Sunday, 30 January 2011

Quick post

Just a quick post - I found an academic article on Druidry and ancestor worship that turned out to be a good read, so I thought I'd share for anyone else interested:

The Role of Nature, Deities, and Ancestors in Constructing Religious Identity in Contemporary Druidry

That's the pdf link, there's also a Quick View on Google. Celtic Reconstructionism gets a passing mention (in Druidic terms, as per usual), but otherwise it mostly concentrates on Druidry in particular.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Book Review: The Festival of Brigit

This is a book I found during my last trip to the library, and it made me all kinds of excited because I never even knew it existed, and I found it completely by accident. Serendipity. Off I skipped to the check out desk and brought it home for my reading pleasure, and given the season I wanted to get it read and reviewed before the big day next week, just in case there was something Very Important nestling in those shiny pages.

There was, as it happens. I realised I recognised one of the Brigit's crosses from my childhood, and showing the pictures to Mr Seren, he did too. According to this picture (from E Estyn Evans' Irish Folk Ways), it's number six. My nan (and my husband's nan) used to make them around Easter, though, although I don't remember them being called anything in particular. I remember making them out of wool or string and lollipop sticks, and I was never very good at it, really, but my sister used to make loads. It's odd, sometimes, the things that come back to you. I might have a go at making some with the kids at some point.

The Festival of Brigit: Celtic Goddess and Holy Woman
Séamas Ó Catháin

This is the same author who wrote The Festival of Brigit the Holy Woman (link to pdf) in the Celtica journal, which is full of lots of good stuff on Là Fhèill Brìghde. I also recently got hold of another article of his, which I did a mini-review of a month or two ago, Hearth-Prayers and other Traditions of Brigit: Celtic Goddess and Holy Woman in JRSAI Volume 122. Seeing as I'd been impressed by his previous work, then, I figured that theme would continue with the book.

The book is a fairly slim volume, consisting of five chapters with copious amounts of notes and references. Notes and references are always good in my book, so that always inspires confidence, and I sat down to read with enthusiasm.

After the introduction, I got to chapter one (naturally), and things began to look strangely familiar...Yup, it was familiar, because it's the article from the Celtica journal. Fair enough - still a good read, and full to the brim of all the folkloric kind of stuff that I'm interested in.

Chapter two takes a slightly odd tangent (I thought), in exploring Nordic and Finno-Ugrian connections with bears, and evidence of Irish hangovers of similar sorts of lore. Ó Catháin brings in the issue of the serpent ritual that Carmichael wrote about, drawing comparison to the symbolism of the bear waking up in spring, and the rite recognising the fact that the 'serpent' (i.e. maybe possibly a bear) is now becoming active as well. Generally the chapter left me scratching my head a little, but there was some interesting stuff on Norse/Irish parallels in inviting the spring season in (Ó Catháin gave Icelandic and Swedish examples, that bear a remarkable resemblance to the practice of inviting Bride in) that could've done with exploring a little more in detail, I thought - are the similarities indicative of a common Indo-European origin, or later influence from Norse settlers in Scotland and (to a lesser extent) Ireland? All in all, I was left a little confused here.

Moving on swiftly to chapter three, then, things started looking very familiar again. Yup...This chapter is the JRSAI article. In some ways this article is even more oddly tangential than the last, but there's still good reading to be had here. For the most part, though, a large part of it is only loosely to do with Là Fhèill Brìghde, but still relevant in a looser sense. Again, Ó Catháin draws comparison with Norse and Finno-Ugrian evidence, and brings up some interesting parallels, but in some ways it's lacking in anything conclusive or analytical.

Chapters four and five are a little more focused than chapter three, but are less relevant to the festival itself, really. Chapter four concentrates on tale types found in Ireland that bear similarities with Norse tales (of women being kidnapped from booleys, mainly), while chapter five concentrates on Brigit's associations with livestock (as well as other saints, like Columba and Brendan). There's a little bit about the brat Bride here, but overall, nothing that really grabbed me or kept me particularly enthused.

In the end, I was left feeling that there is something distinctly lacking here. This is a book that's really a collection of articles, whereas what it really needs to be (or what I wanted) is something much more cohesive. It would have been nice to have the first chapter expanded on, and the material dealt with in far more depth, and while the comparative material eventually made its point, I ended up wishing that he'd get to the point without so much waffle about things that didn't immediately appear relevant.

