Hallowe'en and Samhain are over. It's time for the arrival of the Blue Hag. Usually, we have to wait another month or so to really feel Her presence in the Grove; but this year, She arrived almost immediately after the candle burned down in the Jack o' Lantern.
The Blue Hag is, not surprisingly, a Winter fairy, since Her face is blue and wrinkled tightly from the cold. She appears as an old woman or crone, in a veiled brown cloak, leaning on Her staff of holly, topped with a skull. She rules; during the dark time of the year after the Summer has ended (Samhain/Hallowe'en) and until the Summer begins once again (Beltane/May Day). She is usually accompanied by a crow; who is a link to the underworld, a messenger of death, an eater of carrion and a sign of changes to come. The Blue Hag's name in Gaelic (Scottish); is Cailleach Bheur, meaning the "blue veiled one". The Blue Hag pounds down the old vegetation into the earth with Her staff, and when that job is done, She brings in the cold, frost and snow.
When May and Summer approaches, She thrusts Her staff under the holly tree (which is why no grass can grow under it) and shrinks down into a cold gray stone; to once again await the season of cold that She presides over. In this way, She reminds me of the White Witch of Narnia, who Herself presided over that land (but only as long as Winter could remain) and turned Herself and Her Imp into stone when the thaw heralding Spring approached.
I quite feel Her in the Grove with our recent snowfall. The ground under our holly tree refuses to allow anything to grow other than ivy and periwinkle. We have instead created wee paths of bricks from a 100+ year old chimney that had been disassembled from the twin house next door to us. We have also added garden statues and little deities to the mix. Hopefully, the Blue Hag approves ... as it looks to be a long Winter!
Bibliography: Guide to the Fairy Ring by Anna Franklin, Llewellyn Publications, Woodbury, MN USA 2002, ; Mysterious Britain and Ireland: Mysteries, Legends & The Paranormal, The Caillech Bheur by Ian; mysteriousbritain.co.uk/folklore/the-caillech-bheur/, 2008, 2019; The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, Penquin Books, Middlesex, England, 1959 (original copyright 1950).
Meadow Sweet Grove © V. Buchanan, 2022
A Mere Moment for Maypoles
Just what is a maypole? The maypole is simply a wooden pole raised in the month of May, in a common town area. The pole is usually crowned with flowers and has long ribbons attached for each participant to hold onto and weave around the pole as they dance. It is part of May Day or Beltane; a joyous celebration welcoming the return of Summer's warm weather and all the vegetation and security it brings.
Maypoles were very common in medieval Europe and the custom has happily survived, in some parts of the world, to this day. Of course, as with all ancient customs, the actual origin of the maypole is convoluted and the symbolism debated. There were foreshadowings of the maypole in Roman times, and they were heavily present throughout Germanic Europe and England. As to origin, there is so much history and documented occurrence of the maypole that it would be impossible to pinpoint, with any surety, an actual start date for the practice. I think, in the mists of time, from sacred groves and tree worship, must have come the idea to bring a tree into the "center of things". For the maypole, originally a tree, was prepared by stripping the branches and bark, and then carried into the town center by the townsfolk. He was decorated, danced around and witnessed merry-making (of all sorts!). Many maypoles were left up year round as they were an important symbol of community coming together. As to further symbolism ... oh there is plenty. From the sacredness of tree worship to the perceived baseness of phallic representation; it's all a merry mix! Since summer is a time for warm weather, when blossoms and flowers abound, and crops are planted ... it is natural to think of celebrating love and beauty and of growth and fertility. Couples went "a-maying" and the dancers, in weaving ribbons around the maypole, probably hinted at romantic unions in the making ...
But this was meant to be just a mere moment for maypoles! I've made a small one for the garden fairies to dance around. By day and by night, thus far, my camera has caught only cats ...
Bibliography: Wikipedia, Maypole, last edit Apr 2021; Witta, An Irish Pagan Tradition, Edain McCoy, Llewellyn Publications, 1993
Meadow Sweet Grove © V. Buchanan, 2021
St. Patrick's Day brings popular images of leprechauns - cute, comical and dancing about ... jealously protecting their pots o' gold. They are seen as "fiercely" sweet but being oh so terribly tiny, can only trick human beings, rather than fighting a fair fight. But don't forget that leprechauns are of the same ilk as banshees (who foretell death), changelings (ancient creatures who secretly take the place of human babies) and also of béfinds. Remember fairy godmother #13 who cursed Sleeping Beauty to die? Yeah, you want to keep on the good side of a béfind. Also, what we mortals call fairies were perhaps gods and goddesses; once upon a long time ago. Most are part of the Tuatha Dé Danann, an ancient race that arrived in Ireland many eons ago, or they are at least descended from them. So in order to please a leprechaun, we need to replace the current cute image and choose one that garners a bit more respect. He is a very small, old and wizened fairy who makes his home under hills or in fairy mounds. He smokes his pipe for pleasure and works diligently at repairing shoes ... or at least one shoe - why is it only one? I think it's a "smoke screen". The leprechaun is working ... but it is appearance only. He is actually waiting, observing, contemplating and if we can wait long enough, this wise old fellow might remove the pipe from his mouth and let us in on a few secrets about the world.
If you would like to gain favour with a leprechaun, I suggest the following:
May you secure the good luck blessings of your local leprechaun this St. Paddy's Day!
Meadow Sweet Grove © V. Buchanan 2019 / edited 2021
It is still the dark time of the year. Yes, we are slowly moving towards the light and Spring ... but it still seems so far away! Especially when at a half past three in the afternoon, it can seem unusually dark and gloomy outside.
