Saturday, May 31, 2008

Last Flight of the Honeybees

To be read here in the Guardian;

The mind always boggles at the figures that come out of America; the world's largest almond 'orchard' - 60 million almond trees - you can drive past 400 miles of them, pristine clean these orchards, no wildflowers hedges, or insects an unearthly silence pervades the air. But wait here come the honeybees transported by lorry, there are 40 billion of them raised on bee farms, they will pollinate this vast acreage. Sadly though they are disappearing, pesticide, herbicides or what, there sudden disappearance has been happening over a few years, France, Germany, England, hives are opened in the spring but there is nothing there, the bees have disappeared.
One thing does of course stand out loud and clear, you cannot treat insects like machines, they are warmblooded creatures who get stressed just as we do, their lifestyle has been grotesquely adjusted to suit our needs, but they are not playing the game for goodness sake say the scientist lets invent something new to save them - perhaps they can genetically adjust them.
Nature is putting a big thumbs down on our meddling with the natural cycle of things, it is impossible for humans to control the vast interconnecting natural world we live in. All bees, and I include bumblebees here(good pollinators as well), need a strong immune system to survive, they need the flowers, shrubs, fruit trees of this earth over a long period of time, monoculture is death to a whole host of living things.
Vast machines that spray everything in sight do not work with nature, they kill it systematically weed by weed, flower by flower and with it goes the vast insect life that once depended on all this. There is no benign god in the sky watching the handiwork of man and applauding his arrogant assumption that humans rule over all. We may sit on top of the pile, but beneath us a great vast web of life that we depend on, this is how our earth has always worked, its just as easy for nature to allow the death of all bees as it is to watch the extinction of humankind, it does'nt really care a s***.
Is there an answer, maybe, a respect for all life, a humble approach to the creatures around us, and the ability to use the vast knowledge we have stored up to achieve the balance on this planet we and everything else so desperately need. A petition to the government for money to fund research in Colony collapse syndrome

Friday, May 30, 2008

Bevis by Richard Jefferies

Yesterday I managed to find a rather good copy of Bevis by Richard Jefferies, illustrated by Shepard it was a 1958 edition. A love of reading means that I will become totally absorbed in a good book and unable to put it down. So it is with this book, I have explored the large inland lake/ sea of Coate with him and his friend Mark, and followed the battle between the two opposing roman sides. It is of course a 'boys own' child books, but nevertheless completely enthralling and of course read by adults.
The first thing to strike me is a somewhat cruel attitude to animals, this, is only to be expected in the 19th century, and especially as Jefferies/Bevis for they are one and the same people, would have struck me as being gentle. But on reflection, especially in his soul-seeking in The Story of My Heart, can we begin to understand the wild exultant heart that beat beneath his somewhat quiet exterior. His imperious nature shines forth in Bevis, Mark, a loyal and loving constant companion is often upbraided in lofty tones. But to return to animals, the first instance is the family spaniel, Pan, middle aged and always hungry he follows the two boys on their expeditions up stream or on the lake, his loyalty is not often rewarded though and he gets many a beating should he chase the animals or scare the fish they are always hunting with their bow and arrows and spears.
The second moment in the book is the donkey that lives in the field and they are never able to catch. One day Mark tired after a long foray in the fields has to go home, Bevis offers the donkey and gets a stable lad to catch the wretched beast. The lad duly does this, and brings the donkey to them, but it is now that Bevis says lets tie up this beast and give him a lesson, which they duly do, tying him to an old oak tree and giving him a truly horrific thrashing - though there is no blood.
Intense people have intense feelings and emotions, so perhaps Jefferies can be forgiven this rash act, did it happen in 'real life' I expect the answer is yes because it is so vividly written and remembered.
The sense of his world, the inner landscape and the outer physical landscape is so strongly written in his books also becomes part of one's own mindset. The experience is so strong that it colours my world as well. Today, the mist in the garden, a green jungle at the moment, flowers heavy with rain, everything so verdantly alive that nature is blending time together again, the past swirling round the present - the liquid note of water as it swirls down the stream on that farm so long ago is echoed in the distance. The thunderstorm that raged before the 'War' of the romans that the boys played, has its echo in last night thunder, when the rains beat down and flooded parts of Somerset. Nature is the same we just don't notice it as much, there is less of everything, less birds, less wildflowers, more noise, more speed, more shallowness, we have become superficial unable to feel the world around us. But perhaps that is only given to the chosen few, poets and writers who express through the written word, with all its form and grace, the dynamic force of life that is nature, and is of course us as well.
There is a room in the Richard Jefferies Museum (the old farmhouse) in which 'Bevis' lies on his bed reading, in the room is a painting of Jefferies and an old grandfather clock which I thought rather odd at the time, but it seems that the clock may have stood on the landing outside the room, as written in the following quote from The Poacher.

