Thursday, 16 July 2015

Book Review: Singing with Blackbirds

This isn't one of the books I got from the library recently (still working through those), but I decided it's worth a review... I Have Notes.

Singing with Blackbirds: The Survival of Primal Celtic Shamanism in Later Folk-Tradition
Stuart A. Harris-Logan

Let's start with the blurb on the back of the book:
Singing with Blackbirds is an investigation of the survival of primal Celtic Shamanism in later folk-traditions of Gaelic speaking peoples. This is an insightful and intelligent work that brings together areas of study not normally combined.
Going by this alone, it's obvious that this book has clear and lofty aims. I'll say right out, though, once you get into the nitty gritty of it all, those aims will probably end up leaving you with more questions than answers (and not in a good way). It certainly did me...

I'll admit that I have something of a bias against anything that claims to be "Celtic Shamanism," and to be fair to the author, he's well aware of some of the criticisms that are aimed towards the use of the label (or "shamanism" in general). So perhaps I'm predisposed to be skeptical of books like this, but I'd like to think that even if I'm not keen on principle I can at least give valid reasons for any criticisms I might have beyond some kind of knee-jerk reaction. I hope so. Harris-Logan mentions "encountering a lot of hostility from a number of groups which took exception to my research," so I'm sure it will come as no surprise to the author himself that there are those who might be critical (though I wouldn't say I'm especially hostile, personally...). Because of this, at the back of the book there's a section called "Apologia," where Harris-Logan gives a very useful outline of his reasons for using the term, and the crux of it boils down to this:
"Arguments against the use of 'shaman' and shamanism' as ethnological terms appear to be founded on the notion that they are not derived from a Celtic language. If we were to retrict its use merely to it's [sic] native culture, then only Tungusic shamans could be defined as such... 
"Restricting our vocabulary in this way makes an exercise in intercultural comparison both awkward and limited. Without an umbrella term, how are we able to hold one technique up against the other? ...I need a term to compare the practices of the Kwakiutl hamatsa and the Irish gelta. I need a term to compare the Buryat shaman's and Cú Chulainn's visionary experiences. I need a term to compare the spirit dance with rituals found to be taking place in latter day Coll and Uist. In short, I need 'shamanism'." (p133)
But I want to be clear that it's not simply the principle of using a loanword that I object to here. It's the fact that such a word describes a specific set of practices of a specific people, and I feel it's impossible to separate the original word from its culture and specific meaning within that culture. I feel it's wrong to try. Co-opting that word, adapting and generalising it to assume that the ritual practices of disparate are all one homogenous thing does a disservice to all of those practices, to my mind, especially when there are more accurate words from those cultures languages to describe them better.

On top of that, there's the fact that "shamanism" (in the popular sense) has been used to apply to a set of beliefs and practices that are highly problematic (see links, above). Not just "problematic," but mired in racism and rampant appropriation. It's unfortunate that Harris-Logan uses the very author responsible for kicking that all off – Michael Harner – along with at least one of Harner's students in order to try to prove the points he makes throughout the book, and this is something that certainly casts a negative over the whole book for me.

So there's the principle of the thing that I object to, yes. But it's also the fact that such an approach just doesn't hold up under any kind of academic scrutiny, and Harris-Logan himself is keen to emphasise that Celtic Studies has a lot to offer this kind of subject. The very problems I have with "core shamanism's" (as Harner himself calls it) approach in general underpin the approach Harris-Logan takes throughout the whole volume, as well: context is ignored, and comparative evidence is relied on heavily, even though the evidence comes from completely unrelated cultures and so have only limited bearing upon one another (more often than not). For instance, we're told that the Celts had totems and power animals, just like Native Americans do, even though he doesn't really define what these actually mean to Native Americans (or if they're even universal or exactly the same between tribes). The logic goes that totems are a thing somewhere in the world, therefore it follows that the exact same concept exists amongst the Celts because animals appear in a spiritual, similar-seeming context, too. Ergo, shamanism. And so it goes. What the evidence amongst the Celts – and amongst the different Celtic cultures themselves – suggests isn't considered.

