Saturday, 29 November 2008

Archive: Dunadd: An Early Dalriadic Capital - Alan Lane and Ewan Campbell

Dunadd: An Early Dalriadic Capital
Alan Lane and Ewan Campbell

I think it's fairly safe to say that this book is everything you ever wanted to know about Dunadd, with knobs on.

Given the detail involved - up to and including lists and catalogues of the finds and detailed analysis of soil reports and so on - it's probably safe to say that it's not going to be essential reading for most people interested in CR or Scottish history or archaeology, but it is likely to be one of those books that will be referenced in years to come if you happen to read more accessible ones.

The main remit of the book is to bring together the findings of the series of digs that were carried out there in the early 80's, which were aimed at finding evidence to date the site and give it a detailed chronology. The dig was successful in this, showing some occupation in the Iron Age, but mostly finding activity coming from the early medieval period, confirming that it was in use during the heyday of the Dál Riata.

That in itself doesn't make it of much interest from anything but an archaeology geeks perspective, really, but I bought it mainly because there's some good stuff on the idea of Dunadd being an inaugural site for the Dalriadic kings, both in terms of the history of people claiming that it was an inaugural site (it's a fairly recent idea), and in looking at whether there's any evidence to support such an idea (in short, yup). Like so many authors, they seem to shy away from going into the pre-Christian stuff in too much detail, but there are still some interesting points to ponder - the position of Dunadd in relation to the land, and the concentration of pre-historic monuments in the area seems to be a conscious connection with the past, legitimating the king's authority by his links with land and the evidence of the people before him.

There's also some good stuff on the history of Dunadd and Dál Riata in general, and the discussion at the end of the book brings it all together nicely. All this goes into a bit more detail than Saints and Sea-kings, and discusses points like the apparent contradiction between the history and the archaeology in more detail (the history says the Irish came to Scotland whereas the archaeology suggests the migration was the other way round); and concludes that the popular idea of the Irish taking over the area en masse, as we're told in historical records, isn't so clear cut, and that the Dariadic kings and the introduction of Gaelic to the area was probably a much slower process that happened through close trading links and cultural closeness between the two areas, rather than a political takeover at one point in time.

The main reason I bought it, though, is an article on interpreting the ogam inscription found near the summit of the site, by Katherine Forsyth, who argues that it's not Pictish gibberish as previously, but is indeed Gaelic. She discusses other studies of the ogam that have been carried out, and gives a tentative partial translation of the inscription as Finn manach, 'Finn the monk', or Fir(r) Manach, 'the men of Manaig' (with Forsyth favouring the former, rather than the latter translation). It's tempting to assume that this is referring to a monk involved in the inauguration of a king, but who can say for sure?

The book comes with a hefty price tag, so this was a luxury buy for me. I enjoyed it, and it's well written and well-referenced, but I wouldn't say it's essential reading and it's probably the sort of book to get out from the library to pick at the chapters that are of most interest, if you really want to, rather than to invest in.

Archive: Saints and Sea-kings - Ewan Campbell

Saints and Sea-kings: The First Kingdom of the Scots
Ewan Campbell

I mentioned this one in a review of another book from the same The Making of Scotland series by Historic Scotland a while ago, but it deserves its own review I think. The other book took a look at Iron Age Scotland, whereas this one looks at the eary medieval period and the coming (and going) of the Dalriadans who settled in the Argyll area of the west coast from around 400AD (although the dates depend on who you ask).

The series aims to provide "lively, accessible and up-to-date introductions to key themse and periods in Scottish history and pre-history", and while I'm not sure history can ever be lively for some people, I'd say the book delivers on its promise of being accessible. Nearly ten years on, it also still stands up as being relatively up to date - since this was one of the key texts for a module I studied (Early Medieval Gaeldom) and some of the things in there were fairly revolutionary at the time there's sometimes an excitement and defensiveness at some of the things that are said that are generally accepted as fact, which might date it a little. But maybe I'm thinking more about the tone of my lectures than picking up anything from the book.

There are plenty of pictures and illustrations with nice soundbites in helpful little boxes to help emphasise some of the more important facts that are presented, and the tone and language that's used is clear and there's not too much jargon. The lack of references, unless a text is specifically mentioned or quoted, is a problem, but not surprising for a book like this which is aimed at a younger audience rather than a specifically academic one, but overall the book is short and sweet and gives good pointers to further reading and sites to see. And at least with this book, you can look up the sites on CANMORE and check for the site reports yourself, unlike Cunliffe's book that also had the same problem.

On the plus side, the author presents the information clearly and in a straightforward and sensible manner. It's not an in-depth analysis of the subject, by necessity, but Dr Campbell does cover some of the more important quibbles over some of the details here and there. He covers the origins of the Dál Riata, what their everyday life would have been like, their social and political structure, religion (mainly in terms of the coming of Christianity, rather than anything useful about any pre-Christian beliefs) and the importance of Iona in the early medieval period, the sources that relate to or refer to Dál Riata, and their artistic accomplishments.

It's an easy read that doesn't repeat itself too much and doesn't rely on teh big wurdz to make the author sound intelligent. The only real negative in terms of the information that's presented is that there's an unfortunate mistake that mixes up Brythonic and Goidelic as Q- and P-Celtic languages, rather than P- and Q-Celtic. I'm not sure if there are later editions that have corrected it, but it's worth watching out for and noting. It's the only real clanger in the book.

It's a good series of books to get if you want a beginner's guide to Scottish history and archaeology and while it's not directly beneficial in terms of informing CR practice - although the mention of conical glass 'drinking horns' are interesting from a feasting perspective, I think - I'd recommend it for getting a good idea of historical background for someone looking to get a good introduction to the subject, as well as a good perspective surrounding the issues in studying it.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Archive: Nitpicking, CR-style

(Or maybe it's just me).

There have been a few interesting discussions going on in some of the Celtic lists I lurk on, recently, in the last few weeks. Combined with Erynn's thoughtful post the other day week (*ahem* yes, it's taken that long to write this...), I've been doing a lot of pondering recently - on the gods and their place in my life, and in the landscape that I'm feeling such a part of now. I've been pondering about it on and off for a good six months or so, but finally (and with a bit of prodding) I think I'm finding the words to get it all out in the open so I can see it, look at it and look back on it. So I can put it all into words and see just what's been knocking at my head for so long. Which has all taken over a week or so, so if I make no sense from hereon in, it's because I got to the point where I just couldn't pick at the damn thing anymore...

I want to say what I mean clearly, but at the same time seeing as it's so personal, I know what I mean but that doesn't necessarily mean that I'm conveying that meaning effectively to those of you reading this. With those excuses in mind...

Over the past few years I've been feeling increasingly drawn to the goddess Badb. It's taken a long time (or so it seems to me - and for reasons I'll go into shortly) but we seem to have found a comfortable rhythm to our interactions now. I leave her offerings and talk to her; I look for signs that she might send and interpret them accordingly (not just crow-related signs, but they figure largely in my relationship, even though hoodie crows specifically aren't all that common round here; I find meaning in corvids in general, for a variety of reasons). I don't hear her, loud and crystal clear in my head, but I feel that she's there listening. I don't see her clear as day in front of me, but I See her, an image in my head, dark and almost intangible, a vision I've drawn on paper many times since I was a child.

It's a very quiet thing, an internal, personal experience for the most part. There are no bells or whistles as such, no fireworks and great revelations. It just is, and at times it can be incredibly profound. Now I've accepted it, I find it a comfort. I don't see her as being a maternal figure for me (and don't feel the need for one), so I don't see that she looks after me in that sense, but I find comfort in the rightness of it; the truth in it all.

Her presence these days is almost imperceptible, except for a quiet tapping at the back of my head; a knock or a nudge every time I look outside each morning to see what the day brings. Some days it's more obvious than others (like this morning with the magpie hopping around my kitchen door and making a huge racket), but it's always there. I see her as an ancestor of sorts, because she's most commonly connected with the part of Ireland that my nan's family comes from, and of all the surviving members of my family that I know best, she's the one I feel closest to, and respect the most deeply. I see truth in it, in evolving this relationship with Badb, and find a sense of wholeness to my spiritual practices that I never felt before. It makes me feel good, but confused at the same time, in a way.

I honour the gods of the Gaels in my daily practices, as well as the probable Brythonic deities of this area, and I sometimes honour specific ones other than Badb - the gods of this place (in specific, Clota, or is it *Clota? The goddess of the river, who was probably venerated by the Britons who lived here. And in a wider sense, Bride and the Cailleach in my seasonal celebrations especially) and also the gods of the people who came here from Ireland. But of them all, I seem to have the most personal relationship with Badb. I've yet to feel the need to make any sort of formal, ritualised dedication to her, but maybe I will some day, who knows. In honouring her and listening to her, I see that as making enough of an obligation to her for now, and as I explore what she means to me, and how she fits into my spiritual practices and beliefs, I'm seeing a lot of similarities between her and the Cailleach Bheur.

As far as Badb in particular is concerned, it's something that's taken a very long time to accept, for me, because she's not exactly an obvious goddess to find yourself developing a relationship with when you're so drawn to expressing your spirituality in terms of Scottish cultural practices like I am. I feel an intense connection with this land and I see the gods as being very localised at their core so it feels odd to be so drawn to a deity that has such a tenuous connection, at best (in an overt, direct sense as far as I know), with this place. The gods of this place that I honour are very real to me, but yet I don't feel the same sort of relationship with them. I tried that by joining a flamekeeping order dedicated to Bride, once, and while I feel it was right for me at the time, I wasn't - ultimately - meant for her.

