Thursday, October 27, 2011


Artist Unknown

"I will dance
the dance of dying days
and sleeping life.

I will dance
in cold, dead leaves
a bending, whirling, human dance.

I will dance
as the horned god rides
across the skies.

I will dance
to the music of his hounds
running, baying in chorus.

I will dance
with the ghosts of those
gone before.

I will dance
between the sleep of life
and the dream of death."

There are many kinds of dances to be done on Samhain, or Halloween Eve. For instance:

There's the Spiral Dance:

Actual Spiral Dance in Asheville, NC in 2007.
Notice all the orbs, which are fairies or spirits!

The Spiral Dance, also called the Grapevine Dance and the Weaver’s Dance, is a Neopagan group dance emphasizing community. It is especially popular at festivals due to its accommodation of large numbers of people.

The first Spiral Dance was performed in Berkeley, CA, in celebration of the publication of the book The Spiral Dance by Starhawk. It melded art, music, ritual and politics. It turned into a yearly celebration, although a large portion of the politics was removed for later versions. It currently exists as a Samhain celebration to honor the dead and celebrate rebirth.

There's the Celtic/Pagan Bonfire Dance:

With a huge community bonfire ablaze, the ancient Celts would extinguish all household fires. Each family then solemnly lit its hearth from the common flame, thus bonding the families of the village together. Often two bonfires would be built side by side, and the people would walk between the fires as a ritual of purification. Sometimes the cattle and other livestock would be driven between the fires, as well.

The bonfires held at Samhain, the Celtic New Year's Eve, were meant to warm friendly spirits and ward off evil ones, and also represented the sun which they wished would return, bringing heat and growth. The bonfires of the Celts continued to blaze down through the centuries, and will again be alight in Britain on Monday night.

There's the Witch's Dance:

Vintage Halloween decoration

What self-respecting witch and her black cat familiar would not dance on Halloween evening?

There's the Halloween Costume Dance of the early 20th century:

There's the Monster Mash Dance:

There's the Solitary Dance:

"Samhain Dance", copyright
Greta M. Margherita

There's the Full Moon Dance:

"Halloween Dance" by Holly Stokes

There's the Faeries' Dance:

"Spiral Dance" by Naze-Melnyk

At Samhain the veil between this world and the next grows thin. The fairies come out to dance and make mischief. Beware, the Queen of the Fairies may capture you and spirit you away to her home in the hollow hills.

There's the Midnight Madness Dance:

Vintage Halloween Image

There's the Dancing Jack O'Lanterns:

Vintage Halloween Postcard

Which dance will you be dancing on Halloween/Samhain Eve? For me, there will be no full moon and no firelight, just a small solitary dance across the crunchy leaves.

Friday, October 21, 2011


"The Samhain Lantern", copyright Terrauh Barrett

From vintage postcards to modern illustrations, black cats are as much a symbol of Halloween as are pumpkins and ghosts. They were also symbols of Samhain, the ancient Celtic holiday that occurs at this time, inasmuch as they were seen as companions of Celtic goddesses.

Old village tales, superstitions and folklore regarding black cats abounded, and still exist in some communities to this day. Some European cultures consider a black cat to be a bad omen. The superstition of a black cat crossing your path being bad luck is very well known throughout North America and other parts of the world.


Samhain Flag

Irish culture believed the appearance of a black cat beneath the moonlight foretold great illness. Likewise, the Italians believed that a sick person visited by a black cat would soon perish. Others, in particular the South African religion Hoodoo, believes that a particular bone within a black cat can be used to impart someone with invisibility or other powers.

However, black cats didn't take on a really sinister aspect and become affiliated with evil until the Middle Ages, when the Christian Church began to associate black cats with women they accused of being witches. I had long known that black cats are considered to be familiars of witches, but I had no idea what that meant for the poor black cat!

By famous postcard maker Whitney

Some superstitions have it that a "familiar" - or familiar spirit - is an actual witch who has shape shifted into a different form. Others say that a familiar is a supernatural entity, perhaps an imp or minor demon in animal form, that shares a special bond with a witch.

