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..

Friday, 11 January 2019

Mass Produced Witchcraft, Witch Kits, and Sourcing Witchcraft Supplies

I wrote this months ago, when it had just been announced that Sephora would be stocking a kit made by Pinrose that includes some rose quartz, some white sage, a 'Tumblr aesthetic' style Tarot deck, and a set of perfumes, and that is being marketed as a 'starter witch kit'. The witch-kit was apparently withdrawn from sale, something I am happy about as for various reasons that have now been made irrelevant (although I wrote them up at length) I had issues with the witch-kit. 

The Sephora/Pinrose witch-kit issue irked me, but it is nothing new. The commercialisation of Witchcraft and Wicca has been a problem within the community for decades, this is just a particularly egregious example because it is coming from a mainstream retailer. When I first got into Wicca and Witchcraft in 2001/2002, one of the first things I came across were people imploring me to avoid being an 'Insta-witch', which before the dawn of Instagram, meant someone who just bought a pre-made kit and declared themselves a witch, with no dedication to the craft itself, no process of learning, and in relation to Wicca, which is a religion, no faith. I read warnings against this in books published long before I took an interest in the topic, and I think there have been phases of popularity for Wicca and Witchcraft before, especially in the '70s and in the late '90s after The Craft came out.

[I think I came across Wicca at the end of that phase of popularity, but I didn't come to it through it being a 'cool' thing for teens, I came across it through finding an expose book that was full of misinformation, but seeing through the nonsense to realise that there were other people who thought and felt and experienced the world the same way I almost always had].

Each time something 'witchy' becomes prominent enough in popular culture to spark an interest in Witchcraft as a practice, there are people who will try and cash in on that popularity, but in the past, before the modern internet allowed us to have a voice to explain why this was insulting and a problem, our complaints were left to admonishments in books on Witchcraft, letters to the editors of magazines and newsletters within the community, and maybe a few internet forums. Now we have more of a platform to explain why this is an issue.

One large issue is that many commercialised 'witchy' things are made by people who have not done their research, and in a community with no central authority, no central text to refer back to, this means a lot of people get a very confused, inaccurate, and sometimes offensive portrayal of Witchcraft, including those trying to learn about it because they are interested in doing it.

There's a whole raft of books about Witchcraft that still perpetuate the notion that Wicca is the survival of an ancient pan-European matriarchal 'witch-cult', who talk about the witch hunts of Europe and the Americas as 'the Burning Times' and as a persecution of actual witches although for the most part it was religious mass hysteria, more akin to the 'Satanic Panic' of the '80s and '90s, giving downright dangerous herbal medicine advice, and conflating a elements of other practices as 'Wicca' or 'Witchcraft' when they are not, and without siting what cultures or belief structures they actually come from. Some of the authors just wanted to make money fast and churned something to appeal to a demographic of neophytes without care, and some of them are just repeating what they have learned from this miasma of misinformation, especially as it takes a lot of research to pick through it. Thankfully for me, I am a nerd, and I like reading about the things I am passionate about, including books written in often stuffy and stilted ways, academic papers, and actual old occult texts (or at least translations thereof), because if I had stuck with what I read in the first few high-selling 'witchy' books I had read, I would have remained quite ignorant, probably believing in over-inflated figures for those executed in the witch hunts (and believing that those executed and accused were actual witches, when very few had connections to folk-magic), and that Wicca really was an ancient faith - not a modern faith inspired by ancient things.

For years, I have gone into discount book retailers and found tarot kits as tacky as the one that was going to be in the Sephora kit. I've also seen independent Witchcraft/occult shops sell pre-made 'spell kits' and 'witchcraft starter kits', and while some are carefully put together by practising Witches, some of them are clearly mass-produced nonsense (I know that there will be non-Witches reading this saying 'but it's ALL nonsense!' but I am talking as a believer to other believers). In some places I've also seen items purporting to be relating  'Voodoo magic' with no true connection to those cultures, and probably culturally inaccurate packaging - similar is invoking various 'ancient powers'; at one point there was a fad for 'Ancient Egyptian' stuff with nonsense hieroglyphs and only a passing association to Kemeticsm or historical Ancient Egyptian beliefs! This is misappropriating Witchcraft, and whatever culture they've themed a product by, just as the Sephora/Pinrose kit was misappropriating Native American beliefs with the white sage. These things are ripping off the ignorant and confusing the new.

The other major issue is that most of these mass-produced items are made by companies not run by Witches or Wiccans, and that they are competing against the people within the community, and often out-competing them because it is simply a lot cheaper to have things mass-produced (often abroad, and I do wonder about sweatshops, health and safety and the environmental impact of production on this scale) on the cheap than it is for an individual to sell their time as a craftsperson, the cost of materials bought in small batches (and often at higher quality) and who has to cover their overheads for a niche business, rather than it just being another product from a conglomerate that sells a broad variety of items. The commercialisation of Wicca and Witchcraft makes it ever more difficult for people within those communities to sustain businesses within their own communities, unless they join in and become re-sellers of these mass-produced items.

One of the reasons a lot of more experienced witches have such an emotional reaction over the Witch-kits is that for many of us, we have a long history of our religion being met with hostility or mockery from the mainstream - a bit like why Goths get grumpy when they see the same people who mocked them suddenly wearing a similar look because it's now cool. A lot of people have had some very negative, sometimes even violent, experiences over intolerance of their faith, so seeing it surface with shallow mainstream popularity can be quite irksome.

Two elements from the Sephora/Pinrose kit are items very popular in magical and spiritual/mystical practice currently, but which can have issues with sustainable sourcing. The kit was cancelled, so this is no criticism of Sephora/Pinrose, but a general discussion of some of the issues around crystals and white sage. 

Crystals

The stone in the kit was going to be rose quartz. It is very popular in crystal healing and crystal magic (and quite pretty if you like pink). Rose quartz is a mineral, and it has to be mined, and it is a finite resource - just like coal or oil - and while some quartz mines are in America or Europe (a specific type of smoky quartz was mined in the Cairngorms, here in Scotland, and Morion quartz comes from Eastern Europe). Rose quartz is often mined in the Minas Gerais region of Brazil, and is secondary to gold mining, and while it is mostly regulated, there are issues with miners working outside the regulations, and with environmental problems. Mining for crystals in general can be an environmental issue, and encouraging a high popular demand is not helping the situation. There are definitely other crystals that are being mined primarily in ways that are either ecologically harmful or with unethical labour practices.

Crystal healing is a New Age practice, not one originating from either traditional Witchcraft, Wicca or Western Occultism, and the mystical lapidaries of historical European occultism focused on correlations between astrology and precious stones, not the semi-precious and non-precious minerals common to modern crystal practices. I've read that the Hopi of what is now Arizona had a lapidary healing practice, but this is again different to the New Age crystal healing practice, which borrows eclectically from Asian beliefs (it's hard to attribute concepts like chakras to a specific religion; I know they come up in quite a few, especially Hinduism and some versions of Buddhism, and it is likely that these concepts have been incorporated from contact with both Yogic and Buddhist beliefs), mystical interpretations of concepts such as energy, vibration, resonance and crystal structures which are markedly different from the scientific use of these terms, etc.