There are these deities like Bride, the Cailleach or even Manannán that are more directly associated with Scotland than Badb, as far as I'm aware. In pondering and pursuing all this I feel like I've gained a greater undertanding of Bride and the Cailleach on a more personal level, but not in the same way as I identify with Badb. In order to reconcile all of this with myself, I've been thinking, doubting myself, pondering and coming to the same conclusion over and over again that it is what it is and it's really not going to go away. No, no, it can't be...Oh but it is, and get over yourself...

But that doesn't mean that deities like Badb can have no associations, or potential associations, with Scotland. Which makes me think that I'm interpreting all this on a fairly literal level, really, and makes me think I'm quibbling about details to a painful extent...Which isn't surprising, given my personality, but still it's something that troubles me at times. On the one hand I balk at the idea that Gaelic=essentially the same no matter which country, because I'm the sort to focus on the nuances and details. As far as modern politics goes, there are vast differences (as well as similarities) between Ireland and northern Ireland, let alone adding Scotland into the mix, but all of them are often lumped under the Gaelic umbrella. And yet I find the historical and cultural similarities and crossovers, as well as the differences, incredibly informative. Inevitably, and perhaps especially because I live in one of those melting pots of Brythonic and Gaelic practice, along with everything else, things all mix into one at times.

Pondering all this, Erynn made a timely post on how she sees her relationship with the gods, in which she quoted Whitman:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Looking at the quote itself, I can certainly identify with this on a personal level, and it made me think that yes, the gods may have been very localised as I see them most commonly, but they've also become very widespread, as I also see them; I may be focusing on a particular culture in my practices, but I also can't avoid the wider connections between Scotland and Ireland, and the many crossovers between them throughout time. I'm keeping it in the family at least, and even if I can only say my perceptions are a modern evolution of what might have been, I'm calling it as I see it.

As my practices have evolved I seem to have unconsciously been accommodating this apparent contradiction, to my mind, by honouring the gods of this place that I live on, on a localised as well as a more national level (i.e. the Brythonic Clota of here, Strathclyde, alongside Cailleach Bheur and Bride), along with the gods that are commonly associated with the 'Gaelic legacy' of Scotland's association with Ireland as a whole, over the years, centuries and even millenia. It all melts into one, and the labels of 'Scottish Reconstructionist' and 'Gaelic Polytheist' meld together.

This doesn't bother me as far as my personal practices are concerned; I do what I do and I've done what I've done, and regardless of the labels I've assigned to those practices, I've found incredible depth and meaning in them. But I like to get the labels right...

Monday, 3 November 2008

Archive: The Secret Commonwealth - Brian Walsh

The Secret Commonwealth and the Fairy Belief Complex (by Robert Kirk)
Brian Walsh

Written in the late 17th century by Robert Kirk, seventh son of the minister of Aberfoyle (and later a minister himself), The Secret Commonwealth is one of those important books that you need to read if you want to know anything about beliefs in fairies and the Second Sight in Scotland...Or you should think about reading, anyway...

There are many different versions of The Secret Commonwealth available to buy, and you need to be careful which one you choose. Trust me on this. I bought a different (cheaper) version of this years ago, with an introduction by Alan Richardson, followed by the reprint of Andrew Lang's work and R B Cunninghame Graham's introduction.

It quickly became apparent why Brian Walsh's book is recommended above any other - partly because he gives a good outline of the history of Kirk and The Secret Commonwealth, and the inherent problems or weaknesses with the earlier major publications of the text (such as Andrew Lang's biography of Kirk, which isn't entirely accurate) and partly because some of the more modern authors, like Richardson, tend to be a little off the wall (for my tastes, anyway). In his introduction, for example, Richardson discusses the commonly held belief that Kirk didn't, in fact die, but was spirited away by the Good Folk for giving too much away, and mentions this with the belief that King Arthur (the King of Britain) didn't really die either. Or Elvis (The King). Or Jim Morrison (The Lizard King). Naturally, like all of these Kings, Kirk lies in wait to return when he's most needed...Except Elvis and Jim do have the nasty habit of turning up in the most unlikely of places, but that's by the by...


Anyway. Lang's version, the earliest publication of the manuscript from 1893, can be found on sacred-texts, so if you're just interested in the text itself, or what Lang himself had to say, there's no need to buy a copy. This version doesn't include A Short Treatise of the Scotish-Irish Charms and Spels, though, as Walsh does (and it's worth a read), and the text is presented in a much more readable manner in Walsh's book, although the language and spelling might still give you a headache...

What Brian Walsh does is provide a historical context to the work, showing that Kirk's ideas and information generally came from three sources: the native folk belief complex, Christianity (Protestant), and neoplatonic or hermetic beliefs, and in picking all these pieces apart, it helps give an understanding of where everything comes from.

As far as Kirk's work itself is concerned, I have to admit that there wasn't a massive amount in there that interested me in terms of learning anything new about folklore, but I can't help but feel that I'm doing it a disservice in some respects, because I approached it with the hope of learning more about folklore and this isn't just what the book is about. I'm not sure I was able to fully appreciate the theological context of Kirk's work as Brian Walsh obviously does, and while the historical context is interesting to me, that's not what I wanted so much.

Added to this, my lack of interest at times was partly to do with the fact that I've read it elsewhere and in more than one place. That's hardly Kirk's fault, seeing as he was writing a good 200 hundred years before most others, and he can hardly be faulted for the beliefs remaining fairly consistent during that time, or other people referencing him later on. I have to admit that Kirk's frequent Biblical references were also offputting for me - not because it's Oh noes, Teh Bible! but simply because it's not something I have much familiarity with or understanding of. Considering the time he was writing (in the late seventeenth century), and the fact that he was a minister, it's not surprising, but since I'm not an expert on the Bible, or the finer points of Christian theology, a lot of it I just had to wade through without really being able to form much of an opinion of it.

Kirk's treatise on charms piqued my interest the most, because (aside from the fact that I'm interested in that sort of thing) some of the examples of charms he gave showed remarkable similarity in terms of the style and formula used with some of the charms and songs that are found in the Carmina Gadelica. Here Kirk offers some things I haven't seen before, and it's interesting to see how things change, or don't, over time; I think this is one of the things that makes the book so important to read.

With Walsh's outline of and commentary on where such ideas might have come from, it helps give an idea of how to examine folk beliefs, and how Christianity may have affected them, in a more critical manner. Kirk's often fairly unorthodox views on the subject - arguing that the Second Sight isn't evil, as was the common perception at the time, because the person afflicted with it was born with it and didn't seek it out - are interesting too from a historical perspective, if you like that sort of thing, but I'm not sure that overall it's something to get too excited about.

Reading through Walsh's work helps give you an idea that Kirk is writing from both a very personal perspective (perhaps influenced by the fact that he was a seventh son, and supposed to have the Sight himself), and trying to write about existing beliefs that he encounters in his community and the people he meets, whilst maintaining a suitably Christian regard for it all.

It would have been nice to see something more critical and indepth in terms of what it all means, but that's not the purpose of this book and Mr Walsh makes that clear from the beginning. Walsh avoids giving too much personal interpretation on Kirk's work, but he does give an interesting chapter on the Body of Air that Kirk mentions a lot in his manuscript, and he goes into some depth here. He also lists the common motifs of the fairy belief complex as outlined by Cross and Slover from their study of Irish beliefs, which helps put it all in a wider context, especially if you're going to read (or have read) something like Evan-Wentz's The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Archive: Samhainn 2008 (2)

Like last year I decided to carve the turnips in advance of the day itself, to spread things out a little, so I set to work on them the night before Samhainn after the kids had gone to bed - it's not a good idea to have two helpful children around knives so I thought it best to keep them out of the way. Next year I might spring for a pumpkin, because I'm sure they'd love scooping the innards out.

Before I started, as the sun began to set and the night closed in I was looking out the front window, I was thinking about what I was going to do for the evening. A huge flock of crows landed in the trees across from the house and began to caw raucously, playfully hopping about and chasing each other. I don't think I've ever seen so many crows all at once, and while there was a bit of an Alfred Hitchcock undertone to it all ("Fuck off you cellists!" to quote Eddie Izzard), I couldn't really ignore it as a definite sign. The night was closing in and it seemed as if they were saying that now was a good time to start celebrations. Something Otherworldly was definitely in the air.

I did three tumshies this year (and have the blisters to prove it) - carving them isn't as tough as you'd expect but after a while it can get hard on your hands. This time round I made sure to make the holes for the faces big enough to allow enough air in for the candles, but I wasn't careful enough as I carved them and accidentally cut between the eye and the mouth on a couple of them. No biggy, I don't think, but maybe using something more suitable to delicate work will help next year. They all looked suitably scary and threatening.

After I'd finished carving, I made some offerings to the Good Folk in the hope that they'd take a hint and stay away, and that was that for the night, really, it was quite late. I slept pretty well, but don't remember any dreams.

In the morning, I made the bannocks - Pitcaithly bannocks this time, and they were very nice, a lot like shortbread. Well, they basically are shortbread, but citrusy (three parts flour to two parts butter and one part sugar, but with a tablespoon of ground almond and a handful of candied peel). They came out well and didn't break, so I took that as a good sign. I broke one in half and duly left it as an offering, and Mr Seren took us into Glasgow where we spent the day doing fairly mundane stuff, getting some warm tops for winter.

