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..

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Vernal Equinox 2018

As I've mentioned before on this blog, I've decided that in response to the popularity of Witchcraft in the Goth community in recent years that I would chronicle what I do as a 'Celtic' Witch (for lack of a better term... I'm an ex-Wiccan, gradually re-embracing the term 'witch'. I'm also interested in various magical and folk traditions from the British Isles and Brittany, at many different points in history from prehistory to Druids to medieval, renaissance, 18thC, Victorian to present) in order to show people who might be new or just curious what it is some of us do. I'm only an example for me, but I share a lot of practices with many Neo-Pagans. As it is a few days in advance of the Equinox, I'm writing about that spoke on the Wheel of the Year.

Before I go into what I'm going to be doing for the Equinox this year, I want to explore what I did last year. For the last Equinox I attended my first ever Pagan event hosted by Highland Fire Gatherings. I have helped run group events with the Highland Open Circle, and celebrated the Sabbats with them, but this was the first time I'd been to an event hosted by this different group. The Fire Gatherings are not formal ceremonies like the Open Circle run, they are - as the title states - gatherings with fire. 

I have organised many of the rituals I've participated in with the Open Circle are ones I've been leading and/or organising, and that is a lot of responsibility, and despite being Neo-Pagan for close on two decades now, I don't feel like a Priestess, I don't feel like I have got to the spiritual stage for that. I always struggle to write rituals that cater to our eclectic group, to pick the right words that don't sound contrived or pretentiously theatrical, to organise the ritual to work practically... I have the ability to speak in public and to adapt to alterations in situation, but I feel more like the 'mistress of ceremonies' than an actual Priestess. I get so caught up in trying to make a functional ritual on a practical level that I struggle to do the key, core element of any Neo-Pagan ritual; to engage in spiritual practice. Being part of someone else's gathering or ritual is something I much prefer. I'm happy to work as a solitary witch/Neo-Pagan, and I'm happy to be part of a group energy, but I don't want to be the group leader.

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Corn-dolly, eggs, and candles on the altar.
Photograph courtesy of Highland Fire Gatherings and used with permission.

The gathering was outdoors, in a deciduous woodland grove near to a pine-woodland, on a hillside overlooking the Moray Firth.  Spring can be late and slow to emerge here in the Highlands, due to the northerly climate, so instead of somewhere green with new growth, the trees looked quite bare, and the autumn leaves still lingered over the grass. One of the benefits of celebrating outdoors is that you end up appreciating the seasonal changes at their pace, not one of the artificial calendar of the Wheel of the Year, which is only approximate because the weather fluctuates yearly, weekly... multiple times a day because this is Scotland and the weather is best described as 'changeable' and 'damp'! In Southern England it was likely a time of flowers and greenery, and that is probably what Gerald Gardner saw when he celebrated with his New Forest Coven in the early 20thC, but firstly I'm a long way North of that, and secondly climate change is noticeably affecting seasonal patterns. It ends up that the Sabbats are day to take the time to see how the wheel is turning, rather than expecting it to have turned exactly to a specific point on a specific date. The seasons should turn the wheel, not the wheel turn the seasons.

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Spiderweb woven from yarn and string-lights, made by one of the organisers.
Photograph courtesy of Highland Fire Gatherings, used with their permission.

Those attending brought their own materials to make shelter, and their own contribution. I didn't intend to stay the night, so instead of a tent, I brought a purple Celtic (well, Insular) knotwork blanket, and built a shelter out of fallen branches, propped up against two trees, and with the base filled with an extra layer of gathered dried leaves for insulation. With the large purple blanket acting as a windbreak, and my tote-bags acting as something damp-proof to sit on, it was actually quite cosy in my shelter, and I spent a lot of time in there during the gathering. I am not the most gregarious person, actually quite introverted in person, so I needed my own little space away from the gathering proper, and so my little shelter on the periphery was quite useful to me, I could retreat to it between moments of being social and friendly. I also hung my little silver lantern on the end of a branch to light my shelter, as I stayed with the group well into the darkness of evening. I didn't bring a camera, as I didn't know if that would be considered impolite, so I don't have any of my own photographs, and I'm most sad that I didn't take any photographs of my little shelter. It was a lean-to, with one ridge-pole branch, supported at either end in forked branches rammed into the ground, and then numerous branches lent against that, with the blanket over it all, tucking in the edges and partially under the rear to keep the wind out. At the front, I made a slightly higher entrance way with two more forked branches creating a triangular opening, and the blanket pulled down low either side. My shelter was against a slope, so it seemed quite low at the front, but with the ground dipping towards the back, it was actually quite roomy inside.