There are definitely plenty of Witches that have adopted the use of crystals, particularly in terms of symbolic correspondences in spells, but I think it is important to know that this is an adjunct, and that there are plenty of people who believe in the mystical or healing properties of crystals that would never consider themselves witches, and while there is overlap in the use - specifically in the way crystals are given correspondences to certain issues - in how crystals are used in spells, and how crystals are used in healing, they're not quite the same thing. I don't judge anyone for believing in the healing or magical properties of crystals, although personally I don't believe in crystal healing, and think more of ritual crystals as symbolic than inherently powerful; all I am writing about this for is to a) explain the origins of the use of crystals as an adopted practice, and b) encourage people to source their crystals ethically (more on the latter), and if you do believe in those things, that's as valid as any other spiritual belief, even if I don't share that belief. I think the point I am trying to make is that using crystals isn't inherent to Witchcraft, so don't feel like you need to use crystals to be a Witch, or that you aren't a proper Witch without a large collection of crystals. You can certainly use them if you want, but it's not a core requirement.

Since writing this article, I read an article on Patheos called ::The Toxicity of Crystals and Ways to Practice Real Stone Spirit Magick:: that I agree with in places, don't fully agree with on several points, and disagree with on others, but which definitely has again highlighted the importance to source crystals responsibly. Options for responsibly sourcing crystals include buying them secondhand (presumably with ritual cleansing), and buying them from a seller that has a very good grasp of their supply chain, knowing the sort of conditions that the miners work under and the environmental sustainability of the mining 


White Sage

White Sage for smudging is a practice from indigenous American groups, so attributing it to Witchcraft is inaccurate. Again, plenty of Witches now use white sage, but usually for smoke cleansing, not as an invitation to spirits. The other issue, which I cannot find a clear answer on, is whether or not there is a problem with over-harvesting. White sage is a plant native to the southern states of the USA and to Mexico. Gathering wild white sage is apparently illegal in Mexico (presumably for ecological reasons), and the information I have found on its cultivation in South America, and people circumventing legal restrictions on wild gathering to meet demands have been conflicting, as well as if there is an issue with high demand as an export product causing issues locally. 

Smudging and smoke or incense cleansing are not synonymous, so the calling cleansing a space with white sage 'smudging' is an inaccuracy. There's a lot of debate over whether it is cultural misappropriation for European Neo-Pagans to use white sage for spiritual cleansing, and I think a lot of that depends on whether you're doing it because you think it's some mystical 'noble savage' practice with inaccurate and romanticised pretensions to Shamanism or not, whether your white sage is ethically sourced (and if it's profiting off Native American imagery without being a Native-run business), and a lot of other factors; from what I've read, some sort of botanical cleansing incense, often including sage or similar, has existed in most cultures, and I don't want to be claiming offence for a group I don't belong to, plus I think opinions are likely to be mixed amongst different Native American groups, people within those groups, etc. (Just like not all Witches agree with me or were upset about the Sephora witch-kit! A lot were, but it's not unanimous; groups are always made up of individuals, and it is important not to assume any group is entirely homogeneous and monolithic.)

Sustainable sourcing of sage can be from several sources. I think a lot of people can grow their own; I know people even in the Scottish Highlands who have managed to grow it in their gardens - a far cry from the sunny climes of South America and the southern states of America! (This is where my bundles have come from - grown and gifted to me). Another option would be to source fair-trade and ecologically-soundly grown white sage. I don't know if there are indigenous groups preparing and bundling it who are selling it to the Neo-Pagan, Witchcraft and alternative spirituality community, but if there is a way to buy from them that supports their local businesses rather than competes or obscures the native traditions, then that might also be an option. Sage incense cleansing isn't something I really work with; I prefer to cleanse a space with a broom, and objects with ritual waters. (To their credit, Pinrose did say they wanted to source their sage from sustainable Native-run businesses, but this was in response to the criticism.)


An Alternative Wiccan 'Starter Kit'

Witchcraft, as I will explain later, is broader than Wicca, and includes a lot of different things, so listing the contents for a unifying starter set would not be possible. Wicca is the most common form of modern Witchcraft, and the one I am personally most familiar with, so I will write a little of what someone who wants to become a Wiccan should do in terms of sourcing their first items for personal practice.

The first thing I will say is that the items are tools, and while they help enacting the symbolism of Wicca for spiritual purposes, they are not completely necessary - however it does make it easier, especially for those who are new, to use tangible objects. If you make your tools, you have more of a personal connection, so this is always the best option if possible!The main tools are an athame, a wand, a chalice, a cauldron and an altar to put them on.

Athame

An athame is considered a masculine symbol due to its vaguely phallic shape, and is representative of the element of Air. It is used symbolically only, and there is some debate as to whether it should be sharp or not. Gerald Gardener took the term from the Key of Solomon, and was deeply moved by the ritual blades of many indigenous cultures, such as the kris of the Malay. Traditionally an athame has a black handle.

My first athame was a secondhand letter-opener that happened to be in the shape of a leaf-bladed sword, with a historically inaccurate hilt, and in brass, which to my under-educated teenage self aligned well enough with my impression of a Bronze age 'Celtic' sword. Any dagger or dagger-like bladed object (such as my letter opener!) will usually do - the easiest to get hold of in the UK are decorative daggers made for people who either like blades from a Fantasy fandom perspective, or a historical weapons perspective, or both. Be careful, however, as a lot of the ones made to look like the traditional notion of a dagger, especially with black handles, are reproductions of Nazi weapons, sometimes with the insignia left off, making them less discernible as related to Nazism (I know some people just want their WW2 historical weapons/reproductions to accurately include both axis and allied forces, but any Nazi-related regalia makes me deeply uncomfortable, and are also very popular amongst actual Neo-Nazis and their ilk. I doubt I am the only person who is uncomfortable around that sort of thing.)

If you are not interested in having one that is metal (or sharp), or you are very good at metal-work, you can either make your own symbolic athame, for example whittled out of wood, or if you're good at metal-work, and amateur knife-making is permitted in your location, then you can do that, too. I know two people who have made their own athames from cutting and grinding a metal bar into shape and then making a wooden handle - as they are not functional knives for actually cutting anything physically, things like differential hardness, forging a blade and the steel being able to hold an edge are not important, making building your own athame an easier project that making a functional knife.

The option for purchasing an athame which would best support those within the community itself would be to buy one hand-crafted by a practising Wiccan or Pagan, through a shop run by Wiccans or other Pagans, or directly, but this is expensive (forging is a labour-intensive process, and good steel is expensive!), but this it outside of the price-range of many. I certainly have designs, and know someone who could make what I would like, but I can't afford something like that just yet. Custom made knives are pretty expensive in general; I have antique swords more affordable than a lot of contemporary hand-forged blades, but to reiterate what I said: making knives, especially beautiful ritual objects, is time consuming work, good steel is expensive, and if you want special woods, silver, actual crystals or anything else in your item then it will be even more expensive - and this isn't a complaint, just a warning to beginner witches and those on a budget that while it might be excellent for craftpeople in Paganism to get new customers, it might not be a very affordable option, and not because of overpricing.

