My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture, and things in the broader realm of the Gothic and darkly Romantic. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

Goth is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, the expression of that in Goth rock. It looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Siouxsie, Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, et al) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. The Gothic should not be limited by what is already within it; inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Wednesday, 25 December 2019

Gothic Christmas

I decorated my study with Gothic-aesthetic Christmas decorations. As has been explained in this blog already, I don't celebrate Christmas as a religious thing, more an honouring of family traditions. It's very much a secular Christmas in our household, with the big religious celebration being Midwinter's Day on the 21st of December instead. The decorations in my study centre around the 'Gothmas' Tree - something that's part in-joke, part household 'tradition'. The 'Gothmas' Tree started when Raven and I first moved in together, nearly 10 years ago. His family are quite traditional about Christmas, and so Raven wanted to continue that. At that point, I wasn't really into Christmas very much as I came from a home where it wasn't really celebrated because it held too many painful memories and too much anxiety, it was a very simple occasion with no turkey, a very briefly apparent Christmas tree, and usually a lot of sorrow. I went to Christian schools, so Christmas was a big thing there, and I sang with church choirs when I was younger, so I'd performed in many carol concerts, and so it wasn't a completely bleak and sombre affair (and even the worst Christmas of my life ended up with me falling asleep in glittering lights of the basilica in Rennes) but it just wasn't something I felt a deep connection to, at least not a positive one. 

A photograph of Christmas decorations. The wall behind is purple, there is a black dado rail, and greyscale wallpaper of Gothic arches. There are three shelves on the right holding art materials, and the upper two shelves are garlanded with tinsel, grey at the top, iridescent green and purple in the middle. There is a 2 and a half foot tall black Christmas tree densely decorated, with a glittery snowflake on the top that is too large and leans slightly to the right. The tree is on a desk with a fake black marble work-surface. The bottom of the tree is wrapped in a Hallowe'en table-cloth of black lace. The tree is decorated in a purple and silver colour-scheme, with skulls and stars as the primary motifs; it has lots of tinsel. Behind the tree is an ornate black metal stand for a tablet computer.  There is a grey vintage-style desk-lamp on the desk.
The 'Gothmas' tree & my tinsel on my desk. The snowflake is too big, so leans
I wanted to go for a Gothic 'Christmas' that was just a second Hallowe'en (my favourite holiday, of course) so I could still be celebrating something when surrounded by the huge cultural pressure to do Christmas, but my partner is very much into a traditional Christmas. The compromise was that we'd do both; I could have my own Gothic tree, and we would have a big traditional tree in the living room, and I could watch 'Nightmare Before Christmas' and he could play old-time Christmas songs from the '40s and '50s, and we'd get together for roast dinner with the fancy black-handled ornate cutlery reserved for special occasions I brought back from Ireland. It was said in jest that my Gothic tree was so I wouldn't 'ruin' the Yule tree with skulls and bats when Raven wasn't looking because I kept trying to 'sneak' black baubles onto the Yule tree, especially when I found baubles that were very pretty but too big for my little black tree, and they are now permanent fixtures on the Yule tree (which has a lot of more unusual decorations).

A bauble in the shape of a jaggedly pointed star with many points, made of clear plastic with an iridescent rainbow finish that tends towards green and purple. The bail for suspending the bauble is two silver beads It is infront of the black Christmas tree and a dark purple wall. Bright purple tinsel is visible
Spiky iridescent bauble, I think from B&M or Tesco, on the 'Gothmas' tree

I couldn't afford a second full-size tree on that first Christmas because I'd recently been made redundant when the shop I was assistant manageress of shut down for good a couple of months previous, so I bought a small tree, to bring a spark of spooky joy into what I feared would be a very bleak Christmas in a new country where I knew virtually nobody except my partner, hundreds of miles from my family, jobless, broke, and celebrating that festival that I usually hated. Christmas that year actually wasn't too bad, and I think I managed to even continue the pattern from our first Christmas where I bought Raven a hamper of unusual ingredients and favourite foods! Ever since then, there has been the Gothmas tree - in our old apartment it used to be in the bedroom, and now it is in my study, where being purple and black it matches everything else in there as the whole room is purple and black. 

In the upper left corner is a white foil stylised skull with a crack in its temple, it is attached to black tinsel. The whole thing is ensconced in black synthetic Christmas tree branches, but only the skull is in focus
Skull tinsel - cracked skull tinsel, to be precise, from Poundland
Apart from being very short, my little black tree is quite weedy, so I fill it with tinsel - purple, black, silver, and one that's purple and black with black cats, and another that's black and white with skulls. It looks a lot bushier once I've wound it around with all that tinsel - full length tinsel meant for full size trees, too! It's about all I can do to make it a passable Christmas tree and not a sad Christmas branch instead.

A black gilltery tombstone-shape cut from acrylic, with a transfer in white stylised spindly letters saying 'Festive Fears', suspended in a black Christmas tree, with a white star bauble in the foreground, and a grey six-pointed star bauble to the left. There is skull tinsel in the background
'Festive Fears' tombstone decoration from SpookyBoxCo
Some of the decorations like the glittery stars and black baubles are just ordinary Christmas decorations - it's quite common to find purple and black decorations these days, and silver is a traditional festive decoration for anything snowy. I quite like the spiky glittery stars, and there iridescent star shown at the top. I've also got decorations from SpookyBoxCo from when I used to be subscribed. Some are black tomb-stones with spooky mottos, and some are white skulls (pictured bellow).  There's also glittery purple skulls tucked into the boughs, but all the photographs that I tried to take turned out blurry, unfortunately. 

