Saturday, 4 August 2012

And then it was Lùnastal

We've not had much of a summer this year. While a large part of England has alternated between drought and flooding, the west coast of Scotland has enjoyed a goodly amount of rain and cloud interspersed with a rare sunny day here and there, although it's been really warm at least. But summer has been very Scottish even by Scottish standards this year. This last week has been about as good as it's got, and there's a definite feel that this is summer's last gasp.

Seeing as it's (still!) the school holidays we've been making the most of the weather as much as we can. Although I'm none too mobile we can still pile into the car and get ferried down to the beach as soon as the sun threatens to come out, in amongst trips to the park, so we've had some great afternoons rock-pooling, paddling, sand-castling and beach combing. Just as I mentioned the possibility that adder stones (or serpent stones) might have been spindle-whorls when I posted about the hag stone/mare stone I found the other week, our next trip to the local beach turned up this:

I've absolutely no idea if it's really a spindle-whorl or just a bead with the enamel or paint rubbed off (there does seem to be a bluish tinge to it), or something else entirely, but the timing is a nice coincidence. Whatever it is, it's a good weight for its size but I don't think it's especially old.

I hadn't initially planned to celebrate so early - on time, for once - but considering the fact that leaves on trees are starting to turn, the rowan berries are bright and reddening (although I notice one tree on our road is simultaneously blossoming again), the moon is hanging large and low, the wind and the rains are getting a little bite to them - perhaps those three days the Cailleach borrowed and swapped with February - and the sun is setting the skies on fire as it dips below the horizon (here's one I photographed earlier):

It seemed silly to wait for the blueberries in the garden to ripen like I usually do; it seemed that all indications were that we should celebrate sooner rather than later. The promise of autumn is more than promising round these here parts. The past few years I've usually celebrated mid-August at the earliest, and in some ways that's been more in keeping with the festival because it's also when the summer holidays finish and the kids go back to school, and there's as much a change in the pace of our lives as there is in the weather. But this year, aside from the seasons seeming to shift much earlier than usual (or maybe I'm just noticing it more), I'm hoping that pretty soon I'll be having surgery, or at least seeing the surgeon this month and having the promise of surgery. Either way I wanted my energies focused on the festival, rather what the NHS might have in store for me (gods bless 'em). I can only hope that my days of hobbling are numbered now.

My mother was supposed to have been visiting over Lùnastal itself but due to unforeseen circumstances (apparently even cats that exist on nothing but the fiery hate and fury that demonic beings such as my mother's beloved mog thrive on run out of it eventually...) she wasn't able to visit. I'd originally planned to put things off until after she'd gone home, so being able to celebrate on time was somewhat unexpected. As a result I hadn't really had much of a chance to think about what I was going to do, all in all, but I think things all came together in the end; by and large I have things down by now and while I didn't get everything done in one day I wasn't expecting to anyway.

So my celebrations began with saining the house and making some offerings and devotions on the eve. There was music and song, prayers and blessings, and a little poetry too. Most of it was in Gàidhlig and I don't think I butchered things too badly there, and it's a nice coincidence that celebrations began on a Tuesday this year, as is traditional to begin the reaping. So The Second Battle of Mag Tuired tells, us, as does a blessing in the Carmina Gadelica.

We'd spent the day at the beach (where my son rescued a boy from drowning and I'm insufferably proud of him for being so brave) and I didn't have much left in me to cook, so we indulged in a rare takeaway from the chippy for the Lùnastal eve. I had a chicken that needed roasting, though, so we had that the following day on Lùnastal proper, served with garlic roasted potatoes and homegrown onions, cabbage, and homegrown peas, followed by homemade apple flory:

It's a kind of apple pie, flavoured with a little cinnamon and a lot of marmalade (this was the second time I'd made it, and this time I left the apple mix to infuse a bit longer before baking the pie. It was much better). I'd a go at making some marmalade a while ago, so used my own (I felt very domesticated). The apples and preserves seem like a good autumnal combination, so that's what decided that.

