Friday, December 9, 2016

Catching up with Friends: A Half Dozen of My Favorite Blogs

I am taking a little time this morning to catch up with my blogging friends. Larry has got the fireplace going again this morning since there were good hot ashes from last night, so it's cozy and warm on this first snowy morning of the year.

What I like about blogging is that people take time with it, to write stories, descriptions, essays, and to post many photos. While I love Facebook, blogs are deeper and richer.

The snow will probably end soon, and all we will have from it is this little skiff, but it's enough for a starter. Folklore has it that the date of the first snowfall is how many days of snow we will have. Since it's just December 9, looks like we won't have much this year. Assuming, of course, that the folklore is correct!

So on to the blogs I've been reading this morning. I am so behind, but it's lovely to catch up with everyone.

Gretel posted a snippet of a poem as part of her post about the scrapbooks she used to make before Pinterest became the place for storing craft and art ideas. I really liked the images in this verse:

'Full Moon' (By Vita Sackville-West)

She was wearing the coral taffeta trousers
Someone had brought her from Ispahan,
And the little gold coat with pomegranate blossoms,
And the coral-hafted feather fan;
But she ran down a Kentish lane in the moonlight,
And skipped in the pool of the moon as she ran.

She cared not a rap for all the big planets,
For Betelgeuse or Aldebaran,
And all the big planets cared nothing for her,
That small impertinent charlatan;
But she climbed on a Kentish stile in the moonlight,
And laughed at the sky through the sticks of her fan.

Do stop by Gretel's blog and see her charming and so intricate felted animals. We got to see her studio and a bit about her process when we visited her in September while traveling in England. The skill and imagination needed are impressive.

Michelle does a Random Friday post, including links to all sorts of interesting people and places. Her photos are not to be missed--she has quite an eye. 

At Blind Pig and the Acorn, Tipper re-visited the Foxfire Christmas book and posted a touching story about giving, back in the days of World War II. The whole book is full of good stories and memories of mountain holiday celebrations--and Tipper's blog is just as good, a thoughtful look at Appalachian life now as well as historical posts, folklore, vocabulary, and so much more. 

MacQue let us know about her broken wrist in her most recent post. Quite the traveler, she writes about life in the South but also about her travels outside of the US. Here's my hopes that her recovery is quick and easy.

My cousin John in England writes an excellent blog filled with photos, history and lore of England. He is currently main caregiver for his mother so his rambles, as he calls them, are limited these days. 

Dave Tabler is the author of the intriguing blog, Appalachian History. His most recent post is about the haunting of the Betts House in Calhoun county, WV--a story I have researched and often tell. We visited the site of the home in the story, and di and a good bit of exploring in the area. You can read about my adventures here.

It's time to leave the fire and get busy. I made quite a mess yesterday getting decorations finished, preparing CDs to ship and pricing items for our booths so today I will be cleaning up behind myself.

Have a good day, friends!
Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

More About Mistletoe

A few years ago I posted a little bit about mistletoe, but there is much more about this small parastic plant that plays a large role in our holiday festivities.

For example, did you know that if you kiss someone under the mistletoe, you are supposed to remove one berry from the bunch? That might be difficult if your bunch is plastic, as much mistletoe is these days. And what if your twig has no berries at all? Does that mean no kisses? And if a single woman should not be kissed under the bough during the winter holiday, she would likely remain single the rest of the year.

Why the kissing tradition? According to this site, mistletoe once offended the gods, who therefore comdemned it to have to look on while pretty girls were being kissed." Poor mistletoe!

Mistletoe Collector
by Adrien Barrere, 1874-1931,
from Wikipedia
According to some sources, mistletoe should only be collected on the sixth night of the sixth moon after the winter solstice--which would make it mid-June, by my calculations. Considering the holiness with which the summer solstice was regarded, this does make some sense, although the twigs would be pretty dry by the time of winter celebrations. The mistletoe was always cut carefully and was not allowed to touch the ground during the harvest, as that was thought to remove some of its magic. As far back as 77 AD, Pliny the Elder noted that Druids cut it with a golden sickle ,althoug later historians question Pliny's assertion.

Keeping the mistltoe from falling to the ground might explain why it was thought to be a cure for epilepsy: since epilepsy made people fall to the ground, and mistletoe not being allowed to touch the ground, the epileptic who carried it was protected from falling. The Druids called mistletoe "all-healer," considering it one of the most powerful of plants. Mistletoe that grew on oaks was considered the most powerful of all bit if the plant touched iron or steel, it lost its power too, just like touching the ground.

