Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Cailleach Bheur

Given the weather at the moment - gales, torrential rain, slee, hail, flooding - it was a nice coincidence that I finally spotted a copy of a book I've been after for ages, which I was hoping would have some good stuff about the Cailleach. It was a little more than I'd usually spend on a book so Mr Seren said he'd get it me for Christmas - not that we're doing presents for each other, but anyway...

Donald MacKenzie refers to the book a lot in his Scottish Folk-Lore and Folk Life and he seemed to take a lot of his information from this source, so I had to have it. My efforts in getting my hands on it were frustrated by the fact that I couldn't get it from the library, so hunting down my own copy was the only way to go. It arrived yesterday and I got into it with gusto, and so far I'm really enjoying it - lots of good stuff, and she gives a version of the Cailleach's battle with Spring, but without Bride or Angus in it like MacKenzie has, who really does seem to be the only source for that.

So anyway, I thought it would be good to copy it down for anyone interested. And maybe it would please her so we she'll calm down and we can get some sunshine for once, eh?

"The word Beur, taken simply as it stands, signifies a peak, point, or pinnacle, and may without straining be taken to mean, in its plural form of 'Bheur' (mountain) ridges.

The hag of the ridges, would be a suitable enough appellation for the genius of the mountain tops. There, on the topmost ridges, do the dark herds of Cailleach Bheur congregate. Thence rush the floods in fleecy foam, and snowy cascades leap, for dark clouds and dark billows are her herds of deer; her sheep and goats are fleecy clouds, and also white-crested waves, or seething waters of hill and plain.

The manner in which the word 'beur' is used is illustrated in the following quotation:

leis an dionaiche long,
A' gearradh a h'astar feadh thonn
Gun chùram mar theine nan speur
Troimh bheàrna beur nan neul-

Whose taut barque
Cleaves with a fearless prow unerring her way thro' the bilow,
Like a lightning flash that shoots thro' the gaps of the jagged cloud ridges.

None of these surmises concerning the origin of the name is quite convincing or satisfactory.

The sphere of the Cailleach's influence, and the actions attributed to her are the following: -

With her mallet - 'farachan' - or pestle - 'slachdan' - she beats and pounds the earth till all growth is destroyed; Nature has become torpid.

But about the middle of January Nature shows signs of reviving, and the sun has begun his returning journey. The Cailleach gets alarmed, and summons the 'faoiltich,' wolflings, or wolf-storms; 'faol,' a wolf. Those storms last until the middle of February.

Then follows the third week of February - 'trì lathan gobaig,' three days of 'shark-toothed,' bitter, stinging east winds; and 'trì lathan feadaig,' three days of 'plover-winged,' swift, fitful blasts, careering, rainy winds that are 'the death of sheep and lamb, and get the strong cattle bogged till the flood rolls over their heads.'

Here are the Gaelic words for those last lines.

'S mise 'n fheadag luirigineach luath;
Marbhaidh mi 'chaora, marbhaidh mi 'n t-uan;
Cuiridh mi a' bho' mhòr 's an toll
Gus am bi an tonn thar a ceann.

Then comes the last week of the month, 'Seachdain a' Ghearrain.' The name is variously interpreted. Some have supposed it to mean a week of sighing, moaning winds, from 'gearan,' complaining. Others take it to denote 'Ploughing Week,' from 'gearran,' a colt. A third party surmise that the name comes from 'geàrr-shion,' short, sudden squalls. But those who suggest this rendering place the week between the 15th of March and the 11th of April. Ploughing week is probably the true interpretation.

The first week of March is marked by temporary blasts of foul weather and flying showers - 'Sgarraichean na Feill Connain' - St. Conan Storms. The second week is marked by tempestuous weather, squally and inclement, 'Doirionn na Feill Padruig' - St. Patrick gales.

Then the Cailleach becomes desperate over her want of success. Despite her efforts to keep the earth hard by beating it with her mallet, despite her storming, the grass waxes, buds appear, and the blossoms peep from beneath their hoods. The Cailleach exclaims

Dh'fhàg e shios mi, dh'fhàg e shuas mi;
Dh'fhàg e eadar mo dhà chluais mi;
Dh'fhàg e thall mi, dh'fhàg e bhos mi;
Dh'fhàg e eadar mo dhà chois mi!