Wand

A wand is a short stick, preferably made of wood, but sometimes made of other materials, used to direct energy and represent the element of Fire. It is also considered masculine. Wands have a huge history predating Wicca, far more than I can reasonably put in one paragraph. You could do years of research on that topic (maybe there's a thesis in there somewhere... hmm...).

The best way to get a wand is to make one yourself. This does not necessarily mean hand-turning it on a lathe (although I'm working on that!), but usually just means whittling the bark off a short branch. In sourcing that branch, try to pick dead wood that has fallen naturally, rather than cutting a living tree. If you want to make it from commercially available timber (like a wooden dowel), make sure that it is from a sustainable timber source. If you take a stick from nature, be mindful not to take something that has already become a home for other living things; firstly you don't want wood-boring insects in your home, secondly fungi may have started to rot the wood, and thirdly, those creatures don't need to be disturbed by meddling humans! If you have your own garden, with bushes and trees, you can probably find a suitable stick there. Once you have your stick, customise it to make it into a wand.

Do not buy a Harry Potter fandom wand or similar LARP or fantasy roleplay wand; those are often resin (and thus sometimes brittle display-only items), or even worse cheap plastic, and they're not intended as religious artefacts. Real Witchcraft is not LARP.

If you want something particularly pretty, there are Pagan wand-makers out there, but again you go into the territory of more expensive handmade crafts - however you can get turned wooden wands made on a lathe relatively inexpensively, usually around £20 in the UK.  They're usually spindle-style, made of one type of wood, and have some decorative turning along them, quite nice for the price.

Chalice
A chalice is a ritual cup set aside specifically for that purpose. It is often used to hold wine or other beverages, so needs to be food-safe. It is considered feminine, and represents the element of Earth, especially the concept of the 'womb of mother Earth' in many variations of Wicca.

Just use a wine-glass. My first chalice was not food-safe because I bought some fancy brass thing, then I was given another metal one that wasn't suitable for actually drinking out of, and now I have a pewter one from Alchemy Gothic that I never use for actual rituals because I don't know if it's food-safe either. I do, however, have a purple glass wine-glass that I picked up in a charity shop. It IS food-safe, and I use that one pretty regularly. It cost me 50p, and it is goblet shaped and looks nice. A lot of charity shops struggle to sell individual wine-glasses as people usually want a set, and only buy a single one if it replaces a broken one from a set they already have, and while glass is widely recycled, it is saving one from being thrown away, and then melted down and all the other energy intensive processes, so I definitely recommend getting a lonely wine-glass from a charity shop or other secondhand seller. You can get some really, really pretty ones quite cheaply!

I advise personally against the resin decorative cups widely available online; while they often feature Pagan and Wiccan themes like the Green Man, or pentacles, they seem more like decorative fantasy objects, and they are again mass-produced items. This is just my opinion, however, and reflects mostly my personal tastes. They also usually cost upwards of £15, whereas you can probably still find a nice secondhand wine-glass for 50p, especially in charity shops and car-boot sales!

There are food-safe and ornamental chalices made by independent Pagan craftspeople, too. Most of the ones I have seen are made by potters and are thus ceramic rather than glass. Always inquire about the use of food-safe glazes if you intend to drink from your chalice!

Cauldron
Most of the time, you don't actually need a cauldron. The chalice is often a good substitute in terms of ritual symbolism, and there are practical alternatives if you need a vessel to burn something in, or brew an actual potion - in fact, many cauldrons sold are fine to use for burning spell components, but not safe for brewing any potions that are to be consumed or applied topically. Many are entirely decorative, too, and might crack if you burn something in them or heat them. Most of the time, if you want to make an actual 'potion', then you're better off doing the same as you would for cooking anything else, and using a pan on your stove. If you're making a potion that is not intended to be consumed, and may have ingredients that are poisonous, could damage your pan, etc. then you might want to have a separate pan for that. I've been a witch over 15 years and never had that problem personally!

If you really, really, REALLY must have a cauldron you can cook up an ingestible potion in, look at reenactment camp supplies, potjie pots - as suggested to me many years ago by a friend from South Africa, which is where potjie pots are from. They're not cheap though.

Altar
It's a table. You don't need some special mini-table you probably can't fit most of your tools on, carved with pentacles and triquetras - you just need a table, and to consecrate and decorate it, to set it apart from mundane uses. My altar is on a wheeled trolly. It usually sits in the corner of my living room, but the wheels mean I can easily move it to the centre of the room for group rituals, or those that require me to circumambulate it, or whatnot. I think the trolly was £15 in a British Heart Foundation charity shop. It has a drawer beneath the 'table top' in which I keep incense, and beneath there's a shelf I use to store ritual supplies. My altar cloths are usually fancy scarves, again from charity shops.

If you want something fancy, and are willing to pay for the art, dying and printing process, you can get some nice altar-cloths made from upcycled textiles with beautiful prints from ::Poison Apple Print Shop::, for example. Got to admit, I have been admiring their work via Instagram for a while now...


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Other objects, like a different dishes for salt, water and offerings, incense, candles, and the like are pretty easy to come by and aren't seen as Neo-Pagan/Wicca/Witchcraft speciality items, so I haven't listed them here. One of my upcoming craft projects will be making my own besom/broom, and I hope to post the process up here, so I will leave brooms until then.

Wicca and Witchcraft

I would like to disambiguate Wicca and Witchcraft briefly; Wicca is a Neo-Pagan religion that sees the Divine as having both male and female attributes, and has a belief in being in tune with the cycles of nature, seeing that related to a cycle of birth, death and reincarnation, and has a belief in magic (not in a flying on brooms, turning people into toads sort of way!). It was founded by Gerald Gardener, who pieced together material from various sources including the works of Aleister Crowley, his experiences with native peoples, especially the Dusun of Borneo (but he was widely travelled and had contact with other groups), Spiritualism in a post-Victorian context, Free Masonry, Rosicrucianism and a lot of other stuff including Arthurian mythology, the historical beliefs contemporary to him about Avebury, Stonehenge and Druids that were later disproved, etc. A lot of modern Witchcraft practices, even by non-Wiccans are derived from Wicca, but there are a lot of Witchcraft practices that come more directly from traditional European folk-beliefs, and are not Wicca-related at all. These often focus more on practical spell-craft, local folklore, the Fair Folk, and on traditional herbal remedies, and sometimes overlap with Christian beliefs. (I apologise if I am missing out elements of continental European practices, as I am most familiar with those of the British Isles, as that is where I'm from).

There are also magical systems in other cultures that get called 'witchcraft' and have been referred to as such by English-speakers for centuries, but that is putting a European framework on completely different cultures, and these practices have proper names in their own cultures, and some find being called 'witches' disrespectful, especially in places and cultures that for which the term 'witchcraft' means some sort of evil anti-Christian or 'Satanic' practice involving demons, or pacts with the devil, or possession by evil spirits.

