If it worked for him, it was worth a shot for me. The creative situation was as bleak as my financial prospects. My mom had died the year before, and nothing — from my writing to my love life — had been the same. I was drinking too much, going on endless OKCupid dates that more often than not ended the next morning with me frantically buying a new outfit from the T.
Maxx across the street from my office, and struggling on assignments that had been effortless the year before. Instead of tackling any of these issues, I decided to run away from my life — at least for a weekend. I saw an advertisement for a cheap flight on Aer Lingus and bought a round-trip ticket for a three-day trip. But as afternoon turned into evening during my first day on the island, nothing had borne creative fruit.
Inspiration-less and depressed, I eventually walked into the sweater store, one of the three stores on the island.
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A woman in her mids approached me. I told her briefly what I was doing. I wanted fairy lore, not tchotchkes. Siobhan, with her penchant for oversharing, reminded me of my landlady back home in Brooklyn. I glanced out the dusty attic window. The sky had begun to darken. The American Bar. Of course. Grumpily, I walked over to the small low building. Inside was a roaring fire and three day-drinkers glued to the inch TV precariously hung in the corner.
How long are you here for? You know the last ferry left for the day. He looked dubious. But what can you do? I pictured the already-overdue assignments continuing to pile up in my inbox and my frowning boss. I need to get back to New York City. Well, good luck to you. The bar was filling up — a few cardigan-clad employees from the sweater store at one end of the bar, men wearing crew sweatshirts from the ferry by the pool table, and a Gaelic-speaking group of elderly farmers holding court by the jukebox.
I kept watch on the door. Maybe Siobhan would turn up and give me some intel on my transportation options for tomorrow. Don't be ridiculous. I do not believe in them. Not at all There was a pause. Mr Briatore was speaking, in his superior way, about his recent bust-up with Naomi Campbell, the gorgeous-but-a-bit-of-a-handful supermodel. It seems they were an item for a year or so, but are now estranged. Well obviously, this is a bit of a blow to Mr Briatore, who no longer has sole grazing rights on Ms Campbell's unimaginable upland meadows.
It may come as a shock Oh no, not again to the proprietors of Hello! It may have upset the Italian television audience, who can no longer bask in the knowledge that one of their countrymen managed to squire the temperamental Streatham goddess through 50 Saturday night soirees.
It may, for all I know, be distressing for those of you who monitor the lives of catwalk performers as if they were members of your immediate family. But I can't help thinking there is something peculiar about Mr Briatore's vainglorious use of language. What has happened to the international media, when a hitherto unknown year-old businessman who has lucked out with a famous beauty starts issuing ex cathedra bulletins and "authorising" bits of tittle-tattle as if he were bringing us news from East Timor?
It is hard not to think of Dudley Moore, playing a drunken millionaire in the movie Arthur, saying thoughtfully, "I"m thinking of taking a bath The dinner-party circuit has been polishing its sideboards, plunging its fish-knives into the Silver Dip and folding its napkins into ever-more-exotic origami shapes. The milkman, the paperboy and the chap who runs the Pizza Express have all gone on red alert. Not long to go now, they mutter to each other. Keep calm. Any day now. Tom and Nicole and the kids will be moving into the neighbourhood any day now I'm looking forward to it all with unashamed excitement.
I look forward to exchanging Dulwich-dweller chitchat at the No 3 bus stop with the crinkly- smiling star of Top Gun and Days of Thunder. What fun it will be to sit beside the fistic roustabout of ITV's soap Home and Away in the local hairdressers, Harold George in Dulwich village, and hearing him say: "I"m after a more layered look over the ears, really", like the rest of us.
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How extraordinary to think that, by Christmas, he and I will have met so often in Dulwich public library that we'll practically be brothers like in Rain Man. I will not force my company on Tom, of course, because that would be bad manners; but should I find him propping up the bar of the Crown and Greyhound, smacking his lips over a pint of Owld Speckly Rooster and discussing the current form of Crystal Palace FC, I shall certainly endeavour to make him welcome with some light banter about child-kidnap statistics in south-east London.