I just couldn't help but feel that the title of the book was more than a little misleading. Yes, it's a good read, for the most part - even if I didn't agree with some of the interpretations that were made - but I guess the title had me expecting something more focused on the subject matter it purported to be concentrating on. Having said that, I think it will certainly appeal to anyone with an interest in Brigit. Looking at copies of it that are available to buy, however, I'm not sure that the £200 price tag is really worth it.

OK, it's really not worth dropping £200 on, but then I'm not sure any book is, not really. I would say that if you can't get hold of the book from a library, there's still plenty to be getting on with if you start with the articles mentioned above.

Another update

It turns out that the last article was the first in a set...

I touched on some genealogical bits and pieces in the last article, so it got me thinking about maybe expanding on it, just to get a different perspective. I've stuck to a very narrow view, as it were, and concentrated on the earliest periods that I can, for the most part. Here:

Gods as ancestors

And yes, there are some awe-inspiring and amazing illustrations again...

Wednesday, 26 January 2011


Là Fhèill Brìghde approaches and so does the Spring; the trees and bushes are in bud, the rhododendrons have flower buds on them, the lawn needs a good trim...

So my thoughts are turning to what I'll be doing next week as part of my celebrations. Last year worked out pretty well, and there were a few things I thought I should've done with the kids and so on that I think I'll try - making a birds nest with them, for our spring picture (or sculpture this time), for one, and churning some butter with them again.

I have some supplies for the dealbh Bride, which I might try making with Rosie and Tom (if I can persuade him to make a doll - I'm not sure that's really his thing, but then again, kids don't need much excuse to play with glue...). And I have a vague idea of weaving a basket, somehow, but I'm not sure quite how yet. I might actually weave it with strips of clay, so I can paint and decorate it, or else I might do it properly if I can find a basket weaving kit, or something like that. Something simple, that even a child could manage...

One of the biggest things I've decided I want to do is tie in the sowing I'm planning on doing for this year with my celebrations. My efforts with the veg last year was a moderate success (in terms of carrots, radish, onions and leeks - not much else unless tiny buds of broccoli and cauliflower count. Oh, a pepper! I got one whole red pepper, too...), and I want to try and solidify it all a little. So it makes sense to consecrate the seed on the day of Là Fhèill Brìghde, and then get sowing on the Friday, to maximise the auspiciousness, as it were.

Last year I was far too ambitious, so I'm keeping it simple, I think, and sticking with onions, carrots and leeks for the most part. Maybe a few turnips again, too. The strawberries are springing back to life but I'm not sure if the other fruits I've got in the garden have survived; only time will tell on that.

Aside from that, it's business as usual, I think.

Friday, 21 January 2011

*Oink oink*

What else is there to do when you have swine flu another article? This time, illustrated!

The swine flu (suspected, I should say) hasn't been so bad, but not a joyous occasion either - especially when the whole household comes down with it at pretty much the same time. Aaaand, I finally managed to get hold of Nagy's Wisdom of the Outlaw, only to have it recalled for another user. Aside from a quick skim I haven't managed to even get started reading it yet. So close, yet so far...Luckily my husband managed to leave his phone in a bookshop in Glasgow while he was working there yesterday, so he'll be able to drop the book off while he's in the city today and save me a flu-ridden train ride myself. Not that I'd complain about having to go to the library. I could do with a day to myself.

Anyway. As usual I started reading up on one thing and got completely sidetracked into writing about something else, probably because this one was easier to tackle in some ways. It started with me finding an article called Bendacht dee agus andee fort (i.e. Blessings of the gods and ungods on you) and ended with me thinking about how the gods are so closely tied to the land (every day's a party in my brain, I can tell you), and wondering what that would look like on paper. Well, 'puter. If anything, I thought it might be interesting from the perspective of looking at possible ancestral deities.

This resulted in me scribbling down a map and charting the places that the gods are said to inhabit (or have died, or created etc), which - with the aid of a hastily downloaded open source image editor - spawned:

Gods of Landscape and Lore

I'm sure there's a helluva lot more that could be added, but space constraints and Google maps limits me somewhat. So mainly I've concentrated on places and mountains, rather than the smaller features like plains that are harder to locate.