A cartoonish white acrylic skull, very glossy, hanging in the black Christmas tree, with a clear bat-shaped LED string light, silver bead garland, purple tinsel, and black tinsel with white skulls. The shelve and lantern-styled string lights are visible in the background, out of focus, in the upper left
Cute skull decoration from SpookyBoxCo
As you can see in the background of the photograph above, the lights on the tree are bats. They glow a blue-ish violet, but all the photographs I've taken of them look purely blue. I promise they aren't entirely blue. They're Hallowe'en lights, I think probably from Poundland, but I can't be certain of that. I don't have many Hallowe'en specific string-lights in my house any more - I used to have several in my study when it had the more kitschy aesthetic, but I've now rehomed them to people who have more of that sort of aesthetic. I still have two strings of skull lights, one with small clear resin skulls, and one with blown mercury glass large skulls, but they are in our bedroom. I bought some purple bat miniature LED lights, which are on the edge of my shelves. 

The black Christmas tree is illuminated by a light that appears blue; in the centre is a lit bat LED light, it is brightest in the middle, so bright it is almost white in the photograph. The rest of the tree is very dark, much is black. In real life, the bat glows a more purple-y colour.
A purple bat that looks blue. 
The rest of the string-lights in the picture below are all permanent fixtures in my study, except for the ones on the tree. The festive period is probably the only time of the year when I have all of the string-lights turned on, although I do sometimes put a few one for things like ambience while gaming at my PC or mood-lighting for D&D. I also like to put a few on when I'm meditating, and don't want the bright over-head light or stand light. I think my study possibly has far too many lighting options, and I'm saving up to get an electrician in to give me even more lighting options, hopefully in summer, so maybe I'm just overly finnicky about lighting adjustability... The lantern string lights were originally clear plastic with brown frames and I used glass-paint to make them purple and green and nail-polish to re-paint the brown plastic frames black. The skull, lanterns and purple orb lights were all from Poundland. They run off batteries. 

The small black Christmas-tree is just right of centre in the picture. The camera looks diagonally towards the shelves. There is a Gothic arch mirror behind the Christmas tree. There is also a lamp, turned off, in the shape of a book, with a Harry Potter themed cover that says Liber Lux behind the tree. The tree is on a shiny simulated marble worktop. A computer screen is just visible on the far left, but it is turned off. There is a grey vintage-style desk-lamp underneath the shelves. The shelves are black with ornate Victorian brackets. Hanging from the lowest shelf is a string of lantern-shaped string lights, quite small - the panes are green and purple. On the first shelf there are ornate boxed of art materials and a glass skull filled with small white LED lights. The second shelf is farlanded with iridescent tinsel that seems to be glimmering in the low light. On the second self there is a string of tiny purple bat-shaped lights reaching upwards and a rack with coloured markers. The small black Christmas tree has bat-shaped lights that seme very blue in the photograph. There is a row of round purple lights running under some black dado rail; it illuminates grey wallpaper depicting Gothic arches so it loos purple, and reflects off the glossy worktop.The image is dark, it is taken at night to maximise the effect of the string-lights. The wall is visible in the upper right and it is a very dark purple. There is a Highlands and Islands region sticker for the Scottish Green Party on the Gothic mirror behind the Christmas tree.
Lanterns, a skull, tiny bats, & glowing orbs are the tip of the lighting iceberg
In both the first photograph and the one above you can see there's tinsel on my shelf. I think they're both from B&M, although one might be from The Range, I can't remember. I've got two more photographs of tinsel and I'm not writing two more paragraphs on the topic of tinsel; one is iridescent green and purple/pink, and the other is petrol grey, and they're thick with long fronds - that is all there is to say about tinsel. I think the iridescent one looks quite magical. 

Iridiscent green and purple tinsel with almost transparent fronds, against the background of a dark purple wall. The image is very busy, and the tinsel takes up most of the image
Iridescent tinsel
I think next year I will get two more strands of tinsel, so each shelf has one, as just two shelves looks a bit awkward. I'd like to get some really chunky black tinsel, and maybe some purple or some silver tinsel. 

Grey tinsel above a blurred purple bauble and against the background of a dark purple wall. The fronds of the tinsel are quite chunky, the tinsel is dark grey and metallic
Grey tinsel
Another element of Christmas decorations in my study are foil garlands, spider garlands, and a foil star. They are the sort that come flat, and you fold them out to expand them. I know a lot of people think these decorations are quite tacky, but I like them, and they remind me of Christmas at my grandmother's house back in the early '90s, maybe even the late '80s. I liked Christmas at my English grandmother's house, but she passed away when I was a child. I tried really hard to photograph the garlands, but I could not get a good angle. I did get a good couple of photographs of the star that hangs from my ceiling however. 

A star with alternating purple, silver and blue points, made of thin coloured foil, suspended in front of a dark purple wall
A foil star with silver, purple and blue
There's a spider garland that has a pretty similar concept - it's purple (six legged???) spiders made of tissue-paper strung along a cord - but I didn't get a photograph of that either. 

A foil star of alternating purple, silver and blue sections viewed from the upper right, looking down onto it, with a dark purple wall in the background and on the purple wall is the black metal frame of a former-mirror missing its glass - it is a black Gothic arch with swirling spirals and three candle-sconces on the bottom. Three glass hearts are hanging from the candle-sconces. The foil star is in focus, the black mirror frame isn't
My glass-less Gothic arch former-mirror for scale and position.
That was my Christmas decorations for 2019. If by next Christmas, I have my cornice up and sort out my ceiling (maybe with two new lights...) then you might get a half-decent photo of the garlands, too. 

