Jill Smith’s Zodiac Journey: Aries

Beach by Tigh nan Cailleachean Dubha, Mealista
Isle of Lewis

Photo: Mhairi Law

Fire sign Aries begins on the Spring Equinox. For this action I was joined by my Aries daughter Saffron and, as she was only free to be here on two of the Aries days, we found the best one would be the actual Equinox. Mhairi Law and I always follow the weather forecasts and, luckily, this one day promised to be good, but in the end was incredibly glorious, far better than we expected. 

I wanted to have a fire for Aries and thought a shore would be the safest place (not wanting to start a moor fire) and I was drawn to a small beach which only appears at low tide and is just below a ruin known as Tigh nan Cailleachean Dubha, or house of the black-veiled women – a medieval nunnery. For decades this has been an important place for me, as I wondered whether the site went much further back in time than its reputed age. It is near the end of a long road where there was once the village habitation of Mealista, now long gone. There is a very strong sense of the past in this area. 

Aries is traditionally The Ram, but for me it represents all sheep, and this was my honouring of the shepherding crofters of these Islands and everything to do with the wool of the sheep. 

We arrived at the dramatic little beach at low tide when the sand was revealed for a few hours. Further back is a huge area of white boulders, rounded over time by the stormy winter ocean. Behind and higher up there appears part of the old nunnery. 

I put two rugs on the sand for me and Saffron to sit on. These had been crocheted by Liz Hayes of Uig, from the edge strips cut from newly woven Harris Tweed. On the circular Aries cloth, which represents the surface of the sun, I placed a sheep’s skull and horn, gathered decades ago from a moorland walk. Sadly many sheep don’t survive the winter or other landscape hazards and it is not unusual to come across their bones. I also placed the moon and sun candles with which I celebrate the Equinox days of balance, which I had used on the Libra cloth half a year previously. 

Gorse is the tree of the Spring Equinox in the Beth Luis Nion Celtic tree calendar. Each year I take two pieces of flowering gorse and place one by the Callanish stone which faces the rising Equinox sun, having placed a piece from the previous year at the foot of the stone which faces the Equinox eve sunset. This year I placed on the cloth a piece from last year and one from this, so this action also became my Equinox celebration. On the cloth I also placed a knitting-needle holder Saffron made for me from Harris Tweed some years ago. 

I constructed a little fire, mainly from pieces of wood I had collected over many years, some from the shore by Bride’s Well, where I carried out the Aquarius action in January. It was easily lit on this hot sunny spring day with little wind. I brought the wood and kindling in various special containers, especially a little basket given to me by my son Taliesin and his partner Jasmine a few Christmases ago. 

On my Fire outfit I was wearing a brooch containing an opal, which Saffron had given me a few years ago. I love opals. This was from Australia and, I presume, from Coober Pedy, an underground city by an opal mine which I visited in 1984 after having spent the Spring Equinox in a cave at Uluru (Ayers Rock). 

While Saffron sat embroidering an Aries sign on a piece of tweed, I cast off a piece of knitting I had been doing over a period of months. I have knitted since I was a young child and it is something I greatly enjoy. For several years I have worked in collaboration with Saffron, making cushions which she and her husband Luke Scott sell in Norfolk.  

I knit the cushion fronts using knitting yarn where several threads of the same wool that’s used to weave the Harris tweed have been twisted together, following fishermen’s gansey patterns from around the UK as well as those from the Islands. Ganseys were hard-wearing jumpers knitted by wives and mothers for the men who went to sea to fish. The patterns are intricate, with many meanings, and often identified the men. Saffron backs them with the wonderful Harris Tweed, creating lovely cushions, each one unique. 

The smoke from the fire began to get in Saffron’s eyes, so she moved to the other side of me, her knees covered by the Annie Macleod blanket I had sat on for the Capricorn action. 

Sitting by the fire, knitting, I thought of how we as a species had evolved sitting round fires, and how people had sat in the traditional Blackhouses of these islands, telling stories, discussing the news, and knitting, weaving, mending nets, and all the other chores which could be done by the light of the fire and an oil lamp. 

With the sound of the waves nearby I felt I was celebrating the work of Island women, so little historically recognised, until a recently published book by Joni Buchanan of Uig, which documents the lives of some of these women, to whom I felt close in these precious moments, and close also to the sense of the people who had once lived in this now deserted part of the Island, remote these days by car, but easily reached by boat in the past. 

I finished the knitting, held it up, and passed it to Saffron, also giving her a length of the Tweed. From behind her she produced one of her already completed cushions. 

I felt very content in this Equinox sunshine, two thirds of the Zodiac Journey and two turnings of the four Elements complete: four out of the twelve zodiac signs still to carry out. 

I am so grateful to Saffron for coming from Norfolk to help me fulfil this action and celebrate our creative partnership; and to Mhairi Law as ever for her wonderful photography – in the sunshine at last! 

Happy Equinox everyone. Have a good Spring. 

Jill Smith, Isle of Lewis, March 2024

See also www.jill-smith.co.uk 

Main images: Mhairi Law

www.paffronandscott.co.uk for information about the cushions 

Women of the Hebrides (Ban-eileanaich Innse Gall) – stories of strength and courage. Joni Buchanan. Acair 2024. www.acairbooks.com 



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