|Posted on 14 February, 2018 at 10:30||comments (2)|
SPOKEN WORDS "TALES OF THE TAIBHSEAR"
BUAINIDH mi an earr reidh, Gum bu cheinide mo chruth, Gum bu bhlathaide mo bheuil, Gum bu gheinide mo ghuth. Biodh mo ghuth mar ghath na grein, Biodh mo bheuil mar ein nan subh.
Gum bu h-eilean mi air muir, Gum bu tulach mi air tir, Gum bu reuil mi ri ra dorcha, Gum bu lorg mi dhuine cli, Leonaidh mi a h-uile duine, Cha leoin duine mi.
I WILL pluck the yarrow fair, That more benign shall be my face, That more warm shall be my lips, That more chaste shall be my speech, Be my speech the beams of the sun, Be my lips the sap of the strawberry.
May I be an isle in the sea, May I be a hill on the shore, May I be a star in waning of the moon, May I be a staff to the weak, Wound can I every man, Wound can no man me.
BUAINIDH mi an earr reidh, Gum bu treuinide mo bhas, Gum bu bhlathaide mo bheuil, Gum bu ceumaide mo chas; Gum bu h-eilean mi air muir, Gum bu carraig mi air tir, Leonar liom gach duine, Cha leon duine mi.
I WILL pluck the yarrow fair, That more brave shall be my hand, That more warm shall be my lips, That more swift shall be my foot; May I an island be at sea, May I a rock be on land, That I can afflict any man, No man can afflict me.
Yarrow is a truly fascinating plant, named in Latin for Achilles, said to be a gift to him from the skilled healer: Centaur, Chiron.
The charms collected, translated from Gaelic written about by Alexander Carmichael in the Carmina Gadelica http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/cg2/cg2046.htm were my first touch with a thing formally described as spoken word charms in traditional Scottish folk medicine and lore. I knew sayings and the 'funny little words and gestures' that families share and develop themselves and plenty of brilliant proverbs and little word games but here was a collection I could reference in essays as I studied herbal medicine…
Then I discovered Mary Beith's brilliant book 'Healing Threads'…my interest was piqued…I suddenly saw the words written about from a more contemporary perspective, with less religious focus and more emphasis on the healing traditions.
The unwritten folklore traditions seemed somehow separate for many people, as did the rhymes and spells used in fairy stories which repeat and fall through patterns altering only in rhythm like water coursing past familiar rocks and stones changing in volume and make up but nearly always following the bed of the burn.
Then I started to work as professional storyteller, focusing much of my work on stories and folklore that shared the wisdom of plants and I started to see how all these things joined up.
They connect us through familiar patterns and rhythms to our environment, they follow seasons and geography, the wishes held within stories echo our desires and challenge obstacles, saying aloud the things that pose challenges…offering us paths through, following red threads and white pebbles back to points in history that may hold answers to recurring questions.
Yarrow is a fascinating plant, it crops up in several of the charms told in the Gadelica, but it's also the name of a river in the Scottish borders, a place where wild Yarrow grows aplenty…a place with a significant part in folkloric heritage, a town in the borders ballad 'The Dowie Dens of Yarrow' which can be heard on the Tobar an Dualchais archive here: http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/play/15022;jsessionid=BF5B488D95C6EDCEDE86E4AF1F615354
Carterhaugh at the conflux of the river Yarrow with the Ettrick in Selkirkshire is also claimed to be where Tam Lin meets the Queen of the Faeries, for more on this take a look at this website:http://tam-lin.org/scotland/carterhaugh.html . " target="_blank"> www.tam-lin.org/scotland/carterhaugh.html .
Then there's the village of Yarrowfoot, which it's claimed in an ancient tale was once home to a 'Witch-nag' http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/sfft/sfft67.htm one of an ilk of tale explaining the reason why one might feel hag-ridden!
This all ties in with the thoughts and connections I've been creating over the past year for re-establishing our stories of place, re-storying our everyday paths…
And more on witches… elaborate rituals with Yarrow is noted by Lizanne Henderson in her book as one of the ritual counter-magic skills claimed to have been used by Bell McGhie 'the last of the Ayrshire witches' in 1836 along with spoken charms and healing both people and animals. (1)
Collecting Yarrow in a ritualised manner is also one of the accusations made of Elspeth Roach convicted of witchcraft on Orkney over 200 years before in 1616.
Mrs Grieves quotes a yarrow charm linked to divination in A Modern Herbal
'Yarroway, Yarroway, bear a white blow,
If my love love me, my nose will bleed now.'
Not that I'd recommend the associated action of sticking a serrated Yarrow leaf up the nose to see if it caused a nosebleed as a means of spotting potential partners…
Flora Celtica notes that Yarrow stalks were used in Scotland as a divination tool and has a wonderful description of predicting with Yarrow, which expands on Mrs Grieves two lines(3)
So all these and other factors make the herb now more commonly associated these days with cold and fever remedies and wound healing a fascinating one to follow the paths of as I look more at spoken word charms and their use in traditional folk practices and stories.
