Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Natural Histories: The Nightshades

Listen to BBC Radio 4's programme, in partnership with the Natural History Museum, on this group of fascinating plants.

It is hard to think of a more diverse and wonderful group of plants. They enchant us, poison us, make us feel sexy, give us hallucinations, heal us and feed us.  The screaming mandrakes in Harry Potter and the shamanistic dreams of tribal elders eating giant trumpet flowers testify to the magical powers of this group.

Its culinary properties enhance the ever intricate flavours of modern cuisine while its fatal attractions have been used by murderers, most famously Dr Crippen.

This is the group that contains mandrake, potatoes, chillies, aubergines, deadly nightshade and tomatoes. These are the plants that have entered our culture through food and medicine, drugs and love.

It is strange that the European plants in the group are mainly poisonous yet those that grow in the New World are often spicy and enriching.

Fearing anything that looked like nightshade the first plants that were brought here from the New World were regarded with suspicion, yet quickly we adopted them, so much so that it is impossible to conceive of Italian food without tomatoes or Friday night fish and chips, yet they are aliens in a strange land. We have a lot to thank this group for.

It soothed us before anaesthetics, sent our imaginations flying and tempted us with alluring flavours - and they are still pushing the frontiers of both medicine and food today.

Tha fios fithich agad

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

The Craft of Scottish Witches

I have decided to treat myself and attend this lecture.  It has been such a long time since I been to Treadwells, and, well, the subject of Scottish Witches is of particular interest to me.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Quote in relation to Fairies on the Hunt

The fairies often go out hunting. In the calm summer evening the faint sound of tiny horns, the baying of hounds, the galloping of horses, the cracking of whips, and the shouts of the hunters may be distinctly heard, whilst their rapid motion through the air occasions a noise resembling the loud humming of bees when swarming from a hive.” 
—  Excerpt From: Wood-Martin, W. G. (William Gregory), 1847-1917. “Traces of the elder faiths of Ireland; a folklore sketch; a handbook of Irish pre-Christian traditions.” London, New York and Bombay : Longmans, Green, and co., 1902. (via sachairimaccaba)

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

To Watch

I have added some videos to my "to be watched" list:

  • Lá Fhéile Bríde – Detailing the lore and traditions associated with the festival that marks the first flourish of Spring
  • Là na Caillich – The Day of the Cailleach in Scotland, which falls on March 25th and marks the beginning of the Cailleach’s rest period, until she reawakens in winter
  • Bealtaine – Focusing on the traditions and customs of the festival of Summer
  • Midsummer: Áine and Grian – Introducing the Midsummer traditions in Ireland, and the issue of solar deities in Gaelic tradition
  • Midsummer: Manannán mac Lir – Taking a look at the Midsummer tradition of “paying the rent to Manannán mac Lir, which originates on the Isle of Man

Monday, 7 July 2014

Quote on Libations

A libation of some of the thick new milk given by a cow after calving, if poured on the ground, more especially in the interior of a rath or fort, is supposed to appease the anger of the offended fairies. Before drinking, a peasant will in many cases, spill a small portion of the draught on the earth, as a complimentary libation to the good people.
—  Excerpt From: Wood-Martin, W. G. (William Gregory), 1847-1917. “Traces of the elder faiths of Ireland; a folklore sketch; a handbook of Irish pre-Christian traditions.” (via spiritualbrainstorms)

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Quotation regarding the Morrigan

At first glance the fertility aspect of the Morrigan does not seem as evident. It is an essential part of her character, however. Celtic goddesses combine destructive characteristics with those of nurturing, sexual power, and fertility. Although the juxtaposition seems strange, there is logic in it. Since the goddess is to preserve the tuath, she must be able to protect it in war as well as to provide it with the fruits of the earth, and increase both its cattle and people.” 
  Clark, Rosalind. “Aspects of the Morrigan in Early Irish Literature.” Irish University Review 17.2 (Autumn 1987): 228-229, JSTOR. (via diary-of-demosthenes).

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The Waves of Manannán mac Lir, the Irish God of the Sea

Author:  Charles W. MacQuarrie
1907945296 / 9781907945298

Why did I read it?  I was searching out a reasonably priced copy of "The Biography of the Irish God of the Sea from the Voyage of Bran (700 A.D.) to Finnegans Wake (1939): The Waves of Manannán" by Charles W. MacQuarrie when I stumbled upon this children's book by the Isle of Man based publishers, Lily Publications Limited.   Given there are few books out there for children on the Irish myths - most are out of print and hard to come by - I thought I should like to read it.

What's it about? This collection of stories about Manannán mac Lir has been translated and freely adapted by the author with the intention of being suitable for children. In these stories Manannán serves as a tester, and a teacher to the mortals he encounters. Sometimes he appears as a nobleman, and sometimes as a churl; sometimes he imparts his wisdom gently, and sometimes gingerly; sometimes he teaches philosophy, and sometimes good manners, but he always seems to have the best interests of civilization at heart.

What did I like?  Although this collection is aimed at children, I found it difficult to discern which age group.   The book is a very quick read, containing four tales, along with intermittent illustrations in the form of watercolours.  It took me less than an hour to read all 54 pages, even with distractions. The stories are heavily condensed, and easily digestible on the whole.  

What didn't I like?  There is a mix of English dialects within the text: American, English, and Irish, and I found this somewhat jarring, along with some obvious editorial mistakes, and strange, seemingly out-of-place sentences, which might be the result of translation issues(?).   I also struggled with one or two words in the text, though I fortunately had an online dictionary nearby.   Two, consecutive tales where Manannán meets Finn may have parents answering some awkward questions about how Finn can end up dead in the first story, but walking in the forest on the next page, in the next tale as though nothing has happened.

Would I recommend it? Yes.  It's a rarity.  However, I do so with the caveat of not knowing for which age group the material is suitable.

Rating: 4.5/5