When I used to teach in Japan, I would occasionally come to school to find the windows of some of my students’ classrooms covered in what looked like little paper ghosts. The students would make them before a school outing, or before their Sports Day. They could appear at any time of the year, so they weren’t Halloween decorations…so what were they? [Read more]
Category Archives: Art & Expression
One of the activities commonly associated with Lammas is baking bread. I’m not much of a baker – as a matter of fact, I really don’t care for cooking. But I do like arts & crafts, so I have found an alternative to baking bread for Lammas that uses that Lammas essential, flour, and one which is easy to work in a little magic – making salt dough! [Read more]
Last month I attended a lecture and book reading by Nina Lyon, author of the new book Uprooted: On the Trail of the Green Man (reviewed here). During the lecture, she described talking about her eclectic, liberal form of nature-based spirituality to a friend, who said, “Oh, it’s like a sort of punk religion!” [Read more]
For me, the highlight of the exhibit was the magnificent Gundestrupe Cauldron, an enormous silver bowl dating from between 200 BC and 300 AD. It is a spectacular sight, ornately decorated both inside and out with pictures thought to depict ancient Celtic legends. Among Pagans, it is perhaps most famous for its enigmatic depiction of a figure with antlers, gripping a torc in one hand and a snake in the other, surrounded by wild animals. We do not know who this man is for sure, but among Pagans he is commonly identified with the Horned God, sometimes called Cernunnos or Herne the Hunter.
Seeing the famous Cernunnos figure in real life, after seeing the image so many times in photos or reproduced as statues or items of jewellery, left a deep impression on me. I have to say that after seeing this image, it does seem likely to me that it depicts a God. His strange, meditative pose, his interaction with the snake, and his animal companions, certainly seem to suggest a powerful spirit of the forest and nature.
But what impressed me most of all was not what this figure may have originally symbolised, but what he represents now. To modern-day Pagans, the Cernunnos figure is an icon – and I mean this very much in the religious sense of the word. He has become a symbol of the Great God and the spirit of nature, and represents a link to the ways of our ancestors. So for me, as a Pagan, going to see the Gundestrup Cauldron was very much a pilgrimage, evoking the same emotions that Christians, and members of any other religion, must feel when they visit a significant place of worship or see a famous relic or icon.
The Celts exhibition runs until January 31st, and I very much recommend going to see the Cauldron and all the other incredible artefacts while you have the chance!
Last post, I posted pictures of some of the Holly King decorations I made out of salt dough to give to friends and relatives for Christmas. I’ve made a few more, as well as painted and glazed them, so I thought I’d share the finished items here!
This was the first one I made; I based the shape very much the one on the Green Man mask I made for Beltane. My husband thought it looked a bit scary from a non-Pagan perspective – a bit devilish, perhaps? So I tried to make the other Holly Kings without such pointy horns.
I really like how this one turned out; I thought the shape looked very “classic,” like the Green Man faces you see at churches.
This is another one of my favourites. I think it looks a little like a pixie! This one I didn’t put a hole in for the ribbon as I wasn’t sure if the final products would be strong enough to support their own weight when hung so I made some without holes – it turns out that after baking, they are pretty strong and I didn’t have anything to worry about. I plan to stick strong magnets on the backs of the ones without holes.
I experimented with making a Holly King with a proper face, rather than just a mask. It turned out alright, but I decided I preferred the mask design better.
Some other small masks, including an Ivy King (Queen) at the bottom.
This is the smallest one I made. Making eye holds within the holly leaves on such a small scale is really difficult, so I cheated and poked in the eyes with a straw after putting in the holly. I don’t think the result is as nice as shaping the holly around existing eye holes. I think this one turned out cute though.
These two were my least favourite – they were made in the second batch, and for some reason the salt dough didn’t turn out as well that time (I think it needed more flour), and the result was harder to shape and a bit flat. Also, with the Ivy King I experimented with a different painting process (painting dark on light as opposed to light on dark which is what I did for the others), and didn’t like the result as much. But as a pair, I think they go together really nicely so I’ll give them as a couple.
Today I was racking my brains trying to think of the perfect Christmas gifts for some of my relatives. Then I remembered that one of my aunts likes to paint us pictures as gifts, and I thought, why don’t I try making something as well?
I thought about the Green Man mask I made for Beltane, and wanted to try something similar. So I decided to make some salt dough Holly King ornaments that my relatives could put on their Christmas trees. I’ve had a go making things with salt dough before and found it pretty easy and fun.
