Saturday, 21 February 2015

Manannán statue found!

News has just broken in the last couple of hours that the statue of Manannán has been found.

Reports at the moment are slightly conflicting as far as the circumstances of its discovery go but I'm sure the details will be firmed up as the story unfolds. According to the Derry Journal a rambler (or group of ramblers) discovered the statue and alerted a local regiment to its location, who then helped police recover it. According to a statement from the MOD, reported by the BBC:
In a statement, the Ministry of Defence said: "Soldiers from 2nd Batallion Royal Irish Regiment were deployed by helicopter to the north Antrim Coast last night for a weekend exercise. 
"Whilst trekking through Binevenagh forest near Magilligan strand they discovered the missing statue and immediately alerted the PSNI. 
"The Ministry of Defence is delighted this unique statue has been found."

So it doesn't seem to have been taken too far from its original situation at the top of Binevenagh Mountain. There appears to have been some damage to the statue, especially to the head, but whether or not it can be repaired is yet to be determined. Here's hoping!

This is a surprising and wonderful development in a sorry tale of intolerance and fundamentalism. The story's not over yet but I hope the statue can be reinstalled and some measures can be taken to make sure that it doesn't get stolen or vandalised again. And there's still the question of bringing those who are responsible for this to justice. Hopefully some clues were discovered at the recovery site to help with that, or at least somebody might come forward now and do the right thing.

New video: New moon

This month's new moon is apparently a "Black Supermoon." The supermoon part means it's going to appear bigger than usual (more noticeable as it rises), the "black" part means that it's either the second new moon in a calendar month (like a blue moon), or to the third new moon of a total of four within a single season period. In this case, it's the latter.

So that's pretty cool. The new moon was on Wednesday or Thursday this week (depending on where you are in the world), but as yet it's been too cloudy to spot it in these here parts. In Gaol Naofa, we observe the new moon, or Gealach Ùr, with a simple ritual to welcome the first sighting of it and honour An Trì Naomh. Since our membership is spread pretty far and wide, it's a way for us to do something together and share in the experience, wherever we might be (if members so wish; participation's completely optional). We generally co-ordinate the observance of this rite for the third day after the new moon, to maximise our chances of being able to catch sight of it.

After our series of videos on the festivals, we decided to focus on other areas of practice, and the first video for this is on the new moon:

Like our other videos, we take a look at the history and lore we find in Gaelic tradition, and then take a brief look at how that informs Gaelic Polytheist practice, and we give an example of a prayer at the end -- this one from the Carmina Gadelica, and translated by Kathryn. There are some more useful links posted in our post on the Gaol Naofa front page, which are worth a read, and we have another announcement there too! 

Moving forward, we're working on some updates and new material for the Gaol Naofa website, which we're aiming to get ready to go in the next month or so. We'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Decision to be made on Manannán statue

It's been three weeks since the statue's theft and so far there's been no progress in recovering it or finding the culprits responsible -- not a huge surprise but disappointing nonetheless. After a huge response from all over the world, the local news were making some rather positive reports that the statue would more than likely be replaced in the last week or so, and it seemed that it was more a question of whether an exact replica should be commissioned or something bigger and better -- "two or three times the size."

The news was met pretty enthusiastically in most places, although local councillor Gerry Mullan took a more cautious view:
“I think it’s going to cost extra money to have a larger statue and I would fear it may be interpreted as an antagonistic gesture which may encourage further vandalism,” said Colr. Mullan. “Personally, I would be happy to see Mannanán back and replaced in his original form.”

I think this is a very valid concern and certainly something that needs to be considered. A larger statue could very well be seen as antagonistic, although given the extremes that the thieves went to in removing the statue in the first place, any kind of replacement could be interpreted as antagonistic.

For now it seems that any decision for moving forward is less than certain at the moment, but the prospect of a replacement are not completely hopeless. The proposals to replace the current remains of the statue with something bigger have been voted down, as has a proposal to reinstate an almost exact replica but this time with a full-sized boat. Instead:
In the end, it was agreed, in principle, Council would like to see the sculpture replaced as close to its original form as possible, hopefully costing no more than the original £10,000; that it would be funded by the public as much as possible and it would be reinforced as much as possible. It was agreed that Council officers investigate what is involved in setting up a public fund and bring the costs, and any other information after having spoken with sculptor Darren John Sutton, back to members at the final Limavady Council meeting in March.

A report from the BBC has suggested that the decision to replace the statue is more definitive than the Derry Journal has reported, but according to the Bring Back Manannán mac Lir the Sea God Facebook page, this isn't correct. So as it stands at the moment, councillors will be looking into the potential costs of replacing the statue -- as close to the original as possible -- and will be investigating the logistics of setting up some kind of fundraiser. Any decision based on the outcome of either of these considerations isn't likely to happen until the next council meeting on March 10th, however, and there are no guarantees that any enquiries will follow through into being actioned.

