Merry and Bright

©Angela Porter 2018

A Christmas Greeting

Wishing everyone who visits this little space on the interwebs all the very best blessings and wishes of the season.

I also wish to thank you for visiting, for sharing my posts.

However you spend this day, whether with friends, family, at work, or by yourself, I wish you well and the best.

About this image

I woke early-ish this morning and had an idea that involved creating this mandala/wreath design, so I had to do it!

Unusually, I drew the motifs in colour! Yup. No black line, just colour.

They’re all very simple with simple colour gradations. The black lines were created by removing colour so the dark background would show through.

I think the outer ring of leaves could be a little lighter, but then it does give a sense of the outer ring bending away, with the hearts and mistletoe on the high point of the ‘wreath’.

Adding texture to the design helped to scuff up the perfection of the colours.

I really enjoyed doing this, as simple as it is.

I am really grateful that I used an insulated mug for my gingerbread mocha latte this morning – I forgot all about it for over 3 hours, so engrossed in my art as I was, and it’s now just the perfect temperature for drinking!

My tools were Microsoft Surface Pen, Microsoft Surface Studio and Autodesk Sketchbook Pro. Yes, this is a digital piece of art.

The rest of the day I intend to spend in arty/creative pursuits, including finishing off my knitted cuddly triceratops (yes, I know yesterday I incorrectly said it was a stegosaurus).

How I spent the last three days…

I have to admit that I, like so very many others, spent the Christmas period alone (except for a couple of hours playing Trivial Pursuit at my little sisters on Christmas night).  It’s not the first Christmas that this has happened, but it’s one in a very long succession of solitary Christmases.

I feel the pressure from society and the media greatly at this time of the year; the pressure to be in a happy family, showered with gifts and food and company and loving intimacy.

The image we’re sold that we can’t possibly be happy unless we’re part of a big, loving, happy family and in a meaningful, happy, loving relationship is a trigger point for my mood, for unlocking the kennel of the black dog that can nip at my heels all too often.

This year, though, I’m happy to say that the black dog didn’t visit as often or as long as it has in the past many, many years.  Oh, I’ve had my moments, but I’ve survived better than I have for a very long time, most probably 20 years or so.

What helped is indulging myself in my coping strategies – creating art, making music, reading, cat cuddling and generally being creative (which currently means knitting baby blankets for my neice who is expecting twins in 3 to 4 months time).  Also, avoiding social media – facebook especially – has helped too.

Reminding myself that I’m not at the point in my healing journey from the cptsd (complex post traumatic stress disorder) that I experience that I feel able to have healthy relationships has also helped.  It’s a work in progress, the healing that is.

Another sign of my recovery from the trials and tribulations of the cptsd that I experience is that I made a little effort to add some ‘decorations’ for the Winter Solstice/Yule/Christmas season, which include a trio of small, knitted christmas trees, which kept me a little occupied in the days/weeks leading up to this time, as well as knitting and needle felting some bacteria and viruses for a pharmacist I met at an event I attended as a Time to Change Wales champion.

So, now the next event that can cause the black dog to find some strength is New Year’s Eve…

…which I can survive by using my super-power of being creative to help me cope.

The piece of art above has been done over the past 3 days.  The black outlines were drawn first, followed by a base layer of Ranger’s Distress Inks applied with Clarity Stencil brushes.

I then used the Distress Inks as watercolours to intensify the colours in various places as well as to add the colour to the berries/seeds/buds.

Next, I used Cosmic Shimmer’s Iridescent Watercolour paints to add some shimmer in large areas, before adding detailed patterns using coloured pencils (I chose to use my Mitsubishi Uni Pencils for this).

Finally, I added metallic and ‘glittery’ sparkle using Sakura’s Gold Gelly Roll Metallic pen and a Clear Star Gelly Roll pen.

I was rather restrained for me by leaving areas just coloured, not embellished to high heaven and back! The areas I have added texture/pattern to stand out more and it’s not quite so overwhelming.

This could mean my artistic skills are maturing a little.

The most important thing, however, is that I enjoyed the process of creating this large (for me) piece of art. The paper I used is A3 in size, and the drawing is approx 9.5″ x 14.5″.

When I finally figure out how to price my art (any one wishing to offer help/advice/suggestions on this, then it will be gratefully recieved) I may put it up for sale on Etsy.

Season’s Greetings 2016

winter_05_coloured1

Sending each and every one of you all the very best of the wishes of the season. May each of your days ahead be filled with love, joy and all things bright and good!