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An eight-fold woven spiral frames the forest beyond.
Photograph courtesy of Highland Fire Gatherings.
Me singing in my black robes.
Photograph courtesy of H.F.G
The gathering itself was quite informal in structure, and there was a blessing, but there was also lots of drumming and communal music, which had a really good energy. I'd brought some recorders and whistles with me, and I played a lot of music that day - sometimes in the circle (where I used two plastic recorders knocked together as a percussion instrument as well as playing them the conventional way), sometimes just playing tunes while sat in my little shelter. I find music is a good way to express the sort of spiritual feelings that just come out awkward when expressed in words - if the best I can do with language is cringe-worthy attempts at poetry, I will stick to wordless sound. I did attempt to sing at one point, but singing publicly is not something I comfortable with so I was nervous and thus did not do so well at that.

My purple shelter is on the right. I think I'm inside it! Photo courtesy of H.F.G.
Faces are obscured because I don't know who might be 'in the broom closet'.
As you can see from the photograph above, there was a reasonable but smallish group. I think I was in the shelter when this photograph was taken, obscured by the lady sitting in front, and there were a couple more people not in the shot. We gathered firewood communally from fallen timber to build our little fire - which was built on a bed of stones as not to damage the ground. On the tree behind us is an ancient sun-wheel symbol which exists in cultures worldwide and may be very, very ancient indeed - it's certainly simple to draw; a circle with an equal-armed cross, which occurs in ancient carvings across Europe, might well be the heritage of the Celtic cross, and which is also similar to the Medicine Wheel. It can be the four elements, the four directions, the sun the cross of the solar year within the eight spokes of the Wheel of the Year (appropriate for an Equinox which is part of the solar cross), etc. It's Earth in Astrology, copper alloys in Alchemy and Odin's cross in Norse Paganism. In its centre is a stag's skull. I don't know what that skull meant to the person who made the sun-wheel, but to me the horns are that of Cernunnos. 

Celtic Bodhran
I really enjoyed the way music flowed in and out of the group. There was a planned drum circle, but there were also moments where music seemed to spontaneously spring up, and we would just jam, with a variety of instruments present. A lot of the people brought frame drums and bodhrans (traditional drum from Irish and Scottish music), and apparently they know each other from a drumming group for those specific types of drums. I nearly bought a bodhran many years ago, while visiting Ireland with my great aunt Judith, but it was just outside my price range, and instead I bought a whistle. After this bodhran-rich music group, I went and bought a half-size 'mini-bodhran' with Insular style knotwork painted on it. It's nothing as beautiful as the one covered in beautiful Celtic spirals pictured with the firelight through it. The owner of that drum is a lucky person; it's a beautiful drum with a beautiful sound. 

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A row of lanterns hung with garlands at the entrance to the grove.
More distant lanterns as specks of light in the distance. Courtesy of H.F.G
I stayed with the circle late into the evening, until it was quite dark indeed. I spent a while as a self-appointed lantern-lighter, stringing lanterns up into the trees and lighting the tealights - often relighting when the wind extinguished them. I actually found out afterwards that my attempt to secure them from the wind taking them down was a bit too successful as it made the lanterns difficult to get out of the trees, especially the ones hung over high branches. It is something I have learnt not do again. I have felt there's something particularly magical about lanterns for a long time, especially after a dream I had, where I was riding a white horse through a dense deciduous forest all hung with coloured lanterns. Another young lady from the group joined me in cooperative lantern lighting. 

 Dusk, looking back towards the path.
 Photo from  H.F.G.
Eventually we got to the far end of the camp, and I looked back and it seemed truly special seeing all the lanterns glint and glimmer through the trunks of the trees, the woven wheels at the far end bright with LED string-lights. It really inspired me, and since then I've nearly doubled my personal collection of lanterns, and brought them with me for the Open Circle Beltane Gathering I organised that was an outdoor event, to the Summer Solstice (although it was still light when I left that! The sun lingers long on the Solstice this far North!) and even to the Winter Solstice ritual in the garden of another Circle member, each time finding a few more lanterns. Eventually I will have enough lanterns to recreate the vision from my dream, of the trees hung with lanterns as jewels. It was seeing lanterns in the trees in actuality that made realise I had to make what I'd seen in the dream a reality.