In general, no matter which culture is being referenced, they're all treated as if they're talking about the same thing. On a very basic, broadly generalised level, there are similarities between many cultures, even those who never came into direct contact with one another, to be sure – we're all human, after all. But here, Harris-Logan draws on evidence from all over the world to show that shamanism is found in Celtic cultures, and at times it feels like he focuses more on non-Celtic cultures to prove a point than he does the actual Celtic cultures that we're supposed to be looking at.

Where there are clear relationships between cultures, they're treated as though they're one and the same, to the point where I'm not really sure if this book is supposed to be about "Celtic" Shamanism or "Gaelic" Shamanism. One of the people who contributed a glowing endorsement for the back cover seems to be similarly confused (referring only to "Gaelic Shamanism" despite the book's title), and I can only assume that this is presumably because it doesn't matter, because it all goes back to a primal (which seems to mean "universal") set of practices, anyway. (Which makes me wonder... why bother with slapping on a cultural label at all?)

But let's get down to the nuts and bolts, not just the general approach. The evidence is often twisted to fit the point the author's trying to make, even when the evidence is very obviously lacking, and one of the worst examples of this is in Harris-Logan's attempt to prove that drumming – as an element of shamanic practice that's "a crucial technique to most shamanic cultures, a catalyst for the spirit journey..." (p27) was also a thing for the pre-Christian Celts. He acknowledges that there isn't any overt evidence for this – no archaeological evidence, nothing in iconography or myth that outright describes or shows ritualistic drumming – but he goes on to argue that the "wheel" iconography found in Gaulish depictions of religious art, like this one shown on the Gundestrup cauldron:

Interior plate 'C' of the Gundestrup Cauldron. Source: Wikipedia

Is really a drum (in spite of the fact that these wheels consistently have way more spokes than the "shamanic drums" he compares them to, which only have four – rather like some bodhrán designs, which are relatively modern in origin as instruments go). Obviously this leaves something of a hurdle for the Gaels, because the Gaulish evidence doesn't apply and drumming is never mentioned in any of the myths, so here he argues that drumming was such an obvious part of practice that it wasn't necessary to reference it overtly, and also points to examples where he argues that an oblique reference to a drum is being made – interpreting passages and names from Irish myth that refer to wheels as secretly referring to the shamanic drum (though why not just say it outright if it's something that's so obvious and pervasive a practice? If it's no great secret, why the secrecy?). The significance of all this, Harris-Logan argues, is that, "This may be suggestive of a shamanic spirit journey." (p31)

Ultimately, Harris-Logan concludes:
"With the weight of this evidence it is impossible to discount the theory that the early Celts possessed drums. I agree with Trevarthen's note that the drum is a very primitive instrument possessed by most cultures across the globe (whether operating within a shamanic mode of perception or not), and it would be surprising if early Celtic tribes did not possess this basic instrument." (p33)
I find this whole argument to be extremely tenuous at best.

The meaning and etymology of certain words are discussed at several points, but actual meanings are often ignored in favour of personal interpretations that have no factual basis. Take "imbas" for example, which eDIL defines as "great knowledge; poetic talent, inspiration; fore-knowledge; magic lore," and breaks it down as coming from two words, "imb-ḟiuss or imb-ḟess." (Note: the wee dots above the 'f' in both examples there indicates lenition, which effectively kills the 'f' sound altogether). Harris-Logan, on the other hand, asserts that:
"The etymology of the term imbas (often translated as 'inspired' or 'poetic knowledge') is commonly given as 'in the hands' im (in) + bas (hands). It is also possible, though, that bás may have been intended instead of bas. If this is true, then a more correct translation would be 'in death' – supporting the shamanic mode of perception surviving in the modern Scots Gaelic language." (p48)
Although I'd still disagree with his conclusions here, I wouldn't have as much of a problem with assertions like this if the author was clear that this was either his own opinion, or could back it up with citations and a discussion of why he feels the eDIL etymology is wrong and why he discounts it. Phrases like "commonly given" don't help here, either, in trying to suggest this is a firm and accepted fact when it isn't.

