There's no better celebration of any season than the decorated tree adorned with the rich symbolism of nature—my ritual to inform and inspire you in the journey called life.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween candy

TRICK-OR-TREAT  is the well-known mantra of ghouls and goblins that show up on your doorstep on Halloween night. The sometimes hostile supernatural forces and the ghosts and spirits of the dead are supposedly free to wander as they wish, as they walk on the thin line separating them on this scary night. Over the course of centuries, the present-day custom of trick-or-treating was born out of such superstition. Is it only that, or did our ancestors know something we've forgotten?

GIVING TREATS  to the tricksters, according to Halloween lore is said to appease the wandering spirits and keep them from doing dastardly deeds to your property (or flock, as it were). Wearing masks and other disguises are meant to confuse the spirits roaming amongst us.

AS A KID, I remember roaming around the neighborhood with a gaggle of friends, going unsupervised to neighbors homes (after a certain age) where we would find homemade fudge, popcorn balls and other treats carefully packaged in paper treat bags printed in black and orange. Of course the trickster tradition of papering (or rolling) someone's yard was great fun also (usually friends or teachers)! The freedom of these innocent times has been curtailed these days with more supervision since the trickster spirits seemed to have taken hold of the holiday. Maybe it's only because—more often than not—the treats aren't as carefully considered and made with love.

IT HAS BEEN  quite a trick to create the images of this post, but I had a lot of fun doing it, so I'm going to let them speak for themselves and not be as long-winded as usual. The large ornaments on the tree above were hand-cut and crafted in New England and sold in the online Stromboli's Wagon store on Ebay. Inspired by vintage imagery and beautifully finished in paint and glitter, it's obvious they were made with love and care. The Jack-O-Lantern metal bell ornaments are from Pier 1 Imports—in three sizes, they lend a great compositional depth in decorating this glittery tree cutout. It all sits atop a gothic-style wooden table.

SHE COULD very well be the Queen of Halloween — my always supportive and inspiring blog friend, folk artist Johanna Parker created some wonderful Halloween hangers this year that I've added to my collection (from her commercially available collections, available here, here and here). I told her they might just become my holiday totems! In describing her thought process in making these spooky-fun creations, Johanna says "When designing these fun hangers, my intentions were to add a little more movement to my holiday product line. Typically, my Halloween characters are fashioned for the shelf, mantel or table top, so the thought occurred to me to add a little kinetics to the mix. Double-sided hangers came to mind and naturally all things that haunt us from the skies popped in my imagination. I absolutely love owls, bats truly fascinate me, and well, Mr. Moon is certainly a key player in setting the spooky mood!" Inspired by her collections of vintage holiday novelties, Johanna admits that her favorite subject matter is Halloween. And why not? Her birthday also falls on October 31st. Happy birthday Johanna!

AND SINCE cats are my favorite animal associated with Halloween (actually my favorite animal, period), I've created a simple cat tree this year. It seems that Halloween is rivaling Christmas in popularity everywhere. It's no mystery that according to that one quarter of all the candy sold annually in the U.S. is purchased for Halloween. Let's hope that's enough to keep us safe from the evil trickster spirits for at least another year.

GOTHIC GLAM | (Top) This glittery tree stands in contrast to the blue backdrop painted with Martha Stewart Living paint in azurite from Home Depot. It is decorated with glittered vintage-inspired ornaments from Stromboli's Wagon and Jack-O-Lantern metal bell ornaments in three sizes from Pier 1 Imports. Altogether they form a vintage Halloween look. Since the bells ring, does that mean the spirits get their wings? 

GLITTERY RETRO | (Above, left) The handcrafted ornaments were hand-cut and crafted in New England and sold in the online Stromboli's Wagon store on Ebay. Inspired by vintage imagery and beautifully finished, it's obvious they were made with love and care. 

HALLOWEEN HANGERS | (Above, right) I couldn't resist these Halloween owl, moon and bat hangers designed by my blog friend Johanna Parker (left, in her Halloween finery). Oversized and double-sided painted papier-mâché ornaments of this size certainly set a spooky-fun scene for a tableau like this. I purchased these folk-art finds from blog friend Debbie Buchanan's online store at Bayberry Cove.