Thank you to all who have supported me and sent me such kind words too.

Drawn on my Surfacebook, coloured in via Autodesk Sketchbook Pro.

 

Crimble card making time again!

I’ve been keeping myself a little busy at times in the past few days making this years crop of Christmas cards.

The materials I used:

  • Kraft cardstock and ready cut 4″x4″ Kraft card blanks
  • Watercolour paper
  • Spectrum Noir sparkle pens
  • Zig clean colour real brush pens
  • Perfect pearls
  • Cosmic shimmer metallic and iridescent paints
  • Nuvo crystal drops by Tonic
  • Sakura glaze pen in black
  • Inktense pencils by Derwent
  • Gold glitter cardstock, matte gold cardstock and mirror gold cardstock from Crafters Companion
  • UHU glue
  • Glue dots
  • White fun foam

And here are the resulting cards; they all shimmer and shine to one degree or another!

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!

Mistletoe and Ivy

Well, as I’d done some notes about holly previously I thought it would be a good idea to complete the trio of plants most associated with Yuletide/Christmas/Winter festivities.

Mistletoe (Viscum album)

Early antiquaries thought all types of Christmas foliage came from that used by the Romans at Saturnalia, which was a festival that originated in Greece.  However, once mistletoe became especially popular, the more picturesque theory of Druidic origin gained ground.  Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79) recorded the following about mistletoe:

The Druids hold nothing more sacred than mistletoe and a tree on which it is growing, provided it is Valonia oak … Mistletoe is, however, rather seldom found on Valonia oak, and when it is discovered it is gathered with great ceremony, and particularly on the sixth day of the Moon (for which these [Gallic] trips constitutes the beginning of the months and years) … Hailing the Moon in a native word that means ‘healing all things’, they prepare a ritual sacrifice and banquet beneath a tree and bring up two white bulls, whose horns are bound for the first time on this occasion.  A priest arrayed in white vestments climbs the tree and with a golden sickle cuts down the mistletoe, which is caught in a white cloak.  Then finally they kill the victims, praying to God to render his gift propitious to those on whom he has bestowed it.  They believe that mistletoe given in drink will impart fertility to any animal that is barren, and that it is an antidote for all poisons.

Steve Roud in ‘Oxford Dictionary of Plant-lore’ comments that ‘largely as a result of this passage, more nonsense has been written about mistletoe than any other British plant’.  It is responsible for more disinformation in British folklore than almost any other.   Whatever its merits in itself, it has been repeated over and over and has been used for many flights of fancy about Druids and the ancient origins of our customs and beliefs.

Because of its Druid and pagan associations, mistletoe is traditionally banned from churches, according to the very influential John Brand in 1849.  However, recent research has shown he was wrong, at least for some regions such as Staffordshire where churchwardens’ accounts record repeated purchases of mistletoe.  In 1648 is first listed among the many evergreens decking churches and homes at Christmas by Herrick in Hesperides, no 893.   From the Middle Ages on, the use of holly and ivy in this way has been well recorded.

Mistletoe became important in the late 18th century as part, and soon to be the most valued part, of the elaborate kissing boughs/bushes that were hung up in farmhouses and kitchens, of which kissing under the mistletoe was first recorded in 1813.  There were rules as to when it must be taken down, which varied regionally.  Why mistletoe was included was never recorded, and why kissing beneath it became popular is never fully explained, though it is commonly attributed to it being a Druidic/pagan fertility plant.  This has been stated again and again that it has become ‘The Truth’ as opposed to ‘the truth’.

‘Pliny was writing about the Gauls, not the Brits.  We do now know where or from whom he got his information about the Druids.  Classical authors, however reliable they may be in other respects, are at their most unreliable when describing foreign people, their lands and their beliefs.  There is no hint anywhere else to support Pliny’s report.  There is no other mention of the sacred nature of mistletoe in Britain until antiquarians began reading and believing Pliny’s report some 1500 years later.  Even if Pliny’s report was accurate, there is no evidence that the practice was continued into historical times or had any influence on later lore.  Modern mistletoe beliefs are reported almost exclusively from England, and not the Celtic areas where was are told the Druidic traditions continue to have resonance.’ (4)

Nordic Mistletoe Myths

There may be a link to ancient Nordic myths too.  Mistletoe, apparently, was the plant of peace in Scandinavian countries and if enemies met beneath it, they would lay their arms down and keep a truce until the next day.  Perhaps it was this ancient Norse custom that led to the one of kissing beneath the mistletoe?

