Crocus flower- myth and sentiment

Crocus (Krokos), once a beautiful mortal youth who loved a nymph named Smilax, let his impatience get the better of him, (unrequited love?) ultimately angering the gods. They turned him into a spring blossom.

It seems he didn’t learn his lesson re: impatience.  A win for us as the purple, white, or yellow flower he encompasses still hurries, not for nymphs, but to be one of the first blossoms to greet the spring among melting snow.

There’s another version of the Crocus myth which involves Hermes, the messenger of the gods. Said to be lovers, and while participating in athletic games together, a discus thrown by Hermes hit Crocus upon the head, killing him instantly. Hermes, grief-stricken, transformed his lover into the spring flower we all know and love.

In any case, myth or not, it is a sight for sore eyes to see these lovely, seemingly delicate but not, flowers bloom after a long winter.


 

 

Cheeky Red Fox – Often maligned, they’re not so different from us!

Looking out the kitchen window this morning, I spotted several turkeys in the yard running up the hill. It was then I saw what they were running from. A lone fox on their tail!

She didn’t have a hope in hell of catching one, though I give her points for trying! Everyone has to eat.

The birds are bigger than her, and can be pretty vicious if need be. They have big claws used for digging, and can peck like a hammer drill.

Turkey in our yard

Contrary to what many think, (remember that WKRP in Cincinati episode where turkeys dropped like wet bags of cement?), turkeys can fly. They would have taken to the trees if they thought that vixen was a real threat.

The turkeys roost in the trees up that hill overnight for protection against any predators. I see them out all the time, walking down our road and through around our property like families do, a group out for a stroll. 🙂

What I don’t see often enough these days are foxes. The few I’ve seen, with the exception of this very healthy looking lady, have contracted mange, which I suspect has to do with their low numbers in this area.

As a gardener, I’ve noted the rise in number of mice, voles, and chipmunks this past year around our property. I imagine the tide will turn again, and when it does, foxes will have plenty to eat.

Red foxes feature prominently in folklore and mythology. In Greek mythology, the Teumessian fox was a described as a gigantic fox destined never to be caught.

In Celtic mythology a red fox is a symbolic animal and a shape-shifter. Some folklore in England states how witches were thought to take their shape to steal butter from their neighbours.

In European folklore, the figure of Reynard the Fox symbolises trickery and deceit. Many of Reynard’s adventures may stem from actual observations on fox behaviour; he is an enemy of the wolf and has a fondness for blackberries and grapes.

Chinese folk tales tell of fox-spirits called huli jing that have nine tails. They’re known as kumiho in Korea, and Japanese mythology offers the kitsune, a fox-like spirit possessing magical abilities that increase with their age and wisdom.

The cunning Fox is commonly found in Native American mythology. It’s portrayed as a companion to Coyotes. Fox, however, is a deceitful companion that often steals Coyote’s food.

In light of all the folklore and myth surrounding these experts at survival, except in today’s case of my friend vixen thinking she could take down a turkey, it seems to me, we humans have been projecting our fears on to foxes and other animals since time began.

Perhaps in the case of a fox, that’s because humans share many of its traits….

Afterall, they’re creatures who seek food, shelter, and want to survive, thrive, and take care of their families, just like us!

I can’t fault them for that. 🙂

February thoughts, folklore, Imbolc offerings, and social media.

Theo van Hoytema – February 1915
Public Domain

February! We’re one step closer to spring! 🙂

Like most gardeners, what usually gets me through any ‘normal’ winter involves plotting and planning the next steps in the yard, (divide and conquer), and thoughts of spring bulbs shooting up from the ground, even when they’re surrounded by pockets of snow hanging about on the lawn and in shadier nooks of the property.

February 1st marks the festival of Imbolc, or St. Brigid’s Day. It’s a celebration to mark the beginning of spring, a cause for celebration if ever there was!

Imbolc’s possible origin may come from the Old Irish word, imb-fholc, ‘to wash/cleanse oneself’, referring to a ritual cleansing.

Smithsonian American Art Museum, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Brigid, patroness of poetry, smithing, medicine, arts/crafts, cattle, and Spring, shares many mythological traits with St. Brigit of Ireland.

