Thursday, 27 December 2012

A Hogmanay blessing

Although it's not quite certain, it's thought that the name "Hogmanay" - which is what the Scots call New Year's Eve - comes from the French word "hoguinane," which itself is ultimately related to the Old French word "aguillaneuf," or a New Year gift. In addition to giving gifts - special gifts that symbolise prosperity, warmth and good will, like food, drink, salt or coal - there is a strong tradition of blessing and divination, and all of these things can be incorporated into a Gaelic Polytheist practice, I think.

One of the most interesting customs that could be revived (because as far as I'm aware it's not done anymore) - in groups where there are enough bodies to do so - is the merry band of the gillean callaig or 'Hogmanay Lads.' The gillean callaig would come round the houses with their songs, bull-hides and sticks, to solicit donations of food and drinks from the household in exchange for a blessing and saining. The sticks would be used to beat around the house as they went around sunwise and called the inhabitants to come out - on the one hand the whole thing was to get the household's attention, but on the other, with the noise and the sunwise turn, and someone dressed in the hide of a magnificent bull, there's the sense of a protective rite, too, scaring away the evil spirits with the noise and a bigger, scarier beast (the bull) as anything that might be around, perhaps. The bull - typically the hide preserved from the winter bull killed at Martinmas - might also symbolise the winter itself, and all of the things that loomed in the season - cold and want, death and illness. The household, in giving the lads hospitality, effectively paid it off, in the hopes of avoiding any of the wintry dangers in future.

Once inside, the bull-hide might be singed and the smoke wafted around the room, just like the juniper and water that would be used the next day, and every member of the household would lean in to inhale the fumes and stench. If the household gave the gillean callaig hospitality to their liking, the lads would leave with a blessing, like this example given by Alexander MacGregor:

Mor-phiseach air an tigh,
Piseach air an teaghlach,
Piseach air gach cabar.
Is air gach ni saoghalt' ann.

Piseach air eich a's crodh,
Piseach air na caoraich,
Piseach air na h-uile ni,
'S piseach air ar maoin uil'.

Piseach air beann an tighe,
Piseach air na paistean,
Piseach air each caraide,
Mor-phiseach agus slaint dhuibh.
Great good luck to the house,
Good luck to the family,
Good luck to every rafter of it,
And to every wordly thing in it.

Good luck to horses and cattle,
Good luck to the sheep.
Good luck to every thing,
And good luck to all your means.

Luck to the good-wife.
Good luck to the children,
Good luck to every friend.
Great fortune and health to all.

This would be said as the head of the gillean callaig went around the hearth (or a proxy - a chair set out specially for the job if the house didn't have an open, central hearth) reciting the blessing, as the rest of the group beat their sticks. Later on in the evening, the household might take to making a right racket themselves, opening the doors and windows as midnight struck, and making as much noise as they could to scare away any evil spirits (and all the negatives of the old year) again. 

A large part of this kind of Hogmanay rite relies on the giving of hospitality. There's an element of challenge at first - the lads beat their sticks and sing their song, demanding to be let in, and it's up to the household to let them in or not (and face the consequences). It all becomes a kind of dance, everyone carefully following the steps in order to maintain a balance at a time when order and chaos are very much hanging. There's an interesting article on all of this - the giving of hospitality, the threshold, and Scottish 'thigging' (sanctioned begging) here, which is well worth a read if you're interested in looking into all of this further. For now, though: Bliadhna mhath ùr dhuibh uile! Agus na h-uile la gu math duibh. Happy New Year everyone! And may all your days be good.

Friday, 21 December 2012

The end is nigh!

So as usual I have all of these plans for things to do and be all spirichual, and two snottery children hacking up chunky stuff and complaining about their ears come along and pretty much scupper all of that. Which was fun.

Not surprisingly, there's not much been done on the whole sprucing and preparing front, then. As yet. In fact, I haven't even had the chance to get any obligatory presents for their teachers or friends for their last day of school today. Rosie was back at school yesterday (just in time for her Nativity play, and to meet Santa; but not the real one, Rosie wisely informed me. He was clearly a fake Santa) and Tom's gone back in for the last day today, so I should be able to do a little bit of organising today. Thankfully - as yet - whatever horrors the kids were subjected to haven't manifested in their snottery glory in myself. But all in all we've had a wee celebration for the season, which coincides with the end of term for the kids, so it's doubly festive for them. From now until Tuesday they'll be pretty much bouncing off the walls and strewing the front room in Lego in anticipation. Yay.

