Saturday, 31 December 2011

Beannachadh Bliadhna Ùir

A happy Hogmanay to you all! And Good Wishes for the new year.

Today I'll be having the traditional tidy up and setting things in order, and tonight I'll be having a quiet celebration at home, with some offerings and a little ritual. I've decided I won't be trying the traditional Het Pint as the bells ring the new year in; eggs in my beer/whisky are kind of off-putting, I think!

Tomorrow we'll be off to the in-laws for the traditional steak pie dinner, as usual, but right now I thought I'd post an adaptation of a new year blessing that Carmichael recorded in Volume One of the Carmina Gadelica (said first thing on the first day of the new year):

Gods, bless to me the new day,
Never given to me before;
It is to bless your own presence
That you have given me this time, O Gods.
Bless to me my eye,
May my eye bless all it sees;
I will bless my neighbour,
May my neighbour bless me.
Gods, give me a clean heart,
Let me not from the sight of your eye;
Bless to me my family,
And bless to me my way.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Bits and pieces - links to books online

Some useful links to hard to find books popped up on the CR group on Facebook a while ago so I thought it would be useful to make a note of them here as I make some updates to my website as well, for any readers who might not be on the group; following on from the books that were mentioned on the group I decided to have a wander around Scribd to see if there is anything else of interest. It turns out that yes, there's probably a huge amount there, but that would make for a long and boring list that would make even my eyes crossed! So instead, here are just a few that I found or was pointed to via FB:

First and foremost, there is Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia edited by John Koch. It's incredibly expensive to buy otherwise and it's a fantastic resource so it's well worth taking a look at. Of all the Celtic encyclopedias I've seen, I would say this is by far the best, and certainly the most extensive work; a lot of well-respected academics have contributed to the entries here and it makes a great starting point for research. The downside to its extensiveness (all 2000+ pages of it) is that it's an absolute bugger to find anything quickly! But seriously. For any Celtic Reconstructionist I would recommend this encyclopedia as one of the absolute necessities for your bookshelf. In my humble opinion, anyway...

Less useful is Patricia Monaghan's Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore. Her research isn't great and sometimes she's way off base, but I thought it was worth noting in case somebody stumbled across it and wondered about it. You can do a lot worse, but you can also do a lot better (see above...) and personally I wouldn't rely on this book for serious research. This is from the same author as The Red-Haired Girl From the Bog, which I've tried to read many times and have failed...(I know a few folks who love that book but for some reason her tone really grates on my nerves).

Something a little different is a collection of essays in The Vikings in Ireland; there are some contributions in there from well-respected academics and it's a subject that's often neglected so I think it's well worth exploring.

Another book is Graham Webster's The Roman Invasion of Britain. I've yet to read this but I think I have it somewhere on my bookshelf, having inherited it from the library of a friend and colleague of my mother-in-law earlier this year. I've read another book of his, The British Celts and Their Gods Under Rome, which I thought was mis-titled but otherwise not bad.

The Archaeology of Celtic Art offers an up to date perspective on the subject and gives a discussion about the use of the term 'Celtic' within archaeology these days; many archaeologists are reluctant to use the term, preferring 'Iron Age' instead (although they'll happily sap Celtic on the title of the book so it will sell...). This offers its own problems, but there are many who criticise these 'Celtoskeptics' as denying Celtic heritage and everything that entails. Aside from that, there are lots of purty pikchurs of shiny things.

Symbol and Image in Celtic Religious Art by Miranda Green is one I've reviewed here; it's good, but of more interest to those of a Gallo-Roman flavour rather than the Gaelic or Brythonic Polytheist. There is also Animals in Celtic Life and Myth, which is another one I've reviewed. It's probably good to remember that Green is generally stronger on archaeology than myth.

Finally, I stumbled across a recently published essay by Mary Jones called Rethinking Imbolc. It's aimed at a reconstructionist audience and I think there's good research and references here. The essay offers a different perspective on Imbolc, exploring the associations of the festival with purification, and I think it's well worth a read; there's some good food for thought here.

That's all, folks!

Book Review: Of Irish Ways

Galloping towards the end of the year, I thought I'd do what's probably my last book review for 2011. It makes a change from trying to find room for all the brand new plastic crap the kids brought home from Santa the in-laws, anyway (we actually had a great time, and yes, the kids were thoroughly spoilt and my father-in-law was thoroughly blootert by the end of the day, but good times were had by all). I hope you had a good yin an a'. I can honestly say that in the past few days I've never built more Lego things in all my life...

Of Irish Ways
Mary Murray Delaney

Treasa piqued my interest in this one a while ago, and I saw it going for a whopping great 1p online so it seemed worth a punt. I wasn't sure if it was going to offer anything new, but in that I was pleasantly surprised.

This is nothing like I've ever really read before - it's primarily aimed at an Irish-American audience; those who are interested in their Irish heritage and history, lore and traditions. There's a little bit of everything here but there's no denying that it comes from a particular point of view, and in that sense it definitely colours the content in a certain light. At times, the book reads like a very romanticised propaganda text, a run down of all the accomplishments of the sons and daughters of Ireland, wherever they might have ended up.

For me it's an interesting read in the sense that I'm not the target audience, and I'm kind of detached from the aim of the book in a way, but I can also empathise with it in the sense that I too was brought up being told about my Irish heritage and being proud of it and told to hold onto it. The author is keen to educate the reader on the trials and tribulations of Ireland in recent history, as well as the more distant history, and she laments the fact that many Americans of Irish heritage, and even the Irish themselves, have very little understanding of the history and achievements of Ireland. It's in talking about this subject in particular that it becomes obvious that this book is very out of date in some respects - Delaney discusses the state of education in Ireland and of course it's going to be very different now from when the book was first published in 1973. The state of Ireland today is also very different of course - since the book was published there has been devolution in Northern Ireland, for one.

In spite of this, it's still a very charming book. Not all of it might be relevant or up to date now, but the author writes in a very conversational tone that makes it easy to get sucked into it. It's not a book that requires too much concentration, and while there are certainly better books to look to for reading up on Irish history, the very general overview given here might be a less daunting prospect for the beginner.

Subjects like funerals and wakes, marriage and matters of the home and hearth are dealt with as well as history, along with the festivals and feast days and beliefs in ghosts and fairy raths. Delaney does a good job to emphasise that many of these beliefs are still relevant today, and goes on to cover Ireland's long history of producing great pieces of literature and poetry, as well as music.

The amount covered here is perhaps a bit too general in some ways, and you probably won't find much here that isn't covered elsewhere. The exception is at the back of the book where there are some Irish blessings and proverbs, which is the best bit of the book for me. It's a shame the Irish isn't given as well as the English for them, but it's a useful if all too short section.

As books for research go it's perhaps not one of the first books I'd look to, but still, it's a good read. This would be a good compliment to Kevin Danaher's books (and Henry Glassie's Passing the Time in Ballymenone) if you're keen on getting an understanding of Irish ways and life.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011


I got up this morning at around 8.15am and thought, "Ooooo, it's still dark." I put it down to the fact that the clouds were low and thick - as per usual now - and thus the sun wasn't able to brighten things up too much. It took a while to realise that it also perhaps had something to do with the fact that it's coming up to the shortest day of the year - tomorrow, officially...

So a happy solstice to those of you who celebrate! I will be making some offerings to mark the occasionbut my main focus of celebrations at this time of year will be on Hogmanay as usual - as yet we have no plans for Hogmanay, so it will probably be spent at home all quiet and boring. I'll be glad to see the back of this year, and fervently hoping that the new year ushers in a definite improvement on 2011.  