In some cases, to be fair, he does make his linguistic speculations (or acceptance of other authors' speculations) more clear – such as the speculation that dán may be more accurately translated as "co-creative power" or even "shamanism" rather than "skill, art, gift, fate," (though I still disagree with his argument here). Elsewhere, however, he makes more spurious claims, like his mention of the dance called "cailleach an dùdain" (described by Carmichael in the Carmina Gadelica, in reference to a Michaelmas tradition) as evidence of birds having ritual significance in Gaelic "shamanic" practice. This is based on his translating the phrase to mean 'dance of the smoky owl,' which I can only assume is his own interpretation because it really means 'The Old Woman of the Mill-Dust.' Cailleach-oidhche means "owl," which is probably where he's coming from, but there's absolutely no supporting evidence for his interpretation here, and again he's stating something as fact when it's far from being the case. Things like this undermines any actual points that are being made because he's simply stretching the evidence to fit the picture as he wants it to.

The book is split into three main sections, the first section being titled "Druids and Drums: The Instruments of Ecstasy," and the second "Gaining Possession of a Sacrality." These two sections are primarily devoted to illustrating Harris-Logan's view of how the Celts were obviously a "shamanic" culture, based on comparative sources from all over the world. In the third section of the book – which is titled "A Shaman in the Gàidhealtachd?" – the majority of evidence is drawn from the Carmina Gadelica, with various prayers being given to support Harris-Logan's assertion that shamanism is evidenced in later folklore. My problem here is that no consideration is given to the context of the prayers – who said them, why, how – or how old they might be, what influences there might be evident in them, or whether or not Carmichael might have helped to "improve" the verses, to support or detract from the point that's being made. A prayer for justice (Ora Ceartas) is given, for example (along with several other prayers of varying purpose), but after the previous two sections, which go to great lengths to show that shamans were specialists of their arts – it wasn't something that everyone did, or was open to anyone who wanted to know more; the rituals and arts of the shaman were the purview and privilege of the shamans alone – the third chapter leaves me wondering how prayers like this (which were said by anyone in a situation where such a prayer was needed) are evidence of shamanism? If the rituals and specialist knowledge of shamans was known only to initiates, how and why did shamanism become more "public" in the Gàidhealtachd? This isn't addressed by Harris-Logan at all.

None of the prayers, or the myths that are discussed throughout the book, are viewed critically at all. At several points in the book the druid Mug Ruith is used to illustrate evidence of "shamanism," but the fact that the stories involve Mug Ruith are quite late, and Mug Ruith himself is presented as a "druid" through a very Christian lens, is ignored (see, for example, the discussion of Mug Ruith in Fiery Shapes). Harris-Logan himself argues for a more academic approach in dealing with the material, but over all I can't help but feel that he fails to illustrate one.

I can't say I found everything to be a total negative, though, and I don't want to sound like I'm totally hating on the book. In spite of my total disagreement with the majority of his interpretations and the over all point of the book, some of it was interesting and he draws on a diverse amount of evidence to support his arguments. As a fluent Gaelic speaker, he also gives his own translations of some of the prayers given in the Carmina Gadelica, and while they don't seem to be wildly different from Carmichael's own translations – just a few tweaks here and there – they do at least seem reliable (though I'll note that I'm not a fluent-speaker, by any stretch!) and are a little more up to date in language.

I also appreciated his discussion of how Gaelic works – the way only things that are integral to us, like family, or body parts, are spoken of with "possessive" phrases. To say "my hand" you say "mo lamh," which is literally "my" (mo) "hand" (lamh), but to say "my husband," or "my wife" you say "an duine agam," which literally means "the man (husband) that is at me." This isn't the first time I've seen such a thing discussed, but I've not really seen it discussed in any detail, and it's refreshing to read about this stuff from fluent speaker.

Again, however, there's a problem with some of the stuff that interested me because it's unreferenced and so I'm not sure how reliable it is. In particular, there's a note that tells the reader that the phrase ri traghadh 's ri lionadh, "With the ebb and with the flow" is "the name given to a traditional form of Gaelic singing." I recognise the phrase from a prayer that Carmichael gives in Volume II of the Carmina Gadelica (it's a prayer that we outlined in our Children and Family in Gaelic Polytheism article on the Gaol Naofa website, and expanded on as well), but I've never heard of it being applied to a form of singing and can't find anything to back this up. But if this is the case I'd certainly be interested to know more, especially if it sheds light on the prayer Carmichael gave, which is simply titled "Fuigheal/Fragment."

