Monday, 29 October 2007

Archive: Turnips and Samhainn 2007

My house smells faintly of turnip...

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

Archive: Daily practises and Samhainn planning, 2007

I tried posting this a day or two ago, but have only just got the pics sorted. And I thought of lots of bits to add in anyway, so it's just as well...Apologies for the length.

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.

Sometimes Tom wants to have a look and we stand together and look out across the water and see what we can see - the birds, the boats, the clouds and so on. Tom says hello to them all as I point them out. Sometimes we find dandelion clocks (which Tom loves), and blow them to spread the seeds. I dedicate the act to Bride (saint or goddess, dandelions were heavily associated with her because of the milky juice you find in the stem, like the milk of the cows she's so heavily associated with). I figure she’d like more dandelions about the place:

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.

I digress...

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 [info]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-thanks-to-a-young-baby circumstances. I'm usually a cynic when it comes to the planning process. No matter how important a site may be to the heritage of a country, if money's involved it'll get bulldozed. But then again, if nobody does anything, or says anything, there's no hope for it at all, is there?

We found the woolly cows, by the way. Unlike the scary cows that graze not too far away and loom and lurk at you as you walk innocently by, the woolly cows tend to be a bit more friendly. They graze in a field inside what seems to have been at one time a Victorian walled garden that’s fallen out of use, and sometimes if you’re lucky they’ll come over and say hello.

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.