Saturday, 8 March 2008

Archive: On being a dumbass...

By popular demand (all two of you, anyway), I'm going to try to tell you a tale about crows, goddesses and being a dumbass...It may be long and rambling, as I'm wont to do, so consider this fair warning. I'll understand if your eyes start glazing over...

So here goes.

For the most part, unless I feel that I should do otherwise (for personal or seasonal reasons, say), I tend to honour 'the gods' in my spiritual practices. I've never had what I'd consider to be a patron or patrons, and I've never really considered it necessary to have one (or more) in order to find my spiritual practices fulfilling, or to find a connection with a deity. For me, so far, some relationships have been fleeting, others have been longer lasting. There are a few of the gods that I consider myself to be close to, like Manannan and the Dagda, but I wouldn't say that I'm 'theirs' utterly and completely. Occasionally I've called them my patrons for convenience in conversation, but ultimately I realise that that particular shoe doesn't quite fit in the sense that I should dedicate myself to either of them above all else. My affection for the Dagda stems from the fact that I spent a very intensive year doing my dissertation on him at university. My tutor suggested that I'd appreciate his somewhat cruder elements, and he was right (though I was never quite sure whether or not to be offended by my very Catholic tutor's opinion of me...).

With Manannan, he's been with me since pretty much the beginning - never really overtly, in a daily-conversations-in-my-head kind of way, but more powerfully so than any other relationship I've experienced with a deity. More than any other god, he's the one with whom I have a father/daughter kind of relationship. He's there whenever I go to the sea or even rivers; he's there whenever I travel the well worn path to him at night when I need him, and take grateful comfort in him. He was there everytime I went to the vantage point at the top of the street where I lived in Bo'ness, to look at the view of the Forth, leading out to sea, doing my daily devotions. Sometimes he 'speaks' to me; mostly he's there, nodding and smiling, or tut tut tutting as I stumble about on this path, finding my own way. He's there when I pick myself up, and he's there when I need a kick up the arse.

Until I moved to the west coast, that is. Now, he's there but distant. I assumed that I would have felt him even more strongly, being that this is closer to his territory, so to speak, but no. I look out to sea in search of him, and he tells me that's not the direction I should be looking. OK, I say, I can take a hint (even if it takes me several weeks to get it...).

Since moving here ("over here", where I am now, not "up here" in this country, I mean), one of the things I've been endeavouring to do is to make a connection with the spirits of the place. Naturally, I've also been thinking about the deities of this place, and for a good seven or eight years now I've had an interest in Clota/Clud (or is it *Clota?), who is thought to lend her name to the river Clyde. On my walks to the beach I've been making offerings to the sea, to the spirits and to the gods of the place - generally separately, as it seems appropriate to recognise them separately and distinctly. While I've had the distinct impression that my offerings have been received favourably, I've not had anything to suggest that there's something more I should be pursuing in that avenue - in terms of attempting to build a relationship with any local deities, that is. It all remains somewhat distant and slightly beyond reach so far.

So anyway...In trying to build a relationship with the land and the sea - this place and those in it (spirits or deities or otherwise) - I've done pretty much exactly the same as when we moved up to Bo'ness - albeit in a less focused way then, because it was something I'd not really had to consciously think about doing before. At that time I looked for signs and I received them in abundance, mostly in terms of crows. Crows were everywhere, and for some reason it made me start to think about Badb and I followed that route until I convinced myself out of it. My offerings continued to be received in a generally favourable manner, and I continued to have the sense that there were Those who were close; Those I could trust to put myself into their hands when I needed it, and Those that I honoured as I always had...

But now I'm in the same position again, and things are...different but the same. While I get the sense that what I've been doing has been favourably received, I get the impression that this favour is at some remove. Kind of like...Thanks, but you're looking in the wrong direction...Take a feckin' hint!

Ok...So...I'm thinking, let's sit back and think about this. My general philosophy is Stop Thinking, Do! Because I have a tendency otherwise to Sit There And Think About Stuff Rather Than Ever Getting Round To Doing. I could easily be an Armchair Reconstructionist, but in focusing on doing, perhaps there's a risk that I'll miss what I'm being prompted to do. So, I think, what have I observed since moving here? Well...Even though I live in a slightly more urban area than in Bo'ness, there are many more birds in my garden. There are, in particular, many more crows in my garden. And on the street. And wherever I walk.

