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Written by

Naomi, owner of Inanna’s Festival ~ Magical Gifts Shop

As the days become shorter and we approach the Winter Solstice, there are many cultures where Festivals of Light now take place. From the Hindu festival of Diwali in November, with its oil lamps, to the early December Jewish Festival of Chanukah, celebrated with Menorah candles, there are sacred ceremonies and festivities in many places, focusing on both the ‘inner light’ (within ourselves) and the sparks of light in darkness, forming a sacred mystery. On a more secular note, but still something of a ritual for many, Norwich offers plenty of fun for the fireworks fan every year! Big public events take place through November, and they go some way to satisfy our apparent desire for sparks and colour in the sky. Fireworks have an ancient history, and many of us “ooh” and “aah” over these ephemeral moments of cosmic explosion! We seem to be very drawn to seeing the rainbow colours whirling and spinning, the random shapes in the sky of circles and spirals, stars and shimmering cascades of light that last but a few moments . . .

Many will have their own firework celebrations at home, and if you’re planning one - be safe yourselves, but also think of animals and their wellbeing and safety. Not only should your own animals be protected from the bangs, crashes and people they don’t know, but do consider wild animals such as hedgehogs who might build nests under the piles of wood and garden waste that you’ll be using for your bonfire. Move the pile to a fresh spot just before you light it, as if it’s been in one place for some weeks it is likely that small creatures could be nesting and sleeping under it, not realising you are planning on setting their home on fire!

Hedgehogs are very much present in autumn as they try to accumulate as much fat on their bodies as possible, to survive their hibernation through the winter. However, people of medieval times had curious ideas about the ‘hotchie- witchie’, or what in East Anglia was known as the ‘prickly ’otchin’ – ‘urchin’ – of the hedges . . . There’s folklore about them that bears absolutely no relation to the truth of how they live, feed, or survive! Medieval bestiaries show hedgehogs walking away from apple trees carrying fruit impaled on their spines. Some writers of the time claim to have seen hedgehogs picking up apples in their mouth, assembling them in a group, then turning over on its back and rocking to and fro on top of them. Even if hedgehogs were physically able to carry apples, there is no point in doing so as they hardly eat any fruit, nor do they hoard food for the winter as they store their energy as body-fat.

Other folk wisdom says that hedgehogs can predict changes in wind direction and alter their nest-entrances accordingly by blocking up the exits which would let the wind in, using others

which are less draughty! While this belief is harmless, others are not so hedgehog-friendly. In Africa and Asia, hedgehogs have been killed for food and also for their supposed medicinal properties. Gypsies, especially, believed parts of a boiled hedgehog cured partial blindness, boils, baldness and even leprosy.

Archaeology of ancient cultures connects the hedgehog with regeneration where a figure representing Mother Earth would take the form of a hedgehog. Hedgehogs were associated with the Sumerian Goddess Inanna, later the Babylonian goddess Ishtar (Greek name Astarte), who was the goddess of love and of powerful rulership. Ancient Egyptians saw the hedgehog as symbolising reincarnation – interpreting the hibernation cycle as an almost magical ability, as it seemed to die in the autumn and then come back to life in the spring.

Hedgehog-shaped ceramic objects occur throughout the Mediterranean Neolithic, Bronze & Iron Ages, and a small hedgehog sculpture was even found buried with a child at Stonehenge. Rather than being a toy, it seems likely that this carefully-placed item was there with ritual purpose – perhaps the grieving parents placed it with their beloved child, hoping the hedgehog’s ability to return to life in the spring might benefit their child, either as a magical guardian, or an encourager that their child’s body might return to life in the spring. Who knows? But the hedgehog is there, in the now-excavated grave. What is intriguing is that other cultures

also connected hedgehogs with the bodies of their children, shown by the early Greeks’ use of hedgehog-shaped urns for infant burials. A vase lid resembling a hedgehog depicting a face and a lumpy body is known from Romanian culture from around 4500- 4300BCE. Other hedgehog- shaped vases are known from related cultures. During the Aegean Bronze Age the Minoan hedgehog goddess wore a skirt with spikes, imitative of the hedgehog. To this day in European folklore the goddess disguised as a hedgehog appears in animal stalls. Even at the start of the 20th century Alpine village-women with uterine problems carried spiked balls painted red, called ‘hedgehogs’, to church, where they would pray for health and wellbeing.

In some European myths the hedgehog is a positive benefactor of humans, and ‘God’s helper’, but in others it is regarded as a negative creature. In one ancient tale it brings up mud on its spines

from the bottom of the ocean, so God could create Earth, and in another it advises God to squeeze the freshly-created Earth to make it fit under the sky, completing the creation. As late as the 15th century, hedgehogs were sometimes accused of being witches in animal form. More likely, the wise women of a community knew hedgehogs protected the food supplies by eating slugs and snails, and so would encourage and welcome them in a garden.

In the UK and Europe hedgehogs are wild and are a very important part of the ecosystem. Protected by law in most European countries, one would think hedgehogs are safe and secure, but in reality they are in constant danger of extinction at the hands of humans. Often hedgehogs are as much at risk from do-gooders as they are from those who wish to see them dead. Countless hedgehogs are killed on roadways every year, despite efforts to educate the public and the building of special ‘hedgehog tunnels’ under roadways, built in an effort to give the animals a safe way to bypass busy roads. Sadly, many homeowners still put out a dish of milk and bread to encourage hedgehogs to stay in their gardens – but hedgehogs are lactose intolerant, making this harmful! A bowl of meaty pet food, some chopped unsalted nuts, mealworms, sunflower hearts or some special hedgehog food along with a bowl of water, however, are ideal, especially in dry weather when snails and slugs are scarce.

Inanna’s Magical Gifts has a wide choice of greetings cards for Diwali (5th November) and for Chanukah (begins 2nd December), and a large selection of folklore and fairytale-related gifts, including resin and pewter sculptures, greetings cards and prints featuring hedgehogs. The shop is open seven days a

week November and December, and late-til-8pm on Thursdays til Christmas. 2 St Andrew’s Hill, Norwich 01603 626133 inannasfestival

Image credits: top - © Karen Cater, middle © Davora, bottom © Jane Rose.

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