A path which has already got off to a magical start…
A couple of months ago I got chatting to the lovely Scott Richardson-Read of the wonderful blog The Cailleach's Herbarium, he had a bit of a dream and wondered whether I'd like to collaborate…my old friend musician Debbie Armour was the obvious person to get to join the project and then this happened:
I hadn't imagined we would get to such an exciting point before I'd even done my launch…
But we have and are now discussing ideas for a Scottish Folk magic Symposium, uniting storytelling, research, songs, country crafts, art and other beautiful things…so please do take a look at Tales of the Taibhsear', put in a pledge if you can for a first copy of our spoken word CD and much more loveliness…and I'll keep you all posted as it develops!
1. Witchcraft and Folk Belief in the Age of Enlightenment: Scotland, 1670-1740
By Lizanne Henderson
2. "A Modern Herbal" by Maud Grieve, originally published in 1931. Available and free to use online.
3. Flora Celtica, plants and people in Scotland. By William Milliken and Sam Bridgewater Birlinn Books 2013
|Posted on 14 December, 2017 at 6:30||comments (2)|
The Cailleach Bheur, Queen of Winter
‘She was needed, Carlin now she became and midwife too, loved and needed by the people in her new home, learning to tend the goats and heal with herbs, many stories can be heard, I hear versions that she held Spring back and brought it forth…that eventually she became one with the hills, known as the Cailleach, but those are stories for you to discover.’
(taken from ‘Enchanted’ (c) Amanda Edmiston 2015)
In ‘Scotland’s Future History’ Stuart McHardy suggests the ‘westray wifie’ or Orkney Venus as she’s also known, ( a small stone figure found in the excavation of a farmhouse midden in Westray in 2009, for more info this is a good page: http://www.orkneyjar.com/archaeology/linksofnoltland/venus.htm) may have links with the dual goddess of ancient Scotland (I’d argue for Nicnevan as a third…oft forgotten mid life figure… I follow her journey as part of my story 'Enchanting!’) the stone piece, the only known Neolithic carving of a human form to have been discovered in Scotland, bears a resemblance to other goddess type carvings found in other parts of the world and is often seen as symbolically female.
In Scotland we typically hear of Bridie the maiden, her links to Spring and the Cailleach Bheur, the blue crone, Queen of Winter , goddess of the wild animals.
Thomas Bromley Blacklock - The Snow Queen (1902)
We hear of the Cailleach holding Spring back and bringing it forth…midwife at Bridie’s birth, she is associated with so much of Scotland’s geography, half the mountain ranges of Scotland hold the shape of her.
I think that’s the clue, she is in every mountain she is part of our landscape…part of an arcane memory, held by the hills, you don’t need to know or think that way, you just need to see the beauty in the hills, breathe it in.
Spaces in stories allow the listener to create images, Winter creates spaces in our environment, in the landscape: the wells and hills full of caves that hold the Cailleach are integral to our world, they allow plants to grow, water to flow and if water as many claim, holds a memory (and rocks and geology, then what form does the memory of geography and history of a place hold …is this what a story is…the memory held by a place?
One story held by a place tells us that the Cailleach cared for a well on the summit of Ben Crauchan in Argyll. In the evening as the sun set she covered the spring water a with huge flat stone, getting up with the sun to free the water once more. One evening after taking her goats to the mountains in search of the last fresh herbs at the end of Autumn, she sat and rested her eyes, just a little too long by the well side. Without the rock there to stop the flow, water gushed forth, running unfettered, growing in intensity til it channeled into the Pass of Brander drowning villages and animals as the flood grew, finally, fury over, it became Loch Awe. The Cailleach was inconsolable, she’d worked so hard to bring life to so many that she stayed where she was, calcifying slowly, turning to the a lump of stone…exactly the same as the lump of stone she’d forgotten and as far as I know she’s still there.
Not strictly a herbal story maybe, but I imgine calcified leaves, fossil formed in the Hill Cailleach's heart, stones the age of our stories, laid bare by winter, reminding us of our relationship with our landscape. Reminding us of the place the plants go and rest at this time of year.
What is symbolism today, was once a pathway for so many types of messages…not least in this case a message to conserve our energy at this time of year, to consolidate and remember what is important.
After all winter is here, today is the 14th of December, seven days before Yule and the Trows are released from the underworld today said by Florence Marion MacNeil to be 'free throughout the Merry Month of Yule ..to work their mischeif on those who had neglected to protect themselves with adequate saining rites' ('The Silver Bough' F.Marion MacNeil pub 1956 ) and the Cailleach is awake and she’s a grumpy, outspoken old woman whose singular habits make her a force to be reckoned with!
Amanda Edmiston www.botanicafabula.co.uk Dec2017
|Posted on 20 November, 2017 at 10:40||comments (1)|
Charms upon jars, brewing Potions and entwining threads across herbs and throughout the box, for tests and allies...the Elder tree is a great plant embodying the ideas of tests and allies in folklore and stories.