Oh yes. He has definitely come to the right place. If you call up the official Vatican website www. This is not, as may be thinking, some luxuriant and fiery Tex-Mex dish with chillis and refried beans, but a new list of of "indulgences" - namely, special favours or furloughs by which you can reduce the centuries you will spend suffering in Purgatory, before finally making it into Heaven.
The Pope's new indulgences will be granted for oddly secular things - such as not smoking, laying off the electric soup, praying in public and making the sign of the Cross in front of your ghastly, pooh-poohing, non- Catholic workmates. There is even a special indulgence for blind people who listen to sacred texts on audio tape The Vatican's spin-doctors do not claim that these activities will do any more for believers in the long run than act as "a partial penance that will help to purify them and prepare them for an afterlife", but nobody with a Catholic education like me is fooled for a second.
Indulgences were always the most ludicrous and corruptible examples of religious blackmail encountered by the faithful in the days before Vatican II.
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They were Brownie points, get-out-of-jail-free cards, time off for good behaviour. They told you: if you say these prayers, do these things, behave this way, you will have this much time reduced from your sentence on the edge of Hell. In my school prayerbook, some prayers even carried the number of days - here, there - by which your sentence would be commuted. We used to spend hours, one day a year, nipping in and out of the church on a special feast-day when a certain one-off prayer got you and your family whole years off your putative time in the Purgatorial nick, if you said them over and over again.
Indulgences irritated Martin Luther so much, he brought about the Reformation. Does the Pope realise what conflagration of belief lies just beyond his dislike of smokers? You can find our Community Guidelines in full here. Want to discuss real-world problems, be involved in the most engaging discussions and hear from the journalists?
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Try Independent Premium free for 1 month to access this feature. Find your bookmarks in your Independent Premium section, under my profile. Subscribe Now Subscribe Now. It was also known as Bridewort because it was strewn on the ground at handfastings for the bride to walk on wort is an old word that means herb or root and it was also used in wedding posies and bridal bouquets. It is also associated with death as the scent of its flowers was said to induce a sleep that was deep and fatal.
However in County Galway it was believed that if a person was wasting away because of faerie influence then putting some meadowsweet under the bed ensured that they would be cured by the morning. Legend says that meadowsweet was given its fragrance by the Land Goddess Aine. In some places the flowers were dried and smoked in a pipe probably less damaging than tobacco. Its roots produce a black dye and its leaves a blue pigment and yellow is obtained from the top of the plant all of which were used by the Celts. In Ireland it was used to scour milk vessels.
The Blackthorn is depicted in many fairytales throughout Europe as a tree of ill omen. Called Straif in the Ogham, this tree has the most sinister reputation in Celtic tree lore. To Witches, it often represents the dark side of the Craft. The tree is linked with warfare, wounding and death, associated with the Cailleach - the Crone of Death, and the Irish Morrigan. Winter begins when the Cailleach also the Goddess of Winter strikes the ground with her Blackthorn staff. Although it is made from Oak, Ash or Holly it is usually made from Blackthorn, this is a hard, strong, plentiful wood that also has a very convenient knob that is formed from the root of the shrub.
Its bark is especially tough and the wood was cured by burying it in a dung heap or smearing it with butter then placing it up the chimney. Where Blackthorn grows near its sister plant the Hawthorn, the site is especially magical. The ashes were used to fertilize the fields. The Blackthorn has a long and often sinister history, associated with witchcraft and murder, but it is also associated with the concept of the cycle of life and death and protection not to mention its practical physical uses.
It is often associated with darkness, winter, and the waning or dark moon, a particularly cold spring is referred to as 'a Blackthorn winter'. The Blackthorn is also seen as a protective tree and representative of the endless cycle of life and death.