Shootings her and sprouting there,
It eludes me everywhere;
Overhead and underfoot
Bud and blade blossom shoot.

The brave, little wild duck taunts the Cailleach - "Despite thy shrivelling, stinging-cold little March, I and my twelve are yet alive!' 'Just wait a little!' exclaims March, or the Cailleach - for here they are synonymous; she borrows three days from February, and the result is thus described in Scotch: -

The first day it was win' an' west,
The neist day it was snaw an' sleet,
The third day it sae hard did freeze,
The wee birds nebs stuck tae the trees.

The Cailleach tries to chase away her son - the sun, wooing the young Spring - but he escapes with his bride. She causes the wild duck and her brood to perish with cold, and in so doing puts out her own eye. Baffled and defeated on every hand, and fleeing before her enemies, the wintry storms of the Cailleach sink into a calm as the returning sun shines forth and the warm winds blow.

The enraged Cailleach is defeated, she flings her mallet under a holly, where never a blade of grass can grow thereafter, so powerful is the magic influence to deaden growth.

This brings us to 'Latha na Caillich' - Old Wife's Day - the 25th day of March (old style), the date of the Caileach's overthrow, the flinging down of her mallet, and her punishment in being turned into stone."

K. W. Grant, Myth, Tradition and Story from Western Argyll, 1925, p5-6.

Sadly she doesn't cite any sources that she vaguely mentions at times, and a lot of it seems to be anecdotal anyway. She also seems keen to show the Cailleach as having Norwegian origins, which is interesting, and there do seem to be some parallels with some of the mythology so it does seem that there has been an influence at least. I'm looking forward to finishing it off, anyway, when I get a minute...

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Birth and Baptism

First off, a quick note - my dear husband has (finally) fixed the header and the side bar on the site. I'd still like the font size to be bigger on each page but the last time I tried to do that, it's probably how the header broke in the first place...And a better side bar that isn't so unwieldy would be good, but I'm probably pushing my luck there...

Anyway, my I've been feeling in a writy mood lately, and following a discussion on Óenach I was inspired to re-write one of the articles that had been on the original site - mainly I wanted to flesh it out and reference it. So I've done that and it's up on the site now, called Birth and Baptism. There are some things I'd like to add at some point, when resources and time allows - especially on the subject of evidence for druid baptism and the practice of bestowing geasa (tabus) at birth or at important times of change in a person's life. But if I wait for that then like everything else I'll sit and tweak it here and there until it's perfect, and it never will be, so it will never get published.

But instead of wading through my waffle, I thought it might be a good idea to post some of the most pertinent excerpts that I've used to inform what I've written. So errr...why not wade through loads of other people's waffle, eh?

First off, Henderson has some good bits to say on it - a bit scattered, but that can be read around:

"The mother never sets about any work till she has been kirked. In the Church of Scotland there is no ceremony on the occasion; but the woman, attended by some of her neighbours, goes into the church, sometimes in service time, but oftener when it is empty; goes out again, surrounds it, refreshes herself at some public-house, and then returns home. Before this ceremony she is looked on as unclean, never is permitted to eat with the family; nor will any one eat of the victuals she has dressed" (Pennant's Tour). Within my own recollection the idea of 'uncleanness' before the 'kirking' was retained...

...In the Proceedings of the Synod of Cashel, A. D. 1172, Benedict of Peterborough mentions for Ireland the following curious facts, which show that the father, in accordance with old custom, could immerse the child thrice in water immediately after birth, or, in the case of a rich man's child, thrice in milk. Thus we could perhaps speak of a rite of milk-baptism: "In illo autem concilio statuerunt, et auctoritate summi pontificis praeceperunt, pueros in ecclesia baptizari, In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti, et hoc a sacerdotibus fieri praeceperunt. Mos enim prius erat per diversa loca Hiberniae, quod statim cum puer nasceretur, pater ipsius vel quilibet alius eum ter mergeret in aqua. Et si divitis filius esset, ter mergeret in lacte."