So this one is the story of the Elder Tree Mother http://www.andersen.sdu.dk/…/hers…/TheElderTreeMother_e.html a tale here in its Danish (translated) form, but which occurs naturally across the U.K. as well...
Arthur Rackham's illustration for Hans Christian Andeson's 'Elder Tree Mother'
And woven from folklore and plant use here is my history lead Elder tree tale originally written for The Battlefield Comunity Garden 'Story Spiral' Project in 2013 the link to which is here: https://battlefieldcommunityproject.weebly.com/the-story-spiral.html
The Elder Witch a tale created from Scottish folklore and plant history in a traditional tale style...by Amanda Edmiston
This is the story of two Scottish brothers living near Glasgow in Mary Queen of Scots days, Phillip they said was fleet of foot, as fast as a horse, he could outrun any man and he boasted he could get to any place faster than anyone.
Heris, the younger brother was slower and liked to take his time, slow as a hedgehog the other boys mocked, but his mother would say he only took his time because he was careful and paid attention to everything going on around him.
It was nearing All Hallows eve, the Autumn winds had begun to whirl and rise and the mother asked the two brothers to take food to the Royal encampment at the edge of the meadow, which lay, still graced with the purple pom-pom heads of late Summer clover, below their home. A battle was brewing and Queen Mary was staying there as she tried to stay ahead of the power struggles of the day and ensure she could, if needed, flee from her enemies.
Once there the brothers paid the Queen their respects and offered to help in any way they could as their mother had bade them.
Now Mary was 26 miles from her home and her young son was left behind. Staying with his father in Stirling castle, the hill top, stone fashioned fortress to the north.
Trapped as the young queen was and followed by pursuers and battles, she missed her small son as any mother would.
She asked the two brothers to take him a message of love from her heart and bring back news of his welfare, promising to pay a purse of gold for the messages safe delivery.
Phillip the first boy boasted of his speed and without so much as a backward glance made haste northwards.
Heris the second decided to follow, his steady pace might not make him a winner but he thought he might watch for his brothers safety and ensure the message found its way to its destination.
They hadn’t travelled more than an hour from Glasgow before Phillip was a good two miles ahead.
He ran through fields leaping hedges and ditches paying no mind to his surroundings.
He ran through a field of aniseed scented fennel, its soft feathery fronds bedraggled, wind-worn and drooping from lack of water, but he paid no mind and ran on and on,
He ran past the woods where the late purple violets withered as the weeds overtook them, but he paid them no mind and ran on and on.
Knowing by now he was miles ahead, and drooping himself from the days exertions, he found the shelter of an Elder tree.
Now folklore told that Elder trees were as often as not the home to a witch, a pernickety witch who could decide to dislike you on the whim.
Phillip with his careless attitude paying no mind to the days auspicious date and mocking the superstitions, had broken off branches as he slumped beneath the tree for a rest and it being Halloween, the witch had taken offence.
The tree-guised lady feeling much disgruntled, waited for Phillip to be nicely relaxed and starting to snooze then shifted from within her bark cladding and set about imprisoning the young lad in a trance.
Meanwhile still miles behind, Heris the slower brother had found his way to the drooping field of fennel and paying attention to its sorry state had stopped to water it, popping a few pieces of its sweet flavored stalk into his backpack... ‘just in case’.
He’d walked past the weed swamped violets and decide to give them air, make them some space and then popped a few flowers in his back pack... ‘just in case’...and finally he’d caught up with his brother.
Phillip held as he was, in a trance, by the witch, beneath the elder tree.
Now all those times Heris had listened paid off, he knew at once from the tales he’d heard from his mother that fennel repels a witch and can revive a tired body, why even the Roman centurions who’d marched the land so many years ago had sworn on the plants ability to restore the strength.so waving the stalks at the scary figure, he placed them in his brothers hand for him to eat and broke the spell.
Then heeding the Queens instructions he kept slowly and steadily on until he finally reached Stirling castle, towering atop it’s tree clad rocky outcrop, whereupon he was ushered down the cobbled paths through gardens and along fire-lit passageways into the nursery to see the child and his maid.
A sorry sight met Heris’ eyes, the child was ill, coughing and spluttering in the grasp of an Autumn cold, the nursemaid was at a loss as to how to ease his sore chest and tickley cough, this was no message to take a frightened mother.
But again Heris’ observations paid off, he knew his own mother’s cure for a cough and promptly handed the violets to the maid, a syrup was made and fed to the poorly boy, soothing and brightening the infant up, clearing his chest and . The nursemaid in her gratitude parceled him up some food for his return journey in a soft silk scarf embroidered with the young princes initials and Heris satisfied his job was done made his way back to Langside.
With his brother saved from the witch, the ill child helped and the Queens message delivered, you’d think our tale was done, but unfortunately on returning home what should Heris find but Phillip. Phillip had made his way back to the queen and boastful as ever was telling how he’d taken the message to Stirling castle and claiming the Queen’s bounty for the successful messenger for himself!