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Neo-Pagan Solstice Part 2: The Tree

Photographs by Raven, 2018
We have a Yule Tree. Calling it that is a good compromise between calling it a Christmas Tree and calling it a Solstice tree, seeing as variations on the name 'Yule' are used to refer to Christmas in many languages, and Yule is also what a lot of Neo-Pagans call the Winter Solstice. As I mentioned before, our household does Solstice out of faith, and Christmas out of tradition. The decorations are mostly gold for the returning light, red for the kinds of food that last into winter, and white/clear for the snow and ice of winter. For the most part, it is like the average Christmas tree, as Christmas trees are themselves of Pagan origin - the only difference with ours is that it has a few more deliberately solar decorations. Most people these days put up a tree as an entirely secular festive ornament, an element of tradition that may be divorced from its roots in some ways (much like the average 'live' tree in that respect...) but I think it is a beautiful thing that we keep doing them, and I love how many people use their trees to express themselves, or as a creative medium on which family traditions are built. As such, I would like to share with you all our tree. It's possibly a bit self-indulgent, but as the tree is probably one of my favourite things about the festive season, and this is my blog, here we are!

2011 Yule Tree, 
not sure who took the photos
We have had our Yule Tree since Raven and I have lived together, always topped with the radiant sun. I think I made a post about our Yule Tree in 2011, or at least intended to, because I found an old collage of the Yule Tree from when we still lived in the apartment! Raven and I have been together for a decade now, and I like how we have formed our own mini-traditions for our mini-family. Every year we have celebrated Christmas day with found-family, some of whom have strained family relationships and painful memories of the festive period like myself. Solstice has often been celebrated with the broad group of friends met through the Highland Open Circle. The Yule tree has glittered through all of that, a symbol of both festivals, and of Raven and I merging our ideas. 

2011 Solstice decorations. I think I took these photos
I have a second, smaller tree in my study, known as the 'Gothmas' tree or the 'Cryptmas' tree which is black, purple and silver with sklls, bones, black cats and tomb-stones, but it will get its own post as it is an entirely secular festive decoration - and very much an aesthetic suited to the main Gothic theme of this blog rather than a Pagan thing. 

The Yule Tree, 2017. My photo
The main difference between our tree and the average Christmas tree are the solar decorations. As well as gilded plaster decorations of the sun and moon, there is a large sun on the top of the tree instead of a star. I think it was actually manufactured as a starburst, but being gold and amber, and with so many radiating points, it certainly looks very solar.

Sun-burst tree-topper with gold & amber sparkles. 2017, by me

Glowing sun bauble, 2017, by me.
I am on the look out for more sun-themed decorations for our tree, especially gold ones. It is not, as is to be expected, the most popular motif among mainstream sellers of decorations, however gold decorations in general are pretty popular.Plain gold baubles can look pretty solar, as can translucent ones if they are the right texture and carefully illuminated - I think they are the most 'realistic' solar depictions on our tree. We also have the other kind of solar decoration, the sun-face design reminiscent of Sol made popular in medieval heraldry.  It's an image that hangs on our tree, but is also in the Solstice decorations around our house and on our altar, as visible on the altar post. 

Sun decoration. Photographed 2017

Sun bauble 2018, my photo.
I bought the sun, and it's twin - a gilded moon - secondhand on eBay. I buy a LOT of things secondhand, online on eBay, in charity shops, from Facebook sales groups, etc. mostly because it is cheaper, but also because it seems you find more unusual things, especially older things, if you shop in those sorts of places. I know folk are probably tired of hearing me yammer on about the environment, but it is very important to re-use the stuff we have already made, or recycle where possible, rather than constantly use up more and more of our natural resources to make new things by energy-intensive and polluting processes (it's also worth noting that some forms of recycling are high energy, too). If you are feeling crafty, there are plenty of craft projects for tree decorations that are also recycling projects; maybe next year I'll put some on my blog.

 Moon bauble, 2018? My photo.
We have a moon bauble as well as a sun one, because while we celebrate the returning sun and coming of warmer weather, we also celebrate the longest night and those cosy evenings indoors, the snow on the hills and importance of winter in the cycle of things. The balance is important, and although there are a lot of harsh things about winter weather, that harsh weather kills off harmful pests and parasites, the frost can be what triggers some plants to grow, and snow-sports are a big part of the local economy in some regions of the Highlands. Winter is not inherently a bad thing, just as summer is not inherently a good thing; they both have their benefits and also bring problems (eg. summer can bring drought, wild-fires, sunburn, heat exhaustion etc.). In my form of Paganism I try and celebrate the seasons as they come, and while there is always something hopeful about the returning light in darkness, sometimes it's important to appreciate that darkness too (a familiar mentality for Goths!). 

Star decoration chosen for the pentagram of ribbons and sunburst centre 
Our Yule Tree has decorations that aren't solar, like owls (getting a new owl each year has become a tradition in our household, too), a blown-glass witch, some skulls, lots of tartan and deer, a fuzzy wolf to represent our friend 'Sarge' and a lot of pine-cones, some glass, some real, as well as snowflakes and snowy things of various designs; it's a seasonal tree at its heart; the ever-green pine (in our case because it's plastic and thus literally can't die) decorated with symbols of winter, much like most festive trees... and unlike my Gothmas tree, which is more a touch of Hallowe'en in midwinter! But the Gothmas tree will get its own post next! 


Sunday, 8 December 2019

Study/Studio Re-Decoration Part 2: Book-Nook

In my much earlier post about decorating my study ::here:: I showed some pictures of it with lighter purple walls, and vinyl decals of Gothic architecture. I felt the bright purple was a bit too kitsch, and was having doubts about the vinyl decals. As such, I became motivated to re-decorate, firstly by removing the decals and re-painting the room a darker purple, and then by adding new flooring (finally!) and screening my meditation area/book-nook with  curtains. There is quite a lot to cover, so I am splitting this between several posts. The previous post ::here:: was about my gallery/display wall.
Sensory Space
My Book-Nook has been a part of the study/studio design plan right from the start. It's probably the most 'Hippie' rather than Goth corner, despite the dark purple walls and black furniture. Its purpose is to provide a quiet reading and chill-out space for me.

