Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Review: By Land, Sea and Sky by Morgan Daimler

OK, maybe one more review then...

IMPORTANT! Please note that this review only applies to the first edition of the book. A revised edition has since been released and changes have been made to it taking on board some of the comments that the author received in various places. This includes changes with the formatting and the addition of some of the author's own material. Bearing this in mind, some of the comments I've made in the review below will no longer apply, and as I've yet to read the latest edition I can't offer any comments relating to what you'll now found. I'm leaving the review here for the meantime because as far as I'm aware the general focus and scope of the book is still the same, but I hope to be able to do an updated version at some point.

By Land, Sea and Sky: A selection of Repaganized Prayers and Charms from Volumes 1 & 2 of the Carmina Gadelica
Morgan "Láirbhán" Daimler

I saw this book being mentioned in a few places and then it was reviewed on Celtic Scholar, which ultimately piqued my interest. It's the first time I've bought a self-published book (I think....) so I wasn't too sure what to expect on that front. The first thing I'd like to comment on, in that respect, is the fact that Lulu seems to have employed Professor Farnsworth from Futurama to send out the confirmation emails - "Good news! Your purchase has been dispatched!" But that's probably not particularly relevant to anything, really...

Secondly, I'm impressed by the quality of the book itself - it's not going to fall apart after a few flick throughs, so that's good. But it does suffer from a few of the criticisms that regularly get trotted out when anyone talks about self-publishing books, and the main ones are formatting/proofing and layout. The whole book is double spaced and while it's not a huge negative, I think some differentiation between the prayers and charms and the introductions and commentary to them would make it easier to read, and flow better overall. Sometimes my brain took a while to catch up with the fact that I was reading a paragraph, not another verse.

The title of the book gives a good clue as to what it's all about; it pretty much does what it says on the tin, so to speak. I have to admit I was surprised at just how many prayers, charms and so on that are included - it's quite comprehensive, and covers all the main areas and a few of the more specialised ones like healing, divination, and different kinds of magical charms.

They're all grouped by subject matter and have a brief introduction for each song so it's easy to find whatever it is you're looking for. One of the strengths of the book is that the author gives a clear idea of her approach and process in reworking the verses (although I wonder if 'repaganizing' is necessarily the right word in some cases?), and she also often gives suggestions for how to perform them.

It's left to the reader to decide how best to incorporate them into practice, so it allows for a variety of approaches and has an appeal beyond CR - the book is clearly aimed at 'Celtic Spirituality' as a whole, rather than just reconstructionists. It's well-researched in this respect, and quite light on detail in the sense that it wouldn't overwhelm the beginner, but as a reconstructionist (or maybe just me being me) I found it veering towards the danger of being a little too light at times, perhaps. The aim of the book is to provide examples of liturgy, not and in-depth examination and elucidation of rituals or CR, though, so I guess that's my problem, not the book's. It would have been nice to have seen it, though...

The author identifies as an Irish Reconstructionist Druid, and this shows in her choices of deities that are incorporated into the verses. There's plenty of room to adapt them to your own focus and deities, though, but more than anything I think the value of this book is that it shows polytheists of various stripes just how the material can be approached and adapted, coming at it from a non-Wiccan perspective.

There still aren't many books out there that cater for (or even account for) a Celtic Reconstructionist audience, so it's always good to see someone doing something about it.

EDIT: I've since revised my review of the book, which is available here. In the interests of transparency I'll be leaving this one as is. However, the more I thought about it, the more I felt there were some things I mentioned only in passing here that I should have concentrated on in more depth, and the more I thought about it, the more I felt that I should edit the review to reflect that. It would be unfair of me to do that without making a note of it, at least. 

Paying the rent

Midsummer approaches, so I thought it would be good to throw down a few bits and pieces for it. I've just started Charles MacQuarrie's The Waves of Manannán (again...) so I figured I'd skip to the relevant bits about paying the rents to him (Manannán, that is) at midsummer (most traditions of which appear to be duplicates of Bealltainn, to be fair). I found an excerpt from a sixteenth century poem that mentions the rents, which I've copied up:

Dy neaishtagh shin agh rish my skeayll,If you would listen to my story,
As dy ving lhieu ayns Chant;I will pronounce my chant;
Myr share dy voddyms lesh my Veeal,As best I can; I will, with my mouth
Yinnin diu geill dán ellan Sheeant.Give you notice of the enchanted Island.
Quoi yn chied er ee row rieau ee,Who he was that had it first,
Ny kys eisht myr haghyr da;And then what happened to him;
Ny kys hug Parick ayn Creestiaght,And now St. Patrick brought in Christianity,
Ny kys myr haink ee gys Stanlaa.And how it came to Stanley.
Mannanan beg va mac y Leirr,Little Mannanan was son of Leirr,
Shen yn chied er ec row rieau ee;He was the first that ever had it;
Agh myr share oddym's cur-my-ner,But as I can best conceive
Cea row eh hene agh an-chreestee.He himself was a heathen.
Cha nee lesh e Chliwe ren eh ee reayllIt was not with his sword he kept it,
Cha nee lesh e Hideyn, ny lesh e vhow; Neither with arrows or bow;
Agh tra aikagh eh lhuingys troailt But when he would see ships sailing,
Oallagh eh ee my geayrt lesh kay.He would cover it round with fog.
Yinnagh eh doinney ny hassoo er brooghe,He would set a man, standing on a hill,
Er-lhieu shen hene dy beagh ayn keead;Appear as if he were a hundred;
As shen myr dreill Mannanan keole,And thus did wild Mannanan protect
Yn Ellan shoh'n-ayn lesh Cosney bwoid. That island with all its booty.
Yn mayll deeck dagh unnane ass e cheer,The rent each landholder paid to him was
Va bart dy leaogher ghlass dagh bleiu;A bundle of coarse meadow grass yearly;
As eisht shen orroo d'eeck myr keesh,And that, as their yearly tax,
Trooid magh ny cheery dagh oie-lhoine.They paid to him each midsummer eve.
Paart ragh lesh y leaogher seose,Some would carry the grass up
Gyn yn slieau mooar ta heose Barool;To the great mountain up at Barool;
Paart elley aagagh yn leoagher wass,Others would leave the grass below,
Ec Mannanan erskyn Keamool.With Mannanan's self above Keamool.
Myr shen eisht ren adsyn beaghey,Thus then did they live;
O er-lhiam pene dy by-veg nyn Geesh;O, I think their tribute very small,
Gyn kiarail as gyn imnea, Without care and without anxiety,
Ny doggyr dy lhiggey er nyn skeeys.Or hard labour to cause weariness.
Eisht haink ayn Parick nyn meayn,Then came Patrick into the midst of them;
She dooinney-noo, véh lane dy artue,He was a saint, and full of virtue;
Dimman eh Mannanan er y tonnHe banished Mannanan on the wave,
As e grogh vooinjer dy lieh-chiart.And his evil servants all dispersed.

The original is here (page 26 onwards, although I've followed MacQuarrie's capitalisations of certain words in Manx - see page 292-293). He notes that other translators give the meadow grass as 'rushes', which I do think makes a bit more sense, and Moore agrees with this, commenting:
"As regards Man, however, we have no definite information about the observance of this day from tradition, except that there was a fair, which still continues; and from written sources there is only preserved a letter written, in 1636, by Bishop Parr to Archbishop Neile, in which he states that on St. John Baptist's day he found the people in a chapel dedicated to that Saint "in the practice of gross superstitions," which he caused "to be cried down," and, in the place of them, "appointed Divine services and sermons." We can only wish that the good Bishop had informed us what these "gross superstitions" were. We have already seen (Chapter I.) that Manannan received his tribute of rushes on this day, and it is curious that the pathway leading up to the chapel is still covered with rushes supplied by a small farm close by, which is held on the tenure of doing this service."
MacQuarrie also agrees - "Rushes would seem an appropriate offering to Manannán in light of his connections with salt and fresh water in that they tend to grow on the banks of, or actually within, lakes and streams." (p294) And so does Sophia Morrison in Manx Fairie Tales (1911).

So rushes it is, it seems.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Irish Superstitions by Dáithí Ó hÓgáin

Just a quick one, before I get stuck into the meatier books in the pile...

Irish Superstitions
Dáithí Ó hÓgáin

This is a nice wee introduction to some of the superstitions and customs of Ireland. It's short enough that I managed to get through it in one sitting, in not much more than an hour, so it's a quick and easy read that doesn't tax the brain too much.

There's maybe nothing completely earthshattering or dazzling to be found here, but there were some bits that piqued my interest, mainly Ó hÓgáin's reference to the sacred trees of Ireland (bile) and how there was the belief that the sky was a 'roof' supported by four columns in various parts of the uncharted world. He suggests a connection between these posts, which stood in uncharted territory and the bile, which gives some food for thought. The slight problem is that he never gives any references, so it's going to be hard for me to follow up. Hmph.

In spite of the lack of references, most of the ground that's covered is easily recognisable from other places, so over all I would say it's fairly reliable, with the usual amount of caution applied. It was nice to see references to many of the superstitions my nan (whose parents were Irish) and my dad observe - many of which I picked up, too, being raised in an extremely superstitious family. But I digress...