If the weather in Ireland is anything like here then the solstice sun at Newgrange won't be illuminating much of anything (yup); the official gathering at Newgrange took place today, but there's a video you can watch from 2007 that shows what should happen quite nicely (although you might want to forward along a bit):

Newgrange might be the most famous solstice alignment, but there are others as well, including the chambered tomb known as Maes Howe on the mainland of Orkney. The light of the solstice sunset is captured there (when it shines!), and there are also cameras set there to capture and broadcast it. Neither of these tombs are Celtic, of course, but both remain as significant features in the landscape even today.

In the twelfth century the tomb was opened by some of the Norse settlers, and they made their mark by leaving a load of runes to commemorate their visit (33 inscriptions in all). Some of the graffiti attempts to make verse, and one such verse is thought to have (possibly) been made by Thorhall Asgrimsson, who is mentioned in the Orkneyinga Saga. The verse is rough, and reads:

The man who is
most skilled in runes
west of the ocean
cut these runes
with the axe
once owned by Gauk
son of Trandil
in the south country.
(Translation from: The Triumph Tree: Scotland's Earliest Poetry AD 550-1350, edited by T.O. Clancy)

Which is not particularly relevant to the solstice, but there you go...

I will finish off with a seasonal poem translated by Kuno Meyer, one that's particularly relevant considering the recent hurricanes we've been having in these parts:

Dubaib rathib rogemrid
robarta tonn turgabar
íar tóib betha blái.
Brónaig eoín cach íathmaige
acht fiaich fola forderge
fri fúaim gemrid gairg.
In the dark season of the deep winter
heavy seas are lifted up
along the side of the world's region.
Sorrowful are the birds of every meadow-field,
except the ravens of dark-red blood,
at the uproar of the fierce winter-time.

I shall dedicate that to the Cailleach and the storm hags who've been unleashing their fury over the past few weeks.

Monday, 19 December 2011


It's that time of year again when things get festive and words like 'family' and 'giving' and 'I want a Lego mermaid!' (says Rosie) or 'Lego Star Wars! (says Tom) get bandied about.

Christmas for us is a very secular affair, and unlike Mr Seren and his very Catholic upbringing, it's something that always has been for me. In spite of my nan's best efforts and all of those children's Bibles and books of prayer my sister and I were given over the years, my parents never brought us up in a particularly religious fashion (although as I've said before, my mother was always keen to encourage us to explore). In all my years as a pagan of some sort, it's not something I've ever struggled to reconcile - whether or not I should celebrate because I'm not Christian - because it's not something I've ever had much choice about. Christmas in my world is about family, and my family expect me to be there, dagnabit. Being married, it's now also something that my in-laws expect of me as well. Some of the more fundamentalist Christians might repeat the refrain of keeping the Christ in Christmas, but tell that to my mother-in-law. We don't get any special dispensation for not being Christian as far as she's concerned...

It's an honour, to my mind. It's nice to have people who want you to be involved, to share in traditions, company, good food (and drink, often involving a litre of vodka while my father-in-law cooks the Christmas dinner before he promptly staggers off to bed to fall unconscious and sleep it off...), thoughtful gifts, and just enjoying the company of others. It's nice to see the kids all excited that Father Christmas is coming (even if Rosie's not too convinced about him). I'm lucky that my in-laws have accepted and welcomed me into their family, especially considering the fact that we'll be going to theirs for Christmas day. As a reconstructionist, family and community are important things, and I can't begrudge the fact that I get to show my appreciation of those loved ones that are there for me and my own wee family unit.

But it's not all fluffiness and fun. Like most folks, my family isn't perfect and we have our dysfunctions and our disagreements. It's times like this - for me - that those negative elements are most keenly felt (I will hopefully be going to visit my hometown after Christmas, and doing the rounds with visiting family etc), and in a spiritual sense it raises a lot of questions, especially as far as the issue of ancestor veneration is concerned. There are certain members of my family that (when they die) I couldn't bring myself to honestly honour in my practices - by name, specifically addressing them. I can acknowledge the fact that were it not for them I wouldn't be here, and in that sense I'm thankful (because that's kinda turned out to be a plus as far as I'm concerned), but then again those certain family members aren't exactly people I consider to be honourable or possessing much in the way of redeemable qualities. Perhaps honouring them on that level - thanks, at least, for doing your bit in my being here - would be a bit grudging of me at the end of the day. They aren't really people I want to think about, let alone consider the prospect of venerating them wholeheartedly.

Equally, I know there are people in my family - who I never had the chance to meet - who were thought of in the same way. My great-grandfather was a con man and a philanderer who abandoned his children and then proceeded to sow his oats around the world, leaving many fatherless children in his wake (and that's just the start of it). He died at the age of 102, alone, after falling asleep in his armchair with a lit cigarette; after it fell out of his mouth it set the chair on fire - what a way to go. My nan, when the police turned up on her doorstep to inform her of her father's death, simply said, "Good. I hope he burned." They hadn't spoken in 40 years. She doesn't talk about him much so I can only imagine the kinds of hurt he caused her to prompt a response like that. So there's another one that I might consider difficult to consider worthy of honour.

So when it comes to ancestor veneration, can we be selective? Should we be? After all, there are a lot of ancestors we could never possibly know. On the one hand, how can we honour people we never knew, who might not want our offerings and attention; how can we consider building a relationship with them when we don't even know their names, their deeds? On the other hand, is it something we should get hung up on? At the end of the day, without them we wouldn't be here today.

For me, I've instinctively formed a practice where I give honour to 'the honoured ancestors' in general, and I've never had the sense that there are any ancestors who begrudge my offerings to them. To me, the idea of 'the ancestors' is a fairly ephemeral thing, really. When I make offerings to them I do get the sense of 'them' being there, accepting the offerings I give, but as yet I've not encountered any of them making themselves known to me on an individual level, aside from the ancestors who I knew in life. 'The ancestors' as a concept is very general to my mind, in some ways. They are my roots. Without them, I am nothing. I cannot claim to know them, or know if they are worthy of honour on an individual level - each and every one of their deeds and how they lived etc. But in general, I can acknowledge the fact that they have all, in some way, played a part in making me who I am today. And that, for me, seems to work.

Those ancestors that I knew in life I see a little differently. I have a more personal relationship with them, since I knew them in some way or another when they were alive. They are the ones I talk to at times, and feel are near. Sometimes I make offerings to them specifically, giving things that I know they liked when they were alive. Sometimes, I feel like they're with me; a waft of a certain scent that I associate with them, perhaps. It can be very comforting.

In a reconstructionist sense, it seems that some of the dead were treated differently than others at times - buried in mounds, their bones preserved and sorted amongst other bones, or some kept close by, in the house or in the midden. It might suggest the idea that they were installed in such places because they were considered worthy or important in some way, and perhaps the people who put those bones there, and later buried the cremated remains into the same mounds after they had fallen out of use otherwise, knew the names of the people who had been put there over the generations, and were given special remembrance and veneration by the community as a whole. Perhaps some of them were made gods, ancestral deities.

In my own way, I might not fiddle about with my gran's bones (for example), but I keep her memory alive; I honour her, and I tell my kids about her. And perhaps one day my kids will pass those memories, those stories, on to their kids, and make their own offerings with their great-gran in mind, and so on. As a Gaelic Polytheist, I don't have a long list of ancestors that I can reel off as the pre-Christian Gaels might have in their honouring their ancestors, but I can make a start at passing what I do know on. I'm sadly lacking in photos of my now deceased grandparents, and great-grandparents, and so on, but one day I hope to change that (with access to a scanner and mum and nan's photo albums).