On a related note, it is also important to distinguish that sort of idea from Wicca, modern Witchcraft, especially as accusations of anti-Christian activity, human and animal sacrifice, and 'black magic' are often used to oppress Witchcraft and magical practices. This is not to say Satanists practice these things either. There are several types of Satanist, and also Luciferans; neither of them seem to resemble the diabolical witchcraft conspiracy of human sacrifice, infanticide, sexual perversion and black magic that was written about in tracts from the late Medieval period onwards, and which has coloured a fear of witches in Christianity from the witch-hunts onwards. Occasionally acts from vandalism through to actual violence have been inspired by this myth of diabolical witchcraft, but it is not related to any established Satanic or Luciferan belief systems I have encountered. Some people practising branches of western occultism do have positive beliefs relating to Lucifer as an angelic figure in a religious framework that includes elements of Judeo-Christian cosmology but in a different theological context, and view Lucifer as the light-bringer, a figure representing illumination and knowledge, but this is distinct from most Witchcraft paths, and from Neo-Paganism, which is usually more focused on pre-Christian polytheistic religions. Satanists tend to view Satan as an archetype of rebellion and hedonism rather than a deity/entity, nor as a symbol of evil, and from what I gather, many see each person as their own 'god' or 'goddess' and have an emphasis on free will. There are a small number of Satanists who also practice Witchcraft as a magical practice, but the majority of Satanists I've met are actually quite sceptical about any magical or occult practices. 

Wicca and Witchcraft are niche communities, and Wicca has come to be such a major factor in modern Witchcraft that Traditional Witchcraft and other non-Wiccan practices are sometimes swamped. Even a lot of the practices that are not directly Wicca take a lot of elements from Wicca, or at least from the same sources as Wicca and in a similar framework. There are also forms of European occultism that are not Witchcraft, but types of Ceremonial Magic, spiritual Alchemy, etc. Also, as New Age practices are generally quite a bit more popular, there's been a lot of cultural diffusion, often because New Age spaces were often the only places that were willing to host events or sell Wiccan, Witchcraft and Neo-Pagan items, etc. A lot of Eclectic Wiccans especially blend the two, and I don't condemn this, I just think it's important to remember that it's a blend and acknowledge the origins of the various components of an eclectic path.

Just as a lot of Witches are also Goths, but you don't need to be a Goth to be a Witch, or even to be Gothic in the broader sense of the word, a lot of Witches are also Hippies, or into New Age beliefs, but these are also overlapping groups rather than intrinsic to Witchcraft. Witchcraft, Wicca and Neo-Paganism do account more than the average amount of subcultural and counter-cultural people, but it's not a prerequisite to being Neo-Pagan, Wiccan or a Witch. 

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Cardigan/Aberteifi - Castle and Historic Church

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was in Wales a few weeks ago, visiting my Dad. While I was there, I visited three castles and a few old churches. I'm not sure quite how 'Gothic' in the spooky sense of the word this is, but it is Gothic in the architectural sense. It's hard to feel spooky on a day with such bright sunshine - glorious for many, but too warm for me!

This post does include a spider photograph, so if you're averse to spiders, then don't scroll past the ornate door. I have put it as the last photograph so you can still appreciate the others without having to look at spiders. 


Restored curtain wall, Cardigan Castle. Photo by me.
Cardigan/Aberteifi is on the River Teifi, and we went there to visit the indoor market, and have a look around. I had had been there before, and knew it had a castle, and it was restored in 2014 (which I had read about). The first time I had been to Cardigan was before that, and while I think local council owned it at the time, it was in disrepair after having been neglected by its previous owner and inhabitant for many decades. Unfortunately, while the entrance fee was modest, I didn't have enough money on me, so I didn't get to go inside the grounds. From what I gather, most of the buildings on site are later, but it has nice gardens, and I was hoping to at least look at the gardens, but it was not to be. I did take a couple of photographs of the exterior, however.

Secondary wall, embankment, and then primary wall with tower...
And a much later additional house/cottage, affiliated with the castle. Photo by me.
Another gem was a rather lovely medieval church that has been extended several times over the centuries. The church is The Priory Church of Our Lady of Cardigan (I don't know what that is in Welsh, although I did read it and I've since forgotten it). It is in a very beautiful graveyard, and next to a hospital but also next to a busy road. I did take some exterior photographs, but they didn't turn out very well. I apologise for no good overview photographs. My partner Raven also took some nice photographs, so with his permission, I have included those too. 


Photograph by myself. Gravestones in rows through yew trees.
The graveyard is mostly older graves, although I did not go around and get a particularly good average for the estimate age - looked like mostly 1700s and 1800s gravestones.They are almost all made of the same sort of grey stone as the church and the castle, and most are a slab given a roughly arched shape with text - not like some of the Protestant chapel yards, full of urns and obelisks, or a chapel on a hill we visited, which had a much wider variety of stones. (Unfortunately I accidentally deleted many of the photos of that particular chapel! )


Photo by Raven. 
This is the far corner of the graveyard. All along the back wall are grave-stones laid vertical, with the climbing plants sort of taking over in places. I don't know if they are memorials from plots that were re-used, or if this is just where fallen-over stones got placed, or if there were just a lot of people buried along the wall. 

I also think this photo goes to show what a bright and sunny day it was - very hot, a few wispy white clouds, and scorching brightness. Personally, I found it too hot; I overheat easily and get sun-burnt just as easily, so I prefer cloudier, cooler days. Some people love the sun, but I have to hide under hats, long-sleeved floaty clothes and lots of sun-screen.  
 
Dead Tree. Photo by Raven 
I'm not sure what kind of tree this was when it was alive. There were plenty of yew trees, but yews are poisonous to other plants, so I doubt that there would be other plants growing from it if it were a yew. The tree stump felt almost sculptural, and its timbers bleached grey-white seemed fitting with the stone and almost skeletal itself. 


Grave with ornate carving. Photo by Raven.
This gravestone near the entrance was interesting - it had some sort of crest surrounded by a laurel wreath or other foliage, but it has suffered the ravages of time - the central design, presumably a monogram, is pretty much illegible, and any motto or similar on the banner beneath the leaves has long since de-laminated. I think perhaps the topmost leafs have lost some mass, too. It's interesting to see a headstone carved in the shape of a Dutch gable, too. 

Architectural salvage. Photograph by Raven.
I'm not sure which part of the building this detail came from - I couldn't even figure it out by looking at it - it's some part of some Gothic details, but it's also a broken jigsaw piece of architectural history.  Raven took this photograph of it - I guess it looks sort of abandoned in this corner of the porch, but really it's a sign that someone's put it there so it doesn't get discarded. I don't know where on the building it used to belong - perhaps part of something that has since been altered, so it can't go back - but whatever it was, it is put there where it is not forgotten.  It's almost on display. 