Mr Seren didn't stop long in Glasgow, so I took the train back with the kids and managed to time it perfectly for the sunset, which was beautiful. First we went past Dumbarton Rock, or Alt Clut as it was known, home to kings of Strathclyde way back in the late Iron Age (or so it's thought), and situated on the other side of the Clyde from us. It's a volcanic plug of basalt, if I remember rightly. Then we went past Inverkip Powerstation a little later when the sun was much lower:

Mr Seren's fascinated by the powerstation, and calls it The Hive. It was built in the 70s but never used (as I may have posted before...), because the price of oil sky-rocketed during it's construction, and yet it's always a hive of activity. Obviously it's a front for nefarious government experiments, but Mulder and Scully don't seem too interested in it, sadly. Or, in reality, it's been kept as a back-up powerstation ever since but it's going to be knocked down soon, once they've decided how to go about it, and what to do with the land. I hope they make it into a nature reserve, but it's more likely it will be used for housing. But I digress.

Here's one of Argyll and Bute, just as the sun dipped down below the horizon as we were coming into the station (you can see the crap on the window of the train too, but nevermind):

I didn't have much time to cook a proper meal in the evening so I cheated and bought most of it ready made before I left the city centre. We had braised steak with shallots and a gravy with chianti, with roasted parsnips and potato and fresh veg, followed by apple pie and honey ice cream or custard, and it was yummy. In spite of the fact that the apple pie fell splat on the oven door as I was trying to take it out.

Tom was very interested in the tumshie lanterns, and Mr Seren did the honours with lighting them and putting them in the window. The guisers turned up in a slow but steady stream, and it was all very fun and exciting. People round here seem to make a big thing about celebrating Hallowe'en, much more so than last year when we were over in Bo'ness, and during the week, as I was walking the dogs in the evening I'd see groups of kids walking around with torches, visiting particular houses where they'd go in and come out screaming and laughing. I'm guessing it was some sort of house of horror trail around the village.

I made offerings of milk and honey, gingerbread, some of the nuts and sweets we'd been handing out to the guisers, and a splash of whisky to the ancestors, on my little shelf, and left out food, set aside from dinner earlier, for any visitors during the night (and hoping it was out of Mungo's reach, scavenging little sod that he is). Offerings for the gods and spirits were left as well, including some more of the bannock I'd made earlier.

I'd been meaning to do more but I was tired and decided I wasn't good for much except sleep. Tom needed a little attention, too, so it was still quite late before I got to bed but I was incredibly restless and didn't really sleep. By 4am I gave up and decided to get up, so I came downstairs and meditated a little on my family and ancestors and held an impromptu vigil. I've been lucky this year not to have lost anyone, but I realised that my sister had, recently even, and so I paid my respects to the little niece or nephew that could have been but never was.

I realised I hadn't done any divination that night, either, so I got out my ogam set and picked out three staves from the bag. They always seem to come out with the most appropriate feda for each festival, and this time was no exception - it all seemed to relate to family, hinting at a particular female member and I wonder if it's something to do with my nan. She's been very ill recently, with an infection in her colon - probably a seed that got stuck there. It's quite common, especially for her age, but it's hit her hard and she hasn't wanted any visitors. I'm not sure whether I'm reading into my worry for her, or if there's a genuine message there. Either way, I eventually managed to get some sleep, and luckily for me it was my weekend lie-in. I know I dreamed this time, but I can't remember what it was about at all.

The next day I felt quite drained so we didn't do much. During my impromptu vigil the night before I realised I'd been unconsciously concentrating my three nights of celebration into three different focuses - the first night on the spirits, the second night on the ancestors, the third night was going to be for the gods. I got some flowers - red, yellow and orange, and was going to decorate my little shelf where I have my little sacred space but I realised I didn't have anything to put them in that would fit, so they went on the mantelpiece above the fire instead. I also realised I'd forgotten to sain the house the night before, so I did that using some of the water I collected at Bealltainn like I usually do. The house feels much better for it.

I took the dogs for their evening walk and went down to the shore where I left some offerings and meditated for a while. The night was clear and still and the water hardly made any noise as it lapped away at the beach, and all was calm and peaceful. Down at the sea I usually dedicate my offerings to Manannan and the river, and Manannan in particular seemed to feel close.

There were no great revelations or signs, but I felt like I'd been heard, and after I got home I made more offerings - rum and coffee grounds to Badb this time (she seems to like them - I gave the spiced rum we got from St Lucia because I'd run out of whisky and couldn't find the mead I'd bought for the occasion, and for some reason I always give coffee grounds now, perhaps because I love the stuff so much and it's something genuinely important to me in an odd sort of way), gingerbread, nuts and milk to the gods in general, and bread and butter and more treats from the previous night for the spirits. I don't know why I separate it out like that, but it feels right and seems to work. As I came back inside and closed the door, the first thing I saw was a spider - one of those ones with a huge round arse - was weaving a web in the corner of the door, tucked in behind the curtain. I always take spiders as a sign of good luck in the home, and this year I must be very lucky indeed.

So that was my Samhainn. A little disorganised, some of it unexpected and unplanned, but all of it good. Tom's back, looking extremely happy with a giant lollipop, and Mr Seren is bearing a box of Belgian chocolates all for me. Yes, I'm very lucky indeed.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Archive: Samhainn 2008 (1)

Happy Hallowe'en, Oíche Shamhna, Oidhche Shamhna...whatever you want to call it!

I started my celebrations yesterday evening by carving the tumshies (turnips, swedes, rutabagas...whatever you want to call them...). Wielding my trusty vegetable knife and sturdy spoon once again, I cut, gouged, scraped and occasionally swore my way through three tumshies, which are currently proudly situated in the window of my front room. I have the blisters to prove it, I swear (but it was fun to do).

It's the first time I've ever put them in the window, which round here means that guisers are welcome to come and visit, and it's been an eye opening experience. Growing up I never celebrated Hallowe'en (my mother saw it as nothing more than rampant and tasteless commercialism imported from America, nothing to do with us thankyouverymuch, and as far as I remember it was never a big thing anyway) so I've never been trick or treating, and I have only a vague recollection of going to a Hallowe'en party at a youth club once, during the time mum made my sister and I go there. When I moved back to my hometown after university, trick or treating was more like sanctioned mugging than something festive, so we never took part then - we would've got egged anyway. While I was at university in Glasgow we'd get the wee neds coming round to trick or treat or ask for a penny for the guy at this time of year (for Bonfire Night), and they were more than happy to toddle off with your spare change, seeing as we never had any treats of the sweetie kind then. Seeing as we didn't live in a very family oriented area then, the kids that knocked on our door never really bothered with the costume part of the proceedings and were generally more concerned with making enough money to go out a procure themselves a bottle of Bucky than anything else, but here in Wemyss Windy Bay, Hallowe'en conforms to pretty much to Mr Seren's experience of it from when he was growing up about 20 miles away.

A lot of kids these days will only visit houses they know, especially if they're allowed out on their own, but we've had a fair few visitors in spite of that (and most groups are accompanied by at least one adult, but we don't live in anything like a dangerous neighbourhood anyway). Instead of demanding a treat in order to avoid the trick, round these parts the kids are expected to do something to earn their treat, so we've had jokes, songs, riddles and poems given to us in exchange for a choice of Haribo sweets, chocolate, monkey nuts (peanuts) and apples. Or more usually, as much goodies as their hands can hold...Tom in particular found it all very exciting, and when a group of girls began singing Baa Baa Black Sheep he ran to get his guitar so he could join in, which resulted in the girls being reduced to fits of giggles and 'Awwwwws!!!!'

Mr Seren insisted on the monkey nuts and apples because that's what he used to get for his troubles as a child, so it's traditional. Oh yes. And seeing as he had such an opinion on things, he answered the door most times so I dug out the orc mask to get into the spirit of things. Here it's ably modelled by Tom, who declined to dress up in his Spiderman costume but seemed quite keen on the mask (whereas Rosie spent the day in her ladybird fairy outfit):

Tom was quite keen on the carved tumshies, mainly because Mr Seren told him it would scare the dinosaurs away.

Surprisingly, quite a few of the guisers (and quite often their parents or designated responsible adult) chose the nuts or fruit, although one lassie said she was allergic to nuts, something we didn't think about. It was a good job we had chocolate or Haribo on offer in addition to the fruits and nuts, because two girls who knocked on the door wanted the sweeties but said they weren't allowed gelatine because of their religion and so declined to enter the happy world of Haribo (I'm assuming they were Muslim), and we hadn't considered that either.

That's it for now - I'm waiting to make sure I've got some peace and quiet before I get down to some serious business so I'll post about that later.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Archive: Lùnasdal 2008 (3)

Monday morning dawned wet and dull - not an auspicious start to the day, and I wasn't too chuffed at being awake early enough to actually see it. After spending a good portion of the night trying to get Rosie back to sleep I was feeling crappy, irritable, tired and headachy. Nothing had seemed to make Rosie feel better and eventually, thankfully, Mr Seren had taken over the duties and ordered me back to bed to nurse my failing sanity. So as you might guess, I wasn't exactly awed by the wonder of nature, or overcome with a spiritual sense of...well, anything, the sun rose behind the clouds and the dawn chorus got into full swing.

Still, I'd had it in mind that Monday might be the day for celebrating Lùnasdal, and making an effort to focus my thoughts, I slouched about the house, cleaning, tidying, sorting and playing with the kids, being all domesticated and trying to muster up some enthusiasm for any other than a cup of coffee and some freshly baked shortbread.