Ultimately, there just aren't enough interesting tidbits to make up for all of the problems I find with the book over all, and I couldn't recommend it. I think you're better off going straight to the source, so to speak, getting hold of the Carmina Gadelica and reading the myths yourself. Learn about the hisory and society these things come from, as much as you can. Context is important.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Links and things for Lùnastal

I was a little remiss in getting around to doing a links post for Midsummer, but the ones I've done for other festivals so far this year seem to have been quite popular, so I might as well pick it back up again.

First off, last year I did a video for the Gaol Naofa Youtube channel, which takes a look at what Lùnastal's all about and how it can be celebrated:

The first song on the video is a reaping song – that would have been sung as the harvest was being brought in (the rhythm helping people to get into a groove while they cut the crops, as much helping to pass the time) – that's sung by the Scottish folklorist Margaret Bennett, and the music was composed by her son Martyn Bennett. It's a very modern take on an old traditional song, and a sample of a 1920s threshing machine has been used to give the beat that complements the lyrics. The second song is the same again, this time sung with a more traditional arrangement.

Following on from that, since a major theme of Lùnastal is peace, Kathryn's video on the Prophecy of the Morrígan (or Badb's Prayer for Peace) is also worth a watch:

Which could be incorporated into celebrations if you so wish...

For a more in-depth background on Lùnastal/Lúnasa, and some practical ideas, there are some articles I've done over on Tairis that might be worth a read:
If you'd prefer something a little (a lot) shorter, the Festivals page on the Gaol Naofa site might be more to your taste. One of the things on our to do list is to expand the music section, as can be seen by the number of songs that don't yet have a link; quite a few of these are apt for the harvest, though, so they're worth hunting up (you can find them all on Youtube, I think). The craft section also has some useful stuff if you're looking for things to do, and the links include a video showing you how to make a harvest knot (I've yet to try one myself...).

Games and competitive sports are a big part of the celebrations, and there's a big crossover with the kind of games and amusements that were played during wakes – very apt given the roots of Lùnastal as a funeral games, perhaps – so the Death and Burial article back over at Tairis might be useful too.

If you're looking for something nommy then try some cranachan or fraughan cakes... Going fruit picking up on the hills (or shore) is traditional, especially for bilberries (aka fraughans), but you can just use blueberries if you can't find bilberries in the wild... Gooseberries are another fruit that might be collected for the festival, and they can be used to make a delicious gooseberry fool, which is a kind of syllabub dessert (as is cranachan). For those in warmer climes, brambles (or blackberries) might be available by the beginning of August, which can make a good substitute in the absence of bilberries or gooseberries; they're only very rarely ripe so early over here (in my neck of the woods, anyway) in the wild, but supermarkets often start selling them by this point.

Going by the archaeological evidence, it appears that pork is especially appropriate for feasting on, so a good bit of roast pork, or a stew, with some seasonal vegetables – fresh from the garden, if you grow your own, or else locally sourced if you can afford it – could form the main part of your celebratory feast. For savoury treats, cheese-making is traditional, especially a simple soft cheese like crowdie, which is easy to make (in theory! I've yet to master the art myself because I keep managing to overheat the curds). The smell takes a bit of getting used to while you're heating the milk, and that can be a litle off-putting, but the end result really is quite tasty; try rolling the cheese in toasted oatmeal or crushed black pepper to add more flavour. The leftover whey can be used to make some oatmeal bannocks – also traditional to make for the festival (from a Scots persecptive, at least) – to serve with the cheese, or else there are a number of other traditional recipes you might want to hunt up so it doesn't go to waste (F. Marian McNeill's The Scots Kitchen and The Scots Cellar will be useful).

Story-telling is also an appropriate part of the celebrations, along with music and song, which can help set a very convivial atmosphere if you're celebrating as part of a group or with family. You could tell the story of Tailltiu's sacrifice, for example, or take a look at some of the other Dindshenchas tales like the ones for Nás and Carmun. Maire MacNeill records a huge amount of tales in her massive book, The Festival of Lughnasa, and some of them involve Lugh or Crom Cruach, so it's absolutely well-worth getting a hold of if you can. Failing that, why not compose your own stories or poetry?