Other than that, I've been having some festive thoughts, and thoughts about getting back into the garden and so on, but that will have to wait for another exciting installment here on the Days of Seren's Life...

Thursday, 13 January 2011

And in other news...

 Hacker translates DUP website into Irish:

A language activist has hacked into three DUP websites, temporarily translating their homepages into Irish.

On one, Peter Robinson was shown introducing himself in the language.

"Is mise Peadar Robinson agus tugaim tacaiocht don Acht na Gaelige" is translated as "I am Peter Robinson and I support an Irish Language Act".
The (alleged) hacker's twitter is here.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Things that amuse me...

Clachan a' choin' - the dog's bollocks.

A less formal way of saying something is glè mhath, or maybe a little more emphatic - 's math sin!

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Bliadhna Mhath Ùr!

Hogmanay is something of a religious experience for my husband, he says half seriously - as close as it gets for him, anyway. So while we've had another quiet one, just us together with a curry, whisky and wine, it is indeed a special time.The past and the future hang in the balance, and in between it all, there's family. The people who are really important.

One year we went on holiday to the Maldives - just as George Bush was announced president in (some said) dubious circumstances and much controversy. I was still at university, in the middle of my final year and desperately trying to stay on top of my dissertation as well as everything else, and off we went to a tiny island in the arse end of nowhere, and celebrated the new year mid-air with a tiny plastic cup of cheap fizz courtesy of the airline. I was banned from doing any coursework, just some much needed relaxing. We snorkelled, we ate, we drank, we indulged ourselves with a bizarre massage (a marma massage - that I learnt about as it happened...), and watch a meteor shower on the beach and marvelled at it until we realised we were absolutely surrounded by crabs crawling around everywhere...Hmm.

Another year, we went to Tunisia over the new year, and my dear husband surprised me with a marriage proposal (which he'd planned for Hogmanay, but it didn't quite work out that way...he ended up proposing the day before and surprised me with a ring). The hotel we were staying at had a seven-course meal and an evening of entertainment planned, but the hotel was more than a little odd, we thought, and it didn't bode well when we went to the lift to go to the restaurant that evening, to find that the theme tune from M*A*S*H* was playing on a muzak tape over the speakers. 'Cos suicide is painless...

Five hours later and only two or three courses down - one of which was a small piece of melon, and another of which was a prawn cocktail, which neither of us eat - we gave up, having seen in the new year with a couple from the Navy who were sat at our table and clearly unhappy at having to share. We ended up booking a Saharan tour for the rest of our stay, and that was great fun. For my husband, especially, seeing as most of the sights we saw involved various sets from Star Wars.

Another Hogmanay, sometime after we were married, we have a quiet night in and after the bells my husband phones his parents to tell them that they're going to be grandparents - their third grandchild, but our first, and oh is everyone hoping it'll be a boy to carry on the family name...No pressure on my uterus or anything.

The year after that, we have friends staying - they've come to meet Tom for the first time since he was born that September. One of the couples has brought their daughter with them - only three at the time - so the morning after we go for a walk with Eddie (my dog) to the park to give the kids some fresh air and Eddie a good run around. We talk about this and that, including how my grandad's doing - his health and mind have been declining for a while now, but the doctors have been trying experimental drugs with him and they seem to be helping a little. I'm upbeat and optimistic about it all, hoping that if he has to end up like his mother did, then maybe the drugs will buy him some time at least.

We come home and my husband takes me into the front room to tell me that my dad's phoned. I know it's bad because he chokes as he tries to tell me, and just pulls me into a big bear hug so he doesn't have to look at me as he tells me, and so he knows that I have someone there, to collapse on, scream at, rage against, cry into, whatever. My grandad's had a massive heart attack whilst out for a walk with my nan - his wife of at least 50 years - and on this day, new year's day 2006, he's dead. Suddenly, horrifically, messily dead. Totally unexpected. My dad left a message to the effect that my nan doesn't want anyone to go and view the body. She feels it would be too distressing, given his state - death wasn't pretty, for Poppy, as me me and my sister called him. Ten years earlier, only a few days later to the day, my (maternal) gran did the same. I know how it goes. 

