy causes and to spread the abundance of gifts of all kinds to wherever there is a lack. It is also a time when we can reflect on the successes of our own endeavours, and reap the fruits of our own labours and count our blessings for all that we have in our lives.

  1. Steve Round – The English Year
  2. Sue Dale-Tunnicliffe – TES Magazine, 24 Sept 1999
  3. Raven – White Dragon Website
  4. Hillaire Wood – Harvest Customs in Wales
  5. Ronald Hutton – The Stations of the Sun