"An oaken case six feet high or more, and a vast dial,with a mysterious picture of a full moon and a ship in full sail that somehow indicated the quarters of the year, if you had been imitating Rip Van Winkle and after a sleep of six months wanted to know whether itwas spring or autumn. But only to think that all the while we were puzzling over the moon and the ship and the queer signs on the dial a gun was hidden inside! The case was locked, it is true; but there are ways of opening locks, and we were always handy with tools.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Saint David

date of birth variously given between 460 and 520;
He is the great grandson of an illustrious name, Cunedda, "dux Brittaniae" or "Gwledig" (over-king). Tradition says that Cunedda came from the north with 900 troop in the early 5th century and drove the Goidels (the Irish) out of North Wales. He had eleven sons, and one of his grandsons Maelgwn Gwynedd was also a "Gwedlig", and a protagonist in the battle of Camlan between Arthur of South Wales and his Cumbrian/Strathclyde relatives - all conjectural of course.
There are several sources for the site of David's birth, one that he was born on the site of St.Non's chapel within a stone circle and baptised at Porth Clais.
Legend also says that David's father Sant was told by an angel to save some land for him 30 years befor he was born. Also at this time an angel told St.Patrick not to settle on some land at Glyn Rhosyn, as the place was reserved for an unknown boy to be born 30 years later. Apparently Patrick was upset that God preferred an unborn boy to him but God took him to a cliff rock, still known as Eisteddfa Badrig to show him that God wanted him to look after all Ireland instead!
The story goes that David, or Dewi, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem where he was made a bishop and led the councils of Brefi (in Cardigan) and Caerlon. At Brefi he was recognised as primate of all Wales and replaced Dyfrig and he moved from Caerlon to Menevia (St.David's); this taken from a source of 1098.
(Rhygfarch's Life of St.David)
He was known traditionally as The Waterman as he and his monks were ascetic teetotallers and vegetarians. He is associated with over 50 churches in South Wales, most in the south west, Glastonbury was also claimed to have been founded by David. And another tale tells that soon after Arthur's death, David died in 544 aged 82 and that he was honourably buried by Maelgyn Gwynedd.

February 28th is St.David's Eve and one of the favoured nights for the Cwn Annwn (hounds of Annwn, the Underworld) to take to the skies. They race and howl across the firmament, souls of the damned they hunt for more souls to feed the furnaces of hell. Sometimes they are seen as huge dogs with human head - a pre-christian belief that lasted in rural Wales until the 19th C.
In the Gwaun valley in Pembs. Old St.Davids Day (March 12th) was the time when the wax candle on the table was replaced by a wooden one, signifying that supper could be eaten without candlelight - the end of the winter months.

As he did only drink what crystal Hodney yields
And fed upon the leeks he gathered in the fields
In memory of whom, in each revolving year
The Welshmen, on his day, that sacred herb do wear .

Monday, May 26, 2008

Dragonflies and Damselflies

The secret world of the pond

As with orchid searching so this time of the year,the damselflies and later dragonflies will appear. All the following are from the garden, the red and turquoise damselflies breed in the pond. For those who do not know the life cycle of these creatures, they form 'nymphs'in the pond and sometimes can keep this form for two years or so, when they are ready to metamorphorsis, they climb up the leaves of the yellow flag, and shed their skins to emerge as beautifully painted jewels.The large dragonfly that also haunts the garden is the great green/blue one with golden eyes, he hawks up and down the grass path challenging you and flying within a few inches of your face, they are harmless of course and very beautiful, characters in their own right. I once saw two of these dragonflies fighting, a perceptible noise came from them and they dropped like stones to the ground in the heat of the battle.