The mention of the milk reminds of the rite after Christian baptism at Rome on Easter eve in the ninth century: "For the newly-baptised the chalice is filled, not with wine but with milk and honey, that they may understand . . . that they have entered already upon the promised land. And there was one more symbolical rite in that early Easter Sacrament, the mention of which is often suppressed,—a lamb was offered on the altar, afterwards cakes in the shape of a lamb. It was simply the ritual which we have seen in the mysteries." "

See more at: Henderson, Survivals in Belief Amongst the Celts - chapter 3, The Earthly Journey in particular.

Then there's Napier, who gives a wealth of information in his chapter about Birth, with plenty of personal anecdotes, too. Here's a good chunk, but really, it's good to read the whole thing:
"When writing of fairies I noticed,—but as it is connected with birth, I may here mention it again,—a practice common in some localities of placing in the bed where lay an expectant mother, a piece of cold iron to scare the fairies, and prevent them from spiriting away mother and child to elfland. An instance of this spiriting away at the time of child-bearing is said to have occurred in Arran within these fifty years. It is given by a correspondent in Long Ago:—"There was a woman near Pladda, newly delivered, who was carried away, and on a certain night her wraith stood before her husband telling him that the yearly riding was at hand, and that she, with all the rout, should ride by his house at such an hour, on such a night; that he must await her coming, and throw over her her wedding gown, and so she should be rescued from her tyrants. With that she vanished. And the time came, with the jingling of bridles and the tramping of horses outside the cottage; but this man, feeble-hearted, had summoned his neighbours to bear him company, who held him, and would not suffer him to go out. So there arose a bitter cry and a great clamour, and then all was still; but in the morning, roof and wall were dashed with blood, and the sorrowful wife was no more seen upon earth. This," says the writer, "is not a tale from an old ballad, it is the narrative of what was told not fifty years ago."

Immediately after birth, the newly-born child was bathed in salted water, and made to taste of it three times. This, by some, was considered a specific against the influence of the evil eye; but doctors differ, and so among other people and in other localities different specifics were employed. I quote the following from Ross' Helenore:—

"Gryte was the care and tut'ry that was ha'en,
Baith night and day about the bonny weeane:
The jizzen-bed, wi' rantry leaves was sain'd,
And sic like things as the auld grannies kend;
Jean's paps wi' saut and water washen clean,
Reed that her milk gat wrang, fan it was green;
Neist the first hippen to the green was flung,
And there at seelfu' words, baith said and sung:
A clear brunt coal wi' the het tangs was ta'en,
Frae out the ingle-mids fu' clear and clean,
And throu' the cosey-belly letten fa',
For fear the weeane should be ta'en awa'."

Before baptism the child was more liable to be influenced by the evil eye than after that ceremony had been performed, consequently before that rite had been administered the greatest precautions were taken, the baby during this time being kept as much as possible in the room in which it was born, and only when absolutely necessary, carried out of it, and then under the careful guardianship of a relative, or of the mid-wife, who was professionally skilled in all the requisites of safety. Baptism was therefore administered as early as possible after birth.

Another reason for the speedy administration of this rite was that, should the baby die before being baptised, its future was not doubtful. Often on calm nights, those who had ears to hear heard the wailing of the spirits of unchristened bairns among the trees and dells. I have known of an instance in which the baby was born on a Saturday, and carried two miles to church next day, rather than risk a week's delay.

...I have quite a vivid remembrance of being myself believed to be the unhappy victim of an evil eye. I had taken what was called a dwining which baffled all ordinary experience; and, therefore, it was surmised that I had got "a blink of an ill e'e." To remove this evil influence, I was subjected to the following operation, which was prescribed and superintended by a neighbour "skilly" in such matters:—A sixpence was borrowed from a neighbour, a good fire was kept burning in the grate, the door was locked, and I was placed upon a chair in front of the fire. The operator, an old woman, took a tablespoon and filled it with water. With the sixpence she then lifted as much salt as it could carry, and both were put into the water in the spoon. The water was then stirred with the forefinger till the salt was dissolved. Then the soles of my feet and the palms of my hands were bathed with this solution thrice, and after these bathings I was made to taste the solution three times. The operator then drew her wet forefinger across my brow,—called scoring aboon the breath. The remaining contents of the spoon she then cast right over the fire, into the hinder part of the fire, saying as she did so, "Guid preserve frae a' skaith." These were the first words permitted to be spoken during the operation. I was then put in bed, and, in attestation of the efficacy of the charm, recovered. To my knowledge this operation has been performed within these 40 years, and probably in many outlying country places it is still practised.

