Rehashing 2019 with #hashtags – Happy New Year, Everyone!

New Year Wishes
– Public Domain

With a New Year (and decade) fast approaching, perhaps like many of you, I’ve been pondering the past twelve months by mulling over some of the topics that really captured my attention in 2019.

No, not politics, though admittedly there are times I let myself get drawn into a Twitter fray, (a New Year’s resolution is in place to rise above that), but moving on, the truly engaging subject matter I (re)discovered was from that same social media site.

Most of us are familiar with #hashtags and how to use them.

Garden related tags are usually my go-to clicks on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, & Twitter etc., which places that specific subject matter on my radar when I’m seeking horticultural inspiration, via green-thumbed individuals/organizations from across the globe.

For some reason in 2019, I noticed some particular hashtags on Twitter regarding topics that hadn’t previously floated through my feed.

Curious, I took to scrolling through related content people were sharing under several monikers.

Morgan le Fay, by Frederick Sandys (1864) Public Domain

A few of these include:

I’m so glad I clicked them because almost instantly, doors and windows opened to knowledge on a diversity of subject matter that I’d always been keen about, but had yet to invest much time or effort.

Part of that good feeling, (in addition to blogging), includes meeting kind, sharing, and like-minded people out there in cyberspace, while at the same time (re)discovering that no matter how niche/narrow you may think your own particular interests might be, there’s an inclusive crowd for that particular universe open to anyone willing to explore.

A portrait of a fairy, by Sophie Gengembre Anderson (1869). The title of the painting is Take the Fair Face of Woman, and Gently Suspending, With Butterflies, Flowers, and Jewels Attending, Thus Your Fairy is Made of Most Beautiful Things – purportedly from a poem by Charles Ede.

My first discovery was #FolkloreThursday, which led to #FairytaleTuesday and #MythologyMonday.

Not much different from a light being switched on in my head, I found myself wanting to learn more about myth and folklore, especially after reading so much engaging information with other people.

Many of the items I’ve been reading related to stories from my childhood. Instantly I get to travel back through time to The Snow Queen, a favourite tale that I devoured as a young reader. Now, like that and many other stories, they’ve acquired a new depth as I continue to learn more of the history behind these tales. For me, this is extremely exciting!

In fact, many of the stories I/we read as kids, (and still read today), were diluted and smoothed out over time. Much of the original sinister bits have been ironed out via contemporary media, like Disney for example. Not that I’m putting them down by any means… I grew up with Bambi, etc. and still enjoy these representations too, but knowing now that there’s so much more meat to these tales than meets the eye, and that the original author’s who spun them had so much more to say, (certainly a deeper moral or spiritual meaning), is what I find so completely enthralling.

It was wonderful to learn that many a fairy tale was not written with children in mind, but in most cases for adults. That in itself piqued my interest.  It made me want to travel back through print to get a glimpse of the mindset of those people who first wrote them down.

“The Deluge”, frontispiece to Gustave Doré’s illustrated edition of the Bible.

To trace the story’s lineage nearer to its point of origin, or at least as far back as I can go in order to learn about the times in which they were written, and to figure out how history may have played a part in shaping those darker bits, is like entering another dimension entirely.

The more I read, the more I started to realize, (naively to most scholars, I’m sure), just how connected folklore, and especially myth, is throughout recorded history. I see many similarities and links between ancient origin and flood myths to Gilgamesh, as well as Egyptian, Greek, and Roman mythology, the Iliad & Odyssey, up to King Arthur and Beowulf, which leads us to more contemporary times, including the Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and yes, even Harry Potter!

That’s just a few off the top of my head, so for me, this feels like an archaeological word expedition through the use of storytelling, where one can uncover the layers of tales told by a multitude of voices, who have come to offer us so many beautiful interpretations of many heroic adventures.

“Arturus rex” (King Arthur), a 1493 illustration from the Nuremberg Chronicle

That’s a lot of cake to digest, but there is icing! – Illustrations.

In hindsight, and in keeping with my own arts background, pictures may have been what originally captured my attention, prior to any hashtag.

Not to belittle visual interpretations by any means, as we’re such a visual society these days, but what better way is there to capture the essence and promote fairytales or ancient myths, (whether they’re shared on Twitter today, or contained in a 150 year old book now archived and in the Public Domain), than through the artistic achievements of first rate illustrators?

Many of these artistic depictions sprang from the Victorian & Edwardian eras. I think there was a renaissance-like quality to folklore back then, and many of the best images were created by some of the most prolifically creative people in history, who like many of us today, must have been totally inspired to produce such a magnificent library of art after reading fairy tales.

Tristan and Iseult, painting by John William Waterhouse (1916)

All of this leads me to ask, why is folklore and myth surging once again in popularity?