The White Goddess website tells this story of the Norse connection to mistletoe: "The Norse god Balder was the best loved of all the gods. His mother was Frigga, goddess of love and beauty. She loved her son so much that she wanted to make sure no harm would come to him. So she went through the world, securing promises from everything that sprang from the four elements--fire, water, air, and earth--that they would not harm her beloved Balder. Leave it to Loki, a sly, evil spirit, to find the loophole. The loophole was mistletoe. He made an arrow from its wood. To make the prank nastier, he took the arrow to Hoder, Balder's brother, who was blind. Guiding Holder's hand, Loki directed the arrow at Balder's heart, and he fell dead. Frigga's tears became the mistletoe's white berries. In the version of the story with a happy ending, Balder is restored to life, and Frigga is so grateful that she reverses the reputation of the offending plant--making it a symbol of love and promising to bestow a kiss upon anyone who passes under it."

Saturday Evening Post cover 1900, from website 
Mistletoe was believed to ward off fires and disasters, and was hung in some homes year-round for this protective property. It could also, some believed, open locks, although how that would work, who knows today? Wearing a twig around the neck was a talisman to ward off evil spirits and witches. Mistletoe would sometimes be burnt, and the ashes carried in a little bag to bring good luck. But some believed that feeding your holiday bunch to your cows would bring a good year for your dairy. Farmers also believed in some areas of Britain that a good year for mistletoe meant a good year for corn (not our kind of corn; in England wheat was called corn, and in Scotland and Ireland corn meant oats.)

In Wales, mistletoe growing on hazel orash trees was believed to have treasure growing under its roots. This apparently came from an ancient legend that under these trees there lived a snake with a ruby inside its head. Over time the snake in this story was forgotten, but the treasure lived on. Interestingly, in early Christian churches mistletoe was banned from the church decorations, and this custom continues to this day in some places.

In the Victorian era, mistletoe really came to the fore as part of the holiday festivities. Washinton Irving captured the spirit of the Victorian Christmas in a few lines: "The Yule log and Christmas candle were regularly burnt, and the mistletoe, with its white berries, hung up, to the imminent peril of all the pretty housemaids."

What to do with your mistletoe once the holidays are over? Don't throw it out! Leave it in your house until the coming year if you want your good luck and good fortune to continue all year.

The plant has found its way into poetry too:

by Walter de la Mare

Sitting under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
One last candle burning low,
All the sleepy dancers gone,
Just one candle burning on,
Shadows lurking everywhere:
Some one came, and kissed me there.

Tired I was; my head would go
Nodding under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
No footsteps came, no voice, but only,
Just as I sat there, sleepy, lonely,
Stooped in the still and shadowy air
Lips unseen—and kissed me there.

Some intriguing sources for more on mistletoe:
Encyclopedia of Superstitions by M. Radford, 1949.
Pocket Guide to Superstitions of the British Isles by Steve Roud, 2004.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Crankie! Or, Why I've Been So Quiet

I've wanted to make a crankie for a long time, ever since seeing them demonstrated at the Augusta Heritage Workshop in Elkins, WV. So last month I cajoled my hubby into making the box for one. Then I found a song that would work with it, and finally last week I started my part of the crankie.

What is a crankie? It's basically a simple folk theatre, operated manually with a crank that turns the spools that the story is rolled on. It is usually, but not always, lit from behind with a lamp or other light. Larry remembers that his music teacher had one when he was in elementary school. He hadn't thought of it in years, but it came back to him when he watched the online videos for making one. They're older than that, though (even though he'll tell you he's as old as dirt).

According to the website of The Crankie Factory, the "moving panorama" became popular sometime in the 19th century. Some were quite small, possibly made for a child, and eventually there were some so large they could fill a stage. Some of the makers of crankies took their shows on the road. There are examples of crankies in several museums. Henry "Box" Brown, a slave who escaped by literally shipping himself to freedom in Philadelphia in a shipping box, created a moving panorama to tell the story of his escape and took it on the road until the looming battle over slavery made him leave the US for England. There is much more history of crankies at The Crankie Factoy's page.

So I suppose you could say that crankies were the forerunner of motion picture, in a way. I was enchanted with the ones made by Ellen Gozion, Elizabeth LaPrelle and Penny Anderson when they were demonstrated at Augusta. That was three or four years ago so you can see it took me a while to get around to making one myself.

I learned a lot of what not to do on this first attempt, but I am happy enough with the end results. I hope to use this one at some of the Christmas shows that Jeff Seager and I have coming up this month. And I think I'll make another one for this summer's library programs.

I will try to make a video soon of my crankie in action. Right now, I have to wash marker and pencil off my hands, and then practice, practice, practice. Just wanted to show this because I thought it was so cool.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.
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