The Hare in the Moon

Hare boxing watercolour By Daniel MAckie

Image © Daniel Mackie

Myth and folklore connecting the moon to the Hare appears all across the world: in Africa, China, Europe, India, Japan, Mexico, and North America: with many a moon goddess associated with – or at least accompanied by – a hare.  So what is the relationship between this wild and mysterious creature and the moon?

Well, even though it’s not out of place to see a hare in broad daylight sitting quietly in its ‘form’, (a shallow depression in the earth), they are fundamentally nocturnal, and are a lot more active when the moon takes the place of the sun.  But night time was once a very dangerous place to go ‘haring’ around, as the moon was once believed to actually cause madness, (hence luna / lunacy), and it was even believed that sleeping under the moonlight invited madness.  So knowing that the hare regularly went about its business under a mania inducing moon, it was thought that this was the cause for their excitable episodes during spring, where males and females, (Jacks & Jills), are seen to uncharacteristically gather in droves, frantically chasing and boxing one another.  The mad March hare was indeed seen as ‘moon-struck’.

‘I shall go into a hare,

With sorrow and sigh and (probably) mental torment.’ 

(Translation of a ritual rhyme by Scottish witches, describing the psychological undertakings when taking on the spirit of a hare.)

hare country- Country side By Harry Miller

Classic hare country. Photo © Harry Miller

One environment where you may struggle to associate this land-dweller with, is the sea, but via the hares connection to the moon, (and the moons effect on the tides), the hare was also tied to the open waters, and fisherman were never to mention the ‘hare’ word at sea for fear it would bring bad luck; and taking a hare onboard a vessel was an almighty ‘no-no’!

But to a more visual connection, where the hare can actually be seen living on the moon!  We are all aware that when the moon is full you can see the shape of the ‘man in the moon’, but next time the luna one is beaming away in the fullness of its phase, try and make out the side profile of a hare in the darkened patches.  But don’t stare at it too long… ’cause you’ll go mad!
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A Carol of Robins

Robin greetings card bv Daniel MackieErithacus rubecula, the beloved Robin Redbreast, was this year crowned Britain’s National Bird after claiming a respectful 34% of the general publics vote. Close in contention was the ever silent Barn Owl, the cat scolding Blackbird, and despite a final song, even Her Majesty’s Mute Swan nestles in at a mere 7th place.

So why do we love the feisty feathered friend of the gardener: a bird that is so territorial that they’ll peck one of their own to death if certain bounderies are not respected?

Well, for one thing they’re very pleasing to the eye, and unlike many other bird species – where the male notably has a more attractive plumage – both sexes of the Robin show off the characteristic war paint. But upon closer inspection, is it indeed red?… What’s that you say, it’s orange? (How dare you!) But of course you’re right: the name for the colour orange didn’t even exist until a certain citrus fruit was brought to European shores in the 16th century. (Let’s leave peaches alone for the time being).

And as we go about our business being a nation of gardeners, the bold and plucky Robin will happily perch on your spade whilst you take a breather from turning over your rich and fertile beds. To you, he’s your chirpy little garden companion, an extra in your very own Disney feature, but to the opportunist Robin, you are a work horse, slaving away in the dirt and hauling out deep dwelling Goliath-like worms to the surface for a warriors dinner.

Then there is the Christmas depiction of this red-breasted icon, and if there’s one creature which is so closely associated with the festive season, it’s the Robin, (yes, then the donkey). From acquiring a coloured breast whilst tending to a crown of thorns belonging to a certain Jesus Christ, to even delivering our many Christmas cards – yes you heard right, back in the days of Queen Victoria they gave the name Robins to the postmen who were adorned with sprightly red tunics.

So if you hear bird song on a cold and frosty festive day, it will more than likely be the Robin, because only they are tenacious enough to hold their territories all year round; lucky for us with a beautiful song. And if there’s more than one, (if they haven’t yet pecked each other to death!), then by all means use a ‘carol of Robins’ for your collective noun.

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Image © Daniel Mackie

Why is the Owl Wise?

Snowy Owl by Daniel Macke at The DM Collection
In western culture, if the owl were to take an IQ test he would probably score highly, probably, “superior intelligence!” A score between 120-129, not quite Genius, (130+) but pretty smart! Lord Tennyson’s poem, The Owl sees the bird as superior to all its countryside brethren. Looking down its beak at all that goes on around him! I have touched on lord Tennyson’s poem before. This poem was written in 1830, quite a while ago. But when did the owl become wise?