The house is quiet. After the shock settles, I cry. I go upstairs to have a bath and some time alone before having to face everyone and feed Tom. Life goes on.

But thinking back now it all reminds me that life is precarious. There's good, there's bad, there's things that don't really bear commenting on, one way or another. Considering previous years, the year just past probably rates in my top ten. There have been tough spots and fears, but nonetheless I can't complain. I'm thankful.

I guess aside from finally getting the idea that yes - Hogmanay is a big deal and for my husband to continually choose a quiet one - ish - with my own self is truly the biggest compliment I could ever receive from him, it's poignant in another respect too. We went down south to my hometown for Christmas, spending the day with my sister and mum. We dropped in on dad and his girlfriend too, and only briefly got to see my nan. It was poignant for me because the kids were really looking forward to going to see my family again - it's been a long while since we managed a trip altogether, so it was long overdue. At Samhainn I reminisced with the kids about those in the family that I've loved and lost. I told them stories about my childhood, about the grandparents who are no longer with us. I showed them pictures.

At all of three years old, Rosie seems have taken my grandad 'Poppy' to heart. She loves visiting my nan, and knows that my nan and Poppy were married. They should be a pair, as far as she's concerned, still. She doesn't understand why there are pictures of him and Tom, but not herself, as babies. She was upset when I told her she couldn't see him this time round, when we spoke about it just before Christmas, so this New Year's, marking the fifth anniversary of his death, is doubly meaningful to me. It's a big reminder that even when things are going well, things can be so unpreidactable. Life can throw a curveball or two, at a moment's notice. Sometimes they're a good sort of curveball, sometimes not so much. Most of the time, expect the unexpected.

This is what I associate the new year with - and while I'm sure many go with Samhainn or Bealltainn as the 'official' new year, or even Imbolc, Hogmanay is it for me. It's one of the few times I can join in with others, including having someone in the family scheduled to visit for a first foot, to ensure a good omen. While we had a good first foot (technically my husband, who fits the general stereotype of an auspicious firstfooter), I woke up on New Year's day with Tom informing me that Mungo had shat in the spare room. Nice. 

As wake up calls go, not the best. But considering previous form for the day, maybe not the worst? I do hope so. Yesterday was spent at the in-laws with the usual steak pie dinner and surprising sobriety all round. It's rude not to arrive with something, so the kids and I made some sugar doughnut muffins to take over - a compromise, really, because coming from a long line of bakers I don't think my shortbread will ever pass muster compared to what my father-in-law grew up with (even if my efforts are dinosaur shaped, as the kids insist on). But I know my mother-in-law likes the muffins, having done those before, so I did those and received the surprise honour of a promise of the family black bun recipe in return after the offerings had been officially tasted. There's no one in the family to carry it on, and a black bun requires skill and dedication apparently. I feel honoured to even be considered. 

But still, returning to the whole Hogmanay theme, we ate, we drank, and before that we all spent the day cleaning and tidying the house from top to bottom to make sure it was in good order for the new year to enter into. I sained the house and made offerings throughout the day (though I've yet to make any bannocks, properly) and as it happens, stumbled across a Scots version of a saining in a book of children's nursery rhymes, which I thought I'd share:

Wha sains the hoose the nicht?
They that sains it ilka nicht -
Saint Bryde an her brat,
Saint Colme an his hat,
Saint Michael an his spear,
Keep this hoose frae the weir,
Frae rinnin thief,
Frae burnin thief,
An frae a' ill rea
That by the gate can gae, 
An frae an ill wicht
That by the gate can licht.*

(Who blesses the house tonight?
They that bless it every night -
Saint Brigid and her mantle,
Saint Columba and his hat,
Saint Michael and his spear,
Keep this house from the fear,
From running thief,
From burning thief,
And from all  ill trouble
That goes by the road,
And from an ill (meaning) fellow
That by the road can light.)

I've never seen one so explicit, I don't think, so it certainly piqued my interest.

And so with that, all that's left for me to do is raise a glass to my grandad's honour, and then wish you all a good year. May it be one of peace and plenty, health and good wishes to you all.

Beannachd diathan dhuibh.

*From Traditional Scottish Nursery Rhymes, by Norah and William Montgomerie, 1985, p122, with my own translation.