Not that long ago, the scary duo of witch and black cat was regarded with fear and trepidation. Woe to anyone walking alone on a dark night if he spied a black cat lying in wait on a path. And worse still, a witch may be lurking nearby, seeking to cast a hex on the unwary traveler!

Artist Unknown

Familiars could take the shape of many different creatures, including mice, snakes, owls, hedgehogs, toads, hares, ferrets, lizards, bats, crows or ravens, black dogs and even "humanoid" creatures. But by far it is the black cat that maintains the most powerful association with witches.

The fact that the cat - especially a black cat - received the most attention makes sense, because cats possess a particular unique personality. Cats are nocturnal by nature, and black cats blend in with the night. Their eyes glow in the dark, which could be considered a sign of evil. They also possess an unearthly wail.

"Hecate/Samhain", copyright Wendy Andrew.
Here the witch is associated with Hecate, the crone.

Familiars were considered at least as dangerous as witches. They could spy or wreak havoc for their witch without being easily detected. Here are other things people said about familiars.

1. The main purpose of familiars is is to serve the youngest witches, providing protection for them as they come into their new powers.

2. They assist witches in their practice of magic, casting spells and hexes.

3. They act as intermediaries for the witch, carrying out her orders so that she won't have to be at the scene of the crime when the evil deed is done.

4. Hungarians believed that cats became familiars between the ages of 7 and 12 years.

5. It was possible to deliver the cat from the witch by making an incision on its skin in the form of a cross. (Woe the poor cat!)

Vintage Halloween Postcard, Raphael
Tuck and Sons of London

6. A witch received her familiar spirit following her initiation into a coven or sect.

7. If a witch becomes human, her black cat will no longer reside in her house.

8. Witches grew an "unnatural nipple", with which they suckled their familiars. This was called a "witch's teat".

9. Witches turned themselves into cats or other animals in order to transport themselves to a sabbat (a midnight meeting) presided over by the devil.

10. A witch's cat came to be called a grimalkin. The Scottish goddess of witches was called Mither o'the Mawkins, a mawkin or malkin being either a cat or hare.

"Happy Samhain Kitten and Candle",
copyright Melissa A. Benson

John Richard Stephens explains in his book, The Enchanted Cat, how people twisted the concept of association with cats into something demonic and evil: "(It) began with the Catholic Church's persecution of religious groups, some of which worshipped the cat. In the 12th Century this persecution spread to splinter groups of the church itself, such as the Cathars, whom the church accused of worshipping the devil in the form of a cat. This led to stories of Satan's appearing at black masses as a cat."

Vintage Halloween postcard by artist Frances
Brundage, published by Tuck and Sons

The black cat suffered most in the areas of Europe that partook in the practice of witch trials, which started in the 13th Century. In 1233, Pope Gregory IX even went so far as to declare black cats to be evil, satanic creatures, leading to their widespread extermination. In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII issued a decree denouncing ALL cats and anyone who owned one! Inquisitor Nicholas Remy echoed this a century later when he said that all cats were demons. During this period priests presided over festivals where cats were burned by the hundreds.

Older women in the Middle Ages were almost always marginalized and lonely. Isolated from society, they turned to small animals for friendship. At one point during the witch hysteria in Europe, the mere possession of a black cat (or of a unusual pet like a frog, lizard or rat) was sufficient cause for investigation as a witch. Close animal companions were sometimes considered proof that a person was a witch!

"The Love Potion" by Ellen Morgan.
Though not a Halloween painting, it
shows a black cat as a witch's familiar.

The Black Death devastated Europe from 1346 to 1349. This and other plagues were blamed on witchcraft, and the witch trials intensified. As economic problems grew, and food and jobs became scarce, the trials offered an excuse to get rid of "economically useless" old women.

Witch trials often produced "evidence" of a witch's teat on the body of the supposed witch - which could possibly have been a birthmark or growth. Regardless, any bodily imperfection on the suspect was immediately pronounced as evidence of a witch's teat.

Vintage Halloween Postcard -
Usually the cat is scary, not scared!

For several centuries these "witches" were rounded up, tried, and killed by burning, drowning or other violent methods, and their "familiars" were killed with them. In Europe and Britain over 200,000 supposed witches were executed. In New England there were over 2,000 cat-related witch trials. Millions of cats were destroyed, and the species was brought to the point of extinction.