I'm especially superstitious about birds because of how I've been raised, as well as the lore that I've read about since discovering CR. As a recon, I see birds as messengers; when I see them, especially when I get the feeling that they want to be seen, I take note. As I've been raised, I see birds as messengers, but not necessarily good ones. Crows and ravens have negative connotations in many superstitions, for example; in particular for myself, I was always taught by my nan and dad that magpies especially are an 'evil' portent. I reconcile these often contradicting beliefs, based on a lot of thought and some experience, by seeing them as messengers, certainly, but not of messages that I may be particularly glad of receiving. Whereas my nan and dad may see one magpie as an ill portent, I may see it as a sign of impending sorrow, or success, depending upon what the magpie's up to.

Similarly, to me at least, a crow in and of itself may not mean much more than 'ooo, look at the crow', but at certain times it can have a lot of significance. In the story I linked to, I concluded that the crow in question was representative of 'the spirit of the place,' perhaps in hindsight because the crow was interacting with Tom more directly than myself. Or perhaps, with hindsight, because I'm reluctant to appear 'speshul'.

In some respects, I stand by the former assertion; crows, more than any other common bird in this neck o' the woods, stand for a lot of things...They are in many ways the spirit of this place to me, purely for the fact that they're a typical 'messenger'. Perhaps the message on that occasion wasn't meant for me per se, perhaps it was meant for Tom...Time will tell. But still...The crows are still with me, and have been since that episode. I see them when I step outside, three of them hopping about on the road. I see them in the garden, three of them cawing away as the dog runs about doing his business...They're at the beach, as I try to entertain Tom and Rosie, cawing and cawing to let me know where I am and am not welcome...Until I pay an appropriate price...Drawing my attention away from the sea. And every time I'm charmed by them.

When I leave some buttered bread and eggs for them in the garden, they make such rucous that it can only seem personal to me, from me to them. Sometimes it seems as if they wait until I'm there to see them take whatever I've set out for them. And Badb's name pops into my head again as I see all this going on.

And ultimately, I'm feeling like, really, I'm a bit of a dumbass. Because while I might see crows as messengers in general, this doesn't mean that they can't be messengers in their most obvious sense, which to me would be associated with Badb. Whether it was because I didn't want to appear speshul, or whether it was because I was genuinely confused, I don't know - a little bit of both, really, I think - but increasingly I'm beginning to think that ultimately...from the general gist that I've been getting as I've opened myself up to her...I'm a dumbass. Not a very Gaelic sentiment, it has to be said, but generally it's one that's fitting of her "oh for fuck's sake, why are you so slow?" sort of sentiment that I've been getting.

So yeah, I'm a dumbass, and I'm slow. Maybe I can't say just yet that Badb is explicitly supposed to be my patron as other people deem such things, in the long term. I'm in very early stages just now, and time will tell. But then she's someone I keep returning to, and she's someone that is very annoyed that it's taken so long to get here; and ultimately, instinctively, yes, I think one day she could come to take that title for me.

Ultimately, perhaps I need to just get over myself and stop shying away from titles that can be seen as very grandiose because I don't want to be associated with the many people I see (or perceive to be) - though not all, I hasten to add - abusing such a title...Because while I'm not speshul, that doesn't mean that I'm not supposed to pursue a relationship with a particular deity.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Archive: Là Fhèill Bhrìghde 2008

For one reason or another I keep finding reasons to not quite get around to celebrate Là Fhèill Bhrìghde just yet. All my energy seems to be going into getting the house sorted and decorated, and various other projects that I have on the go, including some actual work that I've been doing (I'm proofreading a book, and may end up editing it, too), and in part I've been holding off because I've been wanting to get the house feeling like a home - I'd like to offer the hospitality of my home when I do my celebrations, plus the fact I've wanted to get most of my distractions out of the way so I can concentrate fully and relax a little. I also have a plan to plant a rowan, so I've been waiting for the weather to improve...I'm still waiting...

However, I haven't been completely idle.

Seeing as I have quite a lot planned I decided to make the dealbh Bride (an icon of Bríd, made to represent her so that she can be invited in on the eve of celebrations, to bless the household) in advance - partly because of timing constraints (especially with the kids), and partly because I'm not the craftiest person, so if I mess the first attempt up, I can have another go...

I'm fairly happy with my first attempt, so I'm sticking with it (it took me bloody long enough, at any rate). Last year I made it out of raffia, which was the closest I could get to a sheaf of wheat or oats (what they were usually made of) - it was a natural substance at least - and I kept it fairly plain and simple as my first ever effort. This year I couldn't even find any raffia in a price range I could afford, let alone corn, so I had to opt for pipe cleaners. Hardly authentic, but thoroughly modern and in some ways more appropriate to my own circumstances. Tom was impressed, anyway, and he had fun with the leftovers. I was planning on burning the dealbh Bride from last year, but instead it seems more appropriate (and practical, given the wet weather) to bury it at the roots of the rowan I want to plant.