Ó hÓgáin covers superstitions of various times, places, and stages of life, so there's a bit of everything here. That means there isn't much detail, but it could be a good place for a beginner to start getting a very basic idea of things, and seeing as I picked up a copy for a penny, it's probably easier and cheaper to get hold of than Séan Ó Súillebháin's Irish Folk Custom and Belief (which I still think is one of the best books for beginners out there).

For me, there wasn't much new in it, but the writing is engaging and the layout makes it a good book for flicking through for a quick reference or two, and I think it will come in handy in future. Definitely one for the bookshelf.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Book review: The Life and Legacy of Alexander Carmichael

My reading is going slowly at the moment - I've had a lot of distractions recently so I've only just got through my second book from my birthday haul, along with having picked through some of the articles in Celtic Consciousness (a really good article on seasonal customs by Kevin Danaher, for one). But I've gone and bought a few more books to add to the pile, anyway, seeing as I'm all on my lonesome for the next few weeks and have nothing better to do (whether that's shopping or reading I'm referring to, I'm not sure...).

So I'm waiting on Daithi O' Hogain's Irish Superstitions, Margaret Fay Shaw's Folk Songs and Folk-lore of South Uist, and Morgan Daimler's Land, Sea and Sky has already landed on my doorstep (I'm about halfway through).

I had to go into Glasgow yesterday to get the kids new shoes, and my mother-in-law offered to take them off my hands for the afternoon once I'd accomplished the mission for footwear. So I dumped the kids with Nana at Central Station, with new shoes proudly stuck on feet for Nana to admire, and took myself off to the university to renew my membership at the library. It's probably been two years since I've been, or something close, and in that time I compiled a good list of things I wanted to look up, which Rosie then promptly deleted during a gleeful button-mashing session...Grr. "Look mummy, I'm typing!" "Noooooooo!"

But I managed a good haul anyway, including Charles MacQuarrie's Waves of Manannán. Again. This time I will read it (third..or fourth...time's the charm). For the most part I went to look up some articles, though, because I have enough books to get through at the moment, so I got a goodly chunk of photocopying done (I could really do with a scanner, it make things much easier). I did have a list of books I wanted to look up just to see what they were like, and my curiosity has now been satisfied. Some of them I'll probably end up getting out on loan when I go back.

Anyway, onto the review:

The Life and Legacy of Alexander Carmichael
Ed. by Domhnall Uilleam Stiùbhart

To be fair, it's hardly the most inspiring title for a book, but it delivers far more than the title promises.

The book is a collection of essays from a conference on Benbecula in 2006, with contributions from Ronald Black, Hugh Cheape, Donald Meek, and William Gillies, amongst others (those were the names I recognised - vaguely or otherwise).

I was hoping they'd deal with a few of the problems that have been raised with Carmichael's research and the Carmina itself, and that's pretty much what I got, handily packaged in an article by Ronald Black called 'I Thought He Made It All Up: Context and Controversy' - that is, in terms of the studies that have been made on the Carmina, it was suggested in the 1970s that Carmichael had been more than a little liberal in his recording, 'polishing', and outright reworking and embellishing of the material he collected and then published, which essentially made the Carmina next to useless as a reliable source of genuine folklore and song. Black counters this convincingly, to a certain extent at least, and gives examples of where Carmichael obviously tampered with the material, and where he obviously didn't (Domhnall Uilleam Stìubhart's opening article also gives some good examples).

Overall, Black concludes that Volumes I and II are the most in tact in terms of authentic material, with the Gaelic verses being the least tampered with (i.e. the stuff that provides major inspiration for some of CR liturgy), while the Gaelic prose was hugely 'polished' to confirm to a somewhat romantic propaganda about the Noble Celts, and so on, because Carmichael wanted to show them as having a literature to rival the Classics. Meek follows on with this point in his article on Celtic Christianity and how Carmichael was pivotal to the development of the idea.

I got the sense that Black is a tad more apologetic towards Carmichael, whereas Meek is more forthright in his criticism of Carmichael's work (and also the romanticism that accompanies a lot of the studies of the material), so along with Stìubhart's work, there's a good balance to be found. This isn't the only topic that's covered, though - Cathlin MacAulay's article on Uist in the School of Scottish Studies Archives gives a tantalising account of all the material that's been recorded on the Uists over the years, and just how much material there is that hasn't been published yet.