Friday, 10 July 2015

Cross-dressing nuns and other fun things

After letting my membership at the university library lapse for a good while (mainly because the expense wasn't really justifiable), I decided it was nigh time to sign up again... It's way more cost effective to borrow than to buy, especially when most of the books I really want to read are often on sale for £60 plus – more than the library membership and more than I can excuse splurging on.

The kids are on holiday with my mother-in-law this week, so while they're away it seemed like a good time to go and sort things out; I get to spend as much time trawling through the shelves as I like, and I also spare them the abject boredom and effort of traipsing across half of Glasgow just to browse through stacks and stacks of musty books in an always overly stuffy building. Sometimes I'm a nice and thoughtful parent like that...

Anyway. Off I went and signed up again without any problems, and I went up to the Celtic floor on level 9. I had a list of books I was interested in, and I got the ones on my list that were still available (and looked more immediately interesting to me), along with a couple that I randomly picked up off the shelf. I also had a look through the Anthropology section to hunt up a book I'd borrowed last time but never had the chance to read, but unfortunately it wasn't there, and I took a look at Hilda Ellis-Davidson's The Celtic Seer. It's a small volume – a collection of articles by various authors – and from the looks of things only the first half is explicitly related to Celtic subjects. Of those, only one or two of the articles piqued my interest so I'm going to photocopy them next time I go if I can't access them online.

The books I did end up borrowing are:

  • Studies in Irish Mythology – Grigory Bondarenko
  • Playing the Hero: Reading the Irish Saga Táin Bó Cúailnge – Ann Dooley
  • Constructing Gender in Medieval Ireland – Sarah Sheehan and Ann Dooley (Eds.)
  • Early Irish Satire – Roisin McLaughlin
  • Selected Essays – Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill
So not too many, because I'm aiming to actually read them (I have until October), or most of them, at least. And also the bookshelf in the living room collapsed under the weight of all my books so I don't really have anywhere safe to put too many at the moment... 

I've started on the first one listed and it shouldn't take too long because as a collection of Bondarenko's essays I've already read some of the ones that are online or published elsewhere (one of them being his article on 'Roads and Knowledge in TBDD' that was published in Celtic Cosmology, which I reviewed a while back, from the looks of it). It looks like there's some good stuff in here, cosmology-wise, so I think I'm going to enjoy it. I may well add it to my wish list so it becomes a permanent member of my collection. 

Playing the Hero is a book I've had my eye on for a while, and my interest is more because I spent a good amount of time studying it at uni than because it's relevant to my current research interests (though it has potential). The Constructing Gender book – a collection of articles from various authors – looks good too. Who can't resist a book with a chapter that starts with the sentence, "One of the odd things about early medieval Irish hagiography is its lack of cross-dressing nuns." 

I mean, really

But seriously, there does look like some good stuff here, including a chapter on Macha Mongrúad ('Playing for Power: Macha Mongrúad's Sovereign Performance'), another titled 'Travelers and Settled Folk: Women, Honor, and Shame in Medieval Ireland,' and one from Dooley called 'Speaking with Forked Tongues: Gender and Narrative in the Acallam.' 

I picked up McLaughlin's Early Irish Satire on a whim, but it really does look good – detailed, with lots of primary source material given and copious amounts of notes. I'm really hoping the library will get Jacqueline Borsje and Fergus Kelly's The Celtic Evil Eye and Related Mythological Motifs in Medieval Ireland in soon (I believe it's on order, though I think it's more that it's in the queue to be ordered once funds are available) because I'd really like to read it; it's come down in price so if I get impatient enough I might just buy it, but I think my credit card has received enough of a sponking lately for that to happen any time soon... 

All in all it was a fairly successful trip (and a bonus that Oscar didn't pee all over the house while I was out – he's a big boy now) and I'll try to put some reviews up as and when I have the time.  

