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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Feeling crafty - an alternative Lughnasa

The Lughnasa wreath experiment

 So it's getting close to Lughnasa again and this year I am trying something a little bit different. Usually my Lughnasa involves a family picnic and either some hiking and plant collecting or some age appropriate physical games. This year though we are facing health problems on several fronts that make an active outdoor Lughnasa much more complicated so I decided we needed  a back-up plan. I noticed several people talking about Lughnasa as a time for both the traditional activity of bread baking and also of crafting, and I thought maybe this would be a good direction to go in.
   I am researching how to make my own bread from scratch and plan to make some for Lughnasa. My friends have had several great suggestions about how to approach this new project and I truly appreciate all the advice I've gotten, from recipes to how to properly get the dough to rise. Also - great advice indeed - to have several trial runs before cooking for the actual holy day. I'll be sure to post after Lughnasa to let you all see how it goes.
   Another inspiration I had was to try embroidery, after a good friend suggested it was an easy sowing craft to get into. I went to the store today to look for supplies and I admit I lost my nerve; the array of options was a bit too overwhelming for me without having a certain idea of what I was doing. But when I saw a set of grape wreathes I had a bit of an inspiration for a craft I have done before which can be time consuming but is easy and fun - making my own decorated wreath. I decided to pick up some basic supplies and give it a go today to see how it was and get a better plan for what to do with it on Lughnasa next week. The children wanted to make one too so we purchased a large wreath and a small one, ribbon, and assorted fake flowers. The easiest shape I know how to make on such a wreath is a basic star, so that is what we did, although I am now trying to figure out how to do a more complicated shape, perhaps a triquetra. The project was fun and not too difficult and the girls enjoyed it, so I will definitely start planning a more intricate version for the holiday.
The children's wreath

    Since I had the ribbon I also decided to decorate a blank book, as the one I have for keeping notes on my Druidic material is nearly full and needs a second volume. This is something I have done many times before and something I enjoy doing; I had never really thought of it as crafty, per se, but as I was working on it I found myself reflecting on the different ways that Lughnasa crafts can be expressed. Perhaps there is something appropriate in making decorative wreath to bless my home and a book to write about my spirituality in on a holiday associated with harvesting; certainly I found myself reflecting on the year and what I have harvested in my own life. I think next week on the actual holiday I will intentionally work this retrospective aspect into the craftwork, perhaps as a discussion with my children where we can all share our thoughts on the past few months.
The cover of the new book - the image is from a greeting card

The inside cover of the new book - image is also a greeting card

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Book Review: Through the Faerie Glass

