A Faerie Quest

For many years now, the Faerie Folk have made themselves known on our cottage island. These wee creatures usually remain hidden, appearing only when they want to be seen. The little wooded isle has an abundance of portals, in many forms, which they use to travel from their realm to ours: sometimes the base of a tree (usually oak), sometimes a cleft in the rock. The Wee Folk, for the most part, seem to accept our presence and allow us to go about our business, but we know only a little about them. We have discovered, for example, that their quixotic, mischievous nature can make them rather tricksy. Gardening tools and the lids of cooking pots will be where they should be one hour, and go inexplicably missing the next. The refrigerator may be nearly empty on a Tuesday, and stocked with a staggering seven bottles of salad dressing on Wednesday. And tiny red- and white-spotted parasols, found scattered amongst the leaves where there were none the day before, are signs that the perverse Fae delight in a festive frolic through the woods of a rain-drenched night.

This week, a mysterious scroll, written in elegant hand on aged parchment, was discovered in the house, which is itself quite old. It seemed to have been left by a benefactor, wise in the ways of the Fae, looking out for our welfare. Here is what the message said:

’Twixt water and forest the ancient stones hide,
long since forgot within deep cedar shade;
a place of high rev’rence, once sacrifice made –
an altar, a portal where Faerie folk bide.

Old spirits sigh ’neath the leafy green bower;
they whisper of magick beyond human ken:
should Mortal pass through, a year becomes ten –
and all youth is gone in the count of an hour.

When human eyes light upon grey granite table,
take heed! For hungry Ones watch from the wood!
But gifts from the land must ye bring, fair and good,
to soften their hearts toward Men, if ye’re able.

Upon the high altar, the Fae to appease,
lay these humble off’rings, the spell to unbind;
these gifts must ye proffer, these treasures to find;
in all there are seven – a number to please:

One gem of clear crystal for scrying and Sight;
two feathers, now pluck’d, from wings that flew free;
green cones of the pine, numberéd three;
four stems of wild thyme, a fragrant delight;

For five, bring blue berries, a sweet woodland feast;
six glassy grains from a wave-lapped sand beach;
and last, seven seeds of the wise oaken tree.
Hope the Fae favour your obsequious deeds!

The blessings of Faeries must you also ask,
your future determined by their fitful will.
Seek now, then, these gifts, a long quest to fulfill –
Good Fortune smile on you in your fateful task!

As it seemed prudent to maintain cordial relations with the Fae, we immediately took our gathering baskets to the woods and began foraging for the required gifts. We had some idea of the location of the “grey granite table” – the place on the lakeshore where fishermen past had always cleaned their catch – and, indeed, the signs were there that this was no ordinary set of stones!

With the utmost respect and reverence, we left our seven offerings, along with our own scroll, a carefully-worded beseechment for magickal favour, on the long-lost altar. A short while later, we received word that all was good: the blessing had been made, and the Faerie Quest fulfilled.

Leap of Faith

I’ve done it!

In my previous post, I mentioned that I was making a number of changes, including how I present myself on social media. I was worried that changing this blog’s site address would be complicated and that I might have to purchase a new site. (This was what I’d read in WordPress help, but I know now that I wasn’t using the correct search terminology.) I was also terrified that I’d screw it up, as I usually do whenever technology is involved, and lose everything I’ve done on this blog so far.

I needn’t have worried. I’m pleased to report that I’ve made the change successfully – without help, I might add!

It’s dead easy, actually. In Account Settings, when you change your username, it gives several options, one of which is switching to a new site address that matches the new name, deleting the old address. But it doesn’t specify that the current blog will remain intact. I need to be told these things explicitly – as in, No, dear, all your hard work of the last ten months will not get irrevocably wiped out when you press that button – or else I get really, really nervous.

Before I hit Save, I looked up the topic again in Help; it didn’t give much more detail, and I still wasn’t 100% sure I was doing the right thing. But I was pretty sure. So I held my breath, crossed my fingers and toes, took a giant leap of faith (hard to do when your toes are crossed), and clicked.