The saint, with the same name as the goddess is likely derived from the Proto-Celtic *Brigantī “high, exalted”, and they both share today with Imbolc, which generally speaking, is about a new year and new beginnings.

I thought about that ‘ritual cleansing’, today. I’ve considered how the past year has affected me, at least psychologically, and maybe what we all need right now is some sort of ritual cleansing, no matter how small the act, to rid ourselves of the negativity heaped on us all during the past few years, and especially 2020.

Like many people, the pandemic and the politics (of anger) have proved to be a major distraction against any ‘creativity’ with which I’d normally involve myself. That includes writing, photography, and making wee nature sculptures. Sure, I’ve made some little fairy houses and furniture, but I can’t seem to focus too long on any one activity.

I thought at first I may be experiencing some sort of depression or melancholy, and inhaling too much of the angst in this world has deprived me of the oxygen normally sustaining any creative pursuits.

Because of that, of late I’ve stopped watching the news so often. I don’t want to be ignorant of what’s going on, but I don’t think being obsessed by it has been helpful either.

The melancholy may in part be true, but winter affects me in general, but being aware of that now, I tend to get outside more often for fresh air and some excercise, which really helps. I’d love to hear how others are feeling affected by all of this, and how you’re coping with it. I’ve used art as therapy for most of my life, but have hardly posted anything here of note in the past 6 months, with writer’s block seeming to win the day everytime I sit down and try to type.

I’ve felt many flashes of inspiration, when the snow is falling, or when I see a bird or animal, or find an interesting bit of history I’d like to share, but when it comes down to putting thoughts into words, along with any photos, garden related or not, everything I want to post about seems so trivial and unimportant when I consider what’s going on in the world now; how so many people are suffering.

So instead I’ve been sitting on my hands.

Even though I’m an introvert, I really like people and set out to understand what makes them tick.

I love to read about people, especially artists and writers from the early to mid 20th century, but I’ve never been one who requires people around me all the time like some extroverts might.

Perhaps because I have so much going on in my head, which has in the past, energized my creative bents, I don’t have that need, and find parties and big social affairs draining. After all, my studio is called Wall Flower Studio!

I’m totally freaked out by Covid19. I only go out if I have to, which means the bank, the grocery store, gas (not so often because I’m home so much), and when out, I do everthing I can, (while trying not to appear rude) to stay at least six feet away from people. This can be challenging however when others seem oblivious to the danger Covid poses, or are perhaps they’re handling the pandemic by ignoring its existance altogether… I’m not judge, jury or hangman, but will continue to keep my distance whenever possible.

Eduard Marmet, CC BY-SA 3.0 GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons

But, even I have my limits with all of this homebody business. I can’t wait to go on a trip to anywhere, or to a big, loud, busy shopping mall & spend some money, buy a new pair of shoes, and do some serious people watching.

Until then, I’ll continue to (happily for the most part), read and research the many topics of interest I’ve been digesting for the book(s) I’ve been trying to work on during the past few years.. I”ll get there eventually!

Perhaps the reason I’ve been finding it difficult to write, and address my feelings about the past year, and overcome them, is in part because I, (like many of you) feel powerless to do anything of value that might bring about positive change, especially under lockdown conditions.

I certainly don’t mean to depress anyone. I’m just happy that this is all finally spilling out of me after months of trying to pin down the exact feelings on how I’ve been handling events beyond my control, which truth be told, is something I’ve never been good at..

I suppose supressed feelings, along with a side order of inaction, are my best defense, with the addition of browsing the interent, baking cookies, shovelling snow or cleaning my house, which by the way is immaculate right now, and yet nobody can come over and see.  😉

However, in a  strange way, what’s really helped take my mind of the pandemic, (as long as I avoid political/pandemic posts), is Twitter.

I’m on the fence about social media, ( and somedays I want to dump Facebook especially), and in a postive way it brings people & ideas together who might otherwise never find one another. But in the same vein, it’s proving to have a destructive side, too.

I’m appalled at the misinformation & far-out conspiracy theories people are engaging in and accepting as fact; ones that harm and erode democracy around the world. Or the people who justify their hate and ignorance while participating in racially motivated entitlement and violent acts against others like it’s was some sort of religious rite.

