Thursday, January 26, 2012

Popular Magic: Cunning-folk in English History

Popular Magic: Cunning-folk in English HistoryPopular Magic: Cunning-folk in English History by Owen Davies
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Owen Davies' book 'Popular Magic: Cunning-folk in English History' had been on my Christmas wish-list as one of those books that I really wanted to read and I wasn't disappointed to find it in my stocking this year.

Davies admirably debunks the fanciful notion amongst many self-styled Wiccan and New Age Pagans that they are somehow the legatees of an unbroken wise-woman / cunning-folk tradition of healers and white witches. Davies uses primary and secondary sources to identify cunning folk as essentially Christian quasi-medics and often frauds and showmen, whose main stock in trade was unbewitching through magic and herbalism, thief finding, love magic and divination.

I particularly enjoyed discovering that two noted cunning folk were from my home town: a John Wendore who in 1604 determined that Anne Gunter was "not sick, but rather .. bewitched by some evil neighbour; and Maria Giles 'the Newbury Cunning woman' who features repeatedly in the archives of the Newbury Weekly News from the 19th century largely because she was in severe need of an ASBO!

The book has an extensive bibliography and lots of lovely references! What joy!

Get it on Amazon.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

'It's All Relative' Exhibition - New Greenham Arts

My friend Suzie Bishop is having an Exhibition at New Greenham Arts, entitled 'It's All Relative'. The title reflects the family relationship between the exhibitors: Suzie herself, her mother and step-father Kate and Peter Tullett and her daughter Jessica Bishop. It is an attempt to  blur the distinction between art and craft, with work from the generations of one family.

New Greenham Arts is managed by the Corn Exchange and it is a nice venue with performance, exhibition  and workshop / studio space up at the old Greenham Common base. But it's out of town so I wonder about how much exposure artists are realistically likely to get for shows timed outside of the Spring Festival window. I've been up there again today with Suzie while they've been setting up and it's great fun to be involved.

Suzie is showing some sensitive watercolours which have an illustrative quality that particularly appeals to me, as well as a couple of bolder pieces which delight in the joyous use of exuberant colour.

'Secret Door' - Suzie Bishop

'Trees in the Mist' - Suzie Bishop

'Turkish Sunset' - Suzie Bishop 

Pete Tullett is working mainly in three dimensional forms many of which are wooden pieces using a technique called intarsia, a form of wood inlaying that is similar to marquetry. Forms are devised from recycled materials and wood discarded by traditional artisans.  He's also showing photography and the rather topical piece below, 'All In It Together'.

'All In It Together' - Pete Tullett
Kate Tullett works in watercolour and is also showing textiles and three dimensional wireforms.

'Time For Tea' - Kate Tullett
It's a lovely concept to have a whole family showing and it would great to hope that New Greenham Arts will pursue this theme for further inter-generational shows. 

'It's All Relative' runs from Wednesday 11th January 2012 – Thursday 29th March 2012 with a private view from 12 - 2pm on Sunday 12th February. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Churchill Cruising

After his retirement Churchill was cruising the Mediterranean on an Italian cruise liner and some Italian journalists asked why an ex British Prime Minister should chose an Italian ship.

 “There are three things I like about being on an Italian cruise ship” said Churchill.

 “First their cuisine is unsurpassed. Second their service is superb. And then, in time of emergency, there is none of this nonsense about women and children first”.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

My stuff...

I have no idea why I am always so slow to work on my own online presence. I dare say it's the perennial  fear of the confirmed shape-shifter of making a definitive statement, in case I change my mind...

Anyway today I thought I had better remove the rather lame image of our Christmas bookcase as my twitter background and actually make something specifically. It was looking daft in mid-January.

So, even though I have mountains of more important stuff to do, I photographed a little still life of some of my belongings on my phone. The converging of technology means that my shiny new smart phone takes better pictures than my camera. Then I cut out the background in Photoshop.

Quite pleased with it really, but it doesn't exactly say digital era though, does it? Still can't have everything!

Now I suppose I should apply the same sort of thing to my blog... Meh! Later!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Happy Cnut's Day

My family tradition has always been to take the tree down on Twelfth Night, to have eaten up all the goodies and be pretty much wassailed-out by now. But I've just learned from Dr Mike Williams that today is Tjugondag jul in Sweden and Finland, a traditional twentieth night celebration when the festive tree is taken down and all the remaining food eaten. (I guess it all keeps well there where it's a bit nippy).

Apparently it is also the day when people dressed as goats visit houses and demand food and drink from the residents. In English, the day is St Cnut’s Day, after the Danish Viking King, and an old aphorism had it that evil Cnut took Christmas away at Tjugondag jul.

I think Cnut's Day needs considerably greater exposure in this country. What a great opportunity to dress up as a Womble from the dark side! Bring it on!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Publishing Joke #1

Q. How many publishers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
 A. Three. One to screw it in. Two to hold down the author.

I was going to make a really valid point about the state of the publishing industry, but on consideration further comment would be superfluous...

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Faerie Heart - A Darkly Enchanting Read

I've been doing a bit of research into children's books, updating my frames of reference since my youngest is definitely now Young Adult. Faerie Heartwas mentioned by a literary Twitterer, so looking to compare children's book writing styles and age appropriate content etc, I requested it from the library. Given that it is a Puffin book recommended for age 9+, I was surprised that the Librarian looked for it in the teen section. It certainly has no overtly 'teen' content or themes that would need such a classification, so heaven knows why they had it shelved there!

However the Twitterer's recommendation was not misplaced, this is an enchanting book which successfully creates a realistic neolithic world where a small tribal group scratches out a precarious living as early agriculturalists, and in which the vagaries and dangers of their world appear to be controlled by capricious supernatural forces.

Livi Michael combines all the best aspects of traditional fairy tales; a great plot, well drawn characters (both human and mythical), and a believable cultural heritage for Keri and her family. But this is no sanitised Disnification; the dark storytelling owes much to the brothers Grimm.

All in all Faerie Heartis a very good read for a child at the top end of Primary School, spoiled only by the brief but unnecessary glib ending, that could well have been omitted.