This tradition, however, went hand in hand with the story of  the death and resurrection of Baldur, one of the most intriguing of the Norse myths, and perhaps it is this that is the start of the tradition of mistletoe as a ‘kissing plant’.

Baldur’s mother was the Norse goddess, Frigga. When Baldur was born, Frigga made each and every plant, animal and inanimate object promise not to harm Baldur.  However, Frigga overlooked the mistletoe plant — and the mischievous god of the Norse myths, Loki, took advantage of this.  Always the prankster, Loki tricked one of the other gods into killing Baldur with a spear made from mistletoe.  This god was Hoder, who was Baldur’s blind brother.  Loki guided Hoder’s hand, and Baldur’s heart was pierced by the spear.  The death of Baldur, a vegetation deity in the Norse myths, brought winter to the world, although the gods did eventually restore Baldur to life, but not before Frigga’s tears had become the white berries of the mistletoe.   After this, Frigga pronounced the mistletoe sacred, ordering that from now on it should bring love rather than death into the world.  Happily complying with Frigga’s wishes, any two people passing under the plant from now on would celebrate Baldur’s resurrection by kissing under the mistletoe.Mistletoe etymology

While the romantic traditions woven around mistletoe give us a feeling that the plant is all dreamy and lovey-dovey, it’s interesting to ponder the etymology of ‘mistletoe’.  The second century Anglo-Saxon name for it was misteltan, with  mistel meaning dung and tan meaning twig.  It was believed at that time that the plant grew directly from the birds’ dung rather than the seed that passed through its digestive system.

Kissing and love

  • When a kiss is exchanged beneath the mistletoe, a berry should be removed.  Once all the berries have gone, no more kissing that year!
  • If an unmarried woman is not kissed beneath the mistletoe, she will not marry in the coming year.
  • If a couple in love kiss under the mistletoe, it is considered a promise to marry.

After Christmas is over …

  • Mistletoe should always be kept until the Christmas following.  It is believed around the Chudleigh district that it will stop the house from being struck by lightning.  At Ottery they say it will ensure that the house will never be without bread.
  • A piece of mistletoe must be kept to be burned under the Shrove Tuesday pancakes.
  • A piece of mistletoe must be kept from one year to the next because while mistletoe stays in the house love also stays.
  • A sprig kept hanging on the beam until next Christmas will keep the witches out/keep evil spirits way/goblins away.

My own mistletoe tradition

I must admit that I keep a bunch of mistletoe hanging in my front room at home.  I change it, usually, on the Winter Solstice, burning the old out doors.  I use a blowtorch to set fire to the old bunch and it burns fantastically well!  I make sure I stand upwind of the fumes too.

Why do I do this?  Well, it’s become a tradition for me at this time of year.  It symbolises the protection around my home that exists to keep bad away – maybe not ghosties and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night, but to keep people of ill intent out, to neutralise any ill intent sent my way, to create an environment of peace and harmony and love.  It seems to work … perhaps simply because it is a physical symbol of my intent to have such an environment around me, a safe environment to retire to when the world outside is just too much to cope with and I need quiet time to rest and recuperate.  Burning the old symbolises letting go of the past years’ troubles and worries and upsets and so on, and the fire purifies the darker elements that the mistletoe has symbolically soaked up, returning them to the light.

Whether you believe it or not, it works for me!

Ivy (Hedera helix)

Considered by some to be unlucky to have in the house at any time other than Christmas.

Ivy leaves formed the poets crown in ancient times, as well as the wreath of Bacchus, to whom the plant was dedicated most probably because leaves of ivy were bound around the forehead to prevent intoxication.

    Greek priests presented a wreath of ivy to newly-weds as a symbol of fidelity.

      English taverns used to display a sign of an ivy bush over their doors to advertise the excellence of the liquor served within – ‘Good wine needs no bush’.

        References

        1. Steve Roud, ‘Oxford Dictionary of Plant-lore’
        2. Jacqueline Simpson and Steve Roud, ‘ A Dictionary of English Folklore’
        3. Ronald Hutton ‘The Stations of the Sun’
        4. Steve Roud, ‘Penguin Guide to the Superstitions of Britain and Ireland’
        5. The Mistletoe Pages
        6. Norse Myths and Mistletoe at About.com
        7. The Truth vs. the truth – an old Wyrdsmithing blog engry
        8. BBC’s h2g2 website

        Holly

        English Holly (Ilex aquifolium)

        Holly © Angela Porter 19 Dec 2010

        Etymology

        The word holly comes from the Old English ‘holegn‘ which became the Middle English ‘holin‘, which Tolkien fans will recognise – Hollin was the name among men for the land of Elves that thrived to the west of the Mines of Moria, known as Eregion, and it was famous for its holly trees.