Monk. Photograph by me
This monk's head terminates the arch over the porch. It looks like one of the more recent additions to the church. From what I gather of the church's history, I think at some point it was connected to a monastery as well as a priory (I'm really no expert on this), which I guess is why they used monks as a decorative motif. There's one at both ends of the archway, looking solemnly upon all those who enter the church. I don't know if they are representative of specific people or not.

Ornate ironmongery.  Photograph by me. 
Both Raven and I admired the ornate doors - I don't know how old they are, perhaps Victorian, perhaps earlier, but they have the most fabulous swirling ironwork on them.  I have a thing for doors and windows - maybe it's liminality of them. I also really appreciate when something that doesn't need to be ornate gets an artistic treatment. Plenty of church doors have much simpler hinges, some have fancier, but it's nice to see something like this. Someone put enough time, money and effort in for this to be not just an ordinary door - probably several people; someone to make the timbers into a door, someone (or some people) to do the metalwork, someone who designed it, someone who paid for it... Someone who checked that it would fit in the aperture of the door frame! It's not as common these days, to have such things made, and I think we're losing out. 

There are several stained glass windows in the church - framed by stone tracery that looks very, very old indeed - but maybe not as old as the apertures in the walls, as they look like they once had larger arches and arched tracery rather than arches in rectangles. I don't know exactly how many phases of construction and alteration there have been (I counted at least 5) but it's got so much history built into the walls. It was really quite fascinating. 


Spider, photograph by me.
I really like spiders. Raven, not so much. I saw this spindly one on its thread in the porch window. 

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Domesticated: Study Decor

Originally, when I set up Domesticated Goth, I intended it to be about crafts, homemaking, cooking and decorating - a blog to give people ideas on how to make Gothic things for their house, small art projects, etc. Unfortunately, I moved into a rental apartment that had strict rules on decorating, and that put a real dampener on that idea, and instead the blog evolved into a more general Gothic & Goth lifestyle bog, with Gothic tourism, art projects, accounts of my involvement with Gothic Lolita, photography, the odd musical post (I am terrible at writing about music intelligently) and discussion of the Goth subculture itself. 

Three years ago, however, Raven and I bought a house - we didn't buy it outright, we have a mortgage on it, and it's not a very big house, but it's where we call home. Over that time, we've been decorating. Not all of the house is Gothic (the living & dining rooms are open-plan with each other, and have a more earthy, slightly witchy sort of feel, with lots of greens, dark wood and natural and Pagan motifs) and some rooms are more Gothic than others. There's also still a lot of work to be done, so many rooms are still very incomplete; we don't have much money, so we can't hire people to decorate for us, and we barely have the time and the money to do it ourselves, so it has been dragging on. However, my study is the smallest room that isn't a bathroom, and therefore it's one of the more complete.

Spiderweb candelabra and skulls are still quite 'Hallowe'en'
My initial idea was to decorate it in a deliberately kitschy, Hallowe'en-esque sort of way - LOTS of skulls, cartoon bat decals on the windows and ceilings, and quite a vivid purple (Valspar's 'Purple Storm'). However, having had the room for 3 years, I feel that style both feels a bit overbearing and doesn't really reflect my personal aesthetic any more, as I've definitely got further and further into a Romantic, Gothic and very Victorian/anachronistic sort of aesthetic, and I want my study to feel more like it is inhabited by a vampire from an Anne Rice novel than one from a Tim Burton movie. I've still got the vinyl decals on my window because I simply can't get them off, and I think I'm going to have to use a heat-gun to remove them!

My window, with its bat stickers as well as SunSeal mandalas
There are a lot of pentagrams and stars hanging up in my window.
Some of the vinyl decals, those of Gothic architecture and Gothic arches, I will keep. I feel like it's still in keeping with the reproduction 1820s Gothic Revival wallpaper of window tracery, especially the arcade of grey/silver arches - something I need to get a good photograph of! I'm in two minds about the vinyl decals of buildings. I'm not sure if they are too cartoonish to look good, or if their simplicity is a good thing, or whether they should go entirely, or whether I should carefully take a scalpel to them and give them a few more details to make them a bit classier (including making some of the Romanesque arches into Gothic ones!). I don't want to make my study too Victorian either; my 1960's house doesn't have high enough ceilings to really pull off the Victorian look without feeling claustrophobic; the spaces are too horizontal. 

The rounded arches and lack of details annoy me!
I have two favourite sections of my study so far, my 'book nook' reading corner, and my feature wall. My study has a weird L-shape, with a short stubby bit over the staircase, and an above-the-stairs cupboard that I store manga and art materials in. In the stubby area, I have a book-case, a corner unit, a wicker peacock-back chair (inspired by Morticia Addams) and a two-handed broadsword! The broadsword is a claymore, the distinctive variation from Scotland. 

My book nook. Chair pulled out to get a good photograph.
The bookcase is all non-fiction. The top shelf is architecture books, the middle shelf history, culture and anthropology, and the bottom shelf is for big A4+ size books, mostly art, but a few history ones too. It's not big enough for all of my art and architecture or history books, but it's got a few. More shelving is actually something my study desperately needs, and is something I've been working on. Some friends of mine are moving to Scandinavia, and have a lovely double-Gothic-arch bookcase that I would like to buy off them, and I've put two new above-door shelves up in my study, one above the main door for ornaments, and one above the cubby door for notebooks (you can see a bracket for it, sans shelf, in the photo above). I'm awaiting some more shelves in our bedroom, so that I can move all my fiction books out of their stacks under my study desk! I've also got a stack of art books under my study desk, and another stack of art books next to the book-case, all of art books too big to go on the bottom shelf of the bookcase. I've got a few shelves above my desk, but they're for art materials, not books. 

Cubby visible in mirror!
My cubby needs a lot of work; it already has shelves, but they're too broadly spaced out, but too close to simply put an additional shelf in between - I need to take the existing shelves out and put new ones in.  There's also a crack where the back board of the cupboard has come away from the wall, and I'm not sure what the best way to deal with that is, as the problem appears to be lack of an allowance for the expansion and contraction of the building. I think perhaps an L-shaped piece of wood, attached to the brick wall and not the board, will cover the gap while allowing the different materials to expand and contract sensibly. I'm not sure whether the back wall of the cubby should have wallpaper or be painted, and if so, what colours. I also want to save up to get an electrician in, both to move the main overhead light at the conjunction of the two parts of the study, but also to install an additional light in the ceiling of the cubby, so I can see what's in there better. 

The purple and gold book is actually a Harry Potter themed lamp! They're available ::here:: and at the time of writing, they're on sale below half price at £35 (hence why I could afford one!). I'm a bit of a Harry Potter fan, so this was perfect. If there had been a silver on purple version, I would have loved that even more. I had the cover text customised to 'Liber Lux' - book of light (probably slightly wonky Latin; it's been over 12 years since I studied Latin!). When you open it up, the pages light up, and create a lovely ambient glow. I put mine on a mini-lectern/book stand so I can use it while I'm letter-writing or whatnot.