I ventured into the garden, briefly, to see if the blackberries were ripe yet, and they were, so that seemed like a good sign. I didn't pick any, seeing as there were so few, but decided to go blackberrying with the kids the following day in some of the larger hedgerows, intending to finish my celebrations off with a nice apple and blackberry pie (although that never happened, thanks to the fact that I got stranded in Largs after the bus never showed up. I ended up having to get dinner there while I waited for Mr Seren to pick us up, and Tom and Rosie were thoroughly disgruntled).

As Rosie napped the rain took a brief respite and the pressure began to build, with more and more clouds rolling in overhead. While she slept I tidied up in the bedroom and Tom helped me sort out the washing, and the atmosphere started to get very close and the dogs, who were playing in the garden, began to get a little on edge and frisky. Then came the thunder...

I love thunder and Tom was excited too, and as we came downstairs to watch it and make sure Mungo didn't freak out at the noise (Eddie's always been fine with it) I thought, well, I can't ask for a better sign than this, can I? That decided it.

For my first attempt at celebrating I made stovies and some cream crowdie for the feast. I wanted to incorporate something that I'd harvested myself into the food, but seeing as I decided against a vegetable patch this year I made do with some mint from the garden, as a garnish to compliment the raspberries (and the chocolate I'd added) to the cream crowdie (a traditional dessert at this time of year). This time neither Mr Seren nor I were particularly hungry so Mr Seren said he'd just pick at something, and I had some Scotch broth (because that's what was in the cupboard, not trying to be traditional or anything like that, but it seemed to fit well at least) while the kids ate their dinner.

With the kids in bed I started on my evening of devotions. I started off with a Good Wish and the sop seille, sprinkling some of the water I'd saved from Bealltainn around the house to cleanse and protect. Then I started on the bannock, and as planned I had a go at a Selkirk bannock this time. I've never been all that successful at bread making so I was a bit worried about how it would turn out - there's a knack to yeast that I don't seem to have discovered (yet, hopefully). I had to adapt the recipe a little, using all butter instead of half butter, half lard, and some mixed dried fruit instead of sultanas and a little mixed peel, but otherwise I stuck with it.

The Selkirk bannock is hard work but to make but very straightforward, and I blessed the dough, asking for prosperity and protection for the family as I mixed it together and then put it in the tin to bake in the oven (it should be round, but I used a loaf-tin because that's all I had that was suitable - pictured is what was left of it the next day), like I usually do with the more traditional oatmeal bannocks. All told it must have taken three hours to make (including allowing the dough to rise), and persuading the dried fruit to work into the dough was a trial. I'm not sure the dough rose as much as it should have, and next time I think I'll leave it a bit longer and maybe try the oven a bit warmer - the end result was very heavy and brick-like - but overall I was pleased with the result and the extra effort meant I felt more focused on what I was doing.

I forgot to adjust the oven temperature for a fan oven so it cooked a little too quickly and was very well done on the outside by the time I took it out for the glaze, so I had to cut the cooking time short and it wasn't quite as cooked inside as it could have been - a little stodgy still. Mr Seren for one likes things well cooked and commented that it's very much like a black bun. Next time I try it, I'll make sure I use the right amount of sultanas and peel, because its citrusy flavour of the ready mixed stuff I used was a bit much. Less is more for my tastebuds.

As I was waiting for the dough to rise I got to work on the rowanberry necklace I'd been planning to do. I got the idea from The Silver Bough, where I read that women (who couldn't afford amber or red coral, for the same purpose) used to make them and wear them for protection. I'd picked the berries a while ago, from the trees behind the house (asking before I did so and leaving an offering of thanks after it seemed OK to take them), and tried drying them on a low heat in the oven for a few hours. Most of them were still a little sticky, but dry enough not to make too much of a mess as I strung them on some blue thread (I was out of red, but I'm fairly sure blue was sometimes used for protective purposes too). I charmed the necklace as I made it, like I did with the rowan and red thread crosses I made at Bealltainn and put it around the votive candle on my little sacred space after I'd finished, while I went back to the bannock.

With the bannock done, tasted and shared with Mr Seren, I took a slice into the garden with some whisky as an offering to the spirits. There's an evergreen growing at the back of the garden, not too tall, but the way the light from the kitchen was falling onto it kept catching my eyeing, convincing me it was a person standing there. I tried convincing myself that it was just the light, but eventually I decided to be all intuitive and so I spent some time talking to it about the feelings I'd been picking up on. Everything seemed to have cleared and lifted after the thunderstorm and there was a feeling of peace and release, balance restored. I wondered about whether the vibes I'd been picking up on were to do with the transition between the seasons, the kind of confused, liminal period where it's neither here nor there for a while. I felt a certain sense of rightness at this, and didn't doubt that my botched previous attempt and trying to force things hadn't helped. I went inside and did some ogam divination (which I'm still thinking on and I'm not sure if it's for sharing, completley anyway. But it seemed to confirm a lot of things).

I put some more of the bannock in a bag, poured some milk into a container and some coffee grounds into another and made my way out to walk the dogs, taking the rowanberry necklace with me in case the bad vibes were still around (they weren't). A bat flew overhead on my way and we headed down towards the coast, stopping first at a clearing just at the top of the hill, overlooking the Clyde and Argyll opposite, and there I made my offerings to Lug, Tailltiu and Brigid (the latter being included because I felt she was indicated in the ogam I drew). I stayed for a while and meditated, looking for signs of acceptance, and a light drizzle seemed to come from nowhere, a small cloud that seemed to have appeared overhead in the clear night sky just for me.

Given the associations of rain with the festival, I took this to be a sign indeed, and took the dogs off down to the shore, where I made offerings and libations to Manannan (as I usually do when I go there), the ancestors and the storm hags. The coffee grounds I brought for Badb, for some reason it seemed right.

I'm almost certain I saw a shooting star before I left, but by this point with all the apparent rightness of everything I was beginning to wonder if I was imagining it, seeing what I wanted to see. I headed home, eventually, and as I got ready for bed, closed the curtains and made my night-time blessings I saw a fox scurrying along outside - only the second time I've seen it. It hurried into the hedgerow towards the gap in the fence just opposite the house, and at the last minute, just before it disappeared it seemed to stop dead, come back out and look straight up at me as I stood at the window, before scurrying off up the road.

I slept well that night, and if I dreamt I don't remember what happened. There's a lot of stuff for me to think on from all this, and I think after I got over trying to make things perfect and go according to plan - following the signs instead - things were a lot more successful than I ever anticipated.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Archive: Lùnasdal 2008 (2)

Time to stop fannying about I suppose...

I've made an effort, honestly I have. I tried celebrating Lùnasdal on several occasions, honestly I did, but so far nothing. My efforts have been mediocre and unfocused at best, and while my more regular spiritual practices and offerings have been well-received, as far as I can tell, my festive celebrations have been decidedly flat and piecemeal so far. Partly because of circumstances and interruptions, I suppose you could say, and partly because of circumstance - not just my frame of mind, but a general feeling that things just aren't happening...In fact, a general feeling that as far as this locality is concerned, it's just not happy. Or not right.

Connecting with the land, the locality, is an important part of my spirituality. Coming to an understanding with the local spirits is a huge focus of my spiritualitiy, you could say, and until recently, I'd say I was quite successful in this respect. Since Mungo came along I've been dedicatedely taking the dogs for a walk late in the evening, before bedtime, in order to make sure Mungo's had plenty to knacker him out during the course of the day and ensure a good night's sleep for all of us. I've enjoyed this new routine because it gives me the opportunity to have some quiet time to myself and meditate and I've had a lot of things to chew on, including my thoughts and experiences with my feeling of being drawn to Badb. We rarely meet anyone on the street, and aside from the occasional car or Chelsea Tractor, there are few disturbances to interrupt these thoughts, which seems just perfect for me. Perfect for Mungo, on the other hand, to try and chase anything that moves, otherwise, though, but some calculated daytime walks in busy areas seem to be doing the trick in that respect.

Being a relatively large village on the coast, and also surrounded by dense woodland, there are a few options as far as walks are concerned, although I discount the woods as suitable walks in the evening for obvious personal safety reasons (it being dark and remote and all...and also very fae in feel). The walks to the coast, however, are tantalising for me, given my obsession with the sea, Manannán and the lighthouse that shines over on the mainland on the other side of the Clyde every night. I find the lighthouse, the coast and the sound of the sea comforting, even welcoming and feel drawn to it all, to get as close as possible to it. Parts of the walk there, however, are not so positive in feel.

To put it bluntly, sometimes it gives me the willies. I've been getting the same sort of vibes with my attempts at celebrating Lùnasdal throughout this month, albeit in a less focused sort of feel. My attempts at making bannocks were successful in the sense that none of them broke (supposed to be a bad sign), but they just didn't work like they did last time round - tasteless and unevenly cooked, and also they ended up too runny first time round, even though I followed the recipe as last time, so I had to try and compensate. My other devotions planned for that night were similarly disrupted and unfocused and so I tried spreading them across three nights...Those attempts just didn't have anything to them, either, and now I've come to the conclusion that it just wasn't the right time. Perhaps that will explain the vibes I've been picking up on over the past few weeks...In trying to force celebrations at the 'traditionally appropriate' time, according to records, perhaps what I really need to do is get in tune with when this place is ready. It would be in keeping with my feeling that I need to get in touch with my more mystical, experiential side, rather than my more logical, intellectual side, I guess. More than anything, though, I think maybe I need to stop trying to find the perfect time, logistically, and just get on with it, spiritually...

