Saturday, 30 June 2012

Worldview and clay

I've been busily reading and note-taking since I went to the library a month or so ago now (and another trip in the meantime...I still suck at photocopying, though this time it was because I managed to completely miss out two pages. The most relevant pages at that...). Even though I have more than enough to get through, I had a little bit of birthday cash that still needed spending so I splurged on a couple of books. One is called Irish Traditions, which is a collection of essays and lots of big glossy (and in some cases hilariously dated) photos; I haven't really looked at it much yet but I mainly bought it because a) it was a penny, and b) there's an article in it by Kevin Danaher. Although I've not seen much about the book, I figure anything with Danaher in it can't be too bad.

I also splurged on my own copy of Lisa Bitel's Land of Women. I've tried to buy it before but the first time it failed to arrive (I suspect because the seller didn't want to ship it from the US at such a low price, then, when the exchange rate was very much in my favour). I'm still waiting for it, so we'll see if it turns up.

The third and last book I got is called The Sacred Tree: Ancient and Medieval Manifestations by Carole M. Cusack. It was only published last year and I've had my eye on it since I stumbled across it and found that Google Books has a good preview of it and saw that it has some good stuff about the sacred bile in Irish tradition, as well as some handy stuff on cosmogony. I'm a few chapters in and it's proving a useful read so far. Some of it I find myself frowning a little at but for the most part there are some things that have proved illuminating. I should probably get back to finishing off my library books first, but I keep picking at chapters here and there from book to book so I'm kind of making progress.

My next purchase will probably have to be a new bookcase...And maybe a small house extension so I have somewhere to put it...(I can dream).

Anyway, seeing as a lot of the books I've had deal with cosmological kinds of subjects I've been thinking a lot about that and how it all fits into what I do. With a neat bit of synchronicity a quote from the CR FAQ popped up in my tumblr dashboard, and it really struck a chord with me:
Contemplate the world as a cosmology of land, sea and sky, everpresent around you. Feel how you are connected to the three realms. Meditate on the well and tree that are at the center of the worlds and which link all things together; and upon the gateways to the otherworlds that can open in the center or at the edges.

As it happens, just as this turned up in my dashboard I'd started working on something that was pretty much right in this area. I'd had an itch that needed scratching for a while - I'd been feeling the need to make something for my shelf-shrine - and I'd just started trying my hand at making a candle holder out of clay. I wanted it to represent a sort of bile, to underscore the connection with my shelf-as-the-hearth, which I see as kind of filtering down from the concept of the sacred centre: As the bile is to the túath, a sacred centre for the people, so the hearth is to the home, a sacred centre for the household.

So while I was attempting to sculpt out the clay and put it all together in a way that hopefully won't set the house on fire, I found myself musing on this meditation from the CR FAQ. There's the Well of Segais, where the nuts of a hazel tree fall into the water and flow down the stream to get eaten by the salmon, and which can impart mystical inspiration if you eat them. In some versions it's not nuts that flow down the water but bubbles, and this possibly relates to the motif of fire-in-water...From the bubbling - perhaps boiling - water, we see the action of fire and water transform this mystical knowledge into a palatable form, and so on...So I sculpted out a representation of a well for the tealight to sit in.

I cut out the tree shape on a flat piece of clay so it would stand before the well and the light of the candle could shine through the tree shape and throw a larger tree shape across the room (in theory!). The tree stands tall at the centre of the túath, supporting it with its nuts and the shelter it provides. I've been wondering for a while whether or not the tree would represent the king or god of the túath, it being kinda phallic, or whether it represents the goddess of the túath. My gut feeling is that it represents the goddess, since she's at the heart of the land and the túath itself. The gods of the Gaels might wander around the landscape or settle down in their síd mounds, but it's the goddess the king was supposed to wed at his inauguration, and its beneath the bile that such rites are said to have taken place.

The piece of clay that has the tree cut into it I then shaped with a rounded top to suggest a kind of archway; a threshold and a boundary between to places, a liminal space between this world and the otherworld. It's at these places where people might best be able to experience some kind of communication with the gods, spirits or maybe ancestors, so it seemed apt.

