Gillian Nott creates folk magic wreaths for Guernsey Museum
Gillian, who will be familiar to our readers as the very talented straw-crafter and Friend of the Museum who runs workshops in Boscastle, has recently undertaken a fascinating project for Guernsey Museum http://www.museums.gov.gg/socialhistory/.
As part of their new Folklore Gallery, opening June 2017, curators were searching for someone with the necessary skills to fashion two wreaths of a type used in traditional folk magic on the island. One is made from brambles and the other hawthorn. Although these are not the easiest materials to work with, Gillian very kindly undertook the challenge and the results are spectacular!
A close up of the Bramble Ring
The Hawthorn Ring
The Hawthorn Ring and its creator Gillian Nott
In Guernsey wreaths of brambles were hung from the rafters as a protection charm; when fear of malefic witchcraft was at its height it was thought that the spiny bramble wreath would scratch the witch as they flew through the house. The curator of the exhibition, Matt Harvey, told us that in 18th and 19th centuries Guernsey folk who suffered from skin diseases would go to a wise-woman/man who would ‘scrape off’ the ailment from the skin using a bramble or hawthorn ring. This was done ritualistically by either passing through a hoop of the hawthorn/bramble, through the bush itself or processing around it. Some regions of the British Isles record the burning of brambles as a protective and fumigating ritual which was often performed in the bridal chamber to cleanse it from evil influences. The form of a wreath, i.e., a wedding wreath, would be particularly apposite in this instance. We have a Cornish variation of this in our collection, see http://museumofwitchcraftandmagic.co.uk/object/twigs/. Both brambles and hawthorn have divinatory properties – around All Hallows Eve it was though especially efficacious to crawl through a bramble ring to bring on dreams and auguries; hawthorn groves were thought to be potent places at Halloween too, a place to see fairies and witches. Across Europe, hawthorn was used as a protection charm, hung above doorways and cradles.
The baffling science of making a Hawthorn Ring!
The picture above shows just one stage of how the hawthorn ring was made – Hawthorn branches tend to be brittle even when fresh, and as a result are not great for circle-making with only a foot or so at the end of the branch which is reasonably pliable. The branches were well soaked, then made up, the finished effort soaked again and left to dry on a former (the bottom of the dustbin!).
An important part of the charm was that no fixings or string was used – it appears that your Guernsey wise woman or cunning man was also rather a wizz at weaving! Luckily Gillian is an expert too and has done a fabulous job.