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. 

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