Friday, 30 October 2009

Samhainn planning

It's cutting it fine but I have most things I'll need for all the things I've been planning over the next few days for Samhainn - I'm sticking to my usual format of spreading everything over three days (well, nights, mostly), so I'll be starting tomorrow and finishing up on Sunday. Last year I ended up realising each day I celebrated had a kind of theme - starting with the ancestors as the main focus for the first day, the spirits for the second day, and the gods for the third day. It worked well so I'm planning on doing the same again.

Tomorrow, then, after Tom's fancy dress Hallowe'en party at nursery, I'll start on our winter mural for the kitchen with the kids. We did glittery snowflakes last year, but I think we'll save those for when Tom finishes nursery for the Christmas holidays. They feel a bit too 'festive' to do right now (bah humbug) and it will give us something to do then. We're going to try a wintery mountain scene, I think, and we can hang the snowflakes up later on. I'm not sure I posted a picture of the autumnal mural that we did at Lùnasdal, so here it is, just for the record:

It's currently partially obscured by a giant pumpkin, though - I got one today, much to Mr Seren's disapproval because it's not traditional (although he didn't say anything until after I'd already bought it, so tough). I've got three tumshies to carve as well but I'll have to do those by myself, and the pumpkin seemed like it would be good fun for the kids to help scoop out the innards. It would be nice to include them in the festivities. And I'm willing to bet it's a bit easier than carving a turnip or two, at least...

If we have time I might bake some gingerbread men (or skeletons - Tom's going as a skeleton to his nursery party) that we can decorate as well, and I'll be saving some for the cranachan the day after. I've thought about putting some charms into the cream so everyone can dig in, but I think the kids are too young yet - maybe next year (and that'll give me time to plan for what I'll use as the charms...). I'll be making some treacle scones for games on Saturday as well - and I found this video about traditional Scots celebrations to show you what I'll try and do with them (it's only a short clip, from 1961), and we might try some dookin' for aipples if I can find something big enough for that.

Over the past week I've been trying to get the garden in order but the weather's been so wet that I've not done as much as I wanted - it'll do for the winter, though. Weather permitting, I want to build the cairn, in honour of my ancestors, beside the wee pond I've done, and bury the turnip lanterns I saved from last year so they can act as guardians in the coming year. I was hoping to get some nice rocks to dress the cairn with from the beach - larger ones so the cairn's a bit sturdier - but again, seeing as the weather's been so bad I haven't been able to yet. I was hoping to do the cairn tomorrow to fit in with my ancestral theme but I'll see how it goes. I'll be making some offerings to them, anyway.

Tom and Rosie are a bit young to go guising themselves just yet (we wouldn't get very far, accounting for Rosie's legs and my back, and she'd fall asleep in the pushchair if I took that), so instead we'll light the lanterns and put them in the window on the Saturday and give treats out to the guisers that come to our door. Hopefully we'll manage some games as well. After our feast and the kids are in bed I'll get down to my devotional stuff and light a fire in the garden (if it's dry enough...otherwise it's the hearth) as the focus - I'll perform the deiseal as usual, make some rowan charms, sain the house, take some ogam, make some offerings and leave a meal out for any visitors overnight after time to meditate.

In the morning I'll perform the frìth ritual and see if I have any better luck than last time I tried it (and at least the sun rises at a more reasonable hour now). Bannocks will be made for breakfast (Brodick bannocks, probably, the kids like them the best). And I'll finish the evening off with more offerings and some quiet contemplation to absorb everything.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

The first post...

I've been toying with the idea of doing a CR-only sort of blog for a while, which I can link to from Tairis without everyone being bored to death from having to wade through my more personal (and more frequent) posts. My aim is to give an idea of how I apply my research to what I actually do as far as my religious practice is concerned, if anyone's interested, and while that's kind of tied up with who I am and what I get up to in my personal life, I'm sure it's not absolutely necessary for you to get caught up in the minutiae there...

But maybe it would help to know a bit about me to start off with. Previously I've identified as a Wiccan - both solitary and as part of a traditional coven. I've dipped a toe into ceremonial magic, modern druidry and explored a few other paths in searching for what I'm looking for. I've identified as CR for a good five years now, in which time I've had a family and moved back to Scotland - first in the east near Edinburgh, and now on the west coast where I can admire views of the Highlands and Islands (almost) from my doorstep. But not quite.

My focus is very definitely Scottish, and my practises incorporate both my surroundings and my circumstances, so I suppose the best way to describe my focus is hearthy, but I also try to keep in touch with the more mystical aspects. I'm not a poet - a filid - a druid, or a warrior, but I do find there's a lot to learn from those who do practise those paths.

Over the next few...however much...I'm going to try and archive some of my old posts and then eventually I'll get round to maintaining this blog as a more up to date account of what I'm up to, what I'm reading, and sometimes, (when I'm feeling deep and meaningful) what I'm thinking.