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For all its deadly associations the blossoms were used in ancient fertility rites as well as being hung in the bedchamber of a bride on her wedding night. The tree itself is said to be protected by the fairy folk. It is considered a fairy tree and is protected by the Lunantishee, a type of fairy that inhabits it. Blackthorn wood is the traditional wood for walking sticks due to its durability and rich colour when polished.
It has long been favoured by farmers along with the Hawthorn as a hedging shrub. The flowers appear before the leaves in the spring, heralding the start of that season. They are a diuretic and depurative or blood purifier , useful as a spring cleansing tonic and for skin conditions such as acne. The bark is used as an astringent and to treat fever and is also gathered in the spring. The leaves are also astringent and diuretic.
The unripe fruit is used to treat acne. There is mention of combining the leaves, bark, fruits and flowers together for certain traditional cures; presumably some of these would be in dried form. The ripe fruit is traditionally gathered after the first frost, which sweetens the taste. They are used to prepare sloe gin, or as a winter fruit to add to pies and jams or to brew wine. The old name Woodbine describes the twisting, binding nature of the honeysuckle through the hedgerows. It was believed that if honeysuckle grew around the entrance to the home it prevented a witch from entering.
In other places it's believed that grown around the doors it will bring good luck. If it grows well in your garden, then you will be protected from evil. In Ireland honeysuckle was believed to have a power against bad spirits, and it was used in a drink to cure the effects of the evil eye. Bringing the flowers into the house will bring money with them.
Honeysuckle has long been a symbol of fidelity and affection. Those who wear honeysuckle flowers are said to be able to dream of their true love. Its clinging nature in the language of flowers symbolises, 'we are united in love,' and emphasis's the bond of devotion and affection between two people. It was also believed that if the blooms were brought into the house then a wedding would follow within a year.
The wood has been used to make walking sticks because of its nature to grow around and entwine saplings. The dried flowers are used for adding to pot-pourri, herb pillows and floral waters. Also, scented cosmetics are made from the fresh flowers. A less known fact about the honeysuckle family is that Lonicera tatarica Tatarian honeysuckle, a leggy bush honeysuckle with sweet scented pink flowers, is used as a substitute for catnip.
The wood contains nepetalactone which is the active ingredient found in catnip. Gerard had the flowers steeped in oil down as being good to help warm and soothe the body that is very cold. Matthew Robinson in his New Family Herbal shared Culpeper's view that honeysuckle leaves helped the spleen and liver.
Matthew also advocated that the flowers are boiled in water and used as a poultice with a little oil added as a cure for hard swellings and impostumes abscesses. The leaves and flowers of the honeysuckle are rich in salicylic acid, so may be used to relieve headaches, colds, flu, fever, aches, pains, arthritis and rheumatism. The leaves have anti-inflammatory properties and contain anti-biotics active against staphylococci and coli bacilli. Honeysuckle flowers and flower buds are used in various infusions and tinctures to treat coughs, catarrh, asthma, headaches and food poisoning.
It was also linked by some medieval scholars with the ancient Irish Ogham alphabet. The Ivy.
In Irish folk medicine, the main use of ivy has been in the treatment of corns. In Ireland, burns and scalds were also treated with an ointment made from the boiled leaves and fat and it was also used to stop bleeding and reduce inflammation. Like many other evergreens, it symbolizes the concept of eternity; a belief in everlasting life and resurrection after death.
Because it is often found growing on dead and decayed trees, it came to represent the immortal soul —which lives on even after the body has returned to the earth.
Yet at the same time, because it was often found in sites of death including cemeteries and old tombstones it was also viewed as an emblem of mortality. Like the holly, the ivy is one of the plants found in the Celtic Tree Calendar, where it is known as Gort. Such connections often play an important role in our celebrations as we reach out to family and friends, to recall cherished memories and create new ones. Ivy was used in love divination at Samhain. An Irish rhyme involving nine Ivy leaves: Nine Ivy leaves I place under my head To dream of the living and not of the dead To dream of the man I am going to wed To see him tonight at the foot of my bed.