I stayed until it got truly dark, but as I had to be at college the next day, I went home late, but not too late, and didn't camp. I really enjoyed attending the event, and I went to other events hosted by the same group last year, including their Summer Solstice event, which I will post about nearer this year's Summer Solstice.

The Highland Fire Gathering group has a Facebook page ::here:: if you're local and interested. The Highland Open Circle has it's Facebook page ::here::, too. 

Monday, 18 March 2019

Spring & Equinox Altar

As I have mentioned before, this year I will be blogging about the Neo-Pagan festivals of the eight points of the 'Wheel of the Year', celebrations shared by Wiccans, Druids, and some other Neo-Pagan paths, based off four solar festivals which, being based on celestial events, are common celebrations many cultures (the two solstices and two equinoxes), and the four 'fire festivals' or 'cross quarters', which are tied to folk festivals of Britain and western Europe. The Vernal Equinox is when day and night are equal, in spring. Many Neo-Pagans celebrate it as 'Ostara', named after a celebration mentioned by the chronicler 'the venerable Bede', and which may be named after a Germanic dawn goddess, and which is likely the root-word for 'Easter' in English (most other languages have a name deriving from 'Pascha'). I just celebrate it as the Vernal Equinox. 

Full Equinox altar.
I think I do the Equinox a bit differently from many Neo-Pagans as I don't incorporate rabbits, hens and eggs. Neo-Pagans now regard these as fertility symbols, and I think that's a very valid perspective, but their association with Easter had more to do with which food were restricted during Lent - meat was forbidden, as were eggs and dairy (Thomas Aquinas wrote against consuming these), and so of course once the fast was broken on Easter, people wanted to consume them. Lambs are very much an important Christian symbol, with Jesus as the Lamb of God, and I can't help but think of the rather beautiful Pre-Raphaelite inspired mural that graced a church I used to go to of the adoration of the lamb when I see lambs in a religious context. My rejection of these symbols because of their Christian (and particularly Catholic) associations is not a protestation against Christianity or an act of my disliking Christianity, more that I wish to separate my current faith from my old faith, and I feel awkward doing things that remind me too much of Christianity; I feel like I'm misappropriating, or somehow trying to Paganise things, which may or may not be a valid concern or just a manifestation of my anxiety and over-thinking.

Instead of thes
e animal symbols, I prefer floral ones - picking what is in bloom in my garden at the time. I don't rear chickens, rabbits or sheep, so it seems a bit disconnected for me to celebrate lambing (which is often quite a bit before Easter in the UK, anyway), or their lifecycle in relation to the agricultural year. The birds nesting in my garden are more seasonally appropriate to me than chickens. [Interestingly, chickens need about 12 hours of daylight to signal the summer period for laying eggs - so the Equinox is actually directly relevant to chickens. Some will lay in winter even without an appropriate light source, but egg production goes up with daylight hours. I do, however, grow flowers (and vegetables, herbs, etc.) so I feel more personally connected to flowers.  

Another photograph of the altar as a whole 

You can see on my altar a bunch of hyacinths and daffodils in the centre. I changed my altar set-up from its Imbolc set up to this pre-Equinox set up at the start of March, and it is definitely geared more to a visual celebration of the changing seasons and the greenery and flowers of spring. Daffodils and hyacinths are both poisonous to cats, but this set-up was before Archimedes arrived, and was dismantled before Archimedes left his acclimatisation period in the spare room, with any pollen hoovered up.

I have two altar cloths again, layered over each other. The bottom altar cloth is a printed light green one with a leafless tree, an image that makes me think of a tree about to spring into life, rather than a dead tree. The upper altar cloth is actually a vintage table-runner I bought on eBay because it reminded me of my grandmother's handicrafts. She used to make things very similar to this, and as the item seems entirely handmade, I can picture someone else's grandmother making this the same way. I wish I had inherited some of my grandmother's embroidery, but I was a child when she passed, and did not end up with anything like that. I found some daffodil doilies secondhand that I tend to use for tea-parties, but I put one under each of the candle-holders to protect the altar cloth from any wax drips that ran off the candle-holders, because it is an old and fragile embroidery, sold to me as being from the '50s, and I don't want to damage it. The embroidered flowers are somewhat stylised, but they remind me of marigolds, which are currently flowering in my garden.

Daffodil doilies to protect vintage altar cloth.

