Friday, 25 February 2011

Holy shades of matriarchy, Batman!

This documentary was posted on one of the boards I lurk on, from the Irish language channel TG4 about Brighid:

Part One - pre-Christian Brighid

Part Two - into Christianity and the modern era

It's in Irish, but there are subtitles, and some of the interviewees you might be familiar with already - Seán Ó Duinn, Muireann Ní Bhrolcháin, and Nuala Ní Dhomnaill. It's beautifully done, but there's a heavy emphasis on Brigid as The Mother Goddess, maiden-mother-crone-Trinity-before-there-was-the-Trinity, and all goddesses being one etc...not the sorts of things I agree with, but otherwise I enjoyed it. Nuala Ní Dhomnaill does some wonderful songs, and in part two you get to see some Imbolg traditions being performed.

Also, if you're struggling with pronunciations for festivals and such, it's quite handy...

It worked for me, here in Scotland, but I can't say for sure if it will be viewable across the Pond as well - worth a watch, though, if you can. Each part is just under half an hour long.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

The things a reconstructionist does when held in captivity...

Things haven't been going quite according to plan lately...

On my last trip to the library I picked up a few articles, one of which was John Carey's The Name 'Tuatha Dé Danann.' This was in an effort to tackle the whole issue of where Danu (technically, *Danu) fits in to the whole scheme of the gods, as well as the Tuatha Dé Danann themselves; I've seen plenty of other writers talking about Carey's arguments from the article, so I wanted to look at it myself. So while I was making a hurried library run, I photocopied it, got home, and found that of all the five pages of the article, I'd got the first page, and then the final page twice. Not the middle two pages.


So on Saturday I decided I needed to go back to the library to get some more bits and pieces anyway, return some books, and get the rest of Carey's article. In the end I didn't go, because there was quibbling about whether or not we were going over to the in-laws the next day, and I could go to the library then if that was the case, and eventually it was too late to be worth the train journey into Glasgow. I was also desperately looking for a book I needed to take back, which I still can't find, and have a horrid feeling that I might have accidentally thrown it into the recycling bin with a bunch of random bits of paper that were sat on the kitchen sideboard...

As it happened, it was a good thing I didn't go, because that afternoon my back completely gave out and I haven't been anywhere since. I can just about walk now, though. Being semi-crippled and slightly tripping on the lovely drugs the doctor's given me (that are supposed to help but aren't), I've had plenty of time on my hands, and plenty of reason to look for distractions. I've been working my way through a book I saw recommended on the Nemeton list, and I've had a stab at another article which is now published on the website:

The Gods in Scotland

When I started it, I was intending to tack it on to the end of the Gods of Landscape and Lore article, because really it's along the same lines. It quickly became apparent that my usual blethering and awesome map-making skills were going to make the article too long to be able to do that, so a completely new article it is.

It's not one of my prouder efforts, I don't think (maybe it's the drug haze...). I can't help but feel it raises more questions than it answers, but I've exhausted all possible avenues of research that I have to hand just now, and it is what it is (as it were). I'm hoping that eventually I'll find some pointers to help flesh things out a bit (any suggestions welcome), but as it stands at the moment, what you see is all I've got. I think once I get onto the issue of tackling the Good Folk and where they fit in to the scheme of things, I might have more to go on.

For now, I'm hoping that now I've got this one out of the way, I can get round my writer's block for the article I was originally working on...It's given me a more solid idea about the issue of how the gods fit into the landscape but aren't (necessarily) strictly tied to it, though. I'm wary of over-emphasising that at the moment, so hopefully that's something I'll be able to articulate in the next one, and balance things out a little in that respect. Possibly after my back gets better, because the drugs aren't working and I'm hoping for something a little more effective when I see the doctor later today...

Saturday, 19 February 2011

'Hillfort Glow Experiment'

A little outside my area, unfortunately, otherwise I'd jump at the chance:

HILLFORT history will come to life on the night of the March full moon when flares and torchlight will shine from 10 ancient sites.