The pipecleaners were easier to work with than the raffia, so I got a bit more ambitious in terms of decoration. Unfortunately, all I could get at the time were glittery ones, which has resulted in my efforts looking more like an angel for the top of the Christmas tree, but ho hum. I'm just pleased that I've ended up with something that's vaguely doll-like. I've since found more local places to get plain ones from if I need to next year, so while I may not end up with an abundance of corn in the coming year, pipe cleaners shouldn't be a problem...

But without further ado, here's my somewhat humble effort:

I just bunched the pipe cleaners together, using some to wrap around each other into a ball for the head, and one tied lengthways to make the arms, which I then twisted round to give a little bulk and substance to them. If I'd used corn, then I could have done the same, using the ears of the corn for the head instead of having to make a ball, I think.

For decoration, I took inspiration from Martin Martin's description of an icon he saw made on Colonsay: "The mistress and servants of each family take a sheaf of oats and dress it up in women’s apparel..." (Which can be found here, but no page numbers are given, sorry). I also added a good measure of Alexander Carmichael's description, using shell-shaped beads to dangle off her belt (most of them ended up round the back, so you can't see them in the picture). The shells seemed to be particularly appropriate for our new location, and I've thought about collecting a little seaweed to use for bedding when I make a bed for her. I think I'll probably also pick some dandelions to hang from her belt as well, now that they've come out.

I used red tissue paper for her dress, with a blue belt - both protective colours, which seemed appropriate. Her underskirts are white and orange, to add a little fieryness (and body). I glued the stars and moons on in spirals, which haven't come out too well, so I used glitter glue from Tom's art supplies to carry the spirals above her belt as well.

Hopefully I'll be celebrating sometime next week, so we'll so how well my efforts are received...

Archive: Sacred space

I've been very lax in posting recently. Bad Seren. Naughty. *Hangs head in shame.*

I'm sure you've all been waiting in trepidation for my next post...

Anyway, all is well in the world of Seren.

It's been a very creative week all round. I've been decorating the hallway (boring off-white, verging on the dreaded beige, but it's about as much as the narrow space can handle, and the kiddie-proof range of paints is fairly limited anyway...), finishing off the bedroom, putting up the curtains and rearranging the camel cart bookshelf in the kitchen to fit in all the bits of clutter that were left over in all the boxes from the garage. I've made one of the shelves into a mini-microcosm, with plants, bits from the sea and a few more bits and pieces that are personal to me for one reason or another:

The plants might have to be relocated because the ferns are beginning to suffer already, I think they need a bit more light so I'll try to find something more suitable for the space because I like the foliagedness of it all even if it's in a fairly dark spot.

The metal plaque at the front belonged to my granddad - the only thing I have that was directly from him. It's from when he worked for Alvis, and designed a tank called a Scorpion (which apparently my aunt named, because the gun bit could flip over), and the plaque lists all the tanks in the series. My mum gave everything else back to Alvis when he died, for their museum, and the only other keepsakes she kept were my gran's, so that's all I have. To the left is a fossilised sea urchin, and the cow on the right was given to me by a wonderful friend.

The 'wand' is some driftwood I picked up on our last trip to the beach, which I was going to use as the slatag Bride for my Là Fhèill Bhrìghde celebrations, but I've found the applewood wand that I was sent (along with the aforementioned cow) and I shall use that instead. Seeing as this bit of wood came ashore during the storms, perhaps it's more appropriate for the Cailleach, anyway.

The red votive in the middle was bought by a childhood friend many years ago (so I hope you're impressed it's still in one piece!), and the pomegranate filled with tumbled stones to the far left was from a very nice man called Nick who used to run a gem shop in my hometown. You'd go in and he'd always know exactly what you needed, even if you didn't, but sadly he got sick and had to close up. I don't know what happened to him after that...But it reminds me of my independence in a way, because I bought it after my parents split up and I was taken in by an old friend. It's come a long way with me.

So there are lots of bits and pieces that all mean something to me and represent something to me in some way or another - gods, spirits or ancestors. I'd like to get some more bits and pieces for it, especially something suitable for putting offerings and libations on, because that's why I really made the space in the first place. I usually make them outside, and I'm hoping to get a bird table soon to make those offerings a bit more discreet from prying eyes, but experience is showing that you either have to be very brave or utterly insane to venture outside sometimes (as the storms of the passed week have demonstrated), so it seems practical to have somewhere to keep them until they can go out. I used to have a quaich, but we lent it to an am-dram society for a production of Macbeth before we moved up here, and haven't seen it since.

Things are taking shape now and it's starting to feel like home, which is making me feel a whole lot better, much more settled. The only downside is, I'm rapidly running out of excuses to not invite the in-laws round for dinner...