The wreath at the back is a hand-made house decoration some students at my college were selling as a charity fundraiser. It has lovely spring colours, so I use it as an altar decoration each year. I really like using circular symbols for solar festivals, simultaneously representing the sun and the cycle of the seasons. I don't have space on my altar for both the pentagram candle-holder and the wreath, so the pentagram candle holder has been moved to in front of our fireplace. To represent the elements, there is a jar candle on the altar; it has five layers in different colours, made from the melted down stubs of past elemental candles used on our altar. 

Pink candle, daffodils, wreath, Goddess censer

The left side of the altar is used primarily for the symbols traditionally associated with the Goddess in Wicca once again as with my ::Imbolc altar::, but this isn't a strict attribution. Incense is used to symbolise the element of Air (and to be burnt as an offering, and to create a ritualistic atmosphere through scent), and many traditions see Air as a masculine element, associated with 'masculine' attributes, but I don't see the point in gendering an element, or even more so of gendering characteristics like logic, clarity of thought, communication, etc. I have an incense holder with a Neo-Pagan style Goddess figure holding up the incense censer, but that does not mean I see the element of air as feminine, either; I just like the figure as a sculpture representing the divine feminine, and it happens to also be a perfectly good censer at the same time - I have another incense burner that is a pentacle (visible in the photographs of the full altar). I think it's probably a bit cliché to attribute pink to the divine feminine - especially as a girl that hated the colour pink growing up - but I chose it to represent Bloduweudd, who was made of flowers, specifically oak, broom and meadowsweet.. Now, I somehow thought oak flowers were light pink, which I am quite wrong about; they're a greenish yellow. Broom flowers are yellow, and meadowsweet flowers are white, so I would have probably done better with a pale yellow candle, in retrospect!

The daffodil picture is not a Goddess symbol at all, it is actually a card I gave Raven for St. David's Day - the saint day for the welsh patron saint, who is St. Dewi in Welsh. St. David's Day is seen more as a national celebration than as a Celtic Saint's day by many, including Raven. I have mentioned before that he is Welsh-Irish. Daffodils are Wales' national flower; the national plant symbol is a leek, and daffodils are 'cennin Pedr' or Peter's leeks in Welsh, which is presumably where the connection comes in between the two plants. Anyway, the card was placed on the altar as another mark of the passing seasons, and a nod to Raven's Welshness.

I have a light green candle to represent the Green Man, a vegetative spirit (or even deity to some) that I associate with the changing seasons as visible through plant life. New spring leaves are slowly emerging, light and vibrant, not yet darkened to the richness of summer. I light the pink candle when invoking the divine feminine, and light the green candle when invoking the divine masculine. The central, multicolour candle is represented of the divine as simultaneously transcendent of material existence and immanent within it. I am a pantheist that sees individual deities as spiritual aspects or manifestations of the greater divine that is in all things, and that candle made of all colours seems like a good representation of that. It is a lovely hand-made textured candle, but I can't remember where I bought it. I think it might be from 'The Maker's Mark' in Newcastle Emlyn, but it could be even older - a souvenir from a lovely witchy shop I found behind a record shop in Henley on Thames over a decade ago. I have kept it safe in my wicker basket store of candles for a long time, but felt like this is the right time to burn some of it. I must admit I'm sort of clingy about candles, and don't like burning the prettiest ones, especially all in one go  - I want to stretch it out so I can appreciate them for longer! Quite silly when candles are intrinsically transient, made to be burnt. Perhaps I'm a sentimental fool.

Ceramic cauldron over tealight.

The blue cauldron hanging over a flame is Raven's. It's meant as an oil-burner, but as many oils are toxic to cats, we are no longer using the oil burners for their true purpose. However, watching the water evaporate off as misty vapour is rather aesthetic, so I am still putting water in them. We will need to look further into what oils can and can't be used around cats, as we don't want to poison Archimedes. I chose this blue cauldron to represent the element of water on my altar. It's purpose is more symbolic than practical for my Equinox ritual, unlike the bigger copper cauldron I used as a temporary planter, and as a receptacle for any drips after I watered my snowdrops from the Well of the Spotted rock for Imbolc. 