My mini-bodhran and a Gods' Eye weave.
Another thing I use my study for is music practice. I have my bodhran and my doumbek, my fiddle and a whole lot of recorders (flûte à bec, not for recording music), whistles and flutes. Eventually I wish to move my harmonium (pedal organ) up into my study, but my staircase is steep and winding, and Raven and I alone are not strong enough to carry it upstairs; I think it's a four-person job, but not a four-person staircase! I'd like to get a piano for the living-room to sit where the harmonium currently is; I used to play, and my nice piano is at my father's house. 

Raven, in front of a resin crow figure from TKMaxx
The silver and black damask bag behind has love-letters he sent me.
The silver and black box below has letters from friends and family.
I also have a desk, which is where my computer sits, and where I do a lot of my art-work. I haven't taken any proper photographs of the desk itself, because currently my desktop is just some MDF (medium-density fibreboard) and I'd like to get something like some black sparkle formica to make desk-top. I've been looking at the wonderful geode-inspired resin art-work of ::Mrs ColorBerry:: (which is totally incredible; I seriously recommend checking it out!) and I'd like to learn to do something similar to make a cool poured-resin worktop for my desk, although I wonder how heavy that would be! Raven built my desk, and to get ornate table-legs, he cut some banister spindles down to size! 
Hand-painted skulls, and easy DIY project. Just prime then paint!
I do like skull motifs, even if they are sometimes a bit kitschy. These three are small skull decorations from Hallowe'en - £2 for a pack of 9 - which I repainted using nail-polish, to immortalise some of my favourite nail-polish combinations. The iridescent green and purple one is my favourite. These skulls are tiny, about and inch and a half high each. 

I love the Art Nouveau packaging
I love burning incense in my study, although it tends to leave an ashy, dusty mess around the burner. I keep the incense for my study (which has cheesy names like 'Werewolf's Bite' or 'Gothic Prayer') in that purple vase. I used to have dried roses in the vase, but they just disintegrated entirely. I love the Art Nouveau packaging for the 'Yesteryears' incense, so I keep that particular incense out on display. The wall faces on the window aperture are painted a lighter purple (I think it's called either 'Lightning Bolt' or 'Haunting Melody'; I can't remember which of those two I eventually settled on. More Valspar paint.) 


My favourite part of my study is the wall behind where I sit at my desk. I painted it black, with silver glitter dusted into the paint, and it is the feature wall I use to display art work. The art work is on rotation. Currently I've got a lenticular image of a crow on a skull, which I think is from Alchemy Gothic, and a postcard of a cat as Moriarty (having stolen the crown jewels). Half of the picture frames are from TKMaxx and Dunelm Mill, and the other half are thrifted. I'm starting to swap out the artwork for fine art images. Not really visible in this picture, but the image in the concentric rectangles frame at the upper left is a postcard of a Edward Burne Jones sketch  (it is of a woman looking down to her left, with a crown of golden leaves, done in chalks or pastels on a purple background, you can see a version ::here::). I'm going to hopefully fill all the frames with classic art soon, just need to accumulate prints/postcards at the right size. The picture of my father (at work, he's an archaeologist) on the far right is going to be re-framed in a black frame and moved to our bedroom, where we have a wall of friends and family pictures.

Display wall from the other angle, with sword.
Also note the Gothic Revival wallpaper in grey.
You may have noticed I have another sword. I collect them, especially antiques. The sword on my display wall is an antique officer's dress sword from the 1870s-1880s, from Italy, with a beautifully engraved blade. I love the duality of beautifully made weaponry; both artistic and aesthetic, yet designed for a lethal function. There are dents along the spine of the dress sword that indicate it's been used in some form of combat, and I wonder if someone fought a duel with it. It's definitely not a battle weapon (unlike say, a cavalry sabre). 

Unfinished wall with broken sconce; the mirror got shattered.


As you can see, this is not a complete over view of my study, and there is much left to do. I'm going to put a Gothic arched cabinet over my radiator, and I've got facings to put on the shelves over my door. I need to take more pictures of things I have added to my study, like the two new shelves. I still don't have a final floor covering; I've got a rug over floor-boards as I can't afford enough laminate flooring to cover my study yet (however I do have a roll of underlay!). I'm going to try and 3D print a single tile of cornice, then make a mould, and then use that to make dozens of foam ones, in order to get a repeating Gothic arch design to go around where the ceiling connects to the walls. I've already painted skirting board gloss black, but I can't put that in until I've got the laminate floor down. I still don't have enough shelving, as detailed above, and I still have lots of stuff in boxes. 

If my readers are interested, I can update the blog with progress on my study, and with how other rooms are decorated. Please comment if you want to see more of the Gothic décor in my house. There's the witchy living & dining area mentioned before, a French belle-epoque inspired aesethetic, just with added skulls, for our main bedroom, a more modern take on Gothic decor for the spare bedroom/games room and the kitchen. The upstairs hallway is going to be quite opulent, with some really fabulous wall-paper, but I'm still currently stripping the original wallpaper! 


I also suggest checking out two Gothic DIY blogs:
::GIY: Goth It Yourself::, which is currently on hiatus, but which has an archive of PLENTY of projects worth reading and looking at, and
::Me And Annabel Lee:: which is also full of wonderful Gothic decorating and craft ideas and tutorials. 








Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Castell Arberth/Narberth Castle

A few weeks ago, Raven and I went to stay with my Dad. I came across this castle by accident - My Dad got Raven to drive him on an errand, and the route went past this castle mound, which was partially obscured by how the road goes down a deep cut in the hill below it. I asked if we could visit the castle on the way back, and we did. If any of my readers are familiar with the Mabinogion, then they will recognise Castell Arberth as one of the chief courts of Pwyll, father of Pryderi. 

Narberth Cemetery

On our way to the castle we went into a cemetery by mistake - we were looking for the path up to the castle mound, and thought this might be through the cemetery, as the graveyard path initially seemed to slope up. The cemetery was founded in the 1930s, so most of the graves are 20thC, I think with some more recent ones. As it is quite a recently used/active cemetery, I only took one picture of the general cemetery area, rather than any of specific graves, and certainly no posing with the gravestones. 

Remains of the castle sticking up like fangs from the ground

The castle was up a different path. You can't see much of it from the road, only one of the towers, but once up there, a lot more of the castle is visible. It is hard, from what is left, to visualise that it was once a mighty fortress, at least the second built on that site, and was built sometime after 1246 (you can read the CADW page ::here::). There were signs around the place with artist's impressions of the original castle, but I think the windows in the paintings are a tad more Gothic than might have been based on the actual window shapes remaining. However, there may have been more pointed tracery in stone frames now long gone. 

This is just part of a broken tower, once attached to a building
It was a damp, muggy day, with a dull grey sky, so I apologise in advance for the photographs being hazy and the skies being boring. I took all the photographs on my phone, as well, as I still haven't got a replacement camera. I'm currently unemployed, so it will be a while before I can afford a decent camera.

Raven was there too, and he took a couple of pictures of me.