Seeing as my sculpting skills are amateur at best, things were looking a bit delicate, shall we say, so I decided to use some leaf-and-wood decorated paper to découpage the whole thing. All that glue and a covering of paper should make things a bit sturdier and hold it all together a bit better. The back of the tree, facing where the well and candle are, I painted gold to help reflect and diffuse the light from the flame onto the rest of my shrine a little. Like I said, my craftsmanship leaves a lot to be desired so it's a very bespoke effort, but it's not so much the execution that counts than the doing, right?:

Putting these photos side-by-side took way longer than it should have...
While I was working at it I got to thinking about how it's this that sits at the heart of what we do: the well and the tree, land, sea and sky, this world and the otherworld...That meditation from the FAQ pretty much sums up the foundations of the worldview that shapes how we see things, how we do things and express our beliefs. Everything on my shrine-shelf has some sort of significance as far as my beliefs go. They express a microcosm of the world - the three realms that comprise it, the sacred tree and the well at the centre, and certain items that represent the gods, spirits and ancestors, or gifts that I've received from them.

If there is a centre, it implies a boundary; as the hearth stands at the centre of my domestic focus, so I go deiseal around the boundaries of my home to affirm not just my space, my property, but because without a periphery there can be no centre in the first place. The direction I go in is auspicious (arguably) because it follows the sun and the natural order of things. In recognising these things - the natural order, the way things are and our place in it all - we find the gateways between this world and the otherworld, where we might find revelation and wisdom.

Without looking at these very fundamental, basic things and finding an understanding of them, whatever we do will inevitably lack a certain depth or significance to us; as we grow and evolve our understanding of these things, they take on new meanings, shed new light on ourselves and our beliefs. Our experience and evolving understanding adds layers to what we do. We don't just go round things in a sunwise manner because it's traditional. We don't believe in offering good hospitality just because we're supposed to, we don't make our observances because it's the done thing, or talk in terms of land, sea and sky because it sounds cool and we're just that speshul. We do all this because they articulate something that's fundamental to us, just like the very concept of tradition itself does. We do not do for the sake of doing, just as we do not read book after book for the sake of intellectual wankery (even if it might seem that way sometimes...).

These traditions add depth to what we do, but more than that they help us to communicate with those we are honouring. These traditions and rituals help to articulate our worldview - they are an expression, a kind of language that becomes our own. Like any language it has its quirks, its own oddities of expression, strange idioms or ways of thinking that might seem alien to us. It can take time to learn. In Gàidhlg, you don't say that you are a doctor, you say a doctor is in you - ('s e dotair a th' annam - literally "A doctor is in me). Like any language it's important to understand the rules that govern it, not just which verbs to use in different contexts, but the proper order all of those words should go in, and so on. We can't use Gàidhlig words and make them into a sentence using English rules, because what we'd end up with wouldn't be Gàidhlig, it would be gibberish. Instead of imposing our own rules, we must learn those of the language we're learning. That can take time, but we can never hope to become fluent without learning the vocabulary and the rules that shape them.

Like any language, our rituals and traditions don't have to be lengthy and complex. We don't need to write a whole paragraph when a simple sentence will get our message across, but some of us might want to. Paragraphs can give more of a sense of what we really mean than a sentence can, perhaps. We can use big words or simple ones, but so long as the message stays the same does it matter? Sometimes, perhaps. Sometimes the occasion might call for big words and long paragraphs. But not always.

Our worldview is at the heart of what we do. Learning it can be difficult, especially when we let our preconceptions get away, or maybe even our fear that we can never truly get the hang of it (so why bother?). Without it, though, we can never hope to express ourselves as effectively as we might want to or need to.

Friday, 22 June 2012

New Publication

My good friend and colleague Treasa has had an essay of hers published in Hiraeth Press' Written River: A Journal of Eco-​​Poetics. Treasa's essay is titled 'Cornerstones of Wisdom: Poetry, Permanence and Wildness in Gaelic Polytheism' and you can find it on page 50-53 of the preview that's available at the link there. Hard copies aren't available yet, but I'm definitely going to be getting one for the shelf when they are, I think. These are the kind of publications that really need supporting.