Above is the result. It was a lot of fun, and because they’re flat, the Holly kings turned out a lot better than my first salt dough ornaments. Now all I have to do is paint them and puts some nice ribbons on them for hanging on the tree! And if they turn out well, I think I’ll make some more…
While purchasing a Wassail Cup for my brother-in-law for his birthday (he decided to start a tradition of wassailing the trees in his garden last year) from the fantastic online Pagan/Folk shop Hedingham Fair, I also decided to buy two sets of 25 Winter Solstice / Yule Cards to give as Christmas cards this year.
For £12.00, I think this set was an absolute bargain. The cards are beautiful – especially the linocut ones, with their dark, bold borders and bright colours. Although very Pagan in flavour, incorporating Yuletide symbols like the Holly King, Stonehenge, Viking deities and druid’s sickles, they also have plenty of images of Christmas familiar to non-Pagans (candles, holly, mistletoe etc.), making them perfect for Pagans who want to give Christmas cards that subtly express their Pagan pride to non-Pagan friends. I’m really excited to give them!
After buying the “Winter Solstice” Bumper Set, I discovered that they also have a 25 card bumper set of “Christmas” Cards as well, which are slightly more Christmas-themed than Yule-themed (although the two are pretty similar). I also discovered they have some other designs not included in the 25 bumper back, which is kind of a shame because they’re so nice! (But I guess they have to leave some designs out to save many). Maybe next year I’ll buy these ones as well! But for this year I am really happy with my purchase and can totally recommend these beautiful cards for any Pagans out there still looking for the perfect Christmas cards for their loved ones.
Last night I went to a local Halloween-themed burlesque show, “A Darker Shade of Burlesque,” by Vintage TeasE. It was the first proper burlesque I’d attended, and it was a fantastic evening. The performers were all women with a wide range of body types, styles and talents, and the majority of the audience were women too. It’s interesting and encouraging to see performances that, although historically intended to titillate men, now seem to appeal very much to women through their glamour, costumes and sense of empowerment of seeing other women with bodies very much like their own looking confident and sexy as they bare all.
All the acts were very entertaining. It was headlined by a very beautifully gothic Bonnie Fleur, who had not one but two acts – as a seductive Morticia Addams in one of the earlier acts, and an intense, vampiric Red Queen at the close, who swooped around in Isis wings designed to look like a huge red cloak, and ended by pouring “blood” from a chalice over herself. There was also Jeanie Wishes, who performed a sexy pole dance in the persona of a spider queen; a bride who hacked off her own chastity belt with an angle grinder (sparks flying and all); and a bizarre “werewolfess” who at the end sported a wolf mask and very little else.
But for me, there was one act that really stood out above all others, and that was a voodoo-inspired dance by the award-winning Coco Deville. She made her entrance to The Velvet Underground’s “Venus In Furs,” dressed in an incredible outfit of a feather headdress, feather skirt and trailing cloak made from different fake fur prints stitched together. She was carrying a skull, which she placed reverentially upon a table with a red and black cloth and a lit candelabra, and knelt before it as if praying to the spirits of death. She then began her dance, with slow, hypnotic movements reminding me of those used in tribal bellydance. As she stripped off each layer of clothing, from her cloak down to her skirt, she toyed with a riding crop, bringing an element of bondage into her dance. Right at the end, she took one of the candles and poured the wax all over her now mostly nude body.
What was incredible about this intense act was the effect upon the audience. Throughout the show, we were all encouraged to clap and cheer during the dances as each layer of clothing came off. But for Coco Deville, the audience was spellbound into a respectful hush. Most of the cries that came from the audience were the kind of ululations you might hear women make at events of particular ritual or religious significance in the Middle East and Asia. Everyone else simply gazed, mesmerised by Coco’s preternatural grace and captivating presence.
That’s when I realised that what we were watching somehow transcended mere performance and entered the realm of ritual. This young lady, part-voodoo priestess, part-dominatrix, part-goddess, with her supreme confidence and talent, had the entire audience under her spell. Erotic it certainly was, but in a manner that re-enforced the connection between sexuality and the divine.
As a Pagan observer, I would certainly call the effect of this performance magic. It was a reminder that magic does not need to be performed by self-identified witches within a coven, or practitioners of ritual occult – a simple dance in a cabaret show, through the combination of music, movement, costume and the energy of the dancer herself – can invoke just the same level of power.