Monday, 29 March 2010

Latha na Caillich - notes

I've been trying to find some good sources on Latha na Caillich - something definitive on its origins and any customs associated with it - but I've not come up with much, other than passing mentions. On the one hand this is pretty much what I expected. On the other, it's a little frustrating.

I was hoping to get something down in writing before the day, but life got in the way of that plan...Seeing as I haven't got much, I thought I'd share the few resources I've found, in quote form, for anyone who's interested in hunting up some information on the day.

While it's referred to as Latha na Caillich(e), March 25th, it also coincides with Lady Day, the Feast of the Annunciation (when the archangel Gabriel appears to Mary to tell her that she is with child). Before 1600, March 25th was the official New Year in Scotland, and the 'official', fixed date for the Spring equinox. In England, Lady Day was the spring quarter day, which was marked at the beginning of February in Scotland, so the dating may have some English influence in terms of marking the start of spring proper. Carmichael notably makes no mention of Latha na Caillich, and instead has Mary or Bride as the agent of spring who finally defeats the cold.

It seems that much of the lore surrounding the season was meant to determine when it was best to start the sowing of certain crops that needed to avoid frost, or else marking when the danger of storms at sea had passed and everyone could be a little more confident of returning home with a good catch.

Seeing as Latha na Caillich comes from Scottish tradition, the sources are naturally skewed to Scotland, but I've found a few notes on Lady Day in Ireland as well, which I've included for comparison. Seeing as I've already posted Grant's notes on the Cailleach from Myth, Tradition and Story from Western Argyll, I won't post them again here, but they're worth a read for some context, since MacKenzie makes mention of it below.

The excerpts I've given are listed in chronological order, with Scottish sources and then Irish references to Lady Day. And so without further ado:

Friday, 12 March 2010

The Good Life

Since we've been here - two years now - I've been making tentative steps at working on the garden. The first year I expanded the flower bed in the back garden and planted a rowan out there (probably too close to the fence really, but I'm not sure I want to move it now - never mind), and last year, after the whole flower bed got Mungo'd*, I had to start again with most of the planting and decided to take a slightly different tack, with more of a focus on incorporating it into my practices.

I decided I wanted to make my efforts a more devotional act, honouring my granddad who was a gardener, and as a way of trying to connect with the first fruits aspect of Lùnasdal. I planted some red and pink roses for my granddad, along with a poppy and lots of other things to fill in the gaps that Mungo left, and also put in a small pond (i.e. 'puddle') with some seasonal flowers for Bealltainn - marigolds, I think they were - followed by geraniums in the hopes of discouraging the midgies. Next to it I planned to put a small cairn - again for the ancestors - but I've still to finish that, and I put in an old bird box that I didn't really have anywhere to hang for them to nest in, with the idea that bugs might move in instead (to eat the midgies). I also put in a blueberry and a raspberry for harvesting at Lùnasdal - which would have been a great success if Rosie hadn't picked all the blueberries to show me they weren't ripe yet (bar two or three, which managed to survive...). For comparison here's year one (taken in May, just after planting) and two (taken in July):


Overall, most of it's survived. Ish. A lot of it's looking a little forlorn at the moment, and there are bits that will need replacing after succumbing to the winter, but the blueberry and raspberry seem to be doing OK and the poppy is looking nice and leafy already. Hopefully it will flower this year. I've built the cairn up but I need to find some larger rocks to finish it off. The 'puddle' has sprung a leak so I need to figure out the best way to solve that problem, and I need to get some compost to spread over the soil in the hopes of conditioning it a little - it's not very good at all. So far it's been a way of putting myself into the soil, if that makes sense. Getting a feel for the place and trying to look after it.

But the biggest plan we have for this year is to grow some veg and perhaps more fruit. I was planning on suggesting to Mr Seren that it might be a good idea to try, but wasn't sure he'd go for it because of the initial expense in getting everything we need - because of the poor soil and lack of space, we're going to have to try growing the veg in containers, and I'm not really sure how successful it's going to be. However, seeing as Mr Seren saw Food, Inc. the other day he's decided that we should aim towards some level of self-sufficiency and grow what we can ourselves - so that made the conversation easier. Me being me, I went straight out and bought seeds and seed trays, and promptly summoned the kids to help me sow some onions, carrots, leeks, cucumbers, cauliflower, strawberries and some basil. We sprinkled some cress seeds over wet paper towels and put a mushroom tray in the airing cupboard, and I've got seeds for aubergines, peppers, tomatoes, cabbage, beetroot (bleurgh), wild rocket, oregano, a different type of carrot, swede (rutabaga/tumshie), broccoli (green and purple) to go in at some point too. Assuming there's space.

As I said to Mr Seren, I think I might've gone a wee bit overboard...

We'll have to buy the compost this year, but at some point we're hoping to get a composter for peelings and so forth, so we can use our own in the future. I intend to do it all organically, or as organically as possible, but I could only find organic carrot seeds so it's not as ideal as I'd like it to be.  But if we succeed in growing something then I think I'll be quite happy at this point, and the seeds will keep for a couple of years so I can try different things next year if I don't get round to everything just now. For now, I've got 200 hundred seeds sitting on the kitchen windowsill in the hopes that they'll sprout, and then next month we should be able to get the containers and set them up ready for moving the seedlings outside once the frost risk has subsided.

Of course it occurred to me, after the fact, that I should have ritualised all of the sowing (although the blessing I've found in the Carmina Gadelica is for corn crops, specifically, it seems, I don't see why they wouldn't - or couldn't - have done something similar for their veg). But this I can do for subsequent sowings and for when I set up the containers and move the seedlings.

So far it's all looking like this:

And it's going to take a while yet before most of it sprouts, I should think.

* Mungo verb To wreck something whilst frolicking with wanton enthusiasm and manic fury.