But still, there is the issue of those who perhaps aren't 'worthy' of honouring. Not having had a personal relationship with my philandering great-grandad, I can appreciate the fact that without him I wouldn't be here, but otherwise I don't really want much else to do with him. Those I have more personal feelings towards is a different matter, I think. Perhaps they should be considered as they might in life: In terms of values, those who are thought of as having no honour are shunned, seen to be outside of the community and having no say, no rights within the community, and I certainly choose not to have much to do with those family members these days. And so in terms of honoured ancestors (that's how I generally address them), those without honour in life wouldn't really have a place as an honoured ancestor as far as I'm concerned. Maybe. Perhaps my views on that might change once I'm faced with their passing...

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Irish language sign a first for Belfast

Ahhh, politics. Don't you just love it?

Some people might say that a Christmas greeting sign - in Irish, no less - donated to the Belfast City Hall is a generous gift. A sign of good will, perhaps. Or perhaps not:

But David Browne, UUP, who has described Irish as "gobbledegook" said the decision was "an act of bad faith".
"The Irish language or Ulster Scots, it's all gobbledegook to me. The more polite way is to say that I don't understand it," he said.
"Even before the working group had met they did this. It is an act of bad faith," he said. "But I'm not really interested, the sign is up and that is it."

What a mature and reasoned response, Mr Browne.

Friday, 9 December 2011

A little festive cheer?

We survived 'Hurricane Bawbag' (as it was dubbed) relatively unscathed - we lost a wee bit of fence in the end, and the old satellite dish bounced off gleefully down the road before Mr Seren managed to catch it (losing all dignity in the process). But considering the damage elsewhere, we didn't do too badly at all. With winds over 160mph in some places, it seemed sensible to stay indoors as much as possible, and hope for the best...Thankfully the schools were closed.

Today, however, all is back to normal, and aside from some early flurries of snow this morning we've yet to experience the predicted blizzard. To make the most of it (and as a blatant excuse to get out the house) I decided to spend the afternoon at the garden centre, in order to glory in all things questionably festive in nature. Of course, I took the camera with me, because otherwise I cannot share in the glory of all that is of a questionable and disturbingly festive nature. Allow me to illustrate:

I have to admit, I can't blame the look on the poor wee kid's face at the back there. (Is the tallest clown...supposed to look 'red face'?)

This is something the local garden centre does every year - it's their 'Winter Wonderland' sort of thing, where they put up loads of random and often tenuously festive displays. Aside from the clowns, most of the scenes of recent years have been of various fairy tales that are popularly adapted for pantomimes (they're a popular festive form of entertainment here). This year it's all been toned down a little, the first year we went it was definitely the best. That year, we had homicidal dwarves:

Another year, there was what can only be described as a suggestively come hither Cinderella:

There was no Cinderella this year, but the dwarves were back again. Although alas, one of the dwarves certainly hasn't faired too well:

I can only imagine its injuries were the result of a heroic battle against the homicidal dwarf of previous years. A valiant defence of Snow White (a.k.a. Vampyra, I suspect), perhaps, for behold! She returned gloriously this year (after a few appearances with a mop for replacement hair), with the added bonus of a couple of pensive deer in tow:

It's perhaps safe to say that 'Snow White' has been taken to a somewhat literal extreme.

It's the clowns that really do it for me, though. I'm not sure quite why they might be considered festive, and they're something I've always found more than a little sinister in general (but especially so, after seeing Stephen King's IT when I was about thirteen or so), but the garden centre tends to go all out with them, for no apparent reason. This one is bad enough:

But this one takes first place for downright disturbing. If it were art, I would call it 'A Study in Sinister Nonchalance':

They move, you know. They all play happy and festive tunes and 'dance'. The first year there was this display:

And I swear to you, I swear that the clown at the the front there, it was making rude gestures of the self-pleasuring variety. With his flute. Poor Santa. Look at him there, edging uncomfortably away. Ho-Ho-Ho-ly Shit What The Fuck Am I Doing Here...

But it seems that for decency's sake, they've toned it down somewhat this year:

And now the clowns just want to eat your soul.

Outside, though, it's lovely:

As furious as the Cailleach has been these past few days - snow, hail, sleet, rain, thunder and lightning, sleet, and more snow and torrential downpours - well. It doesn't seem like anyone round here minds.

Book Review: Irish Folk Medicine

Irish Folk Medicine
Patrick Logan

This title is a re-release of Logan's Irish Country Cures, so as far as I know they're one and the same just under different names.

Having read another of Logan's books I had a vague idea of what to expect here - a book that's short and sweet, well-written and well-researched, and providing a good overview of the subject. This is pretty much what you end up with in this book; it's a nice little tome that covers as much as possible in as few pages as possible - good for an introduction.

It's a quick read and one of those books that you pick up and put down as you find the time. It's not a particularly demanding read, although given the subject matter there are some things in here that I'm totally unfamiliar with - certain ailments and terminology that I'm not particularly sure what they refer to. Logan himself is a doctor so he writes with authority on the subject of various complaints and treatments, but this is both an advantage and disadvantage, I think. Many of the complaints referred to aren't really relevant today, or else they might be called something else, but they were either well-known at the time of writing, or at least still in living memory at the time; as such, at times there's very little explanation of things that I would've appreciated explanation of (or at least a glossary at the back). Me, I've heard of terms like dropsy, but I can never remember what it refers to...

Aside from that, the book gives a good overview of the subject and with Google handy the more obscure elements of the book aren't too much of an inconvenience. Along with human ailments (which are separated into internal and then external sections) there's also a brief section on animal ailments and treatments, and a short section on folk treatments at wells, spas, and sweathouses. At times the writing almost slips into the kind of style that seems to be note form - brief sentences that are barely grammatical - but at least it keeps things pithy.

The content isn't particularly exciting or revolutionary - to me anyway - and the treatments described aren't exactly ones I'll be trying any time soon...But there are some nice bits and pieces to be found here, and along with learning about folk remedies and attitudes towards illness, Logan does a good job of pointing out where these remedies seem to have a long pedigree - being found in Irish or even Anglo-Saxon manuscripts. This says a lot about the longevity of these treatments, some of which are pseudo-medicinal, some of which rely on sympathetic magic, or else sound medicine and common sense.

There isn't much detail as far as the supposed origins of many of these diseases are concerned - the belief in illnesses caused by the evil eye, for example - and nor is there much detail about who these folk-healers that people often consulted in cases where illnesses didn't respond to conventional approaches. The book is slightly lacking for that, but I think that's symptomatic of the time in which it was written - and to be fair, there still hasn't been much work on that, even today.

Over all, this is not one of those books that I'd say is essential reading, but if you have an interest in folk healing and herbology, then this is certainly a good one for the bookshelf. Given its length, this is a good introduction to the subject, for sure, and you should be able to find it cheaply second hand.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Expand your vocabulary, the Scots way

On this day last year my then five-year-old son had the joy of tasting the delights of the nation's favourite fizzy beverage (resulting in several hours of bouncing off walls afterwards, of course). This year will be a little quieter, I hope, since the kids are off school today because of the national strike.

In theory we'll be going to the supermarket today, if the roads have cleared from all the flooding we had yesterday - the town nearest to us was completely cut off in the floods, and we had half of this month's average rainfall come down in 24 hours - about 2 inches, I believe, often coming down as huge chunks of hail. With no sign of any let up in the weather any time soon I suspect it's only going to get worse; this month has been extremely wet already and the ground is absolutely sodden. We're not too badly off where we are - on top of a hill - but the dogs are feeling thoroughly bored and forlorn.

The weather is officially dreich. A good word, that. In honour of St Andrew's Day, it's only right to celebrate all things Scottish. So how about some more good Scots words?

