Saturday, 17 November 2007
Patrick C Power
I was surprised on two counts with this book. First off, I was expecting a fairly hefty tome and in reality it's tiny. Secondly, it's signed by the author, which was an added and unexpected bonus.
Overall I couldn't help but enjoy it. The book's written in an easy and conversational style and doesn't get bogged down in too much detail, so I had no problem with reading it in a couple of hours. It was informative without being dry, and was presented in a straightforward manner so it didn't make me have to read and reread paragraphs to get the point.
As an introduction and overview of the subject it works well. Anyone who isn't that familiar with early Irish law will get a good background of how the law worked in general terms before the book goes on to explain different aspects of the law (and occasionally lore) that relates to sex, marriage, children, divorce and extra-marital relationships. Even though the book doesn't get into too much detail, there was plenty of stuff to learn (for me, anyway), and I particularly liked the bit where it states that early Irish law didn't hold a woman legally responsible for her actions for three days after she found out her husband's having an affair - up to and including blood shed.
In spite of this, the book has some drawbacks. While it's an easy read the tone is very dated now, with the use of certain words like 'crazy' that I found quite jarring. One of the underlying themes of the book is how ancient Ireland was much more pragmatic and sensible about sex and marriage than Ireland was in the 70s (when divorce was illegal), at the time the author was writing. Things like this date the book, and while it's only a minor point, along with the language, I felt it got in the way of the stuff I wanted to know about at times.
I guess inevitably, with any relatively short piece of work, there's going to be places where things get glossed over or missed out, and this was the case here because a lot of what was said lacked any sort of analysis. Although it's not an academic book, it would have been a good idea to explore how much of the brehon laws as they were written were enforced in actual reality. It was touched upon, but not nearly enough, for me. It would have been nice to have seen more mention of mythology to back up the evidence of law as well, and (probably because of the authors agenda about analysing the law) there was no real mention of the relationship between the king and the sovereignty goddess who represented the land over which he ruled or anything like that.
Ultimately I think the points I have problems with are due to my preconceptions of what the book would be like. I think they would have made the book more comprehensive, but then again perhaps less readable...I got a lot out of it, but generally it left me wanting more.
Thursday, 1 November 2007
As near to 8pm as I could I went outside and made offerings to the spirits to start off the Tara ritual. I'd planned on doing it the night before but in the end decided not to 'sideline' it - although I thought doing it a day earlier would mean I could give it full attention, and not give myself too much to do all in one day if I did it on Samhain itself, I decided it would be better to do it on the night proper. After I made the offerings (including one of the gingerbread men we'd decorated earlier) I looked for a sign to see whether or not they'd been accepted, and caught sight of a spider happily spinning a web on my washing line, in the light of a street lamp. I took that as a good sign and went back in to get the kids ready for bed, lighting the turnips (including some white turnips I'd carved earlier in the day) so Tom could see them before he went upstairs. He had lots of fun trying to blow them out.
Once Tom and Rosie were settled I did the rest of the Tara ritual. Having a cold and having to feed Rosie half-way through didn't help with the flow of it, but my main problem was trying not to get ahead of myself...the pull I felt when I was visualising the hill itself was strong, and I felt...kind of connected with what everyone else was doing. It's hard to describe, maybe it doesn't need to be described...
I spent the rest of the night quietly contemplating and relaxing, and made some more offerings and leaving out food and drink for any 'visitors' before bed. I was too tired to do any divination or anything with my ogam set as I'd planned, but I think it would be better to finish them off properly before doing anything with them, instead of rushing them.
In the morning I was up and baking some bannocks, using a 'traditional' ritual I've reconstructed (mostly from The Gaelic Otherworld). I've had a hard time making 'proper' oatcakes so I usually make the drop bannocks that are more like a batter than a dough, so easier to make, but this time I decided to brave the 'proper' dough ones again. They worked out nicely this time - I think I've finally found the knack - although they were a little too thick so tasted a bit gluey. I made one for each of us, plus a family bannock which I gave to the 'Rascal' to keep us from harm in the coming year. None of the bannocks broke as they cooked, which is supposed to be a good sign.