Window into the cellar
The most complete part of the building is the pantry/kitchen cellar, with its tough barrel vault weathering the test of time. It's the building that Raven's standing in front of in the picture above. A lot of the stone from the castle was reused to build the town/village of Narberth (Arberth in Welsh) that surrounds. It's a very craggy-looking ruin, and the exterior walls, which would have likely been rendered and whitewashed to avoid the stone walls providing hand-holds, and to add an extra layer of protection from the elements, are now bare, with much of the walls' cores exposed. 

What is left of the great hall. 
The castle was built on a promontory, with a steep drop down to the graveyard below, and even further to the current road level. Geographically, it's quite a defensible location. I think the castle walls merge into a deliberate escarpment to the right of the buildings pictured above. Looking out over the trees now is quite magical. The vegetation there is very lush - West Wales is where parts of what is known as the 'Celtic Rainforest' grows - dense and green, watered by the decidedly soggy climate and warmed by the warm air currents that pass the West of the British Isles, brought by the Gulf Stream. 

Through the windows
The buildings were stabilised in 2005, after an extensive project to stop further ruination of what is left. Unfortunately, there has been graffiti since then, limiting what I could photograph (I don't want to put swear words, crudely drawn phallic images and suchlike on my blog) and also damaging the stonework as it would be difficult to remove the spray paint from the walls without also damaging the surfaces of the stones. It saddens me that I often go to castles and other ancient monuments and there's litter, beer cans (and sometimes worse) and graffiti - the results of people disrespecting their heritage. Ones that charge for entry tend to have less, but I think it's more the supervision of stewards than the price that changes things. 

I went through that doorway.
I did see a family taking their children for a stroll, which is a good thing - nice to see children being taken to such things at young age, hopefully to grow up more respectful of the castle than those who spray-painted the graffiti. I get really angry about people damaging historical buildings.

Inside what's left of the great hall
You can see corbels jutting from the walls where once sat the joists for the first floor. I don't know if there was a second storey on this part. The towers definitely had ground floor, first floor and second floor at least, probably with battlements behind crenelations. All of that is gone now. You can also see where they changed their mind about a window and walled it up into an alcove. 

Note corbel and hole in the wall where a beam once slotted in
I probably spent longer exploring and taking photographs than we really had time for. I find such ruins quite captivating. 800 years is pretty ancient in many ways, but it's actually relatively recent in Welsh history. Near Narberth/Arberth is a truly ancient hill-fort that is thousands of years old. It's somewhat overwhelming at times just how much history there is, layered all around us. I'll have to visit more of the really ancient stuff and blog about that, too. 


The arches are roughly Gothic, but it's hard to tell what the windows looked like with any more detail than that. The castle, like most medieval castles, also had a chapel, which I would expect to have church-like Gothic windows, maybe once having stained glass. Now there's just a hole in the wall. I wonder what happened to the glass. 

The hat and cloak make me look particularly severe.
Raven took a picture of me looking very serious by a window. I'm such a tourist sometimes - I want an 'I was there' picture of me at the places I visit. You can see how much better the resolution is on Raven's phone camera than on mine. I visited two other castles while I was in Wales, and I'll update my blog with those in the near future. 

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Cawdor Castle - 2017 Visit

Last year, Raven took me to Cawdor Castle for my birthday. I wanted to post about it nearer the time, but I lost my SD card with the photos I'd taken. I've been there ::before::, and the first time I was there, it was with the HTC smartphone that didn't have a good camera at all, no proper camera, and in dreary weather. This time, it was May, the weather was bright and sunny, and I made sure to bring a camera with me. Raven also took a lot of photographs while we were there, so there's plenty of photographs from him in this blog! If I find my SD card, I'll do a second post about this trip with my photos on it. I'm really grateful to Raven for letting me use his photographs; I'm really sad about having lost my SD card, especially as it had more than just Cawdor Castle on it. I took a LOT of photographs of the castle building itself, and I really wish they weren't lost.

Photos in this blog-post are in a carousel gallery - if you click on a photo, it will enlarge, and you can navigate between photos with the arrow keys. I've had a couple of messages about 'tiny pictures' so I thought I would clarify. 


Photo by Raven of me walking up to the castle
Cawdor Castle was initially built as a defensive castle in the 14thC by the Thanes of Cawdor. It's since become more of country mansion house with later, less defensible extensions, but it has a rich and interesting history. This time, we went inside the castle as well as seeing the grounds, paying the extra entrance fee, so I got to see more the castle and learn about the castle history - which is my favourite reason to visit castles! You can visit the official Cawdor Castle website ::here::

When I temporarily had blue hair!
Selfies by me. 
I went on the trip during the time I had ::temporarily blue hair::. I keep ending up with unintentional blue hair - I've currently got unintentional blue highlights in my black hair because the black dye is not quite as opaque as I imagined, and also doesn't adhere so well to where my hair was previously green. However, in this instance, my hair turned blue after I washed it, and had originally been green and purple. My current theory is that it's because I'd been using dandruff shampoo, and some ingredient in that caused it to wash out certain pigments from the dye, leaving the blue. 

The first thing I did at the castle was go and get a hot chocolate, and I think either a pain-au-chocolat or a savoury muffin - it's been over a year, I can't remember what I ate. I do remember that whatever it was, it was tasty! The hot chocolate was rather yummy, with frothy cream and marshmallows - a more luxurious hot drink than my usual tea as a birthday treat. 

My hair nearly matched the cup. Photo by Raven 

Photo by Raven, edits by me.
Once thoroughly refreshed, we went for a wander around the castle. Near the entrance to the cafe, I spotted this alcove. As well as looking out of the window at the castle grounds, and being impressed by the immense thickness of the walls, I persuaded Raven to take some aesthetic pictures of me.

The gatehouse has had to repel those who would attack the castle, so its sturdiness is not just for show. One of the daughters of the clan at Cawdor - 9th Thaness Muriel - was at the centre of a lot of clan dispute when as a teenager she was married off to Sir Campbell. It got very 'Game of Thrones' with battles, kidnaps, plots and Thaness Muriel surviving her husband, living 30 years longer than he did. (You can read about that ::here::, just scroll down to Muriel Calder). If you think the fiction of Macbeth is dramatic, then just look what was actually happening in Cawdor a few before Shakespeare.

I actually don't remember this part of the castle, but it's pretty
Photograph by Raven 
We went around the castle interior first. The castle is still lived in - by the current Lady Cawdor, so not all the rooms can be visited. There's a route through some of the castle that is opened up, with guides at various points who can be asked questions about the castle. I remember we bumped into some American tourists who were just as excited about the castle as I was (and who liked my outfit; I think I got called' Lady Macbeth' in a complimentary way.) and both they and I asked the guides plenty of questions. There was an older chap as a guide and he was incredibly knowledgeable about the castle. I perhaps asked too many questions, but I'm a glutton for knowledge.