Marigold and salt in pentacle dish.
I have a carved stone dish for salt, to represent the element of Earth. It is interesting that salt is what we use when 'salting the earth' is something done to make it infertile. Salt is sometimes used for drawing a circle on the floor, but I think that's a waste of good salt. I am thinking of replacing the salt-as-Earth-representation with sand, fine gravel or soil. Salt as ritual ingredient is still useful, but I associate it more with sea-salt (I know rock-salt exists) and the ocean, and I want to change things around that I no longer connect with. Neo-Paganism is -in general - quite a flexible path, and while we practice similar things, there is room to alter things in accordance with what works best for us. We're a non-dogmatic religion, with each Pagan being their own Priest or Priestess. We tend to be closer to orthopraxic ('right practice') than orthodoxic ('right doctrine') in that we are more connected by ritual practice than theology or cosmology, but even within ritual practice there is plenty of scope for variation. 

I hope this blog entry has been useful and informative as an example of one Pagan witch's practice. There's a lot more I could say about each thing, but I think I am rambling on quite a bit already. As I have said before - I'm just one person, and I will do things differently to other witches and other Pagans, but I don't consider myself much of an outlier in terms of my practices. I am doing this to counter some of the stereotypes about Neo-Paganism and witchcraft - especially those about it being a dark or evil practice. Most of what I do is making a ritual of ways to connect to the natural world and changing seasons; mine is definitely an Earth-based spirituality.

My regular readers might be surprised at the colours - especially green wall paneling in my ritual space, and plenty of yellow and pastels for this seasonal celebration, but I don't think my religious practice necessarily has to reflect my Gothic aesthetic - some of it does, especially my work with the Morrigan and Her aspect as Badb, and with the Cailleach of winter - and these are things you will see on my Samhuinn altar and my altar in the 'Dead Time' between Samhuinn and Winter Solstice, but for the rest of the year, the colours reflect the seasons more than they reflect me - after all, my spiritual practice is more there to connect me better with nature, rather than for me to express my personal style or aesthetic.

The pentacle shelving unit is by CAS Design and I reviewed it ::here:: 

Saturday, 9 March 2019

New Cat: Meet Archimedes

We've adopted a new cat. who arrived today. He's also a shelter cat, and an older cat. He was rescued from an animal hoarding situation where someone was keeping at least 18 cats in a small apartment, so he is quite nervous. At the moment Archimedes is hanging out in the spare room as he's too scared to go any further. He's being checked in on, but given his space, with gradual interaction from us until he is more settled. He is likely to be an indoor cat as he is quite timid and not used to the world outside (I think he was kept within the apartment and not allowed out), and already an adult cat of a few years, so it may always be too much for him.  We're a quiet household with no other cats, which is ideal for him as he doesn't like being around other cats after being crammed in a small apartment with so many of his extended family for so long. He got called Archimedes because he looks like a smart cat, so I was trying out classical thinker names, and he looked up at me when I said Archimedes. We're calling him 'Archie' for short. When we got him, he was called Oreo, but he's not a biscuit.

Archimedes in his 'blanket fort'. We're replacing the beige carpet soon.

I've mentioned my previous cat, Kuro ('Black') before. Kuro moved with my Dad to a rural small-holding. My Dad is still mildly allergic to cats as he has always been, but with antihistamines and the cat spending a lot of time outdoors, they are doing well. My Dad has become very attached to Kuro, and I still live a very long way from my Dad, and as Kuro is getting older, we think the journey up to Scotland would just be too stressful for him. I still get to visit Kuro, and I do miss him, but I think Kuro would not be happy as an indoor cat, and we live too close to a busy road to let a cat that likes to wander some distance roam free. Kuro lives in the middle of nowhere, with acres and acres of car-free land to roam about as my Dad's small-holding abuts farmland. I think a quiet retirement in the countryside is good for both my father and Kuro. 

Kuro, also known as 'Satan Kitty', in my Dad's garden.

Interestingly, my Dad is only allergic to cats with a specific fur type, and he got a second cat, with a much finer, sleeker coat, called Yami ('Dark') which he is not allergic to! Yami is a black cat that had escaped from a temporary foster cattery and followed Kuro home. After taking the cat to the vet, and noting he was microchipped, my Dad went through the process to adopt Yami because Yami just wouldn't leave my Dad alone!

All of these cats are rescue cats - please, adopt - don't shop. There are so many cats wanting homes, especially as they breed pretty rapidly. I've written about Kuro and cat adoption before ::here:: and my advice remains the same - if you're thinking of getting a cat, please consider adopting an adult cat. Archimedes had been with the shelter quite a while as timidity causes some minor behaviour issues (he gets scared of people, and hisses, will scratch if he feels crowded) but it's something is highly likely to work itself out with time and patience as he gets used to being around humans.