I have Asperger's with sensory processing disorder, and one of the most difficult symptoms to manage is sensory overload. To mitigate this, I have deliberately created a calming sensory space. It is important that it is dark, with muted colours, because one of the major ways in which I get overstimulated is through too many bright lights, garish colours, etc. (envisage a supermarket or mall full of bright shop lighting - that will affect me badly, for example). I can gradually increase the light to reading level by using string-lights for dim light, then using the ::Klevercase:: Harry Potter book-shaped reading light (bought in a sale!), or turning on a stand light that is just outside the Book-Nook.

Double mesh curtains filters any glare from the window, and also adds a little sound insulation, although it is a quiet corner of the house, anyway, away from things like the kitchen and bathroom which might have noise. Loud noises and noisy environments are also very difficult for me. I can again gradually increase my sound exposure by putting calming music on with head-phones, or from my computer speakers. I find urban environemnts far too loud for me a lot of the time - too much traffic, all the H.V.A.C systems on buildings, the sounds of people, sirens, etc. all become quite overwhelming (especially traffic noise trapped between the hard surfaces of buildings so it becomes almost an indistinct rushing noise...). It's one of the reasons I moved to somewhere rural, and I am sad about how much busier and more developed where I live is becoming.

I also have to recharge after socialising because the constant analysis and 'masking' required for me to function socially is quite exhausting, so this space provides a retreat and recharge space for that. Having this space is very important to me avoiding meltdowns, especially as I have to try and hold everything in when I'm out and about, so that release when I get home can sometimes be a gush as the dam breaks if I'm not careful.

Meditation Space
I have a half-height book-case that I use for university books (not all of them; they don't all fit!) in there, and originally I was using the top of the book-case for photo-frames. I took down the photo-frames for two reasons; firstly I wanted a more permanent set-up for my personally altar, and secondly I haven't got around to having prints done to fill all of the frames. I don't have many photographs of friends of family, and this is something I want to work on - mostly printing out photographs I've taken myself. When I do fill all the frames, I'm going to put them on the radiator cover (more on that later). 

Darker purple wall with moon mirrors and stencilling.  Gothic fairy.
Photo-frames with pictures of my Dad and Uncle. Dragon frame will be for Raven
I apologise for the quality of some of the photographs; where I have used the camera on my mobile phone the photographs are grainy and poor resolution, where I have used the camera on Raven's phone, the pictures are crisp and better quality.

One addition to my study has been replacing the photographs on top of one of the book-cases with a new iteration of my meditation altar/personal devotion altar. As it is on a book-case, and therefore effectively on a space that is more shelf-shaped than table-shaped, the arrangement of the altar is necessarily elongated.  I like having somewhere quiet and tucked away I can practice privately without interruptions. The book-nook area is behind curtains, so it is even more secluded than my study, which itself has a door onto the upstairs hallway. There's no window facing directly onto the book-nook, so it is probably the most private corner of the house - perfect for not being disturbed while I'm meditating, as well as perfect for reading in peace. I am somewhat reclusive by nature, so hiding myself away in a corner is my idea of heaven. It's a little inner-sanctum in my house, a corner that is just for me.

These are some pictures from early September of my altar set up - I will show some more recent ones later one, so keep reading for those.

Personal Meditation Altar
The two 'pink' candles are actually more of a fuchsia purple, slightly darker and bluer than fuchsia pink, however they look quite pink once lit - they are hand-dipped candles bought from The Maker's Mark in Newcastle Emlyn/Castell Newydd Emlyn in Wales. It is a fabulous wee shop, and whenever I'm in Wales, I try and make trip especially to that shop. The lavender jar-candle is one I made myself from the reclaimed scraps of candles I have burned at my altar in the past - the stubs of so many white tea-lights diluting the purples and blacks I have often used. As has been mentioned in other posts, I am now buying beeswax or soy candles, and this jar-candle of recycled paraffin wax stubs is the last of the paraffin wax used on an altar. I'm phasing out paraffin wax altogether, burning through the last of my stash of tealights, and replacing them mostly with beeswax.  More recently, I have been buying rolled beeswax hand-made 'dinner' size candles. I will probably make a blog post all about candles in the near future.  One of my main candle suppliers is ::Sweet Little Candle Company:: because of the variety of sizes and colours.

Close-up of my chalice, two spell pouches, the box for my Black Book and
candle-holders, pentagram plaque
The black and purple pentagram plaque was bought on eBay, it is hand-made, and I am not sure if it is secondhand, or made by the seller. It was originally gold and black, but I repainted the pentacle purple to better fit in with my décor, using some purple nail-varnish to get a high-gloss and durable finish. The moon shaped glass tea-light holder was second-hand on eBay and it was only £1 (excluding postage). The stack of skulls resin ornament is just there to weigh down the altar cloth, because it was quite light and sheer and kept sliding off the gloss-painted book-case. Not that long after this, some falling incense burnt a hole through the altar cloth, so I have replaced it (pictures further below). 

Contextual image of my Book-Nook. Some colour distortion on right side.
Corner shelves on left have travelled with me since I lived in England!
There are stars stencilled all along the upper edges of my walls. I bought the stencils on eBay for £4.99 from a shop called 'The Stencilist' which is no longer on eBay. I also got an individual star-burst mylar stencil for £2.99 from Stencil Zone. All the stars were sponged on with acrylic paints, with a mixture of gold and silver acrylic used in the Book-Nook to give a shimmer effect. The mixed paint isn't quite as fun as colour-shift paint, but it does have an interesting mottled look, and how gold or silver they look depends a lot on the lighting conditions.

I did the abstract painting in the middle - it is an acrylic pour painting done with metallic paints with colours inspired by the Aurora Borealis. I live north enough to see the Aurora from my house sometimes, although often the weather is too cloudy to get a proper look. At the time of writing this, the painting is part of an exhibition I am in at the Inverness Museum And Gallery (ground floor, in the Room to Discover), and I've replaced it with a large moon mirror. 