Red Damselfly

Emerging green/goldeyed dragon fly

Stray Hawker

Mating blue damselfly

Large dragonfly in the heat of the sun

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Native orchids

Early Sunday morning; the winds has whipped through the trees all night, great gusts that set the curtains billowing and this morning heavy squally rain - even the dog agrees that our walk is off.
So I shall write about the orchids that I found last year, the ones that should be coming into flower soon, though I notice in another forum that the wild orchids are flowering around the chalky downs of Wiltshire. Slightly different to the ones in our limestone county.
First thing was to find them amongst my photos, beginning of June is the date on them, of the three shown two come from Langridge, and the other from Stoney Littleton.
Marjories Blamey in her Illustrated Flora of Europe, lists over 70 orchids, they come from the high grounds down to the valleys, and in bogs and marshes, they are exotic slender creatures spied in the grass, where man and beast are not frequent visitors and wretched herbicides and fertilisers have not been used.
But for their history turning to Grigson is the interesting part, here there should be a warning of a sexual nature, but are'nt all plants reproductive? its just that the mind of man in naming these strange flowers was taken by the shape of the roots and so of course like Burl's ash buds, here again we have phallic imagery - orchis means testicle according to Discorides, from which our own eminent botanists took their information, in fact he called one orchis saturion (the satyr plant), and so through history the orchid is known as an aphrodisiac, it was a plant of love potions. Grigson says that until recent times it was still made into a love potion in Ireland and Shetland.
There is a marvellous recipe made by the Physicians of London which was called a 'Disatyrion' it was made of,
orchid tubers, dates, bitter almonds, Indian nuts, pine nuts, pistachio nuts, candied ginger, candied eryngo root, clover, galingale, peppers, ambergris, musk, penids(barley sugar), cinnamon, saffron Malaga wine, nutmeg, mace, grains of Paradise, ash-keys, the 'belly and loins of scinks' borax, benzoine, wood of aloes, cardamoms, nettle seeds and aven roots (a good Grigson recipe,)
obviously a spicy concoction made to blow the top of your head off!
Grigson also mentions the beautiful 'Unicorn' tapestries, in which Orchis Mascula stands long and purple against the white flank of the unicorn, and Shakespear also included them in the garland of the drowned Ophelia "the long purples, to which the liberal shepherds give a grosser name, but which cold maids do Dead Men's fingers call"
In all the beautiful orchid has danced through the centuries quite wickedly, but there were some who tried to redeem it, and so it has been called 'Gethesemane' and 'Cross-flower', because it supposedly grew under the cross.

Early Purple Orchid - Orchis Mascula

Common spotted orchid - Dactylorhiza fuchsii (marsh orchids)

Pyramidal orchid -anacamptis pyramidalis (Found at Stoney Littleton longbarrow)

Ref; The Englishman's Flora - Geoffrey Grigson

The Illustrated Flora - Margery Blamey & Christopher Grey-Wilson

The Unicorn Tapestries -

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Dyeing part 2

Click on photos for larger image.

Original creamy tussah silk

This time silk tussah, and a religious devotion to instructions in Fibrecrafts...
50 grams split in two; 1) 2 ply silk, 2) silk and merino ply.
Acid dye Jacquard vermilion;

soak yarn for 10 minutes in a solution of Glauberg salt (10 g), white vinegar (20mm), gently moving yarn for 10 minutes.
remove the yarn and add dye, diluted in hot water, return yarn to bath, heat to hand hot. Then take off heat for 10 minutes and allow to stand.
Return to heat and bring to simmer, silk should not go past 85C, Here I did not simmer for the 20 minutes, but bought it up to 80C and left it for 10 mins.
Allow yarn to cool in dyewater.
It emerged a rather pretty dark raspberry colour, though again the merino ply was showing a lighter colour than the silk.

L/h silk....r/h silk/merino

Turmeric; as turmeric is a natural dye no mordant was used. 40 grams of wool 1) 2 ply silk; 2) silk/merino.
Method; dessert spoon of turmeric well mixed in water, and simmered for 15 mins.,
then decanted through muslin into jar to remove powder. Dye returned to pot, wool added, and simmered for 15 minutes; allowed to cool.
The merino/silk dye took on a more yellow colouring whilst the silk turned into 'old gold'. Tibetan monks redye their robes annually because turmeric fades with time.

silk on left; merino/silk on right

"Tussah silk (tussah means wild) is a plain weave silk fabric from "wild" silk worms. It has irregular thick and thin yarns creating uneven surface and color. Wild silkworms feed on leaves other than mulberry leaves.Tussah silk is similar to shantung, with silk from the wild. Color is often uneven; usually referred to as "raw" silk."