Ivy was also used for death divination at Samhain. You nominate an unblemished leaf for each member of the family; each person puts their leaf in a glass of water to stand overnight. In the morning if the leaf was still unblemished then you were sure of life for the next year. However, if your leaf had spots on it then you would not see the next Samhain.
In Ancient Egypt the ivy was sacred to Osiris, and a safeguard against evil. THE following is an old Irish story. The Fairy Dance. One evening late in November, which is the month when spirits have most power over all things, as the prettiest girl in all the island was going to the well for water, her foot slipped and she fell, it was an unlucky omen, and when she got up and looked round it seemed to her as if she were in a strange place, and all around her was changed as if by enchantment.
But at some distance she saw a great crowd gathered round a blazing fire, and she was drawn slowly on towards them, till at last she stood in the very midst of the people; but they kept silence, looking fixedly at her; and she was afraid, and tried to turn and leave them, but she could not.
Then a beautiful youth, like a prince, with a red sash, and a golden band on his long yellow hair, came up and asked her to dance.
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At last the dancing ceased and her partner thanked her, and invited her to supper with the company. Then she saw an opening in the ground, and a flight of steps, and the young man, who seemed to be the king amongst them all, led her down, followed by the whole company. At the end of the stairs they came upon a large hall, all bright and beautiful with gold and silver and lights; and the table was covered with everything good to eat, and wine was poured out in golden cups for them to drink.
When she sat down they all pressed her to eat the food and to drink the wine; and as she was weary after the dancing, she took the golden cup the prince handed to her, and raised it to her lips to drink. Just then, a man passed close to her, and whispered-- "Eat no food, and drink no wine, or you will never reach your home again.
On this they were angry, and a great noise arose, and a fierce, dark man stood up, and said-- "Whoever comes to us must drink with us. But at that moment a red-haired man came up, and he took her by the hand and led her out. This she took, and fled away along the sward in the dark night; but all the time she heard footsteps behind her in pursuit. At last she reached home and barred the door, and went to bed, when a great clamour arose outside, and voices were heard crying to her-- "The power we had over you is gone through the magic of the herb; but wait--when you dance again to the music on the hill, you will stay with us for evermore, and none shall hinder.
The Rowan Tree. When, through carelessness, she lost this cup to demons, the gods sent an eagle to recover the cup. The feathers and drops of blood which the eagle shed in the ensuing fight with the demons fell to earth, where each of them turned into a rowan tree. Hence the Rowan derived the shape of its leaves from the eagle's feathers and the appearance of its berries from the droplets of blood.
In Ireland the Rowan has a long and still popular history in folklore as a tree which protects against witchcraft and enchantment. The physical characteristics of the tree may have contributed to its protective reputation, including the tiny five pointed star or pentagram on each berry opposite its stalk the pentagram being an ancient protective symbol. The colour red was deemed to be the best protection against enchantment, and so the Rowan's vibrant display of berries in autumn may have further contributed to its protective abilities, as suggested in the old rhyme: "Rowan tree and red thread make the witches tine meaning 'to lose' their speed".
There are several recurring themes of protection offered by the Rowan. The tree itself was said to afford protection to the dwelling by which it grew, and pieces of Rowan would be hung in the house to protect it from fire. Sprigs of Rowan were used as a protection for the cattle and against the supernatural forces that may threaten the dairy products. We also find records of instances as late as the latter half of the twentieth century of people being warned against removing or damaging a Rowan in the garden of their newly purchased garden.