As usual, we've done a seasonal picture, and this time our efforts are almost entirely the work of Tom and Rosie. They asked me to help fill in the sky and help with the branches on the trees (we used straws dipped in the paint and then pressed onto the paper, which was a bit fiddly):

One of Tom's art project's from school deciding the general form. Rosie's tree is on the right and Tom's is on the left and I think they reflect their personalities well - Rosie's big and bold, impulsive splodges compared with Tom's more thoughtful and deliberate efforts. And seeing as I had some leftover fondant icing from doing a birthday cake for my husband, I decided to waste not, want not, and make a themed cake too. Ever since I took it upon myself to sculpt a Bumblebee cake for my son one year (the Transformer Bumblebee, that is) it's become kind of a hobby and some of my friends got me some shaped cutters for my birthday this year that I've not had much of an excuse to use as yet. So with lots of fondant that needed using, and an excuse to give the cutters a spin, I had the perfect opportunity:

The kids helped me make a honey cake (we've been doing a lot of baking together over the summer) and I decided to go with sunflowers and autumnal leaves for decoration. It's one of my better efforts, I think, even though I'm not sure if it's supposed to be sunflowers and leaves (because the sunflowers aren't out here just yet) or sunflowers being blown away by autumn leaves (because I'd typically associate sunflowers as a summery sort of flower).

These things are just trappings, really; not the meat per se, but they're important to me nonetheless. Ritual is meaningful and important to me, whether it might be simple or elaborate, but traditions that I can involve the family in are just as meaningful and important to me. The "trappings" give me not just a visual focus, a meditation of sorts as I make them, but something to do with the kids - all of us as a family - and seeing it is something we can all relate to. But more than that, I like to try and make the festivals festive. Something special. Feasting has always been an important part of festive occasions, so special foods make a special day even more so, and the lines between trappings, tradition and ritual become blurred...

Things like games are good too, and at a time like Lùnastal all kinds of games are good to play. There had been a chance that we could've taken the kids horse-riding on the beach around this time, but because my mother was supposed to be visiting I didn't ask Mr Seren to arrange anything and then it was too short notice; a shame, because horse-riding and maybe a little racing on the beach would've been amazing, but we made do. Seeing as the weather sucked there wasn't much we could do outside so we played snap and dominos instead (and at least I could join in too, then), and had a grand old time including a picnic in the front room. As Gorm noted, the games played at festivals bleed into those found at wakes so it seemed in keeping, and after all these are supposed to be funeral games of a sort. As a kid I remember playing dominos and snap with my grandparents so it felt like a way to honour them too. It's partly why I do a lot of baking with the kids as well, because these are not just traditions but family traditions, too.

For part of my devotions I made offerings to the land spirits, the ones who are right out there in my garden, and who I frequently make offerings to as I work on their land. I also made offerings to the Cailleach and the Storm Hags, who've spared the garden in spite of the bad weather they've brought our way this past year. The Cailleach won't be resuming her efforts until Samhainn, I expect, but she's still here even if she's resting. And after all, her name is associated with Buí, who is said to be Lugh's wife, and is also said to be the ancestor of the people from the particular part of Ireland that some of my Irish ancestors come from...So it's only right that she's honoured at this time too.

As I did my ritual, I took some time to think about the successes and the failures I've had in the garden this year - the onions have been a great success, as have the peas, and the leeks are thriving though not yet ready. The carrots have been a disaster, though, and I'm lucky that I don't have to rely on my garden for food because that would have been a calamity. The ones that have grown have already gone to seed and the carrots are piddly and pathetic-looking, not worth using. They've had plenty of rain so that hasn't been the problem. It's been warm enough for things to thrive and grow, even if not particularly sunny. I put in new compost this year, so perhaps it wasn't the right kind or it wasn't enough. I suspect the seeds were a little too old too. Next year I'll have to change out the soil completely and get new seeds (I did buy some more, an over-wintering variety, but I put them somewhere safe. So safe I've yet to find them again).

All in all, I think this year's celebration have been a success, but I don't feel quite finished yet. I've given thanks for the first fruits, and we've held our games, but I've yet to manage a trip to the high point in the village where I like to make offerings to Lug at this time of year. I might wait until the blueberries ripen so I can harvest some before I make my way there; hopefully then I'll be able to walk that far.