The article is well worth a read - go! Go take a look!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Now with added otter

This post has nothing to do with anything, aside from the fact that my daughter's nursery class had their end of term school trip to the Sealife centre at Loch Lomond today. Much as I didn't enjoy being stuck on a cramped coach for an hour there and then back again (with an extremely grumpy child), all I can say is, OTTERS.

Unfortunately the pictures aren't great because there was glass in the way, but:


Oh, and FISH:




Not sure about this one:

Moray eel:

All here:

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Lia Fáil vandalised

Bastards. That's pretty much all I have to say on the matter. The Irish Times is a little more eloquent about it:
The standing stone, which is believed to date from 3,500BC, is considered an extremely important national monument and features extensively in ancient texts. The granite stone is associated with the inauguration rites for the Kings of Tara and was moved to its current position in the early 19th century. 
The monument was reported to be damaged last weekend, but it is unknown when the attack occurred. 
An archaeologist from the National Monuments Service examined the monument this week and concluded it had been struck – possibly with a hammer or similar instrument – at 11 places on all four faces of the stone. Fragments of the standing stone were also removed.

There is a picture of some of the damage up on Facebook (the picture is public); the blows to the stone are quite clear, and while they're not so damaging that the monument itself is damaged beyond repair, the damage they've done to a monument that's probably a good 5,000 years or so is irreparable. It could just be mindless vandalism, but more worryingly (as far as I'm concerned) is the idea that the vandalism is the result of souvenir hunters trying to get a few pieces to keep or sell.

Whoever did it, I hope their disrespect comes back to bite them in the arse.

Saturday, 9 June 2012


Seeing as I got a few encouraging comments on the notes I did the other week I thought I could make it into an occasional "I'm-bored-and-I-have-nothing-better-to-do" feature. The kids are away for the weekend and I find myself in just such a position (though I'm not bored; I'm procrastinating), so how about we do this? I'm sure I'll come up with a pithy and imaginative title for such posts at some point...

I've created a new page at the top to make a list of all the articles I've written up so far, imaginatively titled "Notes." I'll also tag everything under that label. At the moment the list is in the order I've done them, but at some point as the it starts to get a little unwieldy I might organise them by subject instead. If you know of any articles that you think might be worth looking up, feel free to give me a prod, I'd really appreciate it!

Anyway, onto today's article.

Bendacht dee agus andee fort, a ingen (Táin Bó Cúalgne 2111, O' Rahilly)
David Rankin
Zeitschrift für Celtische Philologie Volume 51 (1999)

This is an article that proved useful when I was doing writing up some thoughts on the dé ocus an-dé or 'gods and un-gods' a while ago. The Irish in the title of the article translates as "A blessing of the gods and ungods on you, o woman!" and it comes from an episode in the Táin between Cú Chulainn and the Morrígan, where Cú Chulainn unwittingly heals the Morrígan with these very words.

Rankin argues that the formula and the context it's given in is significant, suggesting that it may be from an actual healing rite that may be of pre-Christian origin (although it doesn't come to us unchanged - 'Bendacht' is an Irish word that's been borrowed into the language from Latin, so it's clearly a Christian word). As far as that goes the idea is interesting - there are some actions and symbolism that are pointed out, like the cow have three teats, milk being involved, the formulaic blessings and responses given between the wounded and the healer...Rankin concludes: "We may have an archaic ritual in which one party contributes formulae and the other performative (and possibly verbal) responses. Also relevant is the profound ritual power of milk in ancient Irish culture. Milk as it flows may restore eloquence, and a trench filled with milk was said to have restored slain warriors." (118) It's not something that can be proved conclusively one way or another, but as these things go it certainly offers something to chew on. Maybe it's not a description of an archaic ritual as such but the symbolism and actions do seem to draw on plenty of cosmological ideas.

The main meat of the article discusses the meaning of the phrase itself, and in particular explores who the an-dee (an-dé, or in modern Irish, an-déithe) might actually be. Rankin points to other sources that mention the dé ocus an-dé, like Lebor Gabála Érenn, and casts a wider net and looks at possible avenues of comparative evidence too - the deva and adeva of the Rig Veda, and so on  (I've tried to cover the main points in my discussion over on the 'Gods and Spirits' article so there's no point going into it here again).