Fortunately this is a story and boasting in stories usually finds it’s come upance. Sure enough Phillip’s boasting didn’t last long and his face fell as Heris arrived with the monogrammed silk scarf waving in one hand and his tale of rescuing Phillip from the witch to tell everyone round the campfire that evening.(c) Amanda Edmiston 2015 (this version)
Margaret of Atholl, the real ‘witch’ that this story is based on was said to have taken Mary Queen of Scots labour pains away with witchcraft. Margaret was the sister of one of the ‘Four Mary’s’ a traditional song taught to many children in schools until fairly recently in Scotland.
Interesting fact: Marathon the Greek word means fennel or ‘field of fennel’....the Greek legend of Phiddipides who ran from the battlefield of Marathon literally a fennel field (before it became the town of marathon) to Sparta to ask for battle reinforcements....I wrote the story as a take on the Scottish traveller tale of the hedgehog and the hare, a story with variants from countries around the world. Tying in herbal folklore, as Langside in Glasgow, site of the battle of Langside, is 26 miles (the same distance as a marathon) from Stirling castle where Lord Darnley and Mary Queen of Scots’ child would have been during the battle....the community garden in Langside is absolutely full of fennel!
Violet flowers in the Victorian language of flowers meant ‘modesty’ because they hid there faces behind heart shaped petals....and really were used to help alleviate a cough or a cold.
Phillip really does mean horse and Heris means hedgehog!
Now for that cake...the elderberries growing on the witches tree are a delicious ingredient, traditionally used in Scotland to make wine and immune boosting syrups, combined with apples to celebrate Autumn and Halloween the day the story is set.
Recipe- Apple and Elderberry cakes
The version I made on Saturday had rice flour instead of spelt, and no butter as I was trying a very low fat, gluten free version, it didn’t work as well as this buttery spelt variation if I’m honest (sorry to those who tried it!)
In essence all my cake recipes however exotic sounding work on the 4oz sponge mix principal (if vegan then I use and 2:3 oil and water mix instead of butter and an extra tsp of baking powder and 4oz of pureed fruit instead of egg), but this time I had some local free organic range eggs which had unbelievable sunset yellow yolks to hand so I was going to make a very rich version of the cakes, and use 4oz organic butter, beaten to a creamy smoothness with 3oz of honey, 2 large free range eggs whisked in, then a grated russet apple a tsp of baking powder and 4oz of white organic spelt flour folded in. The 25grams of elderberries I had soaked overnight in a hot infusion of elderflowers (dried from the summer….and the perfect immune boosting complement to the later borne berries), these were now plump and tart and were folded in last to preserve the contrast of colours and the integrity of the berries……they were pretty yummy…..after cooking (no idea of temperature or time ; )…..probably 180 degrees celsius 'til light brown and springy to the touch covers it!).
Amanda Edmiston 2017
|Posted on 10 November, 2017 at 0:55||comments (2)|
A Journey through Scotland's local herbal lore
The journey to the Isle of Stories on Gigha this Summer lead to an amazing exploration of Scotland's local plant lore and legends for me.
It created a story of its own starting at the De'ils Heid at Doune Community Woodland ...where an old man and an old woman took their cattle to market and sidestepped the Bean Nighe's freshly washed shroud to let the De'il take his place in the ground...
Ollie peep, Ollie peep peep peep
There's his Heid but where's his feet?
Now guarded by a ring of May
From clooty clad trees protecting fairies in Aberfoyle.
We drove the road to Luss, named from Lus the Gaelic for herb
Where Oak was harvested for tanning, timber and mordants
And worn by the green man as he watched the De'il follow the folk
Striding over the sleeping giants
Being spotted as he cried out after footfalling on a thistle as Vikings and Englishmen would do in his wake...
Through glens and over General Wade's Rest and be Thankful
Cut through to rout the rebels.
And marked by a stone...
Catching the resin rich shelter of a pine, breathing deep as the scent clears a path
To find the near forgotten Tinkers Heart 26 quartz stones to mark the lost men, the traveller's husbands,
Where babes were named and lovers took vows
With a view to the west of lochs to travel
Then with a handful of candle wick cotton grass and nourishing nettles
We wend our way on to the seaweed rich banks of Loch Fyne, where Ossian the ancient bard was said to have been charged by a stag he hunted, escaping from it's deadly antlers by leaping betwixt the mountains...
Past chalk-white towns
To treasure rich shores, where ashrays or maybe sea-ghosts had dined on Parian Bree...
Looking on, to the Paps of Jura: Hallowed mountain, Mountains of Sound and of Gold
Collecting Mermaid's Simmets...
and sailing across a sound as still as glass, listening for the dragons breath... reputed to be heard by those who believe...
To an Isle of stories, sunny and still
Wandering past roses painted rouge from white
Being lead by Golden irises..the flags of legends
To the silver soft beaches of The Good Isle
and onward to a Gunnera graced wonderland...
To travel across time and realms mapping a herbal pathway in this Rennie Mackintosh beauty
And follow the path taken by an old man and old women the Brodach and the Cailleach still watching to make sure the De'il never gets free...