Of course today we know that most of the women considered to be witches were either falsely accused or were simply "cunning women", those who were well-versed in herbal lore and other folk remedies, which was sometimes considered witchcraft by overly superstitious folk.

Artist Unknown

Although we no longer burn and drown witches and their familiars, the poor black cat still can't catch a break! Did you know that black cats are the ones most often put to death in shelters? That's because they are the color of cat least adopted.

Wisely, shelters here in the United States will not adopt out black cats at Halloween and a few weeks prior and after, for fear they will be tortured, or used as "living decorations" for the holiday and then abandoned.

"Avoid grinning black cats on full green moon,
If your lover is true, he'll come back soon.
It breaks the charm, the witches scream
And never return, till next Halloween."

However, familiars have been depicted in a much more positive light in the Harry Potter movies, where the owls and other animals pair with the young spell casters to form a special bond. And modern day Wiccans and Neo-Pagans consider the black cat to be more like the Christian concept of a guardian angel. A Wiccan's familiar can be his or her closest companion, offering moral support, special knowledge, and/or physical healing.

So if you see a black cat  (or a cat of any color) this Halloween/Samhain, offer it a big hug and give thanks that the cat survived as a species. Do not be afraid - be kind to the poor, abused, dreaded, maligned black cat!


"Hecate's Cauldron", Artist Unknown
Here, the witch has a black cat,
a hare and a raven!


ADDED 10/24: Thank you so much, WOL, for your very insightful added information (see comments).

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


"Pink Ribbon" (Phaelenopsis) Orchid
from ProFlowers website

Are you feeling pinkwashed right now?" Pinkwashing" is a new term used to describe the abundance (some would say overabundance) of pink products in the marketplace this month. October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a lot of products (many bearing the name Susan G. Komen) are being offered with percentages of the purchase prices beingdonated to support breast cancer research.

Just a quick perusal on the web reveals a myriad of pink products for the cure, including: T-shirts, BIC stationery products, bracelets, tea, robes and underwear, soccer balls, umbrellas, cosmetics, chip clips, magnets, Hallmark cards, even a wireless computer mouse.

Several online sites that I visited expressed dismay regarding the Kentucky Fried Chicken "Buckets for the Cure" campaign. Right now KFC is donating 50 cents for every bucket sold. Detractors consider this pairing ironic in the extreme. Fried chicken, they say, is unhealthy and promotes rather than prevents breast cancer.
Up until now, I had not purchased any pink items. My goal in life right now is to de-clutter, not amass possessions. However, Breast Cancer Month coincides with the end of the gardening year here in Bismarck, and with trips to several shops which are displaying something pink that would be sure to attract me: phaelenopsis orchids.

K-mart is selling these easy-to-grow members of the orchid family for $14.98 in a pretty pastel ceramic pot. However, I passed them up for being a bit costly. At Lowe's, however, I found the same type of orchids for sale at $5.99, in the same attractive pot, only bigger!

I though that was a really great price and snapped up a couple of pots. (Lowe's is donating 10% for every 6-inch Orchid for the Cure sold during October.) I had grown phaelenoposis - also called moth -  orchids 30 years ago (along with cattleyas) and found them surprisingly easy.

Then, a house fire destroyed all my plants (about 100 of them of all types) and I didn't have the heart to replace them.When we moved into our new home with our brand new daughter a couple of months later, my interests went in many different and diverse directions. But now, facing winter's gloom, I'm ready to grow houseplants again, starting with a few orchids.

Bromeliad from Lowe's, another
very easy to grow plant

NOTE: The Lowe's website also shows other "Plants for the Cure": bromeliads, anthuriums, hypoestes (pink polka dot plant) and peace lilies. The moth orchids come in all colors, ranging from white to light pink to hot pink to purple to light green to multicolored.

Also, the ProFlowers website has what it calls the Pink Ribbon Flower Collection. They will donate 10% for every item sold from this collection, which includes lily and tulip bouquets, wreaths, bromeliads, orchids and tiny potted evergreens. However, this collection is spendy, with prices starting at $40.00 and going up to $70.00.