In Ancient Greece, Athena, The patron goddess of Athens and the goddess of wisdom, had the owl as her symbol. Was she wise? Or was the owl wise? It is a little bit unclear. Across cultures and across time it would seem owls are wise! Having human characteristics placed upon animals is called Anthropomorphism and it first appeared in literate in ancient Greece in a poem by Hesiod called Works and Days. It was written in about 700 BC and is a story about,”The Hawk and the Nightingale“, it was later attributed to Aesop the famous fable teller in accent Greece (two centuries later) and it’s not as punchy as some of his, i.e. The `Hare and the Tortoise, but Hesiod was first and at his doorstep all the creatures of the world can lay the blame of their Anthropomorphism.

After Hesiod the flood gates opened, next Aesop and his animals fables, The Jataka Tales and the Panchatantra, Then come fairy tales like The tale of Cupid and Psyche (Rome in the 2nd century) in which Zephyrus, the west wind (a horse), carries Psyche away. Another example is in 13th century Egypt, The Tale of Two Brothers, this one has talking cows. More recent examples are the Brothers Grim, then into the modern times, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Jungle Book, Beatrix Potter, The Wind in the Willows, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Winnie-the-Pooh and on and on an on…..

So When and how did the owl become wise, well its to do with Athena and darkness.. Athena’s wisdom and the owls are it seems intertwined. The greek goddess took the little owl and used him for her symbol. There is the suggestion that owls were her favourite birds. Did she take the owl as her symbol because in ancient Greece it represented the wise or was it because Athena was the goddess wisdom that the owl became wise by association? Still in the dark? Well here is food for thought, owls are nocturnal, and this association with the dark and being able to see in it has something to do with the “wise old owl” status. After all if you can see in dark it would suggest you can see things that others can’t. It is not much more of a leap to suggest that because you can see all things clearly you would be able to asses whether something is true or right. Very wise!

Watercolour in progress Daniel Mackie
Images © Daniel Mackie
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Dog in the Drink!

Doddy Paddle , Watercolour by Daniel Mackie at The DM Collection
Doggy paddle, The most ancient of all swimming strokes. It was the first swimming stroke used by ancient humans, learned by observing animals swim. Maybe Aesop, the Ancient Greek story-teller was watching a dog swimming when he wrote the fable, “The Dog and its Reflection”. He was however more interested in the nature of the dog rather than its swimming abilities! It is a moral about being content with what you have.

“The Dog and its Reflection” is a warning that he that covets often will lose it all. Dogs are greedy and live in the moment and in Aesop’s fable a dog has stolen bone and it making off with it. He crosses a river and sees his own reflection in the water. Thinking it is another dog carrying a bigger bone, he opens his mouth to bark and loses his bone.

Infact Aesop wrote a number of fables about dogs. He tends, in my mind to give them a bit of hard time. He outlines characteristics, that shows them in a poor light. For example, he illustrates their stupidity and greediness as a negative. We in the modern world may perhaps look upon these characteristics as playfulness and tenaciousness! He portrays the dog as enslaved in “The Dog and the Wolf”, but ask any dog owner and they would probably say the reverse is true! Maybe in ancient Greece things were different. However there is truth in Aesop’s fables, and his particular use of a particular animal in a particular fable is part of their incisive message. Although Aesop’s fables were written 2500 years ago they still pack a punch.

“The Dog and the Wolf” is about freedom. A starving wolf meets a well fed dog and comments upon how well the dog looks. The dog thanks him for the compliment and tells the wolf about his comfortable life and suggests the wolf comes and joins him. The wolf, sick to the back teeth of hardship and worrying about where his next meal is coming from agrees to join the dog. However, the wolf notices that the dog has some fur missing round his neck and asks the dog about the bald patch. The dog tells the wolf it is where his master puts on his collar and chains him up at night. The wolf is appalled that the dog has traded his freedom for a full belly and immediately leaves.

Have you ever been described as a dog in a manger? I hope not. This is another of Aesop’s fables where the dogs reputation come out poorly. This one is about spite. There was a dog lying in a manger who did not eat the grain but who nevertheless prevented the horse from being able to eat anything either. Know anyone like this? Someone who keeps something that they do not really want in order to prevent anyone else from having it. A lot of two year olds have this habit! But hopefully they will grow out of it!