To tell stories at Achamore Gardens on the Isle of Gigha...
|Posted on 31 October, 2017 at 9:05||comments (0)|
So a revisiting for Halloween to my tale of werewolves and solanaceae; the lost legend I recreated for Atropa Nights, the missing link that explained the flesh crawling, skin walking, shape shifting, Atropine aggravated descent into fluid filled paranoia and night terrors brought in on the tidal flow, seven days before the red run, as the flutter of malicious pleasure at the call of no holds barred, social graces denied, premenstrual ruination…
A story mended from the European folklore surrounding Solanum Lycopersicum, the tomato..once believed to be a fruit used by witches to turn unsuspecting victims to werewolves. A fruit, which it was claimed, had the ability to draw money into the house if placed on the mantelpiece...maybe leading to the variety grown successfully by many a gardener...the Moneymaker.
Here is my story linking werewolves, wild women and of course ...
...THE WOLF PEACH
There was once a girl, a girl who lived alone with her mother in a dark wild wood; a wood on the edge of a dark wild town, a town torn from the bed of the river and ripped from the heart of the meadow; a town with towers taller than the trees, towers with more inhabitants than the trees that came before it; more inhabitants than the ash or the mighty oak itself. Inhabitants dwelling like the folkloric spiders in a gall wasps oak apple, spiders foretelling of shortages and tainted crops. Inhabitants restricted by invisible chains, chains of service, chains of fear and mistrust, chains wrought when their knowledge had been wrenched from them....... left afraid, afraid of the wild wood and the tidal waters beyond.
Day by day the girl watched as her mother tended the plants in her garden, a garden half tame half wild wood; she watched and learnt as her mother brewed tisanes, steamed soups, baked cakes, infused teas, chopped stews, cut herbs and harvested plants. She watched and tasted, learnt and listened. Every day she listed to her mother every fruit and vegetable, every flower and leaf, very herb and spice, every tree and root; all the ones she loved and all the ones she didn't, all the ones that healed and all the ones that harmed, all she liked and only one she loathed; red and night shade scented, juicy and spongelike, textured like cut tongue; the slippery hint of antagonistic green guarding the seeds within, criss crossed with membrane, too visceral, too sweet; its sharp acidic punch bringing bile to her throat, making her mouth water and her stomach gag; simultaneously, confusing and repellant: the wolf peach.
Her mother had known, as the child had swollen inside her; known as her own body had reviled the shades: the potato, the aubergine.....tomatoes had brought heartburn, heartache, nausea and dreams, dreams of skin walkers prowling and inflammatory. Now as the girl grew, sought womanhood and wider knowledge, she beseeched her to try, to discover for herself its inflammatory cascade, as she knew eventually she must.
But alone in the house the girl carefully kept the fruit to its place, on the mantelpiece... ripening, designed that way to repel bile and attract money, a more positive cause and effect she felt.
Eventually the day came when full grown, the men started to come to her door and beg and promise, cajole and insist, beguile and charm, promises in hand but bags empty, and she took to handing out the loathed fruit to suitors and watched as one by one, they bit and swallowed and howled at the moon, as they grew viscous, demanding and calous, malicious and malodorous; til exhausted and fearful she slammed the door and reached for her mothers hand, held tight and did not understand her mothers eyes of sorrow or her disconcerting mirthless laugh. " You'll get it right in the end" she said, "you just need to trust yourself and keep watching for it".
So she watched and she looked, hunting amongst the dust purple pollen of the nightshade, tomatoes beautiful disdainful aunt with a venomous nature; crawling wide eyed amongst the evil peanut stench of the Datura, through Hemlock and Henbane. 'Til she realised, the answer lay not there, but amongst the basil and the melissa, the thyme and the sage, herbs of knowledge and strength, along the celery's conduit for paranoia, the parsleys trigger for tidal flow; and with the wolf peach itself. The more she knew the less the suitors chapped at her door, 'til one alone stood forward, shaking his head, refusing the tomato she offered, till the girl stepped from inside her mothers house and as the moon rose and her body swelled and the tides across the dark town drew her near, she took the wolf peach and its lycanthropic call and consumed it, and as the ill minded lurking in the shadows of the nearby woods cursed her and withdrew, the one was left, standing, watching, arm outstretched, ready to catch her if she fell. He did not roar back as she screamed, transformed, lycanthropy complete, but knew in his heart that this wolf woman had a beauty and strength to resist the darkness, to know it, engage with it, and with him by her side, and take her place alongside her mother as a woman in the wild wild wood.
For a more in-depth look at the history of tomato-fear see this great article on Atlas Obscura: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/when-tomatoes-were-blamed-for-witchcraft-and-werewolves
|Posted on 26 October, 2017 at 13:05||comments (1)|
Halloween, Aberdeenshire Witches and Lavender-laced Lore!
As I child I had this beautiful book that had belonged to my great grandmother...
the pages drawn in the early 1800’s held pictures of fantastical animals...at leastat the start, real animals, some familiar...some far from it...and as a child I used to play a game where I let it fall open, the animal the page portrayed I decided somehow symbolised a mood or suggested a pathway...represented a feature of the day.