Volunteers will be enlisted to take part in the historic experiment between Cheshire and North Wales at dusk on March 19.

Organisers hope to discover whether glowing fires could have been seen and used as a communication system between the Iron Age hillforts of the Sandstone Ridge, the Clwydian Range, Mynydd-y-Gaer Corwen, Halkyn Mountain and Wirral.

Hopefully there'll be a follow up or two, the implications will be very interesting if they succeed.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Skye swim

A nice wee video about the last man in Scotland to swim his cattle between the islands, only a couple of minutes long:

Cattle complete annual Skye swim

And now for something a little different...

It's a school holiday, so in amongst the wind and the rain, and a visit from my mother, we've been looking for things to do. Sadly the weather scuppered our plans for a trip over to the Isle of Bute or to Loch Lomond or Dunoon this weekend, not least because nothing's really open until Easter anyway, when the tourist season starts. So a trip into Glasgow was called for, and a visit to the Scotland Street School Museum where they have an exhibition on toys through the ages (or, for as long as the school's been there).

Anyway, the building was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in 1909:

Although a photo really can't do it justice. It's beautiful, though, built in the typical red sandstone that most of the old Victorian tenements are around the inner city, but the windows are what gives it away as Mackintosh, along with the little details when you get up close. Or round the back:

The school and the playground were originally segregated, one entrance for girls, one for boys. The fence you can see separated the girl's and boy's playgrounds.

Inside, it's very clinical, except for a few touches:

The original design was for large, dark tiles, but these were vetoed as too dark and impractical by the school board. I presume the hopscotches are a later addition to Mackintosh's original design...

Getting the design approved by the school board was a real struggle, and apparently Mackintosh ended up doing two drawings; one that was approved by the board, and one that added a few things back in, which Mackintosh then gave to the builders. The stairwells were a big bone of contention, in particular:

But I think Mackintosh was right to stick to his guns on that one. Now, a close up:

Of course, a school is nothing without children, and the museum has a nice touch with pictures of lots of them, stuck to the windows on the top floor:

The school is in the South Side of Glasgow, so these were inner city kids, and likely poor. The girls were instructed in the fine art of cooking and cleaning:

While the boys learnt woodworking and other sorts of practical skills. Everybody learnt how to read, write and add, of course. And during the war, were well-schooled in what to do during an air raid, and ultimately, what was needed for evacuation:

(In case you can't read it, it's an evacuation list detailing the need for a warm coat, a change of underwear, nightclothes, a toilet bag, a tin mug, food for one day, and a gas mask). Everyone was issued with a gas mask during the war, in case of gas attacks. Children were issued with these:

This is a Mickey Mouse gas mask (although I'm not convinced on the resemblance). The brown and blue colour scheme was an attempt at making it more appealing to children, compared to the usual boring black ones that adults wore. Although the school was built after Queen Victoria died, there's a reconstruction of a Victorian schoolroom, replete with dunce hat that Tom was only too happy to wear:

Until I told him what it was for...

Friday, 4 February 2011


Winds are averaging around 70mph at the moment, apparently. So there hasn't been any sowing today, as I'd hoped, because I was hoping to be able to do it outside and avoid having to acclimatise any indoor seedlings before putting them out. Not gonna happen in this weather...

One thing I forgot to mention in my rundown of celebrations is the saining. I know some people burn juniper, but for me there are potential problems with practicalities like upsetting the kids' lungs and the smoke alarms, so I've never tried it. Water seems to be the more common option for generally festive occasions, so I feel more comfortable with it and it's less obtrusive as far as everyone else in the house is concerned. The options are silvering the water or using spittle (and yes, I'm aware of the practice of using stale urine, but I'm not sure if that's a good idea with cats and dogs, I'd rather not encourage them to pee everywhere. Plus I think my husband would probably question the future of our marriage if he found me sprinkling urine over the doors and thresholds...), and while I've used both silver and spittle in the past, I tend to prefer silver.

