Thursday, 31 October 2019

Granny Smith

Today and tomorrow I celebrate Samhain (SOW'en), the Celtic cross-quarter day that marks the beginnings of Winter, the end of one year and the beginning of the next. A liminal time, like the twilight is to the oncoming night. a time of betwixt and between, where the realms of ancestors are distinctly felt by the living. It's good to remember that ancestors are for life, not just for Samhain though, but still we are drawn to reflect and remember and celebrate more so this night.

Later I shall honour those dear and dead with a small ceremony and a feast. Candle lights will be placed for them on my altar, and I will listen to any wisdom that drops in.

Let me tell you though about one special ancestor of mine. Granny Smith. A woman of great fortitude and short stature, much sparkle and smile, and one who took a big family secret to her grave. That's a whole other story. There is so much that is a whole other story. But for now just this ...

As a child I always thought it marvellous that Granny Smith had apples named after her. I remember the day of discovering this was not the case. One of those moments when the childhood blinkers fall slightly to one side. That's still not the story. This is ...

Granny Smith, was my great grandmother on my mother's side. She lived in a caravan, a largish static caravan in East Sussex. My grandfather also lived there at the time, looking after her till the end. We would go and visit, and I would be enamoured with the trinkets and charm and the garden. But more importantly I was enchanted by the twinkling, dinky woman in the back room. Her gentle sing song voice and her humour, and it was there in the back room, in her bed, surround by her sewing boxes, and fabrics, and buttons and trim, and glitz that my grandmother taught me to make peg dolls.

A quick rewind. My great grandmother, her real name was  Edith Starmer, was known for her dolls. She dressed dolls. In her younger days, as I remember it told to me, she had boldly walked to Harrods with a suitcase full of them and persuaded them to sell them to their clientele, which they did for years and years. Her dolls were splendid and dressed in finery. Victorian; Edwardian; from around the world; ball-gowned and up-towned; all laced, and feathered, and sequined, and beaded; and hand-stitched. I wonder where all her dolls are now.

She also made sets of clothes for Sindy, Tressy and Barbie dolls that sold on the local markets. According to my aunt, they sold really well because the branded outfits from toyshops were really expensive, and my aunt was lucky enough to have a sample set of everything, making her dolls some of the best dressed in the country. My wonderful Granny Smith was a single mother, not an easy thing to be in those day by a long shot, and didn't marry until my grandfather was in his late teens. This crafty and skilled enterprise is how she supported them both, that and putting my grandfather on the stage, again, a tale for another time.

She also made peg dolls. And it was this that she taught to me when I was little and she was elderly. The first one I made with her was a nanny. With tiny babe in arms. I remember it took us hours and hours. And I wore her out. Her teaching me patiently. Prompting me to focus and pay mind to task. Be neat. Finish the details properly. And voila. A doll. A little doll with a life of it's own. And that was a magick moment gifted to me by an equally magickal lady.

I then went home and made another nanny on my own.

Then I made a whole load more. Grand ladies with feathers and lace. In the mix a Scottish one for some reason and attempt at a Flamenco dance with cardboard castanets,  a blushing net curtain bride, and lost somewhere, there was once a Japanese inspired one, with a white kimono and a cocktail umbrella parasol. The magick of these dolls, as is the spellcraft of all dolls, took me to worlds I had not seen and a life out of reach. And the joy of making. Of being crafty. There is more in those words than we think. Of bringing imagination to manifestation. And the unfolding of something in your own hands, taking form and becoming. Looking back I can see that's a subtly empowering feeling to a child. To be a creatrix of your own world and tiny people.

Then in 2016 when I started the Mini Maidens Girls Circle of our Red Tent I took my peg dolls and the tale of Granny Smith to the first four girls there, ages between seven and twelve at the time. I taught them over the course of a year about the four feminine archetypes, and each season they made peg dolls. They made Maidens in spring, Mothers in summer, Enchantresses in autumn and Crones in winter.

And the loveliest thing, two of those girls have now had their menarche, and those archetype dolls were brought from home to place on our altar for their first blood ceremonies.

I may not be able to pass on the peg doll making to my own daughter, but in memory of Granny Smith, and possibly because of Izzy, it's my joy to teach it to other girls.

So this sacred day, I honour my beloved dead, and am grateful for their imprint on my heart and soul, their whispers in the wind, and the imaginings I still venture into.  I shall tend a flame and raise a glass to you, my Isadora Magdalen Moon, and to you, my Granny Smith.

Heidi x

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