In the meantime, with the kids not having much of an appetite lately and a shitload of buttermilk about to go off in the fridge, I decided it was as good a time as any to try some drop scones (or Scotch pancakes, if you will) last night. I've never had much luck with them, but having an old recipe to hand that I've not tried before, I figured it was worth a go; the recipes using milk just never seem to work for me. But these:

Oh yes. These came out quite nicely (cooking-wise I consider this a personal triumph; drop scones have been my final frontier, as it were). Mr Seren was out so it was just the kids and me for our impromptu Midwinter eve feast, with a choice banana, honey and apple (a pretence at being healthy); I was initially going to do a proper dinner but the recipe left me with so much batter I figured I might as well make the pancakes the main course. The kids were extremely impressed, and have declared that we should have them for dinner at every festival; I suggested they shouldn't count on it, though. I saved some for breakfast this morning, and set some aside to put out as offerings too, just as the day was dawning (and the world really wasn't ending, unsurprisingly).

I'm not sure what the weather's like in Ireland but if it's anything like here then once again the sunrise at Newgrange will have been dull and cloudy. There's still time for the cloud coverage to clear for the sunset alignment at Maes Howe, though, but the pictures from there so far aren't looking too hopeful on that at the moment. Maybe next year?

If you're feeling festive and looking for inspiration, I've put up an Old Irish poem for midwinter over on Tairis Tales, and Treasa has a great post on things for Gaelic Polytheists to do, and discussing the relevance of the festival to a Gaelic focus. Kathryn points to the Morrígan's (or Badb's) prophecy, which mentions Newgrange (or Brú na Bóinne), and which we recently published in our prayer article, while Nefaeria has posted a run-down of some things too, including a video on mumming and guising that I haven't had a chance to watch yet, but looks good.

Whatever you're up to, have a good one!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

My eyes!

Winter is happily settled in now, and it's feeling moody and dramatic:

But also mostly calm. Lots of frost and ice, a little snow now and then (a flurry on Friday but it didn't settle), but otherwise compared to last year and the many storms that came our way, things have been quiet. Given the frost and ice I've not been out around the village as much as I'd like but the kids and I have had a few trips out and about at the weekends at least.

This weekend, however, the kids were at their grandparents so my mother-in-law could take them to a sing-a-long pantomime sort of thing ('tis the season), and so I could get stuck in to redecorating their bedroom as an early Christmas present. My son, now seven, has decided that he's too old for decor like this:

Which is what I did for them when we first moved in here and they were both considerably younger. The decor has certainly seen better days now and some of the stickers have taken off a chunks of the paint so it's as good a time as any to try and fix it; Tom, being a Big Boy now, has asked for bunk beds for Christmas (just like his cousin), and seeing as he will probably stay in this room when it's time for the kids to have their own space, we decided that he should have first dibs on the colour scheme. His first choice was an airport theme, replete with runway and two planes crashing in mid air and the beginnings of a fire ball emerging from said crash. While imaginative, that got vetoed in short order. Oddly. So did Rosie's desire for pirates and mermaids (I'm flattered by their faith in my artistic abilities, but aside from the amount of paint that would be And in spite of Tom's assurances that there were no serious injuries, plane crashes are an immediate no).

In the end, they were given a choice of two colours, to be agreed on by them both, and I can only describe them as closely akin to "Communist Red" and "Veering Towards Mustard." It's vibrant, you might say:

Although the terrible lighting in this picture doesn't quite do the colours justice (I wanted to take a picture for posterity, before the kids took over; I figured it would never be as clean or tidy once they took up residence once again). Thankfully the yellow has mellowed now it's had a chance to dry.

So as with anything else, I've approached the decorating with a spiritual bent. "Sunwise for everything" goes the saying, so the paint goes on around the room in the appropriate direction, as does the ceremonial hoovering and cleaning of the carpet. Seeing as I had to strip the whole room bare I had to remove their rowan charm temporarily (it goes nicely with the new decor, eh?):

So that went back up with some words, once everything was ready to go back in. I ran out of time at the weekend but at some point I'll probably sain the room with some silvered water too - maybe after Christmas when the kids get a few final bits and pieces to finish the room off and it's all done and final. Aside from muscles that haven't been used in a good long while complaining loudly, my back held up admirably with all of the prepping and sanding, base-coat and then paint that was needed. But just now it would like me to sit down for a bit, thanks. Putting the laundry away's OK, though.

Before the kids went away we made a fat cake for the birds - just suet and bird seed mixed together:

With added cow bell
Which has now been put up in the garden as an offering from us, as part of my new moon rite - the last one of the year. They both helped to make it but only Rosie wanted to come out with me to put it up, so after the fat cake had been put in place and just as the new moon obligingly peeked out through the clouds, I encouraged her to make say hello and make a wish if she wanted to. She did (we both did, together), and then almost immediately she shouted excitedly, "My wish came true!" So I asked her what it was, and she said she just wanted the clouds to lift so she could see the stars up above. Sure enough, a clear patch had appeared right above us.