Silver pennies are common for use in this kind of thing, especially sixpences in the old days (before decimalisation in 1971), but these days I don't think there's really any silver in pennies at all. As I was cleaning out a cupboard, though, I found a jar of old pennies that I rescued from my grandparents house as everything was being cleared out after my gran died. My grandparents kept a lot of things of 'value' and eventually mum and my aunt gave up trying to find a good home for things and just decided to bin or send stuff to a charity shop. I didn't want to let the jar of coins go, though. That kind of thing fascinates me, and there was a war medal in there from the First World War, as well as coins from all over the world (including Nazi Germany). Some of the coins go back as far as the early eighteenth century, but most are mid-late Victorian, and some of them have been drilled so they can be worn as charms. One or two of them are sixpences, so I picked the most battered and beaten for silvering the last of the water I collected at Bealltainn:

I figured that made it crooked enough. And I liked the idea of using something that connected with some of my ancestors, too. It seems to have worked well so I think I'll be making it a regular thing in my practices for the future.

We still haven't got around to starting our Spring picture. I have a kind of flu hangover and it's still kicking my arse a bit.

Also: A number of people have mentioned that they've been unable to post comments on the blog because of browser issues. I've changed the comments so they open up on a new page, instead of below the post, which should make commenting possible now if you've had problems in the past.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011


For a lot of people at the moment, Spring is probably the furthest thing from their minds as they bask in the glories of a foot or two of snow...

Not so here, see:

There is life!

So celebrations began yesterday, in a slight panic because I forgot what day it was until the afternoon and then realised I needed to get the house in order, and things made and readied. The day kind of sprang itself on me. Appropriately enough, I suppose...

As it happened, I'd been having a clearout of the fridge and had some soup on the go (the carrots were getting past their best), and I pulled up the last of the leeks from the garden to go in the pot as well - I pulled up a bunch around Samhainn, I think, after sowing them in June or so (late, because of mild disaster...) but there wasn't much to them then so I left the rest to bulk up a bit. This time, they were a bit bigger, indeed:

Chop chop, and in they went into the soup. While Tom was still at school, Rosie helped me make some bread to go with it (I've finally got the knack. Mostly...we won't talk about the wholemeal attempt...), and she insisted we should make some fat balls for the birds. They seemed apt, for offerings to the land spirits, so we got some suet, honey and seeds out and melted and mixed it altogether, and Rosie decided we should do a cow and teddy bear shape (with some silicone cake/jelly moulds that I have).

After Tom came home we got on with making the dealbh Bride. Really, we all had a go, so I could show them what to do. We used a kit I found at the supermarket to make them, so we had a choice of pipe cleaners, beads, wool and decorative bits to pick from, plus a few extra bits from our craft box. Tom did well with his, and did most of it himself (I put the arms on and helped with the hair but he did everything else) and felt all grown up, while Rosie found the making part a bit too fiddly, so she mostly just decorated hers. Fun was had, mess was made, and here's what we ended up with:

Rosie's is in the middle (with the pink hair, of course), Tom's is to the right (with the green hair, of course), and mine is to the left. Knowing Rosie would want to play with hers, I decided to use Tom's for the ritual later on. First, though, there was butter that needed making, and bread that needed baking, and chocolate that needed melting (for some mousse. "You can't make mousse with real moose, can you mummy? That would be silly!" said Tom sagely. It would, Tom. Quite right.).

The butter took a lot of hard work, but once again I was helped and encouraged by the kids, who also took a turn or two to shake the cream, and we all sang for the lumps to come. I said this charm, too, but I've not been able to listen to the song because the website doesn't like my macbook too much. Ah well. We eventually had success, although it seemed to take longer than usualand I did get a bit worried for a wee while. My arms got a good workout, though.