It can’t be from the pictures alone. Could it be caused by the type of society we find ourselves living in today? Perhaps good stories are not only timeless, but a means of escape from the pressures of modern daily life, a seemingly angry society, peak consumerism, and just a very busy world.

For me, the act of re-reading fairy tales and classical mythology is not just some guilty pleasure with which to pass the time. I’m happy to tell you that as a forward thinking person having reached mid-life, I get to look back and revisit my childhood with fresh eyes.

And despite not having 20/20 vision any longer as we approach the year 2020, I do find some humour in that, but with thanks to hashtags, and the lovely people who linked them, it’s led me here.

If like me you’re interested in learning more about folklore and/or mythology, along with the above hashtag links, these are some great places to start:

In any case, take some time to enjoy the journey of exploring whatever subjects interest you!

Happy New Year and all my best wishes for the coming decade.

~ Karen

Happy Winter Solstice, everyone!

Gull River, Minden Ontario

Hooray!! 🙂

Tonight marks the beginning of longer days and shorter nights. That’s something to celebrate!

In fact, the winter solstice has been one of the most significant times of the year in many cultures around the world, and for thousands of years.

Marked by festivals and rituals, it’s the symbolic death and rebirth of the Sun.

Think of Father Time, who is the perfect metaphor for this seasonal event.

I don’t have anything quite as glamorous as Stonehenge to offer here, but that said, here in the Haliburton Highlands, (we do have lots of beautiful rock, in the form of the Canadian Shield), along with some of the most dazzling sunsets and scenic views in the world.

So, throw a Yule log on the fire and have fun celebrating this magical time of year.

Happy Winter Solstice, everyone!

 

Encounters with Deer

Deer have played a significant role in folklore and mythology, in partnership with cultures around the world, and throughout most of our known human existence.

Many European cultures equated deer with woodland deities, including Greece. Artemis, the Greek goddess of wilderness played the role of virgin huntress. One time, a man named Actaeon witnessed Artemis bathing nude in a pool. She transformed him into a stag and his own hounds tore him to pieces. Talk about revenge!

The Iron Age Celts also have stories of people and deities who took the form of deer. Finn mac Cumhail, leader of Ireland’s heroic band, the legendary Fianna, was out hunting, and his hounds cornered a beautiful white deer, but they refused his order to attack. That night, Finn was visited by the goddess Sadhbh who explained how she was that deer, under a magic spell from which the only chance of her release would come about by his declaration of love for her. A beautiful story, but a tragic tale.

Moving on to the 6th century, Saint Gregory of Tours wrote chronicles of the Merovingian rulers. His Historia Francorum contained a legend concerning King Clovis I, who prayed to Christ in one of his campaigns so they could find a place to cross the river Vienne. Considered as sign from the divine, a huge deer appeared to the king’s army and showed them where they could cross the river, and that’s (supposedly) what they did.

Deer appear in art from Paleolithic cave paintings , and they have played a role in mythology, religion, and literature throughout history, as well as in heraldry.

Their economic importance includes the use of their meat as venison, their skins as soft, strong buckskin, and their antlers as tools, including handles for knives. Deer hunting has been a popular activity since at least the middle Ages.

According to the many different interpretations of deer as animal messengers, including totem animals from the Native American traditions, a deer represents gentleness and suggests the use of kindness in each of our endeavours.

In addition to that, if a deer crosses your path, you are likely a compassionate person who gives and receives unconditional love.

In any case, it’s always wonderful to witness a visit from the deer, and to know what depth of their nature is revealed to us and included within each encounter.

The Poppy – remembrance and symbolism of things past

As humans, we’ve been creating symbolism with flowers and plants since time immemorial.

Flowers can convey messages that we can’t always speak. They represent every sentiment one could think of, and as a floral designer, I’ve always been fascinated by this partnership between humans and the language of flowers.

With Remembrance Day upon us, I began to consider our link to the Poppy.

It ended up that I dug quite a bit further back in history than World War I & II.

I discovered an enormous amount of interesting information about the evolution of the poppy, and how it’s played a part in tandem with humanity over the centuries.

Probably the best known Poppy is the Papaver somniferum, which is the opium Poppy. It was domesticated by indigenous people from Western and Central Europe between 6000 and 3500 BC.  It’s believed that the use of opium may have originated with the ancient Sumerian people.

Papaver somniferum L. is one of the oldest cultivated plants with the hypothesis that this particular poppy is derived from the species Papaver setigerum, which grows wild along the Mediterranean region.

Western Asia is also considered the center of poppy’s origin. The oldest documented traces of poppies in Europe come from the Neolithic period, as evidenced by poppy seeds found in the Alps.

The ancient Egyptians of the eighteenth dynasty created containers made in the shape of poppies. These Juglets as they’re called, have been found with trace amounts of opium still inside.  The flower also appears on jewelry and other art objects from that era, and opium seemed to offer a ritual significance as its use was generally restricted to priests.