While I was decorating there were lots and lots of birds hanging around noisily outside - they're not shy in letting you know when you're slacking in the bird food department - so it seems doubly apt to put something out for them to finish off my sprucing up. The weather forecast seems to suggest that it's going to be a cold winter so I like to make sure they're fed, and as I see them as messengers it's only appropriate to look after them too. The cow shape (from a silicone jelly/cake mould) was Rosie's choice, and as cows are very Celtic it only seems apt. Rosie's always a good barometer for Appropriate Choices like this.

Decorating and getting the house in order is very traditional at this time of year - sprucing things up for the New Year (start as you mean to go on) - so it's a good opportunity to do a few things around the house to make sure everything is in its place. It always seems to me at this time of year that everyone is busy concentrating on Christmas so normal life goes out of the window; everything else gets put on hold until the Hogmanay hangover has been dealt with, so in this liminal sort of timeframe it feels like it's a good time to think about seeing out the old year and preparing for the new. It's a little earlier than I usually start but seeing as the kids will be finishing school at the end of the week it makes sense to get a head start while they're not around as much.

For many different reasons I'll be glad to see the back of this year so I'm keen to start the new year on the right sort of footing, and a little extra effort in that respect wouldn't go amiss. It's also one of those times where I'm feeling reflective, and while I'm looking forward to the new year, I've been thinking a lot about all of the things I can be thankful for from this year. In spite of all of the not so good things that might happen, I always try to think of all the good things that have happened, too. One of the biggest things I'm thankful for is this family I've found myself a part of - my husband's family, which is one of the main reasons we moved here to this part of Scotland: For the sake of giving the kids the kind of life and support we've wanted to give them. The in-laws have been a huge support throughout all of my back problems and the things that life has thrown at us this year, and though I've married in to the family they've always made me feel like I'm welcome and one of them. My mother-in-law had a minor stroke earlier this year - she's recovered well, thankfully - and it's one of those things that makes you think about what people mean to you, I suppose. With the next generation on the way next year (I'm going to be a great aunt, if all goes well), it will continue to be an important theme, I think - not just the kids, but everyone - especially now that Rosie in particular is becoming increasingly keen to involve herself in my practices.

For now, though, it's time for a good clean and tidy, and fixing up a few things here and there. Once I've had a wee rest...

Wednesday, 12 December 2012


A heads up from Gaol Naofa:
While it may seem we’ve been quiet for a while, much has been happening behind the scenes as we’ve celebrated five years as an organisation. Our council has been very busy, creating new content for this site, as well as for private use by the members of Gaol Naofa. All of the site documents have been updated and restructured. While much of this site will still be familiar to our long-term readers, there is a lot of new material here.
If you happen to hang out on our Gaelic Polytheism group on Facebook, you'll already have seen the announcement, but otherwise: Gaol Naofa Uachtarán Treasa, Kathryn and I have been busy Doing Stuff over the past year or so in particular, updating and expanding the website and figuring out a few things. There's more in the works, but we're at the point where the first lot of Stuff is ready to be unleashed. You can read the proper announcement at the Gaol Naofa link above, or on our new page over on Facebook, but here's an overview of what's we've put out so far:

The Gaol Naofa FAQ
The link above will take you to the main page, click on the link for the pdf file (we had to put it in a pdf because it clocks in at a good 90 pages long). The FAQ has been substantially expanded and outlines the nitty gritty of our organisation and our vision for it, and it also goes into some of our beliefs and outlooks on certain areas. In that sense it might be of interest to Gaelic Polytheists in general, but I hope it's clear that the contents of the FAQ (as with everything else we've done) speaks to our own points of view as an organisation and no one else's. Even though some other groups might overlap with us in places, that doesn't mean one size fits all.

Then there's:

Rowan and Red Thread: Magic and Witchcraft in Gaelic Cultures
Again a pdf (I think it's fair to say that the length of this one is pretty much my fault), clocking in at a more modest, but still meaty, 57 pages... We cover the general gist of the article in some of the questions in the FAQ, so this offers a bit more of our thoughts on this, with plenty of references and historical goodness. It's a huge area, though, and this is really only scratching the surface, for sure.

And then we have:

Prayer in Gaelic Polytheism
Another pdf but a bit shorter than the two above. The title is fairly self-explanatory, so we go into how we approach prayer and how we make our prayers, and the kinds of sources we look to and how we deal with the problems those sources present. Some examples of prayer are given, with a suggested reading list at the end as well.