Awfy - awful
Baw - ball
Blether - idle chatter
Blootert - extremely drunk
Boak (bowk) - retch, vomit (as in: 'Och wheesht, ye'll gimme the boak' Oh shut up, you'll make me sick
Boggin - stinking, no good
Bowfin - smelly, stinking. Worse than mingin
Braw - handsome, fine
Breeks - trousers ('pants'), i.e. breeches
Broon - brown
But and ben - a type of two-roomed cottage, generally with the door in the middle and a window either side
Cludgie - toilet
Corbie - raven or crow; a generic term for corvids
Coup (cowp) - a rubbish dump, tip
Crabbit - grumpy, grouchy, ill-tempered
Craw - crow
Druthy - thirsty
Droukit - soaked, drenched, sopping wet (or else: drookeet)
Dunt - bump ('A dunted ma heid' - I bumped my head) 
Fair - somewhat, very
Feart - frightened afraid
Foosty - dank, damp-smelling
Frae - From
Gallus - self-confident, outgoing, cheeky or daring
Geggie - mough (as in: 'Wheesht yer geggie!' Shut your mouth)
Gies - 'give us' (as in me - 'Gies it' Give me it)
Gin - if
Glaikit - silly, foolish
Greet - cry

"Don't cry, there's more in the pot."

Gubbit (gubbed) - beaten, thrashed, broken
Haud - hold (as in: 'Haud yer wheesht!' Hold your wheesht; Be quiet!)
Haver - talk nonsense (as in The Proclaimer's song "And when I'm haverin," in I Would Walk 500 Miles)
Hen - a familar (but also somewhat patronising, depending on context) way of addressing a woman, a term of endearment. "Dinnae fash yersel' hen" Don't bother yourself, hen/Don't go to any trouble, hen
Het - heated (as in 'Het Pint'); het up - worked up 
Hoachin - absolutely rotten, maggot-ridden
Hoodie - a type of crow, but also used as a general term for all kinds of corvids
Howfin - stinking; also: howling
Howk - dig, gouge
Ilka - every
Keek - look; 'keek!' is a Scots equivalent of 'peekaboo!' with babies
Ken - know, understand (as in: 'Ah dinna ken' I don't know; 'Ah ken fine damn well' I understand perfectly
Kich (or keech) - shit
Leid - language
Licht - light (and as such: bricht - bright, nicht - night etc)
Lum - chimney (as in: 'Lang may lum reek!' Long may your chimney smoke; wishing someone the continued prosperity to be able to keep their fire going strong)
Mawkit (maukit) - literally, it refers to maggots (mawks), it's used to refer to something that's absolutely rotten, filthy; often used to describe children (as in: 'Lookit ye, yer mawkit!')
Mickle - a lot, a great amount
Mind - remember (as in: 'Dae ye mind yon lassie?' Do you remember that girl (over there)?
Mingin - stinking
Neuk - corner (nook)
Ony - any
Piece - slice of bread with something on it, or a sandwich; pieces and jam/jeely piece - jam sandwich
Peely wally - pale, sickly-looking
Plook - spot (acne)
Shoogle - shake, bounce (as in, 'Am shooglin the wee bairn oan ma knee' I'm bouncing the baby on my knee); also shooglie - shaky
Skelp - smack (as in: 'Wheest, or Ah'll gie ye a skelp aroun yer heid!' Quiet, or I'll give you a smack around the head!)  
Skelpit - smacked
Sic - such
Sleekit - sly, cunning, slick
Sook - suck; someone who ingratiates themselves, sucks up, an affectionate animal ('Ya wee sook')
Tattie (tottie) - potato
Telt - told
Thegither - together
They - those (as in: 'See they weans' See those children)
Thrawn - stubborn, obstinate, contrary, difficult or awkward; misshapen, twisted
Toaty - tiny (as in: 'toaty wee footsies')
Unco - strange, unknown, odd, great, or as an adverb: very
Wan - one
Wean - child (possibly a contraction of 'wee ane' - wee one; or else referring to a child that has now been weaned (although it's not pronounced the same) according to some) 
Wheesht - hush, shush. Also found in Gàidhlig - 'Ist a-nis!' Hush now
Widnae - would not (also dinna - didn't, wisnae - wasn't etc)
Yin - one (referring to someone, a thing); Big Yin (Big One - a nickname for the comedian Billy Connolly)

And finally, some insults and swear words (consider yourself warned!). These are generally applied liberally in conversations, and calling someone such names can be a term of endearment or an insult depending on the context. There aren't many words that are considered to be extremely taboo, and the 'f' and the 'c' word tend to get thrown around a lot in social conversation, almost of like a form of punctuation:

Bampot - someone who's a bit daft, crazy, a silly idiot
Bawbag - ballbag (i.e. scrotum) also bawheid, fanny baws, cunty baws
Besom - a difficult woman. Can also be used affectionately - 'Ye daft besom' 
Clarty (or in Glasgow, 'clatty') - dirty; may also be used to describe a lady of loose morals
Cuntit - 'Cunted' - as in pissed (drunk) to the extreme, paralytic, exhausted
Daftie - a harmless idiot, silly
Dobber - idiot, tosser, wanker (kinda rude, associated with a penis; in England 'dobber' can refer to someone who tells tales, so be careful!)
Dunderheid - idiot, simpleton
Eejit - idiot
Erse - arse ('A face like a skelpit erse' - A face like a slapped arse)
Fud - 'the female genitalia'; less harsh than calling someone the 'c' word; an idiot
Jobbie - turd
Numpty - fool, moron
Nyaff - an irritating person
Pish - piss; can be used in a variety of ways, e.g. not very good ('That's pish!'), nonsense ('Yer talkin' pish'), an expression of disdain, pished - drunk, annoyed
Scunner - nuisance, or else a bore, sickening or disgusting person
Teuchter - a pejorative term for a country person, north of the central belt (especially in the sense of a Gàidhlig speaker)
Tollie - turd
Tube - (pronounced 'choob') idiot, tosser

Friday, 25 November 2011

Pottering about

Not much doing at the moment, except pottering about here and there and trying to avoid the wind and rain outside at all costs. And the usual stuff that any full time parent does each day...Yes, it's a veritable rollercoaster of fun round here.

So I've done some more tweaking and updating on the website, and I've added a chunk more to the Article Downloads page. A good one in particular I came across is Space and Time in Irish Folk Rituals and Traditions, which has some interesting stuff on various festivals and wake traditions. It's an interesting read, and has some good pointers to further reading as well.

Other tinkering about includes a reworking and republishing of the So what do you believe? article, and after searching through some old articles I found a bit on the origin of the word frìth, which is usually said to be Norse in origin, but John MacInnes claims is, in fact, Gàidhlig after all. I added that into the Frìth essay on the website, and also went about tweaking the Saining article to correct a few bits and pieces that have needed seeing to for a while now.

It's St Andrew's Day next Wednesday so the local school is getting well-prepared for the celebrations (although they'll be on strike on the actual day, so I'm not sure if they'll move the celebrations to before or after). In preparation for the day, my eldest, Tom, is learning a smattering of Scots. So far I've been reliably informed that a dog is a doug, a cow is a coo, and a crow is a craw. He's very proud of his command of his newfound command of the dialect.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Manannán and the Shepherd

Time for something a wee bit different now, I think. This is a story I found in an article on the lore of Manannán, which I though I'd share (from 1924, so out of copyright).