CATS IN HATS | (Bottom) These black cat ornaments in orange hats from Pier 1 Imports are a simple trick for this coated wire tree from IKEA. The multi-colored bumpy glass ornaments are from a past Martha Stewart Kmart collection. The cat/costumed folk-art figures were lent from a friend's private collection, all placed atop a sparkly beaded spider placemat from this year's Halloween collection from Target. 

photography, collecting and styling by Darryl Moland

Monday, October 18, 2010

woodland lessons two: a tale in two parts

WHAT MORE could there be to the history behind the decorated tree? What's the real significance of the custom of putting presents under an evergreen brought inside the home? How could reindeer fly and help Santa spread the good cheer? There are certainly a lot of customs surrounding the literal or metaphorical birth of Christ that are just accepted without question. I will give a little insight into some of the origins. 

NO  ONE  knows all the answers, but the more I read about the lore surrounding the Christmas holiday, the more interesting and resonant it seems to be. The associations with the religions of the world find their origins in the ancient shamanistic cultures predating Christendom. The best way to tame and convert "the heathens" was to adopt the customs of the Old World, forgetting that one day, the dots could be connected in the New World.

WHAT  IS  FOUND in nature inspired it all. The natural world holds the key. There is no denying, even though we sometimes think we have subverted it, we're finding more and more that we are integrally tied to Mother Nature. And in such profound ways that we can no longer ignore our place within its carefully balanced and sustainable systems. Mushrooms and their life systems are a huge part of this.

MUSHROOMS  have long been associated with the evergreen tree, being the literal presents found under it. The truly special ones can be found growing in symbiosis under arboreal trees such as pine, fir, or sometimes larch or birch. In Christmas ornament history and more and more in present day as we rediscover our holiday roots, you'll find red-capped mushroom ornaments dotted with white spots. They are also the mushrooms seen in fairy tales such as Alice in Wonderland. Such ornaments are representations of the lucky magic mushrooms called Amanita muscaria. Muscimol, the hallucinogenic component in dried Amanita muscaria (the raw ones are poisonous) is how the shamans of ancient cultures found "flight." The broadened spacial perception under their influence led them to think of the cosmic guidance while being pulled high above the world in their sleds by mushroom-eating flying reindeer was their contact with the collective consciousness of souls—their God—their point of contact with the gods and the dead. The ancient cultures and shamans of the world used this mushroom manna to help manipulate and open the mind, carefully protecting the wisdom found through their experiences of expanded perception to the masses, making them sacred individuals, which in turn gave the newer religions ground to convert the masses. The later symbolic gestures in religion leave out the actual element of nature.

ALL  OF  THE  associations of present-day customs surrounding the Christmas holiday with the ancient practices are interesting indeed—especially with logic defying mushrooms and the resulting broadening perception of the natural world and how humans first connected to the "Gods." For this alone, they truly are magic.

AS  A  MUSICAL  accompaniment to this post, I can't think of a better angelic voice to bring the old songs of the holidays new life, as is my mission with this blog to bring resonance and meaning back to the old customs of the holidays throughout the ages and in turn, asking questions about the origins of our current-day customs. Annie Lennox has always been one to bring a modern perspective to the old sounds that resonate with all of us. In this new album titled "A Christmas Cornucopia," a new song, titled "Universal Child" precedes the album made up of it and 11 traditional Christmas songs. She says (and I paraphrase her) "that while recording the album, I realized the songs have layers of meaning that are not necessarily only about the Christian interpretation. You can listen to the songs and hear the religious significance, but underneath it all, there is simply a humanistic message." I anxiously await this album as Annie Lennox is one of my favorite recording artists. The album will be released globally on November 15th, 2010. Watch this amazing video of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" here which bridges the origins of the holiday to modern celebrations.
MODERN MUSHROOM | (Top) Although this stylized shroom is not the traditional red and white lucky Christmas mushroom ornament, this spotted version from my collection has a personality all its own.The Amanita muscaria is a real mushroom (seen at right), not just the quintessential fairy tale toadstool. Poisonous in it's raw form, it takes a practiced individual (like someone who meditates or is attuned to more mindful traits) to discover any mind expansion in its psychoactive use (from what I've read).