The blackberries are starting to ripen and I might just wait until next week, when there should be enough for me to pick, to try my celebrations again. I've also decided to try baking a Selkirk bannock instead of the more traditional savoury type, because it fits in more with my personal tastes as well as those of Mr Seren and the children, and while my spirituality is nothing but personal, I'd like to share something with the family. I'd been planning on doing one for Samhainn, but here I think it's time to take a hint and just do it.

So anyway. I was intending to tie this one in with my celebrations, but instead it's turned into a preamble...

The Festival of Lughnasa
Maire MacNeill

Finding a copy of this book has almost been like a quest for the Holy Grail for me. Every now and then it gets mentioned with an almost hushed reverence on some of the CR lists I'm on, so of course when I first heard of it I decided I had to read it...I found it easily enough at the university library, but this is the sort of book I have to own, rather than borrow, and copies don't come cheap. Before the reprint earlier this year, this was an extremely rare book, it seems, and I could only find copies with a £400-£500 (or $800-$1,000) price tag - far beyond my humble means, so when I found out it had been re-released I was a very happy geek. It was still not cheap (£50/$100), but far less damaging to my credit card and honestly well worth it - it's a hefty tome, to say the least, so you get your money's worth.

But maybe I should stop chuntering on about how smug I'm feeling for getting my hands on a copy and start talking about what I thought about it. I could've sworn I'd read it as soon as it arrived on my doorstep, but when I thought about writing a review in time for Lùnastal and started flicking through it, I realised that I hadn't read it all the way through. As I said, it's a hefty tome, packing in over 700 pages, so it's easy to get lost if you put it down for a bit.

MacNeill focuses primarily on the evidence in Ireland, drawing heavily from the Irish Folklore Commission archives, but she does give some attention to the evidence for it in Great Britain and France, though in far less detail. As someone who focuses on Scottish practice, I didn't really find anything new specifically relating to the more modern evidence found in Scotland, but as far as the historical evidence goes for Ireland there's a wealth of information to be found.

Given its size, it's no surprise that this is a fairly exhaustive work on the various different aspects of the festival of Lughnasa, and in this I suppose there are pros and cons. While on the one hand it makes for a handy volume with which to start and get a fairly in depth idea of what Lughnasa was really about, its very size can also be very off-putting. That said, Mac Neill does a good job of laying things out in a logical manner, from the more historical aspects of the festival, to surviving evidence of celebrations. These latter chapters are quite dense, in essence listing the evidence (or possible evidence, where MacNeill isn't certain) for survivals of celebrations in specific locations across Ireland. This isn't the easiest stuff to read all in one go unless you're that passionate about the subject, it being fairly repetitive in places, but if you're looking for a good amount of supporting evidence for this sort of thing you'll certainly find good leads here.

Following all that are chapters on the types of tales associated with the festival, as well as a summary of a 'typical' Irish celebration for the day, based on the more modern evidence available. It's this chapter that will be of most interest to anyone looking for quick answers about the surviving practises that you might want to incorporate into your own. There follows an extensive appendix of the tales themselves (including the original Irish and then translations, where applicable) and, in the copy I bought, the addendum from MacNeill's revision of the book in the 1982 reprint, where she discusses where she may have changed her mind on certain points, or where further evidence proved her wrong more conclusively or convincingly. These bits don't really change the overall message of the book too much, but they are useful to know and I'd say that these later editions/reprints are a better read in that respect than the first edition, providing more critical food for thought at least.

Perhaps the biggest problem with this book is that there aren't any comparable volumes that deal with the other festivals in such depth. It would make life so much easier in so many ways...So far as the book itself is concerned, though, it can't be denied that it's dated in some respects. MacNeill addresses some of these points in the later addendum, but this can only raise questions about a lot of other things that she says and the research methods she uses...Time will tell on these points, but it's wise to caution against taking things too literally, I think, and further, personal, research is always warranted no matter how good one particular book might be. Perhaps I'm being overly cautious and negative here, but I do find this book to be genuinely inspirational and useful, and it's often this type of book that I'm most cautious about. Question everything, especially books like this that are so highly regarded. But then again, don't forget they're highly regarded for a reason...

At the end of the day, if you want to gain a deeper understanding of Lughnasa or any of its (possibly/probably) culturally related variants, buy the book, or at least get your hands on a copy.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Archive: Mythic Ireland - Michael Dames

Mythic Ireland
Michael Dames

It's a good job I'm not one to judge a book by a cover, because frankly, when I opened the envelope and took this book out, my first impression was, "Has somebody vomited over it and then tried drawing a pretty picture of the space-time continuum with the leftovers, during an acid trip? Hmmm?"

Apparently though, according to the dust jacket inside, it's supposed to be a "drawing of the carved stone mace-head from Knowth, Co. Meath".


I'm a little conflicted about this book...I think I can see where Dames is coming from, but I'm not sure if it's worked - for me, anyway. I was expecting to read something along the lines of Alwyn and Brinley Rees' Celtic Heritage (but more up to date), so perhaps I've been a little blindsided by my expectations. I want to really love this book, but ultimately, deep down, I have a lot of reservations about it.

The book is split into five main parts, along with the obligatory introductions and conclusions and so on, and each section deals with a particular province and the relevant mythic sites and figures in that area. In this sense it offers something much different to Celtic Heritage because it deals far more with local myths and the Dindshenchas (Placename Folklore) than it does the kinds of myths from the cycles that are normally dealt with. Neither does it make any real effort to analyse how such tales might have evolved over time - instead, it takes them at face value, offers some explanation and analysis as to how they relate to Ireland and its sacred places, and then it's time to move on. The fifth section, focusing on Mide, attempts to synthesise the mythical threads of the four provinces into a whole, a coherent body of lore that represents all of Ireland, radiating from the sacred centre of Uisnech.

That, for me, is one of the major problems I had with the book right there...Viewed from a more scholarly perspective, it's little more than an attempt to crowbar the mythological landscape into a fairly romanticised view of how it all might have been, taking no account of how the sites may have sprung up over time or changed in function and so on.

It's a seductive approach in a way, though, because it takes the subject outside of the stuffy academic sensibilities that often make reading about this sort of thing so dull and boring. Instead of talking in terms of what was, Dames makes it clear that this is a living breathing mythology and mythological landscape. These are not Ye Olde Godes who've scampered under a hill or two (as per their agreement with the Milesians), that he's writing about, but the gods that were and still are a part of Ireland today.

This is both refreshing and a little unfortunate, because while on the one hand it gives a sense of the gods as living beings in a modern landscape - not simply 'characters' in myth and legend, who are to be studied and analysed in an intellectual and fairly two dimensional manner - it also feeds the romanticism that Dames sometimes indulges in. Romanticism isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I think it skews how Dames presents what he writes, allowing him to explore what might have been rather than what's likely to have been (if I put my archaeologist's hat on, as Dames is also an archaeologist, I'd say he takes more of a post-processual approach at times, though I'm not sure he'd agree, and there's a definite processual thing going on as well, if that's even possible to mix the two...)...If anything I guess it serves as a reminder that everyone views the gods a little differently, and that how we approach them can (and should) be a very personal thing.

With a healthy smattering of Mircea Eliade and Gimbutas thrown in for good measure, along with the fact that gods are pretty much all presented within a solar-deity framework, I have a lot of quibbles with the way he presents some of the material and the sorts of sweeping statements he makes - replete with a lack of any real referencing except, usually, when he quotes from someone directly. An example of this would be Aine, who he equates with Anu, and promptly pronounces her a solar goddess outright without really providing any referenced material as to why or how this is so, or why others may not see her that way (but then again, after reading the chapter I did end up thinking he might have a point, and it would be good to see an argument of the fors and againsts in the solar god argument as far as Celtic/Irish gods are concerned...I digress).

In amongst all of the more problemmatical bits I found some genuinely interesting stuff in there, including an example of an Irish smooring prayer - but it wasn't referenced so I can't follow it up. This is annoying. However, in spite of all the downers I have about the book I also found it kind of inspirational. It challenged my more stuffy academic outlook on the subject and presented a lot of folk tales and bits of lore that I wasn't familiar with. While I didn't agree with a lot of what he had to say, or more often, looked askance at it because it wasn't clear quite where he got certain things from, the book certainly helped give a sense of the sacredness of the landscape.

All in all, I don't think I'd recommend every CR person I came across to go and buy the book now now now. But it's an interesting tome, and so far as my reading's gone thus far, it's certainly fairly unique. I can see why I never came across this book in an academic context, and I can see how its often outdated references and ideas might prove problemmatic for a reconstructionist approach as well, but taken with an open mind and a healthy pinch of salt, I think a lot can be taken away from the book that's useful for developing a spirituality in a CR setting.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Archive: Lùnasdal 2008

I've been meaning to do this post for a while now, but my brain's been refusing to get into gear lately...But since Mr Seren's taken Tom off my hands and Rosie (and Mungo) are asleep and I have a quiet moment, it's a good time to get some thoughts in order about Lùnasdal (Lammas, Lughnasadh, call it what you will)...As ever, if you're not all that interested in my spiritual practises, there's no need to read on. You won't be missing anything...