        In Welsh holly is called celyn.  In Terry Pratchett’s ‘Soul Music’, Imp Y Celyn is the lead singer of The Band With Rocks In

        Folk names for holly hulver bush, holm, hulm, holme chase, holy tree and Christ’s thorn.

        Holly decorations

        Holly is one of the most striking objects in the winter woodland with its glossy leaves and clusters of brilliant scarlet berries. It is very much connected with Christmas in many Western cultures. From very early days, it was gathered in great quantities for Yuletide decorations, both of the church and the home. The old Christmas Carols are full of references to holly.

        Christmas decorations are said to derive from a Roman custom that involved sending gifts to their friends during the festival of Saturnalia which occurred in mid-December. Strenae, twigs of holly or laurel with sweets fastened to them, were a popular gift. Boughs of holly and other evergreens were also used as decorations. Evergreens are symbolic, of course, of enduring and renewed life as well as a way to encourage the return of vegetation at the end of Winter.

        The Christians were quick to adopt holly for their own celebrations, with the holly representing the crown of thorns that Jesus wore, the berries symbolising drops of blood. A medieval legend asserts that the holly sprang up from the places where Christ walked, hence the name Christ’s Thorn.

        Old church calendars have Christmas Eve marked ‘templa exornantur‘ (churches are decked), and the custom is as deeply rooted in modern times, whether you celebrate Christmas, Yule, the Unconquered Sun, or the return of the light, as it was in either pagan or early Christian days.

        Childhood memories of ‘trimming up’.

        As a small child, I can remember going to bed on Christmas Eve to an ordinary home.  Generally, we were in bed early –  6pm on a school night, 7pm any other night.  On Christmas Eve, my parents used to keep us up until gone 7pm just to try to get us all to sleep through the night – I am one of six children, the second oldest.  I’d be blamed for everything, including the indecently early hour of waking on Christmas morning.  We’d make our way downstairs, bags of gifts in hand, and we’d be amazed!  The stairwell was lit by twinkling fairy lights.  The front room was sparkly with shimmering tinsel, metallic versions of fancy paper-chains, and the lights, baubles, lametta and tinsel on the tree.

        As a child this was magic!  It was, in many ways, the best part of the day.  We were always told that the the fairies that lived in the central heating did the work of decorating, but as we grew up, we took our places to help the ‘rents decorate, as well as taking part in the toast at 10pm to members of the family past and present.  Even when we were all young adults, the house was never decorated before Christmas Eve, and even when we all had moved away to our own homes we still returned on Christmas Eve to decorate for the ‘rents.  I still believe the rest of the family do so now.

        Holly superstitions

        It is said to be unlucky to cut a branch from a holly tree; it should be pulled off instead.

        Old stories advise people to take holly into their homes to act as a shelter for elves and fairies who could join mortals at this time without causing them harm. However, it must be entirely removed before Imbolc Eve (31st January) as just one leaf left within the house would result in bad luck.

        In Somerset, it was considered unlucky for holly to be brought into the house before Christmas Eve, and then only brought in by a man.

        In Herefordshire and Worcestershire, a small piece of holly which had adorned a church at Christmas time was regarded as very lucky to hang up in your home, even though the domestic decorations had to be burned as usual.

        Pliny tells us that if holly is planted near a house or a farm it would repel poison, deflect lighting and protect from witchcraft.

        Pythagoras noted that the flowers would cause water to freeze and if the wood, if thrown at any animal, would cause the animal to return and lie down by the wood, even if the wood did not touch the animal.

        A good crop of berries on holly is still said to be a sign that a hard winter is on the way.

        Holly uses

        Holly wood is heavy, hard and white-ish and it was used for the white chess pieces, ebony being used for the black.

        In the 1800s, weaving looms had holly wood spinning rods; holly was less likely to snag the threads being woven as it is a very dense wood and can be sanded very smooth.

        Peter Carl Faberge used holly cases for his famous Easter Eggs, as well as small objects such as hand seals.

        Holly is also used for veneering.

        1. www.wikipedia.com
        2. www.botanical.com
        3. homepage.ntlworld.com/blackbirdhollins/articles/Holly%20tree.htm
        4. “English Folklore” J Simpson and S Roud