Colours so far; the brown is supposed to be olive green, but have had trouble with this particular dye on wool, did as the Fibrecraft article instructed. Cream is the henna - not good, perhaps I need stannous chrolide for the mordant (tin)

Spinning the silk; Hardly any tension on the wheel, and slow footwork. The silk is very soft and slippery, yet spins beautifully if you concentrate. The 'twist' runs up to a fairly short stop on the left hand, (let go and it should 'barb wire' about an inch) whilst the silk drafted between the hands should be about 4 inches, the approximate length of the staple. Spinning from the roving is really no problem, except do not walk away and scatter fine silk all over the house. spun finely, it is as strong as string. Tight 's' spinning will of course be unspun slightly in the'z' plying, that is why you need the 'barb wire' ...

Grasses and Ash Trees

This is the time of year when the wild grasses come into their own, their seed heads were one of the first plants to be cultivated. They anchored our Neolithic ancestors to a piece of land, humans turned from hunting as their main source of food, and slowly but surely learnt to till the land and produce crops. Here in this island of ours, the marks of ards (ploughs) can still be found beneath the barrows. It was probably the women who first collected the seed heads, then learnt to plant and pick out the heavier heads for next years crop. The great stone querns came into existence to grind the cereal, into the flours we know today.
Today the yield of wheat is prodigious for each acre, but all those thousands of years ago, the yield would have been small and very precious.

The wild grasses have many names, you can find wild oats,wild barleys,bent fescue, timothy grass, and cat-tails and I find it impossible to name each type, but at this time of year their grace as the wind gently ripples through their tall stems puts many a bawdy flower to shame, insignificant though the grasses maybe without them our existence would have been harder.

Ash trees; Up on the downs the ash rules supreme, late coming into leaf it survives the cold of winter and the fierce weather of gales that can be found on the more exposed parts of the downs.
But of course ash is the magical symbolic tree of - the Norse Yggdrasil tree, from which Odin hung for 9 days - a magical number in itself.
If you look at the leaves as they emerge, many ashes have a terminal leaf with four leaves on either side of the stem, making nine, though to be truthful sometimes you can get an 11 leaves or 13 leaves trees; perhaps they have hybridised along the way, so perhaps if you found a nine leafed ash, it was a bit like finding a four leafed clover.

Nine leafed Ash

But there is more to the tale, Aubrey Burl in his Stone Circle book, says that the ash also has a phallic symbolism in that the large black terminal bud has two small buds on either side, so if I ever remember to photograph this particular phenomena it will be added to this blog, but it is true and quite extraordinary once one's eye has been drawn to the fact.

The ash in early morning sun

Friday, May 16, 2008

Anglo Saxon Deor poem

Uffington Castle

Welund him be wurman/ wræces cunnade,
anhydig eorl/ earfoþa dreag,
hæfde him to gesiþþe/ sorge ond longaþ,
wintercealde wræce; /wean oft onfond,
siþþan hine Niðhad on/ nede legde,
swoncre seonobende/ on syllan monn.
þæs ofereode,/ þisses swa mæg!
Beadohilde ne wæs/ hyre broþra deaþ
on sefan swa sar/ swa hyre sylfre þing,
þæt heo gearolice/ ongieten hæfde
þæt heo eacen wæs/ æfre ne meahte
þriste geþencan,/ hu ymb þæt sceolde.
þæs ofereode,/ þisses swa mæg!
We þæt Mæðhilde/ monge gefrugnon
wurdon grundlease/ Geates frige,
þæt hi seo sorglufu/ slæp ealle binom.
þæs ofereode,/ þisses swa mæg!
ðeodric ahte/ þritig wintra
Mæringa burg;/ þæt wæs monegum cuþ.
þæs ofereode,/ þisses swa mæg!
We geascodan/ Eormanrices
wylfenne geþoht;/ ahte wide folc
Gotena rices./ þæt wæs grim cyning.
Sæt secg monig/ sorgum gebunden,
wean on wenan,/ wyscte geneahhe
þæt þæs cynerices/ ofercumen wære.
þæs ofereode,/ þisses swa mæg!
Siteð sorgcearig,/ sælum bidæled,
on sefan sweorceð,/ sylfum þinceð
þæt sy endeleas/ earfoða dæl.
Mæg þonne geþencan,/ þæt geond þas woruld
witig dryhten/ wendeþ geneahhe,
eorle monegum/ are gesceawað,
wislicne blæd,/ sumum weana dæl.
þæt ic bi me sylfum/ secgan wille,
þæt ic hwile wæs/ Heodeninga scop,
dryhtne dyre./ Me wæs Deor noma.
Ahte ic fela wintra/ folgað tilne,
holdne hlaford,/ oþþæt Heorrenda nu,
leoðcræftig monn/ londryht geþah,
þæt me eorla hleo/ ær gesealde.
þæs ofereode,/ þisses swa mæg!

