Feral Folk Interview with Nicole Piar

Nicole Piar, creator of the Spirit Cats Deck.
Nicole Piar’s Spirit Cats Deck

Nicole Piar is an artist and visionary.  Many may be familiar with her delightful Spirit Cats Deck, which I carry in my online shop here. I love her Spirit Cat’s Deck as a beautiful addition to my personal working altar. Nicole’s gentle, uplifting visions of cats and magical beings are not only beautiful, they are authentic, and come from a genuine soul.  I talked to Nicole about her upcoming Cosmic Allies Altar Deck and Book, her favourite necklace as well as other artists and makers that inspire her. Read on to learn more.

Ally: Can you tell us about your current projects?

Nicole: My Cosmic Allies Altar Art Deck and Book is on its way to me as we speak and I can’t wait for it to finally arrive. It’s been a long, winding and wild multi-year journey to bring the Cosmic Allies into the world. I learned so much about surrendering, pausing, and making space for Spirit to enter. It definitely challenged my ego who was hoping for a more linear, productive creative process. This was sooo far from linear.

I should have known I was diving deep down the rabbit hole when I decided to completely merge ritual magic and art-making for this deck. I had been practicing planetary magic for a while and was craving genderless visual expressions of the 7 planetary energies in astrology ~ Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn. I couldn’t find anything like that so I decided to create it myself.

For each Cosmic Ally, I created an altar, made special offerings, did meditations where I invited the planetary energy to merge with me, and channeled guidance. I wove spells and opened to receiving visions in my dreams and in my waking life. I created each painting on the day of the week that is sacred to the corresponding Cosmic Ally. Venus was painted only on Fridays, Mercury on Wednesdays, Jupiter on Thursdays and so on. I did things in ways that sacrificed practicality, efficiency, and logic for the sake of the magic.

Consequently, each card in the deck is not only a work of art, it is also a powerful planetary talisman. The accompanying book share a plethora of ways to work with the Cosmic Allies so that you can really craft an experience that resonates with you specifically.

I can honestly say that this project worked on me more than I worked on it. I have claimed more of the full spectrum of my power and soul expression. I playfully infused my life with ritual and magic. In fact, I feel like I am living inside the ritual all the time now. I feel more expansive, more free. I can see more of the beauty in the world, both cosmic and earthly.

This next big project simmering up to the surface is my Witch Cats Oracle Deck. Many of the cats have already come through but more are on their way. Not sure when this will be finished but I love all the Witch Cats already. I think they will be good friends with my Spirit Cats Oracle Deck.

Ally: Do you have a favourite adornment? Does it have a story?

Nicole: I have a giant, art nouveau, hand-crafted silver butterfly necklace that I LOVE. It’s not subtle at all. It’s overtly magical and wild and I love that. People always notice it and ask me about it. I love telling them that it was a gift from my Mom. My Mom and I are very close. She is very empathic, loving, and open-minded and I admire that in her.

Whenever she visits me in LA from New Hampshire, we go to the Huntington Botanical Gardens. That place is pure magic! I can wander among the blooms and trees all day and they have the best curated gift shop with lots of items from artists. I fell in love with the butterfly necklace there and my Mom bought for my birthday. It reminds me of her and of nature. It warms my heart as I wear it which is almost every day.

This next big project simmering up to the surface is my Witch Cats Oracle Deck. Many of the cats have already come through but more are on their way.

Find more at Nicole’s website: http://www.nicolepiar.com/

Interview with Michael, Feral Shop Hand

Michael modelling a one of a kind vintage St. Christopher medal necklace

Ally: You have been helping me with the shop since I started nine years ago, but we really became business partners about five years ago. A lot has changed over those years. What are the most significant changes?

Michael: Five years ago I wasn’t really thinking about the larger picture – I was just following your lead, mimicking how you did things, honing new skills, pitching in and being helpful – & sometimes messing things up in the process! Consequently I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to the changing landscape of the business, which of course was changing rapidly all around us.

While the stylistic markers of handmade have been adopted by large chain stores and corporations, there are fewer spaces that actively support do-it-yourself ethics. Etsy.com, where Feral Strumpet began 9 years ago, was once a supportive online community of buyers and sellers. They now avoid using the term “handmade” entirely.  Much of what is often perceived as handmade on Etsy is now made using cheap labour from the developing world.  Feral Strumpet actually wakes up each day and says: let’s see what these 4 hands can create!  That has become anomalous on Etsy.

Ally: You are often the first point of contact with the shop as you cover customer service. What is your favourite aspect of this job?