SNAIL FOOD | (Above, center) Snails and worms hasten the return of the quick life of mushrooms back to the earth. During a woodland outing in north Georgia about a year ago, I found a wide array of mushrooms, picking up this snail along the way which posed perfectly for this shot. I haven't identified any of the mushrooms found, but plan to and I'll update my post when I do.

NATURAL COLLAGE | (Above, bottom) A beautiful assemblage of mushrooms I photographed on warm-hued pieces of scrapbook paper just after my lucky morning outing in the woods gathering them. These are the inspiration for the color scheme of the woodland tree. Once I identify the types of mushrooms, I will update my findings. (Below) The gills on the undersides of the mushroom caps create a beautiful textural study and illustrate the complex mystery of their short lives.
©2010 DARRYL MOLAND | ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, collecting and styling by Darryl Moland, photography by Harold Daniels Studio / assisted by Shawn May. Mushroom collecting, photography and styling by Darryl Moland.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

woodland lessons one: a tale in two parts

Most wild oak trees are planted by jays or squirrels, which relish the acorns but bury a lot for future use and then forget to retrieve some of them. —from the book Lives of the Trees: An Uncommon History by Diana Wells.

IT  DOES  SEEM  I've buried more than my share of metaphorical acorns during my life. Just like the jays and squirrels, when I encounter an abundance, I instinctively want to save the stuff I relish for the future. As an outcome, a seedling could be born, which would grow into a mighty (metaphorical) oak—or it could just return to the earth to nourish the soil in which future seedlings will grow. It all depends on the conditions surrounding it. Will there be enough sunlight? Will there be the right amount of moisture? Will it be buried too deep or at just the right level? The most important questions to ask are: Did I put it in the right place for all this to happen?— or even—Will I remember where I put it? Both beg the question—Have I saved it for good use in the future, or just left it all  to chance? So many questions, dependent on both hunger and memory—really the crux of this blog!

THIS  IS  the first part of a two-part post about acorns and mushrooms and the lessons we can learn from such seemingly disparate forms of life. The tree I've created celebrates the abundance autumn brings with mostly acorn and mushroom ornaments representing the grand cycle of things. I'm focusing on acorns (and thus the oak tree) in this post, mushrooms in the next.

ACCORDING  TO  Diana Wells in the aforementioned book, "the eighth century Benedictine Monk Boniface was sent by Pope Gregory II as a missionary to Germany, where he found an obstinate group of pagans worshipping an oak tree. Boniface ordered that the tree be cut down. While the worshippers were helplessly watching, a supernatural blast of wind arose, ripping off the top of the oak, which crashed down, splitting into four equal parts when it struck the ground. The pagans, satisfactorily for Boniface, interpreted these four parts as a sign of the crucifix, manifesting the power of Christianity. After the pagans were converted, the oak wood was used to build an oratory dedicated to St. Peter. Boniface himself was murdered, in 754 AD, by another group of potential converts. He was later sanctified."

BONIFACE  BECAME  the patron saint of Germany and one legend credits him with the invention of the Christmas tree. The Oak of Thor was the tree chopped down by Boniface in the stage-managed confrontation with the pagans. A fir tree growing from the roots of the Oak he claimed as a new symbol of Christian life. I prefer the much more romantic story behind Martin Luther's credit as the innovator behind the Christmas tree. No matter how or what you believe, the power and popularity of the decorated tree in our life rituals has an incontestable magical power over people from all walks of life. Maybe it's only because we're all drawn to shiny, sparkly things, but I believe it is much more than that.

SYMBOLIC HARVEST | (Above) This All Season Tan Feather Tree is available at Bayberry Cove from Bethany Lowe Designs. It is decorated with acorns, mushroom, nuts and antique ornaments from my collection. At the base, the Victorian tradition of a picket fence surrounding the tree is a great way of finishing the display. The table holding it all is the Charlotte Bedside Table from Pottery Barn.

ACORN GATHERING | (Above right and at left) This acorn kugel hanging from the drawer pull makes a beautiful focal point at the base of this tableau. The elongated Czechoslovakian acorn ornament is from a favorite set purchased from the now defunct Martha by Mail catalog.

©2010 DARRYL MOLAND | ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, collecting and styling by Darryl Moland, photography by Harold Daniels Studio / assisted by Shawn May.