Palantir-esque orb
Photo by Raven.
There are a lot of spherical ornaments in Cawdor Castle - I think this is an aesthetic choice of the current lady Cawdor, as she commissioned several of the spherical statues in the castle grounds, and it is by her desk that one of the larger stone/crystal orbs resides. Raven took a photograph of it (to the right, click to enlarge thumbnail image). There's also one in one of the visitable bedrooms that is in a stand that makes it look like Palantir from Middle Earth. There's also an ORIGINAL Charles Addams drawing which I got completely over excited about. I don't have a photograph of that. (Lady Cawdor's art collection is intriguing, and I have so many questions in my head from it!)

There's a really fabulous room, with a tree growing in it, and an adjoining 'secret' other room that had been walled up for a long time. I don't have a photograph of it - it's something I tried hard to photograph, and there might be pictures of it on my SD card, but in the meanwhile there's a picture of it on the ::Cawdor Castle website::, second one along, click to enlarge. The tree is part of a legend about the founding of the castle. The Thane of Cawdor, whose earlier medieval castle was not too far away, wanted to build a bigger and better, stronger fortification. He had a dream in which he was instructed to put a chest of gold upon a donkey's back, and then to follow it to where it lay, and build his castle there. He did this, and the donkey went to lie down under a hawthorne tree, which the castle was built around - the tree is still there, growing through the castle basement, protected as the family's prosperity is thought to be linked to the tree. I keep saying British history is very much like Game of Thrones, but in this case it's more like the Shannara Chronicles.

Historic Kitchen at Cawdor Castle, photo by Raven

Photo by Raven. 
Looking at the historic kitchen was interesting. All those copper pots and pans! It's intriguing to see what utensils they had then compared to now - some things I have no idea what their purpose is, some things that haven't changed much, and some things that seem obvious by their absence. What was even more interesting is that one of the last things you go through in the castle, once you've been through the historic kitchen, is the modern kitchen - presumably for when there are private functions (I'm going to guess Lady Cawdor doesn't let hundreds of visitors walk through the same kitchen her dinner is cooked in each night!).

I really like the recessed windows from an aesthetic perspective - I'm guessing they are small and in such deep alcoves because the kitchen is in the basement, and the castle needs really thick, sturdy walls at that level to hold up everything that is above it, especially as it was defensive. Small windows means less of a void in the wall, and less of a space someone could climb in through - however, wide alcoves means more light as light can enter the room from a variety of angles in relation to the window.  
Modern Kitchen at Cawdor Castle, photo by Raven

Photo by Raven.  Click to expand
In front of historic kitchen window
The comparison between the two definitely makes you think about how much the functional aspects of the castle have changed, and the expected requirements for a kitchen. As an architectural technologist, and one that would like to work on residential properties, things like the types of room that have been used for kitchens over the centuries is something that interests me - for example, the historic kitchen is long and linear, almost in a basement, and with the well in the room, (Not visible in the photograph, Raven would have had his back to it when he took this picture) whereas the modern kitchen is in a much squarer room, and a storey up from this kitchen (I think? It's hard to judge when the various phases of the building aren't all on the same set of levels) - both rooms are relatively bright, with lots of white, but the modern kitchen seems much airier, even though it has dark wooden panelling - perhaps because the ceilings are much higher (high enough to be out of shot!). It's also interesting to note the HUGE copper canopy for the extract fans in the modern kitchen - no such thing centuries back, so it would have been much steamier to work in! 

Raven's really into cooking, so I think he also found the two kitchens quite interesting.


Maze with minotaur (left) and castle (right). Photograph by Raven.
There's a hedge maze (or labyrinth?) at Cawdor, but when we were there, it was closed to visitors because the roots of the shrubbery needed to recover from repetitive trampling. However, it was visible from outside, as was the mythologically suitable minotaur in the centre!

Formal gardens, before their peak, in a cloudy moment. Photo by Raven.

Walking with parasol
Photograph by Dave
After we looked around the castle as much as we could, we then went out to the grounds. Last time I went to Cawdor Castle gardens, we walked mostly through the woodland walk area and didn't go through all of the gardens, but this time we went to the gardens. In the Highlands, early May is more springtime than summer, so the gardens aren't as green and luscious as they probably are in later months. I should probably actually go there around this time of year to best appreciate the gardens! That's not to say that there wasn't greenery - as there was, it's just that the trees, hedges and shrubbery weren't at their maximum foliage. 

The weather was quite bright - not hot, but warm enough that a lacy shrug was enough to keep away the chill. However, it was definitely bright enough for sunglasses and parasol (well, to me at least, but I think I have a low tolerance for bright light.) for most of the day. There were cloudier moments, too, but when the sun came out again it was really quite bright.

Spherical fountain, photograph by Raven. 
As mentioned before, there were several spherical garden statues/fountains at the ground. A really interesting one was made of shards of stacked glass, but I lost the photographs I took of that. The stone sphere fountain in the photograph was made by a Japanese sculptor, and there was a matching crescent moon shaped statue - I think the fountain represents the sun. It's an interesting mixture of modern art and a historical castle and grounds. I think the natural stones helps keep the fountain fitting to the site. 

Pond opposite ticket booth/entrance. Photograph by Raven
Cawdor Castle has two main areas of laid out gardens, and then plenty of grounds, wooded and more pastoral, beyond that. There is a lovely pond near the drive and ticket booth, which Raven photographed. It looked most picturesque, a wonderful capture of springtime, especially with all the white tree blossoms. There are more ponds in the woodland area, but I didn't go there that time - they are also very pretty, especially when viewed from the wooden bridges. 

Photograph by Raven, edits/filters by me.
The last photo from the Castle is me sitting at a small picnic table near the ticket booth, I think having just finished a carton of apple juice or something, and discussing with Raven what the rest of our plans would be. For some reason, sitting there was probably the thing that stuck most clearly in my head. I think it was because I looked up at the new leaves on the tree above me, and the sun, which was quite bright, was glowing through them, so they seemed so incredibly vibrant, almost glass-like. It was later in the afternoon by that point, as we had spent a good few hours at Cawdor Castle, and I tweaked the colours in the photograph just a little to try and best capture what the light felt like when I was there. Sometimes you have to bend reality a little to capture what something feels like.
 

Raven and I together, phone pic by me. 
As far as birthdays go, I think last year's was one of the best. Sometimes a trip out is better than a party (especially if you're more introverted like me. I end up poking my phone at my own parties because I get 'peopled out'!). Going to Cawdor castle was Raven's treat, so I'm very thankful to him for taking me (even over a year on!). He took me out to dinner, too (which, just before, is when I took the selfie of us together - hence the different makeup and outfit). Raven is very much the romantic, and I'm eternally grateful to him for all these years together - as well as Birthday trips out!

Also, this blog would be much less aesthetically pleasing without his photographic talent! Not just this specific entry (which would just be a big wall of text about how much I like Cawdor Castle otherwise), but in general - he's taken so many of the photographs of me for this blog over the years, and they're always really flattering. I don't look half as good in my own selfies - let alone real life - as I do in Raven's pictures of me. He's got a knack for composition and posing that does well to minimise my many physical flaws and highlight my better features (so, less turkey neck, more cheekbones) and even manages to take pretty pictures of me when I'm not trying to pose (those probably turn out better; I pose awkwardly when I know I'm being photographed)