Michael: Our customers are the best! I never tire of reading the kind words and wonderful feedback customers have to say about their Feral Strumpet purchases.  It’s also incredible to hear from customers about how they’ve quickly forged relationships with their pieces and found kinship with both the designs and their maker. These personal connections are a big part of why some people prefer buying from small, handmade businesses.

Ally: What are your favourite designs in the shop? 

Michael: It changes all the time. Since being in charge of inventory, most days I get to see the whole range of items Feral Strumpet sells.  Let’s see: I love your classic, rustic wire-wrapped stone bead pieces, like the Seven Wonders Necklace in Bifrost.  I have also long been captivated by your range of Fairy Drop Earrings, which as a piercing-less person I can’t wear.  But they really catch the light perfectly. Right now though, I am most excited about our new Micro Tesla hoops – I love their tiny simplicity, and they are satisfying to make. If I had any kind of sea legs – and I don’t, I turn green at the sight of a ship – I’d wear a pair of these proudly throughout the world’s oceans.

It’s also incredible to hear from customers about how they’ve quickly forged relationships with their pieces and found kinship with both the designs and their maker.

Ally: You were my first model.  Which were your favourite designs that you have modelled?

Michael: I’m too self-conscious to be a good model; I recoil at the sight of a lens.  But yes you did steal a few usable shots of me back then.  There was that one Vintage rosary medal necklace we sold to a crew member on Peaky Blinders . . . I wonder if that ever ended up around Tommy Shelby’s neck?  But seriously I always loved the weight and feel of the hop pendant necklace, and since I was a big craft ale drinker in my younger days, this one immediately resonated with me.  And I really like my soft Feral Strumpet t-shirt – I’m actually wearing it as I type this.

Ally: You used to be a mental health social worker. How is working in a small handmade business similar? How is it different?

Michael: Mental health social work is an endlessly fascinating, extremely rewarding profession in the country like the UK that has an honest-to-god system to help and support those experiencing mental health problems.  But: in the days of extreme public service austerity, such work comes with an immense toll on one’s own health, be it mental, physical, or spiritual.  Starting to work at Feral Strumpet was like starting over, in the best way possible.

Ally: Where do you see our shop going next? What is your vision for the future?

Michael: Our shop continues to grow and in many ways has already outgrown Etsy. Our independent online shop is beautiful and more expressive of our aesthetic, and we now strive to make it a destination online to come look at and read about common interests we have with our customers.

I’m excited about our dreams of eventually moving from Aberdeenshire into the Highlands to a larger house with a workshop. So we’ll see what happens with that.

A Guide to Tesla Hoops

Inventor and showman, Nicolai Tesla, namesake of the Tesla Hoop

Here is a guide to our original Feral Strumpet Tesla Hoops, including size charts and a video showing you how to put them on.

The Tesla design features an open hoop which closes with a moveable coil spring that slides around the hoop to open and close it. It is designed for people with stretched piercings to wear alone or through tunnels.

I have been making Tesla hoops since 2013. Feral Strumpet Tesla Hoops with their seamless coil closure are my original design.

  • They come in your choice of four metals: lightweight aluminium, copper, brass and sterling silver.
  • I recommend wearing the aluminium Teslas through tunnels. I like to wear mine through silicone ear skins.
  • The copper, brass and sterling can be worn through bare piercings or tunnels.
  • Some are lightweight, like the aluminium, while the larger gauge copper hoops are ear weights.
  • Different gauges and diameters are available. 
  • There is a Tesla for everyone on their stretching journey.
Here is a video showing how to put on and take off your Tesla hoops.

Download a handy size and weight chart here–Tesla Size Chart

If you have any questions about what size or style of Tesla hoop is right for you, I can help you choose. Email me at feralstrumpet.info@gmail.com

Feral Folk Interview with Helen Callaghan

Helen Callaghan is the author of the bestselling novels Dear Amy and Everything is Lies.  I’m waiting excitedly to read her new book Night Falls, Still Missing which is set in Orkney and is due out next month. Helen is one of my favourite writers and a dear friend. I first met her in a writing group in London over ten years ago.  Here she talks about her next book, learning to scuba dive and jewellery as talismans.

Ally: Can you tell us a bit about your current projects? 
Helen: I’m working on the next book, which is tentatively called Undine. In it, Cass and Sid lose their father in a tragic diving accident while exploring the wreck of the HMS Undine, and inherit his diving school on the Cornish coast.
You’re down there in the cold, with the surface world flickering twenty feet above you like a distorted mirror, and that’s that, for now. You’re staying. That surrender was its own revelation.