Rankin also makes a note of the fairly neutral wording of the statement - no specific gods or ungods are mentioned - and he argues that this itself is deliberate. On the one hand, the statement is far more all encompassing and so allows an appeal to as many different kinds of supernatural beings as possible. On the other hand, it might reduce the risk of causing any offence to those who would otherwise get left out with more specific phrasing. Then again, there are formulas like tongu do dia tonges mo thúaith ("I swear by the gods my people swear by") that seem to deliberately avoid naming any names for other reasons. Words and names have power, and so perhaps the names of one's gods (or certain kinds of gods) were kept secret - to a certain extent at least. In theory, if your enemies know the names of your gods, they might appeal to them and get them on their side instead of yours. That idea in itself is fodder for a whole other article; after all, plenty of Irish deities seem to be referred to by epithets than actual names - the Dagda, the Morrígan, the Badb...

There's not a lot that can be said for certain here, but there's definitely a lot of food for thought as far as considering how it all might apply in a Gaelic Polytheist context. It's definitely an article worth reading.

The Paisley Curse, or, "We don't believe in this stuff, honest!"

My husband brought this one to my attention because he remembers the story being told in hushed tones when he was a lad; he grew up not far from Paisley in the 70s, so it was something that was still fresh in people's minds.

Anyway, the story goes that - back in the good old days of 1696 - a girl from a wealthy family in Paisley began to complain that she was being plagued and tormented by all kinds of supernatural and frightening things. Eventually the finger was pointed at several people; in the end, around 30 people were involved once things got a bit hysterical and accusations began to fly and it was quite a big story in its day...

Some might say the poor girl really was the victim of witchcraft or supernatural goings on. Others tend to be of the opinion that the story was an excuse to deal with a wee problem of industrial espionage going on. Whatever the case, the upshot of it was that four women and three men ended up sentenced to death - to be garroted, burned, and then interred in a mass grave.

This is where the curse bit comes in to the story, for it is said that one of the women didn't go quietly. Instead, she screamed out a curse on all of the people who were present, their descendants included. Being cautious types, the townsfolk decided to bury the ashes of the convicted 'witches' together, as planned, but sealed with a horseshoe to stop the curse from getting out of the grave. All was fine and dandy in the town of Paisley until the 1960s, when the roads were dug up to remove the tram lines. During the work, the grave was disturbed and the horseshoe was removed. And so, according to the article over on the Beeb:
"Of course in the 1960s, during road works, the horseshoe was lifted," explained Liz Gardiner from Renfrewshire Witch Hunt 1697.

"Now, we know it was coincidence, but from that point on Paisley's fortunes did decline. Last month it was declared the town with the highest number of empty shops of any high street of any town in the UK.

"We know it's a myth. But it's a powerful myth."

The horseshoe was restored four years ago, but since then it's apparently come loose and has now had to be fixed again - hence the article, hailing a new era of prosperity for the town. It may just be a myth (albeit a powerful myth), but...It can't hurt trying, right?

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Oh deary me...

As you may recall, I've had a small problem with plagiarism and people using my articles and associated photos without my permission. Mostly it's been the same person, who has plagiarised a whole slew of my articles not just once, not just twice, but three times (I had to issue another DMCA takedown against the "Lady" Cattra earlier this year after I discovered her blogs were public again, and there were even more of them, with most of the articles I'd had removed via DMCA re-added).

It's been a hassle and extremely frustrating trying to deal with it, but I'm hoping that it's all done and dusted with that particular blogger. But while the sheer level of plagiarism beggared belief there, I'm now dealing with a whole new level of unbelievable: I am dealing with a serious case of "hapless." If I'm being charitable.

A recipe website has been using my pictures without my permission. No biggie, really. It's a bit cheeky, I think, but at least the images haven't had fairy sparkles shat all over them, and nor are they claiming copyright or threatening to sue me for publicly pointing out the fact that they're the ones who've done wrong. Whatever.