The weather's been very wet recently, and while it's been quite warm I've been working on the assumption that the crops and autmnal fruits will be taking a while yet to ripen, so I've decided to hold off on celebrations for a few weeks. The rowans are all pretty much ripe now but the blackberries have yet to even stop flowering, although I've seen some with berries that look like they're thinking about starting to ripen. Even the raspberries are still in season (I spotted some growing wild a week or so ago) and they're usually well on their way to getting past their best by now. Summer's definitely coming to an end, though, the thistles (and I'm not sure which type these are, if they are indeed thistles, but they're everywhere at the moment) are out in force:


Last year I made a real effort to get into the festive spirit because of all the festivals, Lùnasdal is generally the one I feel the least connection with. I kept things low key and not too ambitious, contemplative and meditative and found that was a good approach. I was living in Bo'ness then, overlooking the Forth, so I made my bannocks (or pancakes that time, as it turned out, to share with everyone else), sained (cleansed/warded) the house, made the usual evening feast, and took myself off for an evening walk with Eddie to make offerings of blackberries to Lugh and Tailtiu at the vantage point I used to visit for my daily meditations. I felt a strong connection then and my offerings seemed to be well received. More offerings, made in general this time, followed in the evening before I went to bed and I remember feeling Badb's presence quite strongly as I sat outside in the garden and meditated some more. The next day I took the kids off on a woodland walk and we saw the first crops being harvested as we went (which was pure synchronicity rather than purposeful timing of my celebrations).

This year I'm planning on keeping to the same general outline - making the festival bannocks, saining the house, putting up some rowan and making a good feast for everyone. Last year I didn't really put much emphasis on the first fruits aspect of the festival, so this year I was hoping to find some bilberries growing wild so I could take the kids out to pick them, but I've yet to find any. I've not really seen it mentioned as a Scottish custom specific to this time of year/festival but I do know that bilberry-picking is a popular pastime when they're in season, so it seems appropriate. I might see if the raspberries are still out and pick some for the cream crowdie I'll make for pudding, instead - the bushes are on the way to the beach so I can pick them as I make my way to make some offerings.

Seeing as the rowans are heavy with lots of berries this year I've been thinking about collecting some so I can dry them and make a necklace out of them. McNeill mentions that they were worn by 'common' women for protection as an alternative to red coral or amber necklaces that upper class ladies often wore for the same purpose. I have some amber beads as well, so I might experiment with them both and see how it turns out. If anything, I'm hoping it will make a nice adornment to my little sacred space in the kitchen, and be a good focus for concentrating and meditating on the meaning of the day and so on.

The sweeter bannocks I made at Bealltainn worked well so I think I'll do them again, and dinner will probably be the usual roast lamb or pork or whatever. I decided against planting any fruit or veg in the garden this year, not wanting to be too overambitious, so I don't really have anything to harvest from the garden in that sense. I did put some herbs in, so I might use some rosemary for the roast or something, in the spirit of harvesting some sort of 'crop' for my celebrations, and I'll probably bring some flowers in to decorate the house as well. I've been busy weeding and tending to the flowerbeds in anticipation of the day (I like to get the house in order for my celebrations, so it's nice and welcoming for my special 'guests', so to speak) and I've been pleased and surprised to see how much of what I've planted seems to have flourished. The rowan I planted seems to have settled in well - not much growth, but what growth there has been seems to be very healthy so far.

I'm sure there'll be more I'll think of to be doing, but that's all that springs to mind...

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Archive: Early Irish Farming - Fergus Kelly

Early Irish Farming
Fergus Kelly

Cor blimey, this took a while to get hold of. After several attempts at ordering it from various places, I finally received an actual copy of it and I was going to be seriously annoyed if it turned out to be a steaming pile a horse manure. Thankfully, it didn't disappoint.

This one arrived on my doorstep with a very firm and formidable thud: packing in just over 750 pages, its size alone shows that its a meaty volume (tastes a bit like pork....). Don't worry, though. Around 150 pages are the indexes, glossaries, bibliography and selected translations of passages referred to in the text...So yes. I wouldn't say this is particularly light reading. It's thoroughly academic reading. It's an oddly fascinating read, though - by which I mean the title doesn't inspire much in the way of 'I simply must read this!' and yet, for the most part, I found it fairly easy to get through. The book's well laid out and the subjects are dealt with in a fairly logical order and unlike many of the more modern academic books I've read recently there's very little repetition throughout, which I was grateful for.

Kelly starts off with a good introduction and then goes on to cover what we know of early Irish farming, primarily through the law-texts of the seventh or eighth centuries with a healthy smattering of archaeological evidence thrown in to support the literature. First of all he looks at livestock - the types of animals that were typically kept on the farm, how they were managed and looked after throughout the year and the economic value they would have had. Offences that might be committed against livestock are then looked at, followed by the types of diseases. Kelly's attention then turns to crops, hunting, diet and then matters affecting the farm, labour and tools.

In terms of CR it might not seem to be such a great book to read - it's not about myths or festivals, say - but it does give a good insight into the more mundane, everyday aspects of life that can help to flesh out your practices and understanding of early medieval society. It's a good source to get an idea of why certain animals - cows and pigs in particular - were so important for one, but it also gives an idea of the sorts of things they did with the animals and the types of food they made which might make good dishes for festival occasions (Kelly notes that pork in particular was a popular meat to serve at these times, for example) if you want something more traditional. There's also a good summary of the types of plants and herbs they cultivated for brewing, dyeing and (to a lesser extent) for medicine, though I'm sure there are better sources to look at for this, and throughout there are some interesting tidbits thrown in where Kelly mentions things like the veneration of certain trees (the bile), evidence of pre-Christian thought or practice in terms of food taboos and the tarb-feis (the bull feast rite performed to determine the next king), and so on.

Kelly writes in an engaging manner* (as he does in Early Irish Law, which makes a good companion to this book) - and even when I got to the chapters on subjects that really weren't all that interesting - my life doesn't exactly feel enriched now I know about the finer details of the different types rods and goads that were used on the farm, or the penalties for all the different types of offences that might be committed against livestock and so forth, it has to be said - the lurches into dullness were forgivable. Unlike some authors who write about such specialised areas of interest, he doesn't fall into the trap of using teh big wurdz and dazzle the reader with a ton of jargon so the information he presents is much easier to absorb. I can appreciate that his frequent use of Irish or Latin words might be off-putting or distracting to some people who don't necessarily have a good grounding in early Irish legal terminology, though, even though he always gives a translation.

As an academic tome, there's not much to find fault with it. While parts may be dated now (having been originally published over a decade ago), generally these are things that are going to be of little relevance to anyone approaching it from a CR perspective, unless they're really keen on the intricacies of early Irish farming practice and so forth, and the book is invaluable for its presentation and in-depth referencing of primary source material (if not in-depth analysis, at times)...

The translations given in the appendices include the original Old or Middle Irish and extensive commentary on how he came to translate something in a particular way, or what a particularly obscure turn of phrase might mean and so on. Kelly also gives extremely thorough references and commentary on many of the interpretations he comes to throughout the book, even offering counter-arguments to point out a possibly different perspective, and the bibliography alone is invaluable if you want ideas for further reading.

Given the broad scope of the book, some parts felt a little less indepth than I would have liked them to be, but this is understandable - I would have liked some more stuff on food taboos, for example, but Kelly tends to present most things in a fairly neutral manner, providing a springboard for further study into various topics rather than getting down to the nitty gritty let's-look-at-it-from-all-angles.

I would say this is probably more on the advanced side of intermediate in terms of relevance and interest, providing some good fodder for more in-depth research, although the indexing and the straight-forward style of writing and presentation makes it perfect for just dipping into as a quick reference if you're not the sort to sit down and chew on it at great length. I do think it's worth it, though, especially with Kelly's Early Irish Law. Though take that with as much salt as you like - if you're like me and are tickled by discovering little things like battle-cries of "Fennockabo!" (anglicised form of feannóg abú! - "Hurra for the hooded crow!", apparently), then you'll probably agree. Otherwise, perhaps pick something else up instead.

* With the usual qualifier of "For an academic book, that is..."

Archive: Irish Folk Ways - E Estyn Evans

Irish Folk Ways
E Estyn Evans

If you ever have a desperate, burning need to know about the finer details of the sorts of pots, pans, tools and equipment the Irish used in that strange, unspecified time known as ‘the bygone era’, then this is the book for you.

Irish Folk Ways is not an easy book to sit down and get stuck into, because the detail on any subject Evans turns his attention to often tends to border on the anally retentive, mind-numbingly boring and Just. Plain. Dull. And this is me saying this, so I assure you – there's attention to detail, and there's this.

That’s not to say it’s a bad book. It’s very very good, in fact. In amongst all the detailsdetailsdetails are some hidden gems that you won’t find anywhere else, and I've found it particularly useful in finding more bits and pieces to flesh out my understanding of festival practices and lore, amongst other things.

Evans concentrates on all the different aspects of everyday life in Ireland, and for anyone who wants to go beyond the basics, I think this is a good place to look. An excellent place to look, even. I’d hesitate to recommend it as the very first book to read for anyone interested in starting out as a recon because I think the reader would end up either bored to tears and running away from reconstructionism for ever, or would think “where the hell's the good stuff?” (assuming the beginner wants to know the important stuff, like festivals, practices and so on). Evans does cover all this - and there's a lot of it - but you have to work for it. On the plus side, there's a very good index in the back so it's easy enough to pick all the good bits out, but for a beginner, something like Kevin Danaher's The Year in Ireland would be a much better place to start, providing some 'instant gratification' (as the enthusiastic gardening correspondent at the newspaper I used to work for would say...).

This book requires a certain amount of dedication, unless you happen to be the kind of person that lives for this sort of thing. If minutiae is your bag, then buy the book now. Otherwise, gird your loins and prepare yourself. I would say that this is on my 'should be read' list for anyone interested in Irish practices (and it's handy for a Scottish Reconstructionist like me, too, for comparison), but I've given fair warning...You're not likely to find it a thrilling read. You'll probably find you'll put it to good use as a reference book, though.