The origin of this superstition is probably to be found in ancient fire worship. The great blazing fire was evidently an important element in the transaction; nor was this a solitary instance in which regard was paid to fire. I remember being taught that it was unlucky to spit into the fire, some evil being likely shortly after to befall those who did so. Crumbs left upon the table after a meal were carefully gathered and put into the fire. The cuttings from the nails and hair were also put into the fire. These freaks certainly look like survivals of fire worship.

We must not, however, pursue this digression further, but return to our proper subject. It was not necessary that the person possessed of the evil eye, and desirous of inflicting evil upon a child, should see the child. All that was necessary was that the person with the evil eye should get possession of something which had belonged to the child, such as a fragment of clothing, a toy, hair, or nail parings. I may note here that it was not considered lucky to pare the nails of a child under one year old, and when the operation was performed the mother was careful to collect every scrap of the cutting, and burn them.

It was considered a great offence for any person, other than the mother or near relation, in whom every confidence could be placed, to cut a baby's nails; if some forward officious person should do this, and baby afterwards be taken ill, this would give rise to grave suspicions of evil influence being at work. The same remarks apply to the cutting of a baby's hair. I have seen the door locked during hair-cutting, and the floor swept afterwards, and the sweepings burned, lest perchance any hairs might remain, and be picked up by an enemy."
See: Napier, Folk Lore, Or Superstitious Beliefs in the West of Scotland Within This Century.

Or, concerning Bride in her role as midwife (traditionally, she was said to have helped Mary):

"When a woman is in labour, the midwife or the woman next her in importance goes to the door of the house, and standing on the 'fad-buinn,' sole-sod, doorstep, with her hands on the jambs, softly beseeches Bride to come:

'Bhride! Bhride! thig a steach,
Tha do bheatha deanta,
Tabhair cobhair dha na bhean,
’S tabh an gein dh’an Triana.'

Bride! Bride! come in,
Thy welcome is truly made,
Give thou relief to the woman,
And give the conception to the Trinity.

When things go well, it indicates that Bride is present and is friendly to the family; and when they go ill, that she is absent and offended. Following the action of Bride at the birth of Christ, the aid-woman dedicates the child to the Trinity by letting three drops of clear cold water fall on the tablet of his forehead.

(See page 114.)"

See: Carmina Gadelica Volume 1.

And for Scottish charms to aid childbirth:
The earliest reference I have been able to find of the use of these seeds as amulets in the West Highlands is in Johne Morisone’s "Deseription of Lewis," supposed to have been written between 1678 and 1688. His words are:-"The sea casteth on shore sometimes a sort of nutts growing upon tangles, round and flat, sad broun or black coullered, of the breadth of a doller, some more, some less; the kernal of it being taken out of the shell is an excellent remedie for the bloodie flux. They ordinarlie make use of the shell for keeping their snuff. Ane other sort of nutt is found in the same maner, of less syze, of a broun colour, flat and round, with a black circle, quhilk in old times women wore about their necks both for ornament and holding that it had the virtue to make fortunate in cattle, and upon this account they were at the pains to bind them in silver, brass, or tinn, according to their abilities. There are other lesser yet, of a whitish coulour and round, which they call Sant Marie’s Nutt, quhilk they did wear in the same maner, holding it to have the virtue to preserve women in childbearing."

In the Life of Sir Robert Christison there is an extract from his Journal of May 30th, 1866, in which Sir Robert records that Dr Macdonald of Lochmaddy had not been able to get him a specimen of because it is "so rare and is so prized as a charm during childbirth that the midwives wear the seeds set in silver for the women to hold in their hands while in labour; and a husband, who had two, refused twenty shillings for one of them, saying he would not part with it for love or money till his spouse be past childbearing."
See: Geo F Black, Scottish Charms and Amulets.

The main portion of information about baptism practises from the Carmina Gadelica is in Book Three, which is now available from the Internet Archive site (I'm linking to the main page for it so you can choose which version you want to look at or download). This excerpt I quote in full in the article, but aside from the fact I think it's beautiful, I think the symbolism and imagery it invokes of the nine waves is very in keeping with pre-Christian ideals:
“When a child was born the midwife would put three small drops of water upon the forehead of the little on in the name of the Father, in the name of the Son, in the name of the Spirit, and she would say:

The little drop of the Father
On thy little forehead, beloved one.