As you'll see on the articles page, the Offerings article has been slightly overhauled recently, and there is an article from Treasa and Kathryn yet to come (soon!). Elsewhere on the site you'll find that the reading list has been expanded, and the "About" pages have been overhauled too, and to celebrate five years of the organisation, Treasa has given the website a bit over a makeover with new headers and icon thingies...

A big thanks, once again, to everyone who helped us out and supported us during the first, second and however many final drafts we got to!

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Healing (revisited)

To recap: I had a "microdiscectomy" in September, after spending 18 months dealing with disc problems that doctors were convinced didn't exist (next time doctors tell me I have a 5% chance of having such and such a problem asymptomatically, I'll laugh in their faces)...

So anyway. It's been a long road, and I'm by no means at the end of it but I'm (touch wood) well along it. So far I've successfully weaned myself off one kind of medication completely, and I'm in the process of reducing my morphine intake gradually - slowly but surely so far. The nice doctor I saw last month or so tells me that given the type of surgery I've had and the healing process etc, it might be more realistic for me to anticipate that I should reduce the morphine to the point where I might go back onto Tramadol and then - perhaps - lesser drugs before weaning off the painkillers completely, but I'm taking things one step at a time. Given the length of time and the levels at which I've been on the morphine, I'm in officially in "difficult" territory as far as coming off it goes (though not impossible), so reducing it by levels seems to be the easiest way to go. Easy, ideal, and doable are entirely different things, however. So I'm taking things a day at a time in that respect and I'm not looking into The Google, as my doctor charmingly calls it, too much, so I don't really know what to expect. I figure that way I can still feel like I'm me, rather than a bunch of symptoms or side-effects, even though most days I feel like I have PMS and then some...For a few weeks after reducing things, anyway. The pain increases for a while too, while I adjust, but in a way it's a good thing because it keeps me going with the physiotherapy I've been given.

So I've reduced things to a level I'm comfortable with so far and I've just reduced things again. Apparently, less morphine makes me a tad grumpy, which makes me a bit anti-social. That's part of why I've not posted much over the last month or so, I think. Hopefully some of the other reasons will be announced soon.

Anyway. As I mentioned in my last post about all this, while I was in the middle of it all and looking for answers, I tried looking into prayers and charms as a way of trying to deal with the situation and perhaps improve it. Post-surgery, my daughter made me a wee charm, along the lines of the thread a ban-fiosaiche had made for a journalist as described by Mary Beith in her book Healing Threads (I highly recommend it - it's a great read):

Which I've been using as a key ring, it being a slightly more practical way of carrying it around. It's a little delicate and I don't think it would stand much wear as a bracelet.

Kathryn pointed me to a traditional prayer for "sprain," which you can find in the Carmina Gadelica amongst other places. It has a very long pedigree, being found in Irish myth, and Vedic and Germanic sources too, and the formula of repairing bone to bone, flesh to flesh, sinew to sinew etc works nicely with the kind of operation I've had. So the prayer is something I've been using when I feel like I need it.

And as I noted in my initial bletherings on all of this, there's a folk remedy for sciatica recorded in North Uist:
Some of the natives [of North Uist] wear a girdle of the Seal-skin about the middle, for removing the Sciatica, as those of the Shire of Aberdeen wear it to remove the Chin-cough.
Which I airily dismissed at the time, and then again in my second post on the matter, seeing as seal-skins aren't exactly ten a penny. Plus, it's kind of frowned on these days, really. But in the mysterious ways of the world, what should arrive in the post - not long after my surgery - but this:

My wonderful and wise friend Judith happened to have saved an old seal-skin belt some years ago, and upon reading my post in September decided the belt had finally found its purpose. When the belt arrived in the post I showed it to the kids and they were fascinated by it at first, until it sank in that an animal had died for the sake of it (originally, at least). They were kind of horrified for a bit (Tom decided it was mean) so we talked about it, and I explained that the seal had died a long time ago, and that now it's just sitting around not doing much. We agreed that while there wasn't much we could do about the poor dead seal now, we could at least give the belt a good home and put it to good use, and I made some offerings for it. Every now and then the belt disappears and I find it up in the kids' bedroom, where Rosie's been looking after it (she likes to stroke it, to "look after" the seal because it might be missing its mum).

And so as I do my physiotherapy, I can put the belt on and feel like a bit of a fanny as I stretch and step and look a bit bonkers, but so far it's all good (and it's not like anyone's watching). Many thanks, Judith!