What I do is constantly evolving, and hopefully you'll see that reflected here.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Archive: Before Scotland - Alistair Moffat

Before Scotland
Alistair Moffat

This is one of those books that seems to promise so much to start with and then it all ends up falling a little flat. It started off so well and then...what the hell happened there?

As the title suggest, the book covers the history and pre-history of what eventually became Scotland. For the earliest pre-history I wasn't expecting too much because there's not really much that can be said that's particularly concrete about it, is there? But I was impressed with the way Moffat weaved a story of the pre-historic peoples and made them seem almost tangible - not dim and distant, living in a murky past of generalisations, but real: ancestors of the land. Understandably, given the nature of the evidence, Moffat has to draw from a much wider area than just Scotland for much of this section - not just to put the evidence from Scotland into context, but also to help flesh things out. His mentions of Doggerland were really interesting - not something I've really come across before and it really made me chew things over in a way I've never done before. In a way, though, it kind of distracted from the Scotland-specific information, and with a distinct lack of maps and specifying which country he was talking about sometimes, it wasn't always clear where he was referring to. Or which part of Scotland, even.

The biggest strength with these chapters was the way Moffat managed to paint such a vivid picture of the people and bring it into a modern context as well - pointing out the way in which many of the islanders still hunt the birds today, for example (although more for tradition than subsistence these days). It's strange to think that things like this have been literally going on for thousands of years and it's easy to romanticise and view it through rose-tinted glasses but I think Moffat manages to stay just on the right side of that.

But then I began having problems. First of all, Moffat seemed to jump from the Bronze Age right to the end of the Iron Age in the blink of an eye, which was disappointing. The emphasis on how people lived, from what the archaeology can tell us, changed to looking at the historical sources and the effects of the Romans - for the most part it's nothing you can't find elsewhere (although it is more up to date) with a few interesting tidbits here and there that piqued my interest. As soon as he got past the Bronze Age, gone was the way in which Moffat painted such a colourful picture of the Stone and Bronze Age people (terms that he eschews, for the most part, as many academics do these days...). Instead of drawing all the strands together into weaving a story like he did before, he seemed to stay a little aloof and detached. The tone changes from almost warm affection for the subject to verging on dry - which is not to say it gets dull or boring, it's just a big let down given the previous chapters.

And if I ever end up meeting the author? I somehow doubt that I'd ever have the balls to mention the Romans in front of him. The chapter on 'Caledonia' starts with more of a rant on the Romans and modern historians attitudes towards them, than dealing with the actual meat of the book...It's probably safe to say he's not a fan...I have to admit that when he started on about how the Romans did nothing for Scotland, in the longterm, my concentration wandered off into the land of Monty Python...WHAT'VE THE ROMANS EVER DONE FOR US?!

I don't want to be overly critical of the book - I wouldn't want anyone to be put off by my disappointment with some aspects of it because what you find here is solid - even with a distinct lack of any referencing (which is not good, but it's not meant to be an academic book so it's almost forgiveable, I s'pose). As an introduction to all of the different elements that contributed towards the making of Scotland, this is a great resource and in many ways it's refreshing. While it does seem that as soon Moffat starts getting into the meat of my favourite subject - the Celts - he loses some of his enthusiasm. I wonder if it's because he's covered it already in another book and he's trying to offer something different from that? Maybe he's just not keen on the labels, especially loaded ones (to some archaeologists) like 'Celts'? He certainly doesn't seem to be keen on the Romans, but at least he's upfront about that bias.

In spite of the slight disappointment, there's nothing terrible or bad here, it has to be said. There were still plenty of bits that caught my eye - the suggestion that many of the Pictish carvings were meant as offerings to the gods which were supposed to endure, for all to see, is worth exploring a bit more I think; Moffat suggests the 'tuning fork' on Pictish stones, for example, is a carved version of a broken sword. Instead of the sword being ritually broken and then being ceremoniously thrown into a bog or river, the carving lets the offering remain in sight, making it more permanent. To make the treaty that it commemorates more permanent?

There's good stuff to ponder and it's definitely worth a read (even if the change in tone half-way through makes it a little harder to stick with). For the absolute beginner it's maybe a bit broader in scope than you might be looking for to start off with, and in that respect, for something short and sweet I'd suggest something like Richard Hingley's Settlement and Sacrifice, and then something like Sally Foster's Picts, Gaels and Scots. What Before Scotland offers is something a little more up to date than authors like Foster does now, and it also helps puts the specifically Celtic stuff into a broader context that will help give a better idea of how Scotland came to be. Read it for the context, or as a good compliment to other books if you want something more up to date. Or just because it's a fun read (barring the last couple of chapters, that is....).