Later in the day I took the dog and the kids out for our first walk of the winter. We went up to the park to play on the swing, Tom ran around and had a whale of a time and I left an offering at my favourite viewpoint. Then as we went to go home something strange happened. Tom, as usual, was refusing to go anywhere, wanting to stay and play in the sandpit instead. So as usual this involved playing the waiting game to see who would break first. Would I go and make him come home, or would he get lonely and come of his own accord?
After the crow landed, I was clearly not going to win this one...
Ever since I moved here I've been seeing crows. There are a huge amount of them about the place, and several parts of the town are named after them. They seemed to be making their presence felt with me and I started wondering if there was something in it. The name Badb popped into my head, which was natural enough seeing as her name means 'crow', and I began wondering if maybe I should pursue a relationship with her. I was hesitant at first because...well...it's a bit too kewl, isn't it? But the feeling didn't go away and I started doing something about it, and felt I was getting somewhere. I started making offerings to her, and even Tom began to greet the myriad crows that would come and see us when we were waiting for the bus just by where a lot of them nest. Unlike pigeons, he's never seemed keen on chasing them.
Anyway, while I've been feeling I've made a connection with her, I've come to the conclusion that she doesn't want me to dedicate myself to her or anything like that. But certainly she seems to have led me into seeing things in a different light. Instead of relying on the tried and tested books-and-research approach I've been so firmly rooted in previously, I've realised that it's time to allow myself to consider the more mystical side of CR, to try and find a healthy balance between the two for myself.
Seeing the crow that plonked itself down right next to Tom got me thinking again, and instead of calling Tom I waited to see what would happen.
Tom said hello to the crow. The crow cocked its head to one side and then jumped closer to Tom. Tom laughed and jumped towards it. The crow cocked its head to the other side and deliberated for a second, then jumped to the side. Tom found this hilarious and jumped towards it again. The crow jumped again...more hysterics from Tom, and this time he decided to try and swoop in. Mr Crow was having none of it and jumped again, just at the last moment before Tom caught it. Now Mr Crow, just out of reach, cawwed at Tom, goading him to go after him again. Tom obliged, and the crow kept jumping and teasing until Tom was nearly out of sight. Off I went after them, the crow jumping and Tom following, until a nice elderly gentleman walking his one-eyed sheep dog came along and seemed to break the spell. He'd seen what was going on and was mightily amused, and we both agreed we'd never seen anything like it before. Mr Crow perched himself smugly on the chimney of the nearest house and refused to move in spite of Tom beckoning to him.
It seemed the crow didn't want us to go home just yet, and so I took the hint and carried on with our walk. I contemplated what had just happened, wondering if maybe it was a message or something, trying to convince myself it was just one of those things...But ultimately I've decided the answer is almost embarrassingly obvious. While crows are associated with the Badb, they're also intrinsic to the place in which I live. So why can't they just represent the spirits of this place?
So it's taken me pretty much most of the summer, but I finally seem to have got there. Or not...
Monday, 29 October 2007
Well, maybe not 'faintly'. There is a stench of turnip in my house...It's strangely akin to the smell of decay, really. That sickly-sweet kind of smell. I'm beginning to see why it was so appropriate to the season.
I decided to carve them now for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I'm planning to do quite a bit, and I have to be realistic and factor in the kiddy issue...If I had all day to myself then it would have been fine to do it all on Samhainn (Hallowe'en), but seeing as Tom is still in his helpful phase, wielding a sharp pointy knife seemed to be a little irresponsible when the kiddies would be about...Secondly, my husband is off at a meeting dahn sahf again, so I have the house to myself once the kids are in bed, and I don't have him complaining about the smell, or giving me 'helpful' advice to tell me that I'm doing it wrong...Thirdly, if it all went hideously tits up and I had to start again, I had plenty of time to start again. As it is, I think I'll use one during my Tara ritual, which I hope to be able to do tomorrow or the next day, and the other on Samhainn itself.