I'm really glad to have found something pink to purchase For the Cure. My Aunt Mary died of breast cancer, and I am sure all of you have/had a family member or friend affected by this terrible disease.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


After I published my last post I got to wondering if some people (my relatives, ha!) think I'm a bit too fey and whimsical for this world. They must be thinking: "A Celtic Garden? Wow, she's really gone off the deep end this time!"

If they only knew that I've been thinking of adding even more to my garden. Did the ancient Celts believe in dragons or was that a later invention? Anyway, there are some cool dragon statues out there. I could have (a smallish) one with a sign that says "Here Be Dragons".

How about griffins/gryphons? Are they an ancient Celtic thing?  I'll have to do some research on them and on dragons.


How about really nice statues of King Arthur and Guinevere?

Actually - and sadly -  these statues are not available here. My blogging friend Kath (Hillside Cottage) from Glastonbury, England, found them at a Reclaim Yard, which I think is similar to a salvage yard here. Kath has her eye on them and I hope she gets them. I will be envious but will be happy that a friend has them.

Or what if I added a fairy door at the base of a tree? It could go with the sign I have that says: "There are fairies at the bottom of the garden." There are many, many fairy doors available online in every design imaginable.

Seeing this door reminds me of the fairy doors in Ann Arbor, MI. The first public fairy door appeared in 2005, on the exterior of Sweetwaters Coffee and Tea. Since then, ten more have shown up around the city (as well as a "goblin door" parody), and seven of the original "public" doors still exist.

The fairy doors have taken on a cult following in Ann Arbor. The local children leave gifts in the hopes that real fairies will receive them. Some presents left at the doors include pennies and nickels, drawings, tiny packages, candies, and shiny rocks. Some of the doors have guestbooks nearby for visitors to write reflections and stories, draw fairies, and ask questions. Sometimes a "fairy" will answer the questions in the journals.

The Ann Arbor Red Shoes shop and
its accompanying fairy door.

The Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce and some businesses hand out maps and sell copies of Jonathan B. Wright's Who's Behind the Fairy Doors? and posters with pictures of each door and its location. The general attitude toward the fairy doors is that of mysticism and childlike adoration.

There's also a famous little Elf House at Lake Harriet in Minneapolis, MN. At the first hint of fall in the air, the tiny elf locks up his small rounded door in the ash tree on the south side of the lake and begins his long journey west for winter. On the first day of spring, "Mr. Little Guy", fondly dubbed by locals, returns home to a tiny pile of notes and gifts left by children who visited his tree home.

Local legend says the shy elf responds to every single letter he receives, sometimes up to 1,500 or more a year. The enchanting story of Twin Cities' most popular elf resident has even caught national attention, yet his identity remains a magical mystery. Walk around the popular Minneapolis lake and keep your eyes open for a hollowed-out tree with a garden in front.

Some people aren't content just locating fairy and elf doors. A week or ago I read a newspaper story about the craze of creating Fairy Gardens. These gardens - either outdoor or indoor tabletop versions - are captivating the imaginations of children and adults alike, providing an escape into a tiny world. "It takes us all back into that magical time when it was all for real," says one fairy garden creator.

Here's the link to the article online:

The website Enchanted Gardens ( is a really great (and inexpensive) site for supplies for your fairy garden, including miniature fairy houses, furniture, bridges, fences, flowers and animals. Here's their Hobbit House:

Being from Bismarck, I'd have to add a prairie dog,
since ND is famous for its prairie dog towns.

Some gardens can be really elaborate.The Fairy's Garden site ( provides complete instructions for the formal garden below. Sometimes even real plants are used, and actual water for the ponds and streams.

All the accouterments can be purchased
from The Fairy's Garden site.

It's evident to me this latest craze is just an extension of people's fascination with miniatures, (usually expressed in the form of doll houses), which has been with us forever.

So you see, there are a lot of people in the world like me, who choose being whimsical over being depressed, who create fantasy rather than wreaking havoc, who make people smile instead of making them sad, who resort to escapism when harsh reality threatens to overwhelm them.