Wayland's Smithy

Weland experienced /misery among snakes;
The resolute earl /endured hardship;
As a companion he / had sorrow and grief to himself,
Wintry-cold exile;/ wean oft onfond,
Since Nithan laid on him,/ the better man,
Constraints,/ supple sinew-bonds.
That has passed away;/ so too may this.
Her brothers’ death/ was not as painful
As her own case / to the heart of Beadohild,
That she had /clearly perceived
That she was with child; /nor could she ever
Consider confidently/ how it would be about that.
þæs ofereode,/ so too may this.
Many of us have heard/ about Mathild;
The embraces of Geat/ were so bottomless
That the troubled love /deprived them of all sleep.
That has passed away; /so too may this be
Theodric possessed/ thirty winters
The city of the Ostrogoths./ That was known to many.
That has passed away;/ so too may this
We heard of the savage /thought of Ermanaric;
He possessed /far and wide the nation
of the kingdom of the Goths./ That was a grim king..
Many a warrior/ sat bound in sorrows,
Expecting woes,/ often wishing
That there might be an end of that rule.
That has passed away;/ so too may this.
The man filled with cares,/ sits deprived of happy times;
He grows dark in mind; /it seems (to him)
that his portion of hardship /will be endless
May one then consider/ that around this world
The wise Lord/ changes things often,
Shows mercy /to many a noble,
A secure glory; /to some a portion of woes
I will say this/ about myself,
That for a while /I was the scop of the Heodenings,
Dear to the lord./ Deor was my name.
I had a good position /for many winters,
A loyal lord, /until now Heorrenda,
A man skilled in songs, /received the rights to the land
That the protector of earls /had given to me before.
That has passed away;/ so too may this!

Back view of this large barrow

Taken from the Anglo Saxon Project; translated by Jack Watson
Compare this with Michael Alexander's translation....
Welund him be wurman/ wræces cunnade,
anhydig eorl/ earfoþa dreag,
Wayland knew the wanderer's fate;
that single willed earl suffered agonies
Weland experienced /misery among snakes;
The resolute earl /endured hardship
We geascodan/ Eormanrices
wylfenne geþoht;/ ahte wide folc
We all know that Eormanric
Had a wolf's wit. Wide Gothland
We heard of the savage /thought of Ermanaric;
He possessed /far and wide the nation
þæs ofereode,/ þisses swa mæg!
(this phrase is used several times to space the poem)

That went by; this may too
That has passed away, so to may this

Mixing poetry, myth, words, and pictures is what the human mind is all about, the saxon poem is miserably, beautifully sad, the photos of hillfort and longbarrow capture the myths that fall through history, and may hold grains of truth, but I'm not sure that Wayland did shoe horses at the longbarrow; as for the dog sitting amongst autumn leaves - he seems happy.....

When I started out this morning to examine something, it was about the three hooded figures on the 'Franks' Casket, an Anglo-Saxon casket probably made in the 7th/8th century. The stories in the panels on this box reflect old Germanic myths and christian myths, also Roman legend. Romulus and Remus with two wolves are depicted, and Granni, Sigurd's horse is featured on another panel, lamenting the death of his master in buried in a barrow. So we have 'The Adoration of the Magi' contrasted sharply with the 'Revenge of Weland'. A magical retelling of stories melded together for a Saxon audience. Such a rich tapestry of storytelling is lost to us today, but its mythmaking is reflected in the stories that surround such places as Wayland Smithy, and Uffington Castle, with its Celtic horse galloping happily across the downs and with its 'Manger' in the valley below....

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Words; Hill, mound or height names = Cunaco, cronco and penno; Conkwell, Crook, Crouch, Crick Creech?
Cumbrae = Spring of the Cymry or Welsh
Wealh = Briton or welshman; Wallmead, Walcot
Funta = latin Fontona, spring or stream; Urchfont, Teffont, Fovant and Fonthill
Cherhill - name of stream
Quermerford = confluence of two streams; quermer = confluence
Taken from Victoria History of Wiltshire 1973 - Bonney.