I'm hoping they'll keep a couple of days (I don't see why not), but they were surprisingly easy to carve out - much easier than trying to cut the damn things. Slicing the tops off was the most difficult part to be honest, and then I just cut a cross into the flesh as deep as I could, then gouged out the rest of it as I turned the knife in a circle, getting deeper and deeper into it. The turnip flesh just flaked out as I did this, and when it got really deep I used a measuring spoon to scoop out the rest - it was the toughest spoon I had, so it didn't bend, and I could use it scoop out extra bits of the turnip to gouge out the bottom, which was more difficult using a knife alone. I tried to get the walls of the turnips quite thin, but not too thin that they'd start to burn at the edges once I'd cut faces into them.
After I scooped them out, I drew the faces onto the turnip with one of Tom's felt-tip pens and then cut the turnip out as well...My first go on the left of the photo was too small and I had to cut a hole out of the lid to allow enough air in for the candle to burn adequately...My second attempt on the right seems to burn much better.
I've never attempted to carve a pumpkin, let alone a turnip or two, but here we are. It was easier to do than I thought it would be. I've used what those in north America would call 'rutabaga's'. I call them 'swedes', but after pumping my father-in-law for information, he assures me that swedes/rutabagas count as 'turnips', which he (and my husband) calls tumshies...A turnip is basically anything in the turnip family that's big enough to carve, from what I can tell.
Thursday, 25 October 2007
This is the view from the top of my street/road/cul-de-sac. A short walk across the road, up to the small park and passed the swing, this is what I can see. Though, in the interests of honesty I should add the views conveniently omit the oil refinery to the far west and the nuclear naval base to the east...
Each day - weather, health and life permitting - I take a walk up here with the kids and the dog. As Tom potters about and does what toddlers do, I take a moment to meditate and take stock of life and where I’m at, before Tom insists it’s time to play. Or Rosie wakes up.
Mostly I think about how lucky I am and how I still can’t believe I’m here, and that whatever happens, I should remember this time. When the chips are down it's times like this that help me get through things. This is not my permanent home, but it’s been a good home so far. I still feel a connection with this place, and today I realised how it keeps me grounded. I mentally reach out across to the water and the hills on the other side, feel myself sinking in and connecting with my sense of spirituality. My beliefs mean that feeling a connection with the land is important to me (amongst other things). I honour the land, the spirits and the gods that I believe embody and are part of the land. I do this primarily through devotional acts of prayer and the making of offerings.
Tom’s oblivious to this, though, and just likes making a mess. Since Mr Seren and I have widely differing beliefs, and I feel that spirituality is such a personal thing I don't intend to instil my beliefs in my kids, but I would like to instil a love of nature in them as well as a sense of spirituality. From my own childhood, things like picking up conkers, blackberrying and walks in the woods are some of my happiest memories.
Today started off cold and foggy, which didn’t lift until well after lunchtime. When we went on our walk the sun had just started to come out and the fog was only just starting to lift, and the heavy dew hadn’t evaporated yet. When we got to the playground it was too foggy to see the Firth of Forth, which we live right beside, but I was greeted with the most amazing view of cobwebs absolutely everywhere. On the grass, the plants, the play equipment, fences…you name it. Luckily, I took the camera.
I'm not a big fan of spiders, I confess. You won't find me keeping a giant tarantula as a pet, but then again I won't run screaming from the bathroom because there happens to be a furry, predatory-looking spider stuck in the bath. One of my many supersitions is that spiders in the home are a sign of good luck, so I took this as a good sign.