There are four dogs in The DM Collection

This is the watercolour in progress, as you can see Rose Madder Genuine and Quindercrome Gold feature! I am such a fan of these two colours! I have noticed a peculiar thing! All the dogs I draw tend to have a slight comic element that the other creatures i paint don’t have! This must be an unconscious thing!

Doggy paddle by Daniel Mackie

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Images © Daniel Mackie

Curiosity Nearly Killed the Elephant

Elepahnt squirting water Drawing the dm collection

Elephants are weird-looking Creatures. Like the giraffe, hippopotamus and rhinoceros they kind of stand alone in their unique appearance.
Early depictions of Elephants are fantasy like, this is because back in the middle ages Europeans wouldn’t have had access to the real thing, and with no first hand experience elephants were depicted like horses with trumpet-like trunks and tusks like a boar, and sometimes with hooves.

It wasn’t until the Ancient Romans, who kept the animals in captivity, that anatomically accurate elephants were depicted. There are examples in mosaics in Tunisia and Sicily. As more elephants began to be sent to European kings as gifts during the 15th century, depictions of them became more accurate.

Maybe its because of their strange appearance that they have been revered by many cultures throughout history.
In Buddhist, Hindu, Islam and Christian cultures, the elephant symbolises positive things like wisdom, peace and learning.

The most curious thing about the elephant is obviously it’s trunk, there’s little else like the elephants trunk on earth. Part snorkel, part fingers, part nose.

So how did the Elephant get it’s truck? Well according to Rudyard Kipling, in his “Just So” story, “The Elephant Child” got his truck because of his curiosity of what the crocodile has for dinner. In fact the elephants curiosity nearly kills him. He finds out that the Crocodile has “elephant child” for diner! The crocodile bites him on the nose and in his struggle to get free the elephant stretches his nose into a trunk. So long and so handy does it become for swatting flies and flicking cooking water over its body that every elephant ever since has had one!

The”Elephant Childs” near-fatal adventures serve as a reminder not to let our questioning minds rule us. The Elephant Child comes face to face with death because he desperately wants to know what the crocodile eats for supper. All the other animals have warned him not to ask. But he didn’t listen.
It would suggest that although curiosity could have fatale consequences, it may also empower you. I think the sentiment is be brave, be curious and expect the unexpected!
Elephnat squirting water by Daniel Mackie
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Image © Daniel Mackie

Goldfinch – Salvation, Freedom and Wealth

Goldfinches  by Daniel Mackie- Water colour artist
The goldfinch is rich in symbolism, it has been featured in hundreds of Renaissance paintings. In Paintings of the Madona and child the bird if often perched or nesting in Mary’s or the christ childs hands. So what is the weighty symbolism that places the goldfinch in the centre of, for example Raphaels painting, Madonna del cardellino? Its symbolic meaning stems form its elaborate plumage and its feeding habits. Goldfinchs have red checks and in the medieval mindset, these were acquired while the bird was trying to remove christs crown of thorns in an act of mercy. Goldfinches also eat thistle seeds and together these two things associate the bird with Christ’s Passion and his crown of thorns.

Another layer of meaning has been attributed to the eating of thistle seeds, In europe they were used as a medicinal ingredient to combat the plague. So through this association the Goldfinch also became a good luck charm. Bestowing good heath and warding off disease from those who either saw a goldfinch or owned one (more on that later).

So with the warding off of disease and vibrant health associated with it, the Goldfinch also came to be a symbol of endurance.. This symbolic combination when rendered in Renaissance painting of the Madonna and child came to be an extend metaphor of the salvation christ would bring through his sacrifice. Hallelujah!

Goldfinches in water colour By Daniel Mackie

So all of the Christian symbolism is symbolism enough for any bird you might think! But, no! there is more! Freedom! Freedom Freedom!

The Goldfinch is very dextrous. Because it feeds on thistle seeds it has become a deft touch with its feet and beak and can be trained to perform tricks. Known as a Draw bird, it has the ability to pull up a weight (a thimble if water) attached to a thread, by looping each length under it’s foot. The Gofdfinch has been a popular choice as a cage bird in Europe for ceuntries. Carel Fabritius 1654 painting, Shows a The Goldfinch tethered to it’s pearch by a delicate chain.
You might say, if you were a cynic, that the Goldfinch has brought this upon on itself, showing off with its fine singing voice, beautiful plumage and deft touch with its feet and beak.