Also; Grinsell noted in same book that a 'barrow' was thought to be found south of Silbury, a 'piece' of gold and ironware. No grid ref. and Grinsell thinks that it was just a find, the gold probably belonging to a bead. L.V.Grinsell record of the Gloucester barrows including folklore and names.

Saxon boundary names linking up with long/round barrows in glos. L.V.Grinsell

Summary of 'folklore' motifs by Grinsell

Howard William article in Britarch 1997.....

"Most famous of all is the Anglo-Saxon royal palace at Yeavering in Northumbria, where a line of timber halls and two cemeteries were centred on a single Bronze Age barrow and a stone circle. Prof Richard Bradley of Reading University was the first to comment on the probable ritual symbolism of this Saxon re-use of ancient monuments. " Lord of the Hrungs, a Tolkien inspired speculation by David Hinton

The god Nodens at Lydney Park was also given a celtic meaning by Tolkien in an essay he wrote for Mortimer Wheeler for the excavation report.

The name Nodens probably derives from a Celtic stem *noudont- or *noudent-, which Tolkien suggested was related to a Germanic root meaning "acquire, have the use of", earlier "to catch, entrap (as a hunter)". Making the connection with Nuada and Lludd's hand, he detected "an echo of the ancient fame of the magic hand of Nodens the Catcher" Similarly, Julius Pokorny derives the name from a Proto-Indo-European root *neu-d- meaning "acquire, utilise, go fishing"

Sunday, May 11, 2008


Today, sunday, being such a glorious May day went for a long circular walk; the sun shone through the mist, and i pondered 'anima', the life force that is so strong at this time of the year. We went past the old hillfort at Littledown with the barrow at its entrance, it has always seemed to me that this particular fort was a holding place for animals, especially as it had three bronze age barrows in its confines, no excavation, except some desultory digging around early in the 20th century which did not produce much.
But this walk along the steep sided valley that leads to Northstoke has a magical atmosphere all its own on an early morning, my photographs reveal that I was interested in the sheep that graze along its steep side. Simple creatures, somewhat surprised to see me and the dog, they were taking their rest in a perfect morning, rudely disturbed by my presence they lumbered away summoning their young to heel.
A lamb had managed to get into the woods under the fort and bleated pathetically to be rescued, but not me this time, last time I tried to shepherd another adventurous lamb had ended in frustation on my part as the silly creature refused to go through the gate I held open. There was of course the obligatory black sheep amongst them, the genetic twinning of sheep is somewhat worrying - peas in pods come to mind, so that an occasional 'throwback' to the black gene always brings out a feeling of a relief, that our cloning of farm animals is'nt always a hundred per cent.
Did I arrive at any thoughts about anima mundi, not really except perhaps that we are very lucky to live on such a beautiful earth that has the power to renew itself with such vigour in the spring, and that though we tame the earth to our own needs we also add and create to this explosive wilderness.
What did I see in the way of wildflowers, not much sadly, the use of nitrogen on grass pushes out our wildflowers, the great leafed butterbur was along the track through the hillfort, and the small leafed wild cranesbill, vetches were beginning to show, and the fields danced with dandelions and buttercups. Buttercups always seem to thrive in fields where horses are kept, their shining petals reflecting the sun back on itself.

Moss on the steep side of the hill underneath the fort.

Friday, May 9, 2008


Snowberry leaves steeping for a few days to extract colour

Wool dyed in elderberries with white vinegar used as mordant

Dyed with acid dye olive and vinegar.
Acid dye, wool was not stirred frequently leaving it to go patchy but attractive, white vinegar.

Elderberry dye;