It was the first wintry-feeling day today so my meditation naturally turned to Samhainn, winter, and the end of autumn; the sun shone with the stark brightness that comes with the little warmth it gives in winter, but the trees are still undecided as to whether they should really go for autumn or not. Some trees haven’t started turning yet, whereas others are bare, giving an odd mix of what looks like summer in some places that you look, winter in other views, and autumn in another. There are even flowers bravely clinging on for a last burst of colour, including a lonely poppy and some thistle:
(I took a photo of the poppy too, but the camera focused on the background instead of the flower so it was a bit crap…I really should learn how to use it properly one day, but toddlers aren’t conducive to well set up shots anyway…).
Then we set off on our walk to see if we could see any woolly cows as I continued to think about what I’ll be doing for Samhainn. So far I’ve resolved to carve a turnip* this time round. I’m not expecting this to be an easy task, but I’ll be sure to post my efforts for comedy value if anything else. Potluck seems to be an appropriate meal for the occasion - I did stovies last year (a Scottish dish mainly comprising minced beef or lamb and potato, stewed on the stove for a long time), which were disappointing so I might have a stab at those again. I’m going to do some gingerbread and crannachan again, and make some bannocks according to a traditional sort of ritual I've reconstructed.
This time round I’ll do some divination as well (though I haven't decided on specifics yet), and if I finish them in time I’m thinking about using the ogam fews I’ve been working on. Progress is slow, as I haven’t had much energy to give them the concentration I’d like, but so far (for a beginner and a not-very-good-artist), they seem to be coming along. They’re not brilliant, but they’re better than I was expecting, and I hope I feel inspired enough again to finish them off soon. Maybe over the weekend.
I’m contemplating making my festivities a little more formal, or maybe I mean ritualised, this year. Now I’m finding my confidence in what I’m doing and have more experience to build on, it feels that that’s the way to go. I’m not big on formality, but for some reason this year it seems appropriate, and as I've been inspired by various books I've read recently, I shall be incorporating bits into something that's more planned out than usual - in particular the glannad ritual erynn999 has provided in her ogam book (hopefully, anyway). Maybe it's because of the prospect of moving house, and being able to breathe again financially now the house is sold; it's all come at a time that is traditionally about endings and beginnings and inbetween things, so maybe it seems all the more significant. Either way I'm extremely glad about it.
I'm also thinking about how I can throw my support behind the Tara-Skyrne ritual plan to help protect the prehistoric sites in the Tara valley that are under threat from a new motorway being built by the Irish government. While the ritual is excellent (and in many respects something of a watershed in CR) it will need a little tweaking to adapt to my solitary-and-frequently-interrupted-than
Today we were lucky (though it took about half an hour of Tom mooing at them and waving bits of grass for them to muster up the effort to stroll over). Tom was very impressed, and Rosie was too, after she finally woke up.
*Speaking of turnips, Pumpkin ban in Hallowe'en protest.
Wednesday, 1 August 2007
Lùnasdal was not forgotten!
Of all the festivals, Lùnasdal is the one I have the least connection with. I have a hard time ‘feeling’ it, and I think it’s probably mostly to do with the fact that I’ve never really felt much of a connection with Lugh…So I was quite surprised that I really did feel a connection this year - not just with Lugh, but with the energy of the day, so to speak.
My celebrations started off as usual with the blessed bannocks - although I cheated this time and did some ‘blessed pancakes’ so Mr Seren and Tom could be included in eating them (they don’t like oatcakes so much). I’d intended to do some bannocks for my dinner on Lùnasdal Eve so I could make some extra for offerings, but time got away from me with Tom deciding to be Mr Manic and Rosie deciding to be Mrs Clingy…
The day started off dull and overcast, so with rain threatening I didn’t take the kids and the dog for the nature walk I’d been planning to help me get in tune with it all. Instead, with the evening turning out to be gloriously sunny, I took Eddie off for a walk after Tom had gone to bed and I’d dumped Rosie on Mr Seren. We went to the vantage point overlooking the Forth and I meditated for a while before leaving an offering of blackberries to Lugh and Tailtiu. This turned out to be a better plan, really, because this way I didn’t have the distraction of the kids. I continued my walk around my usual route for walking the dog, sending some vibes to the houses that I’d Really Quite Like to Live In and then on the way back saw that the farmers had started harvesting the crops on the hills.