After the news began reporting that there were proposals for a larger statue, there came some rather concerning reports from local papers, just before the meeting took place, where some of the councillors seemed to be less than enthused about replacing the statue:
TUV Colr. Boyd Douglas isn’t enthusiastic about replacing the statue in any shape or form. 
“I felt the original statue was paganistic and I felt it should never have been erected under those terms. We were told at the time the statue wasn’t costing Council much money,” said Colr. Douglas, who said if replaced using steel it may well become a target of metal thieves. “I can’t see any point in putting a statue on top of a mountain where there is no one around and where it is vulnerable from the start. To replace it would cost Council money and I wouldn’t be in favour of spending ratepayers’ money on this, so I’m not enthusiastic about replacing it.”

(At the meeting, Councillor Douglas suggested siting some sort of statue at the find spot of the Broighter Hoard as an alternative to replacing the statue at Gortmore Viewing Point, incidentally). But in the end it seems only one councillor voted against replacing it at all -- not the councillor quoted above -- and even then the objection came down to the fact that the statue may well be vulnerable to further theft in future, given its remote position, and as such it would be a waste of money.

So all in all, there seems to be good cause for tentative optimism here. I do think it's important that the statue should be replaced, even if it ends up costing a little more than the original in an effort to make sure it's harder to remove this time. Not replacing the statue gives the opinions and illegal actions of an extreme minority more weight than those who've spoken out in shock and support for the community of Limavady, and it would legitimate this theft and vandalism, and send a very wrong message to not just the people of Limavady, but to the many thousands of people around the world who've been following this story and have overwhelmingly expressed a desire to see the statue replaced.

Ultimately, however, replacing the statue is not a decision that any of us outside Limavady can make: It's up to the councillors and the people in the area who've lost a local landmark and beautiful piece of art. There's certainly the willingness to contribute financially to the replacement, from the good majority of people who've been commenting in the Facebook group, and some have already tried setting up pages on fundraising sites in anticipation of some kind of official word that that all hopes of finding the statue are dashed (to my knowledge, none of these have actually taken any money, though, and have since been removed). But as Mari Ward, who set the group up, has said, this is something that has to be decided by the council first, and I think it's something that should ideally be managed by them as well. They are, after all, best placed to put the funds to proper use and make sure the job gets done.

Getting the job done is going to take some time, though, and until the next meeting in March there's probably not going to much going on that's worthy of note -- not unless the statue is recovered or the thieves are caught. So the risk is that this is a story that will end up out of sight, out of mind. So far, it's been noted that the council have taken on board the outpouring of support from all over the world, and hopefully that will continue on both sides.

In the meantime, there's also growing concern that proposals for a wind farm nearby are going to have a hugely detrimental environmental and visual impact on the area, which is officially designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. While personally I'm all for renewable energy, I think it should be appropriately located and a wind farm seems incongruous with an area that's supposed to have protections in place to preserve the natural beauty of the area. You can find out more about the campaign here.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Book review: Celtic Cosmology: Perspectives from Ireland and Scotland

Celtic Cosmology: Perspectives from Ireland and Scotland
Edited by Jacqueline Borsje, Ann Dooley, Séamus mac Mathúna, and Gregory Toner

Based on the papers submitted to a colloquium held back in 2008, "Celtic Cosmology and the Power of Words," this is a book I'd been looking forward to for quite a while. When it came out I was a little disappointed in the price -- just under £60, I think -- but it didn't exactly come as a surprise given the price of most academic texts these days. Given the cost of producing them, it's a necessary evil, I suppose. Still, this was a luxury splurge and I could only hope it was damn well worth it.

The contributors are all names that are well-known in Celtic Studies today, and each article deals with a different topic (or focus on a topic). Some of these topics are familiar territory -- the three realms, the Othererworld, and so on -- while others offer something less than usual. At the time of the colloquium itself there was a website that gave an idea of the kinds of papers that were being read there and I was particularly interested in the stuff on the three realms. As it turned out, this was the first article in the book but it's little more than an amalgam of articles the author's already published (and which I've already read) so it doesn't offer much more of a perspective on things. I was hoping for something new there, but as disappointments for this book go, this is about the only major complaint I really have. If I were reading the article without having read the ones it's referencing then I think I'd get a good idea of the major points that are being made, but I'd probably want to read those articles anyway.