Saturday, 4 July 2015

And finally, the pond

Ever since we visited my sister during the Easter holidays earlier this year, and Rosie spent the best part of a weekend making a whole fishing village for the wee pond in my sister's garden, Rosie's been obsessed with the idea of having one in our garden. A Big One. I quite liked the idea myself – if not for quite the same reasons as Rosie (it's not like I need much of an excuse to find a home for yet more fish) – and it also presented the opportunity to a) tidy up the garden and utilise an otherwise neglected and ugly space, and b) have a rethink about how I use my devotional space outside.

Our garden's layout is kind of awkward – you step out onto a flat patio with some decking and then the lawn is on a terrace about two metres above it, which is accessed by some steps. The lawn itself is mostly on a slope, and the flower bed is wedged up in the top right-hand corner at the back. When we moved in I extended the flower bed a little and put in the rowan and some fruit bushes, along with bits and pieces to create a wee shrine space. There's a tiny pond (or puddle...) and a cairn, and the plants I put in were intended to have some kind of seasonal link, or else were significant to me in some way – plants that remind me of some of my ancestors (those I knew before they died, like grandparents), and some juniper, which I can use for saining. Like so:

As you can see, I'm not the greatest of gardeners. In my enthusiasm to fill up space as quickly as possible I've over planted, and I feel so bad at the thought of thinning the bulbs out (I've nowhere else to put them and gardening shouldn't involve having to kill pretty things!!) they're taking over... It's all thriving, at least, I suppose. Though I'm going to have to thin the bulbs out this year, for sure.

Given the flower bed's situation – right up the top of a hill – it's a wee bit exposed to the neighbours and so the lack of privacy doesn't really encourage me to use it as an active shrine. The ground gets boggy in bad weather, too, which makes getting up there more of an adventure than I'd like. Over the years I've maintained it as much as I can with a view to creating a wildlife-friendly space, with the process of gardening itself being a kind of devotional act of sorts, in memory of my granddad (gardening was his passion). But while I make almost all of my offerings outside, I've always gravitated towards using the patio area, which is more private, instead of using the shrine for that kind of thing, which is what I'd originally intended.

So in committing to getting a pond, the obvious place to put it was just off to one side of the patio, where we have some ugly gravel going from the paving slabs to the fence (I presume it was put in as a moisture trap, so it's probably not something we should take out completely). The previous owners had tried to cover it up with some decking surrounding a gas-powered barbecue, but we didn't use that (too expensive) and the decking was rather worse for wear now, so something needed to be done with it sooner or later.

The soil isn't very deep round here so digging a hole for the pond wasn't going to give us much to work with, and let's face it, Mr Seren – who has a tendency to hiss dramatically at the sun before running back indoors – was never going to commit to digging it himself and it would be way too much for me to do. So instead we chose a raised pond – not the best solution, because I don't think it will be as wildlife friendly, for one, but it's better than nothing. Removing some of the gravel to get down to a flat, smooth surface took a few days or so (which I did myself, so I did it in short bursts, not wanting to over do it), and then it took a few trips to the DIY store to get enough sand to make a safe, flat base to put the pond on. All in all, the pond is about 700 litres (around 150 gallons) when full, but Mr Seren's worried about the mess that would make if it burst, so we're playing it safe, for now, and it's about two thirds full at the moment.

A trip to the garden centre procured some planters and plants to go in. As I did with the flower bed before, I wanted to put in plants that are significant in some way (and will encourage bees etc), but I was less successful in getting the specific ones I wanted this time around; I think it's not the best time of year to start off planting for a lot of the kind of plants that I'm after. I couldn't find any wild primroses for sale, or any wildflowers like cowslips and so on – which are past flowering now – and it's not really the best time to try and sow my own... I've made do with some blue primroses, and bought a couple of poppies (in memory of my granddad), a foxglove (for the spirits), some lavender and rosemary (because I like smelly plants), along with some daisies, an anemone, an astilbe, and... more. I put in some evergreens to give a bit of greenery in the winter, and I managed to find some juniper, too – a common juniper this time. When I got it, I decided to take a walk along the coastal path from the garden centre to the nearest village where I could get the bus home, and I made some cow friends along the way. I took some photos on my phone after the came over to say hello, but I don't have a cable to put them onto my computer... They were more keen on trying to eat the juniper poking out of my bag than saying hello to me, to be honest, but they deigned to allow a quick tickle seeing as it brought the nommy closer to them, and that kept me happy, at least. I'm sure they'll thank me for not giving them an upset stomach in the end, as I'm sure something like juniper would if they tried to eat it...