Here's a bit of preamble that might be useful, too - some epithets and associations:
He is spoken of variously as the Old King, Mananan of the Flames [the least common name], the King of the Wanderers, the Sailor's Friend, and--most intimate and frequent of all the names-Himself. There are stories of his calling people away to his secret Island of Immortality beyond the western sea, or appearing to sailors or fishermen in danger and helping them-sometimes in distant parts of the world. He is the patron (sometimes openly acknowledged but oftener not) of sailors and beggars and poets and all careless wandering people; he has been seen rolling and leaping along the summits of the middle mountains in the form of a wheel of fire; and he is never very far away from the hills of his Island, or from the imaginations of his people when they speak or think of the unseen world.
The following story is called simply "Manannán and the Shepherd", recorded "from the top of Laxey glen, and relates to the same district" on the Isle of Man:
There was a man living up at the Griananes one time, and he had sheep on the Big Mountain [Snaefell]; and one day he was up after them alone on a middling thick evening in the winter. He had them all nearly gathered in a quiet corner ready for counting, and was thinking of making tracks before the dark would come on him, when he seen a big coarse-looking man and him all like in ragged clothing, coming straight for him through the mist.

"Good evening to thee, master," he says; and "Good evening to theeself," says my bold boy.

"It's a fine lot of sheep thou have there."

"Aw, middlin', middlin'. I'm just for counting them before I'll make tracks for home."

"A hard task, that," says the stranger.

"No, not hard at all when ye know the way," says the farmer - but the words weren't hardly out of his mouth till he heard a mighty big laugh and a sound like a little mocking tune. And behold ye, when he looked around him there wasn't a sign of a sheep nor man nor anything at all, only thick, thick mist going swirling around him, and a high wind blowing. And he heard a big voice shouting out in the wind:

"Count thy sheep now, master! Count thy sheep now! Do thou know the way, master?"

Well, he knew then that it was some fairy making gammon of him, but he was wild atchim [Manx: 'terror'] and started trying to find his way out of the mist. But no use at all, for it wasn't minutes till he was in a strange country altogether, and big, high rocks all standing round in the mist fit to frighten you, and all like the noise of water falling down in deep gullies and places, till he didn't know where he was at all. And the dark begun to come on, and then he knew he was fairly took, so he sat down and waited till the thing would lift off him.

But no sooner did he sit down and give in than he found the Big Ragged Fellow standing in front of him and saying:

"Didn't I give thee a fine race now, and wasn't it a hard task to count thy sheep for all? But sit you there now, and I'll make the hard task easy." And then the Big Fellow drove the sheep right past, slow and plain that he could see the mark on every one, and right into the same corner where they were before; and then the man found he was close on the track going down the glen for home.

"What sort of a wandering fairy-man art thou, playing tricks on a poor fellow that never did thee no hurt?" he said. But behold ye, when he looked at the Big Fellow again he was taller than ever, and a sort of shine around him, and like going away up the Big Mountain in the mist. And a soft, easy voice come slipping down the hill - not the same voice at all that was shouting and mocking at him before, only he knew it was coming from the Big Fellow - and it said:

"Who would I be, only the King of the Wanderers, travelling the land and playing pleasant tricks on the like of yourself for my own diversion? But thou'll be none the worse for thy race arounnd the mountain!"

And he wasn't neither, for he had great luck with all his stock from that on, and came to be the richest man in the parish.
'Mananan -The Sea God of Mann' From A Correspondent in the Isle of Man.
Journal of the Folk-Song Society, Vol. 7, No. 28, Manx Collection Part I (1924).

Friday, 18 November 2011

Next new article

This one took a while longer to finish than anticipated, but I suppose it's safe to say that once I get going it's difficult to stop sometimes. When talking about virtues, brevity and succintness aren't ones that I'd really be able to claim...These are failings that maybe I should admit to and work on, eh?

Anyway, suffice it to say, I had to split the article up into several parts:

Values - Part One
Values - Part Two
Values - Part Three
Values - Part Four

One of the good things about researching this subject is that there's quite a bit online that can be referred to. Sometimes the translations might not be too up to date, but maybe they're the best we've got. Sometimes the up to date stuff is freely available too, and that makes me happy.

I've given links where possible in the references, and maybe I've over referenced, to a certain extent, but my aim with this kind of stuff is to give as many pointers as possible to help people make their own minds up. I can't claim to have gone through all of the sources exhaustively, because I don't necessarily have them to hand, but I've tried to be as complete as I possibly can.

As ever, any questions, comments, blah blah feel free etc.

Friday, 11 November 2011

New article

It's been a while since I've had anything of substance to add to the website, but I've finally managed to get back into the writing groove for long enough to finish another article.

After finishing the series of articles on the gods, spirits and ancestors I've been feeling a little lost and aimless in terms of what else I can add to website - not so much in the sense that I'm running out of things to write (there are plenty of things I've yet to even touch on, I'm fairly sure of that) - I've just been lacking an idea of where to go from here.

There's not much I can do to force inspiration; I've found the best thing to do is just relax and let myself stumble across it as it happens, so instead I've channelled most of my energies into reworking bits and pieces, here and there; a bit of reorganising and additions. But recently I've been thinking more and more about one subject in particular, and so I decided that I had my next article to be getting on with...

As ever things haven't quite worked out as I was expecting; one article has turned into two, so I've got one of them finished, and the other is in progress as we speak. Fermenting in my head, if not literally being typed, anyway. The finished article is on:

Gessi and Buada

Or, 'prohibitions and prescriptions' (there are so many different spellings to choose from - I know geis, singular, is the Old Irish spelling but the variety of plural options is confusing, so I ended up picking one and just running with it; not being a linguist I'll make no claims about my choice of plural spelling being the best one, but if I'm wrong on either count then at least one academic is as well. And at least I'm consistent...).

Mostly I've concentrated on the geis side of things, because I didn't find much to go on for buada, in spite of the fact that they seem to go hand in hand. I've tried to be as thorough as I can, and in the process I found a good few sources are available freely online - always handy! I've listed these on the Article Downloads page already, and I've tried to give links to as many of the tales I refer to as possible. Yesterday I found a book on that will be really handy for the next article as well. I've yet to add it to the website but it's worth noting here anyway, since it's a modern translation (1999) of a wisdom text I've spent ages trying to track down:

Old Irish Wisdom Attributed to Aldfrith of Northumbria: An Edition of Bríathra Flann Fhína maic Ossu - edited and translated by Colin Ireland

There's a good discussion of wisdom texts as a whole there, so it's worth a read if that's your kind of thing.

Anyway, all that remains is a few confessions (nothing juicy, though, so don't get your hopes up for anything good). Firstly, this wasn't the article I intended to write, but it's the one that apparently had to come first before I could concentrate on writing about values and virtues, my original topic of choice. Once I get the second article finished some things might have to be tweaked or moved around with this article, so they both still make sense, and I hesitated a bit before deciding to publish it right now. For some reason, I get impatient if I have to sit on something finished, though, so my impatience won out.

I thought at first that gessi would be something that I could look at in the process, but then my research ended up concentrating more and more on gessi than anything else, and then when I started writing I ended up with four pages of an article, three of which were about prohibitions and prescriptions. So it seems they wanted their own page. Who am I to disagree?

My second and main confession is that I've stopped short of really going into any details about how gessi and buada might apply in modern practices. I can't help but feel this might be a bit of a cop out, in one sense, but I decided that it wouldn't be right for me to go on about it. I'm not sure if I've really seen much discussion of them in a modern - Celtic Reconstructionist/Gaelic Polytheist - context, even though I do see the occasional query about them. But without much to go on in that respect, I decided it would be better to leave the question unanswered than fudge it.

So errr...Enjoy...

Monday, 7 November 2011

On a lighter note...

After rambling on about fireworks so much recently, it would be remiss of me not to bring your attention to some news of a display-gone-wrong in Oban. This, you might say, is what you call a bit of an oopsie...