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Genii Cucullati

Genii cucullati or the three hooded spirits, a tripylch, a threesome, a triadic notion, found mostly here in the West country, and thought to be part of the symbolic imagery of the 'sacred beings' of the Dobunni tribe.
On the continent they occur in the singular form, and are often found depicted with another god. They are very ambigious, mostly thought to be male, but some seem to be female, they carry occasionally what looks like eggs, a fertility sign.
A cucullati is a hood fastened to a cloak, this is what makes them so mysterious, they have been named in the epigraphy in Carintha (Austria) as Genio cullato 'to the hooded genius'.
Their centre seems to lie round Cirencester, where several representations have been found, but also at Lower Slaughter, Glos, where two more representations were found in the excavated debris of wells there. Here in one depiction the cucullati are seen with a worshipper, whereas in the other example they are featured with the symbols of a rosette and two ravens. Here at Lower Slaughter the wells may be seen as a curative water shrine. Two depictions have been found at Bath, one with the gods Mercury and Rosmerta. Here the two gods are pictured but underneath the feet of Mercury are the three little figures, and it can seen that the gods are dominating the three lower beings; a dog accompanies the other god. Also at Bathampton a schematized plaque with three similar figures were also found, perhaps the nearest thing to what we might call 'celtic''.
In an illiterate society the use of carvings and statues were there to tell stories, through the use of symbolic imagery, one stone representation, - much like the later christian paintings of the medieval period, - would carry in its imagery a whole host of meaning. In the Iron age, overlaid as it was by the Roman influence, the stories are sometimes difficult to read, the Celtic gods have metamorphised into their roman equivalents, the myths often having a parallel meaning. For instance, the Roman three fates, and three dogs (Cerebus) could get woven into a purely Celtic story, but the symbolism could often be the same.
The dog for instance is often depicted as a benevolent creature sitting by the side of the god/goddess, but the dog also represented death, his 'kindly' presence would lead you to the spirit world, another role of course of the dog is in his healing ability, so the presence of dogs at healing water shrines would be common.
Another image to be found in the pantheon of gods is the 'mother', the female representation could be found sitting or standing, often holding a cornucopia, sometimes sitting with a baby or dog on her lap. Again round the Dobunnic area, she is often a part of a triad of mothers, sometimes representing the three ages, but as often as not they are all of the same age.
So these three hooded spirits are part of the storytelling myth of the gods, their role we can only guess at, but intriguingly they are very much part of the homespun rituals of this area.
And here we have clue to the role of the gods around this time, it is almost as if they are 'household' gods, they must bring to the household, to the people of the tribe, good things, they must heal, provide good crops be beneficial in their gifts. This is not our christian god, demanding our obedience to the 'one and only', who threatened with damnation and hell, no these gods had a somewhat kinder face. They could be artisan gods, such as Sucellus with his hammer, gift bearers bringing the fruits of the wine harvest to the table.
Miranda Green says that when we look at these three cloaked figures, that the pilgrims of the time would have also worn the same garments, and that this 'homely' aspect of wearing cloaks had to do with the rustic nature of the communities.

ref; Symbol and Image in Celtic Religious Art. - Miranda Green. Link to three cucullati schematized figures 'walking'

Mercury and Rosmerta with cucullati
As mentioned earlier in this plaque the gods, one of which is Rosmerta, a Celtic god, dominate the three figures, perhaps they are seen as pilgrims, their lowly status is emphasised by being under the foot of the god. The photo on top of this blog shows the simple plaque that was found at Bathampton, and in many ways it can be compared to the schematized plaque 'walking' cucullati at Cirencester, as seen in the link. One other point about the Bathampton plaque, it is seen as representative of the cucullati, but there seems to be no hood, the three have their hands crossed at the breast, perhaps they are meant to represent mother gods........
Note; Ann Ross in Pagan Celtic Britain gives a fuller explanation of the Lower Slaughter wells, when the wells were excavated 8 romano-British altars were found. One of the reliefs seem to show a male divine warrior standing besides the three hooded deities, here they have been allied with war, and not with fertility and healing. The warrior though not armed wears the short kilted skirt associated with such warrior figures, and above the figures two ravens and a rosette - ravens are associated with war in Celtic mythology. The second relief shows the hooded ones alone and Ross goes on to say that because of the close association of the two reliefs, healing must be the linking motif here.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Valley of the Black Pig by W.B.Yeats

The dews drop slowly and dreams gather; unknown spears

                                                         Start of the old trackway

                                                 The two protagonists in this War

                                                                Yellow Rattle

                     Clouds of pink ladies smock in the field, with the Langridge barrows in the distance

                                                            'Washed azured' bluebell

Wild garlic sheeting through the woods

                           The old Cotswold wall on which either side the war was fought

There were also other wildflowers of course, red campion beginning to show, as was horsetail, this funny prehistoric plant seemingly an alien to this land, but some say that the romans brought it to this land. Primroses over their best and eaten by slugs, were being outshone by pyramidalis bugle which had also emerged. Cow parsley creaming through the hedgerows and the uninteresting flowers of the docks. Stitchwort also laced its way through the grass. The wildflowers along this old track seemed well protected by the tall hedges on either side protecting them from the fertilisers that must have been put on the fields around, they are though exceedingly vunerable trapped in this small corridor.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Shrines, rivers and gods continued..