Hallelujah! All my previous work is still there, and I feel more at home now that my blog name and address match. Well, they almost match. Unfortunately, I had to add some numbers to the address because the name alone was already taken (by that dead blog I mentioned before, grrr), but I’m okay with that. I then went on to make all the respective corrections to my Facebook pages, including every mentioned link to my blog, as they don’t change automatically, my Etsy shop and my About Me website. (Does anyone use About Me anymore? No, I didn’t think so.) Whew!

I’m a happy little gillyflower now.

Blessed Beltane!

Today marks Beltane, or May Day – the ancient Celtic fire festival of fertility and new life, health and love, prosperity, abundance and protection.

In the old days, farm animals were driven through the smoke of two purifying bonfires to ensure health and fertility for the coming year. Folk would dance around maypoles, weaving ribbons as a symbol of unity and interconnectedness – the joining of male and female. Wise women would pretend to ride a broom around fields, jumping as high as they could to “teach” the crops how to grow. And couples would take themselves into the woods or hills for a night of passion. Afterwards, they might stay together for a period of trial “marriage”; at the end of it, if mutually agreeable, they would undergo a handfasting ceremony later on in the summer.

If you celebrate May Day – or if you don’t, but the budding, flowering, lush greening of the Earth is getting your sap rising – you may want to incorporate some of the following, all associated with Beltane, into your day or the next few weeks:

Colours: green (fertility, life) • pink (love) • red (blood, fire) • white (the Moon)

Symbols: besom/broom • cauldron or chalice (female) • daisy chains, flower garlands and wreaths • eggs (life, fertility) • fire • Maypole (male) • ribbons

Plants, Herbs & Spices: bluebell • clover • coriander • daffodil • dandelion • dogwood • fern • flax(seed) • hawthorn • marjoram • mint • paprika • radish • rose • saffron • violet

Food: dairy products • eggs • green salads • honey • mushrooms • oatmeal

Animals: cat • goat • honeybee • rabbit • swallow

Crystals: bloodstone (courage & protection) • carnelian (the Sun, blood, life force) • emerald (success & abundance) • fluorite (protection, stability) • malachite (loyalty, faithfulness & harmony) • rose quartz (love) • ruby (healing) • tourmaline (cleansing, release from worry)

Oils & Incense: frankincense • jasmine • lilac • musk • neroli • passion flower • rose • sandalwood • vanilla • ylang ylang

Clockwise from far left: Emerald, carnelian, rose quartz heart and Emma egg, fluorite, bloodstone, pink tourmaline in lepidolite matrix, ruby, pink tourmaline

Beltane Activities
Bring fresh flowers or herbs into the houseWear the colours of Spring
Burn candles or incenseEat a light springtime mealTake a walk in the woods

Beltane Blessings Blend
Frankincense to honour ancient ways, night-blooming jasmine for the cycles of the Moon, grapefruit for freshness and hope, rose for love, and sandalwood for protection.

This is a lovely combination to use in your diffuser (number of drops indicated below), or add a few drops of each to a small spray bottle of distilled water for a fresh and romantic body mist.

3 frankincense • 2 jasmine • 1 pink grapefruit • 1 rose • 2 sandalwood

St. Maewyn’s Day

You may know this fellow better by his adopted name: Patrick.

Patrick was named Maewyn Succat when he was born circa 385 CE to a wealthy Roman family in either Wales or Scotland. At age 16, he was kidnapped by raiders and sold as a slave to Ireland, living there for six years as a shepherd and learning about its people until he managed to escape back to England. It was when he became a priest that he changed his name to Patricius. Patrick returned to Ireland as a missionary, preaching and converting the pagans to Christianity. In the Catholic church, his feast day is the day of his death, traditionally believed to be on March 17, 416 CE.

Legend has it that Patrick used the three-leaved shamrock (Irish seamróg = “little or young clover”) as a metaphor for the Holy Trinity. He may also have chosen this plant because the number 3 was significant for Celtic pagans; it is the “number of everything”. It wasn’t until the 18th century, though, that the shamrock began to be used as an Irish symbol. The shamrock (several species of Trifolium) has traditional medicinal value and was a common Victorian motif. In the Language of Flowers, the red clover signifies the virtue of industry, white clover means “think of me”, and the four-leaved variety says “be mine”.

Wearing green today? When the chivalric Order of St. Patrick was founded in the 1700s, blue was adopted as its official colour, which led to that colour – not green, which was considered unlucky – being associated with the saint. The use of green to represent Irish nationalism stems from 17th and 18th century political movements.