In brief: A Bonfire Night display in Oban was scheduled to last about 20 minutes last Friday; but instead, with the crowd eagerly gathered to enjoy the show, a technical hitch resulted in all (£6,000 worth) of the fireworks being set off within the space of less than a minute:

The result: Glorious.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Finishing up

Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot...

Technically speaking, we celebrate Guy Fawkes' Night in commemoration of the successful foiling of the plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament, on this day in 1605. And so, in celebration of the fact that it's business as usual, and as we've done for centuries now, bonfires, fireworks, sparklers and toffee apples all mark the day. For those of us on the peripheries of the kingdom, shall we say, such celebrations may not always be as totally enthusiastic about the historical roots of the day...

When I was a kid, the bonfires would be piled up high and the Guy - an effigy of the man himself - would be thrown on the bonfire as part of the proceedings. When I lived in Glasgow (more than ten years ago now), local kids would go round on the streets - even getting into the tenement houses and knocking on the doors - lugging the effigy around and begging for a 'penny for the guy'. It's not just Glasgow where they do that, but that's the only place I've come across it myself; it seems to be a dying tradition. The guy itself would often be an effigy of someone widely hated - sometimes an unpopular manager of a football team, say, or the Pope, but mostly (certainly in Scotland) Maggie Thatcher. Not a popular lady.

When I lived in Bo'ness, grass verges of any substantial size would end up home to huge piles of wood, piled up by the local residents, ready for the big night. I can see how Hutton might suggest that the Samhainn bonfires simply came to shift to Bonfire Night, being so close together.

For most people these days, of course, the evening is nothing more than a good excuse to go and see some fireworks. As a kid my dad used to set them off in our garden, and we'd have a big bonfire right at the bottom, but as I got older it became more common for people to go to displays put on by local charities (or fire stations) - it was cheaper, and you got more for your money, certainly. The ones I went to as a kid used to have the big bonfires, but these days in general they seem to be on the decline (obsessions with health and safety, insurance, and getting sued usually get the blame for that). Certainly the display we went to tonight didn't have one. A shame, really. But perhaps, given what people tend to throw on the piles, a bit kinder on the environment.

So anyway. We decided to take the kids off to a local display in Gourock, which was tied in with a Myth and Legend event, with traditional storytelling and song on offer, as well as a parade through the town. Parking being what it was, we missed the storytelling part, but got there in time to join in with the tail end of the parade. And then, with a hot chocolate warming my hands and an ice cream for the kids, we got to see a spectacular display:

Tom, now six, was more than impressed. He was dancing and shouting in glee. Rosie, on the other hand, stood in awed four-year-old silence.

When we got home Tom ran out into the garden to watch the neighbour's get their fireworks going, jumping up and down on the trampoline in glee before we handed both the kids their very first sparklers. Rosie wasn't too sure about that at first. But it was OK in the end. 

And now the air in the village is hanging heavy with smoke. And for me, as the air begins to clear, so the transition from autumn into winter is truly complete.


Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Oìdhche Shamhna

Oìdhche Shamhna mhath dhuibh!

I hope you had a good one. Or will do, whenever you celebrate.

I know a lot of folks in the more northerly climes across the Pond have had a lot of snow over the weekend and might even still be cut off from phones and power right now; I'm hoping everybody stays warm and safe. Here we've not even had a first frost yet, but there's been some early snow on the peaks across the sea over in Argyll so winter is well and truly on its way. We're still getting a relatively warm and damp south-westerly for the most part, but there's definitely a bite in the air too now.

The geese are all gone and the crows and the rooks and the magpies have been noisily heralding the turning of the season for the past week or so, and have also been demanding their due out in the garden. Considering the fact that we have kids and Hallowe'en is such a big thing round here, I like to keep the day tied with Samhainn for the fun and festive feel with everyone in the village joining in too, rather than waiting for the first frost or whatever. There have been plenty of signs that it's time, anyway, and for the past week or so the kids have been asking about family and all the people who've died that they never met; grandparents and great-grandparents, what they were like and what they looked like. It's a neat and timely bit of synchronicity, and I've spent a lot of time digging out old photos to show them and talk about the people who came before us, who are responsible for our being here today.

So I've been busily preparing and looking forward to it all. In particular I'd been looking forward to the guisers arriving on our doorstep and performing their bit in exchange for their treats - it's always fun and gives a sense of community - and I made sure I bought plenty of treats to hand out this time. The past Hallowe'ens we've had in this house, in this part of Scotland on the west coast, we've always run out of treats and have had to make a mad dash to get more. But this year the night was pretty much a total washout. Hardly anyone braved the incessant rain, it seems, and so I have two large tins of sweeties left over. One of our neighbours just dropped off a bag of sweets for the kids this morning so it seems everyone's in the same boat here. We actually decided not to take the kids out guising just yet. They were up at 6am yesterday morning, and I think it would've been too much for Rosie in particular. There would've been wailing in the end. But with all the sweets left, the kids aren't complaining either way...

Things didn't go entirely to plan this year; usually I have a kind of three part celebration over the course of three days, from the 30th October to the 1st November. We do our seasonal pictures, and each day tends to have a different main focus - on the spirits, then the gods, then the ancestors...Usually, on the first day I carve the tumshies to kick things off, but things didn't quite work out according to plan this time round.

On Sunday we decorated the house with all of the decorations that we'd made, spooky ghosts made out of tissues, our skellington (Frank) taking guard at the front door, our tasteful flashing skulls and ghosts and spider up on the mantlepiece, with the even more tasteful decorations given to us by my mother-in-law last year:

And some decorations made out of orange, purple and black felt, that I cut out using cookie cutters as a template (we used the cutters to make some spooky gingerbread, but they didn't exactly keep their shape well once they went in the oven...ah well. Still tasty). There were bats and cats and more ghosts, but I think the bats are my favourite:

And we put some up in the living room, and the rest around my 'hearth shrine' in the kitchen. We did our seasonal pictures:

They're supposed to be fireworks, honest! Last year we did snowmen as our wintery theme, and ended up getting snowed in for five days...So yeah...This time I suggested a different direction, and the kids decided it was a good one (any excuse for glitter). We've covered the weather and snowy, flowery, leafy pictures and all that kind of stuff by now, so I thought we could do fireworks this time. We talked about how it was going to be a lot darker now, earlier and longer, but that meant that there would be fireworks! There's Guy Fawkes' night on Saturday (and one of the local events is apparently tying it in with a day of cultural events and storytelling etc; hopefully we'll make it there), and Hogmanay usually has fireworks too. So in all the darkness, we'll be having lots of things to celebrate. When I was a kid, every Guy Fawke's night we'd have fireworks in the back garden, and our grandparents would come over, and mum would hand out hot tomato soup in mugs to keep us warm. One of my happier childhood memories, so I promised the kids we'd do that too (the soup, that is, if not the fireworks in the garden).

Sunday afternoon we spent at the in-laws to show off Tom and Rosie's costumes, and after lots of excitement and showing off, two tired children were pretty much ready for bed. The clocks had gone back an hour for winter - very apt timing - so the kids hadn't adjusted yet and technically it was well past bedtime for them already. Just as we were leaving, fireworks started going off somewhere on the street. "Fireworks!" screamed Tom. "Mummy, the fireworks must be thanking us for doing our pictures!"

Well I do hope so.

I hadn't been able to get any shopping in, so once we got home and got the kids to bed I tried to get some turnips from the local shop, but the only ones they had were too small and mouldy to boot. So there was no carving on Sunday night. Yesterday was therefore a very busy day.

