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Lovecraftian Christmas lights (my photo, December 2014)

Lovecraftian Christmas lights (my photo, December 2014)

On my way to and from work for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been quite fascinated by the fairy lights in the trees on the corner of the road, in one tree in particular. These trees are on the large side, but are still rather low and sprawling. This one tree, in the dark, its branches illuminated by various coloured lights, seems rather Lovecraftian in form, as a result, as I hope you can see in the photo above. It’s possible that the shapes created by fairy lights are a festive version of the Rorschach Test. This tree also scares me slightly as it makes me think of the tree Green Noah which attacks Tolly in The Children of Green Knowe, by Lucy M. Boston, which, incidentally, is a perfect book to read at Christmas in particular.

Sam Kittner, Silhouetted Worshippers Stand Before a Large Menorah Near the Washington Monument, for National Geographic (date unknown).

Sam Kittner, Silhouetted Worshippers Stand Before a Large Menorah Near the Washington Monument, for National Geographic (date unknown).

I chose to make December a season of photos of light on my blog in part because it meant I could acknowledge festivals and rituals of light from all religions and philosophies, as well as from art, history, literature, nature, science, and so forth. Today is the first day of the Jewish eight-day “holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple) in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BCE” (quoted from Hebcal.com. These eight days are known collectively as Hanukkah, or Chanukkah, and are a festival of light centred around the menorah, a nine-branched candlestick on which another light is lit each day, ideally as darkness falls. Although the eight days are only just beginning, I’ve chosen a photo of the menorah with all candles lit, to show the full effect.

Conservatory, Carlton House, London, designed by Thomas Hopper (1776-1856). Image via Georgianindex.com

Conservatory, Carlton House, London, designed by Thomas Hopper (1776-1856). Image via Georgianindex.com

Today is the 239th birthday of Jane Austen. It is also the first Jane Austen Day (so decreed by the Jane Austen Centre). With that in mind, as Miss Austen is one of my favourite authors, today I give you an image of Regency light. As you can see in the picture above, the conservatory is a room of sorts, retaining both the qualities of indoors and outdoors (the latter in terms of its function as a kind of garden), and allowing great quantities of light to emanate through its windows, to allow the plants to grow even as they are protected. This particular image features the Gothic conservatory designed by Thomas Hopper for the Prince Regent’s home at Carlton House in London. The gold pillars, and the white light of the tiled floor, would I think have made it an even brighter space when the sun shone in.

A pair of facing turtle doves in a roundel, f.32r, Aberdeen Bestiary (Aberdeen University Library MS 24). Image via Aberdeen University Library website.

A pair of facing turtle doves in a roundel, f.32r, Aberdeen Bestiary (Aberdeen University Library MS 24). Image via Aberdeen University Library website.

One of the most wonderful sights in this world is the shimmer of gold leaf on a manuscript page as it comes into the light. It is of course most well-known from medieval manuscripts, but has never quite stopped being used altogether. Consider Phoebe Traquair’s illuminated manuscript of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese. A full page, or a full miniature, with a background of gold leaf, never fails to catch my breath, just for a moment. Thus I have chosen as today’s image of light just such a miniature from the Aberdeen Bestiary (Aberdeen University Library MS 24). This manuscript was produced in the 12th century, and has a most interesting history. It has been fully digitised and is available online here, complete with translations and transcriptions. The birds are beautifully realised and stand out wonderfully against the shimmering gold. I chose the turtle dove image because two of these birds were sent, along with a partridge in a pear tree, to the singer of “The Twelve Days of Christmas, on the second day.

Will-o'-the-Wisp, by Robjenx, on Deviantart.

Will-o’-the-Wisp, by Robjenx, on Deviantart.

I could not write a series of posts leading up to Christmastime without mentioning M. R. James. Not only was he a librarian, and a rare books/medievalist librarian at that, he wrote wonderfully scary ghost stories. Last Christmas, Mark Gatiss brought James onto the small screen with a documentary M R James: Ghost Writer and his version of James’ Christmas ghost story The Tractate Middoth. Thus today’s picture of the will-o’-the-wisp, the ghost light, is a call to arms, asking you to find a copy of M. R. James’ ghost stories, and to give them free rein in your imagination.

Will-o’-the-Wisps exist across the world, and is the name usually given to the strange lights which lure travellers from their path, often into dangerous ground like marshes, and/or into adventures, as in Brave and in Lord of the Rings. Would you follow them, if you saw them, or stay safely on the path?

Saint Lucy, by Carlo Crivelli.  The National Gallery (London), c.1476, Tempera on lime. Image via Your Paintings (BBC).

Saint Lucy, by Carlo Crivelli. The National Gallery (London), c.1476, Tempera on lime. Image via Your Paintings (BBC).


Today is the feast day of Saint Lucy, patron saint of the blind and people with eye problems. Her name comes from the Latin word lux, meaning light, both physical and mental (the latter signifying “lucid”, which shares the root lucere, meaning to shine (via the Oxford English Dictionary (subscription required). Continue Reading »

My Christmas tree (2013)

My Christmas tree (2013)

Because I started putting up the Christmas decorations at the family seat today, my eyes and my imagination are full of the many-coloured fairy lights shining on gingerbread men and women, angels, simple round baubles in many jewel-like colours, stained-glass Santas, and bells. I took the photo above last year; it’s the Christmas tree in my last flat, and my favourite decoration of all that you see is the sparkling pomegranate, bought in homage to Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s painting Proserpine. But as I’ve been pulling decorations, some older than me, from boxes, I’ve been thinking of one of the most striking lines that I have heard in any Christmas song.

Eyes full of tinsel and fire

It’s the excitement of Christmas, the beauty of the lights, and the lights’ transfiguration of simple baubles, tinsel, beads, fabric, and ribbon. It’s the smell of cinnamon and spices, in mulled wine and in cakes. It’s the mystery of creeping downstairs in the dark to see if Santa has been. It’s looking out of the window in the middle of the night to watch the snow falling. It’s such an evocative image of light that I had to include it in this series of blog posts. The line comes from Greg Lake’s song I believe in Father Christmas (1974), released in 1974. You can listen to the song by clicking on its title, and find out more about it here.

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