The Caged Goldfinch comes up as a reference to freedom in two poems by Thomas Hardy, “The Caged Goldfich” and, “The Blinded bird” both communicate the same outrage of having freedom taken.
In fact a number of other poets have used the Goldfinch in their work. Russinan poet Osip Mandelstam knew a thing or to about freedom, he was was excelled by Joseph Stalin’s government during the repression of the 1930’s, his poem “The cage” illustrates freedom withheld.

When the goldfinch like rising dough
suddenly moves, as a heart throbs,
anger peppers its clever cloak
and its nightcap blackens with rage.

The cage is a hundred bars of lies
the perch and little plank are slanderous.
Everything in the world is inside out,
and there is the Salamanca forest
for disobedient, clever birds.

Finally, show me the money! “Gold”-finch. Across the Ceuntries there has been the assumption that what is brightly coloured must be a symbol of wealth. For example, this is woven into ryme in The courtship, marriage of Cock Robin and Jenny Wren,

“Who gives this Maid away?
I do says the goldfinch
and her fortune I will pay”

So for a small bird, the Goldfinch has been loaded with a lot of symbolic bagagge.

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Image © Daniel Mackie

White Hart – More than just a Pub Name.

White Hart  Watercolour painting By Daniel
Heraldic badges of royalty have given rise to many of the most common pub names in the UK, The White Hart is one of them.

The White Hart was King Richard II’s heraldic badge.

When Richard II was crowned King of England in 1377, he was just 10 years old. He adopted the White Hart as his emblem. Why? Well, it is complicated. It has a lot to do with piety, alchemy, mythology and two colours – red and white.

A bit of background. Richard II’s grandfather (Edward III) was a warrior king whose overriding interest was war. In particular, war with France. His heir to the throne was his son, the Black Prince, who was a chip off the old block you might say. He too loved war. Sadly he died before his father, but not as you might think with a french sword though the belly but of amoebic dysentery, which sounds a nasty way to go! The next in line to the throne was the little boy, Richard, who was the Black Prince’s son.

Bearing in mind Richard’s warmongering family background, lets have a look at the medieval cerebal landscape back in 1377, in particular the meaning of colours, white. No surprises represents purity, innocence and virtue, Red. representing, you guessed it power and passion. This is still true today, but in the 14th century these two colours were also woven into mythology and alchemy. In Mythology one of the best examples is the Arthurian legend of Joseph d’Arimathie. Joseph brought with him to Britain vessels containing the (Red) blood and (White) sweat of Christ. The “vessels”, were the Holy Grail. Potent stuff! In Christian alchemy there are three elements, Sulphur, Salt, and Mercury, that together make up the “Holy Trinity”. Sulphor (Red) Represnts the centre of the Universe, or “our father who art in heaven”. Salt is the Earth , or ” salt of the earth”. and Mercury (White) is the messenger, or, “The Holy spirit”

The purpose of alchemy is to purify the “earth” enough to allow Mercury and Sulphor to interact correctly. (The soul is reformed and relation to God purified) Since Christian alchemy is based upon the concept that the human soul was split during the Fall, Mercury and Sulphor were seen as coming from the same original substance and so should be united again.

Still with me?

So Richard is keen to distance himself from his warmongering father, He wanted a pious ideal of kingship. What better animal to adopt as an emblem than the white hart. Why? Well for a start its white, and by the time richard had become king in 1377 Christianity had already kidnapped the white hart from earlier mythology for its own purposes: the white stag had come to symbolise Christ and his presence on earth. In 1128 the story of David I, King of Scotland and his close shave with a stag cemented this symbolism. A stag charged him, he begged god to save him, The stag vanished into thin air leaving behind a cross where it’s alters had been! This married with the alchemic observation that white (Mercury) represents the holy spirit and legends like the the one of Joseph d’Arimathie made the white hart a potent symbol of not only purity but of divinity.

So next time you are in your local White Hart pub raise a glass to King Ricard II.

Image © Daniel Mackie

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The Frog

Fog By Daniel Mackie
I have been meaning to add a frog to the collection for a long time, but it took me a while to get a simple enough composition. Unusually for me the creatures environment is not entirely within it, the frog is in the water!