The little drop of the Son
On thy little forehead, beloved one.

The little drop of the Spirit
On thy little forehead, beloved one.

To aid thee from the fays,
To guard thee from the host;

To aid thee from the gnome,
To shield thee from the spectre;

To keep thee for the Three,
To fill thee with the graces;

The little drop of the Three,
To lave thee with the graces.

Then the midwife would give the child to a nurse to wash it, and the nurse would put a small palmful of water on the poor little infant, and she would sing the sweetest music that ever ear heard on the earth, and she say in this wise:

A wavelet for thy form,
A wavelet for thy voice,
A wavelet for they sweet speech;

A wavelet for thy luck,
A wavelet for thy good,
A wavelet for thy health;

A wavelet for thy throat,
A wavelet for thy pluck,
A wavelet for thy graciousness;
Nine waves for thy graciousness.

The rune would be on the nurse's tongue till she was finished of bathing the little infant.”

Is that enough? Maybe not. How about some good stuff from Walter Gregor before I finish:

"On the birth of the child, the mother and offspring were sained, a ceremony which was done in the following manner:--A fir-candle was lighted and carried three times round the bed, if it was in a position to allow of this being done, and, if this could not be done, it was whirled three times round their heads; a Bible and bread and cheese, or a Bible and a biscuit, were placed under the pillow, and the words were repeated, "May the Almichty debar a’ ill fae this umman, an be aboot ir, an bliss ir an ir bairn." When the biscuit or the bread and cheese had served their purpose, they were distributed among the unmarried friends and acquaintances, to be placed under their pillows to evoke dreams.

Among some of the fishing population a fir-candle or a basket containing bread and cheese was placed on the bed to keep the fairies at a distance. A pair of trowsers hung at the foot of the bed had the same effect.

Strict watch was kept over both mother and child till the mother was churched and the child was baptised, and in the doing of both all convenient speed was used. For, besides exposure to the danger of being carried off by the fairies, the mother was under great restrictions till churched. She was not allowed to do any kind of work, at least any kind of work more than the most simple and necessary. Neither was she permitted to enter a neighbour's house, and, had she attempted to do so, some would have gone the length of offering a stout resistance, and for the reason that, if there chanced to be in the house a woman great with child, travail would prove difficult with her."

See: Folk-lore of the North-East of Scotland (chapters 1-3).

Monday, 2 November 2009


Overall I got pretty much everything I was hoping to do done (do done? Is that even proper English? I'm really don't think it is...). Everything I did get round to doing went well, barring my ogam reading which just didn't seem to...spark? It wasn't a disaster but I just wasn't feeling it - but more on that later. I'm fairly sure I know why.

Friday was pretty much dedicated to baking and then carving the tumshies - I did three again, and seeing as they take a while and the kids had taken a while to settle in bed before I could get started, I was fairly wiped out after I finished. The past few weeks have caught up with me, I think, and even though I'd had a good three hour nap that afternoon (I'm so glad Mr Seren had the day off) I wasn't up to much else after that. I started on the pictures for our wintery scene, though - I glued and padded some icicles for the kids to paint and decorate, and put together the mountain scene, also for the kids to decorate. I did most of that one because I wasn't really sure what I intended for it so I was just making it up as I went along.

The next day the pictures were dry enough to work with, so the kids painted, splodged, glittered, glued, sparkled, pompom'd, and - most of all - gleefully made a mess of the kitchen and themselves. And me. We talked about how it was going to get cold now, and it would get frosty and might even snow. Tom was disappointed that we couldn't make snowmen now...

We were going to decorate the gingerbread men we'd made the day before but thanks to Mr Seren being a biscuit fiend, there weren't really enough left to make it worthwhile. I should've hidden them. I at least managed to save some for offerings later on.

My brilliant plan of letting the kids scoop out the pumpkin nearly didn't work out. Note to self: In future it's probably best not to shout "BRAAAAAIIIIIIIINS!" as you lift the lid of the pumpkin off. I wasn't expecting the pumpkin to smell as strongly as it did and neither did the kids, apparently - or just how much mess there was going to be:

Not Rosie's most flattering pose, is it? They weren't too impressed, although Rosie did stick with it for a bit once I dived in to help as well:

A dessert spoon isn't the most effective tool for the job, it has to be said.