Once Cass returns from university, she discovers Sid is now living in their house with Adam, one of the dive shop’s employees who she has promoted to manager. Cass very quickly realises that he is running  the shop, the school, and her sister into the ground.

Things get worse after a student finds something incriminating during a wreck dive at the Undine. Cass begins to wonder now whether her father’s death was an accident or murder…

Undine is a challenging book in a number of ways. As part of the research I had to learn to scuba dive. It is fair to say that I was not, ahem, a natural. In fact I had my first ever panic attack in the flooded quarry in Leicestershire where you go to qualify.

However, there is something I learned about scuba diving that I could take into life – and that is that it requires surrender. There is a point underwater where you are simply too far down to think ’Sod this, this is too scary’ and fire yourself back up to the surface. The pressure changes could kill you.

You’re down there in the cold, with the surface world flickering twenty feet above you like a distorted mirror, and that’s that, for now. You’re staying. That surrender was its own revelation.

Ally: Do you have a favourite adornment? Does it have a story?

Helen: it’s so hard to choose! For years I’d bought and been given beautiful jewellery, which I really loved, but it was always costume jewellery which eventually faded, or, if you like, occult jewellery such as crystals and amber which had specific purposes. It never struck me as wise to buy expensive pieces, as I am forever losing single earrings and breaking thin chains.

But when Dear Amy came out, I wanted to celebrate that milestone – I’d been writing for all of my life and this was my first published novel. I was at a writers retreat on the island of Mull and in the silversmiths there I saw this necklace.

The hare just spoke to me. For years I carried a little quartz hare I bought in Avebury around in my handbag, and I have no idea what happened to it. This seemed a fitting replacement. The first hare I ever saw in real life was in a field just outside of Wayland’s Smithy, and I have always associated them with Spring, freshness, and creativity.

I often wear this necklace and the matching earrings whenever I am in public representing my books – when I need to box clever – and it’s always brought me luck.

Ally: Is there another artist, writer, dancer or maker that you think we should be paying attention to now?

Helen: There are so many fantastic artists and writers around. I have read some wonderful books lately, but the two that really spring to mind are Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss and The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy.
Ghost Wall is slender, a novella almost, and is about a young girl, Sylvie, whose father is obsessed with experimental archaeology. He drags his family with him to live in camps reenacting his version of the past in an authoritarian, male-centred way. At the same time, through exposure to university students and villagers, the main character comes into contact with other interpretations of the ancient world and gender roles. I though it was amazingly compact and thoughtful – so much to say in such a short space.
Her latest, Summerwater, is due out in August, and I am counting the days until then.
The Man Who Saw Everything is more difficult to talk about without spoiling the central conceit, but it was just so technically adroit and beautifully imagined, spanning from the 70s to the modern day via Cold War East Germany, and is that wonderful thing – a book that looks vague and bitty initially, but is in fact a precision machine. I also loved Hot Milk and her memoir on writing, Things I Don’t Want To Know is fascinating and thoughtful.
You can keep up with Helen at these places online:

I Stand with #stophateforprofit

I stand with #stophateforprofit and their ban on Facebook and Instagram ads for the month of July.  Back in March, when Etsy rolled out its mandatory Offsite Ads campaign, I asked them to please not advertise on my behalf. They did not respond to my request.  I have written to them again in light of this new call for Facebook to be accountable to hate speech on their platform. Major corporations have joined the ad ban, but Etsy is not one of them. Here is my message to Etsy:

You are currently advertising my shop on Facebook and Instagram against my wishes as part of your mandatory Offside Ads program. I have explicitly requested that you stop this practice. Now that large corporations are taking a stand against Facebook for their lax stance on hate speech, will you be continuing to place ads on Facebook on my behalf during this ban? As this will hurt my business and community standing, you must not advertise on my behalf on Facebook or Instagram. Please reply to this message telling me your plan to cease and desist offsite ads on Facebook on my behalf. 

Sincerely,

Allyson Shaw/Feral Strumpet

I have not yet had a response. Etsy shoppers and sellers, I encourage you to take a stand an ask Etsy to join the ban on Facebook and Instagram ads in July.

Celtic Roots Collection

The Pictish hill fort Tap O Noth.

It seems fitting to launch the Celtic Roots  collection at this Summer Solstice. Things have been rocky, and it’s still eclipse season, but there is rebirth everywhere.