But truth be told, I must now leave the Enchanted Forest, or La-La Land, or wherever I live when I'm not totally present, and get down to the real-life task of planting my tulip and daffodil bulbs and clearing some ground on which to scatter annual seeds for overwintering. I am a terrible procrastinator and I can be really creative at it - and writing this post was one example.


NOTE: Being fey and whimsical must appeal to some people out there. Today I found out that the number of people who are followers on my blog total 300! Who are you all? Where are you from? Why not drop a note (post a comment)?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Famous "British Reading Fairy" statue

For a while now I have been gathering objects to decorate my Celtic Garden, an enchanted, magical and mystical place.  Hopefully, it will all come to fruition next spring, when I will finally be able to rototill and seed my back yard, and install some perennial flower beds. Celtic gardens would of course include fairies, and I have several fairy statues, including a replica of the famous British Reading Fairy.

While I was in Boulder, Co, in September, I found this delightful acorn elf at a garden shop. I had wanted some sort of Celtic elvish creature in the garden, but I did not want a leprechaun, and certainly not a gnome!! I thought this little guy was sweet without being "cutesy".

At the shop in Boulder I also found a Green Man plaque, or perhaps a Green Lady. I still can't figure out which, and I could not find a similar image on the Internet. However, I do know his/her smile is very enigmatic - perhaps even sly. This plaque will join several other Green Men and Green Ladies that I have collected over the years.

A little "Faun or Pan" shelf sitter
For a long, long time, this little faun boy sat on a small tree stump nestled into my old perennial bed. Now, his head and his feet have been broken off. Though repaired, he seems quite fragile. I may move him indoors and get another faun to hide amongst the flowers.

A "Moon Gazing Hare"

I have written a post about the moon gazing hares, famous Celtic symbols of fertility. But I had my little hare long, long before I started learning about Celtic lore and legend. I can't even remember I found him. I'd like to get another one or two moon gazing hares, but all shops that sell them online are in the UK. I know that the Celtic hare is not well known here, but you'd think I could find at least one American shop that carries them!

I ordered the garden flag below from Mickie Mueller's Etsy shop, because I love her fantasy art so much:

"Drawing Down the Moon"

"Celtic Cross"

And finally, who could have a Celtic-themed garden without a Celtic Cross, even though it is a Christian symbol and the ancient Celts were pagan.

I was still on the lookout for other possible Celtic statuary or decorations to use in my garden. It may seem like I already have a lot, but when spread out over my rather large backyard, they have a tendency to get "lost". Also, I hope to design my garden so that all of it is not seen at once, with winding paths ending at little "garden rooms" where one discovers hidden delights.

I was at a loss at what to look for next. I don't want any St. Brigid or other saint statues. Some of the Celtic goddess statues, like the Moon Goddess, look a little Wiccan for my taste. Angels are not part of Celtic legend, and besides, I had sold a number of angel statues at a rummage sale and wanted to start fresh with a new theme.

But then I wrote my previous post, about the unicorn as a symbol for Scotland. It was like a bell went off in my head. I went to the Internet to look for unicorn statues, and found several, but this is the one I fell in love with:

"Mystical Unicorn of Avalon" by Design Toscano

She is perfect! She is sculpted in the style of a traditional Medieval unicorn, which is also the heraldic unicorn of Scotland, and she comes from Avalon. I have long been entranced by medieval stories of King Arthur and of the Isle of Avalon. And right now she is making her way to my home where she will be the centerpiece of my new perennial garden.

Of course, one can never stop looking and wishing for other items to add to an enchanted garden. Especially, one cannot have too many fairies. This is one I'd like to add to my collection:


The Mists of Avalon gazing bowl, shown below, is on my Christmas wish list. Available from Midnight Moon, it will strengthen the Isle of Avalon connection in my garden. 


 And of course there are many other things to add to the list. I don't want any shamrocks or "May the road rise to meet you" plaques, but how about:

Stepping stones?

Decorative rocks?

A sundial or thermometer?

I can find these at anytime, but would someone please, please tell me where to find this Celtic Lady?

She is listed on the site, but is described as "no longer available". She is supposedly St. Cinnia, the princess of Ulster whom Saint Patrick converted to Christianity in the 5th century. I'd really like to know where to locate her.