Poppies and opium then made their way around the known world via the Silk Road. In Turkey, the poppy has been a traditional plant since 3,000 BC, and the city Afyon in central Anatolia (Turkey) was named after them. “Afyon” in Turkish means “opium.”

The Wizard of Oz – Chapter 8

According to L. Frank Baum, (who we all know as the author of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz), Poppies were mentioned in Greco-Roman myths as offerings to the dead.

The origin of the Poppy (Papaver) was attributed by the ancient Greeks to Ceres, who, despairing of regaining her daughter Proserpine, carried off by Pluto, created the Poppy in order that by ingesting it she might obtain sleep, and thus forget her grief.

The ancients considered the Papaver Rhæa, or Corn-Rose, so necessary for the prosperity of their Corn, that the seeds of this Poppy were offered up in the sacred rites of Ceres, (aka Demeter) whose garland was formed with Barley or bearded Wheat interwoven with Poppies.

Demeter rejoiced, for her daughter was by her side. Illustration by Walter Crane – (1914) – Public Domain

Ceres/Demeter is sometimes depicted holding Poppies in her hand. The quieting effects of the Poppy, which were well known to the Greeks, probably led them to represent the deities Hypnos (Sleep), Thanatos (Death), and Nyx (Night), either as crowned with Poppies, or holding Poppies in their hands.

A Minoan goddess represented as a terracotta figurine was discovered by archaeologists. With raised hands and seeds of opium poppies on her head, this female figure, known popularly as the poppy goddess, is thought to be a representation as the bringer of sleep or death.

Greek youths and maidens proved sincerity to their lovers by placing a petal or flower-leaf of the Poppy in one hand, which, on being struck with the other hand, was broken with a sharp sound, which denoted true attachment. If it failed to snap, that meant unfaithfulness. This superstition passed to Rome, and is still practiced in modern Italy and Switzerland.

Currently, many poppy seeds come to market from the European Union, and plantations are also located in China and Australia. In Slavic countries, the poppy seed is a traditional culinary delicacy.

In any case, there seems to be a relationship between Poppies and conflict.

The field poppy, Papaver rhoeas, on which the remembrance poppy is based, has long been associated with armies fighting in Europe.

The flowers often overgrew the mass graves left by battles, and this has been documented, at least back to a 1693 battle in the Netherlands between the French and English, as well as the battle of Waterloo, and of course WWI, where the enormous artillery bombardments completely disrupted the landscape. This destruction infused chalk soils with lime, and the Poppy thrives in that environment where their vivid colour can’t be missed in contrast to the surrounding disfigured terrain.

In closing, the themes for the poppy across the centuries, are for the most part nods to the underworld, sleep, funeral rites, and death, which seems like an appropriate symbol for all of the people who’ve died fighting wars.



Grow note

Poppy seeds like the cool of early spring or autumn to be planted.
They don’t like to be transplanted due to their rather long taproot. If you must move a Poppy, make sure to get as much soil around them as possible. Otherwise, it dries out in no time and you’re left with a dead plant. I say this from personal experience. : (
They sure are showy once they’re established. A real treasure in the garden!

Field of red poppies – S. Shelton, Postcard, ca 1903 Public Domain

 

Some virtues, folklore, and use of lemon balm and mint

If you grow lemon balm in the garden, also known simply as balm or sweet balm, you’re likely aware of this Mint family member’s many virtues.

Introduced from Europe, this perennial herb has erect square stems and stands about two feet tall. The whole plant is covered with a soft down, and if the foliage is touched, even as soon as it’s just emerging from the earth in spring, it offers an abundance of that sweet lemon fragrance it’s famous for.

The flowers, insignificant looking really to us humans, are a magnet for bees, so in that respect, not insignificant at all! The Latin name, ‘Melissa officinalis’ comes from the Greek word ‘Melissa‘, which translated literally means ‘bee‘.

According to folklore, apiarists of old would rub the leaves of lemon balm inside older hives, inducing new swarms to remain and take them over.

Lemon balm thrives in poor soil, (I can account for that), and thrives in both sun or shade.

In fact, thrive is an understatement. Like any mint, it is an aggressive and prolific plant. It will take over the whole garden and your lawn if you let it. I suggest planting any in a big pot, then sinking it in to the ground if you don’t want its thick runner roots to escape.

I can’t lecture anyone about that because it did escape in my garden. Now I have to keep it (somewhat) contained by mowing parts of it down, (which likely helps it spread), but that lemon scent wafting through the air as I cut the lawn smells divine!

This herb makes a lovely tea. Hot or cold, it can be used to flavour lemonade. Mixed with Chamomile, lemon thyme, and lemon balm, this soothing tea tastes wonderful. It can be very relaxing if one is feeling stressed. Adding a little honey will sweeten the mix, too.