It’s understandable that legend, cultures and customs meld over time. It’s still an odd thing to me, however, that folk worldwide suddenly become Irish for a day on March 17 – and celebrate it in some pretty outrageous ways. I don’t march in parades or look for leprechauns, but I have been known to wear green on the day – although I wear it often, as it, along with blue, is one of my favourite colours. I don’t drink beer, so the green Guinness is out. (But that would be an insult to Guinness aficionados, anyway!)

I do think of my paternal grandmother, though. I know very little about her; my father never said much, for the very reason that he wasn’t given the chance to know her, either, and now there is no one left to ask. What I did discover through genealogical research, however, was that she emigrated as a young woman from Belfast to Canada in the early 1900s. Why? To seek a new life: employment, better housing, a marriage? I don’t know whether she had known my English-born grandfather, who was already living in Toronto, before she set foot on that ocean-crossing steamer. Regardless, they married soon after she arrived – and soon after that, came my dad! Sadly, that little family’s hopes and dreams died along with her a couple of years later in childbed, after my father’s little sister was born. A heart-wrenching story of hardship, struggle and lost dreams – but then, historically speaking – doesn’t that make me so quintessentially Irish?

Detail, Book of Kells scarf – a treasured gift from a friend.

Spring Forward

“March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.”

20160309_180048 (3)At this time of year, my parents always quoted this old chestnut, no doubt learned from their parents before them. It’s a proverb possibly of English or Welsh origins (in Wales, it’s used more often for April); some say it comes from Pennsylvania. No matter where or how it started, it refers, of course, to quixotic March weather and the hope for a warm and gentle Spring. My mother has often told me that, on the day I was born in early March, she watched a brisk wind outside her hospital room window toss the willows in a chill and fitful dance. (Perhaps that presaged the highs and lows of my own nature, which can at times run to the tempestuous.) I’m sure as she gazed out at the pale and blustery landscape, that young mother had her own hopes and dreams for me, her third and youngest child.

Here in southern Ontario, we’ve enjoyed a little bit of everything weather-wise so far this month. A few warmer days, a bit of rain, some fog, and – finally – a few kinder, sunny afternoons. Last night, however, as I set out for home after work, a mini snowstorm hit, with biting winds that made the snow swirl smokelike across the road. Winter was back, but only temporarily. This morning dawned bright, still cold, but most of the snow has already melted. The sky is robin’s egg blue, and the sunlight pooling on our wooden floor feels warmer than it did last week.

In my part of the world, it is the eve of Springing Forward – changing our clocks to Daylight Saving Time. At 2:00 a.m. on the 12th (the second Sunday of March), we move our clocks ahead one hour. With that, our time zone abruptly changes from Eastern Standard Time (EST) to Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), and in November, it all changes back again. Some Canadian provinces, indeed some towns or regions, choose to opt out of this method of (supposedly) making better use of daylight and saving energy, i.e. moving an hour of daylight from the morning to the evening. Different countries have different change dates.

With every new season, I like to visit a local plant nursery for a bit of fresh air and a lot of browsing. I don’t have a garden (although I can grow herbs and vegetables in pots on the balcony), but I like to roam the aisles, breathing in the scent of rich potting soil and living, growing things. This particular nursery also has an extensive shop with giftware and accessories, all arranged in charming seasonal vignettes. Almost to this day last year, I went to see what they had on offer for Spring. Soft pastels, spring greens, eggs and rabbits were all there – and lambs!

20160309_180048 (6)My mother was also born in March, near the end of the month. Last year, I completed a cross stitch sampler featuring lambs, one of her favourite creatures. I didn’t have the funds at the time to get it framed, but maybe I can do it in time for her birthday this year. If I do, I’ll post a photo of it; it’s a lovely, bucolic design, perfect for a fresh, new season.

Here is more weather-related March lore:

“A dry March and a wet May? Fill barns and bays with corn and hay.”

 “March winds and April showers? Bring forth May flowers.”

 “So many mists in March you see / So many frosts in May will be.”

 “As it rains in March, so it rains in June.”

