A practicing Pagan since she was 12, in her previous life in Albion, she attendedAgricultural College in the late 70’s, then worked as a professional Horticulturist. Later studying ‘Ecology and Conservation’ in the early 80’s at The London University. Then in 1989 she became part of a new ‘Green’ Ranger Services in Kent, working in an ancient woodland & SSSI for the next 10 years. Melanie was also one of the founder members, along with Adrian Harris of ‘The Dragon Environmental Network,’ eco-magic, or magical & spiritual action for the environment. Their campaign to save Oxleas Wood in Greenwich, was where Dragon first turned from an idea into a reality, helping to save this ancient woodland, as well as meeting her future husband Wolf during the campaign. Melanie ran The Green Circle for Marian Green for many years, as
well as their larger events & operating her own local Green Circle group in Charlton House.
After buying a ruined cottage in East Clare, back in 1992, she moved to Ireland with her husband & young son. Working first as a volunteer, then as the Gene Bank Manager for ‘The Irish Seed Savers’. Melanie then left this organisation to run her own business, becoming a Heritage Straw Specialist for the ‘Heritage in Schools Scheme’, now administered by the Heritage Council (previously the INTO), and has been on this scheme for the past 20 years, since it first began, teaching in National Schools all over the country.
A long time member of and regional representative for Ireland of the International ‘Guild of Straw Craftsmen’. (http://www.strawcraftsmen.co.uk/) She has given talks & written articles for the Straw Guild. Melanie regularly demonstrates at ‘The National Museum of Country Life’ In County Mayo, having shared her experience with the wonderful staff there since it first opened, and is often involved as a demonstrator during their annual two-day Feile na Tuaithe. She also sells her Heritage Straw crafts in their Mayo and Dublin Museum shops. As well as this she works as a tutor for CELT, (The Centre for Environmental Living & Training) at their ‘Weekend in the Hills’, twice a year and as at other heritage events all around the country, such as at The Ballina Heritage Day. (http://www.celtnet.org/straw-craft) She has worked for Clonmel Museum & numerous ‘Walled Town’ events, Taking part in The ‘Farming and Country Life 1916’ event at Teagasc, in Athenry, numerous ‘Heritage Week’ events, Medieval Festivals, Féile Brian Ború, The Aughakillymaude’s Mummers Centre, in Co. Fermanagh, The Scarriff Harbor Fair, Durrow Scarecrow Festival, working with students from The University of Limerick, and many others. Also demonstrating straw craft for local County Councils and libraries both in County Clare and also in the North of Ireland.
Both Wolf Melanie attended the local Ennis Pagan Moot for many years, later running this collectively. They later joined O.B.O.D. in 2012, and are now studying the Ovate grade and running ‘The O.B.O.D. Eldermar Seed Group’ in County Clare. Melanie often sends in articles for Touchstone Magazine & Wolfs art, as an artist and teacher himself (www.wolflorien.com), has often been featured on the front cover. Melanie real love is folklore, magic, superstitions and customs, especially when related to wheat, and she is presently in the process of writing a book on its history.
The Last Straw
The wheat plant, a humble member of the grass family, has evolved alongside human civilization since the Ice Age. Along with maize and rice, it is one of the three staple crops to have fed mankind. Even in the Stone Age, humans discovered the wonder of wheat, possibly firstly to make beer, then much later within Egyptian culture, how to make bread. It may even be one of the reasons why we slowly changed our nomadic lifestyle & settled down into farming communities, thus creating ‘The Neolithic Revolution’.
Along with growing our own food, came many new fears. Bad weather, pests & diseases, the terror of raids by other tribes and eventually war. Discovering that a sedentary lifestyle could be just as uncertain and as dangerous as their previous migratory existence had often been. Out of this new uncertainty was born many of our later superstitions, customs, folklore & traditions, especially surrounding the growing of wheat, & more specifically its ultimate harvest and storage. Much now depended upon a successful crop being grown, gathered and stockpiled, to help both people and their livestock survive the cold winter months, and the dreaded hunger gap that followed. In fact, at least a quarter of the myths and superstitions recorded by the Scottish anthropologist Sir James George Frazer, in ‘The Golden Bough, a Study in Magic and Religion’ are concerned with these same harvesting concerns.
The Egyptians were responsible for many customs, mysteries & enchantments that grew up surrounding this simple, but vital grain crop. They may even have created the very first ‘Corn Dolly’, or ‘spirit house’, acting as a supernatural way to protect the ‘spirit of the corn’ once it was successfully harvested, so that both it, and the communities that depended upon it produce, could survive another year.
As part of this workshop, we will discuss some of the folklore and beliefs that have grown up surrounding this important cereal plant, looking at how it has affected our human history, as well as what often believed and dreaded. Many of these old traditions are now lost in the mists of time, but echo’s still remain that remind us of how much we as a species, evolved alongside this simple wild grass variety. Examining commonalities, traditions & superstition’s liked to the corn, to see how many have survived, even in our modern world. We will exploring myths & stories surrounding the wheat to see how these simple straw items were often used to empower and protect liminal space, physical possessions, animals & the people that we valued.
This workshop will also include a hands-on practical session, where everyone will have the opportunity to make a very simple & seasonal good luck charm with heritage wheat, to take home with them.