Large moon mirror. Photo taken during full moon ritual. Purple lantern reflection
I think the moon mirrors are made in Indonesia - one is certainly labelled as such (the smallest one), and I think as they are all so similar, that they are likely all made in the same place. I have three on this wall, an oval one on the side of the book-case, and a matching carved wooden wind-chime hanging over my window. All of the moon mirrors were bought secondhand, mostly on eBay. The large one was £3.95, the small one £3 and the medium one £3.73, all from different sellers, and excluding postage and packaging.* I think these moon mirrors might be made as tourist souvenirs, as it is relatively common to see them turn up second-hand. I haven't seen this specific sort of thing in import shops catering to the hippie demographic (like FarFetched in Inverness) but that is also a possibility. I display them because of the religious significance of the moon to me as a Neo-Pagan Witch. My meditation altar is where I do my moon-phase devotions, so there is a lot of moon iconography on that altar. I see a lot of similar mirrors on sale from American eBay sellers, but I can't afford postage and customs from America. I don't often buy things new, so wouldn't know where to look for one new. 


Current collection of round moon mirrors, two with coronas, all three purple.
Stylistically all very similar: carved wood with a similar style of painting,
thin eyebrows, soft gradients of colour, three stars and similarly drawn eyes.
As I mentioned above, I recently got a new altar cloth. It's always a risk having incense or candles near fabric, and unfortunately some smouldering bits fell off a joss stick, and landed on the layered altar cloth over a rather more flammable plastic-based synthetic lace skull table-cloth I'd been using to keep my books less dusty, and a hole, rather noticeable, got burned into both of them. I've ditched the Hallowe'en table cloth idea entirely, and I'm going to make a curtain for the books that is under the lip of the top of the book-case, so less likely to come in contact with anything falling from incense on my altar. It is good that I was right there when it happened; this sort of thing happening unattended could start a fire. Always think of fire-risk if you use candles, incense or any other naked flame or source of ignition in your spiritual practice. Witch-burning is a bad thing!

New altar cloth, beeswax candles, candle-sticks, witchy boxes, etc.
Ash next to incense burner rolled there once very much extinguished, and because
I was faffing about with re-arrangement; it did not land on my new altar cloth.
I want to mention the candle-holders. Both the two small ones and the two taller ones are from charity shops. The two taller ones are the first altar candlesticks I ever bought, back when I lived in England, probably back in 2002 or 2003. I had misplaced one for a while, so they weren't on my altar because I don't like asymmetry.  I try and source as much of my stuff secondhand as possible; there's no reason to spend a whole heap of money to put together an altar, or even to have intresting decor. I see a lot of expensive stuff being sold to the Pagan community and also to the Goth community and it's frustrating when I see people who feel like they NEED to have all these expensive things to be a proper Witch, or to keep up with all the Instagram Goths or Instagram witches,(of which technically I am one of both, so look me up at @domesticatedgoth that is where I put all of these photographs before they went up on here) and you don't need to spend a lot of money or have whatever item is trending on Instagram to be valid. Have a good rummage in a charity shop/thrift shop, look on eBay, Depop, your local sales group, etc. etc. There's plenty of very reasonably priced items out there, and they are often more unusual and unique than what is mass-produced.

*I exclude postage and packaging fees from all eBay prices because it is something that will be so variable depending on location. Many sellers offer direct collection, which is very useful if you live in a large urban area with lots of eBay sellers, but I live in the Scottish Highlands, so not only do I rarely have anyone nearby selling, I also have to contend with a surcharge on deliveries sometimes, something I feel is deeply unfair as I still live on the mainland and we are serviced by a proper road and rail network. I am not on an island! It does not take a ferry or plane to deliver me post!. Also, a lot of sellers have a 'doesn't post to Scottish Highlands' issue. It's a pet peeve of mine - we're not as remote and isolated as people think.

Study/Studio Re-Decoration Part 1: Feature Wall

In a much earlier post ::here::, my study had bright purple walls, vinyl decals, etc. I felt it was too kitschy for my current tastes, and started redecorating. It has been a slow process, as decorating is costly, and there are other parts of our house that have needed our attention more urgently. The room isn't finished yet, but it's pretty close. As it's quite a complicated, multi-purpose room. 

Featuring the Wall
My feature wall, also termed a 'display-wall' or 'gallery-wall' is probably the part of my study that most embodies the aesthetic that I am aiming for with my study. It was initially a black wall with silver Valspar glitter for some sparkle. I repainted it after the initial surface got scuffed up by me reposition the pictures, knocking it with furniture etc. For the repaint, I wanted to have a slightly green colour, partly to balance the purple walls, and partly because I just like green. I couldn't find the shade that I wanted in the range my local DIY shop carried, and I had tried some testers, so I bought another of a more neutral black tester I liked and mixed it with a black that was more like a very dark blue-green and blended the two at home with more glitter to get a colour that I liked. The glitter shimmers somewhat green, rather than silver, because of the green dye. Yes, I am that finnicky

The display wall 
My collection of frames are mostly from TK Maxx and Dunelm Mill, bought before I decided to drastically reduce my purchase of new items. The moon painting that I did was professionally framed by Riverside Gallery in Inverness, and the large mirror with the swirly frame was bought second-hand in in Inverness' PDSA branch. I like the silver gilt finish on these different frames because quite a few have some texture to them, more than just a metallic finish. Some of them also have some dark dry-brushing in the cervices, or a wash - things to make them have a little more life on them. I think things like texture, some variance in colour, etc. quite helpful for making the arrangement more dimensional and interesting. They're not all the same silver, not the same level of metallic finish, they're diverse, but also - hopefully - harmonious too. These ones were bought like that, but in our bedroom I've repainted and varnished frames to try and get the same concept.

