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!

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

        Winter Solstice 2010

        All the very best of the Winter Solstice greetings and wishes to all!

        The exact point of Solstice is at 23:38 UTC, which is when the Sun enters Capricorn.   In the Northern Hemisphere, this marks the longest night and also the gradual returning of light to the world as the days gradually lengthen once again.

        What makes this year’s Winter Solstice extra special is that there is a Lunar Eclipse fall on the same day, for the first time since 1638.  Sadly, it was not possible for me to view the Lunar eclipse as the skies were cloudy here, and no doubt the hills would have obscured my view of the Moon in any case.

        In my immediate environment, in the Northern Hemisphere, nature is in it’s annual dormancy and the return of the light from this day on is a reason enough to celebrate the continuation of nature’s seasonal cycle.  With the snow still covering the ground, life having slowed down due to the freeze here in the UK, there’s an even bigger sense of the big sleep of nature.

        The Winter Solstice had, no doubt, great significance to prehistoric people, no doubt linked to the uncertainty of seeing life through the harsh winter months.  Evidence for this remains in the apparent alignments of Neolithic and Bronze Age sites such as Stonehenge (Winter Solstice 2010 at Stonehenge) in England and Newgrange (Winter Solstice at Newgrange 2010) in Ireland to astronomical events such as the Winter Solstice.  The lives of these people depended very much upon the seasons and weather and it must have been important for them to mark the cycles of the seasons in some way, just as we do still.

        The Feast of Yule was a pre-Christian festival observed in Scandinavia.  At this time of year, fires were lit to symbolise the heat, light and life-giving properties of the returning Sun.  A Yule log was brought in and burned in the hearth in honour of the god Thor.  A piece of the log was kept to act as both a good luck token for the year and to act as kindling from which the next year’s Yule log was lit.  Ashes from the log were also collected to be spread on the fields to ensure a good harvest that year.

        There are many festivals coinciding with the Winter Solstice around the world, as can be easily read about on the web – see for instance Wikipedia.

        How will I be spending the day?  Well, not as I would in years past.  Normally, I’d replace my bundle of mistletoe at dawn, burning last year’s old bunch.   This will have to wait for a day or two until I can get out and about!   The mistletoe hung in the home acts as a protection against negative thoughts and deeds.  Burning it releases and purifies that which it has absorbed over the year.  Part of the day will be spent in meditation/quiet thought/reflection on the past year and particularly upon the progress I have made in achieving goals in life and giving thanks for all those people and circumstances which have aided me in my progress, whether they realised it or not, and whether I realised it or not at the time! Sometimes, the people and situations that vex us most are responsible for the greatest progress in our personal development.

        How will you spend the day?

        1. Guardian – Article about the coincidence of Solstice and the Lunar Eclipse
        2. National Geographic – Article about the coincidence of the Solstice and the Lunar Eclipse
        3. Winter Solstice at Time and Date.com
        4. December Solstice Traditions at Time and Date.com
        5. Winter Solstice on Wikipedia
        6. Yule on the BBC 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

        Labels, work, stress and knits.

        Jam Jar Labels.

        I got some labels done for a friend for their home made jams and chutneys.  They are chuffed with them, and I’m pleased that they like.  They liked my illustration for my Harvest Moon blog entry, and wanted their labels in a similar style.   The first one below is for the larger jars, the second for he smaller jars.  It took a while to get the first one ‘fit for purpose’, but I’m really pleased with it.  It gives visual hints as to where the produce was grown and collected for the preserves.  I also am pleased that my rather simplified style of art has found a ‘niche’.  The smaller label works just fine too, similar design, but the landscape faded out so the information about the contents can be typed over it.

        A friend at work asked if I’d design some for a relative of hers as a Christmas present, as they are always making jams and preserves too.  So of course I’ll do that.

        Work, stress and knitting.