I’m also ambivalent about social media. I see people sharing way too much personal information, which goes against privacy concerns I have about how all of our information is extracted and used.

But, having said all this, I do think in some way Twitter has helped me continue to dabble in writing during a time where I’ve felt it difficult to even post Happy New Year on my blog, (which I do retroactively wish all of you!) I might not think this of Twitter down the road, but for now, it’s been a positive outlet at this time.

Every day thousands of people join forces on Twitter behind different #hashtags. (I’ve explained the purpose of hashtags in a previous post, so I won’t get into that, but suffice to say, it’s a way for people to share common ground, artistic ideas and interesting bits information.)

In a sense, my whole week is built on these hashtags. Here’s a sample of some I’ve come to look forward to:

#MythologyMonday, #FairytaleTuesday, #WyrdWednesday, #FolkloreThursday, #FaustianFriday, #SuperstitionSaturday, #Caturday, and #ShakespeareSunday.

Each hashtag is self-explantory, but to make them even more interesting, every week involves a different theme on those hashtags. One can share tidbits about a theme with like-minds and learn from others on topics that interest them, too. For example, #MythologyMonday might be about horses one week and Witches or Norse goddesses the next.

Sometimes I’m keen to share a line or two on the subject matter I’m familiar with; one that will fit in the box of characters allowed by Twitter. Other times I have to investigate and research the daily theme, which means spending time locating a quote, picture or painting, (in the public domain), that fits with the subject matter of that day.

One might say this Twitter excercise is completely shallow and an effort to practice avoidance of the outside world, but I think of it as an enjoyable practice and perhaps a bit of self-presevation in defiance of the world we’re all living in right now.

I’m glad to have spurted all of this out. I feel better for having written at all to be honest, like it was some sort of ritual cleansing. To put my thoughts out there and just accept them for what the are at this moment in time is an act of cleansing. And really, isn’t that a big part of any art? To convey and communicate ideas that one may be feeling/thinking/experiencing?

So, if you made it this far, I thank you! If, like me you feel a need  for a writing outlet that’s not too suffocating or overly taxing at the moment, wander on over to Twitter and find a hashtag or two that suits your interests!

I’m looking forward to better times for us all and do know they’re coming, along with more progress with my book, and spring flowers in the garden.

Hang in there everyone. The prize will be all that more sweet once it actually arrives. There are better days ahead.. Be well & stay safe!

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

 

Thoughts of Spring and Crocus flowers lead me to the garden

n the first day of Spring my thoughts always lead me to the garden.

One of the first flowers to greet me after a long winter is the lovely Crocus.

With petal colours varying from white, purple, yellow, and even striped, this small perennial bulb, (corm), planted in autumn for its spring show, originates from the Alps, and offers abundant blossoms that brighten up the beds, often while other parts of the my garden are still heavily laden with snow.

Ancient legend relates Crocus as an unfortunate lover. The myth centres around his unfulfilled and tragic love for Smilax, a woodland nymph, also transformed but in her case, as a brambly vine. His sorrow it is said, awakened sympathy from the gods who aided his metamorphosis into what we now know as this dainty spring flower.

According to old lists containing flower meanings, the Crocus flower is equated to both ‘Spring’ and ‘cheerfulness’. And why not after a long, dreary winter?! Both meanings seem quite appropriate!

Out from the heart of the Crocus,
There leaped to my heart a song,
It was as though an angel
Had borne the word along,
And its message drew and held me,
Until my soul was strong.

~ E.M. Hill

Saffron, the stigma from Crocus sativus is a very expensive spice. Along with being a food additive, it scents perfumes, cosmetics, and is a component of traditional medicines. Studies show it works as an anti-carcinogentic, boosts the immune system, and is an antioxidant.

Shown on frescoes dating from 1700 B.C., it’s no wonder this flower has been cultivated and harvested since ancient times in the Middle East, North Africa, India, and throughout the Mediterranean region.

In any case, with three feet of snow still to melt in my neck of the woods, I’ll think of this flower, and others, biding my time until I get to enjoy their presence once again.

Happy Spring!