Not far from where I live and work making jewellery, a major Pictish settlement has just been discovered. These discoveries mean my little corner of Aberdeenshire was once the centre of Pictish life. The Picts were of course Celts. These carvers of mysterious stones were also great jewellery makers. Even to this day, modern silversmiths are unable to replicate some of their powerful and mysteriously made designs.

One of my very first cold forged designs was inspired by the simple Celtic pennanular brooch. I have gone on to make many version of this design in myriad metals with stone accents. You will find them in the collection.

There are also many Celtic inspired earrings and necklaces, suitable a daughter of the Picts. I have also sourced beautiful vintage pieces all inspired by Celtic knotwork.The Picts often depicted the web of wyrd on their cryptic stone carvings—destiny was cyclical and intertwining, knotted together with those that came before and all those who will come after.

Vintage Horse Brasses in Stock

Ancient Warding with Vintage Horse Brasses

Horse brasses are fascinating objects. Historically horse brasses were used to kit out horse harnesses, but they had an alternate use as an apotropaic talisman, something to avert misfortune or bad luck. According to UK folklore, horses were particularly susceptible to being hag-ridden.  The term “nightmare” refers to the dreamer being ridden by malevolent forces. Witches were thought to be attracted to horses and the beautiful, shiny horse brasses defected their “evil eye.” This perhaps dates back to a more ancestral memory of the horse as a sacred animal, kin to Epona the Celtic horse goddess.  

Objects of beauty, such as horse brasses, were often thought to draw the malignant impulse to itself rather than the wearer, much in the same way a witch ball was thought to protect a house.

I offer a range of carefully sourced vintage horse brasses featuring pagan or occult motifs ready to be repurposed as decor and for creative warding. They are available in the Altar Supplies section of my shop.

Top 7 Paintings of Hell Raiding Crones

Sometimes you just need to see something, and see it good. Lately I had a real hunger to see some old women raiding hell, some real crone energy being raised. The works that made my list had to have the mysterious weight of history twinned in their wild grey hair. 

Albrect Durer, Witch Riding Backwards on a Goat, 1500

1. Durer’s goat rider is perhaps my favourite wild elder of all time. This liminal image is going forwards and backwards at the same time.

Agustino Venziano The Witches Rout, 1520

2. Venziano’s  Witches Rout, 1520. What is even happening, and does it matter? You either climb on board or get out of the way.

Dulle Griet, Bruegel the Elder, 1536

3. Bruegel’s hell raider is the painting that started it all. I have written extensively about this painting as well as the Durer piece on my Patreon. Here Bruegel is heavily influenced by Bosch, representing a figure from Flemmish folklore called Dulle Griet. She raided hell, stealing treasure from demons. She was a satire of a loud, unpleasant woman but time has been kind to her. Now, we can look at these paintings as unabashed visions of female power.

David Teniers, 1630s

4. David Teniers’  Hexenspuk which translates to “spooky witch.”  I found this title on the internets and doubt its veracity.  What fascinates me most is what this woman is leaving behind.  As she enters hell, she looks over her shoulder. The demons seem to cower at her brandished sword, and she leaves behind a wild conflagration in the world of men. It’s not hard to imagine war, or the war of the sexes that were also known as the burning times. 

Dulle Griet by David Ryckaert III. 1651-1659

5 David Ryckaert III was a contemporary of Teniers, Nothing prepared me for the weirdness of Ryckaert, from his “toothpuller” and “The fable of the satyr and the peasant family” to an old woman feeding a cat swaddled as if it were a baby in “Peasant Woman with Cat.” He is my new fascination. 

Antwerp School, 1700s

 

6 Antwerp School, 17th century. I found this on the website of a German auction house.

Another paiting from an auction website, attributed to the Antwerp School, 1700s.

7 Another from the Antwerp School of the 17th Century. Here the Flemish saying “she would even tie the Devil to her pillow” meaning one who has an obstinate fearlessness, is given literal form.

The old woman fearlessly raiding hell is visited again and again as a subject, like a scene from the Bible or Greek mythology, yet it was folkloric and peasant-based. Perhaps this reveals the last vestiges of resistance to a new way of being brought on by the shift from feudal use of land to early capitalism. These changes brought with them the final stamping out of “pagan” ways of being. Older women were most likely the last to resist these changes to common ways of life. The earlier works in this list have a nightmarish urgency, while the later are clearly tamed by repetition and reference. The rebellious women, the Dulle Griets, were merely characters in a story told at midwinter by the fire.  Do you have a favourite crone-power painting? Would you add any to this list?