When I got back, once Rosie was asleep I lit some candles on the sideboard (that’s currently my unofficial, low key altar) in memory of Tailtiu, for Lugh (some coffee candles that Mr Seren bought me for our wedding anniversary - the only candles in the house which Tom later got hold of and dropped one on my head leaving a bruise on my temple. Make of that what you will…He got me a trio of cow statues as well which are officially the best anniversary present ever - Mr Seren’s preamble as I unwrapped them was “Thank God you’re obsessed with cows!”, but I digress…).
Later on I went outside and made a libation of whisky (Laphroaig, which I really don’t like, but it’s all there was since Mr Seren put the good stuff in the hip flask I got for his birthday) and sat under the stars for a while until the moon rose above the houses and I gave it a greeting. The night was warm and still, and it was very peaceful. I made my libation to the gods, rather than anyone specific because I didn’t want to leave out the gods to whom I am dedicated, or in the process of building a relationship with, and it seemed appropriate. And a libation for the spirits of the place and my ancestors. The stillness of the night made it feel like I was really being listened to.
The next day, since the weather was much nicer, we went on our nature walk, through the woods where we encountered the Scary Cows previously. A lot of CRs say it’s ‘traditional’ to pick blackberries at this time of year, which I’ve always thought was a bit too early, and although I came across plenty of brambles none of them were anywhere near ripe. It’s not been much of a summer this year, so no doubt that hasn’t helped. The ones I’d offered the day before came from the supermarket…
I took a different route in the woods this time and discovered a stream and a very tranquil-looking, but slightly sinister feeling pool. Whether it was sinister because I didn’t have an offering to give to it, or because it’s the perfect place to dump your spare dead bodies without being noticed is anyone’s guess…But we went back up the way along by where the Scary Cows had been, but weren’t this time. There are some stones along the way in a field that look prehistoric to me, but they don’t seem to be recorded on Canmore, so probably not. Hey ho.
Still and all, I was pleased with the way my celebrations went this year. Last year I was too distracted and lacking in energy to really get anything from it, and for the past few weeks, since concentrating on building a relationship with the Badb and maintaining the ones I already have with my other patrons, I’ve been feeling very in tune with things anyway. I’ve been feeling it’s important to make sure I ‘do’ rather than ‘think’ about doing recently, so that’s helped - I felt like I had a momentum going by the time Lunasdal came round, although I’m trying to keep it balanced and not do overkill. And in focusing on building a relationship with the Badb and trying to be receptive to Her, I’ve been getting an idea of where I should go with all this…I don’t think I’m ready to articulate those thoughts, I’m still pondering, but for once I feel like I’m making genuine progress with walking the walk instead of talking the talk. Suffice it to say, I feel the need to concentrate on what is mystical, not intellectual. But I haven’t quite figured out the best place to start from a CR perspective yet.
Tuesday, 1 May 2007
Bealtainn hasn’t happened yet in the Seren household. Or more, I haven’t celebrated it properly yet.
I had a bad night with Rosie, was knackered, and hadn’t been able to get anything for celebrating it (my mother came to visit for the week, so I was busy) - celebrating “in style”, anyway. So I’ve put it off until this coming Monday. I lit the ‘needfire’ (nine candles being as close to a bonfire as I can get) and did a special smooring along with my usual daily prayers, but that was about it. So Monday is going to be my unofficial Bealtainn, since the Monday after a quarter day festival is supposed to hold similar qualities as the day itself.
But the worst thing of it all, which makes me go “Bugger”, is that I forgot about the Bealtainn celebrations in Edinburgh, which is run by the Beltane Fire Society. Twelve years as a pagan, wanting to go to it for as long as I’ve known about it…and the first time I live about 15 minutes away from it, I go and forget all about it. Granted a new baby is probably as good an excuse as any, but still. Bum an’ gob.