The fairies are not so different to humans and naturally can exhibit a wide array of both good and bad characteristics. The Trow is a very old fairy (well, which of them aren't?) whom you probably will want to avoid. He sprung to life in the Shetland and Orkney Islands, an archipelago in the Northern Isles of Scotland. The Viking influence may be partially at the root of his existence as he exhibits a similarity to Scandinavian trolls.
These fellows live in the old burial grounds and it has been said they are found of music and dance. But, they only go out into the human world under the cover of darkness (which at this time of the year is a lot) and they like to enter the villagers' homes to warm themselves by the fire. While this may seem innocuous - beware - they are also called the "Night Creepers" or "Night Stealers" and have been known to kidnap human children ... and leave Changelings in their place.
Guide to the Fairy Ring, Anna Franklin, 2002, Llewellyn Publications
Meadow Sweet Grove © V. Buchanan 2019
Boxing Day - Fill a Box!
I love the ancient tradition wherein an employer would fill a box and gift it to his servants, to help make their Christmas bright; and also to show your appreciation for a year's work - kind of like the modern Christmas Bonus!
The idea originated, partially, because servants had to wait on their employers and their guests all day long on Christmas Day -- cleaning, cooking, serving, receiving guests, taking coats, stabling the horses, etc. etc. etc.! So the grateful employers would fill a box the following day full of all kinds of wonderful things such as left-over cakes, pies, meats and treats; to old clothes and household items that had been replaced by new items. The servants would then take these boxes home to their families and celebrate their Christmas on Boxing Day. That's only one variation of this very old tradition but it is a particularly nice and generous one. Other versions include people going door-to-door to the homes of rich people on Boxing Day, carrying with them their own box, in the hopes of receiving any bits and bobs that the abundant households might no longer need and were happy to pass on to the less fortunate. Or sometimes, the wealthy would make a day of it and gather as a group to go about to the homes of those in need, or to their servants, and drop the goodies off themselves ... remember Bob Cratchitt's turkey!
I received a nice big cardboard box this year from out-of-town relatives filled with lovely Christmas gifts. I was just about to recycle it when I decided that, while I don't have any servants (more's the pity), I'm going to fill the box with items around the house and take it to our local Salvation Army or hospital charity shop. And maybe I better leave out some wee offerings to the fairy folk; for my brownies and house elves, and also those industrious little garden gnomes who perform many important tasks around the Grove!
Meadow Sweet Grove © V. Buchanan 2018 / edited 2020 & 2021
We are so fortunate to have received a visit from Jack Frost himself who painted this beautiful and intricate design on an old windowpane in the Grove. Here is photographic proof of the existence of the little folk!
Where Old Man Winter can be stern and grim; Jack is all about fun. He sees the beauty in ice and snow; and not the hardships that can come with the harsh winter weather.
Just before dawn, this sprite tiptoes into gardens and looks for tree branches and blades of grass to coat with his shiny, shimmering paint. He especially loves finding an old single-paned window or any other thin, clear surface that he can use for a canvas.
Jack is willing to share the beauty of winter with you. Make sure you check early in the morning when the results of his work are still at their finest. If he paints an original masterpiece somewhere in your vicinity; take a few moments to examine it. Each of his works are unique ... and he created it just for your enjoyment!
Meadow Sweet Grove © V. Buchanan 2018 / 2023
Fairy Ring Peril
Almost all folk and fairy tales agree ... you truly must "pay the piper" if you are daft enough to enter a fairy ring! The folklore on fairy rings, elf rings and witches' circles are replete with stories of mortals foolish enough, or bewitched enough, to join in the irrepressible dance inside that enticing ring of mushrooms. While it may enable you to see fairies, dance with wild abandon and revel in euphoria ... it comes with a price. Sometimes the little folk whisk you away to fairyland, where you must serve a fairy master or mistress for a year and a day. Sometimes it feels like you have only been dancing for a few minutes; when actually hours and hours have passed. You may even be doomed to dance forever ...
Or sometimes, as in the case of Rip Van Winkle (who also partook in a wee bit of fairy mead), only a mere 100 years passed before he "awoke" to his old home ... and all the changes that had come about during his lost years.
Meadow Sweet Grove © V. Buchanan 2017 / edited 2020
May the Leprechaun
Bring you good luck
And good cheer
And a heart full of happiness
All through the year.
Ninety and nine treasure crocks
From times of old
Guarded by him;
Each of them fill'd full to the brim
... with Gold!
Limerick from a Porcelain Decanter from the Stitzel Weller Distillery, 1972
Meadow Sweet Grove © V. Buchanan 2017
Last week, I wrote about Brownies, but have you ever heard of a Boggart? Unlike the helpful Brownie, the Boggart is a rather grumpy house fairy who generally causes a bit of mischief around the home. If you have one that is not too ornery, the most he will usually do is hide your things. This can still be very frustrating! The best thing to do is to stop wasting time and energy looking for the item and remember that 9 times out of 10, the Boggart will tire of his game and return the object. If you want to hurry the process along though, you can leave out another trinket in exchange that you think he might enjoy more; or better still, a little offering of bread and honey - especially if you suspect that he is really just a Brownie who, long ago, lost his way. Just remember: never, never say "thank you" when he returns the item. Boggarts really don't like that ....
Meadow Sweet Grove © V. Buchanan, 2016, edited 2020 & 2021
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