The Rowan is particularly associated with the month of May. Here in Ireland at Beltaine livestock would be driven between twin fires to keep away evil influences. The first smoke from a chimney on May morning should be from a fire of Rowan twigs, this was done to thwart any mischief that the witches might be planning. A piece of Rowan was put in the crops for protection and cattle going out in the morning were struck with a switch of wood. On May eve it was also the practice to put a loop of Rowan on the tails of livestock, especially cows, to protect them from the fairies.
Also, on May eve sprigs of Rowan were placed on window sills, door steps and even the roof for protection. The Rowan's wood is strong and resillient, making excellent walking sticks, and is suitable for carving. It was often used for tool handles, and spindles and spinning wheels were traditionally made of Rowan wood. Rowan twigs were used for divining, particularly for metals. The berries can be made into or added to a variety of alcoholic drinks, and different Celtic peoples each seem to have had their favourites.
As well as the popular wine still made in the Highlands, the Scots made a strong spirit from the berries, the Welsh brewed an ale, the Irish used them to flavour Mead, and even a cider can be made from them. Today Rowan berry jelly is still made in Scotland and is traditionally eaten with game.
Rowans are a species that are at home in some of the more challenging parts of our ecosystem such as barren mountainsides. They are also one of the species that bear their male and female flowers on separate trees so that it is necessary to have both genders present in a population in order to produce viable seed. The fresh flowers and the dried fruits are both used medicinally.
They have laxative and diuretic properties that can be valuable in the treatment of arthritis and rheumatism. They are also used to treat menstrual pain, constipation and inflammation of the kidneys, and are also used as a gargle for sore throats.
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The berries are high in fruit acids, Vitamin C and fruit sugars. The bark is used as a strong astringent to treat diarrhoea internally and to treat leucorrhoea as a wash. The leaves and berries of the Rowan are sometimes added to incense to aid divination and to increase psychic powers. Some believe magic wands made from Rowan are especially effective in ritual when psychic intuition is required. Elder Tree. According to this old Irish saying there are three signs of a cursed or barren place: the elder, the nettle and the lonesome calling corncrake.
This has some basis in truth, as the elder is a very early colonizer of bare land, the seed of this pioneer species can be spread through droppings from passing birds. Because of its association with witches Elder is considered hostile to children especially infants.
In Ireland it is dangerous and foolhardy to make a cradle out of Elder as the child would sicken and be stolen away by the fairies. In Ireland it is also said to be wrong to strike a child or animal with a piece of Elder as they would stop growing from that day onwards. Parts of the Elder are used to treat everything from burns to the common cold and it has been suggested that extract of Elderberry may be effective in the treatment of the bird flu virus. The leaves also have a scent that is slightly narcotic and there is even an old legend that warns of sleeping under the Elder because you may not wake up.
Today extracts of Elder are used in skin cleansers and another legend suggests that if a young girl washes her face in the morning dew of the elderflower she will remain young looking. This may also be because the berries contain dyes that were used to darken grey hair. Many Christians believe that elder is the tree from which Judas Iscariot hanged himself after betraying Jesus. It is also believed that the cross upon which Christ was crucified was made from Elder.
In Ireland it was believed that the Elder tree refused to shelter Christ but the Ivy did so. From then on the Elder is the last tree to come into leaf while the Ivy is evergreen. The Elder in common with the Hawthorn and the Rowan has strong associations with the Fairy folk and is a tree of protection. It is considered very lucky if you have one growing near your house. The aroma exuded by the elder's leaves has long been known to repel flies, so this folklore may have been borne out of the need to keep such insects, and the diseases that they carried, away from the kitchen and food.
Bunches of leaves were hung by doorways, in livestock barns, and attached to horses' harnesses for the same reason. Elder was traditionally planted around dairies and it was thought to be efficacious in keeping the milk from 'turning'. Cheese cloths and other linen involved in dairying were hung out to dry on elder trees, and the smell they absorbed from the leaves may have contributed to hygiene in the dairy. Elder trees were also traditionally planted by bake houses as protection from the Devil what with all those hellishly hot ovens within!