Thursday, October 18, 2007

Where the fae are tangible

I have always enjoyed Neil Gaiman's writing. I took American Gods with me to read in the USA and thoroughly enjoyed Stardust. Last night was the first opportunity to see the film of Stardust in my local cinema and I must admit to going to the very first showing. Films of books are often disappointing if you have let your imagination run riot over the books but I really enjoyed the film and the two hours of screenplay was over all too soon.

There is definitely something deep in the human spirit that hears the call of wild places where the fae are tangible, magic palpable and a Goddess dwells in every spring and grove. I loved the wild landscapes of Stormhold in the film as I love the landscapes of the liminal places of Brighid's Isles. The open grandeur of the North East of England and Highland Scotland; the seascapes of the outer isles are places I visit whenever I can. They bring beauty and magic and wildness to the spirit and we cannot live without such things. Indeed a true teacher is one who opens a child to the beauty and mystery and magic in books, landscape and the human spirit.

It is such wild places that the imagination creates as internal places to enter and explore whenever there is the need to hearken to the Goddess or find healing or sanctuary from the pressures of life. Such landscapes of the heart are a true gift and blessing of the Goddess.

Maybe the rise in the popularity of Halloween has more to do with this than with its obvious commercialism. In the midst of our cities and suburbs, in the midst of our controlled human lives in safe environments, we still need to sense the presence of wild things, to feel magic in the air, to dare to knock on the stranger's door and meet the unknown.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Laa Souney

The Isle of Man is a small island that stands at the very centre of the British Isles. It has its own Celtic culture and language which is seeing something of a revival. With Samhain approaching I thought it would be interesting to look at the tradition of this small community. On the Isle of Man the Celtic New year is called Sauin, or Laa Souney, in Manx and Hollantide in English. Laa Souney literally means November Day.

The House of Manannan museum's presentation on Celtic life includes an interesting piece about the Goddess Breeshey (Bride) passing by all the houses of Man on Laa Souney to bless them for the coming winter. To catch a glimpse of Her passing was seen as a special blessing.

Sauin's association with the death of the old year, ancestors and hopes for the new year can be seen in two customs recorded on the island.

The ashes of the fire were carefully swept to the hearth and evenly spread by the women just before they retired to bed. In the morning they looked for marks in the ashes. If these marks pointed to the threshold there would be a death in the family but if they pointed away from the threshold there would be a marriage.

Young women would listen at a neighbour's door with salt in their hands and water in their mouth. It is said that the first name they heard would be that of their future husband.

In recent times Laa Souney has given way to Hop-tu-naa (Halloween) but a traditional rhyme still tells of the moon, visits to the well, feasting on a heifer and the possibility of meeting a witch.

This is old Hollantide night;
The moon shines bright;
Cock of the hens;
Supper of the heifer;
Which heifer shall we kill?
The little speckled heifer.
The fore-quarter,
We'll put in the pot for you.
The little hind quarter,
Give to us, give to us.
I tasted the broth,
I scalded my tongue,
I ran to the well,
And drank my fill;
On my way back,
I met a witch cat;
The cat began to grin,
And I ran away.
Where did you run to?
I ran to Scotland.
What were they doing there?
Baking bannocks and roasting collops.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Fifty years of shame

The true face of patriarchy - the war god's erect weapon

On the 15th of May 1957 a Valiant bomber of the Royal Air Force released Britain's first atomic bomb over Malden Island in the Pacific Ocean. At 10.38 a.m. local time it successfully exploded. Thousands of miles away - and safe from harm in England - Prime Minister Harold Macmillan smiled. He and the patriarchs who rule had achieved the one goal they really, really wanted - a place at the top table of leaders in the post-war world.

By the standards of the biggest player - the United States Government - Macmillan's weapon was desperately small, a very unmanly 300 kilotons. So enlargement was hot on the agenda and everyone had to work flat out to achieve it. At the end of the very same month an 800 kiloton weapon had been exploded. This was followed by a 1.8 megaton device in November and a 3 megaton device in April 1958. At last the Prime Minister had a weapon every bit as manly and as satisfying as anything the US or the USSR governments could erect before the world.

For the prize of power our patriarchs were willing to compromise safety at Windscale where, on October the 10th 1957, the core of the nuclear reactor used to provide material for these weapons caught fire releasing substantial amounts of radioactive material. They were willing to risk the lives of their own military assembled to witness the firestorms. They were willing to ignore the peoples of the Pacific. They were willing to release radioactivity across our Mother the Earth. All this when Britain was bankrupt after the war and desperately needed resources to be channeled towards housing, education and health care.

And for what again - so our leaders could be "real men" before the United States Government and the world. So they could be proud to have the capability of far surpassing the worst biblical genocides with a weapon that could destroy not just cities - like Sodom and Gomorrah - but entire regions.

Fifty years later Britain is still a nuclear power - our leaders still want to stand erect as "real men" in Iraq and throughout the world even if only from the safety of their bullet-proof vehicles in London. Fifty years later Britain's offence expenditure stands at 33.4 billion pounds a year, second only to the United States. Fifty years of shame.

Fifty years later some interesting reports have been produced. The Economist ranked 111 countries on the quality of life of their citizens. They looked at important factors like gender equality, health, well-being and freedom. The top ranking country on this scale was Ireland, followed by Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries. Britain came a poor 29th. The 2006 Human Development Index of the UN ranks Norway, Iceland, Australia and Ireland as the top four countries with Britain a poor 18th.

There is a pattern here. Countries with low offence budgets whose leaders don't feel the need to prove their "manhood" before the United States Government and the world are by far the best countries in which to live. Ireland is right next to Britain but does so much better.

Now, if you haven't already, take a look at Athana's blog. She points the way forward far more cogently then I.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Hare Moon Gazing

Last weekend I visited Oxford and the nearby village of Woodstock and happened to glance in the window of an art gallery. My eye was met by a beautiful moon gazing hare and I knew she was just meant for my altar and hearth. So I went inside and asked to see her. The lady in the gallery was obviously puzzled by my description but brought the hare from the window for me to see. Whilst I was getting acquainted with the energy of the hare the lady was looking for information on the artist and the ceramic. The artist turned out to be Linda Heaton-Harris who specialises in hand built one-off pieces of British wildlife. She had entitled the ceramic, "Hare Moon Gazing." The lady said, "Full marks for getting the name right. He will be going to a good home." "Yes" I replied, "She will."

All over the world the hare is a character in the myths of our ancestors. She is always associated with the moon and fertility and often associated with immortality, wisdom and bravery. Although in Britain people now talk about 'the man in the moon' most cultures know that the moon bears the image of a hare. In China the moon hare carries a mortar and pestle in which she mixes a potion of immortality. In Africa there is a story of how the moon goddess was so pleased with men and women that she sent the moon hare with a promise of immortality.

In Britain hares were once seen as royal animals and it was forbidden to hunt them. Many Celtic goddesses and legendary women are associated with hares. There are many stories of women shape-shifting into hares. Certainly their beautiful courtship dances, wild sexual energy and night activity make them fascinating, magical animals.

Sadly hares were maligned by the church, associated with madness and decried as animals of ill-omen. Dancing hares at night were said to be covens of witches dancing. Shape-shifting witches in the form of hares were said to dry up the udders of cows and cause women to miscarry or give birth to a child with a hare-lip.

But, I will have none of that. Like the hare I will dance about the moon and let her work her magic and I know that my beautiful hare will evoke the goddess in my heart.

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