A childhood game that only a couple of hundred years ago could have been seen as dangerously beckoning in a magical exchange...
Is this how our witches and fairy tales grew, misunderstood distractions, stories woven from symbolism?
Herbal folkname’s reveal Elf Arrows, Witches thimbles, Wolfsbane...legends, folklore and fairytales have always woven together and intertwined, as language changes and the medical knowledge of yesteryear becomes mythology of today...there is always the risk that things tumble from one reality to another...there is always a chance that dreams or malaise, intended or induced allow for perceptions to change and for delusion, paranoia and their heroic brother legend to encroach on our reality.
Some say there are points of the year that allow for this to happen a little more readily...we used to survive midsummer with fennel in our rafters and St Johns Wort over the door, at Halloween we hung rowan over the lintle and carved terrifying faces into root vegetables to keep the spirits at bay, but how do we survive Halloween now, are these things more than talismen? The walls are thin once more....witches are beckoning from sepia tinted genetic memory of historical times brought back by a rosemary laced infusion, as faces flicker with wormwood tinged tinctured double vision and lavender brings dreams of long lost lovers.
Of course stories do become other things.
The people who were demonised in James the VI’s wake?
( You can view the British Libraries copy of this legendary book here: https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/king-james-vi-and-is-demonology-1597" target="_blank">https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/king-james-vi-and-is-demonology-1597 )
There were a couple of famous male herbalists amongst them Farquhar Ferguson and Neil Beeton show power play crossed gender and indeed class, after all a duchess no less in Perthshire was said to have prevented her Jacobite son from being harmed at the hands of the enemy by turning herself into a hare and running between two warring armies.
But Aberdeenshire records confirm that witches are: ‘often women, elderly and outspoken ...they are those whose poverty, sour temper or singular habits made them an object of dislike or fear to their neighbours'.
And lets not be coy we have all had neighbours like that, that it would be a blessing to be away from...although ghastly as some of my neighbours have been I admit that I’ve never felt the need to go as far as to chuck them on the bonfire....but hey ho I guess times have changed, a little tolerance is always a good thing after all lets face it some of us may have to ahem admit to also having been that neighbour on more than one occasion...
Hard to avoid accusation and prove lack of culpability really, if just your noisiness and ability to express an opinion are deemed to make you responsible for ‘strange behaviour in animals and disasters at sea.
One Aberdeen family accused of witchcraft during the 1597 outbreak of Witch hunting which centred on Aberdeen and Royal Deeside...(I KNOW Royal Deeside...and one would imagine one might expect a better class of neighbour in such environs mightent one). Saw a mother burned at the stake...it all started with her accusing her son in law of domestic violence...a full blown interfamily fall out ensued, her son and two of her daughters were tried by fire , their burnt hands bound. They then vanished, a group matching the families description were later found near Banchory but only a few days after the trial their identity was unconfirmed...it couldn’t be the same people it was contested, they were lavender distillers who cared for the plants that had become naturalised once the Romans had left the family insisted, some people remembered the family being there, most didn’t..and despite everything suggesting they were the missing Wishharts the lack of scars or evidence of the trial by fire made the jury side with those who claimed they were no Aberdeen witches but Deeside lavender growers.
Interestingly Aberdeen is one of the few places were lavender grows well enough to be farmed, some of you may remember the Ingasetter perfume factory which in the second half of the twentieth century had its own cultivar of lavender.
Over the years lavender’s reputation to gift you with dreams of lovers and protect you from the evil eye grew...although its now more commonly associated with more mundane uses, scenting your pants, promoting sleep and burn healing...
Still that scent and all its stories have soothed us for thousands of years, find some, hold those hazy purple flowers, crush them, breathe in, breathe out...
I can’t promise it’ll help get rid of any unappealing neighbours, but it will at least keep your socks from smelling like they been borrowed by any unappealing demons!
|Posted on 5 October, 2017 at 14:30||comments (1)|
My mother, she killed me,
My father, he ate me,
My sister Marlene,
Gathered all my bones,
Tied them in a silken scarf,
Laid them beneath the juniper tree,
Tweet, tweet, what a beautiful bird am I.
The Grimm brother’s classic ‘The Juniper Tree’ http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/grimm047.html is a story that makes even the least sentimental of souls shudder and look as if they have a nasty taste in their mouth. It centres around a gruesome dark tale of infanticide, cannibalism and jealousy…but I have told it, I’ve shared it albeit to a very carefully chosen, adult group, with added conversation about the role the more horrific stories have in giving us a safe place to look at our most hidden fears and the magnified maybe skewed symbolism which bloats the piece.
I ask people to remember the time induced change in the way we value our children and appreciate other people’s and reflect on the fact that this story predates modern contraception.
It comes from a time of short lives and an entirely different approach to the turmoil and shivering nightmares of post-natal depression.
It comes from a time when Juniper: diuretic, gin berry, demon chaser, spell breaker was also prized the world over as an effective abortificant.