As a minor compaint, I'd kind of hoped for more on creation myths and so forth, which ended up being pretty lacking, sadly. With that said, for what is in the book, most of it is pretty interesting, and it's well written and edited. It can be dry and dense -- some articles more than others -- but this isn't unexpected.

There are too many articles for me to go into in any detail individually, and some of them just weren't as interesting to me as others, so I'll just give the ones I enjoyed the most a mention. First off there's Grigory Bondarenko's 'Roads and Knowledge in Togail Bruidne Da Derga,' which makes some truly interesting points about the way the tale uses roads and the (possible) ritual significance of them in pre-Christian belief. Edel Bhreathnach's' Tara and Cashel: Manifestations of the Centre of the Cosmos in the North and South' precedes Bondarenko's article and fits in nicely with it in taking a look at the ritual implications of the layout of Tara and Cashel, and the way they're described and used in literature. These two stood out for me in offering a lot of good food for thought, and they're ones I might chew on in some notes at some point. The same goes for Séamus mac Mathúna's 'The Relationship of the Chthonic World in Early Ireland to Chaos and Cosmos,' which gives a good discussion on the cosmological relationship between sacred landscapes and water. There are frequent comparisons with Vedic examples and so forth here, and I'm not much of a one for that kind of approach but I can appreciate the different perspective. If you're interested in the stories of Boann or Macha then it's definitely worth a read, and it gives some discussion of the relationship between fire, water and kingship, as well.

Domhnall Uilleam Stiùbhart takes a look at the celebrations of Michaelmas, and offers a huge amount of good stuff here. First of all he looks at the sources we have that deal with Michaelmas -- in particular, Alexander Carmichael's highly detailed description, which, Stiùbhart points out, is an amalgamation of various notes Carmichael collected, and which is also highly idealised presentation of the festival. Then he explores the decline of the festival and the reasons for it (which is to say: bassically religious and economic reasons). The article goes over more than just the usual territory here and offers something that most discussions of this subject don't, which is always good to see.

The final article in the book, Gregory Toner's 'Landscape and Cosmology in the Dinschenchas' takes a look at the way places are shaped and named, and the underlying cosmology of that, bringing in some comparative evidence from episodes in the Táin and the like, which I also really enjoyed but felt was frustratingly too short.

Over all, this isn't a book that's going to be a light read, but it's definitely a read that's worth having. It's not something I'd recommend to the beginner, or to anyone who would find the lack of populist appeal off-putting, but I'd say this is certainly a subject area that's vitally important to understand and there isn't much else that's recent that I can think of to recommend (articles yes, but books not so much). I do think the cost is going to be prohibitive for a lot of people but if you're a compulsive collector like I am then you probably just have to accept that you're going to buy it sooner or later...

If you're looking to try before you buy then you can read one of the articles (another one with some interesting stuff in it) online -- John Waddell's 'The Cave of Crúachain and the Otherworld.'

Monday, 2 February 2015

Accidentally walked up a mountain (and other fun stuff)

Our celebrations for Là Fhèill Brìghde are kind of ongoing here, but we've got the major stuff done. The evening itself was pretty low-key, mainly because my back wasn't up to much and Rosie had got back from a sleepover she'd had at a friend's house and was extremely tired (they were up until 1am and then got up in the morning at around 6am, and for a Rosie who likes her sleep that was just too much), but nonetheless I think it was a success.

Luckily we'd already made our dealbh Brìde last weekend, and I'd bought a beeswax candle-making kit so we could make our own candles to light up the house, too. The instructions came with a few suggestions for different styles of candle, and considering the spring theme, we decided on making some flower-shaped ones. Tom made a water-lily, while Rosie made the rest. ALL OF THEM. She was extremely enthused by the project (Tom was still feeling pretty ill at that point so tired out quickly) and I was too busy helping out to make my own, though I might still have a go with what's left over.

For the icons, Rosie and I made one each -- Tom had wandered off by that point -- with a kit I'd bought, and she spent the next few days making more. She gave some to her friends after taking them in to school so we ended up with two to choose from for the evening itself. In the end Tom decided not to bother having a go at making some this time round.

On the evening, with the house all set in order and a takeaway enjoyed for our feast, we lit the candles with a little ceremony, and then I suggested the kids could go and get ready for bed. Rosie was too tired to be doing much, so I made offerings and got things ready while they were changing. The candles were burning quickly and seeing as I had some time (they take forever to get changed...), I decided to take some photos before all of the candles were gone:

The white one at the back replaced another candle Rosie had made, which burned out too quickly to get a picture of.