Tom became a bit more interested once we got to the carving a face stage, which ended up being quite late as we had to get some food in. He insisted the pumpkin should have triangular eyes and big teeth, just like at nursery the day before. We hadn't even got the lanterns lit before the first guisers turned up, but I had time to light the bonfire outside before the main lot arrived in a steady flow. I made some offerings and a Good Wish to start the festivities properly, and the lanterns were lit from the bonfire. It took forever, though, because the wind kept blowing everything out, but once I got it all done - finally - I was about to go inside when a firework went off, almost right behind us. That was a nice touch. I was almost getting worried at one point - trying to keep the fire lit was like I was doing battle with the wee feckies, but I was buggered if I was going to give up. It's tempting to think that way, anyway.

So here are the lanterns:

I'd got a couple of bowls of treats ready, with all sorts of chocolate, Haribo, monkey nuts and apples like last year. We had a ton of guisers turn up once the lanterns were at the window, and like last year we almost ran out of sweets to give out so we had to get some more in quickly. They started coming thick and fast after Star Wars Episode 2 finished on TV - coincidence? I think not (Tom enjoyed it too, much to my disapproval). But of course, as soon as we had more sweets, hardly anyone else came.

Most of the kids did a turn for their goodies - some of the jokes were awful, some were funny, and one kid turned up wearing a gigantic afro wig and had his electric guitar with him. He played Wonderwall by Oasis and was pretty good in spite of the strings being out of tune, so he got extra treats for actually making an effort. Mr Seren refused to give sweets out to one lad who told an anti-Celtic (as in the football club) joke and just gave him some nuts and let his friend have his share of chocolate instead. The kid was quite put out at not getting his treats but Mr Seren told his friend he could give him some later if he thought he deserved it. Later on Mr Seren said he wasn't offended by the joke, he just thought it wasn't too bright telling jokes like that to complete strangers, even these days. The lad deserved a lesson, and it was better coming from someone who really didn't take offence.

We didn't get round to playing any games - dinner was late and I was busy with that in between the guisers and getting the lanterns lit, and Rosie was tired once the novelty of the guisers wore off. Mainly the fact that all the sweets were being given away and she wasn't getting any grew tiresome. I can't imagine her mood would've improved by getting smacked in the face repeatedly with a scone covered in treacle as she and Tom tried to catch it, but oh well. In the end they made their own entertainment by breaking the monkey nuts open (the packaging actually had Warning: May Contain Nuts Or Nut Derivatives on it. Apparently the company who produces them is owned by Captain Obvious), and evidently it was such good fun that Tom proudly announced, "I've got nuts!" to a small group of guisers (who seemed quite old, really) who then looked panic stricken as their minds sank to the gutter and they tried not to laugh. "Don't tell everyone, Tom, or they'll all want some," I said, which made them look like they wanted to run away. Rosie tried to make it better by handing them more and more sweeties.

Anyway, our feast was roast lamb followed by some of the leftover treats and raspberries, strawberries and cream - I couldn't do the cranachan, we'd run out of whisky. We ate by candlelight, which Tom and Rosie found very exciting, and then had some quiet time to get the kids to calm down before bed. I had a little quiet time too, before getting onto the serious business, so by that point it was getting late.

I decided to give up on the 'bonfire' outside - the wind was playing havoc with it and it was spitting a lot. I moved the lanterns to the hearth instead and did most of my devotions by the fire. I started off with the deiseal, made offerings, and sained the house with the water I skimmed at Bealltainn - paying close attention to the door jambs, but also just sprinkling it around with a few words for warding. I sained myself too. I had to take the offerings outside to keep them away from the dogs so that was when I meditated a little and thought about my beloved dead. I'm lucky this year in that I haven't lost anyone close to me, but I did feel something, a closeness of sorts from some of those I was thinking of and remembering them fondly. "Dinner's in the oven," I said. "You're more than welcome to join us." I couldn't leave it on the table - the dogs would have it. I poured out a pint of beer from Orkney that we've bought a few bottles of - all different flavours, but this one was called Raven Ale - it seemed apt given my...whatever it is...with Badb. It also seemed well received, too.