I’ve been told tales of it’s use by women from India and Turkey, the Highlands of Scotland and the Navajo nation, it’s something women got told even 40 years ago, quietly by their Aunties their mothers, their sisters.
It’s the lurking truth behind the simmering horror in that story.
The reality of mother’s ruin.
The factual seed that grew to the urban myth of gin in the bath.
But this medicine turned mythology, is merely the popular edge of the Spell breaker.
Juniper, now becoming rarer maybe due in a small part to our reduced need for physical spell dispersers, now we can explain the mechanics of so much magic, now we’ve tamed the demons, the moorlands and the woods, now we have no need to plant Juniper at our doors to give miscreant ill intentioned witches something to count before they can invade our homes…
Having spent so long quietly saving us in so many ways, this shrub needs us to save it.
After all Juniper’s actual role in our stories and our folklore (despite it’s association with some of the more controversial aspects of human nature: our fascination with intoxication, our desires, our needs to control our body and our environment, whether due to real or perceived threats to our survival) is one of protection and that works best as a reciprocal arrangement!
The protection Juniper offers is not always hard to stomach either.
One of my favourite stories for really tiny children is a traditional one where a Juniper tree and a Pine tree offer to protect a young bird incapable of following it’s family on the essential winter migratory path. It’s beautiful full of gentle facts, and morsels of morality, but delivered in a charming little gem of a tale. I’m planning on releasing it as a Christmas present Mp3, so do subscribe to updates and pop back next month if you and your children would like a listen.
In Scottish folklore it’s role was one of a demon chaser it’s smoke was said to purify the air, chase real and imagined fronds of evil and that’s the story that led me to write this, a little peek into a historical world tangled with literature, feeding on folklore, that’s slowly growing:
On Rosemary and Juniper Amanda Edmiston 2015
Mara had only the barest memory of the sea, she remembered her mother’s lullabies lilting softly in time to the echo of the waves, the intermittent shriek of the gulls, the percussive shingle unsettled by the tides moon struck nuances, but she wanted to remember, wanted to remember now as she held her own child, her shawl wrapped round them both, its blue woolen fibers buffeted by the cold wind as she fled from that which would harm her.
She had tried the ancient traditional purification rituals her mother had taught her, to rid her world of these demons, burnt Rosemary as the Roman’s had done when they came to this shore and Juniper as the highlanders always had, to cleanse the air, but the witches had battled through, they had counted all the leaves on the Juniper bush planted on her threshold and had only been distracted from their mischief for long enough to allow her to gather Violets for her child’s cough and Rosemary to help her remember the shore she sought and to ward off the plague (like a Queen carrying a Maundy bouquet as she tended the poor) and then she hastily left through the back of the bothy.
‘Look at my flowers’. The words kept whirling round her head, the words of a young girl lapsing into madness ‘There’s Rosemary, that’s for remembering. Please remember, love. And there are Pansies, they’re for thoughts’, Ophelia’s bouquet so sorrowful, a floral manifestation of a young girls hopes to meet her lover shown on St Magdalen’s day, or maybe as Herick said
‘Grow for two ends – it matters not at all Be’t for my bridall, or my buriall.”
Mara clutched her bundle, her herbs and her child and ran…the wisps of shawl turning the flowers of the bushes blue as she fled from the sickness that sent those around her mad and dreaming of demons and fled to the shore where the sea foam she just remembered would take her away, like a mermaid returning, to safety and distant dreams…(c) Amanda Edmiston 2015
So as you sip gin and contemplate the cloud strewn late Autumn sky, give Juniper a thought, add a handful of twigs to a fire and watch as they sparkle and glow, smoke chasing demons, just in case there are any lurking, let the berries chase the internal fluid that leads to paranoia and more demons will disperse. Then plant one outside your door, witches will be busy counting, birds will have somewhere to hide and a beautiful native shrub will survive a little longer.
|Posted on 14 September, 2017 at 10:20||comments (2)|
It was 1977, I held tightly to my mothers hand, the trace of perfume, white gardenia, slipped into the air every time our hands caught the edges of her coat as she hastened me up the Royal Mile.
The cobbles of Edinburgh’s old town were already dusted with the first breath from the snow storm, waiting in the blanket of cloud over our heads.
I remember the old woman’s face, lined, smiling as she tried to press tin foil wrapped bundles into passing peoples hands. I held out my hand as we passed, intrigued, wanting to know what they were, wanting to know why people shook their heads at her and refused the gift.
I remember the tiny white bell like flowers poking from the foil wrapped posy and my mother turning to look askingly at the woman who just smiled shook her head and said:
‘be lucky little girl’,
Our pathway continued across the road.
Steps tracing the edge of the pattern of cobbles my mum told me was called the heart of Mid-Lothian and marked the site of a former prison.
I shuddered and carefully avoided treading on the heart, my 8 year old imagination ran riot with visions of prisoners hearts buried beneath and I clutched my lucky heather and imagined myself protected.
I don’t remember now where we were going or what happened to my lucky heather, but I do remember the legend my mother told me when I asked how come this heather wasn’t purple like the flowers gracing the mountain near my Grandparents home.