Once they came back down I asked the kids to pick which icon we were going to use; Rosie immediately decided on the one she'd made, because the bright orange was more apt for the occasion, so I invited her to take it to the door so we could invite Brìde in. I made the call, inviting the kids to repeat after me if they wanted to, and I repeated each line in English so they knew what I was saying. The weren't too sure about joining in, so I suggested that perhaps they wanted to say something in your own words instead. Rosie couldn't think of anything to say, she was just too tired, really. Tom was a little unsure of himself so he checked to make sure that he had the right idea of what all of this was about, and then he stepped up to the threshold and told the night sky that Brìde is lovely. That is all. I agreed, and added my own words, too.

Then we put the icon to bed on our shrine, and I placed the slatag (wand) beside her. Tom got excited and ran around the kitchen zapping stuff to make the green shoots appear while Rosie leaned in for a cuddle. It was well and truly time for bed, so we didn't do too much more together. Usually I'd do a little story telling and stuff like that, but it just wasn't going to end well this time if I tried too much.

The rest of the evening was pretty quiet. I took some time to make my own devotions before I went to bed, and left some food and drink out for refreshment. Just before I went to bed I put some items out for blessing -- one for each of us, and a towel I use for the animals.

The next morning I got up to find some of the food I'd left out overnight -- well out of the way of sticky fingers or snuffling noses -- had gone, so I'm taking that as a positive sign that we were visited. It was a beautifully bright and sunny day (winter will be with us a while longer, it seems) so I decided the dogs could do with a good long walk. I was going to go to our new favourite spot by the waterfall, but after I got some offerings ready to take with me and I set off I decided to maybe make an adventure of it, so I headed towards the woods where the waterfall is, but kept going up alongside it. We passed some sheep, who I'm guessing are quite heavily pregnant by now:

No lambs yet, though.

I spotted a signpost to a forest (which is news to me), so decided to head that way. Up and up the hill we went, until eventually we got onto a path that took us into a field. There were more sheep there so I kept the dogs on the lead and we kept walking up the hill some more. We've had some snow that's only melted a little -- it's mostly frosted over, really -- so as we got higher up we encountered more and more snow. The forest didn't seem exactly... foresty. So we explored a bit before turning back to take the path to the forest itself, through another gate. There wasn't going to be any livestock here so I let the dogs off and we went along the wide path that cuts through the forest. There are dense bits:

And then heavily deforested bits that give a good view of the area.

And on we went, higher and higher. I'll just see what's around this corner here, I kept thinking, as we went up and up, until soon enough we were right at the top. I couldn't really say if it's an actual mountain, but if it isn't then it must be close. Not quite intended though it might have been, it seemed apt in a way, considering Brìde's name may mean something like "High (Exalted) One." We went pretty high up indeed...

In spite of the frost and snow, there are signs of spring around. Before it snowed the dandelions were starting to wake up around the village, and up on the trail we took there was a lone daisy smiling out at us:

Eventually I decided it was time to turn back seeing as I had no idea where we were going. I left offerings in a few spots on our way back down, and we'd been out so long that it was turning to dusk now so I didn't linger. As we got back to the field the moon had just started peeking out over the hills:

I'd intended to make some crosses with the kids when I got home -- we hadn't managed it the day before because Rosie had been so tired -- but it was a much longer walk than I'd anticipated and I needed a good sit down once I got home. By the time dinner and everything else was done after that, it was too late to be doing much, so for now I've made some myself, and I'll see if the kids want to make some later.

At Midsummer I realised that I had rushes growing out the front of the house, which I used as part of our paying the rents then. They're also perfect for making a cros Bríde, though I don't usually make them like this (lollipop sticks and wool are my go-to materials of choice). But seeing as we have them handy I decided to have a go at making one of the more iconic crosses, like the one I brought back from our trip to Ireland last July. I'd tried making ones like this before out of other kinds of material and I'd found it difficult, so I was anticipating that it might not go so well. As it turned out, it was way less fiddly than I thought it would be:

Although still a bit fiddly, for the tying off, especially (I used the slideshow I linked to in my last post as a guide but didn't have elastic bands as suggested there). But still, it came out OK so I decided to try a three-armed 'triskele' version as well:

I haven't seen any instructions for how to make them but I figured it would be about the same method as the four-armed version, except you'd bend the first rush in half instead of keeping it straight. Things started off a little messily but it came together a little better as I added more rushes and the cross became a bit sturdier.

There are I some things I wanted to do as part of our celebrations but wasn't able to -- there was no double cream at the shops so we couldn't make our own butter, for one -- but I might make a week of it and stretch things out a little so we could do that later.

I'd like to get back into the garden again this year but we'll see how it goes. As the spring wears on I'm going to try and plant some veg, at least, but for now there's going to be a bit of a respite until the ground defrosts... Either way, Brìde is here. And Brìde is most definitely welcome.