Frogs feature a lot in folklore and mythology, The Battle of Frogs and Mice is a fable attributed to Homer about the futility of war. There is of course the frog prince, a spoiled princess reluctantly befriends a frog, kisses it (in Grimm’s fairy tales she throws it against a wall!) and it turns in to a handsome prince.

I Like this fable from Aesop, The Frogs that Desired a King. Unlike a lot of the other fables by Aesop, this one drawers a number of different conclusions. The conclusion I reached after reading it was not the same as a number of historical analysts, notably Martin Luther, a German 16th century monk and Roger L’Estrange, a 17th century English royalist. I was in agreement with William Caxton, a 15th century English merchant who was responsible for introducing the printing press to Britain .

So what do you make of the fable?

There is a group of frogs and the ask Zeus for a king. Zeus throws a log into their pond, initially the frogs are frightened by the splash, but soon get bolder and venture over to the log, they climb onto it, then they start to make fun of it. They then ask Zeus for a “real king”. This time Zeus gives them a water snake, who promptly starts eating the frogs. The frogs immediately appeal to Zeus, but this time Zeus says that the frogs must live with the consequence of their request.

In later versions it is a stork that eats the frogs not a water snake.

So….Martin Luther, concluded that as a result of human wickedness there is a shortage of good rulers and humanity deserves the rulers it gets, concluding, the frogs must have their storks.

Roger L’Estrange concluded that the mob (the frogs) are never satisfied with what they have, a king or no king, a government of no government, they will always shift opinion and are restless.

William Caxton concluded that, he that has liberty should keep it well, for there is nothing better than liberty.

Watercolour painting of a frog by Daniel Mackie, in progress
Above painting in progress.

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Image © Daniel Mackie

Warming his five wits…..

Water colour paint of a long-eared owl

Long eared owl

I have been meaning to do this long eared owl for a long time. I have practically have a sketch book full of variations on this design.

In Roman and celtic mythology owls are associated with wisdom. But they are also associated with the darker aspects of our psyche. This is probably because the are nocturnal. The hoot of an owl late at night in a deep dark wood in 100 B.C would probably send a shiver down your spine. However, the owl was often seen a guide to and through the Underworld. Owls were also able to reveal to you those who would deceive. Handy!

Lord Tennyson’s poem, The Owl (1830) re-enforces the owls ancient association with wisdom and it’s sinister nocturnal activities.
Tennyson describes the owl as having,”five wits”
Not only having them but,”warming” them!

“Alone and warming his five wits The white owl in the belfry sits”

The poem is a description of an owl watching over events in a rural landscape. The suggestion is that from its vantage point in the bell tower (This is an interesting position! In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, lady Macbeth says, hark! Peace! It was the owl that shrieked, the fatal bellman)
The owl is indifferent and superior to all the goings on in the countryside. The five wits suggest an extra sensory perception!

In the 1500’s there were commonly thought to be five senses and five wits. The inward and outward wits were the product of many centuries of philosophical and psychological thought.The concept of five outward wits(senses, taste smell, etc) and five inward wits(“common wit”, “imagination”, “fantasy”, “estimation”, and “memory”.) came to medieval thinking from Classical philosophy. but in Early Modern English, “wit” and “sense” overlapped in meaning. Both could mean a faculty of perception.
So for the owl in Tennyson’s poem to have five wits; it would suggest it was in position of considerable mental agility!

(above) in progress.

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Who’s calling me Grumpy!

Watercolour paiting of a badger by Daniel Mackie
Good badger, Bad Badger. In literature, the badger falls into either one of these two camps. “Good badger” like Kenneth Grahame’s Mr Badger and, “bad Badger” like Beatrix Potter’s Tommy Brock, the rabbit kidnapper in, “The tale of Mr Todd”.

However the good/bad badger portrayal is relatively recent, only really becoming apparent in the 20th century. Stories about badgers stretch right back to the 11th century, an Anglo-Saxon poem from this time, shows a noble creature defending its family from attack.

Storey tellers have placed human characteristics upon badgers that have come to inform our overall perception of the animal. They are wise, courageous and persistent? Also because they are nocturnal, they are seen as mysterious. This nocturnal aspect of their nature has in turn had an influence of their portrayal in literature, badgers are often, alone, grumpy or gruff!

In European folklore the badger character is intimately associated with the bear and is considered a forecaster of the arrival of spring, as populations of bears in Europe dwindled the badgers significance in folklore increased.

Image © Daniel Mackie

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