And I’d love to share it with you.
Once upon a time before the mountains were carved through for roads and messages had to travel for days held in the heart of a song. There lived a kind hearted, thoughtful girl her mother had named Malvina.
She lived and breathed the messages held in a song or a story, for her father was Ossian the bard, a man whose fame as relater of legend and song travelled further then the birds in the air.
By the time Malvina was 20 she had started to write her own song from the heart and was betrothed to a heroic and just warrior named Oscar.
But times were hard, the weather harsh and survival meant fighting, fighting for food, fighting for land and battles were long and fraught with danger.
Each time she watched her beloved ride out she ached, not knowing if he would return.
Then the day came when he did not.
A messenger arrived at her fathers door, his ice cold fingers held out a brittle sprig of purple heather.
Oscar had died in battle, the flowers the messenger brought had been given to him as her man had lain broken on the battle field.
A last token of his undying love for her.
It's said that when Malvinas' tears fell onto the flowers in her hand, the Ling or Heather turned white as the snow, a final moment of love’s magic and she gifted the heather this wish: 'although it is the symbol of my sorrow, may the white heather bring good fortune to all who find it’.
Now many years later I still walk up Edinburgh’s Royal Mile on occasion, now clutching my own daughters hand.
The combination of stories and luck that I was given that evening many years ago seems to have left it’s touch because I shall be walking that way next week, with the bundles of plants that I carry as props, on my way to share my own stories: stories of love, danger, heart-strong women and magical plants.
If you’re walking that way I’d love you to join me. (c) Amanda Edmiston 2017 (first published on Whisky and Tartan 2016)
Amanda is running her Scottish Herbal Magic and Potent Potions family storytelling and plant workshop at The Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh on Saturday the 16th of September for details see http://www.tracscotland.org/scottish-storytelling-centre/centre-events/7691/herbal-magic-and-potent-potions
Amanda Edmiston www.botanicafabula.co.uk is a writer and professional storyteller with a background in herbal medicine living in Perthshire in Scotland.
|Posted on 30 July, 2017 at 9:25||comments (2)|
A Magical Tree
As part of nearly every session throughout the Kist in Thyme project the students got time to sketch, write or create small elements of art and words to illustrate the stories that they'd heard or had created themselves inspired by the archive material and plants they'd heard about.
Many of these elements have been included in the bigger art pieces, or have been used to line the Kist, they're a little bit of magic to lead you into story worlds, through memories and plant use through the eyes of the children.
One particular drawing stood out, the artist herself described it as 'just a doodle' but she could relate the story behind it beautifully, it had aspects of real plant use and fairytale, that went beyond what she'd just heard and took the us further along the path of the story...it had grown organically and then become a magical tree.
Charlotte told me how the berries were Hawthorn from a fairy tree, but when they'd fallen onto the ground beside the tree, there was a star left behind where every berry had been....just beautiful.
And this simple doodle was a fantastic design, the story was clear just from looking at it, it lent itself perfectly to becoming a symbol of the project on top of the Kist. skillfully engraved by the very lovely Simon Baker from Evergreen (who can be found here: http://www.evergreen.scot/ )
The Kist has since been filled with a selection of remedies the classes helped me make, herbs gathered from the school grounds and other items - a kind of 'cabinet of curiosities meets medicine box'!
Thanks so much to Charlotte for her beautiful design and please do come and see the Kist for yourself in our forthcoming exhibition at The Scottish Storytelling Centre from 7th September til 6th October 2017.
|Posted on 21 July, 2017 at 13:45||comments (1)|
All the art work, photographs, some of the stories and the Kist itself will be on exhibition at The Scottish Storytelling Centre from the 7th of September 'til the 6th of October 2017, please get in touch if you'd like an invitation to the launch or for more info.
For details see: http://www.tracscotland.org/scottish-storytelling-centre/centre-events/7687/exhibition-a-kist-in-thyme" target="_blank">http://www.tracscotland.org/scottish-storytelling-centre/centre-events/7687/exhibition-a-kist-in-thyme
To accompany the exhibition I'm also delivering a family friendly Kist in Thyme Scottish Special 'Herbal Magic and Potent Potions' workshop on Saturday the 16th of September from 2pm...I recommend booking fairly quickly the last few have sold out pretty fast...it's aimed at children (and adults) aged 7 and over but younger ones are welcome to attend a long as parents are aware that the stories and activities are aimed at an older age group!
Be brilliant to see lots of you there, and keep in touch if you fancy joining us for a wee dram and a blether at the exhbition launch!
For facebook event see https://www.facebook.com/events/756459184560648/?acontext=%7B%22action_history%22%3A%22[%7B%5C%22surface%5C%22%3A%5C%22page%5C%22%2C%5C%22mechanism%5C%22%3A%5C%22page_upcoming_events_card%5C%22%2C%5C%22extra_data%5C%22%3A%7D]%22%2C%22has_source%22%3Atrue%7D" target="_blank">https://www.facebook.com/events/