But I feel I should point out that the recipe for Fife bannock at:

"Perfect Diet"

Was originally accompanied by a photo of mine for the Selkirk bannock. (To add insult to injury, the image was credited to "Bing Images." Oh dear, Microsoft. They're not really helping your image, are they?). The recipe isn't mine, just the image. Seeing as I thought it was a bit cheeky, and the wrong image, I left a comment to point this out. I mean, the bannock in the picture clearly had dried fruit in it, which Fife bannocks do not. You'd think someone running the website would notice, no?

My comment was left in the moderation queue for a while and after checking back occasionally to see if it had been published or dealt with, I eventually found it had been deleted and the picture was still there. I don't have a paid account on flickr right now so I can't just go back through my photos to find it, but I finally realised at this point that I could probably search for it, just like they did. Problem solved (even if I did feel a bit slow for not realising I could do that sooner...). So that's what I did, and that, I thought, was that.

I happened to click on the page in my bookmarks list just now, only to discover that they're using another of my bannock pictures to illustrate their page. This time, a picture of a Brodick bannock...

I mean really. They can't even thieve the right image.

Check out their 'disclaimer' page, though:
All of the pictures that we display on this web are not belong to us, all copyrights belong to the image creators / manufacturers. We have great respect for the pictures owner, we are sorry if we can not display the credit to all the pictures. We just collect automatically from Google Image Search with Google Search Image API. 
Video Content :
We use Youtube APi to give automatically related video content on this web.
If our content in this web have ilegal issue, copy right protected, DMCA Policy or other reason please contact us . We will read your message early and make evaluation to make this web be better for our and visitor in this web.
So yeah...Perhaps not surprising. 

I've removed the image again, but I suppose I'm finally going to have to bite the bullet and start watermarking the images I use on the website or keep on with the occasional moaning and/or bemused head shaking.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Wildflowers again

Taking a break from the articles for a wee while, and back to the wildflowers...

Thinking about my ignorance of all things wildflower, I realised that during my childhood there weren't really any. They certainly weren't common, because fields and grass verges were heavily sprayed with pesticides and weed killers. Local councils made sure roadsides were neatly manicured and green, and fields were carefully maintained so weeds and wildflowers wouldn't compete with the crops.

As I got older, I remember a big fuss being made about the decline of wildflowers and practices changed, and the wildflowers came back. I remember noticing poppies growing along the roadsides as I got older; plants like cow parsley began spreading along the edges of the fields at the bottom of the garden (I grew up in a semi-rural village; I could go through a gap in the hedge at the bottom of my garden and walk through miles and miles of fields). So I suppose it's not surprising that I don't know much about wildflowers, and it makes me think how lucky my kids are, that their world is a much more colourful one than I grew up in. They're growing up in a more rural, isolated area than I did.

The weather has stayed quite warm and sunny - slightly cloudier and windier now, but the cool breeze offers some welcome relief from the heat. The other day I took Rosie and the dogs out to the woods we went to a couple of weeks back, to see the bluebells. There are still some bluebells around but they're well past their best now. A lot of the bluebell carpets are being crowded out by the bracken, which are still busy unfurling:

While elsewhere the woodland floor is being taken over by a sea of pinks and yellows. Mostly red campion:

Mixed in with different kinds of buttercups and yellow pimpernels:

Around the edges of the woods are a few white campions:

Pink purslane:

And some beautiful, deep purple columbines:

Near the woods there's a meadow that's prone to getting a bit boggy when it rains. There's a goal post at one end of the meadow (which happens to be right near our back fence) and a lot of the locals complain that the meadow itself isn't maintained properly. The ground is too soft for football practice so I don't see the point in the grass being regularly cut, anyway, and if it was then these would get mown up:

A kind of marsh orchid, although I'm not sure which. They're quite tiny, but beautiful, though. There are also some tiny, tiny blue flowers, which were too small for me to get a photo of with the lens I have for my camera, but I think they're forget-me-nots. There are also cuckoo flowers lurking close the edge of the meadow:

And I think these are bugles:

The hawthorns are in full bloom now as well:

As are the rhododendrons, which have turned the hills behind us purple:

It's amazing what you find when you look for it.