I also got a rush for the pond, along with another oxygenating plant (a marestail, I think), and some spearwort (sadly already almost completely eaten by a voracious and surprisingly waterproof snail, but there do seem to be some new shoots coming up so I'm hopeful it will pull through). Today we got a waterlily and some fish, and I've moved the more established rushes from the "puddle" as well, to make sure the fish have enough shade and plenty of nooks and crannies to lurk around if they want to. I'll get a replacement for the puddle, but the rushes in there had long overgrown the space anyway, and they were a little worse for wear after Oscar decided their only purpose was for him to rip out of the water and tear around the garden with them.

Bad Dog, Oscar.

Once things are more established, we'll get some pond snails, too, to help keep on top of the algae, although after a couple of weeks now we already have a few water beetles that have moved in and it will be interesting to see what else we might get. Beyond flies and midgies... The local fish shop tends to recommend waiting at least a month before introducing algae eaters, so we should be able to get them in a few weeks. It would be nice to have some frogs, too, so I need to think of a way to allow them to get in and out easily; I'm not sure about piling up stones to allow access, in case they rip the liner, but I'll need to figure that out somehow, and make a nice shallow area to encourage frogspawn/tadpoles eventuall, as well. For now, though, this is what we have:

We got three fish, by the way. One shubunkin, one Sarasa comet, and one yellow (or buttercup) goldfish, mainly to help keep on top of the fly/midgie larvae. And because I like goldfish (I already have 11 fish – three fancy fish, two platys, and five cloud minnows – in two tanks, so Mr Seren is breathing a resigned sigh about the pond at this point). So far only the shubunkin, which Tom chose, has a name, Max the Mutant, because it's mostly blue and white but has one red eye so it's rather distinctive looking. Rosie chose the comet, which is unofficially dubbed "Ghost" at the moment, because it's completely white, but as yet the yellow goldfish remains nameless. She's quite friendly with Ghost, though. Maybe I'll call her Whoopi.

It's all a work in progress, really, but the poppies, lavender and daisy-type plant are already flowering, and the digitalis is just about to. Before we got the pond we also bought a picnic table, so I've moved it beside it all for a comfy spot to sit while I might enjoy the view. It's midgie season right now so the usual times I might want to sit out are right when the midgies are wanting their dinner, but once the weather cools down that shouldn't be a problem.

A while ago I added some links to the Crafts section of the Gaol Naofa library of the website, with ideas for things to do to help make a wildlife-friendly environment for your bioregion. I've been meaning to trawl for more to link and ideas to add (if you have any, please share!), but things like bug hotels and bird baths would be a perfect addition to the space (or up in the flower bed), and the summer holidays is a perfect time to get a project with the kids going. I'm going to look through those and see about what I can do on the cheap, and I'd like to get a bird table, or something, so I can use it for somewhere to put offerings out of the dog's way, and maybe add some more decorations to give some interest once the summer plants start to die back – I couldn't find anything sufficiently tasteful at the garden centre, but Mr Seren thinks that in the absence of an exact replica of the Brigid statue from the well at Kildare (Rosie wishes), we should maybe try to find a peeing Sheela-na-gig water feature... It's kind of tempting, I have to be honest, though I doubt such a thing exists.

For now, until I can get somewhere to allow offerings to be safely made at this spot (I usually put them up on a part of the wall, which terraces the lawn off from the patio, on the other side of the garden where the dogs can't get at them), I can still make libations as I sit. Not pouring them into the pond, obviously. Eventually we'll add some more pots and containers around the pond, too, but for now I want to see how what we've already got will do against the slugs and snails, and what might need repotting next year. I think there'll be a fairly high attrition rate, to be honest, but we'll figure things out, I'm sure. As it is, it's a start, and that in itself provides a focus for me to keep at it and tend to it. Rosie's still figuring out how to make a fish-friendly, but decorative "boat," meanwhile... Priorities, right?