Thursday, 1 February 2007
It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything about the spiritual side of life, mainly because I’ve had a few other things consuming my time and thoughts, but also partly because there’s a few things I’m having a hard time formulating in my head, let alone in words. But I feel it’s time to try and articulate a few things if I can even find a place to start.
My Bride’s day celebrations were very successful, I think. I never managed to get out and do the garden (in fact it’s still a mess) but I did pretty much everything else I’d planned. We had the haggis with the buttery mash for dinner but the bread and butter didn’t last beyond breakfast thanks to my craving. The haggis seemed more appropriate since pork never seems to have been popular in Scotland in relatively modern times.
I made the dealbh Bride - I kept it pretty basic for a first attempt because I didn’t want to spend more time worrying about doing it right instead of doing it as a focus for the day, so I just used straw that I got from an art shop, folded it in half and tied off the appropriate bits to make the head, arms and skirt with a straw that had been dyed red. A little more of the red straw augmented it all and I found it a really good way of meditating on the festival and Bride and what it all means to me. Unfortunately it’s been packed somewhere safe for next year when I’ll probably burn it, so I can’t post any pictures (and it’s really not worth showing of anyway ).
By the time I took it to the door to invite her in, with all the candles burning, my house felt warm and homey (for the first time in a long time). Tom was asleep by this time, so I had to creep into his room to put the doll in the Moses basket. It seemed appropriate to keep the basket in his room, so she’d be with him for the night. I also put a t-shirt out for blessing, which I wore while I was in labour.
I made the bannocks the next morning and none of them broke, which is supposed to be a good sign (and so far so good), and left some as an offering at my pond which I used as an outdoor shrine. The bannocks are definitely better if you use oatmeal rather than oats.
Anyway, I was thinking of doing something for Lady Day (March 25th) which traditionally marked the equinox in the calendar, and is supposed to be the day that Brigid finally defeats the Cailleach and sees off the cold and ice so spring can get underway in earnest. I wasn’t planning on anything big seeing as it’s not an ‘official’ holiday, but didn’t even get around to doing some bannocks because I was hoping to be a mother of two by that time and hadn’t had a chance to get the ingredients. And to be honest, I haven’t really felt all that connected to Brigid recently, so it’s been hard to focus on her. It wasn’t as if the ice had been defeated by that point either, so it was difficult to find the spirit of it as well.
Since moving up here I’ve been feeling a pull much more towards the Dagda and Manannan (Manannan being the deity I’ve had a relationship with the longest). Every day, weather permitting, I take a walk up to the top of my street where there’s a farm, a small playground, a bloody great cliff and views of the Firth of Forth and the hills beyond. It’s a stunning view, in spite of the naval dockyard plonked almost opposite. As I look out and meditate, I always feel them, Manannan ahead of me in the water and the Dagda behind…somewhere. It’s not usual for me to feel anything like that so strongly or consistently. As I look at the view, I always feel grateful at how lucky I am. It’s not often dreams come true, and yet everything I’ve ever desperately wanted in life has always pretty much fallen into my lap.
So I’m still not quite sure what I’m trying to say. I think I’m having a hard time with labels at the moment. I don’t feel I fit entirely comfortably with the recon community because I’m not sure what I’m doing is strictly reconstructionist. If anything I’d say it was more traditionalist, but from the traditionalist stuff I’ve read I don’t seem to fit in that community either…And in either case I don’t really agree with a lot of the material that’s been posted about what either path stands for. I don’t think anyone ever agrees with everything a religious path has to offer, but I think I have some rather fundamental disagreements about them.
I kind of like the more general term ‘Gaelic Polytheist’ (which I think I stole off Morag), but then again my Gaelic is abominable, so that’s not entirely accurate either…The Reformed Celtic Polytheism group over at The Cauldron seems intriguing but I disagree with a pan-Celtic approach so I don’t think I can get on board with it.
With all that said, I don’t feel having a label I can stick on myself is all that important. But it does come in handy when talking to other people.