The same could be said for the original records and manuscripts from Carmichael, which Meek (arguing that there was a definite agenda with the Carmina, to portray the Highlanders as a spiritual people, living in harmony with pagan and Christian elements that were old, but civilised, not primitive) comments, "One has only to look at the amount of material of a 'pagan' nature left out of the Carmina, and still lying unedited in Edinburgh University Library, to realise that neither the Gaels nor the editors of Carmina were, in fact, as accommodating and as eclectic as the paradigm wanted them to be." It's comments like that that make me wonder why there wasn't an article on this unpublished 'pagan' material, and what it contains. I would loved to have seen something on the things we're not familiar with.

There's a lot more I could go on about - the final article in the book is short but sweet, a reminiscence of a childhood on South Uist that describes many of the traditions that the author took part in, that he later found described by Carmichael in the Carmina. This article alone - only a page long - made the book for me.

The book provided a lot of food for thought for me, although in many respects it raised more questions than it answered. It did point me to this site, though, which I've been happily trawling through since. I don't imagine many folks have a burning desire to snap this book up, but I'd definitely recommend a read of it if it's the sort of subject that interests you. It's a good book for understanding the context of the Carmina, certainly.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

How does your garden grow...

There have been some successes and failures in the vegetable garden, so far...

As far as the failures go, I lost all of the leeks, beetroot, cauliflower, cabbage, rocket, cucumbers (my only losses to slugs so far) and all but two of the broccoli from the first round of sowing. They just didn't tolerate going outside at all, even though I waited for it to warm up considerably.

So this is what I have from the survivors, and the second attempt at starting over with the rest:

It's a bit of a rag-tag mob at the moment, and I've still got more seedlings to transfer into the remaining bags that I have...I think these must be the most expensive vegetables ever, given the amount I've had to spend on compost, and I should've order a composter so I could make my own for next year, really, but seeing as I thought we'd be away for the summer I didn't bother. I might still. And hopefully I'll be able to use what I've already got now for next year.

The carrots are starting to turn orange now:

Or some of them. I think they might be ready in a month or so now, so I've sown another batch to see if I can get two crops this year. And I put some tumshies/swedes/rutabagas in:

Which have grown very quickly. I'm hoping they'll be ready for Samhainn, for carving, but I'm not quite convinced on that. The morning frosts didn't finish until quite late in May, so everything is probably going to be a little later this year.

The slugs don't seem to have found the survivors yet, which are coming along nicely (bit worried about the tomatoes, though, they don't seem to be doing much. In spite of the fantastic weather we've been having, my neighbour is of the opinion that it's too cold for them without a greenhouse). It seems either the dry weather - and it's been very dry - and the bags I've been using have been deterring them, or else my neighbour's chemical warfare against our Slug Overlords is drawing them away from my side of the fence. So far I've succeeded in staying organic, but it has to be said the bright blue pellets all over the neighbour's flowerbeds adds something of a jaunty air to his garden...

Anyway, what I really wanted to write about was ritualising this whole process. I've got the basics down, I think, but I'm kind of feeling there's something a little lacking in it all; I think I'm starting to need something a more formal focus in my practices in general, and trying to get this whole sowing and growing ironed out in my head has made me realise that moreso than ever since the thought lodged itself in my head.

So far I've been following a few ideas I've had. Looking at the Carmina, I've got the general gist of what I should be doing, and had some ideas of my own: I've sown and then transplanted everything around the new moon, I've sown the seeds sunwise in the trays, and then watered them in the same way. For the first watering I've been using a few drops of the water I collected at Bealltainn, which I keep throughout the following year and use for sainings and so on. Of everything, the strawberries have been the first to provide something ripe - two berries, so far - so I left the first one as a 'sacrifice' of sorts, in thanks. It seemed right...The second one was very tasty, just like the ones I used to pick with mum at the Pick Your Own farms that we used to go to every summer when I was wee. Proper strawberries. Strawberry.

Some of this is based on the Conscecration of the Seeds in the Carmina, and while it's for corn rather than vegetables, I don't see why I can't adapt it to the sort of crops I'll eventually be harvesting. And I've just found reference to the use of an egg or brunie (oatcake), placed in the bottom of the basket (the kishie) the oats were carried in on Shetland, which was then kept in the basket until harvest. Keeping the egg or brunie whole would ensure the safety of the crop, which makes sense, symbolically.

My problem, as always, it seems, is with the words. So far I've been making up something on the spot, a charm/blessing as I sow and water, but I want something...proper...for want of a better word. But finding inspiration for that hasn't arrived as of yet. And pretty soon I'll be having to think of something for when I harvest everything, too. This example gives a good idea of things I can do then. Experience tells me the words aren't something I can force, but it's making me feel a little frustrated in the meantime. Boo.