New Beginnings

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American Robin (Turdus migratorius) keeping an ear out for worms

I haven’t been on WordPress much lately, so I apologize for not making the rounds of all your wonderful posts, but I’ve been engaged in a much-needed and long overdue activity: job-finding. This was the number 1 item on my 17 for 2017 list, and I’m happy to report that, after a January-long search, several interviews and a couple of days of orientation, I started a new job last week! It is in a field I know well but have been away from for several years, so it’s good to get back to the familiar, where I can put my skills to good use. This new situation, however, will bring a learning curve, new challenges, and, no doubt, a fair deal of stress. I expect a surprise or two each day, but as I settle in, things will become easier.

For this blog, as February turned quickly to March, I didn’t have a clear vision for a monthly theme. I looked at the calendar. Yes, there’s St. Patrick’s Day; I’m one-quarter Irish, so I might give this a nod. The most significant event seems to be the Spring equinox, which graces us here in the Northern Hemisphere on Monday, March 20 at 6:28 a.m. EST. (It occurs at the same moment worldwide, despite differing time zones.) The first day of Spring, and all its fresh promises! Given the positive change in my working status, I finally had a theme for March: New Beginnings!

The word equinox comes from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night). This is what The Old Farmer’s Almanac has to say: On the vernal equinox, day and night are each approximately 12 hours long (with the actual time of equal day and night, in the Northern Hemisphere, occurring a few days before the vernal equinox). The Sun crosses the celestial equator going northward; it rises exactly due east and sets exactly due west.

Meteorologically speaking, the official Spring season always begins on March 1 and continues through May 31. This is based on annual temperature cycles rather than the Earth’s position relative to the Sun. Planting is done according to the gradual increase of sunlight, warming temperatures and a thing called Phenology (Greek for science of appearances) – watching for nature’s signs. Did you know, for instance, that it is generally safe to plant radishes, parsnips and spinach once the crocuses have bloomed? Or that perennials can be planted when maple trees begin to leaf out?

I think we all practice a bit of phenology as we eagerly look for signs of the new season. In March, worms begin to emerge from the earth, giving rise to this month’s full moon name: the Full Worm Moon. Birds have already begun to migrate north, following the path of the Sun. Here in southern Ontario, red-winged blackbirds have been here for a week or two, to keep company with small pockets of hardy, overwintering robins. (The rest of the red-breasts will surge north to join their cousins – and pick off all those worms – any day now.) Song sparrows are usually the next to follow, and cardinals have been singing their exuberant heads off for quite some time. Birdsong is, in fact, triggered by the increasing sunlight; I’ve always thought that birds sound happier on warm, sunny days.

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The pale promise of Spring

Some trees and shrubs, such as pussy willows and forsythia, are setting out buds. Crocuses and snowdrops have been flowering in sheltered areas; tulips and daffodils won’t be far behind. Amphibians such Spring Peeper frogs and hibernating mammals are beginning to wake and stir from their cosy winter dens. Just yesterday, a friend who lives in the countryside remarked upon the annual re-emergence of George, a six-year-old female woodchuck, from her burrow beneath the deck. George, my friend is happy to report, looks sleek and well-rested and quite ready to face another sun-filled season grazing on clover, dandelions and all those freshly-planted crops!

While there is little historical evidence that ancient peoples of Britain and Europe honoured an equinoctial god or goddess, there is speculation that Xáusōs, a Proto-Indo-European goddess of the dawn, may have given rise to Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon dawn goddess, and to Ostara, the neopagan moon goddess of Spring and fertility. Modern pagans celebrate Ostara at the vernal equinox, considering it one of the eight major festivals of the Wheel of the Year. Thousands gather at Stonehenge to mark the equinox sunrise through the ancient stones. In Japan, Vernal Equinox Day is a national holiday spent visiting family graves and holding family reunions.

Symbols of new life are starting to abound; soon there will be bunnies and egg-painting and baskets filled with improbably green “grass”. Folklore tells us that the Spring equinox is the only time of year when an egg can be stood on its end. While I’ve never tried it myself, I’ve read that this is just a myth. Clover and other three-leaved plants were considered gifts from the faeries to bring protection and good luck; they were co-opted into Christian symbolism, particularly associated with St. Patrick, as a representation of the Holy Trinity.