Very terrible photograph of my wall with bad lighting (and wonky stars).
Terrible grainy photos are what happen when I take photos on my own phone.
I managed to align the dado rail along the bottom of the photograph, but because of perspective distortion, lens distortion, etc. there's more slope along the top of the pictures than real life, however the wonky stars are all my own fault; I haven't got the black paint all the way up to the ceiling partly because I can't reach up and partly because I know that along the top there will be cornice, however unfortunately I didn't leave that gap evenly, and I matched the stars to the wonky edge instead of the ceiling. I regret this. I will stencil in some more high up stars at the right edge, and more low stars at the left end and try and level this out. I will wait until I have the coving up, however, so I have a good visual straight edge to match things up to. It's really important to have a good visual marker, especially when you're dealing with something big and you're painting up close. Also, it will never be truly straight when working in a building like mine, and I need to give the visual illusion of straightness when the walls and ceilings aren't straight. 

Antique sword. Also a close-up of the wallpaper and the orb string-lights. 
I collect bladed weapons - what I really like are swords (there is another one in my study) but I have a couple of knives. I would like more fine daggers, especially antiques. Currently I don't have the income to collect antiques right now. I have considered selling off some of my collection because of financial situation, but there are complex laws about blade sales in Scotland so I'm keeping them, plus I remember how much work I put into saving up to buy them in the first place. There's something fascinating about the history behind objects: for example, the sword pictured is Italian, I think from the 1870s, perhaps later, and while it is displayed in its scabbard, there are beautiful engravings - somewhat scuffed - that tells a bit about the military background of the sword, and it also has dings along the spine of the blade that look like it may well have actually used in a sword-fight, or at least in defence of another bladed weapon (the context could be all sorts of things!). I also think it fascinating how much beauty and art that is often invested in embellishing what is primarily a weapon. I am interested in H.E.M.A, used to do modern sport fencing, as well having had a few kendo lessons, so I have an interest from a historical swordsmanship perspective, too. I think a lot of people think it's creepy, or that I have some murderous intent - I joke that I'd never use my collection to stab anyone because they're too precious to get blood on (true, honestly. Even skin oils are bad for them!) and 'creepy' is a subjective judgement. These are art objects to me, even if that is not what they were made as - but they were made with craft, care, and creative skill.

I repainted this moon. The camera angle is really awkward.
Good camera because I used Raven's phone instead of my own... 
Moon iconography is a prevalent in my study - mostly in my near my Book-Nook and meditation space because one of my ways of remaining in tune with nature is doing devotions according to the lunar cycle at the meditation altar in my Book-Nook. My next blog post will have more details about my Book-Nook. This particular ornament was bought as a yellow glossy moon with the slogan "Sleep tight, sweet dreams through the night" painted on it, so I repainted it to fit in better with my study décor. The original ornament was £1.50 on eBay. I tried to make it a slightly adorable sleepy moon. It's hung up just by the entrance to the Book-Nook. 

Sword, mirrors, picture frames, art. 

I have, since these pictures were taken, got more pictures, and pictures I like better, to fill the frames. I'm aiming for more fine-art prints, as well as my own artwork. It is an ongoing process, but having the frames first means I can arrange the wall and then find pictures to fit on the wall, which I find is easier than when I have had the pictures first and then tried to find a place for them (situation with our living room). A lot of the prints are repurposed greetings cards and I'm eyeing up some Caspar David Friedrich and Salvator Rosa postcards.

The moon-phase banner was a Winter Solstice gift from Raven. He bought it for me from someone on Etsy and I have been asked on Instagram where it is from, but unfortunately he can't remember where. The moon-phase garland along the top was from SpookyBox Club when I was subscribed, and I painted and assembled it myself. 

Moon phase banner. 
I think the picture above is pretty useful for illustrating how the curtains tie together the aesthetic for the main area of the study/studio. and screens off the Book-Nook. I am not always proud of my decorating decisions, and often it takes more than one go to create what I visualise in my head, or for me to realise that what I visualised doesn't work out so well in real life, but I really like how the damask voile curtains go with the wallpaper and monochrome wall. Also, this is possibly the only photograph I have with the stand-lamp in it.

Terrible, terrible photo; why I'm part-exchanging my phone for a better one.
If you can see anything at all, it's an old photo of the Book Nook before the altar
I will be doing a few more posts about this room specifically, and then more about specific projects, especially furniture repaints. I will also chart more of decorating the rest of the house, although not all of the house is in a particularly Gothic aesthetic, so I will be focusing on the more Gothic-looking rooms. As you can probably tell from the square photographs, most of these pictures are or were on Instagram, where my accounts are @domesticatedgoth for this sort of content and @architecturallygothic for ruins, cathedrals, churches, monuments, and other spooky or pretty buildings. 

Monday, 23 September 2019

Mabon/Autumn Equinox: Our Home Altar


The Autumn Equinox is easy to explain; it is the point halfway between the longest and shortest days, when day and night are equal. Mabon is a little more complicated. Calling the Autumnal Equinox 'Mabon' is an innovation of Aidan Kelly; while Ostara and Lammas were part of the Anglo-Saxon calendar, and Beltane, Samhain, Imbolc and Lughnasadh were part of the Celtic calendar, and the two Solstices were parts of lots of calendars (including most famously that of the prehistoric megalithic architects), Mabon is more enigmatic. 

The Anglo-Saxon calendar is complicated, with lunar months orientated by solar markers, and the closest historical analog to Neo-Pagan 'Mabon' is what still remains as British Harvest Festival - a moveable feast on the first full moon after the Equinox (it is likely Ostara, or 'Eostre' was also on a full moon next to the vernal Equinox). It was not called 'Mabon; as mentioned, that is a modern innovation naming the Equinox festival after the Welsh/Brythonic deity/mythological figure of the same name. Effectively, in a Neo-Pagan context, it is a second harvest festival - one based around fruits as Lughnasadh/Lammas is the agrarian harvest, and among other things, Samhain/Samhuinn historically involved the slaughter of livestock (for those reading about that for the first time; we don't do animal sacrifice, and historically it was about slaughtering livestock for winter meat). 