I'd promised Rosie some pumpkin soup, because she'd had some at nursery as part of their week of festive activities, and she loved it. Far be it from me to deny the kids vegetables, so I said we'd get a pumpkin for carving and make soup from the innards. Alas, the weekly shopping I'd ordered arrived without a pumpkin, and with two pathetically small tumshies. It's easier for me to order in these days, but it's a real pain in the arse when you're at the mercy of other people picking out your food sometimes. Luckily Mr Seren had to go into town anyway, so he was sent on a mission for a pumpkin and he ran here there and everywhere trying to succeed.

Alas, he returned without a pumpkin, but he did manage to procure two of the biggest turnips I've ever seen so all in all it wasn't a disaster. He stopped in at a grocers on his quest, and the grocer said with a resigned sigh, as soon as Mr Seren walked in, "We're out of pumpkins, but I've got huge tumshies." (Lucky you, sir).

I'd already started on one of the small tumshies and hadn't planned on doing as many as three of the buggers (let alone to giants), to spare my poor aching back, but waste not want not, right? You can see the size difference from the one I got from the supermarket compared to one of the ones Mr Seren got, in the photo at the top of this post. I'm proud to say I managed to carve them all with all limbs intact, and only one blister. I did some smaller white turnip lanterns too, and they went on my shelf in the kitchen.

The school makes a big deal out of Hallowe'en, so the kids went in costume and all the parents were invited to attend a parade. Tom decided to go as Optimus Prime and Rosie decided to go as a pirate; she already had the costume and my mother-in-law sorted Tom's costume out, so we got Rosie some extra bits and pieces to compliment the ensemble and we made a telescope for it, out of a tube, some felt, gold paper, and decorated with pirate treasure and gems. I managed to persuade her to wear some spooky face paints to complete the look (Tom really isn't fussed with dressing up at all, so he wasn't interested), and so we had:

Tom was happily in character, but I think Rosie was getting a bit self-conscious about people looking at her at this point; like me, she's confident and outgoing amongst people she knows, but otherwise she's shy and she doesn't like a lot of attention. In the end, she didn't want to join in with her class at the parade, but Tom happily paraded:

Yes, there he is next to the not at all offensive 'Indian Chief'.

Sooooo anyway. After school I got the dinner on, finished the tumshies, and we got on with the games. There was the obligatory dookin':

I totally failed at that. After trying with our mouths, we had a go using forks (trying to spear the apples, effectively - that's how they do it at the school, too), and then Mr Seren was set in charge of the rest of the games while I got on with the rest of dinner. They played musical statues, musical bumps, 'hot chocolate', hide and seek, and steal the sock (steal daddy's sock, that is), and I was glad that it wasn't my eardrums that weren't being almost pierced by the shrieking and squealing. I think it's safe to say they had a good time.

After dinner (beef stew and mash, followed by cranachan and oaty crumblies) we had the guisers start trickling along. Mungo, our youngest and incredibly neurotic dog, had been looking worried all day long because not only had I cleaned the house, everybody was all excited. Something was happening, but whether or not it was a good thing he wasn't too sure. Once people started arriving, he decided that things were actually OK; lots of children to sniff and get fuss from. All good. Although it would've been better if people had shared their goodies. Especially the kids who turned up with hot dogs (given to them by a house further down the road from us).

Eventually we had to get the kids to bed, and two very satisfied children promptly fell unconscious within approximately three seconds in spite of their insistence that they weren't tired. Honest. And that left me to my devotions for the night, along with offerings, charms, saining, and a little time to myself just to think and be and listen to the rain and what it had to say. I'd overdone things a little by this point and was in quite a bit of pain, so I didn't spend as long as I would've liked (but I still have tonight to finish things off, at least). I needed a good sit down and time to decompress before leaving some food out over night, and one more offering and then bed.

After Tom finishes school today we're going to make a fat cake for the birds out of suet and seeds, and we'll leave that out as our final offering in honour of Mr Seren's gran, and Rosie's namesake. I never met her myself, and we don't have any photos to look at, but feeding the birds is one thing Mr Seren associates with her in particular and I figured we could honour her that way, make it a family tradition for us too. She fed the birds every day and whenever Mr Seren asked why, she'd say it's because the little birds can talk to the angels and if you look after them and listen carefully they'll whisper to you and help you find lost things. Some bird food seems apt as a final way to welcome in the winter, as well, to round things off; we're being told it's going to be another cold one this year, so experts are encouraging people to make sure they leave food out for the smaller birds in particular. So we'll start as we mean to go on.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Some more on the Tigh nam Bodach hydro plan

Some articles have arrived in my email via Google alerts explaining a little more about what led to the Gleann Cailliche application, that would have affected the Tigh nam Bodach/Tigh na Cailliche site, being withdrawn. The letter I received last September was very sparse on detail, but a commenter drew my attention to a letter from Mott MacDonald explaining their decision was based largely on the strength of feeling against the plans in the community.

The BBC don't have much more to add to the story over all, but do point out that while the main focus has been on the Gleann Cailliche plan, there are three other applications elsewhere in the estate that have yet to be decided:

Owners of the Auch Estate in Glenlyon, Perthshire, had lodged plans for four run-of-the-river projects, including Glen Cailliche where the stones are.

History enthusiasts feared they would affect the setting of Tigh Nam Bodach.

But it has emerged landowner Adam Besterman withdrew the Allt Cailliche planning application last month, shortly before his death aged 51.

It will be interesting to see how the other applications turn out, since they might have an effect on any possible future plans as far as re-applying for the Gleann Cailliche site are concerned, so hopefully there wil be more updates on that in the press.  

A better article over at the Perthshire Advertiser explains that some of the locals have decided to make it clear that the site remains as important and relevant today as it ever has been:

In the last five years, Glenlyon has seen the construction of several lucrative hydro schemes, but local residents insist they have not been offered anything to offset the delays and disruption they have experienced during construction.
Expert dyker Norman Haddow and a group of volunteers camped at the Tigh nam Bodach stones and rebuilt the walls of the tiny house.
“I’ve been wanting to do it for years and I think it gives a clear message that this highly significant place is being cared for,” he declared.

Come Monday (I presume - perhaps this weekend?), the Cailleach and her family will be tucked away in their shieling for the winter. It seems they're in good hands.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011


Nice to see the Isle of Man getting some coverage for once. And also:

A good turnip lantern is worth a pound of anyone's money, safe in the knowledge that someone, though probably not the little cherub on your doorstep, has suffered sprained wrists and blistered thumbs scooping it out.

Truer words have never been spoken...

I've yet to carve any myself for the coming festivities, I'll probably get them done on Sunday, the day before I need them for the window to invite the guisers, so they'll still be fresh. I did loads last year, but taking into account my limitations I'll probably not be so ambitious in what gets carved this year. Then again, the kids might actually help this time.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011


And so we have the final part of the scintillating trilogy of 'stuff what I did when my friend came to stay.' I'll spare you the updates on what I did when my mother and nephew came to visit the day after, for the rest of the week. But it's hard, being sociable. Especially if it involves having my mother come to stay...

Anyway. This pretty much sums up the weather of the last week or so (glorious sunshine just now, though. Of course):

I think it officially qualifies as dreich.

The view is from the ferry we took over to Bute on Monday (in case you hadn't noticed the bit of ship down in the corner there). I think the view there is looking towards Loch Striven and the Argyll mainland, with the edge of Bute just in the left-hand corner there. To right, just out of shot is Toward (the 'tow' as in 'towel', not 'to-ward'), where there's a lighthouse that you can see flashing every night on the shore of the village beach where I live. It's a place and a view that gives me calm and clarity, breathing in the cold, salty air and seeing the lighthouse flashing, flashing, as I look across the shimmering waves on a clear, bracing night. This is the view that I look to as I speak to the wind and the gods when I need a bit of deep thinking and to dust off the old brain. This here is peace. 