We had a busy weekend so hadn't managed a trip to the supermarket and the cupboards were nearly bare, so instead of a good roast that I'd intended, I had to make do with whatever I could find at the village shop. I got some sausages made by the local butcher (they're really good), and did the obligatory buttery mash (with our own butter, and some of the buttermilk as well), and put some veg on. I'm not usually very good at mash - it tends to end up as slop, rather than mash - but I bashed 'em good this time and I took that as a good sign. For me, it's nearly a miracle.

Everyone had the bangers and mash, while I tried the homemade soup, bread, and butter:

OK, and a sausage or two as well. The soup was carrot, red lentil, ginger and honey (with the leeks, an onion, a good bit of paprika, and chicken stock, and whatever else I chucked in that seemed a good idea at the time). It was maybe a little over-gingered (Mr Seren disagreed), but I have to say, I was quite proud of myself with how it all turned out...

After the kids had gone to bed, I got down to my personal devotions. Over the weekend I decided to have a go at making a clay basket/bed for the dealbh Bride, but it still needed painting, so that was the first thing to do. I had a few ideas of what I wanted to do with it, but in the end I doubted my abilities to get too elaborate, and kept it simple:

Some might call it a bit wonky and lopsided, but I think I shall call it bespoke.

The paint dried quickly so it wasn't too long before I could get down to business. There was candle lighting, offerings, praises, devotions, and Bride being invited in, and the dealbh Bride being laid to bed with her wand (and applewood wand I was given by a friend some years ago now). When I opened the back door to invite her in, I had a go at doing it in Gáidhlig, and as if on cue, one of our cats (Grumble) came running in. Well. Hello.

While I was out getting Tom from school earlier, Mr Seren had been entertaining Rosie by playing with some of the wool from the dolly kit I'd bought, and he'd tried making a hair braid for her (what little hair she has is too fine for that, though). Rosie loved it though, and declared it a 'fairy catcher'. That gave me the idea to make it into a rowan charm for the kids' room, so I got one of the last bits of twig I have in the house that I collected a while ago, and some animal charms I've had lying around for a while now. I tied on the rowan to the piece of red wool, and put on a cow, a sheep, and a black cat. Mr Seren had put on the red feather already, at Rosie's insistence (the bag of feathers exploded in the cupboard under the stairs a while ago, and Rosie's obsessed with them and keeps managing to conjure them up from odd places she's stashed them). And lo:

I said a charm over it, asking Bride for protection, while I fiddled about fixing the bits on. It occurred to me that the silver was a happy coincidence, given her associations with smithing.

That was it for the evening, I think. I left Bride's portion of our feast, with the remaining buttermilk in the oven (away from the dogs) and took myself off to bed and a deep deep sleep. This morning dawned bright and sunny, and while it had been windy the day before, all was peaceful and quiet. As I went to the door to look for any signs that Bride had visited over night, who should appear as if on cue, but Grumble again.

Before breakfast, I got a stocking and some soil from the plant pot on my hearth shelf (since I have no peat- or real coal-fire to use), and went out to give it a good pounding and said:

An diugh Là Bride,
Thig an righinn as an tom,
Cha bhean mise ris an righinn,
Cha bhean an righinn rium.

This is the day of Bride,
The queen will come from the mound,
I will not touch the queen,
Nor will the queen touch me.

I interpret it as a sort of treaty, in a way, a treaty of non-interference that as I work the land, the spirits of the place won't harm me or the crops, perhaps.

Later on in the day, after rain, hail, sleet, and rainbows, I consecrated the seeds as I intended, and Rosie and I put out our cow-shaped bird seed to finish off the day. The offerings I put out the night before have all gone, so they seem to have been accepted, and all in all I'm left with a feeling of near-completeness, now. There's just one more thing to do, and that's our Spring picture to replace the winter snowmen (and oh my, did they turn out to be apt).

Spring is coming. And frankly, I can't wait.