        Three weeks back at the chalkface (though no one uses chalk in the classroom anymore!) and the stresses of dealing with uncooperative, disrespectful teens and managing a workday that is like climbing on a treadmill that has been set by someone else who is calling the tune, and running to keep up with the changes in pace until eventually you are thrown off as your feet get in a tangle.  Well, that’s how it feels once more at the moment…despite the help I have once a week, I’m not yet able to break the cycle I’ve managed to get myself caught up in over a lifetime, and of course when things go wrong, or at least aren’t perfect, then I blame myself and beat myself up with it once again.  But it’s not as bad as it used to be, it just seems a long journey to get to where I’d like to be.  And one straw was added to the burden that’s built up since the return to work on Thursday that caused me to lose my temper briefly.  That led to me having a very upset digestive system for the rest of the day night, and a thumping headache that was with me most of Friday, Ibuprofen only just taking the edge off it.

        This lead me to feeling I needed to find an activity in the evenings that relaxed me, didn’t require a lot of concentration and that I could just pick up and put down at will.  I love art, but when I start on an art project I can get consumed by it, stay up later than is wise for me as I totally lose track of the time.  I wanted something that wouldn’t need my eyes to work in sharp focus (note to self – opticians!). Something that didn’t need a lot of concentration.  Something that kept my hands and eyes busy but left my mind free to think or to follow a film.  And that reminded me of why I used to love to knit and crochet so much.  I was doing something, something creative, but something that let me be still and calm, to just ‘be’.  I knew I needed projects that could be either finished quickly or were made up of smaller individual pieces which could be finished quickly.  Projects where I could utilise my own creativity, perhaps even learn about free-form work, and maybe even combine all of this with other forms of art that I love to do to create mixed media works or jewellery.   I wanted things I could do while too tired, too stressed out to settle to anything else.  Something that would help me settle when like this, and perhaps small enough that I could carry it with me.

        Well, in quite a synchronistic manner, one of those emails containing recommendations of books from Amazon appeared in my in-box, and on it were books of knitting and crochet.  I followed them, and added a large number of books to my large-ish Amazon wishlist, and I ordered two books that really caught my eye.

        One was the ‘Prayer Shawl Companion’ by Janet Bristow, which caught my attention because of the contemplative, spiritual aspect of knitting, and gathering together with other like minded souls to create to gift to others in need, to send out thoughts for healing, love, peace and help to where it is most needed.

        The other was ‘Mindful Knitting by Tara Jon Manning’ which appealed because it talks of the contemplative, meditative aspects of knitting.

        Both of these books are on their way to me, and I hope that they are what I hope them to be.  I may post pictures of the projects here.  And it may be that like-minded people may gather together with me to create to help others.  I don’t know…yet.

        I do know a friend at work has asked me to teach them to crochet.  So, after work on Thursday, I wandered through my local town to the only shop that now sells yarns, knitting needles and crochet hooks, to get some light coloured chunky wool, a large hook so she can see easily what to do, and can hold it more easily in her hands – she has rheumatoid arthritis, but she thinks this will help to exercise her hands and give her something creative to do.

        Of course, I have been knitting squares of various stitch patterns and using coloured yarns, all of a similar size, just to keep me occupied while I await the arrival of the books.  And hopefully the books will also inspire me to be confident in creating my own things.  I’m particularly intrigued by ‘free-form’ crochet, as I am with ‘free-form’ beading.  But, we shall see what comes of this.

        I do create textile jewellery from time to time – many examples can be seen at Artwyrd.deviantart.com, though I’ve not created any for a long while now, having a stock of them and nothing to do with them!  Finding the right market for them is a problem as they are so unique I suppose.  Maybe I can make use of my knitting/crochet skills to create different ways of wearing my beaded/wire/textile art … that’s something to think about at least!

        I did have an interesting time trawling through eBay looking at the knitting yarns available and seeing some rather exquisite, and expensive, examples.  And with some of them my mind went to making small, heartfelt gifts not to wear but to keep.  Something to do for Yuletide/Christmas gifts p’raps.  Now that’s a thought.  And it’s more or less time for me to start thinking about creating my Yule cards.  For a good few years now I’ve made my own cards for that time of year, and it does take quite a bit of time to create them!