Saturday, 17 November 2007

Archive: Sex and Marriage in Ancient Ireland - Patrick C Power

Sex and Marriage in Ancient Ireland
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

Archive: Samhainn 2007

Samhainn celebrations were a little dampened by my feeling crappy, but I did nearly everything I'd planned to do. I spent the day trying to get the house in order in between the kids, and Tom and I baked gingerbread men, which we decorated in suitably Hallowe'en style with icing. I made stovies while the gingerbread baked (minced beef, potato and onions - staple Scottish dish for which Mr Seren's gran, namesake of my daughter, was famous. They seemed appropriate) for dinner, and finally nailed them after last year's disaster. Mr Seren later proclaimed them Stovies. Which is apparently a good thing. I did cream crowdie for dessert, which I served with the gingerbread men Tom and I had made earlier, though I didn't have any charms to put in them (and it seemed fairly pointless, just me and Mr Seren having it).

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'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...