  Yesterday I read Through the Faerie Glass by Kenny Klein, a book I had high hopes for and very much wanted to like. Unfortunately it didn't live up to my expectations. I decided to review it here to share my thoughts on it with everyone.
   This book is a truly mixed bag, with good material and points side by side with bad. One of the most frustrating things when reading it is that the author often states information without any references of sources, leaving the reader unable to track down how factual something is, or what an idea is based on. His bibliography is extensive but random, with everything from the Rees's Celtic Heritage and Yeats to the Bible and modern fiction novels. It is also difficult at many points to follow what the author is saying as he will make one statement at one point and then a contradictory statement later; he goes around and around about the Fey being human folk memories of people meeting more primitive peoples, or being Gods, or being supernatural, for example, intermixing theories together and stating them each on their own. He is particularly set on the Faeries being the ancient Picts who were driven into the hills, he says, by the Celts and their iron technology, although he also says the Picts themselves may be Otherworldly, magical, shamanic, etc.,. This theory was a pet one of Gerald Gardner and featured in the novel The Mists of Avalon but there is absolutely no evidence, archaeological or folkloric, to support the idea.
  Looking at the good points first the book starts with a warning against the Victorian view of faeries, and advises that the Fey are more complex and potentially dangerous than little garden sprites. The book also includes excerpts of many traditional pieces including the Ballad of True Thomas, Tam Lin, and other traditional folk songs or poems about faeries. The book also includes some good genuine folklore and belief that can often be ignored in other modern books, like the Selkies marrying human husbands or the Fey stealing children and brides.
  Now intermixed within the good we see the bad. I've already mentioned his belief that the Picts were the Faeries and this becomes the crux of several problematic points. He says the words fairies and pixies are directly from the term Picts, which is just not etymologically sound. Pict is from the Latin for painted; pixie is of unknown origin, and fairy is from the Latin for fate.He states that the Irish word Sidhe means mound dweller (it means fairy hill) and is derived from the name for the Picts who lived, he claims, in underground homes. He states that iron is a good protection against faeiries (true) but he says its because the Picts would have feared the strange new metal or else associated it with death and warfare. He also claims that the reported time difference between our world and Fairyland comes from Celts who visited with the Picts and ingested psychogenic plants that distorted their sense of time, creating a false sense of being in another world; because, he says, the Picts were shamans who used psychotropic plants and apparently gave them out to untrained visitors.
   Getting away from the Pictish nonsense, he also is very fond of the idea that Gods are actually fairies, a reverse of what many fairy faith and Celtic pagans believe. So instead of the gods being reduced into fairies, or put into the category of the aos sidhe, he says that the gods are fairies themselves along the lines of traditional pixies, selkies, etc., He says that  Rhiannon is an underworld horse fairy. Cerridwen is a bird fairy because in her myth she turns into a bird twice, and the Sumerian/Hebrew goddess Lilith is an owl fairy. Surprisingly Llew is not a bird fairy, but a Sun God, so maybe its especially goddesses? Although he does say Odin is a fairy (and that Tyr is Odin), so, I don't know. Which sums up a lot of this book.
   His section on Samhain is comic, with a very interesting discussion about how the Celts believed that Death (capital D) was wandering around on Samhain and could freely take anyone It felt like. So, he says, the Celts dressed up as ghosts to trick Death into thinking they'd already kicked it, and they placed lit turnips in front of their homes to signal that Death had already been there. Because apparently he thinks that Death leaves a glowing turnip as a "Death was here" marker; I assume so that It isn't wasting It's time going back to the same houses It's already been to. I found this extremely funny.
   The author also mixes in a lot of Middle Eastern and Hebrew material with the Celtic and talks a lot about Greek Nymphs and Dryads in a Celtic context which I thought was a bit odd, but neither good nor bad. Alright the bit about Druids sleeping by streams to receive inspiration from naiads was bad, and that bit about "Cailleach bheara" being the title of the banshee when she takes the form of a, yeah, that was kind of painful.
  Anyway, I wouldn't recommend it. There are good points but not nearly enough to outweigh the awful. I'm not going to bother with the second book about Fairy Tale rituals. I'm kind of surprised there is a second book, but I guess people who don't know better can't discern the quality of the material. Or they just don't care.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Random Spritual Update...

I promise to get back to my regular style of blogging soon - I have ideas to blog about the Colloquy of Two Sages, Manannan mac Lir, Brighid, maybe Badhbh, wands, and some other assorted fun things - but I wanted to keep everyone who has been following my rambling spiritual quest up to date. So, here is a random update.
   This past week has been turbulent on several fronts. I found out a very dear friend who has just started chemo again is in the hospital with complications, and I am very worried about her. My youngest daughter, who has chronic medical issues, cut her foot at the beach and now we are infection watch. Personally, I have been fighting repeated migraines as I try to switch from one medication to another and also found out that I am anemic. It has been one of those weeks were everyday seemed to bring more and more challenges.
    I always try to find some good in everything, and if nothing else this past week has helped me to better understand my own need for spiritual fulfillment and, more importantly, what I need in a religion. I have missed the daily routine of my CR Druidic practices and when I have been at my lowest I have sought comfort in the natural world and in the spirits I feel closest too: Macha, my father, my great-grandmother, the spirits of the land and the spirits of certain plants. It's an interesting mix, to be sure. I also had time to really reflect on the ways that Wicca does and doesn't work for me, and I think I've accepted now that, while it will always hold happy memories for me, its just not right for me. From a purely intellectual perspective modern Druidism, specifically ADF, makes the most sense and would allow to me to incorporate my diverse interests and pantheons. Of course I've been a card carrying member of ADF since 2001 and have never done anything with it, having been drawn immediately into more specifically Celtic approaches, but I have decided that the next logical step in this self exploration is to give a fair shot to neopagan Druidism.
  I may find out that, in the end, I will be walking alone on my own path that is a blend of what I like best from all the religions I have experienced. But over time I have forgotten or lost the little bits of joy in each of them, and I am determined now to reclaim them - already I have valuable lessons from Wicca to bring forward, things that I enjoy or make me happy but that I stopped doing because they didn't fit into a new approach. It's time to see what Druidism holds for me.