Raven's jian sword in the corner, and the right side of our altar
The altar-cloth is orange tie-die, with a leafless tree on it -I think this is a suitable autumnal scene. Unusually, I did not layer my altar-cloths, but this was simply out of forgetting; I had intended to use a purple scarf under it, but I just didn't remember until I had started putting all the rest of the items on it, and did not want to take them off. Perhaps a touch lazy... 

Our Mabon altar, front view. 
I have discussed the pentagram candle-holder in my previous blogs on the Wheel of the Year. The incense burner is a pentacle, but it only has three out of five possible incense sticks. My athame with the leaf-shape blade is a brass letter opener salvaged from a building that was to be demolished. The wand is oak, and was carved for me by a friend. The oil burner has a pentacle on it too - I love how it glows amber through the stone itself when it is lit. I felt  the round shape and warm colours were reminiscent of a fruit, which is why I selected this specific oil-burner. The offerings are self-evident, each in a dish purchased from a charity shop. The round plate is hand-made. I'm missing the lid for the cabbage-shaped jar (which ended up with nuts in it).

Chalice and fruit in front of pentagram candleholder
I really enjoy the replacement chalice; it feels very earthy - technically all ceramics are earthy in that they are made of clay, but being earthenware, glazed brown, and chunky makes this feel very organic and natural. It really makes me happy to find all this nature-themed crockery in my local charity shops. The grapes are in a dish shaped like an autumn leaf, too! The chalice concept is from Wicca, where chalices are used for the symbolic Great Rite, where a phallic athame and round receptacle symbolise the genitive process, and for the 'cakes and ale' (shared consumption of food and drink as community bonding) - however, I am not Wiccan, and don't adhere to the fertility model that emphasises sexual reproduction as metaphorical for natural fecundity; nature's mating habits are far too peculiar - from parthenogenesis in stick insects to pregnant male sea-horses, to entire forests where trailing mycelium connects every patch of honey-fungus, nature is rather broader than the habits of mammals. Communal eating from the same plate is one thing, but for group rituals there's a common pitcher and separate glasses for hygiene reasons. My chalice is for eating and drinking as part of the grounding process after completing the main body of ritual, a way to maintain a mindset in the material after meditation, trance and the like. A chunky goblet is useful for not being easily broken by my dyspraxic self.

Apples and grapes to consume as part of the ritual,
and also give as offerings to the birds
Fruit was store-bought; my back garden is a work in progress and doesn't produce fruits, plus I am likely too far north for grapes. Crab apples grow locally, and my garden is more sheltered than my father's small holding on a Welsh hillside that produces a good crop of apples, but our last attempt at an apple tree ended with a sapling that did not survive winter.

I hope you have found this blog article informative. I intend to post in depth about Samhain/Samhuinn and Yule too.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Lughnasadh/Lammas: Our Home Altar

Lughnasadh and Lammas are two names for holiday between Summer Solstice and Autumn Equinox on the 1st of August. The name 'Lughnasadh' relates to Lugh, the Irish deity and 'Lammas' is an Anglo-Saxon term for the 'loaf mass'. They were two different celebrations as Gaelic and Germanic cultures were different, although they had similarities.

In the Gaelic festival, it was a festival of the god Lugh (the name literally means 'Lugh's gathering'), in memory of his foster-mother Tailitu, or in modern Irish Gaelic 'Tailte', who died from exhaustion in clearing the plains of Ireland for agricuture. The modern Scottish Gaelic word for both the festival and the month of August is Lùnastal. Traditionally it was a day for sporting events, as well as feasting. I have my own interpretation of Tailte and the sacrifice of the wild order of things to agricultural order of things, but that is a topic for another blog entry, maybe next Lùnastal.

Lammas comes from 'hlaf-mas' in the Germanic language of the Anglo-Saxons, the loaf-mass, and a harvest festival, the first, celebrating the wheat (grain) harvest. In what is now England, according to dark-ages Christian syncretism, a loaf blessed at this festival was thought to have beneficial properties.

Green painted paneled wall with white dado-rail. Leaf-green curtains of synthetic satin. The altar-cloth is yellow, and on it are two gold place-mats with La Tène style designs, a pentagram candle-holder, an earthenware chalice, a pentacle dish with salt, a gold candle in an earthenware dish, two white soy taper candles in off-white candle-sticks, and a loaf of home-made bread
The Lammas altar, with home-made bread from Raven! 
I am living far enough North that even with climate change and milder weather, the fields aren't always harvested already by the actual August 1st date of Lammas; it is important to note that English summers are much warmer (these days often reaching 30C, sometimes quite a bit above that), and especially in Southern England where I grew up, things are harvested earlier. The thing to note about any agricultural calendar is that it will vary according to local conditions, and the Neo-Pagan version of the Wheel of the Year is effectively an adapted mixture of Germanic, Celtic and solar agricultural calendars. Another thing of note for Neo-Pagan celebrations in comparison to historical festivals on this date is that before the industrial revolution, a LOT more people were involved in farming, and mixed livestock and agrarian farms were more common than modern farming where farms often specialise in one type of produce. Even amongst Neo-Pagans who garden for food, few will actually be growing grains themselves, as the land required to cultivate enough grain to make something is usually more than those who don't actually farm have. (I have one patch of something that's probably rye from where some bird-seed was scattered by accident, but it's barely big enough to make a corn-dolly or Brigid's cross!). This leaves a question: what do agrarian harvest festivals mean to a contemporary Pagan?