After I came back inside I made the rowan charms and hung them up - some rowan went in the compost bin too (my interpretation of 'the midden' - rowan was put in there too to stop the toradh being taken from it. Being a rich and important source of nutrients for the vegetable patch it was an important asset to the household so I guess the compost bin would be more apt than our rubbish bin which just takes the non-recyclables).

Then I decided it was time to take some ogam, but as soon as I began to pick them I just wasn't feeling it. Something felt off but I couldn't think what, so I wrote down what I'd picked and took a look at them all. One of the fews - Coll - was broken, the top had snapped off. I've no idea how it happened but I'm either going to have to glue it back together or make a new one (I'm erring on the side of the latter). I got the beeswax out and waxed them before putting them away, just to keep them conditioned). I'm not sure whether to count the fews I picked as a 'proper' reading yet, so this is going to be a learning experience I suppose - the set wasn't whole but how would that affect the reading?

All that was left was to finish off the wintery picture the kids and I had done so I could hang it up and surprise them with it in the morning. The icicles weren't yet dry but I'm still trying to figure out how to hang them up, anyway - they're a little heavy. But all in all it turned out not too bad after I fudged it a little and had to try and rescue it:

Although there was a slight hitch in that the picture is too tall to fit the space properly. Doh! But even when they don't turn out quite as I'd hoped I've been enjoying doing them with the kids and telling them all about the changing seasons, and it's a nice way to look forward to what the season will bring.

I was intending to perform the frìth on Sunday morning, assuming I was up in time for sunrise. I was awake at 6.30 so that was no problem, and I managed to sneak downstairs without waking the kids up - definitely a bonus. I had plenty of time to meditate and get into the right frame of mind to focus on what I was doing, although at first I was impatient to get started in case the kids woke up. I knew I just had to go with the flow, though, and if I was interrupted then I could probably take that as a sign in itself - I could have waited until this morning to do it, when a lot of the sources say it was usually performed, but I wanted to keep the flow of my celebrations and it seemed better to do it then.

This time I remembered to keep my feet bare and hair unbound, unlike my last go that seemed to be a failure. I was a little more sure-footed about what I was doing, too, and it seems to have gone well; I made offerings and offered a prayer to Bride, walked to the door, eyes closed, and took my place with hands on either side of the door frame. I opened my eyes to see a spider spinning a web on the porch. I see spiders as a good sign, and it was spinning its way (at least, I assume it was spinning) in a sunwise direction so I hope it is a good one.

I needn't have worried about the kids - I had time to make my thanks after I finished at the door, and then got on with the bannocks which were blessed as usual. Tom and Rosie surfaced just as they were ready to come out of the oven, so we had some for breakfast. I'm not usually a morning person and I don't normally relish such early starts, but there's something very relaxing about starting the day with a bit of peace and quiet. After the afternoon at the in-laws, driving through torrential rain and minor flooding here and there, we came home in time for the kids' bed and to narrowly miss a car crash - two cars were trying to race each other at the roundabout coming off the bypass and one must have skidded on the wet road. The car ended up wrapped around a sign in the central reservation - lucky for them no one was hurt and they all got out and laughed about it. Eejits. We stopped to make sure they didn't need help, as did another car who witnessed it all, and then drove on. I'd been feeling apprehensive all the way from the in-laws because the roads were bad, so I was relieved that Mr Seren had slowed down to give them some distance - if he hadn't, we'd probably have been involved too. My offerings just before I went to bed last night were very heartfelt...

It's been a busy but oddly calming few days and as usual I've got some bits to chew on that weren't expected. Things went relatively smoothly and I think having a vague sort of plan, with lots of wiggle room if need be, is a good way for me to be doing things. As I think about how I do things, there are parts where I like it not being scripted - the time where I contemplate and meditate, just sit and be and see what happens; but there are parts that I like being more formalised, where the repetition of doing something I've done before helps me focus - like when I perform the deiseal which I use as a sort of opening devotional ritual. I've been slowly ritualising more and more of what I do, in keeping with the way so much was ritualised from what we can see in the Carmina Gadelica, and I've been getting a lot out of it. But still when I get to actually trying to communicate with the gods I prefer not to ritualise (in a formal sense, at least). I suppose in a sense that's the time when I stop doing and just try to listen in the stillness of the moment.