Saturday, 6 November 2010

Like an annoying thing on an annoying day, with annoying sprinkles on top...

My oh my, how time flies. No sooner did I go to the library, than a month suddenly vanished and I had to return my books. In my head, it's been a few weeks, tops. But no, the books I got from the grown up library (as the kids call it, because I had to explain why they couldn't come too, and that's all I could think of) were due back today.

I didn't get around to reading even half of what I was intending to, but I did get the research I needed done, at least. I kind of ran out of steam with the Understanding the Universe book - not that it's not good, it just wasn't scratching the itch I was hoping it would and in the end I just didn't finish it. I have a more pressing itch to scratch at the moment, so I might go back to it at some point, because while I was at the caravan I did make good progress with it and I might as well go the whole hog.

I don't like to hold on to books during term time, in case someone else needs them (because if they get recalled, I won't be able to return them immediately, necessarily. Which would be expensive for me and inconvenient for everyone else), so I've returned all but one of them - British Calendar Customs: Scotland - because I'm fairly sure nobody will miss that for another month or so, and when I get the chance I really want to get stuck into it.

This time, at the grown up library, I remembered to take my book list. So that's an improvement on last time at least. I managed to get the articles I wanted to hunt up, and a few of the books I forgot. Yay. But this is also where the annoying part comes in, because I've been trying to work on my next article - on marriage this time, following on from the pieces I did on Afterlife and Ancestors, and then Death and Burial - and I've kind of hit a wall. Marriage is unexpectedly complicated.

I thought it would be difficult in the sense that there's not much to go on in terms of pre-Christian evidence (and there isn't, in terms of ritual pointers, which is what I really want to know about), but noooooo, there's a whole lot of other things to consider, too. I thought it would be a matter of cup rituals - a maiden bestowing a cup of on her intended to signify her acceptance of him, and then vice versa when he accepts it, and so on...then early medieval Irish marriage laws...then more recent folklore evidence. But not so much. 

Research has been a hard slog and I seem to have collected a huge amount to sift through - more so than usual, and I'm already at the point where I know I'm going to have to split the whole thing into at least three parts. This is partly to do with the fact that I want to be comprehensive, and I want to show that marriage as it was is a very limiting topic for some in the present day. But my general aim in writing these articles is to give an overview of historical practices and outlooks, and that kind of conflicts with my own views on the subject. I'm fine with that, but at the same time I'm leery of how my attempts at being somewhat objective, at least, might be construed.

Marriage and babies was an ideal, yes. The laws didn't recognise gay and lesbian partnerships as being applicable for marriage unions (although homosexual relations in and of themselves weren't condemned either), and choosing not to have kids? Unheard of. It allowed for men to have more than one wife, but not women. And so on. As I said, it's complicated. And I'm leery of coming across as saying heterosexual marriage, between a man and woman (who subjugates herself to her husband) is the norm and the ideal in a reconstructionist and Gaelic Polytheist context, while trying to come across as even vaguely objective. I'm leery of coming across as saying that a man and woman should marry so they can have babies. End of. Because although to all intents and purposes I'm a walking embodiment of the heterosexual 'norm' - married, two kids, housewife - I don't think that should be the case for everyone. I don't think that those who choose alternatives to the 'norm' should be marginalised, because with modern technology, modern medicine, modern laws, we simply don't live in a world where such a narrow view should be considered to be desirable. I guess I have to have more of an editorial slant on the subject than I usually prefer, just to be clear.

But I'm kind of digressing. My main problem in writing the article is that there are still bits that I don't feel like I fully understand - not just that I'm not sure I can articulate properly, but I'm just not sure of at all. It's affecting my ability to put down the research I've collated into something even vaguely coherent. There seem to be a lot of holes, and there are conflicting opinions that all seem to confidently state that this is how it was, which then contradict everyone else. Which makes it evident that I need to do more research to fill in a few gaps before I can make up my mind with confidence.

This is where the really annoying part for today comes in. On my list of forgotten items that I managed to pick up today, was Bart Jaski's Early Irish Kingship and Succession. On a whim, I bought a copy of The Fragility of Her Sex? a while ago, because it was relatively cheap and I figured it would get me out of a research blackhole quicker than getting a copy from the library would, since the articles seemed to cover the issue of marriage in early medieval Ireland (turns out: not so much, but what I did find was useful, at least). Jaski has an article on marriage in there, and it was very helpful to what I needed to know, in parts, if not wholesale. I managed to piece bits of the rest together from here and there (and gods bless Google Scholar, Google Books, and in my endeavour), and started to feel that at least as far as the cup-bearing issue, and the early Irish law were concerned, I had it covered. Then I looked up 'marriage' in the index of Early Irish Kingship and Succession, and the first thing that I looked at detailed almost everything I've written so far. If not word for word, then pretty much in the same order and not really disagreeing with anything I've said so far.

So much for my attempts at original research. I've basically followed in the footsteps of someone else already, for no good reason, because I should've just got his book instead - and could've, if I'd remembered the damn book list a month ago. I mean, it really looks like a bad case of plagiarism, cheekily disguised by the fact that I've attempted to make it look like I haven't by just referencing the same sources...It's a bit of a bummer, to say the least. Or maybe I should feel buoyed by my apparently on-the-nose research skills.

But it's not all bad - oh no and definitely definitely not. In looking up some of the journals for articles I wanted to photocopy, as usual I picked a few of the other volumes off the shelf and had a quick flick through. As luck would have it, I found a good article called 'The Drink of Death' that essentially looks at the inversion of the cup motif, in relation to the king's marriage to the land, along with an article on tattooing in insular Celtic tradition by Charles MacQuarrie. I read the latter on the train home, and it offers a lot of food for thought, not least in the fact that he points out that as far as the Picts and woad go, they are said to have painted themselves. It's iron needles that they and other insular tribes (certain, and specific tribes, MacQuarrie suggests) used for tattooing, and these tattoos tended to be of animals on the face, arms (close to the wrist) or thigh. They were either indicative of some sort of 'bloodthirsty' pact (i.e. uncivilised, pagan), or else an expression of some sort of spiritual (civilised but arguably not necessarily Christian, given the precedents) ideal. So basically, considering the next tattoo I have in mind, it's all cool beans. Although I doubt it will be on my face...