In short, this is probably the most anally retentive book EVAR. But I mean that in a good way.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Archive: Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs - James M MacInlay

Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs
James M MacInlay

I'd had my eye on this one for a while, and seeing as it isn't available from the library, I eventually managed to convince myself that that was justification enough to buy it. Because, y'know...I might be missing out on something...It wasn't too expensive, either, so if it ended up being a pile of crap then I wouldn't have wasted too much money. (But of course, now you can just read it online...).

Thankfully, it didn't disappoint. Too much. The copy I got was a facsimile reprint of the original version from 1893 and considering its age, it's no surprise that it has all the usual problems of a book from this time period - the often somewhat self-conscious comments about how it's all a pile of silly superstition anyway, to point out that the author in no way believes in this sort of thing; the noble savage/primitives view of the Celts when referring to pre-Christian beliefs; an occasional smattering of Aryan ideology creeping in and frequent comparison with Egyptian, Syrian and Persian cultures, and so on. Unlike some books of this time, none of these elements are emphasised too heavily and MacInlay tends to use them to support his arguments of the Scottish evidence he presents, rather than the other way round.

I was hoping to find some good information about folklore and practices at wells in particular, especially the types of offerings that were left, and their associations with trees as well. I know. The things my brain ponders are just fascinating...But there are lengthy chapters on both of these, as well as chapters on charm-stones, water spirits, healing and their association with saints. Some chapters were more interesting and more relevant to my interests than others, and one minor annoyance I found as I got stuck into it was that times, much of the evidence provided wasn't about Scotland at all and came from England, Ireland or Wales, and refreshingly, occasionally, the Isle of Man, too. On the one hand this was interesting and helped to provide a wider context for the evidence of practices from Scotland, but on the other hand sometimes it was apparent that such evidence was being given because MacInlay didn't have anything to say about Scottish practices on the subject. One of the worst chapters for this was the chapter on Weather and Wells, which aside from the practice of sailors 'buying' a favourable wind was almost completely focused on lore from England. It was interesting to read, but not exactly relevant to the title of the book and I couldn't help but feel that it was being used to pad out the chapter, rather than inform.

In spite of this, there were some genuinely interesting bits and pieces to be found in the book, and MacInlay gave a lot of information about wells from urban centres as well as the more rural ones that modern books on folklore tend to focus on, as well as more general lore on lochs and other bodies of water. MacInlay also offers references to much older historical sources, as far back as the fourteenth century, which is invaluable considering the more modern books on subjects like this tend to refer to books like MacInlays, rather than the older sources, so he offers something different from a variety of angles.

I was particularly intrigued by the mention of a well in the city centre of Glasgow, where it's recorded that up until around the end of the eighteenth century it was common for small offerings made of tin-iron, shaped to look like various limbs or parts of the body, to be nailed to the tree that overshadowed the well (dedicated to St Thenew), presumably in thanks for its curative powers relating to those parts of the body. It struck me as being very reminiscent of the finds from the Gaulish shrine to Sequana. The chapter on charm-stones also offered some good stuff on serpent stones (which he describes as being usually made of brightly-coloured glass) and their use in curing cattle of disease and so forth, and he also offered a few bits on festival practices that I hadn't seen before (especially the practice of building gigantic towers at Lammas).

No references are given in the book, except when direct quotes are given (which isn't unusual for books this old), so sometimes there were certain things that MacInlay wrote that would have been good to follow up (like the description of the Lammas towers, for one). Unusually, however, he does provide a fairly comprehensive bibliography of the works he's referred to in the course of writing the book, which is invaluable, and he also offers some personal observations from his own fieldwork.

This is a very comprehensive work on the subject, and in spite of its problems it's certainly one I'm glad to have bought for future reference. Given its fairly narrow scope it's probably of most interest for someone who's got a good grasp of the basics and wants to get stuck into more of the specifics of certain areas of lore.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Archive: Iron Age Britain - Barry Cunliffe

Iron Age Britain
Barry Cunliffe

Always looking for some good books on the archaeology of Britain, and always hoping that at some point somebody will write one of these books that gives equal weighting to all parts of Britain rather than concentrating on southern England, I took a punt on this one and decided to give it a go.

I really should have been patient and got it out from the library...It's not bad, or awful. It's just not all that great either, and my credit card could have been happily sponked on something far better. As I said, it's not too bad - not to the point of being only good for kindling - but I do think it's bordering on cluttering up my crowded bookshelf, rather than gracing it.

Cunliffe does offer something different here, compared to other books on the subject, and to a certain extent this is useful. He starts off well, giving a good overview of the state of Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Britain and points out that while the start of the Iron Age generally heralds the start of the Celtic period proper, there are a number of social factors and changes that can be seen in the archaeological record that started in the Late Bronze Age that also had their hand in shaping what we see of the Iron Age and the start of the Celtic period (such as the change in settlements and farming, etc), making the boundaries between Celtic and pre-Celtic much more fluid than they might sound.

After introducing a little background, Cunliffe goes on to look at the people, how they lived, how they farmed and the politic and social evidence that can be interpreted from the archaeology of the period...This is all good stuff. He even takes care to emphasise the regional differences that can be seen, stressing local factors that seem to have shaped the way people lived and evolved in the various parts of Britain, and takes a look at each area separately. This is also good stuff, and quite a refreshing approach, but this is also where the book starts to fall down.

It's partly not Cunliffe's fault; there isn't a good amount of evidence to draw from to treat all areas with equal detail, so like other authors (Miranda Green, Simon James, say), there's an inevitable bias towards the south and places like Danebury that have been more fully excavated (by Cunliffe himself, as it happens).

The main problem comes after the first few chapters that deal exclusively with the archaeology, when Cunliffe tries to give context to it with heavy use of Classical sources - in most cases drawing from the usual suspects like Caesar, Tacitus, Diodorus Siculus and so on - without much analysis or even consideration of the inherent problems in using them. Did they have an agenda in what they wrote? Were they writing from direct observation or conforming to established 'facts' and stereotypes that previous authors had popularised (as was common)? And so on...He uses a healthy smattering of Gaulish references from the Classical sources to help provide context for the British evidence, but without any useful discussion or background surrounding the sources he uses, it all ends up being not too helpful, and it raised more concerns for me than it helped to provide a fuller picture as was obviously intended.

My biggest bugbear with the book is his treatment of religion and beliefs, though. Taking a passage from Caesar, where he says that above all gods they worship Mercury, Cunliffe goes on to point out that Mercury was considered to be 'inventor of all arts' and points out that the Dagda fulfilled a similar role in Irish myth, and then goes on to talk about the Irish gods as if they were British as well. It seems to me that it would have been better to take a look at the post-Roman evidence that shows the variety of localised, along with the more widespread deities that could be found across Britain instead, rather than being fairly dismissive and conflationist.

His analysis of burial practice is better, though he largely goes into any great detail in terms of burials providing evidence for warriors in society, rather than focusing on what the practices implies about ritual and beliefs. But his treatment of evidence for the ritual year is woeful. Here he applies the typical Samhain/Imbolc/Beltane/Lughnasadh divisions and cites evidence of Imbolc and Lughnasadh being celebrated in Gaul as well, from the Coligny calendar, but offers no consideration of any possible evidence to support such a division in Britain itself in this period and so gives the idea that these are well established facts. There isn't much in the way of conclusive contemporary evidence for the ritual calendar in Britain, but some mention of the analysis of bones supporting the idea of spring/autumn feasting (based on the age of the animals slaughtered) would have been a good idea, I think.

All these problems can be found in Cunliffe's The Ancient Celts, but this book has by far more redeeming qualities that can forgive such poor scholarship. Cunliffe is an archaeologist, not a Celticist, so like Miranda Green his writing suffers when he focuses on subjects outside of this. The Ancient Celts offers a better understanding of how archaeologists interpret the material they find, and gives a good grounding in understanding how the antiquarian/academic study of the Celts has evolved over time...Iron Age Britain doesn't offer this and focuses more on giving the facts rather than interpretation. It's unfortunate that Cunliffe doesn't offer any references or even a bibliography in the book, so it's difficult to look up whether things like the mention of the Coligny calendar are sound (and why no mention of 'the three nights of Samonios' (and whether that might be linked to Beltane/Samhain) that can also be found on it?), though to be fair this might be more to do with the publisher than Cunliffe himself. could do a lot worse, but if you have some hard earned cash to spend on something genuinely helpful in terms of CR, then I'd prioritise your spending elsewhere.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Archive: Animals in Celtic Life and Myth - Miranda Green

Animals in Celtic Life and Myth
Miranda Green

I'd heard good things about this one, and after a few quick flicks through, I was sure I wouldn't be disappointed. After reading all the way through, though, I have kind of mixed feelings about it but to be fair I think it's largely to do with the fact that I read it from start to finish - if not in one go, then in one week (or so...).

A friend described the style of writing as "...meaty even though it's dry---sort of like a very thick sandwich on whole-grain bread with no mayo at-tall." I can't disagree with this or come up with anything better to describe it, so there you have it (and I like the imagery). For me it's not so much of a problem, but I can imagine that someone who isn't so used to academic writing might find this book more than a little dry. While I wouldn't say it's a good beginners book, I'd say it's a good intermediate book rather than something for those who are looking a little more advanced. The subject matter isn't particularly esoteric and in spite of the academic style Green's very good at keeping teh big wurdz to a minimum.