My friend and I have taken a trip to Bute before, and on that occasion we tried to take a visit to Mount Stuart. We waited an hour or two for the bus to arrive, and when it finally did the driver told us that he could take us there but the house was closing in ten minutes. So it ended up being a fruitless effort, and we went to Rothesay Castle instead.

This time we (as in I) planned things a little better and made sure that Mount Stuart would be open for the whole day, and we finally made it there with not too much trouble. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take photos when we were in the house, but the place is absolutely stunning (if you click on the link above you can take virtual tours of the most impressive rooms, well worth it, I think); the marquess who built it was fascinated with astrology and Greek goddesses and the like, and the great hall is dedicated to all of the astrological signs (depicted in stained glass windows), with the constellations marked on the ceiling in silver and crystal, along with the mythological characters each constellation represents painted on as well.

The whole house is amazing - the details, the marble, the carvings. Even the knobs have knobs on. It can only be viewed as part of a tour, and that was pretty limited, but we were still impressed by what we saw. I have to say, though, we both came away thinking that as fantastical as the house is, the money it took to build such a huge monument could probably have been spent in far better ways that would have actually done something for society...

We could take photos outside, but given the incessant rain we weren't really keen on braving the damp for sake of some very dull photos. I did get a few, though. Dalek windows:

And a wee peek at the building itself:

Back into Rothesay, the main town on the island, we took a stop back at the castle, which nestles right in the middle of the town now. It's mostly a ruin and for some reason the first time we visited the castle I didn't take any photos of the building from the outside. So oooo, purty:

This doesn't seem to be the most effective moat in the world, for defensive purposes, anyway:

And looking in to the inside:

Time to go, and it wouldn't be a proper tourist spot without an appropriately twee and Scottish signpost, would it?

Oh alright, maybe just one photo from when my mother and nephew came to visit...Tom tempting the sea:

The Storm Hags have certainly been busy round these parts.

Monday, 24 October 2011

St Mungo's

Continuing on from the last post, we also had a trip to St Mungo's Museum of Religious Art and Life in Glasgow. For most of my friend's stay the kids were off with their grandparents, but by this time they'd come back home and so they came out with us, because I decided it would be educational, dagnabbit.

Seeing as we have no separation of church and state in the UK, and we are officially a Christian nation, schools are legally obliged to incorporate some sort of religious or spiritual element each day (though you can opt out if you so wish). The religious or spiritual element doesn't have to be Christian but in most schools it is, either by majority rule or because the school is church run. In the larger urban areas you can find a few Muslim-run schools too.

When I was at primary school we said prayers and sang hymns every day, at assembly before the school day started. Many schools today tend to ignore the law and not bother, in our increasingly secular society (so the tabloids say, anyway). At the school that my kids go to, they don't say daily prayers or sing hymns, but they do have Christian services at Easter, Harvest and Christmas, and on a couple of other occasions too. As we're not a Christian family (and my husband is a staunch atheist), we choose to opt our children out of the services and any forms of worship - hymns etc - but we don't opt out of religious education. Schools should be about education, not indoctrination, we say to the head teacher. And that's fine by them. There's not a lot else they can do, really. My youngest niece, on the other hand, goes to a Catholic high school and is frequently told that abortion and contraceptives and sex outside of marriage are wrong and will send her to hell. Or something. Personally I think that's shocking, but at least my niece has a good head on her shoulders and has bothered to educate herself where the school has failed. But anyway...

By not having the kids participate in the Christian services, the downside, of course, is that the kids don't have any practical experience of what most of their friends have, and therefore very little real understanding of Christianity or other organised religions at present. We live in a small village so the activities on offer are generally run by the Church. Most kids go to Sunday School and that sort of thing. Between my husband and I, I'm the only religious or even vaguely spiritual one, and we have an agreement that we won't 'force' religion on the kids but let them choose to explore or commit as they so wish. So much of what I do with them and blog about here doesn't really involve their worshipping gods, but participating in cultural practices, learning about the seasons and teaching them why we celebrate the first fruits, the coming of winter, then spring, and so on. They've picked up giving offerings themselves, to 'say thank you' when we go to the beach and so on, and I answer any questions I have as clearly as I can.

But as far as organised religion is concerned, they don't have much of a clue. They get a little confused when one of Rosie's friends says Jesus is going to give him a little brother soon, because that seems a bit odd to them. Jesus is a baby in a stable! And we all know babies can't do much. The bit where Jesus grew up and then died on the cross is still a little fuzzy, apparently. But they're still young - only four and six, so there's plenty of time yet.

Tom, who's six now, brought a reading book home from school the other day, for his homework, and it was about a boy getting ready to go to mosque with his grandparents. I asked Tom if he knew what a mosque was, and he said he didn't. "It's a bit like a church," I said. Then it occurred to me that he probably didn't really know what that was either, so I asked if he knew what a church was.

"It's where the big clocks are?"

Ummmmm. Weeeeellll...technically I suppose a lot of churches do have a lot of clocks on their towers. But it occurred to me that perhaps the kids could do with a little bit of religious education. And my good friend has a degree in Religious Studies and I did it as an extra option in my first year of university, so I figured we could explain a few things between us while we were at the museum.

There are lots of different religions represented there, but mostly concentrating on the religions that can be found in Scotland today - Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism. There were some historical displays - a little bit of ancient Egyptians - and some others like Aboriginal and African religions, too. Notably nothing of a neopagan flavour, but you can't have everything can you?

The museum catered well for the children, lots of stuff for them to do, so they were well entertained. We got to learn about Shiva, Lord of the Dance:

And tried to see how easy that stance was, to get the kids involved and make it seem more tangible to them. We decided the extra arms were probably necessary for balance, for one, but also explained to the kids why Shiva was standing like that (the dance of creation), and was standing on what appeared to be a baby (a demon of ignorance, actually).

There was also Ganesha:

And the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (I think):

And rather a lot about Irish Catholicism, which inevitably involves St. Patrick: not the most popular of people in some circles. But he's got some very shiny relics associated with him.

And this one kinda looks like he's making something of a rude gesture, at a glance, suggesting that he's probably not all that fussed about opinions. (Sounds about right to me). Yes, his hand is actually in there. Supposedly. It's one of his reliquaries. I think there are reliquaries of his jaw and tooth as well, somewhere.

This one is allegedly the reliquary for his own bell:

Which in those days would have looked something like this:

You wouldn't ring it, ding-a-ling, but hit it with a stick (sort of thing).

And of course, we can't talk about Ireland without:

Although unfortunately the room it was in was really dark and it's not the best photo. Running after children, and all that, doesn't help with setting up the best shots.

The cathedral precinct itself is beautiful; the cathdral has a bright green, copper roof, and it's thought to stand right where St Mungo himself finally settled:

The cathedral is right by a stream, and it's said that Mungo (also known as Kentigern) would run into the stream every morning, no matter the weather, and sing the 150 psalms of David, then get out and dry himself on a rock. The stream is now covered by a culvert and there's a road running over it, and on the other side of the stream/road there's the Grey Rock, which is home to Glasgow's Necropolis - a fantastically gothic place, full of funerary monuments of Glasgow's richest and greatest from the city's nineteenth century heyday:

(These pictures are from previous visits). And if you're a Doctor Who fan, don't blink:

And that was that for the day, before we had to get to the station and see my friend off for her journey home. I'm kind of doing this all out of order, so next up will be our first day out, a trip to the Isle of Bute.