It must be said however, if one is on any thyroid medication, lemon balm may interfere with thyroid hormone-replacement therapy. It’s best avoided in this case, and I hasten to add, always check with a doctor, pharmacist, or certified herbalist first.

According to Mrs. Grieve, lemon balm as a drink induces a mild persperation, makes a pleasant, cooling tea for feverish patients, and, if used with salt, can be used to ease gout.

As most lemon flavours go, it’s especially nice with fish and pork. It also adds a light flavour to stews and soups. I’ve been drying this and many herbs, for a long time. Mixing them together with sea salt is an easy way to create a rub for meat, poultry, or in a salad. Steeping mints and lemon balm in vinegar, then straining is an easy way to create an herbal flavour to be used on salads, or in other culinary recipes. If you don’t like the flavour, it makes a nice hair rinse, leaving your locks shiny and healthy looking! Just don’t get any in your eyes. It will sting!

I harvest my lemon balm in the morning after the dew has evaporated, but before the high sun of the day. Use it fresh if you can, because that’s when most herbs are most potent in flavour, aroma, and qualities. Otherwise, it’s easily dried and if you harvest it before it flowers, but do leave some behind to encourage bees in the garden. Hung upside in small bunches to dry, it only takes a few days to do this, and when it’s crispy, break it all up and keep it in a jar for future use.

With regards to folklore, and in addition to Lavender, Mandrake, Deadly Nightshade, Cardamom, Plantain, Juniper, Saffron, and a host of other plants, the mint family members, including lemon balm, are considered Witches plants.

The sacred knowledge of these plants in particular were given by the Greek goddess Hecate to her daughters, Circe and Medea, and were considered consecrated herbs by this mythical trio.

According to Culpeper, ‘It is an herb of Jupiter, and under Cancer, and strengthens nature much in all its actions. Let a syrup made of the juice of it and sugar be kept in every gentlewoman’s house, to relieve the weak stomachs and sick bodies of their poor sickly neighbours: as also the herb kept dry in the house, that so with other convenient simples, you may make it into an electuary with honey.’

Flower language in folklore tells us that Lemon balm and the mint family equates with wisdom, virtue, and abundance. Customary in medieval times, peasants would ‘strew the churches with Mint or other herbs and flowers’ at funerals as a devotion to the Virgin Mary, where a poem from this custom illustrates it well

“Thou knave, but for thee ere this time of day
My lady’s fair pew had be streed full gay
With Primroses, Cowslips, and Violets sweet,
With Mints, and Marygold and Marjoram meet,
Which now lyeth uncleanly, and all among of thee.”

In the Abruzzi region of Italy, women who chanced upon sweet balm or mint would pick and bruise a leaf between their fingers as insurance for the day of their death, and that ‘Jesus Christ would assist them into Heaven.’

Gerarde stated about all mints, “It poured into the eares, taken inwardly against sea scorpions, serpents, and applied with salt, to the bitings of mad dogs.”

All very interesting! But, here’s hoping nobody’s path crosses with mad dogs, serpents or sea scopions.

Another suggestion, if like me, you grow way more herbs than you can possible use, and don’t like to see them go to waste, make some kindling bundles. These take no time to put together and are nothing more than dried herbs rolled into bundles and tied with raffia, used as kindling or fire starters. – Perfect for that cottage camp fire in summer, all you have to do is harvest some herbs, including mint, lavender, thyme, marjoram, etc., tie them together and use when you need them. They offer a lovely scent with which to light a fire, or, as an offering to the gods if you’re feeling particulary Witchy under a full moon.

With all of the information above, I may have either encouraged people to grow lemon balm and other mints, or totally scared them off! However, they are such useful herbs and I recommend anyone growing them in the garden.

As I sit here looking wistfully out the window, observing the three feet of snow still covering my yard, I’m actually looking forward to cutting the grass this year, and inhaling that lovely lemon scent.

 


References

  • The Herb Garden Guide – ERIC ED242477 – Lathrop E. Smith Environmental Education Center
  • The American Herbalist Guild – Pub Med and additional resources
  • The healthy life beverage book – Knaggs, H. Valentine, University of Leeds. Library, 1911
    Publisher, London : C.W. Daniel
  • A Modern Herbal, by Mrs. M. Grieve, 1931
  • Nicholas Culpepper. The Complete Herbal at Project Gutenberg
  • Cyclopedia of practical floriculture, by Turner, Cordelia Harris, 1884
  • Herb magic, by United States Department of Agriculture. Radio Service, 1944
  • Plant lore, legends, and lyrics – by Folkard, Richard, 1884
  • The Herball, or, Generall historie of plantes /gathered by John Gerarde of London, master in chirurgerie. by Dodoens, Rembert,; Gerard, John,; John Norton.; Priest, Robert, 1597