There's certainly a lot of meat to the book, but for me the biggest negative is that it's repetitive; I would guess that this is because it's intended towards the sort of audience that's more likely to dip into it than read it from start to finish (so they can write an essay, say), and so from that perspective the repetitiveness helps because it makes having to get through whole chapters or portions of the book less important to read. But after four or five chapters, it really began to grate for me.

With that said, I really liked the content of the book. Green covered quite a few things that I'd been wondering about, particularly a tantalising* comment I read in Barry Cunliffe's The Ancient Celts about the apparent significance of dogs and horses in ritual context. First and foremost Green takes an archaeological look at the evidence available, but she also looks at the literary evidence as well as art in later chapters. This approach keeps things nice and separate, and for the most part allows the reader to draw their own conclusions about the possible significance of any similarities that can be found in art and archaeology compared to the (usually later) literature. Then again, it also helps to contribute to some of the repetition.

The first five chapters deal mainly with the archaeological evidence, separating animals in the context of farming practice, hunting, war and ritual; these divisions, since many of the animals that are dealt with were used in a variety of contexts also contribute to the repetition, but it does make sense when you want to use the book for quick reference. For me, the chapter on ritual usage was most interesting in some respects, but also the most repetitive because of its layout - first addressing the ritual contexts animals are found in (pits, graves enclosures, for example), and then addressing the types of animals found in such contexts (and I realise I'm becoming repetitious with the mentions of the repetition and could try and make out that I'm being clever and ironic, but I'm not, it genuinely became an issue for me...), but it was good to have an idea of the general context of how animals were used and perceived before I got to that chapter.

One thing that was becoming increasingly apparent by this point in the book was Green's reliance on a few specific sites from Britain and Gaul - Danebury, Gournay-sur-Aronde and so on. This isn't Green's fault - there are relatively few sites that have been excavated to any great extent from this period so it's no surprise really - but there wasn't much analysis of how this might affect our view of Celtic society and culture. It's evident that both of these sites, for example, show an unusual concentration of animal bone but the significance of this apparent uniqueness wasn't really delved into much. Neither was the fact that the evidence Green was looking at came from a very wide area (primarily England and Gaul) over quite a significant period of time, and the effect of any evolution in usage or portrayal of such animals might had in our interpretation of the evidence. In later chapters there was very little effort made in trying to reconcile the apparent disconnect between the geography of the archaeology (primarily England and Gaul), and the later literary evidence from Wales and Ireland as well.

The chapters on art, myth and religion gave a welcome change in subject and re-ignited my interest, but while they gave a good overview of the myths and motifs relating to animals found in early Irish and Welsh literature, they were very superficial. Not such a bad thing as far as an introduction goes, perhaps, but in parts there were elements of interpretation I would have mentioned even if I didn't agree with them; the motif of the 'heroes portion' (typically seen as pagan) found in The Tale of Mac Datho's Pig, for example, could equally be interpreted as an Irish rendering or conflation of the idea of the Biblical theme of potluck found in the Bible. I'm no expert on the Bible, but if memory serves Kim McCone explores the idea in more detail. In terms of interpreting such tales it's an important counter-weight argument that should have been considered (if such material was available to Green at the time of writing, that is). Ignoring such a view implies a specific agenda on the author's behalf that tends to undermine some confidence if it was available at the time, or else it makes the material a little dated.

There were a few small points that also dated the book a little, and for me this was most obvious on the chapter concerning Cernunnos, where Green states there's only one inscription to the god known in Gaul. This is what I learned at uni, but a Gaulish expert I know pointed me to three further inscriptions and surely that means a lot more could have been said on the subject had the evidence been available.

All in all you could do a lot worse than reading this book. It's well referenced and well written, and while it does have its problems, I'd still say it's a good book for anyone wanting to go beyond the basics. One final point however - Green's insistence on the idea of there being 'sky gods' and 'solar gods' and so forth requires some reading around. While it was very popular for classically educated scholars to lump gods of any culture under these headings, I consider it misleading and unnecessary to say the least. Gods are much more than labels and to continue with such an approach grates for me. It's a minor point, though, so not necessarily a deal-breaker, but it's something that's found in pretty much all of Green's work.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Archive: A Woman's Words - Joanne Findon

A Woman's Words: Emer and Female Speech in the Ulster Cycle
Joanne Findon

Straight off the bat I'd have to say that this is another one of those books that will only be of interest to a fairly limited audience. While I realise that not every book written for a feminist audience will interest those who are interested in the subject, this is one of those books that automatically gets lumped into that category - you have to read it because it's about women...

But actually, it's quite a refreshing take on the subject. Anyone who's interested in feminism or women's studies in general will probably find a lot to like about this book, and even those like me who have more of a passing interest than a passion, might enjoy it too. For a start, it's one of the few books (from an admittedly very few number of books that I've read on this subject within the specific context of 'Celtic Studies') that focuses on the subject from a feminist point of view that doesn't go on about Teh Evel pay-tree-arky, or indeed Teh Grayt May-tree-arky.

If you've ever read The Book of the Cailleach you'll probably know what I mean, and if I were to compare the two, I'd say this one is a lot more balanced in terms of approach, and over all, is a lot more readable too, though still appealing to a much narrower audience in terms of CR. It's well written, and by and large it's well edited. A lot of the time, academic books like this are written by academics who have the credentials to talk about the subject, but not necessarily the talent to write about it in an engaging way. Here, Findon manages to write in an engaging and knowledgeable style, without feeling the need to resort to using too many unnecessarily big words and clunky sentences to get the point across that yes, the author's brain is in fact the size of New Mexico. Much like my arse (but that's a little off topic).

In addition to the focus on women's studies, the book also takes a literary approach to the material. Findon argues that all too often the myths - including the Ulster Cycle - are analysed in terms of their mythological context; that many of the women found in the tales are evidence of, or representations of (at some remove), pre-Christian goddesses and are analysed only in terms of their mythological, religious/pseudo-religious role. Medb is held as an example here - that once she was considered nothing more than a wanton whore by those who studied the myths, but once her actions were considered in terms of her role (or possible role) as a sovereignty goddess, her actions were justified as being a symptom of her role as facilitator of male sovereignty. This, Findon argues, detracts from the fact that mythological characters are also literary constructs, and as characters within literature, it's becoming increasingly apparent within academic circles that contemporary women (either specific women of the time, or attitudes to women in general) had a large role to play in the portrayal of these women, and specific characters, in the myths in general. I think Findon has a good point here - although she's perhaps a tad optimistic - and as someone who tends to focus on such mythological interpretations of the literature, the book offered a fairly refreshing perspective to me.

At this point, I should probably give an idea of what the book's actually about...

As the title suggests, Findon focuses on the role of Emer within the Ulster Cycle, and to a lesser extent, select women as a whole within the cycle. Findon demonstrates the remarkable coherence of the portrayal of Emer within the cycle, throughout the many tales in which she appears that were no doubt composed and then written and re-written over several centuries. Of all the women in the Ulster Cycle, including Medb (for whom I have a great soft spot), none have a more prominent role than Emer. No other woman speaks as she does, and certainly not as much as she does.

In a nutshell, Findon focuses on what Emer says in the tales, and how she says it, which is less simple and obvious than it might sound. The tales that are focused on are The Wooing of Emer, Bricriu's Feast, The Death of Aife's Only Son, and The Wasting Sickness of Cú Chulainn and all in all it helps to be familiar with the tales that are discussed (and that of the Táin, the main set of stories within the Ulster Cycle) - if only for the fact that you're unlikely to be so interested in a whole book about the finer details of them if you don't really know what they're about.*

One of the book's stronger points is that it helps to give a variety of literary perspectives on what happens in each tale, and thus a better idea of what early medieval Irish society was really like - and how literature like this could have operated in that society when it was told by the skilled storytellers; the points - sometimes satirical, even - that might have been put across.

Findon clearly outlines specific contexts to each tale, like the legal subtext that can be found in many of the tales, as well as the romantic motifs that can be found in others and so on. While on the one hand some of these points are put across in a fairly repetitive manner, which makes for a mild annoyance if you're reading the book from start to finish, it makes it somewhat easier to dip into the book when looking up certain points of interest, or else pick up and put the book down over time.

Over all I'd say it's better to read the book pretty much from start to finish because there's a lot to take in, and that's best done in a fairly continuous take, but if you're very familiar with the material then it's perhaps not so much a must. And while Findon raises many good and even important points, I still feel that getting a broader idea of the tales, from a variety of perspectives, is a must. While Findon doesn't dispute that, it can become a point that's easily lost in the thrust of her arguments, especially since she argues so eloquently. And given that point, I wouldn't say, particularly for those interested in dipping into CR a little deeper, that this book is really the best place to start - look at Celtic Heritage (Rees and Rees) first, and Proinsias MacCana along with the tales themselves and so on, which have a much broader scope.

As I said, this isn't something that's likely to have a broad appeal. I wouldn't count it as one of those 'must have' CR books, but certainly it's one I'd recommend for anyone wanting to broaden their horizons and gain a deeper understanding of Irish mythology and women's roles therein - the Ulster Cycle in particular, of course. Many of the points that Findon makes can surely apply to other women and even goddesses in the literature, but again, they're only pertinent if you're interested in that sort of thing.

Finally, and also in its favour, it has a positive minefield of good books to look up in the bibliography. For me, this is an extra bonus, but again most of them are probably only of limited appeal and are probably best found through a university library. Findon's book itself was easily obtainable through the usual online sources for me, but some of the books she recommends are considerably more expensive.

*Easily found in Thomas Kinsella's The Táin and Jeffrey Gantz's Early Irish Myths and Sagas, in hard copy for example.