Exploring the celtic world of gods is like chasing ghosts, their existence is only recorded by icongraphy at a somewhat later stage. Trying to find the gods of the shrines round my particular part of the West country is almost impossible. Yet if we take a theme, whether sun,moon, or animal, they will appear. So for a moment let us chase the dog motif, and how animals are seen as sacred. Cows, bulls, boars, birds and horses all figure strongly in the artwork of the Celts; these creatures have attributes and roles in the sacred world of nature, they can represent death, fertility, rebirth or war.
Nehalennia The first goddess and dog is a continental one, she seems to have protected travellers who crossed the North sea, and her shrine (now under water) was to be found at Zeeland (Holland,) linking the river Rhine to Britain. Over 121 altars were found with depictions of her, the dog that sits at her feet is large and is seen as a benevolent creature guarding his mistress. The dog in celtic mythology has two functions, and can often be found at healing shrines, dog saliva is seen as antiseptic and the licking that dogs do would probably been seen as healing. The dog also represents death, he can lead you or at least your spirit to the underworld, this of course in celtic mythology is'nt a final end, but a new beginning in a world filled with all the pleasures of life. The dog can also be sacrificed, as seen at Caerwent where several dog skulls have been found in the wells there. At the Lydney temple, high above the Severn, a temple somewhat similar to Nehalennia's temple, in that it is dedicated to mythological sea creatures the god Noden was worshipped and offerings of little bronze figurines of dogs were found.
The Pagan Hill temple overlooking Chew Valley, though a slightly later roman temple had parts of a dog stature, he is a somewhat homely creature, a slightly plump mongrel shorthaired and sitting down, his head is missing. Now whether he was part of a larger stature perhaps of the resident god is not known. Apollo is often seen as accompanied by a dog, and at the Apollo Nettleton Shrub temple, there is Cunomaglos (the Hound Lord), so this pairing of gods and dogs is seen as perfectly natural. Of course the roman goddess Diana with a faithful hound sitting at her feet can also be found at Nettleton Shrub, and also at Aqua Sulis, the craftmanship in these two statues reflecting a high standard of workmanship.
Again what we find is that the Roman influence and its gods dominate the Celtic pantheon, but that the indigenous god of 'place' is recognised. There is, for want of a better word, a metamorphise of beliefs at these Roman temple sites, translated into the celtic mythology, the cult of water shrines and its healing process is blended with the wider cosmology of the natural world, in which the animals also take their part......


Caesar's word on the Druids?
"are anxious to have it believed that souls do not die, but after death pass from one to another

Chedworth notes;

"Buried pagan altar, whether used in reconstruction or discarded, recalls the fact that there was a moment when christianity of water tanks took place at Chedworth. One of the fragments of a stone well head inscribed with christian monogram was found, embodied in the lowest of the stone steps leading into the baths of the west wing.
This, uderlined by two other monograms on the same series of dressed stones, indicate that christianity had reached the villa before the final phase of construction, if not earlier."
Taken from Richmond -Trans. Bristol & Glos. Arch.Soc. Vol 78 1959

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Soapwort and Hummingbird hawkmoths

This last week I had to argue the case for the retention of a narrow strip of flowerbed next to the house and not have it covered with concrete. I won the case, but my given reasons were not really the truth. For it is in this patch that a rather untidy but attractive plant grows called Soapwort (saponaria). And it is supposed to do just that, an early soap taken from the leaves and used in the medieval period and at fulling mills.
But what has made it a more magical plant is the fact that I have spied the hummingbird hawkmoth on it for several years. This moth is rather small and dumpy, grey with a blotch of orange on both its wings. Impossible to photograph because of the rapid beat of its wings, and it seems to have only recently moved into Britain from the continent preferring hotter weather than ours, because it has a rather long proboscis, it is able to obtain the nectar from the longer tunnelled flowers such as soapwort (see picture) and the nicotinia flowers.
Grigson says soapwort is rather a sad name it originated with William Turner, originally called sopewort and skowrwurt the"fullers" herbe. Earlier in 1526 it was called herbe phylp, burit and fuller's grasse, obviously an ancient washing herb. apparently in the Swiss alps sheep were washed with a mixture of roots and leaves before they were shorn, and linen was washed in soapwort and ashes. Even today apparently old tapestries are washed in this old plant soap.
Hummingbird hawkmoth