The most obvious thing is that while we may not individually grow wheat (or barley, rye, oats, rice etc.), most of us consume them. There is now a complex industry that grows, mills, and bakes, and that industry massively impacts the planet. Remember Tailte? In medieval myth she was a queen, but this is likely the mythological reinterpretation of a deity from a Christianised perspective, as a Goddess that dies so that the wilderness may be cleared for agriculture to flourish, she seems like someone very relevant to a time when we're becoming increasingly aware that human intervention needs to be in balance with the natural world, and also the awareness that with all forms of agriculture, some things must die so that what we want to eat my thrive; even organic farms require pest management.

To me, it is an important time to give thanks to all the people who work hard so that we get to eat, to conveniently buy food from shops (although I'm slowly trying turn my back garden into a vegetable garden!), and to especially think about the impact of agrarian farming, good and bad. Nothing in this world can be fairly glosses into simple generalisations, and it is a good time to look at those complexities, to reflect on how to be more compassionate and ethical as shoppers, thinking of both the ecological impact of what we buy, and the impact on the people who grow things, thinking of the governmental policies that help and hinder farmers, and help and hinder the environment, about the careful nuances and balances that need to be made so we can support people whose livelihoods are about feeding us, and simultaneously support the planet that sustains us.

[It is interesting that the first Eco-Village in Wales to usher in the One Planet Development system is called 'Lammas' and that the local planning rules say that the inhabitants needed to have sustainable land-based enterprises.]

In more symbolic terms, it's the first harvest festival, and like Mabon (where we also celebrate the metaphorical fruits of our labour alongside the literal ones), it's a time to celebrate out achievements (personally, I think it's a good time to celebrate sporting achievements, especially). 



Now I have introduced what Lughnasadh and Lammas are, I will describe and explain the altar I built to celebrate it. The most obvious thing on the altar is the large pentagram candle-holder. Pentacles and pentagrams are the primary symbols of Wicca, but I am not really Wiccan any more - however, their symbolism in Wicca is a representation of the five Classical elements, which I do not take literally as elementals, but use as a framework to appreciate the natural (and sometimes arteficial) world - whereas traditional Wiccans invoke the 5 elements, or the Watchtowers, often as literal elemental spirits, for each element I write a paragraph about those things in the natural world - eg. writing about how I can see the sea/firth from the top of the hill, hear the nearby stream, feel the rain that falls, etc. for Water, talking about the stones of the mountains, the quarried stones of the local architecture, the earth in my garden, etc. for Earth, the flames of my fire-pit and the warmth of the sun for Fire, the breeze the rustles the leaves, the breath of my meditation, etc. for Wind, and the energy of the ritual itself, my soul, and that of every living thing for Spirit or Energy, etc. I like this framework, it's a good starting point for thinking about things around me, a set of arbitrary categories that make a good format for reflection.

Another thing that's likely obvious, especially from the first photograph, is that the altar is full of gold and yellow - a bright yellow altar-cloth with two golden-yellow napkins with the sort of spiraling circular art that spans the cultures broadly categorised under the umbrella of 'Celtic' from La Tène metal-work to the Book of Kells, a golden candle in a dish that is glazed from olive to almost amber like the shades of ripening corn, and although it is hard to see in the photographs because the brightness makes them appear white, the tealight candles are yellow beeswax. Yellow is a colour associated with agrarian harvests, from fields of ripe wheat and barley, to yellow maize. It is also associated with the sun, something the god Lugh is also associated with (although he is not a direct parallel of Apollo, there is a reason he was often associated with him in 19thC late-Romantic thinking; they are both associated with the arts, poetry, athleticism, light, and truth).

The main feature of this Lughnasadh/Lammas altar is a loaf of home-made bread baked by Raven. He has been experiementing with different types of bread, inclding trying to make gluten-free bread that's still crusty, and this is his most recent attempt at the latter. Eating this bread was an important part of our ritual. 

New chalice!
I have a new chalice! I picked it up in a charity shop, and it was either £1.50 or £2.50; either way not much. I liked that it is ceramic - earthenware - and that the abstracted dark designs in the glaze remind me of ravens. It is a wine-goblet, so food-safe unlike some of the decorative metal chalices that exist. My previous chalice - the red glass one that was on the altar for Beltane - has unfortunately become too chipped to use, so was put in the glass recycling. 

The pair of off-white candle-holders are Raven's. I think there's either three or four in total, but we only used two this time, mostly for practical lighting rather than symbolic reasons. 

Home-made bread, candles and chalice
The wand you can see on the right of the altar is mine - it is made of oak, and was carved by a friend of mine as a birthday present about 12 or 13 years ago. I wrapped it with threads. I am actually thinking of getting a new wand made, one that is thinner and lighter, slightly shorter - basically, one slightly less chunky for home rituals, reserving the larger one for group rituals where I wouldn't want a thinner wand to be damaged in transit. I am also thinking of getting a stave made, or even carving one myself (although carving and 3D art in general is not something I am particularly competent at). 

Wand, leaf-blade athame, and and pentacle oil-burner
Another thing I retain from when I was Wiccan is the use of an athame. My athame is not black-handled or steel-bladed like the traditional Wiccan ritual knife, but instead has a varnished wooden handle and a brass blade in a leaf-blade sort of shape. It is an old letter-opener that I got from things being thrown out of a building about to be demolished, with a blade shape reminiscent of Bronze Age swords from Ireland and other parts of Europe, and being brass (a copper-zinc aloy) it is not too dissimilar from bronze (a copper-tin alloy). If I were a rich witch,  a replica of a Bronze Age sword would definitely be something I would definitely commission, but currently that is out of my range of affordability.

My altar for Lughnasadh/Lammas is relatively simple compared to altars set-up for the other holidays so far, but hopefully it is a helpful example of an altar for the festival. I will continue the series with altars for Mabon, Samhain/Samhuinn and Winter Solstice. I endeavour to be educational with these posts, and to both inform the curious who may be new to Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft, and to dispell misconceptions about these practices being something 'dark' or 'evil'.