The practice of Spring cleaning stemmed from the desire to rid the home of old or negative energies accumulated over the dark winter months. Some people drink dandelion and burdock cordial as a rejuvenating, blood-cleansing tonic. In keeping with ancient tradition, I will most likely mark the equinox with fire – a symbol of the Sun. A pure beeswax candle, some fresh herbal incense, perhaps a few pretty purple amethyst stones to catch the light.

How will you celebrate this time of awakening, when the world seems young again and the air holds the promise of regeneration and new growth?

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Tulips at the local market – a glorious sight to behold!

The Courtesy of Cursive

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Clockwise from bottom left: Cross Aventura fountain pen in Starry Blue; botanical notepaper; Lotus India Ink for dip pens and brushes; modern postcards from France and Italy; lidded box for two rolls of stamps; vintage reading spectacles; antique postcards dated 1912; cream envelope with wax seal; vintage mother-of-pearl letter opener with gilt handle; all shown on an antique fall-front secretaire.

I’ve always hated my handwriting. Not the childlike printing that everyone seems to use these days, but the careful, flowing script we were taught in grade school. Oh, I learned how to do it, alright, but somehow I never developed a distinct style; I’ve never quite managed to put pen to paper with panache. (And don’t even mention my signature. Yuck.) This is, perhaps, why I’m such a procrastinator when it comes to tackling personal correspondence. I would much prefer to send off a quick (but always well-edited) e-mail than to handwrite a letter or thank-you note.

In Canadian schools, cursive writing is being phased out or has already been dropped from curricula. The other day, when I gave some handwritten notes to my youth archery class, I had to ask my students whether they could understand my cursive script! (Some of them could; some couldn’t.) I suppose the reasoning for the decision – if there is any, besides lack of classroom funding – is that in the Digital Age, people can communicate instantly with their thumbs (you don’t even have to learn how to type, for crying out loud) or even voice-activation, so handwriting is obsolete. Add to that the seeming abandonment of proper spelling and grammar, and you have, my friends, the downfall of civilization as we used to know it.

So perhaps, in reaction to these alarming things, I developed an interest in calligraphy and fine writing instruments. Murano glass dip wands and marbled fountain pens, silver nibs and inkpots filled with jet black India. Rosewood writing desks with secret drawers, crisp ivory parchment and red wax seals. Sepia postcards and lavender-scented billets doux, tied with a silk ribbon from a lover’s hair!

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A secretaire writing desk, with all its delicious cubbyholes, is the perfect place to store treasures such as antique books, postcards and this modern Jinhao fountain pen with rosewood barrel.

I’ve treasured a small collection of writing-related paraphernalia for many years, and I was fortunate to have been given, as a teenager, an old writing desk (shown here) to put it in. What fun it was using that desk, with all its pigeon holes and tiny drawers and two hidden compartments! It sat in a corner of my bedroom, lit by a Victorian-style lamp, its fall-front lid providing a sturdy surface to practice my calligraphy or hold the old Underwood upon which I tapped out all my school essays!

A particular interest of mine, if you haven’t already guessed, is the fountain pen. I love the great variety of styles, from filigreed antique ones to sleek, modern designs, available today. I have a couple of utilitarian examples from my youth and have recently added one or two (or three) more! (I’m waiting for the delivery of a plum-coloured Pilot right now.) Outward appearance aside, weight, proportion and balance in the hand are important factors in deciding which model to buy, as well as its ink delivery system (cartridge, piston, squeeze converter). And, of course, it’s hard to decide upon just the right ink from a dizzying selection of colours and effects: Diamine’s Shimmering Seas, Noodler’s Nightshade or Herbin’s Eclat de Saphir, anyone?

While I may never have the money to buy a 1920s Waterman sterling silver fountain pen, I do have a few items on my wish list. I’m saving up for a Platinum Plaisir fountain pen with rose gold-tone finish (I think I’ll fill it with a Diamine ink called Ancient Copper), a demilune rolling ink blotter, and a vintage cut glass inkwell.

Now, it’s time to lay down a fresh desk pad, dip my quill into that bottle of encre de Chine and put my head, and hand, to those long-neglected thank-you notes!

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This Speedball Classic B-style wooden nib holder in Gold & Black with Speedball 512 nib can be used with the India ink shown here or any fountain pen or drawing ink.